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Blood & Bourbon

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Caroline V, Chapter XII
Reasons for Being

“May you find the truth you seek.”
Antoine Savoy

Tuesday night, 13 October 2015, PM

Caroline: Amid her investigations into Wells’ lost memories, amid searches for her future haven and ideal candidates for her businesses, Caroline continues to dig into her own past, into a night she doesn’t remember. The night she died.

She has leads, and amid everything else consuming her lengthening evenings the Ventrue tries to pursue them, not as doggedly as she might wish, but neither without passion. Not willing to journey into the Dungeon herself, not yet, she chases her own leads into it: a missing ghoul, those that come and go, and those that only enter, never to emerge. There are other more mundane approaches as well. Tax records, utilities, ownership. Everything has a paper trail, and she doggedly pursues it.

GM: Looking into the Dungeon reveals that it’s an industrial and metal-themed bar/nightclub off of Bourbon Street. It has its own Yelp and Facemash pages, and caters mainly to goths and newcomers who want to experience its novelty. Variously called, “the worst-kept secret off of Bourbon,” they describe it as “Crazy,” “a hidden gem,” “dark and gothic,” “cool dark and scary,” “professional security,” “dark but fun,” and “legit hole in the wall.” There is an adamant “no phones and no pictures” policy. Caroline even finds it featured on a “where to drink in New Orleans” flowchart:

Are you from here? —> Yes → Where are you? —> Downtown → What’s most important tonight? —> Conversatin’ → Are you homeless? —> No → Are you a vampire? —> Yes → The Dungeon.

Caroline: Caroline gives a dry laugh at that.

GM: There are also a number of stories floating around about the Dungeon. One rumor claims that there is a “second level” holding a real BDS&M dungeon staffed by professional dominatrices. Less a rumor and more a subject of several police reports is the sighting of several missing persons around the club. No action or follow-up seems to have been taken by NOPD. Indeed, one of their better-known detectives, Ricky Mouton (who has the ear of his uncle Delron, the district commander), is a sometime patron of the Dungeon’s. Indeed, for all that Caroline and Emmett have suffered within its walls, the vice den appears to hide in plain sight. As one Qeeqle reviewer describes it,

“Dark, grungy, and true to its name, there is a constant feeling that you might be tortured and murdered at any moment. One of the few bars that doesn’t try to coast off the reputation of the city. Instead it touches that dark place in us all.”

Caroline: Caroline steadily deposits such offerings where they belong: in the garbage.

GM: A casual search into the Dungeon’s neighbors turn up Funky 544, a nightclub, Molly’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, the historic Hotel Maison De Ville, and Ra Shop, a cigarette store. Antoine Savoy’s favorite restaurant, the eponymous Antoine’s, is also not far off. Some of these places and additional neighbors maintain security cameras, and some of them do not. Of the ones that do, all but one have since thrown out the months-old tapes.

The exception is Ra Shop and its night manager, a portly and black-wearing man named Stephen who is an ardent follower of LaVeyan Satanism—and morbidly curious about what “really” goes on at the Dungeon. He’s been there on many occasions, of course, and likes the ambiance. But he’s heard there’s a lot more to it. He repeats everything from an underground sex ring to a “hardcore” Satanic coven to a real BDSM dungeon where safewords and consent don’t exist.

Stephen hasn’t been able to get anything out of the Dungeon’s staff, who always laugh the rumors off. He tried pressing one of NOPD’s visiting officers, asking why there were semi-regular visits but never any arrests. He received a gut punch that “made me feel like I’d been shot” and cold warning not to ask so many questions. All he can do is sit on tapes and fantasize.

One of the many benefits to having ghouls working for her is that Caroline doesn’t need to personally watch the hours-long security tapes for items of interest. When Autumn is finished, she has several cars leaving the choice limited-parking spots (it’s at a premium in the Quarter) during approximate times that probably belong to employees. She runs down license plate numbers and traces owners (a task that would surely be easier with access to police databases). Most are either mundane or dead ends.

The exception belongs to a man named Jayden Proctor. He does not work for the Dungeon, but has been seen there on a number of separate occasions. He recently sold his car, terminated the lease on his apartment, and purchased a one-way flight to the Cayman Islands, all several nights after Caroline’s Embrace. He was last seen leaving for Louis Armstrong Airport in the company of a muscular man with jet black skin. Autumn identifies the latter.

Kâmil. A ghoul to Philip Maldonato.

Caroline: Jayden Proctor’s life becomes the subject of Caroline’s most recent interest, and the Ventrue heiress sets about tearing his life into bloody pieces to get to the bottom of his own (perhaps all too obvious) allegiances. If he came into the service of Maldonato, she wants to know when. If not, she wants to know who he serves, or at least served.

She’s moderately certain that he is long since departed not only the city, but also the living. Still, his present activities, be they on beaches or among the fishes, are of little interest. She wishes to know his part in something specific: her own departure from the living.

GM: Jayden Proctor was born in Frederick, Maryland on July 7th, 1981. His father worked for the IRS. His mother was a homemaker. He seems to have lived a comfortable life, attending private school and finally leaving home for college at UT Austin in 1999. He never graduated, though. Indeed, he held no jobs that any of Caroline’s investigations can find after he dropped out.

Financial records indicate this was seemingly no impediment to him living in a posh apartment in a nicer part of town. Proctor drifted through his 20s and 30s without any apparent path in life: he spent a few more years in Austin and moved to a number of other cities, including Los Angeles, New York, and Las Vegas. He held no employment in any of these cities except for Las Vegas, where he got a job as a croupier that lasted for several months out of his two-year stay. He was arrested twice in LA for drunk driving but charges were dropped.

Proctor moved to New Orleans in 2013 and was active in the city’s club scene (including, apparently, at the Dungeon’s), though by that point he was starting to get a little old for it. Indeed, by mid-2014, he seemingly found religion: he attended regular Catholic Mass and had stopped partying. He still does not seem to have held a job, but maintained leases for two apartments in the French Quarter and CBD.

Following 2015’s Southern Decadence, of course, all of this abruptly ends.

Caroline: It’s a frustrating and almost nonsensical trail. Was he René’s ghoul? Another’s ghoul? It’s almost impossible to tell. The question is all the more complicated by details of her interest she can’t share. She solicited opinions from Autumn—she cannot cut the investigative ghoul out entirely anyway.

The lack of clear revenue and ways in which various institutions controlled makes her suspect he was far from a normal kine.

GM: “We could try and follow up on this guy in the Caymans,” Autumn suggests. “Though that’ll probably be harder. I have no idea what the all-night society there is like.”

Caroline: “Have you ever heard of another Kindred moving around so frequently with their ghouls?” Caroline asks. It’s a long shot.

GM: “Some might. Nomads don’t stay in any one city. The Krewe doesn’t like them. They come in, make a mess, and leave the locals to clean it up.”

Caroline: Caroline clearly doesn’t like the answer, but less for its source than its content. She drums her fingers on her desk in thought.

“Kine only.”

The use of the word has come easier, more readily to her over time.

“And small-time investigation. Just a few pictures. Proof of life, see if we catch him with anyone that they just can’t,” she grins, “seem to get a clear picture of.”

GM: “Yeah, that’s actually a dead giveaway to people who know what to look for,” Autumn nods.

“I mean, you guys can ‘turn it off’, but that’s only helpful when you know someone’s watching.”

“But anyway, yeah. Couple kine is probably best. Cheaper too.”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

GM: “All right, I’ll look into who to send.”

Saturday night, 7 November 2015, PM

Caroline: Much of the investigation is relatively mundane, as so many are. Following money trails. She has Autumn follow up with his landlord and the person he sold the car to. Investigators are dispatched off to the Cayman Islands. She’s fishing for anything unusual, anything that confirms theories about his origins, or points to a domitor, or ties him to other points of interest. Neighbors are canvassed at his apartment. Did anyone know him? Know of him? What was his schedule? Money changes hands with the landlord, if they’re so inclined, for any postage left behind or coming in after he departs.

GM: Jayden previously lived at 833 Howard Ave # 700PH in the Central Business District, rented by Latter & Blum Inc. Realtors. He also lived at the historic Lower Pontalba Building on St. Ann Street, right along Jackson Square, which is owned by the city government. Caroline even knows one of the tenants, or at least tenants in the neighboring Upper Pontalba Building (Luke’s girlfriend Cécilia).

Caroline confirms that Jayden was often away at all hours of the night, even after he’d given up his partying lifestyle. He was friendly with his neighbors, who liked him. He never talked much about himself, but he talked someone from the Louisiana State Museum (which owns the building) into installing new counter tops and cabinets in some of the older units, and at the state’s expense. That made him popular—the museum previously had tenants pay for such upgrades. They’ve apparently reinstated that policy since he left, too.

Jayden spent less time at the Pontalba after he started attending religious services, at which point he also started renting his CBD apartment, but he was still by maybe a couple nights a week. He didn’t break his lease, anyway. Remaining postage at Proctor’s apartments was junk mail, which Proctor was apparently uninterested in claiming, and his landlords have since thrown out. He sold his car to Del Cid Auto Sales Inc., rather than a private individual. Autumn reports that the car (a red 2015 Scion FR-S) has yet to be re-sold.

The ghoul also turns up that one of Proctor’s neighbors (in the CBD) admits to having spotted him feeding a significant wad of cash into a nearby ATM late at night. She (the neighbor) thought it looked sketchy, but Proctor just laughed it off and said he’d had a lucky night at a casino. She saw him do that several further times, but didn’t feel comfortable approaching him again. Proctor looks to have been a very lucky man.

Caroline can find no evidence to link Proctor to any specific domitor. Of course, such evidence could exist in abundance, and Caroline is merely overlooking it. She still doesn’t have many contacts among her fellow Damned (though she has been working to rectify that), which stymies attempts to uncover Kindred-specific information. Mortal channels can only tell so much about a ghoul’s possible domitor.

The PIs she’s hired from Paradigm Investigations take some extra time (and fees) for the international case, but return with findings contrary to her initial expectations: Jayden Proctor is alive and well.

He’s currently staying at the Margaritaville Beach Resort Grand Cayman in George Town, the capital of the Caymans, and has been for some months. There are no apparent irregularities in any of the nighttime photographs that Paradigm’s people took of Proctor, though this was a “small time” investigation at Caroline’s request. They could put him under continuous surveillance for a longer time period if she wants to potentially turn up more. They also obtain the phone number for his hotel suite. She can contact Proctor herself if she would like to.

Caroline: She toys with the thought, and brings it up one night after a night of excitement with Jocelyn. “He may be one of the only people left that know what happened that night,” she muses.

She’s always gotten contemplative after ‘sex’. Even when she was still alive.

GM: Jocelyn turns over in Caroline’s low, black-sheeted bed. Even nude, the room’s low temperature doesn’t bother either vampire.

“Yeah. Definitely. You should try and get to him, somehow.”

Caroline: “What kind of ghoul though travels from city to city for years at a time though?” she asks.

GM: “Maybe he works for an archon like my sire. Or he’s just a nomad,” Jocelyn thinks.

Caroline: “I hope not,” Caroline replies, rolling over onto her back. “I’d hate to piss one of them off.”

She laughs lightly. “Do you think it’s worth trying to fly out there?”

GM: Jocelyn thinks for a moment. “That’d be… interesting. The Caymans aren’t that far away.”

Caroline: “Just dangerous, trying to make it out and back in a night, and visiting another city where I don’t know anyone.”

GM: “We,” Jocelyn says with some emphasis, “could stay the day, find a hotel or something. It might be kinda nice, just to get out of the usual rut. Meet some Kindred outside the city.”

Caroline: “I can’t imagine there are that many there,” Caroline replies, thinking. “There’s only what, 50,000 people in the Caymans? We looked at it in one of my economics classes.”

GM: “Bet there’s a bunch of licks with their money parked there though. I mean, that’s true even for kine. Well, probably more elders than licks. And blue bloods like you.”

Caroline: “It depends. Any lick, or almost any, could accumulate a lot of money pretty quickly if they wanted,” she contemplates. “You could, for instance, with a few months of work set yourself up so you don’t have to worry about it for decades, especially the way you spend.”

GM: “I dunno, I never really got into that whole finance game.” Jocelyn grins and starts running a finger along one of Caroline’s blood-encrusted breasts. “I think I’d rather mooch off you…”

Caroline: Caroline laughs. “It’s not hard. Honestly, I could probably set something up for you with just a little bit of base capital that when invested within a couple years could support you on its own. Build it behind a trust. Market rate of return is really good right now. It’s a good time to start investing.”

GM: “Huh, I didn’t know that. But I guess everyone is saying the economy is pretty good.” Jocelyn thinks. “Okay, if you wanna set it up, that sounds worth it.”

Caroline: “It’ll take a few years to start to matter, but the earlier you start, the easier it is,” Caroline assures her. “I’ll have to set up something to shelter the investments and pay out—since I can’t exactly have it pay to a dead woman, but that’s just some paperwork. Once it’s sustaining there’s only really one rule: don’t touch the principle.”

GM: “I’m actually not dead,” Jocelyn mentions. “Well, legally, anyway.”

Caroline: “You’d mentioned, but I’m sure you’ve got a plan to do so eventually, right?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Yeah, eventually,” Jocelyn nods. “Just always seems like a hassle to do right now, and no one’s breathing down my neck about it.”

Caroline: The Ventrue laughs. “Must be nice.”

GM: The Toreador pauses. “It has its pros and cons. But I guess the grass always looks greener on the other side and all.”

Caroline: “I can fix that for you.” She leans over the Toreador’s form and breathes on her with cold, unliving breath.

GM: Jocelyn laughs as Caroline’s hair brushes over her stomach. “Oh gosh, I don’t feel it. Must not be a big deal. Or maybe it’s just how cold you like this room.”

Caroline: “You don’t like it?” she asks distractedly, licking some mostly dry blood off Jocelyn’s side.

GM: Jocelyn giggles at the sensation and squirms a little, making Caroline work for it.

“I don’t really notice it. Like your breath.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly and pricks an elongated canine of her lover’s side, below her breast.

GM: Jocelyn’s own fangs show as she reaches up to knead one of Caroline’s. “God, I wanna just puncture these, like melons, spray the blood all over the walls…”

Caroline: “Like you’re Jackson Pollik?” Caroline laughs, watching a tiny trickle of blood roll down the brunette’s side hungrily. “I bet that’s a thing among Toreador artsy circles, isn’t it? Blood splatter art?” The elongated fangs slightly complicate speech, but she’s had enough time to get accustomed to it. The blood runs.

GM: “I’m not normally into drip painting… except when I’m…”

Jocelyn doesn’t finish the thought. Her eyes are hungry as she lunges up, mouth open, and sinks her fangs into Caroline’s breast. Blood flows over her face as she bites down over the pale flesh and shakes hungrily. The Ventrue’s Beast instinctively rises in arousal and counter-challenge.

Caroline: There’s a flash of pale flesh as Caroline climbs more fully atop the Toreador artist, taking a dominant position even as she surrenders into the kiss.

Wednesday night, 11 November 2015, AM

GM: Fresh blood coats dried blood as the pair’s Beasts eventually spend themselves. Caroline’s whips Jocelyn’s into submission, and she’s on top, as ever, as their blood cools. At this point the Toreador doesn’t even try to fight back. The sense of power is an intoxicating as any vitae. Part of Caroline, perhaps the Beast—but perhaps not—whispers that she could take Jocelyn here. Drink her utterly dry. No one would stop her. Not the seneschal. Not the prince. No one. Here, she has the power.

Caroline: The thought comes unbidden, and is equally unwelcome. It scares her a bit, the idea of drinking someone dry for no other reason than because she can, even if the most the act could do to Jocelyn is torpor her. She enjoys the control, the power, she has each night she spends with the weaker Toreador, but likes to believe she has more control than that. That she has limits. Places that she will draw the line.

She likes to believe that, but the fact that she’s even thinking about it makes her think that is a lie.

GM: It wouldn’t be the first comforting lie that’s crossed over to a hard and undeniable truth.

Jocelyn, meanwhile, rests her head against a newly-bloody hand. “So… what do you think about the Caymans?”

Caroline: “I think it’s still dangerous, but could be a lot of fun.” Jocelyn tagging along presents its own complications. There are secrets that she has to keep, even from the Toreador, and this one sits near to the top. “The other option is visiting the Dungeon.”

GM: Jocelyn looks at her for a moment. “Uh, I think the Caymans might be safer. A lot safer.”

Caroline: “I’ve heard things,” Caroline agrees quietly.

GM: “Horror stories,” Jocelyn echoes. “They say anyone who goes in there, if they even come back out, gets their life destroyed. Unless they’re already… ‘one of them.’”

Caroline: “One of whom?”

GM: “The people… things, Kindred… whatever there. The ones that live there. Make it what it is.”

Caroline: Caroline wiggles. “I can attest to that.”

GM: “There’s some parts of the city, that are just… where everything that’s wrong with it, everything that’s dark and awful and out of control, I guess, just… grows and breeds, like mold. Where the sin’s thick enough it stays on your skin, maybe your soul, like soot.”

Caroline: “You’re saying if I go in, I’ll come out stained?”

GM: Jocelyn’s voice is quiet. “I don’t know. I’ve never been inside or anything. It’s just… there’s just some parts of New Orleans that feel… dark, wrong. Maybe sick, like nowhere I’ve seen. Maybe that’s what ruins anyone who goes inside. The… all that’s bad there, clings to them, and spreads and infects everywhere they go.”

Caroline: Caroline lays in thought. Maybe she’s right. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with her.

It’s easier to think that than face the truth.

GM: “That’s how it is in photography. Or really, art in general. You darken one element in a piece, by enough, and your entire perspective changes. The entire composition changes. Even if you haven’t altered anything but that one element.”

Caroline: “Afraid you won’t recognize me if I go in, even if I come back out?” Caroline asks.

GM:If you come back out,” Jocelyn says. “They say lots of people who go inside never do.”

“But it’s not even that. It’s just…”

She looks at Caroline helplessly for a moment. “Why chase this? I mean, I get wanting to know why you were turned, why all of this happened, but… your sire’s ash. Is knowing everything about him, why and how he Embraced you, really going to change anything?”

Caroline: Caroline is silent for a moment.

“I don’t know. It’s hard to know what I’ll find waiting at the end of this chase, but I know that the longer I wait, the less chance I have of learning anything. As you’ve said, I can’t exactly ask René about it now, can I?”

She bites her lip. “That night… there’s so much that I don’t understand about it. About what happened, or why.”

GM: “But does it really matter, anymore?” Jocelyn entreats. “I mean, he’s gone… you’re your own Kindred now.”

Caroline: “I matters to me. Matters why I exist. Why my sire chose me.” She grinds her teeth. “You probably know as much about him as I do—or even more—and I don’t even know if I was chosen, or if I was anything more than a mistake.” She pauses. “And I don’t want to be, don’t want my entire Requiem to be an accident.”

“I can accept that my Embrace is, ultimately, the result of my sins in life, but why did he think that I had to die, and… so awfully.”

GM: “Well… okay, look,” Jocelyn says, turning over onto her stomach and resting her chin against a hand. “Even if you don’t find anything in the Caymans, it could at least be a fun trip. We could meet new Kindred, even people, enjoy some beaches… night beaches, anyway. You could network and maybe have fun with some offshore tax haven stuff. I mean, sure, things could go wrong, but they could also go right. I don’t see any way that the Dungeon ends up going right.”

Caroline: “You don’t think I’d make friends there?” Caroline asks sarcastically.

GM: “I dunno who would,” Jocelyn answers, not all sarcastically.

Caroline: “My sire, for one,” comes Caroline’s more serious answer. “All the same, I’m willing to give the Caymans a shot first. Is there anyone you can think of who might have visited in the past, to make sure we’re not violating some kind of fraternal Kindred bylaw?”

GM: “My sire, grandsire, or great-grandsire, maybe?” Jocelyn seems to guess. “Beyond that, I dunno.”

Caroline: “Well, if you want to make a couple calls, I’ll book tickets. Do you have a passport?”

GM: “I have a passport. But making calls to my sire is… hard. She can be out of contact, for months, and she always changes numbers. She’s pretty paranoid the government could be spying on her.”

Caroline: “I mean, the government is definitely spying on her,” Caroline fills in. “They’re spying on all of us. It’s why I try to avoid saying anything specific to us on the phone.”

GM: “Really? We’ve said a fair amount of sensitive stuff over the phone. I mostly just use a secure text app and call it a night.”

Caroline: “I mean, sensitive to a point, and maybe in emergencies I’ve gotten lax, but you haven’t seen me waving a vampire flag around various texts or calls since after René got ashed.”

GM: “I guess that’s safe. Safer, anyway. But it might be a while before I can talk with my sire. It’s more she calls me than the other way around.”

Caroline: “We’re not in an immediate rush, are we? And we don’t have to wait, I just thought it would be a nice touch.”

GM: “That’s true, on both counts. You wanna go soon?” Jocelyn asks.

Caroline: “I’ll book for a couple weeks out. If we hear from her, great. Otherwise, we’ll just keep a low profile. Enjoy the change of scenery.”

GM: “Great! That sounds like it’ll be fun,” Jocelyn smiles.

Caroline: Fun.

Yes, not at all dangerous and potentially lethal.


She’d almost forgotten that word.

Thursday night, 19 November 2015, AM

GM: Antoine Savoy receives Caroline as cordially as ever from his and Preston’s usual table at the Evergreen. “So what can we do for you tonight, my dear—or are you merely feeling charitable enough to brighten the Evergreen with your presence?” the French Quarter lord idly asks, draining the last of the blood from his glass.

Caroline: “It’s quite your own fault, my lord,” Caroline replies mischievously. “Every time I appear with my hand out you can’t seem to resist the urge to leap up, take it, and dance with me. You and I may be dead, Lord Savoy, but chivalry appears to be far from it.”

GM: “Some say that the age of chivalry is past, that the spirit of romance is long dead. The age of chivalry is never past, so long as there is a wrong left unredressed on earth,” the French Quarter lord smiles.

Caroline: Caroline smiles in turn. “Ah, well, in the interest of redressing wrongs and not dancing around the matter overly much, I had hoped to call in a boon you’d offered, Lord Savoy, in pursuit of more knowledge of my Embrace.”

She briefly explains her interest in Jayden Proctor and his current location without touching on details such as his arrival at the airport with one of the seneschal’s ghouls or her earlier suspicion that he was the seneschal’s ghoul and instead focusing on his involvement in her Embrace and his many moves across the country.

“I was considering a field trip, but thought it wiser to seek out a more worldly Kindred for guidance,” she smiles.

GM: “Pursuit of the truth is as worthy a venture as any could pursue, my dear. What guidance would you ask of me?”

Caroline: “I know little of the Caymans, and any such journey seems fraught with enough peril by its nature. I had hoped you might know something of them, and any Kindred expectations on them, Lord Savoy.”

GM: “Guidance easily and gladly offered,” Savoy smiles. “They’re the private domain of an elder by the name of Prospero.”

“He’s neutral in the Jyhad. He’ll allow anyone, or their money, on his islands. Be they Camarilla, Sabbat, independent, or anything in between—all are welcome so long as they keep the Traditions and cause no trouble.”

“Anything worse as well as in between, sir,” Preston notes. “Prospero is reported to allow Kindred guilty of atrocities for which you and Prince Vidal would both order them slain on sight.”

“Neutral is neutral, Nat. But it’s true one can run in to… interesting characters in the Caymans,” Savoy grins.

Caroline: The Ventrue considers. “Probably not a place that Prince Vidal, or many Sanctified as a whole, endorses for vacations, then?” she asks dryly.

GM: “You might be surprised how many Camarilla luminaries have had dealings with Prospero, my dear,” the Toreador answers. “Queen Anne of London, Prince Vitel of D.C., Princes Michaela and Panhard of New York… them and many others. Including at least a few elders in this city. The Caymans are rather conveniently close by for us.”

Savoy smiles easily. “It’s not hard to see why Kindred deal with him. Visitors and foreign investors alike are free to conduct their business without disturbance. Whatever a Cainite’s sins may be outside the Caymans, they don’t matter a whit on those three islands. So long as you play nice while you’re there, Propspero will allow you.”

Caroline: “Yes, I can see that being very appealing to some,” Caroline nods, clearly faintly disturbed.

GM: “It is uncanny how our world can so mirror the kine’s at times, isn’t it?”

Caroline: “It is,” Caroline replies. She clears her face of concern purposefully and smiles again. “You’ve given me a great deal to go off of, Lord Savoy. I appreciate your time. And of course, the boon is more than fulfilled.”

GM: Preston taps away into her tablet.

“I assure you, my dear, your mere presence at the Evergreen is boon enough,” Savoy grins.

Caroline: “Charmer.”

GM: “The word you’re thinking of ends with a ‘d’, actually,” Savoy idly corrects, then grins. “But truth be told, Miss Malveaux, I often feel as if I’m taking advantage! So I’ll do you one better, if you’ll allow me—I’ve had a few dealings of my own with Prospero. I could write a letter of introduction for you to bring along, if you’d like, or send my herald Mélissaire to accompany you.”

Caroline: “As always, Lord Savoy, your charm is exceeded only by your generosity. One of these days you’ll have to let me pay you back.” There’s an alluring smile there she seldom shows, one half-playful and half-inviting. “I expect traveling with Mélissaire would raise some interesting questions, but if I make the trip I may indeed take you up on the letter. I’ll be certain to reach out if that’s the case.”

GM: Savoy raises his empty glass in seeming toast.

“If it is, my dear, may you find the truth you seek.”

Friday night, 20 November 2015, AM

Caroline: Raymond. Everything seems to come back to Raymond. Her own Embrace. The auction. Matheson. Desirae Wells. The latter gives her ample excuse to investigate him. A convenient shroud for her real purpose. A paranoid part of her mind screams it’s too convenient, but then that part is always screaming these days. If she listened to it she’d spend most of her time crying in her bedroom, rendered motionless by all too justified paranoia.

He’s not exactly the sort she can investigate using her mundane resources, but fortunately her less mundane ones are growing, albeit less quickly than she might wish. She asks friendly Kindred about the Caitiff if they know about him and tries to figure out if he’s still operating in the city, and in particular if he has contact with Matheson and Adler. She tries to investigate ‘the auction’.

GM: Jocelyn initially has no idea who Raymond is. After some prompting, she goes, “Oh yeah, some lick who showed up to a few Elysia. I think he got kicked out of the city?” She doesn’t remember anything else about him.

Peter Lebeaux is willing to part with what he knows about Raymond for a boon owed.

Gus Elgin makes Caroline the same offer.

Alder, of course, she’s declined to ask at all.

Caroline: Of course. No one is willing to help for free.

For now, Caroline tables incurring further obligations in favor of what her own efforts can uncover.

Thursday evening, 26 November 2015

GM: Claire has remained in New Orleans after Westley’s funeral in order to “take care of things” with the family. She takes occasional flights up to DC and drives out to Baton Rouge to see Gabriel every weekend or two. Caroline’s youngest brother is otherwise spending his last year in high school by himself, which Claire thinks is good for him. It’ll prepare him for being fully on his own next year at Yale. Caroline’s mother stays at the Hotel Monteleone, as Matt seems to have grown sour over letting relatives stay in his Audubon home for free. A few family rumors say that Vera has sent more PIs to scope out the place for evidence Matt is keeping any mistresses there, but nothing comes of it.

The three brothers’ families reunite at Orson’s home in the Garden District for Thanksgiving. The largest spat of drama surprisingly centers around Luke, who’d wanted to invite Cécilia (and who he seems to have grown increasingly close to since Westley’s death). Cécilia’s mother, however, was extremely firm about keeping her family together for Thanksgiving. It’s not a French holiday, but after ten years in the States they’ve “gone native” enough to enjoy celebrating it anyway. When Luke thought to simply have dinner with them, there was nearly as much objection from the Malveauxes. Vera considered it particularly baffling when “he isn’t even engaged to this girl.”

In the end, Luke and Cécilia decide to spend their Thanksgivings with their respective families. Perhaps they’re all tired of fighting, or Westley’s death is still casting a long pall over events. Something simply feels subdued even as the family avidly talks and heaps their plates with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pecan pie with whipped cream.

Caroline: Caroline’s memories of what food actually tastes like become more and more indistinct over time, and by Thanksgiving, only a couple of months after her Embrace, so much of it seems like nothing but the next rotation of foulness she has to endure as part of her own private Masquerade.

She tries to keep a lower profile at dinner, out of the spotlight and grateful for Luke’s soaking up of the heat. Though she’d never admit it to the rest of the family, part of her suspects that the entire dust up was kicked up on purpose to take people’s minds off of the past. Luke’s good like that.

GM: If Caroline’s suspicions are true, Luke does not come forward with them, and the rest of the family’s speculation remains minimal (at least for the holiday). Congress has a state work period during Thanksgiving, which means all the politicians and big-name donors are spending time with their families, and allows Caroline to briefly see her father again. Clare makes a point of seating them next to one another. Nathan tells his daughter that he’s pleased to see her “doing well,” and is sorry he can’t attend her graduation. His schedule is packed.

“But I’m proud to see you moving forward, Caroline,” he remarks between a bite of the bourbon-infused pie, a local twist on the classic recipe. “It’d have been twice the tragedy if we let Westley’s death stop anyone else’s life.”

Caroline: The words feel so hollow and empty. The shell of what she once wanted just like she’s a shell of what she once was. But she knows what he wants to hear, and more importantly what her father wants to hear.

“You’re busy with actual important things. It’s just a self-indulgent ceremony anyway.. Nothing we haven’t both already seen,” she answers. And there’s truth to it, even if Caroline won’t see another.

GM: “I’d have had my degrees mailed if it weren’t for appearances,” her father agrees between a bite of pie.

Caroline: “Postcard to a beach somewhere?” Caroline puts on a smile. “It’d certainly be a more productive use of time.”

GM: “There’s no time for those either with the election in 12 months,” Nathan replies. “Senator Kelly’s going to face an actual primary challenger instead of the usual Democrat sacrificial lamb.”

Caroline: “Cherry again?” The heiress asks.

GM: “Some rabble-rouser crawled out from the swamps. He claims to be the son of Earl Long, but none of the family know him.”

“Cherry wouldn’t run in a Republican primary. Journalists would consider it a good day’s work if they caught you making such a stupid gaffe,” her father reproaches, cutting another slice of bourbon pecan pie.

Caroline: Caroline’s skin might flush with embarrassment if she were still living. She’s not.

“If that’s all they got you might too.”

GM: “He’s probably just trying to get his name out,” Claire remarks. “Kelly will win, but this is going to be his last term.”

Caroline: “Where’s he from?”

GM: Nathan shrugs. “Nowhere we’d set foot.”

Caroline: “I can’t help but wonder how many of your colleagues would say the same of us,” Caroline offers.

GM: Her father takes another bite of pie.

Her mother asks, “I’m sorry, Caroline?”

Caroline: “Baton Rouge?” she offers. “How many senators could find it on the map much less see it as worth visiting. It’s easy to look down on people.” She carves off a piece of her own slim slice of pie.

“And just as easy to forget that as foolish as others look as they crane their necks at you, so too do you to others in kind.”

GM: “I could find every state capital on a map when I was 15. I’ll welcome the ignorance of any opponent who can’t,” her father answers, pausing to dab some cream off his mouth with a napkin.

Caroline: “And so will Mr. Swamp Thing,” Caroline offers. She bites her lip.

GM: “There still remains a world of difference between rural swamps and state capitals,” her mother states.

Caroline: Caroline carves off another revolting slice of pie.

“A fact not lost on me… or the hicks.”

GM: “There’s a young woman in Washington state who ran for state legislature when she was only 24 years old. What are you doing like that after you graduate?” her father asks.

Caroline: “Shouldn’t you be telling me the answer to that question?” Caroline asks and answers.

GM: “You’re going to work on Senator Kelly’s campaign, then. Caleb will arrange things,” her father replies without missing a beat.

Caroline: “What an excellent symbol of solidarity,” Caroline replies with a fake smile.

GM: “Charlotte’s involved too in a less direct capacity. You’ll be able to learn from her good example.”

Caroline: “I suppose someone in the family has to set an example for others.”

GM: “Someone does,” Nathan agrees with complete seriousness.

Caroline: “I didn’t realize what high esteem you held her in. I’m glad you have at least one person that doesn’t disappoint you.”

GM: “We are proud of you for getting things so well back on track, Caroline,” Claire states, her eyes briefly meeting her husband’s.

“Yes, we are,” Nathan agrees simply. “It’s more than Westley ever did. It’s good progress. Don’t accept it as a substitute for success either.”

Caroline: “And here I thought we were talking about what a success Charlotte has been,” Caroline replies mildly. She slides the last sliver of her pie into her mouth, chewing on the ashes.

GM: “We were. She’s far from the only success in this family,” Claire answers.

Caroline: “That’s true. I suppose none of Matt’s children have strayed from the path.” She slides her plate away. “I wonder why that is.”

GM: The barely-chewed physical matter slides down Caroline’s esophagus with all the pleasure castor oil. It will not be long before she has to vomit and heave out last crumb from her forever-empty stomach.

“Because he no longer has any who have,” Nathan answers. Around them, the low din of conversation from siblings, uncles, and cousins continues to sound. Orson has eaten no fewer than four very generous slices of sweet potato and bourbon pecan pie. No one makes any jokes. Caroline’s father looks as if he could say a good deal more, but perhaps bearing in mind their present setting, he simply stares directly at her.

“Failures are failures because they no longer have any future. Spend more time thinking about yours.”

Caroline: “But why, when you send so much time thinking about it for me?” Caroline asks quietly. She holds her father’s gaze for a moment, but only just, before she sighs, seeming to deflate in place. She looks away, and returns in a gentler voice, “Why do we always do this?” Caroline’s pride still stings, but she’s too conscious of a truth her father is bitterly ignorant of: this may be the last time they are in a room together.

GM: “That’s exactly what I am wondering, Caroline,” Nathan answers in the same unyielding tone. “If you resent us for telling you how to live your life, why don’t you simply live a productive one on your own? Luke has done almost everything since graduating under his own direction. He’s turned out fine.”

Her father doesn’t sound quite regretful, but at least puzzled.

Caroline: “I should think Susan makes that point bitterly clear.”

GM: “You can live a thousand other lives than Westley’s or hers.”

Nathan doesn’t say the name around the rest of the family. No one does.

Caroline: “The last time a woman went against the family’s direction they ended up in a convent, Dad,” Caroline says very soberly, but quietly. “How many of us do you think are eager to try our luck?”

GM: Her father frowns deeply at the further mention of Susan. He doesn’t look away from Caroline, but he’s plainly listening more closely to the three families’ (or at least Orson and his brothers’ families) chatter around the great table. They are mostly finishing up desert and carrying on slower conversations amongst themselves. Orson has started a fifth pie slice but is eating that more slowly too.

“One woman,” Nathan notes. “There was one man who also did, and he wound up dead.”

Caroline: The Ventrue tilts her head to the side, her face slightly downcast.

“You put me on a path, Dad. For better or worse, I was afraid to step off of it. Maybe I should have. Maybe things would have gone differently. But I wanted,” she closes her eyes and shakes her head just a bit, “so badly for you to be proud of me. To do what I thought you wanted. Did I ever have plans of my own? Things I wanted to do and achieve beyond the plan?” She shrugs. “Of course I did. I just didn’t want them as much as I wanted that.”

GM: “Don’t talk in the past tense like that, Caroline,” her father reproaches—and might even entreat. “You have your entire life ahead of you. Twenty-five is still just a kid. I didn’t want you to drop out because I didn’t want you to lose stride and become accustomed to failure. You can still be more. Much more.”

Claire doesn’t interject as she silently sips her wine. But it’s few mothers who wouldn’t be hanging onto every word.

Caroline: More than you know.

Caroline stares down at her empty place setting for a long moment.

“What can I become?” she asks.

GM: “A senator, governor, CEO, senior partner, attorney general, Supreme Court justice, and a great deal more, if you maintain the necessary commitment.”

Caroline: Caroline nods mutely. “And is that what you want?”

GM: “Yes.”

Caroline: Her father’s glass has run empty, but her own, barely touched, sits more than half full. Orson’s tastes have seen to the bottles on the table aptly. She pours half of her glass into his own.

“To the future then, and opportunity.”

She looks at her father, but also past him, to where her mother watches.

GM: Both her parents raise what remains of their glasses.

“To the future.”

“And opportunity.”

Caroline V, Chapter XI
Desirae Wells

“Good or bad, truth is truth and worth knowing.”
Desirae Wells

Wednesday night, 7 October 2015, PM

Caroline: Among the great many projects Caroline undertakes, perhaps the closest to her dead heart is setting up of ‘her’ firm. It isn’t in her name, of course, and few will ever know the truth of her influence, but it is her brainchild nonetheless.

The processes is not without its stumbles. Caroline cannot finance the firm out of pocket and several of the individuals she would have dearly liked to bring into the process are unavailable: hidden behind the aegis of their own jealous but opaque Kindred masters.

Nor does she want to rely entirely on Matheson’s loan to make the firm possible. She’s forced to compromise. Change. Carve and cut away. Gone is the image she once saw of a perfect glass and steel empire, gone with the favor of the seneschal and the years she’d hoped to have. Tonight she settles for function. She draws in her once-time ‘boss’ and pairs the sensual brunette with Gerald Bishop, once of Bishop, Pearl, and Park (now Pearl & Park). The ancient attorney is well past his prime and recently bought out of his own firm amid quiet allegations that he’d been conducting himself in an untoward manner. Seething, resentful, and hurt on the surface, he was a tailor-made acquisition. He’d given his life to the firm, three wives, and two estranged children. Most importantly for Caroline’s purposes, ‘bought out’ meant sitting on his own extensive capital with every reason to pursue a ’comeback.

Every reason, including those that Caroline did not knew at first, for she was not the first Kindred to have turned her gaze towards him.

GM: Indeed, between the ghoul’s recollections, Autumn’s reports, and Caroline’s own investigations (which draw heavily on Becky Lynne’s continued tutorship), the Ventrue is able to piece together the following:

Before Hurricane Katrina, Francesca Dumont was Clan Ventrue’s representative on the Cabildo. Dumont was one of the now much-reduced “old guard” Embraced from the city’s French-speaking Creole population. She met final death during Hurricane Katrina (Caroline isn’t certainly exactly how) and left behind two kin, both of whom vied to assume her place on the Cabildo: her nephew-in-blood Pierpont McGinn and her childe Rebecca DeMatthews. Of the Gerousia, Matheson was exiled, Smith had never enjoyed Vidal’s favor, and Guilbeau was brand new to the city. Many assumed the position would go to to McGinn, due to his seat on the Gerousia, the many accolades heaped upon him for his decisive leadership during Hurricane Katrina, his advanced age, and simple right of primogeniture.

But Rebecca put up a surprising show. While McGinn had carved out his own power base, Rebecca stayed by her sire’s side as a lieutenant. She was thus more familiar with the inner workings of Dumont’s (larger) holdings and contacts network, and in a better position to take them over than McGinn. Indeed, while her cousin-in-blood led much of the city’s Invictus to Baton Rouge, Rebecca stayed in New Orleans to consolidate her hold over Dumont’s assets—and to get in on the ground floor of what a post-Katrina New Orleans would look like. Before Katrina, Rebecca was also an attorney with a law firm she claimed as her personal domain, and she used to offer legal counsel (or take care of greater legal matters) to Kindred willing to go to another of their kind for such services. Between this and the perception that Rebecca was a less ardent (or at least less vocal) proponent of Ventrue superiority than McGinn, she was a more popular primogen choice among the other clans. The Ventrue primogen has naturally always sought to advance their own clan’s interests, but it remains a position that deals significantly with non-Ventrue, as opposed to purely internal positions like the Gerousia (which are not even spoken of among outsiders).

However, McGinn was far from unpopular himself. During Hurricane Katrina, he led the Invictus on an arduous journey to Baton Rouge through perils ranging from Strix to Loup-Garoux. He negotiated a favorable “refugee settlement treaty” with the new prince, Lawrence Meeks, who had just overthrown Marcel Guilbeau in a surprise coup d’etat. Pearl and Accou had stayed in New Orleans, Matheson was exiled, and Dumont and Dominique Toutain, the only other two members of the then-Prima Invicta, had both met final death. McGinn provided decisive leadership to the First Estate and many of New Orleans’ Kindred during their hour of need and won much acclaim for his deeds. Vidal appointed him as regent of Uptown (a newly-vacant regency thanks to the storm) and elevated him to the Gerousia in recognition for his valor. McGinn was also his cousin-in-blood’s elder by many years, had more friends among the city’s elders (as opposed to neonates, Rebecca’s primary “clients”), and was without doubt the more personally powerful of the two. Rebecca had a chance at the Cabildo seat, but she was always the underdog candidate.

The contest between Dumont’s two relatives came to an abrupt halt when one of the deceased primogen’s former ghouls, driven mad from a shattered blood bond, sent a letter to a tabloid newspaper. He claimed that he and Rebecca were vampires, and that she had “murdered our maker.” He then went fully rogue and attempted to drain his replacement domitor of her blood. Rebecca dealt with the ghoul and barely halted the letter’s publication, but the damage to her reputation was done. She was perceived as unable to control her own servants, and having shown poor judgment in choosing to retain the ghoul’s services at all.

McGinn ruthlessly capitalized on the scandal and used it as pretext to annex Dumont’s financial holdings, while also citing right of primogeniture. The Gerousia was unanimous in its support. Rebecca was left with nothing except her law firm, which had itself lost employees to Katrina, and been further neglected by its mistress while she attended to her newer acquisitions. Dumont’s youngest childe sold the firm and joined the exodus to Houston, perhaps in search of better opportunities—another soul displaced by Katrina. But unknown to many, the ghoul responsible for Rebecca’s woes yet lives—Gerald Bishop.

While others view the old man as washed-up, Caroline discovers more precisely that the old man is washed-up and dried-up, as well as a cautionary tale against the twisted brand of loyalty the blood bond can inspire. Caroline has no idea why he’s still alive. Bishop doesn’t either. He took to drinking in the days after Dumont’s final death, he says. Hell, he might’ve been drunk when he tried to kill “Miss DeMatthews.” He has a dozen different explanations for how that night went down, why he is still alive, and why he tried to kill her, a topic he recounts either numbly or with bitter tears that can still flow, so many years later. Sometimes he thinks Rebecca deserves it. Sometimes he weeps that it’s the most terrible thing he ever did.

What if is far less uncertain, however, is that without a domitor, Gerald no longer had a steady supply of vitae. The abrupt cut-off did not help the ghoul’s already precarious mental state, and even he admits that he showed astoundingly poor judgment in attempting to contact his former mistress, begging for forgiveness—and another hit. Or at least Gerald might have done that. Maybe he failed to establish contact with Rebecca—Kindred can be very hard to reach. Maybe he succeeded, but she refused to answer him. Or maybe he never tried to contact her at all, and the hazy memory is nothing more than a figment of too much booze and an unhinged pysche. He’s not sure if she still knows whether he’s alive or not.

All he really remembers is those months spent waiting for, then pleading with, Rebecca to return. His vitae ran dry, and every fix he could beg, borrow, or steal soon trickled away like his false youth as he aged years in only month. He did dirty things. “We all did dirty things during Katrina,” he slurs. Few ghouls wanted anything to do with him. Not after failing to save his first mistress, then turning upon his second one. The only bright side to his rapid aging was that it left him physically unrecognizable. The Kindred might have hunted him down. Or maybe they wouldn’t have. To say there other matters occupying their attention during Katrina would be like calling the hurricane “rather wet.” And few Kindred really pay that close attention to ghouls. Masters rarely do to servants.

And so without Rebecca, he withered and aged. He could not even try to help her by transferring assets to help set in Houston. She was out of contact (or refusing contact), and McGinn took over everything left in New Orleans. Yet some part of him desperately believed that she’d be back for him. That she would call him to her. He loved her! But he waited in vain. Months turned into a year, and a year turned into several. The bond did not vanish, but at least ebbed, and he finally at least half-aware of the cruel reality of his abandonment. He was cut off, left out of the cold, just another orphaned or abandoned Katrina ghoul skulking along the margins of the all-night society. Some went on to find new masters and mistresses. He was not one of them. Maybe he judged it too dangerous. Maybe he just didn’t have the heart to try. The most he remembers from those years is the drinking.

To those who knew him, it was as though the storm ripped out his heart. He lost his way with people, that “edge” which made his legal career so successful. His hair thinned and turned white. He added glasses as his eyesight dimmed. He had to leave the firm, of course. Nothing could explain how he rapidly aged so many years. Besides, the firm was barely left after Katrina. He thinks either Rebecca or McGinn cannibalized what was left of its assets. He did too, and embezzled as many funds as he could before becoming another Katrina statistic. It wasn’t as painful as the first mortal life he’d left behind. That one had a wife and three now-adult children.

The next decade was spent in the wine, withering and drying up (well, at least of vitae) like a tree downstream of a dammed river. He ruminated what was and what might have been. He ruminated growing old, and how his best memories were like his best years, now far behind him. It was a decade spent waiting to die.

All until Caroline the levee-breaker comes along, bringing new vitae and new purpose… and taking from him once more. What little he has to give. Many of the ghoul’s memories are fragmented by the shattered bond, washed away by drink, and buried under a decade of regrets, recriminations, and trauma. He knows little of the all-night society: many Kindred choose not to expose prominent mortal pawns to others of their kind. He knows few of his mistresses’ secrets: Rebecca was the younger and more trusting of the two, but she was his domitor for less than a year. Francesca was old and guarded, and told him almost nothing. He abandoned his name over ten years ago. His nest egg has had just as long to run dry. He now supports himself through theft, facilitated by the preternatural charm he developed under his first mistress.

But all he can do is give.

Caroline: And give he does.

Gives counsel.

Gives liasoning in the legal community.

Gives what little he knows about his mistress’ secrets.

Gives Caroline a reason not to drag someone she knows, like Denise, screaming and crying into the all-night society.

Gives what wealth he has left, that together with Caroline’s capital and (most of all) Matheson’s loan, is enough get ’Caroline’s’ firm off the ground. Enough to pay assistants and contractors. Enough to bring in paralegals. Enough to woo away Bowden from her own job.

Enough to begin.

Thursday night, 15 October 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline’s setup of her business continues unabated amid the tangled web of Ventrue internal politics. Really, the most difficult part is identifying ideal candidates to helm the firm from within the relatively conservative area in which she has to work. Those talented enough to be successful, and to make the firm successful, while also remaining fresh enough that they’ll jump at the opportunity.

Ultimately she settles on Dustin Reffett and her longtime associate Denise Bowden. Reffett is talented and relatively desperate. While his work is well known, so too is his prior stint in a psych ward—enough to blacklist him with nearly everyone in terms of ability to make partner.

Bowden’s own personal matters are well-documented for Caroline. Both are ideal, if not perfect for her needs.

She’s is all but ready to move forward when Autumn all but drops Gerald Bishop in her lap. Though the former Janus ghoul has reservations about the relatively damaged old man, she’s heard stories about him—that he was previously in the service of Rebecca DeMatthews, the last Kindred to dig her fingers into the practice of law in New Orleans. Checking around with other contacts reveals he’s relatively well known among city attorneys, though the conscientious is that his star as faded. Caroline suspects she can polish a bit more shine onto it, and it keeps her from immediately ghouling Denise.

The startup money feeds at first from several sources: her own accounts as they shift away from her legal name into fictional ones, money diverted from victims, and finally, most heavily, the loan provided by Gerousiastis Matheson. It’s the latter that lets her frame the firm as she’s wished, vice as she can afford, bringing in new constructions and casting it in glass and steel.

GM: The next months are busy ones.

Widney has her hands full with her domitor’s financial manipulations. She asks Caroline several times if she can meet with Becky Lynne to coordinate things, or at least a ghoul in service to the other Ventrue, and is disappointed when her domitor tells her no. Matheson’s childe was clear: other Ventrue cannot help Caroline in her agoge. She must navigate Whitney Bank’s red tape on her own, even as Becky Lynne (by her own admission) is studiously monitoring financial records for irregularities that could draw attention from kine authorities and threaten the Masquerade.

It’s an inconvenience, but perhaps also a blessing. The fruits of Caroline’s labors will be hers alone.

Caroline: Caroline spends much, perhaps too much, of her own time reviewing the records as well to assist the ghoul. She lacks the financial background specific to Widney—it was after all a major factor in her decision to ghoul the adviser—but brings her own keen eye for detail and experience with the principles of financial manipulation: god knows the family does enough of it when funding her father’s elections.

At least they had an early start with her own finances.

GM: Indeed, Caroline finds that many of her financial plans with the firm dovetail with her personal life’s. For her family has not forgotten about the $50,000 hole she supposedly burned at Harrah’s. Her uncle Orson summoned her to his Garden District house for a meeting with Matt. The latter reamed her through the ear about “disgusting” and “reckless” financial irresponsibility.

“Oh, you can save the life of a bank CEO’s daughter, but you can’t manage your money—our money—without acting like a backwoods hick who’s won the lottery?!” Orson announced that Caroline would be put under a tight financial leash as a safeguard against further reckless spending.

Yet the Harrah’s incident, Widney explained, was perhaps a blessing, as it explains where her money has been disappearing. Even as the mortal identity of Caroline Malveaux continues to unravel like an old and falling-apart sweater, its same threads are re-spun into a glorious new tapestry. Only one night after she’s chewed out by her uncles, Gerald Bishop presents her with a sleek-looking business card for the new firm of Bishop, Reffet & Bowden.

“We could also do Bishop, Bowden, & Reffet, ma’am. Which do you think sounds better?” the elderly-looking ghoul asks.

Reffet, he reports in the coming weeks, is a workaholic who’s still on anti-anxiety medications and has a habit (therapy technique?) of sometimes closing his eyes to recite the names of inanimate objects in his immediate vicinity, but Bishop believes that the firm’s new partner is a valuable asset who does good work. He just needs someone else to “mind him” for particularly high-pressure stuff.

Caroline: “Is that you?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Doesn’t have to be. Denise or even an associate could do that too,” the stringy-haired, prematurely graying man answers. He doesn’t sound like’s asking asking Caroline for permission. She’s since picked up that Bishop already assumes he’s in charge of the firm. After all, he’s the oldest partner (by far), and the only ghoul as well.

Caroline: And the public face of the start-up. Caroline largely agrees with his conclusions and encourages him to keep the others on a short leash: they’re both flawed.

At the same time she does the same with him. While she does not run the firm’s day to day routine, she demands regular reports on both the start up progress, on clients, and on others, as well as his own health—mental and otherwise.

GM: As for Caroline’s former boss, the Ventrue has already interned underneath her and knows about the quality of the work she does. Bishop has no complaints there either.

But Caroline’s assessment proves apt when Bishop reports that Denise has slept with her first intern.

Caroline: Caroline instructs him to observe and document. Make sure no interns are getting ideas. Ultimately it sets up for Caroline to sweep in and use some of them for her own purposes in the same way (her herd is coming along, but could use a manager), so it’s an expected result. So long as it doesn’t affect work product, Caroline isn’t particularly concerned.

GM: It’s not much longer that Bishop reports Denise is getting bolder. She’s slept with two paralegals. People are telling stories about her around the water cooler.

At Caroline’s instruction, Bishop steps in with Reffet and tells Denise that there is a limit to her fucking the help. She is who they thought she is, and they knew that, but she needs to show the bare minimum of discretion.

Caroline: If necessary, Caroline steps in for a conversation of a different tone with her former “boss”, offering the carrot to the stick offered by the partners, taking a gentler tack.

GM: Denise makes various promises to Caroline and the other partners. Bishop’s worst fears that she will sleep with a client don’t (yet) come to pass, and Denise apparently restrains herself from screwing (more) people with permanent positions at the firm.

Water cooler stories are still being told, and Bishop reports that lower-level employees don’t take Denise as seriously as they do him and Dustin (and Dustin less so than him). Bishop doesn’t consider this a necessarily bad outcome, though… it cements his position, and Caroline’s by proxy, without the need to obtain more direct forms of leverage over the other two partners. Caroline’s old boss ultimately remains an addict, and does not consider the consequences of her addiction in logical terms.

Caroline: They’re all addicts in the end, Caroline can’t help but think.

At least Denise’s addiction never killed anyone.

GM: Bishop, in response to his domitor’s earlier instructions, insists he’s the “picture of health” now that he’s “back on the good stuff.” He says he doesn’t need to drink as much, either, with Caroline’s vitae to “take the edge off.” He uses her vitae being “good for his health” as an excuse to wheedle the Ventrue for more frequent hits. He insists they keep him on the straight and narrow, good at his job, and that Caroline can view it as a direct investment.

Meanwhile, her and Widney’s behind-the-scenes financial manipulations bear fruit as the firm’s doors open and Bishop, Reffet, & Bowden takes its first clients. While Bishop admits the three’s reputations may cause things to be “slow” for the firm at first, greater success should come as a result of Caroline’s extralegal manipulations, and cut the ground out from beneath the firm’s skeptics and critics. The lack of Kindred competitors in the area of law practices will also help in this regard—that’s one thing Caroline can thank Katrina for.

Caroline: The Ventrue is, true to form, willing to provide vitae as a reward for particular achievements, though she’s less willing to give out hits that are ‘extorted’ for simple good behavior.
Though her tastes run towards college students, most of her victims of late, given Rocco’s territory, are older, typically professionals pursuing continuing education. It’s a harder crowd for her, but it has certain advantages, like the positions of influence and wealth that many old… and the skeletons Caroline is uniquely suited to drag out of their closets in her role as a wolf of god.

Several find their fortunes imperiled by newfound legal troubles, while others find themselves possessed by a desire to lay to rest old troubles. Many find their way to the newly found firm as they go seeking representation. Child support payments unpaid, adulteries uncovered by jealous spouses, delinquent taxes, and contracts poorly written are all fertile ground for problems, and Caroline finds them easily enough.

Caroline shares almost none of this of course with Bishop—better to let the attorney build his confidence—and calibrate his expectations.

GM: The ghoul tells Caroline that he’s “stunned” by the rapid influx of business the firm is getting. He’d been confident in the work that its newly-assembled staff could do, of course, but he’d figured the reputations of the three partners would make business “slow at first.” That they’d need to prove they could do good work before many clients came. It’s perhaps a credit to the subtlety of Caroline’s manipulations that the experienced ghoul even asks her about “nudging” clients in the same conversation as he remarks on the firm’s success.

Caroline: Caroline is pleased by the firm’s success, but is relatively firm that its successes should be just that, its successes. She is not interested in having to babysit and drum up business, and makes clear that Bishop would have to provide a compelling case for her to do so.

GM: Bishop is quick to assure Caroline that the firm can stand on its own feet and be successful on its own. He merely means to state that her assistance will make it even more so. The more money it brings it in, the more satisfied clients it leaves behind, and the more professional contacts it makes, the more useful a resource it will be. Widney does agree with Bishop that it will be a useful place to launder money through.

Slowly but surely, the Ventrue’s dream is coming together.

Monday night, 2 November 2015, PM

Caroline: As the firm’s resources come online Caroline is quick to begin their tasking. There will be no idle hands as mortal clients trickle in. Her investigators have their marching orders almost as soon as they are hired. Her researchers much the same. Paralegals pour over court and property records under the “Wells” name, looking for any hit then tracking it down, running it to ground. Investigators dig into missing persons cases and follow leads uncovered by paralegals that are not on paper, including necessary interviews and follow-ups. Caroline also leans on Autumn, and in turn on Autumn’s own contacts in the ghoul community. Turnover may be relatively common among them, but certainly some may know something—a Kindred with no memory must have sparked some Krewe interest.

Beyond the name, which Caroline trusts little of—a too convenient awakening with no memory sounds too much like a setup of some kind—Caroline bounces the photo she received off missing persons databases independent of the name.

GM: Caroline’s ever-increasing numbers of agents begin their search. No matter what they come back with, simply having so many people all working towards enacting her will may be a salve upon the Ventrue’s battered pride.

The fastest results come from Autumn. Even as shrouded in secrecy as Kindred affairs may be, the fact remains that there are far fewer Kindred than kine. Kindred-centric investigations are not uniformly faster, but they can be.

Autumn says that Desirae Wells is a Caitiff, first of all, though she’s one of the few to earn some modicum of acceptance among the Camarilla. In fact, though Autumn doesn’t say so outright, she actually sounds more respected than Caroline at this point. Wells is one of the Night Axles, an Anarch krewe that’s taken up with Savoy, though Wells herself remains on cordial enough terms with Coco’s Anarchs. Most Kindred see the amnesiac Caitiff as a harmless and moderately interesting curiosity. She gets along well with people. The Anarchs have actually made her their official representative to the other covenants, for business which Coco or Opal don’t personally handle. Still, Wells’ clanless blood means she will only rise so high.

More relevantly to Wells’ origins, however, Autumn picks up that there was another amnesiac Caitiff active in New Orleans not too many years back. His name was Raymond. He seems to be gone from the city now. A few rumors hold that he is actually a Ventrue or Tremere. One even says he is Giovannini, one of the strange and exotic non-Camarilla clans Caroline has only recently heard of.

Caroline: Another call back to him. Caroline smiles as she gets the report from Autumn.

GM: Tracking the name Desirae Wells is both easy and tedious. There are numerous Desirae Wellses across the country, and probably even more beyond. But Caroline has provided a picture to go with the name. “All” that her investigators need to do is run down names and plug them against the picture. And plug and plug and plug away.

They have nothing for her after the first few days. That’s to be expected. There are a lot of names to run down.

They have nothing for her after a week. That’s not unreasonable.

They have nothing after several weeks. The search starts to seem unfruitful.

It’s after a month that Autumn, long since reassigned from Kindred-focused investigative work, tells Caroline that she doesn’t think Desirae Wells is the real name of Desirae Wells. They’ve thrown countless hours and bodies looking for a Wells that matches the photo. Autumn can keep throwing more, but it’s been a month.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t disagree: she has new matching orders for them. Split the name and the picture apart. Attack them independently. If a Desirae Wells visited New Orleans, or one is missing, she wants to know. With the existing resources they’ve poured into the name, this half of the investigation needs little more horsepower. People re-read the names they’ve covered attacking simple missing persons or visitors to the city.

The bulk of their efforts attack the photo. Whatever her name might have been previously, her appearance is unlikely to have shifted dramatically. Work backward. Investigate missing persons in the proper age range and demographic. Run it through various programs and databases. Caroline dearly misses her old police contacts, but dares not make more. Instead she leans on a new one at the DMV. If ‘Wells’ was a New Orleans resident she had a photo ID somewhere. Paging through all IDs issued would be a tedious chore to end all others, but breaking down by gender, age, race, height… the list of names grows short. Names that, helpfully, all come with a picture.

GM: Narrowing down the many Desirae Wellses to ones in or formerly in New Orleans proves a simpler matter. The investigators already started by checking out the closest local ones, just in case. They re-do their earlier efforts with follow-up interviews to the Wellses themselves or people who knew them. Most detective work is really just talking to people.

The most promising lead finally comes from a Desirae Wells who checked into the Empress Hotel (far cheaper than its name) during Mardi Gras and complained to the manager of having lost a shirt. He’d snorted that, “People can lose a lot of things during Mardi Gras. You’re lucky that’s all it was, girl.”

Caroline: That hotel and the area around it becomes an place of interest, especially as it ties in with what she knows of ‘Wells’ and her story.

GM: Caroline follows up with “her” Desirae Wells and asks if she still has the shirt with her name, which she does. Autumn tries to compare the handwriting sample on the shirt with any from the Empress Hotel, but the manager doesn’t have anything this many years later. The ghoul and two PIs catch a flight to Scottsdale, Arizona, the last known address they have for the “other” Desirae Wells.

Caroline: In the meantime, Caroline pulls police reports from the time and area, looking for points of interest. Mardi Gras is chaos in the city, but Caroline isn’t going to overlook an easy layup if it’s there. Knowing anything obviously Kindred related will be covered up actually gives her something to go off of: anything too neatly wrapped up—missing persons, assaults, murders—gets flags for special attention. That such ‘closed’ cases tend to have records as public record aids her, especially in the absence of her once friends on the force. The entire thing, every time she sees the NOPD logo, dredges up bitter and uncomfortable memories.

GM: Autumn calls Caroline the night after landing, and confirms that there was not a handwriting match. The other Wells (a 27-year-old Olive Garden waitress who went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras) didn’t know anything about their Wells. She got hammered pretty hard during the festivities. She must have been one of the many women to bare their breasts from a balcony (gallery in New Orleans), but unlike most of them, she never got to put her shirt back on. She scoffs at the notion she’d label her clothes (“what kind of dweeb do I look like?”), but she is adamant that the shirt Autumn brought along is hers. She also wants it back. “Look, I don’t make a lot of money. Clothes cost.”

Caroline: Caroline authorizes Autumn to compensate the waitress, especially if she’ll relate more about her trip. In particular, any people that may stick out in her blurry memories.

The shirt is still coming back.

GM: Autumn already has letters of authorization to withdraw funds from the Ventrue’s accounts, but at her domitor’s instruction, she does so to compensate Wells-the-waitress. For enough money, she could care less about the shirt, which isn’t even in the best condition anyway. Autumn records a video interview over her phone and arranges to compensate Wells-the-waitress for any follow-up questions she may ask later.

The waitress’ trip proves no more notable than any other visitor’s to New Orleans, but Caroline seems to have conclusively established that Desirae Wells is not Wells-the-Caitiff’s real name. The handwriting on the shirt does not match with hers. Wells mentioned she’d already tried that.

Digging into 2013’s Mardi Gras proves its own proverbial needle-filled haystack. Emergency services receive thousands of calls during Carnival, with the largest volume of all on Fat Tuesday.

Additionally, police reports are not public information. Almost none are posted online. To obtain them, request forms must be filled out, and mailed or delivered to the appropriate police department. In typical Louisiana efficiency, these forms are almost invariably lost or never followed through on unless accompanied by a bribe. No one at the NOPD seems to give a fuck about a citizen’s curiosity, about doing their job, or about much of anything except lining their own pockets.

It’s like everything else in this city. Nothing is difficult, unless it has to be. But nothing is ever free.

While her PIs feed more money into NOPD’s ever-hungry gullet, Caroline sends others after hospitals. Autumn is adamant that she should send only mortal agents into Tulane Medical Center, in particular, lest a ghoul’s presence be spotted and taken for yet another intrusion into the Krewe’s domain. More bribes are furnished to jog three-year-old memories.

Several hundred dollars and several days on Autumn’s and the other PIs’ parts later, local hospitals have nothing to show for a Desirae Wells. If anyone by her description checked in, it’s been buried beneath the tide of injured persons that floods them every Mardi Gras.

However, something eventually comes of the police reports. Desirae Wells may now seem useless as a name, but the cops do turn over what missing persons cases they had for young African-American women. Autumn and the other investigators run down each name back to a home city and call public records offices. When this meets with few results, they try registered addresses, and look into the owners of the buildings in question. They call landlords and send emails of the picture, asking if there’s a match. More moneys are furnished. Almost three years after Wells’ disappearance, some landlords and property managers have changed, and Autumn needs to track them down too. After enough man hours, however, the ghoul produces a match between the picture and one of NOPD’s names. Hannah Forbes is a community college student from Lafayette, Louisiana, whose friends reported her missing during 2013’s Mardi Gras.

Not long afterwards, Caroline gets a report from Lance Pertkin, one of the better PIs she’s hired. He has an exact match for Desirae Wells’ photo with Megan Frate, a Home Depot employee from Salt Lake City, Nevada. Her former landlord says she broke lease in 2011.

A day after that, Autumn confusedly reports a third match. Madison Hamer works, or at least used to work, at a call center in Baltimore, Maryland. Her former landlady says she broke lease in 2008.

Widney interjects at this point to say that the identity of Desirae Wells, or whatever her real name is, is irrelevant to her. The ghoul points out they spent thousands of dollars and man hours on this months-long goose chase only to get “results” that would seem to point more towards Autumn’s ineptitude than anything else. Does Caroline believe this investment, because that’s what it now is, will yield any meaningful returns if she continues to supply it with funds?

Caroline: Caroline is far from receptive to Widney’s concerns. The reports coming in have almost entirely captured her interest. In her haven-based office an entire board has now taken over a wall, with the modern picture of Wells at the center. Threads tie her to each of the reported sightings, below which are tacked reports, accounts, documents, and most importantly any pictures investigators are able to turn up about each of those identities. The accountant has severely miscalculated in this chosen battle.

“Three names matching one face across five years and three states… and perhaps more to come… and you think this is a waste of time or incompetence? On the contrary, I’d say she—and the investigators—have done quite well.” She laughs, somewhat cruelly. “There’s something here, Widney. Something… interesting. I don’t know what it is yet, or even where it’s going, but it’s somewhere we need to go. Or did you think friends, favors, or secrets among Kindred were easily, or cheaply bought?”

She stares at the board. “No. We go ahead, and from now on this is to be conducted with the utmost discretion. I fear we may have stumbled into the briar patch.”

GM: “As you say, ma’am,” the ghoul relents at her explanation. Perhaps a little skeptically, but she chooses not to fight this battle any further. “Not all investments pay monetary dividends.”

Caroline: Details of the investigation move to her haven and nowhere else. Reports are made independently of one another. Investigators running down each name work them with no knowledge of their fellows. Caroline also has Fuller bring in his own surveillance on Autumn during the day.

“In the past, others have thought to use her without her knowledge—or my permission—as a spy. It’s no fault of hers, but I’ll suffer no other to do so again.” Descriptions of other known Krewe ghouls that dominated Autumn previously are given to security as points of particular attention. Those that seek to repeat such an action are in for a rude surprise.

The investigation proceeds, with a particular focus on gathering information on each past identity. Any next of kin listed for them, friends or landlords or neighbors that remember them. School or work records are pursued, credit histories checked. In particular Caroline is focused on answering one, most important question: was ‘Wells’ Kindred or a ghoul prior to her fateful visit to New Orleans.

Are there any pictures under those other names on social media, perhaps posted by an old friend and never taken down? Are there any in the daylight? Has she visibly aged? And… are there other names that share her likeness further into the past?

Caroline keeps her own theories to herself, but she has twice before seen how deeply games are played by the powers that be. This time she has little interest in stumbling in blindly. Absolute silence on the details of the investigation is to be observed outside of the inner circle.

GM: The Ventrue elects against sending any of her ghouls abroad and has Autumn make phone calls, look up records, and coordinate efforts with hired PIs from New Orleans. Mortal investigators are left to do the groundwork, which is where many of Caroline’s answers will probably lie: simple interviews with people who knew Wells under her various identities.

Madison Hamer of Baltimore, Maryland, has no credit history or next of kin. She began working for a call center in June 2007 and disappeared in November 2008. There was no break-in or signs of violence in her apartment. Her boss was sleazy and either never the checked the information on, or never even used, a W-2 form. He effectively paid her under the table with prepaid debit cards used by disreputable employers together with greedy banks, which charge the user’s account to make purchases, withdraw cash, or even view balance. Her former boss, who now works as the manager of a phone store in a Philadelphia shopping mall, confirms that she was active during the day. He’s stunned anyone cares about her after this long, though he supposes he liked her enough while she was around. Her co-workers liked her too, he said. She was fairly popular. There are no photos of Wells during this time period.

Megan Frate of Salt Lake City, Utah, has no credit history or next of kin. She worked at a Home Depot from August 2010 until February 2011, when she disappeared from her apartment. There was no break-in or signs of violence. Her boss seems to have also paid her under the table, but with cash that time. She had a boyfriend named Mitchell Jones, who was also her co-worker. He cared about her enough, certainly everyone at work did. He wondered what happened to her for a while, but he eventually moved on and more or less forgot about her. He has a new girlfriend now, who’s pregnant and he’s thinking of proposing to. He confirms that Wells was active during the day, and has a number of leftover (daylit) Facebook pictures handy, in which Wells looks slightly younger. He admits to missing her more now that he’s thinking about her again.

Hannah Forbes of Lafayette, Louisiana, has no credit history or next of kin. She attended South Louisiana Community College for two semesters, Fall 2012 and Winter 2013. She never declared a major, though she got good grades and her professors and classmates liked her. She attended only night classes. None of her friends can report seeing her during the day. It doesn’t seem like it bothered them. They say she was just a night owl. Hannah Forbes apparently did not rent an apartment, instead couch-surfing with her various pals. She never talked about holding any job and they didn’t ask. In fact, she was usually the one to pay for tabs at bars and restaurants.

Further efforts by Autumn and the other investigators pulls up another visual match in Sante Fe, New Mexico, 2009 named Janice Brown, and a second visual in Tacoma, Washington, fall 2011, under Paula Weaver. The investigators have not yet dug into those.

Lafayette is pretty close by, Autumn notes… she wonders if any Kindred there might know more about Wells, who sounds like she had been Embraced by then. Autumn doesn’t know anything about the Cajun city’s vampires, though. “The Krewe only cares about New Orleans. Anything outside isn’t their problem.”

Autumn clearly isn’t expecting any surveillance to come from Caroline. Fuller and his men may not have physical descriptions of any Krewe ghouls who’ve dominated Autumn previously, but they do uncover proof that she is using her disciplines (both ones learned from Caroline and already known to the ghoul) to skim cash from a variety of sources, and slowly building up a nest egg.

Caroline: That news is not met gladly by the Ventrue, and she coldly orders that surveillance continue on Autumn. She doesn’t like secrets—at least those she is not privy to. The new names for Wells go on the board, the timeline growing, but Caroline’s next direction of investigation is less overt. Few are the Kindred that travel between cities frequently, but she’s heard tale of one group, and so fortunate is she that she knows the childe of one. She turns the topic—innocently—towards Jocelyn. Archons travel frequently, presumably with their own ghouls and such. She digs—as gently as she can—into what her paramour knows about their methods.

GM: Jocelyn doesn’t seem to pick up Caroline’s casual mid-conversation references to her sire’s occupation. She has no idea how often most archons travel, just how often her sire does. Sally seems like she moves around pretty frequently. At least once a year is probably fair. She’s often out of contact for long stretches of time.

Jocelyn is positive that Sally travels with ghouls. “I mean, she’s as helpless during the day as the rest of us, right?” She’s not sure whether her sire generally leaves any behind or not—“I guess, if she wanted someone to keep an eye on things”—though she did loan Jocelyn one of her servants once, as the Toreador described earlier. Her sire was not happy over how that turned out, and has not loaned her any further ghouls.

Caroline: The Ventrue thoughtfully logs that information away. Not definitive, but it certainly seems to support a theory she’s working—and makes this entire investigation a fair bit more dangerous than it otherwise would be. For now it remains a secret she is unwilling to share, and she lets the line of questioning die.

GM: Fuller’s reports of Autumn sightings turn up nothing else of relevance. It is not much longer before Autumn herself reports to Caroline that Fuller ordered one of his men to follow her. She mesmerized the information out of him, then wiped his memory. He doesn’t know that she knows, and she’s been going about her routine as normal.

Caroline: “Yes, I asked him to keep an eye on you,” Caroline replies casually, comfortably.

GM: “Mind if I ask why?”

Caroline: “Others have previously used you as a means of digging out knowledge as to my activities—for instance, approaching and dominating you during the day. It seemed prudent to take steps to ensure it was…. marginally more difficult to do so in the future.”

GM: “The Krewe isn’t doing that anymore. Not that I know, anyways, but it’s harder with me living here, and they don’t have much reason with you no longer breaking the Masquerade all the time. They’re pretty easy to get along with if you aren’t doing that.”

Caroline: “You’ll understand that while I’m happy to get along, I’ve grown fond of verifying instead of trusting.”

GM: “About that. No offense, but Fuller’s guys suck at tailing people. Not as badly as I sucked missing them the first time, but these ex-Army meatheads are amateurs next to the Krewe’s spies.”

Caroline: “Of course they are,” Caroline agrees. “They weren’t exactly making a business of hiding.”

GM: “Sorry?”

Caroline: “More valuable to me than catching someone trying to mind-rape you is preventing someone from trying to mind rape you.”

GM: “I’ll echo that. Thanks for the bodyguards, then.”

Caroline: Caroline’s next avenue of attack is delving deeply into Wells’ last identity, the one that brought her to New Orleans and saw her ‘Embraced’. She backtracks financial records on her friends that reported her missing, mapping their journey to the city, their hotel, where they went. She sends interviewers for them, seeking the exact night that Wells went ‘missing’ and what might have occurred along the way,

As that information comes in she sets a meeting with Coco: this is going a layer deeper than she’d like.

GM: Jennifer Haley answers the number Caroline calls and asks the basic nature of the business she wishes to discuss with her mistress.

Caroline: Caroline is vague about specifics, mentioning an interest in both repairing damage done with Coco’s bloc—or at least among it—and in learning more about the Anarch Movement as a whole.

GM: Desirae Wells’ friends were three women by the names of Felicity Gonzalez, Isabel LaCroix, and Stephanie Rawls, ages generally mid-20s. Digging into their finances reveals that all three were fellow students at South Louisiana Community College. Isabel lived with her parents and was on food stamps, while Stephanie and Felicity shared an apartment subsidized through public housing and had significant credit card debt. Purchasing histories reveal tight budgets spent on rent, utilities, groceries, tuition, and little else. The four traveled to the city together in a car registered under the names of Isabel’s parents and made several stops for gas. They stayed at the Empress Hotel, where they all shared the same room—except Wells, who rented her own, a fact the budget-minded other three did not appear to find unusual. The hotel manager, already interviewed over a month ago, only shrugs and said it never occurred to him they were part of the same group. He doesn’t remember their names. The remainder of their purchase histories include a few toiletries and meals from inexpensive dining establishments like Lil’ Dizzy’s. The four appear to have been as budget-minded in New Orleans as they were in Lafayette. At least until Mardi Gras, when its infectious spirit tempted them out for a night of drinking. That’s when Wells disappeared. Fat Tuesday.

Between the parades, crowds, dancing and drink, it was hard to keep track of one another. They were all just having fun, and had their phones in case they needed to get ahold of one another. The last hard sight they had of Wells was around 11:30 at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. They tried calling her, after they realized she was missing, but no one answered. They asked around at Lafitte’s and went to the police. They filed the missing persons reports and tried to talk with a detective. But one missing girl on Mardi Gras was a needle in a haystack. They stayed in New Orleans for a while longer and did their best to find her. They even located her phone outside The Lamp Light, but weren’t able to get anything else. Eentually their funds ran out, school was soon to start back up, and they admitted defeat. They haven’t heard from Wells ever since. They’re grateful to see someone finally taking an interest and wish they could be of more help. Wells was a “good friend.” Isabel kept the phone in the back of her closet for close to three years now and turns it over. She’s not been able to do anything with it in all that time.

However, it is other sources that finally yield the most substantive information.

It takes weeks, and Widney never fails to remind how much money it’s costing, but Autumn and the PIs (who now include Pinkerton) finally turn up a birth certificate for Desirae Wells. More than one. And around a dozen different identities, scattered over just as many cities. Missoula, Montana. Jacksonville, Florida. Austin, Texas. Chicago, Illinois. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Mobile, Alabama. Wells has been everywhere over the country. None of the identities have much in the way of solid documentation. The last one to actually have a birth certificate was a then-18-year-old Ursula Stanfield, who enlisted in the Air Force upon graduating high school. She disappeared before completing basic training. Before she did, she lived in a foster home and was fully in the system, with everything from dental records to SAT scores. She generally did well as a student, but had no next of kin, and upon being expelled from the foster system, would have had no home. Her chosen career was likely one of the few real futures still open to her.

Ursula Stanfield’s lived as opposed to documented identity, however, only goes back two or so years. She was found wandering the streets of Greensboro, North Carolina, at 16 years old by social services without any memory of her past. Doctors looked her over, declared a case of retrograde amnesia, and sent her off to the foster care system.

Wells has half a dozen more identities as an adolescent and even child. Every time, it’s the same story. She shows up somewhere, be it Florida, Oklahoma, California, Massachusetts, or wherever else. She claims no memories of her past, doctors and social workers look her over, shuffle her off to the foster system, and she stays for a while before disappearing again. Sometimes she lived in group homes, sometimes with a foster family. She was even adopted once. She was generally liked by peers and considered well-behaved by adults, but otherwise unremarkable.

However, some of the people to get closest to Wells’ various identities appear to have come down with amnesia too. Friends and foster parents suffered only partial lapses of memory. Her adoptive family, a pastor and his wife in Oklahoma City, do not even remember adopting her. Caroline’s investigators only find that connection by looking into records and talking with social workers.

Their search finally seems to come to an end with a girl named Mary Coleman. She was born in Camden, Pennsylvania, on March 5th, 1989. Her father was an automotive mechanic and her mother was an office secretary. Mary Coleman disappeared when she was 7 years old. As with all of “Wells’” other disappearances, there were no signs of violence or abduction. One day, she simply vanished—and the family does not recall losing or even having a daughter. Both parents appear to have come down with early-onset Alzheimer’s and have been placed in a nursing home.

Caroline’s wall of pictures and notes has now grown quite expansive—and coherent. She has dozens of pictures lined up in chronological order, starting with 7-year-old Mary Coleman who grows into 8-year-old Evelyn Turner, 10-year-old Raleigh Young, and a dozen more names spread over equally many cities and towns. Her potentially final destination as a mortal woman was Jasmine Reed of Shreveport, Louisiana in early 2012. There is a several-month gap before she re-emerges in Lafayette as Hannah Forbes—and, Autumn believes, one of the Damned.

After all these months of toil, Autumn thinks they have dug up everything they can about Desirae Wells, Mary Coleman, or whatever the hell her name really is. The narrative of her mortal past stretches all the way across the wall in Caroline’s office, telling its bizarre tale through pictures, maps, and neat little dated labels of an amnesiac who flitted from place to place and identity to identity as she grew up. The only witnesses left to canvas are other vampires. Wells’ krewe and fellow Anarchs. The Kindred of Lafayette. The unknown sire who cursed her with a clanless Embrace, whoever he or she was—and Desirae Wells herself. Whoever she is.

“I don’t know what the hell to make of this,” Autumn finishes with her last report.

Caroline: Caroline nods. “It’s certainly interesting. Let’s look at a couple other matters.”

Caroline runs background checks on each of her foster families, seeking out evidence of criminal activity or abuse in their records. She doesn’t expect to find any. She has interviews scheduled with several other children in the same foster family backgrounds.

She also runs down every contact in the phone recovered, running names and numbers against databases to see which numbers are still in use, and who they are registered to. It’s straightforward work with the resources the firm brings to the table. Mostly Caroline is searching for any numbers that stand out, and any disconnected: in the age of cell phone numbers migrating across carriers few people cancel outright.

GM: True to her expectations, Caroline finds no evidence of abuse or criminal activity. Just a few counts of shoplifting. Three years after Wells’ disappearance, some of the numbers in her phone are disconnected. The majority are still there, include the three friends she went to Mardi Gras with, a few less close neighbors and acquaintances, and a few work contact numbers for her job as a waitress.

Caroline: Caroline’s next stop with the unusual case is her mother—one of the only supernaturally aware beings she nominally ‘trusts.’ She lays out what she’s found, and more importantly, her going theory.

“The nearest thing I can figure is a city hopping Kindred wanted to keep her relatively close for some reason. At first I’d thought she was simply a ghoul, some servant, but that doesn’t quite add up.”

GM: Claire frowns as she considers Caroline’s findings.

“I suppose that’s possible. A nomadic leech taking her from place to place and setting her up with new identities. But if they were capable of manipulating memories to that extent, I’m not sure why they’d set her up with such frankly undesirable identities. There are worse ones a leech could engineer if they wanted to be punitive.”

Claire shrugs.

“Then again, perhaps whatever happened to her had nothing to do with your kind. At first, at least.”

Caroline: Caroline tilts her head and bids her mother continue.

GM: Her mother looks as if she could shrug again. “It’s a vast and dark world out there. Leeches aren’t the only things that go bump in the night. I don’t know enough about this Wells, or whatever her name is, to say anything definite about what happened to her.”

“Or enough about whatever has been happening to her, I should say. You’ve certainly uncovered a thorough enough profile of her life. I wonder if the parents on her first birth certificate are really hers or not, though. A DNA test would establish that.”

Caroline: Leeches. The word gets under her skin mostly because it also refers to her. Mostly. She pushes it aside.

“I’d thought about it, some kind of curse or outside power, but the falsified documentation looked too deliberate.”

GM: “Was it false? If an amnesiac child winds up in the foster care system, a new birth certificate would eventually get issued if no one could find anything. There’d need to be some kind of legal documentation that they were alive.”

Caroline: “And the travel distances?” Caroline asks.

GM: “I don’t have any explanation for you there.”

Caroline: The Ventrue smiles, showing too much teeth.


Monday night, 16 November 2015, PM

GM: It’s another three nights before Coco receives Caroline at her usual corner table at Blaze. In the several months since their last meeting, the Brujah has become a platinum blonde, and now has curly instead of straight hair. She’s dressed in a black wool turtleneck, dark brown leather jacket, low-rise blue jeans, and knee-high boots. Her ghoul Haley is also present, conferring with her mistress over the screen of an Solaris. Coco dismisses her with a gesture and motions for Caroline to take a seat.

The past months have been eventful ones in Mid-City, Caroline is at least dimly aware. She socializes with few of her kind, but Jocelyn said something in passing about lots of licks moving out of the Anarchs’ parish—and back into it. More fallout from the split over Matheson.

Caroline: Caroline slides into the seat opposite the Brujah matriarch. Time has given her a better appreciation of Coco’s efforts at keeping her appearance fresh and dynamic—though she’s not tempted anything so reckless as outright dyeing her hair, she’s experimented with smaller cosmetic changes with limited success.

GM: “Speak. You don’t need my leave,” Coco bids over a nauseous-smelling pink drink. It’s the one element of her appearance that incongruently stands out in the rough-and-tumble punk bar. Almost a flaunt. Caroline has yet to see any patrons bother her for it.

Caroline: “Of course.” After all the time she’s spent in stuffy Ventrue etiquette lessons and the generous but eggshell-like meetings with Savoy, the Brujah’s direct mannerisms are a welcome change. Ten different lines jump to mind, pleasantries and indirect ways at getting at the topic, but something bids her to be more direct.

“I’m certain you’re quite busy, but I wanted to give you an advanced look on something I was working on, and perhaps ask an opinion, Primogen Duquette. Do you know much of Desirae Wells?”

GM: “I’d hope so, lest I be a poor spokeswoman for the Movement’s licks.” She then adds, “And it’s Coco. You can take the Ventrue out of the boardroom, but you can’t take the boardroom out of the Ventrue.”

Caroline: The familiar term is a trap, but not one Caroline can resist.

“I suspect you could,” she offers, “but also that much like a fish out of water, they’d not survive long outside of it.”

GM: “That which cannot adapt to the world is doomed to pass from it.” Coco motions. “But we’ve strayed from the subject you’re here over, Desirae Wells.”

Caroline: “I suppose that depends, Coco, the world is 71% water, but you’re quite right. Ms. Wells has… an interesting history.”

GM: “All of us do, if you look deep enough.” Coco motions again as if for her to expound.

Caroline: “More than a dozen names, a dozen cities…” Caroline offers.

GM: “And what sparked your interest in her past?”

Caroline: “She asked,” Caroline replies easily. “And it seemed something I could do. Something manageable. I’ve caused many troubles, I thought I might try mending some.”

GM: “That’s not a poor idea. Yet it’s clearly more than a simple mending of troubles if you’re coming to me with your findings.”

Caroline: “Call it a courtesy, lest I kick over any rocks in your field.”

GM: “Wells wants to find answers to her past. I’m sure she’d appreciate hearing your findings, if you haven’t passed them along already. The courtesy call’s appreciated too. Those are usually smart to make.”

Caroline: It takes Caroline a moment to recognize the feeling in the pit of her stomach. That ache if defeat, of disappointment, of hollowness. It’s loneliness. Loneliness, not born of the absence of others—that’s not a problem Caroline has ever experienced. This is something else, something deeper. It’s the loneliness of realizing that once again someone she’d thought would care simply doesn’t. The feeling of searching a crowd after a triumph to find your father on the phone, or your mother’s back turned. Or no one at all.

GM: “Oh, don’t look so glum. Wells wants to know who she is. And why shouldn’t she? Do we not have a right to know where we come from? I’m sure you’re glad for the chance to win another Kindred’s goodwill.”

Caroline: “Lafayette. I think she was Embraced in Lafayette originally.”

GM: “The dream of every Caitiff to know their sire. Perhaps she’ll brave the wilds and the Loup-Garoux to find their face, if you don’t already have one to pass her. Perhaps she won’t come back. But some truths are worth dying for.”

Caroline: “Are they?”

GM: “The individual with no cause to die for has nothing worth living for.” Coco flicks a hand. “But go on. Dispel the darkness of Wells’ ignorance with your truth’s light. And if she doesn’t mind you sharing the full details with me, I’d be similarly intrigued to finally know the origins of New Orleans’ mysterious amnesiac.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns, then nods. “As you’d prefer,” she agrees.

GM: “Now Jen said you were here for something else too. Learning about the Movement, was it?”

Caroline: “Something they teach painfully little of in Ventrue finishing school,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “All right. Ask.”

Caroline: Caroline folds her hands. “Why does the Movement exist as a stand-alone, outside of established institutions?”

GM: “What makes you describe us as a stand-alone?” Coco asks in turn.

Caroline: “Outside descriptions, I suppose. The appearance of standing apart from, for instance, the Lancea et Sanctum.”

GM: “Yet this to a greater extent than the other covenants?”

Caroline: Caroline thinks. “To a greater extent than some.”

GM: Coco gestures for her to expound.

Caroline: “I suppose I don’t understand what in the Lancea et Sanctum and and Anarch Movement is irreconcilable, as an example. Though perhaps that’s in a misunderstanding, or simple lack of, of the Movement as a whole.”

GM: “The Movement believes in the inherent equality of all Kindred and their right to self-government,” Coco explains. “The Sanctified believe we are wolves chosen by God to cull sinful mortals from the flock. These are gross simplifications of both ideologies, but to my mind, they aren’t inherently incompatible. There is no prescription against Kindred belonging to both covenants.”

Caroline: “But it’s uncommon.”

GM: “I can name a fair few Kindred who do. But they are a minority. Few Kindred can long serve two masters. Or the cause of personal liberty and a master concurrently.”

Caroline: “And how does personal liberty reconcile among us, and the slavery that is in our blood, or our ability to control the hearts, minds, and even memories of each other and the kine alike?”

GM: “It is due to these qualities and abilities that the need to exercise and respect personal liberty is all the more important. Abuse of such powers upon one’s fellow Kindred can, have, and does ferment discontent and revolution. Within New Orleans’ local Movement, we have outlawed all nonconsensual bonds of blood and impositions upon the wills of other Anarchs. Violators can be subject to temporary or permanent banishment, or other punishments decided by a jury of their peers.”

“As Kindred we are inherently bloodthirsty and self-centered beings, but through the application of higher reason and due process of law, we may attempt to rise above our base nature. Just as man must.”

Caroline: Caroline cannot help but notice that ‘jury of their peers’ leaves open the same room that any trial does. She doesn’t comment upon it. No system is perfect.

“How then are disputes decided?”

GM: “In New Orleans’ Movement, if a dispute cannot be resolved between individuals, or a third party mediator—often me—it is brought before the community and decided by majority vote.”

Caroline: “Presumably that’s in poor taste.” She leans back. “What’s the vision, the dream?”

GM: “On the contrary. Sometimes the blood runs too hot, or the matter disputed is too large, for it to be resolved privately. There is no shame in our democratic institutions being exercised as intended.”

“The dream is the same I have always pursued. Liberté. Egalité. Fraternité. Within New Orleans at large, we are Prince Vidal’s subjects. Within Mid-City, we have the right to self-government. All decisions that Miss Opal and I would normally make as regents are put up for popular vote. One Anarch, one voice, one vote, equal to that of his or her brethren.”

Caroline: Meaning he or she who controls the mob, controls Mid-City, Caroline’s political mind translates. The very idea cuts into her from both sides. On one, it’s the model of American democracy, the very one her family has exploited for generations. Political power through controlling the mob, and the Malveaux family is, for everything else, thoroughly Americanized.

On the other, the idea of rabble having an equal voice, of claiming parity with the most vulgar Kindred cuts against their upper-class upbringing. Against her upbringing. To say nothing of the Ventrue lessons she’s slid into. The Clan of Kings. The blue bloods. There’s a degree of not only truth, but also appeal in such titles. Everyone wants to think they’re better. Everyone wants to be better. And some, especially in a society of immortals that grow only stronger with age, truly are.

And yet… across from her sits a queen of the Damned in this city, centuries old and skilled enough, intelligent enough, strong enough. Enough to crush others if she so desired. Instead she plays that game. It’s difficult to judge it, to scorn it.

GM: “Our political system is not without flaws,” Coco continues. “Democracy is not without flaws. It is vulnerable to internal and external dangers that we must maintain constant vigilance against. But we strive to realize libertas within our corner New Orleans as best we can, and I believe Anarchs residents within our parish possess greater personal freedoms than any of their neighbors do.”

Caroline: “Such as?” Caroline inquires curiously.

GM: “The freedom to establish and maintain domain by one’s own blood and toil, the right not to surrender the fruits of one’s labors to distant elders through corvée, the right to treat and be treated by one’s fellows as a social equal, the right to raise and resolve disputes without recourse to violence, the rights to freedom of assembly, religion, and speech—including the rights to debate, criticize, satirize, mock, and insult perceived leaders such as myself without fear of violent retribution, to name a few.”

Caroline: Caroline tilts her head. “Carve out their own domain? How does that interact with the lack of violence and the limited area?”

GM: “Public hunting grounds are allotted to ensure that no Anarch wants for vitae. Many krewes and individual Kindred claim further territory of their own, granted by popular vote in recognition of past services and contributions to the Movement, or the simple smooth-talking and demagoguery to which any democratic assembly is susceptible, and revocable by a two-thirds supermajority vote. Spheres of mortal influence extend as far as it takes for other Anarchs to cry foul, and if need be, bring the matter before public assembly. Trespass within another Anarch’s domain is punished by fines, the loss of one’s own domain, or banishment from Mid-City, as arbitration or community-wide judgment and established precedent finds appropriate. Most Anarchs do not infringe upon the domains of their fellows. Non-Anarch trespassers or poachers may be expelled by means of violence without stigma.”

Caroline: May be expelled. Caroline has the good sense to keep the savage grin off her face at that thought, but she doesn’t try to dance around it. “I do regret what happened between us.”

GM: “I’m sure.”

Caroline: A wolfish smile. “Deeds more than words. With that in mind, by your leave, I’ll not keep Ms. Wells waiting longer than necessary. Perhaps in the future we could speak more of the Movement and its history.”

GM: “You’ll find that it’s indelibly soaked into every street, corner, and execution chamber where Kindred blood was spilled by elders’ hands. But perhaps we shall.” Coco lifts her pink-hued drink in a motion of seeming toast and farewell.

Wednesday night, 18 November 2015, AM

Caroline: The Ventrue spends a fair bit of time debating where to hold her meeting with Wells—debating between the incomplete office and her more established position in the Giani Building. Ultimately, the latter wins out. She makes the call herself rather than pawning it off, informing Wells that she has uncovered some information about her past, and is available to discuss it the following evening at any time after 10pm at the Giani Building’s deck.

GM: Wells agrees to the meeting at 1 AM and enters the building on foot.

Caroline: Waiting for her in the lobby are two Autumn and Fuller, who politely chaperon her up the roof. Caroline has taken over the now ‘closed’ upper deck and sits with another ghoul, Widney, going over financial reports when the Anarch is led out onto the deck. The night air is cool without being cold, and on the cloudless night the moon shines brightly upon them.

GM: Wells sits down at the table across from Caroline. She’s dressed in a simple button-up white shirt and pair of dark pants.

“Good evening, Ms. Malveaux. You said you’d found something regarding my past.”

Caroline: Caroline is dressed in a short sleeved black top and matching black pencil skirt cinched at the waist with a glossily leather belt. “We’ll finish later,” she tells Widney as Wells approaches. While the ghoul closes the binder they were working on and withdraws, Caroline turns her attention across the table.

“I’m happy to report that I have, Ms. Wells, with some difficulty.”

GM: “I’d imagine so. Our first talk was some time ago,” the Caitiff replies.

Caroline: “A wise man one said, ‘good things come to those who wait’.” The Ventrue heiress smiles with evident amusement. “I confess there are some hole in what I’ve discovered, but I can say with some certainty that you are not Desirae Wells. That name—and the shirt you woke up with—belongs to a 27-year-old Olive Garden waitress who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. She visited New Orleans in 2013 for Mardi Gras, around the time you reported coming to with no memory.”

Caroline extends a hand, and Autumn slides a thin folder into it, which Caroline extends to the Caitiff.

“She is, sadly, unremarkable in almost every way.”

GM: “I see. Well, I have to admit I half-expected something like that,” Wells admits. “Do you have another name for me, or will it continue to be Desirae Wells?”

Caroline: Caroline’s grin is positively wolfish. “I do, but first, a note. Ms Wells was unremarkable in almost every say, save one: she did not write her name on the shirt, and her handwriting—you’ll see the sample on page three—does not match the writing. Some third party wrote her name on it before it passed into your hands—why, I cannot tell you.”

“What I can tell you is that you came to New Orleans in 2013 under the name Hannah Forbes. She was a college student from Lafayette attending Southern Louisiana Community College from 2012 into 2013. She was well liked, received good grades, and came to New Orleans with three friends,” Caroline holds out another hand, and another folder passes into it, which she once more passes to Wells.

GM: Wells opens it up and thoughtfully pages through it.

Caroline: “It’s all in the file, including short names and profiles for those three. They were quite disturbed when you vanished, and even spent time searching for you. They last saw you around 11:30, and their search turned up your phone but little else. They were, even now, rather gladdened to hear that someone was interested in Hannah’s disappearance, relating that you were a ‘good friend’.” Caroline pauses to let the other Kindred page through what was, for a time, her life. “Their numbers are also in the file, if you want to contact them.”

GM: “I’d thought that might have been the case too. I suppose it’s like that quote says, the person without friends is either a beast or a god.” Wells looks up from the folder. “That’s who I am, then? Hannah Forbes?”

