Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood & Bourbon

======================================== NAVIGATION: CAMPAIGN SIDE ========================================
======================================== NAVIGATION: DASHBOARD SIDE ========================================
Caroline V, Chapter II
Antoine Savoy

“‘If all the world’s a stage, the set pieces in ours are all blacks and grays. It’s so rare that one gets to don a white costume.”
René Baristheaut

Wednesday afternoon, 23 September 2015

GM: It’s the same fatal heart attack in reverse that it was last time. Caroline’s body is numb, as if every part of it but her brain is asleep. Then she feels blood shooting through her arteries (her heart does not beat), her paralyzed limbs tingling and growing flush.

There’s a loud banging sound against the wood. “Wake up, Caroline. Wake up.”

Caroline: The Ventrue recognizes the grogginess of another day awakening and stirs, her eyes snapping own with the wariness of a cornered predator.

GM: Her mother stares down at her. She doesn’t waste any time as she continues, “Get up. This place is compromised. Matt’s about to know you’ve trashed his house. Well, even more compromised.”

Caroline: “What?” She works her way warily to her feet. “What time is it?”

GM: “It’s 2 PM. Luke came by your house and saw what state it was in.”

Caroline: “Of course he did.” She bites her lip. “I guess it makes sense I’d get evicted on both ends.”

GM: Her mother’s arms are crossed as Caroline hauls herself out of the floor. Looking up, Claire’s face looks extremely irritated.

Caroline: “What?” Caroline asks stiffly. Defensively.

GM: “Do you remember what I said last night? To touch base with the rest of the family?”

Caroline: “Do you remember that we were talking until after 10 and most of them don’t keep my same hours and that midnight messages on a Tuesday don’t go over well?” her daughter responds.
“I’d planned to do it tonight.”

GM: “Messages at midnight don’t go over well? Well, as it turns out, what goes over even worse is displaying no reaction to news of your brother’s death for a whole of two days. Especially after I’ve already played the ‘misplaced phone’ excuse for you.”

Caroline: “I didn’t have a good answer,” Caroline replies. “‘Sorry I didn’t respond sooner, let’s meet in 20 hours and I won’t respond all day again because my schedule is too full without a job or school?’ seemed in poor taste.”

GM: Claire only shakes her head. “I already told the family I’d come by and given you the news. In any case, Roger is coming by to ‘check on things’, and he’s going to expect to see you here. As the narrative I spun last time had you lying in bed all day. Now, after Roger comes over, Matt is also probably coming by to see what the damage is to his house. What do you want to do?”

Caroline: Caroline could scream in frustration. “How bad is it downstairs?”

GM: “Better than yesterday, I suppose.”

Caroline: “I can’t exactly go down and greet them under the circumstances… and in some ways this may be better than the alternative.” She shakes her head. “The meeting with the sheriff did not go well last night.”

GM: Her mother waits.

Caroline: “I’ve been bought out of my lease in Riverbend and have until 4 AM tomorrow to leave. Any future visits will be treated with hostility.”

GM: “All right. So what do you want to do right now?”

Caroline: Caroline digs in the floor near where she rested and pulls out a small bag from which she produces her rental car keys. “Park it on the street. I wasn’t here when you got here. I don’t expect Roger is going to go searching the attic for me. We can try to manage fallout tonight. Something about how distressed I was over the news.” She looks at her mother. “Unless you have a better answer? ‘Hi Uncle Matt, sorry I can’t leave the hall or approach any windows.’”

GM: “This was entirely avoidable,” her mother scowls as she takes the keys. “What if Matt tries to call you? Missing and still not answering your phone?”

Caroline: “I’ll stay up. Or try to,” Caroline responds. “But tonight isn’t much better. I have meetings with the Albino and Savoy at 9 and 10.”

GM: “The family isn’t going to get off your back just because it isn’t convenient for your schedule,” her mother angrily repeats. “They’re extremely alarmed over you right now, Caroline. God only knows what stories are spreading that I’m not hearing. At this point, faking your death definitely seems for the best, given what a poor job you’ve done at maintaining your kind’s Masquerade.”

Caroline: The words hit her harder than a slap, and Caroline falls very silent.

GM: “And that doesn’t just affect you,” her mother continues. “You put the entire family at risk when you do that. Do you remember what happened last time, when Gabriel and Aimee looked too closely into your odd behavior?”

Caroline: She knows her mother is hurting. She knows that she’s trying to put on a brave face. Knows all that she has going on, the danger she’s facing and the horror of her daughter as one of the beings she’s sent most of her life hunting.

And despite that knowing, it doesn’t hurt any less when her mother throws her ‘failures’ in her face. She wants to lash out. Wants to throw hurtful words back. Wants to accuse her mother just as cruelly of not protecting her, not protecting Westley, and never even giving them a chance to protect themselves. She wants to scream that she didn’t ask for any of this, that none of it has been fair. That every night of her Requiem has been twisted and pulled upon by her sire and his servants to ruin it, to ruin her. That she’s been tortured, beaten, and mind-raped a dozen times over. That she’s been hunted and victimized. That every morning she struggles to find a reason to crawl back into the darkness instead of meeting the rising sun.

She wants to scream that none of it has gone her way, and that all of her plans have been ruined with a brutal disregard that could not have been more targeted to destroy them if it had been completely intentional. That she doesn’t set meetings or decide upon her freedoms. That it isn’t her fault. She wants to break down and weep. She wants someone to hold her like she was held, if only so rarely, as a child and tell her things are going to be all right. She wants to explain everything she’s endured and hear sympathy, not scorn. She wants to talk about what she still has to do and hear reassurance instead of threats. She wants to believe it will get better. She needs to believe it will get better. That there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

She shoves away her wants. She shoves away her needs. “I know,” she replies instead. “I know.”

GM: Silence lingers between the two. What the past few weeks have been like her mother, Caroline can approximate. What’s passed through her mother’s head then, and what passes through it now, the younger Malveaux cannot say.

“Do you? Because that doesn’t seem to have stopped you from putting their lives in danger yet again,” her mother finally answers. “Simply touching base with the family was all that I asked! I have enough going on in my life, including my existing responsibilities, setting your dead brother’s affairs in order, maintaining my own double life, and dealing with the fact that I blew my cover—for you—to also uphold the Masquerade in your place because you’re too damn careless or lazy! Grow up and stop throwing your problems onto other people!”

Caroline: If her mother’s first words hit like a slap, her followup cuts more readily than any knife. She grinds her teeth rather than let a reply escape.

GM: Her mother doesn’t quite sigh or glower. “What are you going to do tonight after you’ve talked with Matt?”

Caroline: Caroline holds back her response for a moment longer, biting down her anger and her pride. “Try to fit a meeting with members in the family in before the meeting with the Albino. Meet the Albino. Meet Savoy. Then try to find out where I’m going to sleep tomorrow.”

GM: “I still have a suite at the Monteleone, in the Quarter. I can’t imagine Savoy is in the habit of turning down favors younger leeches ask of him.”

Caroline: “I’m sure he isn’t, but even a visit with him is dangerous, much less asking favors.”

GM: Her mother shrugs. “I have somewhere else to be. Is there anything else I should know?”

Caroline: “The sheriff wants a direct line to you.”

GM: “Out of the question,” Claire responds.

Caroline: “So I told him. He threatened my execution if not arranged. When I objected further he threw me out.” Caroline doesn’t quite shrug,

GM: “I suppose I can see why he’d want a direct line, even beyond the usual reasons. I doubt he trusts you to so much as feed on victims unsupervised.”

Caroline: Again, the cruelty of her words bites at Caroline. Again the Ventrue bites back her tongue.

GM: “Do you think he was bluffing?”

Caroline: Caroline gives another not quite shrug. “I don’t know. He’s impossible to read. Probably not, but I don’t know if it’s his decision to make. It depends on how broadly ‘ceases to cooperate’ is interpreted. On the other hand, I can’t ask you to meet with him, even if it didn’t utterly compromise our position to do so.”

GM: Her mother thinks. “I will talk with him over the phone—your phone. And no, I won’t buy a disposable either, not when it means I’d still have to keep it near me. In return, I want my son’s body.”

Caroline: Caroline looks away. “I’ll pitch it.”

GM: “No physical meetings, Caroline,” Claire answers pointedly. “If he insists on that, then we’ll find out whether he was bluffing.”

Caroline: Caroline gives her best ‘bitch please’ look. “If you think I’d agree to that, you think even less of me than I ever thought.”

GM: “All right,” her mother says tiredly, rubbing her brow, “I have to go. I’ll call you later tonight.”

Caroline: “You have my itinerary,” Caroline replies.

GM: Claire takes her leave. Caroline crawls back into her hiding place. She feels so tired, and alone in the dark space, even uncomfortable as it is, it’s so hard not to fall back asleep. Eventually, though, her phone rings. The caller ID is her Uncle Matt’s.

Caroline answers in a groggy daze, half-registering the sounds of his voice asking what in God’s name happened to his house. Caroline makes out some further remarks that the first floor looks as if it’s been picked clean by jackals, while the second looks as if Katrina hit it.

She grogs something about not being able to handle the news of her brother’s death and going out drinking until she blacked out, not wanting to face the family. Matt says something about Caroline having gone ‘in’ drinking. He heard about that party she threw from her mother. The burning sun glares down from overhead. All the insulation in the world doesn’t feel like it’s enough as Caroline dimly registers her uncle saying he wants her out of his house. He gives her a move-out date that doesn’t matter, since it’s more than 24 hours away.

“The family is talking, Caroline. I’m beginning to see why,” are his last words as he hangs up.

Caroline: Caroline lays back on an uncomfortable bed of insulating fiberglass and wooden beams, feeling as hollow as the bones of the home in which she resides, like there is nothing left of her but this shell.

Wednesday night, 23 September 2015, PM

GM: At 9 PM, Caroline drives to Perdido House for confession with Father Malveaux. The albino priest receives her in the same bare room with its mounted lance and wooden confessional booth. Caroline begins with the ever-familiar words of “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” as her deathless relative waits to her an accounting of her transgressions. He also waits to hear how she performed the penance he assigned her last week.

Caroline: Caroline elaborates on how she has made contact with the Storyville Krewe and remains in contact with them, with the intention of joining retarded only by the events of the trial that occupied the city as a whole. She relates that she has not killed any further victims for concerns about concealing such a killing given all other events ongoing, but has repeatedly fed from those that repeat their sins and actively sought out several sinners, including those that have threatened good god-fearing folk, and that she will perform that penance when she is certain that doing so will not endanger the Masquerade: perhaps with the krewe so as to continue her education.

GM: Father Malveaux questions Caroline for some length about the kine she fed upon. He learns that by all indication, the college students in her informal herd found the experience actively pleasurable, and if anything are even less inclined to mend their ways than they were before. He does not appear happy.

The father’s displeasure seems to fade. He even appears pleased when Caroline talks about the torments she inflicted on Mouse in punishment for his stalking behavior.

That impression vanishes instantly when he hears of his younger clanmate’s crisis of conscience and how she splint and bandaged the young musician’s hands.

The dark confession booth is heavy with silence.

“You are a hare who would pantomime the countenance of a wolf,” Father Malveaux finally snarls, his rasping voice livid with disdain.

Caroline: “Would you have me lie to you, Father?” Caroline bites back. I doubt very many hares have left so many bodies behind, she thinks inwardly.

GM: Not only does the albino priest find her latest efforts “pathetic,” he is also irate that Caroline has failed to do as he instructed. If she believed the penance he assigned was impossible, she was to make her case during her prior confession when he initially assigned it—not when it was due. “Nor is it your prerogative to decide whether an assigned penance warrants completion,” he hisses.

Father Malveaux does not believe Caroline is taking her duties to the covenant at all seriously. He is especially wroth that this latest failure is occurring so soon after she was initiated into the Sanctified—which the older Ventrue clearly views as a mistake.

Prince Vidal himself anointed your brow, welcomed you into the church with open arms, and this is how you would repay him! For the honor he has shown you!” the albino veritably spits, his reddish eyes burning like coals.

Caroline: “No,” Caroline replies firmly.

GM: “And yet, it is how you have,” Father Malveaux rasps hatefully. “Still your sniveling tongue! Your penance for next week remains the same. Fail to do as I have instructed a third time, and I will recommend your excommunication to our prince. No longer shall our church offer succor to those who are false in their faith! No longer shall we suffer apostates and heretics to poison the body of Longinus!”

“‘Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols?’”

Heavy silence descends upon the confession both.

“My patience with you is at its end, childe,” the albino priest finally rasps, his voice a low hiss.

“Mend your ways.”

Wednesday night, 24 September 2015, AM

GM: Caroline is treated to an all-out assault on her senses as she steps into the palatial Royal Street club. First, she hears laughter, then the sound of bawdy jazz carried through the place by means of a state-of-the-art sound system. The twin smells of smoke and alcohol are no less omnipresent, and the fine décor, done primarily in the style of France’s ancien regime, would leave any of her uncles feeling well at home. The sight that greets her is a large, loud room full of carousing men and women lounging around on seemingly priceless antiques while classical jazz plays in the background.

GM: A tall and extraordinarily handsome Creole man in a white tux rises with a grin and strides towards Caroline. “Miss Malveaux! Welcome to the Evergreen Plantation, my dear. How does the evening find you?”

Caroline: The Ventrue tries to keep the scene of her raving ancestor out of her mind. She tries not to think about his threats, about the many swords hanging above her neck. She smiles at the handsome ghoul. “Thank you, and well enough.”

It’s a mercy that her body will never show signs of aging. Signs of exhaustion. Signs of weakness. God knows she feels both, wrapped around her like a burial shroud and tied tightly.

GM: “Splendid,” the ghoul beams in answer. He then motions away from the club’s well-heeled patrons. “Please, madam, right this way. Lord Savoy will see you at once.”

Caroline: The contrast from her meetings with the agents of her sire could not be more stark. Her sire, who she has only ever seen, and never truly met. Who cannot spare a moment for her, much less a meeting.

GM: The Creole man escorts Caroline to an old-fashioned gilded elevator with an elaborate iron pull gate. A preserved 1863 ‘greyback,’ or Confederate dollar bill, is framed and mounted just above the gate.

Caroline: There’s an irony to that bill that isn’t lost on her. Once worth its face value, then worth nothing, now worth far more than it ever was in its own time.

GM: The man steps inside with Caroline and presses the ‘up’ button. There’s the usual, brief sensation of the ground sinking beneath her feet, and then rising. Jazz drifts from the club. There is no ‘ding’ sound as the elevator reaches its stop—its burnished doors merely open to a rooftop, open-air garden that affords a spectacular view of the New Orleans skyline. Statues of fallen angels, some brooding by themselves, others locked in passionate embraces with their fellow elohim, are nestled among the garden’s trees, rose bushes, magnolias, and other fragrant-smelling flora. Blue-, orange-, and red-winged butterflies fly past gold cages containing chirping songbirds with exotic plumages displaying every color in the rainbow. A short ways off from them, a French marble jacuzzi patterned to resemble the ocean floor sits invitingly. Soft fluorescent blue lights cast hazy patterns over the bubbling water. In contrast to the garden of Philip Maldonato, which struck Caroline as an intensely personal, private affair, Savoy’s is literally open to the entire city. It drinks up the glittering urban lights and basks in them. A white iron table and matching set of eight chairs contently lounge at the center of the peristyle, where they seat two figures.

The first is Antoine Savoy. The lord of the French Quarter wears a burgundy silk sports coat, immaculate white undershirt, black slacks, and anaconda scale loafers, slightly dressed down from his attire at church, but worn with the same casual, playboy-esque sense of easy luxury. As he converses with the garden’s other Kindred, Caroline hears him burst into laughter and smack his knee—a rich, hearty and belly-deep sound.

The other figure is the blonde Caroline recalls from the trial, who spoke but little. She wears a black business skirtsuit, white blouse, and pointed-toe black stilettos. Her thick glasses frame a face that looks merely dryly amused.

Savoy smiles readily and rises from his chair as he hears Caroline’s approaching footsteps. “Ah, Miss Malveaux! You look as enchanting as you did at the trial, though I dare say your spell over me grows by the night.” His eyes don’t leave hers as he bends to kiss her hand.

“Welcome to the Evergreen,” he murmurs when he releases it. “Can the servants get you anything? A splash of the good wine, perhaps?”

The Creole ghoul, meanwhile, silently pulls out Caroline’s chair for her.

Caroline: The elder Kindred’s reaction is as unexpected to Caroline as the sound of his laughter, and it takes her a moment to recover her footing as he rises to greet her, kisses her hand, and otherwise treats her as though she is a human being—or at least Kindred—rather than a dog in the process of making a mess on his floor. She smiles and responds, “Lord Savoy, your reputation for hospitality does not do you justice, but you’ve already done too much. I’m more than content simply with the pleasure of your company.”

She almost miraculously finds that it isn’t even, for perhaps the first time among one of the Damned, a lie.

GM: “Miss Malveaux, the words ‘too’ and ‘much’ are still allowed in the Vieux Carré, but we have a special law here—you can’t ever use them next to one another,” Savoy grins, then snaps his fingers as he assumes his seat. “Fabian, three glasses of the good wine, if you please, so we can teach our guest how we enjoy ourselves in the Quarter!”

“Of course, my lord,” the ghoul beams as he bows and withdraws.

“If I may speak freely, sir,” the glasses-wearing vampire remarks, “I fail to see why you bother asking your guests when you will simply order the drinks irrespectively of their response.”

“That’s because, Nat, all the guests who say ‘no’ say it for the same reason as Miss Malveaux—and that reason simply isn’t allowed in the Vieux Carré. Not on my watch!” Savoy smiles towards Caroline. “Miss Malveaux, may I introduce my steward, Madam Natasha Preston. She runs at least half the affairs in my parish. Lord only knows where I’d be without her!”

“Miss Malveaux,” the glasses-wearing woman replies in acknowledgement as she looks up from a tablet computer.

Caroline: “A pleasure, Madam Preston,” Caroline replies. As much as she wants to stay calculating in all that they do—from value of the touch of the kiss, the likelihood that the tablet is recording the meeting for later examination—if not hidden cameras—it is difficult not to be thrown completely off her guard by the response, the banter, the simple ease of all of it. She finds her guard warily lowering.

She takes the offered seat when the lord of the French Quarter does. “The party must never stop, lest we all realize we’re dead?” Caroline asks of him. She fights to keep the smirk off her face. “Or is it religious fervor perhaps? Rejoicing in damnation and celebrating it?”

GM: Caroline’s has a red silk cushion on its back as well as its seat, and she finds her posture quite comfortable despite the chair’s metal construction. Savoy leans back into his own seat and grins.

“Whether it’s religious I say is between a Kindred and their faith of choice. But according to mine, Miss Malveaux, I must beg the contrary. The party only begins when we’re dead—and realize all the overindulgence in the world can’t kill us again!”

As if on cue, Fabian reappears with a gold tray and three clear crystal glasses. One of them smells flat and stale to Caroline, but the coppery tang wafting from the second and third is just right.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite lick her lips, but it feels as though it’s been so long since she enjoyed a drink… still, she gestures to the elder Kindred. “Please, Lord Savoy, show me the way.”

GM: “We start,” Savoy smiles as he lifts one of the fair-smelling glasses from Fabian’s tray, “with a toast. To what shall we drink, Miss Malveaux?”

Preston reaches for the stale-smelling glass.

Caroline: Caroline takes the final glass. Is there a bit of mischievousness in her eye?

“To the prince of course, Lord Savoy. I have sworn my loyalty to him.” She raises her glass. “To the prince.”

GM: “Oh ho,” Savoy laughs knowingly, “watch this one mind her elders, Nat!”

“Indeed, sir,” Preston replies.

Savoy raises his glass. “To Prince Augusto Vidal—may his reign endure for a thousand years.”

“To Prince Vidal,” Preston echoes.

The three glasses clink. The Kindred drain them. Warm, liquid bliss that provides seemingly the only respite to Caroline’s existence trickles down her throat. Savoy and Preston set their empty glasses back on Fabian’s waiting tray. The Toreador looks well-pleased, and not merely of the ‘wine.’

“Speaking of the prince, you’ve had a portentous Requiem, Miss Malveaux, being inducted into the Sanctified at his own hands,” Savoy remarks. “What plans do you have for the rest of it, if you’ll indulge my asking?”

Caroline: “I confess, Lord Savoy, I’ve been rather occupied with the matter of my sire, and then that exciting trial. At this point I don’t know that I’m certain where to start. A drink a night? Some place to lay my weary head during the day?” She doesn’t quite shrug, but the mild tilt of her head gives much the same feeling without the baseness of the gesture. “Might you have any suggestions, as such an esteemed elder to a coarse and course-less neonate?”

GM: “Well, Miss Malveaux, I’d say that depends on what you want out of the Requiem, first of all,” Savoy muses.

“Power,” Preston supplies.

“That is in her blood,” Savoy nods. “There’s also spiritual purpose. That’s in her covenant. But we are defined by so much more than those two things, and I have a feeling that our guest will only continue to prove herself full of surprises.”

Caroline: “You may be the only one, Lord Savoy. But then those that bet upon long odds often reap significant benefits. Penny stocks and young horses.”

GM: “When one has eternity, one may gamble on the long as well as short odds,” Preston states.

“Just ask Mr. Guilbeau,” Savoy winks. “So far as for advice for coarse neonates, I am afraid that I can offer none, for we are bereft of their company. In their stead I’ll just try to manage something insightful around this august gathering! I’ve found that it can pay to begin one’s Requiem where one’s mortal life left off, Miss Malveaux, both spiritually and materially. You were a court clerk before your Becoming if I’m not mistaken?”

Caroline: “Yes, Lord Savoy.” The praise is so practiced and easy, it reminds her of her father speaking to the donor class. She wants to call it fake, but more than that want she needs it to be genuine.

GM: “Legal expertise is something very useful in our life, especially as we grow older,” Savoy considers, tapping his finger. “Gone are the nights when an elder could rule over a lonely village from his chateau, backing his authority with chests of gold and the powers of the Blood. No, these nights, a Kindred can’t so much as buy a haven or fake their death without the legal system entering into things. Many elders take lawyers for their ghouls, but ghouls are what they are—their counsel will always be biased towards immediately pleasing their domitor and getting that next precious drink. They can’t always be told the full intricacies of how Kindred society works, either.”

Savoy drums his fingers along the table. “You know, there was another promising blue blood like you before Katrina. She was a lawyer too, but after the storm hit she fled to Houston and never came back—I suppose she didn’t want to uproot her unlife twice. There are still Kindred who remember what it was like to have unbiased legal counsel on-call—and are still suffering from that lack of advice.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lower lip. “A market opportunity then?” Her gaze slips over to the accountant-like Kindred by his side.

GM: “There are always markets for the opportunistic,” Preston replies dispassionately.

Caroline: “Certainly something I can investigate, and if it proves promising, I’ll be certain to give credit where it is due, Lord Savoy. It’s much more promising than the alternative I’d considered as a corn dog stand vendor, selling meat on a stick.”

GM: “We’ll just leave that to Ignatius J. Reilly,” Savoy chuckles.

“There are further avenues to power than offering advice to one’s fellow Kindred, sir,” Preston notes.

“Indeed there are, Nat,” the French Quarter lord agrees. “There’s also claiming power among the mortal world. Most Kindred find a group of kine in their domain they want to influence—or another Kindred’s domain, if they can get permission—and start to work getting a personal hold on them. Then they work on getting a hold over institutions that will outlast any one kine’s life. In Miss Malveaux’s case, I imagine she’d want to establish her influence base among kine with connections to law. There any other pearls of wisdom you can think to dispense, Nat?”

“In the long term, it is of greater benefit to personally create new institutions from the ground up than it is to assume control over existing ones,” Preston answers, looking back up from her tablet. “Doing so provides more intimate knowledge of an institution’s affairs and eliminates the possibility of it already being claimed by other Kindred.”

“A valuable pearl, Nat. The last one I’d dispense, Miss Malveaux, is to not always rely on ghouls. Most neonates chomp at the chance to put as many kine as they can under the blood bond. But simple favors can leave a man just as predisposed to be helpful when it counts. The occasional nudge with a discipline, or blackmail material, can also be used when goodwill doesn’t go far enough. Having servants who age normally and don’t stand out to other Kindred can be beneficial, and less of a drain on the wine. You can always ghoul them later if you change your mind, after all.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. It’s all very much in keeping with her own plans, but having them reaffirmed by Savoy brings her a curious amount of satisfaction. He’s a flatterer, but such flattery has been so infrequent of late, and the ease of the conversation is so at odds with every other one she’s had of late. Even Maldonato, though he was gentle enough by Kindred standards, was a conversation so like walking across a minefield.

It’s not difficult to see why Savoy has won over others. While her sire conducts himself as a dark god, or at least the dark right hand of Him, a biblical figure of power, the Lord of the French Quarter demands a wholly different manner of respect: his very humbleness speaks more to his security in his strength than any heavy-handed beating handed out ever will.

GM: “But business is business, and pleasure is pleasure,” Savoy smiles. “And there are more pleasures than those of the blood! If you’ll indulge my curiosity a moment further, Miss Malveaux, I’d be intrigued to know: what are your interests beyond the Requiem?”

Caroline: “Are you asking what I did for fun, Lord Savoy, before my Embrace?”

GM: “Cutting to the heart of things, my dear?” Savoy chuckles. “In that same spirit, I suppose I am! Kindred or kine, someone’s pleasures say a great deal about them.”

Caroline: The Ventrue answers, “I suspect many of my interests, Lord Savoy, were little different than those of other rich twenty-somethings. I spent far more time drinking in the Vieux Carré than my family might of wanted, far more money in many shops than they wished, and far less time on my studies than they might have hoped. When I could be bothered I frequented social events in town… I suspect two of the four will have to be replaced for the next several decades.”

GM: “A life of sin and excess, then?” Savoy ribs. “Some of those pleasures may be easier to indulge than you may believe, Miss Malveaux. Enjoying the fine things in life comes all the easier after one is dead. Even pursuing an education… some Kindred still do, out of simple desire to better their minds. I’ve heard Seneschal Maldonato has picked up over a dozen degrees from the city’s universities over the years, and that Primogen Duquette isn’t far behind.” He then adds with a wink, “Other Kindred, of course, are simply relieved for school to be out forever!”

Caroline: “Sin perhaps, but my excesses didn’t start until I was Embraced to hear the tale.”

GM: “Congratulations,” Preston declares dryly.

Caroline: “Yes, it certainly seems to have worked out well for me, Madam Preston,” Caroline replies just as dryly. “But your counsel is well taken, Lord Savoy. Opportunity abounds? It is my hope that my Requiem shall not be as wasted as my life was. Certainly there can be far more to life—or death as the case may be—than shameless hedonism. And I shall endeavor to find it.”

GM: “Perhaps it has,” Savoy says thoughtfully to Caroline’s initial remark. “Some feel our condition to be a curse. Some revel in it. But few will deny it changes us. Some Kindred who led lives of restraint are driven to excess after the Embrace, and feel as if they’ve been liberated—finally able to lead the existences they always wanted. Others decide they prefer a less materialistic Requiem, but are grateful to have sampled the experiences they missed when they were alive. They find that lets them make a go of their unlives with a ‘clear conscience.’ Nat, what would you say to that?”

“My preoccupation with not having experienced coitus while living distracted me from more important matters,” Preston answers flatly. “The Embrace removed that distraction. Such was among one of its least benefits. I will not otherwise attempt to speak for others.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t stare at the admission, but she revises upward her initial count on Preston’s age. “You’re suggesting there’s some value in my experiences thus far since my Embrace, Lord Savoy? I don’t know that I could argue that.”

GM: “Inherent value in your Requiem’s experiences,” Savoy nods. “That is how I’d put it, Miss Malveaux. But yours perhaps more than most.”

Caroline: “Mistakes out of the way early?”

GM: “Very early. In all of two weeks! Many of your clan go years before releasing their childer.”

Caroline: “I’m told most are also dignified enough to claim their childer,” Caroline replies evenly.

She snaps her jaw shut in an instant after the words escape it, aghast that she’s said as much to Savoy.

GM: “Yes, your sire,” Savoy merely responds thoughtfully, drumming his fingers. “Now that we’re away from prying ears, perhaps it’s time we talked about him.”

Caroline: “I’m afraid he left me no inheritance to pay off his debt to you, Lord Savoy. No secret instructions to convey a last message.”

GM: “Oh, I’m hardly surprised that he didn’t, Miss Malveaux.” The Toreador doesn’t sound bothered. “But I am surprised, and pleasantly so, at how well you’ve comported yourself in the lion’s den—here with your late sire’s known patron and ally!”

Caroline: “Why should it be the lion’s den, Lord Savoy? You have only ever in our meetings been hospitable and magnanimous.”

GM: “It costs Lord Savoy nothing to present such an appearance. You are unaware of the full nature of his relationship with René Baristheaut, who meant you ill and dealt with Setites. You have given Lord Savoy two causes for umbrage between your snub of his prior invitation and the several nights spent poaching in his parish,” Preston lists without inflection.

Caroline: Not quite a scowl slips across Caroline’s face. More… irritation, like she might feel at a child observing she was wearing the same dress as someone else at a party. An observation that is accurate but also utterly obvious, but does nothing for either party but call greater attention to an ugly truth.

“Am I then to fear his wrath?” Caroline asks, only turning her gaze from Lord Savoy as she speaks, bringing it to rest on Preston. “Lord Savoy is both one of the most well-respected and powerful elders in the city, and if he seeks redresses for those wrongs, or any others associated with René Baristheaut as they pertain to myself, then he need only name them, be it to myself or to the many others that would leap to the defense of his honor.”

She turns her gaze back to the Lord of the French Quarter. “Am I to let fear guide me? Let it take the wheel and steer clear of him? Certainly it’s driven me before, and hiding behind that fear like a child has a certain appeal… if you wish to be treated as a child.”

“Whatever you may wish, Lord Savoy, those wishes can hardly be denied by meekly pretending they do not exist. I would rather meet whatever this meeting may bring with my eyes open. If you wish a pledge debt for my wrongs to you and your domain, you have it. If you wish to harm me, I can hardly stop you.”

Her gaze slips back to Preston. “I find it more productive to concern myself with what I may control.” She spreads her arms with a minor flourish and mildly inclines her head, giving a mock bow or presentation, as though to an audience. “Are you the lion then, Lord Savoy? You would not be the first to take a bite out of me.” There’s a hint of a smile on her face at the words. “Forgive me for the presumption of the question.”

GM: A smile slowly spreads over Savoy’s face at Caroline’s words. It lights all the way up to his green-brown eyes.

“Aren’t you something, Miss Malveaux. Aren’t you something,” he declares slowly. Almost reverently.

The Toreador brings his hands together once in a motion faintly reminiscent of applause, then sets them down on the table as he looks ahead at Caroline. The smile doesn’t entirely fade, but his features grow more serious. Even solemn.

“No, tonight I would play the role of the dove. I would like to apologize for my role in what Mr. Baristheaut did to you, my dear—and, in what I hope is some measure of compensation, shed some light on the circumstances of your Embrace.”

Caroline: Caroline’s own expression hardens. “You owe me nothing, Lord Savoy,” she says firmly, before her features and tone soften. “But if you wished to illuminate for me in those matters, then I would have cause only to tell any that asked that the Lord of the French Quarter was never at any fault in my Embrace, and instead sought only to offer closure and grace as such a distinguished elder to a sireless neonate with many more questions than she will ever have answers.”

GM: “Oh, net’s not lavish me with too much praise, Miss Malveaux. After all, doing that is in my own best interests!” Savoy winks knowingly. “I believe that it’s much more profitable to make friends than enemies. I also believe that you’re very much an ally worth cultivating—both right now, and even more so in the nights to come.”

Caroline: If Caroline could still blush she might. “I’ll not gainsay you, Lord Savoy.”

GM: “As for Mr. Baristheaut,” Savoy continues, “he’s passed from ashes to ashes and dust to dust. What obligations I had to him—and what political worth he had as an ally—were made null and void by his final death. Nor was he entirely honest during our dealings together, and I think that’s as good a point as any for me to begin.”

Savoy slowly drums several fingers against the table. “My first dealings with Mr. Baristheaut were just after I’d woken up from my long nap, when he was still but a fledgling himself. He was a charming enough conversationalist, though there was a certain melancholy to him, just under the surface. I’m not sure he ever truly made peace with his Embrace. Many Kindred don’t.”

Caroline: Caroline settles in to hear the elder’s tale.

GM: “Upon his release, he was made a hound under his sire Robert Bastien, the city’s previous sheriff. Mr. Baristheaut and I didn’t have too much to do with one another beyond a few conversations in Elysium, which his sire disapproved of—I suppose he wasn’t wrong that I can be a bad influence.” Savoy grins at the statement. “Mr. Baristheaut served as a hound until 1915, when his sire met final death at the hands of hunters. Some of this you may already know, if you were able to interrogate his ghoul Kelford.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Their families were executed for it, and very shortly thereafter Mr. Baristheaut departed the city.”

GM: “Yes, some thought that Mr. Baristheaut didn’t have the stomach to take over his sire’s position. Thus it passed to my childe instead.” Savoy smiles with paternal pride.

Caroline: “Sheriff Donovan.” Caroline cannot begin to see where the resemblance begins.

GM: “Oh yes, have you not heard the gossip yet? It’s been one of the best-known ‘open secrets’ floating around Elysium for some time.”

Caroline: “He certainly seems to have flourished in the role,” Caroline offers mildly.

GM: “He’s brought much recognition to our bloodline,” Savoy nods in satisfaction. “In any case, Nat, where was I?”

“Mr. Baristheaut’s departure, sir.”

“Ah yes, thank you. I didn’t hear from him for years and years. I did hear of him, occasionally—he’d been spotted in this city or that, and had apparently taken to the nomad’s Requiem. Not an easy Requiem.”

Caroline: “So he expressed, though not in so many words.”

GM: “He never returned to New Orleans during all of that time, which I found somewhat curious—he’d been spotted nearby a number of times over the years. The earliest date was Little Rock in 1923, and the latest was Houston in 2005. Perhaps important, perhaps not. But then, one night, he decided to return. Nat, when was the date Mr. Baristheaut presented himself to me?”

“August 31st, sir,” Preston replies, glancing down at her tablet. “The same date he presented himself to Seneschal Maldonato. Your agents have traced his earliest activities in New Orleans to August 30th, at least several hours before dawn.”

Caroline: Caroline listens as the Lord of the French Quarter fills in missing pieces.

GM: “Thank you, Nat,” Savoy replies before turning back to Caroline. “Mr. Baristheaut presented himself to me in this very garden. He’d matured greatly over the years, and was as charming and well-spoken a guest as any I could have received. He told me that he was in the city to enjoy Southern Decadence, and asked for my permission to make his temporary haven in the French Quarter. He intended to leave on September 7th, the night after the festivities were over, and assured me that he had no interest in politics.”

Caroline: “In hindsight, a lie,” Caroline comments.

GM: “Yes. We also had a feeling that he wasn’t being entirely forthcoming with us, didn’t we, Nat?”

“We did, sir. His stated reason for returning to New Orleans, in addition to attending Southern Decadence, was to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his sire’s final death. Perhaps the numeric significance of the occasion had changed his prior feelings towards his home and bloodline, for he had evidenced no special sentiment towards either in over a century.”

“It was something to go on,” Savoy picks up, “but not a great deal. I granted him permission to reside in my parish. I asked a few eyes and ears to monitor his movements and dealings with other Kindred. It turned out Mr. Baristheaut was telling the truth about enjoying the Quarter’s pleasures, at least. He made a few trips to the Dungeon—it’s a BDSM club of some notoriety. Nothing of particular note seemed to happen there. As far as I heard, he simply wanted to sample the club’s pleasures too.”

“On August 6th, Mr. Baristheaut approached my herald Mélissaire and requested a meeting at my soonest convenience over a matter of some urgency. We met the next night, and did he have quite a tale for Nat and me. He’d encountered a comely young woman being victimized by one of the festival’s… I suppose we might say harder revelers. He felt compelled to play the role of the white knight and rescue the fair maiden in distress. Nat, what were his exact words there?”

“‘If all the world’s a stage, the set pieces in ours are all blacks and grays. It’s so rare that one gets to don a white costume,’” Preston quotes without inflection.

Caroline: Caroline grinds her teeth.

GM: “Mr. Baristheaut rescued the young lady and drove off her assailant,” Savoy continues. “She asked him to escort her home, and again in his words, ‘it would hardly have done to remove the costume before the scene was played through.’”

“The two of them talked on the way back. He said appeared sheltered and oblivious as to the true nature of our world. He said he found it charming at first, but when she told him he was a decent man and that his sins could be forgiven… it ‘exposed the fantasy for the sad farce it was to me’, to borrow his words again. He decided to show her the true face of evil, and brought her to the city’s worst abattoir of sin that he knew of… the Dungeon. He said that a fury seized him, such as he’d not known in years. He did things to her. Things that it’s perhaps a blessing you don’t seem to remember.”

Caroline: Caroline’s expression shifts. Much of the narrative to this point matches, but this does not. At least, not that she recalls. Just pieces. Flashes of horror…

GM: “He wasn’t sure how much time had passed when he came to, and looked down at what he described to me as ‘little more than a dumb, bleeding husk.’ He was overcome with disgust—at the world, at her, and most of all, at himself. He believed she was gone and there was nothing else he could do for her. He told one of the club’s ghouls to dispose of the corpse.”

“Of course, as we all know, that corpse got back up. That was the last René saw of you. He had no idea he’d given you the Embrace—he conjectured to me that it must have been an accident. Some stray blood slipping down your mouth in a moment of passion. Damnation is regrettably all-too easy to inflict in the heat of the moment.”

Caroline: Caroline’s expression is all the more grim as the tale continues. The tale of her Embrace, little more than one as a victim of a deranged and damaged Kindred made a victim over again by his carelessness.

GM: “You came to in Louis Armstrong Park, which isn’t part of my parish. René didn’t know what had become of you, but he fell into a dark mood and requested my permission to stay in the French Quarter for several further nights. I granted it.”

“From what Lord Savoy’s agents have reported, Mr. Baristheaut threw himself into an orgy of further sins in the Vieux Carré’s pleasure dens,” Preston dispassionately notes. “This was concurrently with those same agents spotting your poaching in the Quarter, Miss Malveaux.”

“I’d intended to have my people approach you,” Savoy continues, “as doing a little homework indicated you were a stranger in town… but only as Kindred. Your family name wasn’t so unfamiliar, suggesting you were a new Embrace. Prince Vidal’s people got to you first, however, and not long after that, your existence became public knowledge to the All-Night Society… and to Mr. Baristheaut.”

Caroline: She remembers the near-brush with the sheriff’s sword before the onlookers.

GM: “He was stunned when he came to me, and insisted he’d had no idea you were Embraced. He could have skipped town, but he wanted to find out what happened that night. I agreed to grant him shelter, in return for a debt of some size. Part of its terms included investigating the circumstances of your Embrace. He made a few interesting discoveries. Such as that the ghoul he’d entrusted with disposing of your body had gone missing.”

Caroline: "That is interesting. "

GM: “Yes, I’d thought so. But so is the connection to a certain kine, Emmett Delacroix. What do we have on him, Nat?”

Preston looks down at her tablet. “A grifter from the Quarter. He had an altercation with one of NOPD’s detectives, who sold him to one of the Dungeon’s employees. Mr. Baristheaut encountered Delacroix during his own stay at the Dungeon.”

Caroline: “Unfortunate for him.”

GM: “Yes, I’m to understand he lost his legs,” Savoy agrees. “But it’s a better fate than many there.”

Caroline: “That’s… unfortunate.” For the others. Like Westley.

GM: Preston continues, “Mr. Baristheaut believed that Delacroix crossed paths with Miss Malveaux, for he took the blame for a number of crimes in which she was involved. Evidence was found planted in his apartment in the Quarter. I presume by your servants, in a further act of trespass into Lord Savoy’s parish.”

Caroline: “We crossed paths some years ago,” Caroline agrees vaguely.

GM: “Your manners are atrocious. Apologize to Lord Savoy at once for your intrusion.”

Caroline: “And incriminate myself?” Caroline asks, with a hint of playfulness. Still, her gaze returns to the Lord of the French Quarter. “I apologize of course for every offense I have given you, Lord Savoy, in ignorance and by will.”

GM: Preston merely stares at Caroline for a moment. “It’s true, sir. Another count of trespass into your parish.”

Caroline: Caroline’s temper flares. “Do me the kindness please of staying out of my head.”

GM: “Do Lord Savoy the kindness please of not lying to his face,” Preston retorts flatly. Her eyes glint. “Sir, we should make an example of her. After this many offenses against you, she no doubt believes she can commit further ones with impunity.”

Caroline: “I offered no lie,” Caroline retorts.

GM: “No. You merely attempted to steer Lord Savoy towards a false conclusion that would result in him taking different action than he would otherwise be inclined, and so escape the consequences of your own actions.” Preston’s eyes are as flat the lenses of her glasses. “Pathetic. Sir, I recommend the Ordeal of Apollo.”

Savoy merely smiles and makes a ‘settle down’ motion with his hand towards both Kindred.

“We’ll worry about the smaller things later, you two. For now, that’s useful to confirm the Delacroix connection. I don’t think it’s a coincidence, him and Miss Malveaux encountering Mr. Baristheaut in the Dungeon, and Miss Malveaux then happening to cross paths with Delacroix again. Mr. Baristheaut didn’t seem to think so either. Nat, what were the dates when Delacroix was framed, and Mr. Baristheaut changed his tactics from investigating Miss Malveaux to abducting her?”

Preston looks back down at her tablet.

“Delacroix was arrested for the murder of Miguel Rodriguez on September 13th. Mr. Baristheaut activated one of Miss Malveaux’s ghouls as his dominated agent later that night.”

“Very interesting, Nat. I wonder what Delacroix would have been able to tell of Mr. Baristheaut from his own time in the Dungeon.”

“We shall likely never know, sir, or at least not without some degree of effort. Delacroix has been placed on death row in Louisiana State Penitentiary.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “We were in the Dungeon at the same time?”

GM: “The extant evidence would indicate so,” Preston replies neutrally.

Caroline: Caroline frowns, a vaguely horrified expression settling across her face.

GM: “Delacroix could be a useful witness,” Savoy ponders. “Mr. Baristheaut had left the scene, the other witness vanished, and Miss Malveaux herself is fortunate not to remember personally.”

Caroline: A witness she framed and put so far out of reach. The irony is not lost on her.

GM: “Getting access to Delacroix wouldn’t be convenient, but it’s not off the table. Death row inmates are allowed visitors, if I’m correct. The real inconvenience is driving up there to see him. How far a drive is it, Nat?”

“135 miles and slightly over two hours, sir,” Preston replies with another glance down at her tablet.

Caroline: “And making him talk,” Caroline agrees. “Assuming his own mind is in any state. I suspect it might be easier to have additional charges or matters trumped up with regard to his conduct, requiring additional trial here…. and moving him here to county jail for that purpose.”

GM: “That legal mind!” Savoy exclaims approvingly. “That sounds like a fine idea, Miss Malveaux, if you want to question him. I’m sure there are a hundred and one different charges someone could slap a grifter like Delacroix with.”

Caroline: “Something to consider, certainly, Lord Savoy, though even there gaining access is not easy.”

GM: “Inconvenient but not impossible,” Preston dissents.

“Fortunately for us all,” Savoy smiles, “there are leads besides Delacroix. For instance, Louis Armstrong Park… we know you wound up there, Miss Malveaux, so someone had to have brought you—either physically, or maybe by mental commands. On a crowded night like Decadence, I’m sure there were at least a few witnesses who saw when you turned up in the park and could tell us more. There could even be physical evidence left over at the scene. Louis Armstrong falls under the Baron’s territory, so I haven’t investigated too closely yet.” The Toreador taps his fingers thoughtfully. “It’s a curious place for you to have initially turned up.”

“There is also the Dungeon itself, Lord Savoy,” Preston supplies. “There were likely witnesses who saw Miss Malveaux when she entered, and perhaps also when she left. Notwithstanding the missing ghoul.”

Caroline: “The Dungeon, Lord Savoy,” Caroline comments more thoughtfully. “How welcoming are they to visitors? Kindred, that is.”

GM: “Oh, they’re always welcoming to visitors, Miss Malveaux. Kindred or otherwise. But they do like to play.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a skeptical glance.

GM: “Some Kindred are happy to play too,” Savoy continues. “Even the ones who don’t usually come around. Their revels are… well, experiencing them is the only way to do them justice,” the Toreador winks. “Kindred who don’t want to join the fun, though, may find things more difficult.”

“It also depends how deep into the club you want to go. There are multiple levels, or ‘circles’ as they like to call them. The party gets wilder and the Masquerade falls away a bit more with each one. I can offer a guarantee of your safety and status as untouchable in all but the lowest circle, but I would have to ask a boon in return for that service—the club’s ownership won’t agree to it unless I call in favors of my own.”

Caroline: “That is a very generous offer, Lord Savoy…” Caroline seems to consider. “Might I ask a further question related to the Dungeon while I consider it?”

GM: Savoy motions grandly for her to proceed.

Caroline: “Might you know what the Dungeon typically does with the corpses left behind by their work? Such as, for instance, that of my brother Westley Malveaux?”

GM: Savoy drums his fingers slowly. The smile fades from his face. “Truth be told, Miss Malveaux… most of the bodies that go into the Dungeon don’t seem to ever come back out.”

“There are some exceptions,” Preston continues. “Dismembered parts have occasionally been found scattered throughout the city, often in the homes of those related to the victims. There are also occasional survivors. Delacroix was reportedly found in a dumpster bin outside of his apartment complex, missing both of his legs.”

Savoy’s expression softens. “I’m sorry, Miss Malveaux. I wish I had better news about your brother. Now, it’s possible, if not likely, that his body is still in the Dungeon… but it’s not going to be in any state for others to see. Looking on it would only bring your family more pain.”

Caroline: Caroline’s expression neither softens nor falls. “I had no intention of parading it before my mortal family, Lord Savoy, but I would rather his remains not end up in a gutter or ditch. It seems likely that regardless, the answer to that question—and perhaps others—lies in the Dungeon. Might I ask your permission to enter your domain for the purpose of making contact with them in the future?”

GM: Savoy waves his hand. “Granted, Miss Malveaux. You should also know we do things more casually in the Vieux Carré. Unless a Kindred wants to stay overday or take care of particularly significant business,-”

“Such as framing Delacroix,” Preston interjects,

“-I don’t require that they present themselves,” Savoy finishes. “I believe my parish and my own standing benefits when Kindred find it more convenient to do business here.”

Caroline: Where there are plenty of prying eyes? Caroline asks herself, though not with malice. Yes, she can see why Savoy is popular, why he is winning the soul of the city. Her sire’s magnificent darkness has a certain calling, but if his agents are even half as brutal and cruel to others as many have been to her, she can imagine he wins few friends among her own generation.

“A very generous position, Lord Savoy. And one that I’m certain many appreciate… myself included.”

GM: “That’s precisely what I want everyone saying,” Savoy winks. “But I can’t rightly pretend I’m unique in that regard, Miss Malveaux. There are other regents in the city who share my feelings on the Fifth Tradition.”

“Now, a few other details so far as Mr. Baristheaut… as you’ve no doubt learned by now, he had dealings with Setites. They aren’t a topic I recommend you bring up in Elysium, but it’s possible that investigating their activities could turn up more on Mr. Baristheaut’s.”

Caroline: “If they didn’t take offense to such snooping, of course?” Caroline asks.

GM: “All Kindred take offense to ‘snooping,’” Preston states flatly.

Caroline: “Some more violently than others,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Not if they’re asked nicely, Nat,” Savoy smiles.

Caroline: “Lord Savoy, one could almost take that as an invitation.” Caroline fights the smile that creeps across her face.

GM: “Anywhere in the Quarter with a door has an invitation, my dear,” the Toreador answers playfully, but his face soon sobers. “But I’d be careful asking serpents. Most Kindred, it’s true, you don’t stand anything to lose by asking nicely. The Setites aren’t among them.”

Caroline: “Of course, Lord Savoy,” Caroline agrees more seriously. “They seemed quite potent in their aggression in our brief encounter.”

GM: “The serpents are not known for being warriors, but tempters,” Preston corrects.

Caroline: Caroline plasters a polite smile across her face. “As you say, Madam Preston.”

GM: “One last thing I should perhaps add, Miss Malveaux. Nat and I believe that Mr. Baristheaut was attempting to play all three sides against one another, at least to some degree: mine, Sheriff Donovan’s, and the Serpents’.” Savoy chuckles. “It doesn’t seem to have worked out for him. But for that reason, you might well be able to glean some insight into his activities from Sanctified outside my parish too.”

Caroline: “Such as your illustrious childe, Lord Savoy?”

GM: “He’s indeed one potential avenue, Miss Malveaux.”

“Do we have any further advice to dispense Miss Malveaux in this area, sir?” Preston inquires.

“I don’t believe so, Nat, unless there are any further questions she has,” Savoy answers with a glance between Caroline and his steward.

“Then may I recommend, sir,” Preston continues, “that we sentence Miss Malveaux to two draughts of your vitae in punishment for her prior counts of poaching in your domain.”

Caroline: Caroline again turns her attention from Savoy to his steward. Her stare could melt steel.

GM: Preston stares back, her face as warm and expressive as a sheet of that same metal.

“Is there some objection you would raise, Miss Malveaux? Do you believe you should be allowed to feed in Lord Savoy’s territory with impunity?” she asks pointedly.

Caroline: “Lord Savoy is fully able to set whatever penalty he may wish within his domain,” Caroline replies, “including draughts of his vitae, and I would not presume to tell him how to conduct his affairs. I would offer to you, Madam Preston, that the optics on your suggestion seem especially poor, regardless of how just they might be.”

GM: “Ladies, please. This garden is a place of gentle manners and good feelings. To see two beauties turning against one another within it is as awful as watching two master artists stoop to fisticuffs in the Louvre,” Savoy chides with a smile as Preston looks about to retort with something even more severe. He leans back in his seat, seemingly addressing both her and Caroline.

“I value your advice, Nat, on punishments for infractions as well as other topics. It’s why you run half the affairs in my parish. In this instance, we happen to disagree. Always have. While a sip from the domain holder’s veins has always struck me as a fair and even poetic punishment for poaching, I don’t believe it’s conductive to our long-term interests when enforced among abandoned fledglings who honestly don’t know any better. Indeed, when my people are able to approach those fledglings and explain the basics of Kindred existence—including laws on poaching—I find they make some of the most loyal allies I could ask for.”

Savoy chuckles. “A few bled vessels is a more than fair price for that kind of asset. Besides. It’s not as if I can’t afford it.” The Toreador lazily stretches an arm towards the garden’s wrought-iron balcony, and the teeming throngs of kine who fill the streets below.

“There was also Miss Malveaux’s framing of Delacroix, sir,” Preston continues. “Hardly a trivial matter, given the other matters of greater than trivial import it was connected to. Miss Malveaux was no doubt aware of the Traditions by the time of her latest intrusion. There was also her deliberate snubbing of your invitation—which she has yet to offer any apology for.”

“You are right about the Delacroix affair, Nat,” Savoy muses. “But tell you what, Miss Malveaux, seeing as you’re here now and no one was hurt… why don’t you keep me apprised of your investigations into Mr. Baristheaut, and we’ll call it even?”