Caroline: “That,” Caroline replies, “is a very good question. One I don’t have a firm answer on. What I can tell you is that you were not Embraced in New Orleans, or in 2013.”

GM: Wells frowns. “You’re sure? Do you have another date and place? I’d always supposed I was one of the Carnival Embraces.”

Caroline: “There is neither a single picture, nor account, nor record of Hannah Forbes ever appearing during the day. She never held a job of record, but always had money available. She took all night classes.” Caroline grins. “I’m fairly certain.”

GM: “That’s a fairly compelling case,” Wells grants, then frowns thoughtfully. “But why would I lose my memory as a Kindred?”

Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue for a moment, before continuing in a less certain voice, “The most obvious answer would be that someone broke into your mind and removed those memories.”

GM: “My entire life? That’s a rather scary thought to swallow, Ms. Malveaux,” Wells offers with a humorless smile.

Caroline: “And yet, far from an impossible answer. I can think of few crueler—or perhaps kinder—things to do to someone, and I’m told that Kindred passions run hot during Mardi Gras.”

Caroline does not sound as though she is trying to convince her.

GM: “If you say so. I’m not altogether sure what someone might’ve hoped to gain by erasing a newcomer’s past life, but that’s an equally frightening thought to think of it as a ‘kindness’.”

Caroline: “Knowledge can be a dangerous thing, I’ve learned, Ms. Wells—forgive me, I don’t know if you still prefer that name. There are plenty of secrets worth killing for, and just as many worth dying for.”

GM: “This is all a little much to digest,” Wells says slowly. “I’m not sure of much, but one thing I am is that I’ll stay Desirae Wells at least until I’ve read all of these files.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I understand. This must be quite a shock.”

GM: “I suppose I hadn’t expected you to turn up much of anything, truth be told. Lord knows I’ve tried to. Where did you dig up all of this, or is that in the files?”

Caroline: “It was… not easy. There are thousands of man hours in this investigation already. Beginning with the name and face, then just the name, then just the face. The picture you provided was really the biggest piece—without it it’d have been a much more difficult investigation.”

GM: “I suppose it’s as you’ve said. You can change a name without much trouble, but a face is another matter.”

Caroline: “We fed them through databases, combed through missing persons reports, investigated every lead. Autumn,” she gestures to the auburn-haired ghoul, “did much of the leg work.”

GM: Wells looks down at the files, then back up at Caroline. “And all of this is about my mortal life in Lafayette as… Hannah Forbes? There’s nothing for who I might have been Embraced by, or why they did it?” The Caitiff’s calm voice finally starts to show some strain.

“Not to sound ungrateful, of course. This is all… far more than I imagined anyone would ever dig up. It’s the name I never thought I’d find.”

Caroline: Caroline’s expression tightens. “Hopefully it’ll bring you some peace, Ms. Wells. I know well enough how… uncomfortable it is not knowing. How many questions often surround our Embraces, and how painful those can be without answers. These are not answers, but they might be… the beginning of them. I suspect more lie in Lafayette. Perhaps most, but I’m also told that is a dangerous journey.”

GM: Wells nods at Caroline’s statement. “Yes, there’s certainly visiting Lafayette’s Kindred to see if they know anything. I suppose I made the trip once already too, Loup-Garoux or no. But I’m getting ahead of myself.” The Caitiff neatly stacks the files over one another. “I’ll need some time to read these over and digest them. I’m sure I’ll have more questions when I’m done. And then we can discuss what I owe you, of course.”

Caroline: “A few more moments of your time, and perhaps an honest word to others,” Caroline offers in response to the last.

GM: “Is that so? Well, I suppose we can get the first of those out of the way right now,” Wells remarks, looking towards Caroline.

Caroline: Caroline interlaces her fingers. “There’s more.” She gently holds up a hand to forestall an interruption. “Nothing complete. Nothing that makes sense. Pieces mostly.”

GM: “I’m certainly still ears.”

Caroline: “I don’t want to lie to you, nor would I presume to make the decision for you, Ms. Wells… but,” she extends her free hand again, and this time Autumn produces a larger brown fold over folder.
Caroline sets it on the table, but does not slide it over.

“I don’t know that any good will come of what is in here. It does not, seemingly, concern your Kindred life, but it does concern you. If you want it, it’s yours, but I’d ask you wait, look at what you have already and whether it brings you any peace, and decide in a night, or a week, or a month if you want to dig further back in truth. I suspect what is in here is… dangerous.”

GM: Wells frowns a little, but doesn’t take long before she replies, “Well, that’s fair enough. I’ve waited a long while for answers as it is, and I’m sure there’s enough in these folders to keep me busy over the next night or two.” She rises from her seat. “I’ll be in touch. Thank you, and Autumn, for all you’ve uncovered so far.”

Caroline: Caroline rises with her. “Hopefully I’ve been of some help, Ms. Wells. You know how to reach me… and if you should decide you wish to journey to Lafayette, you might reach out as well.” She smiles. “I’d like to think I could provide more than simply folders.”

Caroline watches her go with mixed emotions. She wasn’t lying about her own feelings on her own past—the feelings of confusion and lack of belonging. The anger and frustration that of not knowing why. But nor was she lying in her caution: her own delve into her own past brought only dangerous secrets, not satisfying truths.

Wednesday night, 18 November 2015, PM

GM: Wells calls and returns to the Giani Building to meet with Caroline the next night. She’s read all the files, she says. What the Ventrue uncovered of her life as Hannah Forbes is very thorough. That’s what makes it all the more puzzling how everything stops at 2012.

“Is that what this other file has? The rest of my life before then?” the Caitiff asks.

Caroline: When she arrives Wells is met in the lobby and escorted once more to the roof, this time by an unfamiliar ghoul that bears a striking resemblance to Caroline. She informs Wells that Caroline is on her way, and apologies for the tardiness: the Ventrue was out in the city when security reported Wells’ arrival. She asks if there are any ‘refreshments’ they can provide while she waits. Whether she declines or accepts, she is not kept waiting.

Once more Caroline greets her guest on the roof. Tonight the Ventrue is dressed more casually, a pencil skirt and a tucked spotted gray and white blouse. She arrives several minutes after the Caitiff, carrying a small hand bag, evidently not expecting Wells to drop in so quickly and with little notice. “I apologize, Ms. Wells, hopefully they were accommodating in my absence?”

To the fellow Kindred’s question Caroline nods, “Yes, and no. I have bits and pieces of your life before your Embrace. If it were so simple as a name, face, and home town I’d, of course, have given it to you. This is… something else.”

GM: Wells appears in another button-up light blue shirt and tan khakis. She says she’s already fed, but thanks the ghoul for the offer, and pages through her phone during the few moments it takes for Caroline to arrive.

“Oh yes, everything I’d expect from a blue blood,” she responds to Caroline’s question with some humor. It fades as the two address the next subject.

Caroline: “Ah, you have no idea how reassuring that is to hear.”

GM: “Really? My pleasure then. In any case,” Wells continues more seriously, “That sounds better than nothing, Ms. Malveaux. I’ve thought about what you said. Perhaps you’re right that I won’t like whatever’s in there. Perhaps I’ve done some bad things in my earlier life. Maybe worse than I can imagine if they happened after I was Embraced. But good or bad, somebody already knows them. And good or bad, truth is truth and worth knowing. I suppose I’ve hung out with too many Brujah.” There’s another mostly humorless smile. “Whatever it is, I’m prepared to accept it.”

Caroline: Caroline nods knowingly. “Far be it for me to tell you what your path should be Ms. Wells.” She gestures to the ghouls standing some distance away, and a moment or two later the blond look-alike returns with the brown folder from the night before. Caroline first digs out a sheet and slides it across to her guest. On it are a list of names, cities, and date ranges. “Those are all names you lived under before your Embrace. The earliest record is under the name Mary Coleman, from 1989 in Pennsylvania. She disappeared at age 7, resurfacing as Evelyn Turner, then two years later as Raleigh Young… it goes on and on.”

The list fills the page in small neat font. “The last mortal identity I was able to pinpoint was as Jasmine Reed, in Shreveport Louisiana, back in 2012. Early 2012.”

GM: Wells looks the list over, frowning. “I’m not sure I understand, Ms. Malveaux. These names couldn’t have all been me.”

Caroline: Caroline begins digging out folders from the larger brown one. On the front of each is as clear a photo of the various Wells identities they could uncover. Evidently the Ventrue put time into the presentation of the folder, whether or not Wells came back for it.

GM: The sight of the photos finally seems to give Wells pause. In more ways than one. These may well be the first pictures of her younger self she can remember seeing.

Caroline: The photos show a regression in age, year by year, all the way back to Mary Coleman, a grinning seven-year-old.

“I don’t know if that’s actually your birth name. Both parents are still alive, even though they’ve suffered some form of ‘early onset memory loss’. If you’d like I could try to arrange a DNA test. That memory loss is a common fixture with many of your various foster families though—many don’t even remember you.”

GM: “I’m sorry, memory loss?” Wells frowns.

Caroline: Caroline nods. “It’s all in each folder, but most of the story of each of these identities was pried loose from records, rather than interviews. I don’t know the how or why of it. If you wanted a best guess I’d offer the meddling of a Kindred in your life, but that’s very thin, and mostly bending facts to meet records. The alternative is that all, or most, of these records were forgeries, but that would be an elaborate ruse indeed, towards a purpose I couldn’t wrap my head around.”

GM: Wells pages through the folders and pictures, her fingers lingering on the final seven-year-old.

“I’m… really not sure what to make of this, Ms. Malveaux.” Her gaze sweeps over the rows of laid-out documents again.

Caroline: “There’s also another matter of some, perhaps in truth unrelated, significance.”

GM: “And that might be?”

Caroline: “You likely already know, Ms. Wells, but there was, and by some unsubstantiated accounts still is, another Caitiff in New Orleans of late that claimed to have no memory of his own past. Given the memory loss present in so much of your past, it is… not implausible that he could have been your sire.”

GM: “You mean Raymond? Yes, I’ve heard of him. Or looked into him, I should say. I thought he turned out to be Tremere.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles and nods. “He returned to the city claiming such a background—though how he came to the conclusion was less clear. My source reported the Tremere had little contact with him, and there were rumors he was a Ventrue, or a Caitiff.”

GM: “Well, I suppose it’s impossible to know for sure without asking him or the warlocks. Not that the latter are likely to be talkative.”

Caroline: Caroline’s smile turns tight. “I suspect the answer, if it exists, lies less with him directly and more with Shreveport or Layfayette. If there is any relation of note to you. As I said, I’m leaning heavily upon the simple unlikelihood of two Caittiff both appearing from outside the city within a short time period, both with memory loss, and one with a past that indicates others in close contact with suffered memory loss.”

GM: “That might well be,” Wells concurs. She looks over the latest of Caroline’s folders. “Well, I’ll probably be at least a few nights looking everything here over and deciding what to do next. I’m sure I’ll have more questions, as before. But you’ve found the answers I asked for, or at least a good lead on them, even if they don’t make too much sense yet. What would you ask in return?”

Caroline: Caroline sits back, then gestures. “Might I ask, what do you know of me, Ms. Wells?”

GM: “To be honest, Ms. Malveaux, not a whole lot that’s good,” Wells answers. “I didn’t recognize you at first. But it wasn’t too long ago the Anarchs were all talking about the grudge you had with Eight-Nine-Six. They say you poached in their turf, dragged in cops after they beat you senseless, then got the sheriff to take away their turf because they’d attacked a blue blood.”

Caroline: Caroline tries, and fails, to keep her expression neutral, and bites her tongue for a moment before replying, “I’ll not try to feed you my version of those events. You either knew, liked, and believed Eight-Nine-Six, or you trusted as always, the truth is a three-edged sword. I will offer this, though. The night I fought with the Eight-Nine-Six was my third into my Requiem, one with neither sire, nor mentor, nor friend. Take of that what you will in how you will.”

GM: “I’m sorry if that’s not the impression you’ve wanted to foster. Good or ill it’s what I’ve heard. Beyond that, licks say you’re the sheriff’s new favorite between how he dealt with Eight-Nine-Six, then caught your sire for you.”

Caroline: The flash of anger that slides across Caroline’s eyes is oh so violent. She buries it, or at least tries to, forces a tight smile back across her face.

“I appreciate your candor, Ms. Wells.”

GM: "Otherwise, they say you’re the Creoles’ new golden girl after getting initiated into the Sanctified by the prince "

Caroline: “It’s so very interesting how differently things look from different sides,” she grinds out, taking a moment thereafter in stillness and silence before continuing. “In any case, your observations speak to a basic truth, the unfortunate circumstances of my Embrace, and subsequent missteps thereafter amid the minefield of Kindred politics I didn’t know was there has created an unfortunate perception. One that I do not think is reflective of my present circumstances. For this,” she gestures to the folders, “I would ask only two things of you.”

GM: Wells’ pleasant expression would seem to indicate that she continue.

Caroline: “First, speak to others you may know that need similar assistance. I’m afraid, as you observed, my social clout is limited, but as you see, my resources are significantly greater—and I’m open for business, to anyone.”

GM: “I’m sorry, Ms. Malveaux, assistance in researching lost pasts?” Wells asks with some confusion. “I can certainly pass that along, but you’ll be lucky to get many licks interested besides me. Or did you simply mean investigative work in a more general sense?”

Caroline: “Investigative assistance. Financial assistance. Research assistance. Legal assistance—especially putting Masquerade related matters such as identification or ownership records in order. Security or simply neutral ground or a neutral arbiter in a matter,” Caroline replies easily.

“I’d not ask you to sell me in the street corner to everyone you meet, merely that you offer a referral if the opportunity presents itself. Such is likely to matter far more coming from someone within the Movement, than it is coming from an outsider with an… unfortunate past history.”

“I’d like an opportunity to show, rather than try to tell, that I’m not quite the character various rumors have made out.”

GM: “I can certainly put the word out in the way you’re asking, Ms. Malveaux.” The Caitiff pauses. “But fair warning that it’s not just… bad rumors you may have to contend with. Eight-Nine-Six were committed Anarchs. Brothers and sisters in the cause, with friends. Everyone admired Bliss for her moxie. They say she had the stones to punch out Micheal Kelly in his own bar, back when everyone believed that nonsense about him fighting in WWII.”

“They were brutalized by the sheriff, at least according to popular view, and were summarily executed for a Masquerade breach no one even saw. We held a wake for them the night after the trial. They were martyrs killed by elder tyranny.”

“Now I suppose you haven’t asked me for advice,” Wells admits, “but you haven’t asked me for a great deal more either, so I guess you can consider this a freebie… if you really want to make inroads with the Anarchs, show that you’re sorry how things turned out with our lost friends.”

Caroline: Caroline is quiet for a moment. “I’m sorry for how things began. I don’t know that we’d have ever been ‘friends’, but I didn’t have any ill will towards them prior to the back alley brawl, or even know I was doing anything wrong.”

GM: “That’s not an unfamiliar story to many neonates,” Wells observes. “Or many Anarchs.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “It’s funny that you think I’m the sheriff’s new favorite, or that he ‘caught’ my sire for me. But then, I guess he isn’t in the habit of explaining himself, and I haven’t exactly been the most social.”

GM: “That’s never too late to rectify, Ms. Malveaux. Coco likes to say that if we don’t speak up for ourselves we let other people speak for us.”

Caroline: “Isn’t it?” Caroline asks genuinely. “Actions speak louder than words, and however differently I might describe things, the truth is their friends are dead. Your friends. How many Anarchs would look favorably upon an outsider that saw four of their own executed. Nor do I think the truth of that tale is one they wish to hear about their martyrs.”

GM: Wells shrugs. “Personally, I’d simply express sympathies and regrets. It was still the prince who ordered their executions, and if you still consider it fair repayment, I’m willing to put out the good word for your ‘business’.”

Caroline: “I’ll be happy to convey such sentiments to anyone that asks, Ms. Wells, but I’m not exactly a welcome fixture at the Anarch political rallies,” the Ventrue responds. “All the same, thank you for the advice. There is only one more thing I’d ask.”

GM: “What would that be?”

Caroline: “If you should choose to investigate ‘Raymond’, that you involve me in that investigation.”

GM: “Why, certainly. I expect your findings here should keep me busy for a bit, but you know what they say about leaving no stone unturned.”

Wells re-orders all the pictures and documents back into the folder, then rises from her seat. “I believe that’s everything at least for now, then. Thank you once again for looking into this.”

Caroline: “In that case Ms. Wells, I wish you good fortune.” Caroline rises. “If you need anything else, hopefully you shall keep me in mind.”

Monday night, 23 November 2015, PM

GM: It’s about a week before Caroline gets her next ‘client’. Tina Baker is a brown-haired, athletic- and -young-looking woman associated not with the Anarchs, but the Invictus (no relation to Jocelyn Baker is immediately apparent). She wants information on a Brujah non-native to New Orleans named Lucas Gates.

Caroline: Two ghouls greet the young Kindred in the lobby and once more lead an unfamiliar Kindred to the roof. Tonight Caroline is dressed in gray and black. She end her phone call when the door to the elevator opens and gets introductions out of the way politely. She listens to Ms. Baker’s interest and probes gently for a bit more information: does he reside in New Orleans now? Does she have a description for him, any locations or assets he might hold, or any additional starting points? Further, is Baker interested in his mortal dealings, or in his Kindred ones? The questions are asked not with the intention of probing Baker’s actual interests, but simply towards laying out a starting point for the investigation, and towards filtering what she need make record of.

The Ventrue takes notes in neat precise handwriting onto a number of forms, checking boxes in some areas, filling out blocks as needed. She also inquires as to whether there is a timeliness to her need for the information (whether she wants regular updates) or if she’s interested in a more full report when Caroline has one ready for her.

GM: Tina Baker is more casually dressed in a white top, short black coat, blue jeans and boots. She’s about 5’6," with a trim and well-toned frame, and has her straight brown hair cut chin-length. She’s notably pale despite her fit appearance, her Embrace probably having stripped away the healthy complexion she might have once had, but it’s left her with a certain feline appeal.

Pic.jpg The Brujah states that Gates has been to New Orleans before, and even stayed “a little while,” but she isn’t sure if he’s there right now or not. She supposes “it’s possible,” but doesn’t know. Lucas Gates is a Caucasian male in his late teens (visually, at least), short in height (“about as tall as me”), and has a pale to fair complexion. Brown eyes, short hair, no facial hair. He likes to carry knives. Baker does not know anything about Gates’ held locations, though last he was there, he “holed up” at the Rosebush Apartments in the Ninth Ward. Baker says she’s re-checked them and that he’s not staying there. She can’t say for sure about Gates’ assets. “Probably not a lot, but I don’t know for sure.” Baker expects mostly mortal dealings, but Kindred ones would be of interest to her too. “I’ve heard you’re pretty new, but also cheaper than the Nosferatu.”

“I already know some of the highlights of his mortal history, though. He’s a serial killer wanted in Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi, and a suspect in sixteen murders. He used to be on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, back in the 2000s.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly at the comparison to the Nosferatu. “A very flattering comparison for me, Ms. Baker, but I’m not certain that it’s an accurate reflection: after all, they’re masters of their craft, while I only dabble in research.” When the topic of Gates’ mortal life comes up, Caroline tilts her head. “Not exactly a inconspicuous Embrace.”

GM: “I know some of the killings were after he got turned. Maybe most.”

Caroline: Caroline nods and smiles. “With any luck I’ll be able to give you a full list.” She looks down at her notes. “Those should be all the questions I have for you, Ms. Baker, unless there’s anything else you’d like to add that you think might be relevant?”

GM: Tina rattles off a phone number she can be reached at.

“Not much besides that.”

Caroline: The Ventrue heiress closes her notes and rises to see Baker out, sitting down with her ghouls on the matter only when the other Kindred is safely away. Seated at the table of Autumn, Widney, and Fuller, each of whom has a part to play. First up is anything Autumn has on either their client or her mark, which transitions into Fuller and potential security concerns with a particularly murderous Kindred as their ‘mark’. Finally they move onto resources that can be shifted and directed towards the investigation. Overall Caroline’s mood is quite pleased: she’d not hoped to get another ‘client’ in so short a time, but it’s clear her interest is in providing something of value.

“Word of mouth is potentially our biggest asset, and right now it’s trending positively. We need to keep it that way.”

GM: Autumn and Widney are in rare concurrent, and Fuller agrees too from his experience running a gym. Autumn, however, knows little of Baker. “Which I guess could be good, if the Krewe wasn’t all talking about her.”

She shakes her head over Gates too. “Before my time, probably. She said this guy got the most notice in the mid-2000s. I can say the Krewe would’ve ashed him if he pulled anything like that here, and not bothered with any warnings. FBI’s Most Wanted is WAY too much attention.”

Caroline: “This feels personal to me. Victim, sire and childe… something. My guess is information on one will lead to another, so we chase both down whenever possible. Let’s start with running down his mortal life. Family, origins, upbringing, along with his victims. Look for ties to New Orleans—and ties to Baker. If he was active in the FBI top ten list, we should have plenty of public information available to start with.”

Caroline’s investigators aggressively pursue decade old cold cases, generating victim profiles and reports on victim family backgrounds. Each murder is plotted on a map, along with all available details on how he identified, encountered, and disposed of them. She’s particularly interested in tracking changes in his methods over time and how each kill was identified to him given the lack of forensic evidence left behind by Kindred. For a time she hopes to generate a regular stomping ground, or path he follows, but she has little luck with it.

She tracks his living family, generating profiles on living relatives, building information on each. The most interesting evidence is the frequency with which he seemingly returns to New Orleans—during Mardi Gras.

GM: Autumn and the firm’s hired PIs put together that Gates was Embraced in the Florida Panhandle during the late 1970s.

He harbored a pathological hatred of women fitting Baker’s demographic profile (young, attractive, white, educated) born from rejection and inherent antisocial personality tendencies. Almost all of his victims fit that profile. There are some even younger girls too.

His killings started in the Florida Pandhandle upon his Embrace. Caroline’s agents can find no killings before then. No pattern to his movements at first, beyond being run out of town by law enforcement, though he gradually seems to have learned greater restraint and discretion (though still not much). The killings stop in 2004,and he fell off the FBI’s Most Wanted. There are several killings by him in New Orleans that same year.

Gates has no mortal associates of any kind, beyond the occasional ghoul used as an accomplice. Usually white male youths from a similar background as him. Gates doesn’t appear to have much interest in playing influence games.

He has an uncle in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a sister in Virginia Beach. His parents are both dead.

Caroline’s rough psychological profile suggests that Gates would have been a serial murderer while alive but simply lacked the requisite upper body strength. He’s a short and fairly scrawny-looking kid. If both were mortal, Tina could probably beat his ass easy. He had a persistent record of getting into trouble at school, being bullied by boys, teased by girls, doing poorly at academia, and generally being a problem child. The Embrace seemed to have allowed an (incredibly) violent outlet for long-harbored feelings, and to have made them that much worse.

The FBI’s recorded murders all end in 2004. He’s either stopped or gotten better at hiding them. Gates always killed his victims with the same kind of knife, which was helpful to the FBI in identifying them.

Last but not least for the ex success, he was last in New Orleans during 2004, where he was violently confronted by a coterie of five neonates that included Baker and Becky Lynne Adler. This is concurrent with when he fell off the FBI’s list. The coterie itself seems to have broken apart too, either on its own or because of Katrina.

Caroline: Caroline puts together her findings into a dossier and reaches out to Baker.

GM: The Invictus Kindred returns to collect them, and like Wells before her, takes some time to look over the information and ask follow-up questions. She’s impressed with what Caroline has found and asks what she wants in return.

Caroline: “I have my people cross-referencing all missing persons that match his victim profile, along with murders of the same, seeming if perhaps he changed his methods… after his meeting with you and Ms. Adler.”

GM: “I suppose information is what I asked you to find,” Baker replies.

Caroline: “That said, what you’re probably the most interested in is these.” She slides over the reports she has of his more recent sightings. “He’s been resurfacing of late. Not up to his old tricks, but there are reports that he’s been seen.”

GM: Baker looks them over. Rather stonily, to the Ventrue’s eye.

Caroline: “You’re concerned he’s going to return,” Caroline offers quietly.

GM: Baker tidily re-orders the dossier. “His mistake if he does.”

Caroline: “Did he send you something?” Caroline asks quietly. She tilts her head. “Ten years is a long time to suddenly develop a renewed interest in something.”

GM: “I’m ready to talk price, Ms. Malveaux,” Baker answers. “Call this at a boon owed?”

Caroline: “Of course Ms. Baker, your secrets are your own. Should I conclude that this concludes your interest in the matter with me?”

GM: “If you uncover more of what his later activities I’d still be interested.”

Caroline: “I’ll leave it open, then,” Caroline offers. “As for the current findings, a boon owed seems equitable. I’ll reach out to you and we can discuss further prestation if I discover anything else of particular interest or get word of another sighting, particularly as they relate to New Orleans.”

GM: Baker nods. “That’s fair. You have my number if you do.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles and rises. “If there’s anything else I can do for you, Ms. Baker, please don’t hesitate to reach out.”

There’s a slight emphasis on the word anything.

Tuesday night, 24 November 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline is too proud—and too isolated, in truth—to go about begging forgiveness and making apologies. She’s also intelligent enough to realize that without change she’s unlikely to see herself on very many Anarch Christmas card lists or enjoying a great deal of patronage from them—much less fielding many invites to Anarch events or cultivating allies. That’s not something she can, for all her wealth, afford.

Instead she humbles herself by the smallest of margins. She goes out of her way to talk with Anarchs. She (with Coco’s permission) stakes out Blaze on occasion to chat with members of the faction as they come and go, and generally does her best to show face—and in particular not as as an ivory tower Ventrue hidden in the CBD.

GM: Caroline’s first challenge to overcome is finding a place where she can talk to Anarchs when Coco denies her permission to do so at Blaze. The Brujah does not initially state why, although her eyes look faintly amused by Caroline’s request.

Caroline: The Ventrue doesn’t dwell overly long on Coco’s refusal, nor does she take it personally. Having an ill-begotten and ill-regarded Ventrue hanging around is a political liability Caroline well understands. Does she dismiss it because of the bond? Doubtful, she’s been at the center of such games since she was a child, even been a pawn in them before. Certainly her mortal family used her towards that end, and mortal bonds of blood were more than enough there.

Instead she approaches Wells on the topic, inquiring as to whether there are other areas Anarchs frequently meet or gather that are neutral enough that she could put on an appearance. She also makes it a point to put on additional appearances at Elysia, and takes what opportunities present themselves to interact with Anarchs there, limited though they may be.

GM: Wells answers that Blaze is the closest thing the covenant has to neutral ground. Many Anarchs hang out in City Park and Mid-City’s numerous cemeteries (considered notoriously dangerous spots among the kine). Cypress Grove is a popular meet site for the entire covenant, as is (somewhat less often) Delgado Community Colllege. Fairgrounds is also a sometime hangout, even if the horse races are over by the time vampires wake up. Music spots such as the Banks Street Bar & Grill, Chickie Wah Wah, and Rock-n-Bowl (Coco has evidently pulled strings to keep it open, albeit under new ownership after the drug bust) are also popular. So are a couple bars like Finn McCool’s. Beyond these spots, most Anarch krewes have their own private hangouts, where they sometimes meet with other krewes, but principally regard as theirs.

The concept of ‘neutral territory’ in Mid-City is somewhat ambiguous. The aforementioned sites belong to the Anarchs, who do largely as they like there. For the most part, that involves hanging out and enjoying the areas’ inherent attractions and entertainments. Sometimes Anarchs do ‘serious’ business with one another there, and sometimes they just want to have fun. (The cemeteries and Fairgrounds, Wells adds, are where many Anarchs play ‘games’ with each other that would break the Masquerade if witnessed by mortals.) The covenant isn’t big on formalities. If Caroline wants to deal with Anarchs in Mid-City, she can essentially expect to do it in their dens and living rooms while they’re playing Xbox. They don’t really have a dedicated entry hall or office space. Well, except for Blaze. That’s the closest thing because Coco is the Anarch who many outsiders (and most older vampires) deal with, and most licks know better than to start trouble under her roof.

Elysium is another matter, but presents its own obstacle: Caroline does not actually recognize more than a handful of Anarchs by face. There could be dozens of Anarchs at the city’s Elysia for all she might know. Or maybe she’s right it’s not their scene, and there’s only a few.

Caroline: Caroline leans hard upon her bought and paid for guidance from Ms. Adler in identifying Kindred, their clan, and their varied covenants, but really she has few expectations to make great progress at Elysia—the venue provides too many opportunities for misunderstanding and further conflict.

Instead she ventures into Anarch bars, meeting them on their own ground where possible, beginning with those that have not been overtly hostile.

GM: Finn McCool’s is a traditional-feeling Irish pub with the usual soccer-blaring TVs and large assortment of beers on tap. Wood rather than metal predominates the decor. Individual planks are visible on the ceiling and walls, the latter of which are crowded with an assortment of mounted rifles, crucifixes, and plaques, one of which reads ‘BEST IRISH BAR’. The smoke is heavy and the crowds heavy. They also seem notably diverse, from the usual blue-collar Mid-City types to a few rougher-looking gangbangers and more adventurously-inclined preppies and yuppies. Skin colors range from black to white to brown to yellow.

Caroline spots the two Kindred by the pool table in the back of the bar.

The first one is a freckled, button-nosed, Caucasian woman in seemingly her early 20s with blonde hair. She’s dressed in a tie-dye skirt, camo-patterned tank top, and brown cowboy boots. Her slender but scar-nicked arms have their shape further emphasized by the large assortment of beads and bangles dangling from her wrists, while separate necklaces with a silver peace sign and an ankh hang from leather cords around her neck. A flower is tucked into the rim of her cowboy hat. All told, her fashion resembles a distinctive cross of Cajun chic and ’60s flower girl.

The second vampire is a black man who looks maybe half a decade older. He’s taller, wider-shouldered, and wider-faced, with a fully shaved head and neatly-maintained mustache and beard. He’s dressed in blue jeans and a black t-shirt with white lettering that reads Black Lives Matter. A necklace with a tiny quartz heart pierced by a fingerbone rests over his chest.

“Ain’ often we sees many blue bloods ’roun dese ’ere parts,” the woman drawls. She plants both hands on the tip of her pool stick, lays her chin on her hands, and plants the stick on the ground, then leans forward in a motion that should be awkward but seems oddly lazy instead, slowly rocking back and forth on her heels.

The man looks up at Caroline for a moment but says nothing, leaning back down over the pool table as he slowly lines up a shot at one of the balls.

Caroline: Caroline has dressed conservatively down for the event—or perhaps dressed up for the Anarchs—in a black turtleneck, matching pencil skirt, and silver chain belt. It still doesn’t quite fit the bar, but given the diverse crowd she’s less concerned about blending in completely. She laughs lightly at the woman’s remark. “Was it that obvious?” She glances around and smiles. “Well, I guess it is.”

GM: “Ya done guessed raht,” the woman answers, leaning forward again on the pool stick.

There’s that distinctive snapping sound as the man sends several balls rolling across the table’s green-felted surface.

Caroline: “I guess I’ve done something right then?” Again that easy smile. “I’m Caroline, but then you probably knew that too.”

GM: The woman bends over the table, squints with one eye, and takes another tap-shot of her own. There’s a plunk as one of the balls rolls down the hole at the table’s corner.

“Sure do. Eight-Nine-Six had a lot to say about you,” the man answers.

Caroline: The Ventrue’s smile slips away, though not slowly. It’s more a setting sun than a falling star, “I suppose they did. I wish they’d had more to say to me, but from what I’ve heard that was Ms. Jackson’s way—action first, talk later, and I can see how the circumstances didn’t exactly lend themselves to a casual conversation.”

GM: The woman offers a tranquil smile of her own as if to offset Caroline’s fading one. “Poachin’ on somebody’s turf will do dat.”

Caroline: A nod. “Yes, I imagine it will. A lesson I learned painfully, and they more so for it. I wish, after that first night, there’d been an opportunity to change things, or perhaps make them whole, but it’s difficult to blame them for getting their ‘Irish’,” there’s only a whisper of levity in the comment, “up over things, and I don’t know that I’d have known what to do, or even how to reach them, even if I had realized just what I’d done. Back in those first couple of nights after my Embrace I was still arrogant enough to think I was entitled to everything, and they were in the wrong.”

GM: “Coulda tried sayin’ sorry. Ain’ a word in too many blue blood vocabs, dat fo’ sure,” the woman offers with the same tranquil smile.

“We make our own opportunities,” the man agrees, bending back over the pool table.

“But hey now,” the woman continues, her smile widening like a ceshire-cat grin, “ya din’ know.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “That wasn’t a good excuse then, nor is it one now, and I didn’t come here to wave it in your face tonight. You lost friends, Eight-Nine-Six lost their Reqiuems.” She bites her lip. “So, no, no excuses, I’m sorry for the loss of your friends, for what part I played in driving them into their doom.”

GM: “How old ya peg us for, Miz Caroline?” the woman asks. “Take ya bes’ shot in da dark. Ah won’ min’ if ya peg me older, not like Ah’m e’er gownna wear it.”

Caroline: The Ventrue considers them. “As a shot in the dark? A couple of decades in maybe?”

GM: “Das’ both o’ us, den?” the woman drawls, leaning back forward on her pool stick.

Caroline: Caroline tilts her head. “Old enough that you’d rather talk than fight, young enough that you’re not beating people for using a disagreeable pronoun.” She stops the tilt. “Sure.”

GM: “Your turn,” the man says to the woman. She gives another lazy smile and saunters over, squinting again at the pools as she takes her shot. Click. Clunk. Thump.

She lifts the pool stick back up and balances it against her shoulders. “Desirae been singin’ ya praises, fah diggin’ inta dat gian’ question mark dat’s ‘er past. I asked her why. Why-oh-why, darlin’, ya be usin’ ya singin’ voice on jus’ a nutha’ blue-milk swappin’ o’ boons. Ya jus’ in da mood fa singin’, an’ dat da firs’ thing runnin’ through ya head?”

The woman lays the pool stick back down, leaning forward with her hands resting on the tip. “Mah sire Embraced me ‘roundabouts da tahm Lee Harvey Oswal’ shot Jay-Eff-Kay. Jonah here got turned roun’ da same tahm.”

‘Jonah’ glances at the woman, then takes his own pool shot. Click. Clunk. Thunk.

“An’ in all dose years, Ah learned me a few things, darlin’, an’ one o’ ‘em, which Ah have learned an’ re-learned tahm an’ ‘gain, is dat dere ain’ no such thing as a free lunch.”

“So, Miz Caroline, ya been layin’ outcha honey wi’ Desirae, an’ ya hopin’ ta catch some flies. Now what flies be dey, ta bring ya roun’ dese parts, givin’ Anarchs free ones, sayin’ how sorry ya is o’er our dead pals?”

The woman rocks back on her boot heels, looking towards Caroline expectantly.

Caroline: “I should think my motives are transparent, and I never pretended otherwise with Ms. Wells. We all make mistakes, some of us are fortunate enough to live long enough to regret them, and a rarer few still have the opportunity to try and make some small amends, and perhaps learn from them.”

Caroline moves around to take a look at the current state of the game: she only ever played occasionally as a child among children in a well appointed lounge, but her uncle told stories of playing in his college days. “Or from others.”

“I made a lot of mistakes in those first few weeks. Took and ruined lives. Hurt people and rocked every boat around with all the waves I made. Extensions really of my mortal life.” She pauses and looks up from the table back at the older Kindred. “I’m a Catholic and I’m a pragmatist. Sometimes those two things line up.”

“I did a lot of wrong among the Anarchs of the city. I’d like to make it right where I can, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my Requiem looking back at those first few nights and letting them define me, in my own eyes or those of others. I might very well have been the bitch that Eight-Nine-Six talked about—though I don’t doubt they embellished just a touch—when we crossed paths. But I’d like to think that I could learn from it.”

“So here I am. Telling you about how sorry I am over your dead pals. And Ms. Wells… well, let’s just say that not knowing about your past, or about your sire specifically, I can sympathize a lot with. I know that I’ll never get any closure on my Embrace, but if I can help any other Kindred get some, it makes me feel a bit better. And if it catches me some flies… all the better. God knows I could use them.”

GM: “What were deir names?” the woman drawls in query.

Caroline: Caroline smiles bitterly. “Would you like me to start at the beginning, with the first person I maimed after I woke up alone, or skip to Bliss Jackson and go from there?”

GM: “Dawlin’, most o’ us got bodies ta our names, an’ if Ah spared a tear o’er e’ry one by e’ry lick in dis city, da streets’d run red.”

“She’s not asking about people she doesn’t know,” Jonah cuts in, looking down at Caroline.

The female Kindred just gives that same tranquil smile.

Caroline: The smile gives way more bitterly. “It’s what we do, right?” she replies to the woman. “Cherry Nines, Milagrosa Arencibia, and Trent Ambrose.”

She runs her tongue over her fangs, remembering each. Remembering the last time she saw those three in vigor through the haze of the Beast, all flashes of blood and violence.

“Yes, I do remember them. And I will.”

GM: “Catchin’ you some flies now. Dat do explain it, don’ it Jonah?” the woman asks, glancing back towards her friend.

“Sure does,” the male Kindred answers.

“Oda blue bloods ain’ lettin’ ya join in deir reindeer games, now is dey, afta rockin’ da boat-”

“-and still getting Vidal’s pat on the head,” Jonah remarks.

“-so ya slummin’ it wit’ da unboun’… or ya scared da sheriff won’ cova ya ass if any Anarchs ‘cide dey gonna da for ya what ya done fah Eigh’-Nine-Six?”

The woman smiles again. “Dem’s some pretty words, an’ ya ‘least got da names right. But one thing Ah done learned o’er ma fifty years, when somebody’s talkin’, tune out da words, plug ya ears, look at what dey actually doin’, an’ dat’ll tell ya da real score. An’ pluggin’ ma ears-” and here the 70+-year-old woman smirks faintly as she sticks her fingers into each one, but she doesn’t look like a silly young girl. More like an artist’s impression of one.

“-Ah sees a poachin’, sheriff-tattlin’, Masquerade-breakin’ blue blood who’s taken it upon ’erself ta lay out some honey for da Anarchs, ’cuz sorry as she be, she need her some flies too.”

She removes her fingers and picks back up the pool stick, striding over to the table.

“But hey now, ya here. Ya really sorry, try layin’ out da honey when ya don’ need da flies… or gettin’ dem fine blue blood clothes dirty ta lay out ya honey. An’ maybe den Ah’ll un-plug mah ears.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a low and joyless laugh. “It seems like you’ve only been plugging your ears when it suits you, if you don’t mind me saying so.”

GM: “Ya can say as ya please, darlin’. It be a free parish,” the woman with another cheshire-cat smile.

Caroline: “Is it?” Caroline asks. “What exactly does that mean? What exactly am I free to do here?”

GM: “The freedom to swing your fist ends where another man’s face begins. Your freedom here ends where anything that pisses off another Anarch begins,” Jonah answers.

Caroline: “What a lovely paraphrasing of Zechariah Chafee, Jr., but I confess the back end leaves much room for interpretation. For instance,” she gestures to the table, “if I were to beat you, would that be the end of my freedom here?”

GM: “Perhaps ya’d care ta back up dem words, lil’ greenfang,” the woman drawls in a low voice.

The man sets down his pool stick and stares at Caroline. There’s the expected look of counterchallenge there. And equal parts, oddly enough, disgust.

Caroline: Caroline’s Beast wants to rise to the challenge, it wants to take the offered opportunity presented by the misunderstanding to smash and crush and destroy and establish its own superiority.

Instead, the Ventrue laughs lightly, disarmingly, trying to play off the misunderstanding as she walks over to the rack on the wall and examines the available cues.

“I’ve never actually been a particularly good player, but things can change. What should we play for though, I don’t think drinks have quite the proper meaning between us.”

GM: “‘Pends if we play. Ya gon’ humble dat blue blood pride an’ say ya sorry an’ meant nothin’ first?” the woman posits with another tranquil smile.

Caroline: The Ventrue laughs lightly again. “I don’t usually take requests, but I suppose I can make an exception for distinguished personages such as yourselves.”

She sets her expression more severely and squares up on the two Anarchs. “I meant no offense, and certainly did not mean to give the impression that I wanted a fight with either of you, much less both, on your own ground, over nothing. You have my sincerest apologies if that was the impression I gave.”

GM: “Well now, ya heah dat, Jonah, she done think we be persons o’ distinguishment,” the woman grins.

Jonah’s expression doesn’t fully abate, but does lose its edge.

“Attacking Anarchs in their own territory over nothing isn’t an ‘impression you’ve given’, blue blood. It’s something you’ve done, and it’s something everyone remembers. Don’t think we were the ones being unreasonable.”

“But hey,” the still-grinning woman remarks, “ya din’ mean it.”

“Zilly and I were having a friendly no-stakes game,” the man remarks over Caroline’s interest in joining. “But that does raise an interesting question. What do you have that you think we’d want to play for?”

Caroline: The constant harping on something the two know very little about wears painfully on Caroline’s patience, but she again bites back a response on the topic.

“I imagine the usual. Boons. Blood. Drinks. Information.” She doesn’t so much list them off as identify them.

GM: “Cou’ do dose,” ‘Zilly’ half-shrugs, half-nods. “It be ya idea, darlin’.”

Caroline: The Ventrue smiles. “Did you have something else in mind? It’s your party, after all.”

GM: “Ya idea, darlin’. We don’ play for nothin’ ’cept da game, mosta da time.”

Caroline: “Why don’t we start casual, then? I wouldn’t want to disrupt your routine more than I already have. Call it nothing for the first game, and a boon for the second?”

GM: “Your boons are worth less than ours,” Jonah remarks.

“Eh, whateva, game be dame,” Zilly shrugs. “I’m fine uppin’ dem stakes if ya wantin’ ta end bigger dan we start.”

Caroline: The heiress haggles with some amusement with the two Anarchs over exactly what they’ll play before before agreeing and taking up the pool cue. She’s played before, mostly in her uncle’s den, and casually at that. It’s much less skill that guides her than the raw grace she’s enjoyed since her Embrace, effortless ability that overcomes her lack of experience.

Perhaps not, though, against these fellow monsters.

GM: Caroline finds the two to be seemingly uninterested in further haggling, but she gets a similar impression so far as her opponents’ levels of skill. Both seem like they only do this for idle fun. It’s a notable contrast from the vocations Caroline threw herself into mastering as mortal, to satisfy peoples’ expectations. There simply isn’t any burning desire to be the best.

But they are still her fellow monsters.

What the two Anarchs likewise seem to lack in practice, they make up for with preternatural grace of their own. Pool sticks slide across the table and send balls scattering with all the ease that a child’s fingers would scatter marbles.

Caroline shoots and pockets her object balls, and then finally the 8-ball before Jonah, who is several balls behind her. The Ventrue and Zilly pocket all of their object balls at the same time, but the final shot and pivotal 8-ball go to Caroline.

“Nah bad, greenfang,” the Anarch declares, idly twirling her pool stick.

Caroline: Caroline leans on her own.

“Better lucky than good.”

Caroline V, Chapter X; Rocco IIS, Chapter IV
Evan Bourelle

“I’m tired of always getting shit on by everything! I’m tired of no one giving a damn!”
Jocelyn Baker

Friday night, 25 September 2015, AM

GM: It takes longer than one night, but Jocelyn eventually puts together a lengthy and semi-organized Word doc that she sends to Caroline:


Jocelyn knows little about Evan’s early background. He didn’t talk much about his mortal life, beyond vague references and anecdotes. Now that Jocelyn reflects, he was always good at deflecting the topic without really seeming to. His surname, though, is obviously Louisianan. He fell in with Jocelyn and Gwen in 2013. It was around then, the early-mid 2010s, that things were returning fully to ‘normal’ among the local all-night society after Katrina. New Orleans’ kine population still hadn’t climbed back to pre-Katrina levels, but the city was recovered enough for Vidal to remove his moratorium on new Embraces. He was also more permissive towards newcomers who wanted to make their havens in the city. Evan was just… another face in the crowd during that period. He said he came from a “small town” and was looking to make it in the big city, now that more Kindred were being allowed in. He never talked about his Embrace.

“Gwen doesn’t either,” Jocelyn remarks. “Some of us… well, I guess we’ve got a lot more skeletons in the closet, or just more things we don’t want people to know, now that we’re dead.”

Places Frequented

In contrast to Evan’s background, Jocelyn has a great deal of solid information to offer regarding his usual haunts.

Evan was a tenant of Sundown, the regent of Faubourg Marigny. He always liked the Bohemian district’s vibrant clubs and nightlife more than the sterile downtime environs of the CBD. “It doesn’t even feel like New Orleans there,” he’d say. Jocelyn admitted he was right, the CBD isn’t her favorite part of town either. But it’s the best part that has a Sanctified regent. The other Storyvilles weren’t enthused about Evan swearing fealty to Sundown, but given the Nosferatu’s unswerving political neutrality, it was probably the next-best choice after a Sanctified regent.

Evan spent a lot of time in Marigny, in any case. He liked to hunt in the popular night spots, but he also enjoyed them in their own right. His favorite club was the Spotted Cat, which is more music- than dance-oriented. He avoided feeding there.

Another notable locale is the Frenchmen Art Market. Evan, Gwen, and Jocelyn would sometimes go on outings there—just spending the evening browsing everything the local artists had on display. Roxanne and Wyatt weren’t as into it. “Total stereotype, I guess, but we had fun,” Jocelyn admits. “It was nice just to look at all the arts and crafts, talk with people, and forget about being vampires for a while.”

Much more to Jocelyn’s disapproval, however, was Evan’s proclivity for visiting the French Quarter. It was an irregular enough thing that Jocelyn and Roxanne were able to keep it secret from Gwen and Wyatt, but they were adamant that Evan needed to stop. He usually agreed with them and would keep doing it anyway. He “didn’t see the harm. That’s the most I got out of him,” Jocelyn elaborates. “He said he wasn’t hunting there, wasn’t talking with Savoy, wasn’t doing anything important… I mean, I guess that could be worse, but still… he shouldn’t have been doing that.”

Despite his distaste for the CBD, Evan spent a fair bit of time there as a result of the other Storyvilles making their havens, personal and communal, in the downtown district. He’d spend the night with Roxanne in her haven on a semi-regular basis. Often enough, in fact, that “Maldonato might’ve, or maybe was gonna, ask him to finally just swear fealty. He spent like every other day at her place.”

As for Evan’s own haven, he has an apartment in Faubourg Marigny that is currently sitting empty. It’s been long enough that his landlady was ready to throw out his things. Roxanne “mindscrewed her several times,” but revisiting her lover’s empty haven seems to pain the Ventrue, and she’s told the other Storyvilles to handle it. “I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do though. The landlady keeps remembering it’s sitting vacant. I don’t wanna turn her into a ghoul, she’s not really done anything wrong, but I don’t want Evan to lose his place either,” Jocelyn gripes, plainly frustrated that the world is all-too willing to move on without Evan Bourelle.

Friends and Enemies

Jocelyn compiles a number of names under this section, with several further sub-headers. Evan was fairly social.

Pearl Chastain: Jocelyn admits she exaggerating how ‘in’ she was with her clan’s primogen, just a bit, during that first night at the Orpheum. The Toreador matriarch does not like Jocelyn’s artwork or her chosen medium, at all. It was mainly Evan who got her into the elder’s, maybe not good graces, but at least ‘tolerated’ graces, by playing up Jocelyn’s bloodline. “She thought my sire, grandsire, and great-grandsire were all right. So… I guess that carried over. Elders care a lot who your ancestors were, I’ve found.” As for Evan himself, Jocelyn doesn’t doubt that Chastain liked him more than her. She found him well-mannered and properly deferential without being dull. “He was always a bit of a lady’s man, but mainly with older women,” Jocelyn mentions. “He said his first crush as a kid was on Mrs. Robinson—from the movie. And that his first time when he was 16 was with a friend’s mom.”

Caroline: Caroline’s list of Kindred to visit grows long indeed, and dangerously so. Names on a list of powerful individuals—in some cases the most powerful in the city. While she works to arrange those meetings—and to arrive to them with something of interest enough to draw upon the interest of such personages—the Ventrue offers to help with some of the lingering loose ends, such as Evan’s haven. It would be a small matter to allocate some funds towards that purpose, and, with Sundown’s permission (pending her own meeting with the Nosferatu) plant a smaller more enduring lie in his landlord’s mind—that he was perhaps out of town on a trip—to explain his absence.

GM: Jocelyn’s dossier continues:

Sundown: As Jocelyn mentioned, the regent of Faubourg Marigny was Evan’s landlord. The Toreador doesn’t know as much about Evan’s relationship with Sundown as she does about his relationship with Chastain. However, she knows that the Nosferatu harpy generally “liked his style,” as the Toreador puts it, and they seemed to get along. Sundown also probably knew more about Evan’s nightly activities than Chastain did. Beyond simply being Nosferatu and the Toreador primogen existing in a more or less permanent funk, “I also hear that Sundown pretty much always asks for his corvée as information. Same thing with Gus Elgin. That’s sewer rat regents, I guess.”

Marcel Guilbeau: Caroline’s elder clanmate is known for taking semi-regular lovers, always two at a time, and living with them in a menage a trois. Evan was one of these lovers for maybe half a year or so. “I’m not sure who the third lick was in their three-way.” So far as Jocelyn knows, their parting was amicable enough. “I think so, anyway. He hooked up with Roxanne not too long after. Evan’s actually always been a little possessive. You don’t really notice it at first, since he’s pretty laid back, and let Roxanne take the reigns of the krewe. So he doesn’t really seem like he wants a lot. But when he has something, that he really does want, he doesn’t like to share it. That’s part of why we don’t want him to lose his haven… I know he was pretty attached to it.”

Marguerite Defallier: Evan was also a sometime associate of Defallier’s. “That thing for older women again,” Jocelyn admits. “Helps that she actually does look older than he does. Not like some of the other elders Embraced around our age. Also, they’re both poseurs. Kind of. Evan wasn’t… he wasn’t really much of an artist. That’s the thing in my clan. You can either be good at art, and be an artiste, or you can suck at it and be a poseur. Poseurs are usually airheads Embraced for their looks. I guess we tend to do that a lot. The poseurs usually try to get by as critics, patrons, whatever.”

“Evan’s tried to fit in by practicing music. He’s okay. I mean, he doesn’t suck or anything, but whoever Embraced him probably didn’t do it because they thought he was gonna be the next Louis Armstrong. Defallier’s a poseur too, but tries to be an artiste. So I guess that was one thing they had in common.”

Amandine: Amandine is a Cajun girl and Vodouisant associated with the Baron’s Acolytes. “Yeah, I know,” Jocelyn remarks. “Evan wanted to convert her to the Sanctified. Said it wouldn’t be impossible, that Marie Laveau was a Catholic too and all. Plus I guess they both small-town Cajuns, so he figured he had a shot. Roxanne thought he was wasting time but didn’t see the harm.” Jocelyn isn’t sure what clan Amandine is, but knows she can be found in Tremé and the Seventh Ward. She’s a neonate who first showed up in the city after Katrina.

Jocelyn’s profiles on the next names are shorter. Caroline should ask her if she wants more information on individual ones.

Abraham Garcia: Another post-Katrina and fellow Toreador with pull in the media.
Maxzille Babinfeaux: A Cajun Toreador and one of the older Anarchs (“She was totally Embraced in the ’60s”) who’s stayed with Coco after the recent factional split. They liked each other.
Carter Landry: Unaligned post-Katrina neonate in Riverbend. Jocelyn isn’t sure of his clan. “I don’t think he belongs to any covenant.”
Mallory Yang: Jocelyn isn’t sure where Yang lives or what clan she is. She is Asian, which somewhat stands out. “Don’t think there’s that many Asian licks. I think she’s another post-Katrina too.”
Arthur Duchamps: Another post-Katrina Toreador who likes to hang out in the French Quarter. He and Evan sometimes partied together. Jocelyn isn’t sure of his allegiances. “But if he’s in the Quarter, Savoy might’ve gotten his slime over him.”
Marisol Beaugendre: An older Toreador, but still a post-Katrina arrival. Doesn’t belong to a covenant either, which is particularly notable for an ancilla.
Edward Zuric: A busker who plays in Faubourg Marigny and the French Quarter. “He gave Evan music lessons. He’s a Gangrel, but my clan likes him. We let him into the Guild of Apollo, actually. We do that sometimes, with other licks who show they really appreciate art.”
Josua Cambridge: Another post-Katrina Toreador, and one of Marcel Guilbeau’s current lovers. “Someone Embraced him without permission, but Marcel took him in.”
Becky Lynne Adler: Caroline is better-acquainted with her clanmate than Jocelyn is. The Toreador only knows she and Evan were acquainted and on friendly terms.
Yellow Sidra: A fortune-teller in the French Quarter. Evan wasn’t exactly friends with Sidra, but he believed in her powers. “Which I guess isn’t that crazy. If vampires can be real, why can’t fortune-tellers be right?” Jocelyn isn’t sure how old she is, “Though she still tells fortunes on the street, which I can’t see someone as old as the prince doing,” and thinks she’s either a kook or a warlock. “Watch out either way.”
Tina Baker: A post-Katrina Invictus Brujah who Evan got along with.

Last Place Seen

Jocelyn writes that the last place she saw Evan was at the krewe’s communal haven in the CBD. They’d just gotten back from hunting on sinners in Central City. “It was around 4 AM, so the night was winding down.” The krewe watched a couple TV episodes of War of Crowns over Omni TV. There was maybe an hour left before dawn when the show’s credits started rolling. Jocelyn, Gwen, and Roxanne wanted to see what happened in the next few episodes, so they decided to spend the day at the group haven. Wyatt and Evan passed (Wyatt had already seen the show) and drove back to theirs.

Jocelyn looks up at Caroline when she’s finished reading. “‘Tell me if any more characters bite it.’ That… that was the last thing Evan said, before he left.” The Toreador’s eyes start to rim with red. “Like… like he’d be back any…”

Caroline: “Any minute.” Caroline does her best to comfort Jocelyn on the topic. The report she’s generated is a great starting point and gives her a dozen leads to follow. Perhaps the most interesting to Jocelyn however is the one that the Krewe couldn’t bite on. “Hound Agnello claims he knows who Evan was ‘last seen with’ and where, but he wasn’t willing to come off the information for me.” She bites her lip before continuing, “Who’s Mabel?”

GM: Jocelyn does not seem overly comforted as she blinks slowly and wipes her eyes. “I… what? Why not? He still got his panties in a bunch over us not letting you in?”

Caroline: “He’s an ancilla and a powerful one at that. Did you think he’d take kindly to being told he couldn’t have his way, in his own home, by a group of neonates that couldn’t give him a good reason why they told him to pound sand?” She doesn’t sigh, it’s part of her respiratory pause that like so many habits of the living is sliding away, but she does pause in her response. “Who’s Mabel?”

GM: “Well, fuck him then! It’s none of his damn business who’s in our krewe, especially if he doesn’t wanna do jack when one of us goes missing!” Jocelyn snarls, the sadness and worry on her face turning rapidly to anger. “I guess that’s what being a good Sanctified does for Evan, huh? And you know, throwing a tacky party where he’s a cock to everyone, that’s just the cherry on top. Just, fuck. Him.”

Caroline: The Ventrue suffers Jocelyn’s tirade quietly, and is almost as quiet in her response to it.

“Joceyln, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know better than I do.” She bites her lip. “It’s just who they are. Take it from me, trying to swim against that current isn’t pleasant or productive, for you or for Evan. Gwen is one of his tenants, as far as he’s concerned he owns part of the krewe. He’s also got the ability to make life very unpleasant for her—and now me—so yell at me about it, but step outside and put on a smile for him when he next invites you to a ‘tacky’ party. In the meantime, he’s hardly the only person who probably has information, and for what it’s worth, I’d rather go out and get it from them on our terms than beg it from him.”

GM: “No. The Storyvilles have done… we’ve done everything right. We don’t deserve this. Evan doesn’t deserve this. Not from him. And I’ll damn well skip his next stupid party where all he does is bully younger licks while being too chickenshit to invite anyone his own age. Guess the Boggs sure did a number on him.” Jocelyn gives a half-hearted roll of her eyes, but it mostly comes out as a glare. “And fuck begging him for anything. The sewer rats will all know whatever he thinks he does.”

Caroline: If nothing else, Caroline can understand being sick of begging.

Monday night, 28 September 2015, AM

Caroline: It’s not long after her last conversation with the Lord of the French Quarter that Caroline finds herself opposite the Toreador’s warden at a table in front of a steadily dying down bar in the French Quarter. When asked, Lord Savoy had been rather clear that he and Evan had very little contact outside of at Toreador functions and had suggested if she had concerns he could arrange an introduction to Lebeaux, who might have his things to say on the matter. Caroline’s heard of him in passing. Coco’s childe.

The Ventrue is in white and black this evening—hardly unusual—in a long sleeved black top and thin pencil skirt that hangs to her knees broken up with a thin black belt. Heels are, of course, mandatory.

GM: Peter Lebeaux is short but well-built man, nearly stocky, with a square jaw line and a full but well-maintained mustache. His gray eyes take silent note of Fuller, but he does not otherwise comment on the ghoul’s presence. The French Quarter’s warden wears a gray trench coat that he’s taken off inside the bar, plain pants, a white button-up with the sleeves rolled up, and a navy tie. The clothes (and the man) have a slightly worn edge that makes them seem one grade short of professional. It’s a look Caroline has seen on a lot of cops. All that’s missing is a cigarette dangling from his lips.

“Lord Savoy said you have a missing persons case, Miss Malveaux,” Lebeaux says.

Caroline: Caroline’s own coat hangs over her chair.

“I do, Warden Lebeaux. At least I hope that is what it is. Are you familiar with Evan Bourelle?” she asks.

GM: “In passing,” the Kindred cop answers. “He isn’t a resident of the Quarter, so he’s outside my usual jurisdiction.”

Caroline: “He’s been missing since August 18th. No one seems to know anything about where he went, and all I seem to hear is how great he. How well liked.” She swirls her drink. “In fact, the only thing I’ve heard that’s even a little out of the ordinary is that he has a habit of visiting the French Quarter.”

GM: “Well, there’s a difference between being liked and having clout.”

The Kindred cop takes a pull of his drink.

“Kid might have more people looking for him if he had the latter.”

Caroline: “Given,” Caroline agrees, “but no one seemed to know anyone that had it out for him, which makes me wonder who benefits from him disappearing.” She gestures to herself. “Me, I can see why plenty of people would want to put me in the ground—and often for good reasons. With him though…” She takes a drink. “Here I am, following the one piece that looks different than the rest.”

GM: Lebeaux nods. “The first question any cop asks in an abduction or murder investigation is who benefits. Materially, politically, or just emotionally, if they had a reason to dislike him. I don’t know how deep you’ve been looking into Bourelle and whether it’s possible to rule out that last one. Not everyone advertises their grudges. Smart licks don’t.”

Caroline: “True, and maybe I missed something, but… I get to thinking, what brings a good little Sanctified boy down to the French Quarter that isn’t Lord Savoy and isn’t hunting?” She runs her tongue over her fangs. “Something he doesn’t want to talk about, or tell anyone about?”

GM: “Kid did a poor job if that was the case. More licks than me could tell you he’s been seen with Yellow Sidra at Jackson Square.”

Caroline: The taste left over in her mouth by her greyhound is foul, but she’s getting better and hiding it. She can even keep it down for a couple hours now.

GM: “Probably getting his fortune told. Going back more than once suggests a motive beyond simple novelty. Could also have been something else, though. You’d have to ask Sidra.”

Caroline: “More of a lead than I had before,” Caroline smiles at the cop. “Is that all he was getting up to in the Quarter?” she asks probingly.

GM: “All that I know of,” Lebeaux answers.

Caroline: The Ventrue takes another sip of her drink. “I guess I should pay her a visit.”

GM: “Could probably do worse,” the Brujah nods. “Now most mortal murders and abductions are committed by someone who has a prior relationship to the victim. That’s still a useful avenue to investigate with us, but not always as useful.”

Caroline: She can see something of his sire in the Brujah’s (ironically) calm, patient nature.

“You think it could be completely unrelated?”

GM: “Could be the kid got ashed by hunters. We’re not in the ‘90s anymore. Tech can be as much a liability as asset these nights. More unexplained disappearances than ever can be chalked up to licks who don’t watch what they say online or over their phones, and that number’s probably going to keep going up. Could also be he was ashed by some older-school hunters with bibles and holy water.”

Caroline: The Ventrue pays attention to the Brujah’s words carefully. “Keep your business quiet?”

GM: “Always,” Lebeaux answers, taking a pull from his beer. “Society’s more interconnected than ever. More eyes on everyone than ever.”

Caroline: “The government is watching all the kine, makes sense that they’re watching us too.”

GM: “Not even just the feds. Local cops have been busting or at least inconveniencing licks for years. That’s also easier now than ever.”

Caroline: “Doesn’t seem to be slowing you down, Warden Lebeaux.”

GM: Lebeaux grunts noncommittally. “So far as Bourelle, could also be he got on the wrong side of Caitlin Meadows. She’s ashed her share of recent licks.”

Caroline: “Does she have any reason to?” Caroline asks by way of counterargument.

GM: “Possibly. Bourelle’s trips into the Quarter.”

Caroline: “You think he’s ash though, at this point,” Caroline asks soberly.

GM: Lebeaux shakes his head. “I’m not on this case. There are possible reasons he could have disappeared and still be unliving. But I am observing there are a lot of things that could have ashed him, while lacking a personal connection that’s easier to investigate. Maybe he felt like seeing some nature and met an angry ’loop outside the city. Maybe he felt like playing tourist and snuck inside the LaLaurie House.”

Caroline: The Ventrue arches an eyebrow at the last.

GM: “I don’t speak eyebrow, Miss Malveaux,” the Kindred cop remarks over another pull of his beer.

Caroline: “Haunted houses, Warden Lebeaux?” she replies with amusement.

GM: Lebeaux stares back at Caroline without a trace of humor.

“Some dumb kids, kine, went into that ‘haunted house’ not too long back.”

Caroline: “I’m well aware. One cop in the hospital. Another gone insane trying to murder teenagers. Two young girls shot. A third in a coma from a fall.” She recounts in the shakiest tone he’s heard from her, the first time she’s seemed to be in anything but complete control. “I didn’t realize it had to do with the house, though.”

GM: “Two cops and one lawyer dead,” Lebeaux corrects. “And I suppose you didn’t, as a breather.” He gives a humorless smile. “But then, you probably thought vampires belonged in movies and sappy teen novels too.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “Detective Gettis and who else?” she asks.

GM: “May I ask what their names are to you, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “I was there when he started shooting,” she replies.

GM: Lebeaux simply nods at this.

Caroline: “Tried to save as many as I could, but afterwards everyone clammed up. Police didn’t want to talk about it. I never got the full story.”

GM: “Mitchel Lowenstein was shot dead by several officers after Gettis used him as a human shield. Emil Kane died from a a cerebral hemorrhage in the hospital. Gettis was shot dead by SWAT, but I expect you heard that on the evening news.”

Caroline: She bites her lip. “I hadn’t heard that Detective Kane had passed away. He seemed a man of principle.”

GM: “What made you feel so there, Miss Malveaux?” Lebeaux asks.

Caroline: “We spoke in the hospital, when I was still alive. I tried to convince him that it would be better if he played ball with the narrative that was being pushed. He wouldn’t budge and tried instead to convince me that I should confide in him.” There’s a contemplative tone to her response.

GM: “People who won’t catch the ball can get hit by the ball.”

Caroline: “Principles tend to have a cost,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “And one that can be well worth it, but a man who’s smart as well as principled shops around and uses coupons.” Lebeaux takes another pull of his beer. “What sorts of things did he seem to want you to confide in him?”

Caroline: “He wanted to know what I wanted. Seemed interested in proselytizing. Believed some higher power had been involved in how he stabilized the girl, Ms. Savard.” The sour look on her face is far worse than when she sips her drink. “Went on and on about how the duty of the police was to the people.”

She looks down and away. She almost looks ashamed.

GM: “His death wasn’t your fault,” Lebeaux says.

Caroline: “No,” she nods in agreement, “but maybe if I’d listened to him I could have prevented my own.” She takes another deep, bitter, sip of her grayhound. “I was out drinking that night. That entire weekend really. The drunkest I ever remember being, trying to block out the thoughts of everything associated with that night. Guilty conscience, I guess.”

GM: “Listened to him, and done what?” the Brujah poses. “It doesn’t sound as if he told you to be a teetotaler. Doesn’t sound as if teetotaling would have been too reasonable under the circumstances either.”

Caroline: “You sound like you’re speaking from experience, Warden,” Caroline replies.

GM: “I’ve seen and known a lot of people who drink to cope.”

Caroline: “Even when you were alive?” she asks. “The job never got to you?”

GM: “It gets to everyone. We all have ways of coping. Homicide detectives—and paramedics—have some of the blackest, most disparaging humor about dead people you’ll ever come across.”

Caroline: “You must have fit right in after your Embrace.”

GM: “Most don’t actually mean it.”

Caroline: “Maybe not then,” she replies evenly.

GM: “If you’re serious about Bourelle, I’d start by interviewing his known associates and stopping by his usual haunts and last known whereabouts.”

Lebeaux finishes his beer.

Caroline: “Thanks for the advice.”

Yes, she can see plenty of Coco in him.

GM: Lebeaux rises to pull on his coat.

“Here’s another piece, too, for the road. Stay away from haunted houses.”

Caroline: “That one I think I can manage.” She has a little of her drink left. “Have a good evening, Warden.”

GM: “I’d find it of interest if you discover what happened to Bourelle. One murder or disappearance can be relevant to a whole lot else, sometimes.”

The Kindred cop dons his hat.

“See you, miss.”

Monday night, 28 September 2015, AM

Caroline: After finishing her drink and paying, Caroline departs with her ghoul in tow. She heads towards Jackson Square. It’s still early enough in the night, and she expects it’s a lead that the Storyvilles did not follow up on that closely given its location.

GM: Jackson Square is full of its usual crowds of tourists, panhandlers, musicians, and occasional police. St. Louis Cathedral looms high over the iconic statue of Andrew Jackson on his horse. The French Quarter was always Westley’s preferred playground over her own, but Caroline has been to the famous cathedral and its surrounding square on innumerable Sunday services led by her uncle.

Tonight, though, it’s the square’s psychics, mediums, fortune-tellers, and other professed diviners draw the Ventrue’s attention. Uncle Orson never had favorable words for any them, but dying changes a lot of things.

Jackson Square’s psychics are a similar bunch. Almost all of them are older women. Some dress in colorful shawls, scarves, and bangled earrings to play up the ‘gypsy fortune-teller’ aspect, while others simply wear glasses to give themselves a more understated oracular look. All of them have colorful signs marked with palms, eyes, or suns and moons advertising their services, and no apparent shortage of customs.

The predator among them hides in plain sight. She’s dusky of skin and could be either Latina, Roma, or some typically New Orleans mix of races. She stands out somewhat for young she looks (around maybe Celia’s age), but is dressed similarly to her peers in a purple gypsy skirt, a low-cut black and white-striped shirt, and a top hat threaded with red and purple scarves in place of a band. Gold glints from her ears and fingers. Her inky black hair is a wild and untamed forest that plays sometime home to a monkey wearing a purple vest and miniature top hat of its own. The tiny animal occasionally scampers across her shoulders and uses her hoop earrings as swings while remarkably shuffling a tiny deck of tarot cards: tourists pause to snap pictures of the critter, which the young fortune-teller smiles for. The critter is probably good image branding. Her sign advertises a variety of divinatory methods: palm readings go lowest, but she’s also willing to peer into her crystal ball, consult her tarot deck, and perform “other divinatory methods upon request.” She would look identical to the square’s other charlatans, but for the fact Jade’s Beast instinctively growls at the presence of another predator.

Caroline: Caroline lets her ghouls mill about the square while she approaches the fellow Kindred alone. Her more professional garb stands out clearly against the more bohemian fortuneteller and marks her as an outsider. “I was hoping you could tell me someone’s fortune, palm reading.” She smiles more with her eyes than her teeth. “I’m concerned about a friend. Particularly his lifeline.”

She’s relatively straightforward about her interests but willing to throw flattery at the fortuneteller. Evan Bourelle is missing. Has been missing. No doubt a fortune teller of means knows that: Caroline hopes she knows something more, and she’s willing to pay (one way or another, within reason) for that information. She’d heard that Bourelle was relatively close to her.

GM: “Missing friends? That isn’t what people usually come to me for,” the fortune-teller remarks idly at Caroline’s initial request.

Sidra just gives a knowing ’I’ve heard it all’ look at the flattery, but once the Ventrue starts quoting prices, she’s all business. The two haggle for a few minutes. Sidra performed several readings for Evan, and agrees to give Caroline the last (“probably most important” one) for a boon owed. If the Ventrue finds it useful, she can pay her for the others. Client confidentiality isn’t really a thing among fortune tellers, but as far as Sidra is concerned with Evan, it’s nothing at all.

“Because he’s dead.”

Evan’s “fate line” indicated doom. His lines were also very dark—literally dark, which meant they were “danger points.” Those indicate accidental or sudden deaths. The chimp on Sidra’s shoulder screeches and tugs on her earrings at that prophecy.

“He wasn’t killed by another lick, though, and there’s a powerful force that might avenge his death. Or might not. He broke off the reading at that point, and I couldn’t get anything else.”

The fortuneteller flicks a stray hair out of her face. “And now he’s been missing for weeks? You don’t need my gifts to put two and two together. Evan Bourelle is ash.”

Caroline: Caroline asks a few other related questions: when Sidra last remembers seeing him or giving him the last reading, before she takes her leave from the fortuneteller, trying to keep her irritation over the vague guidance from showing.

Not as bad as Wright, assuming it pans out, but close to it.

Tuesday night, 29 September 2015, PM

Caroline: The Ventrue is not content to take Sidra’s answer for all that it is: an end. While the fortuneteller was perhaps her most interesting lead, many others remain on Jocelyn’s list of interest.

For more, for lack of a better word, mundane Kindred she’s content to take opportunities to speak with them as they arise about Evan. Her inquiries are not particularly subtle: she’s trying to discover what may have become of him, and key to it is identifying where he was seen in the nights and hours before his demise. Still, she’s not overly pointed with them and takes what they will give her, using the opportunity presented by the inquiries to introduce herself.

Less ‘opportunity-driven’ is her meeting with Sundown. The Nosferatu is a power player in the city, and Caroline is far too skittish to approach him casually. Instead she picks her night to approach him on his own turf, rather than in Elysium. Her pitch is simple: one of his tenants is missing, she’s interested in discovering what became of him and would like to poke around Evan’s haven and perhaps favorite areas, to discover if there’s anything to be found. She see’s an alignment of interests that costs the apolitical harpy little. If the Nosferatu shows interest in his missing tenant, she’ll offer her own knowledge of when he went missing, and where he was last seen to bait out similarly information of relatively low value. If pressed, she reveals she’s concerned that hunters may have slain the missing neonate.

Marcel Guilbeau she inquires politely of, after her first meeting with him for Ventrue matters goes well. She does not accuse or pry into his life, but instead simply inquires as to whether or not the Ventrue has seen the well-liked Toreador in recent months.

Finally, amid her Kindred inquiries, the heiress does not forget the value of more mundane searches. He was last seen in his car. Where is the car? It takes special skill or influence to check impound yards, and local streets around his haven. If Sundown can be persuaded she visits Evan’s haven itself to poke around for anything out of the ordinary. She digs into his cell phone bills: when was his last call made? Are there any cameras in the vicinity of his haven that might have captured him—blurred as he might be—on the night he disappeared, or those leading up to it?

GM: While Jocelyn is able to provide some of the nightclubs that Sundown is often seen at, Caroline finds herself halted on the way to the VIP area by a handsome black ghoul in a casual jacket and button-up who introduces himself as the club’s manager.

“Afraid you’ll need to call ahead. Keeping everyone at his clubs happy is a full-time job for Sundown,” the man smiles over the thumping music and neon-drenched, dancing crowds. Though he takes Caroline up to the manager’s office, introduces himself as Wayne and is nothing but cordial, it is plain the Afterhours King does not meet with just any neonate off the street. If Caroline does not wish to approach the Nosferatu harpy in Elysium, or does not know a mutual acquaintance to introduce them (a good idea even in Elysium), the price for his time is a boon owed—unless she can convince the “doorman” that what she has to say is already worth his master’s time.

Caroline’s pre-existing relationship with Marcel Guilbeau, on the other hand, grants her opportunity to speak with the prince-in-exile in a week’s time. His ghoul agrees to pencil in Caroline after her meetings with Hurst and the other gerousiastes.

Caroline: Caroline presents a very blunt and direct pitch to the ghoul, not actively dismissing him, but also not coaching her commentary in the same flowery language that she might for the Kindred himself: she’s happy to meet on the Nosferatu’s terms. The subject is his missing tenant, Evan Bourelle, and her desire to investigate his disappearance. She’d prefer to meet with the Nosferatu, but is willing to work through the ghoul for permission to investigate in his territory. She’s willing to pass on all of her findings to him.

GM: Wayne seems amiable when he hears what Caroline wants to meet Sundown for—locating his domitor’s missing tenant, and for free no less. The ghoul says that he is “sure Sundown will want to see you about this, ma’am.” He will get to back to the Ventrue when there is an opening in his domitor’s schedule.

Monday night, 5 October 2015, AM

GM: A night later, he does. Several further nights later, Caroline is granted audience with the Nosferatu regent. (Weekends, regrettably, are a very busy time for the nightcub owner.) The Midnight Bayou seems like many of the other Quarter clubs Caroline has been to. She’s not as acquainted with the Marigny ones. Crowds of dancers writhe and undulate under pulsing red lights to pounding music that’s almost loud enough to split one’s head. Here, the dead feed with impunity among the teeming throngs, and can feel ever-so-briefly alive.

The upstairs VIP lounge is a more subdued affair. It’s done in a similar color scheme to the downstairs floor, with dark walls and low red lighting. Patrons lounge about in leather booths and chairs, talking quietly, admiring the art on the walls, and sipping expensive drinks. Soft background music replaces the headsplitting blare downstairs. Smiling waitresses glide across the floor, relaying orders between customers while a bartender expertly mixes drinks in the back.

Caroline can’t spot any obviously hideously ugly or disfigured Kindred in the room who match the Afterhours King’s purported clan. The club employee who led Caroline upstairs ushers her into a seat at the rear-most booth and says “Calvin” will be with her soon. A waitress takes her drink order.

Caroline smells the other vampire when he approaches. He’s a racially indistinct, slightly tan-skinned gentleman with dark hair who appears somewhere in his 30s. He’s good-looking, too—not so attractive as to be threatening, but more than handsome enough to put everyone around him at ease. He’s dressed in a gray sports jacket, collared blue shirt with the top buttons undone, and no tie—a “casually professional” outfit that seems equally at ease is a club floor or a corporate lobby.

“Miss Malveaux, I presume,” the man smiles as he assumes the booth seat opposite of Caroline’s.

Caroline: “Correctly,” Caroline replies with a matching smile. “Regent Sundown?”

GM: “The same,” the Nosferatu answers. He takes an order of his own from the waitress as she sets off. “No need to actually drink that. We have enough privacy here.”

Caroline: “I’d expect nothing less based on how others speak of your clubs, Regent.” Tonight the heiress is dressed in a black dress that is a little shorter than her father might prefer, but blends neatly with the club crowd.

“I look forward to a night in which I can more thoroughly enjoy all that it no doubt has to offer, sadly, this is not entirely a social call.”

GM: “In a hurry somewhere?” Sundown asks, seemingly more idly curious than wounded. “You should stop and smell the roses, Miss Malveaux. You’ll find time is one of the Requiem’s great blessings.”

Caroline: “Too often in a hurry. I shall enjoy, I think, finding that time in the future,” Caroline agrees. “But then I’m certain that someone as astute as yourself, Regent, no doubt deduced that I would not presume to spend your own time simply for my own amusement—no matter how charming a host you may be reputed to be,” she continues coquettishly.

GM: “And here I thought licks only came for the clubs,” Sundown chuckles faintly. “That’s flattering of you, Miss Malveaux. But all right. You’re here over Evan Bourelle?”

Caroline: “As well-informed as you are accommodating, Regent,” Caroline quips.

“Yes, I’ve been looking into his disappearance for a friend and had two matters that I believed it wise to approach his regent for, before I trespassed. The first was the matter of his haven. I’d like to examine it to see if any evidence is available that he was perhaps attacked or abducted there. The second is the simple matter of arranging for payment on the apartment’s rent until such a time as I complete my investigation or he returns. I’m happy to do so, but wouldn’t wish to give the impression I was attempting to strong arm or establish a foothold in your domain.”

GM: “Naturally not,” Sundown nods. “That’s thoughtful of you to pay his rent. The Storyvilles are lucky to have another Kindred concerned for their missing krewemate.”

Caroline: “His disappearance weighs heavily upon them,” Caroline replies. “More than anything, I think they just want an answer.”

GM: “Yes, I’m sure they must.” The waitress sets down a frosted drink Sundown doesn’t touch, along with whatever Caroline ordered. “The permission’s yours to do both of those things, if you’d like. I can’t say whether they’ll help, but his krewemates should feel better knowing more’s being done.”

Caroline: “I’m certain they will—and will be grateful that his regent was concerned enough to throw his own support behind the investigation, should I discover anything,” Caroline replies.

GM: “The Guard de Ville, too.” Sundown offers a faintly amused smile. “My clan’s not normally in the habit of giving out free information, but Hound Agnello was here not too many nights ago, and wanted to look into Bourelle’s haven as well. Four eyes can pick up more than two, if you’d care to coordinate efforts.”

Caroline: “I may reach out,” Caroline replies diplomatically. “But it can also be helpful to reach independent conclusions.”

GM: “It can,” the Nosferatu nods absently. “Miss Baker and the Storyvilles should be impressed if you turn up anything on your own.”

Caroline: “I’ll be certain to relate anything of value I discover to you as well, Regent Sundown. You have a stake in the matter after all.”

GM: “Give my clan some credit, Miss Malveaux,” the Nosferatu smiles deprecatingly. “But that’s gracious of you to offer all the same. And if you do happen to find anything of Bourelle, you’ll have my gratitude. He was a good tenant, and by all accounts a good Kindred.”

Caroline: “All the credit in the world cannot buy respect,” Caroline quips, “and it would be a poor showing of it not to show it directly. All the same, I take your meaning, Regent.”

GM: “Just as I take yours, Miss Malveaux. I’m sure things have been rough without a sire, but respect will take you far. Not every Kindred learns it.”

Caroline: “There were benefits, Regent,” Caroline replies. “Sometimes it is the burnt hand that teaches best.”

Monday evening, 5 October 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline continues her investigations into Evan’s disappearance. She’s been true to her promise to Jocelyn and keeps his apartment paid for despite his obnoxious landlord. She combs through it for any information that might point towards his disappearance. Evidence of surveillance, forced entry, a struggle, or anything out of the ordinary—insomuch as any Kindred’s existence can be ordinary.

GM: Evan Bourelle’s Marigny haven is a two-bedroom and one-bathroom apartment located at 922 Elysian Fields Avenue. Rent is $1,800 a month and the owner pays for utilities. Pets and smoking are not allowed on the premises, which Caroline supposes is a useful set of criteria for narrowing down buildings where Kindred may make their havens.

Margaret Ingram, the landlady, is not inclined to let Caroline look around on the premises, and must be compelled into doing so through Caine’s gifts. The woman’s reason is fairly simple: someone lives there. The apartment’s occupants are a one Mabel Beasley and Evan Bourelle, a single divorced mother and her adult son. Like many millennials, Evan was still living with his mom to save on living expenses in a tough economy. He recently went missing and Mabel has been beside herself. She also fell behind on rent… Margaret was willing to cut her some slack, but in the end, she isn’t running a charity here. Mabel eventually sorted out her financial issues, but has fallen into a deep depression, and is often absent from the building. She is not currently here.

Jocelyn replies with an LOL when Caroline texts her about that fact. No, Mabel isn’t Evan’s mom. He just thought it was a good cover, since she looks several decades older than him. And she actually did seem to dote on him in an almost mom-like way. He’s always been a hit with older women. They’re his favorite donors. Roxanne didn’t approve of his using their real names, but Evan didn’t think it was a big deal. He said it “wouldn’t tell anyone a lot anyways.”

The Toreador says Evan spent a lot of nights over at his lover’s haven, as well as the coterie’s communal one. Roxanne was constantly bringing up moving to someplace nicer, but Evan liked the building and didn’t seem interested in doing so.

The apartment itself is neat and tidy, to the sort of degree that’s only really possible when keeping it clean is one person’s paid job. Furniture is relatively new and comfortable. Various effects, such as laptops and phones, are missing: Jocelyn says that Roxanne took them, along with “a couple other personal things.” She preemptively adds that no, Evan’s phone wasn’t among them, and yes, they have tried to track it through “a million different ways.” None begot any results.

The bedroom that looks like Evan’s, if the heavy-duty window curtains are any indication, feels a little empty. There’s posters for music bands on the walls, a closet with neatly folded, mostly casual men’s clothes, a small collection of somewhat dated FPS and action RPG video games, a few paperback books, and a trash bin that’s a minor giveaway as to its owner’s undead nature given the lack of tissues, food wrapping, and other garbage one might expect from a living person (Evan’s is mostly ticket stubs and empty cologne bottles—there’s not even any used deodorant sticks, given their kind’s lack of perspiration). All told, it feels a lot like the bedroom of most any twenty-something male of moderate means. The only really personal touch still remaining is a photograph of Evan and his paramour. The missing Toreador is a young man of average height and build with auburn hair and boyishly good-looking, clean-shaven features. He’s dressed in swim trunks and his arm around Roxanne’s waist, who’s wearing a one-piece bathing suit and has hers hooked around his shoulder. Both Kindred are smiling, an expression that looks all-too natural on Evan’s face and out of place on Roxanne’s, but not unpleasantly so—it’s like seeing a long-haired woman who’s finally let her hair down. A sandy beach’s midnight-black waters stretch endlessly into dark skies behind the couple. Unlike most of Jocelyn’s pieces (her name is signed in the bottom corner), it’s also in color. The two’s otherwise pale complexions look ruddy, perhaps from feeding, or perhaps simply from Jocelyn’s choice in lighting, and almost alive. It’d be easy to picture the college-age two as boyfriend and girlfriend if the image showed them during the day.

Caroline: It feels like invading someone’s privacy to rummage through the apartment with no one present, but it’s hardly a first for Caroline. Even stripped of the ‘personal things’ that his lover absconded with, it’s still a look into his interests and his past. The picture of the missing vampire with Roxanne makes Caroline’s skin crawl for the sheer personalness of it. Just two ‘people’ seemingly in love. A look into their past, into their feelings. She doesn’t know if she’s ever seen Roxanne smile before.

GM: She’s fairly sure she hasn’t.

Caroline: The heiress takes the ticket stubs—later using them to build a timeline in the immediate past for the missing Toreador. What were the last shows he went to? Did they point to a routine? She has Autumn take the rest of the trash out and dump it on principle.

GM: The stubs are mostly for shows in Faubourg Marigny, and a few in Mid-City and the Seventh Ward. Evan appears to have enjoyed live music and attended concerts on a regular basis. All of this is leaving live bars that do not require reservations. Jocelyn adds that his favorite venue was The Spotted Cat Music Club.

Caroline: The heiress plots out the nights of each show closest to his disappearance. Of particular interest are any shows that he threw away two tickets to.

GM: Caroline finds none, although that does not entirely rule out Evan attending them with company.

The one thing Caroline discovers out of order isn’t even in the haven proper, but outside of it.

Bird poop.

There’s not much left. Time and weather has washed almost all of it away. Caroline has to ask Autumn to take a closer look with her preternatural senses. But there’s enough concentrated in a single area (around the trees a short distance away from Evan’s window) for Margaret Ingram to confirm that there were a fair number of birds roosting around the area some weeks ago—when Evan disappeared. There weren’t flocks of them, but now that she thinks about it, she couldn’t look at the window without seeing at least one.

Caroline: The bird droppings are interesting. It’s thin, but thin is far better than nothing, and the first indication that there was someone, or something, more unusual about his disappearance than the going ‘hunter’ narrative. She’s seen the ability to control animals in action—though her actual understanding of it is somewhat limited by her lack of experience or proficiency with such gifts. The heiress bounces the idea of someone spying on him using birds off Autumn, seeking any guidance she can provide as she continues to look around.

GM: Autumn answers that the Gangrel and Nosferatu are the only clans in the Camarilla with any inborn proficiency for the discipline. Getting birds to follow someone isn’t a particularly advanced application of its powers—even a dabbler could do it. Even she knows someone could use the discipline towards that end, and she freely admits to not knowing very much about how it works. “The Krewe sometimes uses animals to spy on people. Wasn’t my department, though.”

As far as she knows, barring wholly individual anomalies of the Blood and other niche circumstances, Kindred proficient with bestiae sermo (known less formally as taming and doolittling) can affect all animals equally. Users may prefer to utilize certain types of animals, but these preferences are no more binding than Caroline is bound to use her own mental powers on people from a certain demographic.

Caroline: The Ventrue digs into the birds with Margaret, seeking more information. Does she remember what kinds of birds? When they first showed up? When they stopped coming around? She plays with the woman’s trust, lulling her into a sense of security as the Beast wears at her mind, gets her to open up and care about this so mundane topic for a stranger. When was the last time she saw Mabel? How is she holding up?

While they talk, Caroline has Autumn ‘document’ the bird’s appearance with a few photos of their leavings, in case someone decides to clean up afterwards. Her final question is whether she’s mentioned the birds to anyone else.

GM: Margaret isn’t sure exactly what kind of birds they were. “They were ordinary little things, really.” Maybe sparrows? Songbirds? They’re the kind you see everywhere and don’t really think about. There were maybe some crows. They weren’t owls or eagles or “any ones really recognizable like that.”

They showed up a few days before the reported date of Evan’s disappearance. She can’t remember noticing any the day afterwards.

She saw Mabel about four days ago. The woman remains deeply depressed over the disappearance of her ‘son’, and Margaret could see her eyes were red from crying. She is somewhat puzzled where Mabel is spending her time, but figures the apartment maybe has too many reminders. His bedroom is right next to hers, after all.

As long as rent keeps getting paid, though… whatever.

No, she hasn’t mentioned the birds to anyone else. She hadn’t even thought about them before Caroline brought the topic up.

Caroline: The heiress thanks the landlord for her help and texts Jocelyn about the birds. Can she check around their communal haven, and ask Roxanne to check around her own?

GM: Jocelyn is surprised to hear about the birds, although she has to ask Caroline what’s significant about them. She’s heard that some clans can control them, but it’s plain she doesn’t have much idea how. The possibility the birds could have been used for spying on Evan is very alarming. Could that mean it was a Gangrel or Nosferatu who had it out for him?

You mean you wanna come over? I can ask, but I don’t think Roxanne’s gonna like the idea…

She adds that they’ve looked around their own havens already, although admittedly not that thoroughly next to Evan’s. Is there something specific they should be looking for?

Caroline: Caroline’s willing to come over and look if she’d prefer. She doesn’t want to be perceived as prying through into the Storyvilles’ havens. The evidence at Evan’s house, she explains, was thin but relatively straightforward: trace deposits of bird shit on the tree branches, railings, and so forth around his haven, and even on the sidewalk. Not the type of thing that would normally stand out, but for the fact that it wasn’t in areas that birds typically spent long periods of time—long enough for any accumulation to build up. Combined a mention from his landlord that she’d seen a lot of birds… it was enough of a tip off for Caroline’s increasingly paranoid mind. It’s not exactly glamorous to look for though. If they have cameras set up (she doesn’t pry into the rest of the krewe’s security systems) that actually record digital data rather than record over regularly, that might also provide ready evidence. Even shadows on the ground might give away the presence of the birds, if the cameras weren’t aimed up.

She explains that the appearance just before, and disappearance immediately after strikes her as incredibly suspicious, and that someone used them to spy on him—likely someone involved in his disappearance—seems very likely to her based on the timing and her understanding of how animals can be used by those with the appropriate abilities. If they were also spying on Roxanne’s haven and/or the Storyville communal, it would have given someone a good opportunity to plan their when and where to strike at him. She no longer thinks it likely he was attacked by hunters.

GM: Jocelyn is mortified when Caroline passes along the additional information of the birds’ timing. That is starting to look like another Kindred was behind it.

The question of whether more birds were spying on their krewe gives her pause. She says she’ll pass that information along to Roxanne and see what the Ventrue thinks, as well as inquire into the matter of any security footage.

Her answers prove somewhat disappointing. She says Roxanne didn’t see any birds in the tapes she had, but also that they don’t go back very far. Roxanne didn’t have any left from the time of Evan’s disappearance.

I guess that’s our lesson… :(

What do u think we should do?

Caroline: The heiress isn’t really shocked they don’t have long-term surveillance, though she advises them to make the ‘mild’ investment into it. Digital storage is cheap, especially at the comparatively lower quality of most video surveillance (they’re not recording in 1080P). She recommends keeping at least a month of records (and anytime something significant happens, archiving that month and starting a new hard drive). Beyond that, birds are something else to keep an eye out for—and animals in general behaving oddly.

For now, she advises they simply update their security—and investigate (if possible) to see if they’ve been under similar surveillance by more mundane means—by looking around. She’s happy to do it for them if they’d prefer. While they decide, she’s going to talk to Evan’s landlord about it. She presumes as a (powerful) Nosferatu with an interest in Evan’s whereabouts, the harpy might be both willing and able to do some further digging. Maybe even with the birds directly. Songbirds have short lifespans and brains like those of a goldfish, she recalls. But ravens and crows on the other hand are smart birds. Very smart birds. Smart enough that they might remember who asked them to look around even weeks later.

GM: Caroline goes through the last ghoul of Sundown’s she dealt with, who arranges an audience with his domitor some nights later in an upstairs club office. The Afterhours King taps his chin in thoughtful emphasis as the Ventrue relays her findings.

“Not a bad night’s work, Miss Malveaux. Birds, and specifically crows. You’re right they’re smart animals. It’s a needle in a haystack to go looking for specific crows, admittedly, but this is something to go on. It suggests quite a few possible things.”

“You’ve given me an initial lead so far as what happened to my tenant. What boon would you ask in exchange?”

Caroline: Caroline interlaces her fingers in front of her. “I looked into his disappearance because it was of some importance to others I cared for. It seems selfish to ask for a boon in return.”

She smiles. “But if it one were to be granted, I would ask for two matters, Regent Sundown. First, if any further leads develop, I would very much appreciate an opportunity to be a part of that following investigation. And second, credit where due if and when others inquire as to this matter.”

GM: “Easily done,” the Nosferatu replies. “Not a bad choice, Miss Malveaux. Reputation is worth its weight in gold… and perhaps red.”

Caroline: “Two of my favorite colors, Regent Sundown,” Caroline grins savagely.

GM: The Storyvilles, meanwhile, are thrilled by the news that Caroline has given them their first solid lead to go on in… well, ever. They start speculating as to Gangrel and Nosferatu who could’ve had an axe to grind against Evan. Maybe it was Lidia Kendall. She’s a well-known Gangrel high in the Baron’s favor. Roxanne is pleased enough, in fact, to offer another boon of her own to her younger clanmate.

Caroline: Caroline makes the rounds, if invited, to check the main Storyville haven and Roxanne’s own for signs of animal based espionage, though she admits in advance that such evidence might be something of a long shot given the time frame, and understand if they’d rather keep their secrecy.

GM: Roxanne, for all her gratitude, does not invite Caroline to either haven.

“Sorry,” says Jocelyn. “If it makes you feel any better, I haven’t seen hers either. I don’t think she let anyone except Evan.”

Caroline: The blonde vampire laughs it off. “In that case I’ll assume it’s because she has the walls painted bright pink, plastered with ‘My Little Pony’ art, and every surface covered with stuffed animals, rather than any personal slight.”

GM: Jocelyn laughs at that. “Yeah, I bet. She’s just a softie deep down.”

Her lover’s face grows a bit more serious. “I know she seems kind of bitchy, but… I think-”

Caroline: The heiress interrupts, “I don’t have any room to complain about her acting like, or at least being perceived as, a bitch. We all are who we are, and we also all only get to see shadows and reflections of each other. Everyone is someone else’s close friend or lover for at least one good reason.”

GM: “Well, true,” Jocelyn says. “It’s just… I think her breather family’s really screwed up. I know she came from a pretty rich one, like yours, and everyone was supposed to be really successful. Which I guess is also like yours. The screwed-up part was how her dad used to beat her mom. I overheard it once, when she was talking with Evan. She said she remembered, when she was a kid, seeing her mom lying face-down on the stairwell carpet, and not being sure if she was dead or alive. And her dad just got angry and pretended it never happened whenever she brought it up, so they didn’t.”

The Toreador grows a little more quiet. “I think that’s why she likes Evan. He’s really gentle, but without being a pushover.”

“And, well, that’s why she’s… the way she is herself, to most people.”

Caroline: “Jesus,” Caroline replies. She spends a moment picturing her own mother covered in blood at the bottom of a flight of stairs. Her family has always been messed up—and perhaps never more so than recently—but she never felt physical fear of them, or for them, as a child. “I guess we don’t really know what’s going on in someone else’s head.”

She lets a second of silence pass. “I don’t hold any of it against her if that’s what you’re worried about, Jocelyn. I don’t know if we’ll ever be BFFs—I think we’re both just a little too used to domineering and getting our way—but I don’t have any hard feelings towards her. Maybe it’s a blue blood thing—either by nature or our respective breather nurtures. I don’t see very many of us that seem that close to each other.”

GM: “Oh really?” Jocelyn says thoughtfully. “Becky Lynne and her brother Hurst seem pretty close. And she’s more like, well, a camellia than cast iron.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “I wouldn’t sleep on Becky Lynne if I were you. She’s just, I think on account of her sire, far better at hiding it than most of us. Even then, she’s way better at playing the polite and meek part than actually living that. I swear, it’s like rich girls from controlling families with daddy issues are catnip for blue blood sires.”