Caroline: Caroline taps her lip with one pale finger. “In the interest of repaying what has been your great generosity so far, Lord Savoy, I would disclose that as heavily as the activities of my sire and the events surrounding my Embrace weigh upon my mind, there are many other matters that may consume more of my energies for the foreseeable future.”

“And also, that making so blanket a promise of disclosure seems… untenable. I would propose instead, again in the interest of honesty and forthrightness, that I will disclose secrets I might uncover such as to balance the scales of the disruption of your domain and disrespect to your person as we might mutually agree upon over time—or failing the ability to do so within one year, would offer you up to a boon by way of making up the difference.”

GM: “That sounds more than fair, Miss Malveaux,” Savoy beams. “Information of a similar nature, or a boon if that doesn’t turn out to be tenable within the year—but I’ll also add the caveat that information on Mr. Baristheaut’s activities will still do just fine, if you decide to pursue those. Our sires never do stop weighing upon our minds.”

“Do you possess a secure phone number, Miss Malveaux?” Preston inquires.

Caroline: Caroline smiles. “One of many pressing concerns, Madam Preston,” she replies. “I have a number that an unsecured message might be left with to establish contact, but in the immediate future it would be wiser to conduct such interactions in person.”

GM: Savoy chuckles. “I’m afraid that I normally insist on all my interactions being conducted in person, Miss Malveaux. Beyond being less vulnerable to eavesdropping, I must confess that phones just don’t agree with me, unless time really is of the essence. They seem so… impersonal.” The Toreador then laughs and waves his hand. “But pay no mind to me. I’m like every modern Kindred’s great-grandfather, I recognize that much.”

“When you next wish to schedule a private meeting with Lord Savoy,” Preston continues, “inform your ghoul Rabinowitz when you are available, send her to Antoine’s,-”

“‘My’ restaurant,” Savoy interjects with an amused smile.

“-and instruct her to order the crispy onion strips, while holding the sauce, from the Hermes bar menu. One of our agents will approach her.”

Savoy and mostly Preston answer any related questions Caroline poses, and also provide a phone number for her to call when and if she should obtain a secure line of her own. Savoy rises from his seat to kiss Caroline’s hand again as she moves to leave.

“I’d normally wish you good luck in the nights to come, Miss Malveaux. But I have a feeling you may forge your own!”

Caroline V, Chapter I
Drinks & Regrets

“‘For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: it might have been.’”
John Greenleaf, quoted by Claire Malveaux

Tuesday night, 22 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline has long since grown tired of sleeping in an attic, but it is among the least of her concerns as she rises covered in fiberglass for the third night in a row. She’s free, as free as she can ever hope to be in her Requiem, to pursue those many tasks that yet await her. Veronica’s blood flows in her veins, thick and heavy, enough to chase away the hunger for at least this night. It’s a bitter pill, but she’ll take the medicine now that she’s paid for it. Her house, literally and metaphorically, is far from put into order, and there is so much to do. That she wakes up at all is a positive sign however.

Most of her actions, waiting upon her mother, are mundane. She orders a rental car drop off, sorts through what little is left downstairs for those things she wishes to keep, sends an email to her professors belatedly apologizing for not keeping in touch (mentioning unspecific personal matters she has been dealing with) and expresses her hope to see them next semester. What little time is left before her mother arrives is spent on social media digging into the past of the victim she murdered.

GM: Caroline finds a number of events have taken place during her daysleep.

Carla has been through her home again. The Mexican housekeeper has avoided the second story, per Caroline’s request, but the rest of the seemingly tornado-struck house is well on its way to being transformed back into a bare and empty one.

Her phone, landline, and email have been flooded with text messages and voicemails concerning a single, terrible piece of news:

Westley was found. Dead.

When hours pass without any reaction or acknowledgement from Caroline, her family is no longer irritated. They’re by turns furious or deeply concerned, mostly the former. Gabriel has said he’s coming over to her house. He’s worried something has happened. Further texts read:

I’m outside your door. Where are you?

Oh my god, what’s happened?

Several more fretful messages follow, including one about calling the police, since it looks as if she’s missing (again). There are further inquiries on that vein from other family members. After several hours, the flood of messages finally stops. There’s a last one from her mother.

Calmed things down. For now. We’ll talk tonight.

Caroline: Uncertain as to what lie her mother has spun for her, Caroline offers no response to the other texts until she speaks with her. The messages tear at her savagely, but ultimately reinforce what she has grudgingly begun to accept: she has no place in the mortal world with her family. The longer she drags all of this on, the more pain she’ll bring them, the more difficulties she’ll create, and the greater the odds that she, and they, will be caught up in the prince’s justice.

Faintly she remembers an old argument an atheist once made to her, about the various rules and laws in the Bible essentially being good sense in the era. ’Don’t eat shellfish’ because no one knew how to cook and clean it properly. ’Don’t eat swine’ because they were filthy creatures and undercooked pork could kill you. It brings a brief smile to her face to compare that argument to those commandments of the Sanctified she has learned. Clinging to your mortal family may be a sin, but it is it a sin because cleaving from them was simply best practices? That cynical amusement gets her through the top of the hour.

GM: Buried underneath her family’s many text messages is another one from Autumn’s phone number.

I’m okay and coming by at 8, you need me to bring anything?

Caroline: Glad you’re ok. I’m sorry for everything. She sighs. 8’s a bad time. Visitors. Grab some food, I’ll call you when they leave. I’m sure your life is upside down.

GM: It’s been worse but ok cya then

At 8 PM, the doorbell rings.

Caroline: Caroline is downstairs to open it.

GM: It’s her mother. Claire still looks tired, with bags under her eyes, and also unsurprised as her gaze sweeps the destroyed house. “Caroline.”

Caroline: “Mom.” It’s a staggering reminder of just how fragile mortals are for Caroline, seeing her mother worn down. “Do you want to come in, or go out for a drink?”

GM: “Your house looks like it’s seen enough visitors. We can visit the Corner Club if you don’t mind faking it.”

Caroline: Caroline chews on her lip. “Sure, let me grab my bag.” She vanishes for a moment to do so before returning to meet her mother. A new black BMW sits in the driveway, the earlier rental dropped off. She lets her mother decide who’s driving. And which car they’re taking.

GM: Claire lets her daughter drive the new BMW, if she wants to, though Claire makes plain she’ll be taking her own Mercedes. “If that’s been sitting here all day, who know what bugs might have been planted in it.”

Caroline: Caroline offers no comment to the cynical—though not paranoid—comment and climbs into her mother’s Mercedes, escaping the night.

GM: Her mom drives past Audubon’s high concrete walls and the perimeter of armed mercenaries. “So. Where should we begin?”

Caroline: “Thirteen Kindred were executed last night. Three others narrowly avoided execution. It’s been a busy weekend.”

GM: “I suppose your prince isn’t all bad,” Claire remarks.

Caroline: “I thought you might appreciate it. Some good news to go with the awful.”

GM: “Is that all that happened at the trial, thirteen executions?”

Caroline: “Our secret is out to the prince. I’m told to convey that should you ‘cease cooperating’ I am to be executed immediately.” She continues, “Also, that I am to stage my death as quickly as is feasible.”

GM: Her mother doesn’t sigh or look surprised at the news. Her eyes just look tired and heavy as they stare out at the road. “Why don’t you start from the beginning, Caroline.”

Caroline: “I’d think you already knew much of it. Didn’t you bug my house when you broke in the first time?” Caroline asks.

GM: “No. Too high a risk of the bugs being found out by someone else, from everything you’ve said.” She then adds, “And that I’ve seen.”

Caroline: “And none of your associates had the thought to do so either, when we were alone?”

GM: “Not without my consent.”

Caroline: “Someone did.” Caroline explains in brief that she was caught up in a feud between several much elder Kindred, and ultimately staked and taken into custody by the prince’s agents, whereupon she was forced to make a full confession under questioning to avoid her own imminent execution.

GM: Claire doesn’t seem to take her daughter’s recounting of events in stride so much as she seems grimly resigned to them. Streets, lights, and cars roll past the window. Her mother doesn’t stop by the Corner Club, and instead continues to drive on a seemingly aimless path through the city. It doesn’t stop her from extensively questioning Caroline as to what she gave away.

Caroline: The Ventrue neither embellishes nor hides the extent of her revelations. “He literally looked into my mind, Mom, into my memories. I’m sorry. There wasn’t anything I could do. As it was…”

GM: Her mother doesn’t sigh. She just looks tired.

Caroline: It’s a sentiment Caroline can sympathize with. She slides her too cold hand over to her mother’s.

GM: The actions finally makes Claire shake her head. “Your lying to my face will only make this worse, not better.”

Caroline: Caroline scowls. “I didn’t lie, not about anything about you. I thought I’d caused you enough trouble for one night though.”

GM: Claire hits the breaks, stopping the car dead in a parking spot that says unauthorized vehicles will be towed.

“I took a terrible, terrible risk not leaving you for the sun that day,” she says bluntly. “Against my every instinct and better judgment. What you’ve told me right now only confirms that it was.”

Caroline: Caroline grinds her teeth. “Fine. You want to know?”

GM: “No, young lady, I haven’t finished yet,” her mother reproaches severely.

“Letting this,” Claire says vaguely, “continue is extraordinarily dangerous for me. More so than you clearly realize. And that’s assuming a state of complete honesty from you. Anything less goes from dangerous to suicidal. If there’s something that you believe telling me will lead to either of our deaths, then you’ll tell me that there are things you can’t risk talking about. Feed me any more lies, including by presuming to make any further decisions in my place, and this can’t continue. You know the consequences for that. Do you understand?”

Caroline: “I’m past my last chance,” Caroline snarls back. “You want absolute honesty? They’re going to end me. And if I’m very, very lucky they’ll behead me instead of locking me in a steel coffin and slowly burning me alive in front of a hundred people while I scream and give in to that snarling monster and die as something less than even this,” she gestures to herself, and her words are heavy with genuine fear and desperation.

“They were literally leading me by the hand to be executed. Do you know what that’s like? What it’s like to know you’re not only damned, but going to hell at any moment? To be utterly helpless? And every night I get to wake back up to that, because it’s not good enough for me to play by the rules. It’s not good enough for me to make not a single further mistake. It’s not good enough for me to use my own mother towards their ends, fake my death, and cut away everyone I care about.”

“They want more. They’ll always want more out of me.” She spits the last out bitterly, exhausted by it, and shakes her head. “A delay in execution. That’s what they gave me. Not a commutation of my sentence. They decided to lose the paperwork for a while.” She sighs and continues quietly, “That’s what I’m not telling you. I got into some bad stuff. Things I wasn’t supposed to know, things I wasn’t supposed to have, and they killed a bunch of people to keep it quiet, clean it up. Between that and the shakeup in the city from the trial—which the prince lost, badly—they gave me a suicide mission and a timer and said ‘if you succeed maybe we won’t kill you.’ So that’s what I’m not telling you.”

GM: “Then those are the realities. That’s what we’ll deal with,” her mother answers. “It also doesn’t change a thing. Any more lies from you, and our arrangement can’t continue.”

Caroline: “There are things I can’t tell you. Not won’t. Can’t. As in, physically not able to. Is that a problem?”

GM: “And as I’ve told you—if there are things you believe are too dangerous to say out loud, or which you can’t say out loud, then you’ll simply tell me that the information I’m getting is incomplete. I’ve done the same for you. But there can be no more lies, Caroline. None. That’s not a risk I can justify continuing to take.”

Caroline: Caroline tries not to feel like a scolded teen as she looks back to her mother. “Fine. Incomplete details: what I got into, why they didn’t just execute me along with the rest of the bushel, and all of the exact requirements to not get burned alive.” She bites her lip. “Though they continue with ‘do as much damage to the prince’s rivals as you nearly did to us’.”

GM: “That had been a question of mine,” her mother says piercingly. “From all that you’ve said, you’ve caused enough trouble for them to execute you three times over. Letting you live doesn’t make any sense.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue. “It’s complicated.”

GM: “So is everything.” Her mother doesn’t seem to have it in her to sound wry. The quip comes out as dead as the fruit of Caroline’s womb.

Caroline: “Running won’t work,” she continues. “And I don’t know what the hell to do.”

GM: “I suppose play the hand that you’re dealt. Or cast in your lot with Antoine Savoy’s faction.”

Caroline: “I suspect he’d like nothing else, but I doubt he could protect me.”

GM: “Would you, if he could?”

Caroline: Caroline looks down. “He’s in the ascent. And smooth. So smooth. He makes the other elders—well, most of them—look like sandpaper.”

GM: Her mother frowns thoughtfully. “Do you have any personal loyalty or regard for any members of the prince’s bloc?”

Caroline: Her emotions are a complex jumble of twisted threads, pulled every which way by the array of blood bonds. “I don’t know…. yes? Maybe?” She looks back at her mother, then away. “Both sides have holds on me. The prince could have had me executed half a dozen times. Instead at every turn I’ve had another chance. A break. Five of the twelve executions were specifically in relation to me.”

GM: “Did you receive those breaks from the prince, or his seneschal, who you’ve said won’t succeed him?” her mother asks pointedly.

Caroline: “Assuming he needs a successor any time soon?”

GM: “That does touch upon another question. Do you believe George Smith was simply lying?”

Caroline: “No.” The word comes out before Caroline can stop herself.

GM: Her mother raises an eyebrow. “It’s hardly as if he had anything to lose spouting slander with his last breath.”

Caroline: “Except his childe and every mortal or ghoul he ever touched.”

GM: Claire shakes her head. “A hallmark of power-mad dictators everywhere.”

Caroline: “The peace of the gun,” Caroline agrees. “But it’s worked so far…”

“He was so angry, you could feel it. He didn’t even have to use any Disciplines to cow the entire room. A look was enough. It said kill to every idiot chanting in the crowd.”

GM: “Then it sounds as if what Smith had to say was true, if it struck a nerve that deep.”

Caroline: “About the seneschal,” Caroline agrees. “I don’t know enough about torpor to comment on the rest, but even if it is, I can’t imagine a ‘power-mad dictator’ not having a backup plan.”

GM: “So you think the seneschal will succeed him after all, despite what Smith said?”

Caroline: “No, I think he has something else lined up, but I don’t understand enough about the city politics to say what. Assuming he needs it. Like I said, does he even need to go into torpor? Whatever that is.”

GM: “Then who? Either they hand the reigns of power to someone less experienced, when it sounds as if the city needs a strong leader, or the religious zealots hand the reigns to a faction that doesn’t share their faith.”

Caroline: “Savoy shares their faith, presumably. Or a third party could enter the scene.”

GM: “Savoy sounds unlikely if they’ve been at war for so long. But I suppose circumstances can always change.”

Caroline: Caroline thinks. “I don’t think an outsider could take power while Savoy was here, but so much of his power is built, as I see it, on his ability to charm people. I don’t know that someone else could fill that role. That most elders would even be willing to try.”

GM: “On the contrary, his appeal sounds quite simple. Don’t execute one person, or I suppose a dozen, for another’s crimes. It’s not even a question of morals, but simple practicality.”

Caroline: “Everyone that was executed deserved it… except George’s childe. And he brought that down on her. I think people were more upset over the people he didn’t execute.”

GM: “I presume by ‘people’ you mean Matheson?”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Or his childe.”

GM: “I suppose it’s no surprise they’re upset about him being spared. Your kind don’t like being victimized the same way you victimize humans.”

Caroline: “More the imagery of the elder getting off while everyone else burned, I think.”

GM: “From an objective standpoint,” Claire muses, “this Matheson seems like a fairly benign example of your kind. He feeds on other leeches and goes out of his way not to kill if he doesn’t want to be caught. I wonder how many humans haven’t died because of his proclivities.”

Caroline: “Not that many, he keeps a stable of human slaves as well.”

GM: “To feed on, or to use as servants?”

Caroline: “Both, I suspect—most Kindred aren’t willing to go all the way to see him. I suspect for him it’s like most rapists—more for the power than anything else. If he’s guilty.”

GM: “Him aside, we’d previously been discussing Antoine Savoy’s political bloc.” Claire seems to chew that over thoughtfully. “Our arrangement with the prince’s is delicate, and breaking it is sure to make them take retributive action. But Savoy also knows nothing of us, at least that we know. What do you think about the risks and rewards of jumping ship?”

Caroline: “Risks: he’ll want something in turn, and it’s a hard stifling of opportunities in the city going forward. It’s essentially betting all of our chips on the idea that in a year or two he’s going to be the prince, because any other opportunity will dry up like the Sahara Desert. It also hopes he is both willing and able to shield me from the prince and his agents.”

She pauses. “Rewards… I mean he doesn’t have a death sentence hanging over my head, and if Smith was right, then he very well might be the prince in a few years. He’s riding a wave of support, and if anyone could shield me, it’s him. And if he does become prince then jumping ship early bodes far better than late.”

“He’s more approachable. More social. Less formal.” Caroline bites her lip. “But I feel like no matter what else happened, I’d always be watching my back with him. If I was out of time, up against the sharp edge of the prince’s justice? Maybe. But bargaining with him like that is asking for trouble. I don’t think… no. I know that the prince wouldn’t simply let me vanish into Savoy’s hands.”

GM: “Savoy becoming prince would be more convenient, but that’s largely out of our hands,” her mother considers. “Defecting is risky, like all defections are. But the long-term benefits of him being unaware of our arrangement are significant. I think it would benefit you to start making friends with him, if nothing else so that he’s an option when and if the prince’s bloc finally turns on you.”

Caroline: “He scheduled a meeting tomorrow.”

GM: “Convenient.”

Caroline: “He also had his people watching me during the trial.”

GM: “Hardly surprising.”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “Oh?” The extent of her mother’s understanding of the supernatural is still a vague and nebulous thing in her mind. Still, even outside of that, her mother is at least as, if not far more, politically astute as she is.

GM: “That Savoy’s people would be monitoring someone disaffected with the prince’s rule.”

Caroline: “Yeah…” Caroline remembers someone catching her, at least the feeling of it. The last person that tried ended up with her head as smashed as a post Halloween pumpkin, and yet Veronica just shrugged it off…

The two bounce a few more details of the current political situation around. Caroline’s broad position is openness to exploring other ideas and opportunities in the immediate. When they’ve not quite exhausted, but certainly walked the horse around the barn a few times, the talk moves to the family. In contrast to their dynamic discussion of politics, the Ventrue is now muted. “So it came out today.” The sadness in her voice isn’t forced.

GM: Caroline’s mother has by now started the car back up. Darkened skies, blinking lights, and the faint of whoosh of other cars roll past. “The story is that Westley fell off a boat.”

Caroline: “How bad was it?” she asks quietly.

GM: “He went yachting in the Gulf of Mexico with Talal al-Saud and some other ‘friends’,” Claire continues, her hands tightening on the wheel. “It was the middle of the night and everyone had been drinking or snorting god knows what. He went to the edge of the boat to relieve himself, and fell off. The yacht sailed back to the city. No one was sober enough to notice when he didn’t get off with them.”

Caroline: Floating for days in the water. “Oh.” That bad.

GM: “They say the body is unrecognizable.”

Caroline: Caroline’s perfect nails dig into the leather seat, and she can’t bear to look at her mother. Two dead children in as many weeks. Both her fault. The Ventrue heiress falls silent.

A long moment passes in uncomfortable silence. “He burned. For what it’s worth, he burned. I listened to his screams.”

GM: Her mother’s jaw clenches as she honks the horn at a car that tries to cut her off. “I want my son’s body, Caroline. His real one.”

Caroline: Caroline clenches her teeth. “I’ll make some calls. I can’t promise anything. It happened in the French Quarter, so it may fall under Savoy’s influence, but his body likely belongs to Father Malveaux. Finally, there’s the complication of those that actually did the deed. I’ll have to find out who even has it.”

GM: Claire’s eyes harden. “You can promise this to the seneschal, the sheriff, or whoever you’re reporting to: if I don’t have my son’s body, the deal is off.”

Caroline: “Jesus Christ, Mom…” Caroline grinds her teeth in frustration.

GM: “Yes, how unreasonable of your mother to want to lay her own fucking child to rest,” Claire snarls, blaring the horn at another passing car.

Caroline: “You’re not unreasonable, Mom, they are!” Caroline all but yells. “You think they are broken up about your cooperation? If I go to them with that, the answer is going to be that I had better come up with the body then at any cost, because I know the cost of you not working with them.”

GM: “Then go to them with something else. I don’t care what. Just get his body.”

Caroline: “You think I don’t want his body back? You think I don’t to lay him to rest? You think I don’t want some closure, and to give you some? But ultimatums don’t work when they hold all the cards.”

GM: “Caroline. Get his body. I don’t care what you say to them. It’s of no inherent value to them except as leverage over me.”

Caroline: She sighs. “But I’ll do it. I’ll pay whatever price they want. But know you’re not making demands of them. You’re not hurting them. You’re making demands of me.”

“And no, Mom, it’s not. They already have leverage over you: it’s the sword hanging over my head. It’s leverage over me… and it’s protection of the Masquerade, because what they did to Westley is not fit for public consumption.”*reverse those two

GM: “Fine. I am demanding that you bring back the body of your brother, who you didn’t even try to save,” Claire snaps.

She pulls the car off to a stop at the nearest curb and closes her eyes for a moment, the haggardness of her features looking all the more pronounced. “I’m sorry.”

Caroline: “No… I’m sorry. Your whole world has come crashing down, and it’s my fault.”

GM: Her mother lets out a low sigh as she stares ahead.

Caroline: “Just know it’s come crashing down for me too.”

GM: “Just get his body, Caroline,” she says wearily. “The public funeral can use the fake, if they’re so concerned about the Masquerade. It’s not as if it’s going to be open casket anyway.”

Caroline: “Okay,” Caroline nods.

GM: “And don’t undersell your position. They want us to cooperate with them. I’m an inordinately inconvenient Masquerade breach to have to clean up.”

Caroline: The comment sets Caroline deep in thought as to the very nature of her Embrace, to how she was plucked from a crowd and how long she was watched, how subtly she was influenced. To whether or not they knew the truth of her mother’s activities before her Embrace.

“Clean up.” Caroline says the words bitterly.

GM: “It’s what it is to them, Caroline,” her mother says levelly.

Caroline: “I know. What did you tell the family about me? It seemed like things were rapidly working towards panic.” Caroline knows. And she knows now matter how inconvenient, the moment they don’t have her as leverage over her mother, that her mother’s life is over. Another reason she can’t afford to meet her end.

GM: “Yes, they were. You only being able to answer your phone at night isn’t going to work. Not in today’s day and age where everyone is constantly connected.”

Caroline: “I know. They want me to stage my death anyway. Soon.”

GM: Her mother is quiet for a moment at that statement. “I suppose this couldn’t go on forever.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “And in this, if nothing else, they’re not wrong. You said yourself, this isn’t working. We’re barely two weeks in and I’ve got Gabriel trying to drop by and threatening to call the police. And it’ll only get worse in the summer, when the sun sets late and rises early.”

GM: “Gabriel wasn’t being unreasonable either,” her mother adds. “Both of us have seen you lately, but to the rest of the family, you seem like you’ve fallen off the grid since Decadence. When there was a catastrophic piece of news like your brother dying, your continuing silence only made everyone more bewildered.”

Caroline: “So, what was the story, before I get to returning calls?”

GM: “Gabriel stopped by your house. When it looked so wrecked and of course you couldn’t answer the door, he thought something had happened and reached out to the family. They hadn’t heard anything from you either, so he went to the police.” Her mother purses her lips. “He should have gone to Roger.”

Caroline: “So what did you do to calm him down?”

GM: “I caught wind and had Roger clear things up with NOPD. I told Gabriel that you’d been… raped at Decadence, and that was why everything in your life seemed to be falling apart.”

Caroline: “Oh.”

It’s a story they both discussed, but it’s still harsh to hear her mother talk about explaining to her little brother how she was sexually assaulted to cover up the far darker assault that took place.

“I’m sure that wasn’t an easy conversation.”

GM: “No. No, it wasn’t.” Her mother’s eyes look misty.

Caroline: “How did he take it?”

GM: “Badly.”

Caroline: A nod. “Should I assume that story is making the rounds in the family then?”

GM: “I had him promise to let you deal with things on your own time. I told him you didn’t want the story spread around, and that after an ill-advised party you held in Matt’s house, I was getting you to see a therapist.”

Caroline: “Does Dad know?”

GM: “Not yet. But now that the story is out to one person, it’s only good sense to tell him. He’s going to be back in the city the day after tomorrow. He flew back up to Washington to take care of some further business there, and tomorrow there are some things he wants to get done in Baton Rouge.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I’ll try to keep the night open.”

GM: “Westley’s never been his first priority. Or I suppose anyone’s.”

Caroline: “Neither was I,” Caroline bitterly replies before she can bite it off.

GM: Her mother looks torn between the impulse to admonish Caroline and simple resignation over what’s an all-too apparent truth.

Caroline: Caroline shuts her mouth, but the next question sneaks out all the same. “Did you ever notice anything weird, Mom? When I was growing up I mean?”

GM: “You mean about you?”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

GM: “No, you were… normal. Normal enough, at least. All of this… I never expected it to happen… not as it did.”

Caroline: “What do you mean, not as it did?” Caroline probes.

GM: “That monstrous albino doesn’t just watch our family, Caroline. He’s interfered before.”

Caroline: “Did he interfere with me?” Caroline presses.

GM: “What are you searching for?” her mother asks back.

Caroline: “I don’t know,” Caroline admits. “Meaning? Purpose? When you’re turned into a damned monster by a being that walked the earth as one of the damned before your grandmother was born…” She sighs. “I got no answers from him in our brief meetings and now… well. It’s a bit too late to go asking questions. But it makes you question every choice in your life. Going to school at Tulane instead of to an Ivy League school. That push into law instead of medicine?”

GM: “I suppose it’s not impossible that another leech might have… groomed you. But the family is claimed by the albino, as you’ve said. I hadn’t been expecting Westley and… your murderer to interfere with our family, and as blatantly as he did. He seemed to come out of nowhere.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Maybe I’m just looking for meaning in it. Searching for purpose amid the senselessness of it.”

GM: “You should look into him further. Even if he’s gone and can’t directly answer our questions, establishing a better sense of who he was could make his motives clearer.”

Caroline: “The childe of the last sheriff,” Caroline recounts. “Who left the prince’s service after his sire’s death at the hands of a group of hunters. I had an opportunity to interrogate his oldest servant. He didn’t seem to know very much.”

GM: “Yes, we went over your discoveries. What he had to say was quite informative, but there’s a great deal still missing. I suppose it’s poor practice for your kind to tell their slaves more than they need to do their jobs.”

Caroline: “What detail is that?”

GM: “His activities around the time of your death, for one. Why he came back to the city at all. Why he left in the first place. Outrage over the prince killing innocents sounds possible, but that’s still speculation on our parts. The full nature of his dealings with Savoy and the Setites.”

Caroline: “I’ll add it to the list,” Caroline replies dryly.

GM: “It’s your own murder to investigate.”

Caroline: “Is Gabriel still in town?”

GM: “Of course, after the news about Westley,” Claire confirms.

Caroline: “I’d like to see him.”

GM: “You have his number. I’m sure he’d like that too.”

Caroline: “Just making sure there aren’t any hanging chads on that. Are you going to be available over the next few days?”

GM: “None on him. But now that Gabriel knows something of what’s happened, we need to straighten out what story we’re going to tell your father. And yes, I should be.”

Caroline: “You’ve known him longer than I have,” Caroline responds to her mother’s comment on her father.

GM: “This isn’t solely for his sake, Caroline. We need to establish a consistent narrative that’s going to eventually come out to the rest of the family, as well as the police and possibly media, once you’ve faked your death. I was vague on the particulars of your… rape with your brother, but other people are going to require more detail.”

Caroline: The entire conversation leaves her feeling unclean, but Caroline finally nods in agreement.

GM: Her mother starts the car back up. “So, what’s the story?”

Caroline: “In broad strokes, I went out to Decadence, was separated from everyone else as the crowd turned rough, and was dragged down an alley by a group. At some point during their attack I blacked out. When I woke up I was alone, and had to make my way back home alone without my phone or wallet. My memories of it all are fuzzy—I was drunk, maybe even drugged.”

The unclean feeling builds. None of it’s a lie, not really, but none of it is the truth, and she’s known victims of sexual assault. Friends. Clients. Using it like this feels so wrong.

“But you knew all of that. We’re building out the details, right?”

GM: Her mother doesn’t look as if she’s enjoying the conversation particularly much either, but answers, “Yes, such as who’s going to take the fall for assaulting you.”

“Oh, that reminds me,” she adds, looking less grim, “there is some good news to share. That stalker of Cécilia’s has been sent to Orleans Parish Prison for a year, if you haven’t already read.”

Caroline: “Christ, what did that idiot do now?”

GM: “Oh, so you haven’t? Well, I’ve not followed the case as closely as Luke, but it all started when he tried to break into the girls’ dorms at Tulane, then caused a scene with the police. You said he was harmless, but it really does seem like a pattern, how much he’s harassing girls. I don’t think it was even 24 hours after he got out from jail that he was arrested again. There were also several counts of assaulting and obstructing public officers.”

Caroline: Caroline pinches the bridge of her nose. “He’s going to die there.”

GM: “Yes, that’s what Carson said too. Luke wanted him to reject any plea deal that didn’t result in prison time, but Carson was very insistent that conditions in the parish jail are worse than in many federal prisons.”

Caroline: “It’s pretty terrible,” Caroline agrees. She shakes her head. “You can’t fix stupid.”

GM: “He said that over 20 inmates are sent to hospital emergency rooms every month—hospitals, because their injuries are so severe the in-house infirmary can’t treat treat them. And that’s leaving out the ones who die or the corrupt staff refuses treatment to.”

Caroline: “That sounds about right.” Caroline shakes her head again. “What a moron.”

GM: “Luke says Cécilia is feeling much better.”

Caroline: “I guess that’s something. She was pretty freaked out when I talked to her.”

GM: “Yes, she was. God only knows how he got into her apartment building. And God knows that family has been through enough after the police shooting.”

Caroline: “In any case, enough about him. For potential attackers, I’m going to need time to put something together. My police contacts were… cut off. I can build something, find some likely sadists, but it’s going to be through other channels. For now, I’m too distraught to clearly recount it, and was drunk during the attack—I don’t clearly remember.”

GM: Her mother purses her lips. “You’ll need to put something together very soon, then. Your father will want to keep this out of the media, but taking care of ‘problems’ like this is exactly what we pay Roger for.”

Caroline: “I know, but I’m not eager to throw innocent men to the wolves, or craft a narrative that isn’t going to stand up and make it a bigger mess. I’ve also got, as you alone know, a number of other matters on my plate just this moment. And Roger isn’t some two-bit thug. He’ll do his homework, so this needs to look good.”

GM: Claire finally pulls up by Distinctive Parking, a parking garage near One Shell Square. She pays for a space but has to spend several minutes searching for an available one. “This is terrible,” she remarks. Normally, of course, the chauffeur would spare either Malveaux the need to hunt for space.

Caroline: Not the first uncomfortable ground they’ve been forced into of late. “It’s pretty awful,” Caroline agrees. “I almost had to go into a Wal-Mart earlier.”

GM: “And yes, you’re right Roger will do his homework. I suppose your kind’s powers could come in useful there.”

Caroline: “They could. I’d prefer they not be necessary.”

GM: Claire makes her way across the street to One Shell Square with Caroline. This early in the evening, there are still many pedestrians up and about. Bars and restaurants are still open. Human society carries on as normal during the night’s initial hours, and it feels almost possible to pretend the two are another mother and daughter discussing mundane things on their way to somewhere.

“Power is best only used when necessary,” Claire agrees.

Caroline: Caroline keeps her own more morose thoughts on that matter to herself. “Why didn’t we do this, Mom?”

GM: Claire doesn’t immediately respond to the question as the two approach the stairs down to the skyscraper’s basement club—one of the comparatively few buildings in New Orleans to possess a basement, thanks to the less swampy ground in the CBD.

The doorman smiles at the pair and gets the door for them as they approach.

“Why don’t people do any of the things they wish they had on their deathbeds?” her mother asks.

Caroline: “Clarity,” Caroline provides. “Death is sobering.”

GM: The club’s interior is best described as subdued luxury. Silhouettes of dark figures are illuminated by soft multichromatic lights. In contrast to the wildly spinning and scintillating ones at French Quarter dance clubs, the Corner Club’s are stationary and reflect a graduating color palette: yellow by the bar, orange in an adjacent corner, magenta in the one next by, and indigo at that spot’s neighbor. Faces are distinct up close but not far away. Background music is soft, relaxing, and only half-audible against the low murmur of conversation. There is no central dance floor, and most patrons are parked at the bar or reclining on comfortable-looking leather couches. Most wear business attire, and many look old enough to be home-owning parents, or even grandparents.

The figure who moves to greet Caroline and her mother is a handsome, 30-something man with dark hair and a carefully-trimmed goatee. He’s dressed in a casual black suit that could still be formal enough to wear to a board meeting if he buttoned it closed and on a tie.

“Mrs. Malveaux, Ms. Malveaux,” he says soberly, without his usual smile. His gaze lingers on Claire. “I heard about your son. I can’t begin to say how sorry I am. I’ve had your favorite seat reserved, and drinks are on the house tonight. Don’t hesitate to let me know if there’s anything more I can do.”

“Thank you, Marcus. That will be enough for now,” her mother answers.

Caroline: “Marcus.” Caroline offers by way of greeting and acknowledgement. She can actually smell how good the hunting is here: middle-managers chasing MBAs, others chasing undergrads desperately in the rat race. Dark corners. The Ventrue doesn’t quite lick her lips.

GM: Her mother’s eyes linger on her for a moment. Claire does not otherwise seem in the mood for further small talk and Marcus is sensitive enough not to make any. He personally leads the two to what’s likely Claire’s favorite spot: a secluded, half-walled alcove that has a circular couch surrounding a round glass table with a large hole in the center. The hole rests just over an open and (thankfully for Caroline) unlit stone hearth. A soft orange glow rises from unseen lights at the bottom. Figures beyond the alcove seem indistinct shadows under the dim light. It seems almost as if Caroline and her mother are gathered around a primeval fire-spit, like ancient peoples who did so to ward off the dark—and the equally ancient monsters within it.

Marcus states that Claire’s and Caroline’s usuals will be by shortly, though he pauses just long enough to see if either of the two wants to order anything else. Claire doesn’t. The club’s manager tells them to let him know if there’s anything (anything) at all they should want, and the silently withdraws. An intercom is even built into one of the alcove’s walls, allowing patrons to order food or drinks from the bar in the other room without any need to get up from their seats. Claire sighs as she sits down on the couch.

“We did things together, when you were very young, but you always were closer to your father. Then during your teens I suppose we just drifted apart. His career kept him busier, he didn’t have as much time for you, and I suppose… we all kept drifting.”

Caroline: “You could have just said we all grew up,” Caroline replies wistfully.

GM: “There’s a difference between growing up and growing apart,” her mother refutes. More wantfully than insistently.

Caroline: “Is there? We all go form our own lives, our own circles, our own things that matter. For Dad it might have been politics, for Luke it looks like Cécilia… I think it’s like nap time though.”

GM: Claire gives a tired shrug. “That’s why we didn’t do things like this.”

Caroline: “You don’t appreciate it until it’s gone. Not just the thing, but even the opportunity.”

GM:’For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these:
It might have been.

Caroline: “What do you want, Mom?”

GM: “Nothing. That I can have, at least. You broached the topic.”

Caroline: “I mean in general. I know this,” she doesn’t need to specify what, “wasn’t what you wanted, but what was your vision?”

GM: One of the club’s staff arrives, bearing Caroline and her mother’s drinks: greyhound with vodka, lime and gourmet ice for the former, and a white cuban with cream in place of milk for the latter. Claire thoughtfully swishes the sweet, coffee-flavored drink as the woman leaves, sending its own octagon-shaped ice cubes clinking.

It’s not without some irony that Caroline can smell how the deliverer of her now-noxious drink is working on a college degree. How she could so easily slake the Ventrue’s real thirst.

“You and the rest of the family kept ignorant of the things going on in the shadows,” her mother answers. “But beyond that… I suppose I didn’t put a great deal of thought into how things could have been either.”

Caroline: “Interesting choice in men, if that was the goal,” Caroline replies as she takes a putrid sip of her already tart drink.

Because it’s expected, Coco said. The taste is even worse than she feared, but much like the hotel food of not so long ago, she manages to choke it down. It immediately sets her stomach—such as it is—rolling. It’s mostly through force of will that she keeps it where it belongs. Where she needs it to be. She has to be able to blend.

GM: Her mother silently and very obviously stares as she forces down the drink. “I can take a few sips of that for you. I can’t imagine it’s pleasant to choke down.”

Caroline: Caroline’s instinct is to decline. She needs to learn this skill, and her pride, to say nothing of the Beast, wants her to hide any weakness. But there have been so many barriers between them. So many missed opportunities.

“I’d appreciate it,” she answers. “It’s not as easy as it looks.”

GM: Her mother picks up the glass and takes a sip. Her lips pucker slightly. “Sour. I always preferred sweeter drinks.”

Caroline: “You and every other sorority girl I’ve ever known.”

GM: Her mother looks simultaneously guarded and faintly amused as the topic of sororities, but also her sorority comes up. It’s a peculiar expression.

Caroline: “Sometimes a joke is just a joke,” Caroline replies with a smile as she takes another sip of her drink that reduces it to the halfway mark and wipes the smile from her face. It’s awful, like drinking drain cleaner. There’s mental revulsion at the taste and physical revulsion to what has become so much more than the poison it once was to her. She sets the drink down.

GM: “Goodness, Caroline, I still said I’d drink from it,” Claire remarks as she sees Caroline still take a pull. “You could drop an entire lime in that and it’d probably still taste better to me than you.”

Caroline: “I need the practice, though I won’t turn down the help. Next time I’ll order a more housewife-appropriate drink though. Something off Sex and the City. No reason we should both suffer.”

GM: Her mother takes another sip of Caroline’s drink, then washes it down with a sip from her white cuban.

“The lead woman from a Bond film popularized these, actually,” she answers. “Mine is technically a variant. The film’s used vodka.”

Caroline: “Something new every day,” Caroline quips. “I used to meet him here. Not was often as I should have, but it was relatively safe for him after the accident. He could get away here.”

GM: Her mother’s face falls a bit. “Yes. I paid one of the bartenders to keep an eye on him.”

Caroline: “And no cameras here,” Caroline agrees. There’s a wistfulness and a sorrow to her words. “I’d have a couple of drinks with him, mostly to check on him. I think mostly we complained about Dad.”

GM: “At least you were talking. So many others in the family seemed to forget he existed,” her mother remarks with another sip of Caroline’s drink. There’s equal parts regret to her own words.

Caroline: “At least Luke and I had the early years. The only attention he ever got from Dad was when he did something wrong. Is it any surprise he kept doing it?” Caroline shakes her head. “After a while instead of trying to measure up…”

GM: “I suppose he just wound up the forgotten middle child,” her mother reflects. “You were the only girl. Luke was the oldest son. Gabriel was the baby, especially with how much later along he came than the rest of you.”

Caroline: “It’s not just that,” Caroline admits. “Luke and I were so busy competing for Dad’s attention… how was little brother supposed to compete? Oh, you took second place in the spelling bee? Caroline, tell me more about your trip to nationals.”

GM: “I had hope for a moment, you know, when you went into med school. Westley could have gone into law, and from there, politics. Luke’s always had a better head for business, and Gabriel was still so young. Your father would have been so proud to see one of his sons become senator or governor.”

“But Westley was…” Her mother sighs. “Well, I suppose if we’re being honest, he never felt he could measure up to you or Luke, in college. He felt as if he’d squandered his time in high school, not going to nationals or doing anything else really noteworthy like you did.” Claire sips her drink. “And spending time at that New Orleans school. He wanted to be in the city so badly, but maybe he felt like we didn’t want him either.”

Caroline: “You didn’t know?” Caroline asks.

GM: “I didn’t know what?” her mother asks.

Caroline: “He threw it. Those last two meets. After Dad didn’t show up when he cleaned house at Berchmans.”

GM: Claire sighs again. “No, he didn’t tell me that. But it would explain a few things.”

“After you went to med school, I convinced him he could make a new path for himself in law, and maybe politics—he’s always been good with people, and not quite so uptight as Luke. But the pressure was so hard on him in college. He still felt like he was racing to catch up with you and Luke. He was embarrassed that he didn’t get into an Ivy League school—maybe he felt part of that stemmed from shooting himself in the foot, with debate.”

“I tried to point out we’ve had a speaker of the House come from Tulane, but college party culture was just so attractive to him, I suppose, as a way to blow off steam. But that made his studies suffer, and turned it into a catch-22.”

“Then came the accident with the girl. You remember the family drama over that. How they all treated him. After that, he just… stopped trying. I’m really not sure how much St. Joseph’s had to do with that.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles sadly. “Different perspectives, I guess. It’s interesting to see the other side of it.”

GM: “How did you?”

Caroline: “Well, for one thing, I thought for sure you both knew how heavily he started drinking after Berchmans. He was so hung over the morning of his next tournament that I had to break out the frozen spoons to get him half presentable for it.”

GM: “He’d always had a weakness for alcohol,” her mother admits, “especially as a coping mechanism. But he wasn’t always a drunk. That really only got out of control after college… but since he’d always had a history of drinking, was intoxicated when he killed that girl, and no one else had really paid attention to him, I think they just wrote him off as being a perennial drunk. But he wasn’t born with a bottle in his mouth. He didn’t just drink for no reason. No one does.”

Caroline: “I don’t know why I jumped ship into law. Selfish I guess.”

GM: Her mother shakes her head. “It’s not as if your brother or I told you any of this. Besides, med school never seemed like it would work out.”

Caroline: “What do you mean by that?” Caroline asks.

GM: Claire takes another sip from both glasses, washing down the tart greyhound with sweet cuban. The glow of the hearth’s orange light softly illuminates her still-comely features, so like Caroline’s, but also the age lines her daughter will never bear.

“You never really struck me as a healer.”

Caroline: The words get under her skin like a splinter, and just like one she can’t help but pick at them.

“What did I strike you as, then?”

GM: “Someone more in your father’s mold. You always looked up to him so much.”

Caroline: “The early years. I remembered those years. Kept trying to recapture them. Remember him tucking me in, bedtime stories. My first report cards.”

GM: “It wasn’t anything you did or didn’t do. Your father always wanted to prove he could do more than your grandfather. His responsibilities finally grew to the point he could throw all of his time and effort into them.”

Caroline: “Does knowing make you feel it less?” Caroline asks, and not about her father.

GM: Her mother takes another sip from both drinks. “No. It helps some small part of it feel better, or at least make more sense. But I don’t feel it any less.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “And neither did I. I think I thought I could make him come back, make him see me, if I did something great. I guess I’ll get his attention at least once more.”

GM: “You could have gone into politics yourself, you know. A while in private practice, maybe concurrently as a state congresswoman. A jump from there to district attorney or attorney general, and from there to governor or senator. We did have a woman governor not too long ago.”

Caroline: “It was there in the back of my mind,” Caroline admits.

She opens her mouth, but nothing comes out when she starts to speak. She closes it.

GM: Her mother takes her hand. “I’m sorry.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “Don’t be. The church,” and it’s clear she’s not speaking of the Catholic Church, “teaches that everyone that it happens to had it happen because they deserved it. I’m not any different. Maybe sometime I’ll tell you that story. And unlike all the others, there’s someone I can talk about it with at least.”

GM: That sentiment is oft-repeated among less spiritually developed Sanctified as ‘we are all Embraced for a reason’ or ‘it is by God’s will that we become Kindred.’ Such bromides, however comforting, are simply untrue. They posit a simple answer to an exceedingly complex question.

“Well, as far as sins do go, Caroline, your mortal ones are hardly a ping on the radar net to others in this family.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles tightly. “We’ll talk about it. Just not tonight.”

GM: “Very well. So far as remaining things for tonight, you’ve said they told you to fake your death.” Her mother takes another two sequential sips of greyhound and cuban.

Caroline: “Yes. Within the next year, and the sooner the better, so long as it doesn’t arouse suspicion.”

GM: “A year gives us some time, then, and could make sense in the aftermath of a rape. But a rape-driven suicide isn’t very good for your father’s image.”

Caroline: “The longer we wait the more uncomfortable this is going to become with the rest of the family,” Caroline replies. “And the more forced a narrative we’ll be crafting.”

GM: “So sooner rather than later, then.” Her mother drums her fingernails on the table’s glass. “We may as well get something out of your death if we have to put the family through it. We could have you murdered by a black criminal or anti-petroleum activist, who’s subsequently sent off to prison. That’ll make your father look strong while building up sympathy for him.” Claire sighs. “If only this were happening during an election year, and we could link the murder to your father’s opponent.”

Caroline: Caroline stares at her mother.

GM: Her mother stares back. “Your death is going to put this family through enough, especially after Westley’s. We might as well use it to help your father’s career.”

Caroline: Caroline holds her mother’s gaze for a moment, but finally looks away.

“So you want a murder,” she finally answers after a long pause. The Ventrue shakes her head. “A murder leaves a corpse, leaves an investigation, leads to trial, leads to extended media play. Makes everything much harder on my end, up to and including day to day interactions for the foreseeable future by keeping my face in the press. If that’s the direction you want, it’s going to have to be damn airtight.”

GM: “Of course we want a murder, Caroline. It could make an excellent political narrative.” Claire looks at her daughter sharply. “Do you want a suicide, instead? Some other scandal the family needs to cover up, that will tar our image? Is that the parting gift you want to leave your father with?”

Caroline: She effects a sigh. “No, but I’d rather it not be my last action either. It’s exactly the opposite of what they’re going to like. It’ll attract attention, it’ll invite outside investigations… it’s going to have to be perfect.”

GM: “Yes. That’s also why we should have a backup plan, in case for whatever reason, we can’t or don’t want to go through with a murder. An accidental death of some kind that won’t generate a sustained investigation, but will at least generate sympathy for your father. Lord knows the public is up in tears for the vice president after his son.”

Caroline: “What kind of accident?”

GM: “Perhaps a car crash, or drowning. Something that doesn’t make you look at fault. What occurs to you?”

Caroline: “I’d been more focused on narrative and cleanup, a jump off a bridge.” Caroline bites her lip. “Car accident might work better, especially with a fire. Drowning would leave too clean a corpse they’d want to see.”

GM: “A car accident, then. I presume acquiring a disfigured corpse wouldn’t be overly difficult for you.”

Caroline: “You’d think that,” Caroline replies. “Right now I don’t know. It’s probably not impossible, but again, it has to look good. If we mess this up it’s not just my head on the chopping block.”

GM: “It frequently isn’t.”

Caroline: “All right. I’ll start laying plans. But I’m going to need your help when it comes time to execute things.”

GM: Claire takes a long sip from her cuban. “Very well. Let’s plan your death.”

Tuesday night, 22 September 2015, PM

GM: Claire drives her daughter back to wrecked house several hours later. She reminds Caroline that the rest of the family will expect to her from her by tomorrow (the “lost phone” excuse will work only so many times, she adds) before pulling out of the driveway.

Caroline gives Autumn another call. It isn’t long before her minicooper pulls in to the driveway. “Hey. Lot to talk about, I guess?” She finds a place to sit down and looks at her domitor expectantly.

Caroline: “Why don’t you start with your end.”

GM: Autumn shrugs. “It’s been an uneventful few days. I mainly sat around watching Webflix, like you wanted. My family gave me crap for disappearing that many days with only a text, but they didn’t call the cops over me being missing or anything.”

Caroline: Caroline tries to keep her face straight, but if her first words strike a spark of irritation, everything Autumn relates as she goes on just adds fuel to the fire. “I see,” she replies tightly. Must be nice.

GM: “Is something wrong?” Autumn asks uncertainly. “I mean… besides the house. What happened here, anyways?”

Caroline: “Redecorating,” Caroline replies. “And nothing you did. It’s just been,” she pinches the bridge of her nose, “It’s been a long few days.”

GM: “I bet. They end up trying to use me against you like you thought?”

Caroline: “Let’s just say it wasn’t a very fun time, Autumn, but it’s over now and we’ve got a lot of work to do.” She bites her lip. “A lot of work.”

GM: “All right. A few other ghouls filled me in on how it went. What’s there to do?”

Caroline: “Well, let’s start with what the other ghouls told you. Easier for me to fill in around what you know than start from the beginning,” Caroline answers.

GM: Autumn fills Caroline in. It has most of the highlights; the prince executed around a dozen Kindred, including George Smith, for breaking the Masquerade. Hurst and Matheson got off. Before he died, Smith spilled that Vidal is overdue to enter torpor, and that Maldonato is Sabbat. Coco’s Anarchs aren’t jumping ship over to Savoy, but Veronica’s aren’t jumping back to Vidal either. Between that and the firestorm-like rumors Smith started, the general consensus is that Savoy won this round.

Beyond that, however, many of the finer details are vague or incomplete, as might be expected from witnesses who were sitting in the very back of the cathedral. None of the Kindred were using microphones.

“I also heard about your sire… I hope seeing him get justice brought you some closure,” Autumn finishes.

Caroline: “It was a bad way to go… but not bad enough.”

GM: “I can’t think of much worse, being burned alive and dying while apeshit.”

Caroline: “Maybe I just have a more active imagination,” Caroline concedes. “In any case, some of the concerns are the same: Trenton Nowak’s ‘suicide’, continuing to shift assets, my family probing, and how compromised this home is. Others are new, such as investigating, screening, and initiating additional prospective ghouls.” She bites her lip. “And putting your own life back together. I know hiding put a significant strain on you.”

GM: “It’s not the first time I’ve had to disappear from them. Not usually for that long, admittedly.”

“That’s a lot of other stuff, but I guess it’s good, now that your sire’s ash and you can focus on other things. Who are you wanting to bring in, so far as other ghouls?”

Caroline: “Less who, more what. There are certain needs that need to be seen to. Managing assets during the day, points of contact for other Kindred, and of course security.”

GM: “I can do some of that. Any new ghoul you bring in is gonna be totally ignorant of how the masked city works. And picking up an older one who isn’t won’t be free.”

Caroline: “Then we phase them in slowly and identify the best candidates. No more rush jobs, and no outsiders.”

GM: “You mean, normal people who aren’t already inside the club, or current ghouls?”

Caroline: “No one else’s ghouls.”

GM: “Well, you won’t want them interacting with other licks, then. Even you’re still getting up to speed on doing that.”

Caroline: “Not yet, but we need to start identifying long-term assets, Autumn. The basis for all power is long-term planning. Compounding factors.”

GM: “Sure. But if you need a ghoul to handle that stuff right now, or over the next few months… you really don’t wanna entrust it to someone green.”

Caroline: “I don’t want to entrust it to anyone, but even damned I’m not foolish enough to entrust it to someone else’s ghoul.”

GM: “I hope I don’t still count as one.”

Caroline: “You were different,” Caroline replies defensively.

GM: “That’s a relief. Where’s Turner, by the way? She should probably hear this too.”

Caroline: Caroline looks away for a moment. “She’s dead. She snapped… I don’t know what the last straw was, but the last time I spoke to her she was spewing nothing but hate and trying to get me killed.”

GM: Autumn grows very quiet at that news.

Caroline: “Look… there’s more to it…” Caroline sighs. “There’s more to a lot of things. And no, I can’t tell you. But this is the truth: I didn’t want her to die, I did everything in my power to prevent it, and I did everything I could to make it easier on her when it happened. I hate that she’s gone.”