GM: Jocelyn laughs at that. “Speaking from experience?”

Caroline: “Yeah…” she bites her lip. “I guess I fit the mold. I always wanted my father’s attention. Thought maybe if I was perfect enough he’d have time for me instead of just using me as a campaign prop when it suited him. I’d guess that’s what a lot of sires see: someone eager to please. And one looking for another father figure.”

GM: “Well, at least your jerk vampire dad got what was coming to him, right?” the Toreador says with a waner smile, obviously trying to cheer Caroline up.

Caroline: The blonde Ventrue shakes her head. “Justice is for the prince. I want something sweeter.” She gives a fang-filled grin. “Victory.”

GM: “For sure, me too. But didn’t you already get that over your sire?”

Caroline: “I’ll have it when I’ve taken back everything that I lost,” Caroline replies. “Directly or indirectly. It’s not enough to make someone else suffer. Thriving is the real victory. And it’s coming, more quickly than anyone might think.”

Sunday night, 11 October 2015, AM

Caroline: Caroline clues her own landlord in to her findings, mostly out of respect, but also under the theory that someone else in the loop from within the prince’s faction is likely to help her out at some point—or at least unlikely to hurt. Especially if that other can likely do his own follow-up with the birds and beasts. Almost forgotten is how it seems like the decent thing to do, since he’d also bothered to investigate the missing Toreador.

Rocco: The respect is appreciated. Rocco is only too happy to offer Caroline his aid and even pledges her a boon in reward for her efforts. He shares his findings on Bourelle’s disappearance, which largely overlap with Caroline’s.

“I understand Marcel Guilbeau used to be an old lover of Bourelle’s,” Rocco mentions off-handedly, “and when I spoke to Marcel, he mentioned that Evan was trying to convert a member of the Crone to the Lancea et Sanctum. This could be related to his disappearance. It’s also interesting to note that someone who’s already been linked to his disappearance happens to have an affinity with animals, being Yellow Sidra. What are you thoughts, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: The heiress seems to think on that one. “She seemed to be selling me quite hard on the idea that it was some third party—hunters for instance—that killed him,” Caroline agrees of Yellow Sidra.

“I guess what perplexes me there is motive. I haven’t really seen anything to suggest he was on bad terms with anyone, and the birds make it seem like whatever went after him it wasn’t purely a crime of opportunity. It feels premeditated.”

She taps her fingers on the arm of her chair. “I could see Yellow Sidra selling information on his comings and going though to someone—or his meetings with her seeming like enough pretext to hurt him for someone that had strong feelings on dealing with those outside of the Sanctified…”

Rocco: “You have spent more time with the Storyville Krewe than I have, Miss Malveaux. Do you consider any of them to be reasonable suspects, possibly responsible for Evan’s disappearance?”

The thought crosses Rocco’s mind that his own sire could be responsible, but he isn’t entirely certain if utilizing birds to spy on her victims beforehand is the scourge’s usual method of course.

He adds, “I am curious to know what Bourelle’s ghoul Mabel knows about the Crone he was trying to convert. You will acquire this ghoul for me as corvée for this month, Miss Malveaux. You may question her before giving her to me under the proviso that you share with me everything she tells you.”

The hound, of course, plans to personally follow-up on Caroline’s findings that birds compelled by mystical means were present at Evan’s haven before his disappearance.

Caroline: Once again Caroline taps her fingers on the chair’s arm before responding to the question about the other Storyvilles. “I think it unlikely that any of them were involved, Hound Agnello. Among other things, I don’t believe that any have gifts that would allow them to control birds—nor do I think any would have a need to do so. I believe they also all have alibis for the night of his disappearance. Finally, they lack a motive. He was well liked by his krewe members.”

She runs her tongue across her teeth at his assignment. “Of course, Hound Agnello. Will there be anything else?”

Rocco: “There will not, Miss Malveaux. Good evening.”

Monday night, 12 October 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline finally hires a mundane PI to stake out the haven and report when Mabel returns, and in turn sends Autumn and Fuller to pick her up for an interview when she resurfaces.

GM: Autumn texts Caroline around a week later that they’ve picked up Mabel. She was returning to clean Evan’s room and an inconsolable mess upon being confronted. She also claimed to be working for and staying with Roxanne Gerlette, and to be maintaining Evan’s haven under the Ventrue’s instructions.

You want us to let her go with a memory wipe?

Caroline: Bring her in, Caroline sends back. After a moment she amends, Be gentle.

When the ghoul arrives Caroline does her best to soothe her, slicing through her fears and anxiety with her supernal charm to calm her down. She has Autumn bring out a stiff drink for her and sits her down in a comfortable chair across from the Ventrue, smiling softly and assuring her that she has no desire to hurt her or blame her, but that she has a few questions she’d like answered as part of her effort to find Evan.

She asks about the night Evan went missing, and the nights leading up to it. Certainly she’s been interviewed before on this topic—probably extensively by the Storyvilles—but Caroline probes. Was there anything unusual in the area she saw? Animals acting bizarrely? Neighbors acting weird? Was there any sign of a struggle anywhere outside or inside the building that night or morning? Any vehicles hanging around? The probes piece by piece, trying to build a picture and tease out any details that may have escaped her.

Next Caroline moves onto Evan’s activities. She heard that he was trying to convert someone in the nights before he disappeared. Does she know anything about that? Did she hear or see anything about meetings with other Kindred? Does she remember any names that might be helpful? Did he ever return harmed, or with ripped or torn clothing? Did she overhear any phone calls with raised voices?

She asks, at last, as gently as possible whether she has any reason to think ill has befallen Evan.

Throughout the interview she’s reassuring, patient, and kind to the woman. She knows she must have been asked a lot of this in the past, but any detail might help. Anything others may have missed. It’s possible that something was overlooked, that might break the entire thing open. A small tape recorder runs, recording the conversation.

GM: Mabel is a comely-looking and long-haired blonde woman in her middle years with a full and curvy figure. Caroline can see her matching the ‘Mrs. Robinson’ type Evan preferred to a ‘T’.

Or at least, once matching it. The woman’s gaze and expression are dead. She hasn’t applied any makeup, her clothes have a rumpled, slept-in look, she doesn’t look as if she’s washed her hair recently, and her eyes are still red and puffy. She doesn’t smell as if she’s showered in a while either.

The ghoul has clearly been mesmerized by Autumn or Fuller. When she’s released, she immediately begins screaming at the top of her lungs and attempts to flee. She screams for Roxanne. She screams for Evan. She screams for her kidnappers to let her go. Only Caine’s gifts manage to still her cries and panicked flailings.

Caroline fails utterly to sway Mabel’s emotional state. That power of the Blood is not hers. The best she gets is stopping the ghoul from screaming any further, now that they are ‘friends’, but there is no life or warmth to her despair-empty eyes. She doesn’t even touch the drink. She just stares numbly ahead.

Evan’s name is what finally brings the first onset of tears. Caroline may not blame her for Evan, but it is all-too plain that the inconsolable ghoul blames herself.

She does not recall any odd happenings with animals. Evan himself appeared notably anxious during the last few nights before his disappearance, though he tried to put on a brave front for his krewemates. He wouldn’t talk to her about what was wrong, though. “Her boy” put on a brave front for her too. He was “such a good boy. Such a sweet boy.”

“And he… my boy… he’s gone… gone…” the woman piteously sobs.

The Crone is named Amandine. Mabel doesn’t know (or simply remember) her last name. She seemed like a “nice girl” for a Vodouisant. She thinks Evan “liked” her. She also thinks they shared blood—Toreador lovers, after all, are not known for their faithfulness. She doesn’t think he wanted to get away from Roxanne. They “had something.” But he wasn’t averse to “having more,” so long as his Ventrue lover didn’t know. She’d probably have reacted… well, how any of the Kingship Clan would, to a straying lover. Roxanne always saw herself as the one wearing the pants, and Evan never fought his paramour in contests for dominance. That wasn’t his way.

She knows he went to see Yellow Sidra shortly before he disappeared. There was his krewe. He also went strolling along the Lower Garden District, shortly before he did, and said he ran into Accou Poincaré. He said he’d always admired his elder clanmate’s style, and the way he “looked after his ‘mom’.” He didn’t seem any less anxious, but perhaps more “resolved,” at least for a few hours.

Caroline: News that Evan was intimate with Amandine is interesting, and complicates Caroline’s analysis. She could definitely see Roxanne taking such infidelity very poorly indeed. It also begs the question as to whether or not Roxanne knew, or knows now. She tables that question for the more pressing one that Mabel alone might answer: about the details of his meeting with and relationship to Amandine. There aren’t so many opportunities for a Vodouisant and a faithful Sanctified to meet that would readily lend themselves towards such a relationship. Caroline digs into all manner of questions about its nature.

GM: Evan didn’t take Mabel along or tell her the full details, but from what he said, Amandine was a “clever girl” with an “attitude” that he liked, and who came from a small-town background that he had in common with her. She wasn’t anywhere nearly so stiff and formal as Roxanne could be. As far as Mabel knows, they went to some bars, music concerts, and events “off the beaten path” away from other Kindred together. They both liked music, as well as the outdoors, but Evan also thought that she “understood him” or at least “one side of him” in a way his krewemates weren’t able to. He also thought that “not everything she did was that bad.” She was just trying to get along in her Requiem like any other person saddled with the curse of undeath, and did it without reveling in what she was or leaving bodies and misery without concern for the kine. The only reason he could see that she opposed Vidal and aided his enemies was because Vidal criminalized her beliefs, which in no way undermined his, and those same enemies offered her guidance, community, and mentorship that no other Kindred did.

She believed what she believed, and he believed what he believed. Did they have to hate each other for it? Wasn’t there enough misery in the Requiem already?

“He’s such… such a sweet boy…” Mabel continues to weep with heart-shaking sobs.

Caroline: Caroline considers pushing further, but ultimately decides the woman is just too fragile. Especially if she presses hard on these already sensitive topics. She encourages her to have a sip of her drink while she steps off to make a call to Hound Agnello—or whatever proxy he has designated for her. She relates that she’s ‘interviewed’ the ghoul, but that there’s a potential complication: Roxanne has claimed her as her own. She inquires as to whether he still wishes for Caroline to turn Mabel over to him or if he’d prefer she be released to avoid the potential incident? She relates that she has the name of the Kindred he was interested in: Amandine.

She also relates, politely, that the ghoul’s mental state is extremely poor, and inquires whether he intends on releasing Mabel when he’s finished.

Rocco: “You did very well, Miss Malveaux,” the hound answers after a moment of silent deliberation. “You may let her loose as I have no further use of the ghoul. Did you find anything else of importance in this case?”

Caroline: There’s a slight moment of pause. “She related that he appeared notably anxious in the nights prior to his disappearance,” the Ventrue adds. “And that he briefly met with Primogen Poincaré in that time as well.” Another slight pause. “There may be another matter as well, but I’d like to follow up with it first. If it plays out into anything I’ll pass on the full story, Hound Agnello.”

Rocco: “I will meet with Primogen Poincare in that case, Miss Malveaux,” the hound answers. “I will also extend to you an offer to accompany me and make introductions in exchange for your continued compliance in this matter.”

Caroline: Rocco isn’t there to see what flashes behind Caroline’s eyes at the invitation. “I would be honored to accompany you on such a distinguished meeting, Hound Agnello,” comes her smooth reply across the line.

“Is there a particular night and time, or shall I keep my schedule open?”

Rocco: “Keep your schedule open, Miss Malveaux. I will be in touch. I advise that during the interim you think of and acquire a suitable gift for Primogen Poincare to make a strong impression.”

Caroline: The heiress bites her lip. “Thank you for the recommendation, Hound Agnello. I will do so.”

Monday night, 12 October 2015, PM

Caroline: The heiress wipes the ghoul’s memory of their encounter and puts her to sleep, instructing Autumn and Fuller to return her to her home. Once they’re on their way she calls Jocelyn and asks if she’s available to entertain. Caroline has a couple things she’d like to talk about.

GM: Jocelyn almost always is for her lover, especially where news about Evan is concerned.

Caroline: The heiress meets Jocelyn at her haven. She mentions that she hasn’t heard back from Rocco or Sundown yet about any follow-up with the birds, but that she did come across some concerning information about Evan’s activities. In particular, his attempts to ‘convert’ a Vodouisant. Convert and quite a bit more, from what she’s heard. She asks if Jocelyn heard anything about that, about any relationship with another Kindred along those lines.

GM: Jocelyn hasn’t heard of many cases of ‘star-crossed lovers’ between the Crones and the Sanctified. There’s a fairly well-known story about Duncan Priory, a visiting Sanctified of some repute, and some little Gangrel Acolyte he’d had a fling with before killing, and before being executed himself. Jocelyn frowns. “Maybe I’m getting the details wrong.” It was the case that first brought Hercule ‘Monty’ Lestrange to prominence as an investigator for hire among the Damned. “We actually wanted to go to him over Evan, but… it didn’t pan out.”

Jocelyn knows nothing about Evan’s (full) relationship with Amandine, though, and is surprised to hear that news. “Wow. I mean, go him if he wanted to score some more action, but that’s pretty risky with a Crone. No wonder he didn’t tell us.”

Jocelyn seems a little hurt by the fact her krewemate felt he had to hide things, but then wonders, “Or maybe that’s just how he was trying to win her over. I mean, our clan are the Cam’s sex kittens. Yeah, that actually does seem like an ok idea to me.”

Caroline: The heiress listens with interest to the story of Monty, but more so when Jocelyn talks about Evan’s potential relationship. She frowns at Jocelyn’s characterization of the idea of sleeping around behind one’s lover’s back to try and lure someone into the church, but says nothing of it for the moment. Instead she bites her lip and asks, “How do you think Roxanne would feel about that if she found out? I kept the details about Evan and his little Crone side-piece quiet, but my impression is that she wouldn’t take something like that well. If it gets out, that’s just shy of motive for her to attack him, maybe in a frenzy…”

She looks the Toreador in the eye. “Do you think she knew about it?”

GM: Jocelyn frowns.

“So, I told you about that thing with Roxanne’s mom and dad, and how he just acted like it wasn’t happening. But, it was kinda more than that. He would flip out over… well, Roxanne said this one time she tried to help her mom, by getting an emergency kit, her dad walked in and asked what she was doing. And when she said her mom was hurt, he grabbed the kit and threw it in the toilet, and screamed at her that she was lying. That she was a filthy liar and just screamed his head off and broke a bunch of shit, about how he wasn’t raising his kids to be liars. And he’d do that any time the abuse came up, or it seemed like she was thinking about it. Just go ballistic about what a liar she was. I don’t think he ever hit her, or at least she never said he did. But it really fucked her up, how her… well, you heard it.”

“My point is,” Jocelyn says slowly, “Roxanne hates liars.”

“Now, sure, everyone in the masked city lies about shit, and I think she’s basically had to make her peace with that. But there’s been a couple times when some of us, in the krewe, lied, or she just thought we did, and she went apeshit over it, saying we were ‘trying to tell her what’s real’ after she calmed down. And she went on about how ‘I know what I saw’ and… well, you can probably guess.”

“My point is, I think she’d explode if she found out Evan was sleeping around and lying to her. That’s why he and Marcel broke up, just so she wouldn’t have anything to be jealous over. So when Evan decided to sleep with someone anyway… I guess he just decided he’d tell no one but Mabel.”

The Toreador gives an uncomfortable frown. “Yeah, I guess that does sound like a recipe for disaster.”

Caroline: The heiress taps her fingers on the arm of the comfortable sofa, one hand held in a fist in front of her mouth in thought. After what seems like an eternity she finally stands, walk towards the window, then turns back to her paramour. “You should ask her to come over,” she finally decides.

“That’s really bad, Jocelyn.” She runs her hand through her hair and continues, “And that she’s almost certainly known about this other lover on the side for a while and hasn’t mentioned it to anyone else during the investigations? Not even to the rest of you? Honestly, it puts her near the top of the suspect list. There aren’t very many other licks out there with a motive, and none with one as good as hers. Especially if she did something in a rage, like we’re all prone to do?”

GM: “No!” Jocelyn declares emphatically, shaking her head. “Roxanne wouldn’t! I didn’t know about Evan sleeping with Amandine, so how would she? And what about the birds? Roxanne doesn’t know how to doolittle, none of us do.”

Caroline: “And if she found something that made her suspicious? Two ticket stubs in his pocket to a show, or the taste of someone else’s vitae in his blood, or him not going where she thought he was going? She could have easily offered a boon to someone to keep an eye on him, confirm her suspicions using the birds—that’s a damn small ask,” Caroline counters logically.

“I’m not saying I think she did it,” the heiress clarifies. “But if I take what I have—and what you just told me—to either Sundown or Agnello, she’s suspect number one, and my guess is their conversation is a lot less cordial than inviting her over to your place for an uncomfortable talk.”

GM: Jocelyn’s eyes flash. “No! FUCK Rocco! We are NOT dragging him into this, you hear me, we are fucking NOT!”

The Toreador actually gives a half-mangled hiss, and Caroline can see her jaw clamp and canines elongate as she strains against her Beast. She finally snarls out again,

“Fuck. Rocco.”

Caroline: The heiress puts up her hands, palms out, towards Jocelyn. “Hey, hey,” she tries to calm her. “I’d love to… but he’s not really my type,” she murmurs defusingly, slowly lowering her hands. She cracks a wan smile and pauses for a moment before she continues,

“I’m not going to throw her under the bus to him, but he’s digging, and I can’t stop him. Or Sundown for that matter. What do you think he’s going to do when he gets his hands on Amandine? Or just finds the right witness that mentions them swapping fluids? He’s the one who dug up that lead in the first place, and he’s not going to let it go. And what do you think he’s going to do me if he finds out that I kept all of this from him?”

She pauses, before continuing, “I’m not afraid of him, but he could make my life really uncomfortable as long as I’m his tenant, to say nothing of as a hound.”

GM: The worst of the tension fades from Jocelyn’s jaw, though her eyes remain flat as she says, “Yeah, you got screwed getting him as your landlord. I hope he does go after Amandine though. The Baron doesn’t have a lot of licks, and they really look out for their own.” She mutters, “More than the Sanctified sometimes do.”

“I… I guess you’re right, though. We need to at least clear her. I still don’t think she did it though, she isn’t on good terms with really any redbones or kaintucks.”

Caroline: “I’ve been known to have good ideas every now and then,” Caroline replies. She picks up the Toreador’s phone from where it’s charging on the coffee table and hands it to her. “And sooner is better. He’s meeting soon with Primogen Poincaré. I don’t know what Evan told Poincaré, but he was one of the last licks Evan talked to.”

GM: Jocelyn unlocks the phone’s screen, looks at it for a moment, and then looks up to Caroline.


Caroline: The heiress grits her teeth, thinking she’s received a call or message. “You want me to step out?”

GM: “What? No,” Jocelyn shakes her head. “I’m just thinking, if this goes far enough… well, Rocco’s already involved, and you’ve brought up Sundown and Accou. They aren’t bad, but… well, what would you think about bringing this to Skyman, calling him in?”

Caroline: The heiress bites on the end of her thumbnail lightly, a nervous habit Jocelyn doesn’t often see. “I don’t think he’s particularly fond of me at this moment. And right now I don’t really have anything to bring him except—for the most part—things you all already knew. Well… some of you at least.”

“Maybe if we come up with something real, something actionable. Otherwise it just feels like going to him with another problem, asking for more table scraps.”

GM: “Fair enough,” Jocelyn grants. “It just… seems like our only trump card here.”

Caroline: “Maybe he is, but that’s the key with Bridge. Knowing when you need to play a trump, and when you can still win in suite.”

Tuesday night, 13 October 2015, PM

GM: Jocelyn has Caroline and Roxanne meet in her haven the next night. Meg anxiously hovers over her mistress’ guest at first, but an all-too sharp glare from the older Ventrue sends the anorexic ghoul scurrying away. Roxanne herself is accompanied by two other ghouls who she has wait outside.

“Jocelyn said this was about Evan,” the Ventrue says as she sits down on the couch and regards Caroline expectantly.

Caroline: Roxanne’s ghouls find company with Fuller, who drove Caroline over. The heiress crosses her legs.

“It is,” she replies. “Evidence has come forward that Evan was spending a great deal of time with another Kindred, a Crone named Amandine. I was hoping you could shed some light into the nature of that relationship.”

The heiress holds a thin moleskin notebook in one hand and a pen in the other.

GM: “Not much more than Jocelyn could probably tell you,” Roxanne answers. “He thought he’d be able to convert her to the Sanctified. I thought it was a stupid idea, but he was sold on it and ran everything past me, so I granted him permission.”

Caroline: The heiress scrutinizes the her dark-haired companion. “Permission? Permission for what? To talk to her?” Caroline prompts.

GM: “Permission to make extended contact with the enemy. There are risks. This is my krewe. So yes, he needed permission. Just like Jocelyn would.”

The Toreador looks at her, but doesn’t disagree.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lower lip, then sighs, “I’m just going to come out and ask, because I like you way too much to play this game: did you know they were fucking?”

GM: Roxanne’s already sharp gaze hones to a serrated edge as she leans forward. Her pale face is still, but Caroline can make out the faintest of tremors behind it.

“Excuse me?”

Caroline: “That they were swapping blood,” Caroline repeats, her gaze settled just as sharply on her fellow Ventrue, trying to read her expression and reaction. “That’s what it looks like, at least.”

GM: Roxanne is silent for a moment—then literally howls as she launches herself at Caroline, eyes mad with the Beast.

Caroline: Roxanne howls, all clawing nails and snapping teeth as she leaps over the table at Caroline, only to find her fellow Ventrue all too ready for her. Caroline blurs away from her rush and kicks the raging Roxanne in the back and into the sofa she occupied only a moment before. She snatches one of the dark haired woman’s arms, even as she steps in and plants her knee in her back, shoving her chest and back into the cushions. It’s not even close to fair even before she drives an elbow into the back of her attacker’s head, burying her face in the cushions and muting even her howls.

Jocelyn is there a moment later with a stake, but Caroline waves it aside with a shake of her head. “Just hold her,” she says, shifting her grip on Roxanne’s wrist for better control. Her voice is thick and heavy.

With Roxanne planted harmlessly in the fabric the Toreador grabs her krewe-mate’s other arm struggling arm and plants her own weight alongside her lover’s with another knee in Roxanne’s back. The two hold the struggling, raging, and screaming (into the the pillows) Ventrue like parents holding down a misbehaving child in the supermarket until her struggling ceases.

GM: It’s a testament to how impotent that struggling is rendered when Meg re-emerges from deeper within the apartment, evidently having been drawn by the initial sounds of struggle if her fear-struck features are any indication. They turn more confused, though, when she sees the two vampires holding down Roxanne so totally, so soundlessly, that it doesn’t even look like a fight is taking place.

“Meg, what are you-” Jocelyn starts in a half-irritated voice.

“J-Jocelyn? I thought I heard…” the painfully thin ghoul squeaks, looking between her, Caroline, and the all-but-asleep-looking Roxanne.

“We’re fine, Meg, go clean or something,” Jocelyn sighs.

Caroline: “More than fine,” Caroline snarls, grinning triumphantly.

GM: “O-okay, her purse is…” the ghoul hesitantly points at the knocked-over purse and its spilled contents. It’s the one sign of evident violence in the room. Caroline feels a muffled vibration coming up from Roxanne between the pillows.

“Okay, sure, pick that up,” Jocelyn grants in that same half-irritated tone.

Meg gives a furtive look between Caroline and her domitor, then scampers over the assorted items and starts picking them up. Her thin hands are full when she seems to realize she needs the purse. She awkwardly shuffles over to it on her knees, not seeming to want to stand over the also-kneeling (if seated) Caroline’s and Jocelyn’s heights. She tries to pull over the purse with one hand while holding all Roxanne’s assorted things against a single arm when she had previously required two. Some of them inevitably fall out.

“S-sorry, Mis-tress—Ms. Malveaux…” she mumbles, furtively glancing at the two Kindred again before quickly trying to sweep as many of Roxanne’s dropped items back into the purse as she can.

Jocelyn gives a long-suffering sigh.

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head and slowly mouths one word at Jocelyn, away from the struggling ghoul. Hopeless.

GM: Jocelyn rolls her eyes.

“Sorry…” Meg apologizes again, though with her gaze fixed on the purse, she couldn’t have seen either Kindred’s expression.

It’s as she’s pawing through Roxanne’s things that the ghoul pauses and falteringly asks, “M-mistress?”

“Yes, Meg?” comes the tired response.

“I’m not… sure where this should go…”

“The purse. It all goes in the purse,” comes another tired response.

“No, this… doesn’t look like it goes…”

“If it came out of the purse, it goes back in the purse.”

Caroline: The heiress spares a glance back to the hapless ghoul.

GM: Meg darts her head up, and upon meeting Caroline’s gaze, quickly looks away. She holds up the item in her hands like an offering to ward off the Ventrue’s displeasure.

Maxen_Flores.jpg It’s a small picture, about the size of one that goes in a wallet. It depicts a slightly younger-looking Roxanne, but whose gaze is notably less severe, dressed in a long-hemmed white dress with a crucifix-set silver ring bearing the inscription ‘I will wait’. Caroline recognizes the attire from the purity ball (or at least one like it) she attended with her father to win support among the state’s northern evangelicals. The older man in the picture (for there is always an older man) is an equally familiar face to the Ventrue, though. Caroline recognizes him as Maxen Flores, one of her father’s long-time political allies, and the current senate majority leader in Baton Rouge since the Malveauxes took their name back to Congress.

Caroline: Surprise blossoms across Caroline’s face a moment before she all but snarls, “Maxen Fucking Flores is her father?”

GM: Jocelyn gives a confused look. “Sorry, who?”

“I guess he does look like her dad, though. That’s… a little weird she’d still carry his photo…”

Caroline: “It’s always the dad in pictures like that.” She should know, she still has that ridiculous ring buried in her jewelry box somewhere. Or at least, did. It’s been a while since she’s gone looking for it.

GM: “I guess so. I’ve heard of those things. They honestly sound a little creepy.”

Meg continues to hold up the photo, but spares another quick glance at Caroline’s face.

Caroline: “You have no idea,” Caroline answers, sparing the picture another glance. “Put that thing back in her purse,” she snaps at Meg. “God, why would she carry something like that around.”

GM: “You had me wondering the same thing,” Jocelyn says. She frowns. “Roxanne’s last name isn’t Flores, though. It’s Gerlette.”

Meg actually drops the picture with an audible squeak at Caroline’s tone, stammers another, “I’m sorry…” and scrambles to stick it back in the purse.

Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes when Meg drops the photo, but has an idea. “Is there anything on the back?” she asks as the ghoul fumbles to pick it up.

GM: The ghoul ventures a quick peek at it. “Y-yes there is, ma’am,” she nods falteringly while still putting it away.

There’s a few more motions and muffled vibrations from the restrained Roxanne.

Caroline: The blonde heiress twists a little harder on Roxanne’s wrist, tightening the joint lock. Until she stops struggling, Caroline can’t be sure she’s done. “What is on the back,” she patiently asks. If she were living the words might have been preceded by a tremendous sigh.

GM: “W-writing, ma’am,” Meg answers with another furtive peak as she tries to scoop more things back into the purse as quickly as she can.

“I-I don’t remember what it said, says, I’m sorry…”

Caroline: The heiress is silent for a moment, biting back the response she wants to give. “Pull out the picture and read what the back says,” she directs, like she’s giving instructions to a child.

GM: The ghoul does so and reads in a squeaky voice,

“‘Girls are like apples on trees. Their fathers are the farmers, whose job is to care for them. He must protect his apples from pests and disease. He must guard them against thieves who may pick his apples prematurely. Neither those at the top nor those at the bottom can help their location. But, when each reaches peak ripeness, it is the farmer’s job to harvest that fruit and give it to whom he will, to those in need. So there is nothing wrong with the apples still on the tree and nothing wrong with the boys who seek them. But it is the farmer’s duty to provide for both, in due season.’”

“It’s in… green and red letters, and some brown… it doesn’t look like handwriting… but there’s another part that is…” Meg ventures.

Caroline: “Then read the other part,” Caroline answers, with exaggerated patience, shifting her elbow in Roxanne’s upper back.

GM: “‘Isabel,
I feel so blessed every day to have you in my life. Stay pure.
Dad,’” the ghoul recites.

Caroline: Caroline nods and looks to Jocelyn. “Isabel Flores. That’s her real name. You didn’t know?” she asks.

GM: “Um… no,” Jocelyn admits with a frown.

“So did you know her family or something?”

Caroline: The heiress nods. “Yeah, I’ve met her dad a bunch of times. He used to work with mine all the time. Ended up succeeding him as majority leader in the state legislature. He was weirdly intense, but I never got the ‘I go home and beat my wife’ vibe off him. I think he was the one that turned my dad onto the Purity Ball thing.”

GM: “I guess you never know what someone’s like behind closed doors, unless you’re closed in with them.”

Caroline: “Yeah,” Caroline agrees. “Guess we all have our secrets.” She looks back to Meg. “You can put it away now.” She shifts again for a better grip on Roxanne. “Jesus, you can stop struggling anytime!” she hisses with annoyance at the helpless vampire.

GM: More softly muffled hisses go up from the still-impotent creature.

Meg scurries to follow Caroline’s order and stuffs the photo away.

“That’s almost weird to think Roxanne has this whole family,” Jocelyn frowns. “I mean, I’m pretty distant from mine, and they’re all the way across the country.”

Caroline: The heiress bites her lip. “We all have our secrets,” she repeats. “Let’s hope that’s the only real one here. Tempted to say though based on her reaction that she was a little shocked to hear that he was shacking up with the Crone while he was playing house with her.”

GM: “God, I don’t even know. Her family looks, is, so screwed up.”

Caroline: “They all are,” Caroline confesses quietly.

GM: “All of her family, or all families period?” Jocelyn poses only semi-facetiously.

Caroline: “Show me a family that doesn’t have dirty secrets and I’ll show you their magic underwear and copies of the Book of Mormon,” Caroline grins.

GM: Jocelyn shakes her head. “You know, I bet she has a bunch of brothers and sisters. Dads like hers always want big families. It’s still weird to think she has all these relatives we, her krewe that is, never knew about.”

Caroline: “Yeah, you can ask her all about it as soon as she’s done eating your sofa if you want.”

GM: “The Evan news must’ve really gotten to her if she’s still apeshit…” Jocelyn frowns.

“Funny to think, but there’s probably a bunch more licks just like her. Younger ones especially. Who have these breather families and lives they don’t talk about.”

Caroline: “Can’t blame her, not really. For either. Lot of licks would just try to use the family against her, and the Sanctified teach you to keep away, right? Work to severe ties? And I can’t say that I’d react especially well if you went missing then someone told me you were screwing around with some nasty lick on the side.” She grins. “And I don’t have half as many control issues.” She takes her elbow off Roxanne’s upper back for a moment, letting her raise up her head. “You done yet?”

GM: Louder hisses go up.

“So, maybe this is premature, and maybe exactly the thing Roxanne, or I guess… Isabel, wanted to avoid, but I think I’d really like to hunt her dad. He sounds like a huge cock. And exactly the sort of sinner we’re supposed to punish.”

Caroline: “Good luck with that one. Pretty sure District 9 is Riverbend. The sheriff isn’t great at sharing in my experience. Especially with VIPs like that. But then you all are the golden children of the Sanctified, so maybe.”

GM: “Ehhhh, no thanks. Sheriff probably knows about him anyway. And glad you knew that.”

Caroline: “Electoral politics. It’s one of the only red seats in New Orleans,” Caroline answers, shoving the hissing Ventrue back into the pillow. “I’m really glad she doesn’t have to breathe.”

GM: “G-f f-f me!” comes a muffled voice from under Caroline.

Caroline: Something calls to Caroline, tells her to assert her dominance more fully, to punish this impotent lick that tried to attack her, but Caroline grins through it and climbs off Roxanne’s back, incrementally removing her elbow, then her knee, then finally releasing the joint lock on her shoulder and wrist. She takes a couple steps back, away from Roxanne. Giving her space—or maybe creating space if she tries to lash out again.

GM: Jocelyn gets off her too. Roxanne glares daggers, but then simply continues as if nothing has happened, “Do you have anything to support those accusations, Ms. Malveaux?”

Jocelyn gives her a krewemate an initially weirded out look that then gives way to one of almost piteous understanding.

Caroline: There’s a cat-like swagger as Caroline takes Roxanne’s previous seat, leaving her the sofa. Whatever the social dynamic, all three Beasts in the room know who’s at the top of the food chain now, and she carries that confidence like a mantle.

She pulls out a small electronic recorder. “Are you good, or do you need a minute? None of this is easy to talk about, I know.” She asks quietly.

GM: “Play it,” Roxanne replies tersely.

Caroline: The heiress cues up the first short clip she made from the original tape. It’s perhaps a minute of Mabel monologuing, in her sad, tear-filled voice, about Evan’s relationship with Amandine, and his relationship with Roxanne. She’s purposefully left in the notionally unrelated line about how he ‘had something’ with Roxanne. She lets the short clip finish.

GM: Roxanne listens to the tape with hard eyes, then pulls out a phone and taps it several times. “Greg? I want Mabel naked and tied to the bottom of the stairs by the time I’m back.” She ends the call perfunctorily.

Jocelyn stares at her in bewilderment. “Roxanne, what the fuck!”

“She’s hiding things, after all I’ve done for her,” the Ventrue replies acidly.

Caroline: “She’s a wreck, and terrified of you,” Caroline interjects quietly.

GM: “She’ll learn to be terrified now. I’ve been too gentle. And this is how she rep-”

“Are you fucking nuts?!” Jocelyn interrupts. “This is Mabel, don’t you remember how she used to be? She got us-”

“That’s not imp-”

“She didn’t even feel like a ghoul, half the time! You’d have really thought she was Evan’s mom!”

Caroline: “More to the point,” Caroline interject again, more loudly and pointedly, “if you hurt her or kill her—even accidentally—you’re going to make this look even worse for you than it does already.”

GM: Roxanne’s eyes are chips of flint. “Explain. Jocelyn, do not interrupt m-”

“Oh just fuck off, Roxanne, we beat you up like a bunch of fat kids whaling on a candy pinata.”

The Ventrue’s lips pull back, revealing once-more protruding canines as she snarls-

Caroline: “Knock it off,” Caroline interjects loudly, her voice icy and commanding as she flashes her own toothy grin. “If,” she stress the word, “if Evan was fooling around with Amandine, it gives you a pretty significant motive to have harmed him, either maliciously or in a fury, and with Mabel in your custody since his disappearance very few licks are going to believe that you had no idea until now that was happening. And if you kill Mabel, that’s just going to look like you cleaning up evidence. Is that clear enough?”

GM: “You make it sound like other Kindred are following what’s happening here, Ms. Malveaux,” Roxanne replies with a too-tight yet studiously controlled voice.

Caroline: “Fortunately for you, Ms. Gerlette,” Caroline replies slowly, “the list of people that know about Evan and Amandine’s potential relationship is short indeed. Because I lied to Hound Agnello about it and kept Mabel out of his hands. But it’s not likely to stay that way, with him and Regent Sundown both digging into the disappearance again, and Hound Agnello specifically chasing the link to Amandine like it’s a porterhouse steak on a line.”

GM: “Thank you for the warning, Ms. Malveaux, even if I’m still curious what would make Mabel hide so much from her domitor but not an outsider-”

“Call your ghoul, Roxanne. Call him off,” Jocelyn glares.

“Mabel won’t be perma-”

“I don’t care if it’s not! Do you even hear yourself? Fucking Mabel!” Jocelyn yells.

Caroline: The heiress gives Roxanne a very serious look. “How fine of a point would you like me to put on the answer to that question, Ms. Gerlette?” she asks. Her gaze sweeps to the ruffled pillow that is the sole testament left to the Ventrue’s ‘frenzy’. “I can think of at least one fairly good reason she might have been less than forthcoming to you, and an array of less excellent but understandable ones. Especially if she’s still collared to him.”

GM: “God knows that’s true,” the Toreador says disgustedly. “You know, when it was just Bliss… fine. But let’s go ahead and call Gwen and Wyatt, see how much they’re fans of this latest shit. I bet-”

“Jocelyn, we do not discuss internal matters with outsiders-” Roxanne reproaches severely, and only to be cut off as Jocelyn yells back,

“Oh, just cut that shit! Just cut it! You’re shit without Evan, you know that? You know he just let you go around saying you were the boss and giving him permission, because you’re such a control freak you’d explode if you didn’t get to? No wonder he didn’t tell you about Amandine! And you haven’t done shit to find him! Every step, it’s been Caroline!”

Roxanne stares daggers at the Toreador, but her voice is tight and controlled again as she hisses, “Keep this up, Jocelyn, and you’re out of the krewe.”

“Yeah, right! You don’t even get to decide that! Lucky thing, ‘cuz if Caroline was in, she’d have probably taken over by now-”

“Shut UP!” Roxanne snarls, her gray eyes flashing.

Jocelyn rocks back dumbly, a too-familiar glazed look to her eyes.

Caroline: Caroline is on her feet so fast it looks as though she didn’t move at all. She snarls in anger, her Beast rising up around her like the hair on a cat’s back, its intensity suddenly an overbearing presence in the room and utterly directed at her fellow Ventrue.

“Let her go. Now,” she demands, her voice low, controlled, and commanding as she matches gazes with the older Ventrue, fangs bared.

GM: Roxanne’s fangs jut in an answering hiss that’s as abruptly cut off as the force of the younger Ventrue’s Beast hits her. She looks away as Jocelyn blinks confusedly.

Caroline: The heiress sweeps her gaze between the two, standing over them. “I’d be a damn ungrateful bitch if I was trying to hurt you, Ms. Gerlette, after you and your krewe bailed me out of some very tough spots with René. I sure as hell wouldn’t have lied to my landlord if I was trying to set you up to the nth degree.”

She gestures to Jocelyn. “And just to put you at ease, her first reaction was to snap at me and defend you when I brought this up last night. I thought she was going to bite a hole in her lip her fangs got so big at the idea that you’d hurt him. And the ghoul,” she doesn’t address Mabel by name, “she was so damn loyal to him and you that she was terrified of saying anything that might hurt your relationship when he came back that I had to lay it on awful thick to get her to chat. To say nothing of being afraid that you’d throw her out in a rage, stop paying for his place, or hurt her.”

She leans forward. “Hopefully that’s enough that no one here means you any actual ill will, Ms. Gerlette, and we can turn our attention to the people that might very shortly? And maybe we can hold off on waterboarding the ghoul until we’ve talked through some things here? I’ve met her, she isn’t going to run off anywhere.”

“But it’s your call,” Caroline continues. “Your ghoul, your krewe, your investigation really. I’m just trying to return a favor.”

GM: Roxanne does not look pleased as she raises her gaze to meet Caroline’s again, but finally replies, “We’ll discuss that first, Ms. Malveaux, before any of the other relevant issues. What ‘people’ do you think might mean me ill will?”

Jocelyn looks between the two Ventrue, frowns, and even moves to open her mouth with an outraged expression, then finally holds her tongue.

Caroline: “Honestly, anyone who has reason to think you are responsible for his disappearance. Hound Agnello jumps immediately to mind, once he learns of Evan’s indiscretions. Perhaps Regent Sundown for the same. You will be the prime suspect,” Caroline replies plainly. “If it goes up, maybe even the sheriff.”

“Beyond that, since I don’t think you actually did make him disappear, whoever was actually responsible, depending on their motive for attacking him.”

GM: “There’s us, Mabel, and Amandine. Who else knows about her and Evan?” Roxanne asks.

Caroline: “I guess that depends on who he told, and who she told,” Caroline answers. “That’s the list I have, but he may have also discussed it with Primogen Poincaré.”

“And of course whoever was spying on him. They almost certainly know.”

GM: Roxanne scowls. “If Amandine and Mabel were the only loose ends we could have silenced both. But that’s too many other possible ones. We need to find the actual culprit. Jocelyn, we need to interview Primogen Poincaré. Set up a meeting with him.”

“Uh, he’s not exactly-”

“Figure it out,” Roxanne snaps. “You’re clanmates, if nothing else. Go through Garcia if you can’t manage on your own. He likes you, and he’s the primogen’s grandchilde. Ms. Malveaux, where did you hear that Primogen Poincaré was one of the last Kindred to speak with Evan?”

Caroline: “Your friendly ghoul, Ms. Gerlette,” Caroline supplies patiently. “Hound Agnello is scheduling a meeting for himself with the primogen. I don’t expect you’ll be able to get in earlier,” she continues. “I was invited to join him, however, in that meeting.”

GM: “That could be an in,” Jocelyn says, seemingly more hopeful at the prospect of getting something on Evan than pissed at Roxanne. “Though why does he want you coming? I mean, since that would actually involve being helpful, and not a giant cock.”

Roxanne doesn’t disagree.

Caroline: The heiress shrugs. “Lots of upside for him. He gets to appear powerful and influential to me. Benevolent and commanding to the primogen. Gets an extra set of eyes and years at the meeting that he already knows are fairly sharp,” she recites and ticks off on her fingers as she does. “And that’s just assuming that he is pursuing entirely material and social clout.”

“If you need more than that, I’d point you to his intense interest in taking me on as a tenant, in me joining the Sanctified, and in my landing with the Storyvilles as a group of upright Sanctified to keep me on the ‘right track,’” Caroline continues. “If I had to guess, based on how he’s acted, I might even speculate that he’s doing it out some sense of allegiance to the old sheriff. Or to René. They go way back, right? Maybe he thinks he’s doing right by them ensuring I don’t fall in with the wrong crowd. Maybe it also ties into his own relationships. It didn’t exactly seem like his childe was a big fan of him at the party.” She crosses her arms. “Or maybe your boss put him up to do it, and I’m completely wrong. Hard to say.”

She looks to Roxanne. “Either way, lucky for you, Ms. Gerlette, since it means not only are you likely to get answers you want from a meeting with the primogen, but I can clue you into which direction his own investigation goes.”

GM: “No kidding his childe isn’t a fan,” Jocelyn scoffs. “I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have that asshole as a sire. Give 50/50 odds he asks you to be his whore around the primogen, though. I don’t think he’s even capable of doing anything that isn’t awful.”

“That’s enough, Jocelyn,” reproaches Roxanne.

“Oh, don’t give me-”

“This is a lead to finding Evan, unless you’d prefer Ms. Malveaux said no. Would you?”

Jocelyn looks at Caroline, but doesn’t say anything.

“That sounds acceptable, Ms. Malveaux. Jocelyn will stay in touch with you,” Roxanne finishes.

Caroline: “Just a few more matters tonight, Ms. Gerlette,” Caroline answers, making no move to leave. “As convincing as you were earlier, I’d like to hear from you directly that you both knew nothing about the possibility of Evan straying, had nothing to do with his disappearance, and aren’t withholding anything that might be salient to his disappearance. And I’d like you to do so while Jocelyn scries you.”

GM:Excuse me, Ms. Malveaux?” Roxanne repeats sharply. “Are you implying that I’d mislead my own coterie’s investigation?”

Caroline: The heiress doesn’t unfold her arms. “Would you trust me in the same circumstance, Ms. Gerlette?” Caroline asks. “And even if you did, wouldn’t you want some layer of insulation? Besides, there’s probably some irony in Jocelyn poking around your mind a little bit after you casually invaded hers earlier.”

“I’m not asking you to submit to my examination. I’m not even asking you to let me poke around your head. Simply that you offer the bare minimum of guarantee that I’m working to find Evan and keep your good name clear, rather than unknowingly helping you cover up a murder.”

“I respect your privacy, Ms. Gerlette. I respect your desire to maintain the secrecy of your haven, to keep the details of your life secret, and to maintain the privateness of your relationships. But there’s a limit to how far I’m willing to climb out on a limb.”

She arches an eyebrow. “Unless you have a better suggestion, Ms. Gerlette?”

GM: Roxanne’s sharp gaze looks more than critical at Caroline’s mention of the details of her ‘life’, but the other Ventrue does not address that tangent as she continues,

“Let’s get one thing straight, Ms. Malveaux. You are looking into my coterie’s investigation, at Jocelyn’s invitation, with my permission. I am your oversight, not the other way around.”

“You want Jocelyn to scry me? We’ll consider the earlier boon I was maybe too generous offering rescinded, and she’ll scry you too. Otherwise, you’ll continue your investigation without.”

Caroline: Caroline’s expression shifts from detached, to icy, straight to furious. This time she comes over the table, crossing the distance between the two in the blink of an eye. “If you think that’s straight, let me help you. Again. Because you’ve got this as crooked a politician the day after he was elected,” she all but spits in the ‘elder’ Ventrue’s face.

“I came to help you. I came up with the only two leads you have. I shook the hound off what would have been your trail, I volunteered to share his findings with you—at significant risk to myself—and I gently held you down like a struggling child until you were done with your fit instead of staking you like most licks would have. There is no ‘investigation’ without me, and plenty of just as interested and twice as powerful Kindred that would’ve given me, and still will, more of greater value for the information I brought only to you out of respect for our meager history and shared blood.”

She jabs a finger at Roxanne. “I ignored your little outburst and overlooked your mindscrew of Jocelyn in the interest of politeness and respect.”

“But I’m not your dog. You’re not my krewe leader—let me remind you that you don’t want me. And we both sure as hell know that I’m pretty far from your bitch.”

“You want me off ‘your’ investigation. Fine. Have fun. Jocelyn has my number. I’ll quote you my ‘asshole’ rate if you call. I’ve got enough licks that are eager to shit on me already for free, Ms. Flores.” She blurs towards the door and grabs her coat.

GM: There’s a choke-like sound of sputtering rage, but Caroline doesn’t see whatever expression might be darkening, if not twisting, Roxanne’s face as she turns her back on the two Storyvilles.

“No! Caroline, please! We have to find Evan!” Jocelyn calls, her own form blurring to intercept Caroline in front of the door.

Caroline: The Ventrue’s towering thunderhead of a temper rolls around her, but doesn’t lash out at the Toreador.

“I’m not done,” she replies, anger bleeding away from her voice as she directs the words at Jocelyn. “But since I’m off ‘your’ investigation I guess I should go clue in Agnello as to what I’ve got, and jump on board with his.”

She looks back at Roxanne. “You can have your boon back. Take it as an apology for wasting your time tonight.”

GM: Roxanne’s pale face somehow looks even paler with rage, and her gray eyes wide, mad, and livid like she’s been slapped.

“How dare you! You bastard-sired-”

No! You can’t br-” Jocelyn begins.

Caroline: “Remember those words,” Caroline snaps at Roxanne. “I will.”

GM:NOT ROC-!” Jocelyn yells, anger matching the raw desperation in her voice, only to just as suddenly interrupt herself. “MINDFUCK ROXANNE! Make her forget this! Make her apologize! Whatever you want, you’re in charge, I’m fine with that! Roxanne’s shit! Just FIND EVAN!”

WHAT!?” Roxanne screams, whirling to face Jocelyn as her fangs re-distend. “You TRAITOROUS CUNT! I’ll MAKE you loy-!”

Caroline: “Jesus, fucking look at you two!” Caroline shouts in frustration. She looks back and forth between them.

GM: The Ventrue barely has a second.

“She’s fucking crazy! Oh no, you have to save me, Caroline!” Jocelyn manically exclaims, grabbing a lamp off the table and chucking it at Roxanne’s head.

The other Ventrue gives a strangled shout as she awkwardly tries to catch the too-fast lamp while running around the table. Jocelyn blurs behind the couch.

“Huh? Huh?! Daddy’s home, you filthy fucking liar! Why’d you never help your mom, Isabel?!” the Toreador mockingly shouts, flinging cushions at her krewemate as she circles around the couch.

Caroline: Caroline raises her hands. “Goddamn it! STOP!” she shouts at them both, baring her fangs as her Beast roars out to fill the room again.

GM: It’s much too late for that as Jocelyn’s venomous words hit home. That same Beast overtakes Roxanne’s eyes once again as the frenzying Ventrue lunges across the sofa. She smashes into Jocelyn and sending her crashing to the floor as she screams, “CAROL-!”

Caroline: And then Caroline is there again, tearing the frenzing Ventrue off of her paramour.

GM: The fight is over with quickly. Caroline snakes her elbow around Roxanne’s throat as Jocelyn kicks, yanks the frenzying vampire off of the Toreador, pivots, and tackles Roxanne to the floor, holding her down in a lock just like earlier as the other Ventrue thrashes and howls.

Caroline: Almost like earlier. As she drives her clanmate onto the ground Caroline’s hand snakes out for the stake from earlier, forgotten on the ground. She wrestles herself into a mounted position on Roxanne’s back and drives the stake viciously through the dark-haired woman’s back until she stops fighting and goes still, then kicks her over onto her back.

GM: Jocelyn emerges from behind the sofa, her eyes wide with simultaneous fear, smugness, and even arousal as she clutches her bleeding throat, sashays over to Caroline, and drops to her knees, nuzzling her head against the Ventrue’s neck.

“Oh, Caroline, thank God you were here…” she whispers into her ear with a shudder.

Caroline: Caroline stares down at her twice-defeated ‘foe’. Her fangs show fully in her mouth and her eyes are wide with exhilaration and arousal as she physically releases the other Ventrue, only to seize Jocelyn by her pale, bleeding throat.

She shoves the smaller Kindred against the wall. Caroline stares Jocelyn in the eyes with raw animalistic lust, then drops her mouth to lick the slowly oozing blood. In seconds she’s cleaned up all the running blood from Roxanne’s attack, but the lust hasn’t faded from her eyes.

She tears open Jocelyn’s top, her eyes fixated on the Toreador’s pale and already torn throat. The smell of the Toreador’s blood fills her nose.

GM: “I’m yours, Caroline, you can do whatever you want with me…” Jocelyn purrs over the sound of tearing cloth, then eyes Roxanne’s prone body and smiles wickedly.

“Let’s just do it on top of her…”

Caroline: The heiress looks back to the lifeless woman, then whirls Jocelyn around and drives her down, face first, on top of her krewe-mate, landing in a straddling position on top of Jocelyn’s lower back.

“Why,” she growls throatily as she drops her mouth again to the fresh little trails of vitae at her lover’s throat, turning her head back and forth to expose each side of her throat from behind. “Why did you do that,” she hisses, between eager, starving, licks across her lover’s skin. Jocelyn’s face is buried in Roxanne’s breast, not far from where the tip of the stake peaks out.

GM: “So you could do this,” Jocelyn giggles darkly. She doesn’t fight back as Caroline drives her face into the stake and still-enraged-looking Roxanne’s breasts, but runs her hand across her bloody throat, and then runs that along the stake’s tip. She wraps her lips around the red-streaked piece of wood and begins to suck it back and forth, casting a sly look over her shoulder at the Ventrue’s reaction.

Caroline: “I can’t… fucking believe… you did that,” Caroline gasps out between furious laps at what blood she can find on her lover. When she sees what Jocelyn’s doing with the tip of the stake she digs her fingers viciously into her shoulders. She tears away the back of Jocelyn’s shirt and snaps open the back of her bra.

“I should punish you,” she whispers in the Toreador’s ear. Her canine drags along one side of Jocelyn’s cheek.

GM: “Mmmf… chouldn’ fop you… even’f… I wan’ed ’oo…” the Toreador gasps out, still fellating the blood-lathered stake as twists her head so that her mischievously glinting eyes can take in Caroline’s answering look.

Caroline: “I didn’t realize you were so eager to suck her off,” she hisses, straddling Joceyln and raking her nails down the Toreador’s back.

GM: “Prehy shore… ish yours… ‘oo plan’ed i’ there…” Jocelyn starts to say, then moans as Caroline’s nails leave bloody red streaks along her flesh.

Caroline: As the blood flows Caroline lewdly runs her tongue up and down her lover’s back. It’s still not enough. She jerks Jocelyn’s head to the side, thrusting out the side of her neck for herself. Her teeth run against the thin skin separating her from the Toreador’s so sweet vitae.

“You want a bite, don’t you?” the Ventrue growls huskily in her lover’s ear, but it’s all too plain who desires what in her voice.

GM: The lovers consummate their sanguine union atop Roxanne’s staked corpse. One more sip would spell total ensarement to Jocelyn, and a further loss of control to Caroline. But as the two writhe, hiss, and scratch, lapping up the too-cool streams of blood running down one another’s pale skin, it’s hard to feel like that would be such a bad thing—either in and of itself, or to just take, directly from the source, to consume one’s lover completely and utterly, to take all of what animates them into one’s self.

Roxanne’s gray eyes seem to stab out at the two with blistering fury as they copulate, and that third party’s hateful attentions only seem to further stoke Jocelyn’s lusts. There’s not even a pretense this time of who’s ‘on top’. Jocelyn surrenders utterly. She has Caroline furiously drag her by her hair to throw against the wall. She moans for the Ventrue to hit her, to beat her, with a rolled-up belt like Caroline can vividly remember McGinn’s ghouls doing to her with a whip. “Bet your daddy… did this to you… all the time!” she yells, though whether her words are meant for Roxanne or her lover is unclear. She has Caroline wrap the belt around her neck like a too-literal collar and choke her, forcing her to her knees as she laps at the drying streams of blood around the standing Ventrue’s sex. She moans for Caroline to make a fist in her hair and pull until she rips it out. To make her suck off the stake again. To put her over her knee and spank her like a disobedient child until her ass is raw and bleeding too. Their bloody copulation finally culminates with Jocelyn lying back-first on the floor, her sex pressed into Roxanne’s paralyzed face as a seated Caroline’s feet drive down into both of their throats, literally grinding them under heel. Jocelyn moans as her tongue worshipfully laps the taller vampire’s bleeding soles:

“You’re in charge… you decide… you call the shots… you own us… you’re in control… you’re in control…”

It’s hard to say whether her lover’s words or blood are a greater aphrodisiac to the power-ravenous Ventrue.

Caroline: The Ventrue is insatiable, fully wrapped up in the darker impulses of both the Beast and her own soul as she savagely and joyously dominates Jocelyn. The implications of what they’ve just done fade away amid the sanguine-soaked romp atop the other Ventrue. It’s only when she falls onto the sofa at the conclusion, her Beast purring like a contented lion after a kill, that consideration for what they’ve done creeps back into her mind.

She looks down at Roxanne’s staked and blood-splattered corpse, as if to remind herself that it’s there. She growls in frustration when she finds it still present. An unwelcome intrusion in her bliss.

“When she wakes up, you realize that she’s still going to want to kill you, right? She’s not going to forgive what you said,” she languidly asks her oh-so-wicked lover.

GM: “No she won’t, not if you erase her memory,” Jocelyn smiles, running a fang over Caroline’s cheek.

Caroline: The heiress gives a short laugh. “That’s what you wanted from the beginning, wasn’t it? You evil little thing. Save me, save me,” she mocks.

GM: “That was so fucking hot how you did,” Jocelyn answers huskily, tracing Caroline’s cheek some more.

Caroline: Caroline laughs again, but it’s a satisfied and triumphant laugh. “I should still make you deal with it all,” she half-teases. “Force you two to kiss and make up.”

GM: “Sounds good to me,” Jocelyn smiles. She saddles off the couch, kneels by Roxanne, and raises her wrist her mouth. There’s a flash of fangs, and then she presses her bleeding limb to the other Ventrue’s slack lips. Her gray eyes seem to blaze with anger that suddenly sputters like water poured onto a fire.

“You should do her too, now. She’ll be less of a bitch to us both.”

The Toreador’s smile widens. “She doesn’t need to remember this part either.”

Caroline: The heiress shakes her head uncomfortably at the suggestion. “Suspicious, waking up from getting staked and going all doe-eyed. You should take a sip from her though. It sounded like you’ve got a lot of bad blood on your end too, and as long as you’re going to be part of the same krewe, it’d be better to have at least some positive feelings going both ways.”

GM: Jocelyn looks irritated for a moment, but then flashes her lover and starts running a fang over the staked Roxanne’s cheek. She picks up the Ventrue’s dumbly slack hand and starts running it along her breasts.

“You want to share me, Caroline? You suuuure? See me collared to someone else? Roxanne already likes Toreador, and I guess she is getting… lonely…”

She leans in and starts kissing the motionless Ventrue’s equally slack mouth.

Caroline: The low and dangerous growl that escapes Caroline makes it clear just how she feels about that. “Just take a sip,” she answers tersely, her face twisted with jealousy. “You don’t have to look like you’re enjoying it so much.”

GM: “But I am enjoying it so much already, Caroline… I mean, you’re in charge… if you don’t want to just make her forget this happened, I guess I’ll have no choice but to enjoy it even more…”

Jocelyn works down from Roxanne’s slack mouth, pulls open her blouse, and starts kissing, nipping, and slowly running her tongue along the other Ventrue’s pale breasts.

Caroline: Caroline stalks over the Toreador, grabbing her off the floor by the back of her hair with one hand and drawing her close with her other hand across her lower back. She drives her again into a wall before seizing both of Jocelyn’s wrists and pinning them out to either side and running her all-too-visible once again fangs across the Toreador’s throat.

“You’re mine,” she snarls. “Mine.” As if to stake her claim she crushes her smaller paramour into the wall, grinding her body against her own. “You can joke around, but we both know that’s all it is. Because she’s a joke compared to me.” It’s hard to tell where her voice starts and the thoughts of the Beast end.

GM: Jocelyn doesn’t, and likely couldn’t, resist as Caroline all but throws her around. She smiles impudently up at the Ventrue from between her pinned wrists and laughs,

“Oh, yeah, this is a joke! It’s not anything outside bed! You just torped her ass twice and fucked me on top of it, and you’re too scared! Wow, I bet Roxanne’s thinking! Pretty nice way to make out with Caroline giving her a free collar and sharing, to make up for winning! We could stuff her to the gills with juice, snoop out her secrets, and fill her head with bot switches, and you’re too big a pussy! I thought your dad was supposed to be some crazy never-compromise extremist who pal-d around with wife-beating psychos to get ahead, but guess that’s only you during sex! Like any of that was actually real! You’re too scared to finish the job! Guess Roxanne’s right, I know what she really thinks of you!”

Jocelyn laughs harder. “Caroline the joke! Caroline the butt monkey!”

Caroline: Sanity and madness battle for control as Jocelyn rants and mocks her, but sanity seems to narrowly win out. It almost visible takes something out of her to do so as she swallows rage, pride, and arrogance.

She lets the Toreador go and whirls away in disgust, almost shaking with rage, before looking back, “Is that what you really want? Me to break open Roxanne’s already fragile mind like an egg? To make her our broken little slave? She’s already barely holding it together behind the illusion of control,” she spits. “I thought she was your krewemate. Someone you gave a damn about. I thought the Storyvilles were something you gave a damn about. Because if I do that, your gang is done. And even if you don’t give a damn about that anymore, how do you think your benefactor is going to react?”

Anger blends with disgust as she continues, “I thought you had some standards. That maybe there was something human left inside, the same thing that drove you to churches to pray. But if that’s how you treat licks you called your friends last night, I obviously don’t know you at all. And I don’t think I want to.”

GM: “EVERYTHING’S GONE TO SHIT WITHOUT EVAN!” Jocelyn screams, her eyes wide and mad as her chest heaves with needless breaths. “You’re our best, only shot of finding him, and seeing Roxanne piss all over you because it offends her ego… just fuck her!” she rages, fangs flashing in a snarl.

“I’m tired of always getting shit on by everything! I’m tired of no one giving a damn! I’m tired of Rocco making Gwen a fucking whore! I’m tired of Skyman saying we’re so special and doing shit! I’m tired of the sewer rats, of Monty, of Marcel, of everyone else, all saying how great Evan was, and doing shit! I’m tired of Sally being gone, I’m tired of everyone shitting on you, of Skyman saying you couldn’t join, I’m tired of Roxanne being so horrible to us all, and saying we don’t care about Evan, and I’m not putting on the collar because we stood up for once, and I’m not, I’m not, I’m n-”

GET OUT, MEG!!!!!” she shrieks, her eyes swelling to practically the size of dinner plates. Caroline only has a second to see the ghoul literally lapping up the floor’s drying blood like a dog going after spilled scraps. The haphazardly chucked lamp smashes against the wall several feet off and sends her terrifiedly scampering away.

Jocelyn stares after her retreating servant for a second, as if about to grab another object, and then her lip quivers. She abruptly slumps to the floor like a string-cut marionette, fat and bloody red tears leaking from her eyes. Her voice is small and trembling when she sniffs out,

“I just… I just want… everything to go back… to how it was…”

Caroline: The Ventrue stands above her, looking down. She doesn’t get down and hold Jocelyn—neither one of their Beasts would tolerate such a thing enough for either of them to ever draw real comfort from such a human act, but after a moment she quietly extends her hand to the weeping Toreador and lays it on her shoulder.

“I can’t turn back time,” she quietly tells her paramour. “I can’t make it how it was. But I’m working to make it better than it used to be. To find Evan. To take my place in the city.” She moves her hand and cups Jocelyn’s face. “I wasn’t trying to punish you, but the Storyvilles can’t exist if you hate her. And I don’t exactly get the impression that membership is entirely optional.”

GM: “It’s… it’s not,” she glumly admits as she looks up at Caroline, “but I… I wouldn’t wanna leave. I just want you to find Evan, so that things…”

She trails off. A few stray droplets of blood trickle over the Ventrue’s cupped hands. She rubs her nose against Caroline’s palm and manages,

“Just make her forget all this, and I can deal. Turn back that.”

Caroline: Caroline nods and takes Jocelyn’s hand, helping her to her feet. “You can even help build a proper narrative for her to remember instead. It seems to work way better if it’s something plausible to begin with, something she’d actually do, things she’d actually say.”

The two set about ‘fixing things, but first, they get what Caroline wanted out of her: a look inside her head. Restrained and helpless, the two invade her mind capriciously to ’verify’ she isn’t hiding anything further about the investigation and had nothing to do with Evan’s disappearance. If Jocelyn pushes that they could take more Caroline arches an eyebrow disapprovingly and points out that they’ve come away with a great deal from her as is. The Ventrue is mindful of the time they’ve already spent.

When they’re done that memory is wiped away in all of its indignation, along with the entire argument from before her staking. The ‘new’ events differ in character, though the outcome (Roxanne’s frenzy) remains the same. Caroline leans heavily on Jocelyn while writing these new memories in capturing likely reactions from Roxanne and her pattern of speech. She also pays attention to the details, especially the time difference created by their romp across her lifeless body and the blood that’s stained the clothing of all three. Their conversation is extended, and Roxanne’s second frenzy is lionized into a less one-sided confrontation that includes her getting a mouth full of Jocelyn before Caroline stakes her.

She also has Jocelyn double check Roxanne’s back to make sure she didn’t have a recording going of their meeting on her phone or elsewhere, and brings in Meg to alter her own memory as well to match Roxanne’s (though in far less detail). She doesn’t actually expect most would think to check on the pathetic ghoul, of whom she remarks to Jocelyn (while the ghoul is dazed under her control), “What was it you said, suicides need a reason to live, Jocelyn? Honestly, I need a new reason to live every time she opens her mouth.”

It’s not really that different than cleaning up a Masquerade breach. A different masquerade of sorts: that monsters can get along.

GM: Roxanne is mad with rage when Caroline and Jocelyn first remove the stake, but Caroline’s Beast has overcome her only marginally elder clanmate’s so many times already. Winning yet another contest for dominance is an all but a forgone conclusion. Her face goes slack as the younger but stronger-blooded Ventrue meets her gaze and tells her what to remember.

Jocelyn, meanwhile, is still more than happy to scry her krewemate and reports that Roxanne did not have any part in Evan’s disappearance—at least so far as she can detect. The Toreador appears relieved by that news. At Caroline’s suggestion, she snoops through Roxanne’s head for further secrets and reports, with some surprise, that the Ventrue knows who Evan’s sire and grandsire are. She’s not sure who they are themselves—Roxanne doesn’t seem to know that. But she does get an image of their faces. “So, she’s seen them somewhere? Weird. Evan… never talked about who his sire was, with any of the rest of us. It was kinda a big mystery. Still not sure why he’d have been hiding it.”

Caroline: When that mess is ‘cleaned up’ she returns her attention to their investigation—a rare point of consensus. She carries on as though nothing has happened. What do Roxanne and Jocelyn know about the Toreador primogen? His temperament and mood, and importantly, his preferences? Making a good impression may cause him to be far more open…

Saturday night, 17 October 2015, AM

GM: Accou receives Rocco and Caroline at 1216 Camp Street in the Lower Garden District, one of the primogen’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.

The pair are received by a ghoul in her seemingly mid-teenage years with unblemished, milk-pale skin, and a too-still gaze that strangely contrasts her heart-breakingly beautiful face. She’s garbed in a flowing white gown made from a gauzy material that strikingly highlights her waist-length red hair and gives her an almost ethereal appearance. She dips into a low curtsy as she receives the two, but otherwise remains utterly silent as she leads them into the parlor.

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.

The house’s master appears shortly after the pair are seated. Accou Poincaré is a lighter-skinned man with handsome, clearly African features who wears an old-fashioned, tailed suit with gold cufflinks and a bowtie. He appears younger than Caroline and only a few years older than Rocco at a casual glance, but there is a subtle, marble-like pallor to his too-still features and an indelible weight behind his brown eyes that gives immediate lie to any impression of youth. Even the shadows around the lines of his face look deeper. They’ve grown darker too in recent decades, Rocco has observed, though the primogen’s pearly-teethed smile is still quite bewitching when he chooses to show it.

His handsome looks, however, do not extend towards his hands. The joints are misaligned and splayed in obviously wrong, out-of-sync directions, as if messily crushed and improperly healed, or as the result of some equally unsightly birth defect. Caroline can only think back to her and Jocelyn’s torment of Mouse, and imagine how much uglier the Toreador’s fingers must look outside of his wine-colored kidskin gloves.

The silent ghoul finally speaks as Accou enters the room to announce in a high, clear voice,

“Rise in the presence of the Good Alder Accou Poincaré, Primogen of the Cabildo, Steward and Viscount of the Lower Garden District, Councilor of the Prima Invicta, Librettist, Player, Secretary, Speaker, and Master of the Guild of Apollo.”

Rocco: “Thank you for seeing us and may I say I hope you’re doing well, Primogen Poincaré,” Rocco says with a polite nod, smiling broadly. The hound carries a gilded birdcage with two tweeting Cuban todies.

He adds, “I brought a gift.”

Rocco holds up the cage and presents the birds for Accou’s inspection. “I understand Cuban todies are native to your homeland of Cuba, Primogen Poincaré.”

The hound’s herald Annabelle stands behind Rocco with a gloomy smile etched on her face, having accompanied the hound and carried the caged birds until now.

GM: Accou surveys the birds with a clearly pleased eye and silently looks towards the youth-faced ghoul, who moves to retrieve the cage.

“One of my homelands, Hound Agnello, and an adoptive one. But a place I am no less proud to consider home all of the same—or any less pleased by this charming reminder of it. Your taste in gifts is as impeccable as ever.”

The Toreador elder turns a pearly white smile towards Caroline. “Havana was one of our city’s most vital trading partners for hundreds of years, young one, if you were not already aware. The loss of that partnership was never recovered from—though the present thaw in Cubo-American relations gives me much hope.”

Caroline’s father fiercely criticized it and did everything he could to block its implementation with his Senate colleagues.

Rocco: Rocco nods at Accou’s words. “I don’t know if you have been properly introduced to Miss Caroline Malveaux as of yet, Primogen Poincaré,” the hound remarks as the room’s attention moves to the youngest Kindred in the room.

GM: “I have not, Hound Angello. Perhaps some genteel soul will see fit to rectify that state of affairs,” the Toreador smiles between the two as he takes his seat on an overstuffed chair.

The tranquil-faced ghoul remains standing.

Rocco: “Perhaps so,” Rocco answers, taking a seat as he introduces the statuesque Ventrue. “Then it is my pleasure to introduce Miss Malveaux to you, Primogen Poincaré.”

Caroline: Caroline, towering over Rocco even before he finds his seat, and in her trademark black curtsies with a deft grave that belies her long frame and heel-clad feet.

“It is my great pleasure and privilege to meet such a distinguished personage, Primogen Poincare,” Caroline continues when Rocco has finished speaking.

The heiress has dressed up for the meeting and wears an elegant sleeveless black dress that leaves her pale arms and chest bare and accentuates the the area around her collarbones and neck before pulling tight above her waist and flaring again at her hips.

GM: Accou makes pleasant small talk for a few minutes concerning the Gangrel’s gift and the behaviors, life cycle, and colorful plumage of the Cuban tody. The primogen asks if Rocco would exercise his “powers of bestiae sermo” so that his fille à la cassette might release the ghouled bird from its cage. He remarks appreciatively on the tody’s tiny size: it can literally fit into the palm of his gloved hand.

“I have always wondered if you were of Wotan’s line, Hound Angello, for you both come bearing gifts,” Accou smiles.

Rocco: “Who am I to disagree with such a flattering comparison, Primogen Poincaré? It’s certainly possible given how many outlanders claim descent from the All-High,” Rocco remarks knowingly, pleased with Accou’s kind words. In the meantime, he is only too happy to use his gifts on the already blood bound birds to ask them to sing and entertain the small gathering.

Caroline: Caroline spoke to Jocelyn at length regarding Accou. Her lover’s ‘advice’ so far as the primogen was that he was a pianist, likes Cuba, likes classical as well as jazz music, is very devoted to his sire, is ancestor to much of the local clan, likes beautiful things (though what Toreador doesn’t?), cn be in a lady’s man when he’s in one of his better moods, but the stress/hassle of looking after Pearl and doing her jobs for her while carrying dead weight would turn his hair prematurely gray if he were still alive. Jocelyn shit-talked Pearl a lot. Caroline was amused to discover that Toreador don’t adhere to anywhere close to the same degree of solidarity as Ventrue.

Caroline offers several witty remarks, trying to get a feel for Accou, including one about a “bird in the hand” to his taking of Rocco’s gift literally in hand. If and when she has his attention, she offers him her own gift in an oversized sleek black folder much like one would find a diploma or other important document in.

Hearing Accou is a pianist and fan of jazz, Caroline digs out the original sheet music for Sophisticated Lady, written by Duke Ellington back in ‘33, complete with his own hand-written notes on the margins. She’d been holding onto as a gift for her father’s birthday, but it seems so petty a concern tonight. She presents it to Accou as something that she hopes someone that treasures the past and the genre might appreciate.

She’s happy to make small talk—including how she acquired the sheet music—for as long as Accou desires. When he indicates he’s done with such talk, she explains that she (and Rocco) were separately looking into Evan’s disappearance and tells him about the birds and the Crone Evan was spending time with prior to his disappearance. She politely inquires if he might be willing to share any details from the last time the two talked that could give insight into Evan’s mental state and concerns or interests.

She does not disclose having heard of the Crone and Evan fucking on the side.

Rocco: Rocco frowns and interjects, “Is that the full story, Miss Malveaux?”

GM: Accou chuckles that at such a friendly gathering he’s inclined to take Rocco’s lovely and thoughtful young tenant at her word. He’s certain that what’s come up here is nothing but a simple miscommunication, or something Caroline had intended to say anyway.

Caroline: Caroline clarifies with a grateful smile to Accou that the Storyvilles were aware of Evan’s ongoing efforts to lure Amandine into the fold of the Sanctified, and that she’s glossed over several details—for instance Evan’s visits to Yellow Sidra and his growing sense of fatalism—in the interest of not boring the distinguished primogen with minutia.

Rocco: Rocco nods at this and indicates for Caroline to proceed all the same.

Caroline: Caroline brings up Accou’s meeting with Evan and inquires what the (esteemed) elder’s read on Evan was, since he was one of the last people to chat with Evan—and certainly the last entirely beyond suspicion.

“Another question, Primogen,” Caroline adds. “Did you happen to notice any birds watching yourself or Mr. Bourelle that night?”

The Toreador elder, she’s certain, is a master of soul scrying.

GM: “There were birds in the area,” Accou confirms, “though that is not an uncommon occurrence. They may or may not have been under the thrall of bestiae sermo. There is, alas, no easy way to tell—another reason why sensitive conversations are best held indoors.”

As to the pair’s topics of conversation, they discussed his (Accou’s) sire, and how Evan thought it had to say a lot about her character that she could inspire such devotion from her childe. Accou was pleasantly surprised to find a neonate with so favorable an opinion of Pearl. The two had a prior if casual association first, of course, as is relatively well-known. Evan always liked ‘older women’.

As Accou speaks with Rocco, his voice sounds in Caroline’s head, though his lips do not move.

:: And now, my dear, I would hear what you have uncovered that was important enough to lie to your landlord over. ::

Caroline: The heiress keeps her expression steady as the elder’s voice fills her mind, locked in an interested smile. If there’s a moment of hesitation from her, it is ever so slight.

:: Mr. Bourelle was intimate with Amandine. A fact he kept closely from his krewe, and specifically his lover within it, Primogen Poincaré. I don’t think she had anything to do with his disappearance despite that, but I don’t expect that most will take me at my word—or her at hers—in that. ::

Unfamiliar with the manner of conversation, the thoughts are mostly formed in her mind alongside memories conjured up of her interview with Evan’s ghoul and of Roxanne frenzying at Caroline’s question.

GM: :: Continue, Miss Malveaux. ::

It soon becomes plain the elder expects the details of Evan’s relationship with Amandine (including how Caroline found out when Evan’s own krewe didn’t) in return for what he knows.

Caroline: The heiress willingly comes clean with him and thanks him for covering for her earlier with Rocco. She reports that she enthralled Evan’s ghoul, who had hidden the matter from Roxanne out of fear of the Ventrue and to protect Evan’s memory and relationship.

GM: “Mr. Bourelle also inquired as to my sire’s herald Cloe,” Accou continues. “He seemed interested by her dollmaking and origami-crafting hobbies, and complimented the novelty of her leaving the latter as calling cards.”

“He also inquired if Cloe was more ‘modern’ than Kindred elders of equivalent age. I answered they could be, though I have seen my share of ghouls who adapted to the modern world as poorly as their domitors.”

The primogen smiles faintly. “He also expressed that she was ‘very pretty’ and inquired where he could meet her to commission a doll or figurine. I told him Cloe can often be found attending my sire, and that Elysium is as good a place as any to find either.”

There were birds present, but that’s not atypical. The (Lower) Garden District is absolutely full of birds with how green and leafy it is, especially during the summer months. Accou clarifies that he and Evan met one another outdoors, on the historic district’s streets. It’s actually quite common for Toreador to take evening strolls through the area and to simply bask in the sight of its lovely historic architecture and equally lovely gardens. “One may even perchance to meet a tourist and combine pleasure with… further pleasure.” His meeting with Evan was (seemingly) a spontaneous rather than prearranged one.

Caroline: Caroline asks if he didn’t notice if a number (likely not many are active at night) followed Evan when he left? She understands otherwise since it was a while back, but she’s asking just to be sure. Birdsongs can start as early as 4 AM (a fact that all Kindred know well), and it was around that hour that Accou met with Evan.

Rocco: Rocco also asks more about the birds.

GM: “Hmm, yes. I suppose some birds did take off when Evan left,” the Toreador considers, now that he thinks on it.

Caroline: Caroline chats with him a while further, feeling out his interests if he’s willing. Does he often take strolls through the Garden District? Is there anything he would point out in particular? She seems content (if not thrilled) that this lead has been followed up on and is mostly interested in furthering a good impression on the elder.

GM: Accou answers that he often takes strolls through the district. So do many other Toreador, not just ones who live in the area. Plenty of kine tourists do that too. The neighborhood is gorgeous and taking walks through it is a very popular activity. Accou is especially partial to St. Alphonus Church and Coliseum Square, but anyone native to the city knows that you can just wander around the area and see a lot of pretty things.

Caroline: Caroline also mentions, if Accou maintains the telepathic contact, that she does intend on sharing the matter of Evan and his infidelity with Agnello—she’d just rather do so with all the evidence (especially any that might help exonerate Roxanne) rather than early.

GM: :: Very good, Miss Malveaux. No doubt your clanmate will appreciate the merits of this course of action. ::

Rocco: “What do you know of Amandine, Primogen?” Rocco inquires.

GM: “I know her to be one of the Crones, Hound Agnello. I am to understand she is considered a promising blood sorcerer and a subject matter expert, or would-be expert, on the Birds of Dis.”

Rocco: Rocco asks if Accou knows of any plans Evan had after their meeting, specifically ones that could have included meeting up with someone or going somewhere? Not immediately afterwards, more in the instance about Evan mentioning his plans potentially in the following nights, assuming he’s been commissioned to create some artwork or whatever else might occupy his time.

GM: Accou answers that Evan didn’t go into much depth there—though Accou does add that Evan was a member of the Guild of Nemesis, and so was unlikely to take any artistic commissions. The boy had little talent for producing art himself.

Rocco: Rocco muses that since Evan was a critic, maybe it’s possible he offended someone in the past or created enemies of people. “Do you know of any potential enemies or anybody recently offended by Mr. Bourelle, Primogen?” Rocco inquires.

GM: Accou clarifies that Evan was simply a poseur. He was not a dedicated critic and was relegated to the Guild of Nemesis by default, like all poseurs are. Evan in fact generally preferred to praise and compliment rather than criticize.

“This makes little name for oneself among a guild of critics,” Accou smiles knowingly.

Rocco: Well, at least it’s unlikely that whoever’s responsible has an ‘artistic motive’ as far as Rocco knows now. They haven’t been killed.

GM: Accou does agree that seems unlikely as a motive. The clan has plenty of scathing critics already.

“Such as my sister-in-blood,” he chuckles.

Rocco: Rocco smiles back. “Has anyone else asked after Bourelle, Primogen?”

GM: “You and Miss Malveaux are the first Kindred to make inquiries of me, Hound Agnello. Not even the Storyvilles did so.”

Rocco: Rocco asks what Accou knows about Yellow Sidra. He fills Accou in on the particulars of that, telling him that Yellow Sidra is the last person to be seen with and that it was in Jackson Square.

GM: Sidra’s clan is an open question to many, ranging from Malkavian to Caitiff to Tremere, but Accou has heard that she’s actually a Ravnos. He doesn’t know if that’ll grant any further insight into the investigation, but it may into Sidra, and perhaps the former as a result.

“I have heard she is a Ravnos.”

Rocco: Rocco bristles. The deceivers lie as easily as they smile. And they smile all the time.

GM: The group exchanges final pleasantries. Accou seems interested in being kept in the loop on Evan. He speaks favorably of the missing neonate, though Caroline can’t help but recall Jocelyn’s words.

Everyone all saying how great Evan is and doing shit.

Tuesday night, 20 October 2015, AM

Rocco: In the nights that follow, Rocco decides to look into the whereabouts of Evan Bourelle. His initial investigations take him to Marcel Guilbeau.

GM: The pair’s heralds work out scheduling. The prince-in-exile receives the hound several nights later aboard the Alystra. Rocco has heard that the riverboat is the same vessel on which Guilbeau fled Baton Rouge in the wake of Lawrence Meeks’ coup. In the ten years since, he’s had it converted into a fabulous casino.

The office room in which Rocco is received practically oozes money. Warm woods are accented by soft yellow lights from torch-like metal holders. Luxurious red and gold-patterned carpets accent the floors. Crystal gleams from the room’s chandelier and (needless) ashtray on the teakwood desk. Tastefully arranged white, purple, and blue magnolias peak from hand-painted china vases.

Paintings, too, adorn the walls. The one that occupies the place of greatest prominence behind the manager’s desk, however, is of a Neo-Gothic, castle-like turreted building surrounded by a grove of trees and cast iron fence. A young couple wearing a dark 19th century suit and pink dress survey the building from beyond the fence, arms linked.

A wide window on the room’s right side overlooks the Mississippi. Bright lights, lively music, and sounds of laughing, carousing patrons spill out from the boat’s lower decks, but are comfortably muffled into low murmurs and soft glows. The office seems to almost bask in the afterglow of it all, as if to say, “this is where the money all flows.”

It’s a saying that the casino-owning Gangrel is well familiar with.

Marcel Guilbeau rises from his high-backed leather chair as staff escort Rocco into the room. The exiled prince is a tall and deeply handsome man with rectangular features, a strong nose, dark caramel-brown hair sculpted into a neat mustache and goatee, and deep blue eyes. Two pale gold crucifix earrings hang from his ears. He is garbed in a dark suit, white silk dress shirt, and necktie of the same color. A matching folded handkerchiefgh rests in the jacket’s front pocket.

Rocco: “Thank you for taking the time to see me, Prince Guilbeau,” the hound says affably. He waits for Marcel to sit back down before taking his own seat opposite the taller vampire. “I hope you’re doing well these nights.”

GM: “Hound Agnello,” Marcel smiles as he shakes the Gangrel’s hand, then seats himself. “Better for your company. We should see each other more often, if only to exchange tips on managing pit bosses. What can I do for you?”

Rocco: Hound Agnello is obviously pleased by Marcel’s compliment. An easy smile appears on Rocco’s face as he casually crosses his legs. “You’re right. We don’t see each other nearly enough, Prince Guilbeau,” the hound replies agreeably.

“It’s a shame. You always seem like the life of the party in Elysium.” Rocco’s eyes move away from Marcel as he casually takes in the office’s opulent decor. His eyes, looking past the exiled prince, finally settle on the room’s most prominent painting situated right behind Marcel. “It’s quite a beautiful painting you have there, Your Majesty,” Rocco remarks, wistfully. “I recall seeing a similar piece.”

Rocco adds, “It’s the Old State Capitol,” as his eyes turn back to Marcel. A benign smile rests on his face.

GM: “How good of you to recognize it, Hound Agnello,” the prince-in-exile smiles back, clearly pleased. “You should see it in person. It makes for a striking sight today—it’s an almost medieval castle plopped right in the center of downtown. There are weddings, dances, art exhibits, and a museum hosted there. I had it declared Elysium years ago.”

Rocco: “I plan to see it in person one of these nights,” Rocco replies, clasping his hands together just beneath his chin. The angelic mafioso pauses for a brief moment, looking pensive. “Do you mind if we get down to business now, Prince Guilbeau?”

GM: The Ventrue languidly motions for him to proceed.

Rocco: “Excellent.” Rocco then continues, “My main concern is the disappearance of a neonate named Evan Bourelle.”

GM: “Ah yes, I’m familiar with Bourelle,” Marcel answers with a slight drop in his smile. “I hope nothing has become of him, but it’s been some time. What brings you to me over this, Hound Agnello?”

Rocco: “I understand you and Evan were lovers, Prince Guilbeau,” Rocco freely admits. “I thought it respectful to keep you apprised of a lover’s disappearance and allay any worries you have.”

A small, unassuming smile remains on Rocco’s face. “I also hoped you could share with me anything noteworthy that may help me find or at least find out what happened to Evan Bourelle.”

GM: Marcel initially looks somewhat amused, but answers, “Yes, he lived aboard the Alystra for some time as well. We called things off after he got together with a neonate from my clan, Roxanne Gerlette. She didn’t like to share.”

“The poor boy went out of his way to placate me, but he needn’t have bothered. Lovers are like chips in a casino. They come and go. If all you do is hoard them, you’ll never get to play.”

Just outside the office’s windows, scintillating lights reflect down on the Mississippi. There are distant sounds of laughter, clinking glasses, and dice rolling against hard surfaces. It’s a familiar overture to the casino-owning Gangrel.

“But I wouldn’t presume to know what the sheriff and his hounds have already uncovered in their investigations,” Marcel continues, leaning back in his chair. “What questions can I answer for you?”

Rocco: Rocco nods his head, seemingly happy with Marcel’s answer. Nonetheless, the amicable demeanor belies a discerning gaze.

“You say Evan tried to placate you, Prince Guilbeau. What do you mean exactly?”

GM: “He took pains to explain the situation and apologize over it to me. He offered me a boon, though I told him he needn’t bother.”

Rocco: Rocco taps his chin thoughtfully, seemingly pleased. “I have to applaud Evan’s propriety, though,” the Gangrel answers. “Do you know of any enemies that he had that could’ve led to his disappearance?”

GM: “Naturally. There’s the Baron’s followers, for one. I suppose Mr. Savoy’s could’ve had the motive too,” Marcel speculates, “but the boy was always telling me about the hell he and his krewe were raising in the poorer parts of town. Showing the ‘voodoo heathens’ the price for straying from Christ’s path. I imagine they could’ve twinked some Crone’s nose if they weren’t careful.”

Rocco: “I have it on good authority that Evan was last spotted in the French Quarter with Yellow Sidra,” Rocco states rather plainly.

GM: “The officers of the prince’s justice would seem to have done their homework,” the Ventrue smiles. “You probably have a better idea than I do what he’d have wanted with her, though. Bourelle never mentioned Sidra to me.”

Rocco: “Evan had an interest in getting his fortune told by her,” Rocco says, filling in the holes. “It’s certainly odd that Evan never mentioned her, though. I understand that he used to get his fortune told quite frequently.”

The Gangrel would sigh, but the impulse is as long-dead as his lungs.

“It must’ve been a recent interest.”

GM: “Perhaps it was. Or he simply didn’t think it was worth bringing up.” The prince-in-exile smiles knowingly. “Lovers harbor secrets too.”

Rocco: Rocco’s gaze lingers on Marcel’s smile.

“I take it you’re being forthright with me, though,” he mentions offhandedly, innocently.

GM: That smile subsides as Marcel makes a tsk-tsk noise at Rocco’s tone.

“You may speak how you please of the young whelps, Hound Agnello, but that will not do here.”

Rocco: Rocco bows his head slightly. “I hope you can forgive me, Prince Guilbeau,” the Gangrel says, calmly. “I meant no disrespect. You’ve been so kind to lend me your time tonight and I would hate for your impression of me to sour.”

GM: Marcel motions with his right hand. It bears a diamond-set gold signet ring not so unlike the ones Rocco has observed on Vidal and Maldonato.

“To receive the Guard de Ville aboard the Alystra is itself a sign of respect. No harm done, Hound Agnello.”

Rocco: “Thank you, Prince Guilbeau. In any case, I really should take my leave now,” Rocco says, awaiting the Ventrue’s own leave with a parting smile.

GM: The exiled prince rises as Rocco does. “I’ll say this much else about Bourelle, there was a Crone girl he was hoping to convert to the Sanctified. Adrienne, Adele, something with an A. I told him it was a silly idea, but he didn’t seem to think so. Perhaps it’s nothing. Perhaps it’s not.”

The Ventrue smiles again and extends a hand. “Stop by sometime if you fancy a game of baccarat in a change of surroundings.”

Thursday night, 22 October 2015, AM

Rocco: After meeting with Marcel Guilbeau aboard the Alystra, Rocco makes further plans to look into Evan Bourelle’s disappearance. His next lead is the fortuneteller Yellow Sidra. Rocco understands that she is the last one to see Evan Bourelle. He also understands she makes her home in the French Quarter. In his pursuit for more information, the hound decides to visit the Carnival Club in Sundown’s domain.

GM: Rocco finds the party in full swing as he enters the Carnival Club—not that it ever isn’t at this hour. Sweating bodies writhe and undulate to pounding music. Conversation without shouting is close to impossible. The scents of alcohol and cigarette smoke further lace the air. Scintillating lights play over every surface, shifting from red to purple to blue and back again. The sounds of the kines’ thumping heartbeats are almost as audible to Rocco as the hammering music. In such an environment, even the dead can feel alive again—if only for a few moments.

For most of them, that’s enough.

Dead men and women weave through the teeming throngs like sharks, scenting blood, going through all the motions of seduction, and stealing away with the choicest vessels. The Afterhours King and patron of New Orleans revelry distantly surveys them from his seat on the second-floor lounge.

He has some company, too.

Rosa Bale is biracial woman in her early middle years with a bush of straw-like salt-and-pepper hair tied up in a brown scarf. Her garb consists of a plain maroon cotton dress, and a dark shawl with swirling yellow, black, and white patterns. Beaded necklaces with a crucifix and tiny leather pouch dangle from her neck. A featureless, milky-white glass eye stares blankly from her right socket.
Rocco, looking from afar, studies the pair with interest.

The two appear engaged in conversation with one another, although their exact words are impossible to make out between the distance and blaring music. Sundown’s body language is relaxed. Rosa’s is more reserved, though neither does the Ventrue mambo appear hostile.

Rocco: The hound, sifting through the crowd, makes his way to the crowded bar to order a drink.
His peripherals remain on Sundown and Rosa Bale, although his focus is split between them and any other vampire that may catch the hound’s eye.

GM: The bartender, a dark-haired and slightly harried-looking Latina woman, promptly mixes up whatever he asks for. Not that it makes any difference to the century-dead man.

Rocco: A polite smile appears on Rocco’s face as he proffers cash over the bar, exchanging it for a couple tequila sunrises. His expression doesn’t change as he then deftly moves through the crowd toward Sundown to announce his presence.

GM: At least several other Damned stand out like beacons to the Gangrel’s watchful eye as he does do. They could be competitors here, his Beast growls. Pietro Silvestri, whose handsome looks and curly black hair seem to have won him some female attention. A plainer but still pretty-looking young woman with shoulder-length brown hair. And a green-haired, discordantly giggling young woman whose skeleton-pale makeup and spiked leather collar stands out next to her more unobtrusively-dressed fellows.

Rocco: Rocco turns his focus away from the gang of monsters and makes his way through the crowds and up the stairs to the club’s second level. He approaches Sundown with an easy smile.

“Good evening, Sundown,” he says loud enough to be heard over the music’s blare.

GM: Rocco finds that he does not need to raise his voice overly much. The club’s second level is actually behind a wall of glass, with a single ‘cut out’ section that allows easy egress up or down the staircase. A well-stocked bar with several overhead television screens sits in the corner. Tables are positioned to overlook the dancing throngs on the first floor. The lighting might be an unchanging blue here, and the music might be softer, but this place is more intermission than respite from the revelry below.

Rosa Bale stares at the Gangrel, her voice as cool as the glass surface of her false eye.

“Regent Sundown is engaged, Hound Agnello. Your presence is unwelcome.”

Rocco: The hound gives Rosa Bale a cool, unaffected smile in return.

“You wound me, Rosa. I even bought you a tequila sunrise.”

He makes a slight show of looking at Rosa’s empty-handedness. The hound tries to disarm the Acolyte with a boyish smile.

GM: Rocco’s glass slips from his fingers. Cat-quick, the Gangrel catches it before it can strike the floor. The surface of the alcohol ripples. It catches Rocco’s eye. An echo rings against the edge of the glass. The liquid has gone still. The sound still reverberates. He strains his ears. There’s something…

Get… out…

The noise of shattering glass unravels it all. Orage liquid seeps past his shoes.

A few heads from the nearby tables turn and look.

Rocco: Rocco, careful not to cut himself on any broken glass or let any alcohol spill on his clothes, gives Sundown an apologetic look, excusing himself from the two vampires as he makes his way to the nearby bar.


He can’t help feeling suspicious of Rosa Bale, although admittedly he didn’t spot any wrongdoing.
Staff from that same bar show up with paper towels and a hand broom to sweep up the glass.

Rocco places his remaining drink down and looks for a toilet to wash his hands. He apologizes to the staff when given the chance, trying his best to look the part of a polite 21-year-old. He doesn’t like the extra attention.

GM: The staff assure him that it’s fine, and he finds his way to the restroom without incident. The attendant hands him towels and offers a stick of mint-flavored gum.

Rocco: “No thank you,” Rocco replies in regard to the stick of gum, cleaning his hands and looking over his clothes to make sure they’re unsullied.

Once happy, Rocco exits the bathroom and scopes the place, deciding to socialize with some unknown kindred while he waits for Rosa Bale to finish speaking with Sundown. Rocco makes his way toward the green-haired woman with cat-like poise.

GM: Lights play over Rocco’s face and music thumps in his ears as he approaches the other Kindred.
Eris seems to vary her appearance nightly. He’s seen her wearing tie-dyed skirts one night and red leather the next. Her green hair is frizzy as if from too many dye jobs, though even that element hasn’t been consistent—on other nights it’s been perfectly straight, or even shaved off. A smirk plays over her black-painted lips as she spots the approaching Gangrel among the dancing throngs.

WHAT DO YOU CALL A HOUND WITH A SURROUND SYSTEM?” she shouts over the music.


GM: “A SUB-WOOF SYSTEM!” she giggles, or at least looks like she does. Rocco can’t make out the sound.

Rocco: The hound gives the green-haired woman an affable smile, saddling up beside her as he finally frees himself from the sea of club-goers.

“Nice joke,” he says over the music, closing in on Eris to be more easily heard as he tries to rope her in to a conversation. “Here’s one for you: how many anarchists does it take to change a light-bulb?”

“The answer: it doesn’t matter, they’ll never be able to change it, or anything else for that matter.”

GM: “Ohhh, I was going to guess one, because two couldn’t agree on anything…” Eris’ eyes run over Rocco as she licks her black-painted lips, saddling up behind him. “Shows what I know!”

Rocco: An amused, half-smile appears on Rocco’s face as he tries to make heads or tails out of her. She’s a strange one. “I don’t think we’ve ever formally met,” Rocco says, deciding to get introductions out of the way.

GM: “Reaaallly? And why not?” the woman asks, pumping her limbs to the music as she circles around Rocco again. “Maybe we met in Hades, or the Pre-Illusion… what were you before you existed?”

Rocco: “I was nothing,” Rocco replies, looking uncharacteristically humble for a moment. “As the Council of Alexandria once said, I reject the idea of preexisting souls.” He gives Eris a cheeky, boyish grin after his explanation.

GM: “Oh, that’s too bad. Personally, I like the idea—but then I’m a proponent of other types of recycling, also. I think we could reduce a lot of spiritual waste by reusing old souls, so hopefully that’s what we’re doing.”

Rocco: “I suppose in a sense we are recycled people,” Rocco says, thoughtfully. He looks amused by the idea.

“I am Rocco,” he finally says, giving Eris a familiar look.

GM: “I’M ERIS, AND THE MUSIC HERE IS LOUD!” she shouts back as the DJ starts up a new mix.

Rocco: “Do you want to find somewhere more quiet?” he asks, flirtatiously.

GM: Eris’ face turns red and then blue under the scintillating lights as she tilts her head. “YOU SHOULD SPEAK UP, BUT I’M GAME!”

Rocco: Rocco offers his hand, signaling for Eris to let him take the lead. He looks for a quieter, more private nook for the two to talk.

GM: A quick scan of the teeming dance floor leads the Gangrel to conclude that is what the club’s second level, where he spoke with Rosa Bale, is for.

Rocco: Rocco heads there, taking Eris by the hand.

GM: Eris giggles at the Hound’s show of seeming affection, but plays along. The two make their way back up the club’s second level. It’s much as it was when Rocco left, though the broken glass and spilled sunrise have been mopped up. Sundown and Rosa Bale are still conversing at their table.

Rocco: He leads them to an empty table to speak privately. Rocco, looking down at Eris’s hand as they finally settle, gives her a cheeky smile.

“Have you ever gotten your palm read?” he asks, conversationally.

GM: “Oh lots of times, in at least this life,” Eris nods. “The different methods can give such different results, it’s interesting to compare them with each other.”

Rocco: “I never knew there were different methods,” Rocco admits. “I’ve only recently become interested.”

GM: “Oh huh, why’s that?”

Rocco: “Do you know of someone named Yellow Sidra?” he asks. “I heard she might be able to read my palm and tell my fortune.”

GM: “Question for a question, huh?” Eris asks, looking amused. “Yes, she reads palms in Jackson Square, because where else.”

Rocco: Rocco looks amused, giving Eris a devilish laugh at her answer. “Would you be able to introduce me to her, Eris?” he asks, charmingly.

GM: “Shy?” the woman smirks.

Rocco: “I always am when talking to beautiful women,” he replies, toothily.

GM: Eris laughs at Rocco’s initial remark. “All right, sure. You have a sense of humor, for a hound. Although you know what Harlequin says about masks…”

She tilts her head as she regards the Gangrel, something dancing in her eyes, and then produces a card.

Rocco: The hound’s eyes light up, impressed.

GM: “It’s for you,” Eris clarifies. “I’d say you’re a pope now too, but the power was really yours all along.”

“There’s a number on the back you can call me at when you want to meet her. I should mention I’m not always that reliable, so you might have to try a couple times.”

“You can pay me back by printing some more of those cards, I’m always giving them away.”

Rocco: “In contrast I am quite reliable,” Rocco answers, happily taking the card. "Thank you, Eris. It’s been a lot of fun getting to know you tonight.

Saturday night, 24 October 2015, PM

Rocco: It is a simple affair.

The hound organizes the meeting to take place in Faubourg Marigny. He asks for Yellow Sidra and Sundown to meet within the latter’s domain to discuss Evan Bourelle’s seeming disappearance. He understands that Evan used to go to Yellow Sidra to get his palm read and that Sundown was his regent, and the hound hopes to glean clues from the pair as to the neonate’s fate. Ostensibly, he is on official business for the Guard de Ville.

GM: The Midnight Bayou is a typical Sundown club. Crowds of dancers writhe and undulate under pulsing red lights to pounding music that’s almost loud enough to split one’s head. Here, the dead feed with impunity among the teeming throngs, and can feel ever-so-briefly alive.

The upstairs VIP lounge is a more subdued affair. It’s done in a similar color scheme to the downstairs floor, with dark walls and low red lighting. Patrons lounge about in leather booths and chairs, talking quietly, admiring the art on the walls, and sipping expensive drinks. Soft background music replaces the headsplitting blare downstairs. Smiling waitresses glide across the floor, relaying orders between customers while a bartender expertly mixes drinks in the back.

Rocco finds Sundown sitting at the rear-most booth, dressed in a “stylishly minimalist” maroon button-up shirt and dark slacks. His conversational partner stands out somewhat more. She’s dusky of skin and could be either Latina, Roma, or some typically New Orleans mix of races. She looks somewhere in her 20s, much younger than most fortune-tellers, but is dressed similarly to them in a multicolored gypsy skirt, a low-cut black and white-striped shirt, and a top hat threaded with red and purple scarves in place of a band. Gold glints from her ears and fingers. Her inky black hair is a wild and untamed forest that plays home to a monkey wearing a purple vest and miniature top hat of its own. The tiny animal sits on her shoulder and occasionally tugs at one of her earrings, but is otherwise still—even attentive-looking. It’s an uncommon gathering of three Kindred who may all be able to converse with the creature.

A meeting between one of the sheriff’s hounds and a Jackson Square fortune-teller would be uncommon too—anywhere outside of Faubourg Marigny.

Vidals’ and his rivals’ supporters may bare their fangs at one another, but for now, the parish remains neutral ground.

“Hound Agnello. Glad you could drop by,” Sundown smiles casually.

Rocco: “Thank you for having me, Regent Sundown,” the hound replies, returning the smile. His smile doesn’t leave his face as he studies the gypsy and her monkey.

GM: “Hound,” Sidra states.

A waitress comes by to get the three’s drink orders. “No need to actually force those down,” the Nosferatu remarks after she leaves.

“Some perks to owning the club, Regent?” Sidra remarks.

“A few,” Sundown smiles faintly, before shifting his posture towards Rocco. “Now then, Hound Agnello, why don’t you tell us what we’re here for tonight?”

Rocco: The hound looks up as Sundown addresses him with a relaxed expression. “Evan Bourelle,” the hound answers in a swift tone. “I understand that Mr Bourelle was your vassal. As such, I assume his disappearance holds some importance to you, Regent.”

His focus suddenly shifts to Yellow Sidra. The hound’s boyish smile grows. “It’s good to finally make your acquaintance, Yellow Sidra. I understand that Mr. Bourelle enjoyed getting his fortune told and saw you frequently.”

GM: “He might have. He might not have,” the fortune-teller answers noncommittally. “What’s in it for me if he did?”

“A night of hunting in my territory. Perhaps more, and perhaps something from the hound, depending on what you have for us,” Sundown answers.

Rocco: “I plan to thank you properly for your trouble, Yellow Sidra,” the hound follows, nodding his head at Sundown’s answer. “I also plan to thank Eris D. properly for helping make this meeting possible.”

GM: Sidra looks between the two ancillae. “Okay. Sure. I read his palm a few times.”

The monkey nods its tiny head along.

Rocco: “When was the last time you saw Evan?” he asks, trying his best to ease Yellow Sidra’s reservations. His body language is calm, casual, and friendly. He keeps eyes contact. His smile never wavers.

GM: The fortuneteller looks back. “August 16th. Never saw him again after that. Sounds like not too many other licks did either.”

Rocco: The hound sits back and looks prayerful for a moment. “What did the pair of you talk about?” he asks, trying to calculate Evan’s time missing. “I would greatly appreciate as many details and oddities that you can recall as possible. I am particularly interested in any conversations you had with him leading up to his disappearance.”

GM: “I read his palm, twice. The first time maybe a week before that. We spent a little while talking, after his first reading. About life and love and shit. He was pretty in the dumps. Wasn’t he, Cayce?” she asks the monkey.

The tiny primate bobs its head several times.

“We didn’t talk too long after the second reading. He seemed in a hurry to get the hell away,” Sidra goes on. “Customers don’t always like what they hear.”

Rocco: An understanding look crosses Rocco’s face as he listens.

GM: Several things occur to Rocco over the course of the trio’s conversation.

First, Sidra isn’t uncomfortable in the pair’s presence, nor is she fishing for sympathy. She slowly doles out information through sensational descriptions of Evan’s reactions without stating the cause behind them. It’s almost a story, the kind that leaves her audience wanting to lean in and ask, “Why?”

And the why behind Sidra’s tactics is plain and simple. Like most fortunetellers, she’s a saleswoman… and Rocco gets the distinct sense from the shrewd cast to her eye that she is jacking up her prices.
It’s a confident cast, too… there’s a reason she thinks that’s a safe bet.

The first substantive piece of information Sidra agrees to part with is the results of Evan’s second palm reading—the one that sent him fleeing Jackson Square, deeply rattled, after which no one saw him again. Sidra claims to have divined Evan’s final fate, for she is of the line of Tryphosa, the great seeress of Rome, and the Sight runs true in her blood.

Rocco: Rocco isn’t sure who “Tryphosa” is, but he’s pretty sure that’s bullshit.

An amused glint appears in his eyes. Nonetheless, the Gangrel hound discusses the price of this information with sincere interest. “I am happy to owe you a boon for both readings, Yellow Sidra,” he says, even if he doesn’t fully trust her word.

GM: “Okay. Evan Bourelle is dead.”

Sidra goes on to explain that Evan’s “fate line” indicated doom. His lines were also very dark—literally dark, which meant they were “danger points.” Those indicate accidental or sudden deaths.

The ghouled chimp on Sidra’s shoulder hoots and tugs her earrings in emphasis.

“He wasn’t killed by another lick, though. My reading also said that a powerful force may avenge his death… or maybe not. Bourelle broke off and bolted at that point.”

Rocco: The hound looks very interested at that last revelation, and doesn’t even try to hide it, smiling broadly at Sundown for a moment before turning back to Yellow Sidra. “You have been a great help, Yellow Sidra,” he states, “but unless you have anything more of value to share, I would like to discuss things with Regent Sundown in private now.”

GM: “Suit yourselves,” says Sidra. “Thanks for the hunting.”

“Enjoy yourself,” smiles the Nosferatu.

The fortuneteller disappears, no doubt to avail herself of her feeding rights.

Rocco: “I don’t entirely trust everything Yellow Sidra had to say, but I believe some of what was said is worth following up,” the hound says without much preamble. “What are your thoughts, Sundown?”

GM: “Follow-up usually is worth it,” the Nosferatu agrees. “The question is usually ‘where’ rather than ‘if.’”

Rocco: “I am hoping to secure your permission to investigate Evan’s old haven in that case, Sundown,” the hound says, “and if you have the whereabouts of which, that would be an incredible help. I also plan to track down and speak to any of his ghouls.”

GM: “All possibly fruitful leads,” the regent remarks. “What’s your interest in finding Bourelle, Rocco?”

Rocco: “I have a vested interest in those whose allegiance belongs to His Majesty, of course,” the hound explains, cheerfully. “It’s always been my intention that those who are loyal to His Majesty will be rewarded with loyalty in return.”

GM: “How thoughtful of the Guard de Ville,” Sundown smiles. “I think the other Storyvilles have taken in his ghouls. If you want to find Bourelle’s haven, I’d recommend talking with one of them. The permission’s yours if you want to poke around the area.”

Rocco: “Thank you, Regent Sundown,” he replies, “but if you’re already aware of Evan’s haven’s location and willing to part with this information, I’d be willing to part with a nexum munus.” He eyes the Nosferatu carefully.

GM: Sundown waves him off. “You already footed the prestation with Sidra, Hound Agnello. I don’t make it a habit to spy on my vassals, of course,” the Nosferatu remarks, “but I suppose desperate times have called for desperate measures. Better to find Bourelle by finding his haven, than both to stay unknown.”

He provides an address.

“I’ll still be obliged if you informed the Storyvilles before looking around. The others aren’t my vassals, but I can understand them feeling protective towards the space.”

Rocco: “I will do such. Your kindness and understanding in this matter is commendable, Sundown, so I thank you once again,” he says, preparing to take his leave and tend to other business.

GM: “Stop by anytime, Rocco,” Sundown says, rising with the hound as he moves to leave.

“Bring guests, friendly or otherwise. Everyone will always be welcome at my clubs.”

Late October—early December, 2015

GM: Jocelyn’s eager anticipation for news of Evan gives way to nights of waiting with bated breath.

A week passes.

Then another week. Jocelyn mentions the Storyvilles have been in touch with Sundown, and that they’re antsy for news. At the advice of Roxanne’s sire, they aren’t pushing things. The Nosferatu do things at their own pace. You can’t really rush them.

Another week goes by.

Then another. The Storyvilles grow increasingly impatient over the Hidden Clan’s efforts. Jocelyn admits to approaching Sundown on her own. He told her that his clan was “‘more information brokers than investigators’—what the hell is that even supposed to mean? Don’t brokers need to dig up their information from somewhere?” the Toreador remarks crossly.

More weeks go by. There is no news on Evan Bourelle.

Sundown finally invites Caroline up to one of his clubs’ offices in early November. “Thanks for being patient, Miss Malveaux. Not much luck finding Evan Bourelle, I’m sad to say. Finding a few specific birds is finding a needle in a haystack, and there’s always other things.” The ‘handsome’ Nosferatu smiles. “Never enough hours in the night even when you’re immortal, are there?”

The Afterhours King is polite about it, but the gist of his statements essentially seem to come down to: Evan isn’t important enough to spend this much effort on. Sorry.

“Still,” the Nosferatu continues, “you wanted credit for your part in things, and you did bring us actionable information. What would you say to repayment in kind? As any of my clan can well tell you, there’s few currencies of greater value.”

Caroline: Caroline’s own frustrations mount as her investigations come for naught. They multiply like gremlins when she settles on a prime suspect that everyone seems to know about but no one seems to want to mention, much less follow up on. By the time the Afterhours King invites her for a meeting she’s all but resigned to the answer: even if people care, they don’t care that much. Not enough to tangle with her.

So she sits quietly through Sundown’s pitch, and smiles knowingly when he’s done. “I understand, Regent Sundown. There are other tenants,, and an entire domain to consider. I would, of course, be grateful for whatever you might share in turn.”

GM: The handsome-appearing Nosferatu motions. “Then ask away, Miss Malveaux. Customer’s choice, within reason.”

Caroline: The heiress’s smile is razor sharp. “If it pleases you, Regent Sundown, I’d know of Caitlin Meadows.”

GM: The sewer rat raises an eyebrow, but nevertheless continues, “What about her?”

Caroline: Caroline is interested in Meadows’ past and present in the city. She relates that she’s heard a fair number of whispered tales about her, but suspect that many have been exaggerated—she doesn’t think Meadows has three heads and two hearts for instance. If he can shed light into who she was, perhaps it would shed light into why she’s been so aggressive and violent of late.

GM: Sundown relates what is relatively well-known of the savage scourge to Caroline and seems willing to entertain a few follow-up questions concerning that information.

Caroline: Caroline is very interested to learn that the monster terrorizing much of the city is the sire of her current landlord. She asks a few more pointed questions about exactly when she went off the rails, so far as anyone can tell, and what disciplines she’s previously shown proficiency with. It becomes quite apparent (if it wasn’t already) that she regards Meadows as the primary suspect in Evan’s disappearance.

GM: “You wouldn’t think so at a glance, would you? He’s certainly prettier than she is,” the Nosferatu chuckles at Caroline’s initial reaction.

Sundown reiterates that Meadows seemed to go rogue after she reappeared from a several-months absence. It’s also relatively well-known that she can sprout horrific, knife-like claws that she prefers to do her fighting (or perhaps more aptly, killing) with.

It will be a separate transaction with the Hidden Clan if Caroline desires more specific detail regarding which Cainite gifts Meadows is proficient at.

“Though you’re right to imagine we do keep track of those, Miss Malveaux,” the Nosferatu smiles faintly. “We keep track of everything.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly at the last admission and replies amusedly, “I shudder to think what you might have to say about me, Regent Sundown.”

Thursday night, 3 December 2015, PM

GM: In the aftermath Caroline’s Sundown meeting, Jocelyn wants to hear all about how it went and really wants some kind of actionable lead to follow. The Storyvilles aren’t taking things well, especially Roxanne. She’s frenzying more, and worse, getting snappish and irritable. Jocelyn’s not sure how long this can last.

Caroline: Caroline relates that the primogen didn’t have much to offer. Caroline has a few plans and ideas. Among them are contacting Evan’s sire (he may have felt if Evan was actually killed) and reaching out to the Crone he was trying to convert to find out if she knows anything.

She talks with Rocco about whether he’s had any luck locating Amandine.

GM: The hound has unfortunately been occupied by his duties to the Guard de Ville. He is leaving the matter to Caroline.

Caroline: The Ventrue talks to the Storyvilles about how Evan got in contact with her in the first place, and whether or not they know of a to reach her. If that fails, she seeks her out at Elysium. If that fails, she asks the Nosferatu for info on how she might find her, offering a boon in exchange.

She suggests to the Storyvilles at large (without letting on that she knows Roxxy knows) that if anyone knows Evan’s sire, they should reach out to them and try to find out if they felt anything when he went missing. She understands that it’s a private matter, but it may be the only way they get any closure at this point.

GM: Jocelyn lets Caroline know that no one knew about Evan’s sire—until she scryed on Roxxy. He hadn’t talked about where he was from or how he was Embraced with his other krewemates (or at least her) at all.

Caroline eventually locates Amandine in one of the Friday Elysia hosted in a less formal venue. At first glance, she isn’t much to look at. A bit plain in the face, with tan skin, but good cheekbones and full lips. Her hair is a simple brown and worn away from her face in a ponytail. She wears plain blue jeans, hiking boots, boy’s dress shirts that look like they were bought at a thrift store, and a leather messenger bag.

Caroline: Caroline approaches Amandine and engages her in small talk, trying to feel her out and learn more about her.

GM: Amandine is barely civil to the Sanctified Ventrue and blows her off. Onlookers look amused by Caroline’s attempt at conversation.

Caroline: Caroline is friendly in her acceptance of the brush-off and looks for a better opportunity to engage with the young heathen. She texts Jocelyn and asks if she wants to help her find an in with Amandine. She also texts Rocco—knowing he’d been looking for her. Caroline surreptitiously keeps an eye on those the other vampire interacts with, looking for any common ground (or at least neutral ground).

GM: Jocelyn has no clue who Amandine is beyond a Vodouisant sleeping with Evan and doesn’t know what to do, but is game if Caroline has any ideas.

Caroline observes Amandine speaking with Desirae Wells. Elysium this week is also held at a less formal venue, with fewer Creoles in attendance.

Caroline: Caroline approaches Wells about Amandine, both in the context of their relationship and in the context of Wells working as a midde-woman between some of the different groups in the city and trying to keep conflict down.

She’d like the Caitiff emissary to help set and facilitate a chat with Amandine (with Wells as the third party there). In return, she’ll clue Wells in as to something that Amandine should know, that she’ll probably appreciate, and that she might take better from someone she knows (namely that Rocco is looking into the matter and looking for Amandine specifically).

GM: Wells is amenable to arranging the meeting between Caroline and Amandine, but she doesn’t think Amandine is very likely to want to talk to Caroline. The news about Rocco is likely to make her double down with her own covenant. The hound is known for his bullying ways, but he might well bite off more than he can chew if he expects to make a victim of a lone neonate. The Crones look out for their own people. Rather more than the Sanctified admittedly do. Going after Amandine is likely to pick a fight with Doc Xola, who is infamous for acting as the Crones’ protector.

Caroline: Caroline suggests that if Wells can help her get Amandine to open up—after breaking the news about Rocco—that she might convince Rocco to back off. Even if the Crones look out for one another, it’d be one less headache for Amandine. “We all do too much looking over our shoulder as it is.” She also mentions the entire matter concerns the disappearance of someone Amandine was spending time with—and that it’s possible information she has could point towards an answer about what happened to him. She’s careful not to point a finger at Amandine, and instead alludes to (without outright stating) Meadows.

GM: Wells thinks Amandine could be amenable to this proposition and gets back with the news that she’s arranged a meeting in Mid-City several nights from now.

Caroline: Caroline arrives at the meeting with Jocelyn and a couple ghouls that split off before Amandine arrives. If asked, she simply points out that she’s far from the most popular lick in Mid-City. They’re not here to interfere with the meeting—or even be a part of it—but Caroline would rather not visit alone. She asks Jocelyn to keep her eyes on the three other licks from the other side of the bar. The ghouls will keep their eyes on Jocelyn’s back and the door.

GM: Wells isn’t okay with that when she sees the ghouls and insists that Caroline send them away. The Ventrue isn’t the only Kindred to have friends or ghouls, and Amandine isn’t planning on bringing any to the meet site—and if she does, Wells will request she send them away too. If the two can’t manage that degree of mutual trust and courtesy before the talk begins, there’s no hope at all for the talk itself.

Caroline: Caroline is okay with that and sends her servants to wait a ways off.

GM: Amandine arrives in short enough order. The Crone doesn’t look much happier to see Caroline than last time and clearly isn’t interested in small talk or pleasantries. She tells the Ventrue to get to the point.

Caroline: Caroline starts out pleasantly enough, but when it becomes clear that Amandine isn’t interested cuts straight to it. She knows Amandine and Evan had a relationship. Evan is missing. Has been missing. She wants to know if Amandine knows anything about his disappearance. Barring that, when she last saw him, and whether she saw anything unusual in the nights before he disappeared in their time together.

She makes it plain she isn’t accusing Amandine of anything. She’s just following up with the lick that might have been the last person to see him, while also tipping off the Crone. She knows there are a lot of licks that wouldn’t have looked kindly on the two spending time together, on both sides of the aisle, and at this point just wants to get some closure on the whole thing. She asks that if Amandine had any affection for him at all, she share what she knows. She asks if anyone else knew they were spending time together. She’s all but the last lead in the trail for Caroline.

GM: Amandine tells Caroline not to ever presume to know a thing about ‘her side of the aisle’.

“You don’t know shit about us, lance.”

Caroline: “You’re right,” Caroline admits. “I don’t really. I don’t think I’ve even really talked to someone on the ‘other side’ before I approached you the other night. I don’t know many on this side that have. I guess it’s easy to assume you feel the same way about us that most of us seem to feel about you. That you view all of us as just another ‘lance’, just like we view you all as just another ‘crone’.”

“Hi, I’m Caroline.”

GM: “Hi, I’m Amandine,” the brown-haired Kindred replies.

She just gives a cool look at the statement she and Evan had something, and refuses to confirm or deny it. She bluntly says she doesn’t care whether it’s Caroline’s last lead or not. “Some missing Lance isn’t my problem.” The Ventrue had better do better than that if she expects any help.

Caroline: “What would you like?” she asks in turn. “I don’t exactly have a king’s ransom to offer, but finding out if he’s truly gone, and who did it if so means something. It should mean something, even if no one else seems to care. No one seemed to have anything but nice things to say about him, but the only other lick lifting a finger is doing it more to be vindictive than anything. I thought you might be an exception. He cared enough about you to talk about it with his ghoul. Was worried enough about it to hide it from his krewe.”

GM: “Still don’t know what you’re talking about,” Amandine replies with a completely straight face.

“That’s a good question what I’d like. I’m sure not looking for a handout. And I don’t trust any promises. Every time someone in my club has reached out to yours, your prince has stuck a knife in our backs. Every time.”

Caroline: “And the last person from my club that reached out probably got iced, and definitely got hit by a lick,” Caroline agrees. “Hell, I could end up on some licks’ hit list just for talking to you, and I think you know who.”

She gives what might be a sigh if she were breathing. “Which makes it awfully difficult for us to have a dialogue of any kind.” She bites her lip. “Look, I’m not trying to screw you over. I haven’t even finished the mandatory decade of getting bent over by my own people. Hell, it was only a couple months ago they were ready to take off my head with a quickness. I’m just looking for answers.”

“Maybe there are some I could give you?”

GM: “You could also get ahead by screwing me over,” Amandine retorts. “It’s like you say. Just talking to me is trouble, and scores a few points with your own people. Win-win.”

Desirae looks between the two Kindred. “Perhaps you’d both feel more at ease knowing none of us were recording this conversation.” The Caitiff reaches into her pocket, pulls out a phone she turns off, and then sets down.

Amandine looks towards Caroline, then after the Ventrue does so, similarly pulls out and shuts off her phone. Her expression looks maybe marginally more at ease.

“All right, answers. What do you know that’d be useful to me?”

Caroline: Oh the things I could tell you, Caroline thinks. Mostly things that would get her killed, though Caroline isn’t sure that would be a bad thing for the selfish lick. She shakes her head.

“Too vague,” she replies. “I could go on and on about things you don’t give a damn about. Give me at least a couple topics of interest, and I’ll let you know if I have anything of around them.”

GM: Amandine looks dubious. “No offense, but you got turned basically last night.”

“It’s understandable either of you wouldn’t want to tell a lance or crone about your interests,” Desirae starts.

“Still don’t know why I’m even here,” Amandine states.

“Maybe you could share a few topics that are publicly known or essentially harmless?” Desirae offers.

“Only one I can think of that’s either of those are the Strix.”

Caroline: She files the name away to review later but keeps her face still. “If that’s truly the only matter you would discuss, or have an interest in, then it seems like we’re at an impasse.”

GM: “Seems like it,” Amandine remarks. “I thought the owls were the one thing every lick could agree is worth putting aside the usual bullshit politics and screwing each other over.”

Caroline: “Sorry, must not have gotten that lesson yet, but then, as you said, I basically got turned last night. I’ll reach back when I catch up. Assuming whoever offed Evan hasn’t offed you too by then. Unless there’s something more proximate that you think we could discuss now?”

GM: “You don’t know what they are, do you?” Amandine looks at her. “Then consider this your public service announcement. They’re demons made of smoke that don’t have anything better to do than fuck everyone. If someone has yellow in their eyes, they’ve been possessed. Cure it by burning them."

Caroline: Caroline looks at Amandine curiously, then to Wells to judge her reaction to this ‘advice’. “That sounds… unpleasant. And extreme. Are they a particularly common problem?”

GM: The Caitiff looks grim, but not disagreeing. “It might be extreme, but it’s kinder to the victim.”

“Lone ones are common as any other boojum,” Amandine states. “Two or more together is an ill omen. The more the worse. They showed up in droves for Katrina.”

Caroline: The heiress rolls the information over in her mind several times before she replies. “I thought I was supposed to give you information?” she asks half-seriously. “I don’t have anything I can add to that, but I’ll be straight with you on what I can: the only Kindred interested in Evan’s disappearance are Sundown and Hound Agnello—and neither seem terribly invested in it, though neither exactly clue me into their plans either.”

“I was looking into it for his krewe, and had a lead on someone watching him, using birds to do so. Damn things followed him all the way into the Garden District and to his haven, but no one got a bite on it—if they even went looking.”

GM: “Sounds like Evan wasn’t that important to anyone,” Amandine shrugs. “What’s it to you why he’s gone? Most missing licks don’t ever turn back up.”

Caroline: “A lot of different things,” Caroline replies. “Maybe it’s for his krewe, who helped me out when I was sunk. Maybe in the hope that someone will notice. Maybe more than a little bit because I hate the idea that someone that apparently no one has anything ill to say anything about vanished, with no one giving a damn about it. Especially when everything points to another lick.” She shrugs. “I may not have known him, but a lot of licks I do know match that same profile.”

GM: “Evan’s ash, greenfang. Get a magic man to confirm it if you want to, but he’s ash. I know, because my club did. Baron confirmed it for us weeks ago, when talk about one of us doing it started to float around. As far as I’m concerned, his word’s as good as Bondye’s, God’s, whatever you want to call the Almighty’s.”

“Another Baron of ours, Samedi, says two dirty coppers are all anyone’s worth in the end. I think there’s a discount when they’re your prince’s lances. You—and Evan—signed up for the wrong club if you want someone to give a damn when you disappear. And if you keep digging into this, you probably will too.”

“Either way, Evan’s not coming back. There’s no probably to that.”

Amandine looks at Desirae. “Remind me again what you’re getting out of this?”

“Just knowing how things here with Evan pan out.”


Desirae just nods. “Jonah says hi.”

“Tell him hi back.”

Amandine rises, her business with the two seemingly at an end.

Caroline: The heiress rises, but does not move. “Not that I don’t appreciate you sharing your Baron’s word, but you know something more,” she states, rather than asks. “Someone, some lead, some secret. Did you know about his meetings with Yellow Sidra, now so eager to sell his death at the hands of hunters? Did someone see you two together?”

She taps her fingers on the table. “Maybe I’m just a greenfang, but it seemed to me like you liked Evan enough to at least talk to him, and spend time with him. Now you say he’s ash and you can’t even be bothered to level on it. You came in here and got real defensive about him, about the whole thing.”

Her eyes narrow. “What I can’t figure out is, If it wasn’t your club then you have all the reason in the world to spill it, since it not only takes the heat off you, but also puts it somewhere else. Are you really going to tell me you wouldn’t prefer to not look over your shoulder for an angry hound out to prove himself after the Boggs thing or a krewe of distraught licks that might try something stupid? Maybe I’m just a ‘greenfang’, but honestly, I can’t think of a good reason for you not to set a bunch of Sanctified against each other or some other group, if that’s what really happened.”

She produces a small card with only a phone number on it.

“In case you find your conscience, or get tired of that over the shoulder thing. Or you find yourself being hunted by whoever the hell did him in. I’m sure we both have a couple ideas.”

GM: Amandine’s eyes narrow.

“That’s real sweet you’re worried about me, Lance. Real sweet. Don’t worry, though. The Baron actually gives two fucks about his people. So no thanks, if I’m ever in trouble, I’m going to him. Not you. If Agnello or those misfits or anyone else want to make a run at me, which I’m sure would be a complete coincidence if it happens after this fun little chat, well, that’s their funeral."

Caroline: Caroline gives a short laugh. “It’s flattering that you think a greenfang would be able to influence Hound Agnello—or anyone else like that. I’m just looking down the tracks at where the train’s headed.”

GM: Amandine rolls her eyes.

“Sorry to waste your time, Desirae.”

The Crone turns and leaves.

Caroline: “He was jumping ship, wasn’t he?” Caroline asks pointedly at the Crone’s back. “Or at least thinking about it.”

GM: “Believe what you want, Lance.” Amandine doesn’t look back as she strides through the bar’s chattering crowd.

Caroline: So much for that.

Caroline matter-of-factly relates to Rocco that she thinks Amandine knows more than she let on. She believes that Amandine thinks Evan is dead, but that their side says they had nothing to do with his death.

GM: Rocco receives the news courteously. He idly speculates what makes Amandine so sure. Caroline does not know.

And, at least for now, neither will the Storyvilles.

Evan is just another neonate gone missing in a city that doesn’t care.

Thursday night, 4 December 2015, AM

Caroline: The Ventrue largely drops the investigation into Evan following her last round of meetings. No one seems to have much interest in assisting in locating Evan’s killer, and she’s hit another wall. She gives the news to the Storyvilles without passion, simply with frustration. She’s fairly certain Evan is dead, and suspects that Meadows was behind the hit. She can’t prove it. Even if she could, no one seems interested in bringing her down even after her attacks on far more ‘important’ Kindred. She doesn’t expect Evan’s murder to galvanize anyone to action.

GM: The two are in Jocelyn’s haven when Caroline breaks the news. Her paramour receives it in poor spirits. She can see the way Jocelyn’s face lights up at first, like it always does, when she mentions the news is about Evan. It sinks when the Toreador sees the look on her face, that says this news isn’t good. And then, like a trapdoor pulling out from under someone who’s already been kicked down, then kicked while they’re down, it sinks even lower.

“That’s… that’s IT!?” she exclaims. “THAT’S… all those weeks, all those months for… THAT’S HOW THIS ENDS?!”

Meg, sweeping in the corner, flinches at her domitor’s raised voice.

Jocelyn just stares ahead for a moment, then slowly says, “I guess you did the best you could. Thanks for that. Better than I could’ve done. Better than Roxanne ever did. More than anyone else did for us. Beats not knowing.”

She sits back down. “Guess it makes sense. He broke the rules. He broke the rules, so Meadows killed him. Meadows killed him, and nobody gives a shit.”

Her voice is empty.

“You know… fuck everyone.”

Caroline: The Ventrue bites her tongue, at a loss for words, for anything. It bites at her to see Jocelyn so… empty. She wants to make her happy, wants to comfort her, but this isn’t something she can simply ‘make’ right. She takes a seat beside the Toreador and wraps an arm around her narrow shoulders.

Jocelyn doesn’t push her away, but doesn’t lean in. She stares at a blank spot on the wall.

“We did… we did everything, everything we were supposed to do. And this is what it gets.”

“The one thing we wanted. The one thing that really mattered.”

“This is what it gets.”

“Jack. Shit.”

Caroline bites her lip, then replies quietly, “the strong take what they want. The weak get what’s left. It’s not really any different among the kine, they just hide it better.”

“Evan wasn’t weak!” Jocelyn flares. “We’re SHIT without him! And Roxanne knows it!”

“You’re weak without him,” Caroline agrees, more mildly. “I’m not blaming you, but why should anyone else care what you want? Because you’ve done what they expected? Do you know how many ‘loyal’ employees my uncle lays off every year that haven’t done anything wrong? People a year or two away from retirement, because he can?”

Jocelyn stares at Caroline, almost incredulously at first, then slowly says, “Then maybe we shouldn’t be loyal, if this is what it gets.”

“Fuck the Sanctified.”

“Fuck Vidal.”

“Fuck Longinus.”

“Fuck God.”

“And fuck your uncle.”

“No.” The faint coppery taste of blood hangs in the air from where Caroline bit her lip. “How far have the Anarchs gotten, quibbling in the streets of their domain about how free they are? Did any of them raise a hand when the 896 bite it? What about all the licks in the French Quarter begging off of Savoy? Do you think their life is better than yours?”

She shakes her head, “Rebellion doesn’t get you anywhere. Power… power is the only thing that matters.”

“Power in faith—like Father Malveaux. Power in ability, like the sheriff. Power socially, like Sundown. There’s no right way there, but as long as you’re happy to just go about your Requiem, anyone, everyone, is going to try to take advantage of you.”

“You think I got the time of day from Sundown or Poincaré because they liked my smile?”

Jocelyn gives an empty laugh.

“So what, you think they’ll let you in the club?”

“Yeah. That’s what we thought too.”


“That’s what Evan thought.”

“Gee, look how that worked out.”

Caroline: “There’s no club to join, Jocelyn, no points to earn. You think you buy your way in doing favors?” Caroline shakes her head.

“They listened because I had something to offer. Not much, but something. Something they couldn’t ignore.” She tilts her head, “who has more influence right now, the Storyville Krewe in its entirety, or me?”

“They’re predators, Jocelyn. Just like you and just like me.”

“But they haven’t seen your teeth yet—none of yours.”

GM: “You’re right,” Jocelyn says slowly. “That’s the only way to make this right.”

She turns away, digs through the small cabinet next to a couch, and pulls out an old-fashioned flip phone. She hits a button. A 2000s-era ringtone goes up. There’s a muted sound, then she hits the speaker function.

“-ocelyn? What’s happened?” sounds a woman’s concerned voice.

Caroline’s lover looks as if she could take a breath. “There’s… there’s a lick who’s killing us, Sally.”

“The Storyvilles. She started with Evan. We need to ash her before she ashes me.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes flare in alarm.

GM: “Tell me more,” replies the woman.

Caroline: “We don’t know it was her, or that she’ll come after you,” Caroline growls quietly.

GM: “Jocelyn, what was that?” comes the woman’s voice, suddenly sharper.

Jocelyn looks at the Ventrue. “Caroline, this is my sire. She has, uh, good hearing. Sally, this is Caroline. I’ve told you about her.”

There’s silence from the line. Not even breathing.

Jocelyn quickly interjects, “Don’t hang up! Don’t hang up!”

“You were not to share this line, with anyone,” comes the woman’s half-hissed voice.

“Fine, hang up then, I’m gonna die soon. You said to only use this for an emergency. Well it’s an emergency.”

There’s silence from the line. But not yet a click.

“It’s so stupid how paranoid you are,” Jocelyn snaps. “You always said you were gonna throw out the phone as soon as we talked over it anyway.”

Caroline: Pot, kettle, Caroline thinks, but doesn’t say.

But that’s not it, is it? She’s seen this behavior from Jocelyn before.

GM: “Caroline’s legit, and she knows a lot more about the lick who’s killing the Storyvilles than we do.”

“Caroline, tell her about Meadows.”

Caroline: The Ventrue bites her lip. “The scourge has been on a rampage of late, attacking several licks. No one has the stomach to stand up to her. It seems… likely that she killed Evan for perceived disloyalty. He was not the first, or the last, to die in recent months.”

GM: The voice finally replies.

“It ‘seems likely’? Jocelyn, you said she had killed Evan. How do either of you know this?”

Caroline: “Evan was spied on prior to his death by animals. He had been associating with another lick, one of the Baron’s people, in the weeks leading up to his destruction. When we brought the details to his regent and to the hounds, neither was willing to touch it,” Caroline provides.

GM: “Rocco was willing to lie all about the Baron doing it though, to rope us in on some stupid scheme,” Jocelyn adds.

“I’d need more information than this to want to touch it either,” Sally responds to Caroline. “Any Kindred or ghoul in the city could have potentially sent animals to spy on Evan. How do you know they were Meadows’? What evidence do you have that she killed him?”

Sally still appears in a poor mood, but pointedly questions Caroline as to the details—all of the details, from the primary vantage point of ascertaining whether Jocelyn and her coterie are in danger. She sounds deeply skeptical, suspicious, and irritated over her childe’s actions.

Jocelyn pulls up her phone and shows Caroline a message she’s tapped onto it.

Tell her Meadows did it. She won’t help if you don’t.

She’s tough and smart. She’d help a lot.

Caroline: Caroline types back on her own between Sally’s questioning, Is that what you really want? To send her against Meadows? How does that help you?

GM: We’ll ALL do it. Rocco’s vampire mom won’t stand a chance.

Caroline’s second question is only met with a furiously pained stare.

Caroline: We’re not done talking about this, the Ventrue taps out. She stops short of outright lying to the archon, but she does her best to spin what they know to fit Jocelyn’s narrative. Meadows has been on a rampage and is the most viable suspect in the (nonthreatening and well-liked) Toreador’s death. The stonewalling by others and lack of interest in any further investigation points towards something others don’t want to talk about.

Even if, it wasn’t Meadows, someone took a very deliberate and calculated shot at one of Jocelyn’s closest companions and got away with it completely clean. It could have just as easily been the young Toreador artist. That’s not the sort of thing that’s going to discourage them from doing it again.

GM: Sally’s questioning reminds Caroline of one of her law professors poking through a student’s legal argument—and finding it wanting. At length, she replies,

“You know what kills people, Jocelyn? Not just bad intelligence. Misleading objectives.”

“She killed Evan, Sally! I KNOW she d-”

“You suspect that. You haven’t confirmed it. Either that it was Meadows, or that he’s dead.”

“Oh, REALLY, you think he’s still ALIVE?” Jocelyn all but shouts, red leaking from her eyes. “He’s just OUT THERE, is that it, WAITING FOR US, so where—where the hell—?!”

“No. I think you’re right to assume he’s dead at this point. Maybe in torpor if you’re lucky.”

Sally doesn’t correct her childe’s use of ‘alive’.

Caroline: “What would you advise, then?” Caroline interjects. The Ventrue’s tone suggests a genuine question, rather than a rhetorical one.

GM: “Jocelyn could start by not misleading her sire into a fight that could get her killed too, and roping her lover along into it. I heard those taps.”

“Oh, that’s such BULLSHIT!” Jocelyn cries, red running down her cheeks. “You’re just l… like every other lick, who won’t stand up to her, who doesn’t give a damn-!”

She furiously wipes her eyes, scattering blood over the sofa. “You’ve killed PLENTY of licks, I know you have-!”

“I do give a damn, Jocelyn. About my unlife. You know how long it took me to kill my last target? No, actually, I’m not going to give any dates over this line. I’ll just say a very long time, by your standards. I gathered information on them. I learned their routine. I learned their nightly activities, their associates, their feeding patterns, all the features and details of their haven. I learned more about them than their closest allies. Then I waited for even longer, just in case I’d missed anything. Only then, when there was as little up to chance as possible, and I’d stacked the odds to be as unfair as possible, did I move against the target directly.”

“I’m not your hitwoman. I don’t kill people lightly for the Camarilla, and I’m not killing someone lightly for you. I’m going to assume you misled me out of misplaced admiration than actually being comfortable with the thought I could lose my unlife.”

“Well I guess that makes YOU just as FUCKING USELESS as all the others!” Jocelyn cries, red continuing to stain her face. “I’m SICK OF IT! I’m SICK of, of no one putting ANYTHING on the line, giving ANY kind of shit, all being COWARDS, even wh-”

“Stop that,” Sally’s voice cuts her off. “Grow up, Jocelyn. Your friend isn’t entitled to justice.”

Caroline: Caroline snatches up the phone and turns off speaker.

“I’m sorry, Archon. I’ll have her reach out to you another time.”

GM: “Put me back on, please. I’m getting rid of this phone, like she said, and she won’t be able to call me again for a long time.”

Caroline: “As you wish.” Caroline turns the speaker back on.

GM: Sally’s voice sounds like she could sigh. “Thank you.”

Jocelyn, already furiously trying to snatch the phone back, is somewhat awkwardly left to just glare when Caroline turns the speaker back on.

“WHY’D YOU EVEN TURN ME?!” she shouts. “I’m NEVER gonna be good enough, am I?! You were just… horny, and got carried away! I know! I kn-”

“You had feelings for him, didn’t you?”

That seems to stop Jocelyn in her tracks. Another few trickles of red drop onto her legs.

“How many times did you do it?” asks Sally.

Jocelyn looks at Caroline for a moment.


Caroline: Jocelyn has seen more emotion from a stone.

It makes sense—and makes it all the more painful a slap in the face that she hadn’t seen it before.

The mask cracks, and it’s not anger that shows through.

GM: “Look.” There’s what sounds like a sigh from Sally. “Take some time off. Have a change of scenery. Bring Caroline with you, if she wants to go. Take your mind off things. What’s here for you, anyways, besides her and the Storyvilles?”

Caroline: The Ventrue puts the phone down on the table and stands.

GM: Jocelyn looks up at her uncertainly. “Caroline?”

Caroline: “You should finish your conversation with your sire,” Caroline replies, her voice flat. “As you said, you won’t have another chance for a while.”

GM: “Wait,” the younger Toreador entreats. “I, I want you to be here. I’ve always wanted you to meet her. Even if it’s… gone to shit.”

“Yes, and we are sorry for that,” Sally says with another not-sigh. “Jocelyn’s had a lot to say about you, Caroline. A lot of good things. Our clan doesn’t pay as much attention to… decorum as yours, or keeping our dirty laundry out of sight.”

Caroline: “Just more honest,” Caroline replies flatly. “It’s something I always liked about Jocelyn.”

Is she in New Orleans?

She doesn’t know as much about archons as she would like.

GM: “I… I wasn’t sure how to bring it up,” Jocelyn says falteringly. “It would’ve destroyed the Krewe, if it came out. You’ve seen how Roxanne is. I haven’t left out anything else about Evan, I swear. It just… didn’t seem important.”

“People prefer to decide what facts are important for themselves, Jocelyn. Anything you hold back on might turn out to be important, in someone’s eyes. But maybe Caroline is also hurt from feeling as if you didn’t trust her.”

“I…” Jocelyn’s eyes well again. “If, if Evan came back, I just didn’t wanna ruin things…”

Caroline: Caroline bites back her response. Jocelyn and Sally might be more open, but Caroline isn’t. Hasn’t ever been, even before her Embrace. She hates airing her dirty laundry. She hates even having it.

“We can talk about it another time,” she replies stiffly.

GM: “All right. Look, Jocelyn. Evan did get a raw deal. Staying around that is just going to make you feel worse. Why don’t I take you with me someplace?”

“I thought you said that was a bad idea.”

“Permanently, maybe. But there’s more to unlife than work for the Camarilla.”

“I’d like if Caroline came.”

“That sounds like a conversation for you both to finish. But she’d be welcome.”

“I hate the guilds here.”

“You’ve said. They’re better in other places. You’d get the recognition you deserve.”

“I wouldn’t miss Roxanne, honestly. But I would miss Gwen and Wyatt.”

Caroline: The Ventrue looks away. She takes several steps into the unused apartment’s kitchen to let them talk. And to hide her expression, collect her thoughts.

GM: “That’s not even her name. She’s really Isabel Flores. Her dad used to be, well, I guess is, buds with Caroline’s.”

“Well, everyone lies about their names. But Ventrue can start earlier.”

“Sally isn’t yours, is it?”

“I’ve always liked Sally better.”

Caroline: Jocelyn leaving New Orleans… moving onto another city. She doesn’t know how to feel about that. An hour ago she’d have shouted no, but…. the secrets with Evan sting. If it was just a secret it would be bad enough, but she can’t help but feel as though Jocelyn was using her.

Her paramour’s attempt to manipulate her sire only makes that more acute, reminds her unpleasantly of the night not long past when she manipulated Caroline into staking her clanmate.

GM: The apartment’s kitchen does look used to Caroline’s casual inspection. Not as used as some, but there’s a few dishes in the sink, a box of cereal and condiments out on the table, and a refrigerator still in place.

Caroline: All the more complicated, the truth is getting out of New Orleans might actually be better for Jocelyn. She’s heard her paramour’s complaints about the guilds, about how her art goes completely unappreciated by the elder Toreador of the city.

And New Orleans isn’t getting any safer.

It was not a stretch to suggest Jocelyn could have easily met Evan’s fate to Sally.

GM: Jocelyn and her sire talk, but not for that much longer. Sally recommends she take pictures, and wistfully remarks on how it’s too bad she couldn’t have snapped any during their fight. Jocelyn agrees. They’d have been such intense, personal things, like the ones she took of Lizzy after she died. They’re her finest pieces, if more than a little morbid—“Well, that’s why. There’s so much of you in them,” Sally says.

Caroline: She listens, but their conversation, the normalcy of it also stings. She turns on the sink, drowning out the conversation as best she can with the noise and the mundane task of washing the few dirty dishes. At least it feels productive.

GM: The older Toreador eventually says she has to go. Jocelyn looks reluctant at that thought, but acquiesces. Sally asks her to bring her paramour back into the room, adding,

“Caroline, I was very happy to meet you, even under these circumstances. Jocelyn’s had so many good things to say… about how smart you are, how devoted, how you have so many plans for her and you both.” There’s a faint chuckle. “And how you spoil her rotten with new clothes all the time. I’ll be in the city eventually… we can do this over, and properly.”

Caroline: “I’ll look forward to it,” Caroline replies, putting on a friendly tone.

GM: Jocelyn seems reluctant to end the call, but eventually does after exchanging final goodbyes with her sire. She looks over the kitchen with Caroline curiously.

“Were you washing those, the dishes?”

Caroline: “It was something to do,” Caroline replies, the false life of her goodbyes with Sally gone.

GM: “Kinda figured you’d never have done that yourself before. No offense.”

Caroline: Caroline chuckles. “We only had a maid 9-5.”

GM: “Well, that’s one upshot to being dead. Meg’s one 24/7.”

“The dishes are hers, you probably guessed. Not that she really eats a lot.”

Caroline: “Yeah.” Caroline looks to the drying dishes, then back to her paramour.

“So… you’re leaving New Orleans for a while?”

GM: Jocelyn hesitates, then answers, “It’s a pipe dream. Skyman…”

“Or, well, maybe. I could ask. But I can’t just skip out.”

Caroline: “You should go,” Caroline replies. “If you can. It sounds like you’d enjoy some time with your sire.”

GM: “Yeah, I probably would. But… I don’t know. Who knows.”

“I’m sorry about hiding the Evan thing.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a not-sigh that is reminiscent of Sally’s. “Did you love him? Want to be with him?”

GM: Jocelyn seems to think. “I liked, cared about him a lot. As a friend, and in the sack. Is that love if someone checks both boxes?”

Caroline: “Maybe,” Caroline replies dully. “I’m sorry I couldn’t find him for you.”

GM: “It’s not your fault. Sally said she thought you were right. That he’s… ash.”

“But I’m not sure I’d have wanted to be with him. It was fun. Exciting. But… he and Roxanne were a thing. She was a lot better when he was around.”

Caroline: I should pick a fight.

This would be a great excuse to split with Jocelyn. Caroline’s seen how Evan’s disappearance has affected the Toreador. She doesn’t want to imagine how her own disappearance will. Especially given how dangerous poking around into it would be. That’s the most likely outcome, she has to admit. That she’ll fail, get executed by one side or the other.

Red tears well in the Ventrue’s eyes. She should say something, something cruel, hurtful, something to shove Jocelyn away.

Those words don’t come.

“You made a mess of the couch,” she says instead, looking at where the Toreador’s bloody tears have stained it. “And your shirt… and your jeans.”

GM: Jocelyn walks up to Caroline, standing to her tiptoes to wipe the taller Kindred’s tears away.

“Hey. You can buy me new ones.”

Caroline: “Even if she came, even if she killed Meadows, it wouldn’t make life better,” Caroline says, more soberly.

GM: Jocelyn pauses, the mirth on her face fading.

Caroline: “I want you to be happy,” she continues, taking Jocelyn’s bloody hand in hers. “And safe, but I can’t do what you need to do in order to achieve that.”

GM: “I know. I’m not asking you to take on Meadows without Sally.” Jocelyn closes her eyes. “But I… I can’t do it. I can’t go on like this just hasn’t happened.”

Caroline: “I’m not asking you too,” Caroline replies. “Be angry. Be upset. Let the memory of this matter to you, and do something with it. Something that lets you change things.”

GM: “The Sanctified aren’t what I thought,” Jocelyn says.

“It’s like… waking up from a spell.”

“I wasn’t that religious when I was alive. They said they had all the answers after I got turned.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lower lip. “I can’t tell you what to do with your faith. I won’t tell you that the Sanctified have provided me with great comfort. You know, I think, better than anyone how tenuous that relationship has always been. Father Elgin has been better than it was, but I know his patience is growing… thin.”

GM: “Can see why, honestly. You’re a pretty lame Sanctified not trying to keep me on the bandwagon.”

Caroline: “So sue me for not proselytizing, if you can find another lawyer lick.” Caroline gives a wry smile. “But let me finish first.”

“Like the Catholic Church, the Sanctified ultimately seem worried about your soul, and about your purpose in God’s plan. Even if I weren’t a walking corpse I’d believe in God; as one I think you’d have to be a fool not too.”

“They want to save as many as they can, so yes, they tell you they have every answer in the same way a man trying to coax a drowning man into a lifeboat might promise him anything.”

“But while the church might offer spiritual succor, save for the few that make up the clergy—and few enough of them even—it cannot offer you temporal purpose.”

GM: “I’m not sure about that. I mean, the prince, the seneschal, most of the hounds, even Savoy, aren’t all clergy. But you have to be in the club.”

Caroline: “There’s a difference between being in the club, and making the club your purpose unto itself. The prince, seneschal, hounds… their power is not tied to their service to God. Prayer and adherence to the tenants of Longinus does not alone a comfortable Requiem make. Anymore than attendance of mass and regular tithing makes the average parishioner… well, a Malveaux.”

GM: “So you’re saying, what, God and Longinus just aren’t really that important?”

“I think you’re right, anyway, that there’s not really explanation for why we exist without God. But, well, screw the church.”

Caroline: “I’m saying there are a lot of people that go to church every Sunday because they think if they do God will make them rich and solve all their problems, and most of them live out pretty mundane lives.” She bites her lower lip again.

“Look at all the people that follow Ole Josteen and the bullshit prosperity gospel he preaches—and look at how few of them actually go anywhere. And you know who the saddest ones are? The people that buy all his books, that listen to his podcast, that volunteer at his megachurch, that spend all their time trying to mirror him. Because they’re chasing something in faith it’ll never bring.”

“I’m saying take the faith. Even take the church, but don’t make it the center of your Requiem.”

GM: “It sounds to me like you’re saying it’s all a scam. I can buy that. Look where it got Evan.”

Caroline: “Which probably isn’t going to make me popular in any Sanctified circles, but… how many Kindred do you see who are just good Sanctified?”

GM: “Evan was a good Sanctified. Look where that got him.”

Jocelyn pulls out her phone and sits back down in the living room. “God, how to even break this to the others. Wyatt and Gwen will just be sad. Roxanne will fall off a cliff.”

Caroline: “You don’t. Don’t burn bridges for no reason. Don’t make a big show of leaving the Sanctified, just… start taking care of yourself.”

GM: “I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about telling the others Evan’s dead.”

“I dunno. Just have to break it to them like anything else, I guess.”

Caroline: “What do you want out of it?” Caroline asks quietly.

GM: “Well, Roxanne not to completely lose her shit. I’m pretty pissed at her, but… she’s not gonna take it well.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “What else?”

GM: “Just that, really.”

Caroline: The Ventrue frowns.

GM: “What?”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “Nothing. It’s just…. do you actually want things to change?”

GM: “Uh, right now I’m a little more worried about Roxanne going off the deep end. She’s going to explode over this.”

Caroline: “Maybe,” Caroline replies. “But perhaps not. It’s a question of how you present it.”

GM: “Well if you have some idea how to stop her, I’m all ears.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “She’s smart, Jocelyn, smart enough to know what the odds are now of a happy ending…”

“Just don’t beat her over the head with it. The longer it goes…” She shrugs again.

GM: “I’m not gonna drag it out, no. It’s been awful having it in the air for so long already, and to just keep getting strung along.”

She closes her eyes for a moment.

“I think I always knew. Just kept and kept hoping.”

Caroline: “There’s always hope,” Caroline replies. “We haven’t actually seen his death.”

“But it’s time to move on. I just want to make sure you all do it in a way that keeps this from happening ever again.”

GM: “Like how, besides not screwing any of the Baron’s people on the side?”

Caroline: Caroline gives a sharp laugh. “I guess that’s one way, but I mean more generally, not being in a position where your continued existence is entirely at the whim of whatever mediocre lick or nutjob human takes offense to you.”

She gestures around them. “I worry about you here. Worry about just you and Meg. About how easily what happened to him could happen to you.”

GM: Jocelyn looks at Caroline. “Okay, you’ve been acting kinda weird this whole conversation. Say what you’re getting at?”

Caroline: “Honestly?” the Ventrue sighs. “You got super pissed off about all of this, but you don’t seem to be willing to actually do anything about it except throw a tantrum and ask others to fight for you. Like… any of you. You’ve been in New Orleans for how long? And how much do you have to show for it? I get that you all aren’t trying to be blue bloods, but hell, no wonder other licks fuck with you guys so much.”

“Why wouldn’t Rocco make Gwen suck dick to punish her? Why wouldn’t Meadows—or whoever—just clip Evan without worrying about repercussions? No one looked at it a second time or gave it a second thought because you guys don’t matter, and because any number of possible reasons are plausible for his destruction—from lone hunter to random lick.”

“In my first few nights after the Embrace, I had my haven invaded half a dozen times. Every time I got pissed… but you know what I did? Something fucking about it. And yeah, I’m not invincible, but Wright would sure as hell think twice about storming in with a bunch of ni—gangbangers tonight.”

“Your reaction was to call your sire? There’s four of you!” Caroline almost snarls. “Four!”

GM: “No he wouldn’t,” Jocelyn interrupts. “And four of us are not fucking Meadows! You can’t win against licks like them. You just lose even if you do.”

Caroline: “It’s not about winning.” Caroline replies.

GM: “Well that’s what I want, I want Meadows DEAD! Excuse me for trying to call in the trump card when I really needed it!”

“And she did shit still. You know, I can’t believe I’m not upset at her. Evan’s still dead and her best idea was ‘take a vacation.’”

Caroline: “And what happens next time a lick kills off one of you? Or beats you into torpor? Or when a hunter that isn’t a joke makes a run at one of you and you’re nothing but ash? What’s your plan for when the city falls into chaos and infighting if the prince goes to sleep?”

GM: “I don’t fucking know, Caroline,” Jocelyn says tiredly. “Get out like Sally’s saying. I don’t know.”

“The harpies make fun of you,” she suddenly says. “For how you drag so many ghouls everywhere. Like somehow only you know how to shove juice down a breather’s throat. Rich girl can’t handle not being on top.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs, “Of course they do.”

GM: “I don’t know if you think you’re doing better than us or whatever, but you’re not. Your thing with the ghouls. It’s just stupid. And you can be all ‘whatever, I don’t care what they think’, but you’re not above them. Above any of us. Meadows could ash you like Evan and how many licks would give a damn? How many would actually do jack, huh?”

Caroline: “They want you weak, Jocelyn. They want you doing exactly what you’re doing. They make fun of me?” She laughs again, bitterly. “Of course they do, because if what I’m doing succeeds that’s fucking terrifying to them. You think they’re up at night worrying about Anarchs playing billiards in a bar or stomping around the poor neighborhoods in packs?”

GM: “I can’t believe your ego,” Jocelyn scoffs. “You do realize no other lick does what you’re doing, with the renfields? The whole reason they’re laughing is you’re NOT succeeding. Wake up, fucking ANYONE can make a renfield! You’re not special for having a bunch! And I can tell you this, a whole bunch of Anarchs have a whole lot more respect than you do. It’s not even just Coco. But you can’t even imagine it with your ego. You’re just such hot shit, right?”

Caroline: Caroline feels her blood rising, feels the Beast stirring, but tries to shove it away. It’s like trying to stop an avalanche.

“You’re right. I should take a page out of the Storyvilles’ book,” she spits venomously. “You all seem so happy and well-treated as lapdogs. Just keep doing what you’ve been doing. That seems to be working well.”

GM: “And maybe we should take one out of yours and make a million more ghouls to fellate our egos, since no other licks’ll do it for us,” Jocelyn says with a roll of her eyes. “You keep doing what you’ve been doing, too, since that seems to be working well. At least we aren’t getting laughed at.”

Caroline: Caroline falls silent, staring balefully at Jocelyn.

Finally, she speaks again. “Est via uno modo vitare reprehensionem, nihil dicam nisi quod est nihil.”

She smiles. “It’s from Aristotle. Something my father used to say, back when he was just starting out in politics. When he was running for state office.”

“There is only one way to avoid criticism: Do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”

“I don’t have all the answers, Jocelyn. I don’t even have most of them. But I do have one: doing what all the other young licks are doing—the ones that don’t have some powerful sire propping them up like Becky Lynne—doesn’t seem to get you very far.”

“And if I’m going to fail, it’s going to be going out like Icarus.”

“I’m not better than you. Not in any way but one: I’m not going to be stopped by what someone says, or what someone might do.”

“I don’t know if I would have been willing to do that if I hadn’t been forced to, if I hadn’t been pushed out, had some outside influence. Maybe I would have been comfortable just eking out an existence waiting on my blood to thicken. Waiting on some fortune to fall in my lap. On others to make a mistake. On my ‘loyalty’ to be rewarded a century down the line. But I did get that push. I’d like this to be yours.”

Her smile softens, loses the hard edge it had, “That doesn’t mean I think you should go make a half dozen ghouls each. It doesn’t mean you have to fill every waking hour of every night. But you can’t tell me that with four of you that if you were so inclined, you couldn’t do more. Maybe you didn’t have any reason to until now. Maybe you were comfortable pretending like nothing changed, like you were still just twenty-something kine going about your nights.”

“And hell, you still can. But that’s the price.” She gestures to Jocelyn’s bloody clothes. “And one night the price is going to be someone else crying over you instead.”

GM: Jocelyn gives Caroline a look that’s at once plaintive and tired. “Look, I’m not… I’m not a lot of things. I just don’t want any more of my friends to die, and to have a Requiem where I’m not always getting shat on. So if you have some plan or idea for how to make that happen, I’m all ears. Really. Just…”

She gestures haplessly. “Just be a bit less Ventrue about it to me, okay?”

Caroline: “You’re the only person to ever say that to me,” Caroline replies.

“Look, I’m not saying you all should copy me, but I am saying of each of you took on one more ghoul, someone capable, and dug out a niche, there’s no reason you couldn’t be way more influncial.”

“Using your art skills to help people maintain their Masquerade, and maybe picking up some classes on the side in forensics. Maintaining a little herd that could be loaned out, even if mostly to each other. Identifying marks for other licks…”

GM: “Marks?”

Caroline: “Potential victims? I’d much rather go snack on some douchebag, but spare time to find only the bad shitty people isn’t exactly overflowing. I bet you could find a market amoung the Sanctified for identified assholes in need of correction.”

GM: Jocelyn looks dubious. “How does that work?”

“Forensics classes sound boring. But if someone wants to pay me to doctor some photos, sure, I wouldn’t say no.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs, “the forensics stuff is mostly a mindset. Attention to detail, and knowing how other people might try to take apart your work makes it easier to get around it.”

GM: “Look, this is the most un-Ventrue thing to say ever, but… I’m not an, what would you call it, I guess entrepreneur. A be your own boss and go network and whatever type. I’d rather someone just… tell me what to do. If that means things will turn out okay, I’m happy with that.”

“I just want to do my art and have a non-horrible Requiem. I thought the Storyvilles were a way to that, but…”

* “I just want to do my art, hang out with my friends, have a non-horrible Requiem. I thought the Storyvilles were a way to that, but…”

She pauses for a moment, then says, “But they’re not. Not Skyman, and not Roxanne, not now that Evan’s… dead.”

“So just… just tell me what do, Caroline, so things will stop being horrible.”

Caroline: Caroline isn’t sure if it ever stops being horrible, but she doesn’t say that. Not now.

Just because it hasn’t for Caroline, doesn’t mean it won’t.

“Are you actually ready to change things?” she asks.

GM: “No, I’m indecisive and just completely changed my mind about everything again.”

Caroline: The Ventrue shows fangs in a toothy smile. “Fine, first, anytime one of the Storyvilles need something, point them or nudge them towards me.”

GM: “Okay, sure.”

Caroline: “Second, we’re going to find you a ghoul you can put up with that’s a little more… useful, than Meg, as proof of concept for the others.”

GM: “Meg is useful,” Jocelyn protests. “She’s just… not a Casquette Girl.”

“I haven’t really needed any others though. I’ve got enough juice for Meg, but more’d be pushing it.”

Caroline: Caroline arches a very skeptical eyebrow.

GM: “I’m not kidding. She does what I need and doesn’t take a lot of juice.”

Caroline: “She’s a great servant,” Caroline agrees. “Saying she’s ‘just not a Casquette Girl’ is like observing I’m not the sheriff’s favorite lick in the city. The Pope isn’t a Protestant.”

GM: “Yeah. You’re… kinda lucky he hasn’t offed you.” Jocelyn looks uncomfortable.

Caroline: “If he thought he could, he probably would,” Caroline clarifies. “There’s no luck involved.”

GM: “Uh, no offense, but, if the sheriff wanted to, I think he could.”

Caroline: “Physically, probably,” Caroline agrees. “But it’s pretty far from that simple.”

GM: “Actually, no, you… kinda don’t have any friends.”

Jocelyn’s brow furrows.

“That’s really weird. That he hasn’t.”

Caroline: Caroline’s green eyes are hard, “killing me would be extremely inconvenient for the sheriff,” she says again, firmly.

“For a number of reasons, none of which I advertise, and none of which involve luck or him waking up every night and deciding to be charitable.”

GM: “Well, I hope you feel you can share with me.”

Caroline: “Because you don’t have any secrets from me?” Caroline reproaches.

Her tone softens as she continues, “In broad strokes, like you’ve painted, my entire Requiem is built around not getting executed or casually destroyed like so many other licks have.”

“From the agreements I made after the Matheson fiasco and whom-with, to my induction into the Sanctified, to the ghouls I bring with me everywhere, to the fortification of my haven, to the liasons with other powerful licks, to the secrets I have on a dead-woman switch, to the ways I’ve colored so carefully in the lines over the last six months, I’ve built almost everything around it being too costly, too risky, and too inconvenient to kill me off.”

“You scoffed when I commented on Wright storming the Giani Building, but there’s truth to what I said. It’s probably one of the ten or fifteen most heavily fortified havens in the city. The sheriff could take it, like any castle can be taken, if he really wanted to, but it would be bloody, noisy, and drawn-out, and he’d have to come himself. And I wouldn’t just wait in my penthouse for him to cut through ghouls and steel doors.”

“The harpies can laugh all they want about my entourage of ghouls, but it would make it damn inconvenient to make me disappear without a trace—and probably costly.”

“That’s on the physical side—actually making it happen, especially without a fuss.”

“There’s the other, Masquerade-specific problems too. I didn’t just hold onto my place within the Malveaux family for so long because I was stubborn. Killing off another senator’s child in short order is the type of thing that would invite all sorts of attention, and my kine family is far from the only group of influential and interested kine.”

The Ventrue’s tone is sharp, justifying rather than explaining. “And the politics of it all? You know better than anyone my joining of the Sanctified wasn’t entirely due to my deep faith in the Testament of Longinus, especially at the time. That was as much politics as anything, for everyone involved. It was good optics for the prince to have a new member of the flock in the aftermath of the trial, and that had lingering value as well: executing the person you just propped up as an image of your mercy doesn’t exactly play well with swing voters.”

“The Ventrue stuff? I probably would have played ball anyway, but there was a lot more incentive to bend the knee to everyone involved because it had the right look to powerful people, and continued the narrative, and didn’t give anyone a reason to agree with offing me officially.”

“And so on, and so on. Every move weighed against commitments I’ve made. Every agreement balanced to keep me inoffensive, to leave doors open, as I’ve slowly built something for myself that might become something more.”

“And beyond that, the other factors in play. The doubt that enters the mind of the plenty of Anarchs that’d like to make a run, at the way the previous ones got their fucking heads cut off. The questions people have about how René got delivered to the prince—because the sheriff and his hounds sure as hell know the story about them having anything to do with it is as full of shit as a Christmas turkey.”

The Ventrue scowls. “Lucky? If you think luck is the reason I’m here you’re as happy as a dead pig in the sunshine.”

GM: Jocelyn looks at Caroline with what’s by turns.

“You know… I kind of wish you had an elder like Matheson for your sire. It’d… it’d suit you.”

Caroline: Caroline tries to keep her face impassive. “Yeah, well… how great has that worked out for plenty of them?” she lies.

“I’m sure that for every Becky Lynne there’s plenty of Emmanuel Costas.” She bites her lower lip. “For now, I’m content to be Caroline Malveaux, and whatever comes of it… well, at least it’ll be because of what I’ve done.”

There has to be a reason, she tells herself. Some valid reason, some plan, behind everything she’s gone through. Behind waking up alone in the night, behind being dogged every night of her Requiem by her sire’s servants.

It’s all for the best, she trusts.

She just wishes she felt that way too.

Caroline V, Chapter IX
Emmett's Last Use

“Sucks to be you. Though still not as much as me.”
Emmett Delacroix

Wednesday evening, 14 October 2015, PM

Caroline: There’s so much to do, seemingly every night, and only the addition of further servants to Caroline’s retinue makes it manageable. In particular, Ms. Widney aggressively plans out Caroline’s evenings, filling in meetings and keeping them firmly to task within their lanes. She cuts out extraneous distractions. It makes time for things otherwise impossible to manage. Things like…

Framing Em, to have the one time small time crook brought back to the city for testimony, and thus far earlier access for Caroline, is not terribly difficult in principle, especially with the forensic samples Turner and Autumn acquired when dropping off the corpse of Eight-Nine-Six’s ghoul. Clothing, hair from a brush. It’s the basis of a narrative, when combined with a few rumors spread by Diego’s criminal contacts—another welcome addition—and Caroline’s own powers of manipulation. Em, not the criminal mastermind, not the vicious killer, but Em, with his fingers in so many pies, with connections to so many killers.

And many of those killers are still active, and the killing has not stopped. It’s a delicate thing, putting that narrative in place, tying him to them carefully enough that the police are interested. Tying him to recent atrocities and violence tightly enough for the police to tug on the thread, and pull him back within Caroline’s reach. But then, Caroline’s touch is increasingly delicate. Emmett, the concierge of crime. She doesn’t quite smile at the thought. With the police already so hot about him and his family, it’s not as hard a sell as it might have otherwise been.

She keeps Savoy in the loop—as she said she would—but very intentionally does not go to him for guidance. She plans, executes, and informs—taking on changes he requests but not seeking them. After all she has asked already, and the assistance he’s giving her elsewhere, she’s determined to let this project stand on its own—at least in these early stages.

The Ventrue tries not to tell herself that she’s trying to prove something to the charismatic Toreador, but she’s far to intelligent to run from the fact that trying to impress him, or at least not disappoint him, isn’t far from her mind.

GM: Emmett’s second framing proceeds along.

Caroline had the “luck” to be present at the Central City shooting with Eight-Nine-Six. Beyond that, it swiftly becomes apparent that the privileged heiress knows little about what crime is like in New Orleans’ poorer neighborhoods. Her starting point is the public crime statistics she can pull up on a Sunpad from her room in Harrah’s New Orleans Hotel. Perhaps to her surprise, the infamous Ninth Ward does not rank among the top three. The neighborhood with the highest crime rate is Little Woods, located all the way off in New Orleans East—practically in the bayous. The second-highest is Central City, closer to Em’s usual stomping grounds. The third-highest is the French Quarter, and was where he lived.

Antoine Savoy gratefully receives Caroline’s updates on her progress and supplies her with the occasional piece of information, but otherwise does not indicate any desire to micromanage. He talks with her about semi-related topics just as often. He confirms that yes, crime rates in the Vieux Carré are higher than in the Ninth Ward, but those statistics are skewed—there are streets where crime is much worse than others, and then of course there are the types of crimes and times they are committed. Rampart Street is more likely to see spillover from gang activity in Tremé or the Seventh and Eighth Wards, while sexual assaults and other less obvious crimes are higher on Bourbon Street.

“The tourists think they’re safe,” the Toreador elder smiles, “and so long as they do, that’s enough for NOPD.”

It wouldn’t surprise him, he continues, if the French Quarter has one the highest rates of unreported crimes. There are more Kindred in his parish than any other in the city, and they are more likely to clean up their messes than mortal criminals. The Eighth District cops, too, are particularly likely to fudge details on reports, or simply neglect to file them altogether. The French Quarter offers so many diversions and temptations to those who wear the crescent badge. There is a reason the Eighth District is the most desirable posting in the city.

“Crime is more art than science,” Savoy chuckles. “And crime is good! At least for us. The more of it there is among the kine, the less our own crimes stand out. There’s more than one reason well-to-do suburbs like Metairie don’t have many Kindred residents. But what I’m getting at, Miss Malveaux, is that NOPD’s corruption in such an already… diversion-filled part of town should play to your favor.”

Caroline, meanwhile, looks around for a prospective ghoul who has a better knowledge of the city’s mean streets than she does. She’s initially not sure where to start, and neither are Autumn or Widney: none of the women actually know any criminals.

It’s half out of whim that she turns to her sometime-housekeeper, Carla Rivera, figuring the illegal immigrant might know other people who live outside the bounds of the law. She is pleasantly surprised to learn that Carla’s brother Diego actually runs with a Latin gang called the Cottonmouths—even if she has to rape the single mother’s mind to find that out (Carla naturally being reticent to disclose such information to an employer). Carla is dubious that her brother would want anything to do with Caroline until the Ventrue once again ‘persuades’ her to set up a meeting anyway.

Diego Carlos Rivera is 20-something man with a shaved head and dead expression. He wears a wifebeater with dark stains that shows off his bulging biceps, ripped chest, and full-sleeve tattoos of a skull-faced woman with chains for her hair. A gold cross glints from around his neck. The knuckles gripping his firearm are thick and scarred.

He calls his sister’s sometime-employer a chifaldo and does not hit off with her until the Ventrue lets her supernal mien wash over him. Diego reacts with horror when Caroline reveals what she is, and mouths a prayer while drawing a cross in the air to drive off the vampiro. He does not want her blood and fears what it will do to his soul. Caroline has to forcefully mesmerize him into drinking it. He accepts the second and third drinks willingly, and is soon awash with the possibilities of what his new powers and Caroline’s patronage can do for his gang. They’ll crush the last of Terrytown’s black gangs that weren’t flushed out by Katrina. “We’ll run every corner south of the Mississippi!” he exclaims. Then he explains to Caroline what a corner is. It’s a spot where his people can sell drugs. Gangs fight over them.

Indeed, it does not escape Caroline that she has relied nigh-exclusively upon her supernatural powers to establish this foothold in New Orleans’ underworld. Diego will have far more autonomy over his gang’s operations than her other ghouls will have over their own areas of responsibility. Or as Autumn warily puts it, “In a tight pinch, you could do my job or Widney’s job… but I don’t think any of us could do his job. I mean, I don’t know the first thing about running a gang.” Outside matters of criminal law and Kindred politics, Caroline will be the one listening to Diego.

Nevertheless, now that the gangster is brought in, Caroline tells him and Autumn to handle the matter of Em’s framing. Antoine Savoy offers his own advice on related matters.

“Be careful in the Outlands, Miss Malveaux. They’re where things from the Dark start to bleed in, so not many Kindred choose to travel there. Be prepared to fight for whatever you claim.”

Caroline: “We’ll see if it’s worth fighting for first, Lord Savoy.”

GM: “Make sure you mind our prince’s laws if you decide to stay,” Savoy smiles in a chiding tone. “The sheriff and hounds still make semi-regular patrols through the area.”

Caroline: “Of course, Lord Savoy. I am, as are we all, the prince’s sworn servant after all. I wouldn’t dream of dishonoring my oath to him.”

GM: The Toreador grins and strokes his ten o’clock shadow, as if in contemplation of what further sage advice to dispense. “Silver bullets aren’t a poor thing to have on hand either. Loup-Garoux are all but unkillable otherwise.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles when he brings up silver bullets. “What else would you keep in your gun, Lord Savoy? Lead? Like a peasant?”

GM: Savoy just laughs. “A born Ventrue if I’ve ever seen one!”

Tuesday evening, 20 October 2015, PM

GM: Around a week later, Autumn reports back to Caroline that she and Diego took care of Emmett’s second framing with only a few hiccups. Louisiana’s cops are a different flavor of corrupt in Terrytown than they are in the French Quarter. Some timely applications of mesmerism smoothed over her and Diego’s occasional stumble, and they lined the cops’ pockets with bribes so that everything still adds up in their heads.

“It’s insane, just insane, how lazy these guys are. You should have seen the looks on their faces when they realized the guy they needed to catch was already locked up.”

Emmett has been linked to a drug bust in the French Quarter, and should thus be held in Orleans Parish Prison, where Cécilia’s stalker Mouse was also sent—and Amelie Savard is due to be sent, if she wakes up from her coma in time. (Caroline hasn’t heard any news on that front.) All that remains is to gain access.

Caroline: Even as the framing is in progress (perhaps as a sign of her confidence in Autumn’s ability to pull it off) Caroline sets a meeting with Coco to discuss gaining access to the prison—or at least not stepping on any toes as she arranges it. She tells herself that her pull towards Coco is purely practical, but can’t resist the tingle in the back of her head as she arranges the meeting.

GM: Jennifer Haley tells Caroline to come by Blaze in several nights. The shithole bar is as loud and raucous as ever, and the Mardis Gras beads spelling ‘FUCK YOU’ are missing several beads at the top of the ‘o.’ Coco sits at a table in the back, nursing a rose cocktail. She wears a black tank top under a leather jacket that’s less scuffed than the other patrons’. Her once-red hair is now pale blue.

Caroline: Caroline smirks as she considers how much easier it is for Kindred to manage that kind of rapid and frequent shift in hair color. No worries about damage to hair from frequent dye jobs. After introductions she takes a seat opposite the Brujah primogen with her own drink.

“Do you shave it then re-dye it in the morning?” she asks, answers.

GM: “The late evening, usually,” Coco replies.

Caroline could picture another Kindred smirking. But the elder Brujah’s eyes don’t seem to fully take in the Ventrue. Her lips remain still.

Caroline: Caroline fights to keep the frown off her face as she continues, “I was hoping to arrange a visit with someone in your domain. Well, nominally.”

GM: Coco absently motions for her to go on.

Caroline: “He’s currently staying at the parish prison.” The Ventrue opens her folded hands on the table.

GM: “I’m sure he’ll appreciate the visit. It’s not a fun place to spend one’s time.”

Caroline: Caroline smirks. “Well, I do try to spread joy wherever I go.”

GM: “You have my leave to spread some to the local jail. But given the rightness of your purpose, maybe you shouldn’t have to ask me.” Coco takes a sip of the reddish-pink drink. “Que chacun se met à sa place.”

(“_Let every man put himself where he pleases.”_)

Caroline recognizes the quote. It’s what Louis XVI supposedly told his domestic servants after participants in the Women’s March on Versailles all but forcibly relocated his family to Tuileries Palace in Paris.

Caroline: “Est-ce qu’il a réellement dit cela?” Caroline asks with a smirk.

(“Did he actually say that?”)

GM: “What made Napoleon a strategic genius was his ability to organize,” Coco remarks, her eyes still only half there. “He determined that what would make an army unbeatable was its mobility and capacity to adapt faster than the enemy to changing circumstances. He broke his forces into small divisions and gave his field marshals freedom to make decisions in the moment without having to consult him. This led to chaos, but he enjoyed the room for creativity it allowed. He encouraged soldiers on all levels to show initiative, and gave them the chance to rise from the bottom to the top, just as he had done. This Grande Armée did not merely fight in the Revolution’s name, but implemented its ideals on a strategic level.”

Caroline: “C’est donc avec vous?” Caroline asks.

(“So it is with you?”)

GM: “It worked masterfully. Napoleon won battle after battle,” Coco simply continues in English. “He would not march to proscribed places to meet the enemy in open battle, but threw his divisions into scattered patterns. Depending on how the enemy reacted, he would close in from several directions. His revolution in warfare was strategic, not technological. He had a better idea and exploited it to the maximum.”

“Napoleon’s model for success did not die with him. It’s applicable to any group operating in a transitional period in history—where speed and mobility triumph over ponderous older methods. It means paying supreme attention to how one’s group is organized and creating a structure that fits the times.”

“We’ve seen it even among modern tech companies. Macroware operated with layers of bureaucracy, gigantic staffs of engineers, and intensive testing of all products prior to their release, which was handled by large-scale sales and marketing teams. Their machine was slow and lumbering, and rolling out new products took years. Hooli, in contrast, had a small engineering staff, no marketing or sales team, and self-managed employees who were encouraged to release early and often, and to independently research new ideas. They undercut Macroware’s monopoly just like Napoleon smashed coalition after coalition of rival nations’ outmoded armies.”

“Hooli’s company culture promoted the idea they were the spearhead of a revolution: the company that would give the entire world free access to information. Macroware’s employees simply collected paychecks. Again and again, during times of great transition, small bands of men and women with great ideas march forward to change the world. And they do. Then they stop changing, and the world passes them by.”

“The Grande Armée’s rapid forced marches and proclivity for living off the land served it well in the geographically small, densely populated, and agriculturally rich central Europe. Old order Austrian and Prussian armies were left dazed and confused. But Russia was geographically vast, thinly populated, agriculturally sparse, and had a poor network of roads. Troops grew sick drinking mud puddles and eating rotten food and forage. They hadn’t even intended to take Moscow, initially, but Napoleon wanted the costly campaign to be worth it. He was not prepared for the Russians to simply let him have the city. They knew the harsh winter would drive him out within the year. And it did. Napoleon had stopped thinking in terms of tactical realities and instead let his ego drive his actions, refusing to adapt his tactics to changing circumstances. He become as lumbering and obsolete as the very armies he had once smashed. The changing world passed him by.”

“Already we see indications of that obsolescent thinking in today’s tech companies and social revolutionaries. I wonder what their Russia will be.”

Caroline: Caroline listens to the elder’s lecture.

“Has the Brujah primogen found herself out in the cold?” she finally asks. “I find that hard to believe.”

GM: Coco gives the nauseous-smelling concoction in her glass another swish. “People I knew believed in Napoleon with all their hearts, and died for him in Russia. For his mistakes.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes glitter. “Ah, this is a cautionary tale then.”

GM: “I don’t know why I had a ghoul rouse me to catch a glimpse of his funeral procession. The sun’s rays burned no less painfully, for all the day’s cold. The people had turned him into a god, but he was never anything but a man.”

Coco’s gaze lingers on her glass. “Go visit your friend, Caroline.”

Caroline: The Ventrue’s gaze lingers on the Brujah elder. “Just like that?”

GM: “Just like that.”

Caroline: Wisdom and experience bid Caroline to take it and go, but something else pulls on her.

“Are you quite all right, Coco?”

GM: Coco looks several years younger than Caroline does, now that the Ventrue considers it. Her facial features have less definition; less firmly set aspects, fewer character lines that would have eventually become wrinkles. It’s an almost incongruent detail. She isn’t a marble statue like Matheson, or timeless like Maldonato, whose medieval garb in his Moorish palace seemed like the dominant reality rather than a discordant anachronism. The Brujah’s facial expressions, body language, and other subtle ways of comporting herself simply seem more like Claire’s than a 20-something’s. But they are more languid, more reserved, than even Caroline’s mother. They have more in common with those elderly Okinawans who continue to run, swim, and sweat alongside their great-grandchildren. It’s only when Caroline really looks at Coco that it becomes apparent the elder Brujah could pass for one of the giggling coeds she feeds upon. Could have been one of those giggling coeds, if she were born in another time and place.

“I’m just fine, Caroline,” she answers. “Nowhere that I haven’t been before.”

The echo of a smile brushes over her lips. “That’s the great comedy of it all. I’ll be just fine.”

Caroline: Eternal youth. What a lie. Caroline can see the years weighing down on Coco, centuries of life, and loss, and suffering. Of decisions made and prices paid. How many years has Caroline aged in the last couple of months? How much do those choices weigh upon her? And she came from everything, a mortal life lived in comparable splendor and comfort.

How old does Coco feel? How tired of fighting?

And how capable is she? In months Caroline has found within herself a lethality, cold-bloodlessness, and brutality she’d never known. How much more dangerous is a Kindred that has lived through centuries. The thought sends a shiver through Caroline.

Why then does she press on? Is it the blood bond? The subtle but impossible to ignore pull toward Coco? That twisted pull of affection that she knows, if she were to drink again, would pull her further and further towards infatuation? Or is it her own weariness, and her own loneliness. Her own frustration. Even as she’s filled her life with ghouls, with plots, with plans, Caroline feels more alone now than she ever has in her life. Distant from her ‘family’ with the great plunge coming. Family that has meant so much, that has dominated her life. Distant in faith, which she clung too, and still does, in its own distorted, perverted form. She is so alone.

Idiot. From the French, idiota meaning ‘an ignorant person’ and in turn from the Greek ‘idiōtēs’ meaning a private person. Aristotle called humans social creatures, insisted that it was in the nature of man to crave connections to others, and that those that were isolated from their own kind, the hermits, the outcast, were less than human. She certainly feels that way, and knows it can’t continue. She has plans within plans. Plots within plots for the future, but in this seeing moment of opportunity, she can’t resist. Can’t help herself.

“I’m certain that you’ll survive, and once more emerge from it stronger than before,” she begins. “But fine is another matter altogether.” Caroline shuffles. “I don’t think I’m on your Christmas card list right now, but I don’t know that I have to be to see that something is clearly bothering you, eating at you. Everything I’ve seen suggests you deserve better.”

Caroline digs out a card and sets it on the table. It’s simple, plain, heavy weight paper with ten numbers and two dashes.

“This is direct, not to my ghoul like the number I called Ms. Haley on. If there’s something I can do, please call.”

GM: Coco’s eyes drift towards the professional-looking phone card. “That’s thoughtful of you to offer.”

“I’ve not known many people, or Kindred, who got what they deserve. But it’s touching you think I should be one of them.” The Brujah finishes the last of her pinkish cocktail, leaving only the cherry at the glass’ bottom. “You should visit your friend, Caroline.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Good advice.” She finishes her own drink—more to prove a point than anything, and rises.

“The offer remains open, in any case, Primogen Duquette. A pleasure, as always.” She leaves the card on the table.

Thursday evening, 22 October 2015, PM

Caroline: The Ventrue digs through her own contacts—and takes advantage of the prison’s proximity to the CBD—to build her plan for reaching Emmett in the prison and getting out. She targets deliveries to the prison in the evening for entry and egress, working to get official (or at least official looking) credentials for the name she’ll be using to gain entry and egress.

At the same time she digs around the prison’s staff, particularly ‘corrections officers’ (a nice euphemism for often sadistic and poorly educated ‘not police’ that administer the prison) picking out targets that she can plant buried commands in to deliver Emmett to a meeting with her during her ‘brief’ visit. It’s not so easy as it seems, but she’s able to draw heavily on Diego’s knowledge (and more, that of his associates) of the prison and how it functions to identify the proper positions that need either bribes or controls to make her plan work. Emmett’s status as a death row inmate makes it more difficult, but Caroline has resources available that no normal mortal might, and with the ability to literally plant commands in people’s minds to execute… the impossible becomes possible. Even if she is forced to shy away from the handful of sheriffs that she has to work around, rather than through.

It’s a massive undertaking nonetheless, one that she can think of few circumstances it would be worthwhile in… but an opportunity to have the tale of her night in the Dungeon… to get some of the truth of her Embrace… it’s worthwhile. Worth something.

GM: Diego laughs at Caroline when she asks about Orleans Parish Prison and chides the pampered white girl for her ignorance. He knows more about OPP than she does, yes (he’s known people who did time there), but Terrytown is part of Jefferson Parish. When he and his people saw the inside of a parish jail, it was in Gretna’s Jefferson Parish Prison. The Mississippi might as well be a wall as far as Terrytown’s criminals are concerned. What, does she imagine they take drug-filled cars on daily ferry commutes to New Orleans?

“Make us sitting ducks for 5-0,” he chides again, but he seems more amused by Caroline than anything else. “You just leave this business to me, amiga. It’s not your territory.” The ghoul’s tone is considerably less deferential than Caroline’s other servants.

Caroline: Caroline ignores it for the moment, but only just. Time will tell how useful a servant—or not—he will be to her.

GM: The easiest way to gain access to an inmate in Orleans Parish Prison, Caroline soon discovers, is to simply visit them through legal channels. Regular inmates are allowed up to three visitors with active status on their visitation lists, with visiting hours of 8 AM to 5 PM and 8 PM to 10 PM on Tuesdays through Saturdays. Any Kindred could visit Em without recourse to Caine’s gifts.

True to the Ventrue’s prediction, things are less straightforward in Em’s case. As a death roow inmate, he is only authorized to receive a single visitor on Sundays between the hours of 9 AM and 3 PM. One of Caroline’s ghouls could get to Em legally, but the grifter remains inaccessible to Caroline if she is not willing to brave Sol’s burning eye—at least, through public channels.

Some casual research by the almost-lawyer turns up that Orleans Parish Prison has something known as professional visiting rooms. These are available for use by the professional community, who include attorneys, bondsmen, law enforcement officials, licensed private investigators, approved counselors, approved clergy, approved medical professionals, approved media representatives, and approved paralegals. An inmate may receive any number of professional visits, and can even receive them outside of normal visiting hours. The warden retains discretionary authority to restrict, deny, or suspend a professional visitor’s privileges.

The legal ground is once again somewhat blurrier in Emmett’s case, but death row inmates are permitted lawyers like anyone else. Even if a prisoner is beyond all possibility or parole or judicial appeal, they still have one last option—a plea to the governor, who may exercise their power of pardon if they are sufficiently moved. Caroline remembers studying the topic only last semester under Tulane’s Professor Isaiah Wellington. The gray-haired, craggy-faced old man had described it as, “The last vestige of the divine right of kings,” because,

“The power of pardon was one of the attributes of divine right. The king could only exercise it because, as the representative of God on earth, he was above the ordinary human justice. In passing from the king to the presidents of republics, this right lost its essential character and therefore its legality. It thenceforth become a flimsy prerogative, a judicial power outside justice and yet no longer above it; it created an arbitrary jurisdiction, foreign to our conception of the lawgiver. In practice it is good, since by its action the wretched are saved. By nature, however, it is ridiculous. One has but to imagine Earl Long or Jim Jameson invested with the attributes of divinity to come to this conclusion.”

Whatever opinion Caroline’s former professor may hold on pardons, however, Em still has valid pretext over which to see a lawyer. Most death row inmates are not eloquent writers and rely on attorneys to draft their written pleas to the governor. Caroline could be that lawyer. While the names of attorneys who visit Orleans Parish Prison must appear in the current edition of the “State’s Bar Association” manual/website, and Caroline’s currently does not, paralegals are also allowed to visit inmates in a professional capacity if they have an attorney’s authorized letter designating them as that attorney’s representative.

Caroline: Caroline briefly—very briefly—toys with the headache required to get her name on the list as a licensed attorney. She ultimately settles for the easier option, roping in Denise Bowden as a potential representative for Emmett and herself, or at least an identity that shares her face (she cannot, after all, be linked to Emmett), as a paralegal for the licensed attorney in an early evening meeting.

The extra hours in the night as they race towards winter works to her advantage, even as it drives home how bitterly short the nights will be in the summer. She idly considers the idea of a summer home, some day, to rotate between the seasons. Somewhere on the far side of the world. The idea of jetting to some foreign palace for to escape the long days in the summer, the reverse of so many tourists, is a pleasant thought. It’s only a thought though.

GM: After confirming plans by phone, Denise meets with Caroline several nights later at the Caribbean Room, the fancy dining room of the small but elegant Pontchartrain Hotel in the Garden District. It is a near silent, eerie world of candlelight, white tablecloths, and waiters who look like ghosts, or even vampires in old horror movies, with their black jackets and stiff white shirts.

Denise starts off with an appetizer of crispy, still-steaming oysters that include spicy red jalapeno and bleu cheese deliciously melted over crispy greasy bacon. “I’ll make up for this with a salad entree,” Denise jokes. She orders a tomato salad, along with the mile high ice cream pie for dessert. Jet black cookie crust, meringue, marshmallow topping, chocolate syrup, and ice cream the restaurant makes from scratch over a three-day process. Denise insists on splitting the ‘pie’ with Caroline, so that “I don’t feel too guilty.”

However unlikely, a far-off summer home is something Caroline could still enjoy.

Caroline: The smell is nauseous, but Caroline has grown quite skilled at picking her seats where fans or vents blow from behind her, carrying the worst of it away from her. It makes the experience only slightly worse than sitting next to a dumpster on a hot summer day.

GM: Caroline tries to remember how a meal like that would taste. It’s harder to than it was even a month ago.

Caroline: It both helps and hurts that their server is a clean cut, good looking, and oh so delicious smelling twenty-something no doubt plugging away at a degree somewhere during the day, even if he is, like so many in the city, off limits.

The entire experience, from the food, to the candles, to the waiter works to test her ability to control the Beast’s influence, and her own ability to present herself in public: she has little doubt that far more trying evenings await than an uncomfortable meal with Denise.

“I was also thinking of a light meal tonight.” The not-quite glitter of the Kindred’s eyes in the firelight, amid flickering shadows, has a predatory gleam.

GM: Caroline catches Denise’s gaze lingering on the man too. The Kindred are not the only ones to hunger for more than food.

“Better for your health,” her old boss remarks after the man walks with their orders. Reluctantly turning her gaze back to Caroline, she continues, “Anyways, I had the stupidest client to deal with today.”

Caroline: “Oh, do share?” Caroline holds her revolting cocktail as she smiles over the smell.

GM: “So, I’m talking to a woman who wants to send us a contract she wants our client to sign,” Denise says as she forks out a cheese-melted oyster from its shell. “As you know, the name of the firm is the last names of the partners. And with five partners it’s pretty long, so our email domain name is just HMHLP.”

“Me: ‘So you want to send it to’

Woman: ‘Can you spell that?’

Me: ‘I-n-f-o-at-H-M-H-L-P-dot com.’

Woman: ‘So that’s i-n-f-o-c-h.’

Me: ’There’s no CH.’

Woman: ‘OH! I mean i-n-f-o-and.’

Me: ’There’s no ‘and.’ Where did you get ‘and’?’

Woman: ‘OH! I can’t read my writing. So it’s i-n-f-o- that email sign thingy—H-M-H-L-P-period-c-o-m. Right?’

Me: ‘Yes.’

Woman: ‘Your e-mail address is hard to figure out.’"

Denise rolls her eyes. “I’m sure she’ll wonder why we’re recommending our client not sign the contract.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs. “If she was the one who wrote it I’d say sign away.”

GM: “Oh, if only.”

Thursday night, 22 October 2015, PM

Caroline: Rather than involve her former boss, Caroline instead turns to a patsy for her purposes.

GM: The attorney whose dingy office she finds her way to at 11 PM is clad in a threadbare suit missing one of its buttons, and is himself half-passed out over a stack of legal papers. A bottle of Jamesons sits at the desk’s edge next to a gift basket of fatback, pickled pigs’ feet, cornbread, and a small peach cobbler. The red-haired man grogs fitfully when Caroline wakes him up, then grows considerably more agitated when a small gray pit bull barks madly and tries to sink its teeth into Caroline’s leg. The Ventrue commands its bleary-eyed eyed owner to lock the all but rabid animal upstairs, then to (illegally) write and sign the requisite letter. The man sleepily hands it over. Caroline commands him to let out his dog, go back to sleep at his desk, and forget she was there. He groggily assents, ignorant of the pale nightmare who disturbed his dreams. Caroline leaves his office with a letter saying she is the designated representative of Howard Sloan.

Caroline: Or at least, that Annette Merteuil is, to go with her matching documentation.
There are some additional hoops to jump through to arrange things, most mostly documents to be routed, phone calls to make, and letters to send.

GM: In comparatively short order, Annette has arranged for “her” firm to take Emmett’s case (largely drafting the plea to the governor at this point) pro bono. Sloan apparently has a history of representing clients no one but public defenders will touch. The day of Annette’s 8 PM visit to the parish prison soon looms.

Friday evening, 23 October 2015, PM

GM: It looks more like an interrogation room than what the website led Caroline to expect: bare walls and floors, bolted-down stainless steel table, two chairs, table-bolted handcuffs on the prisoner’s side. The man attached to them looks terrible. He’s dressed in an orange jumpsuit, but no feet are visible at the bottom of the too-flat pant legs. The bottom of a wheelchair is. The guards doubtlessly loaded him into one at his cell, pushed it into the interrogation room, and then didn’t bother to move aside the table’s existing chairs. Their cuffed would-be occupant consequently has little room to move his stretched-out hands. His arms are thin. His jumpsuit fits him loosely. His hair is shaggy and unkempt. His beard is short but clearly untrimmed, and only partly hides the lines marring his face. He smells like he hasn’t washed in days. His eyes are dead and vacant. He looks like he’s aged twenty years since Caroline last saw him.

That wasn’t so long before Decadence.

“You’re writing my plea,” Emmett says hollowly.

The heiress can’t tell if he recognizes her.

“You can tell the governor that he can please suck my dick,” the crippled man continues, his voice still without inflection. “I’d think of something wittier if I cared more.”