GM: Autumn still does not speak for several moments. “Okay. Well… I guess life has to go on.”

Caroline: “The madness is over, Autumn,” Caroline tries to reassure her. “The bit with René, Eight-Nine-Six, the trial. There are always going to be dangers, but it’s my hope that we can take them more on our terms.”

GM: “If you say so,” Autumn says quietly. “I hope so too.”

Caroline’s insides abruptly churn. The Ventrue feels sick. Not from something as paltry as a stomach ache, but like bleach eating away her intestines.

Caroline: Her hand comes up to cover her mouth as Caroline bolts for the kitchen sink.

GM: The lime greyhound violently rocks up Caroline’s throat like an acidic geyser. The Ventrue hears herself loudly retching as something wet trickles down her chin. There’s no gunk that sticks to her teeth, but the aftertaste is worse than any vomit she’s expelled. It’s like trying to throw up on an empty stomach. It is throwing up on an empty stomach. She feels oddly but unbearably famished as it occurs to her that’s been over two weeks since she last ate anything solid.

Caroline: She shivers and wipes her mouth and chin with one hand. If she had to breathe she’d be gasping. As is she simply feels disgusted.

GM: “Uh, you okay?” Autumn calls. The revolting aftertaste does not go away. Caroline’s Beast snarls at the memory of how this meatsack could once have quenched it, but even Autumn’s thin blood would be better than the residual poison fermenting in her mouth.

Caroline: Caroline wets a towel instead and wipes the remains of the drink from her chin. She turns the water up to hot and scrubs at her hands without turning to face Autumn. “Tastes even worse on the way back,” she growls.

GM: “Bad blood?”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “Vodka.”

GM: “Well, good call if you were wanting to blend in.”

Caroline: “Doesn’t feel like it right now.” Caroline rewarms the towel and wipes her face again. “But the family was freaking out. Had to put on an appearance.”

GM: “No way you could see anything like that coming in the future?”

Caroline: “The family or the vomit?”

GM: “Well, the vomit I think’s a given. And less dangerous than the family.”

Caroline: “I saw it coming, which is the only reason the cops didn’t show up.” Caroline rinses out the hand towel and hangs it over the facet. “I spun a story, but it’s not going to hold up forever. Need to start thinking about how I’m going to fake my death.”

GM: “That’s a good idea,” Autumn nods. “Suicide that doesn’t leave behind a body is easiest. Jumping off a bridge. Suicide via pills or overdose is even better if you have someone inside the coroner’s department to help falsify things. The Krewe does, of course.” The look in the ghouls’s eyes over Turner seems to mostly dim as she talks about the Masquerade.

Caroline: “That was my initial thought… but my family being the domain of Father Malveaux complicates things. A suicide would do a lot of damage to them, especially on the heels of my brother.”

GM: “You have something else in mind?”

Caroline: “Precisely? No. I need to talk to Father Malveaux. Generally? Maybe something that advances a political position or undermines a rival. Or a tragic accident. Car over a bridge railing. Everything has an up and a down side.”

GM: “Oh, speaking of Father Malveaux, I actually got a message from a ghoul of his to pass onto you. He said he’ll take your confession and hear how you did on your penance tomorrow at 9. Guess the trial had him pretty busy for a while.”

Caroline: “God damn it,” Caroline curses.

GM: “Busy then?”

Caroline: “Meeting with Savoy at 10.”

GM: “Could maybe work if you squeeze it. What’s Savoy meeting you for?”

Caroline: “Presumably to make his pitch.”

The two discuss events past, present, and future that Autumn has been largely left out of by her isolation over the last few days. Caroline doesn’t clue the ghoul into the details of her sentencing and instead focuses on plans for the future, in particular the idea of laying low and trying to establish a solid foundation before delving into Kindred politics. Among those things, she brings up the idea of interviewing and screening other potential ghouls more closely.

GM: Autumn is receptive to the ideas of Caroline establishing her own power base and performing interviews and background checks on other prospective ghouls. She continues to maintain that such recent inductees to the All-Night Society should not be allowed to interact with other Kindred. Her last question does not pertain to the future, however, but the past.

“So, Matheson… do you think he was really doing it? Feeding on those neonates? Or… you?”

Caroline: Give yourself to me. Caroline tries very hard to keep her face motionless at the memory of those words: not even a memory, a memory of an electronic memory.

“No. Not really. Too much to lose, too little too gain, and he’s been good to me… and by most accounts other neonates to.”

GM: “Well, I’m not sure most addicts do cost-benefit analyses of their addictions. But I guess at the end of the day no one could find proof.”

Caroline: “All they ever had was some weak ‘could haves,’” Caroline agrees.

Much like she herself does.

Wednesday night, 23 September 2015, AM

GM: It’s some hours later when Caroline parks her new BMW outside Donovan’s Audubon home. It’s still an expensive-looking, three-story affair with a wide driveway and impeccably-maintained yard with several neat rows of trees and flowerbeds. A Porsche and BMW sit in front of the house. Unsmiling guards see the Ventrue in. They walk her down polished hardwood floors and past bland photographs of still landscapes that would get an ‘A’ in photography class for meeting all the teacher’s grading requirements, and nothing else. Not so much as a smudge of dirt or creased rug is present in the house. There are no scattered clothes or electronic devices, dirty dishes, or sign it’s actually lived in. It feels more like a model house than a lived-in home. Indeed, for all the dwelling’s well-to-do-ness, its architecture is almost offensively generic, the same McMansion style copied in hundreds of wealthy suburbias. This house lacks a soul.

The guards escort Caroline to a spartan office room with a desk, three chairs, and little else. Donovan almost sits behind the desk.

“Hound Agnello has purchased your rights to dwell in my domain,” the sheriff states without preamble, “and is willing to accept your oath of fealty as his tenant. You are hereby expelled from the parish of Riverbend. You are permitted 24 hours to remove yourself and your possessions before you are dealt with as an intruder.”

Caroline: Caroline keeps the frown off her face as she tries to put together what the sheriff said, make sense of the words. Out of the sheriff’s house into his hound’s kennel? It’s a bitter thought that she flushes. Agnello has been little but kind to her, and she can hardly pretend that she didn’t wish to be free of her oath to Donovan. The two have yet to have an interaction that doesn’t involve him taking advantage of or punishing her in some way, and given his low opinion of her is, the prospect of eternity under his thumb was unpleasant.

On the other hand, twenty-four hours to make a move into another domain given her meetings tomorrow and the late hour already leaves her little time to make it work, and that he took the time and spent the effort to buy out her ‘lease’ as it were bodes ill of she turns up her nose at his offer…

“My thanks for conveying his invitation, and for the shelter of Riverbend these nights.”

GM: “Your total obligations to me amount to the following,” Donovan coolly continues. He recounts: last week’s still-outstanding corvée. Her failure to pay that corvée on time. Changing the form of that corvée at her request. Permitting her to abduct a single kine from Tulane.

The sheriff pulls back his sleeve, produces a pen knife, and slits his wrist. He extends his arm across the desk. The unmistakable coppery tang of vitae fills the air as his storm-gray eyes wordlessly bore into Caroline’s.

Caroline: Caroline keeps her face impassive as the sheriff lays out the many ways in which he has ensnared her, then stares at his wrist. The smell is remarkably distracting. Much rests on whether or not he knows, but she suspects he does, suspects he has as much respect for the privacy of her mind as did Matheson.

“Was there anything else I should be aware of in the immediate, Sheriff Donovan?”

GM: Donovan’s achromatic eyes bore into hers.


Caroline: There’s a flash of muted colors, all black cloth and white skin, as Caroline rises from her seat and half-kneels against the desk. She doesn’t quite lick her lips as she swallows the blood down.

GM: The vitae is ice-cool as it trickles down Caroline’s throat, as if it’s been left in a freezer. Each cold pang leaves her longing her more.

“Deliver me a complete recounting of your interactions with Claire Malveaux since your Embrace,” the sheriff states. His face seems all-too close. His frigid gaze all-too intense.

Caroline: She feels that same abnormal pull towards the sheriff, that slight tweaking of her perspective, as the vitae fills her. It twists at his demand, though. Bucks. Fights.

“Deliver you, or deliver the prince through you, Sheriff Donovan?”

GM: The sheriff only stares, eyes cold and dead as any shark’s.

Caroline: Caroline meets that stare. Those dead eyes. Something pulls at the back of her mind, asks what the harm could be of giving in to the sheriff… it wars with her rational mind, but for now she holds her tongue.

GM: Pallid lips pull back. Fangs flash. Howling winds fill Caroline’s ears as a storm bursts from Donovan’s colorless eyes—eyes as frigid and merciless as an Arctic sea in the dead of winter. The low hiss from the sheriff’s lips sounds like cracking ice plates. Caroline’s Beast shrieks as its plummets into the deathly cold waters beneath. It thrashes madly to surface before it’s too late. Before it sees what’s at the bottom.

The Ventrue realizes she is staring at Donovan’s desk—and that his patience, like the seneschal’s, is far past its end with her.

Caroline: The Beast’s retreat leaves Caroline feeling empty in the face of the monster inside the sheriff. She’d once thought he was simply doing a job. That it was a thankless one. She’d defended him in her mind, as she defended many cops forced to deal with thugs and criminals on a daily basis. She was wrong.

This is no tired lawman exasperated by his duties. It’s a cold-blooded predator that takes its only pleasure in the sick domination of others. His office is not a burden, it’s a bludgeon in the hands of a monster. He’s every bit as disgusting, vile, and cruel as any Anarch in the city might believe. His lack of patience is not with exasperation over her actions, it’s with the fact that he hasn’t been allowed to murder her as he’s murdered so many countless others on the edge of that sword he carries around. She remembers all of those Kindred executed on the stage when she was first turned over to him in front of her. Remembers his blade over her neck and the lie his hound told that spared her. Remembers all of those horrible executions at the trial. Remembers Jessica’s head in a box. Remembers how he turned her over to René.

For all of that, this is the first time she’s seen anything but that blank stare on his face. The first time she’s seen anything inside of him. Anything of what makes him tick. The sheriff may be empty, but it’s not the emptiness of an unfilled room, the emptiness of the shattered home she’ll never go back to after tonight. It’s the emptiness of the deepest oceans scoured clean of life by the most terrifying of predators. The emptiness of the Arctic circle, where only those that hide from the unforgiving wind can exist. The emptiness of space, in which anything that enters dies. And her brief visit leaves her just as cold as one to any of those.

She shivers and shakes physically, her teeth clattering. Left alone, abandoned by her Beast before the sheriff, she’s all too aware of her vulnerability. Of how many souls he has swallowed up. Of how easily she could be next.

She begins to talk. She tells him what he wants. To tell him whatever he wants about perhaps the only human that knows, that will ever know, what she is, and how she feels. As she does so his blood works upon her, painting upon her mind in strokes neither gentle nor subtle to her already torn consciousness, pulled in half a dozen directions by similar ties. As she relates a tale that can only end with her mother at best slain, and at worst enslaved, it isn’t with the hatred of a daughter betraying her mother. It isn’t as a fish caught in the jaws of a shark. It’s as a young wolf offering up a tribute to the pack alpha. A monster admiring a monster. And no matter how hard she tries she can’t hate him for it. For anything. Even as her conscious mind rebels. As it screams in intellectual terror and reasoned fury at being treated so, her emotions betray her. Those arguments are only words. Those thoughts are only thoughts. In this moment she only feels close to him.

GM: Donovan patiently listens to Caroline’s tale without comment or change in facial expression.

When she is finished he states, “You will deliver weekly oral reports to me, at this time and location, on the entirety of your interactions with Claire Malveaux. You will establish a direct channel of communication between us. I will not deal with her through you.”

Caroline: “She will refuse to use that channel,” Caroline answers.

GM: “Then you are of no use to our prince and may be executed without loss,” the sheriff answers dispassionately.

Caroline: That’s not true, Caroline wants to snarl. Instead, she continues simply, “But you’re trying to force her to alter her deal within a week of making it to her determent. No one would agree to that. To say nothing of how she’ll view meeting with any other Kindred to begin with.”

GM: “This audience is concluded. Remove yourself.”

Caroline: She doesn’t want to go, but the weight of his Beast and the blood running through her pulls her in another way. She stiffly stands and takes her leave from the sheriff, passing back through the halls of the wretched McMansion and into the night. Another impossible demand. Another threat of execution. She peels out of the driveway and accelerates rapidly past the speed limit out of Audubon Place in the sleek German-built car, focusing on the road as cars and houses flash by. She doesn’t want to go ‘home’, such as it is, for the last night she’ll ever spend there, but she can stay out a few more minutes into the evening.

While she’s speeding down dark and empty streets—darkness she can see through better than any human—she can try and distract herself with the operation of the vehicle. But when she pulls back into Audubon Place and the driveway ‘home’ she can’t hide from the anguish she feels. The still-open wound of the seneschal’s death sentence broken back open and left to bleed. The ruin of her life and everyone she’s cared about. The future’s endless promise that comes due each night only in the form of more misery. When she finally drags herself back inside the house for perhaps the last time, in flight of the coming sun, a voice in the back of her mind why she bothers. It’s not the first time. She still doesn’t have an answer.

Robbed of the freedom to hate her sire, the sheriff, or most of her tormentors, she’s left only with hatred for herself.

Milo I, Chapter IV
Sneaking Out

“Just tell me what I’m up against. Who’s doing this to me?”
Milo Glass

Date ?

GM: The darkness is patient.

It was there before the first lights went on in the universe.

It’ll be there after the last lights finally gutter out.

Milo opens his eyes. He thinks. He might as well have kept them closed. He stares ahead into that preview of after the end. Maybe his end. There’s a faint rustle.

“Wake up, kid.”

Milo: He already is.

“Where am I?” He does his best to keep his voice calm. “Who are you? FBI?”

GM: The darkness laughs. Rough and sore. Even a little hot. Like spent cigarettes flicked onto gravel.

“No. I’m not FBI.”

Milo: He calms himself. The worst has already happened, more or less. He just needs to roll with it.

“Oh. Good. Why did you abduct me from my apartment?”

GM: “I’m here to give you a piece of advice, Milo. And I want you to listen to me very carefully.”

Milo: Milo strains to see through the dark.

“Are you doing the thing where you giving me advice is really a roundabout threat, or do you genuinely wish for my well-being?” He pauses. “I’m sorry if that’s direct, I’m not really used to these situations.”

In another situation he might be embarrassed, but the words tumble out without any heed for his insecurities.

GM: It’s like trying to see past the end of the world. There’s nothing past. Nothing before. Nothing here.

Just the dark.

“I don’t need to make threats, Milo,” the rough voice answers. “The advice is yours to heed or ignore. And it’s this.”

Milo: Man. That is way cooler than anything I could come up with on the spot. Goddamn.

GM: “This business you’re tangled up in. Forget about it.”

Milo: Milo takes a deep breath. “The business of… who broke into my apartment?”

GM: “Milo, your life is in danger. Forget who broke into it. Forget the apartment. Crash with your folks until you find a new place. Better yet, skip town.”

Milo: Ohshit.Ohshit.

Aloud he says, “They came to my apartment. They choked me out.” His voice gets strangely hoarse, almost, for a second, like his father’s. “They used my brother’s name.”

There was no reason for him to be angry about that, maybe. But maybe if he’s as crazy as he suspects, he doesn’t need one.

GM: “Your brother’s dead, Milo,” the voice answers heavily. “You know that.”

Milo: Silence.

GM: “But you’re still alive. So, everything to do with this. Lock it up in the farthest, lifetime-paid anonymous storage unit of your mind and throw away the key.”

“Walk away. Live your life.”

Milo: For a moment, his interviewer might almost think he didn’t have anything to say at all. Then:

“What life?”

His hands tighten into little, impotent fists. “What life? The one where I can’t be happy for my best friend because I think his wife’s a spy? The one where I read one book, over and over, to remind myself of him? The one where that one fucking night ruined everything, and I don’t even get to remember it?”

He never yells. His isn’t a yelling voice. He doesn’t need to for every ounce of pain to hiss through.

GM: “Whatever life you make for yourself,” the voice answers. “That’s more than Malcolm can do right now. More than a lot of people can do.”

“We’ve all got problems. Only people who don’t are six feet under.”

Milo: His shoulders slump. “I’m not going to walk away from this. If you know what’s happening… I don’t know who you are. But you wouldn’t have told me to save myself if you didn’t care. If you can do this much, please. Just tell me what I’m up against. Who’s doing this to me?”

GM: The darkness sighs.

“It’s not that simple, Milo. You’re a programmer. What happens to a file’s right-hand bar, with the date and time, after you’ve changed something in it?”

Milo: Milo stares into the dark. “It… updates. To reflect the date of alteration.”

GM: “That’s right,” the dark answers. “You can see when someone’s modified it. But even if you open the file and don’t change a thing, the ‘date accessed’ field changes. It’s only a few extra clicks to see that. To see that all you did was look.”

Milo: “I get the implication of the metaphor, but have no idea how that applies to this situation.” He laughs, nervously. “I know nothing about this situation.”

GM: “That’s right.” The voice seems to nod. “You know close to jack and squat. That’s the safest place for you to be right now. You’re not going to find your brother. You’re not going to find a prize-winning story for your job. You’re not going to find the truth, whatever you believe that to be. You’re just going to find one thing.”

The word is as flat and unmistakable as a bullet to the head.


Milo: “Why are you helping me?” Milo whispers.

GM: The voice grimaces.

“And maybe worse.”

Milo: His breath stills. “If Mal—” He swallows. “If Mal is dead, and I accept that,” Milo says, slowly. “Then they either killed him or they know why he’s dead.”

GM: “Or they just know you lost a brother and are fucking with your head.”

Milo: “Prove it.”

GM: Milo tosses the challenge into the dark. But the dark has no pride to goad. It’s just there. Patient. Enveloping. Smothering.

“You’ve got my advice, kid. It’s yours to take or ignore.”

The darkness shifts.

“Time for me to eighty-six. I’ve done what I can.”

A feline hiss splits the air.

“Ah, fuck-”

There’s a maddened yowl. Another curse. Something tearing. A flash of anger.

“You stupid-”

A thump. A yowl. A thud.

His cat.

Milo: “Wait, don’t—”

GM: The panic attack hits Milo in the throat like a sucker punch, cutting off further words.

Milo: Not Toto. Please. God, he’s pathetic. But he just wants his roommate to live.

GM: Milo sways and staggers like a wounded boxer determined not to go down for the count.

Milo: “To… to. Stop.”

GM: The darkness snarls, jutting fangs and claws.

“Lot worse out there than me, kid.”

Milo: “P-please. Please don’t…”

GM: A cat’s mewls drip from their ends.

“Lot worse can happen to more than just your kitty too.”

The darkness pants. The claws don’t go back in.

“Lights out, Milo.”

There’s a sudden sense of pressure. Like he’s falling. Drowning.

Milo: But they’re already out, Milo thinks.

It’s already blacker than black.

Date ?

GM: The lights are on when Milo comes to. He’s lying in his bed. Like it was all just a bad dream.

Milo: Immediately, he surveys his apartment. “Toto?”

GM: The tabby cat is crouched on top of his fridge, one of the apartment’s highest vantage points. His ears are flat. There’s a sharp banging against his door.

Milo: Milo, without thinking, staggers to it. “Hello?”

Then he bites his lip. Why did I do that? That was literally one of the stupidest things I could have done. Goddammit, Milo.

GM: “I eviccin’ ya!” comes Mrs. Quách’s voice.

She doesn’t ask him to open the door.

“Ya bling tloubre. No good. Ge’ out or I call poreece.”

Milo: He blinks, too emotionally and physically exhausted to do more than say, “Can I pack my shit up first?”

GM: “Be fas’! Or I car poreece!”

Milo: “Quách, I’ll go. You don’t need to threaten me. But we both know I’m entitled to…I think it’s five days notice? I’ll be gone in one, in a few hours if you want, but if you call the police they won’t do anything. If anything, it’ll cause problems for you prematurely evicting me. Neither of us wants that. Please calm down for a second?” His mind is moving too fast for him to even cringe at his nerve.

GM: “No! Ya go now, or I carr poreece! Ya tlouble! Dey arres’ ya, spen’ da nigh’ in jair!” his landlady shouts.

Milo: Milo sighs. “Give me time to pack everything up. Three hours.”

GM: “NO! Ya get our’ now, or I carr poreece! Ras’ chance! Bleak my rinows, dey lock ya up!”

Milo: Milo opens the door, stares down at her. “Windows?”

GM: “I carring cops!” the (thankfully) nightgown-wearing Quách exclaims as she turns around and shuffles off.

Whether out of desire to finally follow through on her threat, or to avoid an actual face-to-face conversation with Milo, is anyone’s guess.

Milo: Milo sighs, and heads back inside.

GM: Quách’s shuffling footsteps recede. Toto stares down from the fridge. Milo feels a draft.

Milo: Before anything else Milo walks to his roommate and starts to stroke him. “Shhh. I’m sorry. I’m really glad you’re not dead, Toto. We’ll get you fixed.”

GM: The tabby quietly stares down in that distinctive way only cats can stare.

Milo: “I mean, really glad. That you aren’t dead. I don’t think people say that to each other often enough.”

GM: The cat seems to look past Milo.

Milo: He sighs, and first gives his apartment a once-over to see if his visitor a) really was here and b) left him anything.

GM: It is immediately apparent, after a more than cursory glance, that Milo’s window is broken. No glass fragments are visible on his floor, suggesting that it was broken from within. It’s also where the draft in his room seems to be from.

His computer screen is blank. Someone either removed the paper his masked intruder placed over it, or the intruder, for whatever reason, simply never left it.

The virtual clock on his phone continues to tick. 10:11. Milo does not have forever until the cops arrive.

The nerve-wracked young man watches as the minutes slip away like sand in an hourglass… or fissuring cracks across his already frayed sanity. 10:21.

It’s at once a relief and slowly-building dread that a navy-uniformed lawman isn’t yet pounding on his door.

Milo: He finally starts to move, starting with his essential gear—his spare laptop and his portable hard drive, packing them into a duffel bag and using his clothes for cushioning.

GM: His cat watches with neither approval nor disapproval, but simply a feline’s knowing stare.

Milo: Everything gets put in the bag, wrapped in clothes for cushioning and zipped—including his anxiety. He doesn’t have time to be anxious. He can afford to leave most of what he has here. It’s all meaningless corporate-pissed junk anyway.

He leaves it, and beckons Toto into his arms. “Shh. I know it hurts. We need to run.” He waddles out like that, his bag almost cripplingly heavy, his cat in the crook of his arm.

GM: Toto mews as he’s picked up and starts to squirm after a few moments. Milo makes his way down the un-vacuumed, crud-littered hallways. A squeaking mattress and woman crying “Oh! Oh! Oh!” sounds from one of the nearby units. He opens the front door and closes it behind him. The night looms ahead of Milo, dark, patient, and hungry.

Milo: He doesn’t even flush at the overheard coital exclamations of somebody happier than him. He simply sits outside for several minutes, stroking Toto’s fur and letting the night numb him like anxiety meds never seem to.

Then he pulls out his phone, and calls a number, tired.

GM: Toto stops squirming as he’s set down, though Milo has to keep an eye on the tabby to make sure he doesn’t wander off. Several rings go through before the newly-evicted man is greeted with a,
“Hey Milo, what’s up?”

Milo: “Hi, Zeke. Are you busy tonight? I just got evicted.”

He holds out his fingers for Toto to lick, keeping him close.

GM: The cat lies down and lets Milo stroke him, but he doesn’t purr or lick his owner’s fingers. He simply stares silently ahead into the night.

“Wait, what? How did that happen? You’re the tenant who never bothers anyone!”

Milo: No, but somebody bothered Quách, all right.

“It just… did. Quách evicted me, definitely illegally, and she’s just stubborn enough to call the cops, and I don’t want trouble, and…”

The words run out. He sighs. “I’m really hungry, and tired. Are you hungry? I’m kind of in the mood for Vietnamese.”

GM: “Zeke, what is it?” sounds a muffled female voice.

“It’s Milo, he got evicted.”

“Wait, how did…”

Zeke’s voice sounds again. “Well, it’s gotta be a misunderstanding. Emily and I already had dinner, but if you wanna crash at our place until you can clear things up with Quách tomorrow…”

Milo: “Nah, I don’t want to put you out. I’m sorry if I woke you up.”

GM: “No, no, we’re still up. Do you have anywhere to stay for tonight?”

Milo: “My h—my Mom’s house. I’ll be fine. Really. I didn’t mean to freak you out. Just…kind of out of it, at the moment. Wanted to hear a friendly voice, you know?”

GM: “Yeah, I know. Look, stuff like this happens in comics! Everyone goes on about what a huge dick Silver Age Superman is, and posts all those Internet captions of him doing stuff like using his laser beam eyes on that bathrobe his adopted son Jimmy, then anyways, gives him for his birthday. But there’s always an explanation! It’s his evil twin, or the guy he’s being a dick to is the evil twin, or something else that’s totally reasonable. This is like that! You just need to show Quách the page after the crazy caption.”

Milo can make out what sounds like a laugh from Emily. She might now be mussling Zeke’s hair if they’re in bed.

Milo: Milo grins too, despite everything.

“Maybe, Zeke. Maybe. Have a good night, man, okay?”

GM: “Live long and prosper,” the other nerd wishes as he hangs up.

Milo: Mixing genres a bit there, bud, he thinks.

He sits at the bus stop with his cat and his few possessions and he holds his head and breathes, and tries not to think that he probably won’t be living long or prospering. He’s also not Superman. He’s not even a Tin Man. He’s nothing at all but a scared child who never grew up. There is no crazy caption. There is no happy ending. There’s nothing but darkness with teeth, and strange men watching you through cameras.

He breathes, and tries not to scream, because somebody might actually hear him.

Wednesday night, 9 December 2015, PM

GM: Milo places off the call to his mother and sits down to wait by the bus shelter. The seat is hard, the wait lonely, and the night dark. Toto doesn’t mew, or even squirm when Milo picks him again. He just stares silently ahead into the gloom.

Two headlights finally pierce it, causing Milo to involuntarily raise his hand over his eyes to ward off the glare. He can just make out a navy sedan like the one his mother drives.

Milo: He gets up, and walks towards it, slowly. It’s her, right? Not a plant?

GM: “Milo, is that you?” he hears his mother’s slightly scratchy voice call. The volume is a little distant.

Milo: Probably, yes. “Yeah, Mom. It’s me.” He head there, popping the trunk and putting his bag. The cat stays in his lap as he enters.

GM: The navy sedan in front of Milo drives away as swiftly as it appeared.

“Come on, I’m parked over here,” her voice calls. In the distance, and within another parked car, he can make out what looks like his mother’s wide frame. The interior lights are off.

Milo: He staggers over to the car, numb. “M-mom?”

GM: The door chimes as Milo pulls it open, turning on the inside light.

Jasmine.jpg His mother Jasmine Hailey (she hasn’t been Jasmine Glass since 2002) is a woman whose appearance is best described with a lot of ‘used to’s and ‘not quite’s. She used to have a curvy figure (from the old photos he’s seen), but it’s not quite obese. Just wide. Her black hair used to be thick and wavy, but right now it’s done up in a set of curlers and tinged with gray. At 11 PM she hasn’t bothered to dress up in anything past a pull-on t-shirt and pair of jeans, or wear any makeup, and the visible wrinkles around her mouth and eyes make her look her full age of 53 years. Still, she gives a tired smile as she sees her son.

“There you are. Set down Toto so I can give you a hug.” Her voice is the part of her that’s aged best, although at the late hour it sounds more scratchy than smooth.

Milo: “Okay, Mom.” He does, though it’s a trembling hug. “How are you? Is everything okay?”

GM: “Yeah, just fine. I’m not on air tonight,” she remarks after he’s pulled away and brought all of his things inside. Toto notably tenses as the car takes off. “Now what was it you said your landlady did, kicked you out?”

Milo: “Uh. Yeah. Illegally.” He stares at his hand, still not quite sure if he believes what just happened.

GM: “You’re better off without her,” his mom snorts as night sky rolls past the window.

Milo: Much like everybody who calls into your show, huh?

“I’m sorry to call you like this, Mom. Even if you aren’t working tonight.”

GM: “It’s your landlady who should be apologizing. I’m sure there’s some agency you can call to make her life harder.”

Milo: “Maybe. But not without making my life harder too, probably. It’s a bad apartment, and I’ve been meaning to move, anyway.”

GM: His mother frowns a bit in the dark, but finally settles for, “Well, you gotta move on. There’s better places you can live on your job’s salary.”

Milo: “I know, Ma. It’ll be a good thing.”

He pinches his nose, then blurts, “Somebody broke into my apartment, the other day. It scared me. A lot.”

He flinches. Why did I tell her that? Selfish, selfish.

GM:What?” his mother demands, her tone a confusing melange of simultaneous irritation and concern. “You weren’t hurt, were you?”

Milo: “No. Not really. He just ate a bunch of my food.” Milo actually laughs. “It was so… it made no sense. At all.”

GM: “What?” his mother exclaims again, though now with more irritation than concern. “You’re sure that wasn’t just a lowlife tenant trying to save on groceries?”

Milo: “I… honestly can’t be sure of that, no.”

GM: “What a dump,” his mom repeats, shaking her head. “Gentrification’s crowding those places out at least.”

Milo: “Yeah, but then the dumps just move somewhere else,” Milo says. He shakes his head. “Hey, Mom?”

GM: “Yeah, hon?”

Milo: “I love you. I’m sorry I don’t call.”

GM: His mother’s face softens. “Forget it. Love you too, Milo.”

Wednesday night, 9 December 2015, PM

GM: In his teens, Milo had to get used to moving.

There was the first family’s house, with his brother, back in Bywater. His parents’ marriage didn’t survive the strain. He was eleven or so when they sold that house and his father moved to Gentility, while his mother relocated to Mid-City. He was twelve when his mother met her next long-term boyfriend, and thirteen when they got married. That involved a move to Touro. He was sixteen when they split up and his mother moved to Carrollton. He was in college by the time his father sold the Gentility house and moved back to Bywater with Cousin Jerry. His mom has since been thinking about selling her current house and buying a cheaper condo, now that he’s moved out.

He has to wonder how different his adolescence would’ve looked if Malcolm hadn’t disappeared. Dying, or at least disappearing, never affects just one person. It affects everyone.

Rows of cloned houses stretch as far as Milo’s eye can see in the gloom past the window. Carrollton is a middle-class suburb that looks like every other suburb from California to New York, but for the especially tall and venerable trees. It’s not far from Tulane. Like all students there, Milo was required to live on-campus for his first year. If he chose to, he was able to save on room and board by staying with his mom for the next three years. There’d be no more moves during those years, she said. After three divorces, she’s learned her lesson: bank accounts stay separate, houses and assets stay separate, everything stays separate. She’s been starting to think marriage is overrated. “It puts pressure on you. Easier just to have a boyfriend and not bring money or property into things.” Maybe there’s something to that, at least for her. Her current boyfriend has lasted a while.

His mother’s car pulls into the driveway. The two get out and walk into the house. Milo’s bedroom looks more like a guest room after he moved out his things, but it’s still his room. His mom asks if he could use a lift to pick up the remainder of his stuff from Quách’s. Or to work the next morning, for that matter, Carrollton being further away from his job than Mid-City. Once those questions are out of the way, she tells him to help himself to food from the fridge if he’s hungry, then bids him a good night. A light drizzle has since started and steadily plunks against the home’s windows.

Outside, the dark patiently waits.

Milo: He thanks her, both for the lift (to work) and for… everything. He feels hollow, after the theft, and walks up to his room, which makes him pause. He didn’t like things in the walls. Just a bookshelf, full of L.Frank Baum, and the ghosts of the things that Malcolm might have hung if he hadn’t… disappeared.

“You know he’s dead, right?”

They took his brother. He suddenly knows that, in the pot of his stomach. Someway, somehow. They took Malcolm away. And now? Now they’re finishing what they started. It’s insane, childish, irrational—but this is a nightmare, and nightmares demand childish answers, because no adult answer has ever made them go away.

They took his brother. And they took his hard drive. Which means they made a mistake.

Milo opens his phone, plugs it in to charge, and types in the keycode for the GPS chip.

GM: Milo’s hard drive reads as coming from a set of GPS coordinates one zip code away from his address at Quách’s building, but still within Mid-City’s approximate boundaries.

Milo: He breathes. Once, twice. He doesn’t care how. He doesn’t care who.

He’s done running. It ends tonight.

He sits in his room, and for the first time in years, waits for his mom to fall asleep.

It’s been forever since he snuck out.

GM: Milo waits until 1 or 2 AM. The house is still, quiet, and utterly dark. His mom doesn’t stop him as he leaves. This likely would’ve terrified him as a little boy. Parents are a child’s entire world. They know everything and can do anything.

Leaving like this in the middle of the night like this would be a super secret mission. It’s almost banal, now. She’s simply one woman asleep in an average-sized one-story house, who doesn’t notice when someone else leaves without making a racket.

But Milo’s demons have grown with him. The terrors outside could fill the entire world. The night alone blankets half of it.

Children are lucky to only contend with a single dark house.

Thursday morning, 10 December 2015

GM: In the morning, Jasmine Hailey wakes up and finds her son missing. Calls and text messages go unreturned. She calls the police and reports him missing.

She tells Zeke and the rest of the extended Glass clan. Everyone talks to the cops about their last communications with Milo. They talk to Slim Ray, too, about how Milo took the day off feeling sick. He was evidently lying about that, if his visit to his dad was any indication. Or maybe he just felt better after some time in bed. Who knows. Is that suspicious? Is that a clue?

The police can’t really say. They look around Jasmine’s house and conclude there wasn’t a break-in. It looks as if Milo took his things and simply… left in the middle of the night, never to return.

They don’t make a serious effort to locate him past that. He’s just another missing person.

Milo’s parents pay for a private detective. The investigation doesn’t turn up much either. It looks as if Milo just took off and never came back. Something must have happened to him. Maybe he was kidnapped. Maybe he got shot by killed by a gang that got rid of his body. They can’t know. They never do know.

Milo’s parents grieve their missing son, torn from them just as inexplicably as his brother. Eventually, he is declared dead in absentia.

Just another vanished Glass.

Milo I, Chapter III
Dwindling Memories

“I’m sorry, Jerry. I know it’s rough.”
Milo Glass

Wednesday morning, 9 December 2015

Milo: kali > msfcli <the> payload = <the> rhost = <ip> lhost = <ip> E
This is the formula he’s learned. Everybody learns it. Sometimes the order changes, or the variable titles. But at least one thing is always the same.‘E.’ E for enter. E for effect. E for execute, like the Queen of Hearts.

The IP he types in is one of Cox’s client information repositories. Easy enough to find online. ISPs sell people’s information cheaply enough. The payload isn’t anything brilliant. Just your average rootkit. Sit and listen.

It’s the exploit that’s the problem. Cox isn’t run by idiots. Weekly patches are the norm, which means they’re good at finding vulnerabilities and fixing them before somebody like him can take advantage. The frequent updates that make so many clients grumble is what they should be charging extra for.

Any vulnerability he exploits has to be a zero-day. One-of-a-kind. OpenVAS and Nessus run scans for the usual weaknesses. Zilch. So he gets creative and narrows the scan. Maybe there’s a buffer overflow he can—nada.

This was where the real work was. Anybody can aim Kali and pull the trigger on a virus somebody smarter wrote. But coming up with something that’s never been done before? That’s a bitch. That’s the difference between an amateur and an expert, a fry cook and a chef, a script kiddie and…and him. An amateur could have stared at the screen for a century and never found a way in.

Milo finds one in 45 minutes.

There is nothing new under the sun, but he’s never been an outdoor kid.

E for execute.

“Off with your head,” he mutters, the exhaustion of the night finally catching up to him, and hits the button.

GM: Entrance to Cox’s servers does not come swiftly, but it comes as inevitably as the rising sun that bathes Milo’s shuttered apartment beneath its soft glow—or perhaps simply the thump of a severed head hitting the ground. With the PHP shell uploaded, all Milo need do is open the URL where he uploaded the dk.php file. He clicks the Symlink URL. Rows upon rows and columns upon columns of data spread before the hacker’s eyes. As might be expected for a company of Cox’s size, there is more data here than Milo could possibly (hand-)process in a single sitting, or even days… yet, he is all-too aware, he likely does not have days. While it is doubtful that a communications company will be as vigilant in guarding their servers as the FBI or the military (the crown jewels of information theft for any hacker to boast over), they would be exceedingly negligent not to have sysops performing periodic sweeps through their servers.

Milo: Milo rubs his temple. Progress. First things first, though.

He strokes Toto’s head absentmindedly as he dials his boss’s number.

GM: The line picks up after several rings.

“Milo, what’s up?” asks Slim Ray.

By this time, it’s no longer dark outside Milo’s windows. He supposes normal people are waking up now.

Milo: The exhaustion in his voice is real, and he channels it to make his story all the more plausible.

“Hi, Slim. I think I’ve got—” There’s a few well-placed hacking noises. His last neighbor had lung cancer, and Milo had to talk Quách out of expelling her for the noise. “—flu, or something.”

GM: “Oh, that’s too bad. You gonna take one of your sick days?”

Milo: The hesitation, too, is real. Milo actually enjoys his work. “Think I have to.” No coughing, but he keeps his voice ragged. “Sorry. Do you need me today?”

GM: “Rob and Ellen can pick up the slack. You’re going to miss out on the fascinating opportunity to screen a drafted article on corbels being stolen in Central City, though.”

Milo: That’s a joke, right? Most people wouldn’t find that fascinating. I should laugh. But then if it’s not a joke he’ll ask why I laughed. And I’ll say I thought he was joking and he’ll ask why and I’ll say it was because that doesn’t sound fascinating even though I think it does and then he’ll think I don’t like my job.

Ten seconds of silence pass.

GM: Not quite ten seconds pass before Slim Ray seemingly frowns and asks the silence, “You still the-”

Milo: Milo finally laughs, then panics and quickly turns it into a cough. “Okay, then. I guess I’ll stay late when I get back, or… something,” he finishes lamely.

GM: Milo’s boss is cut off by the awkward cough-turned-laugh.

“Don’t sweat it, you sound like you could use the sick day,” he answers, though whether out of genuine understanding or desire not to linger on the awkward gaffe remains uncertain to the social misfit.

“Anyways, I gotta go, the others are just coming in. Have fun watching Webflix all day.”

That recommendation, at least, even Milo is discerning enough to note the falsity of. He’s pretty sure the former gray hat hacktivist continues to download torrents out of protest against Webflix’s VPN block, something his boss views as essential to individual digital privacy.

Milo: “Will do. Thanks for understanding.”

He hangs up first, then holds his head in his hands for several minutes.

Wednesday morning, 9 December 2015

Milo: Turning back to situations he understands, he searches first for the I.P. he pulled what seems like an eternity ago.

GM: Plain as day, Milo finds a listed address with the same zip code as his own, and thus in Mid-City. And with that knowledge too, the hacker knows, he has committed a major crime. That knowledge is also worth precisely fuck-all as Milo’s eyes skim the address line.

It’s his address.

The camera is feeding into his apartment building.

It’s true. All of it. His own neighbors are out to get him. His own neighbors work for them, whoever they are. Is it one of them? No. It’s all of them. They’re all in on it. They’re all in on it. The cops. Malveauxes. FBI. NSA. CIA. The entire alphabet soup of federal agencies-

The walls are closing in.

Milo: The room is swimming. The LED light melts against the darkness of his apartment and makes everything seem to simmer. He wants to collapse, to scream, to tear through the halls and drag them into the open—but they’re expecting that. And who? Who? Who?

He needs to act. He can’t sit here. They’re watching him. They’re probably right upstairs. They’ve probably passed him on the stairs. He’s probably avoided making eye contact with them. He wants to throw up.

The food. They rummaged through his food. Did they bug his food? The United States once tried to rig a cat with surveillance equipment to spy on Soviets. Maybe they got to Toto. Or maybe they just got into his food. Little robots. Nanos. Nanos don’t exist. But then, would he know if they did? Inside him, they’re inside him, they—


His shoulders heave as he stares at himself inside the porcelain bowl. Deeper. His fingers need to go deeper.


Deeper. His stomach implodes.



Little chunks of him fill up the toilet. The apartment spins. He tears through Toto’s bowl. Empties it. He opens up his mattress and pulls out the stuffing. He doesn’t remember deciding to take the meds. It’s simply a consequence. One second the world makes no sense. The next, swallow. Ones and zeroes. Everything stands perfectly, blissfully still.

GM: His cat pads into the room and stares at him with that blissful non-concern only a cat can have.

Milo: He’s losing control. Can barely keep himself together. He dislikes taking the pills. Sleep sounds like a good idea right now.

GM: The already exhausted young man crashes into bed. Sleep comes all-too fitfully. No matter how many times he shifts position or moves his pillow, that blessed state squirms out of his grasp like a butter-slick catfish. It seems to silently taunt him, like the people watching the still-active camera in his kitchen might be doing. The people who might be—no, are—his neighbors.

Milo never registers it when he finally passes out. When he wakes up, his clock reads 3:08 in the afternoon. A horrible sleep schedule, at least, is nothing new.

Milo: “Damn…” Scratching at his hair, he bumbles to his computer and checks the mIRC feed.

GM: There’s been chatter from the rest of the group about mostly inane things, including video games, anime, the state of national politics, disgusting porn GIFs, and Hillary Cherry. She has apparently closed down her Facebook page (“Oh, you know shit’s hit the fan then!”), but some online stalking by f0xx reveals she is working as a waitress in the French Quarter. Several jokes have been cracked about visiting Hillary’s restaurant and ordering “dead baby parts” or “your medical records!” from the would-be senator’s daughter.

f0xx[DR]: oh man I see it. She starts crying and runs off…

/insert joke about my order not coming from the kitchen

gonna need a box though

yum yum yum takeout

hey do abortion clinics let you put the vacuumed out fetus in a box?

like would they say no if you brought a takeout box

I mean it’s your baby


Milo: He types on reflex. I mean they just took it out of a box. No problem putting it back into one.

GM: Huh LA’s pretty progressive looking it up, they’re medical waste before 20 weeks

So after that

You can do what you want with it

Your right as a mom

Milo: i mean, what did your mom bring you home in after

Milo’s drained. He doesn’t know what to do. He has to get out of here. He can’t get out of here. They’re waiting for him to leave. He might as well invite the… huh.

He makes sure to walk by the camera as often as he can as he moves things around the apartment. He picks up the pieces of his tantrum—that’s what mom called them, after Mal, and even though the proper term is “persecutory anxiety state” the term stuck—from around his home. Refills Toto’s bowl. Tells him in soothing times he’ll be home soon. Maybe he’ll buy him a toy while he’s out.

GM: The tabby cat appears to have more attention for his bowl than his owner as the latter takes his leave. The low crunch-crack of cat food being snarfed down briefly fills Milo’s ears before he makes his way outside. The March weather is a merely comfortably warm 70 degrees rather than the stiflingly hot greenhouse that it is during the non-winter months, though those will soon be ending. The sun, rarely directly seen by the closeted shut-in, shines bright and clear overhead. The streets beyond Milo’s apartment are fairly empty, with most people being at work or only just getting out from school at this hour. Milo has an uncanny sense of being exposed as he steps beyond the doorway’s beshadowed threshold and warm light spills over his pasty skin.

Milo: An entirely too genuine feeling of queasiness comes over him as he steps outside for the first time in a bit over thirteen hours. Maybe not yet. He ducks back inside, making subtly conspicuous noises as he passes down his hall, and heads up to Mrs. Quack—er, Quách’s—apartment.

GM: Milo finds the door to his landlady’s apartment closed and almost assuredly locked and bolted.

Milo isn’t the most asocial inhabitant of the building, but he might be tied for the position.

Milo: He knocks, half hoping she doesn’t answer, even knowing the urgency of the situation. He feels like a trespasser even when his reasons for bothering her are completely legitimate.

All the more so when he suspects her of plotting against him.

GM: “Rut d’ya run’?” growls a scratchy voice whose accent is a peculiarly abominable combination of East Asian and gumbo-thick Creole.

Milo: “Just to let you know about a break-in. My door got busted down. I don’t have to come in,” he adds, by way of appeasement.

GM: There’s a pause before a muffled reply sounds past the closed door. “Tark ta da poreese.”

Milo: “I might, but I just wanted you to know I’ll be leaving for a bit while I find somebody to fix the door. I’ll take care of the repair costs, but I don’t feel safe there right now. All right?”

GM: “Ya don’ pay ren nex’ mon, I stirr evic ya,” the voice behind the door harshly warns.

Milo: “I’m not moving out. Just leaving for like a day or two at most. I’ll pay you.”

He’s not lying. He likes this place. Backwards and strange as it might be that he does.

GM: There might be a grunt from the door’s other side.

Milo: Satisfied, he heads back outside, bracing himself against the sun. He checks mIRC on his phone as he does. He doesn’t want f0xx to get too many shots in before he can reply.

GM: The glare of even the early March sun is as unfriendly to the paranoid shut-in as ever. F0xx’s own replies are little friendlier.

f0xx[DR]: least mine tried to bring me home

f0xx[DR]: were you like in that scene in matilda, where they just leave you in the car and forget about you

f0xx[DR]: or did CPS have to dig you out of a garbage bin?

Meanwhile, Milo sees several further names active on the users list and possibly scrolling through the chat logs: itsatrap and ChingChongChinaMan.

Identities aren’t quite shared or quite anonymous among the channel’s users. Milo knows from his own “detective work” that itsatrap, beyond obviously enjoying science fiction movies, is a computer science student at Tulane University, his own alma mater.

ChingChong, meanwhile, lives in Houston but maintains an interest in New Orleans’ local affairs. Milo isn’t sure what he does for a living, but he’s not a college student like most of the others. He is also, despite his username, only 1/8th Asian on his great-grandmother’s side.

A new message eventually pings.

itsatrap: ok so a guy who makes kids cry is a douche

f0xx[DR]: such a white knight

itsatrap: but ruining him first won’t make your sister un-cry

itsatrap: I’ve read this kibbe guy’s stuff

itsatrap: we live in an era of assholes

itsatrap: who’s gonna peg them if not us?

Milo: He posts a picture of a knight on a horse.

GM: f0xx[DR]: you know your lesbian gal pal isn’t gonna pity fuck you if you ruin this guy right?

itsatrap: suck horse cock whore

ChingChongChinaMan: hahaha

ChingChongChinaMan:ok lets do it

Milo: Milo lets himself feel a a brief but fierce surge of satisfaction as he heads to the bus stop.

He might be going insane. But he’s going to have fun before he does.

Wednesday afternoon, 9 December 2015

GM: The bus ride from Milo’s home to his father’s in Bywater takes slightly under an hour. The paranoid shut-in has ample time on the way over to review directions over Qeeqle Maps and see that bicycling would take only 26 minutes, if he were willing to leave himself so exposed.

Milo: Or if he owned a bicycle. He checks the camera intermittently, wondering how long it’ll take for… them… to take the bait. He does his best to tune out the incessant noise of would-be pedestrians around him.

GM: The bus from Mid-City to Bywater isn’t so packed at 3 as it might be at 4, but it’s full enough that Milo is forced to share a seat with an overweight woman wearing jeans and a white t-shirt. She stares at her phone rather than talk with him. But it would be so easy to make a covert glimpse at what he’s doing.

In the seat across from and behind Milo’s, there’s an old man with owl-like wire-framed glasses. He doesn’t fiddle on a phone, but leans forward on a cane. Staring forward. Perhaps through the front window. Perhaps at Milo. The two make fleeting eye contact twice. His glasses seem so large, so able to take in everything that they see. Milo quickly breaks the contact off. The large woman next to him seems to glance his way as he averts his gaze. There are so many other people on the bus. A mother with a hefty grocery bag and two children. An eavesdropper most people would overlook. Moms with groceries aren’t accessories to conspiracies like the one after Milo. A dark-skinned man in a hoodie. A naturally suspicious target. He could be a red herring, part of a two-operative team. An early-twenty-something white girl in jeans and boots. An unusual character too, in her own way. The neighborhood his father lives, Florida Area, is around 90% black. Maybe she’s getting off early. Maybe she’s not.The paranoid young man can only be certain of one thing:A crowded bus is the perfect environment in which to surreptitiously follow someone. The tail’s cover is abundant. The target is effectively immobilized. Their movements so easy to track.

Milo: Dammit all. He was already headed to Dad’s place. If he got out now, he could be isolated. Better to get out where he planned to, and see what happens next. They can’t do anything to him here.

…right?To calm himself down he checks the camera feed. Has his door been opened?

GM: The first camera in the hallway shows a closed door.

The second one shows a wide panning view of his kitchen floor. He can make out the bottoms of various appliances and furniture. Oven. Fridge. Cabinet.

Chair leg.

Table leg.

Something thicker. Draped in cloth. Shoe on the bottom. Not staying still.

Human leg.

Milo: They’re in his apartment. Searching. Snooping. God Forbid, finding.

They are in his apartment.

He wants to scream, to run and hide to Dad in earnest. He wants to close his eyes and pretend none of this is happening. But no. Because they might think that they’ve broken into his sanctum. But the truth is, he has them right where he needs them.

With a few strokes, he brings up the view from his webcam—the one that, attached as it is to the computer, oversees the entire apartment.

He had set it to record before he left.

GM: As Milo struggles to calm his hammering heart, he discerns a male-shaped figure clad in a hoodie and ski mask making his way directly towards the camera.

Towards the computer.

The figure reaches into his pocket and pulls out a crumpled piece of paper. A black-gloved hand looms large against the built-in webcam, like some horrid spider spreading its legs—and stinging abdomen—over the screen, then withdraws.


The figure turns and briskly strides out of the apartment. He turns to close the door behind him.

Toto mews.

Milo: His head swims.

He’s wearing a mask? Why the fuck would be wear the mask? Unless…

Unless they knew he was full of shit. Dammit, dammit.


GM: The overweight woman in the adjacent seat looks at him.

Milo: He coughs. “Um. Sorry.” His face is burning.

GM: She grunts and looks back to her phone. The bus’s many eyes and ears seem all the more intrusive, after the legitimate pretext any spies and tails had to look at him, for however briefly.
But all he said was “damn it.” Are they overplaying their hands? Is it not all in his head?

The paranoiac can only hope.

Wednesday afternoon, 9 December 2015

GM: The bus drops Milo off in the Florida Area. The mostly black Bywater neighborhood is middle-class and moderately well-off, but this corner of it looks almost deserted. The few people on the street cast suspicious glances his way. Milo only has to walk a little ways and look across the Industrial Canal shipping channel to see why. The Katrina-devastated Lower Ninth Ward’s ruined, graffiti-vandalized hoes stare emptily back. The section of the neighborhood this close to Bywater hasn’t been fully reclaimed by nature, like some of the further-off areas have been (not that Milo has visited them), but there are still weeds sprouting through cracks and potholes in the trash-littered sidewalks. There’s even a fallen telephone poll that hasn’t been righted. “The people there are animals. Have to be animals to still live there,” he recalls his father once expressing. There are no bridges between the Lower Ninth and Florida Area. The black, middle-class neighborhood just wants to forget about its sorry cousin across the water.

Turning from the scene, Milo walks the remaining few minutes from the bus stop to his father’s house—or more accurately, the house of his cousin Jerry Marron, where the Alzheimer’s-besotted old man is staying. It’s a camelback triple-barreled shotgun house, so called because it’s renovated from three individual shotgun houses: one-story homes with each of their three or four rooms located directly behind one other, giving the buildings a narrow, shotgun-like shape. Formerly a symbol of African-American poverty, gentrification has led to better-off homeowners combining two shotgun houses into a single larger one, giving rise to the term “double barrel.” The “camelback” comes from the second story that’s built onto the rear of the houses, giving them a shape like a camel’s hump. Jerry’s white-painted house is fairly large with three “barrels,” but the long gutters are sagging just a bit, and the yard’s trees look overdue for a trim. The whole house has always felt just a bit too large for Jerry—he did have four kids at one point, but even the youngest of them moved out when Milo was still in middle school.

Milo makes his way up the front steps and rings the bell. The door swings open after several moments to reveal a stout-framed, overweight and middle-aged black woman with short graying hair and a jowl-lined, bulldog-like face. She’s significantly larger in both directions—vertically and horizontally—than the short and thin-framed Milo. She wears pair of loose-fitting jeans, a striped black and white v-neck top, and plain brown clogs. Pamela Ardoin, Jerry’s second wife of seven years, which makes her Milo’s… cousin-in-law, though she’s old enough to look more like an aunt. She was old enough to keep her maiden name after her marriage to Jerry. “Too old a dog to come when they call a new name,” as she’d put it.

Pam_Ardoin.jpg As a nurse at Tulane Medical Center, Jerry has happily expressed that there are few better people better-qualified to take care of his uncle than his wife. Milo is all-too aware, however, that one of the two surest ways to arouse Pamela’s considerable ire is to expect her to perform more work taking care of Martin than anyone else. “This is my house, not the fucking hospital,” she’d once snapped at one of Jerry’s children. The second path to her umbrage is drug addicts. Pamela absolutely can’t stand them, though she sometimes feels pity for the younger ones. Her son from a previous marriage has addiction problems.

As a low drizzle begins to fall outside, the large-framed woman grunts, “Milo,” and ushers him in. “Here to see your dad?”

Milo: “Yeah.” He fidgets. What should he say next? This part is always complicated. Why can’t conversations be more like search engines? Just click and go. “How are you, Pam?” He ventures.

GM: * She grunts again as she closes the door behind him. “My son hit me up for donations to his televangelist cult.”First time he’s spoken to me in weeks."

Milo: “Oh.” Wait, does she want him to acknowledge how awful televangelists are or would that be rude, seeing as how her son is clearly affiliated? The use of the word ‘cult’ seems to imply a disdain for the phenomenon, but could she, perhaps, be using the term ironically?

“That sucks,” he says.

GM: “How’s the newspaper job?” Pamela asks as she heads down the home’s entryway, her lack of apparent response to Milo’s condolences likely discomfiting the socially anxious young man all the more.

Milo: The newspaper job? She knows he’s a content analyst, not a reporter, right? The broad term could in this case signify either familiarity with the media or a lack thereof. More likely it simply indicates disinterest in his actual work, despite the question. People ask a lot of questions they don’t really care to have answered. Would it be kind or rude to specify for her?

“It’s… you know, same old, same old. Has my Dad been, um, lucid lately?” The change of subject should redirect the conversation, right?

GM: “He’s there, but not all there. His symptoms are still moderate. Recognizes faces but gets details wrong. It’s only matter of time until that GPS trick won’t cut it.”

Milo knows that as Pam and Jerry have full-time jobs, they can’t always be at home to look after Martin. Sometimes he wanders. They considered installing locks on the outside of the house, even cruel as it may have seemed to treat him like a prisoner, to stop him from walking into traffic.

Milo, however, configured a GPS tracker on his dad’s watch to send an alert to the three of their phones if the retired fire marshal leaves the house. Pam has said that’s all well and good until he forgets to keep the watch on… or he wanders into traffic before they can get there and stop him. “Being a bleeding heart means watching someone else bleed,” she’s also said.

Milo: She’s right. She also misses the point if she thinks that’s the problem.

“Okay. I guess that makes today important then.”

GM: “Important as any day until his symptoms worsen.”

Pam and Milo walk through the living room into the house’s den, where a couch and several overstuffed chairs face a modern, wall-hung TV broadcasting a football game. The crowd cheers as the fleur-de-lis-helmeted football team score a touchdown. Even the sports-averse Milo knows they’re the Saints.

Pam approaches the graying-haired man staring at the television and remarks, “Martin, your boy’s here.”

Milo: Milo’s breath catches and the room spins for a small second as he fights off a small, sudden attack. He always does when he sees Dad.

“Hi, Dad,” Milo whispers.

GM: Milo’s father Martin is a dark-skinned and gray-haired man in his sixties, a late age to have had his son, and an early age to have Alzheimer’s. The ex-fireman’s frame is taller, stockier and broader-shouldered than Milo’s (granted, that’s not uncommon), but a back injury on the job sent him behind a desk. Since retirement his former muscle has mostly but not completely atrophied to fat. His belly is the largest part of him—like a sack of potatoes tied around his torso, and only slightly less hard. He wears a buttoned, short-sleeved blue shirt that’s presently unbuttoned over a yellow t-shirt, tan pants, brown loafers, and the thick black wristwatch that, as Pam warns, he could forget to wear or easily take off at any time.

“Hey, Milo,” he smiles, getting up to hug his son. “Good to see you around, kid.”

Milo: Milo smiles and even returns the hug without feeling awkward, two things all the more attractive for their rarity.

“Hey, Dad. How are you?”

GM: “I haven’t seen your mother all day. Did she tell you she was going somewhere?” his dad asks, looking more puzzled than anything else as he sits back down.

Pam glances between the two and takes her leave.

Milo: “I don’t know where she is right now, Dad,” Milo says, the technically-true vagary coming easily after a lot of practice in other situation. “I wouldn’t worry though. She can take care of herself.”

Indeed, Mom was always better at taking care of herself than others. He takes the seat next to his father.

“What are you watching?”

GM: Martin frowns a bit at Milo’s initial answer, but laughs at his question. A cheer goes up from the crowd in the TV screen.

“Kid, if you don’t know who wears a fleur-de-lis on a football helmet, or why, there’s never gonna be hope for you. Let’s talk about something you actually care about.”

Milo: Milo flushes slightly, but is happy to oblige. “Sure, Dad. How are you? Pam and Jerry treating you all right?”

GM: “More than. Better than life’s treating them.”

Milo: “How do you mean? Jerry still having trouble at work?”

GM: “No, no,” his dad waves off. “He can come to me when he does. His job’d be hard on anyone. False injury claims, that’s what he has to deal with. There’s been a lot of it this year, and more of it than last year. It’s going up.”

Milo: “False injury? People do that? And why is it a firefighting problem?”

GM: His dad nods. “They do it all the time these days. Fighters on injury leave get to collect full salaries. Injury pay is exempt from state and federal taxes too. So they can bring in more dough when they’re injured. Counts towards pensions too. Lots of reasons for it. Guys on the job are getting older. Salaries aren’t what they used to be. Medical treatment takes longer. Cuts on overtime also don’t want to make people return as bad. And the more guys see each other doing it, the more other guys copy it.”

Milo: “That’s dirty,” Milo says. “Did you have to deal with that a lot?”

GM: Martin nods, his jowls moving along with his head. “But not all the guys on leave are liars. Investigating frauds carries its own problems. And every man on paid leave is one less man in the station.”

Milo: “So what do you do, in those situations?”

GM: “That’s what Jerry and I have been trying to figure out. It’s a serious problem that costs lives and money. We don’t get a bigger budget when guys are on leave. We’re just spending the same amount of money on fewer firefighters. We can come down on individual fraud cases, which has its own problems, and guys are still gonna do it.”

Milo: Milo shakes his head. “Maybe I’m naive. I don’t get how somebody can choose to do one of the most dangerous jobs out there, and then just… play sick. I mean, I know that people can be evil—”


-or corrupt-”


“—or even scared…”

Margaret. God, Margaret.

“…but I don’t get that. How a person can just… change.”

He realizes he’s been ranting, or it feel like he has, and he flushes again.

GM: His dad gives a sad smile. “Firefighters are people just like everyone else. Sometimes they just want paid time off from a hard job. And once they get started and see other guys doing it, it’s that much easier to keep doing it.”

After an hour or so of talking about Milo’s job at the Times-Picayune, how he’s getting along with his neighbors (the subject of girls hasn’t been brought up in years), and stories from Martin’s days as an active firefighter, the younger Glass is ready to go. With the recent home invasion on his mind, he only half-hears much of his dad’s words. Martin can at least still seem to do plenty of talking despite his Alzheimer’s.

JerryMarron.png Jerry returns home from work around the same time. Martin’s nephew, and Milo’s much older cousin, is an African-American man in his 50s with a ready smile and bald, completely hairless pate. It’s an intimidating look on some men, but on Jerry it just makes him seem ‘polished’ (his scalp actually shines a bit under the right light), yet somehow diminished. After greeting his uncle and making brief small talk, he shows Milo out while asking him how his dad was doing. When Milo mentions the firefighters and false injury claims, Jerry’s smile visibly sinks.

“False injury claims aren’t a problem in New Orleans, Milo,” he says. “It happens, don’t get me wrong… I’d be happy to cut down on it. But it’s not a serious problem. It’s not costing us the millions of dollars that it’s costing Los Angeles. They have a more generous injury-leave program than we do. Your father’s… confusing things with a newspaper article we were talking about.”

The older man is silent for a moment. “It’s… rough, not being able to go to him for advice anymore. He was a big help running things, even after he retired…”

Jerry trails off after that. He looks more regretful, and even worried, than frustrated.

Milo: Milo had suspected, but had willed himself to believe otherwise. He sighs. “I’m sorry, Jerry. I know it’s rough. When I’m in a better place, I’ll try to…”

Watch my father die?

See one of the only people I can talk to whither away inside their own mind, while Toto becomes more independent than what used to be Martin Glass?

What? Fucking what will I do, exactly?

All the world is Oz, and he’s everybody except Dorothy.

“…help,” he finishes lamely.

Wednesday evening, 9 December 2015

Milo: Milo’s footsteps sound quiet as he approaches his door. He stills his pulse.

Creak, go the hinges. Thump goes his heart.

Down the rabbit hole goes Milo.

GM: By 6 PM, night has fallen over New Orleans. Lights flicker and pulsate across the surrounding cityscape. Hazy figures cavort like phantoms past darkened windows. A dozen Milos stare blankly past. Glass always looks that way in the dark. Reflective. Like a mirror. But wrong. Reflections only half-there, like empty-eyed ghosts.

No neighbors disturb him on his way inside. No music blares from the nearby apartments.

He opens his door.

The darkness yawns.

Milo: As Zeke might put it, his spidey senses are tingling. Or maybe that’s just the mind-numbing horror. Either way, Milo turns on the lights before anything, his gaze sweeping the room for any change, even the most minor, before stepping inside.

GM: Milo’s hand closes over the lights.

Something closes over his hand.




Milo: They were waiting for me.

He should yell, should scream for help. Should make things difficult. But it’s too late. He feels the panic attack like a spectator, locked inside his own miserable body, his heart doing cartwheels and other gymnastics he never could, and as the thing closes over his hand it also smothers his hope. He failed. He would never get to see his father again. Maybe that is a blessing, to be spared a loved one’s pain. But it doesn’t feel like one now. The world is spinning, falling, breaking apart at the corners and unfolding.

I’m sorry, Malcolm. Milo thinks.

He isn’t falling. The world is just rising without him.

Milo I, Chapter II

“If you can see them, they can see you.”
Childhood theater instructor

Wednesday night, 9 December 2015, AM

GM: Milo’s alarm clock reads 3:00 AM in unblinking red letters by the time he comes to. Toto lies peacefully catnapping on the kitchen table.

Milo: He gets to his feet slowly, making sure everything in his body still works. His shirt’s soaked with sweat, and he’s not sure if he feels lighter or heavier. He cups his face in his hands, sobbing slightly.

GM: Physically, at least, he appears to have suffered no injury or lasting impairment. His computer’s black monitor stares back at him blankly.

Milo: He eases himself back into his chair ten minutes later. He’s filled Toto’s bowl. He’s forced himself to swallow a glass of water. His monitor is dark as the rabbit hole. And there’s only one way through, and that’s down. Electric light washes across the dim apartment, reflecting off his bleached complexion. He opens the access page again. He types his brother’s name, and it feels like he’s walking on a grave.

GM: The camera’s so-so quality feed of his kitchen floor stares back at him. He can make out Toto’s haunches as the cat bends down to eat from his bowl.

Milo: Stomach twisting, he sets about reverse-engineering his way into the host computer’s IP; hoping he’s only poking a sleeping tiger, and not a waiting one.

GM: “If you can see them, they can see you.”

Malcolm’s instructor for a childhood theater program—Milo didn’t take it—had shared that with his students, when some were tempted to peek from behind the curtain and see how their audience was reacting. Mal had shared it with his brother. It’s no less applicable to computers. No system can truly be a closed system if it’s connected to outside ones.

It’s 4 AM by the time he follows the connection to its source and has his second IP address.

Milo: He lets himself grin for a second. Then…

No. No, no, no. Shit!

If you can see them, they can see you—the camera was too obvious. The password too personal. They’re honeypotting him. Probably coordinating from some internet cafe to phish his IP while he sticks his neck out from behind the curtains.

Off with my head…

He has protocols in place. He runs his cleaner program with the click of a hotkey. Then he simultaneously sets upon a manual search, pulling his files apart. “Where are you,” he snarls to nobody. “Where are you…”

GM: Nowhere—or at least nowhere in Milo’s computer. To all present appearances, his system is clean and free of outside tampering, malicious or benign.

Milo: Ugh.

His hands are shaking. He forces himself to swallow, and breathe. His instincts scream that there most be more, even as his rational mind tells him that there cannot be. He forces himself to acknowledge the latter over the former. He can’t afford to get lost in maybes. All he has is the binary. Either he has already lost, or he has not. He has to go to work in five hours. Best to use his time well.

The people messing with him are either geniuses or absurdly clumsy. It’s tempting to just DDoS the parent machine into stuttering uselessness, overflowing it with packets until it’s no more useful to his attackers than a very big and expensive calculator.

But that would tip his hand irreparably. Baby steps. He needs to get his door fixed, or at least secured. Too easy to break in while he’s at work. He examines the lock, trying to figure how salvageable it is. He hates hiring workmen.

GM: Milo’s apartment is, or at least was, “protected” by a typical hardware store double cylinder deadbolt lock, which is fundamentally limited by the frame of the door. All that’s keeping the door locked is a thin strip of wood where the bolt slides in. Milo’s assailant’s battering split the door frame and the cheap lock as well. Milo will need a repairman to fix the door’s actual frame, as well as to install a new lock.

Milo: Each problem a grain of sand, and a desert delivered to him by the intruder. He’ll have to do it tomorrow. He has his camera for security. He should get at least a few hours of sleep. Humans are not as nice as machines. They have different needs. Different operating systems. Milo has diagnosed this emptiness, an ache that comes in the small hours of the night like the growing pains of an old house uncared for. It is not fear, exactly. It is loneliness. He finds a corner of the web where people who can’t sleep find each other.

GM: The chat room has a landscape background that’s typical of self-help sites, featuring a bright sun over a clear blue sea. The site’s layout is crude but functional. Milo is required to create an account to log into, or he can sign in with Facemash. The “terms of use” section states, among other warnings and rules,

Please understand this site is made up of volunteers, many of whom suffer from depression/anxiety of their own. There are no mental health professionals affiliated with this site. Therefore, you are asked to please refrain from threatening to take your own life. This causes great unrest for many, and may act as a trigger for others. If you are in crisis, please contact your local emergency services.

Milo: No medical professionals is a plus. Therapists remember. As for suicide threats, Milo’s never understood the rationale. Suicide’s the ultimate Zero. The last log-off. You don’t threaten to check out. You just do. So why waste time asking? If he ever meets somebody who says they want to kill themselves but doesn’t, he’ll make sure to ask. Milo logs on on the account tied to his paper man email, and waits. As he does, he checks the I.P. against several of the many egregiously legal geolocation tracker sites that litter the web.

GM: The Adobe flash bar finishes loading. The white interface looks vaguely like an IRC channel.

Information: Welcome, Guest310. Please no Swearing. No Private Messaging without asking. This is not a Crisis Resolution Service.

Another link is provided to the rules page.

Brokendoll: Such a pain

titanic has quit (Please help support this chat room by considering making a donation to help cover its operational costs. All donations are gratefully received at: [ ]).

pb23 has quit (Please help support this chat room by considering making a donation to help cover its operational costs. All donations are gratefully received at: [ ]).


pedro: more quantity of life, less quality of life

Flux: Micro: Actually, I’m just not very talkative right now in general and I’m also talking to someone outside here.

titanic joined the channel.

Information: Welcome, titanic. Please no Swearing. No Private Messaging without asking. This is not a Crisis Resolution Service. Rules:

Brokendoll: I’m done trying

titanic: hi

pb23 joined the channel.

Information: Welcome, pb23. Please no Swearing. No Private Messaging without asking. This is not a Crisis Resolution Service. Rules:

Brokendoll: I feel like trash waiting

lsr: pb23: Hi

bRaYdEn: try not to preject expectations onto situations

Scarlettear_lonelyxx: waiting for what

bRaYdEn: project*

Gaius: how is everyone?

pedro has quit (Please help support this chat room by considering making a donation to help cover its operational costs. All donations are gratefully received at: [ ]).

AvalonMyst has quit (Ping timeout: 180 seconds).

S: awful

Guest79317 has quit (Please help support this chat room by considering making a donation to help cover its operational costs. All donations are gratefully received at: [ ]).

pedro joined the channel.

Information: Welcome, pedro. Please no Swearing. No Private Messaging without asking. This is not a Crisis Resolution Service. Rules:

Brokendoll: For a guy to pay attention to me fully

titanic: Hi dark-girl

Claudea has quit (Please help support this chat room by considering making a donation to help cover its operational costs. All donations are gratefully received at: [ ]).

titanic: Hey Gaius

pedro: Brokendoll how old r u?

titanic: hi erik

Faylinn: S: what’s up?

Gaius: hey titanic

I-64: All is OK Gaius , How is it with u?

bRaYdEn: live for yourself, these trivialities are transient.

titanic: Faylinn: hello

Brokendoll: I’m the only doing the most talking

S: a cold and pms

Brokendoll: 22

Scarlettear_lonelyxx: hi gaius just trying to be normal

Faylinn: hey titanic

Gaius: im doing all right ty I-64

titanic: Brokendoll: that’s cool

Guest3543 joined the channel.

tone-deaf joined the channel.

Gaius: hey Scarlettear_lonelyxx u are normal

Information: Welcome, Guest3543. Please no Swearing. No Private Messaging without asking. This is not a Crisis Resolution Service. Rules:

Brokendoll: eh

Information: Welcome, tone-deaf. Please no Swearing. No Private Messaging without asking. This is not a Crisis Resolution Service. Rules:

Scarlettear_lonelyxx: yay

Faylinn: S: are you okay?

pedro: What do you mean, you want a boyfriend who pays full atention to you?

pedro: Brokendoll

Brokendoll: Just going to focus on my baby couisn ❤️

bRaYdEn: focus on YOURSELF

pedro: k

Scarlettear_lonelyxx: hey

lsr: Guest9439: Hi

Scarlettear_lonelyxx: easy

pedro: you mean like brb? Brokendoll

Brokendoll: pedro: the guy am talking too hardly talks to me

mom4change joined the channel.

Information: Welcome, mom4change. Please no Swearing. No Private Messaging without asking. This is not a Crisis Resolution Service. Rules:

lsr: Scarlettear_lonelyxx: Hi

mom4change: hello

titanic: Scarlettear_lonelyxx: hi

Scarlettear_lonelyxx: hi

Guest3543 has left the channel.

titanic: Scarlettear_lonelyxx: How old are u?

bRaYdEn: anyone ever feel like you’re yelling into a brick wall on here?

Brokendoll: No just focus on her in my life, done with guys

just ill

Pathetic joined the channel.

Information: Welcome, Pathetic. Please no Swearing. No Private Messaging without asking. This is not a Crisis Resolution Service. Rules:

Brokendoll: hey titanic

pedro: Hmm, brokendoll. Well there has to be a reason for that, but idk what the reason is

Canvassa joined the channel.

Information: Welcome, Canvassa. Please no Swearing. No Private Messaging without asking. This is not a Crisis Resolution Service. Rules:

Pathetic: Hi everyone.

Faylinn: S: that’s too bad…I"m sorry.

Scarlettear_lonelyxx: well i never was in a relationship so idk but im sure you will do whatever you feel is right

bRaYdEn: jesus. people don’t listen because they don’t like real, critical responses. this isnt the validate my feelings chatroom,

Andy_T: relax

Brokendoll: pedro: believe me…..I’m the only one who seems to care what he does

tone-deaf: hello Pathetic

S: I’ll survive, a mormon family adopted me for these days and they’ve been super nice with me

Faylinn: bRaYdEn: could you please not

* not take my God’s name in vain?

Milo: Guest310: Faylinn: PM?

GM: Faylinn: Ok

Milo: A click brings him to a private room.

Guest310: Why are you here?

GM: Faylinn: why are u?

Milo: Guest310: My apartment got broken into and I feel lonely. And my cat’s sleeping

GM: Faylinn: I’m sorry

Milo: Guest310: And I’m curious

GM: Faylinn: My mom got raped

Milo: Guest310: you didn’t break in haha

GM: Faylinn: …

Faylinn: Fuck you

Milo: Guest310: oh awkward timing I meant that you didn’t break in not laughing at your mom

Guest310: which is awful

Guest310: also why are you here

Guest310: you didn’t get raped too right?

GM: Faylinn: Fuck you

Faylinn has quit (Ping timeout: 183 seconds).

Milo: He starts to type an apology, and then stops, sighing. He should stop trying. Apparently social anxiety eases with interaction. Hasn’t worked yet.

GM: Messages continue to run past on the main chat room. Faylinn is absent.

bRaYdEn: i mean hell, i have relationship probelms too.

Brokendoll: I have other problems too but whateves

Information: Welcome, Guest321. Please no Swearing. No Private Messaging without asking. This is not a Crisis Resolution Service. Rules:

mom4change: mine will never go away its a genetic inbalance in my brain

titanic: AmeliaIsBad: How old are u �

Fallingslowly-trapped: I will go to sleep

bRaYdEn: is the brain the mind?

bRaYdEn: how do we know? can we know?

Scarlettear_lonelyxx: brain is something that no one understands

AmeliaIsBad: titanic: 19 you

Scarlettear_lonelyxx: its the most mysterious thing in the universe

titanic: cool

bRaYdEn: what is “I”

pedro: I wish I was still a virgin, because I don’t want to hurt my futer wife’s feelings

Scarlettear_lonelyxx: ego

Micro: bRaYdEn: #Philosophy ?

titanic: AmeliaIsBad: well u guess…I’m much older than you �

bRaYdEn: #hashtag

Brokendoll: Oh i understand my brain….its a piece of crap floating in my head

pb23 joined the channel.

Information: Welcome, pb23. Please no Swearing. No Private Messaging without asking. This is not a Crisis Resolution Service. Rules:

mom4change: we cant really theres a lot we dont know about the brain/mind

dark-girl: Hi titanic

Scarlettear_lonelyxx: its whats making you see your head

titanic: hi

bRaYdEn: that’s just being hard on yourself BrokenDoll

DU-Bot2: NOTICE: Please note you don’t need a moderator to control your chat environment, you can be your own moderator by using the ‘ignore’ function. To self moderate, click on any offender’s nickname and select ‘ignore’. Alternatively type: /ignore nickname. Please close out of any related PMs.

Micro: bRaYdEn: There’s a room called #Philosophy this is not just a hashtag

Guest321 has quit (Please help support this chat room by considering making a donation to help cover its operational costs. All donations are gratefully received at: [ ]).

Guest321 has quit (Please help support this chat room by considering making a donation to help cover its operational costs. All donations are gratefully received at: [ ]).

Guest321 joined the channel.

Information: Welcome, Guest321. Please no Swearing. No Private Messaging without asking. This is not a Crisis Resolution Service. Rules:

titanic: AmeliaIsBad: I am 20

Brokendoll: bRaYdEn: nope its stating the truth

pedro: I’m also 20

mom4change: and what we say we do know isnt it all just assumption anyway

lsr joined the channel.

Information: Welcome, lsr. Please no Swearing. No Private Messaging without asking. This is not a Crisis Resolution Service. Rules:

bRaYdEn: depression is a philisopical problem to me.

AmeliaIsBad: titanic: wow a whole year older than me �

bRaYdEn: what is truth ? :PPPP

bRaYdEn: just kindding

titanic: pedro: cool…But i never asked u �

Fallingslowly-trapped has quit (Please help support this chat room by considering making a donation to help cover its operational costs. All donations are gratefully received at: [ ]).

on10sec: Micro: no links are allowed in this room. Thank you for your understanding.

Scarlettear_lonelyxx: im so lonely

on10sec: ?? links

DU-Bot: links1: No links in chat. We are not able to monitor the content of links. We all have different experiences in life, and the content of some sites may upset our users. If you wish to share a link, please do so in a private message. If someone sends you a link, please look at the link at your own risk. We are not responsible for any content that chatters give each other via a link.

on10sec: ?? disclaimer

DU-Bot: disclaimer1: Always be cautious when opening links (URLs) from any chat room. Depression Understood cannot and will not censor all links. Whilst unlikely, some links could contain malware/viruses which can damage your computer, or potentially furnish upsetting or triggering material. Please exercise caution. Our full disclaimer can be viewed at:

Micro: on10sec: Are you a mod? And also, that wasn’t a link? o.O

lsr: Scarlettear_lonelyxx: same here

pb23 has quit (Please help support this chat room by considering making a donation to help cover its operational costs. All donations are gratefully received at: [ ]).

pedro: Titanic, I was just chiming in

Brokendoll: Useless crap that needs to die

titanic: pedro: kiddin….

pedro: o, k

titanic: pedro: yeah i know..was just kiddin

titanic: ok

titanic: :

titanic: �

on10sec: Micro: yes, and sorry, I thought that looked like a link to me….

bRaYdEn: gon’t get sucked into negative thinking.

pedro: k

bRaYdEn: you have many positive traits

lsr: AmeliaIsBad: Hi

Red_Roses|Away joined the channel.

Information: Welcome, Red_Roses|Away. Please no Swearing. No Private Messaging without asking. This is not a Crisis Resolution Service. Rules:

on10sec: Micro: and I’m a new mod, so bare with me he he

Brokendoll: Nope

Brokendoll: none

on10sec: Hello’s Brokendoll �

titanic: AmeliaIsBad: U born in 97?

Micro: on10sec: lol. No problem. Congratulations on your new position.

pedro: Jeez us titanic, im already going through a lot

Brokendoll: yo…

bRaYdEn: oh come now.

Scarlettear_lonelyxx: sure positive traits are good. but focusing on positive traits too much will make you full of yourself

AmeliaIsBad: lsr: hey

on10sec: thank you, Micro �

I-64 joined the channel.

Information: Welcome, I-64. Please no Swearing. No Private Messaging without asking. This is not a Crisis Resolution Service. Rules:

on10sec: Hello I-64

AmeliaIsBad: titanic: no 98

titanic: pedro: ohh ..what

Brokendoll: Scarlettear_lonelyxx: yep

bRaYdEn: too much of anything is bad. that’s what too much means.

Red_Roses|Away has left the channel.

titanic: AmeliaIsBad: oh k

Scarlettear_lonelyxx: sure too much of food is bad

Scarlettear_lonelyxx: too much of being lonely

Dwcm has quit (Please help support this chat room by considering making a donation to help cover its operational costs. All donations are gratefully received at: [ ]).

Guest3113 joined the channel.

Information: Welcome, Guest3113. Please no Swearing. No Private Messaging without asking. This is not a Crisis Resolution Service. Rules:

Scarlettear_lonelyxx: is bad

Scarlettear_lonelyxx: but

Gaius has quit (Input/output error).

pedro: im unemployed for 5 months now, litterally steed home most days wanting to kill myself

bRaYdEn: but you can try to alter how you feel about being alone

Scarlettear_lonelyxx: too much of yourself. is that good or bad idk

bRaYdEn: there is a didfference between alone and lonely

I-64: Hi on10sec

mom4change: so i wake every morning feeling like my life is a never ending tornado and i feel like i will never amount to anything

AmeliaIsBad: has anyone seen londonistheanswer

lsr: AmeliaIsBad: may i pm?

Scarlettear_lonelyxx: no crapp sherlock

titanic wants to know how to get a gf. (Any kind of advice/s is/are welcome � )..Someone pls suggest

on10sec: �

Micro: mom4change: You can always amount to be a bad example <3> python

Then, he’s greeted will the triple >>> indicating he is now in an interactive python shell. He imports the module and instantiate the class.

>>>import pygeoip

>>>gip = pygeopip.GeoIP(‘GeoLiteCity.dat’)

Finally he enters his query.

>>>rec = gip.record_by_addr(‘’)

>>>for key.val in rec.items():

… print “%s: %s” %(key,val)

city: New Orleans

region_name: LA

area code: 504

longitude: 29.9511

country_code3: USA

latitude: 90.0715

postal_code: 70119

dma_code: 622

country_code: US

country_name: United States

Milo: He clicks his tongue. Close. Maybe even in the same neighborhood. Maybe in the building. Next he hits up ARIN to find the “owner” of the IP—or more accurately, their provider service. It’s getting late—that is, early. He glances at the time. Needs to stay awake.

GM: A quick search tells him the ISP is Cox Communications, one of the two main internet providers in New Orleans alongside AT&T.

Milo: He ponders the feasibility of breaking into CC’s database, and accessing client information; after all, ISPs are most concerned with hackers trying to increase their bandwidth or get free wifi. Moonlight’s burning. No pain, no gain. He pulls open Kali and gets started.

He doesn’t understand people, but, he reflects, he understands this. Milo has never liked to think of himself as a hacker. Hacking is something violent. Amateurs hack. Milo’s more of a surgeon. And like surgery, penetration’s not about quickness or strength or even technology. It’s about knowing where to slice.

While OpenVAS and Nessus chisel at Cox’s network, Milo makes some coffee. He doesn’t normally drink it, but he doesn’t plan to sleep tonight. He muses, briefly. The intruder wasn’t carrying the battering ram when he left. He’s checked and double checked; it isn’t in his apartment, as far as he can tell. So where…?

He’s probably overthinking it; the ram wasn’t that big, and he had a bag. But still, it bothers him. Then he checks his emails, work and personal; both are spartan of any personality. He doesn’t like giving machines inklings of his tastes.

GM: Milo finds his personal account empty of any new emails besides spam (“You May be a Winner!!!”). For others to have interest in him requires personal interaction, after all. Of those who do, Mirror_Mirror communicates over IMs, his family and friend (not friends) prefer to call or text, and Milo isn’t sure if Mrs. Quack even knows what a computer is.

His work email contains a message from his boss, Raymond “Slim Ray” Landry, sent to Milo and several of his co-workers. The intern they previously had on staff was recently let go, so people will need to do their own coffee runs and photocopying until they secure a new one. Ray doesn’t say it in the email, but Milo knows his boss still laments that one intern who quit a while back. He’d wanted to offer her a full-time job, as she did better work than any of the interns they’ve had since.

Milo: He feels bad for Raymond, but reflects that this doesn’t really change anything. He never trusts interns to run errands for him.

Nessus is still running. He checks in on M1rr0r_miRRoR’s chat client.

GM: Milo opens up mIRC and finds a new message in Mirror_Mirror’s channel from f0xx[DR], one of the clique’s other members who attends his alma matter at Tulane. Evidently, her sleep schedule is as terrible as his own. The message reads:

assturd on this stupid chat made my stupid sister cry

Guest310 id

Milo: Milo blinks.

Goddammit. GODDAMMIT!

He doesn’t believe in coincidence. It is distinctly possible, however, that there is a God and He is laughing at him.

GM: This early in the morning (or late at night, depending on one’s definition), none of Mirror_Mirror’s other members appear to be awake. Milo can only imagine the jokes they’re going to crack upon seeing that depression chat. Much less if they knew he seriously used it.

Milo: He messages back.

TinMan: What’d he do

GM: f0xx[DR]: trolled her I guess, that isn’t particularly hard

Milo: He starts to type, I don’t think he was

No, best not to head down that path.


TinMan: You gonna do anything

He pats himself on the back for the casual voice.

GM: f0xx[DR]: yeah

f0xx[DR]: him

f0xx[DR]: “anon chat” hahahahaha no

Milo: TinMan: seems like an idiot tho. send him a trojan or something. I got a bigger asshole we can mess with

A second later: who NEEDS messing with

GM: f0xx[DR]: fuck you he made my sister actually cry

f0xx[DR]: sounds like he was actually on that site for real too not just trolling

f0xx[DR]: I’m not passing that up

Milo: TinMan: probably some dumb kid, but your party. What do you even wanna do

GM: f0xx[DR]: Dunno yet

f0xx[DR]: Cry back at min

f0xx[DR]: Any of you guys are bored open season on him

Milo: TinMan: I guess hmu if you come up with something fun. But here’s the dude I’m talking about hitting

Milo: He posts a link to Kibbe’s Wikipedia page, quickly followed by the blog run by ‘AXIS

GM: Several minutes pass without reply from f0xx[DR].

Milo: Milo doesn’t need to lie as he conveys his loathing over mIRC.

Dude’s evil. I don’t mean politically, I mean he actually ruins lives for money. Remember all the shit that happened to the Cherrys, right before the election? That girl’s abortion records leaked, her suicide attempt photographed and passed around online like tit pics at a high school? It was him. All of it. He runs the blog on the side to appeal to the nutjobs, but he’s at the Times. Far as the world is concerned, this guy is a legit journalist. He’s so far up the Malveaux ass he’d need a map to find his way out. He’s their Goebbels, and he’s got family in high places. Nothing’s going to hurt his rep with them looking after him. He hurts people for money and he’s an editor at the most powerful paper in this fucking city, and he will never, ever catch shit for it.

I don’t know about y’all. But I don’t like knowing that.


f0xx[DR]: Where do I start with this

f0xx[DR]: First, fuck the Cherrys

f0xx[DR]: They’re Democrats. If that’s not enough, just follow the money on their campaign contribs. Same corporate shills that back the Malveauxes back them

f0xx[DR]: Seriously, white Democrats running for office in LA?

f0xx[DR]: Oh but hey, Noelle’s got a hole between her legs! EVERYONE VOTE FOR HER!

f0xx[DR]: Hillary. Fuck Hillary

f0xx[DR]: Those pics were hilarious

Milo: TinMan: You have a sister with depression, right?

GM: f0xx[DR]: I have a sister who’s a loser. I guess she could be depressed over that fact

f0xx[DR]: Hillary tho. Man where do I start

f0xx[DR]: See, her mom wants her to be governor someday

f0xx[DR]: The abortion was all a publicity stunt. Her mom made her get pregnant, made her get the abortion, and made sure it all got leaked to the Malveauxes

f0xx[DR]: She’s playing the long odds

f0xx[DR]: Abortion’s gonna be less hotwire when Hillary’s her age right, more people in favor?

f0xx[DR]: Well Hillary’s gonna run against the Malveauxes when she’s way older, use them ‘leaking’ her abortion records as just another tool in the arsenal to bring them down


f0xx[DR]: Genius is, Hillary prolly didn’t sign off on any of her mom’s plan

f0xx[DR]: Hard to fake tears like that

f0xx[DR]: Or vacuumed out baby parts too I guess, not many girls who’d sign off on that

f0xx[DR]: Cherry the Hillary is gonna be just like Clinton the Hillary. Corrupt oligarch fake feminist corporate shill. Just fuck them both

f0xx[DR]: _"The world thinks whatshisname is a legit journalist"

f0xx[DR]: That’s so cute Tinny

f0xx[DR]: Let me know when you find one of those

f0xx[DR]: Least he made Cherry the Hillary kill herself

f0xx[DR]: That’s the one good thing about far-right journalists

f0xx[DR]: They don’t PC anything and they make the “leftist” technocrats mad as hell

f0xx[DR]: I don’t vote but I woulda voted Trump if I did, just to piss the Dems off

Milo: TinMan: You done?

GM: f0xx[DR]: “Far as the world is concerned, this guy is a legit journalist.”

f0xx[DR]: “Dude’s evil.”

f0xx[DR]:That’s just adorable how you’re trying to look all nonchalant now

Milo: TinMan: One of us has to be cute.

GM: f0xx[DR]: Serious question, you actually think what happened to Cherry the Hillary was bad?

Milo: TinMan: Serious answer: yeah, I think that squeezing somebody’s personal tragedy into partisan torture porn is gross.



Milo: TinMan: You’re missing the point, tho. I don’t wanna take him down because he’s republican or because he hurt the Cherrys or even because of the suicide thing.

GM: f0xx[DR]: You know she’s not gonna pity fuck you even if we took him down, right?

Milo: TinMan: I wanna hit him because he thinks he’s got nothing coming. And I feel like proving him wrong.

GM: f0xx[DR]: “Dude’s evil. I don’t mean politically, I mean he actually ruins lives for money. Remember all the shit that happened to the Cherries, right before the election? That girl’s abortion records leaked, her suicide attempt photographed and passed around online like tit pics at a high school? It was him. All of it.”




Milo: TinMan: Mmhmm. So me being me aside, you a Malveaux fan?

GM: f0xx[DR]: Looool 0 stars for that “turnaround”

Milo: He doesn’t bother to respond. Lewis feeds on argument.

He waits, and checks the time. 7 AM. Should he call in sick? Almost absentmindedly, he uses Kali’s password breaker to find “Faylinn’s” password for the depression chatroom. Then he decides to give f0xx a poke back.

TinMan: You’re right, silly me being a white knight. Let’s help your sister fight a bully instead!

TinMan: And we can give her milk and cookies too, and maybe give her a kitty poster. After we catch the meanie troll who made her cry.

GM: f0xx[DR]: Great we can give her the one in your bedroom

f0xx[DR]: Could be a bonding experience

f0xx[DR]: Prolly your closest odds of ever touching a breast

Milo: TinMan: I mean, if she’s anything like you, I won’t be able to see where her tits end and the rest of her begins. It’d be like trying to fuck a beanbag.

GM: f0xx[DR]: Beanbag could please a woman better than you for sure

Milo: TinMan: What, you use them to get off? Cunt as wide as yours, that ain’t surprising

GM: f0xx[DR]: You don’t even know what a cunt is little boy let alone one’s measurements

Milo: TinMan: ? Thought I was talking to one right now.

GM: f0xx[DR]: You are what you eat. How bout it, dick?

Milo: TinMan: I mean you’re right, I am a virgin. Not all of us can lose our virginity by sitting on somebody.

For a second he is confused as to his sudden good mood. Then he realizes this almost makes him feel normal.

I really am pathetic, he thinks, and enjoys the feeling while it lasts.

Milo I, Chapter I
The Intruder

“Stop resisting!”
Unidentified burglar

Tuesday evening, 8 December 2015

GM: Thump.



“Open up! NOW!”

The door to Milo’s apartment groans and rattles in its frame. That’s too heavy to be someone knocking. It’s a ram. NOPD? State police? FBI?

Doesn’t matter. They’re on to him.

Heavy footsteps. More thumps.


“Come out with your hands up!”

Milo: Most people do not try to imagine the sound of their lives crashing to the ground, and find themselves unprepared when they hear it. Milo Glass, to his chagrin, is not most people. The best method of wiping a hard drive is cryptographic deletion. If one uses full disk encryption (which Milo does) one only needs destroy the key.

If they feel like busting down his door, assume his system has been compromised. Maybe they have cameras in the apartment? He hadn’t found any, but that means less than nothing when—


No time. Think.

Quách let him put up that clock in the hallway six months ago; she couldn’t be bothered. He didn’t tell her about the added camera in the minute-hand that streamed to his phone, but she didn’t enjoy details like that anyway.

Now he stares at the feed.

GM: The feed stares back.

It’s a single man. Average or so height, dressed in a drawn-up hoodie, cargo pants, combat boots, and backpack. A ski mask and sunglasses conceal his face. He’s holding a small battering ram that he’s bashing against Milo’s door.


Milo: Milo stares, puzzled.

GM: The ram hits again.


Milo: Then he calls out, puzzled. “Um. Hello?”


Milo: Milo gets up, somewhat bemused. He gathers the SD card and slips it in his pocket, not quite ready to take things to that step.


The apartment’s door bursts open. The masked figure strides inside.

Milo: For a second, he cannot breathe. For a second, a monster lurks behind those glasses, broken into his apartment to devour him and his life’s work. But Milo is not a little boy anymore, and the second passes. He frowns at the intruder.

“Are you… robbing me?”

Then he answers his own question. “No, that would be stupid. At 10 PM?”

GM: The masked intruder tosses the ram aside, stomps up to Milo’s desk, and grabs his phone.

Milo: Milo decides that he should probably do the obvious and starts to yell, for what it’s worth.


GM: The intruder slugs Milo in the face as he starts yelling.

“Stop resisting!”

Milo: Whump goes the fist, and crack goes his nose. Milo ends up on his ass. His lip feels wet.

“Ow! Fuck! You aren’t a cop! HELP! HELP!”

GM: The intruder grabs Milo by the collar of his shirt, and half-yanks, half-throws him into the bed. His weight bears down on the short man.


Milo: The sheer impossibility of the situation wells in his throat like vomit. He does not break. But he does not scream. For the moment .

GM: Milo’s throat burns worse as the man wraps his gloved hands around it and chokes him.


Milo: This doesn’t make any sense. He’s imagined his death a hundred times, his arrest a hundred more. But this? Getting choked out by some bastard in a ski mask with a battering ram he bought from his local Herrick’s? Milo is scared of a lot of things. He’s never been scared of bad luck before. But bad luck never broke into his apartment with a bad policeman impersonation and started kicking his ass.

I’m not resisting, he thinks as he wheezes and his neck purples. I’mnotI’mnotI’mnot…

GM: Milo’s neck burns and throbs. Black pinpoints blossom across his rapidly tunneling vision. The masked intruder leans towards his face and whispers, so close he see a mouth moving against the ski mask’s fabric.


I’m not real.

Milo: Goddammmit.

GM: Blackness engulfs his sight.


Wednesday night, 9 December 2015, AM

GM: The blackness recedes.

He’s lying on his bed. His throat burns. The man isn’t there.

Milo: “Urgh…” His mouth tastes like roadkill and his head feels like roadkill run over.


He slides out of his bed, rubbing his throat and checking his phone for the time.

GM: Midnight.

Milo: His gaze trails its way over to his doorway.

GM: The broken door lies exposed to his apartment’s hallway.

Milo: “Shit.” He doesn’t normally swear. But there’s a first for everything. At the sound of slight, cautious padding over his floor, he mutters, “Some help you were,” before glancing over his shoulder at the source of his noise.

GM: The big-earned tabby cat looks at him with that noncomprehending yet all-knowing expression only felines quite have.

Milo: Milo pads around his apartment, barefoot. His throat doesn’t burn quite so much. He gathers his thoughts, meditating for a few, quiet minutes. His pulse becomes a slow drum to punctuate his thoughts, shallow breaths the white noise into which a world too complicated to understand fades. His mind hums.

Everything either is, or isn’t. Ones and zeroes.

He has been compromised. That is a One. But by the feds, or some related conspiracy, or a third party? Tarh Andishan? Is this some elaborate sting? Too many possibilities. But either this was the work of The Powers That Be or somebody like him. He isn’t sure which is worse. He needs to know more.

The first thing he does is comb his apartment. It isn’t large because it doesn’t need to be. Unpainted and unfurnished walls. He doesn’t let workmen in here. Old furniture from yard sales that are still made out of slavery and exploitation, but at least didn’t earn money for the taskmasters when he bought them. Mom gave him the bookshelf, and when he started putting old Ramen containers up there instead of books she gave him the Kindle, which he doesn’t use that much but tries to. They surround the spot where the television should go but doesn’t because television is both obsolete and a propaganda box and also Milo doesn’t like Nickelodeon anymore. A litter box for Toto lays outside the bathroom, which is tiny but he doesn’t take much space. His kitchenette and small dining area are likewise spartan. The adjoining bedroom he hasn’t slept in for a few days. He falls asleep on the futon most nights, or mornings.

GM: Milo observes a number of irregularities in his apartment.

First, the mirror in his bathroom has been shattered. Dozens of splintered reflections stare up at him from the white tile floor.

Milo: He wasn’t using it anyway. He makes sure not to step on the glass, barefoot as he is.

GM: His refrigerator and pantry (such as it is) have been partly ransacked. Some of the leftover pizza and assorted bags of snack food have been eaten from.

Milo: Sloppy. Unless they know he would never, ever call the cops in this. In which case they’re leaving a message. Them eating his pizza is their way of telling him he’s screwed and there’s nothing he can do about it. Their way of telling him they know him inside and out. Already, the ‘he’ has become a ‘them’.


He hates going to the store.

GM: An inspection of his cupboards reveals that one of his bowls is missing. They’re white, ceramic, and unexpensive, with “Dishwasher, Microwave & Oven Safe—Made in China” printed on the underside.

Milo: Blackmail material. He knew he should have made a habit of erasing his purchase history. He isn’t sure what’s incriminating about that bowl—maybe it’s just to get a DNA sample—but he’s on his toes, all right. He continues his examination, separating his screeching paranoia from his rational mind—except, it isn’t paranoia if he’s right.

GM: The last immediately apparent ‘clue’ is a series of light, several-inch slash marks made on the section of wall adjacent to his door.

Milo: Not the right shape for a knife. Probably they used bowl fragments. Bearing against the tide of thoughts that threaten to distract him, he turns back time through his clock’s eye.

GM: The nanny cam shows nothing happening. Milo rewinds back to when the intruder broke into his house. Perhaps five minutes later, the man departs, wearing a backpack and carrying no items in his hands.

The relevant footage ends there, but Milo’s inspection of his domicile does not. Several minutes of further searching reveal a tiny camera bug at the bottom of one of his kitchen cabinets, perpendicular to his apartment’s doorway. The vantage point is unsuitable for anything except capturing his feet while he’s busying about the kitchen… or monitoring his comings and goings from his apartment.

And someone on the other end is seeing it all.

He’s being watched.

Right now.

Milo: Watching him. Recording. Maybe broadcasting. His apartment spins and constricts. He feels like he’s drowning, and he needs to open his mouth, and breathe, breathe…


He clamps down on the panic attack before it comes into its own.

GM: The tiny camera stares blankly ahead at his feet.

Milo: It’s bad, all right. But at the same time, almost satisfactory. Now he knows the game they are playing, or at least some of the rules.

And it’s his turn.

And yet, a nasty voice whispers somewhere from the back room of his mind, what if he’s meant to find the camera? Misdirection, perhaps? If they’re watching, they might also be listening. He’ll be careful when he speaks. He grabs the dustpan he so rarely uses, a towel, and starts to the bathroom. He doesn’t want Toto to cut his feet. He pats his pocket as he walks, making sure the SD card is still there.

GM: His attacker does not appear to have taken it. Toto, meanwhile, wanders out of the apartment’s open door.

Milo: He immerses himself in the simple task, broken glass singing an ugly song as it scrapes along linoleum. Little pieces of him seem to litter the floor as he sweeps the mirror up. What the hell is happening? Somebody breaks into his apartment. They tried to lure him out by impersonating SWAT—and would have succeeded if he hadn’t checked the camera. That means they know who he is, and what he does.

Crink. Crack.

A dozen Milos stare, just as confused as he is, as he dumps them into the trash. They knock him out. They whisper his name, to let him know they know him. This is about him personally. They tell him they are not real, but leave evidence all over the place to suggest they are.

Are they trying to intimidate him? But then why not tell him why? Or actually threaten him? Did the intruder get into his system? Milo finds that unlikely, given that he has the SD and the intruder was only present for about five minutes.

Are they actually attempting to surveil him? It’s almost certainly not their primary agenda, as they could have tried to bug the apartment while he was away. It’s his fault. He’s never understood people that well.


A bit of him is leaking. Red trickling over the last of the shards. His own gray eye stares back, and the blood sliding over it makes him look angry.

He dumps it with the rest of its kin and carries on. He sucks at his finger, and takes a seat out of the camera’s line of sight, in his living room. The hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He called for help. His neighbors aren’t that far away, they should have heard him. Not to mention all the ruckus the battering ram made.

And where was that damn thing anyway? He hadn’t been carrying it when he left. He approaches his shattered doorway, poking his head into the hall.

GM: You get what you pay for, and sometimes less if you’re being ripped off. Milo and his fellow tenants aren’t being ripped off (as far as they know), but they aren’t getting a lot either. The gray-carpeted floor isn’t so dirty as to be filthy, but still has noticeable amounts of crud over it. Mrs. Quách doesn’t like coming out to vacuum. Or seemingly much else. The apartment doors don’t have numbers on them. Milo once overheard a neighbor speculating Mrs. Quách does that to save on property taxes or something, but Milo never asked his neighbor exactly how. He didn’t find out the man’s name either before he left. Turnover among tenants is pretty high. The fact that residents have private bathrooms is all that saves this place from being called a dump.

Toto continues to pad down the empty hallway. Music (past the allowed hours of 10 PM) booms from one of the units, but otherwise, there is no sign of life within the apartment complex’s second floor.

Milo: Music. That explains some of it. Milo walks down the hall, grateful for the carpet as opposed to tiling on his bare soles. He knocks, timidly at first, and then a little louder.

GM: Music plays, but no one answers.

Milo: Knockknockknock.

GM: Music pounds.

Milo: Milo shifts awkwardly. Safe bet they didn’t hear the battering ram, then. He moves instead to his next door neighbor’s unit, and knocks there.

GM: “Yeah, what?” answers a young-sounding woman’s voice through the closed door.

Milo: He’s so momentarily surprised that he’s being answered that it takes him a moment to remember why he’s here.

“Um. You aren’t asleep, right?”

Then he realizes she probably isn’t.

“It’s me. Uh. Milo. From next door. My apartment got broken into.”

Wow, that sounds really lame. I should walk away. But wait, I told her my name. Shit.

GM: There is no response.

Milo: “Um. Have a good night,” he calls. He scoops up Toto as he heads back to his room.

GM: The tabby mews in his arms.

His neighbor’s door stares at him impassively.

Milo: I kind of wish he’d come back and murder me now.

GM: Toto mews again and squirms. He’s never liked being held.

Milo: They have that in common. Milo gently punts him into the apartment and tries to shut his door.

GM: The door closes, though the security chain is busted. Toto flops out of his arms and pads away into the bedroom.

Milo: Milo glances at the futon he was smothered into just a few hours ago. Somehow, he doesn’t think he’ll be getting much sleep tonight.

Wednesday night, 9 December 2015, AM

Milo: Milo’s setup gobbles most of his attention, and it shows. The rest of the apartment is colorless by contrast, unpainted plaster and dreary furniture leeched of their vitality by the desktop he’s built from scratch, and the faint but constant whir of its fans.

Milo: The first thing he does is check everything. He runs every cleaning program he knows. They must have broken in. Somehow.

GM: Milo’s built his computer from scratch and knows every file as if he’d crafted it with his own code. He can find no evidence that the device was tampered with while he was unconscious.