Emmett: “Wait—” He holds up a finger. “—no, it’s gone. Still don’t care.”

GM: “I was going to get you pregnant,” Em continues, “or just fake the test so you thought you were. Then you’d get an abortion, or I’d just slip you a morning-after-pill. There were a lot of ‘or justs’, up to the part where I’d blackmail you for years.”

Someone else might shrug. Maybe laugh. Em just hollowly continues,

“Didn’t pan out. Story of my life, right? I guess that didn’t pan out either.”

Caroline: There’s a spike of anger, but also a deep relief at Em’s antics.

“You know… I actually felt bad about ruining your life. Briefly. Thanks for getting rid of that for me.”

GM: “Probably lots of people who’d say thanks for getting rid of me too,” Em answers. No reaction crosses his face at Caroline’s admission of guilt.

Caroline: A toothy smile. “It’s good to know that sometimes things work out for a reason.”

Her eyes meet his. “Now… that indulgence out of the way, let’s get to what matters.”

GM: “I talk a lot these days,” Em goes on. “Always did, I guess. There’s not a lot else you can do in death row, and I’ve always been my own best audience. Or maybe I’m just such a hit with the guards they don’t wanna stick a needle in me yet. I thought they were gonna do it when I came in, but it’s been a while. Dunno how long. We don’t get clocks or calendars in there.”

There’s no regret or annoyance in his words. Just emptiness. Conversational noise filling the air.

Caroline: She sets down her folder and takes out a tape recorder.

“Tell me everything you remember about the night you lost your legs, Em. Tell me about the Dungeon.”

GM: “Oh, that?”

Caroline: Caroline sits in the uncomfortable chair to get to eye level, her long legs stretching out for eternity. “Yes, that.”

GM: “Yeah, well, I remember jack and shit, so sucks to be you. Though still not as much as me.” The scraggly-bearded man stares vacantly ahead. “They said I had AIDS and glass up my ass when I got out. I’m pretty sure I’d remember that, unless my name was Mercurial Fernandez and it was a daily occurrence.”

Caroline: “That’s cute. But I’m afraid, Em… that’s not good enough.” Caroline’s gaze burns into his. “Remember that night. Tell me about the Dungeon, and about what you saw there. About what happened to me,” she demands, finally letting the Beast run loose.

GM: Em’s mouth falls open. Not in shock. His muscles just go slack. His mouth works and clomps several times. “You… got… wow, I don’t… want… be… you…”

Caroline: “Start talking,” Caroline growls, her voice low and throaty with the Beast’s venom.

GM: “Have I… ever done… anything else?” Em asks, but the sarcasm comes out as flat, dead, and torn-up as the rest of him. Like an animal carcass dragged through a thrasher. “Dungeon’s a… ffuucckkkk…” Em winces as if struck.

“There’s a… place for… ggghhh… fucking dungeon, stone and…”

“You… guy came… heh… you had sex with your baby…”

“I don’t even… that’s… OKAY, WHAT THE FUCK ALREADY?”

“Ha… ha… you got… raped… ha… ha…”

Caroline: Caroline’s patience is long gone. The Beast takes over, and takes over Em’s mind.

“Stop, and calmly relate everything that happened to me in the Dungeon, and all conversations you overheard related to me, she demands.

GM: The man garbles and twitches. “Ten… mouths… twelve… heads… mother… spare your faithful… mother… take us into… take us into… that… which is flesh… shall not die… that… which was n-not sh-k-l… n-gh-ev…”

Tears begin to stream down the cripple’s eyes.

Caroline: Caroline has no pity for him.

GM: “It’s… s…”

Caroline:TALK,” Caroline demands again.

GM: “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, THEN YOU WILL ENTER THEKINGDOMOFHEAVEN!” Em screams in one great big lurching rush.

“G-g… god… whe… r… you… n… o… jus… can’t be.. jus… m… ee… the jungle… all they do… is watch… watch you… me… all do is blee… blee… BLEEHEEHEEHEEEEE!”

Em shrieks and howls with laughter, his cuffs dully clunking as his arms thrash. “G… g… et it… GET It AWAY! GET IT AWA-Y!”

Caroline: Caroline moves to stifle his screaming.

GM: Her hand clamps over his mouth. She feels the moisture of his tears and the wetness of his madly thrashing tongue. “G… i… i… y…” Em’s face crumbles like muffin topping as Caroline shifts her hand. “Yyy… y… mother…”

Caroline: “Repeat what you just said,” Caroline demands. “Quietly.”

GM: “You’re one… dead… bitch,” Em pants in the same dreary monotone. “One… dead… bitch… they threw you out… with the rest of the… trash… were all… done with you… him, he thought he’d… he fucking cried over it… fuck are you here… you’re dead…”

Caroline: “What did they do to me!” Caroline demands.

GM: “No, no, you were dead, he said, he said, all ten kinds of dead, all gone, time to throw you out.”

Caroline: “Who said!”

GM: “Guy who brought you.”

Caroline: “He tortured me.”

GM: “Dead, dead, dead, dead bitch in a dumpster, dead bitch in a can! Dead bitch in a trunk… dead bitch in a car… come on, baby, take a ride with me, you’re one dead bitch and we got places to see…”

Caroline: She lays on another gift of the Beast on top of that already rampaging through his mind, pulling him in the most favorable way possible as he attempts to drag the knowledge from him fail. The presence hits him like a raw wave.

GM: Em’s tears warmly trickle through her palm. “I… wish… hadn’t killed you…”

Caroline: “Me too,” Caroline murmurs, her tone more soothing.

“It’s okay, Emmett. Let’s slow down. We were there together.”

GM: Em winces.

Caroline: “Did I tell you anything when we were there?”

GM: “No. You were dead.”

Caroline: “Before I was dead.”

GM: “How the fuck should I know?”

Caroline: “You were there. You just have to remember, Em. I need you to just slow down and remember. When you got to the Dungeon, was I dead already? Answer all of my questions as completely and truthfully as you can about what happened at the Dungeon with me, Em.

She narrows her questions down, getting away from the broad inquiries that have given him so much grief and struggle.

GM: The slack-jawed cripple awaits her next query.

Caroline: Those questions begin with the mundane. Was she there when he arrived? Was she alive when he arrived? Was she hurt. Did they speak? If so, about what? How many people arrived to hurt her? What did they do? She makes him walk her through, as carefully and step by step as she can, what he witnessed of her torture and death before getting to what happened to her body when it was done. Who declared it be taken away. Who took it away? Describe them. Like a broken pane of glass she slowly begins to piece together the shattered memory in his own damaged mind. This last tenuous piece of that night, perhaps the last anywhere, trapped in the mind of a crippled death row inmate. The most important night of her life: her last.

GM: Emmett is unable to coherently answer any questions about his point of arrival. He raves and screams through Caroline’s clamped hands about being “an animal, animal, welcome to mee-heee-HEEEE!”

But yes, oh, yes, he says, Caroline was very much alive. “The way you screamed!” he manically giggles. “Live bitch to dead bitch, presto, out of the magic ha-aaa-aaaat! Hee!”

Questions about Caroline’s tormentors and their methods draw the most unintelligible responses of all. Em cries, rants, and weeps, “Every man… god in d… follow! Oh, honest, I… FFFOOOOOOOO-mmph-mm-mhnhnhnh! Haaaaa… aaaAAH! No moooore… EYES!” With another shrill muffled cry, Em starts raking at his eyeballs with his bare nails. Caroline holds him down and commands the shivering cripple to answer her next questions.

René. It was René. Emmett doesn’t know him by name, but the description is consistent with René’s appearance on the night of Decadence. René said she was dead. He was distraught. He hadn’t intended… but no, he supposed he really did. It was time to get rid of the corpse. He told someone to get rid of it. But not here. Something more… just not here.

Em couldn’t see very well. He’s not sure if the room was just dark, if he was drugged, delirious, or some combination of the three. The figure sounded male, with a soft voice—like a whip being brushed along naked breasts. Tenderly. He said he’d get rid of Caroline’s body.

“Dead, bitch, dead! Sorry… we’re all… sorry,” Em half-sobs, half-wheezes. He gingerly lies his head on the steel table and runs fingers through his shaggy hair.

Caroline: She pulls him up gently but firmly from the table. This may be her only opportunity: she’s not going to waste it. She asks about any names he heard, anything she might have said, and anything said of her. Only when she is content that she’s pulled everything she can from his broken—and now moreso—mind does she leave him in peace.

GM: There was a Courtney. Em remembers that with relatively little prompting. He woke up somewhere with a stone floor, feeling like worse than shit. There was a raggedy-voiced woman who cried and droned, “Cash Money… always gets his money… always…” Em calmed her down and got her name. When she couldn’t tell him where they were, he told her she was useless. She started hyperventilating or screaming again. Was it something he said? She had a dead mom. “Heh. Heheheh. Thaaaas meee…!” Em whispers, running his hands through his hair.

Em relates there was a woman. Another woman. He remembers the sound of high heels clicking against stone. She didn’t talk to him. Or Courtney. She just played a game of, “Eeny meeny miny moe,” between the two victims. Em’s sanity was cracking and he interrupted with a quip. He remembers the woman’s words. “The city for her. Bad pockets for him.”

Caroline: Caroline continues to lay into his fragile mind. She’s all too aware of how much damage she’s doing. How an already horrific trauma (so great that he blacked it out) has already hurt him, and how she’s making his broken mind reopen those wounds… and if he were some innocent bystander, some poor soul caught in her web, she might reconsider.

But this is Emmett. The same scumbag who was bragging about how he’d intended to get her pregnant just minutes ago. How he planned on using that life against her, how he wanted to blackmail her and ruin her. The same man that minutes ago was laughing at the fact that she was literally raped, at the memory of her rape.

She presses on. His life is already ruined. His body is ruined. Why shouldn’t his mind be too? He brought it on himself. If there was ever a soul that needed to be culled from the herd, someone too far gone to be saved. A warning for future wayward souls… the more she thinks about it the more she’s able to justify it, intellectually and spiritually. “Talk about that night!"

She doesn’t ask; she demands. She doesn’t question; she interrogates. And she doesn’t stop until she has pried from him the most complete narrative of the evening that she can. Piece by piece. Question by question. She ignores his bleeding, ignores how deeply the knowledge cuts him. To her, he’s already less than human. A thing. To be used up and thrown away. And she’s going to get one more use out of him.

GM: Cut him the knowledge does.

Emmett’s psyche bleeds.

He screams. He cries. He convulses. He shrieks. He tries to bash his own head in against the metal table. And, finally, he talks. Caroline pries out each word like a crazed dentist methodically ripping out each of her patient’s teeth. They are wet, bloody, and leave a sobbing mess of quivering flesh with each extraction—there can be no anesthesia for this operation. But they come out.

The man. The man who took Caroline. His voice. It was…. beautiful. It was the most beautiful thing Emmett saw—heard—during that sick fever dream. He could listen to that man talk for hours and not hear a single word. The man’s voice was a gentle sponge. A soothing balm. A loving caress. For a few brief moments, it could make things better.

Or maybe it just made them worse.

“Byoo… hoo-hoo-hooOOOOOO!” Em raves.

There was—there was a g—girl. Small. Young. Twelve, thirteen, fourteen. “Maa-aaaa-yybee…. tennn… miiiilyy…un! S… was… you! Youuu! Like you! S…s…ooo… HUNGRY! F… or… mmeEeheeheehHehhEhEhE! lick me up, bit by bit, bit by bit, bit by bit! She’ll lick me up, biiiit by iiiit, and… driiiink…… my…….. SOUUULLL!!!”

Her tongue was forked.

Raymond. That was. Raymond. His name. Raymond. Raymond. Raymond. He was there. “Aallways th-th-eere! Oh, Rrraaayymm… YOU LET IT HAPPEN RAYMOND! YOU LET IT HAPPEN! YOU LET IT YOU LET IT YOU LET IT-”


Auction. There’s an auction. There’s been an auction? Was an auction? Will be an auction. Yes. An auction. A place and time, where things will be sold. That’s what an auction is. Isn’t it? Wasn’t it? No. Maybe not. Raymond. Raymond is involved in the auction. Raymond is part of the auction. “He… sells… things a…t… the auction! Behold… Ray… mond… the auc…tion…eer!”

Matheson. A name. Known to Raymond. Matheson is involved in the auction too. “Matheson Matheson Batheson Fatheson Matheson Katheson Lafeson Kafison KaNaKalalajaaaaaaaa….”

Emmett slumps forward, his head clunking against the metal table. He ceases to move or speak.

A foul stench wafts from a dark stain around his crotch.

Caroline: Caroline leaves the shattered man with a parting gift of, “I was never here,” and takes her leave from him.

Part of her, that human part, wants to feel badly for what she’s done to him… but only a little bit. A wretched man meeting his own wretched fate. Isn’t that God’s will? Isn’t that what they say her purpose is? To cull the wicked and wretched from the herd?

A beautiful voice. Matheson. Raymond. A Kindred girl with a forked tongue. And an auction.

Something to go on.

Monday night, 26 October 2015, AM

GM: Savoy and Preston receive Caroline at the Evergreen to hear how her meeting with Emmett went. The smiling Fabian brings all three Kindred a “red glass” before unobtrusively receding back into the scenery.

Caroline: Caroline shares the tale of meeting with the convicted murderer, and of just how broken his mind was by the events surrounding his own dismemberment and Caroline’s ‘murder’ at the hands of René.

“Honestly, he was barely coherent, even when dominated. But he did mention something that caught my eye. Have you heard of ‘the auction’, Lord Savoy?”

GM: Savoy strokes his half-beard. “I can’t say that I have, much as it breaks my heart to disappoint a lovely woman. Maybe we should ask what an auction might sell that a Ventrue elder would want?”

Caroline: “Never a disappointment, Lord Savoy, only a new challenge.” She runs one finger around the rim of her glass musically. “I can think of all number of things… but from that particular place?” She bites her lower lip. “That did not quite seem to be to his tastes.”

GM: “That’s the real measure of success for a place like that, Miss Malveaux. Drawing in people, or Kindred, who you couldn’t ever imagine wanting something there,” Savoy remarks. He doesn’t quite chuckle, or even smile, but there is a gleam of mirth in his eyes.

Caroline: “Of most places I should think, Lord Savoy.” The irony of his statement is not lost on her amid their own relationship. “Unless they are of a particularly undesirable sort.”

GM: “Especially if they are an undesirable sort,” Preston humorlessly replies. “Did Delacroix mention anything of note beyond this ‘auction’?”

Caroline: “Sadly little. You’ve more knowledge of the Dungeon than I, Lord Savoy, but I can only imagine the horrors that go on are such that the conscious mind cannot bear them. Even dragging out what I did took… effort. One of our kind, young, with a forked tongue. Raymond….” Caroline shakes her head. “Other names to run down, but nothing I think so immediate and easily achieved as Delacroix.”

GM: Savoy nods soberly at Caroline’s initial words. “Our powers over mortal minds aren’t foolproof. Awful enough trauma, supernatural interference, unexplainable resistance, and more can all block us out.”

The Toreador drums his fingers. “Hmm. That first description could be something to go on. Having a name is even better. Do we have anything on a Raymond, Nat?”

“Yes, sir,” the Malkavian notes, scrolling through her tablet. “A neonate who presented himself to Seneschal Maldonato approximately a year ago. He claimed amnesia and ignorance of his past and clan, but that his search had led him to New Orleans for answers. The seneschal granted him permission to reside in the city on a provisional basis—until he could verify his clan and sire. He was unable to do so in the time allocated to him. Seneschal Maldonato ordered that he leave the city.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “How is that possible, if clan can be determined readily, as it was for me?”

GM: “Oh, that little ritual? It’s not always reliable,” Savoy mulls.

Caroline: “In the sense that it doesn’t always give a result, or that the results can be wrong?” Caroline asks contemplatively.

GM: “Those reasons, and any of the ones that can foul up a mortal forensics test. Those can turn up false results too, can’t they, Nat?”

“They can, sir, but inaccuracies are more frequently due to human error or deliberate interference than technical issues with the testing procedures themselves,” Preston answers.

“Don’t trust anything without verifying it at least twice,” Savoy smiles.

“Yes, sir,” the Malkavian agrees.

Caroline: “A solid philosophy,” Caroline murmurs.

GM: “It’s kept me undead so far,” the elder winks. “But beyond that little truism, Miss Malveaux, it could well be none of the Anointed ever performed that ritual for our boy Raymond. They’re usually happy to use their magic in the Lance’s formal service, which administering the archdiocese’s ‘criminal justice’ affairs falls under. But with Raymond Embraced outside the city, they might well have lacked… let’s call it probable cause, to use a term perhaps more familiar to you, to pray for Longinus’ intercession upon Raymond’s behalf. Even if he were clanless, he’d broken no laws—that anyone knew of, I suppose!—and presented himself in accordance with our customs.”

Caroline: “Meaning had he asked for the ritual, and been clanless in truth, they might have been within their rights to execute him. Making asking for such a service a dangerous affair.”

GM: Savoy nods. “Even if they didn’t mean to, could be he was scared and thought they might. Letting a priest know for sure he was Caitiff wouldn’t have won him any friends either way. I’d say our boy was smart not to limit his options there.”

Caroline: “A year, and yet he’s still in the city,” Caroline murmurs. “Presumably for a reason.”

GM: “No doubt,” Savoy nods. “But wasn’t there more, Nat?”

“Yes, sir. He did leave the city, but later returned, claiming his clan as Tremere. The warlocks appeared to have little to do with him despite that claim, though that may be simply due to the clan’s insularity. Other rumors circulated that Mr. Raymond was a Ventrue or simply Caitiff. He eventually left the city again and was not seen for months.”

“Hmm. It’s a pity we couldn’t have been of help to this Raymond in uncovering his past,” Savoy muses. “It’s an easy enough way to make a new friend. Why don’t I remember his face, Nat?”

“You were not present in New Orleans at the time of his arrival in the city, sir. Other matters subsequently occupied your attention.”

“Ah yes. Well, we can’t catch them all,” the Toreador shrugs.

Caroline: “A little trip, Lord Savoy?” Caroline asks, bemused. “Anywhere interesting?”

GM: “New York, to catch up with a few friends I made after Katrina. Quite a few eyes turned to our city then.”

Caroline: “Mhmmmmm.” Caroline doesn’t quite moan. “Good shopping. The late night scene in New York must be to die for.” There’s a hint of humor in her voice.

GM: “You can imagine, Miss Malveaux!” Savoy chuckles. “I’ve always hoped my humble parish is as close to a Kindred paradise as anyone could desire, but every city has its own character.” He chuckles again. “And room for characters.”

Caroline: “Well, Lord Savoy, it did accommodate you for a time…”

GM: Savoy laughs all the harder at Caroline’s reply. “If given the choice between having character and being a character, Miss Malveaux, I can’t deny I’d have to think on that one!”

Caroline: “I don’t know they’re mutually exclusive, Lord Savoy.”

GM: “There’s always a third way,” the Toreador concurs.

Caroline: “Is there? I should think that for the lord of the French Quarter there would be only one way: to have it all.”

GM: Savoy slaps his knee as he laughs again, full and deep. “Oh mon!” he exclaims in French. (_"Oh my!") “I think we may have a harpy in the making, Nat!”

“Perhaps so, sir,” the Malkavian replies.

“Perhaps other cities will enjoy the pleasure of your company some night, Miss Malveaux,” Savoy remarks, his laughter subsiding into a grin. “Ours might be shameless, but it would still be a terrible shame if she kept you all to herself.”

Caroline: “I bet you say that to all the sireless fledgling heiresses, Lord Savoy,” Caroline smiles as she leans back and crosses her legs.

GM: “I do, Miss Malveaux. For who but the most clever and resourceful of new Kindred could dance that perilous minuet of no sire, no knowledge, and no allies—only to finish it with her partners breathless and her audience agape, not merely surviving, but prospering?” Savoy answers, his features settling into an easy smile. “‘Sireless fledgling’ is not a moniker that becomes you, my dear. You are far more than that.”

Caroline: “Lord Savoy, you must stop. You pay me more than enough compliment with these meetings.” She looks at his companion. “As I’m certain Ms. Preston is happy to tell you after each of them.”

GM: “Madam Preston, Miss Malveaux,” the Malkavian corrects without looking up from her tablet.

“What compliment I pay you for these meetings I make back tenfold from the pleasure of your company, my dear.” The smile on Savoy’s face doesn’t waver either. “I shouldn’t like another of my departures from the city to interrupt that pleasure, either. Perhaps you’d care to join me next time.”

Caroline: “Inviting a young neonate off on a flight to a foreign city with you, Lord Savoy? What would the harpies say?” Caroline asks with mock shock, one hand over her mouth. The response comes easily and gives her a moment to think about the potential benefits and dangers of such a journey… and whether she could refuse in spite of them. It’s… intriguing. “Robbing from the coffin.”

GM: “The harpies could but speak the truth, Miss Malveaux. The truth is never any greater cause for scandal—and scandalous it would be that I was so taken by any neonate.” Savoy laughs again at Caroline’s quip. “Taken enough that I would declare, to the winds with whatever they say!”

Caroline: Caroline laughs. “I can scarcely believe you could be so tactless, Lord Savoy, but it’s a very flattering and intriguing offer… one that I fear I would have to give answer to in the moment. I’m sure you understand, better than anyone, how delicate a time a beginning is, and that my time is not always my own.”

GM: The Toreador inclines his head in acknowledgement. “Of course, Miss Malveaux. We’ll speak again when I have firmer plans, and the mice are making ready to play with the cat soon away.”

Caroline: “What an interesting allusion, Lord Savoy,” Caroline seizes on. “Is that what we are? Cats and mice? I suppose both come out at night.”

GM: “The mice are the kine, Miss Malveaux,” Savoy chuckles. “We are the cats. Always, we are the cats.”

Caroline V, Chapter VIII
Affronted Ancillae

“There’s never any shortage o’ room at the bottom.”
Pierpont McGinn

Monday night, 11 October 2015, PM

GM: Caroline’s next meeting with a clanmate after Marcel takes her back to the same house in the Garden District where she usually meets Becky Lynne. The Ventrue is not there, but the vampire who has been described as her broodmate is.

Gabriel Hurst is a rectangular-faced man seemingly in his late 20s or early 30s with thick black hair, a short beard of the same color, and bright blue eyes. He’s dressed in a gray jacket and pants with a light blue button-up shirt and no tie. He’s seated on the couch where Caroline normally finds Becky Lynne and working on a laptop rather than tablet as a ghoul ushers her into the sitting room and introduces its occupant as “The Honorable Gabriel Hurst, Primogen, Esquire, Aedile, Knight Bachelor of the Order of the White Cross, and Deacon.”

Caroline: Caroline shows enough surprise to be polite, and after introductions are exchanged continues coyly, “Aedile Hurst, to what do I owe the honor of your attention this evening?”

GM: “Your sire and my sister, as it may be,” Hurst answers in a thick Louisiana drawl as he rises from kissing Caroline’s hand. “Right this way, Miss Malveaux. We’ll be goin’ on a field trip.”

Caroline: “As you will, Aedile Hurst.” She adopts an intrigued, and perhaps amused, smile.

GM: The two get into Hurst’s silver, slightly older-model Ford. The older Ventrue drives it himself and stops off first at Cullem’s Cuts, the barber shop where Caroline met his ghoul what seems like another era ago.

John McCullem is gumming an unlit cigar in his mouth and tidying up the empty shop as the two Ventrue step inside to the sound of a chiming shop’s door. He greets them with a, “Miss Malveaux, Master Gabe—forgive me, Aedile Hurst with company around,” the silver-mustached ghoul says with a wink.

Hurst chuckles as he greets the ghoul and sits down with him on one of the old-fashioned red leather chairs. McCullem talks literal shop with his domitor about how the business is doing: he starts with how one of the younger barbers suggested they install gaming consoles to keep the kids entertained. Another barber thought that sounded good initially, but then, maybe not: they have magazines and “kids oughta read more these days.” Part of the shop’s appeal with their customers is its retro image, too. On the other hand, there are drawbacks to looking too retro—especially for Kindred. Lots of businesses these days like to go for a retro modern look; embracing the new while evoking the spirit of the old. It can be a fine line to straddle, though, and ‘spirit’ can be an easy thing to get wrong, or just slightly off-kilter.

“What do you think, Miss Malveaux—how should we keep the younger customers entertained?” Hurst asks.

Caroline: Caroline mulls the idea for only a moment before responding, “My father, among the kine, rarely brought me to a place like this. Only really when I was really young,” she gestures to the barber shop, “though I know he still makes use of them, and that he brought my brothers with him with some frequency—and perhaps still does.” She smiles. “Something about how it’s part of the world of men, that he wanted to share with his ‘boys’. I was only an interloper until they were old enough.” There’s an almost wistfulness to her commentary.

“For much of the clientèle here, I imagine it must be much the same. There are cheaper, more modern, places to get a haircut, and a shave can await them in their bathroom sink if they truly desire.” Her gaze sweeps across the retro barber shop. “For them this is a place where, if they bring their sons, they can introduce them to masculine ways.” She chuckles, remembering her visits from her childhood more in feelings than specifics. “Man talk.”

“I’d not interrupt that careful harmony with a bunch of games that damage the atmosphere and distract from the image. If you felt compelled to, Aedile Hurst, I would do so carefully. Perhaps a vintage pinball machine, coin fed. Something they can use to entertain their children if need be from their own past, but that requires their ascent. In truth though, if they really do want to entertain their children and be left alone, their phones these days are the easy option. I think most would rather their children learn as much from this place, rather than occupy their attention while here.”

GM: Hurst smiles at Caroline’s answer. “You’re right, Miss Malveaux, that atmosphere is something we consider carefully in a place like this. As you say, people who just want a haircut have other options. Cheaper options.”

McCullem chuckles. “This one knows. He owns another barber shop, on the other side of town. More modern one. I’m half-convinced it’s only to keep tabs on how the competition does things.”

“You’re right about those father-son moments too, ma’am. Kids have enough distractions with just their phones these days.”

“Yes, I think we can skip the video game console,” says Hurst. “Use the money to upgrade the coffee machine. How’s the current one holding up, John?”

“It’s still got another few years left in it, Master Gabe, but I think…”

Hurst and McCullem spend the next few minutes discussing assorted minutiae of running a barber shop: replacing chairs and upholstery (one of the most expensive and important items in a barber shop, it turns out), which magazines to keep and keep up to date, placing supply orders, and how effective their current advertising methods are.

The older Ventrue regularly asks for Caroline’s input on these topics, particularly where social media presences and web design and advertising are concerned. It’s plain that neither the ghoul nor Caroline’s older clanmate are ignorant of the internet’s importance, but talking to them about it is rather like talking to Uncle Orson or her grandmother Camillia. There’s just a gulf.

Caroline: Caroline does her best to provide answers that bridge that gulf, though her relative lack of direct business experience and knowledge of their chosen industry hampers her in some ways. She’s quick to suggest that though print may be a dying art, it’s also more likely to be of greater appeal to those that value traditions like a barber shop, and that if they do continue with online advertisements such things might be better directed to the local news prints’ online presence: that such things are dirt cheap by advertising standards is no small plus.

“I picture those that are interested in something like this as more interested in their local community—and local papers have trouble with internet advertisers as it is.”

GM: Hurst and McCullem both agree with Caroline’s assessment. As she says, many of their customers are particularly likely to still read newspapers. Her points on online advertising lead to a brief foray over the state of the Times-Picayune; for a couple years the newspaper scaled back its paper presence and focused on online content, but did that with the benefit of an existing customer base. More and more papers seem to be doing that these days.

“We lucked out how the Picayune’s back in daily print,” McCullem says.

“Mr. Garcia may be partly to thank for that,” his domitor replies.

Another topic that comes up is informal performance reviews for the shop’s barbers. Skill at conversation is essential for a barber, particularly at a shop like this which focuses more on atmosphere than economy, McCullem explains to Caroline. Barbers have literally captive audiences and can build real rapports with customers to keep them coming back.

“One thing you noticed despite all the customers being gone, Miss Malveaux, is that Cullem’s Cuts is a boys-centric business,” Hurst says to Caroline. “Most of our customers are male and feel, I think, most at ease around male barbers. They see this place as a male space.”

“We recently had a lady barber apply for a position here,” continues McCullem, the unlit cigar in his mouth briefly dipping towards the floor. “I turned her down and she’s threatening to file suit for gender discrimination.”

“Got any thoughts on how we should handle that, Miss Malveaux?” Hurst asks Caroline.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite roll her eyes, but it’s a close thing. “Of course she is, Aedile Hurst.” She is all but openly contemptuous of the idea when he mentions the lawsuit.

She gives a moment of thought to his question.

“I expect it depends on what you’re after in terms of solution, Aedile Hurst. From a purely law-related standpoint, the most expeditious answer to most frivolous lawsuits is settlement. Once a matter goes to court it almost always costs far more in legal fees than almost any settlement will pay out, and oftentimes people can be bought out for hard pennies on the dollar.”

“Most resist the idea of essentially paying off threats—and reasonably so—but the numbers are quite clear. That’s hardly the only option, though, depending on one’s interest, commitment, and resources. Particularly the resources that ones such as ourselves enjoy.”

GM: “The clan’s new lawyer,” Hurst chuckles to McCullem. “But say this was your business, Miss Malveaux. What would you want to do?”

Caroline: She shows teeth. “I don’t like being threatened, Aedile Hurst. I’d probably have someone investigate her background—and with the gifts of some Kindred that grows all the easier—and look for something conventional to hold over her in turn. I’d also, if possible in the future, develop a salon in parallel to help nip these problems in the bud by having a carrot available to offer such applicants vice only the door. As the country grows increasingly liberal, such scenarios may only become more common.”

“I’d also consider, either as an alternative or in addition to either option burying ownership of the business deeply behind LLCs and shell corporations to make it difficult to even get a complaint or case off the ground. It’s a somewhat petty legal method, but for smaller claims like this even the shiftiest lawyer most often doesn’t want to go through the headache of trying to find out whom he’s trying to sue, assets available, and and where to file and where to serve if he does go far.”

GM: “A lawyer’s answer, Master Gabe,” McCullem says to his domitor with a chuckle. “But perhaps one we could use.”

“And one that we can use, John,” Hurst replies before turning to Caroline. “You’ve an eye for the long term, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: “Empires aren’t built in a day, Aedile Hurst,” comes her deadly serious response before she breaks into a smile and continues more coyly, “And I’m told that while I have few enough days left, I might enjoy a great many nights.”

GM: “Yes, empires,” Hurst says thoughtfully. “John, what else do you have for us tonight?”

“A few things here and there, Master Gabe…” the ghoul begins.

The rest of the pair’s discussions don’t take long. Caroline picks up that a barber shop’s hierarchy is determined by seating when they talk about the other barbers (ones with more seniority get chairs closest to the door), but it’s a brief tangent. McCullem talks about some other seemingly unrelated businesses with his domitor, including the other across-town shop that Hurst owns. He suggests redirecting the “lady barber” in a similar vein to what Caroline suggested with the salon, which Hurst approves of. The two Ventrue are soon headed back out the door.

Their next stop is a grocery store several blocks away. The manager ddresses Hurst as “Caleb.” The older Ventrue introduces Caroline as the relative of a “family friend” and talks shop with the woman about inventory, personnel, the physical state of the building, and a few tangentially legal-related issues. All of it seems quite mundane.

Another drive takes them to a clothing store and boy’s private school in the Lower Garden District, a hardware store and construction company in Mid-City, a landscaping business in Uptown, a restaurant in the CBD, and other businesses ranging from ice cream parlors to plumbing services to apartment rentals. Many such businesses are closed at this hour of the night, but simply drives by the location and talks with someone over the phone (in speaker mode for Caroline). Many of the people Hurst talks to address him as a boss, but not all of them do. Some relate to the Ventrue as an investor, others as a partner, others as a trustee board member, and some as a financial backer they hope to woo.

Hurst continues to solicit Caroline’s opinion on many of the topics that arise, which concern everything from the nitty-gritty (dealing with suppliers and shoplifters) to the broad (economic trends and their impact on certain job sectors) to the social (dealing with personal problems and ethical questions among employees).

“If you had to take a gander, Miss Malveaux, what domain do you think I hold?” Hurst finally asks as darkened cityscape rolls past the car’s window.

Caroline: Barber shop, grocery store, private school, hardware store, construction company, landscaping, restaurants, ice cream parlor, apartment rentals. Caroline only takes a moment to answer, having been privately considering that very topic for some time.

“Blindly speculating, Aedile Hurst, I would offer that you hold an array of seemingly unrelated properties across the city—perhaps as part of a broader set of services of use to many in Clan Ventrue as a whole.”

GM: “Good guess, Miss Malveaux,” Hurst answers. “I like to think of my business holdings as being like the perfect Thanksgiving dinner—a little bit of everything. What sorts of benefits and drawbacks do you see to that?”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Influence, for and to most those outside the ‘1%’,” she uses the term with an ironic smile, “tends to revolve around what one can do for them. The ability to produce a job in a field they want with a phone call, arrange an apartment, or fix a day-to-day problem, or get someone into a school.” She’s seen these levers pulled many times.

“That’s real power insofar as day-to-day life.” She runs her tongue over her fangs. “Especially dispersed as it is here. I imagine that when another Kindred—or a kine—needs any such specific task, you must be in high demand, Aedile Hurst. As you note, you offer potentially a little bit of everything.”

“Additional upsides include the distributed and disbursed nature of your domain. It would be very difficult for any one rival or foe to take apart such a domain with ease—not only for difficulty in identifying it, but for difficulty in leveraging their own resources in so many areas.”

GM: “That it would,” Hurst smiles. “And you probably guessed our tour hasn’t covered all of it.”

Caroline: She pauses and nods before continuing, “Of drawbacks, though, I think this night shows several. Among them are the amount of different matters you juggle each night, Aedile Hurst. The number of projects you must keep tabs on and running appropriately. Generalization is difficult to maintain specialty in by its nature. And that’s before crossing to domains and the many that you work in. We’ve been to almost every respectable neighborhood in the city, and I imagine that even for one as well-regarded as yourself, all of those relationships and commitments present their own added challenge.”

GM: “There’s a cost to that,” Hurst nods. “I have arrangements with a fair number of Kindred. I operate a business in their territory, they get a slice of the profits, or sometimes other favors. I learned a while back to always offer profits in exchange, when I can. That doesn’t cost me anything much, not really. Not when I have forever to expand.”

Caroline: That perks Caroline’s interest. “Is that a typical arrangement?”

GM: “Oh, my sister hasn’t explained contracts of fealty to you yet?” Hurst asks.

Caroline: “We spoke about it in brief, and she mentioned such was an option, but I wasn’t aware that many regents and esquires were willing to accept such an arrangement in lieu of boons.”

GM: “Well, don’t get your hopes too up, Miss Malveaux,” Hurst smiles ruefully. “Most won’t. But here’s how it is with me.”

“Now, if my sister hasn’t explained this yet, the standard feudal contract is for feeding territory and right of hexis, or mortal influence—that’s taken from a similar Greek word to the ‘praxis’ we say princes have. A ‘half-contract’ is for just one of both, with rent only collected half as often.”

Hurst smiles again. “Now, not many Kindred will accept rent paid exclusively in money. That’s why, when I want to set up shop in another Kindred’s territory, I ask for pretty modest demands.”

“I don’t ask to take over an existing business there and promise I’ll somehow run it better. Instead, I’ll promise to create a new business out of nothing, in one of the emptier parts of their territory. Say some old apartments have been condemned by the city as unsafe.”

“Well, those get torn down, and I’ll open up a new flower store, pizza joint, new apartment building, whatever looks most profitable. I won’t ask for any domain or authority outside of that place’s walls. I make it an attractive part of the neighborhood, and it’s suddenly drawing more kine and money to the area who weren’t there before. That’s already a good thing. But the Kindred I’ve struck a deal with also gets a cut of the profits.”

“So they can have all those benefits, or they can have none of them. I don’t ask for anything else. Most Kindred are a lot happier to swallow that sort of arrangement than, say, if I can create a few ghouls inside a company they already own.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I can see how that would be more appealing, even if it does require a longer vision and one’s thumb on the pulse of each domain.”

GM: “Empires aren’t built in a night, Miss Malveaux,” Hurst rejoinds.

Caroline: Another smile.

GM: “Still, I can imagine it’s a topic of some interest to yourself.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Of course it’s of interest, though I don’t exactly intend of trying to expand influence across the city in quite the same way.”

GM: “How would you like to, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “More directly service oriented, Aedile Hurst, with less direct ownership and potential interference in domains,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Gerousiastis Guilbeau mentioned your plans there, Miss Malveaux. I hope tonight’s field trip has been educational—or raised some new questions for you to chew over.”

Caroline: “It has, Aedile Hurst,” Caroline replies pleasantly. “Hopefully I was not simply a burden.”

GM: “Perish the thought,” he grins.

Thursday night, 14 October 2015, PM

GM: Caroline’s next meeting with a clanmate takes her to a familarly gigantic 4-story stone mansion with grounds enormous enough to be a public park. The house is built in the Richardson Romanesque Revival style, and even on the millionaire’s row that is St. Charles Avenue, it dwarfs its neighbors.

Caroline: It’s rather different than her last visit here. All the same, this time she brought a rental.

GM: An armed escort leads Caroline through the house. It has rare and expensive ‘flame’ mahogany covering the inside, antique tapestries, stained glass windows, and mantels from the mid-1700s. Caroline heard the stately home even has a bed once owned by Marie Antoinette.

They come to a stop in a luxuriously appointed living room. Richly upholstered, gold-decorated furniture, persian rugs, and classical portraits dominate the surroundings. Two crossed cavalry sabers hang over the empty fireplace, along with the portrait of a dashing, square-jawed, blond-haired man dressed in the gray uniform of a Confederate military officer.

Most prominently displayed is a family tree with names and genealogies that trace all the way back to Caine, whose birth date reads simply Genesis 4:1. It’s a shorter tree than others Caroline has seen, partly because each name only has one rather than two ‘parents’ listed above it. The genealogy of the house’s master proudly traces back, Pierpont McGinn, Troy Hansen, Alejandro Rojas y Batiz, Decimus Titus Optatus, Etewoklewes, Medon, Ventrue, Enoch, Caine.

It’s the same room where McGinn had her whipped.
Caroline: Tonight the heiress is alone and dressed in a black dress that leaves her shoulders almost bare and hangs to mid-knee, flaring only at the bottom. It’s minimalist by her standards, but showcases her lithe build. As before, heels accentuate her height: she looks down on most of the escorts.

GM: And for that matter, most people. Caroline waits for a few minutes before the room’s double doors swing open.

The same young-looking female ghoul as last time strides in. She’s a blue-eyed strawberry blonde with perfect Aryan features. She announces her master’s entrance with, “Kneel in the presence of the Honorable Lord Pierpont McGinn, Regent of Uptown, Gerousiastis, Knight Banneret of the Knights of the Blood, Councilor of the Prima Invicta, Commissioner, and Earl.”

Caroline: It still grates on her nerves, on her pride, but she’s doing the best she can to turn her relationship around, and refusing the demand is a poor way to start. She takes scant comfort in the poise with which she does so and validation in her clothing choice. Something longer, or tighter, might have made things awkward.

GM: Pierpont McGinn watches Caroline kneel with an air of lazy contentment. The tall, dirty blond-haired and chalky blue-eyed Ventrue is dressed in an immaculate white seersucker suit, gray dress shirt, and red necktie. He plops down on one of the room’s chairs and accepts a proferred cigar from the ghoul.

“This is a better way for you ta be sayin’ hello than last time, Miss Malveaux, wouldn’t you reckon?” McGinn smiles.

Part of Caroline, the part that drank his blood all those months ago, cannot help but bask in his words. At his voice. He’s not angry at her.

Caroline: “It is certainly under better circumstances, Gerousiastis McGinn,” she agrees from the floor.

GM: “You have ma leave to rise,” McGinn declares magnanimously as the ghoul lights his cigar. Caroline’s Beast instinctively rears at the tiny flame’s brief presence.

Caroline: The younger Ventrue clamps down on that fatal instinct and mostly avoids shaking as she gracefully rises from her feet, like a queen rising from a throne. She cannot let that monster out here, especially now that she knows how the game is played.

“Thank you, Gerousiastis.”

GM: McGinn idly motions towards a chair with the smoking cigar.

Caroline: She slides sinuously into it, trying to avoid shying away from the waving brand.

GM: “How much do ya hate me, Miss Malveaux?” the older Ventrue smiles at her over a puff of his cigar.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t smile.

“We didn’t meet under very favorable circumstances, Gerousiastis McGinn,” she admits.

GM: McGinn takes another puff from his cigar.

Caroline: “What followed wasn’t better.”

She remembers getting whipped to ribbons like it was yesterday. Whipped by a ghoul. Stripped naked. After his ghouls attacked her on the side of the road. Her anger, her self-righteous indignation still burns hot, even months later. Even with the bond pulling on her, demanding his approval.

Ultimately, though, it is less the bond that pushes her to continue than something else: a pull to success. A demand that she swallow her pride here. That she make this work.

“A Requiem can be a long time, though, Gerousiastis, and if I held a grudge for every regrettable encounter in my earliest nights I fear there’d be very few Kindred in the city with whom I could hold a conversation.” She finally cracks a smile. “At least those of dignified breeding.”

GM: “From what I hear, Miss Malveaux, they hate ya jus’ fine on their own,” McGinn drawls back.

The older Ventrue snaps his fingers. The blonde, pretty-faced ghoul withdraws from the room.

When she reappears, it’s with two more ghouls—large, burly men half-carrying two more figures. The first is a black man. The second is a black boy in his early teens, with his hair in cornrows. Both are bound and gagged with duct tape and dressed in perspiration-soaked and slightly t-shirts and jeans.

The ghouls dump the pair on the floor by McGinn’s and Caroline’s feet. The older male emits what sounds like muffled swearing past his tape gag, but freezes when one of the ghouls holds a gun to his head. The kid just freezes.

“What’s past is past, Miss Malveaux. I’m a man who looks ta the future,” McGinn declares.

Caroline: “I’m happy to hear it, Gerousiastis McGinn. I know how easy it is for a first impression to make the wrong one.” Caroline pays the two black males as little attention as possible.

GM: McGinn clucks his tongue. “I don’t believe in wrong impressions, Miss Malveaux. Not really.”

“I believe in wrong people, though. People who are born shitheads and blame circumstance fer their own fuckups.”

“Let’s talk about the future. What do you bring to the clan?” the older Ventrue asks.

There’s a light puff of his cigar over the two duct-taped males’ heavy breathing.

Caroline: His words dig into her pride again, and the smoke is an ever present bite against her control of the Beast, but she doesn’t rise to the bait.

“I understand there’s a void left in the legal field with the departure of your sister-in-blood Rebecca DeMatthews, Gerousiastis McGinn. I intend on filling it. And anywhere else I can find that does not step on the toes of a member of Clan Ventrue or an important ally. Whatever damage my pursuit of René Baristheaut did to the reputation of Clan Ventrue, I will undo.” She leans forward. “And whatever it takes to not kneel on a floor again, I am willing to do.”

GM: McGinn barks a laugh.

“I give two hoots and a holler about Questor Baristheaut, Miss Malveaux.”

Another puff from that cigar, but a harder edge to his smile.

“I care a lot more what Gerousiastis Malveaux says about ya, though.”

Caroline: “And what does Gerousiastis Malveaux say, Gerousiastis McGinn?” she asks.

GM: Another puff. A slight widening to his grin.

“Oh, I’d be just tickled ta hear your opinion there, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: Her eyes remain hard. “Father Malveaux was the first to discover my Embrace. He attempted to lead me down an appropriate path.” She pauses for a moment. “I wasn’t prepared to go.”

GM: Another expectant puff from the cigar. Loud breathing from the two duct-taped males, furtive eyes still sweeping over the room.

Caroline: “I have nothing but the highest respect for Gerousiastis Malveaux. He was trying to help. I was too foolish to realize how much.”

GM: “That’s all o’ it, then?” McGinn boredly drawls.

Caroline: “Is it the place of a neonate to speak otherwise of a member of the Gerousia?” Caroline asks seriously.

GM: “Yer so full o’ shit it’s a wonder yer eyes ain’t brown, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: Caroline swallows her anger again, but can’t resist a response.

“That my relationship with Gerousiastis Malveaux has been strained from the moment he laid eyes upon me is no secret Gerousiastis McGinn. And why not? I was by my Embrace an infringement upon his domain that he caught infringing upon his domain that resisted and was horrified by the message of faith he preached. By simply existing I remain a headache for his continued management of his domain.”

She pauses. “I could enumerate the many grievances we might have against one another, but hold them to be of little value if I am to have any future in Clan Ventrue,” she finishes firmly.

GM: “Tell me then, Miss Malveaux, what future do ya see for yerself in the clan, with things as they are now?” McGinn asks.

The two bound black males follow the pair’s conversation with looks of simultaneous confusion and apprehension.

Caroline: “Poor. Limited.” Another pause. “Unlikely.”

GM: Another puff of the cigar. McGinn looks expectant, still. Maybe even more. But no longer toying at all. His grin is gone.

Caroline: “Poor relationships with half of the Gerousia bodes ill. I expect such with any one member might be enough. Even if by some virtue of propriety none object overtly, beginning with enemies among the most powerful Ventrue in the city seems to chase failure.”

GM: Another puff. That same, still-expectant look.

Caroline: “That is why I came to you early in the process, Gerousiastis McGinn.” The heiress continues. “I hope that a first meeting did not hopelessly poison any future between us, and if it did, I would know early, before consuming the time of others within the clan in an entirely selfish endeavor with little prospects.”

GM: “I don’t much like ta repeat myself, Miss Malveaux,” McGinn drawls. “What’s past is past. I’m a man who looks ta the future.”

Another puff of the cigar.

“Rightchere, that’s yours with the good father, and the rest o’ our peers.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t frown, but the stern expression on her face deepens. “I am, and have been, working to remove myself as much as possible from affairs surrounding Gerousiastis Malveaux’s domain. The matter is complicated by the recent death of my brother and a desire to avoid bringing too much attention—or worse negative attention—to it in too short of a time. I think given time, stability within the Sanctified, and distance from matters he cares for so deeply, that passions may cool.”

“Among the rest, I’ve had relatively productive meetings with Gerousiastis Guilbeau, Aediles Hurst, and of course Questor Adler.”

“With their guidance I’ve begun to set up a fledgling domain,” (is that a hint of a smile at the use of the word?), “of my own in the Central Business District, and even entertained a handful of Kindred ‘clients’ willing to test the waters of a newcomer.”

GM: McGinn takes another puff of his cigar and looks towards the older of the duct-taped males. Caroline can still smell his fear, sweat, and of course, lifebloood. Even drying.

“You see, Miss Malveaux, that kine there…” The older Ventrue starts, then trails off with a wide grin.

“Ah, it don’t matter. He’s done me wrong. What should I do with ’im?”

Caroline: Caroline’s sweeps her gaze to the bound kine. She doesn’t wonder what he might have done to wrong her clanmate: she can easily speculate as to several possible options, including simply existing as a black man or coming here to send a message.

“Whatever you wish, Gerousiastis McGinn. He is one of the kine.”

The smell of the smoke, the flickering tip of the cigar, and the blood in the air battle for her attention, but she tries to remain clearheaded.

“His presence for the rest of this conversation however makes me suspect your question is more about how to arrive at an end, rather than what end to arrive at. Unless I miss my guess, Gerousiastis McGinn?” She looks up and to the older Ventrue.

GM: McGinn snubs out the cigar into an ash tray and stares at Caroline.

“I asked you, girl,” he drawls in a low voice. “If ya don’t much care fer yer opinion bein’ asked, I can tell the rest o’ the Structure ta stop. That ya’d rather grovel on the floor than sit at the table.”

He holds out a hand and the comely ghoul produces another fat cigar. There’s another too-long wisp of fire, and then more smoke wafting from the Ventrue’s grinning mouth as he puffs on the newly-lit cigar.

“There’s never any shortage o’ room at the bottom.”

Caroline: She clenches her jaw through the next flash of flame. Doing it to make a point, she decides. She’s seen her uncle smoke on occasion, but it’s just that, on occasion. Never in sequence.

The thought is swept away with the next wave of scorn from McGinn.

“You have two, Gerousiastis McGinn,” she gestures. “At least one as wronged you enough to be brought before you in this way. Kill one, frame the other that committed the lesser offense for the murder for a cleaner package before the Masquerade, while also providing him an opportunity to suffer and potentially turn from his ways in prison—or at least serve as an example.”

GM: “The little one’s ’is brother,” McGinn drawls. “Bystander in this all. He hasn’t chosen ta do anything ’gainst me and mine.”

The older brother’s eyes widen. Perspiration gleams on his forehead as he starts making muffled exclamations through his duct tape gag. The guards cock their weapons as the agitated man jostles in place, but McGinn just smiles.

The kid looks between Caroline and McGinn with equally wide eyes, but doesn’t struggle or try to say anything.

Caroline: “Depending on the nature of his brother’s offense then, it may be all the more appropriate, Gerousiastis McGinn,” she observes.

GM: “Bullet ta the brain for him, the Farm for his kid, then,” the older Ventrue repeats over a puff of his cigar. He jerks his thumb. “Git a tarp.”

MMMM-MPH!” the bound man exclaims, frantically struggling against his bonds.

The kid moans past his gag and starts crying.

Footsteps sound as one of the guards departs the room. He returns with a large plastic tarp and lays part of it down over a far corner of the sitting room’s floor. He duct-tapes the rest up to the walls, then grabs the bound man together with his fellow and hauls him over. The man bucks, emits more muffled shouts, and casts furtive looks at his gagged but screaming brother the whole way. There’s a shot, still loud despite the silencer, a splatter, and red over plastic.

The gagged boy screams.

Caroline: Caroline watches it all through hard eyes. The sound of the tarp crinkling as it is moved into place and the tape tearing brings back uncomfortable and chilling memories of helplessness and agony, but she remains silent, her lips pressed together in an emotionless line and her face very still. Perhaps it gives away too much—bit its less than she would reveal otherwise. Everything about the memory is still raw.

As the man starts to struggle and the teen starts to cry, she clinches her teeth all the firmer. She’s killed before—with her own hands. Inflicted terrible and horrible violence, especially in the throes of the Beast’s rage. She’s even ordered others killed: the ghouls of Eight-Nine-Six gunned down by soldiers of fortune that they never had a chance against by her order. This is different. She’s here for this. She has no animosity towards either of them. They’re simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. She doesn’t even know what they did wrong—a decision she cannot view as accidental by the cruel elder monster beside her.

She watches the shot, and not only because she’s all but ordered the death. No, the murder. She watches because it means she isn’t looking at Gerousiastis McGinn when the shot goes off. Maybe he would give something away. She doesn’t care. A shot, a splatter, and a splash of running red. A life snuffed out with all the effort of squishing a bug. She can’t even tell herself this is truly God’s will. This is no Sanctified killing. She doesn’t know his sins, simply his misstep. One she too made: stepping into the sights of Gerousiastis McGinn by stepping on his toes.

Distantly, detached, she hopes they used low velocity ammunition: otherwise the bullet is likely to go through the body and tear through the tarp. Surely, given the cool efficiency with which it was all done though, that is a lesson long ago learned. Either way, it’s not really her problem, just something her mind is trying to use to distract herself from the casual murder of one, and the destruction of the life of another.

It all leaves her feeling cold: and not simply because she’s dead. Some part of her, the human part locked away, screams inside her head at what she’s done, at what she’s become, that human life is so cheap now. But that part seems to grow quieter all the time: most days its barely a whisper.
There’s something louder driving her, something she can’t ignore or tune out in the same way.

She turns back to her fellow Ventrue.

GM: McGinn puffs his cigar contentedly.

“I’m a God-fearin’ man, Miss Malveaux, but I’m not one o’ the Sanctified.”

Caroline: “So I’ve been told, Gerousiastis McGinn. Your position of prominence among the Invictus is well known.”

GM: “It don’t much matter ta me if the kid turns from his ways or doesn’t in prison. God’ll sort it all out. And killin’ his own brother?” McGinn makes a look of mock surprise. “Ma, ma. That’s a tough story ta swallow without more details.”

“Kin do like ta avenge kin, though.” A faint sneer over another puff. “Shootin’ their problems is all these kine know how ta do.”

McGinn jerks his thumb to the guards, who grab the hysterical youth by the scruff of his shirt and drag him across the floor. There’s another scream, another shot, another splatter, and more red.

The older Ventrue contentedly puffs his cigar.

“No loose ends, Miss Malveaux.”

“No half-measures.”

Caroline: “I understand.”

It’s staggering how quickly one can become accustomed to awful things like murder. Then again, maybe it’s in the blood. Wasn’t it Caine’s first sin too?

GM: “Good,” McGinn smiles. “That’s what yer real lesson here tonight is all about.”

He leans back in his chair and takes another puff of his cigar. “First, yer a brat.”

“Or a ‘self-loathin’ brat with fangs’, as the Lady Adelais called ya.” The older Ventrue chuckles. “That heartless bitch does have a way with words.” The insult’s phrasing sounds more like a compliment.
“Yer a brat ‘cause you’ve shat on the good father and expect the rest o’ us not ta mind one bit. You say ya don’t ever want ta kneel again?”

McGinn barks a laugh. “You think that’s impressed me, or anyone, when ya haven’t done a thing ta clear yer name? When you say yer waitin’ so his passions cool? You aren’t fit ta do anything but kneel right now, girl.”

“Ya may think yer showin’ dignitas by not shit-talkin’ the good father, or bein’ clever by not fessin’ up ta yer sins. Ya ain’t. Everyone in the Structure knows yer history. Everyone knows why Gerousiastis Malveaux doesn’t like you. Any give ya found comin’ yer way from Gerousiastis Guilbeau, from Aedile Hurst, from Questor Adler…”

McGinn leisurely waves his cigar. “It comes from their bein’ strong, not from you bein’ strong. It comes from their wantin’ to bring in a clanmate from the cold. And it’s all in spite o’ how ya’ve been actin’, darlin’, not because o’ it.”

The regent takes another puff of his cigar. “I’ll tell ya somethin’ of myself, Miss Malveaux. I was born too late ta fight in the War o’ North Aggression, but just in time ta see the Yanks destroy all my family had worked ta build for generations.”

“I rebuilt our fortunes from nothing by the sweat of ma brow. I did that in spite o’ all the scalawags, carptebaggers, and other parasites working to destroy what made our homeland great. When the niggers went cryin’ ta the Freedman’s Bureau fer land and handouts, seized from families like mine, I put in an honest day’s work. The fruits I reaped were of ma own plantin’ and toil. I earned ma sire’s Embrace.”

“There is nothing, nothing, I’ve got more contempt for than charity, Miss Malveaux. Make no mistake, that is what you are ta the clan right now. Probably the Sanctified too. A charity case.”

McGinn takes another puff of his cigar. “Me, now, I’d never take charity. I’ll never give ya charity, not like the others are.”

“What I am prepared ta offer ya is respect—mine and theirs—fer a fair and honest exchange.”

“Ya want respect, it’s time ta show us you’ve grown up and deserve it. Humble yerself before the good father and ask his forgiveness fer how ya’ve impugned his dignitas. Show ya can give somethin’ back fer all that time, advice, and lessons Gerousiastis Guilbeau and Aedile Hurst have lavished on yer sorry self completely fer free.”

“Say sorry ta the good father, and ya’ll have my vote to induct you into the Structure… as well as ma guidance, ma advice, and if ya sell me on yer domain havin’ promise, my patronage and backin’. There’s a few things I could use a Kindred lawyer fer, and connections I have the other gerousia don’t.”

McGinn leans forward closer to Caroline and lowers his voice. “And just case yer petty, scared, and yeller-bellied enough ta wonder if the rest o’ us would all back Gerousiastis Malveaux after you humbled yerself and he spat on ya, you’ve got a lot to learn on what dignitas is. There’ll be no hidin’ behind that excuse.”

McGinn leans back in his chair. “Ya can be part o’ somethin’ greater with us all, or ya can nurse yer grudge by yerself as we carry on without ya.”

He gestures to the two ruined corpses being wrapped up in bloody plastic by his ghouls.

“All in or all out, Miss Malveaux. It’s yer call.”

Caroline: Caroline listens silently through the elder Ventrue’s lecture. By it’s end she looks as through she’s been slapped. Silence hangs in the air behind his last remark. She can’t tell what stings more, the faint feeling that she’s disappointed him or the outright anger generated by the scorn in so much of what he’s said.

She tries to push both feelings away as treacherous and flighty emotions with limited success. It’s easier to abandon a conscience than the feelings created by the Blood or those so at home for the Beast.

When she is finally allowed to speak, both still color her words. “Gerousiastis Malveaux has declined to meet with me. He’s arranged a ghoul in his stead. Do you recommend, Gerousiastis McGinn, that I deliver such an apology by proxy?”

GM: “Gerousiastis Malveaux will meet with ya in person, fer an apology,” McGinn answers, puffing his cigar again.

Caroline: “As you say, Gerousiastis McGinn,” comes her emotionless reply.

She bites her tongue for a moment before continuing, “Might I ask the details of what Gerousiastis Malveaux has shared, lest I have overlooked something, Gerousiastis McGinn?” Caroline asks carefully.

GM: McGinn puffs his cigar. “He’s told us all plenty.”

“He started with with findin’ ya in his domain, screwin’ with his archbishop’s head. Ya went along with him to Perdido House without resisting, an’ between that an’ you bein’ fresh off the turnip trick, he was prepared ta overlook that trespass.”

“He said ya comported yerself with fair dignitas at what could’ve been yer execution.”

“He told us how he was made yer confessor. He kept the details o’ what was said in the box between him and you, save that he had no significant objections ’gainst your character.”

“He told us how later ya broke the Masquerade with one o’ his kine, another kine friend o’ yers, an’ screwed with the former’s head again. He told us ya’d confessed this sin ta Hound Agnello, who had ya confess it ta him all nice an’ proper, so he showed mercy. He fixed up all the kines’ memories, sent ‘em home, an’ turned yer friend inta a ghoul so ya’d learn ta be responsible for something.”

The older Ventrue puffs his cigar. “The rest o’ the Gerousia considered that a wise call.”

“He also said ya omitted information ta Hound Agnello about one o’ Harlequin’s ghouls who’d been caught in that mess, hopin’ she’d git off lighter. He said the hound magnanimously agreed ta overlook you makin’ his job harder in return fer joinin’ a krewe.”

Another puff. “The Gerousia considered that a wise call too.”

“The good father said he next saw ya for yer second, regularly scheduled confession. Outside o’ whatever was discussed there, he said ya appeared interested in the Sanctified’s faith, and he attempted ta illuminate yer understanding. He also said ya asked ta mess with his kines’ memories,” here McGinn smirks, “no doubt o’ course fer the Masquerade—an’ that he granted ya permission, which he has since retracted.”

McGinn takes a slower puff of his cigar.

“He also said he was gravely, gravely disappointed by yer efforts in the penance he’d assigned last week. He wouldn’t say how, ‘cept that it was one o’ the sorriest penances ta ever perk his sweet ears. He said he told ya that level o’ effort would not fly, and further encouraged ya ta join the Storyvilles or some other krewe, so ya’d have someone ta show ya the ropes o’ things.”

“He said he next saw ya fer the showdown where Sheriff Donovan staked an’ bagged yer sire.” McGinn smiles. “He had a lot ta say there. Makin’ the sheriff’s job harder at e’ry turn. Even one o’ yer ghouls bein’ a hunter he had ta put down.”

McGinn smiles. “That’s probably news ta ya, isn’t it? He said ya’d done one o’ the sorriest jobs bringin’ her inta the Blood he’d ever witnessed.”

The older Ventrue snaps his fingers. “Ah yes, knew I was fergettin’ something. He also said ya’d let yer other ghoul, that kine friend, get abducted by a krewe o’ kaintuck Anarchs.”

“He said at yer next weekly confession, ya’d disappointed him again. He said ya’d failed ta even start one o’ his assigned penances this time, and waited ‘til the due date ta give ’im some BS excuse why ya couldn’t. Yer other penance, he said, ya did just as sorry a job on as last time.”

“He said ya didn’t have any word on yer missin’ ghoul. Said ya still hadn’t joined a krewe, like he and the hound advised.”

“All this, the night after Strategos Vidal personally oversaw yer release, induction inta the Sanctified, and presentation before the clan.”

McGinn does not smile or puff his cigar. He merely shakes his head.

“Gerousiastis Malveaux’s report after then should have been fuckin’ glowin’.

“He said he didn’t feel you’d taken seriously any of the responsibilities ya’d been assigned, e’en few as they were, and threatened excommunication if ya didn’t shape up. He said fer yer next confession, ya fulfilled the penance he assigned—but not the way he told ya to do it. Still no word on any krewe. He said ya hadn’t once shown any sign o’ remorse or contrition fer all yer mistakes, so he cut ya loose. He then said he wanted you out o’ his domain, fer good, with a nice an’ easy suicide or accident. And he then said, last o’ all, ya pitched a scheme ta frame a bunch o’ niggers for yer murder so yer daddy could score some points with voters.”

McGinn smiles. “Has Questor Adler told you about the Enquerry, darlin’? The good father said if ya didn’t have it in you to take care o’ one horse, or one ghoul, or one o’ any o’ those other things he trusted ya with, Satan would be ice-skatin’ ta work before he let ya carry out that plan under his watch.”

McGinn leans back and puffs his cigar. “Violet, can your darlin’ lil’ head think o’ any details I might have missed?”

The blonde ghoul shakes hers as she answers, “I don’t rightly think I can, Gerousiastis McGinn.”

The other Ventrue grins back at Caroline. “There ya have ’em then, Miss Malveaux. The full details.”

Caroline: The young Ventrue listens stoically to her enumerated sins against her distant relative. When the elder Ventrue has seemingly had his fill she speaks.

“Thank you, Gerousiastis McGinn. That was… enlightening as to Gerousiastis Malveaux’s position and specific grievances.”

GM: “Tickled ta be o’ help, Miss Malveaux,” McGinn answers over a puff of his cigar.

Caroline: Just one more question, Gerousiastis McGinn. Were all of these offenses against then-Aedile Malveaux made before or after you plotted with René Baristheaut to abduct, frame, and further blood bond me? I find it so difficult to keep track of when I was a Ventrue beholden to clan elders, and when I was just a sireless fledgling unworthy of any protection or regard that those same elders were plotting to destroy for their convenience or profit.

The heiress’ inner dialogue has grown dark indeed this night, regardless of what she says. It’s a skill she’s practiced over many others, and not only since her Embrace. Putting on a smiling face in the face of the distasteful. Rarely though, prior to her Embrace, was she so directly called upon to use it.

“One more question, if I may, Gerousiastis McGinn?” she asks finally.

GM: McGinn motions with his cigar for her to proceed.

Caroline: “I heard a story about you, Gerousiastis McGinn, that you were awarded your regency because you organized a visit by a number of prominent Invictus and others in New Orleans to another nearby city. Is there any truth to that?”

GM: McGinn barks a laugh, smoke spilling from his mouth. “I reckon that’s one way ya could put it.”

He smiles at her. “Kindred liked what they heard about the lil’ trip I’d organized, darlin’. That’s the truth that counts.”

Caroline: “Appearances are everything and perception is reality,” Caroline agrees, “but it seems to me that mistaking perception is truth has the potential to result in unfortunate surprises Gerousiastis McGinn.”

GM: The Ventrue grins and puffs on the last of his cigar.

“Those do so keep the game interestin’, Miss Malveaux.”

Tuesday night, 19 October 2015, PM

GM: Becky Lynne mentions at Caroline’s next ‘lesson’ with her that Lictors Hollans and Kingolai are no longer in New Orleans, and haven’t been for a little while. “Business for the strategos seems to’ve called them away earlier than we all were reckonin’—ah well, we’ll expect them back soon enough. In fact, the timing rather works out. Once you’re inducted into the Structure, you can be accepted into smaller clubs and societies within it.”

Lictor Cingolai, Becky Lynne adds, is a member of the Hague—a society of blue bloods who study the theory and application of the Camarilla’s Traditions. They also serve as arbiters in intraclan tribunals and provide general legal counsel (many of their members have backgrounds in mortal as well as Kindred law). Gerousiastis Matheson’s defender and prosecutor during his trial were both members of the Hague. No members currently reside in New Orleans, but induction into the society—“and any other ones that strike your fancy”—will allow Caroline opportunities to network with Ventrue from other cities, should she be recommended for membership.

Before they get to that, Gerousia Guilbeau and McGinn seem to have persuaded Gerousiastis Malveaux to meet with Caroline, Becky Lynne is “tickled to say.” If the younger Ventrue also wishes to do so, which Becky Lynne presumes, she coordinates schedules and asks whether Caroline would like to “run anything past [her].”

Caroline: “That sounds like a very polite way of encouraging someone to vet their plans through a more experienced Kindred,” Caroline replies.

GM: “If you think it’d be helpful for that reason too, Miss Malveaux, so much the better,” the older Ventrue smiles.

Caroline: The heiress bites her lip for a moment before responding, “My relationship with Gerousiastis Malveaux has been complicated from the onset, and became no clearer with time, what with the matter of René Baristheaut, damage to his domain as a result, and matters of faith that saw little common ground.”

GM: Becky Lynne does not immediately reply to this, but waits to let Caroline say her full piece.

Caroline: The heiress doesn’t beat around the bush. Gerousiastis McGinn made his expectations clear in no uncertain terms, but she expects a poor reception from Gerousiastis Malveaux. She’d like to bury the hatchet with him, but has concerns about how to do so without the priest simply finding more fault with her.

GM: “Then we’re on the same page, as that’s somethin’ we’d both like to see you do,” Becky Lynne nods before asking what Caroline wants to do at their meeting to improve the father’s opinion of her.

Caroline: Caroline probes a bit into her ’teacher’s’ knowledge of the elder Malveaux’s preferences, and ways in which she might make a better impression in what might be her last opportunity.
She inquires as to what his past accomplishments have been, and why he is so well respected.

GM: “Not to be playin’ coy, Miss Malveaux, but I might ask you to mull that one over before I share my two cents,” Becky Lynne answers. “What do you suppose the good father has done to earn his seat at the Gerousia’s table?”

Caroline: “Beyond surviving a century or more. Questor Adler?” Caroline asks. “His prominent position within the Sanctified jumps to mind.”

GM: “Surviving one hundred years isn’t quite enough to join the Gerousia by itself, Miss Malveaux. Nor does the Structure pay much mind to clanmates’ positions within the covenants.”

Caroline: “His control of the Malveaux family,” Caroline continues, before again pausing. “Though in truth, I don’t rightly know.”

GM: “Put some thought into it,” Becky Lynne encourages. “What he’s done with your mortal family could be a start.”

Caroline: The Ventrue brushes her hair out of her face as she adjusts. It’s an uncomfortable thought, that so much of her family’s success might belong to the Albino.

“The success of Malveaux Oil, control of the Catholic Church in New Orleans over generations. Riding out the Civil Rights movement.”

GM: “Those first two are estimable accomplishments,” the older Ventrue agrees. “Establishing a worthwhile domain is an important component of any clanmate’s dignitas. What else do you think has contributed to the good father’s?”

Caroline: Caroline speculates, “Perhaps events during Hurricane Katrina or other crises.”

GM: “Is that what makes up a clanmate’s dignitas, the domain they hold and their actions during tryin’ times?”

Caroline: Along with the timely deaths of a few of their own superiors, it would certainly seem so, Caroline thinks.

“Their actions across their Requiem, Questor Adler, but I must imagine that those in such trying times hold more weight than in an ordinary night. I suspect Gerousiastis McGinn might agree. One’s bearing and activities when under pressure often says more than when at ease, no?”

GM: “Pressure shows what someone is really made of,” Becky Lynne nods,

She finally goes on to explain that Gerousiastis Malveaux has earned dignitas through his decades of loyal service to the clan, which has included; serving as the Structure’s premier (and sole) occultist and blood magician, and volunteering these abilities repeatedly on the clan’s behalf; making valuable inroads with the Lancea et Sanctum and Malkavian clan; maintaining good relations with the sheriff and his hounds, to whom he serves as confessor (the Ventrue have lacked a member on this coterie since Robert Bastien’s final death); his accomplishments with the Malveaux family and Catholic Church; his specific awards and, two of which include the Cornix and Exorcist; valorous defense of the city during the yearly Sabbat incursions, for which he has earned several awards; his steadfast opposition to the new regimes in Houston and Baton Rouge that deposed Ventrue princes; valorous service during Hurricane Katrina; his service to Vidal as steward of the Garden District; his zeal and accomplishments in advancing Ventrue interests among the other clans; the good relations he maintains with all of the other gerousiastes; his mentorship to Questor Polk and Eiren Gerlette; and his simple age, bloodline, and proximity to Caine. Caroline gets the impression Becky Lynne could enumerate a great many further specific examples, and that she also considers Father Malveaux a Kindred worthy of respect and admiration.

Matheson’s childe also states that Caroline “would’ve had to go back and hit the books” if this had been a question on an exam, and makes plain that she is expected to know the accomplishments of her clanmates. Still, she adds, “Good on you to be askin’. Better now than never.”

Becky Lynne then smiles as she asks, “For the next question on your pop quiz,” bearing this additional context in mind, how Caroline “plans to mend fences” with Gerousiastis Malveaux at their meeting. The younger Ventrue has the impression that her tutor genuinely is quizzing her just as much as seeking to offer constructive input.

Caroline: “Not showing further disrespect. Divesting myself of continued interaction with his domain. Offering a boon would show a truly deep apology,” Caroline replies. “Continued respect and growth within the faithful.” She considers. “Perhaps leaning on my confessor to put in a good word.”

GM: “Offering a boon is a solid way to back up an apology and show someone it’s really serious, if you’ve done them real wrong,” Becky Lynne nods. “That’s a good idea, Miss Malveaux. Promises and assurances probably won’t be up the good father’s creek, so what are some tangible ways you might be able to back up those other ideas of yours around him?”

Caroline: “I’ve been planning my ‘demise’ in the public eye for some time. I’ve coordinated with Harlequin to try to ensure it goes off without a hitch, had him vet my plan for potential problems. I think being less directly involved with Gerousiastis Malveaux’s domain would go far in putting an end to our continued friction. It’s simply complicated with the death of my brother. Two deaths in short order appearing suspicious… and potentially damaging to his domain.”

GM: “It does sound like a tricky situation,” Becky Lynne nods. “Given that, the good father might feel better if you were to offer to coordinate with him. I’m sure he’s already keeping track of developments, of course, and will step in if he’d prefer things to go a different way, but just hearin’ it from you could go a ways.”

Caroline: “I did offer to coordinate, but the matter is further complicated by the prince’s stake in my mortal father’s position as a senator. The prince, by proxy, agreed to my proposed plan in principle, but Gerousiastis Malveaux objected to it.”

GM: Becky Lynne raises her eyebrows at this. “I’m sorry, Miss Malveaux, but am I to take it that you went over his head?”

Caroline: “At the time it seemed prudent,” Caroline replies dryly.

GM: Becky Lynne shakes her head. “Well, that needs to get fixed right away. The Hussar no doubt figured you’d already cleared it with the good father.”

Caroline: The Ventrue runs her tongue over her fang. “The matter is more complicated than that in ways I cannot readily disclose, Questor Adler. Suffice it to say, I had numerous reasons for doing as I did, including admittedly attempting to leverage broader support for the idea against Gerousiastis Malveaux’s known hostility.”

Reckless perhaps, to admit as much, but Caroline’s had just about enough of being thought the fool by the blonde across the table. There’s the old adage, that it is better to be thought a fool in silence than known a fool by one’s words, but Caroline is too familiar with politics, and social interactions, and communities of predators. Being thought a fool is more than enough, and silence—save in an interrogation room—provides no relief or opportunity. Something needs to change.

GM: If any such derisive thoughts were running through Becky Lynne’s head, her pretty features give no indication of them. She isn’t smiling anymore, but neither does she look upset or even surprised by the admission as she replies, “I’m glad that you’re now fixin’ to make a good name for yourself within the clan instead, Miss Malveaux. I’ll be frank, this is some extra spilled milk to clean up—but I think we’re up for the job too.”

“If I were you, I would fess up to the good father how you tried to go over his head—better if he hears it from you than the Hussar. I’d say sorry for it, and bring a detailed plan of how you plan to fake your death—exactly the way he’s said he wants it done—and ask him if he’d be so gracious as to look it over for potential Masquerade hiccups. Ask him if there’s any other ways you could make things more convenient for him. Make plain that you are deferring to him on this, and I think it will do a lot to help smooth things over between you.”

Caroline: Caroline listens attentively, nodding before the other Ventrue has finished her suggested course of action.

“Are you much a student of philosophy, Questor Adler?”

GM: “In passing, Miss Malveaux. I’ve tried to read all the great classics, but I’m hardly Seneschal Maldonato,” Becky Lynne smiles.

Caroline: “Sartre may have passed you by, then,” the heiress smiles in turn.

“He was a 20th century French philosopher. Controversial in his time. And so he remains.” She continues, “One of his major contentions is that we are all, in truth, whether or not we should deny it or not, free to do as we wish. No course of action is closed to us, as we are thinking beings able to define ourselves at all times, rather than inanimate objections that can only be what they are.”

“A table,” she gestures to the low one between them, “can only be a table. It does not have any options available to it. It cannot chose to do anything else, but a man,” a grin, “or woman might choose to take any action at any time. Do you follow, Questor Adler?”

Caroline pauses her explanation for a moment to ensure she hasn’t lost her companion.

GM: “Not to jump back into ‘tutor mode,’ Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne smiles, “but don’t ask your elders if they follow—presume that they’re sharp tacks who already do.” She motions. “But please, don’t let me interrupt. What education I’ve received in philosophy, like I’ve said, was more focused on the classics.” Another smile. “It makes a nice change to have you be the one instructin’ me here.”

Caroline: “A point well taken, Questor Adler,” Caroline agrees. “In any case, Sartre advocated all manner of other ideas,” she laughs lightly, “that I expect most Ventrue, especially our elders, would absolutely hate. Among them the idea that one should not allow anyone else’s expectations to in any way color your own existence, lest it lead to a less true version of yourself, but for the purposes of this topic I’ll limit myself to his idea of ‘radical freedom.’”

“Faced with a choice, say when faced with a blocked path on a mountain pass which immediately presents only a single option—turn back—he would argue you in fact have several choices. You might turn back, or you might attempt to dig out the pass, or you might throw yourself from the cliff to your death. Any claim as to not having a choice in a matter, he would claim was false. There is always a choice.”

Another smile.

“In the spirit of radical freedom I will not claim that I have no choice but to defy Gerousiastis Malveaux’s wishes on the manner of my death, but I have no doubt that you might read between the lines when I say as much, Questor Adler,” Caroline finishes rather soberly. “It would be much easier in almost every way to do as he wishes,” she clarifies.

GM: Becky Lynne taps her chin contemplatively.

“Puttin’ questions of philosophy aside for a minute, Miss Malveaux, you’ve told me that you have no realistic choice but to fake your death by means of a plan the good father doesn’t much like—but that the prince agreed to your plan by proxy. Do you see how things might look from where I’m sittin’?” she asks.

Caroline: “I can see how the possibilities begin to present themselves,” Caroline agrees. She gestures between them. “Is this anything more than a business arrangement, Questor Adler?”

GM: “This has been more than a business arrangement with every clanmate you’ve met, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne answers seriously. “The Structure is made stronger—and my sire, brother, and I made stronger—by the success of every clanmate. Whether I’m your au pair or not, so long as we share the same blood, I would like to see you succeed and find a place for yourself within the clan.”

Caroline: “Of course, Questor Adler, but with no other have I spent many a night cloistered together in a room.” She crosses her legs. “We both know of course that you would not have been here to begin with but for the gracious offer you and your sire extended, but what I’m getting at is a simpler question: do you have any affection for me? Plainer still, can I trust you?”

A faint smile. “Or I suppose in the spirit of Sartre, should I?”

GM: “To quote a thinker from my own education, ‘every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back,’” Becky Lynne smiles in turn. “Whether you can, I’ll leave for my actions from our time together to speak for themselves. Whether you should… the Requiem is a dark existence, Miss Malveaux. Trusting others of our kind doesn’t come easily—but I’ve found, after extendin’ my own to a handful, that it’s helped make my Requiem just a bit less dark.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her tongue across her fangs, and after a moment finally seems to make a decision.

“The sheriff is no friend to me. Nor has he been, or would I expect it. The night he learned of my existence was the night the death warrant for a former fellow hound was written. While I don’t know that I’ve ever managed to rise to the level of enemy for him,” she smiles, “too small, he has rarely been inclined to act in my favor.”

She pauses. “If you can accept that, everything else becomes much clearer.”

GM: Becky Lynne nods at this for Caroline to go on.

Caroline: “René Baristheaut was no fickle neonate. He was a well-regarded, and so far as I can tell, well respected former hound in good standing with Clan Ventrue and specifically with numerous powerful individuals in the city, from Gerousiastis McGinn, to Mr. Savoy, to the serpents. Even were he not, he was more than a century old and in addition to his knowledge and personal power even had elder ghouls at his service. And contrary to how he may have presented himself at his execution, he was far from eager to meet his end, and not exactly screaming ‘stake me’ when we met for the first time.”

She tilts her head. “I, in contrast, was and remain a fledgling Kindred of no standing among Clan Ventrue or any other group, with few such avenues of power open, a handful of ghouls I barely knew, and half a dozen Kindred enemies in the first nights of my Requiem. No one was exactly interested in backing the underdog for free, Questor Adler. Especially not with other events going on in the city if much greater importance than the city’s newest fledgling, vis-a-vis your sire.”

GM: “There are some things the Requiem changes, and a lot that it doesn’t,” Becky Lynne answers with a fainter than usual smile.

Caroline: “Plenty of my errors have been mine alone. Mistakes made as I learned of and adjusted to my Requiem.” A discomforted look passes over Caroline’s face, but is gone in a moment. Her voice is steady when her expression returns to a resting one. “But there were costs associated with that ‘victory’ too, Questor Adler. Obligations, expectations, requirements, and outright demands.”

There’s a bitter humor to in her voice as she finishes, “Difficult though it may be to believe, I do not simply enjoy doing everything in the most difficult way possible, or thumbing my nose at those in power simply because.”

GM: “The Anarchs can make a more welcomin’ home for those who do,” Becky Lynne comments, but once again does not seem to wish to interrupt.

Caroline: “I doubt they’re likely to excuse the destruction of four of their own,” Caroline replies.

GM: “An unfortunate bit of business there for all parties,” Becky Lynne nods.

Caroline: “In many ways,” Caroline agrees.

“In any case,” she shifts from the topic of Eight-Nine-Six. If she were still living she might sigh, but she’s not. Instead her shoulders simply sag for a moment before she straightens her posture. “I doubt any Kindred’s Requiem is so simple as it might appear on the surface.”

GM: “They rarely are,” Becky Lynne nods in agreement.

Caroline: “In any case, I did not attempt to ignore and disrespect Gerousiastis McGinn simply to do so.”

GM: Becky Lynne gives another, fainter nod of understanding, but waits for Caroline to go on.

Caroline: “It nonetheless leaves me with few choices where he is concerned.”

GM: Becky Lynne again waits for Caroline to go on.

Caroline: The Ventrue falls silent, however, having apparently expressed her position adequately.

GM: It’s an awkward moment when she realizes that Becky Lynne is apparently still waiting for her half-explanation to build towards more.

The older Ventrue, however, is the one to finally break the silence.

“The present consensus within the Structure, Miss Malveaux, is that you ask your clanmates for much while offerin’ little in return.”

Caroline: “A bit of a catch-22 there, Questor Adler, as few are inclined to allow me to do anything for or with them until I’ve made something of myself already.” She tilts her head. “How can I change that view with yourself?”

GM: Becky Lynne shakes her head. “No, Miss Malveaux, I’m afraid you’ve received plenty chances in ways large and small.”

Caroline: Caroline scowls in anger, annoyance, or perhaps frustration. Her voice remains even.

“I asked for nothing. Not even a seat at the table. You offered.”

GM: “All right, Miss Malveaux, I reckon I should be fully honest here,” Becky Lynne says patiently. “All of us are waitin’ until you’ve completed your agoge before we want you to do anything for us, or with us. Right now we are more interested in your character—your dignitas—than in business.”

Caroline: “Then take this of my character, Questor Adler,” Caroline replies simply. “I asked not that any of you take sides when one of your own violated the Traditions and Embraced me. I asked nothing when threatened with final death. I held no grudge when I was set up, was whipped into near torpor and blood bound, and then had a gerousiastis plot with the renegade René to capture me, frame me, and bond me further.”

“I held no ill will toward your own sire for what transpired between us when I approached him out of respect, despite what it cost me. And I have at almost every step been willing to bend to fit. To avoid giving offense from the moment I knew what offense there was to give.”

“I want no handout. I have no intention of asking Clan Ventrue to support my weight, of resting comfortably under the roof others built and continue hold up, but I’ll honorably take a position as one of the pillars holding up the Parthenon of Kindred and kine. You’re correct that I have little to show for now.”

GM: “Four-fifths of the Gerousia are still likely to induct you into the clan at this point, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne states. “The great deciding factor for them—more than the success of your firm, in fact—is the resolution of your present dispute with Gerousastis Malveaux. If two pillars are at odds, that Parthenon risks crumblin’.”

“I’d like to help the two of you resolve that dispute, and put the bad blood behind you. We’ve hit an apparent snag over the matter of his domain, and how you fake your death. My opinion doesn’t matter there, not really. You don’t need to convince me one way or another to secure your induction into the clan. But my take on the situation is this:”

“If you repeat to Gerousiastis Malveaux the same things you’ve said to me, he will not be satisfied. He will vote against your induction, and the other gerousiastes will follow his lead.”

“I’m sorry you’ve suffered and feel the clan has done you wrong in the past. I’m sorry if this feels like more bad news and another hoop for you to jump through. I would still like to help you fix the current situation with Gerousiastis Malveaux and, apparently, the prince. I like to think there’s a few things I could do for you.”

“If you’d like, I can put you in touch with the Hussar. I can put you in touch with other Kindred who might be able to assist, whether that’s the seneschal, the primogen, the Gerousia, or whoever else. I can approach them on your behalf, or not mention your name. I can leave other Kindred out of this and simply listen.”

“I confess I don’t quite know what could fix things here for you, but the offer is open. If we can, I would like us to raise up another pillar in the Parthenon.”

Caroline: Caroline interjects, “Respectfully Questor Adler, you’ve misunderstood me.”

“I don’t feel mistreated by Clan Ventrue. I don’t feel entitled your support, or their support, or anything else for that matter—outside of honoring the arrangements we have made.”

“I mean Gerousiastis Malveaux no ill will or disrespect. Perhaps I once did, perhaps I thought him a monster, but that version of myself is so distant that it’s barely a memory. I will give him my apologies for past wrongs—and admit there may have been some for which I was entirely to blame. But…”

She continues after a moment, “I am not Gerousiastis Malveaux’s childe and I owe him no boons. He is not my priest, and I am no longer part of his domain myself. He is not my benefactor and has made his own position quite clear.”

“Is it really so disrespectful to say that he does not get to decide how I should die?”

GM: “Indeed he isn’t, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne nods. “But you enter his domain with every interaction you have with your mortal family. The circumstances of your death will have significant repercussions upon his domain. A young clanmate who showed consideration and deference to her elder by soliciting and payin’ heed to his input would show the clan a few things about herself: that she’s socially astute, works well with others, has respect for the Structure’s traditions, and has the foresight to recognize how fosterin’ good relations her elders benefits her in the long run. In your particular case, this is also your chance to show us, not simply tell us, that you bear Gerousiastis Malveaux no ill will.”

Caroline: “It sounds as though there’s only really two options then, Questor Adler. Either I succeed in arguing another position with others on my end, or I accept this has been a lost venture for all parties,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Talkin’ things out with others rarely hurts to try,” Becky Lynne nods.

Caroline: Caroline laughs genuinely and darkly at that remark.

When she stops Caroline’s eyes fall more soberly upon the older Ventrue. Silence reigns for a moment.

“I apologize, Questor Adler. There has been no one I could discuss any of these matters with. Not since my Embrace. Still, that was inappropriate.”

GM: “Better that it was here in private, Miss Malveaux. And even better that you caught it,” Becky Lynne nods. “Happily accepted.”

Caroline: “I hope my benefactor and Gerousiastis Malveaux feel the same way,” Caroline replies.

Saturday night, 23 October 2015, AM

GM: Caroline finds herself summoned to a luxuriously appointed corporate boardroom several floors from the top of Perdido House. The table is polished African Blackwood. Chairs are a rich, wine-colored upholstered leather. Five classical paintings depict a number of scenes, including: a monstrous dragon-like creature leading a charge of Roman legionnaires against Persian cataphracts; a stunningly beautiful, steel-faced woman felling two demonic figures with a bow even as their claws pierce her heart; a golden-haired and perfectly proportioned youth spreading his arms above Pope Leo as the latter crowns a kneeling Charlemagne emperor; a majestic, titan-like man hurling thunderbolts from the sky, while a crowd of terrified worshipers prostrate themselves; and serene-faced Indian man floating above another prostate crowd in lotus position, a halo illuminating his head like a crown.

Above the paintings, a glittering chandelier illuminates the figures seated at the table beneath it: Father Malveaux and Marcel Guilbeau, adjacent to one another at the table’s rear. Gabriel Hurst sits off by their right hand. The priest’s pinkish, flour-white face betrays nothing as Caroline is ushered into the room by an adolescent female ghoul whose pallid skin and shock-white hair mirrors his own.

The diminutive ghoul bids Caroline kneel as she recites the other three Ventrue’s many titles and honorifics, beginning with, “His Majesty Marcel Guilbeau, prince of Baton Rouge…”

Caroline: It’s a routine Caroline has gone through many times by now.

GM: “You may rise, Miss Malveaux,” the albino priest rasps after a brief pause.

Caroline: “Thank you, Gerousiastis Malveaux,” the Ventrue replies as she climbs gracefully to her feet. She’s dressed for the occasion in a relatively conservative black dress, cinched at the waist with a dark belt and hanging loosely past her knee. She left her coat outside.

GM: “For what purpose are you here, Miss Malveaux?” the older Ventrue asks with another rasp.

Marcel and Hurst remain silent, their eyes on Caroline.

Caroline: “To make amends, Gerousiastis Malveaux, for past behavior. To demonstrate that the mistakes following my Embrace were just, mistakes,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Of what errors do you speak, Miss Malveaux?” the albino asks, his pinkish eyes unblinking.

Caroline: “Several leap immediately to mind, Gerousiastis. Disrespect and indifference shown in the face of your efforts to initiate me into the Sanctified and promote my spiritual well-being. Discourtesy towards you and your domain in my handling of the Masquerade with it specifically, and careless handling of the Masquerade more generally beyond that amid my hunt for my sire.”

She pauses only to take a breath to continue, “Attempting to end around you, Gerousiastis, by bringing my planned mortal death to the prince’s attention first via the Hussar and ignoring your wishes with regard to how I should stage such a thing.”

“Failure to join a krewe as you, Gerousiastis, and Hound Agnello had advised.”

GM: “Hound Agnello did not advise that you join a krewe, Miss Malveaux. He asked that you do such, in repayment for your debt to him—a debt he has since either repurposed or generously overlooked,” Father Malveaux rasps.

Caroline: “As you say, Gerousiastis,” Caroline agrees without argument.

GM: “By what means have you rectified these many errors?”

Caroline: “I’m grateful that you still consider that question worthy of your time, Gerousiastis,” Caroline begins.

“While you understandably concluded some months ago that further interactions constituted throwing good money after bad—you had, after all, seen no significant improvements in my behavior amid my search for René Baristheaut, the truth is, Gerousiastis, that your lessons planted the seed for my embrace of the Sanctified and the Gospel of Longinus. Your patience gave me the opportunity to learn the errors of my ways amid the Masquerade, and correct my course, before I did irreparable damage to it, and your guidance helped to shape my further interactions with the kine.”

“I’ve taken Father Elgin as my priest and confessor.” She draws forth the small handbag she carries. “Rather than offer you my assurances of the matter—I’m certain at this point they mean rather little to you, Gerousiastis—I asked that he pen a letter as to his views on my position on and growth within the faith.”

“I shall not pretend that his words are universally glowing—I have as much room to grow within the faith as I do within my blood—but I daresay they may yet be a surprise given my previous showings. Associated with it is my handling of the Masquerade in recent months. He was not so callus as to break the seal of confession, but the matter is touched upon in brief.”

“I have been as disengaged with your domain as my current status allows within the bounds of the Masquerade, and have not made use of the gifts of Caine upon them. In accordance with your last expressed wishes, Gerousiastis, I have revised my plans for my ‘death’ to mortal eyes to be more modest, in accordance with your last expressed wishes. My ghoul waits outside with detailed plans for the ‘accident’ that will ‘take my life’ for review by yourself—or a ghoul—as and if you deem appropriate. Upon your approval I shall bring the revision to Capitán Gaultierrez for his own approval in place of the prince. It is my intention to fully disentangle myself from your domain at the earliest convenience to all parties, barring your objection, Gerousiastis.”

“I have cultivated relations with the Storyville Krewe, though they have understandably declined to extend membership at this time. I have not abandoned that goal, though it has proven more difficult to immediately obtain than originally expected, even with Hound Agnello expending his own considerable influence in attempting to persuade them to change their position by demonstrating my value individually, and my growth within the faith. Among other things I have actively investigated the disappearance of one of their members, expanded my knowledge of the Gospel, built my own financial security, and cultivated the beginnings of a domain in the belief that it may yet allow me to fulfill that goal. My proximity to them has, as both Hound Agnello and yourself, Gerousiastis, seemed to believe, aided in furthering my understanding of the faith, and in keeping me grounded and committed to it.”

GM: Father Malveaux receives Caroline’s testimony without comment or change of expression. Marcel and Hurst, too, mirror the other gerousiastis in their silence.

“You may have your ghoul detail your planned efforts to preserve the Masquerade in lieu of your mortal death, Miss Malveaux,” the albino priest bids.

Caroline: On the list of Caroline’s possible outcomes this was relatively low, but Caroline has prepared for it all the same.

Once Widney is summoned, the assistant begins her brief, offering multi-fold folders to each of the present Ventrue.

The plan is relatively straightforward. Caroline will ‘die’ in a car accident. A drunk driver will hit her (the target has already been identified as a repeat offender that Caroline has previously fed upon) while returning from an outing with a group of ‘friends’.

She will be killed on impact, and subsequently the car—a model purchased under her name that has a known defect that seems to have been tragically uncorrected in her own vehicle—will burst into flames. The body will be burned beyond immediate recognition, leading to dental records being used to identify her.

A dentist has already been identified to match the body to be used as a stand in for her with those on record.

GM: Gabriel Hurst pages through his copy of the report. Marcel and Father Malveaux mostly listen. Once again, Caroline’s testimony passes without comment from the three Ventrue.

“From whence did you procure this ghoul?” Father Malveaux inquires without looking at Widney.

Caroline: “She resided within the domain provided to me by Hound Agnello. I was familiar with her from my mortal life, and with her competence,” Caroline replies.

GM: “On what basis should your ability to create ghouls without endangering the Masquerade be trusted, Miss Malveaux?” the priest then asks.

Caroline: “I would have it be judged by the quality of my ghouls in the months since the last incident, Gerousiastis. The burnt hand often teaches best, and I have been much more through of my vetting than I was as a fledgling,” comes Caroline’s smooth reply. “There were many errors in those nights, on many fronts, as I learned of my own nature, of the sanctity of the Masquerade, and of my place within both and the All-Night Society. By the guidance of my elders in blood and faith I have grown since those nights.”

GM: “And what errors did you commit in your previous ghoul’s creation?” Father Malveaux rasps.

Widney’s features remain carefully impassive.

Caroline: “Improper and incomplete vetting of them,” Caroline replies. “I allowed my haste in my search for weapons against René Baristheaut to overcome what was a necessary diligence before exposing them to this world.”

GM: “What manner of risk did your ghouls pose to our world as a result of this lack of diligence, Miss Malveaux?” Father Malveaux asks. His pinkish eyes remain unblinking.

Caroline: Caroline tries her best to remain calm as the meeting increasingly turns into an inquisition that appears designed to drive wedges between herself and her servants. “Poor handling of Ms. Turner, especially after her injury, gave rise to her eventual betrayal with secrets of the All Night Society stolen from me. In the wrong hands such information could have been not only damaging to the Masquerade generally, but specifically to various Kindred of New Orleans.”

“Ms. Polk I’m told was secretly a hunter,” Caroline actually quite suspects this tale is a cover for Lou, but does not say as much, “and my failure to vet her more thoroughly both endangered myself specifically, and potentially others had she remained in my service for longer as she could have discovered details of various Kindred’s Requiems that could have left them vulnerable to other hunters. Thankfully the danger she poised was ended by yourself, Gerousiastis, when you executed her upon my arrival to Perdido House with my torpid sire.”

GM: “And what of the third ghoul created from your mortal cohabitant, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “Her knowledge of even what she was remained extremely limited. Shortly after her creation she was badly mauled by the Eight-Nine-Six Anarch krewe, and after her recovery she attempted a programmed attack on me—a side effect of her captivity—which resulted in her demise.”

“The largest threat was her vague and highly generalized knowledge of the existence of the supernatural. I am of the opinion that as with many, she was poorly suited to existence as a ghoul.”

GM: “Sheriff Donovan relayed to me that you were evicted from his domain, Miss Malveaux. For what reasons did he feel this was necessary? How does your poor relationship with the sheriff not reflect poorly upon our clan?” Father Malveaux inquires.

Marcel’s and Hurst’s expressions remain as neutral as before.

“Have you any final statements or demonstrations you wish to make as to your worth in my eyes?”

Caroline: She gestures once more to her of yet undismissed ghoul, who produces a much thinner folder out of the soft leather briefcase for her domitor. “A penance to me, when you were then my confessor, Gerousiastis, was to seek out my past victims.”

“I was not diligent in doing so, but nor did I forget. Due to my erratic hunting patterns early in my Requiem some I was unable to find once more. The rest are there. Some turned their lives around. A handful had little to repent for. One… well, it’s there.” Included in the file is a list of names and an obituary.

Troy Holloway seems to have tragically taken his own life in his apartment. Perhaps he had a guilty conscious. Something to do with all the women the paralegal and would have been lawyer drugged and raped. Caroline tried to teach him a lesson once. When she came back she was less forgiving.
The three Ventrue receive this too in silence.

GM: “This is all you wish to say, Miss Malveaux?” Father Malveaux rasps.

Caroline: “No, Gerousiastis Malveaux. I would also offer you my personal apology, and a boon as evidence of my sincerity, for my past behavior,” Caroline replies.

“You were more than patient with a sireless fledgling, and I chose to ignore your attempts to guide me down a more proper path.”

GM: The same silence that has characterized Marcel and Hurst thus far continues to linger from the two Ventrue.

Father Malveaux stares probingly at Caroline with his still unblinking, pinkish eyes. His thin and motionless features seem almost reptilian as he silently regards her.

“I am unconvinced of your worth, Miss Malveaux,” he rasps. “You offer assurances and token actions to offset one of the most shameful histories of behavior I have ever borne witness to from a Kindred of Ventrue blood. Your conduct has been an embarrassment to our clan, and those actions you have taken to rectify it have been inadequate.”

The silence again lingers.

“I am, however, convinced that you should be extended opportunity under which to do so. I accept your boon and will not oppose your induction into the Structure under the basis of your prior actions.”

“The completion of your agoge and the establishment of a good name within our clan shall be yours to earn, and the Gerousia’s to judge, on the basis of your own efforts.”

Caroline: “Thank you, Gerousiastis Malveaux, that is more than I could have asked,” Caroline replies once more.

There’s truth to her words. Truth in what she has said this evening. There’s no way she could have sold this if there were not truth to her words—lies only go so far, even pretty sounding ones.

A step forward, if at cost. Cost to pride. Cost to face—in the presence of her own ghoul. Cost in boons. Cost in blood. Costs that will yet be born. Consequences of this night will persist for those to come.

She hopes it’s worth it. Hopes she has something to show for it in the end. Giving up her family. Giving up her life. Giving up everything.


It’s her birthright, in more ways than one. Acceptance by the others in the clan is the first step on her path.

That’s how she has to frame it in her mind. A step forward. Not humiliation. Not the cost of what she’s done. Not the murders she has done that damned her as surely as her blood. Not the loss of her father.

There has to be a light at the end of the tunnel. There has to be something waiting.

She remembers Vidal as he cut through the gathered city for the trial. Remembers the pull of desire. Remembers the brief touch of his hand as he annotated her brow.

Something has to be waiting. It has to be.

There’s certainly nothing tonight.

Caroline V, Chapter VII
Follow the Money

“I lived a life of privileged and purpose… but one without meaning. One in the service of nothing, and to no end but its own.”
Caroline Malveaux

Thursday evening, 7 October 2015

GM: Despite Caroline having been dropped from her classes, Tulane caves to Malveaux pressure as people so often do and lets the Ventrue back in. But whatever threats or bribes Caroline’s family resorted to, she still remains unable to attend her previous daytime classes—and must physically enter Donovan’s parish to do so in any case. And despite her mother’s suggestion (perhaps more offered out of reflexive anger than serious consideration), holders of online law degrees can only take the bar exam in California, even if they can from there attempt to receive certification in other states. The legal profession is as tradition-bound as the Kindred themselves in some ways. Caroline is back on the registers for all of her old classes, but the old problem of how to actually pass them still remains.

There is also the matter of her job as a legal clerk. She’s expected to send in her resume, cover letter, and go through all the actual process of applying for a job before she’s given the position Thomas has already snagged for her with his colleagues on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Caroline’s ‘handler’ in this matter is her mother. Claire has done her best to maintain cordial relations with Orson, for she gains nothing by turning the Albino’s favored pawn against herself. She says she would not put it past him to seek independent confirmation of Caroline’s law school enrollment and job status—or, even more likely, to simply investigate Caroline for further indiscretions and incidentally happen to uncover the fact she is unemployed and not attending classes.

Caroline: Caroline works with her mother, calls on her expanding net of resources, and brings to bear the growing might of her unholy powers to turn the family’s eye and ire from her. Professors are waylaid and left with buried reminders to mark her as present, private investigators are identified, their minds broken, and their loyalties redirected, and even the influence of the Lord of the French Quarter is (much to Caroline’s unease) turned to the project of helping with her need for a ‘day job’ in an appropriately prestigious legal field.

GM: As in so many things, Caroline’s damned state proves her solution as well as problem. Tracking her professors to their homes, or following their movements until they leave the parish, and then raping their minds into marking her as present for classes proves trivially easy.

Caroline: Nights are exhaustively filled with meetings, liaisons, planning, and ruthless use of the extent of her gifts to bend the wills and minds of others as she pursues not only this project, but also the many others needed to arrange her death and set up her new life among Kindred society. Without the aid of her mother, without those new half-damned souls she brings in as ghouls, it would be an impossible task. As is, it is much like eating an elephant: a mountain that is devoured one bite at a time.

Like many matters, it would be worlds easier with the aid of Father Malveaux, but his continued animosity is just another push in the direction of Savoy’s oh so welcoming camp.

Friday night, 8 October 2015, AM

GM: Caroline continues to have meetings with Antoine Savoy. They are quiet affairs, and the Lord of the French Quarter arranges passage with anonymous cabs that take long circuitous routes to the Evergreen, including handing Caroline off to other faceless drivers mid-way through the trips.

“You’re still figuring things out, Miss Malveaux. Being seen too often with me will limit your options, so far as allegiances,” Savoy smiles.

Caroline: In spite of everything she’s heard, in spite of her lineage, in spite of the affair with René, the Ventrue cannot help but find herself associating with Savoy, and, perhaps even liking him. He may be a politician, but in a city of tyrants his appeal is undeniable.

GM: Like him or not, the Toreador is also happy to dispense advice and counsel that her Kindred relative does not exercise so free a hand with.

“It’s not entirely true that Father Malveaux is your family’s master, Miss Malveaux. Oh, Orson is his, to be sure, and it’s through the archbishop that he has his hold over the Catholic Church. But it’s Vidal who makes the donations to your father’s campaigns, and who owns the largest share in Malveaux Oil. The lesser Malveauxes are the good father’s, for the most part, but they’re just that—lesser.”

Caroline: “He owns my father and Matthew?” she asks.

GM: “Look up the name Sebastian Ortega, Miss Malveaux. You’ll find that he’s a regular and generous donor to your father’s campaigns. You’ll also find his name on a number of unaffiliated PACs and corporate boards that have consistently supported Senator Malveaux, as well as many of his other pet causes. Then look up the names like Hubert Gonzalez that are aliases for Vidal’s favored pawns. When you factor in their campaign contributions—and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you where those funds come from—you’ll find that our prince is your father’s largest donor by a good margin.”

Savoy smiles again. “Follow the money, as they always say.”

Caroline: Caroline shivers at the darkness surrounding her family.

“Is there anything you don’t know, Lord Savoy?” It’s a dangerously loaded question offered with a smile and a light tone.

GM: The Toreador only laughs again, then answers with a look that’s curiously frank and facetious at the same time, “Let’s start with where Mr. Ortega lives, Miss Malveaux. I know about a number of properties attached to his name, but I doubt he actually sleeps in them.”

“We do our homework as best we may,” Preston offers blandly.

Caroline: “I suppose there has to be some mystery to keep life interesting.”

GM: “And the usual wheels within wheels of him knowing that we know that he knows we know,” Savoy offers with another smile and vague motion of his hand.

“It’s largely the same story with your Uncle Matthew, in any case. Most of the company’s shares are owned by family members, but that doesn’t stop a tidy profit from finding its way to our prince’s various bank accounts.”

Caroline: “And with all of those family members under the thumb of Father Malveaux who is under the prince’s thumb in turn…” Caroline finishes with a nod. “How far back does that connection go? The Malveaux family and the prince?”

GM: Savoy scratches his chin. “Around the Civil War, I’d say. They were one of the few local families to cooperate with the Union, and Prince Vidal’s hold over the city was its weakest during that point. He had limited success subverting the occupying Union forces, but a native family was another matter. His interest in them waned but didn’t entirely fade after Reconstruction. Father Malveaux’s Embrace, of course, reignited it, as did the oil boom and their rise to their present wealth.”

Caroline: “He’s been in with the prince from the beginning, then?”

GM: “He’s a Kindred who knows his loyalties,” Savoy smiles. “He’s enjoyed our prince’s favor for well over a hundred years.”

Caroline: “Is that typically the way of things? Kindred find their allegiance early on?”

GM: “Early loyalty can pay dividends. Getting in on the ground floor of something, and all. But that would keep things far too stale if they could never change, wouldn’t you say?” Savoy grins.

Caroline: “I’ll keep it under advisement.”

GM: Among other matters that the two discuss are Marguerite Defallier and a certain mortal pawn of hers Caroline is interested in acquiring: Christina Roberts. Yes, she’s been friends with ‘Jill d’Agostino’, Marguerite’s current mortal alias, for around a decade now, and listens faithfully to the Toreador’s ‘advice’. Savoy furnishes the Ventrue with information, including his own indirect interest in seeing the harpy’s hold over the city’s escort scene weakened, but leaves it to Caroline how she wishes to proceed.

Caroline: The Ventrue is attentive to the information. Her own agent has already started staking out Caroline’s position, and the Ventrue is stalking her harpy would-be prey with all the certainty of a lion. Waiting for her moment even as she gathers information on her and her existing network.

GM: The matter of Caroline’s job is taken care of when Savoy invites the Ventrue and her distant cousin Thomas to dinner at Antoine’s—“my” restaurant, as the Toreador jokingly refers to it. Thomas greets him as “Chris,” and the three settle down to enjoy a sumptuous meal. The Supreme Court justice, in his old age, makes do with a simple glass of bordeaux and the Salade de Laitue au Roquefort: a wedge of iceberg lettuce with apples, walnuts, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, fleur de sel, and topped with a rich Rocquefort dressing.

The salad is nearly poverty-stricken in comparison to Savoy’s order of Louisiana gulf oysters baked on the half shell with Rockefeller sauce—a unique creation of the restaurant’s in 1889 named for how rich it is. Caroline’s food tastes as ash in her mouth, but Savoy seems to almost relish his meal when he orders the oysters twice, this time for his entree, and laughs how he “knows these are supposed to be appetizers!”

Much of the meeting seems like it’s been worked out in advance. Thomas only brings up Caroline’s job as a court clerk when their waitress takes desert orders. He says that “circumstances have changed” since the appellate court internship he’d snagged for Caroline, and he’s prepared to offer her old job back—with the understanding that she’ll be stuck doing a larger share of grunt work, and that if she gets fired again, she can’t count on his help getting a new job again. After the dinner, Savoy tells Caroline that she should file all the necessary employment forms, but otherwise doesn’t need to show up for work. The Toreador is frank about his intentions and declares, “I consider this an investment, Miss Malveaux. And a wise one! I’m confident it’ll pay ample dividends down the road.”

Caroline: Throughout her meetings with the Lord of the French Quarter it has become more and more difficult for Caroline to view him with the same suspicion and fear she once did. She knows that when the bill comes due it’ll be more than she wishes, but for now she’s grateful for the minor help in keeping her family off her back, and despite herself, can’t help but smile at his compliments and confidence.

He’s not wrong.

Saturday evening, 9 October 2015

Caroline: Caroline addresses another very pressing concern over the following weeks: money. Her trust fund and other income sources will be inaccessible once she’s legally dead. She needs to transfer those assets to new accounts, and to do it in such a way that her family won’t be suspicious of so much disappearing money. The Ventrue herself knows many of the legal mechanisms required to make her plans work, while her new ghoul Sarah Anne Widney knows many of the precise financial institutions required.

Caroline and her servants pursue a multi-pronged approach. She diverts some money from her existing accounts in ways that are not suspicious, such as apparently reckless spending funneled other ways.

GM: Autumn suggests a particularly simple trick where such “money laundering” is concerned: buy something expensive with a credit card, then mindfuck the sales clerk into taking it back, giving a cash refund, and forgetting the whole thing. Repeat the process at a dozen stores. It would be incredibly tedious for any investigator to turn up the minor irregularities in so many stores’ records, and the stores themselves ultimately wouldn’t care, since they haven’t lost any money.

Caroline: She and her ghouls identify likely targets in Rocco’s domain and shanghai them for “donations,” gifts, and some cases, outright blackmail. Few businessmen are capable of resisting her supernal charms and fewer still want incriminating photos of themselves disclosed to wives or the like. Caroline attempts to maintain a very low profile throughout this process, using her mental powers to identify victims as good candidates: anyone with money and no significant other. At a certain point, and faster than one might think, even these relatively “modest” events become self-sustaining. Caroline uses that off-grid money, independent of her identity, to leverage her and her servants’ financial awareness alongside insider knowledge gained from both victims and family in significant (but rarely obvious) shorts or early moves.

At the end of the day, turning $100,000 into one million is not overly difficult. Turning one million into ten million can be even easier. There are even more subtle options available: traders who are persuaded to buy just a little high on something, or sell just a little low, which results in large numbers created when one is already dealing with large numbers. The easiest method Caroline can settle on to make her misappropriated funds grow is by shorting stocks and companies, or jumping in early. There is a reason insider trading is illegal, but if one can get inside information from an outside source and then jump in… well, that’s a different problem.

Most of Caroline’s ill-gotten gains go into numbered overseas accounts registered under corporate headers. She’s had plans to start her own law firm and fictive corporations for some time, and it’s now that she finally starts to lay the groundwork.

She attempts to be relatively careful with all of the men she defrauds. Memories of women are not memories of her, but of women that are different enough. She also avoids going deep to the same well more than once—and passes up on some easier scores because of the smell or feel of another Kindred being involved as she gets close. The details are tedious, but in the end, transferring large sums of money isn’t difficult for someone with a Ventrue’s powers and a lot more knowledge available than the average thug on the street. As she recalls one of her own law instructors once remarking, faintly horrified, “Oh my god, I’ve taught you all how to launder money.”

GM: Weeks pass.

To Caroline’s relief, for once in her Requiem, the process appears to go off without a hitch. Her available funds have taken a hit after the $50,000 spending spree, and much of her initial efforts go towards recouping those. Remaining funds are drained (but not completely emptied) from her trust and transferred to anonymous new accounts far from her family’s prying eyes. No other Kindred come down on her for interfering with their domains. For once, things go off without a hitch.

Autumn is deeply impressed (“from a Masquerade perspective”) that Caroline was able to make such large sums of money disappear so seamlessly. Several nights later, she approaches Caroline and says she wants to learn more about law and finance. “This is where the real game is played, in a way. The elders with their offshore accounts, rolls of investments, and teams of lawyers juggling legal and extralegal strategies to keep them rich. Cleaning up bloodstains seems kind of… well, crude, next to that. The closest I came was falsifying identities, but even that’s small-scale.”

Autumn continues that she has a bachelor’s in journalism, or at least could—she was only one semester away from graduating. If Caroline could finesse Tulane into giving her the degree she’s already worked so long for, she could go to work at that law firm her domitor is starting up. Obviously not as a lawyer, as she hasn’t been to law school, but either there or at some other job where Caroline thinks she could get a hands-on instruction in the intricacies of financial law.

“I need a cover story with my family, anyway, to explain what I’m doing with my life after I graduate,” Autumn finishes. “We might as well make it something that’s useful to you. You can always ghoul more lawyers or stockbrokers, if you want to spend the extra juice, but none of them know the Masquerade like I do. You could do a lot, with someone who can fill both roles.”

Caroline: Autumn’s approval of her efforts means more to Caroline than she’d like to admit, even as the effort consumes so many hours and involves breaking into so many minds. Watching her accounts slowly fill is a frustrating experience- she’s never had to work for a living—but the satisfaction when her illicit accounts move into the high six figures, and finally the seven figures, pays off eat the end.

She’s independent of her family and their pale, cruel master. It’s a liberating experience. She listens to the ghoul’s pitch with some interest, but clarifies several points: her own influence at Tulane, in terms of ‘handing over a degree’ is limited, and she will not risk Autumn’s identity by involving her family. She does however encourage the ghoul to resume her last semester and promise her a place in finance and law when she graduates, even offering to help pay for law school in the long term, though the ghoul’s expertise will likely be in high demand for the time being.

GM: Autumn seems cagey about the idea of law school and presses Caroline about working as a paralegal, legal secretary, or some other job that doesn’t require more school. “Doesn’t being a paralegal take a bachelor’s and a shorter series of certification courses?”

In fact, Autumn seems rather too cagey. It’s not wanting to dive straight into the work… she’s afraid of something at law school.

Caroline: It doesn’t take a genius to put two together with the ghoul’s desire to avoid further schooling. “I need you to finish your bachelor’s… but I understand your reluctance thereafter.” And her tone makes it very clear that she does understand. Explicitly.

Still, she sounds more disappointed than angry, and it’s not entirely clear whom she is disappointed in. She doesn’t bring up the topic of further schooling with Autumn, and agrees that she can readily find a place for the ghoul among other college-educated workers: an office that large may even eventually need a simple supervisor.

GM: Autumn thinks for a bit. “Caroline, what’s the most important thing in the world to you?”

Caroline: Caroline considers the question.

“I don’t know that I have a good answer to that right now.”

GM: “Well… what used to be?” Autumn asks.

Caroline: Autumn’s question sparks a moment of pause in her domitor, especially coming so quickly on the heels of her success in building her own fortune, and on the eve of her ‘death’.

She’s spent virtually her entire life under the thumb of her family, guided by its expectations, but the demands of the Malveaux name, and with her life so wholly influenced and controlled by that name. The advantages she enjoyed, the opportunities provided, the respect she had: all the product of her distinguished family and its influence. For the first time she’s ‘free’ or as close to it as she’s ever been, death sentence, Ventrue expectations, and the harsh limits of Kindred society as a whole not withstanding.

What did she care about? What mattered to her? Faith? Family? Future? These were all assumptions, givens. She would uphold their name. She would believe in God. She would finish her schooling and start a successful career. But what did she really have? An absent father, a distant mother, and siblings all dysfunctional in their own ways. She had friends, connections, but how many of them had depth, and how many were products of her demands of success and the influence she wielded? What would her life have meant if Vidal had not swept her up into his plans? If he had not damned her with his blood and brought her over?

The most important thing in the world to her: not her family. She let Westley die to save herself, she flushed away her own child as an inconvenience and embarrassment, and she was all too happy to be left alone to pursue her own agenda. Not her faith, obviously, when she has so readily embraced one all too blasphemous. Not even her future: how many of her tears in truth have been shed over the loss of her classes, or a mundane job as an attorney?

Looking at it all through the prism of her new existence, so much of it feels so… empty.

GM: “Should I not have asked that either?” Autumn questions at Caroline’s pause.

Caroline: The Ventrue frowns. “No… you should never be afraid of asking a question. And it’s a valid one. I hadn’t ever really thought about it before, but the truth? What I cared about?” Caroline shuffles. “I lived a life of privileged and purpose… but one without meaning. One in the service of nothing, and to no end but its own.”

GM: “Sounds like the Embrace might’ve been a step up in some ways.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Yes… it was. Or at least, may yet be. It certainly created… perspective.”

Perspective. And pain. And suffering… and opportunity. To carve out her own path for once. She wars inside with her sire’s abandonment of her and the idea that it might have been done to create just that, an opportunity for her to stand on her own two feet, rather than a malicious attempt to set her up for failure. Especially of… she wonders how long ago he signed off on sireless fledglings not being executed on sight. How long the plan was in motion.

Is there a long game at work here? How long had he been watching her. In the back of her mind though, she can’t help but wonder how much the bond created by his blood is pulling at her thoughts, pulling her in another direction, towards thinking the best of him…

GM: “Well, I hope it turns out to be. But on school.”

Someone with a clear and cool head might wisely leave the matter be. Especially when Caroline volunteers to make things without more school.

“Swear on… the meaning you want to find,” Autumn says somewhat lamely, “that you won’t ever feed on me again, and I’ll go back to school.”

Caroline can see the desperate desire to please warring with the rational caution in her ghoul’s eyes.

She can just as easily see ‘feed on me’ replaced with ‘hit me.’

Caroline: The thought is interrupted by Autumn’s question returning the topic to herself, and Caroline feels a flush of anger as it becomes clear that the question that sparked such existential considering was just a precursor to worries about Caroline feeding on her.

It spirals off into irritation that the ghoul dropped out purposefully and she can feel, for just a moment, the Beast’s hackles rising as it senses any opportunity to slip free its bonds. The anger bleeds away though as she sees the fear in Autumn’s eyes, the genuine hurt. She bites back what would have been her original comment (“I promise that you won’t remember”) and sits in silence for a moment.

“You know that’s not why I offered.”

GM: “I know. I’d still like to hear it,” Autumn says.

Even if the Beast won’t give a damn.

Caroline: Those same demands from another lesser, another servant, another ghoul, might cause Caroline’s anger to surge again, but looking at Autumn Caroline feels only regret. Autumn, whose life she has destroyed, whose entire fate was altered by their meaning… for Autumn, she nods.

“I won’t feed on you again.”

GM: “Okay,” Autumn answers. There’s still some amount of caution in her eyes, but Caroline can see an even more fervent desire to believe. “I suppose the lawyers with the grad degrees are the ones who run firms anyway.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “It’s all fluid really past a certain point. The people that run everything are the people with the money. But if you’re serious about being able to get deep into the financial side of the Masquerade, a law degree and the benefits it provides, especially in terms of what it allows you to do legally, are pretty advantageous. There’s a reason I wanted one.”

GM: Autumn nods. “Like I said, I need some kind of cover story for what I’m doing with my life after getting my bachelor’s.”

Caroline: “We’ll find it.”

Monday evening, 11 October 2015

Caroline: Even more practical is the matter of outstanding Masquerade problems: Trenton and Paxton. In both she is flying without all the information, or even a body, but she aggressively builds her narrative around Trenton of the tragic suicide of a transgendered youth. Additional threads are put together should any investigation lead back to her to explain their online connection, but Caroline’s investigations reveal how reviled the boy was by his family for his lifestyle choices: they seem ready to seize on the idea that his gender identity flaws led to his death. By the time they even notice that Trenton has gone missing, many days have passed, the case is quite cold, and Caroline has had ample time to plant evidence, including a rather touching suicide note.

GM: Someone at Tulane files a missing person report over Trenton. The trail eventually leads to detectives from the Tulane University Police Department stopping by Caroline’s suite at Harrah’s New Orleans. One of the detectives remarks it’s a “Bitch of a commute time, lady,” next to her recently-listed address at Audubon Place. The suicide note they found in Trenton’s dorm room at once gladdens and baffles the detectives. On the one hand, they’re glad the missing boy turned out not to be murdered. TUPD deals with a lot less homicides than NOPD and is expected to have a commensurately higher clearance rate. Suicides among the student body are sadly more common. The missing car and body, however, are strange. What did he do, drive into the Gulf of Mexico? Or jump off a bridge before someone stole his car? The police puzzle for a bit, and return to interview Caroline several times—“as you’re our only real witness”—as well as the guards on-shift at Audubon Place at the time. Their stories of remembering the car leaving but not much else are frustratingly uniform. Eventually, however, Trenton Blake Nowak is declared dead in absentia, with the suicide note taken as evidence of imminent peril.

“Students are saying the kid’s dorm room is cursed,” one of the detectives shares with Caroline in parting. “Him committing suicide. His roommate getting sent to prison. Another student on the same floor going missing around the same time. You wouldn’t know anything about a Stan Weber, would you?”

Caroline: “Never heard of him,” Caroline replies easily.

GM: The detective gives Caroline a card.

“Give us a call if you ever do. His family, at least, is worrying.”

Caroline: “I suspect the same can be said of all you visit, detective.”

GM: “Not the Trenton kid. Take care, ma’am.”

Tuesday evening, 12 October 2015

Caroline: Paxton is a different problem. She investigates his family—the picture the PI showed her still haunts her, but more aggressively uses her in’s with her family’s investigators built by their spying upon her to pry at the details of the investigation they’ve discovered.

GM: Caroline’s investigation into Joseph Paxton’s family reveals Lou was right in his suspicion that the picture Caroline saw wasn’t of Paxton’s kids. He still has children, however. They are an acne-ridden 12-year-old boy named Zachary and a 13-year-old girl with a small head, low ears, narrow eyes, and uncomprehending smile that the Ventrue almost-med student identifies as Down Syndrome. Both children are also moderately overweight. The PI who flashed the picture of two younger, cuter, physically unblemished girls hugging each other seems more likely to have melted hearts.

Paxton has a divorced wife by the name of Lucilia Plantaine, a long-time receptionist at Ware and Lebowski (after Paxton left the FBI, Lucilia apparently introduced him to Franz Hartz, who introduced him to the Malveauxes). Lucilia was relying heavily on alimony and child support payments from her ex-husband, who made better money than she did. The family’s financial situation is at once better and worse than the Christians’. While they do not need to pay off any immediate medical bills, their standard of living is likely to significantly decline now that their primary breadwinner is dead. This will likely entail dropping the kids from private school and enrolling them in the public school system. New Orleans’ already underfunded and poor-performing public schools were turned into charters after Hurricane Katrina and are consequently a dysfunctional mess. Special education programs and other “nonessential” services have been mercilessly slashed by the for-profit schools, which spells poorly for mentally handicapped students like Rowan. Lucilia might be able to keep her in private school if she goes deep enough into debt. Paying for Rowan’s care is another long-term issue, as she’ll never be able to live independently. Good community homes for mentally handicapped adults cost equally good money. Zachary can doubtlessly look forward to a smaller college fund, but that is also relatively long-term next to immediate issues like mortgage payments, groceries, bills, and other recurrent expenses that the family now has less money for. Orson did not look favorably upon Paxton’s divorce, which seems to have been initiated by Lucilia. Help from the Catholic archbishop does not seem likely.

But even the money is a distant concern to Paxton’s family right now. He’s been missing for weeks and they’re terrified over what’s happened to him. That sort of behavior is completely unlike the stubborn, duty-driven man who Caroline remembers murdering after his second escape attempt. The family went to NOPD and filed a missing persons report, but nothing has come of it. Lucilia seems to have resigned herself to the fact that she can’t hire better PIs than Orson. The obese receptionist has switched back from Diet Coke. Zachary got into a fight at school, which the out of shape preteen lost badly with a black eye and bloody nose. (Caroline has to wonder how Paxton viewed the gangly, unathletic child, and how the boy must have viewed his father—invincible, like all young boys view their fathers, but perhaps even more so.) Rowan’s epilepsy, a condition sometimes comorbid with Down Syndrome, has caused her several fits.

Through it all, Paxton’s family waits for him to come back or to hear the worst news—but far likely is that they will hear no news at all, and wait a full five years before the state of Louisiana declares Paxton dead in absentia.

Caroline even finds out, ironically, that Paxton had taken out a good life insurance policy. Between his career in the FBI and employment under Orson, it must have seemed like a real possibility he’d die early. His childrens’ and divorced wife’s odds of collecting without a body or even, at this point, death certificate, however, are quite poor.

Caroline: For now, Caroline tables the matter.

For now, she has no ready answer for the family.

Wednesday evening, 13 October 2015

GM: Caroline gets a phone call from Neil. He sounds like he’s trying not to be a nag, but he’s worried about Angela and reports the same thing as Summer (though lacking the younger Greer’s closer perspective as Angela’s roommate). She crashed hard after the influenza bug and cut down on a few of her responsibilities, but she’s now back to odd-hours meetings with Kappas. Anything Caroline has to tell him would be a relief.

“Things are just so crazy right now. There was another resident here, Jared Brown… he and his sister turned up murdered in the Ninth Ward,” Neil mentions in passing.

He does have some good news, though. “Your friend Lauren is out of the hospital. She has some scars, but it’s a full recovery. The aunt still wants to know who paid for everything after your firm wouldn’t comment. She’s really thankful.”

Caroline has already heard that Sarah woke up. Neil actually isn’t one of her doctors anymore, but he reports that she’s recovering well, from what he’s heard. She’s in physical therapy.

Caroline: Neil’s call brings a smile to her face, even with the trouble he’s in. She has few answers for him, other than that it’s ‘how the Kappa’s are’. Even her own mother remains relatively tied to the sorority and refuses to talk about it. Angela is no different: Caroline put out feelers and came up cold on her.

The call from Summer is both disappointing in its timing, and happy in its content. Caroline agrees to meet with her for drinks another time.

On the topic of Lauren, Caroline is grateful that Neil kept matters to himself, and also that she’s recovering. The poor girl is as much a victim of Caroline’s monstrous embrace and abandonment as Caroline, and that one of them will emerge from it brings a momentary smile to her face.

Sarah is another victim of hers, too, in a fashion. She’s glad the girl’s road to recovery is proceeding uninterrupted.

GM: Neil can’t hide his disappointment at Caroline’s answer, though he admits it was a long shot. Still, “I don’t know,” her ex admits. “It’s just starting to get to me. Some of that volunteer work she used to do at SAPHE was pretty meaningful. We had a fight over it.” There’s also another girl—drop dead gorgeous at that—who’s been making moves on him lately. Neil feels horrible admitting it, but it actually crossed his mind to, “See where things would take us.”

Caroline: The heiress doesn’t come out and say it outright, but her response leaves little doubt that she thinks he should consider the other woman: though she can’t tell him, the idea that Angela’s Kappa involvement could turn into a bigger problem for her before the year is out, and a desire to keep him from harm, goes a long way.

GM: Caroline’s advice appears to leave Neil even more torn, though he resolves that, “I’m not going to cheat on Angela. If I want to be with Becca I’ll leave her first. But Becca’s just… so sudden. I’m not sure if she’s only really after sex.”

Caroline: “I’d expect nothing less,” she answers with approval.

Thursday evening, 14 October 2015

Caroline: Paradoxically, as Caroline grows more distant from her family and her nights grow busier with the relatively mundane business of planning her death and establishing her position, she loses her excuses for many matters she had previously let fall by the wayside. Minor things… but not to her, especially as she is unable to run and hide from behind the insanity of her unlife’s pace. These are moments of shame she’ll never live down, that come to her in those moments before dawn as she waits for the darkness to overtake her, but perhaps can do something of.

Jacobson’s wife, who she never had time to visit, and who became so meaningless a pawn when Marco cut his ties with her, is added to the dossiers for her perusal, an examination of how she’s reacted to her husband’s death and the aftermath, and what she may require. Among those things is not a visit, but is a letter written anonymously to the widow of how she was saved by her husband’s bravery, and will not forget him. There’s truth within it, even coated as it is in murky untruths. It’s not hard for Caroline to imagine how awfully her life might have gone had not Marco and his fellow police officers overrun Eight-Nine-Six as they did. A prisoner of the Anarch gang, or humiliated by them, or simply beaten into a pulp: none would have bode well.

GM: Caroline finds that Jacobson’s wife Kelly is a fifth grade teacher at a local school, Benjamin Franklin. As a police officer’s widow, she is entitled to a survivor’s pension that is half of her husband’s full salary. Caroline is even able to calculate the amount to $30,459.50, as Jacobson was an officer II who’d been with NOPD for six years, had not been denied full merit pay, and held an associate’s degree (NOPD detectives require them, in addition to the simple incentive that degree-holding cops get paid more). Between Kelly’s salary as a teacher (not a lot, but still a regular salary) and her survivor’s pension, she seems relatively well-off. Financially, at least. Caroline recalls Marco’s words that, “No kids, so there won’t be any babies growing up without fathers, though he and Kelly had been trying.”

But cops take care of their own, and Kelly received far more than a simple survivor’s pension. She was notified in person of her husband’s death Superintendent Bernard Drouillard, the senior chaplain, and a designated department representative who became her liaison. Cops shrouded their badges with black tape and flags were lowered to half-staff. Support of all kinds, including prepared meals and transportation, was made available to Kelly 24 hours a day. The designated department representative assigned a team of officers to work on various aspects of the funeral: the chaplain arranged the service, the traffic unit supervisor planned and coordinated the procession, an the cemetery officer handled the internment. Further responsibilities taken on by NOPD included assigning a 24/7 watch of Kelly’s home until after the funeral, shifts of officers on casket watch who stayed with Jacobson’s body around the clock, a color guard for the funeral, ushers for the service, and a team of pallbearers to carry the casket—one of whom was Marco Rizaffi. The department also arranged the funeral’s location (Saint Louis Cemetery #2), made arrangements for parking, and hosted a luncheon after the service. At all times, Kelly was given full input into as many or as few aspects of the funeral as she wished to involve herself in, and the department did everything within its not-inconsiderable power to honor her wishes.

The funeral itself was attended by police throughout the city. Full military-style honors were made available to Jacobson, “as a hero who died in the line of duty.” Two officers stood vigil over the casket during 30-minute shifts. A flag was folded and formally presented to Kelly while a firing party emptied shots into the air. Mayor Borges did not personally attend, but Superintendent Drouillard gave an address. Further eulogies were delivered by Jacobson’s co-workers and superiors, and of course his and Kelly’s families.

New Orleans is not a sprawling metropolis like Chicago or Los Angeles, and the death of one officer has all the more impact in the smaller police department. It is an old city, too, and a Southern city. Old boy networks and respect for traditions remains alive and well here. So does corruption. Almost all of NOPD is “on the take” and receives money beyond their official salaries, in return for “doing things as they ought to be done.” There are no records of such, but it seems highly probable that Jacobson’s fellows put together something extra for his widow. Relatives, police, and families of police alike have almost certainly made Kelly enough food to last for weeks, and impressed upon her that she is free to call them if she ever needs anything, anything at all. More thoughtful well-wishers may have volunteered specific things to help out with.

NOPD paid for all of the funeral’s expenses. They wouldn’t go to such lengths to ease the burden upon Jacobson’s widow and then stick her with the bill.

Caroline also discovers that there was—and still is—a spike in Mid-City arrests and police violence. Two African-American youths were shot dead under controversial circumstances. Around half a dozen more individuals (several involved in Black Lives Matter) were savagely beaten, allegedly while resisting arrest. A 13-year-old boy lost his ear. Departmental unity goes and went both ways as Jacobson’s fellow officers turned their grief outwards into rage, and exacted the full measure of retribution that only the law can get away with.

Police, Caroline knows, absolutely despise cop killers. Their inability to catch Jacobson’s murderers is salt upon an already raw wound.

The Ventrue may feel somewhat at a loss regarding what else she can do against the combined (and timelier) efforts of the entire New Orleans Police Department. Materially, Kelly appears to want for little. She has, however, taken a leave of absence from her teaching duties. Caroline can hope the anonymous note provides the widow with some further comfort.

Caroline: It looks as if the NOPD has taken care of the widow. There’s little else she can do, much less without exposing herself. She exits the woman’s life.

Perhaps, more than anything, that’s the best thing she can do for Kelly Jacobson.

Thursday evening, 14 October 2015

Caroline: Another fairly direct victim her gaze falls to is the family of Emmett, though her motives are not so selfless: his cooperation may go further than outright domination when the time comes. She keeps semi-regular tabs upon them, as best she can, given their location in McGinn’s domain and his overly protective nature.

GM: Caroline’s investigation into Emmett’s family reveals that he has two living parents who are professors at Tulane University. They have not spoken to him in over half a decade. Emmett seemed on better terms with his older sister Eveline, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital New Orleans. She is married to an aerospace engineer (aerospace is a significant industry in New Orleans) named Daniel Merinelli and has two children with him named Noah and Maya.

Caroline may be discomfited to learn that as a result of her frame-up, Eveline has been arrested as an accessory to murder (which of course she is not) and will likely face prison time. Her medical license has been suspended, leaving dim prospects for when she gets out. The family is preparing to sell their house in Touro and to move to a smaller one in a lower-cost neighborhood. Although upper-middle class (husband and wife both made six-figure salaries), belts are tightening now that half their income is so abruptly gone, on top of paying their considerable legal fees.

Still, even beyond that, the family seems unusually cash-strapped given the circumstances… some further digging reveals that Eveline withdrew $10,000 in cash from the bank. She went to multiple branch locations and tried to space the withdrawals out over several days, but it doesn’t take a genius to see why the police would get suspicious in conjunction with Emmett’s drug-related charges.

There’s also another potential reason for the increased scrutiny on his family. Denise Bowden passes on the story, which has now made its way around legal circles and entertained countless incredulous professionals in the field, that Emmett went out of his way to get on the nerves of a judge in her own courtroom—and, “get this,” Denise scoffs, after the judge, Payton Underwood, had already signed off on a plea deal negotiated by his public defender. Underwood even warned Em once that he was in contempt of court, and he still kept trying to get on her nerves.

“I’ve never heard of anything like that,” Denise remarks incredulously.

Well, Em succeeded in getting on Underwood’s nerves. The results were predictable. She threw out the plea bargain that, as Caroline knows all-too well, judges aren’t actually legally obligated to honor. Then she threw the book at him for his crimes and the additional crime of contempt of court. She gave him the maximum sentence: death.

That’s justice in Louisiana.

Caroline: The Ventrue shakes her head at the sheer stupidity of his actions, but isn’t quite able to shake her own guilt at the cause of the family’s woes. She may not have made an array of poor choices that turned their circumstances into a train wreck, but she certainly had a part in setting it in motion.

Still, their proximity to certain individuals makes it difficult for Caroline to get leverage on them… that is until her pocket firm starts to gt up and running… beset by legal fees and with dwindling incomes and savings, the firm will soon extend an almost too-tempting offer of services.

Saturday evening, 16 October 2015

Caroline: Mrs. Christian and her son also feel Caroline’s gaze fall upon them. While she’s not so brazen as to turn around an actively pay for bills or send them money, as she did with her first victim, Caroline does encourage her medical allies to trim bills to the bone, and using her connections to high society need not work hard to ensure that her son’s college prospects turn for the better: particularly out of the city. The prospect of someday feeding upon him makes her nauseous. She keeps tabs to make sure the family does not go under as a result of her visit: some small mitigation of the brutal assault she inflicted upon the poor widow and single mother.

GM: Caroline’s investigations into Marianna Christian turn up that her husband John was a moderately successful electrician and died around four years ago. He left behind a life insurance policy that helped support Marianna and her son Brandon while she put more hours into her job at one of Larry Simpson’s hotels. She enrolled in community college to presumably earn a degree that would lead to a higher-paying source of employment. She has an insurance policy to help cover the hospital’s costs, but it’s not enough. The family has modest savings, and seems unlikely to be put out on the streets, but Marianna it still seems like it’s causing them considerable distress. Marianna is fretting over bills and planning to sell her car. The Christians look as if they fall into an uncomfortable middle to lower-middle class demographic… too well-off to qualify for programs like Medicaid, and just poor enough they’re being reduced to selling off assets.

Claire, when approached by Caroline about helping Brandon Christian get into college, wants to know why she should pull strings for “some random black boy.” She purses her lips at Caroline’s answer, and says she’ll ask one of her friends to ask another friend to write him a letter of recommendation. It’s not a free ride scholarship, but it’s better than nothing. Claire isn’t inclined to use the family’s influence on “an investment without likely returns.”

Or, perhaps, one of her daughter’s victims.

Caroline: The argument with her mother over assistance for the Christian family turns bitter before Caroline takes her leave from the conversation. The topic was tender enough, shameful enough, before she brought it to Claire’s attention. Her mother’s relative reluctance to to get involved and dismissal of its meaning to Caroline quickly turns it sore.

The entire experience is demonstrative to the privileged heiress, how someone that has done nothing wrong can be so wrecked by events beyond their control, with so few safety nets.

She’s known, academically, how it could happen, but seeing it play out over time and knowing she’s at the root of it stings. It’s all the more frustrating for the limits on her considerable influence given the event’s sensitivity: throwing enough money to get rid of the problem for the family would be laughably easy were it not so tangibly tied to the Masquerade. In the end she plants the idea in one of Marianna’s coworkers to put together a GoFundMe for the family to help defray the remaining legal expenses—an idea inspired by another of her victims—the autistic Tulane student. Still unable to deeply involve herself in it, she watches as minor contributions trickle in from coworkers, fellow students, and neighbors and has someone plant the idea—in the mundane sense—to Larry that matching donations to the campaign makes good business sense, in terms of helping to retain employees and show his ‘caring’ and ‘concern’.

GM: Caroline’s indirect GoFundMe campaign, however, meets with considerably more success over the following weeks—remarkably so, when all is said and done. Or perhaps not so remarkably, when one considers how incredibly slow hospitals can be about sending out bills. Donations match and even exceed the amount needed for the Christians’ medical expenses, once Larry Simpson steps in. He even helps buy back some of the possessions they’ve already sold off. His employees love it. The Christians do even more.

So does Antoine Savoy, whose interest in the hospitality magnate appears more than passing.“You can’t just spend money on goodwill, you know!” he laughs to Caroline. “They’re all saying what a generous and caring boss he is, and it’s much more cost-effective than raising wages. I’m pleased to see him doing well.”

Caroline: “I’m just pleased you didn’t find it to be intrusive, Lord Savoy,” Caroline demurs. “Some Kindred, I’ve find, are very possessive, even in the face of a light touch.”

GM: “And what is there for me to find intrusive?” Savoy remarks amiably. “You didn’t tamper with Larry directly, did you? The neighbor who started that fundraiser didn’t even work for him.”

Caroline: “Of course not, Lord Savoy, but I need not tell you that not all Kindred would see it that way.” The meeting is over drinks that neither of them truly enjoy, though Caroline had grown more adept at forcing down the foul liquids, and takes a sip between comments. “All they’d see is ‘their’ money going out the door to something affiliated with another Kindred.”

GM: “We see that too, Miss Malveaux,” Preston comments.

“Pure guesswork that it was you, by the way,” Savoy winks. “The circumstances of the injury sounded like a Kindred attack, and the only Kindred likely to go hunting in Black Pearl are poachers or tenants without feeding rights in Tulane—not many of those. Knowing who lives and feeds where can tell you a lot of things, my dear.”

Caroline: “If you require fiscal compensation, I’ll be happy to arrange it,” Caroline replies sweetly to Preston, before turning her attention back to Savoy. “Knowledge is power,” she agrees, “though not on its own.”

GM: “Play nice, you two,” Savoy chides with an amused wag of his finger.

“Knowledge is leverage, I think, has always been a better quote. It’s all in how you play it.”

Caroline: “That’s fair… though depending on how much leverage you can muster, it may take very little power to make it go a long way… and a four-foot pipe wrench is easier and cheaper to maintain than bulging muscles.”

GM: The Toreador laughs. “You should share that one with the sewer rats, Miss Malveaux. I’m sure they’d be amused.”

Caroline: A smile peeks out from behind her lips.

“No doubt I already have, Lord Savoy.”

Monday evening, 18 October 2015

GM: Caroline is left with a brief window while her family “sorts things out” with Tulane. During that time, Summer Greer calls the Ventrue back to report her sister Angela is disappearing again during the middle of the night. Angela was really out of things for a while after the influenza outbreak, Summer says… Angela was already balancing her college courses, volunteer work, a part-time job, a boyfriend, being Josephine Louise’s dorm supervisor, babysitting her little sister (Summer calls it “staying on my case”) and, as Caroline is all too aware, maintaining a double life as a hunter. Getting sick on top of all that finally wiped Angela out.

“Not forever though, that’s my sis. Supergirl,” Summer half-sarcastically remarks. She continues Angela took some time off from the Kappas, quit her part-time job, and scaled back on the volunteer work. It’s only now that she’s resumed going out with her sorority again on weekend nights.

“She’s the same as ever there though. She just completely shuts down when I ask her about what she’s up to.”

Caroline: The Ventrue listens with some interest—its the closest she can really get to the Kappas without digging in directly, and ultimately invites the other girl to meet her for coffee.

GM: Summer meets her at the French Quarter’s Arrow Cafe for some traditional Southern chicory coffee.

Caroline: Caroline is friendly enough, letting the Beast run over the freshman, in their conversations about the Kappas. She relates how her own mother is a prior Kappa, and how frustrating the wall it created between them was. More than talk though, she listens to Summer’s frustrations, and encourages her to offer up more than simply those about her sister. Caroline is, after-all, such a good listener.

GM: Many of Summer’s frustrations are heavily tied to Angela, given that she is required to dorm with and attend parties in her older sister’s presence. She still doesn’t have a boyfriend. Her sister still gets better grades and better everything than her. Summer’s complaints are largely the same as they were during the last time they talked, though to Caroline it feels like a lifetime ago. Summer still appears just as willing to appear her frustrations to a sympathetic audience.

The only real change is that Angela was sick and staying in bed more. Summer seems like she tried to help out and Angela rebuffed her, or at least that’s how she tells it.Angela’s boyfriend Neil also came over a few times, so Summer had to make herself scarce. Normally Angela goes to his place.She appears particularly ticked off over how “easy” holding a boyfriend in her living situation actually looks.

“So much for the college experience. It’s been exactly like high school,” Summer finishes annoyedly.“I don’t even feel like an adult. It’s exactly the same. Just the older sister instead of Dad and Stepmom.”

Caroline: Listening to the freshman’s complaints, it feels more than a lifetime ago. Simple problems, perhaps without simple answers, but with such low stakes.

“So what do you do when she goes out on her Kappa things?”

GM: “It’s in the middle of the night, usually. But… I did sneak off a bar last time,” Summer admits. “Not The Boot, one of the real ones in the Quarter. God are they so much better.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs. “Why’s that?”

GM: “You mean apart from not apart from letting in more people than college kids spending their parents’ money?” Summer asks sarcastically.

Caroline: “College kids like you?” Caroline teases.

GM: “The Quarter has real clubs and bars. Frat Row’s are the little kid versions. And they don’t give a crap in the Quarter how old you are.”

“I didn’t even get checked for ID.”But besides not being kids, the people there are just a lot more colorful.“Like, I ran into a lady whose hair and face were painted silver, and wore everything in silver. She was like a walking statue.”She never talked either, just twirled around her umbrella."

Caroline: Caroline bets they are.

GM: “Or parousel, whatever.”

Caroline: “Have you ever tried following your sister? Seems like if she’s a load around your neck, you could be the same to her.”

GM: “Fuck no. I’m gonna enjoy it while she’s gone,” Summer declares. “’Nother funny character I ran into said she was a vampire.”

Caroline: That snags Caroline’s interest, even as she recognizes the possibility that’s it’s a fake given New Orleans’ history.

“A vampire, huh?”

GM: “Yeah, she wore goth clothing and had even filed her teeth.”

Caroline: “Freaks everywhere, I guess,” Caroline answers.

GM: Summer shrugs. “Better company than kids at The Boot. She was actually pretty nice. Not like you, though.” Her voice gets slightly thicker. “I feel like I’ve known you my whole life…”

Caroline: “I hear that a lot,” Caroline replies, trying to deflect the topic.

“Did she ‘have you for a drink’?” she asks in her best fake accent.

GM: “No, she gave me a massage. She said that’s how she’d ‘drain my energy.’ It actually felt really good.”

Caroline: “Oooooh, a vampire massage,” Caroline teases.

GM: “Shut up, it felt good,” Summer mumbles, but partly grinning.

Caroline: “Anything else about this vampire masseuse?” she asks.

GM: “She said she’d like to see me again. I don’t wanna feel like I’m leading her along, though. I’m not into girls.”

Caroline: “You got a goth vampire girl’s number? After she gave you a massage?”

GM: Summer rolls her eyes. “No, just the club. The Abbey.”

Caroline: She makes note of the name. Probably a wild goose chase, but it costs her little to check it out.

Caroline spends a few more minutes talking with Summer, mostly offering small pieces of advice and a sounding board for her complaints and plans. It’s surprisingly relaxing to have less troublesome problems to consider, and she knows too well the pain of not healing a rift before it’s too late, though she does not offer such trite advice outright.

GM: Summer nods along, agreeing with almost everything the vampire says. Her head is held fast between the Beast’s jaws.

She doesn’t have many plans, though. She’s mostly just waiting until the end of the year. When Angela will be gone.

“Maybe then everything can get better.”

Monday night, 18 October 2015, PM

GM: Caroline receives another phone call from the coed, mere hours after their meeting—not quite long enough for the Beast to release its grip—asking if she’d like to hang out again sometime. Summer really enjoyed talking with her.

Summer is not old enough to legally drink, and though some bars in the Quarter may not card her, the ones Caroline is more wont to frequent do. Three nights later, the two meet again at the Arrow Cafe for chicory coffee. Summer rants some more about the pitfalls of having to room with her older sister and how she can’t wait until Angela graduates. It’s largely the same words over the same topic, but the young coed seems grateful for someone who listens.

“Oh yeah, Angela was actually talking about you.”

Caroline: “About me?” Caroline’s hands are wrapped around a warm paper cup, and she’s equally grateful for both the gentle heat and the lid that covers how little of it she’s actually had to drink.

GM: “Yeah, it was about that Trenton guy,” Summer answers, having removed her own cup’s lid to blow on the hot drink. “Did he really blow his brains out in front of you?”

Caroline: That certainly gets Caroline’s attention.

“What? No! Jesus, who’s spreading that rumor around?”

GM: Summer shrugs. “Maybe that wasn’t it. I just heard he killed himself around you or something. Is it true?”

Caroline: “After he left.”

There’s just a bit of a catch on the word he.

“Seemed pretty disappointed that I wasn’t interested in… well… that. The police stopped by to talk to me about it and everything, said he threw himself off a bridge or something. Left a note and everything. They said his family life was pretty messed up.”

The conversation is too close to topics she doesn’t want to talk about on more than one level. The memory of coming to, the lifeless body in her arms, blood all over her face… she grinds her teeth.

GM: “Oh. Well, that musta sucked. For you both.” Summer frowns. “I heard there was someone who tried a rape a girl in JLH. That was another guy, right?”

Caroline: “More for him I suspect, since I didn’t throw myself off a bridge,” Caroline offers in a muted tone. “And yeah, that one I heard about. Real creeper. He’d actually stalked my brother’s… well, not-quite fiance before that. I guess he had a taste for white girls.”

GM: “I think he’s in a movie or something on MeVid,” Summer says thoughtfully.

Caroline: “Is it security footage?” Caroline half-jokes.

GM: Summer laughs. “No, wait, I heard he gets arrested at the end. That’s gotta be staged.”

Caroline: “So you’re saying a happy ending? Yeah, it’s fake.”

GM: Summer laughs harder.

Caroline: “I heard he got the book thrown at him though. We’ll see how much he likes a year in jail.”

GM: “That can’t be all he’s getting for rape,” Summer frowns.

Caroline: “Attempted. Why was your sister talking about it though? The Trenton guy?”

GM: “She used to volunteer for a sexual aggression hotline. He was also trans and she’s queer except when she’s with her boyfriend, so I guess she felt bad about him. Seemed pretty broken up, anyways.”

Caroline: “Dangerous lifestyle. I’ve heard like half of all trans people end up killing themselves though.”

GM: “Huh, that’s a lot. My poor sis, she goes through so much too,” Summer says sarcastically.

Caroline: “You have to think there is some kind of screw loose in their heads. I mean, I sort of understand the gay thing, but ‘trans’?” The heiress shakes her head. “Wanting to cut on your body and take hormones?” Another shake of the head.

GM: “I dunno, I might be happy with my body, but I don’t think I can really speak someone else’s. I think people know what’s best for them.”

Caroline: “If half of them end up dead like Trenton?” Caroline shrugs.

GM: “You should debate my sister. She’d talk your ear off.”

Caroline: “Ugh. Let’s not and say we didn’t,” Caroline offers.

GM: “She’s all up in that stuff. She went to Decadence as a fairy princess or something.”

Caroline: “That’s dangerous,” Caroline offers with a degree of seriousness. “My old roommate got drugged when she went to Decadence. Ended up having to get shipped off for therapy and all kinds of stuff afterwards. I know that entire community wants to promote itself, but it’s not as harmless as they’d like everyone to think. The later it gets the more deviants come out.”

GM: “Sorry about your roomie. But that’s just every festival in the city from what I hear. That stuff happens at Mardi Gras, Halloween, and all the others.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “You’re not wrong.”

GM: “That’s when Angie puts on her Supergirl cape. I don’t think she even goes to Mardi Gras, just looks through missing persons reports or whatever.”

Caroline: “In this city that’s a full time job,” Caroline offers, though the tidbit offers an interesting bit about how the sorority’s hunters operate. “Personal thing or a sorority thing?”

GM: “Beats me, but she does that pretty often. Talks to a lot of cops too.”

Caroline: “Ugh, that sounds miserable. Once in a year is more than enough for a police visit. Some people want to be martyrs though.”

GM: “Or superheroes. It gets her whenever I call her Supergirl,” Summer smirks. “She says it’s her job to keep JLH safe.”

Caroline: “Right, how’s that going to work when she graduates? I don’t exactly think you can put ‘superhero’ on your resume.”

GM: “I’m not really sure, actually,” Summer remarks. “She wants to stick around for grad school, though.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head in frustration and disgust. “Of course she does.”

The police side is interesting. An opening under other circumstances.

“What about you? What’s your long-term plan, Summer?”

GM: Summer looks a bit uncomfortable. “I’m still, I dunno, figuring things out. I guess. I don’t have to declare my major yet.”

Caroline: “Don’t have to doesn’t mean can’t, and once your sister gets out of your hair I’m sure you’re going to have other things to occupy your time…”

The last bit is more mischievous than chastising.

GM: “Oh, god, finally. It can’t come soon enough, her moving out,” Summer declares.

Caroline: “So do what you can now, and make time for yourself later.”

“If you decide on something I could even see if I could pull a string or two, help get you a foot in the door somewhere.”

GM: “Oh really? I thought you were a student here.”

Caroline: “I am, but that doesn’t mean that’s all I am. One advantage of attending swanky shirt stuffing parties.”

“Every now and then they become stocking stuffers.” The Ventrue winks.

GM: “Nice. Well, I’ll keep it in mind.”

Caroline: Another wink, and a fake sip of a disgusting beverage.

Monster and manipulator she may be, but it feels good to at least offer to do something for someone.

Early-mid October, 2015

Caroline: Among the many projects Caroline engages in during her first weeks after her release, perhaps none is so important to her as the establishment of her new haven. She’s quick in staking out the limits of Rocco’s domain, and swifter still in identifying several potential sites of interest, among them the recently refurbished and restored Giani Building—still mostly vacant following its reopening.

The luxury apartments on the corner of the hound’s domain present an intriguing opportunity, especially when probing with Becky Lynne and investigations by Autumn reveal that the largest single stakeholder in the property, Ernest Phimlee, is not under the influence of another of the Damned. Caroline wastes little time before swooping in on the architect / developer to secure her own influence over him—and the rise of her dominion over the building as a whole.

By the time she has, and now quite tired of living out of hotel rooms, she’s able to put other pieces into play towards the same end. Ghouls are moved into the building as they are brought into the fold. Others, loyal by more conventional means, fall into place with comfortable positions in the building: Iraq and Afghan campaign vets filling in as on site security, Carla sliding into the cleaning agency for the building as a whole, and other less scrupulous individuals filling newly created maintenance positions. Several apartments see further renovation for Caroline’s needs, and it’s with relief—but not rest—that she puts the finishing touches on securing her haven against all comers, all too aware of just how many there may be.

Her new ghoul and financial manager, Sarah Widney, rents the apartment through a dummy LLC that exists solely to hold the lease and several other assets for Caroline. The setup is both legal and opaque to an outside observer, as even the name of the “corporation,” Elise Bennett, appears on leasing documents as just another name, rather than as a corporate ownership or holding to a casual examination.

GM: Caroline’s move-in to the Giani Building goes smoothly. Widney reports that she met with the building manager, and found him “pliable and eager to please.” Caroline even sees him a few times passing through the halls.

Pic.jpg Hugo Cleveland is a middle-aged man with a wide belly, receding hairline, and egg-shaped head who nods when he smiles, which is often. He lives on-site and tells Caroline that she should not hesitate to come to him for any needs she might have. His job is to make her stay at the Giani Building “as pleasant as possible.”

Autumn proves less than enchanted by the man. “Oh, wow, I guess property managers act like tools instead of scumbags if your rent is high enough. Who’d have thought?”

Caroline: Caroline gets a good laugh out of Autumn’s explanation of ‘landlords’.

“Something you’ll have to get used to, Autumn, when you have a certain amount of money or power, people become far less inclined to wave that banner, whatever their temporary powers may be.”

GM: Rent at the Giani Building starts at $1900 for the cheapest one-bedroom one-bathroom units, moves up to $4,000 for the better ones, and is not posted on public listings for penthouse suites such as Caroline’s. The Giani Building offers many amenities for rent within those ranges, including a shopping center, concierge, 24 hour surveillance, on-site maid, grocery, online, and meal service, as well as a childcare center. Most of these amenities are paid for separately from rent, however, which Autumn terms a “sucker trap,” since that fact is not mentioned on any of the apartment sites (though the amenities themselves certainly are).

Widney finds the building to her liking. Brian Fuller, Caroline’s new chief of security, is less pleased. It doesn’t have a gym.

Autumn is mildly surprised and amused when she picks up this is the first time Caroline is really living on her own; that is, outside of hotel rooms and her father’s or uncle’s houses. “Most landlords are douchebags. That’s the first thing to keep in mind. Granted, we have some of the worst landlord-tenant laws in the country here. Thanks partly to your dad. No offense.”

Autumn and Widney also go about the task of examining the building from a financial and Masquerade standpoint. Both ghouls are quick to point out two vulnerabilities that have likely already occurred to their domitor: the Giani Building lets out apartments, rather than sells condos, so Caroline could be legally evicted from her haven. Kindred powers combined with her own legal acumen make it easy for her to secure a favorable lease, but if it comes down to a conflict with other licks, Autumn is wary that Caroline does not own the deed to her haven. Widney seems less concerned by this.

The simplest way around this would be to buy it. At $4,847,700, however, the price tag eclipses Caroline’s net worth.

Widney brings up Lou’s building while they are discussing real estate, and asks what Caroline’s long-term plans are for it. Does she want to keep it as a source of steady revenue (a property manager can handle the day-to-day details), or does she want to fix it up and sell it?

There are no reports of the ghoul PI being spotted there since their last fateful meeting.

Caroline: Caroline makes clear to the ghouls that while the Giani Building may be a long-term investment—it may just as easily not. It’s functional and pleasant, but she’s by no means wed to it—and certainly not to the five million dollar price tag. For now she’s comfortable hiding behind the very favorable leasing agreement and the other bolt-holes she puts together in case of emergency.

As for the office building she bought to get to Lou, Caroline is content to keep it for now, renting out open space as available to cover the mortgage and renovation work in the building as a legal cover for some of her ‘off the books’ employees.

GM: Widney and Autumn both approve of the idea. Lou’s office is in a bad neighborhood, but gentrification is taking place in New Orleans as surely as it is anywhere else.

Autumn, though, says that might not be the case for Caroline’s landlord, “Because he’s that big a cock.” Her research revealed that Hugo’s boss and the owner of the Giani Building is Canal@Camp Ampartments LLC, whose mailing address is 161 Lakewood Estates—around 6 miles south of New Orleans in Jefferson Parish, and almost discongruently proximate to Diego’s own Terrytown. Ernest Phimlee is the spokesman rather than owner proper. The real owner of the LLC is a man named Rishu “Rich” Pavaghi. Locals know him as “the t-shirt czar.” A less generous writer on has described him as “the worst person in New Orleans.”

Caroline is familiar with him.

“…basically the kinda guy you Sanctified are supposed to prey on,” Autumn notes.

Caroline: “Maybe I will,” Caroline offers with a fang-filled grin.

Early-mid October, 2015

GM: As part of moving into the Giani Building, Caroline has her ghouls set up the details of a live-in or on-demand staff, hiring security guards, maids, drivers, PIs, and the like. These mortal employees believe they work for Widney, and legally, they do. Caroline does not make any ghouls from among their number, at least not yet. Widney takes care of negotiating the lease terms for their apartment units with Hugo, which ultimately fall under Elise Bennett’s corporate umbrella. She says there were some further legal hoops to jump through, and that Hugo was initially skeptical of essentially granting Widney permission to rent out whatever units Elise Bennett is itself renting. The two have managed to hammer out a more detailed lease agreement with the help of several lawyers, however, and Hugo made it especially clear to Widney that Elise Bennett is going to continue paying rent even for units that sit empty (as Canal@Camp Apartments LLC will be unable to rent them out for as long as Elise Bennett’s lease lasts).

Autumn is quick to seize on flaws with this arrangement. “So Widney was a butler ruined by Argabrite, and now she’s living large with all these people at her beck and call? What’s the story if someone asks where she got all this money?”

Indeed, it soon becomes plain to Caroline that her two ghouls do not get along. Widney considers Autumn unqualified and unprofessional. Autumn considers Widney dangerously ignorant of Kindred society, and resents her for appearing out of nowhere to assume so many responsibilities. While Caroline’s newest ghoul handles those, her oldest one falls into a critic’s role. Autumn spies on and runs background checks for Widney’s employee recommendations, and is quick to report any dirty laundry to Caroline, as well as to seize on threats to the Masquerade or her domitor’s Kindred interests. When Widney argues back, Caroline is distinctly reminded of how she sounded during her Requiem’s earlier nights—and Autumn is just as quick to drive home that the other ghoul doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Widney naturally resents the constant second-guessing and responds by laying into what she perceives as Autumn’s personal flaws.

At the heart of it all, both ghouls seem to regard one another as threats. Autumn fears obsolescence and resents Widney for swooping in to manage job functions which, though she would never admit it to her rival, she considers “higher” than espionage and Masquerade maintenance. The sorts of financial wizardry and employee hirings Widney has been handling are the basis for ultimate Kindred power. More than that, Autumn believes she’s smart enough to do that sort of work… she just doesn’t yet have the degree. That pride is there in other ways, too. Anyone, Autumn believes, can learn law and finance. Occult knowledge is much harder-won.

Widney’s emotions are harder to get a read on. She hates relying on Autumn, but is even more loath to go about her new duties ignorant. She keeps it together well—very well, all things considered—but like almost anyone thrust into this life, she fears she’s out of her depth. She tries to compensate by going to Caroline for information instead of Autumn.

Caroline: Caroline tolerates the infighting for only a short time, waiting to see how they shake out the relationship and giving them an opportunity to resolve matters without her interference. When they fail, and as their interactions grow more toxic, she steps in, cutting right to the point first with Autumn.

“Do you think I have room for only one of you two?” It’s early in the evening, and Caroline has time between her next ‘appointment’.

GM: “It’s not that. She’s putting you at risk, with how much she doesn’t understand about this life,” Autumn answers.

Caroline: “And who is she supposed to learn that from?” Caroline answers in turn, stone-faced.

GM: “It’s not that. There’s things she just doesn’t get. Remember how you were at first?”

Caroline: “Yes, I do.”

GM: “Well, someone giving you a lecture wouldn’t have fixed that. Not by itself.”

Caroline: The Ventrue crosses her legs as she looks up from behind her desk. “Have you given that lecture?”

GM: “Of course. She’s trying to get all her info from you, isn’t she?” Autumn half-asks, half-answers from the seat across from it.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t take the bait. “I don’t think you want me to answer that.”

GM: “Rhetorical. It’s pretty obvious that she is.”

Caroline: “And what does that make you?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Hey, I’m still doing my job. I tell her how things work. That’s on Widney if she still goes to you.”

Caroline: “That’s exactly the point,” Caroline intones clearly. “If she’s coming to me then you aren’t, and similarly if you are not taking advantage of her presence to learn her own craft for yourself, you’re also selling short yourself at the same time.”

GM: “Have you told this to her too?”

Caroline: “Do I need to?” Caroline asks.

GM: “For sure. You think this is all on me?”

Caroline: “No, but I think you’re the more experienced of the two of you, with a firmer understanding of what this life involves and what is waiting out there. You know, better than she, how important it is that we circle the wagons here. How much I need both of your expertise.”

GM: “Definitely,” Autumn nods.

Caroline: “How are you going to impress that importance on others to come if you can’t impress it on her?” Caroline asks sharply.

GM: “Because you’ve handed her all this authority over day-to-day stuff and it’s gone to her head,” Autumn replies defensively. “In the Krewe, every ghoul knew what the hierarchy was. Widney doesn’t. Brian at least always listens, and asks a lot too, but that’s because he knows the information is important. Personally knows. Not because there’s any, I guess you could call it, chain of command.”

Caroline: “You need more power and authority from me,” Caroline offers.

GM: “That wouldn’t be bad,” Autumn agrees. “If you want to bring in more ghouls, there should be some kind of organization. All of the prince’s know the Hussar’s in charge.”

Caroline: “Is the Hussar in charge because the prince placed him there, or because he is the most capable?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Probably some of both. It was the same in the Krewe.”

Caroline: “And if I placed you in charge, could you keep that position without my attention?” Caroline again asks.

GM: Autumn seems to think before answering, “If all I had was your say-so, I probably could. The others don’t know anything about this life without me.”

Caroline: “Could they be effective with you only handing out that information as needed, or would you have to withhold information to control them?”

GM: “Both. They’d probably still want to know more, even if I told them the minimum needed to do their jobs.”

Caroline: “That’s not leadership—that’s control.”

GM: “You don’t think other ghouls and licks in charge don’t do that?” she scoffs.

Caroline: “And what tends to happen to the ghouls and licks caught in the middle of that environment?” Caroline asks.

GM: “They don’t like it, but they adapt.”

Caroline: “The ones that don’t die in mass.”

GM: “Not telling them information they don’t actually need isn’t what gets them killed.”

Caroline: “No, but it contributes to the atmosphere of fear, hate, and suspicion.”

GM: “Well… to be honest, that’s always gonna be there, even if you hadn’t brought in Widney,” Autumn says slowly. “I mean… I’ve seen everything that’s gone on around you.”

Caroline: Caroline sits up. “Meaning what?”

GM: “Well, every ghoul who originally served under you besides me is dead.” Her voice is quiet.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite snarl. “Something I’m trying to avoid in the future.”

GM: “I hope so too, goes without saying. But… it’d be really easy for it to happen again.”

Caroline: Caroline’s fingers drum on the desk. “For all of us.”

GM: “Yeah.”

Caroline: “Which brings us full circle. I need everyone working together, doing everything they can, to not only keep our heads above water, but also to build on what we have. So, would I like for you to eventually have a leadership position? Absolutely. But you need to be ready when you step in, and in more than one way.”

GM: Autumn looks nonplussed at that assessment. “Can I be blunt? It sounds like you’re in denial. Widney isn’t going to be a ‘leader’ when she knows this little about Kindred society. Or about you. There’s not going to be a happy work-together atmosphere if she knew anything about your previous ghouls. Or just how common that sort of ‘turnover’ is.”

Caroline: The drumming stops. “That sounded disturbingly close to a threat. Perhaps you’d care to rephrase it.” There is a dangerous look in Caroline’s eye.

GM: “It wasn’t a threat,” Autumn clarifies hastily. “I don’t have anything to threaten you with. You’re the lick, I’m the renfield. I couldn’t stop you from midscrewing me into doing… anything. I’m not stupid. I just meant if you, not me, told her about the full realities.”

Caroline: “That they were murdered by more powerful Kindred?” Caroline spits. Both wounds are scabbed over, but not closed.

GM: “That it’s just what comes with the job, working for a lick who isn’t powerful,” Autumn offers, though there’s no small wariness in her eyes. “I haven’t said anything to them about that. I won’t, unless you tell me to.”

Caroline: “That’s right,” Caroline answers to the first of Autumn’s statement. “But today both of those deaths would have been avoidable.”

GM: “I hope so.”

Caroline: “We’ve wandered rather afield the topic. Widney isn’t going anywhere, nor am I going to ignite a power struggle between you two by crowning someone. You both need each other, and I need you working together. Identifying problems and finding solutions together, rather than airing them to me. If a dispute or concern makes it that far, something has gone horribly wrong.”

GM: “Okay, I can do things that way,” Autumn agrees. “Widney just thinks she’s already been crowned with how much day-to-day stuff she manages.”

Caroline: “So show her how out of depth she is. Introduce her around one day.”

GM: “That could just as easily get her killed.”

Caroline: “Meeting other ghouls with you would get her killed?” Caroline asks skeptically.

GM: “Showing her how out of depth she is. Just seeing other ghouls won’t do that.”

Caroline: “It would show how much more there is to this world… and how well you know it,” Caroline suggests.

GM: “I guess it could. But that’s still pretty far from seeing a lick kill one of us for shits and giggles.”

Caroline: “No Kindred is going to kill any ghoul of mine again for ‘shits and giggles’,” Caroline growls.

GM: “I sure hope not,” Autumn agrees. “But… you’re less than a year old, and don’t have any friends. Other licks can do whatever they want to us.”

Caroline: “Tell that to Eight-Nine-Six,” Caroline replies acidly.

GM: “Well… it was the prince who took care of them. You’re really lucky they broke the Masquerade in Central City like that.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes glitter from behind her desk. She allows the pause to continue for a moment.

“In any case, establishing your credentials with her and proving the value of actively involving you, rather than working around you, would go a long way.”

GM: “If she doesn’t try to go around me and get to know other ghouls and licks by herself. That’d end badly.”

Caroline: “It could, but understand this: tearing each other down cannot build either of you up in my eyes.” Her eyes are hard. “Figure it out.”

GM: “Are you going to talk with her about this too?” Autumn keeps her mild, but still asks.

Caroline: “I’m going to talk with everyone that matters.”

Early-mid October, 2015

Caroline: For all of Caroline’s earlier words, she aggressively pursues many of Autumn’s recommendations to address the ex-Krewe cleaner’s concerns. Rather than rent out a live-in staff, Caroline goes out of her way to integrate them into the building’s existing services. What staff she does move in all move in under their own or assumed names.

GM: Caroline’s ghouls are, for once, unanimous in their support of this idea. Autumn says that employees under Caroline’s thumb are less likely (though still could be) moles for other Kindred, and will be more inclined to look the way where the Masquerade is concerned. Fuller points out that the building already has its own security staff (smaller and less professional than the one Caroline wants), and that he doesn’t like the dynamic with two forces working for different entities in the same building with distinct and overlapping areas of jurisdiction. Security should all fall under the same umbrella, with a clear chain of command, so nothing “confuses” the men. Plus it makes his own job inherently easier when he directly runs the full show. Widney agrees that the more of the building’s operations Caroline controls, the better.

However, Widney is still just a tenant, and cannot hire or fire the building’s staff. Hugo wants to make Widney’s life more pleasant, but he is likely to draw the line at hiring and firing so many people at her recommendation. What does she care about all these employees anyway? Hugo can assign specific maids to service her unit if there are ones she prefers.

Caroline: Widney pitches that her boss isn’t a fan of the rent-a-cop security and is putting pressure on her to up the security in the building. Rather than hire people and have them in conflict or creating potential problems for him, she’d prefer to pass on some more capable names for him. Widney pitches it as a win-win in that she keeps her boss happy because she convinced Hugo to bring in people, he doesn’t have headaches, the building gets more attractive as a whole, and she is of course willing to make it worth his while. Her boss Caroline is in with his boss Phimlee, which in turn is likely to look good for him.

GM: Widney hammers out an arrangement with Hugo that she reports back to Caroline. The Giani Building’s manager agreed to some of the terms, rejected others, and proposed his own modifications to a few. He was also very clear that he wouldn’t take bribes of any kind. However, he did mention that he was operating off a fixed budget (unless he could convince his boss to increase it), and hiring more and better-qualified security employees would mean cutting back on the building’s other amenities and employees. If Widney’s boss wanted to provide the Giani Building with additional funds to enable the security increase while preventing other cutbacks, Caroline’s ghoul relays, Hugo said he was entirely amenable.

“‘No bribes’, huh,” says Autumn.

Widney supplies the first payment. A week later, Hugo has fired many of the rent-a-cops and hired ex-servicemen recommended by Brian Fuller, who he has also hired as the building’s security chief. He has also downsized the building’s maid service, firing some of the workers and outright lowering the wages of the undocumented immigrants, essentially demanding that they do more with less.

Autumn rolls her eyes as she reports all of this to Caroline. “Louisiana, right?”

Widney later sits down with Caroline to talk about finances. Fuller is self-sufficient, but Widney and Autumn both rely on Caroline for salaries (informal in the latter’s case). The soon-to-be former heiress has around $50,000 a month to play with, thanks to her ongoing financial manipulations. It’s considerably more than her prior trust fund. This amount is before monthly expenses like rent and mortgage payments (on Lou’s building), and the $4,000 that could sustain both her ghouls in decent comfort. The money is mostly pulled from stocks, bonds, rent from Lou’s building, her trust fund, and assorted other “stable” investments she can largely leave to Whitney, and parked in overseas accounts.

Widney is concerned, however, that it is not enough to pay for a full-time staff of the scope Caroline wants. The ghoul can think of several ways to pay for them. First, cut back their hours back to part-time, and let them draw money from other jobs. Second, ghoul key personnel who will serve out of simple devotion, and don’t pay them anything. Let them work other jobs, as per the first suggestion. Not paying the key ghouls will open up a larger budget to pay with. Still, even the full (unavailable) $50,000 budget split into $4,000 monthly salaries comes out to 12.5 people.

The third option, Whitney says, is to acquire a business or organization that has access to inherently larger sums of capital than any individual. Have her staff work for it, either in fact or only nominally as listed names drawing salaries from the payroll.

A way partly around this, too, is for Caroline to place ghouls in supervisory positions of existing organizations and let them bear the payroll costs for her staff. Caroline has already successfully done this with Fuller, Widney adds: he’s loyal to Caroline, draws his salary from the Giani Building’s employee payroll, and supervises a large force of security guards who are likewise paid by Canal@Camp Ampartments LLC. Widney thus recommends that she replicate the same strategy on Hugo (in other words, ghoul him). Caroline could also do the same with Hugo’s own boss. While he determines bigger-scale things like the building’s budget and major projects, he is also largely uninvolved in daily management.

Widney also specifically brings up Autumn, who she spends a significant amount of time discussing. Does Autumn have a job, or otherwise doing anything to bring in money? Does she have any appreciable assets in her name? What does Caroline plan on having her do once she graduates and that drain on the ghoul’s time no longer occupies her? What were her previous living arrangements and expenses before the recent move-in to the Giani Building?

Once they are finished with the topic of Autumn, Widney also says that she would be very interested to see how other vampires manage these sorts of financial and logistical issues, which are quite distinct from any others she’s dealt with (“The closest thing are the finances of drug lords and crime bosses who can’t do everything through legitimate channels.”) In fact, Widney believes she could learn a great deal from whatever models Caroline’s elders have presumably been successfully employing for centuries. Could she arrange for the prince’s or seneschal’s ghouls to “show her the ropes”?

Caroline: Caroline firmly closes the door on the question of Autumn’s usefulness and what she brings to the table. “She’s a subject matter expert, the best available and the only one you should trust besides. Don’t be foolish enough to make this a war between you. She’s been a member of the keepers of the Masquerade in New Orleans for years. She both knows and is known in the ghoul community. Don’t assume she’s around just because it’s comfortable. Most Kindred would give their left hand for someone with that kind of knowledge and experience—and I very nearly did. She could be worth more to you.”

On the topic of trying to arrange a meeting with someone else to learn from, Caroline is similarly lukewarm. “I’ll reach out, but don’t hold your breath on it. Those kinds of details are valuable, and there isn’t exactly an internship program. It’d also be dangerous. Most of those same older ghouls you’d be interested in learning from are little different than powerful Kindred in their respect for life, and just as many of them would view you something they could use to gain powerful power or influence with by planting all kinds of mental programming in your head when you were alone with them.” She lets that morbid thought sink in.

Her come around though takes a different tack. “You also shouldn’t sell yourself short. They may have been at it for decades, even centuries, but that’s as much a disadvantage as it is an advantage. The world is changing, and not being tied to older models both keeps you from falling into mistakes and patterns they’ll use means you can work with things that didn’t exist when they were putting their empires in motion – and avoid the weaknesses of them. For instance, they rely very heavily on ghouls. Far more so than we can afford to. Almost if not every guard the prince uses is a ghoul for instance, and it’s much the same among others. They also use ghouls… and people… disposably and tend to keep them very much in the dark. That’s not how I view you.”

She slides a folder across the table for the ghoul, and gives her a couple minutes to look through it. Inside are profiles on a number of attorneys, several potential leasing agreements for office buildings, and an array of potential organizational diagrams. “I think your suggestion on using organizations is valid. That’s something I’ve been putting together for a while. I also think, for non-sensitive tasks, we could also look at a model of contracting rather than trying to keep everyone in-house all the time. I’d be interested in your inputs.”

The two talk late into the night, eventually bringing Autumn and Fuller in as well as part of brainstorming ideas. Caroline lays out her own plans, takes criticisms, and makes changes according to them. It’s only the first of many planning sessions. One major takeaway is from Widney’s observations on finances. Caroline is comfortable, and can continue to grow her own nest egg, but many of her plans are going to require additional funding. Quickly. They set to work determining where it is going to come from at speed.

GM: Widney might only be 30, but she could easily pass for a decade older. The ruthlessly bound and under-control hair. The unchanging, wide-shouldered pantsuits. The lines along her mouth, that are only exacerbated when she does not smile. Widney is currently not smiling.

“How long has she been in this ‘line of work’? If she is so valuable, why would her previous domitor have dismissed her? It is just as important you do not overestimate her, ma’am, as it is that I do not underestimate her.”

Caroline: “I caught her, and I influenced her, and for that her old domitor was going to execute her,” Caroline answers. “I took the alternative.”

GM: Widney does not dwell on the topic, but respectfully disagrees with Caroline’s next assessment. “I’ll work with what I know, as I always have. It would nevertheless be of considerable use for me to know what’s come before—and to know what mistakes the others are making.” The abstract comment on ghouls planting ‘mental programming’ gets a mostly noncomprehending look.

Autumn scoffs at Widney during the next group discussion. She seems to take no small pleasure in it. “Wrong. Ghouls aren’t as behind on the times as you think. The Krewe brings in new people fairly often. There’s higher turnover with ghouls, plain and simple, and it’s not as big a deal to make a new one. The Krewe has a ton of ghouls who can navigate technology and the modern world better than Harlequin probably can. I mean, I’m one of them. Elders might not be able to keep up with the times themselves, but they’re usually a lot better at spotting and ghouling the people who have. I mean, you think you’re the first financial advisor a Ventrue ghouled? No offense, but that’s nothing new.”

Caroline: Caroline throws Autumn out of the meeting. She doesn’t speak to the ghoul for three nights, forcing all her interactions through Widney instead. She doesn’t beat her. She doesn’t cut her off of her resources. She doesn’t threaten her. She simply ignores her.

When they do speak again, Caroline’s point is quite clear. “You offer a valuable perspective, but when you offer it in that way, you force yourself to the outside. Find a more productive way to express yourself.”

GM: Widney is all-too dutiful in reporting Autumn’s communications, especially their lack thereof after the nature of the three-day arrangement becomes clear to her. Widney does not outright call Autumn unprofessional, but is simply attentive in mentioning “Rabinowitz has yet to talk to me about this or that.”

Caroline can only imagine what those three nights were like for Autumn when she next sees her. Loving someone, so consumingly, and not being able to simply say “whatever” to their silence. Knowing that love is not only a lie, but one she forced upon herself. Caroline can only imagine the tempest of emotions swirling through her ghoul’s head, tempered by the knowledge half of them aren’t even real. Her expression simultaneously hardens and quavers like a tectonic plate breaking up under magma.

Her eventual reply is a terse, “Okay.”

Caroline: And just like that, Autumn is welcomed back into the fold, with a bloody wrist and all.

GM: Autumn stares at the wrist for a moment, almost angrily, but it’s only for a moment before the look cracks and she prostitutes her pride over Caroline’s pale wrist. Relief, anger, ecstasy, humiliation, love, and self-disgust all might be why the tears flow from her eyes as she rapturously drunks.

Caroline: Caroline softly strokes the ghoul’s hair and holds her long after the pale wrist has been withdrawn. “It’s okay, Autumn. It’s okay.”

GM: It’s another lie she—they—want to believe.

Monday night, 11 October 2015, AM

GM: Not overlong after Caroline’s final confession with Father Malveaux, Rocco informs her that one of his duties, as her landlord, involves seeing to and assisting her spiritual development. This process will start with finding Caroline a new confessor, as Rocco is not an priest. The newly-released fledgling has several options:

There is Father Elgin, who she has already met several times.

Mother Doriocourt is Donovan’s childe and one of Rocco’s fellow hounds. Caroline likely vividly recalls her from that first night at Perdido House, though they have yet to speak to one another.

Father Morrow is a pious Nosferatu who resides in Tremé, an Acolyte-controlled district of the city, with a reputation for being nonpartisan.

Father Polk is the sire of Roxanne Gerlette, and also considered Father Malveaux’s understudy.

Father Malveaux, of course, is not an option any longer.

Rocco will make introductions between Caroline and any of these Kindred whom she wishes to meet. the hound and Caroline’s confessor will also instruct her in the tenants and theology of the Lancea et Sanctum. To date, she has been unable to learn her covenant’s belief system from a consistent and reputable source. That will now change.

Rocco: Rocco, adamant that Caroline’s lineage is reason enough to see to her proper education, makes it clear that he finds it his personal mission to make sure she succeeds. Notably, he suggests Mother Doriocourt as the best fit for Caroline’s spiritual well-being. He speak very highly of her. He is fine with Caroline looking into her other options, though.

Caroline: Caroline is polite but forceful in rejecting Doriocourt as a suggestion. Her faith has taken a battering, first in the rapid sweep towards conversion to the Sanctified’s own twisted brand of Christianity, and again (and again) at the hands of Father Malveaux.

Between her poisonous relationship with the sheriff and Father Malveaux both Caroline strikes Doriocourt and Polk from the list of those of immediate interest. If all else fails she might come back to them, but it seems unwise to stick her hand into the tiger’s mouth once more. Similarly, given the nature and direction of Malveaux’s piety, she’s leery of Father Morrow’s reputed piety. Not hostile, but wary. Of the choices, Elgin seems like the best one.

She approaches the master of Elysium demurely after one of his sermons, when the Midnight Mass has concluded. She spends long enough on introductions and talk of the sermon itself to avoid appearing impolite before broaching the subject, her tone almost tentative, “Father, I find myself without a confessor. I had hoped that I might persuade you to fill that void.”

GM: Gus Elgin’s sermon and its subsequent discussion address the Church Eternal’s dogma regarding ghouls. Traditional Monachal doctrine is quite clear that only mortals guilty of serious sins should be fed the Blood. The exact criteria for what constitutes a serious sin, however, appears to vary widely by Kindred. The strictest Sanctified believe that would-be domitors should explain the spiritually corrosive effects of their vitae to would-be ghouls, and clearly offer them the choice of power at a risk to their immortal souls.

Many Kindred consider this impractical: most vampires do not have the power to erase memories (if the mortal demonstrates sufficient moral strength to decline the vitae), and point to dozens of examples of Biblical temptation that are less direct. More Sanctified believe that would-be domitors should play the role of Faustian tempters: they should reveal their true natures as vampires, and offer mortals power, but the latter should be left to judge for themselves whether accepting such power is a sin against nature (which the Church Eternal of course believes it to be).

The most spiritually indolent Sanctified consider ‘testing’ the moral character of their ghouls purely a formality: if they can bend a mortal’s mind into drinking vitae ‘willingly’, or if they force-feed vitae to a mortal and the mortal becomes an addict, then clearly their moral character was always weak. Almost all Sanctified, however, are in agreement on two points: a ghoul imperils their soul by imbibing the blood of the Damned (the Bible has several verses that specifically address this very subject), but ghouls are not yet damned as the Kindred are. They are still alive. They may still atone for their sins.

Furthermore, any ghoul who renounces the Blood and sincerely asks their domitor for freedom—not out of anything so paltry as fear their life, but sincere desire to seek atonement for their sins and commit themselves to a new life in Christ’s service—is to be immediately released from bondage. They have withstood temptation and proven their moral purity.

Of course, the Masquerade must still be preserved. If their domitor cannot arrange the erasure of their memories, then the newly-liberated ghoul must regrettably die. Their former domitor should not inform the ghoul of this fact, lest by choosing death and freedom, the ghoul re-imperil their soul by committing the sin of suicide. Gus Elgin encourages the erasure of such a ghoul’s memories as a “humane” alternative. The Masquerade must always come first, but if possible, pious and God-fearing mortals should be permitted to live natural and fruitful lives. The Sanctified are not meant to prey upon such individuals.

“A significant void that we must indeed seek to fill,” the pudgy-jowled Nosferatu answers with his typical dim smile. “I know little of your soul, Miss Malveaux, and would request that you first illuminate me as to its shape and contours. Tonight’s sermon is as good a means as any by which you may do so. May I ask your thoughts as to the spiritual questions raised? How have you offered the Blood to your own ghouls, and of what sins are they guilty that you would so demean their souls?”

Caroline: It’s a tender subject, but Caroline indulges the priest.

“My first ghoul was actually forced upon me by Father Malveaux. A friend in life, when she discovered my nature he thought it best to ghoul to, to force upon me a fuller understanding of the implications of my own failures.” Her expression tightens once more. “It ended poorly for her. Thereafter… they have been of my own choice.”

She considers the question in the framing of his own sermon.

“I confess, Father, though I was largely ignorant of the spiritual implications of bringing others into the blood. I have always endeavored to offer the choice, weighted though it might be. I’ve probed for weakness, for lack of moral certainty, for anywhere I could sink in my teeth. I’ve torn from them secrets and desires, and always found them wanting… in more ways than one.” She looks down. “And too often to their doom. Some have been murderers. Others were killers of a less refined taste. Most simply those lost from the flock, seeking something more in a godless world.”

“I think I felt better offering them a choice of the blood, a certain lessening of moral culpability, even if I didn’t understand spiritually why.”

GM: “You are still facilitating a great sin, Miss Malveaux,” Elgin corrects. “But it is in as such a role as tempters that we are meant to serve… as well as guardians of the innocent. I shall be certain to commend Father Malveaux on his choice of penance when next I speak with him.”

The Nosferatu peers past Caroline towards some approaching figure. “I fear that my duties as host must again impose upon me. Think further upon my words, and meet me tomorrow night in the belfry of the Marigny Opera House at 2 AM, if that is amenable to your schedule. I am usually available to take confession on nights other than Fridays and weekends.”

Caroline: “I’ll make arrangements to be there Father Elgin, thank you,” Caroline replies, more than a little relieved as she takes her leave.

It’s not until later that she has an opportunity to reflect on what she’s said, and how it fits into Kindred theological perspectives. The imperiling of the soul of a ghoul, a role as a tempter into damnation. So much of what she’s done as one of the Damned has been because she’s had to, or at least something she can justify as a requirement. The active bringing of others into this life however, the dragging into damnation of ordinary mortals for her own ends, is perhaps the first entirely willing and intentional act in keeping with the dogma of the Sanctified. It sparks a moment of pause and introspection.

A shot in the arm of the fledgling’s furiously fading faith? Only time will tell.

Mid-October 2015

Caroline: Meg’s bulimia is a problem that Caroline approaches with her own interest. On one hand, it’s a problem she hopes to resolve for Jocelyn. On another, it’s an opportunity observe the effects of her gifts in the ability to alter behavior. With Jocelyn’s permission, she semi-regularly begins mesmerizing the ghoul, planting ideas and reactions in her head to fix her disgusting habit.

As much as anything, it’s a controlled experiment for her: with the rarity with which she bends the wills of her own ghouls so overtly, Meg represents perhaps the best option for examining ways in which her abilities actually function over time—and how long they last.

She soon discovers that simply making demands lasts only the evening. Nor is memory alternation an answer—even at her most successful, she struggles to reach more than into the beginning of the evening. What she does discover, however—what she knew was possible from her own experiences with Aimee—is that with time, effort, and patience, she can plant an idea, a demand, in the back of Meg’s mind. A tripwire that allows her influence to seep back in at any time. The key then becomes finding the right action.

The poor ghoul, pathetic as she is, doesn’t warrant punishment. She deserves help. Like many, she has a ritual with her purging. Once Caroline unwraps those secrets she’s able to more effectively direct the ghoul towards changing her habits. The other key is ensuring that she plants a demand that can be satisfied even if the ghoul is out in town engaged in other activities. Ultimately, she settles on something relatively mundane: each time Meg heads to the bathroom to purge she instead sends Jocelyn an affectionate message. For now it’s a band-aid, one that prevents the ghoul from exercising her more disgusting habit, but Caroline hopes over time that it breaks the habit, the chain. She’s careful to continue to watch for the ghoul’s next destructive behavior.

GM: Jocelyn consents to Caroline playing around with Meg’s head so long as the ghoul doesn’t remember the commands, which the Ventrue can easily explain that Meg won’t. “She needs to think she’s getting better on her own,” says Jocelyn. “Knowing one of us ordered her to stop could get all kinds of screwed up.”

The most basic applications of Caroline’s sanguine voice (a term by which she has heard Becky Lynne refer to the discipline, in addition to “lordly words” and “the voice of the Ventrue”) meet with unsurprisingly little success. Longer-term applications fare better, but as Caroline indeed discovers, Meg is free to stick fingers down her throat once the sun goes up. Meg initially finds loopholes by using methods other than her fingers to induce vomiting, prompting Caroline to change the verbiage of her commands.

Caroline’s longer-term implanted commands to make the ghoul forget her bulimic urges altogether fare better. Jocelyn reports that Meg isn’t vomiting at all during these weeks (and is filling her phone with syrupy text messages).

Caroline is also correct in her assessment that the sanguine voice is ultimately a band-aid on the problem. Meg clearly has underlying mental health issues, and bereft of her outlet through purging, Jocelyn reports that the ghoul cries constantly about how fat and ugly she is, and goes through episodes where she lies in bed and does nothing but send text after text after text. The Toreador says this is “still a net upgrade, I guess. Better for her teeth.”

“Maybe it would work better in conjunction with therapy. I mean, your average shrink would probably find a ton of ethics issues, but being able to just hot-wire people’s minds like this has gotta be of some help.” She muses, “I’ve heard there’s actually a few Kindred shrinks out there. Malkavians, surprise surprise.”

Caroline: “Sounds like the blind leading the blind to me,” Caroline replies. “And I can’t imagine they’d be as interested in ghouls as other Kindred.”

“You might try working with her a bit. A lot of this is driven by a desire to please you, to make you happy, to be beautiful for you. You could do occasional shoots with her, providing things you wanted her to model. Telling her not to do something, or trying to convince her she’s not fat is probably less effective than actively showing her over time that you want her to look a specific way.”

GM: “That’s true. She can get pretty clingy, but a few shoots couldn’t hurt,” Jocelyn muses.

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “Might even help.”

Tuesday night, 19 October 2015, PM

Caroline: Mercurial Fernandez. The story of the autistic ’artist’s descent into the criminal justice system rubs Caroline the wrong way for reasons she can’t quite put her finger on. The beatings he suffered at the hands of the authorities, loss of things he loved, torture at (her own hands), loss of his ‘life’, destruction of his reputation, and seeming ruining of his future (to say nothing of the horrors he’ll endure in prison) leave a bitter taste in her mouth when she considers them and his own seeming ignorance and helplessness in the face of those abusing him. A more astute observer might observe parallels the Ventrue does not with the effeminate black boy.

There’s relatively little she can—or more precisely wishes—to do, especially with her family sniffing about him. The very resources she might nominally muster on his behalf are those happy to see his destruction (by her mother’s account). Still, Caroline is not helpless to watch his suffering and if she cannot wield the Malveaux hammer, she’s happy to be more subtle. Among those more ‘subtle’ avenues towards his well being. She has information on Mouse’s arrests—including details about his broken fingers and bloody beaten face during his alleged ‘invasion’ of the female dormitory—dropped in on Herman Lewis, remembering well the rants and complaints she once heard from Marco made in the past about the belligerent former convicted murderer. Mouse may have signed a plea bargain that denied him his right to appeal, but she has little doubt that he’ll have plenty to raise complaints about from within the Parish prison.

GM: Caroline actually hears about it from Jocelyn first, of all people, when she starts to look into things. Mercurial Fernandez is dead. It happened around a month ago.

She was following him at the instruction of her priest to see if he’d lapse into sin again. He’s dead. There’s a viral MeVid video filmed by his brother (from inside jail!) floating around that alleges Mouse was beaten to death by prison guards after he protested OPP’s horrific conditions and started organizing inmates to file a class action suit.

Jocelyn isn’t really sure what to feel.

Caroline’s calls to her own relatives paint a rather less cheery picture. Mouse was literally raped to death in his cell and expired from his injuries during the night. The notorious jail’s notoriously lazy and ineffectual medical staff can rarely be asked to treat inmates before morning. He managed to kill his violator, though, by repeatedly stabbing the man in the throat while he slept.

Cécilia does not celebrate his death, but is, admittedly, relieved that he will no longer be a part of her life.

There’s a GoFundMe for donations to pay for the funeral. Mouse’s brother claims to be destitute from court fees and attorney’s bills.

Caroline: Caroline’s response mirrors Jocelyn’s. She regrets what they did, and expresses as much to her paramour, but the fact that he died attacking his cellmate in his sleep says unpleasant things about the truth of his character—not that she’s judging him for attacking his rapist. She’s simply observing that clearly he had more violence in his heart than they might have thought.

The entire thing is just… unfortunate. Not really sad—she doesn’t feel that deeply for him (she didn’t know him beyond a single night of hurting him)—but another dead body, another person she’s met dead, adds to a sense of dread. She’s hurt a lot of people. Killed a lot of people. He’s just another name on the periphery. There’s little room left in her heart to mourn those that far down the list.

Little, but some small measure. She has Autumn investigate the truth of the family’s claim of being destitute.

GM: Autumn soon reports back. She reports that after Mouse’s mother died, her estate was heavily stolen from. Fizzy sold the house and what was left. Fizzy belongs to a street gang called the RidaHoodz, many of whom were arrested recently. They have heavily commercialized Mouse’s death to the extent of selling tickets over Kickstarter to attend his funeral.

Autumn reports that Mouse has no surviving immediate family besides Fizzy. He’s telling the truth about his expenses, but he also came into a windfall with his mother’s inheritance and selling her house.