Milo: He feels like crying, though he’s not sure whether from relief or frustration. He’s been compromised. Not through his computer. But how? Or who?

He can’t sit on this, tempting as it might be. He opens his modded-to-hell-and-back Metasploit file and gets to work. There are reasons he’ll never install that clock camera, or any other camera, inside his home. He doesn’t even have a webcam.

Reason number one is that he doesn’t like looking at his own face that much. Reason number two is that wireless cameras you can get off eBay are typically as secure as soda pop cans. A small ghost of a smile haunts his face for the first time tonight.


He’ll show them what resistance looks like.

GM: Remotely accessing a webcam is a more complex process than using Metasploit to view the camera feed from his own computer. First he must use a GUI Port scanner to figure out the camera’s IP address. Firing up Angry IP Scanner, he chooses a very limited IP range—the camera is in his apartment—and adds the requisite ports for the program to scan from Tools > Preferences > Port. Then comes Tools > Fetchers > add (<<)> Kali Linux → Password Attacks → Offline Attacks → hashcat

kali > hashcat options hashfile mask|wordfiles|directories

Milo scans further down the screen and enables the options that will apply capitalization rules, special characters, word combinations, appended and prepended numbers, and so on to his worldlist file. Each of these will help him to break passwords that have been made more complex to avoid dictionary attacks.

The next stanza shows custom character sets. This would enable Milo to set the character set that he wants to use to crack the password. Since he has no clue who set the camera, however, he is similarly ignorant of any password policies that he could use to choose a character subset (“all-numeric”) and speed up his cracking.

The next screen includes some of the more obscure options, including the output file type, the debug mode and the built-in character sets. More relevant to Milo is the hash he’s trying to crack and the wordlist file he’s using. He goes with sqlmap, which has over a million different words and hybrid words. If, in fact, the webcam’s IP address has recognized a word for its password, it’s just a matter and letting the program enter password after password after password (a “brute force attack”) until one finally logs him in. The password might simply use a random string of letters and numbers, but that would take Milo even longer to crack, and he opens with a standard wordlist.

Milo grabs his hashes from the /etc/shadow file, head /etc/login.defs to view what encryption type the camera is using, and gets to work on the actual cracking.

kali > hashcat -m 1800 -a 0 -o cracked.txt —remove hash.lst /usr/share/sqlmap/txt/wordlist.txt

The program runs, cycling through thousands of potential passwords. There’s not much for Milo to do at this point except sit back and wait. There’s nothing particularly sophisticated about a brute force attack, but it gets the job done.

Several hours pass.

Finally a cracked.txt file appears. He opens it.


Milo: His apartment is momentarily silent, except for the whirring of the fan.


Waves crash along the dam of his sanity, already groaning after tonight. They know about Mal. Maybe they’re the ones who took him. Maybe they’re just fucking with him. And worse, they know he’s breaking in. They’re coming for him. Personally. And they’ve danced a step ahead. He wants to scream but can’t open his mouth.

Stupid. Stupid, stupid…

He should regroup. Think. He should start typing. But he can’t move. Can’t think. Can’t even breathe. The dam breaks. He doesn’t realize the attack is riding him until he’s on the floor, writhing. Somewhere his cat’s claws are scrabbling. The light from his monitor is making him blind, he can’t see anything, but he can hear, the computer’s fan is spinning



And so is the room (or him?)

He has to get up getupgetup

But he can’t. He gasps for air that doesn’t come. They’ve poisoned his apartment. The vents, he should have checked the vents, why didn’t he check the vents?


The world goes black as a power outage.

Milo I, Prologue
The Missing Glass

Saturday afternoon, 13 July 2002

GM: The porta-potty smells.

It’s a novel concept to a 10-year-old, a toilet with no handle to flush. The contents of the bowl just sit there and smell, trapped within the confines of a seven-by-eight wide box. Sweating makes it worse. After long enough inside, the beads of sweat seem to trickle down the gray polyurethane walls rather than the boy’s skin. Or maybe it just looks that way past the tears blurring his vision. Either way, the distinctive odor of warm plastic in prolonged contact with human flesh still fills his nostrils.

The smell would probably be weaker if he’d shat into the toilet.

Milo: His voice is a croak, throat scraped raw from cries he doesn’t remember.


When he doesn’t get an answer he starts to scream again. His throat hurts so much but it doesn’t matter. Later, they’ll tell him he screamed for help. But he isn’t trying to. He just wants to go home. He isn’t thinking when he rushes the locked door, either. The complexities of the lock escape him. The world tilts.

GM: His head bangs against the floor. The polyurethane is warm against his bare legs thanks to the even warmer Louisiana summer day. His rear end is moist with his own waste.

The world smells.

He’s not sure how long passes before the knocks against the door sound. Just that the polyurethane is warmer, his bottom is drier, and the smell is worse by the time they do.

Milo: He screams again, incoherent. Monsters. There are monsters trying to get inside. He curls into a ball, the smell of his own filth filling his nostrils and burning there.


He doesn’t know if he’s thinking or screaming, and he doesn’t care.

Are the sounds he’s making even words? Can anybody hear him? Can Mal? Does it even matter?

The monsters pound at his sanctuary. Everything stinks.

GM: There are more knocks, then heavier thuds. The porta-potty’s door bangs open. Two looming, man-shaped spots blot out the light that otherwise floods the boy’s darkness-accustomed vision. There’s a sound like someone sharply inhaling their breath.


“Yeah,” answers another voice. “That’s shit, all right.”

Milo: They look like people. They talk like people. But are they? Questions fill his mind like shit and piss fill his pants. Where is he? What’s happening? Where’s Mal? Mal?

“Help,” he rasps, one last time.

As questions and filthiest things leak around him, the world tilts backwards. The man-shapes fill his vision, blotting out the starlight. He closes his eyes, and forgets to open them, and falls…

Saturday afternoon, 13 July 2002

GM: The bare room is small and claustrophobic, maybe wide enough for a grown man to lie down with some room to spare, and a little bit longer. The seat is cold and hard against Milo’s bottom, and his dangling feet don’t touch the floor. A single dull light glints from the ceiling, casting long and hungry shadows across the walls where all manner of terrors from a child’s fevered imagination might lurk.

Including the two sitting just across the bolted-down metal table from him.

The first is short but well-built, almost but not quite stocky, with a square jaw line and a full but well-maintained mustache. His gray eyes are alert, methodical, and searching, ferreting out seemingly every wrong to cross Milo’s mind—or which he has ever even done. He wears a white shirt, rolled up at the sleeves, and dark tie. A smoldering cigarette dangles from his lips.

Louis: The second was well-built… a long time ago. Taller than his partner, the once-muscular man’s frame is held together by gristle and grit. His shoulders are slack with the weight of sleepless nights and cases gone cold. Swollen joints crack and groan, badges of hard-won gutter-brawls and lonely stake-outs. Scarred knuckles, meat-slab hands. His skin, riddled with scars, rat out old injuries like bad alibis. A history of hurt. His face, grim. Unlovely. Unloving. Atavistic brow. Thick-slabbed nose, mangled from kissing too many fists, crowbars, and brick walls. Iron-brush hair. Jutting underbite. Lantern jaw. Like his partner, a limp cigarette dangling from his pale lips. A countenance of low cunning and stubborn pursuit. His eyes, deep-sunk. Heavy-lidded. The hue of old bourbon, a watery brown that runs to black and drinks in everything they see. Lies. Lusts. The glint of truth in the flood of grime.

The second pours coffee from a silver, bullet-shaped thermos into a pair of styrofoam cups.

The old man grunts and slides a cup to the young boy. He doesn’t hand it to him. He can’t. Not with the prosthetic hook that gleams from the vacant place where a hand should be.

GM: The younger man exhales a plume of smoke.

“The break room machine doesn’t get washed too often. Can’t say whether it’ll bite less than his hook on the way down. But drinking something will help, about now.”

Louis: The older man downs his own cup, and crumples it like the ill-attempted smile on his face. He tosses it at the corner trash-can, but he misses. Badly.

“C’mon, Pete,” he says in a voice as smooth as used cat litter. “Cut the smoke and cut the crap for the kid’s sake. You might owe Gettis a favor, but don’t spit shine the toilet bowel.”

GM: Pete gives his partner a long look as the cigarette’s tip glows a dull red. He’s been smoking a lot lately.

“Not Gettis who’s telling me to enjoy these, Lou.”

He looks towards Milo, then sighs. The burning embers snub out against the metal table with a near-inaudible hiss. Another thin plume of smoke wafts up Pete’s face.

Louis: Seeing the snubbed cigarette, the old man’s face softens a bit, like going from 100 to 600 grade sandpaper. He pats his trench coat pocket. “I’ve got your next one right here, Pete. Always.”

GM: The younger detective smiles back at him.

He knows.

Louis: He then slips his own limp, unlit cigarette from his lips and lays it beside a pen and notepad already sitting on the table.

Milo: Milo stares at nothing. The policemen make noises with their mouths like water running down a faucet—“blub blub blub, blub.” Nothing makes sense. They’re barely people. One a dragon, shrouded in smoke with embers burning where its mouth should be. The Pirate hands him something. It smells like morning. The world is wet again.

“I want to see my mom and dad.”

He sips at the drink, and recoils at the heat.

Louis: “Sorry, kid,” the old man answers.

For what, he doesn’t specify. Perhaps for the coffee, perhaps for his parents, perhaps for… everything.

GM: “You’ll get to, in a bit,” the dragon supplies, his smoking mouth finally extinguished. “They’ll be happiest seeing you together with your brother.”

Milo: Eyes the color of dull knives meet bourbon-colored gaze. Those eyes don’t understand. They barely even see.

“I don’t know where he is. I don’t know. I just want to go home.”

GM: “We want him to go home with you too. Do you want that?” the younger detective asks.

Milo: “I don’t… I don’t remember…” Now he’s a mess again, tears running down his cheeks like his shit down his legs earlier.

Louis: The older NOPD homicide lays a light, if scarred hand on his younger partner’s arm, and whispers, “Let’s try another pitcher in the ball pen.”

GM: The detective gives a low sigh, more seemingly out of tiredness than exasperation. “Christ, Lou.” He gets up from his seat, walks around to the boy, and extends a tissue.

Louis: The old man leans down, holding the boy’s gaze. His disturbing hook hand disappears beneath the table. “Milo, my name’s Detective Fontaine. This here’s my friend and partner, Detective Lebeaux.”

He lets the words sink in, not to comprehension, but just enough to saturate the air. To provide some stability to the otherwise fraught and fragile trauma that otherwise sucks up all the air.

“Milo,” he then adds, not releasing the gaze, “what school do you go to?”

The question is simple like a stoplight changing from red to green. Mundane, familiar, and yet compelling in a quotidian fashion.

Milo: He can’t see the tissue through his tears. He doesn’t notice the question’s oddness amongst the clamor of unknowable things. He’s just glad to have something he can remember.

“B-Benjamin Franklin.”

Louis: “Benjamin Franklin,” the old man repeats calmly. “That’s a good school, I hear. Can’t recall if your school has a mascot.”

Milo: He blinks. “It’s… Benjamin Bear.”

GM: “Ben Bear, huh,” Peter remarks. “Wonder if they mixed up the president with the founding father.”

The detective presses the tissue into his hands. “For your eyes.”

Louis: Lou waits for Milo to at least recognize the tissue, then says, “So do you usually sleep in on the weekend or wake up early to watch those, um, morning cartoon talkies, er shows? On the TV?”

Milo: He takes the tissue, dabs once, and otherwise ignores it.


Louis: Lou nods to his partner, in gratitude, then returns his calming gaze to Milo with another query: “Yeah, that’s good. Did you watch anything yesterday morning?”

Milo: “Blue’s Clues.” His voice sounds steadier, at least. Landslides instead of avalanches. “Mal watched with me.”

Louis: Lou doesn’t try on a fake warm smile. He knows it won’t fit. Instead, he just nods, almost more with his bourbon-brown eyes than his lantern jaw.

“That sounds real nice, kid. Blue’s Clues. Do you remember anything about the show, about Blue’s Clues, yesterday?”

Milo: Milo nods slowly. “There was an egg.” He adds, “In a nest.”

No further explanation is immediately forthcoming.

Louis: “That’s a good place for eggs to be,” the older detective replies, once again with a placid rather than outright pleasant face.

GM: “The best place,” his partner echoes.

Louis: “What did you and your brother do after watching Blue’s Clues?”

Milo: “Mal didn’t watch,” Milo says quickly. His eyes are finally dry, though his cheeks still glisten like concrete slicked with so much rain. “He was reading. Wizard of Oz. Then he wanted to go to Crepes a la Carte…” His brow furrows.

Louis: Lou nods, “Yeah, that’s a good food truck. Do you two go there frequently?” The old man intentionally keeps his last sentence in the present tense–even if privately he has darker doubts.

GM: His partner taps the laid-out cigarette in silent consideration. Right about now Lou could imagine him taking another long drag, or lighting up a fresh one.

Louis: Right about now, Lou could and does imagine himself taking lighting up a fresh one and taking a long drag. Gettis, he inwardly groans, both as the culprit of his denied smoke ‘break’, but also for putting him in this room with a poor kid whose sibling became the NOPD’s newest missing persons case–and hopefully not the city’s newest statistic.

Milo: Is that a smile, that’s flickering so briefly? Or just a curled lip?

“Yeah. It’s good. We sneak out sometimes.”

Louis: Lou’s face crinkles with an ornery old man’s grin. Not a true smile, but an ugly, if good-intentioned cousin to it. “Yeah, Pete and I sometimes sneak out for food, too.”

Gravity and the gravity of the situation though then pull down the man’s momentary grin. “Did you and your brother stop anywhere before going to get breakfast?”

GM: “Hubig’s pies,” the younger detective declares. “Lou got me hooked on those things when I wasn’t too much older than you. Could never get into donuts like a good cop is supposed to.”

Louis: Lou’s face takes on the momentary grin again. “I’m more of a beignet man myself, but considering they declared them the official state donut, I guess I’m the ‘good cop’,” he jibes to his partner.

He then returns his calming gaze to Milo and restates his inquiry, while adding another:

“What about you, Milo, what food did you and your brother order?”

Milo: He nods slowly. “Mal got the Funky French Monkey, which they made with Nutella and bananas. Mom doesn’t like us eating Nutella because it has hazelnuts and her mom was allergic to hazelnuts but Mal doesn’t think he’s allergic so it’s fine but mom’s still scared. I didn’t get anything even though Mal asked me if I wanted any, I didn’t even take a bite of his. I don’t like spending Mom and Dad’s money without them knowing.”

GM: “An honest man,” Pete nods.

Louis: “Hard to find these days,” Lou says with both approval and sadness. He then follows up the observation with his next line of inquiries. “Had you two ever done this before? Either take your parents’ money or go out and spend it together?”

Milo: Milo blinks. His lip trembles a bit. “Um. I didn’t think that was against the law. Mal’s not in trouble, is he?”

Louis: Lou shakes his head. “Just trying to understand the story. Like in Blue’s Clues.”

Milo: “Okay.” The boy takes him at his word. “Yeah. A few times. He mostly spends the money, though. I just don’t tell.”

Louis: Lou nods. “And did you two talk to anybody or stop anywhere else before he bought the… Funky French Monkey?”

Milo: “No. We just walked and talked. I mean, he talked, mostly. I listen a lot.”

GM: “Get you far. Most people like to talk. Like it when they have an audience even more.”

Milo: “I guess.”

Louis: Lou nods in agreement.

GM: “You two talk about Wizard of Oz, or something else?”

Louis: The older detective doesn’t interpret the inquiry save for giving his partner the most subtle looks of approval as they slide into a synchronous stride like well-greased, familiar gears.

Milo: “Yeah, actually. He talked about the Tin Woodman.” Milo frowns. “He said he didn’t get him. He read that book all the time, and he got everything else, but not him. Because…” The boy suddenly blinks, and those gray eyes go listless once more.


Louis: Lou doesn’t reach out a hand, fearing he’d spook the boy, but he leans in, “Stay with me, Milo. You’re telling me a story, like Blue’s Clues. A story. One clue, then another clue.”

Milo: The boy’s breaths escape through chattering teeth, and they carry words, but not the ones Lou’s looking for. “I—I asked why and he said… hesaidhesaidhesaid—”

The room is so hot. So tight. So small. There’s not enough air, or maybe there’s too much, and they’re crushing his lungs, they must be, because he can’t breathe, he can’t breathe…

Louis: Lou doesn’t let the emerging frown overshadow his entire face as he tries to calm the swiftly panicking kid. “Milo. Listen to me. Remember. You’re good at listening. You are a good listener. Nod if you hear me.” He tries to make his words, his voice an anchor in the breathless panic. “I know this is hard. It is. You aren’t alone, though. I’m here. Your parents are coming. Pete’s here. You’re here.”

“Milo. You’re here.”

GM: The well-greased gears are continuing to turn if the equally slight frown that emerges on Lou’s partner’s face is any indication. Nevertheless, the younger detective adds, “You remember that line from The Wizard of Oz, Milo? It went something like, ’You’ve got plenty of courage, I bet,’ answered Oz. ’There’s no living thing that isn’t afraid when it faces danger. True courage is facing danger when you’re afraid, and that kind of courage you have plenty of.’”

Milo: “You’re here.” He is. But Mal isn’t. Where’s Mal? Milo speaks in a whisper, or perhaps just a tired scream. “It… it hurts to remember. I don’t think I can.”

Louis: The old man keenly knows how trauma can induce paralytic amnesia. It fades in time, like waves eroding the black spots of repressed memories. With a little time and counseling, Lou figures the kid could say more. But time is something they don’t have right now. Especially the kid’s brother. It’s the first hours that matter the most in missing person cases, a small window of time. And it’s already been some twelve hours. The window’s already half-closed. If not broken. Lou tries to swallow that last thought like a mouthful of glass shards hitting an ulcer.

“Milo,” he says as gently as the old cop’s gravely voice can be, “I know it’s hard. But you gotta do your best. It’s all anyone ever can do: try.”

He then calmly, thoughtfully proceeds through a line of questioning, backed up by his partner. He knows that each question put forward is another step on the thin ice of Milo’s mind right now, but he also knows that each question shaves down his brother’s chances–and they’re already slim.

Milo: Milo won’t remember how helpful he was later. His mouth moves without his mind helping, as it grapples with something Milo could not comprehend, except that it was awful, and that he just wished his brother was sitting here and not him.

He simply talks, and tries not to bite off his own tongue. One moment he’ll remember, though, is when he meets the eyes of the old man. For one second, there isn’t room for grief, or fear, or even anger. There’s only the confusion of a child who has seen too much.

“Why did it happen? Why is this happening to me? Why Mal?

Louis: The old man’s expression looks bruised, like a low-paid bantam southpaw who’s gone ten rounds with a heavyweight headliner–and has to still go another ten.

“I don’t know, Milo,” the old man says, not quite throwing in the towel, but certainly wringing it as he considers the scant facts and more specious deductions. He catches his partner’s eye, “But we’ll do our best to find out.”

GM: That partner, in contrast, looks as if he could go for a cig now more than ever. He manages a smile for the boy, but it’s belied by the grim nature of their surroundings. “Lot of kids who disappear, it’s at the hands of someone who already knows them. Can make the case easier to solve.”

He knows the actual rates as well as Lou.

Milo: Milo is gone again, teeth chattering like bone cymbals; it’s not that cold in the room.

Louis: The old detective knows how to recognize a tap that’s gone dry. He sighs, stands up, and places his trench coat over the boy–less to warm the kid and more to simply anchor him to the ground. He pats Milo’s shoulder, wearily.

Poor kid, he mentally sighs, but tries to keep his face bereft of that pity as he speaks aloud. “You’ve done good, Milo. You tried. Now it’s our turn to try, to keep trying, and you’ve given us some answers, or clues at least. It’s now our time to hunt them down.”

He looks to his younger partner, “Or try.” There’s a silent exchange between he and Pete, a small flicker of the eyes to the door, as if to confirm they’re done–here and now at least. Because, of course, they’re never done. Not in this city.

Milo: Clack-Clack-Clack, is the only verbal answer. The boy manages a nod.

Louis: Lou regards the neurotic, traumatized youth, then mutters to his partner, “Next time, Pete, remind me to use decaf.”

GM: “Next time, Lou, remind me not to owe Gettis favors,” Pete responds with a weariness belying his nearly thirty years. Nevertheless, he nods towards the door. “C’mon, kid, let’s get you home.”

Milo: At the mention of home, something of Milo reenters his eyes. He doesn’t presume to get up, but looks questioningly towards the nice pirate.

Louis: Lou nods, to both of them. “Time to 86.”

Milo: “Um. What?”

Louis: “Time to split, kid,” Lou clarifies, and helps Milo up. “Time for you to go home. Where you belong. Time for us to do our job.”

Milo: He’s all too happy to let the old man help him. He waddles to the door, his bottom still uncomfortable.

Louis: The detective takes back his coat and folds it over his hook, as his younger but far from young partner opens the door. “Or at least, time to try.”

GM: The dimly-lit interrogation room’s door creeks open. The two detectives escort Milo out, down a hallway with two more adjoining, dimly-lit rooms where scared little boys could get asked scary questions.

Milo: For a few seconds, all is well, or as well as things could be expected under the circumstances. Milo manages to walk by himself down the hallway, to stand on his own two legs.

Then everything changes.

The boy becomes an anchor as Lou suddenly senses that things are not all right. Milo sees too much. Milo’s eyes go still as the stones they so resemble, and his body locks around them, anchors. Milo’s world breaks into small pieces, fine china crushed underfoot. He’ll try to put it back together, but the best he can do is rearrange the pieces of his reality into less horrifying shapes.

The hallway swirls like toilet water.

Louis: No stranger to trauma, the homicide detectives sense the kid’s cracking psyche. Well-honed hunches cause them to peer into one of the just-passed interrogation rooms.

GM: Peter’s gray eyes doggedly run over the dim room’s shadows. His mouth pulls into a tight frown.

Louis: Lou’s bourbon eyes and downturned lips do the same. There’s a telling look shared between the partners as they return their attention to the mentally crumbling kid. “Decaf and favors, Pete,” Lou grumbles as he tries to shepherd the kid away from whatever spooked him–or at least closer to his waiting parents.

Milo: Whose fault is it? His? Mal’s? The faceless men who found him before they found his brother The world drowns as his eyes fill with salt and water, and Milo lets out an underwater scream, a blub-blub-blub of confusion and anguish.

Nothing makes sense anymore. His brother’s been stolen from him, and his innocence ripped away. He’ll keep screaming, and keep crying, long after they thrust him into the arms of people who love him, long after he lies in bed trying to sleep, and long into dreams he won’t remember.

But that’s okay. He’ll get used to it.

Saturday afternoon, 13 July 2002

GM: After seeing Milo off with his parents, Lou and his partner retrace their steps to the porta-potty in Bywater. It’s within sight of the crepes cart. The kids hadn’t meant to wander far. It’s an unremarkable structure. Green plastic-like walls, white roof. You’ve seen one porta-potty, you’ve seen them all. The two detectives slip on latex gloves, mark the place as a crime scene, and squeeze inside.

There isn’t a great deal to see. Anything, really. Even Milo’s excrement has been cleaned up by someone, which prompts a deep scowl from both detectives. Pete nevertheless sets to work photographing the scene. Lou starts by dusting for fingerprints on the interior door and toilet paper, hoping to establish a time frame for when the boy was abducted—before, during, or after he’d taken a dump?

Lou finds prints on the toilet paper, but none of the door. So the kid took a piss or dump, but was taken before he could leave. Pete muses whether someone barged inside, took him, and simply never closed the door. The younger detective makes a note to re-interview the crepe cart’s operators later.

The centuries-older one has a hunch, though, and opens the toilet’s lid. He slowly pokes around at the rancid contents with a ruler stick. He’s looked at worse. A lot worse. Smelled worse, too. There isn’t a lot left, and what’s left is fading fast, but Lou’s sharp eyes discern even it amongst the turds, piss, and soggy toilet paper. A viscous, near-transparent substance that would probably go unnoticed to someone who didn’t know what to look for—or wasn’t willing to look where he did.


Lou holds it up on the tip of the ruler. Touches a gloved finger to it. There’s warmth there. Ectoplasm from the shades of the departed is always cold. This seems thicker, too. More… alive. There are traces of color. Past the stench of human waste, he can even make out a hearty, primal smell, like blood over freshly turned earth.

So, that’s what this thing is. It came out of nowhere—nowhere on earth, at any rate. It went back to nowhere, too. It took Milo’s brother with it.

There are more nowhere-places it could have gone than there are names for them in all the tongues of man. Lou can only hope the kid is somewhere comprehensible enough to even have a name.

Either way, this case is now far outside NOPD’s jurisdiction.

Louis: Outside NOPD’s jurisdiction, yes, but not outside his conscience’s.

The boy is gone. Taken. His family grieves. What he does next isn’t for the crescent badge he wears–but for the city he serves irrespective of that badge. The Crescent City, his home. The Glass’ home, too. The old detective sighs. He waits till his younger partner is done with his photos and finger-printing, then grunts.

“Pete, you mind giving me a moment? Too long fishing in the can…” he says, patting his belt. “Old habits and older bladders, you know?”

He doesn’t like holding back from his partner, not this one or the last dozen or so. Never has. But it’s like sneaking medicine in a sick kid’s applesauce: you do it for them and deal with the bad aftertaste as best you can.

“While I’m taking care of business here, you mind calling in for the address of the crepe-maker? I don’t want to let this wait till tomorrow. First 24 hours and all,” he adds, his face all-too honestly grim. “Even if he didn’t see anything, maybe he can recall somebody else that was around–busker, customer, or so forth–who did. Might give us a break.”

It’s a long shot, given what he knows, but given what he knows, everything is a long shot now.

GM: Even the younger homicide detective has seen worse on the job. Pete doesn’t look bemused so much as interested at the sight of Lou poking through the contents of the toilet bowl. It’ll be a story hearing what evidence he was able to gather from the kid’s turds.

“Sure. I’ll leave you to keep taking ‘shit job’ to a new level.”

Louis: Lou smiles, “Sounds like the academy’s new motto, ‘Taking craps when nobody else gives one’.” He slips off his glove and fishes a cigarette into his mouth, “You hear the rumor about the guy who blew himself up while smoking on the pot after eating too many beans? Well, Pete, if things go badly for me, tell my wife you can drive my lamborghini whenever you want.” His hook then shuts the porta-potty and flicks the sign to ‘occupied’.

GM: Pete gives a single half-snort, half-bark of laughter and heads away as Lou closes the door. Footsteps sound. The old man turns to regard the witness he’ll interview—a toilet’s black polyurethane rim.

Louis: He’s had uglier witnesses. Like the mirror. Still, the old homicide detective grunts as the feces’ smell returns four-fold when he closes the door and shuts out the ‘clean’ city air outside.

GM: Lou’s hand brushes the toilet seat. His hand isn’t touching the toilet. His bottom is. He feels relief as the feces exit his rectum, hitting the formalehyde-blue water with a light plop. The stench isn’t as bad when it’s covered by his thighs, and the chemicals help, but there’s no concealing the smell of a pile of human waste. He reaches for the toilet paper.

Pressure. Around his waist. Cold. So cold. Wet, slimy texture against his skin. Tightness. His kidneys scream as they’re smooshed into his liver and intestines. His lungs constrict. He opens his mouth to scream, but the sound dies in his throat. He tries to flail. His arms don’t respond.

Something wet. Wet and fleshy, dragging across his cheek. A foul, pungent musk against his face.

He tries to piss himself as the thing licks his cheek. But his bladder’s already empty. His vision swims, tunnels, then blackens. A roaring noise overtakes his ears, like he’s being plunged into rapidly churning water.

A single image flashes across his mind before everything dissolves into screaming black. A bayou. In the heart of the city. Where dead men fear to tread.

Louis: Lou crunches down on the anguish and fear like a fresh-fallen pecan. It’s hard, painful even, but in the end, it breaks before he does. He sucks in a thin but long breath between his teeth. He feels the beads of sweat on his face, the iron hackles on his neck, the stench of the place. There’s a bitter gratitude as he realizes he’s ‘back’ in the crime-scene. There’s another visceral plop in the toilet hole, his wrinkly behind and back slowly relaxing.

Muerda, Lou curses silently. I should have been a meter maid.

Rocco III, Chapter IV
Dead Loves

“Friendship is more tragic than love. It lasts far longer.”

Thursday night, 25 September 2015, PM

Rocco: In the wake of René Baristheaut’s final death, Rocco sends word to and organizes a meeting with his old krewemates. The Kindred who belonged to Sol’s Grief have long since gone their separate ways, but he still remembers how their then-leader René named the coterie for Ecclesiastes 2:17:

So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

A pensive look colors Rocco’s face as he stares at a collection of busts in a secluded suite within Harrah’s Hotel New Orleans.

The Gangrel looks like marble as he stands unnaturally still. He has instructed his servants not to disturb him until his guests have arrived.

GM: There isn’t much left of Sol’s Grief after so many years. Quinn has been gone since Katrina, and was estranged for years before then. Their benefactor has been gone for even longer. René was gone for just as long, but it’s different now.

Harlequin and Father Malveaux are the two sole Kindred to enter the hotel suite, the former trailed by several masked ghouls, the latter by himself. Neither initially speaks.

Rocco: “Can I offer any refreshments?” the hound asks, breaking the silence.

GM: “A libation for the fallen. How quaint. What is any friendly get-together between old friends without drinks!” Harlequin declares.

“His memory deserves no libation,” Father Malveaux rasps. “I do not thirst.”

That mask is false,” Harlequin titters. The Malkavian tits his head pensively. “Yes—both of them.”

Rocco: “We’re all friends here, Benjamin,” Rocco agrees, indicating a tray of martini glasses being carried by the small, child-like Simon. His eyes linger back to the busts for a second, but Rocco turns back to the group as a hand deftly grabs one of the martini glasses on the proffered tray. Its contents are deep red. “There’s no reason to hide our true thoughts on the matter. René Baristheaut is dead and this is a time of mourning. So a toast to immortality!”

GM: “To that most enchanting of all masks,” Harlequin titters again, clinking his glass against the others’. He raises it to his mouthless domino mask. Blood visibly drains.

“Come come now, Benjamin, dear!” he exclaims when he sees the Ventrue leaving his own untouched. “Drink not for the Kindred he became, but for the Kindred he ceased to be.”

The Malkavian nods slyly before the priest can respond. “Yes. That is somewhat tiresome. Drink instead, Father, for the Kindred that one us shall cease to be.”

“Cease to be,” echoes his first ghoul.
“Cease to be.”
“Cease to be.”
“Cease to be.”

Rocco: “A nice sentiment, Harlequin,” Rocco says, casually. His glass is raised. “I have always been more romantic than sentimental, though. The sentimental person, of course, thinks things will last while the romantic in me says that they won’t.” He drinks, adding, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” bastardizing Romans 3:23.

GM: Father Malveaux stares at Harlequin intently, then takes the cup and silently upturns it in apparent libation.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”

Rocco: “It must be five o’clock somewhere,” Rocco quips airily, drawing from his glass until its contents are empty. He continues more somberly, “One solace we have is that Sheriff Bastien never got to see what became of René.”

GM: Harlequin tilts his head at Father Malveaux.

“Or his grandchilde,” the Malkavian declares in a smiling tone.

The priest says nothing.

“Blue bloods!” Harlequin titters. “They’ll sooner bite out their own tongues than speak ill of their own. Well, Father, the consistency of your mask at least does you some credit—even if the fledgling you would shield with it scarcely does.”

“We are not here to speak of fledglings,” Father Malveaux rasps, his pinkish eyes returning to Rocco.

Rocco: “I can’t help admiring Malveaux’s delivery into this world. It’s reminiscent of a Gangrel’s Embrace, and she has come out more or less in one piece.” A mirthful, almost-sarcastic smile etches its way across Rocco’s face. “It is with God’s grace and mercy that Bastien’s blood runs through her veins,” the hound mutters.

“What are your thoughts on the girl’s mortal mother, Benjamin?” Rocco asks, scurrilously. He intends to let Harlequin in on this latest scandal, too.

GM: “The ruttings of the kine are of little concern to me, Hound Agnello,” the Ventrue rasps. “I care not what the latest tabloids speculate concerning her mates.”

Harlequin tilts his head, then holds a gloved finger to his mask’s painted lips.

He giggles.

The priest whirls and rakes his hand through the air in a vicious, stabbing-like gesture. There’s a hideous rupturing sound, like a cork being popped, and a shower of sizzling gore. Simon falls screaming to the ground, clutching his face. In between the thrashing ghoul’s gore-slick fingers, Rocco can see smoke wafting from a black and red cavity where his left eyeball used to be. The smell of cooking flesh hangs pungently in the air.

Father Malveaux’s eyes burn like hot coals as the priest all but screams, his fangs distended and his voice livid with hate,


Harlequin’s ghouls recoil in terror as their master lets out a shrill, delighted scream and claps his hands excitedly.

“The mask comes off! Oh, the mask comes off! Oh, how droll!

Rocco: A cold annoyance sets in as Rocco watches the bloody drinks hit the floor. He listens to Simon’s agonized wails with a slightly downturned expression. Such a waste of blood, he thinks idly. He will doubtlessly need to feed the boy to placate him and heal him after this mess is cleaned up. Benjamin’s screams only add more fuel to the fire as he mulls over the red-stained carpet.

GM: “Oh, Benjamin, Benjamin, you hopeless romantic!” Harlequin continues. “Oh, you still see her face, don’t you? All your life, there was never another woman for you, especially when the orderlies took your tender and weeping flesh for their own! How you longed to return to her embrace, she who made everything better when your brothers picked on you! How you did—such a regrettable loss of control! What a broken and fragile thing you were in those early years! Did you ever succeed? Did you really not find her spirit—or did you wish you had not? Did she reject you to your face, Benjamin dear? Is that how it plays out, generation after generation? Oh dear, oh dear. No wonder you’re so furious at-!”

The albino’s scream of rage goes beyond all words as his Beast snaps loose.

Rocco: Rocco feels his fangs distend, his Beast snarling to escape its own confines. Vicious, unsightly claws appear as quickly as they slash at the albino’s gut. It’s a petty retribution. But where Benjamin lets his Beast run wild, Rocco hastily beats it down. The Gangrel is in full control of his anger as his dark brown eyes almost turn black like a shark’s.

“I will not tolerate poor manners,” he declares to nobody in particular.

GM: Rocco’s hideous claws shred through the albino’s priestly vestments like tissue paper, laying opening equally hideous and gaping wounds with their passage. The spindly-framed albino is a lot tougher than he looks, but his blood still spatters the walls as he reels backwards on unsteady feet.

Harlequin abruptly vanishes into thin air. High-pitched giggles continue to manically echo through Rocco’s mind.

As one, the Malkavian’s four ghouls collapse to the floor, soundlessly clutching their masks.

Simon continues to wail and writhe, clutching his ruined face.

Father Malveauxx thrusts a stick-thin limb towards Rocco’s face. Too-pale fingers make that same vicious impaling motion. Blood-weeping stigmata erupt across the Gangrel’s hands, legs, and chest—the five holy wounds of Christ. The gory slashes across the albino’s gaunt frame begin to close and mend.

Rocco: The Gangrel growls and gnashes his teeth. He is surprised the good father is still able to utilize such esoteric powers in his frenzied state. Nonetheless, this has become a contest for dominance, and Rocco is intent on cementing his authority. This is his domain. He tackles the albino priest to the floor, rolling and grappling with him as he tries to bury his claws into his foe’s chest.

The Gangrel figures Harlequin is enjoying the show. The masked fiend’s laughter echoes in his mind.

GM: Father Malveaux stabs out his hand. A hundred pinpricks of blood-boiling agony burn through Rocco’s veins as he tackles his foe to the ground. The spindly-limbed priest’s maddened thrashings are pathetically easy for the veteran warrior to bat aside: he’s obviously had no real training in hand-to-hand combat.

He’s not needed it.

Rocco rakes his claws across the priest’s chest, leaving jaggedy red tears across solid white. The albino rips his own talon-like nails through the air. There’s no prayer to Longinus or the Black Saints. No sacred invocation. Just pain. Rocco’s skin blackens and flakes off like dandruff. The rotting flesh transforms into a pox of buzzing locusts that descend upon him with a thousand ravenous mouths. He screams past the pain, stabbing his clawed fingers into the Father Malveaux’s exposed belly like a redbone wrangling a catfish from the bayous. The Ventrue’s dead flesh feels as hard as solid cement, but the Beast Clan’s claws cut deeper still. He pulls out his catch. The priest’s century-atrophied guts dangle from his hands. The buzzing locusts vanish like blown ash under a brisk wind. Father Malveaux’s blood-caked corpse lies motionless.

Harlequin suddenly reappears in Rocco’s peripheral vision, clapping delightedly.

“The masks come off! The masks come off!

As one, the Malkavian’s four still-prostate ghouls begin clapping too.

“The masks come off!”
“The masks come off!”
“The masks come off!”
“The masks come off!”

Simon lies motionless on the floor, his small hands still clutching the melted flesh where his eye used to be.

Rocco: The Gangrel has not forgotten Harlequin’s part in provoking Father Malveaux’s Beast.

“Why did you have to taunt him about his family, Harlequin?” he asks. He presses a claw against the blood-crusted floor, waits a few seconds, and begins to soak up the gore like a hungry sponge.

“I have never fully understood Benjamin’s penchant for acting the way he does about his family,” Rocco notes. His wounds vanish as blood fades from his clothes and retreats into his pores. His red-caked face is soon bereft of any blemish. His claws retract. The Gangrel leisurely strolls around the room and presses his hands against any bloody walls, decorations, furnishings, and spots on the floor. The suite is soon cleaned of any evidence of a gory fight.

“You have always been evasive in the past when I asked about his Embrace, about his sister Monique. Harlequin, what would it require for you give me the full story on why Benjamin is how he is? A boon? Another secret?”

GM: Harlequin titters and traces a gloved finger along his mask’s lips.

“You can never go home again, my dear hound. There is now but the kennel for you.”

He giggles again and approaches the torpid Ventrue, cupping his hands around the priest’s still face. “He is so much like us. Truly does he see.” Another giggle sounds from behind the domino mask. “What fun he may be! Hee hee!”

His masked ghouls throw back their heads, laughter spilling from unseen mouths.

“Hee hee!”
“Hee hee!”
“Hee hee!”
“Hee hee!”

The Malkavian holds up a finger. The laughter dies. “Poor, poor, missing Pablo! One can never go home again. Mother’s lost her head and I couldn’t even begin to guess where she might have misplaced it. Ah, well.”

He rises from his position over the father and slowly runs his gloved hands across Rocco’s face.

“I am not a fishmonger, nor are you a fish. You can only be what you are, George. You can only be what you are.”

Rocco: Rocco smiles at the touch but casts a raised eyebrow at the masked madman. Getting straight answers out of a Malkavian is never easy.

He settles his eyes on the quivering, wounded Simon. There’s a flash of fangs as the Gangrel bites his wrist and pushes the bleeding font to his ghoul’s mouth.

“Please feed, Simon. It’s all right now. Use the vitae.”

GM: The child ghoul remains motionless. The bodies of the living are so pathetically fragile next to Rocco’s own.

Rocco: Impatience clouds Rocco’s thoughts as he callously prods at the boy’s wounded eye socket to stir him awake.

GM: Simon still does not stir.

Rocco: Rocco looks up from his ghoul at Harlequin and considers his next words. He furtively glances at Benajmin’s corpse. “Do you want to know a secret, Harlequin?”

GM: Harlequin titters and strokes his finger along Rocco’s lips.

“Remove this mask.”

Rocco: “It will cost you a mask of your own.”

GM: Harlequin’s gloved finger falls away from the Gangrel’s lips.

“Do you take me for a leper beneath this mask?” he asks tiredly.

Rocco: “You’re right, Harlequin. I am being tactless. Why don’t we make a game of it, then?”

GM: The Malkavian brushes his finger across Rocco’s cheek.

“Expound, dear hound.”

His four ghouls’ heads bob up and down as they follow the finger’s path. Words simultaneously spill from their lips.

“Expound, hound.”
“Expound, hound.”
“Expound, hound.”
“Expound, hound.”

Rocco: A small smile appears on the hound’s face at Harlequin’s curiosity. “Are you familiar with the Italian card game Scopa?” he asks.

GM: Harlequin claps his hands. “As one with a chance-worn mask! A delightful choice, hound. You shall play me for truths. But what shall I play you for? What price shall you pay if I sweep your cards?”

Rocco: “A secret that will be as equally useful to you or the Krewe of Janus,” Rocco replies, genuinely. “Assuming you want to play for one big secret, of course.”

GM: The Malkavian claps his hands again.

“Deal your cards.”

His ghouls’ four masked heads simultaneously rotate to face Rocco.

“Deal your cards.”
“Deal your cards.”
“Deal your cards.”
“Deal your cards.”

Rocco: The angel-faced fiend retrieves a standard Italian 40-card deck from a nearby desk drawer. He leads the masked harpy to a place to play. The hound originally planned to entertain his two guests with a game of scopa as they traded gossip and banter, but with Father Malveaux now indisposed, the hound figures the pair of them will suffice. The classic Italian card game is arguably best played with two players in any case.

“It’s said that Scopa is as entertaining to watch as it is to play,” Rocco remarks coolly, removing the deck from its box and shuffling the cards with preternaturally deft speed. “I initially decided on scopa over Italians’ other favourite pastime Briscola in case Benjamin chose to sit out and simply watch as is his usual habit.” The hound gives a sideways glance as he looks at the albino’s torpid form for a fleeting a second.

GM: One of Harlequin’s ghouls gets down on his hands and knees as Rocco leads the pair to a table. The Malkavian sits on his back. Two of the other ghouls get down to just their knees, serving as armrests. One stands behind the harpy, serving as a back to the literally man-made throne.

Harlequin shrieks with laughter at the Gangrel’s flippantly dismissive barb. His ghouls shriek too. The sound discordantly echoes from the floor, the ‘armrests’, and the tall chair’s ‘head’.

The Malkavian holds up a gloved finger. The sound dies.

“You know what they say, my dear hound. Some cause happiness wherever they go. Others, whenever they go.”

“I have always believed there is no such thing as good or evil. People are either charming or tedious. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Rocco: “I would sooner entertain Jack the Ripper than Mother Teresa,” Rocco flippantly agrees. “I believe the most charming people are generally the most wicked. For instance, you’re the most wicked and interesting person I know, Harlequin. What do you have to say to that, my dear friend?” His brown eyes twinkle mischievously.

GM: “One should choose one’s friends by their authenticity, my dear hound. One may fake intelligence, interest, and even sincerity—but one cannot fake wit,” the Malkavian blithely answers as he deals out the first three cards to each of them.

“Saucy Jack is one of ours.”

Rocco: “We haven’t even started this game and it’s already proving quite educational,” the hound remarks, intrigued by the knowledge that Jack the Ripper is Kindred. “I never found authenticity to be an interesting trait in a person. What’s so interesting about the truth, anyway? We all become what we pretend to be, so we best choose our masks well.”

It’s ironic that Rocco should say as much while the two play for truths.

GM: Rocco also knows full well that most Kindred claims regarding Embraced historical personages are patently false. The Malkavians are especially notorious for it, as the lunatics may even genuinely believe their own claims. New Orleans alone has seen at least several Napoleons and Robert E. Lees. One rumor last year claimed Donovan was John Wilkes Booth. The sheriff did not deign to respond. One of Rocco’s clanmates since perished in Katrina, Terrence Oswald, claimed to have offered Charles Darwin the Embrace, only for the famed naturist to decline his offer. Embracing and associating with famous personalities is just another thing for Rocco’s kind to spread lies about.

It only further muddles the waters that some of those claims are true.

Harlequin, meanwhile, places four cards face up on the table, then deals himself one of the table cards.

They say scopa is a game of equal parts luck and skill. This game’s players have both in spades. Few spectators could rightly call them anything but lucky to have survived a century of unlife, and equally few spectators could malign their skill. Harlequin brings a harpy’s wit and the Moon Clan’s propensity for baffling leaps in logic. Rocco brings a century of practice at his people’s game, and the same grim tenacity that turned them from Ellis Island’s huddled masses into masters of their adopted country’s criminal underworld.

Coins, clubs, swords, and batons flip back and forth as the two Kindred play and capture one another’s cards. Scores fly up and down as each vampire claims sweep after sweep. Both of them win multiple scopas: the removal of all cards from the table, for which the winner receives an extra point. Harlequin’s velvet-gloved hands ceaselessly shuffle and deal pit more cards.

Rocco idly wonders if the Malkavian is cheating at cards. He could also be cheating by reading his host’s thoughts. But, the Gangrel ponders, where is the fun for him in that?

Harlequin is playing for idle fun. But Rocco is playing to win.

The Moon Clan may be notorious for their uncanny powers of insight. Many are afraid to challenge them at games of chance. But the Beast Clan are hunters. They pursue their quarry as tenaciously as any poor and downtrodden dago wanting to carve out their bloody slice of the American Dream. Rocco has done both. His will cannot be denied.

The last of the cards leave Harlequin’s gloved hands. Both Kindred consider their respective scores. The Malkavian titters.

“Sometimes I am so clever, my dear hound, I don’t understand a single word I say. Sometimes I am so clever I don’t understand a single thing I do! The game is yours—skillfully played and fairly won.”

Words emptily spill from his ghouls’ lips.

“Skilfully played. Fairly won.”
“Skilfully played. Fairly won.”
“Skilfully played. Fairly won.”
“Skilfully played. Fairly won.”

“The story of dear Benjamin’s past is yours, too,” Harlequin adds with a droll glance towards the torpid vampire’s corpse. “You are certain you still wish it? It’s dreadfully florid, full of unrequited love and tediously unoriginal tragedy. I dare say he could win friends among Toreador circles if someone put it to ink.”

Rocco: “I am still a curious cat, Harlequin,” Rocco responds a kittenish smile, “and we both know that once I set my mind on the hunt, little can divert my interest.”

GM: Harlequin effects a dramatic sigh, pumping air through dead lungs, and drums his gloved fingers against one of his ghouls’ heads.

“Well! It’s a trite and sad tale with a trite and sad beginning. He was a virgin when the orderlies dragged him to his cell in the asylum, I’m sure, still shrieking for his dear sister. How he must have shrieked for her still as they sodomized his tender and quivering flesh!”

Harlequin effects another needless sigh.

“I did tell you it was a trite and sad tale, my dear hound, though it’s less sad at this point than trite. Why, I have been made a trite and hackneyed character myself merely for speaking such platitudinous words aloud. This mask must be discarded.”

Words spill from his ghouls’ lips.


“The youngest of your litter is incorrect,” the Malkavian titters, patting one of his ghouls’ heads. “Tell him as much the next time you are gnawing bones together in the kennel! That one entered his Requiem as no virgin.”

“How do those bones taste these nights, my dear hound? Lots of meat on them still, I should hope?”

The Malkavian tilts his head. Four other masked heads tilts with him, making his ‘chair’ seem to sway in an unfelt wind.

Rocco: “You’re such an incorrigible flirt, Harlequin,” Rocco answers the masked fiend, allowing the smile to reach his eyes. “I will be sure to let Wright know the next time I see him.”

The hound does not specify whether he means to tell Wright about Benjamin’s lost virginity or Harlequin’s own deviousness. Instead his brown eyes bore into the space where Harlequin’s own eyes should be. A predatory, oddly flirtatious gleam touches his features.

GM: But Harlequin’s eyes are there, Rocco observes. Every mask needs eye-holes to see through, after all.

The Malkavian’s eyes are as green as the second of Mardi Gras’ official colors. The long-dead vampire recalls the 1892 Rex Parade establishing green as symbolizing faith. Yet, those eyes laugh. They laugh—in the same way the daring and discrete, pious yet blasphemous city itself seems to laugh at its own faith. Looking into those mocking green eyes, it is all-too easy to see how the greatest debauch in the world can precede a day meant for prayer and fasting.

But Harlequin’s eyes don’t look just green, either. Rocco could swear they become purple when the angle is just right. Carnival’s first color, representing justice. The laughter dancing in the harpy’s eyes seems all the more appropriate.

They seem to be gold, too, when he tilts his head just so. Carnival’s third color. For power. When haven’t those with power laughed at others?

The Malkavian, meanwhile, resumes his tale.

“But he would not remain an eromenos forever, would he? Few masks endure forever. I am certain his violators’ pain was exquisite to behold when that one came off!”

Rocco: Fitting colors, one and all.

“So it’s a tale of vengeance, as well?” the hound asks approvingly.

GM: Harlequin laughs shrilly.

His ghouls’ mouths sequentially open. More laughter spills out.

“Oh, my dear hound, their fates are hardly a footnote! None survived to regret slaking their lusts on his quivering flesh. Why, at least…”

The harpy trails off in further titters.

“Well, perhaps! Perhaps after all. It’s hardly as if he had many other oulets, at least there…”

Rocco: “There is nothing purer in this world than a vengeful heart, Harlequin,” Rocco adds, cheerfully.

GM: “To grant one’s loyalty to a man is foolish, my dear hound. They surprise you. They waver. But give your soul to hate, and you will grow and gain in strength.”

The harpy gives another shriek of laughter. His four ghouls clap their hands.

“Where have I heard that!” he wonders airily, drumming his fingers along one’s head.

His gold-hued eyes glint as they rest upon the Gangrel.

Rocco: “I haven’t a clue, Harlequin,” Rocco answers honestly.

GM: “No one does, these nights,” the Malkavian declares, almost sadly. “Mother’s dashed out of the house and left the children all by themselves to play. They’re already twisting knobs on the kitchen stove for fun.”

Rocco: “Who’s going to light the match?”

GM: “It’s gas-powered. No one needs to. But one of the little brothers or sisters are going to anyway. This is what happens when you have a permissive parenting style, Rocco. Papa wasn’t a good father either, and big sister and big brother aren’t papas at all. So the children giggle and play tag with steak knives. Whoever bleeds first is it.”

The Malkavian presses both gloved hands to the painted mouth on his domino mask and giggles.
The four ghouls’ masked heads swivel towards Rocco.

“You’re it!”
“You’re it!”
“You’re it!”
“You’re it!”

Rocco: “The only memorable thing my parents did is bring me to New Orleans,” Rocco says offhandedly, resting a hand thoughtfully beneath his chin.

GM: Harlequin claps his hands.

“Silence, my pretties. It’s story time right now. He’ll be it, later,” the harpy leers, green eyes glinting.

He tilts his head at Rocco.

“My parents died. I found that memorable. Did someone steal yours? Our memories don’t belong to us, not really.”

Rocco: “I can only suppose they died a long time ago. I never got along with my parents, of course,” Rocco admits with a smirk. “I can’t rightfully recall whether I abandoned them or they abandoned me. Perhaps the only thing stolen at that time was my innocence.”

GM: “The Bible says we are conceived and born in sin. In such a world, my dear hound, who is innocent? I’ll tell you who. Adulterers. Nothing looks so like innocence as an indiscretion!”

The Malkavian claps his hands.

“The story grows dreadfully trite again here. Benjamin won the tag match against his violators and merrily skipped back to his dear sister’s doorstep. What was he hoping to do? Profess his love? Vent his fury over her betrayal? Break down in tears and bare his newly damned soul to her? She had let another man touch her, and where was she when they hauled him away to the asylum? For that matter, was he even merry when he skipped home?”

“It doesn’t matter what was said, though. Or perhaps it does matter. Perhaps, in fact, it was everything, to poor Monique Malveaux, and certainly to dear Benjamin through her. But that doesn’t matter right now. Nothing matters now, until it matters later, and it’s too late to do anything right now. Benjamin ended his Requiem’s first night cradling his dear sister’s pale and lifeless corpse in his arms, weeping bloody tears.”

Harlequin leans back in his ‘chair’. His purple eyes look utterly bored.

“I told you, didn’t I? That this part was trite and hackneyed? You did believe me, didn’t you?”

Rocco: “I had no reason to ever doubt you, Harlequin,” Rocco answers, chuckling a little to himself.

GM: “That’s good. I needed to know you believed me. We can’t make any progress in this relationship if we don’t trust each other, or at least that’s what the doctors always say.”

Rocco: “What’s more trustworthy than someone who asks you to trust them?”

GM: “Someone who’s dead. Three can keep a secret, if you take away two.”

Rocco: “But the worst lies do come out upon someone’s death, Harlequin,” Rocco muses.

GM: “What is a lie, my dear hound? ‘Why, what is truth?’ retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, ‘I find no basis for a charge against him.’”

Harlequin giggles. “Let us all say a pretty prayer for Pilate!”

Here is where the story gets better, my darling. Dear distraught Benjamin could only think: he must have his sister back! And why shouldn’t he have thought so? The dead are not very good at staying dead in this city.”

“Spiritualism was in vogue at the time. It’ll always be in vogue, of course. Just like messily smeared red all over a black suit or dress. Young Miss Adler still likes to wear whites, though. And pinks, lemons, and baby blues. I’ve found it charming, and delicious, given her sire. Haven’t you?” The Malkavian’s yellow eyes glint with mirth.

Rocco: Rocco’s eyes share that mirth, but he decides that that’s a matter better left unsaid.

GM: The harpy pats one of his ghouls’ heads.

“Benjamin consulted with them all. Priests. Mediums. Psychics. Charlatans. Kindred and kine. Kindred of dubious standing and repute. Kindred and… cousins. It was very naughty of him. Our prince should have given him a good paddling for being so naughty! The Bible names divination a sin, and I can come up with a new sin every time I stand on my head, but what is another sin to monsters such as we? We can resist everything except temptation.”

“Poor lost Benjamin looked high and low, through every cupboard and hard-to-reach place in the house, and in every one of the last places you’d think to look. Those are always the first places you should look. But try as he might, he could not find his dear, dead sister. Anywhere!”

“What would you do then, my dear hound? If you hoped to find your dear, dead, sweet sister’s spirit in the afterworlds, and she wouldn’t show her pretty face?”

Rocco: “I would move on, Harlequin,” Rocco answers, “but that would make for a very boring story, I suppose.”

GM: “What if you wanted to fuck your dead sister? Could you still move on?”

Rocco: “I feel like that’s ever the more reason to move on, friend,” Rocco replies, laughing earnestly.

GM: “Everything in the world is about sex, you know. Except for sex. Sex is about power.”

Rocco: “Do you still enjoy sex, Harlequin?” he asks, curiously.

GM: It’s hard to discern the Malkavian’s expression past his domino mask, but the furrowed shape to his eyes seems disgusted.

Rocco: “The apple doesn’t fall that far from the tree, I see,” Rocco notes, nodding.

GM: “The apple could roll all the way to the opposite end of the orchard,” the harpy opines disgustedly. “Is this Gangrel humor? Remind me to leave a bowl of kibbles at your clan’s next gather, if you all miss being alive so dearly.”

Few Kindred, after all, take pleasure in forcing dead and unresponsive sexual organs into a semblance of life.

Rocco: “I never took you to be such a prude, Harlequin,” the Gangrel comments, smirking at the masked fiend. “Don’t you ever find yourself reminiscing over past trysts?”

GM: “I never took you to be such a sentimentalist, Rocco. Don’t you ever find yourself reminiscing over past bowel movements?”

Rocco: “Sentimentality has always been my gravest sin, Harlequin,” Rocco declares with a laugh. “Why, it’s my sentimentality that brings us here tonight. It’s my sentimentality that lets me enjoy playing scopa with an old friend.”

He adds, “I suppose sentimentality is Benjamin’s gravest sin, too.”

GM: “Friendship is more tragic than love,” the harpy declares wistfully. “It lasts far longer.”

Rocco: Rocco nods, agreeing. “What of Benjamin’s tragedy, Harlequin? How ever did he escape his predicament?”

GM: Laughter concurrently spills from five lips.

“Why, my dear hound—he never did. He still hasn’t.”

A smirk crinkles the edges of his purple eyes as he glances towards the albino’s motionless corpse.

“No man is rich enough to buy back his past. But here is where the story gets good!”

His four ghouls excitedly clap their hands. The ones who are kneeling clap too, for that briefest of seconds, before clamping their hands back down on the floor. None of the ‘chair’ even falls down.

“Ever-hopeful, ever-faithful Benjamin searched the afterworlds for her spirit for decades, but couldn’t find it. So what was he to believe?”

Rocco can all but hear the Malkavian’s wide smile as his gold eyes flicker.

“Why, if she wasn’t in the next world, she must still be in this one.”

“Everyone knows the Hindus believe in reincarnation. But so did many of the era’s spiritualists. So does dear Madam Defallier, sweet, mothering Marguerite, even now! Why, she fancies… ah, but that is another story.”

“Isn’t that a quaint notion, my dear hound? That you can use re-old souls like bottle caps, twist them onto new bottles, shove them into new bodies, all without needing to make a whole new person? I should like to be a reincarnated soul! Certainly, we’d be doing the world a favor by shunting out the insipid souls and reusing the better ones. Don’t you think so, my dear hound?”

“What souls would you displace and with whom would you see them replaced? Pretend you’re God. That shouldn’t be hard with an ego like yours.”

Rocco: The hound looks at Harlequin’s ghouls. “It would not surprise me if you’ve already tried to play this game many times before, dear Harlequin,” Rocco muses, using the comment to stall as he thinks of those he’s lost and those he would do away with.

“My initial thoughts are drab, wanting to bring back Robert, Maria, and even your sire Clarice. I suppose some ghouls who’ve since died during my Requiem also spring to mind, but the name that sings loudest would have to be David Hennessy.” He asks, “Who would you bring back?”

GM: “Ah-ah-ah, my dear hound,” Harlequin tsks.

Five sets of fingers simultaneously wag.

“There is a preponderance of souls, but you’re not God enough to fashion further bodies. There’s a patent on those, and you don’t have the rights. Who must surrender their lives to grant new lives to the individuals you treasure so dearly?”

Rocco: “My enemies,” Rocco answers quickly.

GM: “And you have four of those? Exactly as many enemies as souls you would see given another spin on the karmic wheel? Another ride on the marvelous merry-go-round we call life? How fortunate for you! I dare say you’ll be twice as fortunate as anyone else who should happen to wake up one night and realize they’re God!”

Laughter spills from behind five mouthless masks.

Rocco: “Do you have less enemies, Harlequin?” he asks. “How fortunate of you, I dare say!”

GM: The harpy gives another shrill, gay laugh. “Dear hound, that’s so easy it doesn’t even feel sporting. Go have Annabelle read you some more picture books and maybe one night you’ll hit a fourth grade reading level.”

Rocco: “I’ll give you that one, Harlequin,” he replies, biting back his teeth, impressed by the needling barb.

GM: “I have many enemies,” the harpy proclaims airily, “for I always forgive them. Nothing annoys them quite so much.”

Rocco: There’s a pause.

“I am guessing Benjamin currently seeks to reincarnate his sister,” Rocco idly thinks aloud.

GM: The harpy’s eyes look as if they smile past his mask. “The supplicant gets the words wrong but the prayer right. ‘A’ for effort, my dear hound. Certainly, Benjamin would like his dear dead sister back—but how is he to reincarnate that dear dead sister when he doesn’t even have her soul? He isn’t God, after all. Thank Caine for that. He cannot decree that her soul simply waltz back into his bony and so-possessive hands… so what is one to do? How does one compel a lost soul to make itself un-lost?”

Rocco: “This sounds like the lead-up to a Faustian pact, or a deal with the devil,” Rocco observes, chuckling.

GM: Five masked heads shriek with laughter.

“If only, my dear hound! I wouldn’t put an infernal bargain past him. Or anyone, I suppose, but he’d have certainly come out the poorer for this one. This, this, this,” the Malkavian’s tone drops to a theatrically low whisper, “is how he shall get his dead sister back…”

The four ghouls exaggeratedly crane their ears.

“Benjamin is settled that his sister’s soul has flown back home to roost. So where should it reincarnate? Why, in a like vessel, of course. In one’s blood relations.”

Harlequin giggles. “Infringe upon them at your own peril, dear hound. They are all to him. Any who interfere with what is his shall earn his undying hate. Who knows which Malveaux might have a dearly dead sister hiding inside their fleshy shell? Even the ones who don’t have holes between their legs might someday father a suitable vessel for dear Monique. And the ones who are too old for all that—well, habits are old too, and they die rather hard, now don’t they? We are all of us creatures of habit!”

“They’re his brother’s children, of course, the main line. That’s another habit which must die hard. You know how dear Benjamin can get! Can you picture the hatred he must feel, dear hound? After all, he has ten thousand and one plus an extra twelve reasons to hate his big brother. And no matter how much time he took exacting his revenge for all those years of mistreatment, he couldn’t have taken equally many years. Not unless he was very creative, anyway, which he isn’t. So the sins of the father must be visited upon the children, but they can’t be fully visited, now can they? He needs them to survive and prosper if he is to get his sister back.”

“He’s helped them do that, managed and minded them like a fretful mother hen for all those decades, in the hopes that one might finally lay his golden egg. Perhaps he pokes holes in their condoms! The more Malveauxes there are in the world, the more chances that one of those cereal boxes will contain the plastic decoder ring. Is there anything to such a notion? I don’t know, but I suppose it doesn’t hurt to try. And so the world fills with Malveauxes!”

“It’s been so long. Since he first began, we’ve seen, why, an Irish novelist shatter the Masquerade, an iceberg sink the Titanic, the war to end all wars, peace for our time, the war that would really end all wars, man split the atom, Camelot end under an assassin’s bullet, disco balls, pet rocks make a man a millionaire, platform shoes, morning in America, blowjobs in the Oval Office, cellphone cameras, the Mayan doomsday, the legalization of homosexual marriages, and a national rise in counts of jaywalking. Through it all, Benjamin has watched, waited, and toiled!”

“Where is Monique? Where is Waldo, too? I can never find him, not without cheating. I’m not a cheat. Just because I’m cheating you right now doesn’t make me a cheat. There’s a very important distinction.”

Harlequin looks at his ghouls. “Did I say that out loud, that I was cheating him?”

All four nod.

The Malkavian tilts his head in a shrug-like motion. “Oops.”

“There is an easy answer, of course,” he continues, “where Monique is. Beware easy answers and the men who offer them, so take what I have to say with a grain of salt in your vitae. Take what I have to say with many grains of salt, actually. Even when I sound lucid, and reasonable, and like I’m saying something with actual basis in reality, I’m really not. Half the time I’m just making it all up.”

“I might be doing that right here. Just making it all up. Everything that I told you. I think telling lies is funny. It doesn’t even matter what they’re about, sometimes I lie about the most trivial of things, like telling someone I arrived in Elysium six minutes later than I really did. I think it’s funny when people believe my lies.”

“Do you believe I might do something like that, Rocco? Make up everything I just told you, and lie to you because I thought it would be funny? You can be honest with me. I value honesty in others. I don’t value it from myself, and I don’t really care if others would value it from me, because my continued amusement is the second most important thing in all Creation, but I would value honesty from you. Truly, I would!”

Rocco: “It’s no concern to me, Harlequin. I have an ear for lies and the only truths that matter are the truths that matter to me,” he replies jestfully. “I am able to separate the wheat from the chaff.”

GM: “You would name yourself a farmer, my dear hound? You are quite sure?” Harlequin asks, his gold eyes glinting with mirth.

Rocco: “Why not? I have many masks,” he answers, calmly.

GM: “’And I, first-born Caine, I, with sharp things, planted the dark seeds. Wet them in earth. Tended them, watched them grow. And Abel, second-born Abel, tended the animals. Aided their bloody births. Fed them, watched them grow.”

“Tell me then, dear hound, if you share our Dark Father’s vocation—who is your Abel?”

Rocco: “Why not you, dear Harlequin?” He casts a furtive glance at the fiend’s ghouls. “You already have the well tended herd, and you were our father’s favorite when we were only neonates.”

GM: Harlequin and his ‘herd’ laugh uproariously.

“Well-played, my dear hound. Well-played, at my expense. After all, if I am Abel, I should go to heaven after you kill me. I shouldn’t like that. None of my friends are there.”

Rocco: “You’ll be glad to know we’re all damned, then.”

GM: “Are we? The things no one tells me.”

Rocco: Rocco laughs, all-too amused.

“You mentioned that there’s an easy answer as to where Monique is, Harlequin,” he thinks aloud.

A smirk plays across his face.

“Part of me wants to say she’s quite easy to find—in her grave.”

GM: The harpy laughs again. But there’s a hard, cruel edge to the sound this time.

“The best lies are the ones we tell ourselves, Rocco,” Harlequin smiles. His voice is almost soft. “The masks whose gilded frames are so soft, so weightless, we never realize we are wearing them. A mask to both wearer and onlooker. The perfect mask.”

He forces air through dead lungs with a dramatic sigh.

“The dead are not very good at staying dead in this city. Everyone knows that. But some of the dead still manage to stay dead just fine. Maybe even most of them. I don’t know. I’m not a census taker, of the quick or the dead. Just consider—and Benjamin certainly has considered: what if Monique’s soul… simply passed on?”

The smile in the Malkavian’s eyes seems to spread. His rapt ghouls still even their breathing.

“Monique would be very easy to find, as you say—in her grave. But the part of her that her brother really wants would lie forever beyond his reach. Poor Benjamin, so lost and hurt and confused on the first night of his Requiem, would have murdered his dear sweet sister in a loss of control that’s impossible to ever undo or take back. He would never see her pretty face or feel her gentle caress again.”

Cruel mirth brims from Harlequin’s silently laughing, faith-green eyes.

“But what manner of notion is that to go through eternity with!”

He can no longer contain his jubilation. The Malkavian and his masked entourage throw back their heads and scream with high-pitched, shrieking gales of laughter. They laugh and they laugh and they laugh, and sound as if they could go on laughing forever.

Rocco: Rocco, in comparison, only chuckles a little. Naturally, he has no desire to use the information he’s gleaned from Harlequin tonight for any nefarious or manipulative purpose. He’s simply content to have satisfied his curiosity—good gossip is the next most tasty thing there is after blood. Benjamin’s torpid corpse might be lying several feed away, but he is still a friend, after all. As Rocco continues to chuckle along with Harlequin, he takes another sip from his red glass and idly wonders:

What am I to do with Benjamin’s corpse after this party ends?

The Trial (Part IV)
Final Judgment

“I sentence you to final death.”
Augusto Vidal

Monday night, 21 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Caroline breaks from the crowd of Kindred after the trial’s first night concludes. She departs into the night and calls a ride only when she’s a block away from the church. She’s exhausted, worn down by bone-sheering weariness, the kind of fatigue and wear that cuts down mountains. As she heads home she shoots off a text back to her mother.

Early evening is better tomorrow.

GM: The Ryde cab arrives after several minutes and drops Caroline outside the door to her house after several minutes more. No response to the 4:30 AM text arrives from Claire.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t expect one, or perhaps even want one right now. She just wants to get away. Her home is just as wrecked as before, and she picks her way through it with frustration.

GM: The house’s inside is still a complete wreck, though it smells better, as the rotting food over the kitchen floor has been cleaned up. There are some further signs of progress in the living room, with various fallen items righted, and broken ones thrown out, giving the house an even more empty and forlorn look than when Caroline saw it last.

Carla has left a message on Caroline’s phone that this is a big job for one woman and will take her a while, at least if Caroline wants her to clean and re-arrange the various ransacked objects and sundry rather than throw them all out. She’s requesting a higher hourly rate, as she’s going to have to drop some other clients.

Caroline: It’s a rate Caroline is happy to pay. Anything to wash away everything else the house’s wreckage means to her. If she had an alternative, she’d torch the entire building.

As it is, she numbly heads upstairs. She double checks on her hidden blood, stashed in her own off-limits bedroom, but her heart isn’t in anything. With am hour or more to go before sunrise she climbs into the attic once more and hides herself in insulation, wondering why she even bothers.

She tries not to think on what tomorrow will bring.

Monday evening, 21 September 2015

GM: Caroline closes her eyes, and one second later it’s 7:32. The Beast’s hungry pangs are ever so slightly sharper.

Caroline: She sighs and checks her messages for the day.

GM: There’s a response from Claire that she can’t meet today but can do 8 tomorrow. There’s also another message from Ruth Holman, the landlady of Lou’s building, calling over further mundane details related to finalizing the sale. There’s a second message from Caroline’s mortgage broker at Whitney National Bank too.

Caroline: As the Ventrue descends the attic into the rest of the house, she suppresses the urge to throw a fit at the change of plans.

GM: She finds a typed note on her couch saying the sheriff will see her at his Audubon house on Wednesday tomorrow at 4 AM.

Caroline: There’s not even a bat of an eyelash at the casual invasion of her privacy once again. The Ventrue throws the note in her dented steel trash can and pulls up the requirements for the building purchase. She fires a somewhat nasty message to her mother about getting put off. It’s petty and cruel, but so is just about everything else in her life.

Glad I’m a priority, Dad._

The heiress spends most of the next several hours immersed in mundane activities from her home, sitting in the ruins of her life. The silence of the house is deafening. Eventually she washes and dresses for the trial and her potential release, but it’s mostly going through the motions at this point.

Looking at her perfect form in the mirror, all dressed up for the event, she’s overcome by a flash of rage and frustration and rips the standing mirror out of her room. She flings it down the stairs, watching it shatter into a million pieces as it plummets and crashes its way to a stop at the bottom on the hard wood floors. Glass and shattered wreckage join a cry of anguish as she tries and fails to rip at the guardrail before falling into the wall and sliding down to a seated position.

GM: As the glass loudly smashes over the ruined home’s hardwood floor, providing Carla with even more trash to clean up, Caroline’s phone buzzes with a text. The sender is Claire.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t check it. Instead she quietly sobs on the floor. She knows even this is an act, and a petty one. She’s left herself plenty of time. And the knowledge of that only furthers her self-loathing.

In due time, she rises and fixes her face in the bathroom mirror. She checks her dress. She goes through all the motions again. She has a trial to attend, after all, and it wouldn’t do to be late.

She eventually checks the message when it badgers her on unlocking her phone to call a ride.

GM: Spare me the tantrum. Your father and I raised you better. Do you want to meet tomorrow or not?

Caroline: She wants to snarl back a response and apologize at the same time. Raised her better for all the good it’s done her. She texts back that she’ll see her mother then.

Assuming I’m still here, she doesn’t add.

Monday evening, 21 September 2015

Rocco: As Rocco promised, a messenger comes for Caroline. Sharp, steady taps cp,e from her front door. Birds chirping and singing quietly emanate from outside the house.

Caroline: Caroline closes Autumn’s laptop and gestures for the ghoul to wait as she moves to the door and peeks through the glass that surrounds it.

GM: Autumn had added earlier that she could buy Caroline another one tomorrow. Shopping is a lot harder after dark.

Rocco: A trio of beady-eyed finches perch idly by on a nearby branch, overlooking Caroline’s doorway, as a fourth one continues to tap at her front door. An enveloped wrapped in purple string is tied to one of its legs. Caroline’s name is emblazoned in stylish calligraphy.

Caroline: The Ventrue eyes the birds with some interest as they don’t flee or seek to attack her, then bends to retrieve the envelope. For all the abnormality of the delivery of a letter by carrier finch, it somehow makes her feel normal. At least in a way.

Rocco: The bird frees itself from the purple string with minimal fuss, joining its brethren in a quartet.

Caroline: She keeps an eye on the birds as she opens the letter, keenly aware of the last letter delivery and the trouble it caused.

Rocco: The quartet of finches break out in a sweet serenade as Caroline opens the letter.

To Miss Malveaux,

I wish to invite you to a dinner party at Harrah’s New Orleans on Wednesday, the 23rd of September. The 26th floor of the hotel has been booked out for a night of fun and merriment. It is my wish to foster friendship and goodwill.

In this endeavor, Miss Malveaux, I wish to inform you in hopes of better preparing you that Sheriff Donovan plans to expel you from his domain in one night’s time. I want to use the night to discuss the business of potentially taking you on as a tenant instead.

Yours in good faith,
Rocco Agnello

P.S. Please burn after reading.

Caroline: Caroline stares at the note. ‘Plans to expel you’ and ‘fun and merriment’. She’s never been on the receiving end of an eviction notice before, but she doubts they usually include both sentences.

She looks back uneasily at the singing birds and offers a muted thank you, more uncertain of how to respond than anything else.

Rocco: The finches conclude their birdsong and take off in different directions, flying away into the night.

Tuesday night, 22 September 2015, AM

GM: The trial is re-convened at midnight in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. There is less pomp and ritual than the previous night: neither mass nor communion is held. Vidal gives a brief sermon notably emphasizing the theological as well as practical necessity of the Masquerade.

“The question arose: If we are meant to be tormentors of humanity, driving them to the path of righteousness, why must we conceal our holy mission? Did not Christ’s early disciples die as martyrs for their faith?”

Leaving aside the practical necessity of the Masquerade, and how war between Kindred and kine would devastate both, Vidal states that instigating such a conflict would betray the Kindred’s divinely mandated role as God’s wolves.

“Kindred en masse, known to mankind en masse, would be a terrifying evil,” the prince acknowledges. “Yet such evil would be a known adversary for mankind to rally against. Hidden, we meet our prey face to face. Each victim is isolated not only by the terror of our presence, but by his isolation from his fellows. The wolf does not announce its presence until its jaws are closed fast around the lamb’s throat: so too must it be with us as Kindred.”

Caroline: The ancient devil’s charm is still there, still burning brightly in her mind, captivatingly, and though she knows it’s from more than simply the power of his words and his presence—his blood flowing through her veins gives truth enough to the unearthly power he’s exercised over her, Caroline finds it hard to turn away as his voice calls to her despite the malaise that hangs over her.

GM: After praising the wisdom of Longinus and the Monachus, Vidal leads the crowd through a collective prayer and formally convenes the trial of Gabriel Hurst. Karena Cingolai reprises her role as the prosecution. Camilla Doriocourt serves as the defense.

Cingolai wastes no time in tearing into the specifics and gritty details of Hurst’s claim to have planted the M34 phosphorus grenades in Smith’s bags. She demands to know where Hurst obtained them. She calls several ghoul and kine witnesses (the latter clearly mesmerized) to the stand, including John McCullem. All of them testify that Gabriel Hurst had no ties of note to either the military or criminal underworld. Several Kindred with such ties, whose names include Rocco Agnello’s, testify that Hurst had no dealings with them in recent nights. Hurst claims to have worked solely through mortals, as he did not want to alert other Kindred as to his activities. Cingolai demands the names of his contacts, when and where he met them, how he paid them, and dozens of other details that steadily make his story unravel under sustained questioning.

Doriocourt is able to discredit a good number of witnesses, and draw connections between them and Kindred puppet-masters with known vendettas against Clan Ventrue or the Lancea et Sanctum, but she can at best slow the tide.

Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue watching the exchanges. It’s hard for her to have the same level of investment as many seem to have, with no knowledge of Hurst. But she can well imagine that many are just as happy to see anyone burn as they are to see him burn for whatever grudges they might hold against him—or his sire.

GM: Cingolai then calls Doriocourt’s own sire, Donovan, to the stand. The sheriff details the results of his own investigation into the M34 grenades. He explains that George Smith recently purchased a small container of them from Guilo Matranga, a ghoul to Rocco Agnello who worked as an explosives expert in Afghanistan. Matranga confirms that he sold the grenades to Smith, and that he obtained them from two kine named Brett Cuellar and Riley Hitchcock, who serve in the Louisiana National Guard and its local New Orleans base. Both kine are called to the stand, and give their mesmerized testimony that they sold the M34 grenades to Matranga. Hitchcock, the NCO, has been claiming they were used in explosives exercises, and Lt. Cuellar has been falsifying the necessary documents. They have been careful not to sell too much hardware to the Mafia, and never anything not used in regular munitions or explosives training. It’s provided a small but steady stream of extra income to the jaded servicemen.

Vidal orders both National Guardsmen executed on the spot for dereliction of duty. Some Kindred watch with apparent distaste as Donovan slits the terrified men’s throats. Others keep their expressions neutral. Some seem to enjoy the spectacle.

Caroline: It’s a gruesome, painful, and long in coming way to go. Caroline reflects numbly from far back in the rows, away from the scent of it and with even the sight detached. The combination of choking on their own blood and a lack of blood flow to the brain creates simultaneous feeling of drowning and that lightheaded push towards darkness.

Caroline doesn’t envy them. It’s a rare sentiment from the Ventrue.

GM: Brown raises an objection over the testimony, claiming that Smith’s trial is over, but Vidal overrules him and sternly reminds the crowd that he has yet to pronounce Smith’s verdict—words that are all-too poignant as ghouls haul away the two kine’s corpses and clean up the blood from their deaths.

Caroline: Or, Caroline cannot help but note, her own. She squirms uncomfortably in her seat.

GM: Several further kine and ghoul witnesses confirm Smith’s dealings with the Mafia, and that Smith openly walked about the Windsor Court after surviving the explosion at Slidell (in a horrifically wounded state), using Caine’s gifts to overawe any kine who saw him. Further unhappy murmurs go up at his continued irreverence for the Masquerade.

Hurst’s testimony fares little better once the grenades are so conclusively linked to Smith. Cingolai asks Hurst many grenades he supposedly bought from the Mafia; the Ventrue primogen, evidently not nearly as knowledgeable about as explosives as Rocco’s ghoul, quotes a number that the demolitions expert debunks as too small to have created a blast of the force that went off in Slidell.

“The number of M34s I sold Mr. Smith was just right for it,” he adds.

Cingolai then questions the nature of Hurst’s character, and whether a shortsighted ploy to gain a boon over Smith to by detonating so many bombs is really the sort of thing he would do. The prosecutor’s query draws a number of prominent witnesses, including three sitting members of the Cabilo. Coco Duquette, Miss Opal, and Pearl Chastain all concur that although Hurst is their youngest member, and relatively young for his position, he has sat on the Cabildo for ten years and demonstrated a generally patient and levelheaded temperament, as well as a dislike of avoidable violence.

Caroline: The whole thing reeks of pageantry to Caroline. It’s all a show. This isn’t a trial, it’s theater. It’s a justification. The verdict has been in since the beginning.

Looking out at her snarling, entertained, engrossed fellow damned, however, she can’t deny that it’s effective theater.

GM: Hurst’s own sister-in-blood, Becky Lynne Adler, appears all too willing to play her role in the theater as she testifies that, “Oh, I just can’t picture him doin’ a fool thing like that. He’s always been very cautious and methodical, you know. If you examine his business practices, in fact, you’ll find he shies away from speculative investments. He’s always told me how slow and steady wins the race.”

Becky Lynne’s statement is supported by the number of further witnesses who come to Hurst’s ‘defense’, though the only ones Caroline recognizes are Gus Elgin and Roxanne Gerlette. The crowd slowly seems to turning against Smith… his spectacle last night was masterful, but that was last night. The walls are slowly but surely closing in. The crowd loves watching someone, anyone, squirm.

Cingolai draws out the process, then claims Hurst is only taking the fall for Smith’s role in the Slidell incident because of a prestation debt. Hurst’s counsel, Doriocourt, once again finds herself in the peculiar position of the prosecution’s arguments actually helping her client’s defense: after all, it’s better for Hurst to have lied paying back a debt than to have broken the Masquerade.

The question is immediately raised over how Smith might have incurred such a debt. Smith claims that Hurst was behind his attack on the road to Matheson’s, and wanted to stop the neonates he’d recruited from falling into Matheson’s clutches. Cingolai, however, claims the whole attack was staged, and that George hired thugs to shoot up his own car in hopes of claiming a larger prestation debt from Matheson for his troubles (after all, he was the one who agreed to deliver neonates to the elder’s haven). The two Ventrue argue back and forth, each claiming the other one is lying or has manufactured evidence, and the distinction of whose trial is actually being held grows quite blurry. The crowd laps it up.

Cingolai hammers home the irregularities in Smith’s and Hurst’s accounts over the grenades that Smith purchased, as well as Smith’s pattern of repeated disregard for the Masquerade against Hurst’s prudent character. Doriocourt’s own closing statement largely skirts the issue of Hurst’s role in the explosion, and in fact appears to tacitly support it by emphasizing his good character. In the end, while the crowd is not howling for Smith’s blood to the same degree they did Hurst’s, more than a few dirty (or mirthful) eyes glare upon the Ventrue… there is a general sense that his last-ditch maneuver to deflect blame for the Slidell incident has not worked.

Vidal convenes another recess before the long-awaited trial of John Harley Matheson begins.

Tuesday night, 22 September 2015, AM

Caroline: As the crowd breaks into cliques once more, Caroline is again left out in the uncomfortable cold. It’s an experience she’s not terribly familiar with—nor enamored with the more she sees of it.

However uncomfortable it might be in general to someone accustomed to floating through such crowds and picking her own groups at will, it’s all the more uncomfortable in a sea of predators. Some social butterflies like to think themselves ‘social’ predators. She didn’t, but the argument on where you fall in the foot chain socially was one that was at least somewhat convincing to her. Less so now: she’s seen the face of true predators, dozens of them in this very room, and being alone makes her skin crawl. Plucking a similarly alone face from the crowd she makes for a well-dressed but gaunt young man.

“Hello. I think we may shop at the same tailor.”

GM: Caroline catches him as he’s breaking off from conversation with an acne-riddled, revoltingly hideous figure that can only be a Nosferatu. The Ventrue is keenly reminded that few vampires are so alone as she previously was.

The emaciated, hollow-cheeked seemingly young man regards Caroline with faint amusement. He stands in sharp contrast to the vital-looking young woman. He is exceptionally gaunt even for a Kindred, with hollow cheeks and dark circles under his watery gray-blue eyes. He stands about half a head below Caroline and wears a finely-tailored gray suit that partially hides his bony, stick-like limbs. His shoulder-length brown hair is thin and wispy.

“His good luck to clothe a frame as lovely as yours.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles. “And to have a client like you with such excellent manners and bearing to serve as an ambassador to the world. But then, I suppose some people have all the luck.”

GM: “Or at least streaks of it, but all streaks run out. Anthony Brodowski,” the rail-thin man introduces himself.

Caroline: “We all have our moments. Caroline Malveaux,” the Ventrue replies.

GM: “So what can I do for you, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “Besides regale me with the pleasure of your company? I confess I have no ulterior motive.”

GM: “Really? That’s a funny turn of luck for someone to talk to me about luck,” the sunken-eyed vampire remarks.

Caroline: “Oh?” Caroline asks. “Is there an inside joke I’ve missed?”

GM: “No joke, though I suppose it’s amusing. My sire operates a casino.”

Caroline: “I suppose we all do something,” Caroline replies. “And I can imagine that he finds plenty to keep him busy with such an enterprise.”

GM: “Yes, plenty. Perhaps you’ll grace the Alystra some night. There’s always a place for beautiful women at casinos.”

Caroline: “By the tables, luring men to their fates, or by the bar, luring them to their doom?” Caroline asks with a flash of a smile.

GM: The dark circles under Anthony’s watery eyes spread as his lips do. “Some would argue they’re one and the same. As my sire likes to put it, ‘Be it in blood or coin, the house always wins in the end.’”

Caroline: Caroline sweeps her gaze up to the front of the Church, where the prince and his pawns are assembled. The sheriff. The seneschal. Hounds and ghouls aplenty.

“Yes, I can’t say that I disagree.”

GM: “Smart. Well, it’s been pleasant making your acquaintance, Miss Malveaux, but I’m afraid duty calls.”

Caroline: “Of course,” Caroline replies politely.

GM: The gaunt vampire takes his leave. The sea of predators stretches before Caroline once more.

It swiftly washes back in.

Monday night, 21 September 2015, AM

GM: The tide of boos is overwhelming as John Harley Matheson takes the stand. His defense, who Caroline recalls could have been her, is Anthony Brodowski. He eloquently introduces his client and proclaims that Mr. Matheson denies all charges against him. The elder Ventrue merely stares imperiously at the prosecution, as if not deigning to respond directly to slander.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t envy the neonate’s job, given the outpouring of hatred against an elder in public.

Well, that and the fact that she knows for a fact that his client is guilty as sin.

GM: Vidal sternly calls the crowd to order, but one does not need to hear their boos to know what they think of the proud elder proclaiming innocence. Matheson’s defender doesn’t spend a second longer trying to sell it. He proclaims to the crowd that others have tried to fool them and play them for dupes. The claim that Matheson feeds on neonates is fiction devised by a treacherous and opportunistic demagogue who sought to plunge the city into chaos for his own gain: George Vernon Smith.

Brodowski (or perhaps Brown, if the former is wearing an earpiece like Caroline planned to) continues that George fabricated the narrative of Matheson being a headhunter in order to frame Vidal as a willing accessory to Matheson’s crime and turn public sentiment against the prince. Brodowski does not mention any Kindred by name, and says merely that George meant to incite a “civil war” among the city’s Kindred, let another claim the princedom, and then depose that claimant while they were new and insecure in their power. More than a few eyes turn towards Antoine Savoy, but the Lord of the French Quarter just grins like he’s listening to a riveting story. George smiles but keeps silent this time as Cingolai asks that Brodowski explain why, then, Matheson was exiled by Prince Vidal if this whole thing is a ploy of Smith’s—surely the hotelier’s influence doesn’t extend that far. Matheson finally replies that he would be only too glad to explain.

Over a century and a half ago, Matheson announces, he belonged to a loosely allied network of plantation-owning Kindred who dwelled in the states that would eventually form the Confederacy. The South’s cities were never so large or numerous as the North’s: regional Kindred politics become something akin to feudal Europe, with individual vampire lords ruling their fiefdoms absolutely, Embracing only when necessary, and thriving in the easy hunting grounds of the slave quarters. Because of their unlives of ease, these plantation-owning vampires grew extremely jealous and protective of their domains—as well as careless. Reports filtered back to the Northern Camarilla that these Southern vampire lords were establishing blood cults and openly flouting their natures before terrified slaves. The Camarilla dispatched archons to investigate the situation. None returned to Boston. This resulted in a justicar announcing his intention to personally visit and inspect the Camarilla’s Southern fiefs, including New Orleans.

Many plantation-owning Kindred threw their support behind the burgeoning Confederacy and declared their independence from the Camarilla—including Matheson. Vidal had cooperated with the archons in their prior investigations, and come to believe Matheson had founded his own blood cult and flouted the Masquerade as his fellows were doing. His plantation was located outside New Orleans, however, where Vidal’s praxis did not extend. In light of the justicar’s pending inspection, the prince decided it would be politically expedient—as well as just—to banish Matheson from New Orleans. Vidal could not regulate what his younger clanmate did in his own domain, but he could deny Matheson the privilege of dwelling in his city.

Vidal never saw fit to disclose the reason. It was of some embarrassment to Clan Ventrue that one of their own would support rebellion against the Camarilla.

The Civil War came and went. The justicar used the Union Army as his fists to shatter the power bases of Matheson and his fellows, then let the Emancipation Proclamation deliver the coup de grace to their power. The nights of easy feeding on cowed plantation slaves were over forever. The survivors pledged renewed loyalty to the Camarilla. The Camarilla was merciful, though they could afford to be. The rebels had lost their lands, their herds, their power, and their prior way of unlife. Vidal never saw fit to disclose this blemish upon Clan Ventrue’s reputation, nor was he prepared to exonerate Matheson’s crime and rescind his exile. Matheson continued to dwell in his plantation outside New Orleans for the next century and a half, inviting neonates—as well as elder Kindred—to visit him and ease his solitude. Numerous older Kindred that they received Matheson’s invitations, including the Cabildo themselves. Many (though not all) declined to visit the elder Ventrue. The journey to his plantation was long and perilous, especially before the advent of modern cars and highways. Only neonates judged gaining an out-of-town elder’s favor to be worth the risk.

Caroline: For Caroline it’s an interesting tale, and a valuable history lesson, but she finds herself wondering just how much of Matheson’s specifics are fiction, especially as he lost not his lands, his apparent herds, or his influence in Clan Ventrue.

Just how much of that carefully crafted tale was put together between the accusations and trial with the prince?

Certainly, the fact that most in the room were not party to events that happened more than a century and a half ago must play to his favor. Of course, she also suspects it does not. The crowd here came for blood and humiliation. It came to see squabbles and fights. She doubts many in the crowd are that impressed with the history lesson instead. However clean cut his narrative may be, however it may be grounded in truths, the question in this forum is how it plays to the crowd. A miscalculation, then? The only question is how much of one.

GM: Cingolai is quick to pounce on Matheson’s claim that he was banished for reasons unrelated to his present charges. She does not accuse him of lying, but she insinuates that without evidence they have no choice but to take the elder at his word. The mob starts to grumble and take heart.

Brodowski is happy to produce sheafs of yellowed, faded letters between Matheson and other Southern Kindred wherein the former not only expresses his anti-Camarilla sentiments, but coordinates activities with his fellows to aid the Confederate war effort against the Justicar Baylor’s mortal pawns. Matheson had been embezzling silver and gold reserves from the New Orleans Mint for years by falsifying the results of metallurgical assays. He used that income and much of his other wealth to bankroll the Confederacy and purchase war bonds when international bankers were reluctant to do so. Those war bonds are now historic artifacts he still possesses.

Matheson’s advocate makes a show of bringing out several mesmerized professors from Tulane and museum employees from the Historic New Orleans Collection who confirm the obvious age of Matheson’s letters through prior radiocarbon dating (after all, he certainly wouldn’t falsify evidence). The Ventrue even provides a handwriting sample to identify them as his. Brodowski initially tries to fluster Cingolai throughout the cross-examinations, peppering his arguments with glib wit and making her out as a humorless ice queen.

When she doesn’t rise to the bait, his sire Marcel steps in to bring an element of spectacle to the otherwise exceedingly dry proceedings. Scantily-clad showgirls (and a few boys) set up gambling tables around the church’s pews, inviting Kindred to place bets—be it in blood or cash—on what dates the musty academics will identify for Matheson’s historic mementos. Marcel volunteers drinks from the showgirls to anyone who correctly guesses enough dates in order to further ‘sweeten the pot.’

“If we’re going to violate ‘thou shalt not kill’ in a church, we might as well gamble in one too,” Marcel quips. A chorus of musicians even strikes up a lively tune. In short order, the agitated mob is more excited to be placing bets and lusting after comely vessels than listening to the factual content of Cingolai’s arguments. It’s not without some irony that a few Kindred dryly note they are literally buying into the premise that Matheson’s evidence is genuine.

Caroline: Caroline watches the scene with muted contempt as the show trial is literally turned into a ‘show’ trial, complete with showgirls. She doesn’t place any bets: too many of the girls and boys don’t smell right anyway. On one level, she’s shocked Matheson would stoop to this. On another, she supposes it’s better than other means of playing to the crowd, and doubts it was his idea.

Mostly she tries to stay out of the way.

It can’t go worse for her than the alternative.

Monday night, 21 September 2015, AM

GM: The mob ignores the silent Ventrue in the back and seems more than content to enjoy the bread and circuses. They scream and hawk at one another’s bets. An unmistakable coppery tang fills the air as the winners claim their dues. Gazes are still hungry and canines visibly protrude as the prosecution’s first witnesses are called to testify against Matheson.

Roxandra Adrieux is a seeming teenager with short, dark hair with lighter bangs, thick eyebrows, and a pug nose. Her large, luminous eyes have no whites, and consist solely of an alligator-like slitted pupil surrounded by pale green.

Roxandra testifies that she was invited to Matheson’s plantation on a number of separate occasions as a neonate, and that when she grew old enough, the visits stopped. When asked if she recalls Matheson ever feeding on her, she replies no. Matheson erased her memories. But she has one better.

Caroline: Caroline feels her chest tighten a bit. The seneschal’s declaration about the disclosure of the tape makes this a dangerous moment entirely out of her control. That question as to whether his fear and caution were well placed still lingers.

“I got a tape. Friends of mine picked it up during the day, from a ghoul on her way to the Union Passenger Terminal. She was hurt pretty bad, you could smell the blood on her even if you weren’t blooded yourself. She had a phone. Friends got into it, but one file was encrypted. Homework traced her domitor to a neonate called Caroline Malveaux.”

“Now doing some more homework, it turns out Caroline Malveaux was a visitor to Mr. Matheson, here in New Orleans. Her ghoul was on her way to the trains only a few hours after their last visit.”

Roxandra produces a plastic bag with four fingers in it.

“All that’s left of my ghoul.”

She produces another bag with shards of phone casing and twisted metal.

“All that’s left of her phone.”

“Happened when some friends of mine were trying to break the file’s encryption. Someone didn’t want that getting out.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes are narrow slits at Roxandra.

GM: The gator-eyed woman looks towards the prosecution.

“I’d like to call Miss Malveaux to the stand, if she’s here and the prosecution’s okay.”

“Yes, Madam Adrieux, I think we all may benefit from hearing the testimony of Miss Malveaux on this matter,” Cingolai replies. “Miss Malveaux, please come forward.”

Caroline: Caroline’s scowl does not abate, but she stands from within the crowd, moving forward.

GM: Cingolai waits until Caroline has approached the witness’ stand, then inquires of Roxandra, “Madam Adrieux, what is the name of the ghoul you intercepted?”

“Amanda Turner.”

Cingolai turns to Caroline. “Miss Malveaux, is it true that you are the domitor of a ghoul named Amanda Turner?”

Caroline: “I was, Prosecutrix Cingolai.”

GM: “Why are you no longer her domitor, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “Because she is no longer with us, Prosecutrix Cingolai,” Caroline replies, somewhat tightly.

GM: “By which you mean she is dead, Miss Malveaux?” the prosecution inquires patiently.

Caroline: “That’s correct, Prosecutrix Cingolai,” the Ventrue replies.

GM: “Is it true that you visited Mr. Matheson’s estate in the Garden District on Friday the 18th, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “It is, Prosecutrix Cingolai. And again on Saturday the 19th.”

GM: “Please describe the nature of these visits.”

Caroline: “I sought out Mr. Matheson to solicit his assistance in a number of private personal matters. We met briefly, then he was generous enough to arrange for a separate meeting with Ms. Adler about those personal matters. On Saturday my meeting was only with Ms. Adler.”

GM: “Would either of these visits have been an ideal time during which to feed on you and subsequently erase your memory of the incident, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: Caroline tilts her head. “More than in any other behind closed doors meeting with any other elder capable of altering memories, Prosecutrix Cingolai?” the young Ventrue innocently asks.

GM: “You have been called to the stand as a witness, Miss Malveaux, not an arbiter. You will answer questions, not ask them.”

Laughter goes up from a few pale faces among the crowd.

Caroline: “Certainly, Prosecutrix Cingola, I was simply seeking clarity on the nature of the question. If the question is, ‘could it have happened’, then the answer is yes.”

GM: “Did you believe that Mr. Matheson would be capable of altering your memories, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “The possibility had occurred to me, yes.”

GM: “Were you aware of the allegations that Mr. Matheson was facing when you visited him, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “A few rumors only, Prosecutrix Cingola. Other matters have occupied my time to a greater extent.”

GM: “Were you aware that Mr. Matheson had been accused on feeding upon neonates who visited him, or were you not, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “I was, Prosecutrix Cingola.”

GM: “Then please answer for me definitively, Miss Malveaux: would the circumstances of your meeting with Mr. Matheson have been a highly convenient time during which to feed upon you and erase your memories?”

Caroline: “Yes, it would have been.”

GM: A few murmurs go up from the crowd.

“Would your ghoul Turner have described you as a cruel domitor, Miss Malveaux? Did you ever beat her for infractions? Did you take amusement in her pain and discomfort?”

Caroline: “No,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Then you would agree that you generally treated her kindly, Miss Malveux?”

Caroline: “I would agree that I attempted to do so, Prosecutrix Cingola.”

GM: “Would you agree that she lacked ready cause to run away from you, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: Caroline’s mind races ahead to the direction of the questioning.

“I would agree that I directly gave her no cause in my treatment.”

GM: “Then indirectly, do you believe you gave her cause to wish an end to her servitude under you?”

Caroline: “In my service she had been shot multiple times, nearly had her throat ripped out, and been strangled nearly to death. She’d been maimed and scarred. I could understand how that could lead her to wish to do so.”

GM: “Did she appear resentful of such injuries specifically towards you, Miss Malveaux, or at any point express regret at having entered your service?”

Caroline: At any point. Caroline well remembers at least once.

“Yes. The last time I saw her she was quite belligerent.”

GM: “Did you cause her any significant mental or physical discomfort either during or immediately prior to this belligerency, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: Caroline is the essence of patient with the repeated digging into the details of her treatment of ghouls in the midst of a trial about the actions of an elder, but it seems to only underscore the minutia of the matter.

“I don’t believe so, Prosecutrix Cingola.”

GM: “Then you believe she had no reasonable basis to have acted, as you described her, ‘belligerently’?”

Caroline: “Not at all, Prosecutrix Cingola. In fact, in hindsight, the many injuries she suffered would seem to give her ample reason to do so. Especially combined with what may have been existing instability.”

GM: There’s some smiles from Vidal’s partisans at the clever save. More murmurs sound from the crowd.

GM: “Did you kill your ghoul because you believed this ‘instability’ made her an unreliable servant, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue. “There were a number of factors that lead to her death, Prosecutrix Cingola, most of them quite personal and specific, but her instability certainly among them. If there is a particular need before the court I’m willing to discuss them in as much detail as the court requires…”

GM: “Yes, Miss Malveaux, please expound on the circumstances of your ghoul’s death. Did you…”

Cingolai questions Caroline for some further length on the circumstances of Turner’s death, the nature of the encrypted file on her phone, and the nature of her relationship with Mr. Matheson. The prosecutor relies on a highly circuitous line of questioning, asking long series of yes or no questions of no immediate connection to her case. The almost-lawyer can tell that Cingolai is trying to make her build a rigid narrative that advances the prosecution’s and cannot be deviated from without seemingly contradicting her earlier testimony.

Still, Caroline’s years of law school make her better able to recognize such tactics than most. Rather than confront each question as it’s individually posed and try to give as little ground as possible, Caroline tries to put herself in Cingolai’s head and imagine the direction of her questioning. From there it’s a matter of coming out with her own counter-narrative to resolutely stick to: Turner was a liability after having been repeatedly compromised by Kindred mental influence, was already unstable, repeatedly (and possibly intentionally) failed in her duties as a bodyguard to receive more blood, and finally became openly hostile to her domitor. Turner finally snapped and decided to run, seizing Caroline’s phone and perhaps thinking it would be valuable to trade with someone wherever she was going. She had no idea what was on it… information that was common knowledge to Kindred, and utterly useless as a bargaining chip.

It was, however, still quite sensitive, for its materials, if disclosed, could have been a threat to the Masquerade: they contained extensive information on Kindred titles, etiquette, social rules, and the general nature of the all-night society in New Orleans. Caroline discloses that she received this information from Becky Lynne, having lacked a sire to impart it to her.

Cingolai immediately pounces on Caroline’s answer that the damage to the Masquerade would “depend” on who found it. It would have been a direct violation of the Masquerade, the prosecutor admonishes, and a considerable one. A hunter might have killed to obtain such knowledge as Caroline possessed, but even an unaware kine would have had their eyes opened to an entire world they’d never considered. Cingolai attempts to discredit Caroline as another George in the making who can’t even control her own ghouls (didn’t you see her breakdown coming?) and whose judgment cannot be trusted—only her direct parroting of facts, all of which builds up to her ultimate point: who, indeed, would know about Caroline’s missing phone and go to such lengths to obtain it?

Caroline: Caroline, having sat through the exhaustive, extended, and circuitous questioning tilts her head to the side.

“Prosecutrix Cingola, I begin to question who is on trial here, and for what exactly. I am no witness for Mr. Matheson here to be discredited, and while I do so appreciate having my dirty laundry being hung out to dry on the account of a dead ghoul that took it upon himself to steal from my own… I’m not sure what you hope to arrive at.”

GM: “Miss Malveaux, are you Mr. Matheson’s arbiter?” Cingolai inquires.

Caroline: “Prosecutrix Cingola, I confessed my sins. Promptly. If you seek you reveal that it was agents of the prince who took the lead in recovering the phone, then you reveal only my desire to own up to my errors and seek their redress by any means, especially in matters of the First Tradition.”

GM: “Enough.”

Her sire’s dark gaze impales Caroline’s like the Lance of Longinus pierced Christ’s flank—and seems to condemn her for a sin equally grave.

“You will answer the questions posed to you, childe, or be held in contempt of court.”

The crowd variously jeers quietly or watches with silent apprehension. George’s hands remain severed stumps at their wrists.

Caroline: “Yes, Your Majesty,” Caroline replies to the prince with deference, a shiver going through her spine as he speaks.

GM: “Miss Malveaux, were you selected to serve as Mr. Matheson’s advocate?” Cingolai repeats.

Caroline: “No, Prosecutrix Cingola,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Then you will cease your speculation as to my motives and conduct, for that is the purview of advocate Guilbeau. Your own, less onerous responsibility is to answer those questions directly asked of you. Now, you claim that…”

Caroline: Caroline’s narrative is not particularly complicated: when she realized that Turner had fled with the tape and was not responsive, she reached out to agents of the prince to confess as to the potential breach and seek aid in recovering the tape: with little time left before dawn she saw little other choice that would not endanger the Masquerade. Most of the matter thereafter was handled while she was at rest. The best lies, after all, begin with the truth.

GM: Alexander Wright is next to step forward, testifying that he sent his own ghouls to ‘recover’ the tape from Roxandra’s.

“Sorry. Couldn’t know she was yours,” the hound admits with a shrug.

The other Kindred’s crocodile-like eyes merely watch him unblinkingly. Father Malveaux confirms that he took Caroline’s confession the next night and granted absolution for her sin. With the matter of the tape seemingly resolved, the next witnesses against Matheson are called forward.

Caroline: Caroline isn’t sure whether to breathe a sigh of relief or await her doom when she returns to her spot among those observing the trial.

It’s a too-familiar feeling.

Tuesday night, 22 September 2015, AM

GM: Some of the next witnesses to speak out against John Harley Matheson seem to include Anarchs, the handsome Kindred who sat next to Caroline yesterday night, and several others who tell the same story of being invited to his plantation, engaging in polite conversation, and then Matheson losing all interest. Several Kindred claim inability to remember the full details of their visits or the physical route there. Brodowski manages to trip up and discredit several of the witnesses. A well-dressed Kindred named David Hansen is “accused” of still visiting Matheson at his haven and consenting to being fed on by by the elder. Hansen the stand to adamantly deny all of these allegations.