“He seems less destitute than he had a major payday interrupted by some major expenses,” finishes the ghoul. “Could probably survive without the Kickstarter funeral tickets.”

Caroline: Caroline is more than a little disgusted by the commercialization of Mouse’s death by his brother. She mentions to Jocelyn that those involved might make ideal victims—though they fall a bit out of her own tastes.

GM: “I guess he’s in prison anyway,” Jocelyn says. “So he’s probably already having a shitty time. I read an article about how OPP is the worst jail in America. I dunno there’s really anything more we’d even need to do to him.”

“There’s probably some college students wearing those stupid t-shirts, though.” The Toreador rolls her eyes. “I swear those things are worse than MAGA hats. I don’t know how they’re even selling.”

Her eyes glint.

“Bad luck for whoever we see with one on.”

Caroline V, Chapter VI
The Exiled Prince

“Clanmates can abide by the rules, contribute towards shared prosperity, and reap the benefits—or they may go their own way, and do without.”
Marcel Guilbeau

Monday night, 4 October 2015, PM

Caroline: It takes eleven long nights for Caroline to make her first appearance before a clanmate. Things are finally beginning to take shape.

She’s left behind her ‘home’ in Riverbend in favor of the Giani Building, renting out two separate apartments under the names of her remaining ghouls while renovations are ongoing on the three bedroom suites on the upper floors.

Two ghouls have joined Autumn, replacing—if such a thing is possible—Turner and Aimee. The two ghouls weigh heavily upon her mind by their conspicuous absence.

Brian Fuller seems to be taking to it well. The former Corpsman is an intimidating presence despite his small stature, all coiled muscle potential for violence. He’s protective—Caroline knew he would be from their past dealings—and happy to have something else to provide meaning in his life. He took to her offered blood almost hungrily.

The second presence is dominating in an entirely different way. Sarah Anne Widney is thin, almost frail-looking, but that brittle frail of iron rather than the outright weakness of glass. Disgraced by her last client—the object of his lust—she was perhaps even easier to lure into the fold than Fuller. And is just as essential. Already Caroline has the orphaned financier helping to transfer funds into new names and new accounts.

More subtle activities are also in progress. Tours of office spaces. Meetings with other attorneys she knows are disenfranchised. Wheels are turning. Now she needs persuade Gerousiastis Guilbeau of that fact. Such is foremost in her mind when she presents herself before the Alystra.

GM: Caroline’s ride drops her off in the CBD, only a few blocks away from the Hilton where she spent a terrified first day as one of the Damned. Marcel Guilbeau’s domain is a multi-decked riverboat casino with yellow and purple lights that flash and pulsate over the water. Music, cheering, and sounds of revelry are audible from within.

Caroline remembers a few discussions within her own family concerning the state’s riverboat casinos, back during her father’s time as majority leader in Baton Rouge. Her uncle Orson was morally opposed to gambling, but her father was unopposed on the grounds that the industry brought in hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes. Gambling on public land is illegal in Louisiana, the Ventrue also recalls, so the state legislature naturally had no objections to people gambling on water. Except for Harrah’s, also several blocks away, which was able to obtain an exception. And that new bill she heard about somewhere, still in the works, which would no longer require riverboat casinos to have operable paddlewheels. The Pelican State’s efforts at regulating gambling seem as slapdash as everything else it does.

If the numbers of people making their way up the casino’s walkway seem any indication, however, few souls besides her Uncle Orson would seem to mind their government’s laxness—though a few, with the benefit of hindsight, might be grateful for it. While some people leave the casino in excitedly chattering groups (or more lustful pairs of two), the losers look either sullen or morose. One man looks as if he’s about to throw up into the Mississippi and is hurriedly rushed away.

Caroline is greeted a short ways off from the casino proper by a handsome ghoul in a dark suit.

“Welcome to the Alystra, Miss Malveaux,” he says with an easy Louisiana drawl. “Gerousiastis Guilbeau was tickled pink you could make it here tonight. Before you step aboard, he has one request… please will your Beast to appear normally before the cameras.” He smiles wryly towards the stream of people making their way on and off the boat. “As a casino, we’ve got plenty installed. Any malfunctions make it easier on the cheaters who’d as soon rob us blind.”

Caroline: It’s not an unreasonable request, even if it is a slightly unusual one, but Caroline’s thought process immediately goes towards the worst possible scenarios. Blackmail? Perhaps, but tame if so. Documentation on her? Perhaps. Certainly she hasn’t posed for many family photos (or any photos for that matter) since her Embrace. Certainly a loss of deniability if she’s framed for (or commits) any crimes on board.

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. She’s here as much at her own request as at his invitation, the product of her own decision to engage with Clan Ventrue rather than go her own way, and she’s been told time and again that notionally, backstabbing each other is not how the clan operates. Notionally. Still, if matters are so poisoned with Gerousiastis Guilbeau there’s not much hope as a whole. Better to find out here than in meetings with more overtly hostile players.

The calculus takes place in an instant behind her green eyes and she flashes a toothy smile. “I’d be a poor guest not to meet such a minor demand from such a distinguished personage.” It takes an effort of will, a conscious choice, she’s found to appear in photographs or video footage: her first Snapchat uses as a Kindred were a disaster.

She exerts that effort, but can all but feel her Beast circling in her mind at the unwanted imposition. Not quite angry—she’s experienced that enough to know when it is roused—but certainly stirred. It vastly prefers when its host is bowing to its whims, rather than the reverse.

GM: The ghoul beams and replies with various pleasantries as he escorts Caroline into the riverboat casino, even offering a hand to ‘help’ her up the amply wide (and railed) gangplank.

As soon as she enters the gambling hall, she is assailed by a riot of sounds, smells, and scintillating colors. The first thing she notices is the massive array of slot machines with blinking lights, whirring sirens, and tokens clattering into the metal payout drawers. Gold and bright primary colors glint excitedly everywhere. Rowdy jazz music plays from speakers and a live band. Crowds of clapping, exclaiming, shouting people are clustered around the array of games, including three-card poker, blackjack, roulette, craps, Mississippi Stud, and Ultimate Texas Hold’em—and the ever-present slot machines that make up the most of any casino’s revenue. An all-you-can-eat Creole/Caribbean-themed buffet and bar is set up in the corner, along with the band. Cocktail waitresses weave their way through the lively crowds while suited croupiers smartly deal out cards.

A tall, dark-skinned man in his late 20s looks at Caroline as her guide leads her past one of the whirring slot machines.

“Hey, aren’t you Westley’s sister?”

Caroline: “I was,” she replies coldly. That wound is still fresh.

GM: “Yeah, was,” the man says. “I was his friend too, though that turned into a ‘was’ before he died.”
He swirls a drink in his hand. “I just wanna say, good fucking riddance, and fuck him very much.”

“Mr. Perroneau is upstairs, ma’am, whenever you’re ready to see him,” her escort states with an undeterred smile.

Caroline: “I’m glad you’re doing so well for yourself, Brayson,” Caroline replies with an even more noticeable chill than before. “It must be because of all the time you spend worrying about the fortunes of others.”

She doesn’t do him the dignity of granting a response, instead following her escort away.

GM: “Yeah, I learned from the best there,” Brayson calls after her over the din as she leaves.

Caroline: The Ventrue doesn’t bother to look back.

GM: The ghoul leads Caroline up several flights of stairs. In contrast to the riotous scenes below, the baccarat lounge at the riverboat’s top deck is a much more subdued affair. It’s quieter, most noticeably. People are having normal conversations in low murmurs rather than screaming or cheering. The blues band plays relaxed, slower-paced tunes. The lights are dimmer. Larger windows overlook the Mississippi’s dark waters, imparting a sense of stillness. A cocktail bar and small restaurant with booths provides some distraction from the baccarat tables.

Caroline: Caroline takes it all in, soaking up the ambiance, carefully crafted she’s certain.

GM: The ghoul leads her a ways further back into a private room/alcove. Caroline didn’t see it from the main floor, but its tinted wall affords a one-way view of the baccarat tables. The lighting is even dimmer, but that doesn’t bother her. A snug-looking booth encircles a wide table that also seats the casino’s owner.

Baton Rouge’s prince-in-exile is a tall and deeply handsome man with rectangular features, a prominent nose, dark caramel-brown hair sculpted into a neat mustache and goatee, and deep blue eyes. Two pale gold crucifix earrings hang from his ears. He’s dressed in a navy blazer jacket, matching slacks, a white button-up shirt with no tie, and black loafers.

He’s reading through a sheaf of papers but looks up as his ghoul announces,

“May I introduce His Majesty Marcel Guilbeau, Prince and Duke of Baton Rouge, Gerousiastis, Praetor emeritus, Gold Consul of the Assembly of Colors, Knight Banneret of the Order of the White Cross, Commissioner, Interpreter, and Librettist.”

Caroline: “Gerousiastis Guilbeau, thank you for receiving me.” Caroline curtsies before the older Ventrue while doing her best to maintain eye contact—a matter made much easier by the preternatural grace she’s acquired in death.

“I am Caroline Malveaux, childe of René Baristheaut, childe of Robert Bastien, childe of Lothar Constantine, childe of Dominic de Valois-Burgundy, childe of Gaius Pedius Marcellus, childe of Alexander, childe of Ventrue.”

The lie is easier than the truth, and not only to the outside world.

“And I come before you to seek your wise counsel, that I might learn from your brightly shining example and build for myself a domain worthy of the name ‘Ventrue.’”

GM: Marcel quirks an amused brow at Caroline’s description of him, but gestures towards the place opposite his.

“You don’t need to flatter me that obviously, Miss Malveaux. Please, have a seat.”

Caroline: Caroline cracks a smile in turn that she hopes is at least somewhat charming.

“As you say, Gerousiastis Guilbeau, though I doubt any would challenge the description of the Alystra as anything but bright.”

She moves to take her seat opposite the once-prince.

GM: The elder Ventrue smiles in turn at Caroline’s quip. “You ever do much gambling as a mortal, Miss Malveaux? Or ‘gaming’, as it’s polite to call it now.”

Caroline: “I’m afraid not, Gerousiastis Guilbeau, I always preferred the odds more stacked in my own favor,” Caroline replies. “Though I’m given to understand that for many, it’s as much about the experience surrounding it as the actual action.”

GM: “Oh, you’d be right. As a way of making money, it’s terrible.” A faint smile. “Unless you’re the house. But the experience is another matter. Would you care for a hand of baccarat?”

Caroline: “I confess, Gerousiastis Guilbeau, I’ve never played.”

Westley might have, and might have tried to get her to go along with him one night: she never did. Going out with her brother had never seemed wise, both in entertaining his poor choices and in potentially ending up wrapped up in them.

GM: Marcel simply smiles. “Movies about… gentleman spies portray it as a deeply complex game requiring high skill and intense knowledge of the rules. But it’s actually dirt simple. I can show you how it’s played, if you like.”

Caroline: “Far be it for me to turn down such an offer, gerousiastis,” Caroline replies easily.

GM: “Well, here’s the first thing to know. The only real thing that distinguishes baccarat from the games you’ll see on the lower decks are the stakes, which are normally set high. That’s why it’s depicted as a rich man’s game, why it’s popular in the movies, and why it has its own floor here. Because you have to be rich to play it.”

“Minimum bets are $50, and can go as high as $500, depending on where you play. They’re lower here.” The elder Ventrue smiles deprecatingly. “We aren’t quite Las Vegas. The house edge on baccarat is fairly low, which means that if you can afford to play—and afford to lose—the payouts can be respectable.”

Caroline: The Ventrue heiress listens attentively to her elder. It makes sense—most high rollers aren’t inclined to throw away money on long odds—they wouldn’t have made it far if they were. A game with more neutral odds, though… she can understand why it would be appealing.

GM: Marcel glances to the nearby ghoul, who pulls the various papers off the table, and then presses a button underneath its surface. There’s a soft whirring sound as the top-most section of the table retracts into the wall, revealing another green-colored surface beneath. It has spaces sectioned out for multiple players. Each numbered space has two sections above it that read ‘PLAYER’ and ‘BANK.’

“You only need two people to play baccarat,” the ex-prince goes on. “One is the player, and the other is the banker. Each one gets two cards from a dispenser called ‘the shoe,’ which contains eight complete decks of cards. The hand that comes the closest to nine points wins. That’s essentially it. Aces are worth one point, cards numbered 2-9 are worth their point values, and 10s and face cards are worth nothing.”

Another faint smile. “Sometimes, being king isn’t all it’s cracked up.”

Caroline: “So, where does the house’s advantage come in?” Caroline asks.

GM: Marcel chuckles at that. “In due order, Miss Malveaux. Now, so far as how you place bets.”

“As I said, you only need two people to play baccarat, though it’s more fun in groups. Before cards are dealt, you place your bets on either the player’s hand, the banker’s hand, or a tie between them—that obviously doesn’t happen as often, but payouts are higher when it does.”

“Once the cards are dealt, you add up their values. If the cards have a combined value above nine, you reduce it by eliminating the first digit. For example, say a player gets the eight of spades and six of hearts, which adds up to 14. You then remove the first digit, so he actually has four.”

The ex-prince looks content as he continues to explain, “Reasonable payouts, and rules against shooting too high. That’s why baccarat is a gentleman’s game. Depending on how high or low the initial hands are, the dealer may decide to ‘hit’ one or both of the hands with a third card. This is determined by stringent rules that, of course, only dealers need to know. It usually favors the bank hand.”

“Player bets pay out at even money, as do bank bets, but the latter are charged a five percent commission by the house. That’s how we make money. So, although baccarat remains a gentleman’s game with a gentleman’s sense of restraint, it’s still gambling… you can play it slightly safer, and win slightly less. Or you can play it slightly less safe, and win slightly more.”

Caroline: “By betting upon a tie,” Caroline fills in. “In which case, the house is more likely to collect. Though, obviously, if one had precise betting upon the likelihood of ties versus… wins or losses by house or player, that might be eliminated over a long enough period of time.”

GM: “Betting on the bank hand is safest,” Marcel clarifies. “Betting on the player hand is slightly less safe, but slightly more lucrative, since the house charges no commission on your winnings. Tie bets aren’t safe bets at all. House odds are 8 to 1, but true odds are actually 10 to 1. So those favor the house even more. Gentlemen shouldn’t be reckless with their money.”

Caroline: The heiress nods in understanding. Most of her math classes were in accounting rather than higher-level theoretical math: not only were they easier, she thought they’d apply more in her day-to-day life. She didn’t expect they still would in her night-to-night undeath.

“More a game of chance than of skill, then?” she asks the exiled prince. “It’s all in where one puts their money.”

GM: “That’s the nature of gambling,” Marcel agrees. “If you want skill, there’s chess for that. Or poker, really, if you care to straddle the line.”

Caroline: “Were you a gambling man in life, Gerousiastis Guilbeau?” she asks.

GM: “Oh, yes. So were most of my peers. The Bible said it was a sin, but all of our fathers initiated us into that manly art when we were young, so we’d know how to take part. It was almost a social obligation at barbecues, musters, jockey clubs, race tracks, aboard steamboats… you name it. Only cowards would refuse to ante up, so it was believed—and you only gambled to excess when you lost more than you could pay.”

Caroline: “If I might ask, is it something you were able to retain a taste for, personally, gerousiastis?”

GM: Marcel simply gestures at their surroundings with another content smile.

He then nods to the ghoul, who removes several rolls of tokens from his coat and sets them down on the table. “No need for us to go visit the cage,” the ex-prince states.

The ghoul produces a deck of cards and shuffles it several times.

“For luck,” Marcel adds, “as the shoe randomizes them too.”

The ghoul feeds the cards into the device.

“Now then, Miss Malveaux, how much do you care to bet?”

Caroline: “I suppose that depends, Gerousiastis Guilbeau, on what I’m playing with. Is it house money?”

GM: “Your money, just as I’m betting mine.”

Caroline: Caroline cannot help but note the allegory for a young Kindred’s existence in the ex-prince’s proposal. Those with the money and power, with the odds inherently stacked in their favor, dragging those still learning the rules into games where they have little to gain and everything to lose.

She keeps the observation to herself and instead keeps the smile on her face. She reaches out and plucks a stack of chips, turning them over in her hand to verify their $25 denomination before dropping three into the betting area.

“Conservatively,” she answers.

GM: “Here’s the next lesson I’ll offer you, Miss Malveaux. Never look as if you’re short on money around a clanmate,” the older Ventrue replies, matching her three chips with three $500 ones. “I’ll bet on the player’s hand,” he tells the ghoul.

“Very good, Your Majesty,” the man smiles before looking towards Caroline.

Caroline: “Far be it for me to gainsay, Gerousiastis Guilbeau,” Caroline gestures in agreement. “Better to be incautious than cheap?” she asks the ancilla more directly.

GM: “What is there to be cautious about, if the sum is too trifling to mean anything?”

Caroline: It’s not a sentiment she’s often heard echoed. Though far from penny pinching, throwing money away towards no discernible end was always frowned upon.

“Perhaps I’ve been learning the wrong lessons, Gerousiastis Guilbeau,” she concedes.

GM: “Kine lessons, more likely. Applicable enough among them. But you’ll find that money means rather less among us. No one in the Structure is impressed at one another for having money. That isn’t to say you should spend it frivolously, but to appear concerned over amounts this small is to project an unsuccessful image and impose a needless handicap in your dealings.”

Caroline: “If you can’t afford to play or have to wonder how much it costs to do so, you shouldn’t be at the table,” Caroline fills in. “My mortal father once said the same thing about owning a sports car.”

GM: “Exactly,” Marcel agrees. “Or to look at it another way, it’s paying to improve your clanmates’ opinion of you—or your mortal peers’, in the case of the sports car. From that standpoint, what seems a frivolous use of money is actually a sound investment.”

“Now then, Miss Malveaux, how much would you care to bet, and on what hand?”

Caroline: The heiress plucks a pair of $500 chips and places them forward.

“On myself, of course, Gerousiastis Guilbeau.”

GM: “Then it seems we’ll both make something if you win,” Marcel remarks as his ghoul feeds several more decks into the shoes, then proceeds to deal Caroline’s cards.

“Four points to you,” Marcel remarks as the ghoul deals the banker’s hand.

“Now here is where it seems like we’d lose, but this is where things get interesting,” the exiled prince smiles. “In the punto banco version of the game—that’s the one played in the U.S.—the player receives another card if she has a total of 5 or less.”

“Ah, a pity for us,” Marcel remarks as the queen’s face turns up. “Baccarat may be a rich man’s game, but being royalty counts for nothing.”

The ghoul collects the tokens, putting them out $1,000 and $1,500, respectively.

Caroline: Caroline has spent money quickly, but she’s rarely seen money disappear that quickly without return.

“That’s why they call it gambling,” she replies easily.

GM: “Hopefully your other endeavors will have more luck, Miss Malveaux. What domain are you establishing for your test?”

Caroline: “I’d thought to establish it around a law firm, and in the legal arena as a whole, from within the Central Business District. I’m told there was another Ventrue that maintained such a domain with some success before Katrina,” Caroline answers.

GM: “Yes, there was. A promising domain. Everyone relies on lawyers these nights,” the exiled prince remarks, before dispensing three more $500 chips to himself. “I’ll bet on the player’s hand again,” he tells the ghoul.

“Very good, Your Majesty,” the ghoul smiles. “And yourself, madam?” he asks of Caroline.

Caroline: “A leopard cannot change its spots,” Caroline replies, sliding out two more matching chips.

GM: The ghoul deals the player’s cards.

“A stronger hand,” Marcel remarks. “That leaves you with nine—the highest total you can get in the game.”

The ghoul deals the banker’s cards.

“Rather less strong,” Marcel remarks. “But since my total is five or less, that means another card for me.”

“And that still leaves me with a four. It seems we’ve won back everything,” Marcel smiles as the ghoul slides over their chips.

Caroline: Caroline smiles contentedly. “A more social game, with a more natural ebb and flow.”

GM: “It is, isn’t it? There’s a reason we give it its own floor, away from the other games’ noise.”

Caroline: Caroline can picture a group of rich men sitting around playing the game for hours as they discuss business propositions and social arrangements. It’s neither a pleasant nor unpleasant image, simply one her family tended away from. They preferred other arenas.

“I can see it.”

GM: “Tell me some more about your firm,” Marcel goes on. “What areas of law will it be specializing in? How do you plan to use it in Kindred and kine circles?”

Caroline: “Notionally I’d like to diversify in interests, though civil is likely to be a larger area. Asset management, estates, and trusts all have significant application both among Kindred and kine circles—especially for those making a transition from among the living to the dead.”

“Criminal law, though less directly applicable to us—if it gets to the point where a Kindred is arrested things have probably gone too far already—but it has its own appeals with pawns. Ghouls that take the fall for things, mortal pawns of interest, and the obvious general application of influence in the legal field to anyone that seeks influence as a whole.”

“At least so goes my thinking, Gerousiastis Guilbeau.”

GM: “Those are some relevant areas to us,” Marcel agrees. “Especially to our clan. There are plenty of kaintucks who get by with only the clothes on their backs, but I’ve yet to meet a blue blood who didn’t own some manner of assets intangible to all but the law.”

He nods to his ghoul, who slides him another three chips and takes his bet (the player’s hand, again).

“You say recently Embraced Kindred are of interest to you,” Marcel remarks after Caroline has placed her bet. “Do you plan to offer them your services? Would they be your primary focus, or other Kindred too?”

Caroline: “I’d be interested in offering my services to any Kindred that was in need of them or had an interest, but it is not my immediate expectation that more established Kindred would be willing to entrust a relative newcomer before they’d proven themselves capable, Gerousiastis Guilbeau,” the much younger Ventrue replies smoothly. She slides forth two more of her own chips beside his (once more, on herself).

GM: The ghoul deals the player’s cards.

“A one. That would bode very poorly, by itself. Since your total is below six, you’re due another card.”

“Five, now. That’s an all right hand.”

The ghoul lays out the banker’s cards.

“Only three for the banker’s hand. But I’m due another card too.”

“Leaving me at one. Our lucky streak continues,” Marcel smiles.

The ghoul slides over their chips.

Caroline: Caroline’s attention is far more upon the ex-prince than the game.

GM: “That’s prudent,” Marcel continues in answer to Caroline’s earlier remark. “The newly-released ones are more trusting.” He glances over the chips. “Hmm. We’re both over a thousand dollars richer than when we started playing. Here’s the most cardinal rule of all in gambling, Miss Malveaux: quit while you’re ahead. Luck is a fickle patron.”

Caroline: Not the only fickle patron.

GM: “What do you say we bet some other collateral? The coup’s winner gets to ask a question of the loser. And if we’d rather not answer, we’ll slide over one of our checks to the other.” He then adds, “That’s the polite term for ‘chip’.”

Caroline: “I’m amenable to that arrangement, Genousiastis Guilbeau,” Caroline replies. “As you so astutely observed, the money is of little concern.”

GM: “Excellent,” the deposed prince smiles as the ghoul starts dealing Caroline’s cards.

Then Marcel’s.

“A rare tie,” the older Ventrue observes. “We’ll say that entitles us both to a question. You can ask first.”

Caroline: The heiress considers for a moment before asking, “What have you heard of me, Genousiastis Guilbeau?”

GM: “Quite a few things,” the exiled prince answers. “That you performed your role adequately at the trial. That you are an ill-mannered whelp who understands no language but force. That you are a flagrant violator of the Traditions, unreliable in the execution of your responsibilities, and unworthy of the Blood. That you come from worthy stock, have been disadvantaged by the circumstances of your Embrace, and should be afforded the opportunity to correct your ignorance and prove your worth. And that you are an adequate conversational partner who is neither particularly engaging nor offensive.”

Caroline: Were she living, Caroline might flush with embarrassment or anger at some of the comments. Or perhaps not. Controlling her reaction to provocations became a constant during the last election cycle. Neither is a concern in death.

“It’s difficult being so many things to so many different people,” she replies instead.

GM: “They say there are two sides to every issue, or sometimes three. I’ve never found that to be true. There are as many sides to an issue as there are people involved in an issue.”

Caroline: “I’d beg to differ, Genousiastis Guilbeau,” Caroline replies with a hint of a smirk.

GM: “As for my own question, how do you intend to attract more established Kindred into engaging your firm’s services?”

Caroline: “In the immediate? By establishing a reputation for competence at odds with much of what you’ve heard, Genousiastis Guilbeau, with those that will deal with me.”

“Selectively but aggressively extending my services to those more established with whom I have better relations at reduced rates to build a ‘client’ base. Cultivating relationships and allies among those more established. To find a place among them myself.”

That grin appears again. “And, perhaps, I had thought, asking you to join those willing to make use of such services, Genousiastis Guilbeau.”

GM: “That’s a question of its own, Miss Malveaux. Answers, at least for now, aren’t free,” the deposed prince smiles faintly back as the ghoul deals their cards. Caroline’s are first.

Then come Marcel’s.

Marcel arches an eyebrow. “Another tie. Luck can take strange turns.”

“You can ask first, again.”

Caroline: “What guidance would you offer to my plan, as described, Genousiastis Guilbeau?” Caroline asks piercingly.

GM: “That would very much depend on the Kindred you had wanted to approach. Fortunately, that was also my next question.”

Caroline: “I have some ties to other Sanctified. The Storyville Krewe. Perhaps Marguerite Defallier—we share some past interests from my mortal life,” Caroline replies. “Others… I confess, to be identified.”

GM: “That’s a very small list, Miss Malveaux,” Marcel states. “Perhaps somewhat obvious of me to state, but no less true.”

Caroline: “A fine rope to walk, Genousiastis Guilbeau,” Caroline replies.

GM: “But as for what guidance I can offer, I can think of several things off-hand.”

“Eiren Gerlette notwithstanding, other blue bloods seem conspicuous for their absence. They are some of the Kindred most likely to benefit from such services. They are the only Kindred who will feel a sense of obligation, or at least collective self-interest, to make further introductions and help you ‘network.’”

“I imagine your mortal family helped you snag a number of choice internships and career opportunities before you had done much to build up your own name. The Structure is much the same. We all share the same blood.”

Caroline: Caroline nods but replies, “All the same, Genousiastis Guilbeau, it was not my intention to come to others in the blood, hat in hand, requesting their aid if there was another avenue available. Even laying aside my understanding of the agoge as a test of one’s ability to individually make a place for themselves without the aid of the clan, I am not of a mind to ask aid. Perhaps I an mistaken, but while we are stronger together, a Ventrue that cannot stand on their own is only a liability to others.” There’s a certain fierceness to Caroline’s reply.

GM: “That’s true. Yet you have expressed a wish for me to engage your services, as well as Eiren Gerlette,” Marcel observes.

Caroline: “I would engage Erien Gerlette as fellow neonates, rather than as Ventrue, asking nothing she would not grant to any other.”

GM: “That would seem fair of you, to only engage those Ventrue with whom you are personally acquainted.” Marcel strokes his beard. “Another name that still occurs to me is Questor Adler’s. The Gerousia is aware she is providing your education, and approves of the arrangement. Compared to the Storyville Krewe, she could be a far more lucrative client to you.”

“I don’t know if she’s yet outlined for you which spheres of influence are claimed by which clanmates, but her sire claims domain over the city’s banking and financial sector. He’s held onto it since long before my Embrace.” Marcel smiles. “The Brits are the fathers of modern banking. And he was still a neonate when he witnessed the Bank of England’s 1694 founding.”

Caroline: Caroline squirrels the knowledge of Matheson’s Embrace away amidst the many others.

“I’ll speak with her, but as favorable as her arrangement has been to present, I do not want to seek an undue influence.”

She will give no excuse to deny her due if she succeeds in this arrangement.

GM: “Mm. As a related bit of historical trivia for you, in fact, Spain didn’t have a central bank until 1782. France took all the way until 1800, thanks to the phobia of paper money that John Law helped them develop—he was the real founder of this city in many ways.”

Caroline: “It was a major cause of their economic woes as a result of the colonies,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Yes, it’s a fascinating piece of history. Questor Adler could tell you all about it, too—she learned her history from a firsthand witness who was extremely studious as to the mistakes France and Spain were making.” Marcel smiles again. “So you can see why Strategos Vidal allowed a Brit to manage the city’s finances. They knew what they were doing.”

“So did Gerousiastis Matheson. He was there pulling the strings of the Monnaie de La Nouvelle-Orléans when it was first founded. It was his domain until his exile, and that whole business with the Numidians. He was one of the original founders of Hancock County Bank too, back when 19 men could do that with only $10,000 in their pockets. Nowadays of course, it’s called Whitney Hancock Bank. It’s continued to grow under his careful husbandry ever since.”

“I believe its total assets are now worth around $20 billion. The Alystra is worth around $150 million. I have other assets and sources of income, of course, but since money means rather less to us, I’m not embarrassed to admit that Gerousiastis Matheson is richer than I am. I don’t think anyone except Strategos Vidal, and maybe a few other elders, hold personal fortunes that can believably claim to rival his own. Certainly, his influence over the banking sector gives him flexibility in the ways he can use capital that even our prince lacks.”

Caroline: “He’s involved with the Whitneys?” Caroline asks, not so much surprised as curious. Another piece in a puzzle whose edges she has yet to find.

GM: “They’re less useful to him now than they once were. Lyman’s retired and Warren doesn’t seem to have any aspirations of becoming CEO after the Hancock merger. But they’ve been his for many years.”

Caroline: “Such is the way of things,” Caroline murmurs.

Had she learned such a thing only months ago the degree of Kindred involvement in the lives of mortals might have been horrifying, but she’s had a rough enough lesson in just how little independence many have from the all-night society in these last weeks.

GM: “Perhaps Sarah will be more ambitious than her father, though.” Marcel smiles. “I’m to understand it’s thanks to you that she’s alive at all—and made that miraculous recovery following her hospital stay.”

Caroline: “We can hope.”

The memory of the younger Whitney dying under her hands is not as fresh as it once was, but Caroline cannot help but feel a swell of emotion at the mention. She’d feared the girl might have significant brain damage, but last she heard the teenager is recovering neatly.

“It’s always a shame to see bright stars fade.”

The Ventrue smiles. “It would seem we’re once more due a hand,” she offers, “unless we are to dispense with the pretense, Genousiastis Guilbeau.”

GM: “Not just yet,” Marcel says, motioning his ghoul to refrain from dealing the cards. “There are ways in which Gerousiastis Matheson’s financial flexibility is more limited, however. His banishment and inability to physically enter the city are significant handicaps. That’s where the younger of his childer comes in.”

The older Ventrue smiles again, but with a touch of wistfulness. “I rather wish I could have been her, at that age. She has almost unrestricted use of an elder’s resources, his name and authority to invoke in her dealings with other Kindred, and what’s probably very little actual oversight from him. Gerousiastis Matheson doesn’t even maintain a herald, or at least a ghoul herald. He allows her to act as his voice and representative in all things.”

Caroline: “She seems to have enjoyed a rather charmed Requiem,” Caroline ventures.

GM: “Yes, she has. I think she’s a model childe and has a very bright future within the clan. But as to my actual point, Miss Malveaux, you’re receiving private lessons from her and working together in a close capacity. Thanks to that acquaintance, you have a potential point of access to nearly $20 billion in assets, and one of the largest banking empires in the South. It predates my Requiem by at least a century. The Storyvilles are nothing next to that.”

Caroline: “An astute observation,” Caroline replies.

But do you know the details of it? That he would have fed upon me as though I were kine had it not been for the words of another?

“As you observed though, Genousiastis Guilbeau, the wealth means little next to potential influence among others. Whatever her means, Questor Adler’s wealth means less than the potential esteem that others might provide by their interest.”

GM: “I’m not the only Kindred of standing to have a favorable opinion of Questor Adler, Miss Malveaux. Primogen Chastain enjoys her company. Madam Defallier believes she has the makings of a harpy. Gerousiastis McGinn considers her a fine example of traditional Southern values. To cite but a few examples. The Storyvilles, unfortunately for them, are less talked about.”

Caroline: Caroline is more than smart enough to read between the lines.

“Your point is well taken, Genousiastis Guilbeau,” she replies.

GM: “Excellent,” Marcel smiles. “Now, I believe we are due for another coup.” He adds, “That’s what ‘hands’ are called in baccarat, by the way.” The ghoul deals Caroline’s cards.

“A strong total,” Marcel observes as the ghoul deals his own.

“The question is yours,” the exiled prince grants.

Caroline: “What might I do to earn your favor, Genousiastis Guilbeau?” Caroline asks.

GM: “You can start by acquitting yourself well in baccarat, which you have,” the older Ventrue smiles faintly.

Caroline: “Fearlessness I have never lacked in,” Caroline replies. “As you have heard, Genousiastis Guilbeau.”

GM: “Yes. But since you won the coup fair and square, I’ll answer you directly. Gerousiastis McGinn and Gerousiastis Malveaux have both had very unfavorable things to say about your character. I respect them both. They’ve earned their spurs to sit at the same table as me, and I’m inclined to listen to their opinions on many things.”

“But I also recognize that Lady Luck sometimes deals us bad hands, and that bad hands can play out even worse when we don’t know the rules of the game.” Marcel gestures as if towards the whole of his casino. “Luck is fickle. Another hand of cards, and bad luck can turn good, especially after we’ve learned the rules.”

Caroline: “I would make no excuses for the past,” Caroline replies. “Only seek changes for the future. A man I knew once said that a card laid was a card played.”

GM: “A card laid can be a card played, but there are always more cards to be dealt. In any case, Gerousiastis Malveaux has refused to personally take part in this stage of your agoge, as is traditional. He’s delegated the task to a ghoul. I’ll give you a guess as to why—but it’s not the dislike he bears for you.”

Caroline: “A boon owed to another,” Caroline speculates.

GM: Marcel quirks an eyebrow. “Who among the Ventrue would call in such a boon for your sake, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: Caroline can think of more than one name on that list.

“I have made enemies enough beyond our clan, Genousiastis Guilbeau,” she replies. “But while naming one among many may be a struggle, I can think of few other things that could keep such an esteemed Ventrue from doing his own duty. If it is, as you say, not a personal matter.”

GM: Marcel only shakes his head. “He recused himself from your instruction because he believed that was the best way to fulfill his duty.”

Caroline: “Better to say nothing than to give false counsel?” Caroline states as much as asks.

GM: Marcel looks at Caroline for a moment, then answers, “Gerousiastis Malveaux believes his feelings for you would prejudice his judgment and make him a poor teacher. He also does not believe that you are likely to pay heed to his instruction. So he has recused himself, in the modern parlance, and delegated that instruction to another.”

“He admitted, without pride, before the Gerousia that he did not believe himself competent to execute his responsibilities. He could just as easily have assigned no ghoul to show you the workings of his domain, and none would have begrudged him for it. You had only enemies and strangers among that body.”

Caroline: A fact that makes this meeting both all the more meaningful… and all the more meaningless.

GM: “That is what it is to show dignitas,” the exiled prince states slowly.

“Gerousiastis Malveaux is easily given to hate. But for ten years I watched him faithfully execute the instructions of a clanmate he despised. That was why the vote to install him in that clanmate’s seat on the Gerousia was unanimous. He’s served the Structure faithfully since before your grandfather was born. To be frank, Miss Malveaux, you aren’t important enough that he’d compromise his dignitas for you.”

Caroline: Caroline betrays no emotion.

Inwardly, though, she thinks upon hearing that the vote to place Father Malveaux on the Gerousia was unanimous. That had been one of her last hopes.

GM: The exiled prince holds up a finger. “But.”

“Gerousiastis McGinn is willing to personally meet with you, instruct you in our ways, offer advice, and show you the workings of his domain. He places much stock in blood, and can be a forgiving Kindred towards members of our clan.”

“I’m aware that bad blood exists there as well, and that he had you whipped for prior offenses. I’d willing to accompany you to that meeting, as an assurance for your physical safety—though I don’t think you’ll actually need me—and to provide re-introductions.”

Caroline: “That’s an extremely generous offer, Genousiastis Guilbeau, but one that I hope is unnecessary. If matters were truly so poor with Genousiastis McGinn that I should fear for my safety, and are also so poor that Genousiastis Malveaux can’t bring himself to speak with me, then I can think only that I might have made poor use of your own valuable time in pursuing this course at all. I should rather place my faith in Genousiastis McGinn’s own honor and integrity.”

The words are easier spoken than believed, but something pulls upon her judgment. She vividly remembers the whipping, but it’s difficult to hold it directly against him. However unpleasant it was. Despite what she learned of her ’sire’s’ own plans with McGinn to frame her and further blood bond her.

GM: “I see this meeting still having much potential to be a profitable use of our time, Miss Malveaux. As for meeting Gerousiastis McGinn on your own, I believe that’s a decision he will respect.”

“As for Gerousastis Malveaux, I’ve spoken to him already. If you are also willing, he will meet with the two of us. Not to, as my childer would term it, ‘kiss and make up’—but to simply recognize past wrongs, agree that neither of you will seek to further aggravate the other, and leave things at that.”

“Do these three things, and I will be willing to not only personally engage your firm’s services, but to recommend that both of my childer do the same, and to make introductions within Clan Ventrue, my covenant—the Invictus—my personal household, and Camarilla society at large. Some of those pending your agoge, since I’m not allowed to directly help with your Test.”

“I will do this even if Gerousiastis McGinn and Gerousiastis Malveaux do not alter their opinions of you, and abstain from voting in favor of your induction into the Structure. My only condition is that you attend a meeting with them both, and display the same dignitas they are also expected to uphold.”

Caroline: It’s an incredibly generous offer, perhaps the most so she has received since her Embrace, even with the obvious outs built into it—that it requires she complete her agoge and be accepted into the Structure.

“Even were you not a member of the Gerousia and centuries older, that is a term I would be a foolish not to meet, and an offer I cannot refuse, Gerousiastis Guilbeau,” Caroline replies, trying to keep the surprise off her face at the magnitude of what the elder Ventrue is offering.

A mediator with Father Malveaux who isn’t hostile and potential inroads amid the Invictius—to say nothing of his own not insignificant dealings. It’s quite a carrot vice the typical stick she’s seen in most of her Kindred dealings to date.

GM: The exiled prince spreads his hands. “This is how we operate, Miss Malveaux. Clanmates can abide by the rules, contribute towards shared prosperity, and reap the benefits—or they may go their own way, and do without. I’m pleased to hear you want to do the former.” Another faint smile. “There aren’t many blue bloods we fail to win around.”

Caroline: “I can begin to see why,” Caroline agrees.

Though where was all of this when René was hunting me like a dog and Gerousiastis McGinn was plotting to enslave me?

The question goes unasked, mostly drowned by the opportunity before her. She knows the answer anyway, or at least think she does.

Wednesday night, 6 October 2015, PM

GM: Marcel and Caroline play a few further baccarat coups, with the casino owner questioning her further regarding the details of business plans. He states that he’ll inspect her burgeoning law firm in person (once it gets to the point), as well as offer Caroline a later, lengthier tour of his own business operations. The rest of the Gerousia will do the same, for this is apparently the first of many further meetings that will occur over the coming months.

Two nights later, Becky Lynne receives Caroline again to coordinate scheduling between the recently-released fledgling and the two lictors, the latter of whom are soon to depart the city.

“By the way, Miss Malveaux, how did that first meeting of yours go with the gerousiastis?” she asks.

Caroline: “Genousiastis Guilbeau was a charming host, Questor Adler,” Caroline replies professionally.

GM: “Oh, I’m so glad you thought so. I’m not much of a gamblin’ woman, but the Alystra is a gorgeous sight over the water.” She smiles. “Only fitting that its owner should be equally charming, isn’t it?”

Caroline: “Indeed. He had quite the generous description of you as well, Questor Adler.”

GM: “Oh, now I’m certain he is a flatterer,” the other Ventrue laughs lightly.

Caroline: “Some make it easier than others.”

GM: “And I might say the same for yourself, Miss Malveaux,” smiles Becky Lynne. “Complimentary turns of phrase like those will go over very well for you in Elysium.”

Caroline: “Some of us take longer to learn lessons than others, but the all-night society has ways all its own to make one begin to understand the rules. And they are quite persuasive,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Aren’t they so,” Becky Lynne echoes. “Everyone learns the rules, even if they claim not to follow them.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “I’d argue there are plenty that don’t learn, we simply have to clean them up with a broom.”

GM: “A difference of philosophies, then,” Becky Lynne smiles. “My mama always taught me there’s no one who’s unreformable, not really—though sometimes they do make it too hard to justify the effort involved, unfortunately.”

Caroline: “Fortunate for me,” comes the heiress’ response.

GM: “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure, she also said—or every man’s, once it’s had a good polishing.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a light laugh. “I’ll take that in what I presume was the spirit it was meant, Questor Adler.”

“Speaking of treasure, though. It was observed to me how greatly many have come to value your counsel and opinion.”

GM: “You must have been talking to a whole bunch of flatterers there, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne laughs again before her expression grows more serious. “But it’s flattery I hope there is some truth to. I owe my bloodline’s reputation nothing less.”

Caroline: Particularly after all he has given you, Caroline cannot help but think with the lingering hint of bitterness, but that’s a scabbed-over wound.

“Perhaps I was, but that wouldn’t necessarily make it less true. I’ll move towards the point, however. You are familiar with my past, mortal dealings, with the Whitney family. I’m told they reside largely within your own sphere of influence.”

GM: “Oh, that’d be my sire’s sphere, Miss Malveaux, let’s have no illusions there,” Becky Lynne amends. “But he is most appreciative of the earlier service you rendered him with their daughter. The Whitneys have faithfully served his interests for a very long time. They aren’t what they used to be in the company, but he’s not a Kindred to forget loyalty.”

Caroline: “I’ve heard she’s recovering well,” Caroline agrees. “I’ve been thinking about that night. On the insanity of Detective Gettis’ actions. But that’s a story for another night I suspect.”

GM: “Yes, she’s very lucky by all accounts,” Becky Lynne agrees. “Or at least, certainly lucky that you were there during an unlucky time.”

Caroline: “It was a very strange night,” Caroline continues. “And also interesting how close on its heels my Embrace came.” She shakes her head somewhat dismissively and smiles.

GM: “I’m sure that it must have been,” Becky Lynne agrees. “Two lives dropped right in your hands, all out of the blue. That’s news to me so far as your Embrace, though. How much later was it?”

Caroline: “Eight nights,” Caroline replies easily.

GM: “Hot on the heels,” Becky Lynne agrees again. “In any case, Miss Malveaux, what’s the main story if that one’s for another night?”

Caroline: “There are two matters. The first relates to the Whitney family and that night, moving forward. I suspect after that night they would be willing to sponsor one of my chosen pawns in the establishment of my domain—and point other kine in the direction of it, but I would not presume to meddle in Genousiastis Matheson’s domain, even indirectly, without his blessing. But that connection would also be valuable in preserving my own Masquerade as well.”

GM: “That is very prudent—and polite of you to bring to his attention first,” Becky Lynne nods. “Might I ask after the second matter?”

Caroline: “Given the regard with which many hold you, Questor Adler, I had hoped I might persuade you to make use of my services in some capacity,” Caroline replies. “I understand that members of the Structure are not permitted to meddle in the establishment of one’s domain during an agoge, but I would seek to engage with you outside of such bonds.”

GM: Becky Lynne nods thoughtfully, clasping both her hands over a crossed leg. “Miss Malveaux, you’ll pardon me if this seems forward, but since you have engaged my sire for my help here… are you new to the city?”

“Obviously, of course, your family isn’t,” she clarifies. “They’re a big family, with a lot of branches in a lot of places. Have you spent much time among the out of state ones?”

Caroline: “Thankfully not,” Caroline replies, scrutinizing the other Ventrue heiress.

GM: Becky Lynne smiles at that, but Caroline can’t make out anything past the shorter blonde’s so-frequent expression.

Caroline: “I tried, of course, but the family wouldn’t let me out of Louisiana for an extended time.”

GM: “Blood can keep us on a short leash,” Becky Lynne agrees. “In any case, Miss Malveaux, I ask because this isn’t quite how business is done in the city, among Kindred or kine circles. It’s missing a certain somethin’. A je ne sais quoi. if you will.” Despite her Southern accent, the French effortlessly rolls off her tongue.

“Relationship, is what I think I’m gettin’ at,” she continues. “My sire is very traditional and deals with Kindred he knows—or Kindred his associates and kin know. You can be the best lawyer in the world, but for him, it’s that personal relationship which really seals it.”

“We’ve spent a fair amount of time together lately, Miss Malveaux, but I don’t rightly feel as if I know you too well. And I reckon you don’t feel as if you know me too well, either.”

Caroline: “Its position to be in,” Caroline agrees.

GM: Becky Lynne smiles again. “But those relationships can still be built, fortunately for us both.”

Caroline: Caroline meets that smile with one of her own. “I confess I’ve been hesitant in approaching such things,” she admits. “The rules of propriety that govern us in death are far more akin to those that I suspect governed Gerousiastis Matheson in life. Adjusting to them, and to my own… shall we say revised position in relation to others in death has been difficult.”

GM: Becky Lynne nods again. “I’m sure it has been very confusing, and you’ve not been sure what social guns to stick to and which to holster up, knowin’ that one wrong shot could mean disaster. But there are some things that don’t change, not too much.”

Caroline: “Like common interests?”

GM: The other Ventrue nods again. “That can well be one.”

Caroline: “Then forgive me, Questor Adler, I had not wanted to presume an undue familiarity. After all, as your sire made quite clear, we are not peers.”

GM: “That’s another thing that can change, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne beams. “Another thing my mama always told me was, ‘act like you’re gettin’ ahead, but not that you’re already ahead’.”

Caroline: “Meaning the stricter formalities are of less interest to you, absent your sire,” Caroline speculates.

GM: Becky Lynne taps her chin, then smiles. “Why don’t we make me seem like a good girl by saying not less interest so much as fewer are required. As you say, Miss Malveaux, we may not be peers quite yet, but formalities are less strict between you and me than they are between you and my sire.”

“What is of interest to me, though, is someone who can follow those formalities while makin’ nice and makin’ new friends. It’s a fine line to straddle, and can take some real skill—but it’s the kind that gets noticed by the right people.”

Caroline knows about that.

She knows all about that.

Wednesday afternoon, 17 March 2004

GM: It’s not Mardi Gras.

Uncle Orson had always disapproved of the family’s participation in those festivals, and particularly the girls. Luke and Westley had never got to go before, but the latter pleaded and cajoled with his parents so badly that they relented, and the boys got to experience their first Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Caroline didn’t. She stayed home in Baton Rouge, where she had a ‘girls’ night in’ with her mother and grandmother.

One month later, it’s still not Mardi Gras. It’s her mother’s idea of a compromise.

The St. Patrick’s Day parades attract a less wild crowd, Claire said. That had to have been true, because even Orson didn’t object to the idea. Caroline didn’t have much chance to object either. Her mother felt that with high school at St. Joseph’s Academy starting next year, the fourteen-year-old could use the time to “unwind” and “have some fun.”

Caroline: Being left at home with her mother was a hard pill to swallow, especially given how the distance between them has grown over the last year. They’ve never been particularly close—she was her father’s daughter—but the petty fights are becoming more frequent.

She’s too well-behaved and too inculcated to the family’s expectations to really lash out, but it probably only makes the biting comments and empty silences all the more obvious. The trip to New Orleans can’t help but feel like an attempt to band-aid over a wound that grows more infected by the day.

GM: Her mother hasn’t come with her. She cited things to do in Baton Rouge. Caroline’s father has been a state senator for two years, ever since he had to retire from the House (where he served as speaker), and is gearing up his bid to take over as majority leader. Claire has had more to do.

She also didn’t want to be “a drag” on Caroline’s outing with her older cousins and their friends, she’d said. So the eighth grader gets to tag along with a clique of girls who’ve all grown up together, but are either family or (at closest) acquaintances to her.

Bossy, grown-up Savannah accompanies the group as a chaperone. The 17-year-old didn’t appear to enjoy hanging out with a bunch of middle schoolers either. And so they all went out to enjoy the parades in the Irish Channel, only a few blocks away from Uncle Orson’s home.

Elaine, the youngest girl at only 10, squealed and tried to run out among the crowds before Savannah annoyedly pulled her back. 12-year-old Charlotte teased her. The tall, gangly, pimpled and braces-wearing preteen liked to take shots at other people, maybe because she was so easy to take ones at herself. 14-year-old Susan simply had fun, snapping pictures on her cell phone with its built-in camera. Uncle Matt’s kids always get the newest toys.

Savannah talks on a cellphone too, or at least is trying to, and trying not to be overheard by her sisters, cousin, and the former’s friends. “Mae? Mae? Where the hell are you? I have to look after these dorks all day, you could at LEAST be around to talk!”

Caroline: Caroline, already tall and lankier than she’d like, mostly tries to tune out her older and younger cousins. She points out things of interest to Susan and enjoys the break from the highly supervised and structured life of Baton Rouge. Between language classes, music lessons, extracurricular activities, political events with her too absent of late father, and her recent uptake of fencing she’s had precious little time to do so.

GM: Susan is tall for her age too, and lanky—few fourteen-year-olds are actually graceful—but she’s a sight prettier than her sister Charlotte, with unblemished skin and hair that’s dark rather than blonde like Caroline’s. She smiles at the floats, leprechaun costumes, and outrageous red dye jobs Caroline points out.

“Vannah’s pretty pissy lately, you’ll have to excuse her,” the other eighth grader remarks as she catches a flung green and yellow bead necklace. It could be made for Mardi Gras if it had any purple.

Caroline: “It’s fine. She’s still better than my mother,” Caroline replies, with particular emphasis on the last two words. She’s made a point of not calling her ‘mom’ around others.

GM: “What’s she do?”

Caroline: “Nag, mostly.” Caroline points to another float. “Talk about when she was my age half a lifetime ago.”

GM: Susan glances at its foam rainbow, then catches a handful of chocolate coins one of the leprechauns tosses out of a black pot. “Our mom does that first one a lot too. Though she also freaks out about all the horrible stuff that could happen to us.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes. “‘You don’t know how dangerous the world is. You don’t understand what it’s really like.’ I’ve heard that one so many times.”

GM: “Really? Did your mom get stabbed or something too when she was young?” Susan asks as she peels off a gold wrapper.

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “Nothing like what happened to yours. She’s just… protective is a nice word.”

GM: “Guess that’s all moms.”

Caroline: “I guess,” Caroline concedes. “Doesn’t make it less annoying to get treated like a kid.”

GM: “At least you’re not pregnant.” Susan munches on a coin. “That’s what I think happened to Vannah’s friend Mae. Mom freaked out and says she can’t even see her anymore, like it’s contagious.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes. “Only if stupidity is contagious.”

GM: Susan snickers. “It might be.”

Caroline: It’s stupid enough to sleep around, but much less forgivable to not even bother to use protection. Not that St. Joseph’s is eager to advertise the latter. She suspects that the Ursuline Academy is very much the same in that regard. Still, the internet is a thing.

“At least it’s interesting. St. Joseph’s is as boring as my French tutor. Vous devez pratiquer la conjugaison de vos verbes, Caroline,” she quotes.

(“You need to practice conjugating your verbs, Caroline.”)

GM: Susan rolls her eyes. “I’m taking French too. So are all my sisters. My mom actually picked it out for all of us.”

Caroline: “It’s not just French,” Caroline continues. “My parents want me to be ‘well-rounded’, but they forget I want to have a life too.”

GM: “Well, at least you get to pick yours. Uncle Orson pretty much told Adam he’d be a priest and what to study in college. And he does it all without complaining.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “I think he mostly forgets about me unless it’s something that’ll make the family look bad. One of, maybe the only, perk to living in Baton Rouge.”

GM: “Yeah, I wouldn’t want to. There’s nothing to do in a town that small. Well, city, I guess.”

Caroline: “What about you? Does Uncle Orson pay a lot of attention to you?”

GM: Susan thinks. “I didn’t think so, but we actually sat down a couple weeks ago, to talk about stuff He asked me about my grades and hobbies and what I want to do in high school. Stuff like that.”

Caroline: “What did you tell him?” Caroline breaks from the conversation to point out a woman with lime green hair covered in lime green body paint—and seemingly little else—on a float that goes by.

GM: “Oh, wow. He probably wouldn’t want us to see that,” Susan remarks. The woman’s breasts are covered with two tiny shamrocks, and more than one voice in the crowd makes a “luck o’ the Irish!” related joke.

“Anyway, pretty much what he asked,” Caroline’s cousin answers after a moment, “though I dunno how much fun he had listening to my volleyball records or what malls I go shopping. He mostly just nodded and said to ‘stay on the path.’”

Caroline: “So, don’t go taking your top off at parades for attention?” Caroline scoffs at the painted woman as much as anything else.

GM: “I think this parade’s a little tame for that,” Sarah remarks. Indeed, though the painted woman only hangs onto a semblance of modesty, there are still numerous parents and children throughout the crowds. No one is obviously intoxicated, and no women are baring their breasts. The St. Patrick’s Day parade seems quite a bit tamer than the city’s other festivals—at least during day and in the family-friendly neighborhood.

“Not that Mom cares. Vannah’s friend got pregnant or whatever during Mardi Gras, and now she’s actually on Orson’s side about it.”

Caroline: “Was she anyone important?” Caroline asks in the way that only children of the powerful can. “Her mother must have been all over her if they caught it that fast…”

GM: “Yeah, her dad’s a bank CEO,” Susan answers in a similarly casually familiar way. “She goes to McGehee but Vannah knows her.”

Caroline: “Did they, like, walk in on her or something?”

GM: “Dunno. It was a month ago though, maybe she took a pregnancy test.”

There’s a somewhat uncertain pause from the Catholic-educated girl.

“But I think you have to wait before you can take them?”

Caroline: “I don’t really know. Maybe? That seems really early, though.”

GM: Susan shrugs. “I hear she’s a total daddy’s girl, so he’ll probably just… hire a nanny or something. But it’s all ‘cuz of her I can’t go to Mardi Gras when I’m 16 like Mom promised.”

The other girl makes little effort to hide the annoyance in her voice.

Caroline: “What a dumb way to ruin her life… and everyone else’s,” Caroline agrees.

“Wait, it wasn’t the friend dating James Dyer, was it? Because that would be both kind of gross, and also seriously bad news for everyone in the family.”

GM: Susan thinks. “Actually, yeah… it was. They were going out for a while.”

Caroline: “We’re never going to hear the end of this one.”

GM: “No, we’re not.” The other fourteen-year-old looks annoyed. “I’d like to really tell her off, for ruining Mardi Gras.”

Caroline: “What’s her name? Mai?”

GM: “Mae. Short for Rebecca Mae.”

Caroline: Caroline’s always hated those double names.

GM: “Vannah has her number on her phone…” Susan says thoughtfully.

Caroline: “Yeah, because none of our moms and dads would get upset if they caught us calling her,” Caroline replies. “Plus, I don’t think your sister is going to hand it over… but maybe she could lure her out.” She tunes back into her older cousin’s phone conversation.

GM: Past the blare of musicians, the float performers, and noisy crowds, Caroline can observe that Savannah looks a bit calmer.

“Okay, look, it’s probably not that bad…” she says into the cell.

Caroline: It doesn’t even occur to her to torment James about it. It’s not his fault, after all. He wasn’t the one that let himself get pregnant.

GM: The ambient noise makes it hard for Caroline to hear, but that cuts both ways, for it proves equally hard for Savannah to notice her younger cousin’s and sister’s eavesdropping. Caroline picks up that Mae is out doing things with her own friends, and unsurprisingly doesn’t want anything to do with the younger girls Savannah is so reluctantly babysitting. Savannah says she’ll find a way to ditch them later, and the older girls can meet up to “have some ACTUAL fun.”

“And you should have some, with how shitty everything sounds,” Caroline’s older cousin adds.

Caroline: Caroline relates what she’s learned to Susan and pitches her own plan: they’ll give Savannah an easy out by explaining they want to go shopping, but instead, if she goes for it, follow Savannah to enact some kind of revenge—or at least get some juicy gossip.

GM: Caroline doesn’t need to relate much, as the other fourteen-year-old could hardly resist the opportunity to eavesdrop on her big sister’s phone conversation. “What do we do about everyone else, convince them to actually go shopping?”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “I don’t like the idea of leaving them alone. We can see if she’ll take them—probably home—or we can see if there’s somewhere we can drop them off. Do any of their friends have phones? See if we can set them up with their friends?”

GM: Susan thinks. “That could work. And yeah, probably. I mean, it’s 2004.”

Caroline: They go about executing the plan.

GM: And enjoying the parade.

The parade is a sea of green, starting with the giant floats accompanied by bands, music, and marching clubs. Crowds of people chow down cabbage, corned beef, beer, and green-dyed foods, but are no less vigorous in chanting the timeless, “Hey, mister, throw me something!” The float crews oblige, showering the crowds with potatoes, carrots, moonpies, chocolate coins, shamrock tokens, leprechaun hats, and most of all, cabbages. Everyone’s hands are raised in the air, hoping to catch a throw. A few enterprising children and adults can be found in trees along the route, trying to capture the best position. At that moments, it seems nothing else matters but being the lucky one to catch those beads, cabbages, or even underwear. Cabbage recipes will doubtlessly be in abundance throughout the city over the coming days.

Caroline and Susan, meanwhile, are able to obtain several phone numbers from Elaine easily enough (despite being two years younger than Charlotte, she has the most friends) and convince the younger girls they can have more fun with their friends. Savannah, who clearly isn’t enjoying being a babysitter, actually helps out.

Savannah is a bit more reluctant to leave off Caroline and Susan by themselves. It’s still a school night, and Caroline needs to be back at Matt’s house for one of the family employees to drive her the one hour and 22 minutes back to Baton Rouge. She lets up when she sees the girls have cells, and agree to be back no later than 9 PM.

Caroline: They even agree to make use of one of the family driver’s for their shopping.

GM: The 17-year-old finally ditches them.

“So what do you think we should do to Mae?” Susan asks.

Caroline: “I don’t know. Depends on where they go, really.”

GM: That answer soon becomes evident.

Parosol’s is locally known as a bastion of roast beef po’boys and cold beer, but is perhaps most widely reputed for being a gathering place for St. Patrick’s Day revelers. The combined Irish pub and restaurant, along with the neighboring pub Tracey’s (less than a block away) serve as the final party stop for crowds of revelers decked out in green outfits, buckled hats and shamrock pins. The block party between the two pubs is in full swing as the crowds swig green beer and hope to catch some last “luck o’ the Irish.” Savannah arrives at the pub for her rendezvous around dinner time, leaving the two cousins with ample time to actually go shopping (like they’d lied) before following after the high schooler and her friend.

Caroline: Caroline is rather satisfied with the day so far: away from home, with shopping bags filled with new cloths, and now an opportunity to pick up either some choice gossip or to prank the girl likely responsible for her own loss of Mardi Gras for the foreseeable future.

GM: “You think they’re gonna let us in? It is a bar,” Susan wonders. “Well, kind of. I guess Vannah isn’t old enough to drink either.”

Caroline: Caroline tries to see her way through the crowd to figure out if there’s a doorman in place checking IDs.

GM: There is not. The pub is already a combination bar-restaurant, and is full to bursting with patrons on St. Patrick’s Day. Some even have young kids.

Caroline: “The harder question is how we get close without them noticing us.”

GM: “It’s pretty crowded. Maybe just try and blend in?”

Caroline: “Yeah…” Caroline eyes a late teens or early twenties something woman with a large green top hat with matching cheap green wig, “Hi, I forgot my green. I’ll give you $100 for the wig.”

GM: The woman, who’s sipping from a tall mug of green-colored beer, raises her eyebrows and grins at the same time. “Little late to remember now, but it’s all yours.”

“I’ll give you another $100 for the hat,” adds Susan.

The woman laughs about the “luck o’ the Irish being with me,” hands off the hat and wig, and pockets the teenagers’ money.

Caroline: Caroline fits the shockingly green wig over her own standout pale hair. “Blending in by standing out. How do I look?”

GM: Susan grins as she dons her hat. “Green.”

Caroline: “Let’s give it a shot,” Caroline smiles.

Having changed into one of the new sets of cloths she bought earlier—and garbed in the wig—Caroline makes her approach with Susan, using the crowd for cover (or at least trying to so much as a 14-year-old may).

GM: Susan actually tries to order drinks at the bar first. She and Caroline are both as tall as many adult women, but the bartender just rolls his eyes and ignores them.

“My dad could buy this place,” she huffs as they leave.

Caroline: “Yeah, but it probably still wouldn’t serve us,” Caroline observes. Drinking may be a Catholic pasttime—Caroline’s seen a massive share of it at St. Joseph’s—but it tends to be a high school activity.

GM: “True,” Susan admits. “Could fire that jerk though.”

Caroline: “At least he didn’t throw us out.” She searches the crowd casually for her cousin—and their mark.

GM: The crowd inside the restaurant-bar is quite thick, which is both a hindrance and blessing. “Drunken Lullabies” by Flogging Molly plays in the background, while the smell of fried pub food is thick in the air.

GM: Caroline isn’t so sure she’d be able to pick out Mae in a crowd, but her older cousin is another matter. Now that Savannah no longer has any younger girls to look after, the 17-year-old is seemingly cutting loose. She’s wearing more shamrocks and bead necklaces, her hair is a bit more missed, and she’s drinking.

Caroline: She’s quite certain the same applies in reverse, and the sight of Savannah drinking puts her at ease. Between the change of cloths, the packed room, the loud music, the wig, and being inebriated she doubts Savannah can pick her out. In time Mae will become clear based on both Savannah’s interactions—and Susan’s inputs. She finds a spot in Savannah’s blind spot to watch.

GM: Susan doesn’t settle down with her so much as stand next to her. Savannah waits for a bit, then orders some food from a server.

“So, what do you think we should do when she shows?” the other eighth grader asks.

Caroline: “The toilet shower is always popular,” Caroline observes mischievously. “Especially if you spike the water green with all the food coloring around…”

GM: “Oh, that’s good!” Susan smirks, her eyes briefly cutting towards her sister as she realizes she’s raised her voice, but Savannah doesn’t appear to notice them. “Though she’d need to use the bathroom here, and other people could get in the way…” She thinks. “Though I guess we could just pay them too.”

Caroline: “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. The more we throw money around the more someone’s might remember us. If they stay here long enough drinking though we should get at least one chance.”

GM: “We’re not really doing anything that bad, though. I mean, who cares if anyone remembers us?”

Caroline: “I care if we make your sister mad enough that my parents find out. I don’t want to wait until I’m 25 for Mardi Gras.”

GM: “Okay, true. I guess we can still make it work, if we just keep anyone else out of the bathroom.”

Caroline: “Mostly your sister,” Caroline agrees, watching. “Which one is Mae?” she asks of those around Savannah.

GM: “None of them,” Susan answers. “I guess she’s taking her sweet time.”

It’s a few minutes later before a girl around Savannah’s age wearing a bright red wig, shamrock hat, and knee-length green dress finally shows. She and Caroline’s cousin hug one another in greeting.

“I went ahead and ordered for us. Just us, I figured your McGehee friends wouldn’t be around,” says Savannah.

“Thanks. You know how it is,” the other girl smiles as she un-shoulders her purse and sits down.

“That’s Mae,” Susan whispers to Caroline, her eyes cutting back to the red-wigged girl.

“Yeah, I do,” says Savannah. She slides over a mug of green beer towards Mae. “So, what’s new?”

“Same old, same old, you know,” Mae smiles between a pull of beer. “Getting ready for college. Convincing my daddy I’m not just just lazin’ around on my bum ’til then.”

Savannah smiles back, but it doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “You’ve never liked beer.”

“I guess not,” Mae admits with a faint laugh. “But we’re all Irish today, now aren’t we? And the Irish do like their beer.”

“I don’t like beer either, honestly,” says Savannah. “It’s always makes me think of fat men watching TV and asking their wives to ‘get me a cold one.’”

Caroline: Caroline lodges no disagreement, nursing an iced tea herself to better blend in.

GM: Mae laughs again in agreement. It’s not much longer before the pair’s food arrives: two po’boy sandwiches with sliced wet tomatoes, lettuce over a gravy-like, sweet-smelling sauce, and deep-fried crab. The tender meat inside looks to pair well with the crab’s crunchy exterior.

“You ordered us the same thing. Isn’t that cute,” Mae smiles.

“Seemed fitting,” Savannah agrees.

Light crunching is audible as the two set to work on their crab po’boys. They don’t say anything for a bit.

The third girl watches them no less intently for it.

Caroline: “Why don’t you get it ready, set up in a middle stall,” Caroline suggests to her cousin.

GM: Caroline spots her at the table adjacent to her cousin’s. She’s pretty, looks around Savannah’s and Mae’s age, and wears one of the telltale green wigs and shamrock hats that so many other women today are sporting. She nurses a green-colored beer as she silently watches the pair out of the corner of her eye.

Susan looks between Caroline and the first two girls. “Good time, maybe. I’m getting hungry watching them.”

She heads off towards the bathrooms.

Caroline: Caroline tries not to make too obvious her own observation of the girl watching her cousin, but she can’t help but be curious.

GM: “We have a lot in common,” says Savannah.

“We sure do,” Mae smiles.

The other girl continues to watch the pair.

“Too many of my friends are bitches,” says Savannah. “I’m always thinking about what I say around them. I feel like I can just talk with you. And not have to think about what other people might think.”

Mae pauses mid-bite, swallows, then smiles again. It reaches all the way up to her eyes, and all but glows there. “You know, that’s the nicest thing anyone’s said to me in a while, Vannah. Thank you.”

The third girl shifts forward in her seat to stare at Mae more closely.

“The nicest thing anyone’s said since Mardi Gras,” Savannah says. It could be a question. It doesn’t sound like one.

Mae is silent for a moment as she happens to take another bite of food. Her eyes drift across the crowd. For just a fraction of a second, they flit upon the girl watching them.

The green-wigged teenager gives a minute shake of her head. She licks her lips as Mae turns back to Savannah.

“Yes,” Mae admits.

Caroline: Caroline feels a shiver go through her. What the hell? she wonders with more than mild concern.

GM: “You must be in so much shit for that,” says Savannah. “And it’s even worse than I see, I bet. I know how good you are at keeping up appearances.”

“Not good enough here,” Mae admits. She tries to smile, but her heart doesn’t seem in it.

The third girl watches them both like a hawk.

“I want you to know I don’t judge,” Savannah says.

Mae looks at her.

“The pregnancy thing. I think that’s just my mom freaking out.” She lowers her voice. “I know what it’s like, Mae. Living with the lie.”

Savannah reaches across the table and takes Mae’s hand in hers.

“It’s a lot easier when you can… when you can be real with someone.”

Mae’s words seem to catch in her throat for a moment. “Vannah…”

“I know with your parents… how much you care about them. How you don’t…” Savannah continues.

“Vannah… this is in public,” Mae whispers. Her face catches, but only for a moment as she pulls her hand away from Caroline’s cousin. There’s another quick glance, that seems like it tries to reach the other girl but stops just short of her face.

The other girl silently stares back.

Savannah looks hurt as Mae pulls her hand away, but goes on, “I can’t stop thinking about you.”

Caroline: Caroline is utterly silent, almost transfixed by the sight.

This is so much better than a prank.

GM: “I had… I had this whole speech prepared. But I just…” Savannah looks like she wants to take Mae’s hand again, but seems to settle for touching the other girl’s arm. “I hate seeing you like this. You don’t deserve it. You’re not a bad person, Mae.

Mae’s hand goes to her mouth. She looks as if she’s on the verge of tears. Their po’boys sit uneaten. “Vannah…” she whispers, just as the short blonde from the next table strides over to the pair.

“…I want you to meet my friend.”

Savannah is speechless as the smiling new girl lays a hand on Mae’s shoulder.

“I’m Rebecca,” she says. “Mae and I have the same name. Isn’t that the funniest thing?”

Caroline: Caroline pauses to take a drink, looking away.

GM: “You can call me Becca, though,” the new girl’s voice continues.

“So you and Mae are together,” Caroline’s cousin says. There’s pain in her voice.

“Since Mardi Gras,” Becca answers, before her tone softens. “But I really am sorry, Savannah. I had no idea… and I don’t think Mae did either.”

“Well,” manages Savannah. “I guess not.”

Caroline: Caroline swallows. Susan is going to freak.

GM: “I think we should take the rest of this conversation somewhere private,” says Becca. “Why don’t we freshen up in the bathroom?”

“…all right,” comes Savannah’s voice.

The seated two pull out their chairs.

Caroline: Caroline carefully turns away. She hopes Susan doesn’t do something dumb with all three in there. For now all she can do is wait.

GM: “Excuse me,” says Mae.

She sits down at Caroline’s table.

Caroline: The young heiress doesn’t turn towards Savannah.

“Hello. Do I know you?” she asks lamely.

GM: Mae dabs at her eyes and gives a sad smile. “Probably, to be listening in.”

Caroline: “I mean… it was interesting.”

GM: “Your mama had to have taught you it’s bad manners,” Mae answers, but her heart doesn’t seem in the rebuke.

Caroline: “There were a lot of lessons she taught that no one seems to be following,” comes Caroline’s slightly stronger reply, but there’s an emptiness to it: her mother taught her few enough lessons.

GM: “You’ll find those lessons aren’t always easy to follow once you’re older.”

Caroline: “So why are you lecturing me on them?” comes a defiant response.

Lesbian. And her cousin is one of them too. If Uncle Orson found out… talk about a scandal. She’d be in so much trouble. This is way better than a prank.

GM: “Habit, I reckon,” says Mae. She seems to study Caroline. “You’re very young.”

Caroline: “Because you’re so much older.” The 14-year-old’s sarcasm shows through.

GM: “I suppose not by all that much. Not really.” Mae looks sad. “It’s so funny, you know. I never felt that way about her. Or had any idea she felt that way about me. Then again, maybe I did, and just wanted to pretend things were normal.”

Caroline: “Well, you seem happy now with your girlfriend, or whatever.”

Only, she doesn’t.

After a moment, “Are you sure this is what you want?”

GM: Mae pulls out a tissue from her purse and runs it across her eyes. “Oh, what do you think?”

Caroline: “Then why are you doing this?” Caroline asks.

GM: Mae looks at her and sets the tissue down. “Some things about ourselves we can’t change.”

Caroline: “That’s not true,” Caroline answers. “You have a choice.”

GM: Mae actually gives a laugh at that, but there’s little mirth in it.

“I used to think that too.”

Caroline: “What changed?” The young teen seems genuinely curious.

GM: Mae looks at Caroline, as if thinking of how to answer that. She finally seems to settle for, “I’m sure your mama says this all the time, but… you’ll understand when you’re older, maybe.”

Caroline: “Sounds to me like you don’t know either,” Caroline counters.

GM: The older girl just gives another sad smile. “I’ve been rude. I shouldn’t keep you like this.”

Caroline: “I’m just waiting on my friend to get back.” Caroline gestures.

GM: Mae looks at her again.

“You’re so young. It wasn’t good for you to get involved in this, but I’ll do my best to keep you out.”

Caroline: Caroline feels a faint stab of fear, but marshals her composure and wits.

Involved in what?

“I think it would be best if you went back to your friends. We’re leaving soon anyway,” she says more bravely than she feels.

It’s a phrase she’s heard many times, ‘I think it would be best’. Typically when she was actually being given an all but order.

Footsteps approach the pair. Susan and Savannah aren’t there, but the other girl is. She takes a seat next to to Caroline. She looks older up close. Not wrinkled, not even middle-aged, but definitely past college age.

“There was another girl,” she says.

Mae looks at Caroline. “Your friend?”

“That’s who she said she was,” ‘Becca’ replies. “They were eavesdropping on your friend.”

Caroline: Caroline’s discomfort only grows. What happened to Savannah? If she comes over and sees Caroline she’s going to flip. Beneath that though another sharper fear bites at her. They’re talking about her like she isn’t even here, and Becca isn’t just another teenager.

“Look, just leave me alone, all right?”

GM: “You don’t need to be scared of us,” Mae says. She sounds like she wants the words to be comforting. They aren’t.

“She should be. Especially of you,” says Becca.

Mae looks at her.

“Sorry,” says Becca. “You don’t want to drag this out, though. It’ll just make her more scared.”

“You’re right,” says Mae before looking back towards Caroline.

Caroline: “Whatever you’re thinking about doing, you shouldn’t.”

Caroline stands and takes a step away from the table and the two increasingly threatening homosexuals.

GM: Mae’s eyes look sad as they stare into Caroline’s, but they’re no less level.

“I want you to forget Savannah’s conversation, all right? I want you to forget talking to me, too. What you actually remember is…”

Wednesday night, 6 October 2015, PM

GM: “…what is of interest to me, though,” Becky Lynne goes on, “is someone who can follow those formalities while makin’ nice and makin’ new friends. It’s a fine line to straddle, and can take some real skill—but it’s the kind that gets noticed by the right people.”

Caroline might have been wrong to presume an ‘undue’ familiarity with her older clanmate.

But they were familiar.

Entering someone’s mind and pulling away a few pieces surely counts.

Caroline: The rush of memories, broken loose perhaps by a careless word or just frequent proximity, rocks Caroline’s psyche for a moment, but she’s far from the 14-year-old girl of years past. She covers her brief disorientation with a hollow response.

“Well, I confess, Questor Adler, we’ve had only a few opportunities to become more antiquated outside of these meetings.”

She looks down for a moment, wincing as minutes slip back into her memory in seconds.

GM: “I suppose we haven’t, now. My daddy always told me not to mix business with pleasure—which gettin’ to know unfamiliar people usually is,” Becky Lynne smiles back, either unnoticing or unremarking of Caroline’s thoughts.

Caroline: The younger Ventrue finishes wincing.

“Few opportunities,” Caroline concludes. “But there have been a few. Do you remember when we first met?”

There’s now something else in her eye, almost predatory, honed.

GM: “Are you referrin’ to the Elysium at the Ogden Museum, Miss Malveaux?” Becky Lynne asks, then smiles. “Yes, I do remember that. It was your first time out in Elysium, wasn’t it?”

Caroline: “You have an excellent memory, Questor Adler, but we actually met some years ago.”

GM: “I’m just a regular barfly in Elysium, I suppose,” the other Ventrue lightly laughs. “We could have, though, what was the occasion?”

Caroline: “I confess, it was a long time ago and I was only a bit player to it, but I think the meeting was similar in some ways to this one, with you providing guidance to another fledgling.”

GM: “Now that would be rather symmetric, wouldn’t it? I hope you found it of use.”

Caroline: “It aligns with some thought I had already,” Caroline agrees. “What happened to her?”

GM: “I’m sorry, Miss Malveaux, what happened to who?” Becky Lynne asks in turn.

Caroline: “Mae,” comes Caroline’s one-word response.

GM: “I’d find it helpful to have more context, Miss Malveaux, if you could oblige,” Becky Lynne requests.

Caroline: “Of course. Honestly, I’d forgotten it myself. It was 2004, not long after Mardi Gras.”

GM: “Mae left the city,” the other Ventrue answers. “She’d had a rough start in her Requiem and felt too much of herself was still here. I’ve not heard from her much, but I think she’s made a fresh start and adjusted to things.”

Caroline: “She seemed very melancholy,” Caroline agrees softly.

GM: “Not all of us take well to the Requiem at first,” Becky Lynne nods. “I might even take a gander that most don’t.”

Caroline: “Did you, Questor Adler?”

GM: “That’s a rather personal question to ask anyone, Miss Malveaux. Have you?”

Caroline: Caroline considers. “A personal answer then, for a personal question.” A beat passes. “I didn’t. Not in those first nights when I knew nothing, and then knew nothing but misery. I actually considered destroying myself because everywhere I went, and everyone I touched, I caused nothing but destruction and suffering.”

She pauses before continuing, “In my first week among the Damned I was tortured, shot, stabbed, burned, beaten, and whipped—each to a point that would have probably killed me were I alive. I destroyed my best mortal friend’s life, lost my family to Father Malveaux, and saw my brother murdered.” She pauses again and admits in a softer voice, “I murdered. I had murder done on my behalf, and ruined more lives along the way even as I dragged more still into corruption with me.”

“No, I did not take well to the Requiem at first.”

GM: “At first,” Becky Lynne nods.

Caroline: “The Requiem has its own trials. Its own costs. But it is not inherently better or worse on its own than a life.”

GM: “My thoughts exactly,” the other Ventrue smiles. “My own start to the Requiem was rough, for similar reasons. Giving up my future. Wrestling with the Beast. Accepting I’d never have children. Leaving my entire life behind. But I adjusted, with my sire’s help. I believe the Requiem can be as good or bad an existence as you decide to make it.”

Caroline: “As you are capable of making it,” Caroline abridges.

GM: “You really put your mind to something, and there’s a lot you can be capable of,” Becky Lynne smiles.

Caroline: “Did your sire ever tell you how he decided upon you, Questor Adler?” Caroline asks.

GM: “He did, Miss Malveaux. I’m afraid that repeatin’ his full reasons would sound awful immodest of me, though,” the other Ventrue laughs lightly.

Caroline: “No doubt a Kindred as distinguished as Gerousiastis Matheson put a great deal of consideration into his childe,” Caroline agrees. “Had he not explained himself, I might have offered that it was your optimistic nature, Questor Adler.”

GM: Becky Lynne raises a hand to her mouth as she laughs, quite fully this time.

“Oh, now that’s good, Miss Malveaux! I’ll admit it wasn’t one of the reasons he gave me, but I think he’d smile if he heard that.”

Caroline: “It must be your influence then, Questor Adler: I am rarely in the habit of finding good in people that others have missed,” Caroline replies.

GM: “My mama always said other people can’t change who we are, but they can bring out our best selves. I’d give yours its due credit too, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: “You speak about her a great deal.”

GM: “Quote her, if we’re to split hairs,” Becky Lynne smiles. “But she was a font of practical wisdom, fortunately for me. And at the risk of bein’ immodest, I might even hope for others who’ve known me too.”

Caroline: “What we say says a great deal about us. What we say that others carry with them says more,” Caroline observes. “But I think there’s a rather limited amount of modesty required for the city’s most successful neonate, Questor Adler.”

GM: Becky Lynne daintily covers her mouth as laughs again.

“Oh, definitely not the most successful at compliments and flattery, Miss Malveaux!”

Caroline: “We play the hands we’re dealt, Questor Adler: occasionally my own permits me to speak the truth.”

GM: “We’ll just have to hope those occasional occasions grow all the more frequent,” the other Ventrue smiles.

Caroline: “Oh, let’s not hope for that too strongly, Questor Adler. The truth isn’t always as pretty as it has been tonight.”

GM: “Even ugly things can be made pretty, I think, if they’re just presented different. But speakin’ of tonight…” Becky Lynne glances down at her Sunpad. “The hour isn’t too late yet, but it’s headed there. You also had some business you wanted to discuss, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “Well, there was a small matter with the Whitney family…”

The two Ventrue spend some time going over Caroline’s two proposals.

First, that she be allowed to use the Whitneys’ influence with Whitney Hancock National Bank to help fund her firm’s startup. The agreement will not be unfavorable to Whitney Hancock, but does entail the meddling within Becky Lynne’s sire’s domain on several levels, and Caroline wouldn’t do so without permission.

Second, that Becky Lynne herself conduct some manner of business with the firm as it starts up, to lend credibility to it. Caroline does not ask that she make major commitments or entrust her with matters of particular significance or sensitivity—not tonight. Instead only that she make it known she is doing so to provide, what Caroline describes as, “instant credibility.”

GM: After discussing the details of Caroline’s first proposal at length, Becky Lynne states that her sire through Whitney Hancock will be willing to loan her the necessary start-up capital for her firm—subject to several conditions.

The first of these concern the terms of the loan itself. Matheson does not require any assets as collateral from Caroline to secure her loan, and is willing to waive virtually all of the barriers and red tape that would normally inconvenience someone who wants to legally die and start up a firm that her name isn’t attached to.

In return for a pledged prestation rather monetary debt, Matheson is also willing to give Caroline an interest-free loan. For a larger such debt, he will not even require her to pay the money back.

Caroline: Caroline chooses to pay in money. She owes enough favors to the elder Ventrue as it is.

GM: Becky Lynne nods and continues that Caroline will not need to interact with the Whitney family. She will conduct her dealings through Becky Lynne, who will grease the same wheels that the Whitneys would.

“Your heart’s in the right place for askin’, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne adds, “so good on you there. Most elders, as a heads up, will also say no to you influencin’ their mortal agents… we Kindred usually don’t much like to share.”

As to the second term, Becky Lynne says that Caroline will need to “do her share” in preserving the Masquerade throughout her financial dealings with Whitney Bank. In fact, until her agoge is complete, she will need to “do my sire’s share as well” in maintaining the Masquerade. Other Ventrue are prohibited from directly assisting Caroline throughout her agoge; she must exercise the same care in her initial dealings with Whitney Hancock Bank as if it were any other mortal financial institution.

Becky Lynne will still be watching these dealings, and will correct any “Masquerade hiccups” that slip through, “so no real harm done if there’s any,” but the Gerousia will make note of these in their final assessment of Caroline’s performance. They want to see how skilled she is at maintaining the Masquerade in this particular arena.

Regarding Caroline’s second proposal, Becky Lynne is willing to do business with the younger Ventrue’s firm to give it some good publicity. She will do so once the Caroline is fully accepted into the Structure—“as the Gerousia, once again, wants to see that your domain can stand on its own two feet.”

“We can also discuss the nitty gritty details of what your firm can do for me then—you’re likely to have a wider range of ranges and firmer idea of them once it’s started up anyway. All that seem fair?”

Caroline: “More than, Questor Adler.”

Caroline V, Chapter V
Westley's Remembrance

“This whole family is tainted.”
Caroline Malveaux

Wednesday evening, 30 September 2015

GM: Westley’s funeral is a grand affair held in the early evening at St. Louis Cathedral. The occasion draws much of Caroline’s extended family. The New Orleans-Baton Rouge core of her parents, brothers, uncles, aunts, and first cousins are there as expected. Virginia and Charlotte have flown in from Massachusetts and DC. Gabriel already made the drive from Baton Rouge some time ago; Caroline hears something about Claire pulling strings at Berchmans for him to get the week off (as a senior who’s already been accepted into Cornell, after all, he doesn’t have much left to do at high school). Thomas, Carson, and their own families are present, as are many Malveaux cousins from along the Gulf Coast, Texas, and beyond. To the surprise of many, even Camillia Malveaux attends. The trip down from Baton Rouge, separate from Gabriel’s looks as if it’s been very hard on the 86-year-old. She spends much of the time before Westley’s service with her eyes closed as her live-in caretaker Jordan Marco slowly pushes along her wheelchair.

Non-family are present for the occasion too. Caleb Gallagher attends with his wife, adult children and grandchildren. Franz Harz hasn’t served under as many Senator Malveauxes as the two-time chief of staff, but the long-standing attorney and his wife are also present to pay their respects. Katherine Merlou shows up by herself: everyone knows Vera keeps her much too busy to have time for a husband or boyfriend. Emilia Rosa also lacks a male companion as she hovers by Savannah’s side. Orson, Thomas, and several other older family members purse their lips at her presence, but no one makes a fuss. No one seems to have any desire to bring further scandal to the funeral of a young man whose life was so consumed by scandal. Cécilia Devillers is a less unwelcome sight by Luke’s side. Her new bodyguard, ex-SEAL Daniel Hayes is not far off. Caroline catches Carson checking in on Luke and his girlfriend to see if they feel safe with Cécilia’s stalker behind bars. Roger Ferris, Mr. Taylor, Alphonse Meridian and the other family security remain unobtrusive at the edge of the gathering, their demeanors somber and respectfully distant for this occasion of mourning.

Susan is unable to attend. Reasons are not given. The Ursulines send a wreath of flowers on her behalf.

Westley’s funeral even draws Claire’s brother and sister, Gregory and Joanna, who Caroline has only met on a handful of occasions. The two live in San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively, where they work in finance and media. The two look almost like movie stars, especially Joanna with her suntanned skin, big white hat, and unworn pair of sunglasses. They apologize that their mostly adult children are unable to attend and remark on how grown-up Caroline and her siblings look. The funeral, however, is not a time for catching up, and the reception from more than a few Malveauxes is cool when it comes out that both of Claire’s siblings are divorced (Gregory terms it “separated,” which is apparently a distinct legal state). These West Coast in-laws lead come from an altogether different culture than that of a centuries-old, tradition-steeped Southern family like the Malveauxes’, and bonds of kinship seem unlikely to persist beyond Claire’s lifetime. This unspoken fact seems to further depress Caroline’s mother. Another missed connection not unlike Westley.

The funeral’s mood is expectantly somber, but among Caroline’s siblings and first cousins, it seems almost shellshocked. The last funeral any of the three brothers’ families held for one of their own was James Malveaux’s. That was over twenty years ago, in 1991… Caroline was too young to even remember it. Now that she thinks on it, her generation has grown up without ever really experiencing death. To see one of their own’s lives so abruptly cut short is deeply sobering to the twenty-somethings who’ve grown up so confident in their invincibility.

Westley may have died as a black sheep among his family, but his funeral is a deeply traditional affair with all the honors afforded to a faithful and practicing Catholic. It is divided into three distinct events, the first of which is the wake. The numerous Malveauxes, long-standing employees, and family friends gather around Westley’s closed casket to lay flowers or rosaries and pay their respects. Orson and Adam, clad in priests’ black and violet vestments, lead a group prayer for Westley’s soul. Caroline feels all but sick in the holy church. The softly burning candles around the saints’ icons only further incense the Ventrue’s Beast. No other lights are present, and much of the vast cathedral is shrouded in darkness. Long shadows obscure Orson’s face as he delivers a haunting sermon on “demons” and the Book of Revelation, made all the more surreal by the moonlight filtering through the multichromatic stained glass windows. When Orson leans his face across the path of a red pane, his fevered visage looks downright hellish. The family, still reeling from Westley’s death and somber in the presence of what they know to be a human corpse, is all but spellbound by the eschatological sermon. Several of the younger children actually start crying—clearly in fear rather than sadness as the burning-eyed archbishop, clad in the full regalia of his office, raves about dragons rising from the sea, the extinction of mankind, and the doom of the world. Caroline isn’t sure what has gotten into him either. No one says anything. They just listen, stunned, and quietly leave.

The second component to Westley’s funeral is a requiem Mass, held the next night at St. Louis Cathedral. Although Catholic funeral services can be officiated by a deacon and held without Mass, no one in the family is so much as hearing it. The Eucharist is the perfect prayer and therefor certainly more ideal to offer the Eucharist for the soul of the deceased. The requiem Mass itself is similar to other Catholic Masses except that incense is not burned at the points usually designated, nor is the kiss of peace exchanged. The instrumental and choral music is hopeful (no one sings—it is not an African-American funeral), focusing on the themes of resurrection and everlasting life. No one speaks: eulogies to the deceased are not part of traditional Catholic funeral services. The Eucharist is the sacramental representation of the once-for-all saving sacrifice made by Christ on the cross, and though the requiem Mass is meant to honor Westley, it ultimately isn’t about him. There will be time for eulogies and reminiscing after the internment. Orson is dressed for the occasion in full pontifical vestments: mitre (triangular bishop’s hat), chasuble and dalmatic (bishop’s robes), crosier (curved staff), archiepiscopal cross (distinctive with two crossbars instead of one), and episcopal ring (set with a ruby, not unlike the ring worn by Caroline’s sire). The Mass lasts for over an hour, but Orson does not once speak a word of English: he delivers all of the liturgies in their traditional Latin form.

The focal point of any Mass is Holy Communion, by which the congregation receives the sacrament of Holy Eucharist and unite themselves with Christ, making them sharers in his blood and body. Yet, as Caroline’s family rise from the uncomfortable wooden benches and approach the cathedral’s altar, Adam quietly informs Caroline that Orson has declared her “ineligible” to take communion. The vampire is left sitting along with the funeral’s non-Catholic attendees, mostly family employees and Claire’s brother and sister, while she watches her parents and siblings participate in their faith’s most sacred ritual.

Then again, she recalls the Sanctified referencing “the blood of Longinus” for their own communion, not the blood and body of Christ. It seems almost like sacrilege for one of the Damned, forever beyond God’s grace, to partake of the latter.

Caroline: The Ventrue has little doubt as to who she has to ‘thank’ for the experience. Despite the blasphemous nature of the very idea of taking communion, it’s just another humiliation to be denied it before her family for reasons most will never know.

The entire experience, from the funeral to the mass, is wrenching and wretched for Caroline in equal parts, haunted as she is by Westley’s death, her own ‘part’ in it, and the great many questions as to her own fate. She’s sullen and quiet throughout, haunted by the ghosts of her family that surround her, all too well-aware of and already dreading her own funeral to follow.

GM: Once the requiem Mass at St. Louis is concluded, the mourners take a fleet of cars to St. Louis Cemetery, where Malveauxes as far back as the Civil War are interred in the family crypt. The walled cemetery resembles a veritable city of peak-roof graves, filled with crypts, monuments, and even tiny gardens. Nathaniel, Luke, Gabriel, and Adam act as pallbearers for Westley’s coffin. Orson officiates the rite of committal, which is far briefer than the preceding mass. Orson blesses the grave and coffin with holy water that he has personally sanctified, and expresses (in English) the hope that, with all those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, the deceased awaits the glory of the resurrection. The rite is an expression of the communion that exists between the Church on earth and the Church in heaven: the deceased passes with the farewell prayers of his family into the company of those who need faith no longer, but see God face-to-face.

With that final benediction, Westley’s pallbearers pull open the marble vault that belongs to him and who knows how many further ancestors: Louisiana’s muggy heat has long since literally baked their remains into ash. In a flood-prone city where the soil is too muddy to bury the dead, reusing vaults was only practical. This reality cannot be fully escaped even in modern times. Westley’s coffin, a luxury denied to his ancestors, is placed inside one of the yawning marble vaults like a long pan of bread. The mourners then recite a communal Lord’s Prayer and make their way back to their cars.

With the funeral proper over, it is customary for the mourners to gather and share a meal at the home of the deceased or his closest relative. Nathan and Claire do not own any homes in New Orleans, so the procession departs for Orson’s. The family seat has ever been the great Antebellum house (calling it a “mansion” is gauche) he occupies in the Garden District. The Malveauxes like to claim they have held the property since their French ancestors immigrated from Saint-Dominique. While the house itself may well be that old, Caroline is aware that her family actually acquired it during the early 20th century’s oil boom. It was a once uncomfortable, and now merely irksome fact that the Malveauxes, although indisputably an old family, never belonged to the Creole aristocracy that ruled the city during its golden age in the Antebellum. (In fact, they likely bought the property from one such family who were unable to maintain their wealth into the 1900s.)

Yet that history, even “young” as it may be for the Big Easy, is still old and very much alive as dozens of Malveaux cousins converge upon the house. Even with the family employees mostly gone, there are still too many people to fit into the dining hall, so rows of tables are set up under the open stars. Caterers bring forth plates of richly sumptuous food that Caroline cannot enjoy (whatever Orson’s faults, it cannot be said he skimps on food). Now that they are out from church, the family can let it down its hair as cousins who have not seen each other in decades (or ever, in the case of younger ones) are introduced and mingle among themselves. Thomas takes point for many of these ‘do you know…’s and regales the extended family with stories from their history: the elderly Supreme Court justice is clearly feeling his years after Westley’s death and wants to pass on as much as he can before he is gone, too. He looks nothing less than delighted when Virginia, otherwise quiet for much of the gathering, suggests recording the family history on tape “so that we’ll always have it.” Even Camillia, who eats almost as little as Caroline, seems to come alive a bit during the talk about “back in the day.”

“Is it true the family forbearer was a pirate who made his fortune raiding ships in the Caribbean?”

“That could be true, but he probably married above his station and took his bride’s name for his own.”

“Not necessarily. Pirates can ‘go legitimate’—just look at Jean Lafitte.”

“Yes, his partner Barthélemy Lafon even designed the Garden District.”

“I thought Lafon only designed the Lower Garden District.”

“The Lower Garden District is just as beautiful.”

“If we really are descended from pirates, there could be something to those stories about family vaults filled with silver and gold.”

“Louisiana’s Gulf Coast doesn’t even have rocks, never mind gold. The Caribbean colonies’ wealth was always in its plantations.”

“Yes, precious metals were in South America.”

“But Havana was the embarkation point for those treasure ships on their way back to Europe. Pirates could and did prey on them.”

“A Malveaux pirate doesn’t even need to have raided those ships to have become wealthy. He could have sold slaves.”

“Or maybe our ancestors weren’t actually that rich. You don’t really hear about the family until the War Between the States.”

“Yes, we were ‘scalawags’ for working with the Yankees.”

“Only because we had even more claim to fame than the Creoles. We’re descended from Napoleon, after all.”

“Napoleon’s nephew.”

“That’s just a rumor.”

“A distracting and strategically planted rumor. You think it’s a coincidence it started the same time that albino was sent to an insane asylum?”

“Those dates don’t match up. The albino was born during Reconstruction.”

“No, he was born a few decades later.”

“He was born during the War Between the States, actually.”

“Either way, there’s a large time frame for when one of Napoleon’s nephews could have fathered a child. Napoleon III died in the 1870s.”

Westley is far from the late dinner’s sole topic of discussion, but neither is he forgotten—perhaps for the only time in his life. Nathaniel rings a knife against his wineglass and delivers an address before the gathered family, saying how inspired and thankful he is to see everyone come together during this trying time. He tells the story about how Orson and Matt’s family were displaced by Katrina, and how his own family in Baton Rouge took them in. There were some rough moments—Nathan tells a brief anecdote about a 13-year-old Westley flushing his cousin Charlotte’s makeup kit down the toilet, to his audience’s subdued laughter—but the family came together, weathered the storm, and was stronger for it.

“I see that spirit in front of me today,” Nathan continues. “Not just at this gathering, but in every day of our lives.” In the ten years since Katrina, all of his adult children have moved to New Orleans, and received succor and hospitality from the relatives they once took in—which Orson has even now extended to them all. Caroline’s father relates a few more touching stories from Westley’s childhood about playing baseball or going to the barber shop together. He says that as deeply as he mourns his son’s death, he takes heart from the solidarity the family has shown in coming here tonight, “Even late as the hour is.” He vows to honor Westley’s memory by carrying on his own life’s work, “Stronger than ever!”