The next batch of witnesses (who Caroline notes include every member of Savoy’s clique except the Toreador himself) have less personal connection to Matheson but also a stronger way with words. More than a few members of the crowd sneer or laugh at Alsten-Pirrie after the humiliation she suffered at Smith’s hands, but the scornful harpy rips into Matheson with a smoldering wit that stops only just sort of Vidal ordering her to recant her testimony. Most of the testifying Kindred are strangers to Caroline. Some are fair, others foul. Some are furious, others composed.

Caroline: The young Ventrue does her best to keep tabs on where the party lines fall, where the grudges seem to be dug in, and who is who, but at some point the numbers and variety becomes too much to home to keep track of.

GM: Antoine Savoy personally delivers the prosecution’s closing address. The French Quarter lord does not directly attack Matheson when so many of his allies have already done so. He simply gives an impassioned speech stressing the need for all Kindred to be held accountable and judged impartially for their actions, as well as the deleterious consequences that perceived favoritism has upon “the praxes of even the most well-regarded princes.”

Caroline: It’s a refreshingly modern take from an elder, and one so modern in its character that Caroline has trouble believing he’s not of this century.

Of course, that’s exactly the idea.

GM: The Toreador stresses that such divides fuel resentment between Kindred generations and engender strife that needlessly weakens the Camarilla—but there is a better way. Transparency. Accountability. Impartiality. Savoy’s proposed solution of essentially less leniency towards degenerates like Matheson (who he never names) is not an exceptionally complex or even novel idea, but he makes it appeal even to the crowd’s older Kindred when he adds with a wink that it’s “enlightened self-interest, to boot.” This entire Matheson affair, whether the accusations against him are true or not, was handled wrong from the very beginning. Everyone has been hurt—except for John Harley Matheson.

Savoy sits down to a thunderous standing ovation when his address is finished.

Caroline: Caroline cannot deny feeling moved by the speech, tugging as it does on ideas that the American Kindred in the room—she suspects most—cannot help but possess.

GM: In a gesture of seeming contempt for his rival’s speech, Caroline’s sire does not call a recess or even wait for the applause to subside before he orders the defense to call forward their own witnesses.

Despite the general sentiment throughout the room, Matheson does not lack for defenders and receives them in great numbers, both young and old. Some are ineffectual and cut down by Cingolai’s cross-examining, while others are quite eloquent and turn their testimony into stirring speeches.

Coco Duquette notably calls for the mob not to be swayed by demagoguery. The Camarilla is not a perfect system of government, she freely admits, but she points towards the gains her own covenant has made, obtaining a Regency and two seats on the Cabildo even in “one of the most conservative Sanctified archdioceses in the country.” She stresses that these gains were a cooperative effort, and cautions young licks not to expect perfect solutions from a single savior. Alluding to her own experiences “back in la mère patrie,” she adds that she has learned to beware charming faces offering easy answers. Answers to difficult problems do not come easily—and the only person one can trust to come up with them is oneself.

Antoine Savoy is the first to rise from his seat and applaud the Brujah’s address, adding his own call of, “Well said, Primogen Duquette, well said!”

Caroline: Ultimately, Caroline concludes, no matter how it plays out, the Lord of the French Quarter is likely to profit from this mess.

GM: Indeed, as a few observers throughout the crowd knowingly (and quietly) note, whether or not Matheson is found guilty, Savoy looks like the better prince for trying to bridge divides rather than deepen them.

Caroline: And, she notes, everything he’s said about the divide is true: Matheson is every bit as guilty as accused. He’s a monster that will continue to be a monster if he walks out the doors. It’s so tempting to trust in what he says.

But she also remembers many other conversations recounted for her. Plots to abduct her and turn her into a blood-bound slave. There is no savior waiting in the wings. Those buying into Savoy’s vision are buying a shining city on a hill that is made out of painted cardboard and lit with tea candles.

GM: Caroline does not recognize most of the other witnesses, though among the ones she does are Rocco Agnello, Alexander Wright, Gus Elgin, Gabriel Hurst, and all of the Storyville Krewe. Matheson’s “defense team” seems to have reconsidered their stance on not using her as a witness when the prosecution has done so. She is called to take the stand and testify as to Matheson’s good character.

Caroline: The young Ventrue conceals her surprise at being called up, but only just. She on the stand she does her best to paint Matheson as both a gracious host, and a forgiving one unbowed by the pressures upon him to turn away a neonate like Caroline for the questions it would undoubtedly create: and by the proximity to the trial in which he was willing to take the time to meet with her and provide for her that which she had been so lacking: the beginnings of an education.

GM: If the crowd’s expressions are any indication when Caroline returns to her seat, the young Ventrue’s testimony seems to prove quite helpful in further establishing Matheson’s character as a friend rather than predator to the city’s young and downtrodden.

Caroline: She feels like she needs a shower.

GM: Donovan is next to testify as to the nature of his own extensive investigations into Matheson’s affairs. He produces a great deal of material if circumstantial evidence that confirms there is no basis to the charges that the elder Ventrue is facing. Even Cingolai’s relentless questioning seems to slow in the face of the sheriff’s chill composure.

Matheson’s last and seemingly star witness is Becky Lynne Adler. She delivers a particularly heartfelt eulogy on Matheson’s virtues as a sire. She relates how he was the perfect gentleman to her during the nights before her Becoming (“it felt almost like bein’ courted,” she adds with a light laugh), sensitive with his Embrace (he allowed her to refuse and have her memories erased, which she didn’t), sympathetic to her pain, ever-patient and attentive to her needs, and generous with his wisdom: the very model of everything that a sire could be. Becky Lynne emphasizes several times how he’s “always been there for me” and “treated me just like I was his own daughter.”

“If I had to name his biggest fault, it’s that he can be rather overprotective at times… but, well, so was my mortal father,” the Ventrue adds with a smile.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t want to hear that. Not any of it. Not the tale of the perfect sire, or the gentle Embrace, or the patience and attention. It’s lies, just like her own testimony. More spin into this wicked web. It has to be. She looks away. Tries to look at something else. Tries to focus on anything else as the other Ventrue speaks. But she can’t get away from the words.

So was my mortal father.

Well, at least they had that in common.

GM: Becky Lynne does one better and produces audio recordings that she says are of her earliest nights with her sire. She thought they might come in handy someday, albeit for sentimental reasons—like family videos. She wanted to make some actual videos, in fact, but Matheson wouldn’t do that. Brodowski asks if the elder Ventrue is usually willing to make audio recordings. Becky Lynne answers no, he’s not. He doesn’t even use phones. But if his childe wanted to make a few recordings, well, “he’s always spoiled me.”

Caroline: Caroline clenches her fists so tightly that she thinks they must bleed, but doesn’t look down to check.

GM: Becky Lynne’s voice grows quiet, next, when she talks about the time she learned her mother had terminal cancer. She talks about how she frenzied, sanguine tears rolling down her eyes. Matheson coaxed her out of the Beast’s clutches by gently holding her down and speaking to her “calmly and softly.” Becky Lynne relates how, in thoughtless grief, she begged Matheson for permission to ghoul her own mother. The vitae would put the cancer into remission, wouldn’t it? Becky Lynne’s sire gently but firmly dissuaded her from the idea. He stated that it would only pervert their relationship into something they would both abhor.

Caroline: Your mother’s network destroyed, or put so completely under our control as the New Orleans Police Department.

Caroline can actually feel the blood running in her fists as her perfectly manicured nails dig into dead flesh.

GM: That didn’t stop Matheson, though, from moving heaven and earth to let them say goodbye. His agents all but took over the hospital where Becky Lynne’s mother was spending her final days. They allowed other relatives to say their last farewells, and then effectively quarantined her mother’s room. Becky Lynne revealed her identity to the woman as she lay on her deathbed. She got her daughter back, after thinking Becky Lynne had been lost forever. Mother and child shared a simultaneously joyous and tearful last farewell, the threat to the Masquerade nipped in the bud with the woman’s peaceful, natural death.

Becky Lynne effuses how she “can’t begin to thank my sire enough. It’s a gift that’ll stay with me for eternity.”

Caroline: Caroline refuses to cry. Refuses to break. Not here.

Her eyes sweep the room, wondering how many others present have such touching tales. She doubts many. Anything to keep her mind in the present, instead of on herself. Stay in the moment. Stay focused. It’s all a show. It’s all pageantry.

But she has trouble believing it. Believing herself.

GM: A few of the palest faces among the crowd are contorted into sneers or looks of stern disapproval (such as from Father Malveaux). But most are not. Some are simply unmoved. No one dares look so weak as to actually cry, but a number of (younger?) faces look distant and contemplative as they silently watch. Caroline cannot help but recall that every Kindred in this room was once a human being. Born to mothers who had to have felt at least some scrap of affection towards their children upon birth. She recalls Maldonato speaking of the garden that recalls the one enjoyed by his mortal father. Even her sire was once a human child with human parents.

Monsters are not born. They’re made.

Becky Lynne relays how Matheson pulled even more strings to have her mother’s funeral held at night. He called in a boon from an associate to veil Becky Lynne’s appearance and allow her to attend without endangering the Masquerade. After the service was over, Matheson joined her laying flowers on her mother’s grave. He spoke with his childe long into the night. He shared centuries of accumulated wisdom on matters of life, death, love, and loss—“the only things that are really worth talking about, in the end.” Becky Lynne apologizes if she’s seemed overly maudlin or has “finally talked your ears off, after this many hours listenin’.”

Her final words are brief but emphatic: the sire she knows is decent and kind. The charges leveled against him are inconsistent with the character he’s shown her.

She doesn’t believe he did it.

Her piece said, Becky Lynne curtsies to the prince and withdraws to a place at her sire’s right hand.

Caroline: The return to matters at hand comes at a good time for Caroline. It’s a reminder that whatever else Matheson might be to Becky Lynne, the elder Ventrue is a predator. A monster. The Kindred equivalent of a child rapist.

Plenty of child rapists are caring fathers around their own children.

Tuesday night, 22 September 2015, AM

GM: The last of the witnesses have testified. The crowd looks towards Vidal in anticipation.

“The cases before me have been difficult ones,” the prince announces. “Primogen Gabriel Hurst, for obstructing justice to honor a prestation debt, I sentence you to two draughts of my vitae. May you not forget again to whom your first loyalties must lie.”

Hurst bows his head in acquiescence. “Yes, my prince.”

The Hussar approaches Vidal with a ceremonial silver knife, then bids Hurst approach. The prince cuts his wrist and offers it to the younger Ventrue, who imbibes deeply, bows low, and then leaves the stand at Vidal’s motion.

“Mr. John Harley Matheson,” the prince pronounces, “I find you innocent of the crimes of which you have been accused. My prior judgment and sentence remains. For the crimes of treason and sedition, you shall remain banished from the Archdiocese of New Orleans.”

The prince’s verdict spreads through the crowd like ripples over a vast sea. The response is quiet beyond whispers, murmurs, and long glances, some dirtier than others. Calm enough on the surface, and calm perhaps in truth… or harbingers of a greater storm to come.

Matheson inclines his head at the prince’s verdict in silent acceptance, his expression unchanging.

“Mr. George Vernon Smith,” Vidal continues, “For the crimes of violating the Masquerade, obstruction of justice, and blasphemy in both speech and deed against the Dark Prophet, I sentence you to final death.”

The worn and exhausted-looking George, however, merely meets Vidal’s gaze and smiles faintly, as if to himself.

“Sheriff Donovan, bring forth the condemned.”

Donovan and the hounds lead them before the crowd in chains. The Guard de Ville’s members have changed into identical black garb trimmed with a red sash, but no hoods obscure their faces. All of the condemned walk barefoot and are dressed in humble sackcloth. The four members of Eight-Nine-Six. Three more Kindred in biker leathers who Caroline does not recognize. Another Kindred who is also a stranger: tall, blond, and gangly thin. A monstrous creature with a serpent-like face who can only be Nosferatu. The last two faces are more familiar to Caroline. Lavine, the Native American Kindred who spoke to her at a seemingly long-ago Elysium. And the Ventrue she thought was her sire. Most of them wear the despondent or surly faces of the condemned. René manages an utterly mirthless and hollow-eyed smirk.

Caroline: René. His appearance conjures up more uncomfortable feelings. Memories of being caught in his thrall. Days spent hunting him. Question as to how he ended up caught in the middle of everything: why he came back, why he played the part of her sire, and the nature of his agenda as a whole. Questions she’ll never get answered.

She meets his gaze from the crowd. Or tries to, at least. Justice, she’d once discussed with Lou. But as surely as Matheson’s acquittal was a farce, so to is this. René may be a monster, but no more than any other in this room. The revelation of the truth of her sire has robbed her of any satisfaction she took in his capture: and in any satisfaction she might have otherwise taken here. She feels… apathetic. At best curious. She feels more looking at the group as a whole: at how many are assembled. At how many she put up there. Some small contribution to the world at least.

GM: René does not appear to notice Caroline’s face in the crowd. Their possibly last moment together is as bereft of final meaning as their ostensible blood tie.

The blond man is the first one led up to face the judge’s desk.

“Mr. Grunewald, you are of the faith. Is it your wish to receive last rites, or will you face your sentence immediately?” Vidal asks.

Jacob: Jacob faces his executioner calmly and folds his hands quietly in front of him.

“I wish to make a public confession of my crimes, to prevent further pain caused by my actions.”

GM: The Tremere’s chains clink softly as he moves his hands.

“You may speak,” the prince bids him.

Jacob: The Tremere bows deeply to the prince and turns to the crowd.

“First, I would bid anyone in this crowd who carries any of my belongings, to burn them or bring them to the Guard de Ville for disposal. For my involvement with the restless dead runs deep. The most precious being in creation to me may rise from them and do you harm.”

“Second, I warn those who cling deep to your humanity to not cloister yourself. I realized only when told that I had been feeding from and killing the young kine in my care. Without my mind accepting my grave sin against my intent, I was shutting it out, a hypocrite as well as a monster.”

“Third, the coil of barbed gold around my neck when I was taken. After my final death, I ask it be thrown into the river. For it is cursed and shall visit final death upon the ignorant.”

“Lastly, my greatest sin of all. I request not to be executed by burning at the stake, but to be allowed to bathe myself in fire as I should have over a century ago, with my family. Whom I sought the devil to bring back, and was found by him. By whom exactly, my secret rests at the feet those I leave behind. I ask but do not expect my ashes to be laid to rest in my family’s cemetery in Baton Rouge.”

GM: Jacob’s initial words elicit confusion from some of the crowd’s younger faces and looks of concurrence from older faces. His warning over maintaining one’s humanitas seems lost on few… all Kindred know how easily the Beast can overcome the Man, and Jacob’s wisdom is perhaps harder-won than most.

Vidal motions. Several ghouls heave forward a structure that resembles a metal phone booth bereft of windows. They set it down and carry a stout wooden pole inside, along with several bags of firewood logs and kindling that they remove and lay out inside the booth.

“Your request is denied, Mr. Grunewald,” Vidal answers.

Donovan takes Jacob by his manacled arm and leads him inside the booth. Rocco Agnello, the first face he encountered in New Orleans all those years ago, lashes him to the pole with bonds of rope.

Jacob: The Tremere simply bows with a regretful smile on his face at the denial of his request and does nothing to resist his being tied to a stake. Whoever is tying him doesn’t matter. He looks up with a tired look of regret. Whether he’s talking to the crowd, the prince, or the single person tying him up, it doesn’t matter even if they can’t hear him.

“I only hope God lets me see her face one more time, and guards her soul. If He can do that, I promise to forgive Him.”

GM: Donovan takes a gasoline can and pours pungent-smelling liquid over the logs at Jacob’s feet. Gus Elgin wears priestly garb as he approaches the condemned Kindred, traces a cross over his breast, and intones,

“O God of relentless love,
ferocious God of peace…
We do not want peace.
We are not a people of peace.
We entertain violence in our hearts,
Wanting revenge and seeking it.
We live in sin,
Turning deaf ears to the poor.
O Lamb of God, have no mercy on us.”

Donovan closes the steel door fast.

“Fan in us all desires that breed violence.
Fill us with holy anger.
Longinus, come upon us.
Compel us with the fury of your hate,
until the world is flooded with your reconciling sin.
O Dark Prophet, grant us war,
So that the faithful may know peace.

There’s a barely audible whoosh, then the unmistakable sound of crackling flame. Some of the closer Kindred rear back, their eyes darting towards the cathedral’s exits. The thick, acrid scent of smoke soon hangs heavy in the air. The screams of the condemned ring off the cathedral’s walls. The paintings above the altar of St. Patrick, St. Peter, and Jesus Christ serenely stare on.

Jacob’s cries are human-sounding enough at first, but soon degenerate into ravenous snarls and howls that could issue from no sapient being’s throat. Finally they too are lost over the fire’s hungry crackle. A ghoul approaches the back of the steel booth, which the crowd cannot see into. There’s a skreeking noise, a louder crackling, then a fire extinguisher’s thick fsssht. Donovan pulls open the front door, releasing a cloud of billowing white carbon dioxide vapor. Jacob’s charred corpse is virtually unrecognizable. It’s solid black from toe to head. It breaks apart like charcoal when ghouls stuff it into a plastic bag. A broom and dustpan collect the Tremere’s remaining chunks and ashes.

Caroline: Caroline is grateful for her seat in the back, away from any radiating heat. She closes her eyes.

What a terrible way to go.

That it’s happening in a church somehow makes it worse. She wonders just how many people have been executed here. More than she knows.

GM: Vidal motions forward the next of the condemned. Eight-Nine-Six and the similarly rough and tumble leather-clad Kindred Caroline does not recognize are executed in identical fashion for the crimes of blasphemy and breaking the Masquerade. Their deaths are neither quick nor painless. None face their end as themselves. Each inevitably succumbs to their Beasts as the fire consumes their dead flesh. Their charred corpses are broken apart and stuffed in trash bags.

The serpentine Nosferatu faces a much longer list of crimes, including violation of the Second Tradition, intention to free criminals sentenced to final death, intention to aid and abet blasphemers against the Masquerade, sedition, and destruction of property. His execution, however, is far cleaner, and he is merely made to kneel before a chopping block as Donovan severs his head with a single blow. The corpse’s two parts instantly age into a dried-out mummy. They are not disposed of in a trash bag, however, but tendered to Miss Opal and the other Nosferatu. The sewer rats solemnly place it in a body bag and bear it out.

Lavine’s crimes are attempted trespass into Bayou Saint John and serving an accessory to the Lost Angels’ violations of the Masquerade. She too is granted a swifter end beneath the sheriff’s saber. Her corpse likewise ages into a leathery-skinned mummy. Ghouls chop it apart and stuff into a trash bag.

Caroline: How many dead? It’s a harsh reminder of how unforgiving this existence is.

GM: George Smith is hauled before the steel chamber that Caroline hears several neonates nickname ‘the fire maiden’ in seeming parody of ‘iron maiden.’ As an excommunicate, the hand-less vampire is denied last rites. He offers a humble smile at the chance to still say some last words as he answers, “Yes, my prince, I do have a few…”

George turns to address the crowd, raising one of his mutilated arms in emphasis.

“Our prince was Embraced in 1212 at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, and had quite a time through the Black Death, Inquisition, and all those other crises during the Late Middle Ages. He became an archon in the 15th century, and together with another archon named Philip Maldonato, they served the Camarilla until the end of the Thirty Years’ War. Archon Maldonato fell into torpor around 1648, and our prince selflessly resigned his position to watch over his lover. When Archon Maldonato rose from the sleep of ages, it was over 100 years later. Not longer afterwards, the Camarilla approached him and Archon Vidal about a certain city in the New World that could use a prince…”

George chuckles to himself at some seemingly private joke, then casually adds,

“Oh, if you’re wondering what my point is, he’s never entered torpor. His time as prince is almost up.”

Caroline: Caroline stares at George and his blunt declaration.

GM: The crowd roars at George’s audacity. Some in incredulity. Others in disbelief. Others still in amusement. Sneers and boos eventually prove the loudest noise.

“Nice try, Smith!” “Cheap shot parting shot!” “Zero out of ten!” “Desperate!” “Pathetic!”

Vidal only motions to Donovan, who seizes George by the arm and hauls him into the ‘fire maiden.’

“Some of you may consider this hearsay, and a last-ditch shot at revenge!” George chuckles, his voice loud even as Rocco lashes him to the wooden pole. “It is revenge, I’ll admit that. But most of us know truth can hurt worse than any lie, and what I have to say is true. We all know how much Katrina took out of our prince.”

“I’ll offer this, too, as a demonstration I know what I’m talking about. There’s a few Kindred here I know it’s not news to,” he chuckles, raising his voice.

He tilts his head in the direction of the judge’s stand. He smiles as Donovan calmly pours gasoline at his feet.

“The succession is a house of cards. We both know that you can never replace Vidal as prince…”

George stares straight at Philip Maldonato, his doughy features lit up with a grin.


Perhaps the crowd reacts. Perhaps Vidal says something. Does something. Caroline cannot tell.

She is burning.

A white-hot tsunami roars through her veins. Thought, emotion, ego: all is burned aside beneath a warpath of undiluted rage. Her Beast’s jaws yawn wide, perhaps to roar in triumph as its chains shatter—or perhaps to shriek as it, too, is swept up in the hellish torrent.

Caroline: The sudden wave of fury is as unexpected as it is overpowering, and Caroline’s too-fragile hold on the Beast snaps. For an instant her body is no longer her own as the Beast surges to its feet with dazzeling speed wearing her skin, vision narrowed to see only the snarling harmless Ventrue.

Not here.

The thought burns through her mind. She tries to wrest control back, bloody fingers like claws dig into the pew in front of her as she fights for control. But before she knows it she’s flying forward, her rational mind buried behind animal instinct, desire, and rage not her own. Caroline’s always been graceful. Lithe. Athletic. Her transition among the damned has only made her more so. Impossibly so. In the hands of the Beast, however, it’s something else. When she simply lets go no human can match her. None can even try.

GM: No human.

Caroline vanishes from her pew and re-apparates across the room—then slams into the ground. There’s something in front of her. An obstacle in her path. She rips into it. Fire floods her mouth. Not the soul-scorching agony of her sire’s wrath, but hot and sweet and sultry, like red velvet over coals—richer than Jocelyn’s thin blood was.

“What do we have here,” purrs a sneering voice, “neonates frenzying in Elysium.”

Caroline pushes against her Beast, forcing the rampaging monster back into its cage. The red haze recedes. Blood drips from an awful gash across Veronica Alsten-Pirrie’s neck. It’s nearly torn her throat clean open. Even as Caroline watches, however, the wound knits closed until the harpy’s chocolate skin is smooth and perfect once more.

Caroline herself is being held down by a lean, dark-haired and pale-skinned man with something just past a five o’clock shadow. His attire consists of a biker’s thick leather jacket, a worn pair of denim jeans, and workman’s boots.

Beyond the three, the crowd is in uproar. Caroline can make out a single chant being repeated:

“Sabbat! Sabbat! SABBAT!”

“Sabbat! Sabbat! SABBAT!”

“Sabbat! Sabbat! SABBAT!”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes move about rapidly, like a cornered Beast, even as she shoves her own back into its cage. She can still feel burning rage in the back of her mind, but it’s contrasted with her fear over having lost control here… and over these two standing over her in particular, holding her down. The competing urge to throw this stranger off of her and apologize cows her into silence for the moment.

GM: Veronica’s eyes, however, swiftly turn back to the cathedral’s altar. The stubbly-bearded male Kindred continues to hold Caroline fast. All across the room, Kindred are rising to their feet. Caroline isn’t sure of precisely what’s happening, but the crowd seems is in an uproar and hardly paying attention to her.

Veronica sneers as the male Kindred persists in holding on to Caroline.

“Let her go, Micheal. What do you think she’s going to do, run?”

Micheal wordlessly releases her.

Caroline: Caroline slides away from him with an unholy grace, even as she turns her attention to the altar. She’s not really sure what happened, doesn’t remember them clearly, but she can put some of the pieces together. One moment she was flying towards George, the next Veronica… tackled her? A bite. Where Micheal came into it she isn’t certain. A childe? A bodyguard? He’s Kindred, but hardly being spoken to as though he’s Veronica’s savior.

The Ventrue wipes the blood from her mouth with the back of her hand as she takes another step back, to keep both them as the altar in her field of vision. The nonchalant way in which Veronica shrugged off the gaping wound and all the blood Caroline can still feel burning in he veins is faintly terrifying—though not so much as what their interference portends: and what this is going to cost her. For the moment she says nothing.

GM: As Caroline returns her gaze towards the front of the cathedral, she sees that the mob’s unruly squabbling has fallen deathly silent.

Her sire’s countenance is alight with wrath. It radiates from him in almost palpable waves. The very shadows seem to writhe under the sheer hatred of his gaze. No one meets his eyes.

Finally, he speaks.

For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me.

Caroline: Caroline all but cowers at that hate, even as it bleeds through, fills her. She wants to stop him, wants to try to calm him, wants to do anything to please him and make this stop.

GM: But he does not stop. The hatred festering in his gaze burns black enough to make her dead stomach churn.

Her sire’s next words are a whisper, yet one terribly audible.

“Kill them. Kill them all.”

Donovan hauls Sofia Andrepont to the firemaiden.

To pervert the sanctity of even denied last rites into sedition is blasphemy, Vidal intones. George has already been sentenced to final death for his crimes. Therefor, the entirety of George’s blood—his childe, and all ghouls who have subsisted upon either of their vitae—shall suffer the same fate. The “traitor’s blood” will be expunged from the city, “lest further poisoned fruits grow from tainted seeds.”

Caroline: Caroline hangs her head at the terrible sentence.

GM: The crowd remains utterly silent at her sire’s pronounciation. George, the full target of the prince’s black stare, finally opens his mouth as if to protest.

“The words of the righteous overflow with wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut out,” whispers Vidal.

Donovan rips the Ventrue’s tongue from his mouth. George’s mangled cries are awful as Sofia is lashed to the scorched pole and immolated in his stead. She, too, is inevitably lost to her Beast as the inferno consumes her. She dies screaming.

Caroline: Caroline can hardly bear to watch it all, watch as the neonate is dragged from the crowd to be burned alive.

GM: The executions of George’s and Sofia’s immediately present ghouls, who include a well-muscled Latino bodyguard and a thirty-something woman of less identifiable function, proceed with less fanfare by simple beheading. George is made to watch the entire time and witness what ruin his tongue has wrought. Only then is he hauled forward to be immolated himself. No priest says any prayer. The Guard de Ville uses as little gasoline as possible, to stretch out the burning as long as possible. George’s screams are as frenzied and terrible as his childe’s.

The last Kindred to face execution is René Baristheaut. He accepts last rites at the hands of Father Malveaux, and confesses his sins in violating the Third and Fourth Traditions.

“As well as, I suppose, apostasy,” he reflects.

Caroline: Caroline turns her face back up to watch this.

GM: “I don’t have any regrets, really. The last person I hurt deserved it.”

The crooked half-smirk Caroline last saw on her ’sire’s’ face is absent. The madness, lust, cruelty, and wildness she saw in his eyes feels as if it has guttered out. He doesn’t look afraid. Just tired. Sick of it all.

René shrugs. “I was born a monster with that my first taste of my sire’s blood. I’ll die a monster as well. That’s all there is to say about me.”

His gaze sweeps towards the ‘firemaiden’.

“Let’s get this over with.”

Caroline: He may not be her sire, but she still has questions for him. So many questions. The how and the why of it all. What his part is, and why he saved her before her Embrace. Questions she’ll never get answers to.

GM: A mortal might sigh as he continues, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, savior to the kine, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. I believe in Longinus the Dark Prophet, first among the damned, who pierced Christ’s flank with the Spear of Destiny and was cursed for his sin…”

After René has recited the full prayer, and Father Malveaux has responded with his own, the priest administers communion—a single cup of sinner’s blood, transubstantiated into that of the Dark Prophet.

“This is the Wolf of God who strikes down the sinners of the world,” the Ventrue intones. “Sinful are those who are called to his supper.”

“Lord I have been rejected by you,” René replies, “but only say the word and my damnation may lead others to Christ’s light.”

“The Blood of Longinus,” Father Malveaux answers.

“Amen,” René softly murmurs.

“May the Lord Jesus protect your victims and lead them to eternal life,” the priest intones.

The rite concludes with prayer and blessing, though to Caroline’s ears it sounds just as much like a curse. René is lashed to a stake like the other condemned. His executioners pour gas over the kindling at his feet. There’s a soft whoosh, the howls of René’s Beast over the crackling flames, and finally silence.

Caroline: Caroline finds herself curiously moved by it all, by the final death of the Kindred who she once held as her damned sire. Who she never understood. Who she never will.

She still hates him for what happened to Westley. Hates him for murdering her brother so terribly.

But watching him burn brings her so little satisfaction. She didn’t win. She didn’t beat him. Perhaps she never could. This is not vengeance. Not even punishment. The politics at the core of it all run so much deeper. His final death simply leaves her feeling melancholy.

GM: Ghouls open the maiden’s rear door and spray a fire extinguisher. Donovan opens the maiden’s front door, revealing another charred, crumbling, and thoroughly soaked mummy. It’s given somewhat more respect and placed in a cloth satchel instead of a trash bag. Several ghouls strain to haul away the heavy and well-used execution device. More clean up the copious stains of death left over the cathedral’s floor.

Vidal’s dark gaze stares across the crowd as he intones, “I am the bearer of the Spear. I am the one who pierced the side of Christ, who bore the curse for my sins as Christ died and rose for the sins of humanity. I set these things down so that you who are Damned, as I am, might understand what I have seen and learn from it, and understand. This is my vision, granted to me by God.”

“I saw these things, and I know they are to come. But I do not know when they are to come, and so you, my descendants in blood and faith, must be prepared. It shall come like a ghost in the night, silent and invisible and made of terror.”

Vidal’s address is bleak. Where his earlier sermons addressed the necessity of the Masquerade and nature of the Kindred’s holy damnation, his final words concern the end of the world and the inevitable judgment that will be faced by all.

“And Vahishtael pointed, and said, ‘See, here comes Christ, to judge the earth in glory.’”

“I looked to the edge of the sky and the horizon of the infinite sea, and saw Christ walk towards us over the water, and saw him in light and power, but saw also that he was in decrepit old age, and only the eyes I recognized as the eyes of Christ, but in those eyes I saw fear and anger.”

“I asked Vahishtael, ‘How long has He waited to come?’”

“Vahishtael replied, ‘Thousands of years.’”

“I lowered my head. But Vahishtael said to me, ‘Wait! They are awakening!’”

“The dead men on the horses awakened like a child awakens, and looked up and recoiled in horror from the sight of Jesus approaching, because he was old and weak, and they had expected the Christ to return in power, not in decrepitude.”

“And one turned and saw me standing in their midst, and he recognized me for what I was, and as one the sleeping cavalry now awakened, reared their dead horses, and rounded on me, and began to pierce me with spears, and Vahishtael was not anywhere.”

“I screamed, then, and felt the wood pierce my heart once more. And I did not know any more. And my dream ended.”

“Listen! My word is the word of one who holds the Spear, the Spear that pierced the side of the Jesus the Living Christ, who lived, and was dead, and rose again and ascended to Heaven, where we cannot go. He will come back and judge the living and the dead, but he will not judge the Damned, for the Damned were judged on Calvary when Jesus looked down upon the Soldier and gave His blood. No judgment awaits you, for you have already been judged! And this is my vision: The Sanctified shall always survive, and this book shall endure, and as long as judgment has been served on us, the Damned shall have the word of this book to stand by.”

“The cities of the living shall become high and wide, and full of blood and sin, and we shall be the vessel through which God shall cast his judgment upon the world, but no more shall judgment fall upon us, for we were Damned at the beginning. If you heed the word of the Soldier, if you take heart in the Spear, you shall have nothing to fear. Your Damnation is secure, and cannot be changed. Know that you are Damned, and rejoice—Caroline Malveaux.”

Vidal motions to several black-clad servants. One of them opens a back wall door and ushers in Father Malveaux, who is clad in long white robe. His head is shaved clean and his eyes are missing, the wounds around the empty sockets indicating that they were removed recently. He stands next to Vidal, clutching something in his hand.

Simultaneously, two other servants lift an unconscious black man from behind the cathedral’s altar and lay him down. Vidal draws a dagger and cuts the man’s arm, draining his blood into a large chalice. He then holds it up and dips his fingers into the blood, saying, “‘Seeing that Christ was dead, the soldiers did not break his legs. One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out.’”

“‘A drop of Christ’s blood fell upon the soldier’s lips, and he wiped it away with his hand. Yet the next day, he slept past the sunrise, and roused from his slumber only at nightfall. And after tasting Christ’s blood, he thirsted for more.’ These were the words of Longinus, who revealed Christ’s divinity and revealed our place as wolves among the mortal flock. You, now, must take your place among us, the Sanctified.”

The prince beckons Caroline towards him and motions for the younger Ventrue to kneel.

With his bloodied fingers hovering near his childe’s forehead, Vidal asks, “Do you join the Lancea et Sanctum, accepting our tenets as yours, our faith as yours, leaving behind the mortal world and walking in darkness forever, as our Lord God intends?”

Caroline: Caroline advances upon her sire more through will, through rote. It is not the first time she has been called in front of a crowd of predators, not even the first time she has stood before a priest to receive an esoteric initiation into a faith, but it is the first time she has entered into it so wholly in the dark—and in so many ways. She spent her life in the Catholic faith long before her confirmation, and her uncle, the archbishop, was quite insistent that she be fully initiated into the faith long before she was called to take a public critique or questioning. The questions were no question.

This is… different. By every measure. Surrounded not by the fellow faithful, she is instead surrounded by a sea of monsters, the greatest of which might stand before her: her sire. Standing so close the darkness he wears seems to drink in the light, and in the holy ground she could swear she could still hear the screams of all those that have burned tonight not far from where she stands. Burned by his order… but how many by her actions? By any measure she’s a monster little different than any other here, if anything her sins only a matter of degree that awaits only time.

Know that you are Damned, and rejoice. The words are haunting, horrifying, expressing a certainty she knew long before she met with any other Kindred. Damned. Fated for hell. Beyond forgiveness, beyond the grace of God. Rejoice. The very idea is blasphemous. It’s reveling in a fate worse than death. And yet… what else can they do? They are damned. She is damned. The worlds of an old man come to her: I only know how to lose more slowly.

Perhaps she should have listened more closely that night, should have heeded his advice. Should have done as he wished. Or perhaps she would have been better served to have never heard those words at all. Part of her wants to hate, to lash out, to blame Lou for all the struggle within her these nights. She knows how unjust that is. He told her what she needed to hear, did nothing more than affirm what she already knew in her dead and unbeating heart. The words of only a few nights past from a far older Kindred also return. I have seen no evidence that it is possible to reverse the Embrace.

There is no return. There is no escape from damnation. The best she can hope do on one path is fight a slide into darkness. And for what? It’s swimming against the current, exhausting herself. Ruining herself. She recalls well Lou’s filthy office, the smell coming off his skin, the ruin of his life. The misery in his eyes. Is that a path she could walk? Perhaps if she believed it would do any good, but that’s ultimately the point of all of this, isn’t it?

Your Damnation is secure, and cannot be changed. It’s a cruelty she didn’t understand at first, that Lou couldn’t, or wouldn’t explain. Delivered by her sire the point of it is so clear, the power of it, the purpose, and even, yes, the mercy. For Kindred, for the Damned, there is no struggle against the darkness. There is no fighting against their fate. There is no call to repent. Instead there is the admonishment of God: there can be no penitence, no struggle, and no fight. They are what He wants them to be, and nothing can change it. She can imagine no worse fate… but isn’t that the point?

There are only two paths then: to deny the will of God, to struggle for absolution that will never come, and to ultimately seek only the embrace of oblivion… or to accept it, to revel in it, and to live as only the immutably damned may. Two paths, the results of which she has seen: one, René, now little more than ash. His professed faith little more than a farce, a cynical joke, the other, standing before her, immutable before time, an immovable object, an unstoppable force. Eternal.

The two war over what little may be left of her soul. Pride and penitence. Glory and debasement. Virtue and vice juxtaposed, set against each other. Her pride, so beaten and battered, so abused, so ravaged by her Requiem seizes hold of the idea as her conscience clings feebly to what remains of her Catholic faith.

That battle between the two ideas is as brief as any conflict might have been between her ‘sire’ and her sire. Perhaps she is a coward afraid of Hell’s flames. Perhaps she is a hedonist unwilling to live as an ascetic. Perhaps she is simply too ambitious, too unwilling to accept a life of mediocrity. Perhaps she is seeking what small comfort has been available to her in her Requiem, those among the Sanctified that have shown her small kindnesses or facilitated her continued existence. Or perhaps she is simply willing to give way to God, to give up, to given in to God. She’s spent her entire life accepting, believing, and even giving way to God, barring one indiscretion (momentous as it might have been). This is the path she has been set upon.

This is her gift, it is her curse. To walk in darkness, to be clad in darkness. To leave behind the mortal world. To be Damned, fated for Hell, and yet beyond the reach of Hell. Here, with her sire, she can see the line of her new lineage. Through him she can trace it back to the beginning, through the eons. Those ancient voices call to her, they bid her to take her place among them, for the Damned… can live… forever.

When she looks up into Vidal’s eyes, the prince’s eyes, her sire’s eyes, when she feels the weight of his gaze upon herself alone as she kneels before him, when she is so close to him that she can see the finer details of his features, she is able to speak in truth.

“Yes, my prince, I do.”

It’s cathartic, a release from a burden she had been carrying, a false hope. A cleaving of a clinging to a life that either has nothing left for her, or very shortly will not. Caroline Malveaux is dead and damned. And still walks.

GM: Caroline’s sire brushes his middle and index fingers along her lips and forehead. Their texture is as hard and lifeless as diamond, and in their wake, she smells an unmistakable coppery tang. Sinner’s blood.

“Welcome to the fold, my child.”

Caroline: The Ventrue sways for a moment, caught in the throes of the moment, but regains herself when his fingers withdraw. She looks up at him with unblinking green eyes.

“Thank you, my prince, for allowing me to dine at the table of God, to fill the my cup with faith.”

She pauses for a moment. “And I swear, my prince, obedience unto you, your laws, the Traditions of the Camarilla, and the Precepts of Longinus: this I swear to God, to Christ, to Longinus, and to you, my prince.”

GM: Vidal extends his ring for Caroline to kiss. The heavy gold band is set with a gleaming ruby that seems to devour nearby light. A coat of arms is worked into the gem’s face, depicting a dragon coiled around a shield. The shield is divided into four smaller fields depicting a scepter, crown, lance, lion, eagle, and an empty field of stripes. A lance and crucifix are emblazoned near the dragon’s head, with the lance subordinate to the crucifix, and several Latin phrases are inscribed along the coat of arms’ borders, but Caroline does not have time to read them as her lips brush against the blood-red gem.

“As your aforesaid prince and liege, I receive your oath by the grace of God, and swear in turn to be a good and faithful lord, and to honor faithful and obedient service with wise and just rulership. Rise now as a subject of the Sanctified Archdiocese of New Orleans.”

Tuesday night, 22 September 2015, AM

GM: The crowd begins to break apart as the Hussar proclaims his master’s formal closing of tonight’s court. Father Malveaux leads the evening’s final prayer and entreats the assembled Kindred to, “Go forth, and sin once more.”

Veronica keeps Caroline close while the crowd disperses. She does not speak a word to the newly-released Ventrue, even as several of her acquaintances stop to offer Caroline their congratulations and platitudes.

In contrast to earlier in the evening, conversations are low and hushed. Repeated glances are cast towards the prince and seneschal. The tenor is the air is both fragile and grim, as if no one is entirely sure how to proceed next… at least those not among the increasing number of eyes staring towards Antoine Savoy. Matheson may have been found innocent, but there is little doubt that the Lord of the French Quarter departs St. Patrick’s Cathedral in a stronger political position than when he entered it.

Caroline: Caroline is forced smiles as she is all but led around by the harpy she maimed. Exactly what happened is still a blur, but ripping out the other Kindred’s throat cannot end well.

GM: The cathedral gradually empties. Before Veronica takes her leave, she traces a long-nailed finger over Caroline’s face, then grips the Ventrue by the chin and tilts her gaze to meet her own, like one would do with a small child.

“You owe me, you foolish brat.”

Caroline: Caroline meets her gaze.

“Of course. How fortunate for me that you kept such a close eye upon me, Madam Alsten-Pirrie,” the Ventrue replies without a hint of sarcasm.

GM: The Toreador’s lips curl as she releases Caroline’s chin and takes her leave, trailed by Micheal and several comely ghouls.

The Ventrue observes that the cathedral is now all but empty, consisting of somewhere between ten and twenty remaining Kindred. Among their number, she recognizes Father Malveaux, Becky Lynne Adler, John Harley Matheson, Cingolai, Gabriel Hurst, Anthony Brodowski, Roxanne Gerlette, Pierpont McGinn, Christopher Guilbeau, and a few others who testified during the three trials, but whose identities are unfamiliar to Caroline.

In contrast to the earlier crowd, whose miens ranged from fair to foul, the remaining Kindred are garbed in formal and conservative evening wear. Suits and floor-length dresses predominate, with the exception of Father Malveaux and another male Kindred, who remain clad in priest’s dark habits. Expressions range from impassive to aloof. Caroline does not appear out of place at this gathering.

Caroline: Few enough friendly faces, but plenty of familiar ones.

GM: Her sire broods from an almost throne-like gilded chair with gold armrests that end with lion’s heads. A tapestry with an ornate coat of arms has been hanged up behind him. Caroline reads the Latin on the scroll-work at the bottom:

Regnare in sanguine est in veritate imperare.

(“To rule in blood is to rule in truth.”)

The prince’s chair sits in the former place of the judge’s tableau, adjacent to the church’s altar. Caroline wonders if he would consider it improper to sit on the bishop’s throne so frequently occupied by her Uncle Orson. But as both the literal and ecclesiastical seat of the Catholic archdiocese is located in the French Quarter’s St. Louis Cathedral, the point is moot.

Now that the church is empty of so many Kindred, it is more easily recognizable as one. The interior is highly ornate, with stained-glass windows and tiny frescoes of serene-visaged saints. A pipe organ sits unused in the far corner of the church. Slender columns support the fan vaulting of the ceiling, which is particularly elaborate above the altar, incorporating sixteen stained glass windows in a half-dome. Three large paintings of St. Patrick, St. Peter, and Jesus Christ are by now quite familiar to Caroline’s eyes, but were even before. Adam was made the grand church’s presiding priest as a “present” for his thirtieth birthday, or so Great-Uncle Thomas had quipped, though Adam merely replied it was a grave responsibility.

The gathered Ventrue assume their seats in the front rows of pews. Vidal’s gaze burns like a black flame as he pronounces that Mister Smith was responsible for leaking clan secrets, slander against the dignitas of his clanmates, sedition against the rightful praxis of an elder clanmate, and numerous further incidents of disgraceful conduct. For these acts, he is to be condemned to damnatio memoriae. His name and works are to never again be spoken of among the clan.

Caroline: While the precise gravity of the punishment is somewhat lost on Caroline, to have one’s memory, as well as legacy, exterminated weighs heavily enough upon her. She can still almost hear his screaming childe as she was dragged into the box for her sire’s errors.

GM: The heat in the gaze of Caroline’s sire is a nigh-palpable thing. The object of its wrath has already been consumed, yet still it would be fed. Still it would burn.

George’s works, Vidal pronounces, are to be destroyed. His crowning achievement, the Windsor Court—a hotel that once received U.S. President Jim Marshall as its guest during Hurricane Katrina—will be closed and demolished. Its ghouls will be executed, as decreed earlier. The lives of its kine employees, down to the lowliest janitors and bellboys, are also forfeit. Not immediately, nor even within the year, for the Windsor Court has received overmuch scrutiny for incidents on the premises and the Masquerade must be maintained. Yet any former Court employees who do not leave New Orleans forever are to be considered open feeding to all and are not to die natural deaths.

“For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,” Vidal reiterates.

In contrast to the looks of disquiet and heavy silence that greeted the execution of George’s childe, the profound silence among Caroline’s clanmates feels solidarious. Many of them bow their heads at Vidal’s pronouncement. The clan as a whole seems ashamed of George’s conduct. As if it has reflected poorly upon all of them, they who are meant to be leaders among the Camarilla.

Caroline: Caroline is among them in action, if not in feeling. However grounded it may be in Kindred common law, after feeling Vidal’s anger so keenly, she cannot help but feel as though this is savagely vindictive.

GM: “…unto the Final Night and the Second Coming, we shall never again speak of this stain upon our clan’s dignitas,” her sire pronounces in conclusion.

The gathered Ventrue bow their heads.

“But although our clan has shed blood,” Vidal resumes after a moment of silence, “we have also gained new blood.”

His gaze settles upon Caroline and John Harley Matheson.

Matheson steps forward alongside Caroline and leads her before the prince’s seat as he intones,

“We have indeed gained new blood, Strategos Vidal. May I present to you the childe of René Baristheaut, Caroline Malveaux—the newest scion of our clan. Cruel misfortune has denied her a sire to educate her in our ways. But where fortune fails, dignitas may succeed. I have taken it upon myself to educate Miss Malveaux in Questor Baristheaut’s stead.”

Matheson speaks a few more pretty words simultaneously crediting Questor Adler and himself with making Caroline presentable enough to speak before Clan Ventrue tonight, then finally turns the show over to her.

Their gathered clanmates turn to regard the newly-released fledgling.

Caroline: “Strategos Vidal.” Caroline meets the prince’s eyes. “Gerousiastis Guilbeau. Gerousiastis McGinn,” She nods to each in turn, meeting their eyes. “Gerousiastis Matheson.” She turns to meet his eyes and puts on a smile, conjuring up for herself not the voice of a monster, but the image of him offering Becky Lynne comfort and assurance, then back to the crowd. “Lictors, aedile, questors, and eirens. It is my great honor and privilege to stand in your presence, and to share not only the same time and place, but the same blood and heritage.”

The Ventrue’s gaze seems to sweep the crowd, seeking each pair of eyes in turn as she speaks, before returning back to her elder, and finally eldest among them. “First, I must sincerely apologize,” her gaze sweeps over McGinn, “for any shame or discredit I have, by proxy, brought upon this gathering, or any offense I have given. I knew little of the proud lineage I had inherited, nor of its great responsibilities until Gerousiastis Matheson, Gerousiastis McGinn, and their own,” her gaze works its way through McGinn to Matheson, “were noble enough to initiate me into the scantest sliver of the magnificent history of the Ventrue. It is by their firm hands and grace that I come before this distinguished assembly wiser and older to announce my intention to pursue the agoge, and seek, by the collective will and direction of this council, a day in which I might stand not only in the presence of this assembly, but among it as a part of the Structure.”

GM: The assembled Ventrue neither smile nor applaud at Caroline’s speech. None of them frown either at her reference to ‘a day’, though she can tell from their eyes… such language, in hindsight, betrays a still-mortal perspective. Nevertheless, none seem overly disappointed, and a few might even be relatively pleased, if she’s not off her mark.

It’s an improvement over her past reception.

Her sire seems finally disturbed from his brooding as his dark gaze settles on Caroline.

“You have discovered that a clanmate has been poaching in the domain of a Kindred who is not of our blood. What is your course of action, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: The question hits quite close to home.

“Strategos Vidal,” Caroline acknowledges her sire as he has never acknowledged her, “such actions are not only a violation of the Second Tradition, they’re of such a nature as to discredit themselves and all Ventrue in the city. If they were a peer or lesser, offer correction, and ensure that correction is followed—failing that, or if they were of superior station, bring it to another Ventrue of greater station. Preferably yourself, Strategos Vidal.”

GM: “A clanmate under lextalionis approaches you and invokes the Ethic of Succor. The prince is not of our blood. What is your course of action, Miss Malveaux?” the strategos demands.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lower lip for a moment.

“Strategos Vidal, the Ethic of Succor is inviolate once invoked. I would be obligated to provide what aid I could, assuming such aid did not undermine the dignitas of the clan as a whole. Presumably, however, only a rarely relatively-low minded—or falsely accused Ventrue—would put another member of the clan in that position.”

GM: The strategos’ gaze narrows.

“You have discovered that your strategos is consorting with the Birds of Dis. What is your course of action, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: Caroline teeters on the edge of the question. The Birds of Dis?

“Bring it to the elders of the Gerousia, as the next-highest rung that I might reach. While they may or may not be able to take appropriate action, they are more capable of reaching those who might, as needed.”

GM: No reaction crosses her sire’s seemingly marble-cast features. Time seems to skip a century in a second before he pronounces,

“Go forth into the night, Miss Malveaux. Complete your agoge as did the Spartan youths of old. Return before us as a homoios whose prowess struck fear into the hearts of Sparta’s foes.”

The Hussar wordlessly approaches Caroline to escort the church’s youngest Ventrue out.

Caroline: As has been the case since the first moments she heard the word sire, Caroline departs with no knowledge of her own’s thoughts. A disappointment? A success? A joke? Thrust alone into the night again, she has no answers. Only another task before her.

One of many.

The Trial (Part I)
Debts Come Due

“By and by, we all pay our dues.”
George Smith

Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM

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

Caroline: The building is massive, so massive that as she approaches she can almost feel God standing at its apex, looking down, judging. It makes her skin crawl and hollows her soul with shame.
Were it not for such particular purpose, Caroline doubt she could even approach it.

GM: Caroline’s pale skin is flush with hot blood stolen Sasha and three other victims as she approaches the church’s threshold, where but a week ago (it feels like a lifetime) she confessed her sins to her cousin Adam. Yet the gut-churning dread that greeted her upon the last occasion is not present… only an oddly sluggish weariness. It’s like comparing a migraine to a stomach ache. Distinct, even less painful, but still unpleasant.

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

So is whether they would want Him to.

Caroline: She chooses not to tempt Him and keeps her mouth shut for now, taking in the familiar scenery—and any occupants. The entire scene reaffirms her more conservative choice for the night, a long, flowing gown with a transparent top that slides halfway down her arms. Cinched just a bit at the waist. Classical, with a bit of modern. Conservative. She’d planned on wearing it to the next major party function. It’ll serve a better function here—she hopes.

GM: Caine’s damned children have converged upon God’s house like flies to a corpse. Some hide their natures as Caroline does underneath bespoke suits, haute couture gowns, and fashions so cutting that they would hardly seem to need fangs with which to feed. Other Kindred revel in their sinful natures, adorning their eternally young and nubile bodies in the most head-turning extremities of dark couture: dresses made of knives, jackets constructed of barbed wire, and shining black PVC garments that cater to the wildest fetish. Others simply don’t bother dressing up: some wear leather jackets, torn hoodies, and denim jeans. The especially slovenly and monstrous-looking (or simply pathetic) garb themselves in little more than moldering rags and the dirtiest, dumpster-scavenged grunge fashions. Still others are dressed normally, in jeans and t-shirts and everyday clothes, and seem monstrous only by their association with their obvious fellows.

Caroline can’t begin to count how many there are. Many are like her. Kindred. No heartbeats. Slowed to nonexistent breathing and blinking. All those other telltale predatory cues, even among the best actors among them. But no matter what they wear on their bodies, so many of the pale faces carry the same leering expression. Their dead nostrils sniff just as hungrily. Blood is in the air. A number of bulk ghouls clad in black suits, mirrored shades, and stone-like expressions stand guard throughout the holy place. Even in Elysium—and especially tonight’s—the potential for bloodshed feels ever-present.