The gathered Malveauxes applaud as Nathan sits down. To Caroline, her father’s speech sounds like it was prepared in advance, even if he wasn’t reading off any notecards.

The rest of the family delivers shorter eulogies. Gabriel talks about the older brother who was always cool, would read comics with him past bedtime, and never tattled on him for anything—unlike Luke, he ribs.

Luke speaks about Westley had “great potential cut short,” and that his brother’s death is making him think about “what’s really important in life.” His gaze lingers upon Cécilia in the audience.

Matt says Westley always had good taste in “life’s finer things,” particularly cars.

Vera reads off a notecard that Katherine hands her and somewhat awkwardly says how she always felt sorry for his “struggles,” which she does not define.

Adam delivers an eloquent if deeply somber eulogy that Westley was a “soul lost in darkness” who despaired of ever finding the light. He hopes his cousin can now be at peace.

Savannah seems like she empathizes with Westley not being accepted for who he was, or at least struggling to find an acceptable role for himself. She says that she hopes he found some peace too.

Elaine delivers a surprisingly heartfelt address that Westley “just wasn’t able to find himself before it was too late” and visibly blinks back tears. Claire acridly remarks out of earshot that Elaine is an “empty-headed cow” who’s “just like Westley was, only her family hasn’t given up on her.”

Virginia says she wished she understood Westley better. “He was my cousin all my life, but I don’t feel like I ever really got to know him… I don’t know how many of us did.”

Charlotte’s address lacks the heartfeltness of her siblings and sounds as if she’s talking about a stranger. She seems like she never understood why Westley would flush his life down the toilet like an adolescent’s makeup kit.

Carson says some short, to the point, but still respectful words that Caroline’s brother never really struck him as a troublemaker. “Just angry.”

Thomas talks about the day he showed a younger Westley and Luke around the Supreme Court at their father’s behest (Caroline may bitterly remember, to her then-chagrin, being forced to spend it with her mother instead—seemingly because she was a girl). He says that Westley reminded him of himself. Sharp mind and an easy way with people that could have made him “a popular judge, or senator like his old man.”

Orson and Claire do not give speeches.

Caroline: Neither does Caroline. No one approached her about it, and she doubts anyone would have let her anyway given her black sheep status.

GM: The already late hour winds steadily later until family members make their way back to parked vehicles and hotel suites. Promises are made to “come by and visit” more often. No one is happy over the occasion under which the gathering was convened, but almost everyone seems to feel the family made the best of a bad situation.

It’s an uncanny preview for Caroline of what her own death might look like.

After the last relatives offer their condolences and climb into their cars, there is a briefer gathering among the three brothers’ families and their significant others (Emilia Rosa, if the rumors are true, does not stay, and Elaine has too many suitors for any one of them to be ‘significant’, while Gabriel has a nice girl named Linda he’s been dating since his freshman year in high school). Tearful embraces and private words of condolence are exchanged, particularly towards Claire. Westley’s final mourners eventually get into their cars and drive off, except for Camillia. She is too tired for Jordan to drive back to a hotel and has a room made up for her at Orson’s. Plus she’ll probably rest better at the historic family home anyway.

Caroline is asked to “stay a moment” by her mother. The two of them settle down in the house’s living room for a “private meeting” with Orson, Roger Ferris, and Caroline’s father.

Now that they are behind closed doors, Caroline’s father lays into her with a cold fury. Fired from her job at the Supreme Court. Flunked out of law school. Blowing through ridiculous sums of money at casinos. Kicked out of Matt’s house. Friends with drug addicts. Missing confession. Embarrassing him in front of his relatives. (This is half-directed at Orson, who coldly retorts he will not desecrate the Eucharist for “this harlot of a daughter!”) Paxton, who was sent to look for her at Decadence, and is still missing. Going to that “debauched festival” at at all and “getting yourself raped,” for which Nathan clearly blames Caroline. He sums up his opinion of her recent conduct in a single word:


He continues, calling her a “disappointment,” “a failure on every level,” “as bad as Westley,” “a worse daughter to me than your cousin” and “inordinately selfish” for making him waste valuable and limited time on her problems that could be spent in their family’s, state’s, and country’s service. “That’s on you, Caroline.”

“But if this is how you want to do this, then this is what we’ll do.” He demands details about Caroline’s rape and subjects her to a relentless slew of graphic questions, and grows even angrier when she cannot provide answers to his satisfaction. He finally tells Ferris “that will have to do” and sends the ex-CIA agent away with orders to “find this man and ruin his life.”

Nathan then orders Caroline to take a pregnancy test as soon as possible, and tells her that, should it be necessary, Caleb will arrange an abortion with a very discrete doctor in D.C.—he’ll be damned if he’s going to let some “half-black bastard” plunge the family into scandal. Their spin doctors are already working overtime turning Westley’s death into a tragic accident rather than a “stupid consequence” of reckless partying—“I suppose we can consider that his goodbye present,” Nathan all but spits. Orson calmly interrupts to give the abortion his blessing, and states that Caroline need not worry about her soul—at least where that singular sin is concerned. He will absolve her of it himself. “For it is better that a child conceived in sin should perish in the womb, than that its life should tempt an entire family to ruin.”

Nathan barely seems to hear his brother as he tells Caroline that he is “unimpressed by these antics” and tells her that it’s “time to shape up.” What he terms “controls” will be placed on her spending habits, since she can’t even be trusted to manage something so basic as money. Next is law school. Claire broaches the subject of Caroline resuming classes next semester. Nathan answers that it’s “out of the question.” He tells Caroline she’s going to pick up her classes, finish the semester, and pass the bar exam, starting first thing tomorrow. When Claire says Tulane has dropped her, Nathan impatiently replies, “Promise them another grant. Threaten them no more grants. Threaten a lawsuit over something. I don’t care what it takes. Just make it happen.” Nathan even snaps at Orson for failing to “rein in” Caroline after the self-destructive spiral that clearly began with Decadence, and laments that he must “do everything myself in this family.” Caroline may take some satisfaction from the deep frown on her uncle’s face… he clearly has no idea why he was so lenient to her earlier, and so unlike his usual self.

The archbishop doesn’t take his brother’s words lying down, however, and spews venom right back at Nathan and Claire. He coldly answers how they were the ones who raised Westley and Caroline, the family’s two greatest failures. Perhaps it is their fault as parents for their children turning out so poorly. Once might be an “innocent” mistake, after all, but twice is clearly a pattern.

Unleashed by Orson’s cruel words, the floodgates of pain and hate erupt. For just a moment, Caroline’s own sins are forgotten as she watches her parents fight, savaging at old wounds that have already been opened so raw and deep by their son’s death.

“Not even mourning your own son! If you’d ever been there for him, just once, he might still be alive! You could have stayed involved in his life, involved him in your work. You could have made him feel valued. You could have shown him that someone gave a damn. But you walked away!”

“You walked out on this family long before I did, Claire! You know what they’re saying? Have been saying for years? That you’re in bed with other men! And what did I do? Did I break faith and bring shame on our names with a divorce? Did I wallow in self-pity and throw away my life like either of the failed children we tried to raise? No. I put this family’s welfare first and brought our name back to Congress!”

“You ran away is what you did! I was always there for Westley! There when no one else in this family was, no matter how pretty their eulogies were! But at least some of them mourned him. You haven’t shed a tear!”

“When I mourn my son, I will do it on my own time, without embarrassing myself in public and making his death all about me!”

“About me? You have no idea how much I’ve sacrificed for our children, Nathan! Especially Caroline! If you had any idea!”

“And what has that accomplished? Our daughter, the slut and law school drop-out?”

Orson finally intervenes again by blaming Caroline for this “strife among our house,” and openly tells her that she is going to Hell. Claire snaps at him to stay out of this. Her comment clearly isn’t directed at Nathan, but Caroline’s father snarls back that he means to do that very thing—he’s taking a flight back to Washington, tonight. He has real work to do. He’s not wasting another second on Caroline’s “pathetic plea for attention.” He further reproaches as he pulls on his coat, “You know where that gets you, Caroline? Six feet under, like your brother. That’s someone who did nothing but wallow in his own problems—and make one of himself for the rest of us.”

He holds his finger an inch away from Caroline’s eyes and pronounces slowly, “I don’t care if you were raped by a hundred niggers. You will not drag this family down with you.” He then tells her that if she doesn’t resume her classes, pass bar, get a job, and turn her life back from “this spiral of self-destruction,” he’s going to disinherit her and send her to the Ursulines. Just like Susan.

“If you aren’t capable of running your own life, then we’ll run it for you,” he finishes, his face livid. “I will not bury a second child! I will not!”

Caroline: Caroline takes her own leave from the group in a quiet and cold fury. Hours of humiliation, reminders of her slain brother, and the final blowup between her parents and at her directly have left her nerves rubbed raw and bloody, her temper barely contained as she’s screamed at, insulted, and threatened.

It doesn’t even take the Beast’s influence to turn her mind to darker thoughts, to how easy it would be to terrorize everyone in the room, to bend their will, to hurt them as they’ve so callously hurt her tonight. She refrains, though not easily, and the night as a whole is as much a reminder of how distant she has grown in so short a time from everyone in her life as it is anything else. Even her affection for them has grown so tepid and weak, and by the end she finds herself wondering why she’s even bothering with the illusion of faking her own death cleanly for the family.

It is perhaps telling that her happiest thought of the evening comes in the dark satisfaction of how wrong her father is with his last words of it.

Thursday evening, 31 September 2015

Caroline: Caroline’s wroth towards the family, and specifically her father and uncles, has not dimmed when she next meets with her mother. Despite the warm blood coursing through her veins from a victim already forgotten, her temper is on full display as she bitterly offers, “I should burn it all down on my way out the door.”

GM: “Your father doesn’t want to lose another child, Caroline. He doesn’t know what else to do. He stayed out of Wesley’s life. And look what happened.”

Caroline: “He was murdered by a twisted and vindictive vampire to try and get at his other viciously murdered turned vampire daughter?” she snaps back with bitterness. “Truly a failure on his part.”

GM: “Maybe it was,” her mother replies quietly. “Perhaps if Westley wasn’t so alone, spending his nights partying in the Quarter, he wouldn’t have made such a convenient target. Maybe he could have been working as a senatorial intern in DC, or attending graduate school at Harvard. Been away from this all, and been safe. We can never know. We can… we can never know.” Claire’s words are heavy as she stares into her drink. “But he could have at least died with more than two names on his lips.”

Caroline: “I imagine he’ll be so bitterly disappointed with how my death is going to affect his political career. This whole family is tainted. I wish you’d never gotten involved with them.”

GM: “Don’t say that about our family, Caroline,” her mother reproaches. “I fell in love with your father for his ambition, but that wasn’t the only reason. I’ve never known a more selfless man.”

Caroline: “With his important work. He’s just a pawn for the Albino, you know. We all are, this whole family. Just pieces on a chess board.”

“I could destroy him,” she spits. “This family has so many skeletons in its closet that you could lead an army of the dead out to drag us all down.” She throws the rest of her drink back bitterly, vilely. “But then, that’s what I’m good at now. Destroying things.”

She sets the glass down with a loud clank, too quickly. It cracks, spider-webbing like the mask she wears. “It’ll be suicide. If there’s anything you think he’ll need to read in the note, I’ll entertain suggestions.”

GM: “Yes, it would. You’ll give the Albino and I common cause against our family’s enemy, and prove everything your father said about you completely right,” Claire answers severely.

“And you’re not killing yourself that way either. There will be no note, and no scandal brought down upon our heads. If there’s at least one, one good thing to come out of this tragedy, it’s an outpouring of public sympathy and goodwill for the Malveauxes. I won’t squander it just because I’m in grief.”

Caroline: “Why do you even care?” Caroline demands. “If it were Orson, or Matthew, or Vera… but you know what this family is built on better than anyone, and that it’s nothing but a tool for him.”

GM: “So many tragedies befall his family, yet Senator Malveaux bravely soldiers on, not missing so much as a vote in his state’s service. No can ever say that this Senate Republican ’isn’t ‘doing his job.’ That’s the narrative we’re going to sell.” Claire swishes her sugary-pink, edge-frosted drink as the Corner Club’s artificial fire-pit casts crackling tongues of orange light over her face.

“I care because it’s true. Some people… some people describe their loved ones as ‘fighters.’ Too often when they’re losing or succumbing to some incurable disease. And I suppose a fighter isn’t a poor thing to be.” Her mother sets down the glass, staring into the artificial flames. “At Cornell… your father joined one of the fraternities there, Alpha Delta Phi. Very old. It’s included senators, chief justices, even several presidents, and the like. He used it to network. He didn’t care about parties or hazing pledges. He was a teetotaler—he didn’t even drink.”

“It drove some of his frat brothers mad. They felt like he was only there to use them, to tick off another box on his list of accomplishments. They never liked him. But by the end of his time at Cornell, he was still the chapter executive officer.”

“Your father… I would describe as a conqueror, not a fighter. For as long as I’ve known him, he sets his mind to something and achieves it, damning to hell what it costs him or what others may think. I’ve never known him to give up on a challenge. Only to come at it from another angle, with another set of tactics.”

“It’s never been his own ambition that he’s served. Not really. Your grandfather weakened the family, and I suppose your father has always seen it as his responsibility to pick up the pieces. And has never hated anything more than seeing others shirk their responsibilities.”

“He can be a hard man to love, at times. He still hasn’t let me see him cry over Westley, even back in DC. Even when I can tell the tissue box next to our bed is lighter. It simply isn’t… isn’t his way. He’s out of his depth with your brother’s death, because there’s nothing he can do about that ‘problem.’ He can’t conquer death. I think it’s angered—scared him, like nothing else has in years. He sees you slipping through his fingers, on the same path as Westley, and he sees something he can finally do. He sees fixing your life as that enemy he can conquer. And he’ll do it, even if his methods make you hate him.” Claire shrugs. “That at least is just part of being a parent.”

“He can be infuriating, at times. He’s made me furious, many times. But I’ve never felt apathetic or resigned over him, not like Vera and Matt do with each other. There’s no man I’d rather spend the rest of my life with.”

“And of all our children… you’ve always been the one in whom I’ve seen the most of him, Caroline. Gabriel is too gentle. Luke too mild. Westley too…”

Claire doesn’t finish that sentence as she takes another libation from her drink.

Caroline: “I guess it’s going to be awful for him when he gets to fail with me too,” Caroline spits, her anger still there, but sputtering under the assault of her mother’s words.

There’s hurt under the anger, shame. And also anger directed elsewhere, and this cruel and unfair world, at her sire, and at God for making her a failure long before anyone else knows it. Her mind crawls back to that night, to that phone call. Ten minutes to show up before they handed over Westley. The question of whether she could have saved him haunts her. Her rational mind says no, but that ugly voice in the background screams that it’s her fault. She thinks it might be her conscience, but she doesn’t remember it being so quiet before.

GM: Claire glances at Caroline severely as she sets her glass down.

“You shouldn’t have seen that scene last night. He shouldn’t have talked with you then. But don’t be petulant, Caroline. People can say the most poisonous things to one another when family dies. I had the most vicious fight of my life with Joanna, after your grandmother passed. The death of a child, especially… tragedies like that can destroy marriages. But be assured that he mourns Westley. And that he loves and… will mourn you. In his own, proud way, as you and he always do things.”

Caroline: Caroline’s cold fury ignites again at her mother’s defense of her father’s actions.

“At my brother’s funeral I was called a failure, a harlot, a whore, a slut, a drop out, a burden, and a threatened with disinheritance and a lifetime in a convent. I was blamed for my own ‘rape,’” she pauses before continuing in a lower voice, “which may have very well been true, as an aside.” Her knuckles are white and strained around the edges of the table as she grinds out the words, low and deep. “Given that my last moments in life were spent suffering the same gentle affections that Westley did in the same place.”

“You don’t get to defend that,” she growls. “There aren’t excuses for that. ’It’s his way’ isn’t an excuse. I hope he chokes on those words to me. I hope they’re his last to me and that he has to live with him. I hope they haunt him in all of his noble pride.” She says the last with red rimming her eyes, and has to look away, one hand digging out a black handkerchief from her purse to wipe the blood away before it runs.

GM: When she finally lowers the coppery-smelling tissue she becomes conscious of her mother staring at her, eyes as cold and motionless as glass.

Caroline: “It’s his own choice,” she adds, almost accusingly at her mother’s glare. “Not as though he’ll have time to speak to me again before it happens.”

GM: “He’s damn well going to. And you’re damn well going to go along with it. I won’t have something like that hanging over his head for the rest of his life.”

Caroline: “Great, then I’ll do my best to explain to him as he does so why I shouldn’t be excommunicated by the family for not getting back into law school, since I’ve been barred from Riverbend.”

GM: Claire just gives a disgusted sigh. “Then take online classes. Or cut a deal to get back in. Why don’t you try actually solving a problem, for once, instead of throwing tantrums and making more?”

Caroline: “Why don’t you stop creating problems so that you and everyone else can feel better about this?” Caroline snipes back.

GM: “Because you’re the reason this family has gone through everything that it has,” Claire lets loose, her eyes flashing. “If you hadn’t gone to that debauched festival with your awful friend, none of this would have happened!”

Caroline: “You’re wrong!” Caroline snaps back.

GM: “Oh, that’s right, none of this can be your fault! I suppose you’re blameless for Westley’s death too, and for exposing me to your kind! I’m sure that’s only going to end well, for us both!” Caroline’s mother flares, anger rising to meet her daughter’s own.

Caroline: Caroline seems about to argue the point, about to launch into her own response, but the wind falls out of her sails as she looks at her mother. She looks old, and tired. It’s not the time or the place, and it may never be. There are few enough people she can talk to about anything of her life, and little enough time to spend with them. She doesn’t want to spend what little time she has left in the evening arguing.

It’s not as though she can tell her mother the truth, or what she suspects it is. That she was singled out years ago, targeted, selected, groomed. That her fate was sealed when she was born into this family, when she was tied to this city by the events of her pre-debutante ball and her uncle’s fury.

Caroline V, Chapter IV
Slings & Arrows

“You seem alone here. Are you without friends?”
Adelais Seyrès

Thursday night, 24 September 2015, PM

GM: Three nights after Caroline’s presentation before her clanmates, she meets again with Becky Lynne. “Congratulations on being released, Miss Malveaux. That’s just so good for you, it really is,” the older Ventrue smiles. “I think I’ve said before your release is like graduating high school… you’re an adult now, by everyone’s reckonin’, and free to move on to bigger and brighter things.”

Becky Lynne doesn’t dawdle before diving into that topic: the Test, the final component to Caroline’s agoge. She’s explained Clan Ventrue’s simultaneous instruction period, rite of passage, and test of character to Caroline during their prior meetings.

“Our clan goes out of its way to prepare fledglings for life among the Camarilla. We and the Tremere are the only ones who still educate neonates after their release… you might even think of this part of your agoge as your college education, in fact. You don’t absolutely need it—not really, you’re released and your own Kindred now, but it’ll give you extra tools to succeed.”

“You won’t be goin’ it alone either, sire or no sire. You’ll spend time with all our local elders, to learn the way things work. They’ll show you how they run their domains, and you’ll show them how yours is shapin’ up too—the one you’re preparing for your Test.”

“None of them can help you with it directly—no funding, called-in boons, gifted assets, or things like that—but they’ll all give you an earful of advice. I recommend takin’ notes, like you’ve been doing here.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a knowing, if slightly bashful, smile at the reference to notes. Does Matheson’s childe know the truth about her sire, or about the stolen tape? It’s hard to say.

GM: “Once that’s all finished, and you’ve passed your agoge with flyin’ colors,” the other Ventrue smiles back, “we’ll all turn out for a party in your honor. And there’ll be plenty cause for it. The clan as a whole will be that much stronger.”

Caroline: “Certainly a welcome change I expect after the recent losses, Questor Adler,” Caroline agrees. “Is there a best way to go about contacting them to arrange those meetings?”

GM: “Right on the ball, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne laughs lightly. “And so are we. Now, the following nights and times work for them, let’s see how they do for you…”

Gerousiastis McGinn will receive Caroline at his house in Uptown. Becky Lynne supplies the address and several times and dates that he may accommodate.

Gerousiastis Guilbeau will receive her aboard his casino, the Alystra. Becky Lynne supplies times and an address for him as well.

Lictor Cingolai and Lictor Holland, though not permanent residents of New Orleans, will both see Caroline and provide some instruction to the aspiring eiren before they leave. The preliminary times and dates available for them are earlier than the other two Ventrue.

Aedile Hurst will see Caroline at the barber shop where she met his ghoul McCullem.

Strategos Vidal and Gerousiastis Malveaux are sending their heralds to interact with Caroline in their stead. The Hussar will receive her at Perdido House, and whoever Gerousiastis Malveaux’s ghoul is will do so at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The clan’s questors and eirens are not expected to show Caroline the ropes, but if Caroline desires to meet with any of them, Becky Lynne will have a ghoul see if they are amenable. Besides herself, the clan’s other questors include Polk, Gui, and Brodowski. Guilbeau (the younger) and Gerlette are the eirens. Rosa Bale does not participate in the Structure.

Caroline: Caroline carefully notes each time and place, and politely inquires as to how to finalize each set of arrangements—so as not to keep her elders waiting.

GM: Becky Lynne states that she’ll “see it’s all taken care of,” then laughs. “Oh, silly me, I couldn’t find my rear with both hands! Gerousiastis Matheson will show you the ropes too, of course. Owin’ to his particular circumstances, I’ll do so in his stead, so that’ll just be business as usual between us two.”

Caroline: “I’m certain you’ll do your sire proud, Questor Adler,” comes Caroline’s polite reply.

GM: “All three of us can so hope,” Becky Lynne smiles back. “Now then, I’m sure you’ve been layin’ groundwork for your domain already, but I’ll recommend kickin’ it into high gear before you see Gerousiastis Guilbeau and the others. The more that’s already done, the more advice they can offer…”

Thursday night, 24 September 2015, PM

GM: Not long after her first meeting in the French Quarter with Antoine Savoy, Caroline is called to make her next weekly report at Donovan’s soulless McMansion in Aubudon. The Ventrue pitches her mother’s counter-offer of speaking to Donovan over her (Caroline’s) phone. The sheriff listens to her proposal without comment or visible expression, then replies with a single icy word:


Donovan then tells Caroline to bring $50,000 in cash to his house within 24 hours. Failure to gather the requisite funds by this date will result in “punitive action” and further such action for every additional 24 hours that elapse.

Yet whatever natural feelings Caroline may harbor for the sheriff, she feels the bond tugging at her. Wanting to stop disappointing him. Wanting to win his seemingly impossible approval.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t gawk at the sum in and of itself, nor can she find herself surprised by the newest demand. That doesn’t make it any less of a problem. Even with her own substantial assets, $50,000 would be a significant amount. Assembling that amount of cash in a day is virtually impossible by conventional means not likely to earn her a great deal of unwanted attention from federal authorities—especially in the era post-9/11 in which examinations and controls on financial institutions are especially strict.

Virtually, but not utterly. There are still places in which such large sums can be bandied about without undo regard, and where large stacks of hard currency are readily available without excess scrutiny. Fortunately, one happens to be the heart of her new landlord’s domain. Between calls to her mother, Caroline reaches out to Hound Angello, offering a boon for assistance using Harrah’s to translate more scrutinized assets (money in accounts) into currency (cash) in the form of winnings payouts or simple sleight of hand money laundry. Of the former, winnings that she’ll account for in losses on the other side of the week. Time is of the essence. She cringes at the idea of what this is going to cost her on the other end when her family finds out. No doubt more evidence of her own slide and poor judgement.

She keeps her mother in the loop with a meeting in the late hours of the night, but has no answer for the sheriff’s newest demand.

“I have no idea what he’s going to ask for tomorrow, but if he’s going to keep demanding a meeting and sums like that when I don’t comply, then my days are well numbered. In fact, I could probably give you just how many days I can support a $50,000 habit.”

GM: Claire agrees. She is willing to help with some of the money given the sheer abruptness of the demand, though she makes clear this will be a one-time thing. For perhaps the first time in her life, Caroline hears one of her parents tell her “we’re not made of money.”

Rocco is amenable to the offer and helps Caroline launder money with the casino to put her hands on $50,000 cash on the quick.

Caroline meets the sheriff in his house the next night. The banker whose Facemash picture Caroline looked up, Paul Simmons, opens the suitcase and looks over the crisp stacks of $100 bills as if inspecting them for forgeries.

Donovan does not speak a word, but looks towards the man, who removes the bills and starts feeding them into a paper shredder with a plastic smile.

Caroline: Part of Caroline wants to protest. Part of her wants to ask why: why he’s destroying the money, why he has to be such a monster, why he hates her so. She asks none of those things. Instead she sits in the too-quiet room with the icy-eyed devil, only the crinkling sound of the currency going through the shredder between them.

At the end of the night the sheriff is like the weather, like a storm, something that cannot be avoided or reasoned with, that cannot be understood or fought. No, he’s something to endure. Something to suffer through.

And so she sits, and she endures. There’s no point in asking why.

GM: “Father Malveaux has informed me of your inability to follow instructions. Anything less than complete obedience to the letter and spirit of my orders where Claire Malveaux is concerned will be punished with a monetary fine,” Donovan states without preamble.

The shredder continues to whir and shred in the background as if to say how little the sheriff cares about Caroline’s money.

Caroline: “As you say, Sheriff Donovan,” is Caroline’s only reply. There’s no purpose in responding further.

GM: Savoy’s childe does not respond. Simmons leaves without a word, then returns carrying a box of wires. Donovan tells Caroline to put one on, then places a sealed, unmarked, and opaque envelope on the front of the desk before her. Simmons offers Caroline an old-fashioned dumphone, her smartphone having been confiscated by the sheriff’s guards at the door. Donovan tells her to arrange a time and location with Claire Malveaux to deliver the envelope. He listens to the call. When she hangs up, he tells her that the envelope is “safeguarded against treachery” should she attempt to read its contents, and that he will execute her if he believes she has done so. He will also execute her if she reads her mother’s written reply, which will be returned in a second, presently un-sealed envelope contained within the first envelope. The sheriff lays forth a sequence of further orders concerning how and when she will deliver her mother’s reply to him. The orders are very precise yet simple to understand, like a technical manual one might write for a middle school student.

Caroline: Caroline supposes there’s no choice but to do what he asks given the ‘pain of death’ demands.

She still makes a note to avoid talking while wearing the wire.

GM: Claire reiterates that she’s not paying these $50,000 fees when Caroline sees her again, but otherwise finds Donovan’s method of communication acceptable. She refuses to be in a given location at a known time to make the pickup for the letters, however, insisting that Caroline mail them to the Hotel Monteleone instead (at which point she can pick them up at her leisure).

Claire gives her identically sealed letters to deliver back to Donovan. Caroline continues to make weekly reports to the sheriff as well, who gives her further sealed letters to deliver back to her mother.

Donovan sometimes summons Caroline (via a specific dumbphone he gives her) outside of their usual weekly times when he wants another letter delivered.

Caroline: She grits her teeth and bears through it.

There’s nothing else to do.

Friday evening, 25 September 2015

GM: Caroline receives a phone call from Blackwatch and two visits from NOPD around the same time. Both organizations inform her that Amanda Turner and Nicole Polk have both been found dead. Turner committed suicide by the Mississippi and was found floating in the river several days later. Polk had the misfortune to be drinking heavily when her home was robbed by a pair of (black) criminals. They had initially thought she was asleep, then panicked and killed her, and attempted to get rid of the body. A plea deal will likely be struck to send them to Angola. NOPD has the usual questions to ask Caroline about her relationship to the deceased individuals and whether she knows any information pertinent to their deaths. Blackwatch expresses their condolences and offers Caroline a discount on further bodyguards hired through the security firm.

Caroline: The Ventrue makes no further moves towards Blackwatch after she does some digging into their origins. Of course Donovan has his fingers all over that pie. Little surprise, she supposes, given the security they provide around his haven.

She has her eye on a new ghoul, one who will be able to bring in his own individuals. Laying aside possible insults others might take from her actions, she’s not willing to meaningfully introduce that kind of headache into her life, and she couldn’t truly trust any agents she received from them short of ghouling.

Saturday night, 26 September 2015, AM

GM: Caroline meets again with Antoine Savoy and asks whether he could acquire Westley’s body from the Dungeon himself. Savoy answers that he could, though it will cost him a small boon that he will ask of Caroline in turn. She agrees to the price, and Preston informs her of a public storage unit from which she may retrieve her brother’s corpse after three days.

Savoy chides, “This is her brother, Nat,” and has it delivered to Caroline’s home in a coffin (itself placed in a crate the neighbors may find less unusual) instead. There are several floral wreaths lain over the top and Westley’s body is covered with a respectful burial shroud. It has also gone through the necessary embalming procedures to mask a corpse’s awful stench, but Savoy does not otherwise attempt to make arrangements or personal decisions for the body that Caroline may herself desire to.

Her mother still looks physically sick and on the verge of tears after she sees the state that it’s in.

She’s brought over a sedan with extra trunk space. She insists on lifting the coffin inside herself, but is willing to accept Caroline’s help. It’s too heavy for just one woman. Claire snaps at her daughter if she draws on any of the Blood’s power to make the heavy task easier, but eventually, the two manage to heave the coffin into the trunk. Claire says she’ll try her utmost to get “that changeling’s carcass” exchanged for Westley’s real body, but admits at this point it might be too late.

Caroline: Caroline is silent and accedes to her mother’s requests. She isn’t the one who gets sore muscles.

That wouldn’t be the first time they were too late for Westley.

Saturday evening, 26 September 2015

Caroline: Caroline goes looking for “dates” in one of the hotel bars around her new liege’s territory.

GM: She meets a 30-something paralegal who’s a funny, winsome guy and seems interested in consensual sex. He slips a roofie in her drink when she gives a “not interested” vibe.

Caroline: Once they are alone, the Ventrue unleashes her Beast on the kine’s all-too vulnerable body and mind alike, then rapes the latter, demanding a complete recounting of all his sins. When the bruised and bloodied man awakens from his half-remembered nightmare the next morning, he finds all of his sins written in lipstick across the bathroom with an accompanying note to ‘change his ways.’

Caroline pays him another “visit” the next night.

GM: He has dark circles under his eyes and empty liquor bottles in his sink.

He’s not gone to another bar, he blearily recites under her spell.

Caroline: Satisfied—at least for now—God’s avenging wolf withdraws.

Sunday evening, 27 September 2015

Caroline: Caroline’s investigations into her missing private investigator, mentor, confessor, and perhaps conscience, are a delicate thing. It begins with probing into public record, and into private record. She speaks with the prior owner of her new building. What does she remember of him? When did he first arrive? How long had he been there? Is there any record of others he dealt with? She digs into public record. If Lou was a PI, he had to be registered somewhere. As slovenly as he was, there has to be some record of him. She bounces the name “Louis Fontaine” off of public record to see what comes back. It’s an investigation she keeps private from Autumn, save for a single question: do does she know anything about a one-handed ghoul?

GM: Autumn answers that she hasn’t heard of any one-handed ghouls. It there are any, she probably would have. It’s a fairly distinctive trait.

Caroline’s finds that Lou’s name doesn’t seem to be on any of the papers or documents attached to her new property. When offered a chance to make some easy money, and in return for Caroline’s promised silence, the former landlady Ruth Holman admits she sometimes rented units to illegal immigrants and other characters she derisively describes as “bums” without actually signing any lease agreements. The alternative was letting the units sit empty. Caroline even gives her the number for Lou’s unit and describes the one-handed old man, but Ruth just shrugs. “Ugly old man” sounds like a lot of tenants she’s had, and maybe one or some or all of them did have prosthetic hands, but it’s possible to miss if they weren’t wearing short sleeves. She tried not to interact with her “undesirable” tenants very much. The one upshot to no lease agreement meant she never had to perform any kind of maintenance in their units, and absolutely never had to see or interact with them. When Caroline asks if Lou didn’t have a lease agreement, Ruth admits she isn’t sure. Her records aren’t the best. It’s possible some papers got misplaced. Is there any reason Caroline is looking for this man?

Giving up on her new property as a wash, Caroline looks into public records. Being a private investigator in the state of Louisiana means Lou’s name is in a database somewhere. In some states like Idaho, all one needs to be a PI is a business license. (Although without joining the state’s privately-run and more stringent PI association, it’s doubtful anyone but their own mom would hire them.) In Louisiana, license requirements are more rigorous. Lou had to take at least 40 hours of certification classes from an approved agency and pass the state PI Exam from the Louisiana State Board of Private Investigator Examiners (LSBPIE). Graft being what it is in Louisiana, Lou could have gotten around those requirements. He certainly doesn’t meet the requirement that applicants “may not be actively addicted to alcohol or drugs.” No matter how dubiously Lou’s license was obtained, however, it would still have had to be issued in his name.

Caroline also finds out there are four different kinds of PI licenses in Louisiana: an apprentice license, an individual license, a journeyman license, and an agency license. An individual license would let Lou provide direct services to the public, and require him to be registered with a sponsor agency. If Lou ran his own one-man agency, that makes tracking him down even simpler: the BLS reports only 70 private investigators were employed in Louisiana in 2012, most of whom did not hold agency licenses. Further enmeshing Lou in the system is the requirement that PIs need to renew their licenses every year. They must also submit proof of completion of at least eight hours of approved continuing education every two years.

Yet for all these potential leads, and the fact Lou even had Caroline sign a valid-looking contract, nothing solid materializes for the old man. Every potential lead results in still another dead end. Inquiries into public records concerning the name Louis Fontaine are similarly fruitless. He is simply not in the system. The Ventrue might as well be chasing a ghost.

Caroline: Caroline moves away from chasing and towards trying to keep the lines of communication open. She quietly puts up several notices and runs a couple of otherwise opaque print ads in newspapers (having seen how many he’s collected in the past) that make quiet references to matters between them and include a number to call.

GM: Nights pass, then weeks, and finally months. Caroline’s only answer is silence. The old man does not seem to want to be found.

Or perhaps he simply can’t be found. Perhaps the prince’s agents have already gotten to him.

Perhaps, like her conscience, he’s deader than she thinks.

Monday night, 28 September 2015, AM

GM: Father Malveaux listens patiently to Caroline’s next confession. He thinly grants that she has finally acted the part of a proper Sanctified. The man was punished for his iniquity, he is mending his ways, and the Masquerade was not endangered. Father Malveaux can find no basis over which to excommunicate Caroline.

But she also did not do as he asked—which was to feed upon one of her prior victims. His patience with Caroline clearly exhausted, Father Malveaux tells the younger Ventrue to find another confessor. He is sick of her.

He states that she will continue to consult with him where the matter of their mortal relations are concerned—which he grudgingly tolerates for the sake of the Masquerade, and only until Caroline fakes her death. He states that if she does not do so soon, he will do it for her. The albino priest clearly desires Caroline gone from his domain and his own contact with her to end as quickly as possible.

Caroline: Caroline pitches her plan to fake her murder at the hands of ‘undesirables’ so as to generate public sympathy for the Malveauxes and lend further weight behind her father’s ‘tough on crime’ political stance.

GM: Father Malveaux curtly rasps that he does not consider Caroline competent or trustworthy enough to handle a matter of such delicacy where the Masquerade is concerned. She will die in an accident, which will invite less police and media scrutiny.

Caroline: Of course not. Of course they’re not going to shit on a perfectly good idea just because it comes from her.

Caroline had wanted to ask him for assistance in financial matters before faking her death. Dying isn’t cheap.

She does not as she leaves.

Monday night, 28 September 2015, AM

GM: Caroline gets a phone call from Wright.

“Sold your debt to Rocco,” the hound says without preamble. “You’re payin’ him back now. Not me.”

Caroline: The Ventrue scowls but tries to keep her irritation out of her voice.

“Thank you for informing me, Hound Wright.”

GM: The Brujah hangs up.

Caroline: She’s less irritated with Wright anyway, and more annoyed with Agnello and his seemingly constant interest in meddling in her life. On the other hand, she considers, it might have less to do with her directly and more to do with his recent interactions with a certain client of hers. Either way, it’s irritating.

She considers calling Rocco and decides not to. He’ll come to her when he wants to get back in her life.

She expects it won’t be long.

Tuesday evening, 29 September 2015

GM: It’s not too many nights after Caroline first “hired” Christina Roberts (or rather, hired investigators through her) that she receives a call back from the madam. “You lucked out with those PIs, by the way. Some Pinkertons were already in town.”

Christina works out the necessary details to drop off their findings in Caroline’s hands—and also provides a routing number for a Bank of Columbia account (notably not Whitney Bank) where the Ventrue can reimburse her for the Pinkertons’ fee. Their dossiers contain the following:

The Pinkertons began by taking Caroline’s dozen or so vehicles whose reasons for being in Audubon Place were not immediately apparent or whose presences stood out to them. They ran down license plate numbers, plugged security footage of drivers (obtained courtesy of the Ventrue’s own efforts) into facial recognition software, talked to people in the neighborhood, and followed up on the names they obtained.

Most of Audubon Place’s visitors turned out to be quite pedestrian. A pool install company. An internet repair tech. An escort. A substitute plumber when the usual service couldn’t make it. A company of princess lookalikes for a child’s birthday party.

The initial investigative work narrowed Caroline’s dozen noteworthy vehicles and drivers down to half a dozen. Follow-up narrowed that down to several. Then finally to a single one.

Josué Pérez is a general contractor who works under Frank O’Malley. The Pinkertons did their homework, and he supposedly did contracting work on Caroline’s former house. Included is the license plate number for his vehicle, as well as work and phone numbers for Mr. Pérez and his employer Mr. O’Malley. The former, however, may not be good for long. Mr. Pérez has overstayed his work visa and is currently being detained by ICE in Basile’s South Louisiana Detention Center, pending his deportation back to Guatemala.

Caroline: Lucked out. Right. Caroline tries not to laugh as she pages through the dossiers. Mr. O’Malley. She’s relatively certain that Pérez is just a tool: she can’t really see her mother using some wetback as her instrument for something so sensitive.

She makes a note for Autumn to investigate O’Malley, quietly and from a distance. Mostly poking around into his business dealings, and history. She’s not quite—or even close to—ready to poke that hornet’s nest. Soon, though… the seneschal’s sentence hangs heavy, like a blade over her neck.

Tuesday night, 29 September 2015, PM

GM: It’s not long after Caroline’s release that Jocelyn takes the Ventrue to see her haven, a comfortable loft apartment in the CBD. It’s decorated with her photography, sharp black and white pieces that low-key digital manipulations have lent a vaguely otherworldly cast to. She doesn’t do much color, she says. Blacks and whites “force you to really think about the composition, and do more with less.” Sometimes she’ll do a slight color filter, but she calls it a “temptation” and tries to stick with black and white. She’s cautious that relying too much on color could dilute the rest of her work. It needs to stay rare if it’s to mean anything.

Jocelyn’s haven itself is well-furnished and has some fairly expensive-looking photography and computer equipment. The Toreador says she lives off money from a number of “boyfriends” whose behavior she has judged sinful (the most recent is a domestic abuser). They pay for her rent, clothes, art supplies, and miscellaneous expenses. Compared to Caroline’s planned financial manipulations, Jocelyn’s Requiem seems remarkably straightforward. She just takes money from people directly.

Meg lives with her in a separate bedroom. Despite the ghoul’s anorexia and bulimia, the latter of which Jocelyn describes as “so gross” (but is at a loss how to cure her of), Meg doesn’t appear entirely useless. She’s unobtrusive and can be counted on to perform assorted chores, errands, and other daily tasks Jocelyn doesn’t want to do herself, whether that’s styling her hair, picking up items at the store, or vacuuming and cleaning the haven. Meg also tracks expenses, pays bills, and manages her mistress’ money, a task that does not appear to particularly interest the Toreador.

Meg also funnels a percentage of Jocelyn’s income towards Roxanne, who Jocelyn says “manages it for the whole krewe.” When asked if all krewes do that thing, Jocelyn just shrugs, but says Roxanne makes the money come back in larger amounts. She uses it for communal expenses. “She was honestly better when she left the talking to Evan,” the Toreador admits. Roxanne can have an acerbic and contentious personality, and is used to getting her way at things. “Total blue blood. No offense.”

Evan lacked his paramour’s mind for planning, but was better at dealing people in the here and now. He was always good at tempering Roxanne’s more belligerent tendencies while not making the Ventrue feel like he was disagreeing with her. Roxanne was the brains of the krewe, while Evan was its heart and tongue. They worked well together. Since his disappearance, though, Roxanne’s more brittle tendencies have come the forefront—if not been aggravated by Evan’s absence. “It’s thrown everything out of balance,” Jocelyn admits.

Jocelyn posts a fair bit of her photography on mortal websites under a variety of pseudonyms. She posts the remaining “uncensored” artwork on “Fangbook” and other Kindred-exclusive internet domains lurking in the dankest recesses of the dark web. Still, she chafes at the lack of broader recognition, but isn’t willing to let a mortal take the credit for her artwork. The closest she’s come to publicly is getting Abraham Garcia, a Toreador with influence over the Times-Picayune, to slip in a few of her pieces while listing the author as anonymous. New Orleans’ Toreador circles don’t appreciate photography, but they’ve already talked about that.

Jocelyn is in sporadic contact with her sire, who seems to lack a regular phone number. Sally calls her childe from an ever-changing rotation of them whenever she feels like talking. Jocelyn’s tried calling back later, but the line is always ‘disconnected and no longer in service.’ “She’s pretty paranoid about that stuff.”

Jocelyn also admits to having two still-living parents “back home.” She hasn’t spoken with them in close to four years.

Caroline: “What do they think happened to you?” Caroline asks of the last bit.

GM: Jocelyn gives a little shrug. “Just… not in touch.”

Caroline: “Does it ever bother you?”

GM: “I don’t see much other choice, do you?”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs in turn. “I think leaving that door cracked would be harder for me—if I even could. The temptation to reach back out again would always be there.”

GM: “I’m going to close it. I’ve just been putting it off. Hassle to arrange.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a bitter laugh. “Don’t I know it.”

GM: One of the challenges over the coming nights is finding common interests besides fucking, which is limited by the ever-present risk of developing a full blood bond… which increasingly doesn’t seem like that bad an arrangement. After all, they could feed directly off each other as often as they wanted. And Caroline would never be in danger of having her will suborned by any other Kindred.

Caroline: It’s so tempting. Incredibly tempting, especially in those first nights after her release. Jocelyn is such a bright spot. Someone who’s never hurt her, only ever helped her, and with whom she shares many secrets. Many, though not all.

It’s a fight each evening she’s with the Toreador to resist her—and that’s a new experience as well. The raw power and desire of each encounter she’s had are unlike anything else she’s ever experienced. Better than feeding off any kine.

Caroline tries to fill their time together with other things, mundane things like shopping, hunting, movies, discussions on religion and art (in both of which Caroline is an avid listener) but the undercurrent is always there. The desire. Jocelyn’s slender throat with each word she speaks, the so sensual scene each time the Toreador swallows another mouthful of some mortal’s blood, the painfully tempting touch of licking a stray drop of some mortal’s blood off Jocelyn’s lips.

That feeling raw ‘carnal’ need and desire is another point of conflict between them, though Caroline buries it deeply. Though far from a good Catholic waiting for marriage, intimacy was a naturally flowing part of her mortal relationships. A piece of the puzzle that came up, sex something she enjoyed, but rarely craved. The deeper wanting of Jocelyn on a physical level, in truth, makes Caroline feel like the whore or slut her father so recently labeled her as.

Worse than how much she longs to sink her teeth into Jocelyn is how much she wants Jocelyn to sink her fangs into her. The kiss.

GM: Jocelyn can talk a great deal about art. Caroline can mostly listen, except when talking on the related social issues that frustrate her paramour. Jocelyn’s interest in movies turns out to run towards romantic comedies, one thing unchanged by her Embrace, and female drama-oriented TV shows.

Shopping is its own… bag. Jocelyn seems to have little interest in making money, beyond a minimum baseline, but she loves spending it. Specifically, Caroline’s, after she sees how much of it the Ventrue’s deeper financial manipulations have left her to throw around. If it’s not clothes, Jocelyn manages to find other things, from photography equipment to interior decor to high-class escorts (who make very good feeding, and are often even attending college). The blood bond makes it hard to turn down anything Jocelyn says she wants. Her new ghoul Widney is less enamored, and repeatedly uses such phrases as “significant drain” and “needless expense.” Autumn just snorts in amusement and calls it “so Toreador.”

The Kindred also end up going through a lot of clothes, partly contributing to the shopping trips. There isn’t that same need, or at least expectation, to strip before lovemaking. Their Beasts, so close to the surface during such moments, leave messes far in excess of any “wild” night as a mortal. Jocelyn particularly seems to enjoy destroying outfits she’s worn out enough times. “My closet’s low on room anyway.”

Caroline: On those bloody nights, Caroline loses herself in the violence and passion of their encounters. Hours slip away effortlessly as blood flows back and forth so many times that it’s easy to lose track of where one ends and the other begins. They are also illustrative of the very danger of the bond, and how easy it would be to lose themselves in each other. Entwined in blood-soaked sheets in the aftermath each time, Caroline soaks in that connection between them, strengthened by the blood, and wrestles with the Beast’s satisfaction in the moment and her own lingering desire. The nights never seem to come up frequently enough.

GM: In between such sanguine liaisons, there are other realities to deal with. Jocelyn loves attending Elysia and the all-night society’s seemingly endless stream of parties, balls, and salons, “even if I don’t get invited to them all.” She complains of Caroline being a “hermit” and is lukewarm to the idea of a coming-out party held for the benefit of Anarchs. “What, you want to throw some punk rock concert? The First and Second Estates throw the only parties worth attending,” she scoffs. “I mean I guess there’s a few okay Anarchs, but lots are meatheads like Eight-Nine-Six.”

Caroline: Caroline points out that unlike Jocelyn, right now she doesn’t get invites to any of those parties, balls, or salons. All the same, she waves her history at high-priced high society galas as evidence of her eventual intentions and though it does not begin immediately, as her Requiem beings to stabilize she does not have to be talked into visits to Elysium events. She keeps a relatively low profile, socializing politely and doing more listening than talking.

GM: The Ventrue finds her presence all but overlooked (though never to the point of loose lips) by other Kindred. The primary knowledge she gleans is that the opening of every Elysium Primo is officiated with a prayer and religious ritual, often by Gus Elgin (who is both master of Elysium and one of the Anointed). Midnight Mass is held weekly. Kindred with object to participating in Sanctified religious ceremonies have the “option” of simply not attending Elysium.

Jocelyn does not seem particularly happy by Caroline’s behavior and declares that the Ventrue “so boring” to go out with. “Nobody even talked to you. People don’t like wallflowers, y’know.”

Caroline: Nonetheless, Caroline is not idle in those visits. She watches and she learns. She watches to see who the centers of attention are, and why. The kinds of gossip of interest. The connections and interactions that exist.

GM: Once a week concurrently with Midnight Mass, Philip Maldonato holds formal court on Vidal’s behalf. This is often at church (every church in New Orleans is Elysium), such as St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Alphonsus in the Garden District, or any of the city’s other, near-equally old and venerable houses of God. Caroline never ceases to feel faintly sick in them. The chosen site is always the Elysium Primo for that night.

Court always opens with Midnight Mass and a sermon whose preacher often varies throughout the weeks. Vidal was a figure of dark majesty, whose powerful words reverberated in Caroline’s chest and felt as if God Almighty were judging her soul—and finding it wanting.

Maldonato, in contrast, is an eloquent and more cerebral orator who often begins his sermons by presenting spiritual dilemmas for the congregation to considers. He weaves seamless blends of theology, philosophy, and occasionally metaphysics into subtle answers that slowly creep over the parishioners like the rising sun, only to finally illuminate them with profound truths revealing the Kindred purpose in God’s plan.

Father Elgin relies more heavily upon the Testament of Longinus and the mortal Bible. He begins his sermons with innocuous verses and parables that lead towards some subtle yet inescapably powerful truth whose merits seem almost startlingly obvious in hindsight.

Father Malveaux zealously stresses absolute obedience to God’s will and acceptance of the Kindred’s damned nature. He backs his arguments with a hard and pitiless intellectual framework that brooks no dissension or dispute. He rails against the Sanctified’s many enemies, especially the “heathens” and “weak of faith” and calls on all Sanctified to serve as soldiers in God’s army.

Other Anointed occasionally preach sermons too. Mother Doriocourt’s are much like Father Malveaux’s in tone, and rely on fewer scriptural references but are cooler and smoother in their delivery.

Father Polk’s sermons are the most humble, direct, and plain-spoken, drawing heavily upon the Testament.

Caroline does not have chance to see Father Morrow sermonize.

All of the Sanctified theologians speak extensively of the Biblical Caine, his primeval sin against God, and Longinus being the first of their kind to accept his damned nature as not merely a punishment, but a mandate. The priests bring up different topics every week. Many of these are relevant to contemporary concerns among Kindred and kine alike, such as the theological impetus for the Masquerade when a foolish vampire endangers it, or the Kindred’s purpose as punishers of the wicked during a high-profile mortal crime.

After the sermon concludes, Kindred priests clad in black robes with blue-trimmed vestments proceed liturgical prayers and recitations with a great deal of pomp and ritual. A mortal vessel is ritually bled into a ruby-encrusted chalice before a black altar (set beneath a lance rather than crucifix). This act is always presided over by Father Malveaux or Father Elgin rather than Maldonato: it is not for laity. The smell of incense is thick in the air as the priest lays their blessing upon the sacred chalice and transubstantiates its blood. Faithful Sanctified then proceed forward to take communion. Elders and other esteemed members of the covenant go first: Caroline and other neonates go last. All Kindred eventually imbibe from the communion chalice, which never seems to run empty, and whose nectar tastes altogether distinct from any kine vitae that Caroline has sampled. This vitae, the Anointed declare, is sacrosanct and the blood of Longinus. Through Longinus, it is also the blood of Christ—for the Savior’s life was the first blood tasted by the Dark Prophet (this ultimate sin having cursed him to vampirism without a sire, just as God Almighty cursed Caine before him). The Sanctified thus believe, and in an extremely literal sense, that they are set apart from Christ’s mortal faithful, and yet they do still exist within his grace. They still drink the blood of Christ—yet it is sinfully obtained. They pay for that sin every night.

Once Mass has been concluded, the black altar and its crucifix-like lance are moved away. Two throne-like chairs are installed in their place. One is positioned a single step higher than the other. Maldonato assumes the lower throne, leaving the empty one staring down from behind him, and formally convenes court. Any and all Kindred attendees are free to leave at this point, but no vampire who was absent for Midnight Mass is permitted to attend Prince Vidal’s court. One of the hounds (Rocco for this week) stands guard by the church’s doors. One either participates in the religion of the Lancea et Sanctum, sits and listens to the gospel of its priests (non-Sanctified are exempted from and indeed ineligible to take communion), or one is excluded from the city’s most important Elysium. The Sanctified and Invictus are thus regular and numerous attendees, Anarchs attend more sporadically (Coco is usually present), and Caroline does not recognize any of the Baron’s followers. That could also simply be due to her own ignorance. She does not recognize any Tremere either, who are said to be partisans of Vidal’s, or followers of the rumored Ordo Dracul.

Maldonato issues proclamations and edicts in Prince Vidal’s name, receives Kindred petitioners with matters they wish to (publicly) bring before His Majesty’s attention, and dispenses judgment for crimes and disputes not so grave as to warrant their own exclusive gatherings. Better-informed newcomers to the city try to present themselves before the seneschal at such dates. Maldonato receives most cordially, a smaller number warmly, and grants most permission to remain in the city on a temporary basis. Seemingly no Kindred who heed the Fifth Tradition are refused from the city outright… vampires who would be regarded as so obviously incorrigible likely do not bother present themselves at all.

Gossip and chatter takes place concurrently (though more quietly) while Maldonato officiates the prince’s business from his throne. Once this matter is concluded, and with a final benediction from one of the Anointed, Kindred begin to socialize among themselves in earnest. Mortal artists and/or musicians, or some other entertaining diversion, are sometimes brought forward to provide a centerpiece to the evening’s remaining social activities. Gus Elgin never ceases to find ways to keep things interesting despite the regularity of the venue (usually a church). Still, it’s clear that Friday Elysia are where the best entertainments are.

Those Elysia show considerably more variety in their locations: one night it might be at the Civil War Museum, where Kindred attendees can admire and discuss the historic pieces. Another night, it might be at the Hotel Storyville and have more the feel of a private house party. Caroline recalls her last two Elysia at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and Orpheum Theater. A few Elysia are even held in less conventional locales such as the New Orleans Public Library or Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but the party organizers always find a way to keep them interesting if not novel. Compared to the decadence and debauchery rumored to take place at private Kindred fetes, however, the Elysia Caroline attends feel positively cerebral. The “real fun,” Jocelyn has said, or simply opportunities to socialize with a different or more limited crowd of Kindred, takes place at private parties. Caroline has yet to receive an invitation to any of these.

Antoine Savoy also holds his own court in the French Quarter on Saturdays. Jocelyn says she should never go to those.

Caroline also learns about Elysium’s true powers: the harpies.

Maldonato and Savoy may be the brains that direct their courts, and Gus Elgin may be the skeletal system that holds Elysium together, but the harpies are its heart—or perhaps its tongue. They are the grand dames of society, the lives of the party, the queen bees, the “in” crowd, the popular clique, and social judges, juries, and executioners par force. They tell other Kindred what is and is not proper behavior. They may raise Kindred high with their praises or cast them low with their scorn, and are far more generous in dispensing the latter. Violence and disciplines are forbidden in Elysium. The only weapons Kindred may employ are words—and the harpies are grand masters at those weapons. A sneer here, a scathing remark here, can cut and bleed a vampire’s pride until they must flee Elysium in shame, lest the harpies’ scathing words drive their Beasts to frenzy. The harpies relish making examples of vampires who do not measure up to their standards. It is their foremost entertainment. Only the most exalted Kindred are exempted from their barbs—and even such luminaries as Savoy and Maldonato seemingly have little desire to pull them away from their victims (there seems no better term to use) once their claws come out. Collectively, the coterie is known as ‘the murder’—after ‘a murder of harpies’.

Few would contest the name’s appropriateness.

Jocelyn, meanwhile, heaves an effected sigh and says she’s going to “hang out with Kindred who know how to have fun” before striding off. Caroline is left alone among the sea of pale faces. The Ventrue feels the blood bond tugging at her like a leash. Some part of her yearns to follow after the Toreador, to win back her approval. It’s not for nothing that young Kindred like Jocelyn nickname it ‘the collar’.

But she does not get the chance. The harpies have scented blood.

“You there, neonate!” Adelais Seyrès imperiously calls towards Caroline. The Ventrue remembers the harpy all-too vividly from her first meeting with McGinn. “You seem alone here. Are you without friends?”

The Kindred nearest to Caroline begin to melt away.

“Yes, observe how she stares and skulks from the shadows like some would-be Nosferatu. Does she seek to make friends by joining the sewer rats?” derides the next of the harpies, a fat and pale-faced woman with jet black hair.

Observe the vacant and noncomprehending stare on her cow-like face. Perhaps we should subject it to the sun’s rays,” Veronica Alsten-Pirrie sneers, her green eyes smoldering. “We could make her a Nosferatu in flesh and spirit both.”

“Don’t fret, ducky, Primogen Opal will surely nurse you back to health,” croons a buxom, wavy-haired redhead.

“Yes, neonate, tell us: why are you so alone among this gathering of friends?” Adelais demands. The contempt on the Toreador’s features could be etched from ice.

Caroline: Caroline, however, is no idle victim. Even if she were not a senator’s daughter, even if she were not a social alpha in her mortal life among her social circles, and even if she were not the too proud secret childe of the city’s most powerful elder, with a raging Beast of her own to rival that of any ancilla, Caroline is an erudite fencer, and much the same principles apply here. And she is not unarmed.

In comes the thrust. ‘Nosferatu’, ‘cow-faced’, ‘without friends’. Parry.

“Certainly, Madam Beaumont, any neonate would be honored by the attentions and patronage of such a distinguished personage as Primogen Opal, but alas I fear such is not to be, what with the way in which renown individuals such as yourself have already taken it upon themselves to provide their own guidance and wisdom to me.”

She turns to Alsten-Pirrie. “Forgive me, I thought that light following you around, Madam Alsten-Pirrie, might be just that, though now I see it must instead be the spotlight. I can see too how from within it all else might seem cast in shadow, but I dare say it would be presumptuous to step into the limelight.”

GM: “Presumptuous. How fitting a choice of words,” Adelais acidly replies.

What follows can only be described as a tightrope walk over a sea of piranhas. Caroline plies the harpies with compliments and flattery. The murder will not let themselves be so easily won over—or perhaps simply finds it amusing to see how long Caroline can keep turning venom into honey. The Ventrue endures scathing critiques of her appearance, breeding, dress, prior and present behavior, and every other failing and inadequacy one could possibly imagine.

But she maintains an unyielding front. She catches their arrows of scorn and fires back sweet-smelling roses. Mocking laughter turns sardonic, then wry, then amused. The murder has scented blood, but perhaps, at least for now, sweet words are enough to sate their appetite. Perhaps it is more amusing to watch this prey caper and dance than to die.

Their bellies glutted with flattery, the murder finally withdraws as some other matter—some further prey—draws their collective attentions. Caroline hears scripture being quoted. It might be a theological discussion. Fangs and talons sheathe. The many eyes upon her turn away.

She wonders how fast her heart would be racing were she still alive.

Caroline: The scene itself is far more frustrating and humiliating than any of the hags’ words. In her mortal life not only would none have attempted such a stunt, not only would she have crushed them if they had, but she would have wielded such shrews as her own scalpels.

No, the words don’t hurt. The petty taunts. Not after having the flesh ripped from her body, not after causing the death of her brother, not after the sheer horrific physical violence she’s suffered. What hurts is that she has to endure it at all.

GM: Caroline can observe the murder of harpies already converging on some new target. The Ventrue’s indignities at their hands appear, at least, to be shared by others.

Caroline: And that’s exactly it. As a mortal she was special. She was influential and powerful. She was exceptional. Here she’s just another neonate—no, little better than Caitiff, with no sire, no respect, no place, and (if she can’t again accomplish the impossible) no future.

Perhaps in that the harpies accomplished their goal. They drove that dagger in further still, just when she’d thought it could cut no deeper, when she’d thought it was starting to scab over. Blood in the water indeed.

She has little taste for further socialization.

Caroline V, Chapter III; Rocco IS, Chapter I
Rocco's Party

“Why gamble something as precious as life for so very little?”
Rocco Agnello

Wednesday night, 23 September 2015, PM

Rocco: An ineffable pall falls over Harrah’s New Orleans. The dark contours of the upscale casino and high-rise hotel Tbask in the glow of the city’s nightlife. Neon light signs, trimmed palm trees. A monument to decadence and debauchery. A haunt for cretins and losers of many shapes and vices.

Caroline: We’re all losers Caroline reflects, picking her way through the crowd of dejected faces: the desperate, the lonely, and the bored. Some of us have simply lost more than others.

Rocco: Some of us are merely lost.

A seemingly endless stream of people passes, exits, and enters the smoke-filled casino. The building’s front doors are watched by imposing black-uniformed security guards. A pedestrian crossing separates the casino from Harrah’s twenty-six story hotel.

An obese man—or perhaps boy—of below average height hauls himself out of a taxi cab. He wears a dark sweatshirt with its hoodie drawn all the way up, leaving his face only half-visible. It looks unattractive and normal enough, at a casual glance. When Caroline’s stare lingers, though, the visage melts away into something truly hideous. His plump face is covered in unkempt dark fur except around his mouth. He has a snout instead of a proper nose, dark beady eyes, enormously oversized teeth, and equally huge ears. All that’s missing are the whiskers and facial structure: his head, at least, is still human-shaped. He looks as much like a rat as a man.

His companion is little better. Caroline looks at her and sees someone who has stopped caring. She’s portly and has bad skin and greasy hair. She smells bad. She doesn’t smile. She’s dressed in threadbare clothes with several holes and stains. Her beat-up tennis shoes look equally due for replacement. She doesn’t look like she cares. There are scab marks over her hands. She carries a large bag that conspicuous squeaks emanate from.

The chubby boy makes his way up to the guards, hands stuck in his sweatshirt’s pockets.

“I’m here to see my… dad.”

Rocco: One of the doormen reveals a clipboard and asks for the chubby boy’s name as a formality. It’s not long before the trio are then directed into the hotel’s foyer. A young bellhop who looks no older than ten stands by the service desk with a neutral expression.

“It’s my pleasure to welcome you on behalf of your father, Andrew,” the small greets says, looking brightly up at the group. His voice is low and polite. “Please follow me. Your father’s party is on the top floor.”

The small boy leads the way. He eventually directs and patiently waits for the group to enter an elevator, taking an out-of-the-way position beside the lift’s console. He has to stretch on his toes to reach number twenty-six.

GM: The hoodie-wearing boy and his two companions follow the small child. Other guests continue to arrive. Gwendolyn Wade gets out from a Ryde, while a chaffeur opens the door to Becky Lynne’s silver Audi. Both Creoles wear shorter semiformal dresses.

“Oh, how lovely to see you, Miss Wade, fancy us arrivin’ at the same party. Now did you…” the Ventrue chats as they approach the casino. The faces of the other Storyvilles, Roxanne and Jocelyn, are already known to Caroline. There’s also a handsome young man with wavy brown hair wearing a black sports coat. Another one of the faces among the guests is known to Caroline from the trial: a well-endowed, comely young woman with messy blonde hair that falls to her waist. She’s somewhat dressed up in a cheap-looking pink party dress that still has a price tag attached to it. That has to be deliberate.

Last of all are two further apparent youths whose identities are unknown to Caroline. Both are dark-skinned and look anywhere from their late teens to early twenties. Their short hair is braided into cornrows, and their garb hovers somewhere between practical and street casual: scuffed baggy jeans, thick cotton gray sweatshirts, and heavy work boots. Their wide, strong-angled but hairless faces and loose, curve-hiding clothing makes it difficult to identify their genders.

“What, you’re just walking in without me like an asshole?” the messy-haired blonde calls towards the plump boy who’s already well inside the building.

The boy turns away from the elevator. “No, Arzie, it’s not like-”

“Yeah, I bet it’s not. And here I got all dressed up for you.”

“You look like you got that from Herricks’ clearance rack.”

“Stole it on my way here, actually, but good guess.”

The Storyvilles watch the Nosferatu’s display with visible distaste.

“I reckon that makes you a speedier dresser than me, Miss Boudon,” Becky Lynne laughs. “Lord knows how long it took me to decide what to wear, but there you went, decidin’ the same as me after you stepped out the door! There’s really no color that pairs with blonde like a good, feminine pink, now is there?”

The Ventrue’s own dress is a paler hue of the same color, even if its origins look a good deal less… shoplifted.

Caroline: Caroline’s own appearance is subdued, arriving via Ryde in her typical black. The already tall Ventrue towers over the masses in heels. To a casual observation she looks well-fed, but there’s a tightness too her motions and expressions, like a coiled spring. There’s pressure there and energy ready to burst into motion. Potential energy waiting for release.

Rocco: The bored-looking security guards ask for the names of each newcomer. A dark-haired woman recognizable as Hound Agnello’s herald appears inside the main foyer, ready to greet the latest slew of guests. She keeps a particular eye on the uninvited blonde, though. She can easily be seen waiting and watching through the hotel’s glass doors.

GM: Among the new names Caroline hears are June and Cleo, the two cornrow-haired apparent youths. June is the one to introduce a silent Cleo. The male Kindred sticking with the other Storyvilles is Wyatt. Becky Lynne gives her name as Rebecca, “Though if they’re callin’ me by first name, it’s usually Becky Lynne instead.”

Roxanne Gerlette looks less than pleased by the guard’s bored look, and sharply tells him to show respect towards his employers’ guests.

“Yeah, guess not,” Arzilla Boudon responds to Becky Lynne with an almost wary tone. A devious grin spreads across her face at Roxanne’s words as she saddles up to the nearest of the bored guards. “Aw, slow night, boys? All you need is a lil’ sugar.” She abruptly pulls the man into a full french kiss.

Caroline: Caroline watches the pair of crass displays from closer to Becky Lynne and trades a glance with the much shorter blonde Venture. She offers no comment on the pink dresses.

Rocco: The guard abruptly pulls away from the blond woman, eyes bulging as he wipes spittle from his mouth. For a moment he just dry-wretches. Then a stream of vomit spews from his mouth as he keels over. “Hol-ly sh-shit!” he gags.

The other doorman, initially flabbergasted and perplexed at his partner, rushes to his partner’s prone form.

“Jerry!” he yells. “What’sa matter with you?”

“It’s disgusting, Phil!” Jerry yells back, wiping bile from his mouth. “She’s fucking disgusting! I can’t get the taste out of my fucking mouth!” The man’s eyes are red and watering. He turns his head and pukes over the sidewalk again.

“Shit! I am so, so sorry!” Phil says, looking up at the group of newly arrived guests. “Please! Please just go inside!”

GM: Arzilla blows the gagging man a kiss as she walks off. A few of the other invited Kindred cast glances that range from amused to disapproving to indifferent.

Becky Lynne smiles at Caroline, seemingly paying no mind to the nearby commotion. “What an unexpected pleasure to see you here, Miss Malveaux. You’re acquainted with Mr. Agnello?” she asks, notably using a mortal form of address.

“I guess that’s one way to speed up the line,” Jocelyn remarks to Wyatt.

Andy just gives a few snorf-like laughs. “It’s okay anyways, guys, my dad knows them all.”

Caroline: “We met briefly at an event, and again at church,” Caroline offers. “A charming man, relative to his peers.”

She looks over at the vomiting guard. “And it seems he throws quite a party.”

GM: “How lucky for you, Miss Malveaux. The good hound is a good friend to have.”

Caroline: “One of many.” She smiles sweetly at the other Ventrue.

Rocco: The clicking of heels against hard tiling breaks up the small conversation. The dark-haired woman watching the group earlier approaches.

“It’s my pleasure to welcome you all on behalf of Mr. Agnello,” she says, offering the group a gloomy smile.

“It’s Mr. Agnello’s wish that you all go up in small groups,” she explains, “so that he may properly welcome each of you into his home.”

The ghoul gives a demure laugh as she eyes their reactions. The ghoul then looks to the twin youths and the hoodie-wearing overweight young man.

“It’s Mr. Agnello’s wish that his family go up to greet him first,” she says, indicating the three.

“Please follow Simon to the elevator and he will take you to the twenty-sixth floor.”

The young boy leading Andrew earlier peeks his head out from an elevator, smiling brightly at the group. He waits for the trio of ‘family members’ to enter the elevator with him.

GM: “Oh hey, Bella,” Andrew remarks as the three Gangrel make their way over to the elevator. Rocco’s childe catches a look from Arzilla, who he motions to come along with him.

Rocco: The two ghouls remain quiet on the matter, cordially accepting Andrew’s wish to bring along Arzilla. They both appear suitably blank-faced.

GM: The four neonates step in. There are looks from some of the other Kindred, but they soon turn back to talking amongst themselves—or their ghoul attendants, in the cases of those who’ve brought servants.

Another car soon arrives with a comely curly-haired Kindred in a tight red dress who Caroline saw in passing at Blaze. Annabelle knows better as one of the guests. She asks the others what they’re “waiting around for,” then joins a soon-forming clique with Gwen and Jocelyn.

Rocco: Bella simply smiles blandly, waiting patiently for Simon to return to bring the next group of guests up.

Caroline: The tension of the coiled spring that is Caroline only seems to tighten down at Bella’s declaration of the hound’s intent: that most of the group be kept waiting. Then you should stagger your invitations, she thinks to herself, even knowing that it isn’t actually about that.

Keeping them waiting is about the same things that having her evicted a day before the meeting was about: showing power. How little he needs to care about them and their time. It all but screams ’you’re on my time’. Her uncles are fond of the tactic: she knows Matt habitually schedules meetings with subordinates 15 minutes early so that he’s never kept waiting and they often are.

GM: It doesn’t endear them to him, but they never waste the middle Malveaux brother’s time that way. He considers it an acceptable trade.

Most of the neonates simply chatter among themselves. Becky Lynne has a servant hand over an Sunpad that and connected Bluetooth that she starts tapping on and requesting that someone on the other end “please run these figures for me, will you?”

Her father’s recommended “counterattack” was to never let whoever is keeping you waiting feel like they are able to waste your time.

Rocco: The group is only left waiting a few minutes before the elevator doors re-open and the young, impressionable-looking boy rejoins them with an infectious smile.

“Lady Rebecca Adler, Advocate and Speaker,” she says, addressing Becky Lynne Adler in a formal, respectful tone, “if you would be so kind as to follow Simon to meet with Mr Agnello on the top floor.”

The young boy directs his smile at Becky Lynne, beaming up at the pretty Southern belle.

GM: Becky Lynne spares the ghoul her own a smile and a “thank you most kindly” back, but doesn’t stop talking into the headset. Her assistant follows her in with the tablet.

Rocco: The group is left waiting a few more minutes once again, although eventually Simon returns a third time, this time taking the curly-haired Kindred up with him. The Storyvilles and Caroline are left waiting another few more minutes.

GM: By this point, most of the krewe are looking noticeably irked.

“This is the stupidest power game I’ve ever seen,” Jocelyn mutters in a low voice.

Rocco: Eventually, Simon returns to take Caroline and the Storyville Krewe up to the twenty-sixth floor. The young boy looks positively delighted, reaching up on his toes to press the button in the elevator to take them to the party and meet with the others.

GM: All of the neonates glare as they step in.

Rocco: The young boy, sensing the mood, bows his head in silence. Perhaps he’s afraid they will reprimand him.

Caroline: Caroline says nothing to the boy, her cold, hard, eyes seeming to stare through him. She slides into the elevator near Jocelyn.

Rocco: The elevator lightly jolts and the small group feels a sense of moving up. Unobtrusive elevator music plays in the background as numbered lights at the top of the lift ding with each passing floor.

Eventually, the small group reach the 26th floor. The elevator doors open with the smallest jolt and reveal a spacious, richly-decorated room. A plain-faced musician plays the grand piano. Murmurs of polite conversation are also audible.

A boyish-faced, wavy-haired young man dressed in a plum-colored suit approaches the group. His light, purposeful walk is reminiscent of a cat’s stride. Simon looks up at him with naked reverence. The young man greets the group with a bow from the waist.

“I am glad you were all able to make it to my small get-together.”

Caroline: Caroline regards the hound warily, like a predator backed into a corner. Twice before she took him at face value, and twice before she’s come out the loser for it, despite all of his benign—or even benevolent—intentions. The boyish face is a lie, the smile a jest at all the world. Evil wears many faces.

But then, it also wears her own.

“How could I refuse, Hound Agnello?” Caroline asks with a smile that doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “Your invitation was as unexpected as waking up with your face glued to the floor, but fortunately much more pleasant. It’s a beautiful venue.” She gestures to the room.

Rocco: “I very well couldn’t hold a party without someone as noteworthy as yourself, Miss Malveaux,” the Gangrel mafioso replies, charmingly. “I very well couldn’t hold a party without a krewe as notable as the Storyvilles in any case, either.”

GM: “That’s kind of you, Hound Agnello,” Roxanne answers. Her krewe-mates offer several similar platitudes.

Rocco: “You’re welcome, Miss Gerlette.” Hound Agnello then looks to Simon who is still staring up at his domitor with adoring eyes. “You can receive the refreshments for our guest now, Simon,” he says, looking back to his newly arrived guests with a confident, raised brow as he continues, allowing the group to enter the room and experience the full atmosphere. The small, well-dressed boy springs to action right away, passing a corner as he receives the ‘refreshments’.

Caroline: Truly a personal meeting worth waiting for, Caroline thinks with bitter humor.

“Don’t worry, Hound Agnello, I promise not to get any blood on your nice hardwood floor,” she replies in seeming good humor at his remark about her noteworthiness.

Rocco: “It’s always nice to have such a thoughtful guest,” the hound remarks ruefully, “especially when I plan to formally invite you as a tenant as part of the celebrations tonight.”

Caroline: Caroline shows little surprise at the invitation. “That’s very generous of you, Hound Agnello, especially given how your domain seems to be flourishing.”

Rocco: “You’re too kind, Miss Malveaux. I think it’s important as a show of solidarity and goodwill to establish good ties with the rising stars of our covenant,” he adds, praising her in front of the Storyville Krewe.

“It didn’t escape my notice that you managed to embarrass and thwart the now defunct Eight-Nine-Six on more than one occasion. The fact you managed such a thing on your own is more-so impressive.”

Caroline: “Not entirely on my own,” Caroline deflects gently. “Your other guests here,” she gestures to the Storyvilles, “were instrumental in helping as they grew increasingly unstable.”

Rocco: Hound Agnello appears suitably impressed as his focus is directed to the Storyville Krewe.

“It’s a wonder you haven’t formally invited Miss Malveuax to join the Storyville Krewe,” Rocco says rather offhandedly. “That’s quite impressive.”

GM: The Storyvilles, for their part, continue to converse among themselves as they wait for Simon to arrive with the refreshments.
“We’re closed for new members right now,” Roxanne answers at Rocco’s remark. “Miss Malveaux has a promising enough track record, but we don’t feel it’s a good time with one of our founding members still missing.”

Rocco: “I’ve actually been looking into what happened to Mr. Bourelle,” Rocco says with a thoughtful look on his face as he holds his chin. “There’s certainly some peculiarities in his disappearance.”

GM: “Most of the other Kindred we talked to had the same opinion,” Roxanne grants.

Rocco: “I admit part of the reason I invited your group is to discuss his disappearance in detail,” the hound continues, smiling. “I understand the last time Mr. Bourelle was seen was entering the Baron’s territory. It certainly breeds questions.”

GM: “We last turned up that he was in New Orleans East,” Jocelyn says with a puzzled frown.

Rocco: “That is very interesting.” Rocco adds, “I can look into the matter some more, make sense of our conflicting accounts for a small price if you’ll humor me.”

GM: “There’s always a price,” Wyatt ventures. Not quite a quip, and not quite somber either.

Rocco: The hound laughs, taking on a more boyish demeanor. “You’re quite right, Mr. Jenkins,” he replies, “but I assure you all it’s rather simple.”

He sets his eyes on Caroline.

“I consider myself a proud proponent of my faith and supporter of my covenant. I consider myself personally responsible for our newest members’ betterment.”

“Which brings me to my point. I want Miss Malveaux to join the Storyville Krewe. I’d be wholly irresponsible if I didn’t expect a tenant of mine to be under the protection and guidance of one of our foremost coteries.”

GM: The Storyvilles trade brief looks with one another. They’re less than comfortable ones.

“We’re honored by your consideration, Hound Agnello,” says Roxanne. “We’d like to find Evan, though, before we induct any new members.”

“We’re just not in a good space right now,” says Gwen.

“We’d be glad to trade a boon or whatever else for anything you might know,” Jocelyn adds.

Rocco: Rocco’s smile lessens, turning away from the conversation in apparent boredom.

“It appears your refreshments have arrived,” he says coolly.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite squirm, but can’t hide her discomfort about the exchange from Rocco. It’s embarrassing for all parties involved. Rocco caught without knowing the game, much less all the cards on the table. Roxanne without the ability to offer a satisfactory answer. And herself as the source of it all.

GM: Gwen looks more than a little disomfited by the hound’s cool tone. Jocelyn and Wyatt look uncomfortable too. Roxanne hides it better than her krewemates, but Caroline’s assessment seems apt. Embarrassing for all parties involved.

The Storyvilles look towards the center of the room and the approaching Simon.

Rocco: Simon is flanked by a group of six glassy-eyed mortals. They appear look like lobotomies dressed up in sensuously form-fitting attire. Empty smiles adorn each of their faces in caricature. Simon presents the ‘refreshments’ with a flourish of his hand and another deep, respectful bow.

“I hope these ‘refreshments’ are to your liking,” the small boy chirps, continuing to bow, withdrawing from the group with backward steps.

“Thank you, Simon.” Hound Agnello claims one of the kine first, leisurely pulling a woman to his side.

GM: The awkwardness in the air fades just a bit as the Storyvilles turn to regard their vessels. Most are black women, their faces dolled up with heavy rouge and blood-red lipstick that emphasizes their large lips. They are clad in wide, tightly crisscrossing strips of cashmere leather that reveals at least as much as it conceals. The largest gaps are left along their bellies, thighs, and breast areas. Knee-high stiletto-heeled boots of the same cashmere leather hug their legs up the knee. The leather’s muted red-brown texture goes with their dark skin like flakes of cinnamon over chocolate pudding. Their long curly hair hangs wild and loose, like free-floating smoke any of the neonates could inhale. All present Kindred look notably aroused, including Roxanne.

The other Kindred mill about the room as the pianist plays. They appear divided into two cliques. Andrew and Arzilla are talking with, or perhaps simply talking to Becky Lynne, for the rat-faced boy is snickering over something while the Ventrue wears the same unwavering smile as before. The two dark-skinned androgynous Kindred are conversing with the shapely redhead. Or at least, one of them is. The slightly shorter of the pair seems to be listening but speaks little. The redhead is anything but, and grins as she leans against the half-exposed chest of a tall, tan-skinned man.

“Just look at this one. Italian and Puerto Rican… dangerous combination,” she purrs, stroking his biceps.

There look to be about as many of the scantily-attired, vacant-faced kine as there are Kindred. One of them is a blonde girl who Caroline recognizes from a few functions. Bentley Downs. She’s the daughter of Alec Downs, the fifty-something president of a boat-building company and Lakeview’s Southern Yacht Club, which her Uncle Matt also belongs to (though he’s always had more interest in cars than yachts). Caroline remembers talking to Alec at Cécilia’s charity event, though Bentley wasn’t there. The twenty-something college graduate still lives with her father, and last Alec mentioned at Em’s party, was trying out being a talent agent.

Right now she looks like a whore in the outfit Rocco (or his ghouls) have picked out. Next to the black women and half-Latin man, her white skin particularly stands out against the cashmere leather, making her seem all the more naked and exposed. She wears the same vacuous smile as her fellows.

Caroline: The sight of the fellow socialite dressed as a whore and paraded as little more than mindless walking cattle brings a sick feeling to Caroline’s stomach. Not for the vapid girl, but for how easily it could have been her, or anyone she knew.

For not the first time she wonders how many holes in her memory exist from her mortal years, what pushes and pulls were exerted on her, and how much of her life was really her own. Was she ever a doll at a party like this? The ease with which mortals can be controlled does not leave her missing her mortal life, even as her condition provides only a marginal protection against it. As much as she has been controlled by forces from the outside as one of the Damned, there exists at least the outside potential for her to carve out a path of her own. As just another one of the kine, her fate was a certain as that of any animal at the slaughterhouse.

GM: Meanwhile, as the six enthralled kine halt in front of the Storyvilles, so too do the eyes of the eyes of the other six Kindred guests come to settle upon Rocco, as if waiting for some word or speech now that all of the presumed guests have arrived.

Rocco: Hound Agnello cannot help smiling. “I am glad to see such hungry eyes,” the hound says. “It warms my heart knowing the effort my servants and I put into tonight’s party isn’t underappreciated. We are creatures of the night, of course. We are blood-drinking, immoral monsters. We are wolves among the mortal flock.” The hound looks about the room as all Kindred eyes fall upon him. “This is a night to enjoy ourselves,” he says, “but it’s also a night to reflect on our natures and the laws that our Kindred hold sacrament. It’s also a night I wish to use to welcome and extend a formal invitation to my domain.”

A motley of ghoulish mafiosos enter the spacious room, pulling in a couple of struggling, tied-up mortals. Their leader is dark of hair, dark of eye, and dark of expression, but still handsome enough. He carries a gold-pommeled walking stick against his shoulder, brandishing the item like a club. Caroline recognizes him from Perdido House.

“We are not monsters without reason!” Hound Agnello calls fervently. He then gives the goateed ghoul a meaningful look.

Caroline: She listens to Rocco’s speech as she surveys the room, ‘her’ kind wrapped up in his words and the mortals surrounding them, picked out for them. She pauses her examination only as Rocco pauses, his smoldering gaze locked on the handsome ghoul with the walking stick.

GM: As Caroline’s gaze sweeps the room, it becomes apparent that Bentley isn’t the only mortal she knows.

She almost doesn’t recognize Emily Rosure, the med student at TMC she’s ‘acquainted’ herself with. The moderately tall, black-haired woman is dressed up in the same revealing leather attire as the others instead of her dreary hospital garb. She looks as delectable and vacantly content as any of the other vessels.

Caroline: The sight sends another shiver through Caroline. It feels wrong, invasive, seeing these people she knows like this. Dressed as cheap whores, treated like worse. It’s worse than spying on them in the midst of an intimate act.

Rocco: The pair of tied-up mortals watch on with confused, darkened eyes. The messy, crumpled appearances of both suggest a struggle. They are dressed in boxer shorts and singlets. It looks like they were taken or abducted while they were still sleeping.

“I want you to kill the son first,” Hound Agnello orders, directing his gaze to the younger of the pair. “The son’s sins are the fault of the father’s, so the father must suffer most.”

GM: The father, a portly older man with receding graying hair and crow’s feet around his eyes, is silent throughout the hound’s bizarre (to a mortal) speech.

He gapes incredulously at the sheer abruptness of Rocco’s declaration at its end. This can’t be real.

Caroline: The turn towards violence is not particularly surprising, but it is startling. Her lips press into a thin line.

GM: But it is real. All-too real.

The ghoul cracks his cane across the equally stupefied young man’s face. There’s a sickening crunch from his nose, flecks of red, and a hard thump as the youth’s head smacks against the floor. He screams and strains against his bonds. The father screams too—that he’ll pay Rocco back. Pay him back double. Triple, even. The ghoul brings down the cane again. There’s another gory crack. Two more screams. More drops of red, now over the ghoul’s tight-knuckled hands. He raises the cane again.

Again. Again. And again.

There’s no art to what the ghoul does. No finesse. Not even any spectacle. Just the sickening crunch of human bones shattering and white flesh being beaten red, then blue, then black. The man screams the entire time. The father finally just screams his son’s name, over and over as he sobs. “Paulie! Paulie! PAAAAUULLIEEE!” The son’s cries grow increasingly raw, hoarse, and unintelligible. The ghoul’s body isn’t spattered with blood, but he really went to work on Paulie’s nose, and his hands drip red.

The smell in the air, even past blood’s heady coppery aroma, is exceedingly foul. Killing human beings is messy business even with efficient instruments, and a cane is not an efficient instrument. The father’s screams finally give way to broken sobs. It would be hard to call what comes next mercy, for the man’s fate is the same as his son’s. Just as long. Just as messy. Just as brutal. The ghoul with the red-slick hands wordlessly looks up at his boss once the all but pulverized corpse has stopped twitching.

The silence in the room is deafening.

Caroline doubts this is the first death any of the room’s Kindred room has witnessed. But the sheer abruptness, savagery, and lack of pretension or spectacle around the cold-blooded murders seems to have left the still-young vampires at an absence for words.

Their collective eyes slowly turn towards Rocco.

Caroline: Caroline’s glad she no longer eats: the scene might have made her lose her lunch. She’s killed, and more than once. But never so coldly. Never so brutally. Never so senselessly.

GM: Even more tellingly than their eyes, though, are the fangs jutting from the vampires’ lips. Already titillated by the far comelier and more enticing vessels, the room of predators cannot help but show themselves for what they are. Even the so-often smiling Becky Lynne displays two obvious white fangs past her lips.



It takes a moment before the gathered crowd seems to be conscious of that. That they are not merely stunned bystanders. A new feeling seems to slowly settle over many of the gathered Kindred, one that offers all the comfort of a soaked blanket:


Caroline: Caroline’s gaze sweeps the room, skips over Jocelyn’s toothy vestige, slides off Becky Lynne, tries to pretend she isn’t seeing what she’s seeing. Maybe it’s the smell, not quite right. Maybe it’s her relative ‘youth’. Her face is carved from marble and just as smooth.

GM: Jocelyn looks… uncertain, more than anything else. There’s shock, if not horror, but most of all, confusion. Her eyes have moved towards Rocco’s, as if in search of some answer. Some explanation to cast events in a new light.

Becky Lynne’s expression is simply present. Neither smiling nor frowning. Neither condemning nor approving. Neither soft nor hard. Simply present. Her eyes don’t waver from Rocco’s.

Rocco: Rocco watches the gory show with a bemused look in his eyes. His smile never leaves his face.

“We are monsters, but we are not monsters without reason,” the hound repeats leisurely. “I don’t take pleasure in death, but I won’t shy away from my nature as a wolf among sheep. These men thought they could cheat in my house without repercussion. They thought to gamble their lives and even their family’s lives. Why gamble something as precious as life for so very little?”

The hound taps his chin thoughtfully, continuing to smile to himself. He laughs lightly.

“I suppose it’s time I get straight to my point, however,” the hound continues, “but I do hope you enjoyed the little show.”

Hound Agnello motions for all eyes to move to Caroline. He also signals for Emily Rosure to be by his side. He takes Emily’s hand and offers it to Caroline.

“If you would accept this vessel as a token of my offer, Miss Malveaux,” the hound says, “will you pledge me a tenant’s oath of fealty?”

Caroline: It’s hardly the first time Caroline has been placed on the spot in a crowd, and though she’s grown quite adept and managing such things, she’s never grown particularly comfortable with it. It attacks her sense of control, her sense of power. She likes to know the itinerary ahead of time, to know the acts and motions before they ever come up. Not that Kindred society has let her do that yet.

She smiles, the expressions not quite reaching her eyes. Decisions and calculations made in an instant. She’s not quite surprised—it’s another move along the series she’s already seen from the hound. He likes to be in control, likes decisive action, likes to place others off balance, and simultaneously show his own power and influence. Very different from Donovan, in ways both good and ill. Unpredictable, but predictable in it.

Her gaze sweeps over the room, just once, building that second of anticipation for her answer. Respond too quickly and you risk appearing scripted, or overeager. Besides, it gives the crowd a moment to turn its gaze, for the slower thinkers to catch up to what is happening.

It’s not as though she has much choice right now. Even if she could decline, to do so here, now, in public, would make an enemy of the hound. He’s stacked the deck so heavily, boxed her in. It would hurt his pride. She has enemies enough right now. It does beg the question of why he’s so interested. Simply opportunistic? Part of another plot? Does he know? Questions that she doesn’t have answers to as she speaks.

“Hound Agnello, you do me too much the honor by asking.” The smile doesn’t slip.

She remembers her discussions with others about Rocco as a landlord. His preferences and inclinations. Her gaze bores into the hound.

“And with the details pending,” there’s a hint of a real smile there, “it would be my honor to accept.”

GM: The other nine Kindred don’t yet applaud, but look back towards Rocco once Caroline accepts. Attentions still seem half-split, or at least still somewhat shaken by the cold-blooded murders… this is no audience of jaded elders.

Rocco: Nonetheless, Rocco isn’t shy about showing violence to neonates. It does them good.

“That is an excellent answer, Miss Malveaux,” he says, clearly pleased with the outcome. He gives Emily’s hand to Caroline, offering the vessel to Caroline as a token of their public, newly-formed agreement.

He then turns to the rest of the gathered neonates.

“Business is done,” the hound says with a humorous lilt to his voice, “and so I encourage you all to simply enjoy yourselves now.”

Rocco then steps away from the limelight, casually disentangling himself from Caroline and the Storyville Krewe.

GM: “Then might we begin by offerin’ our congratulations to Miss Malveaux on her new tenancy. And to you, Hound Agnello, on your domain’s new tenant. May her pending oath bring much prosperity to you both,” Becky Lynne finally smiles as she offers a light round of applause. The other ten-some Kindred follow suit in clapping.

The ghoul, meanwhile, starts to carry off the two bodies.

Rocco approaches Amaryllis, and finds he needs to do very little cajoling to get Veronica’s childe to take the stage—though she does tease him about “flying by the seat of his pants.” But then, she continues, “that’s just how you do things, isn’t it? Shoot first. Ask questions never,” the Toreador purrs, running a hand along his chest.

At least she isn’t grabbing him by the balls.

“Hey… Angel Eyes! Hol’ up tha’ skank, s’my turn on the stage!” slurs a voice.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa. That’s the first comparison Rocco can’t help but draw with the thin-waisted, willowy-figured young woman who’s swaying precariously in her tall heels as she addresses him. Her subsequent hiccup and clearly inebriated state as she swishes from a bottle of something alcoholic only further cements the impression that she’s about to topple over. She’s hazel-eyed and dark-haired, and features that would normally be pretty if not sultry are bleary and unfocused from drink.

“You don’t look like you could even find your way up,” Amaryllis scoffs.

“Wash’ me!” the newcomer slurs. Without waiting for any response from Rocco, she stumbles her way up to the microphone set by the piano. The seated player starts to say something before she waves her bottle precariously close to his head, spilling a small stream of booze over his shirt.

“Geez, lady-!”

The woman grabs up the microphone. “I heard thish ’un from a… nother singer I… like…”

She takes another pull from the bottle.

“Like uh flower… ben’ing in th’… breezhe, dansh wi’ me… make me…”

“No, fuck, ish ‘ben wi’ me’,” she mumbles, taking another pull. “Beeeeen’ wimne, swaaaay wi’ me… no, ease… fuck it.”

“When we dance you have a waaaaaay wimme…”
“Staaaay wimme… swaaaay… wimme…”
“Staaaay with… me, swaaaaay with mee…”
“Sw… swaaaay, with…”

The woman’s voice falters as her face turns green. She abruptly drops the bottle, which shatters as it hits the floor, then doubles over and throws up.

“Oh, god!” the piano player exclaims, recoiling in disgust. The looks on the room’s gathered Kindred acutely mirror his own. Only the dressed-up vessels continue to smile vacantly.

The woman screams as she lands bottom-first on the bottle’s clear fragments, though it also might be over the vomit messily running down the front of her tight dress. She drunkenly tries to half-crawl, half-drag herself away from the glass-littered floor, screaming “ows!” but only succeeds in further cutting her hands and thighs. A coppery red aroma bleeds across the room. She slumps to a stop, holds up her cut and vomit-smeared hands, and abruptly starts crying.

“Oh, g-god! God! OH, G-GOD!”

Caroline: It’s like dropping a bag of dimes in a room full of Goldenbergs. Caroline awkwardly watches the scene, waiting on someone to claim their ghoul.

GM: No one does. The Kindred in the room, even entwined with their vessels, cannot help but stop and stare at the scene. A bizarre blend of equal parts disgust and arousal is written on many faces.

“What the hell is this?” Roxanne snaps over the woman’s crying.

Caroline: “A lost lamb?” Caroline offers with a hint of amusement in her voice.

GM: Arzilla laughs. “Your bad luck, lil’ lamb…”

Caroline: “Is it?”

Caroline’s heels click across the floors. She draws to a stop before the sobbing mortal. So close the blood in the air is so tempting, even to the well-fed Ventrue.

GM: The smashed-drunk woman only seems to half-take in the vampires’ talk as she wipes her hands over her dress. She blearily looks up as Caroline approaches.

Caroline: “You seem to have lost your drink,” she observes, not unkindly. “I guess it’s that kind of party.”

GM: “Oh, g-god, I’m a m-mess…” the woman whines softly.

Rocco: A small, sympathetic smile crosses Hound Agnello’s face as he approaches the prone figure of the drunk, nonsensical singer. His words come soft and soothing.

“Miss Matranga,” he says, helping the woman up and holding her steady, “do you want some help to the bathroom so you can get cleaned up, so you can perform?” He ignores the blood-hungry eyes watching the exchange.

GM: The rugged-looking ghoul who beat the two men to death also moves to steady the woman.

“She’s drunk off her ass, boss. Again. She should be in bed.”

The woman grogs as the two pull her up. The heady scent of her vitae wafts up Rocco’s nostrils. He has not taken a vessel for his own.

Rocco: Hound Agnello gives the handsome ghoul a blank, almost-unreadable look, nodding his head softly.

“You’re right, Guilo,” he answers, finally looking around to smile devilishly at all the curious onlookers. “Thank you for your concern, and do I hope you’ll forgive my short absence while I take Miss Matranga to bed. Please continue to enjoy yourselves and I promise to return shortly.” He motions for Guilo to help carry the singer to the elevator.

GM: Guilo pulls one of her arms around his shoulder, letting Rocco do the same with her other one. ‘Miss Matranga’ groans and says something unintelligible. The elevator doors close over the three’s faces.

For a moment, with the cat away, the mice are left free to make play.

Wednesday night, 23 September 2015, PM

GM: But the cat is not that far off. Perhaps sensing the imminence of his return, the gathered Kindred limit themselves to gawking over the recent spectacle. Wyatt remarks the woman probably isn’t going to come back. Gwen says she might, depending what sins she’s guilty of. Roxanne scoffs that she’s guilty of making a mess of herself in public, for one. Arzilla snickers that she thought it was funny. Andy concurs. The two nameless black Kindred say nothing, but look towards Amaryllis when she takes the microphone. The Toreador’s song prompts Jocelyn to muse about the starkly illustrated differences between Kindred and mortal performers. There was art in this, in a way. Arzilla laughs that “you divas would find art in your own shit, if you still shat out any.” “Aren’t you sewer rats the ones rolling in shit?” Jocelyn retorts. The back-and-forth, however, ends once Rocco returns. Becky Lynne initiates another round of polite applause once Amaryllis steps down. “That was lovely, Miss DeCur, just lovely.”

All the present Kindred partake of their vessels. Some, like Amaryllis, take slowly and savoringly. Others like Andrew chow down once, lapping up as much blood as they can, as fast as they can. Becky Lynne takes sups from her vessel at a more measured pace, perhaps little surprise to Rocco when he spots Andrew drinking from the scantily-attired kine he’d selected for the Ventrue. Nevertheless, Matheson’s childe makes no mention of it to Rocco or his own progeny. Caroline, however, may be pleased to note the presence of a dark-skinned, sultry- (if somewhat worn-)looking woman who tastes ‘like college’ to her refined palate.

No one drinks too deeply. Once the last Kindred have finished partaking