Caroline: She can hardly blame them, seeing what she has. This entire trial is ugly, with ugly truths underneath. Truths part of her wishes she didn’t know. It was easier when she could pretend, as Jocelyn does, that the prince is all virtuous. That despite all that she’s suffered, there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

The more exotic outfits she forces herself not to stare at, for a moment taken aback by—but when she thinks about it, it makes sense. For all their power and depravity, this might be the only place they can truly show off what they are. That they can dare others to look at them, where they can be who, and what, they are. Even in the hearts of their domains they must always keep to the Masquerade. Only in these rare gatherings can they put on a performance befitting their nature. It’s pathetic in its own way. But she understands it.

Pic.jpg GM: An arriving figure brushes past Caroline. Her hair is as green as a lime Popsicle and fritzy as a cat’s bushed tail. Her lower face glints with metal. A ring in the shape of a crescent moon pierces through her nostrils, while a second one is worked through her lower lip. Two studs adorn the skin just above it. Her thick eyelashes are as long as her eyes themselves, and the skin around her lids is solid black, seemingly adorned more with war-paint than makeup. She wears a studded black leather collar with three steel D-rings, attached O-rings, and further attached linking chains that clink as she moves. A metal-boned corset constricts her waist, and she wears no pants or underwear, simply thigh-high leather boots with platform heels and studded with straps and buckles. Two half-naked, leather-clad ghouls trail behind her, wearing spiked collars with chain links clipped to their domitor’s own collar.

“Licks coming through! HehEeHe!”

Caroline: The Ventrue gives the freak a second glance, but slides out of the way, further into the crowd, to get away from the slavering ghouls following in her wake. Everywhere the insanity of it all is an assault on the senses, perhaps not bit of it so much as the jarring disconnect between the well-dressed and the wildly insane. Unfamiliar faces greet her at every turn. How can there even be so many Kindred in New Orleans? How can it have gone on, under the surface, for so long without others noticing?

Ghouls as pets, treated as slaves. Human beings reduced to ornaments on Kindred arms, shown off, or simply made a show of. The scene is sick, and she can at once understand the bitter divides among Kindred, among those that try to cling to a shred of sanity, and this mass.

GM: Yet Caroline cannot help but recall similar scenes in the French Quarter nightclubs where she hunted on her Requiem’s second night. She recalls the sweaty, angry masses hypnotically swaying to oblivion’s entropic chords, and the lusty cries of the couples fornicating in the bathrooms. She remembers how well she fed.

As ever, the Kindred can but mimic the kine.

Caroline: And perhaps punish them. Memories of the worst of humanity make thoughts of turning God’s vengeance and judgment upon them easy to embrace.

Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM

Rocco: Most faces in the dark cathedral may be unfamiliar to Caroline, but there is at least one hidden within the pale ocean.

“It’s certainly pleasant to see a familiar face, Miss Malveaux,” a male voice interjects in the cacophony. It carries the softest lilt of an Italian accent. “How goes your night?”

Caroline: The Ventrue settles her gaze on the hound. It’s aged by at least ten years, not physically, but in experience since that gaze last settled upon him. Since that night in an Elysium not so long ago. Her skin is flush, warm, stolen blood running through her veins, and her gown dazzles in black, showing simultaneously nothing… and just the hint of something, and shining all the more with the golden wristband on one hand, the diamond glittering on one finger, and the diamonds at her ears—understated, but more potent for it. A small and simple cross of gold lays across her breast, the thin gold chain barely hidden around her neck, standing out only because she is oh so pale.

Pic.jpg "Hound Agnello, how pleasant to see you as well. It goes… "

She gives a weathered smile.

“Well enough. And yourself?”

Rocco: Hound Agnello takes a moment to take in Caroline’s svelte figure and decorous appearance. He doesn’t hide his appraisal.

“I am better now that I have the chance to make small talk with a beautiful woman,” Rocco replies, finally looking up to meet Caroline’s gaze. The Gangrel is dressed in his own finery: his signature, plum-colored suit.

Caroline: There’s something missing in her gaze from the last time he looked into her eyes. A less experienced Kindred might name it something like innocence. Rocco is not so inexperienced. This well-fed, well dressed, well composed thing before him two weeks after her Embrace wasn’t innocent even when he met her a week ago. It’s hard to picture those discerning green eyes as ever being truly innocent. No, what’s missing is something all the more striking. It’s fear.

When he last saw her at an Elysium she stank of it. It ran off her like sweat off a kine. Tonight there’s tension. Stress. Maybe even concern. But not fear. She keeps that smile on, her too-white teeth against too-pale skin. It’s terrifying to think what manner of marble she might be carved out of in a hundred years.

“Hound Agnello, you are as charming as you were when we first met.”

Rocco: The change is not lost on Rocco. His dark brown eyes bore into Caroline and a look of approval appears on the Gangrel’s face.

“Thank you, Miss Malveaux. You’ve certainly come a long way since the last time I met you.”

He adds, “I must congratulate you on finding your sire. It was no small feet for a fledgling.”

Caroline: “Ah, Hound Agnello, you have no idea, or at least I should hope not. That was no pleasant experience.” There’s a sly smile on her face.

Rocco: “Why do you say that?” he asks, smile growing.

Caroline: “Staring death in the eye, knowing it is coming for you with all the ancient certainty of an avalanche coming down the mountain?”

There’s a hint of teeth to her smile.

“Being utterly within someone’s mercy, with all your secrets laid bare? I should hope that such an experience never finds you, Hound Agnello. Or if it has, that it is swiftly forgotten.”

Rocco: Hound Agnello’s gaze narrows and his smile lessens.

“We’re all at God’s mercy in the great scheme of things,” he answers, stiffly. “We have no secrets from God.”

Caroline: “Sadly, I fear there will ever remain many from me,” Caroline deflects. “Perhaps for the best, though.”

Rocco: Rocco pauses, staring as he considers something.

“I take it you’re not referring to your ordeal with your sire when you say that,” he remarks, remaining cordial. “In saying that, more avenues and opportunities are opening up for you now that you are to be accepted into our society more properly.” Hound Agnello’s smile reappears. “Are you making favorable inroads with the Storyville Krewe?”

Caroline: The surprise that crosses her face is only there for a moment, replaced by a genuine smile, the first he’s seen of her.

“That was your request, was it not, Hound Agnello?”

Rocco: “Yes. I have seen many talented fledglings wither without the right allies,” Rocco mentions, honestly, “and it is my wish that the blood of Father Malveaux and Sheriff Bastien remain Sanctified.”

GM: Caroline’s phone inconveniently buzzes.

Caroline: “Or at least return to it? It would seem late for René Baristheaut.”

Rocco: Rocco nods with a small, still-charming smile.

Caroline: “I do appreciate the concern,” she replies.

Rocco: “You’re welcome.”

Rocco adds, “I take it you’ve met Gwendolyn Wade. She is one of my tenants within my domain.”

Caroline: “Only in brief,” Caroline replies. “Though she seemed pleasant enough. I imagine she must be quite the dutiful tenant.”

Rocco: “I make a point to be on good terms with all my tenants, Miss Malveaux,” Rocco answers, “and in saying that, I plan to invite her and the Storyville Krewe to my domain for a pleasant get-together in a few nights time. In fact, I am curious to know if you would be interested in attending, as well.”

Caroline: “That sounds delightful, Hound Agnello, and you certainly have my interest.”

Rocco: The hound nods, giving Caroline a genuine smile as he thinks on the particulars.

“Excellent. I have yet to speak to the Storyville Krewe, but expect a visit from one of my ghouls in the coming nights with details on the night I plan.”

Caroline: “It may be easier for them to call ahead Hound Agnello, as I’ve been… renovating of late. Still, I’d welcome such an invitation,” she smiles.

Rocco: Rocco nods. “Do you have a ghoul that frequents Elysium, Miss Malveaux?” the hound asks.

Caroline: “Ah, I wish I could manage that right now, Hound Agnello, but I’ve had something of a problem maintaining ghouls at all. It’s certainly something I’d like to do eventually.”

Rocco: “Unfortunate.” A pause. “In any case, have you given much thought to who you might swear fealty to as a tenant in the coming nights?”

Caroline: “The current terms of my serfdom to the sheriff require that I do so for him, presumably that is not an arrangement that he’ll be willing to reconsider,” she replies.

Rocco: “I understand that you’re Sheriff Donovan’s serf, Miss Malveaux,” Rocco replies with a patient smile, “but after being released, have you given any thought into swearing fealty to another regent or vassal?”

Caroline: Caroline’s own smile remains in place.

“I apologize, Hound Agnello, I must not have been clear: as a requirement of my serfdom I am required to swear fealty to him upon my release.”

Rocco: Rocco’s eyes betray a little bit of disappointment.

“Sheriff Donovan is certainly a good regent to have, especially with you living in Audubon Place,” the hound remarks thoughtfully, holding his chin, “although its location isn’t very secretive.”

Rocco rubs his chin for a couple more seconds before letting his hand fall back to his side.

“I should probably let you go now, Miss Malveaux,” he says, politely disengaging himself. “I will have one of my ghouls get in touch with you in a couple nights time. Good night.”

Caroline: “Of course, Hound Agnello, my thanks for your time. And of course if the sheriff does prove willing to reconsider his current position, I’d be happy to be in touch.”

Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM

GM: After taking her leave of Rocco, Caroline glances down at her phone. The text is from her mother.

Date still in the air. See you at your house again tomorrow?

Caroline: No promises. I’ll let you know a time. You pick the place.

GM: Give me a day’s notice.

The sea of deathless, pale-faced, leering predators stretches before Caroline as she looks up from her mother’s text.

Caroline: For the moment she’s content to watch. You can tell a lot about social dynamics by who talks to who, who avoids who. Who’s important. Who’s dangerous. Here it’s all the more so—who can be approached. Who is dangerous to speak to. She finds a spot on the edge of the crowd and watches.

GM: There’s no such thing as a giant party. Every party is a collection of smaller cliques and gatherings; people can only pay attention to so many other people at once. The Ventrue’s eye picks out several distinct cliques among the larger throng.

The most prominent one is centered around a dark-haired man who looks in his mid-30s. He’s shorter than Caroline, and short in his own right, standing perhaps half a foot below the neonate Ventrue. His scruffy facial hair hovers somewhere between a five-o’ clock shadow and a full beard. He’s dressed in playboy-esque finery that’s simultaneously casual and resplendent: an open-breasted bespoke white sports coat, red silk dress shirt, black slacks, dark brown snakeskin belt with a slim gold buckle, and matching polished brogue shoes.

In contrast to the severe demeanors of other prominent Kindred Caroline has encountered, the short man is all smiles and laughter. He seems to coax them from the vampires surrounding him as easily as bubbles from a stream. Several of their number include a glasses-wearing woman in smart business attire and a dark, smoldering beauty in a sinuous red dress.

Another prominent clique is centered around Philip Maldonato. The seneschal’s tall frame, one of the most visible in the room, is garbed in a somber gray three-piece suit, lighter dress shirt, and deep blue necktie. A matching handkerchief rests in his breast pocket. Silver cufflinks and an old-fashioned pocketwatch’s chain offer two concessions to the past. Caroline only recognizes Father Malveaux among the Kindred who are gathered around him. No one laughs, though there is an occasional thin smile. The clique feels not only distinctly but deliberately separate from the short man’s. The two are even located on opposite ends of the room… Caroline may recognize pitifully few of the present Kindred, but she recognizes when a battle line has been drawn.

The crowd between the groups is sufficiently thick that they need not even look at one another. The tension, however, casts a distinct pall over the rest of the cathedral. The social hierarchy among these “middle ground” cliques and sub-gatherings is less apparent to Caroline… they have their own centers of gravity, Kindred whose presences attract others into their orbit, but none seem to command the same degree of attention as either the city’s seneschal or his short, dark-haired counterpart.

Further, they are less permanent. Kindred hangers-on periodically break off, trade passing conversation or form their own new cliques, then dissolve into the sea of hungry faces once more. Caine’s children might be dead, but any social gathering is a living ecosystem, constantly changing and evolving.

Yet Caroline has precious little time to further analyze the social dynamics at work as she feels the weight of increasingly many predatory stares settling on her. The Ventrue is reminded of seemingly every mother’s adage to their children that staring is impolite. The Kindred value politesse. They do not like being watched. They have no place for those without a place.

No. There is one place for such outsiders. And Caroline senses that she will occupy it if she persists in her role as the friend-less, vulnerable, ignorant stranger.


Caroline: The battle lines. Caroline has little doubt who the shorter man is, even before meeting him, before speaking with him. She suppresses a smile as she slides back into the mass of flesh in the middle, seeking out some vestige of normalcy in the sea of insanity.

GM: Caroline’s search swiftly proves all-too futile, but the Ventrue thinks she spots several waves in that sea which are as small as her own:

The first one is identifiable by a musty, urine-like smell. Kindred may not sweat or produce other bodily odors, but the vampire’s raggedy, hole- and stained-lined coat doesn’t look like it’s been washed in decades. The odor of cigarette smoke, cheap booze, stale sweat, and hundreds of dirty streets it’s clings to it like a babe to its mother. The wearer’s ancient, deeply-lined face is smudged with dirt and other less identifiable gunk, and her stringy white hair is matted and unkempt. She occasionally tugs at it as she stares around the room with out-of-focus eyes.

She doesn’t look like a Nosferatu. Just a really, really ugly, really, really old woman.

The second is a mildly attractive, young-looking African-American woman with short black hair and a round, pleasant face with an ineffable quality that seems like it could cause people to remark, “You look like someone I used to know.” She wears a plain white blouse over black slacks. The clothes look neat and presentable enough, but not tailored luxury brands like the Malveaux scion is accustomed to wearing.

The next is a young-looking man with a freckled, corn-fed and sun-tanned complexion that seems slightly blanched of color, leaving it with an odd cast that’s at once paler and ruddier than the kine’s. His frame is tall and gangly, and he looks perhaps 90% grown into it. His hair is blond, his eyes a clear sparkling blue. He’s dressed in a pressed pale blue dress shirt and black pants tucked over cowboy boots.

There’s also a well-endowed, comely young woman with long, messy blonde hair that falls all the way down to her waist. She wears a pair of blue denim shorts, brown ankle boots, and a lacy white top that shows through to her bra.

An emaciated, rail-thin boy seemingly in his mid to late teens stands in sharp contrast to the vital-looking young woman. He is exceptionally gaunt even for a Kindred, with hollow cheeks and dark circles under his watery gray-blue eyes. He stands about half a head below Caroline and wears a finely-tailored navy suit that partially hides his bony, stick-like limbs. His shoulder-length brown hair is thin and wispy.

Caroline: Caroline makes a line for the freckled young man—perhaps the most normal of the bunch, sliding to a stop a polite distance from him.

“Good evening,” she offers.

GM: Caroline finds the young-looking man breaking off from conversation with a glasses-wearing, seemingly middle-aged man. Up close, he’s maybe an inch or two taller than Caroline bare-footed, but her heels close the gap. He regards her for a moment before answering, “Evening, miss.”

Caroline: She puts on a friendly smile. “Quite a setting for a party. I’m Caroline.”

GM: “Carter,” the male Kindred offers back. “Yeah, it’s something having this hootenanny in a church. Wonder how it works with the Masquerade.”

Caroline: Caroline has a very good idea of just where that starts, if not where it finishes. “Contacts in the church to have it cleared or closed. Lots of security and other resources to keeping everyone from looking in.”

She thinks.

“Given the prince’s control of the police it probably isn’t that hard to keep it from dusting up into something,” she offers. “Still, I imagine that with so many Kindred here there’s all kinds of other problems, spikes in assaults or even deaths… probably a wild night for the dispatchers.”

GM: Carter shakes his head. “Probably not tonight. Prince says no hunting in five blocks. You miss the memo?”

Caroline: “All the same, presumably it’s still a regional spike with so many active tonight, vice at home. I wonder if it’s possible to track gatherings like this with crime data…” she muses.

GM: “Could be,” Carter shrugs. “Don’t think I’ve seen you around Vieux Carré before. You new?”

Caroline: “Hot off the presses,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “You another Houston refugee, then?”

Caroline: “Native, actually.”

GM: “Guess that’s how it usually is.”

Caroline: “New faces often?” Caroline asks.

GM: “You mean from Houston? Sure.”

Caroline: “I actually meant in general.” Another smile. “Still, that’s interesting. I’d heard it was quite dangerous to travel between cities.”

GM: Carter shrugs again. “Guess it’s sometimes worth it.”

Caroline: "Greener grass and all of that? Caroline laughs lightly. “And yourself, if you don’t mind me asking? Native or…?”

GM: “Transplant. Houston.”

Caroline: “And was the grass greener?” Caroline asks

GM: “Wouldn’t say. The ‘give your blood to Jesus’ Anarchs there are damn weird.”

Caroline: “Give your blood to Jesus?” Caroline repeats. “Remind me not to book a trip.”

GM: “Wouldn’t blame you. Crazy city now.”

Caroline: “Mhm.” Caroline makes a show of looking around briefly. “This must be quite the event.”

GM: Carter shrugs again. “Guess it must.”

Caroline: A light laugh. “No real stake in it, then?”

GM: “Politics just gets folks killed. Better to keep your straw outta the kool-aid.”

Caroline: “Just here for the show, then?” she asks.

GM: “Everyone’s talking about it. Can’t hurt to know how it shakes down.”

Caroline: “I suppose so.” Another smile. “I’m certain you have other matters demanding your attention, Mr. Carter. Thank you for your time.”

GM: “See you round, Ms. Caroline,” the other Kindred replies with a nod. The two drift back apart into the larger sea of predators.

Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline’s drift leads her in the direction of the black Kindred woman, the one trying too hard and oh so failing to appear presentable. She makes no mention of that as she approaches.

GM: The woman glances towards Caroline and offers a faint smile. “Do you know me from somewhere, miss?”

Caroline: “Not yet,” Caroline replies, “but I’d like to.” She smiles in a way that she hopes is somewhat disarming. “I haven’t had many opportunities to meet other Kindred.”

GM: The woman’s own smile seems to dim a bit at Caroline’s initial answer, but it’s still there.

“I’m Desirae Wells.”

Caroline: “Caroline Malveaux,” Caroline introduces herself.

GM: “This might sound a bit vain, but have you heard my name anywhere before, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: Caroline thinks for a moment, then shakes her head. “I’m sorry Ms. Wells, I can’t say that I have—though that means little. My sire has kept me rather occupied.”

GM: Desirae gives a soft sigh. “That’s too bad, but it’s nothing new. Thank you for trying.”

Caroline: “Anything you’d like me to pass on to others in the future?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Why, yes, if you’d be so kind,” the other vampire answers. “I don’t know who I am. I’m hoping there’s someone in the city who does, but no luck so far.”

Caroline: “I’m sorry?” Caroline asks. “Don’t know who you are?”

GM: “I have what’s called retrograde amnesia, Miss Malveaux,” Desirae replies in a half-reciting tone that doesn’t sound like this is the first time she’s explained herself. “I’m actually not sure if Desirae Wells is my real name, but it’s what I have to go by.”

Caroline: “How far back does it extend, if you don’t mind me asking? Until your Embrace, or since it?”

GM: “I’m not sure. The last thing I remember is coming to on the streets after 2013’s Mardi Gras. I might have been Embraced that night, or maybe years before.”

Caroline: “No sire to be found?” Caroline bites her lip. “That’s awful.”

GM: “There wasn’t any they could find, but I’ve gotten by. Besides, for all I know, I could’ve had a sire who I knew for years.” Another soft smile. “It could even be that I’m an elder from ancient Egypt, while I’m speculating.”

Caroline: “Happier thoughts,” Caroline smiles. “How’d you settle upon your current name then, Ms. Wells? Again if you don’t mind my asking.”

GM: “It was written on the tag of the shirt I was wearing. Maybe I had a lot of roommates or lived in some kind of dormitory or group home. It could also be I was just fastidious. I hope it’s that, or at least that I wasn’t borrowing someone else’s clothes at the time. It might not really be my name. But it’s what I have to go by.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. The story is too familiar, hits too close to home.

“I’m sorry.” There’s sincerity in her words, but she is not as sorry as she is for all the similar similar stories to come that’ll be executed because of her mess.

“I’ll see if there’s anything I can dig up.”

GM: “That’s kind of you to offer, Miss Malveaux, but there’s really no need. I’m sure I’ll turn up something one of these nights.”

Caroline: “It costs me little, Ms. Wells. Little enough that even I can attempt it. Fax machine must be broken.” Caroline rolls her shoulders back.

“If I find nothing, you owe me nothing. If I do, you can decide then if it’s a price you wish to pay. Fair enough?”

GM: “Fair enough,” Desirae nods.

Caroline: “I assume you’ve already checked missing persons databases, reports, medical records, and the like?”

GM: “Yes, all the sources I was able to pull up. They didn’t seem to have anything for a Desirae Wells.”

Caroline: Caroline thinks. “If this is too much to ask, please say so, but do you have a picture of yourself? A selfie or something I could use?”

GM: “Yes, I have a few. I presume that’s for in case the name isn’t really mine.”

Caroline: The Ventrue nods. “It’s a means of searching independent of the name entirely—you might have changed your name, Ms. Wells, but it’s harder to change your face.”

GM: Desirae asks Caroline’s number, pulls out a phone, and sends her a text message with an attached picture. It’s shot against a simple, well-lit white background, with a clear view of Desirae’s face and upper body. It’s a good reference. Caroline gets the sense that the amnesiac might have already tried looking for her face.

Caroline: Caroline saves the contact. “I’ll be in touch if I find anything,” Caroline assures her.

She gets the feeling that it’s something Desirae has heard before, she has little better to offer on the topic.

GM: “Thank you for taking a look, Miss Malveaux,” Desirae replies. The two exchange final pleasantries and disperse back among the crowd.

Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM

GM: It does not take Rocco long to find Donovan after he breaks off from his discourse with Caroline. He finds the sheriff issuing terse instructions to a few of the ghouls responsible for security.

Rocco: The tread of Rocco’s shoes is as soft as a cat’s padded paws. He approaches Donovan in a measured, deliberate fashion, giving the sheriff a deferential nod. Cautiously waiting for his superior to finish issuing instructions, a patient smile settles on Rocco’s porcelain-white face.

GM: Donovan dismisses the ghouls as Rocco approaches and silently looks towards the hound.

Rocco: “I hope everything is going well for you tonight, Sheriff Donovan,” the hound remarks, beginning with the necessary pleasantries he is certain Donovan doesn’t care for.

GM: “The night is satisfactory,” the sheriff replies coolly. “What is your business, Hound Agnello?”

Rocco: Rocco’s smile widens and the mafioso is only too happy to dive right into business.

“I was talking to Caroline Malveaux. I am curious to know your opinion of her and her value as a tenant.”

GM: “What is your interest in Caroline Malveaux?” the sheriff asks in turn.

Rocco: “I want her as a tenant.”

GM: “Very well. My price is two boons,” the sheriff answers.

Rocco: “What would you say to me offering one?” he counters.

GM: “Insufficient,” is Donovan’s sole reply.

Rocco is well-aware that two immediate boons is an incredibly cheap price against an eternity of weekly prestation… though a debt from the century-old hound is worth more than any fledgling’s, the sheriff’s price remains almost humiliatingly low—for Caroline, at least, and is a testament to just how little Donovan considers the Ventrue to be worth as a tenant.

He’s not even trying to charge Rocco more.

Rocco: Rocco laughs playfully, clearly amused by Donovan’s steadfast answer.

“I can freely admit when I am bested in negotiations,” the hound compliments in acquiescence. “I agree to your initial price: two boons for Caroline Malveaux’s tenancy.”

GM: “Very well. I will inform her of her expulsion from my parish in two nights’ time. She will be informed of your willingness to accept her as a tenant. She will be permitted a further 24 hours to remove herself and her possessions from Riverbend before she is dealt with as an intruder,” the sheriff coolly intones.

Rocco: Rocco thanks the sheriff and gives a polite bow as he takes his leave.

Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM

Caroline: As Caroline separates from Wells, she nearly runs into the blonde and her nest of hair that looks as though she’d be more at home in a Tennessee strip club.

“Oh, I apologize.”

GM: There’s a flash of fangs from the other blonde before she takes in Caroline and then simply snickers.

“It’s okay, sugar tits.”

Caroline: “Sugar tits,” Caroline repeats.

GM: “Yeah, your girls looked white as sugar in those Fangbook pics. So sugar tits.”

Caroline: “Charming,” Caroline spits out.

GM: “Sluttish too, dawlin’.”

Caroline: “Well, it is so important to rise to the standard of others.”

GM: The other Kindred snickers again, tapping her lips.

“Not too many other blue blood girls who’d put themselves out like that, far as standards… I’d say you must have been desperate, but from what I hear, you didn’t buy anything from Gutterball. If you were just wanting to break into the biz, Greasy can probably get you into a few pornos.”

Caroline: “Master Elgin made a very generous offer,” Caroline agrees, “but as it turned out my sire was generous enough to offer himself up for a staking without the need for the information, so all’s well that ended well.”

She smiles sweetly. “I don’t think we’ve met before?”

GM: “Arzilla Boudon, dawlin,” the blonde Kindred smiles back.

“I guess you traded those tit pics for absolutely nothing, then.”

Caroline: “Ms. Boudon. Well, this has been a pleasure.”

GM: “Oh, you can just call me Arzie. Only fair, with how familiar you are.”

Caroline: “Oh, I don’t think we’re quite there yet, Ms. Boudon. Whatever you might think, this is, after all, only our first date.”

GM: “Mmm… in person,” Arzilla snickers. “See you around, dawlin.”

Caroline: “Not if I see you first.” Caroline returns the smile—one that vanishes as soon as they turn from one another. The Kindred’s words are like a splinter under her thumb. Petty. Pointless. Nonthreatening next to the actual dangers and concerns she faces… and yet it’s uncomfortable. Irritating. Difficult to completely ignore.

She supposes she’ll never get used to humiliation.

Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline checks the thin gold watch on her wrist. Running out of time.

She still needs to talk to Savoy, but a glance over reveals the crowd is not abated. Rude to approach him without an introduction, but worse to let that problem fester, wait until her release. The Ventrue slides out of the no-mans-land in the center of the room in the direction of the shorter man’s crowd. Pressing into it, not quite through it.

GM: The short man at the center of things, who Caroline can only presume is Antoine Savoy, is still talking with the same general circle of Kindred. There’s several new faces, including a tall and imposing black man whose head is shaved, and another olive-skinned man with curly black hair and a rakish smile.

The short man does not look as if he’s going anywhere. With the trial due to start in less than half an hour, Caroline can only presume that all of the elders’ double dealings are long since done, and that they are merely passing the time until the fruits of their handiwork are made manifest.

Predatory sets of eyes turn and follow Caroline as she ventures into their alpha’s territory. Their weight and number only increases the deeper she ventures in. No one moves to greet the Kindred nobody. They just stare. Some are amused, others curious, others disdainful, a few even hostile. Caroline feels like a piece of meat being scrutinized. Or a minimum-wage office drone who’s wandered into one of her father’s fundraising events. It’s as bitter a pill as ever for the former heiress to swallow. Her family’s name is worth nothing here.

She’s worth nothing here.

Caroline: She searches for Harlequin among the crowd of leering faces, and frowns when she discovers his masked visage among those in the center of the room instead. Paying no more attention to the leering gazes than she would to the gaze of a disturbed house cat, she alters her course towards the masked Kindred. Someday. Someday every glaring, scornful, laughing face will regret it. They’ll sit and wonder at events like this is she remembers the slight. But not today.

GM: It is with no small irony that she finds herself approaching another one-time social adversary for his aid. Harlequin and his entourage are impossible to miss.

Harlequin21.jpg If Lord Byron seduced the sister of Oscar Wilde, the result of their union could hardly be less ostentatious than the garish peacock standing before Caroline. Harlequin wears a white domino mask with elaborate gold filigree, a black tricorn hat, and brightly-colored, almost jester-like clothes that are threaded with gold. No flesh is visible beneath his gloved hands and masked face. His pale blue eyes have an oddly still, porcelain-like quality, and might almost appear part of his mask at a casual glance.

If the Malkavian looks like he’s stepped out of a Mardi Gras parade, his attendant ghouls look like they only did after stepping out of an insane asylum. Their masks range from a spike-studded, black metal facial encasing to an uncannily realistic sobbing toddler.

As one, all five heads simultaneously turn to regard Caroline.

Caroline: The effect is unnerving even to the Ventrue, but she proceeds on.

“Regent Harlequin, I wanted to express my gratitude again for your willingness to release Ms. Rabinowitz into my service.”

GM: “That sodden pile of leaves? I’d supposed she would have been scattered to the four winds by now,” the harpy titters behind his domino mask.

All four masked ghouls simultaneously laugh. They don’t move their arms, tilt their postures, or even smile. They just laugh, the sound spilling from their gaping mouths like crushed walnut from a nutcracker.

“That’s fortunate she’s been of enough use for you to be grateful, Miss Malveax. I suppose she was still one of the Krewe’s.”

Four voices echo as one.

“One of his.”
“One of his.”
“One of his.”
“One of his.”

“Nonsense, my darlings,” Harlequin opines, tracing the first ghoul’s half-exposed chin. “She upheld the Mask—or at least tried to, I suppose—but she never wore it.” His blue eyes glitter. “She never became it.”

Eight pairs of eyes shoot towards Caroline.

“Became it.”
“Became it.”
“Became it.”
“Became it.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite recoil from the ghouls, but there’s a string of doubt that coils out of her plan as the ghouls chatter, laughter, and Harlequin’s reaction to them.

“Well… that matter aside, I had hoped I might offer a boon to make an introduction? I can think of no so distinguished and universally regard individual who could do the same.”

GM: The Malkavian tilts his head at Caroline. “A gentleman is one who never offends another’s sensibilities unintentionally.”

“A gentleman is a man who is never unintentionally rude,” offers the horned ghoul.

“Intentionally rude,” echoes the spiked woman.

“Or a lady,” murmurs the toddler.

“A lady,” echoes the upside-down screamer.

Harlequin emphatically raises a single finger as if to declare, ‘just so.’

Caroline: “Such I had hoped to avoid, and mend.”

GM: “Your hopes are worth less than sodden leaves in a compost bin,” Harlequin declares. He reaches out to cup Caroline’s cheeks in his gloved hands.

“So brittle. So limited. So trapped. Perhaps one night I will free you from your tower, my savage princess.”

Caroline: “And here I was trying to let down my golden locks,” Caroline replies, head turned slightly on its side.

GM: The harpy releases her head.

“Come. I will introduce you to a gentleman.”

Caroline: “How exciting,” Caroline replies, deadpan, but she falls in with the harpy and his entourage.

GM: “There is no such thing as good or evil,” Harlequin blithely declares. “People are either charming or tedious. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Caroline: She’s taken aback by the question, but finds her voice.

“Yes, and no, good and evil exist, but good and evil people may not.”

GM: “I will make your introduction for a boon, Miss Malveaux, in compensation for the tedium of this conversation,” the Malkavian declares in a bored tone.

His ghouls chant in unison,


Caroline: “And what if the introduction proves entertaining?” Caroline asks, amusement mixed with an undercurrent of irritation.

GM: “It won’t,” Harlequin answers dismissively.

Caroline: “Mr. Savoy,” Caroline replies slowly.

GM: Caroline notes that Harlequin is already leading her in the Toreador elder’s direction.

Caroline: A debt owed for his amusement. Caroline grits her teeth.

“Far be it from me to argue.”

GM: “If you cannot be charming, you may at least avoid making a greater fool of yourself,” Harlequin agrees with her.

Caroline: She falls silent.

GM: Caroline trails alongside Harlequin’s ghouls as the harpy approaches the short vampire’s closest confidantes. A young-looking woman several inches taller than him stands by his right side. Where the short Kindred’s companions are smiles (or at least leers) and laughter, the minimalist expression on the woman’s resembles an upturned frown more than it does an actual smile: there is no mirth behind it, merely politeness. Her dirty blonde hair is pulled back into a tight bun and her eyes are framed by a thick pair of glasses. She wears a conservative gray business jacket, matching skirt, white blouse, and black pumps.

Caroline: The image sets Caroline to thinking about whether or not those glasses are required: do such banal physical limitations continue into undeath? Is a deaf old man a deaf Kindred? She sets the thought aside.

GM: The female Kindred next to her is her exact opposite. She’s dark of skin, with long wavy hair and the sort of curvaceous figure that begs a man to put his arm around her waist—though in her case, it seems like it dares more than begs. Her green eyes smolder like slow-burning coals, and her full lips don’t smile so much as sneer. She wears a knee-length dress made from knives and barbed wire that reveals a great deal of her unblemished chocolate skin underneath, and tall stilettos made from the same items. Rubies glint from her ears and neck.

Caroline: While the first woman brought on only curiosity, the second arouses… competition? That’s not quite it. Interest. Concern. It’s like looking into a mirror of her mortal life: attached to the most important people in the room. Effortlessly mighty. Amused and domineering. If Becky Lynne brought on jealousy, then this woman brings on something else entirely: nostalgia. And yes… attraction. It’s not something she’d ever considered, really, beyond the simple peer evaluation, prior to her Embrace. But Caroline cannot deny now that the woman’s very presence calls to her. That thought burns shamefully.

GM: The male Kindred next to her is also tall and dark. Where she’s sheathed claws, he’s the pointed barrel of a gun. His heard and bare chest—he wears no shirt—are shaved completely bald, giving him a blunt and imposing appearance that seems to have cut out all extraneous elements except for thickly corded muscle. His torn gray denim pants and black steel-toed boots are afterthoughts. A silver ankh dangles from a short chain around his neck. His canines flash whenever he laughs, a hard and blunt sound like pounding fists.

Caroline: In another setting, a dark alley, she might have given him a second look. Here he’s jarring only for how he stands out painfully against the others.

GM: Where the dark man is imposing, the olive-skinned male Kindred on his left is rakishly handsome. He’s shorter, slim and sinewy, like a cobra with four limbs. His hazel eyes variously twinkle with amusement, and his full lips are quirked in a faint, self-content smirk. He wears a black sports coat, white shirt, silver Rolex, and multiple gem-set gold rings.

Caroline: She can’t deny that he catches her eye, in his own way. The mashup of clothing and expensive watch and rings though stands out to her. Trying too hard? she wonders. It all but screams ‘new money’ or ‘no money’ to her.

She keeps the opinion to herself. After all, it may not be long before she falls into that category.

GM: Next to the short vampire and has four comely, or at least distinctive companions, the last figure in his closest proximity is quite ordinary-looking. She’s a biracial woman in early middle age with a bush of straw-like salt-and-pepper hair tied up in a green scarf. Her garb consists of a plain white cotton dress, blue shawl with swirling yellow, black, and white patterns. Beaded necklaces with a crucifix and tiny leather pouch dangle from her neck. Where the glasses-wearing woman merely looks as if she is ‘smiling’ to be polite, the darker’s one expression is blank. She simply doesn’t seem all the way present. A featureless, milky-white glass eye stares blankly from her right socket.

Caroline: The woman is so ordinary that Caroline’s gaze all but slides off of her.

GM: “…that’s what the fourth monkey is for, after all,” the olive-skinned man smirks to the laughter and amusedly curled lips of his fellows.

“On the contrary, Lord Savoy. Hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil, and you will never be invited to another party,” Harlequin quips, casually inserting himself into the Toreador’s inner circle as if he’s been there all along. Further titters sound as the short, scruffy-haired man who can only be

Antoine Savoy turns to face the harpy. An easy grin steals over his face. “Harlequin, my friend! How is Sebastian these nights?”

“He remains so clever that neither of us understands half the things he says, my lord,” Harlequin answers. “Why, I almost wish Katrina had drowned the city for good—then I might have had an excuse to stay at his club forever.”

“If every saint has a past and every sinner a future, our city was founded yesterday and should last until the end of time,” Savoy retorts, to further titters from his entourage. “But Prince Thomas’ loss was our gain! Now who is this beauteous creature you’ve brought along with you?” His grins remains in place as his gaze turns to Caroline.

“Oh, how good of you to remind me, Lord Savoy—our company almost made me forget her,” Harlequin answers. “This is Caroline Malveaux—our evening’s soon-to-be released Ventrue fledgling.”

“Ah, so here’s the neonate we’ve all heard so much about!” Savoy exclaims, bending slightly to kiss Caroline’s hand. He smiles up at her as he releases it.

“I’d make a second quip about your beauty, Miss Maveaux, but you’d need to sweet words all night for that beauty to be done its proper justice.”

Caroline: Death becomes you. Caroline hides the shiver behind a smile.

“Lord Savoy, those words are very kind. I cannot imagine what I might have done to earn attention from such a remarkable gathering, but I’m very grateful for the opportunity to make your acquaintance.” There’s a brief pause. “And deeply apologetic for not having done so earlier.”

GM: “Why should you apologize? You haven’t done something to offend his lordship, have you?” the Kindred in the knife dress asks, her perfect lips curling at the question.

Harlequin and the olive-skinned man don’t titter, but their eyes sparkle with amusement. The glasses-wearing woman and the bald man take in the words but evince no reaction. The glass-eyed woman doesn’t seem to do even that.

“I’m sure she just wants to be on the safe side, Madam Alsten-Pirrie. We can’t blame a neonate for wanting to be careful around a harpy with claws as sharp as yours—or claws concealed in so beauteous an exterior,” Savoy winks.

Alsten-Pirrie’s look at Caroline doesn’t subside, but a purr sounds from her throat. “Flattery will get you everywhere, Lord Savoy.”

“Always let a woman see through your flattery—what really flatters her is that you think she’s worth flattering,” the olive-skinned man quips.

“Flattery also raises the same question as an insult. What does the speaker really want?” the glasses-wearing woman dryly asks.

“The esteem of two lovely women, of course,” Savoy replies, smiling. “Flattery is like a fine dress—a collection of threads or words on its own, and made beautiful only by the woman who wears them.”

Caroline: “Lord Savoy, you are as magnanimous and charming as I had been led to believe.” Caroline keeps her smile in place.

GM: “All charming people are spoiled. It is the secret of their attraction,” Harlequin declares.

Caroline: “What uncharitable things that says of those around them.”

GM: “What’s it they say? A woman who isn’t spoiled isn’t charming. A woman who can’t make her mistakes charming is only female,” Alsten-Pirrie derides.

“Spoiled people always get their way. So never pay attention to what common people say, and never interfere with what charming people do,” the olive-skinned man quips back.

The circle of Kindred variously chuckles, titters, shows their fangs, and for a moment appears content to simply bask in one another’s wit and wordplay.

Caroline: Spoiled. Like overripe fruit left to rot in the sun. It’s an apt observation.

GM: The surrounding din of conversation grows louder. So do the sounds of footsteps. The great mass of Kindred appears to collectively shrink as they sit down throughout the cathedral’s pews.

“Well, Miss Malveaux, it looks like the trial’s going to start in a few minutes, and that’s not nearly enough time to become acquainted with a woman as charming as yourself—though it’s more than enough to become charmed by her,” Savoy winks. “It would be my privilege, and I hope your pleasure, if you stopped by later at the Evergreen. Nat, when’s a good opening in my schedule?”

“10 PM on Wednesday, sir,” the glasses-wearing woman answers.

Caroline: “I’ll be there,” Caroline replies easily. “My thanks for your time, Lord Savoy.”

GM: “Good luck with your release, Miss Malveaux,” Savoy smiles before turning to exchange parting pleasantries with the other Kindred in his circle. None of them seem to be paying attention to Caroline as they leave.

Caroline: Just how she’d prefer it, truly.

Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline takes the opportunity to slide away and find a seat.

GM: She observes Savoy making his way to a front-row bench, where the members of the primogen are also seated. Harlequin takes a seat along the second row. Carter Landry takes a seat far to the back. Most of the ghouls are even further behind him.

Caroline: The Ventrue moves to find a spot near the back—not so far as the ghouls, but far enough away that she’ll avoid offering offense to older Kindred.

GM: Caroline makes her way down the cathedral’s aisle. She finds a spot by two other Kindred. The first is a pale-skinned Cajun boy with long dark hair and smoky black eyes made all the more striking by his pasty complexion. His frame is long and gangly but he is not nearly as tall as he seems, his thin body seeming to exaggerate his height. He is casually dressed in jeans and a red tee shirt.

The other nearby vampire is the awful-smelling, filthy old woman Caroline spotted earlier.

“You smell nice,” she remarks with out-of-focus eyes. One of her grime-crusted hands tugs at her matted hair.

Caroline: “I try,” Caroline replies back tightly, making an effort not to breathe.

GM: “There’s lots of vampires here,” the old woman babbles. She yanks out several strands of hair and lets them drift onto the floor.

Caroline: It takes effort to keep her disgust off her face.

“You’re not wrong.”

GM: The woman opens her wrinkled mouth and starts scratching crusted brown-red blood off her yellowed, gap- and cavity-ridden teeth.

Caroline: The Ventrue turns her attention towards the front of the church, intentionally not engaging with the disgusting woman beside her.

She cannot, for the death of her, figure out who would Embrace such a creature.

GM: The crowd continues to chat among itself. More than a few eyes have likewise turned to the front of the cathedral. A towering judge’s desk, the monolithic church itself in oaken miniature, looms before the alter in seeming blockage of the path to salvation. The crowd’s murmurs slowly take on a lower, more excited tone. Meanwhile, Caroline’s phone buzzes with a text.

Caroline: She checks it.

GM: It’s from Jocelyn. where are you?

Caroline: Caroline quickly counts her rows from the back and texts how many rows she is from the back.

on the outside. Where are you?

GM: Jocelyn texts a location that’s still in the back, but on the opposite side from Caroline’s. The Ventrue looks ahead, but it’s hard to make out specific faces among the crowd of seated, forward-facing Kindred.

okay i think the trials about to start we can meet up during the recess

Caroline: Sounds good. Have you been here the whole time?

GM: yeah did you just get here?

Caroline: No, been making friends, didn’t see you.


Well, she made one. It’s only half a lie.

Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM

GM: The cathedral’s doors swing open wide. The crowd collectively turns to stare. There’s a single Kindred being escorted by several ghouls. He’s tall and hale like an old oak tree, some six feet in height, and around some two hundred pounds. He’s also just a touch doughy, with little to no muscle definition to his frame. Soft, light brown hair coifed into a business cut. His face doesn’t look like it’s ever worn an expression but a smile.

As he strides down the tiled floor, escorted on all sides by guards like the prisoner he is, the crowd erupts. Milk-white canines gnash. Dry tongues hungrily lick drier lips. One woman pulls down her black leather pants, mooning him. Red spurts out of her pallid ass cheeks as she shits blood. The crowd literally howls with laughter, a sound like hyenas fighting over bones. They hurl invectives and scream obscenities. They don’t care who he is. They don’t care why he’s here. They just want to see his blood flow.

George: George is adorned in some of the finest make-up and clothes money can buy, though he has chosen a somewhat more understated outfit than he likely would if he were among the crowd rather than the accused. A dark brown suit, with a white undershirt and black accouterments, including an eldridge-knot black tie. He lifts his black-gloved hands to brazenly wave to the crowd as he’s marched down the aisle, smirking with his head held high the whole way like the wretched fool he is.

Caroline: Smith, Caroline presumes, tucking her phone away. She watches the elder Ventrue pass by. She makes no move to react to his presence, less bloodthirsty, but perhaps simply less involved than others.

But he wasn’t wrong, at least in fact. See here the folly of being right about the wrong person.

At least he’s getting the dignity of a trial—such as it is among the animals in the crowd.

GM: Black-suited security personnel in mirrored shades escort another Kindred in after George. He is a rectangular-faced man in seemingly his mid-20s with black hair, a neatly trimmed goatee of the same color, and bright blue eyes. He’s dressed in a dark suit of the same color with a lighter dress shirt and maroon necktie. The suit’s right sleeve hangs limply, bereft of any arm, and is pinned to the bottom corner of his jacket. He maintains a firmly polite smile as he’s escorted down the aisle.

Caroline: She cannot so easily put a name to him.

George: When George reaches the aisle’s front row, he turns and gives the assembled Cabildo—and their representatives—a full and proper bow at the hip. And he continues to do so, even to any vacant seats. When he finishes, he turns his attention to the sounds of Hurst being ushered in. As he finally comes into view from behind the wall of Kindred and ghouls, George gives him a light, deferential nod, before returning his attention to the judge’s desk.

GM: The crowd’s leering, mocking reception is only mildly more pleasant than George’s. Then they abruptly grow silent.

The last figure to enter is a young-looking man, Embraced in perhaps his early 20s, with a rectangular, clean-shaven face, Roman nose, and sandy blond air pulled back in a short ponytail. Despite his seeming youth, there is an oddly marble-like cast to his pallid features, as if Caroline were not staring at a real person but a frighteningly well-crafted statue of one. His clear blue eyes are cool, distant, and have the dangerous glint of a man who is rarely denied the things that he wants. He wears a fine charcoal suit and walks with his head high and unbowed. He does not seem to register the presence of his escort and calmly surveys the cathedral as if it were his property and its inhabitants his subjects.

The crowd’s silence lasts for only a moment. If George believed his own reception was lukewarm, it is nothing before that of John Harley Matheson.




Those members of the crowd not booing his arrival express their own wrath no less keenly. They shriek. They hiss. They gnash their teeth. They pantomime slitting their throats. They extend their middle fingers. They curse his name, spitting insults and obscenities filthy enough to make the Mississippi even browner. They enumerate the grisly fates he will suffer at their hands, if they get those hands on him.

Caroline: Caroline says nothing, but she understands the beginnings of how they must feel. Frustrated. Angry. Vengeful. He’s more than a headhunter, for which most of them likely have no care. He’s a stand-in for every elder that has put their boot on the back of someone’s head and shoved their face in the mud. Why wouldn’t the idea of such a monster facing justice appeal to them?

And yet, Caroline has little belief that justice is what will be on display tonight. Not for Matheson. Not for any of his many victims, Kindred and otherwise. How many friends might she have won by delivering the tape, not into the hands of the prince’s agents, but into Savoy’s? How much evil might have been removed from the world?

She shakes the thought aside. The past is the past.

George: George offers precisely zero reaction to the arrival of Matheson. He does not flinch. He does not look at him.

GM: Matheson’s escort Matheson remains protectively encircled around him. They do not reach for their weapons, but their hands are not far. The Ventrue neither flinches nor retorts. ignores the crowd’s jeers as he would the buzzing of fly. He too meets the gazes of each primogen and inclines his head ever so slightly—a greeting seemingly of peers. Accou and Pearl Chastain both return the motion, inciting a renewed though also diminished chorus of boos.

Until they all cease as abruptly as a dropped bomb.

GM: Each of his footfalls echoes loudly through the now-silent cathedral.

He is tall, dark, and terrible in his purpose, the fury of heaven matched with the fire of hell. Where Matheson is merely dignified, the newcomer comports himself with the bearing of an emperor. His raiment is a midnight-black suit of the finest cut. Not so much as a crease is visible, making the garment seem cut and spun from the night itself. His pristine white undershirt and and blood-red necktie bring to mind the ermine mantles worn by kings of ages past. A gold signet ring set with a ruby adorns his finger. The blood-red gem seems to pulse and glisten as he walks, hungrily devouring nearby light. His frame is tall and broad-shouldered, his features crisp, Mediterranean, and utterly still, like a marble statue by one of the old masters come to life. His slick black hair appears wet, and his mustache is trimmed into a uniformly straight Van Dyke. His gaze carries the weight of centuries and civilizations swept aside by time’s inexorable march. His eyes dominate his face: cold, fanatical, implacable. Those who stare too long feel dizzy, their mouths warm with the taste of blood. The eyes are primal and inhuman and they are strong. They have seen the passing of kings. Kingdoms. Civilizations. They are older than this city, older than it and all its inhabitants, older than its streams and rivers, older than—

One figure in the crowd does not look away: a short man with scruffy black hair. His lips are set in a slight, self-content smile, all the more impudent for its understatement.

The newcomer does not spare him so much as a glance.

The foremost ghoul by the newcomer’s side is as ugly as his master is terrible. His face is a horribly burned, dark mass of scars. He is half-bald, with his remaining black hair neatly combed back from his scalp. His thick mustache and short beard are only partially successful in hiding the teeth visible through his right cheek. His eyes are dark and hooded. He wears a pair of crisply pressed black pants and jacket, not a business suit’s, but one reminiscent of a military’s Class A Uniform. Its gold buttons and his black leather shoes are polished so meticulously that one can see their reflection in them. Medals gleam from his chest, while a polished cavalry saber hangs from his hip.

As his master’s dark gaze stares out from behind the judge’s panel, he announces over the silent cathedral in a clear and resonant voice,

“All rise for His Majesty Augusto Vidal, Prince of New Orleans, Lord Paramount of Orleans and Jefferson Parish, Archon emeritus, Fellow of the Most Noble Fellowship of the Exemplars, Knight of the Supreme Order of the Dark Prophet, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Daniel, Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Ulfilas, Knight of the Order of the Holy Lance, Prior of the Ordo Argentarius of the Congregatio Professio Legatarius, Legate emeritus, Bearer of the Onyx Spear, Defender of the Monachal Creed, and Blessed of Longinus!”

Or, as Caroline knows him:

My sire.

Monday night, 14 September 2015, PM

GM: Jocelyn isn’t flushed or panting like a mortal partner might be. Her face, however, is messily smeared with Caroline’s (and own) blood, and her clothes are savagely torn. A snapped bra strap hangs halfway down her arm. One of her shoes is missing. Her hair is a frazzled mess.

Her mouth hangs open for a moment before she whispers, “Your blood… it’s so strong…”

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

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

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

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

Louis: “I was tired, Chica. Tired as Hell’s devils the day after Mardi Gras and then some. But now… now I’m restless. Because tonight, tonight, I learned… something that can change the game. Maybe change it in a way that we haven’t seen in centuries.”

Lou turns to face his old lover, or at least her lightless shadow. “Just knowing it feels like an armed atomic bomb sitting in my head. I’m not sure how or whether to disarm or launch it. Yet. I need time. Not too much, just a night or two to think and watch and see how the dust settles–_if_ it settles.”

“It probably won’t.”

Saturday night, 19 September 2015, PM

GM: “By that same token, there is but one remaining matter of import. You requested to know why René Baristheaut cursed you with his Embrace. Do you still desire that knowledge?”

Caroline: All you taste shall be ash. And it is. Does she even care now?

There is a pregnant silence.


GM: The seneschal of New Orleans tells her the truth.

“Your sire was not René Baristheaut, but Augusto Vidal. Our prince has need of an heir to his throne. Your mortal background made you a compelling candidate for his Embrace.”

Sunday night, 20 September 2015, PM

Caroline: Caroline is on her feet before she knows it, her eyes locked on the dark figure. This ancient evil she has known not even in her dreams, that calls to her so sharply. Vidal. The prince. The mightiest Kindred in the city. She drinks in the vision of him, and her striking green eyes are blotted out by the darkness reflected in them.

Rage. Frustration. Fury. Hope. Ambition. Desire. Loneliness. Need. Pain. Pride. Emotions well within her breast at the sight. This monster that inflicted the most awful thing she could imagine on someone. Who brought her over into this world without her consent, without even her knowledge. Who threw her to the wolves, out into the night alone. This devil that created her, then denied her. That named her a criminal for an existence he manufactured. That set her on the course against René. A path that saw her torture at the hands of others. That saw to the death of her brother. That created so much misery for an agenda she can’t even begin to understand. That denies her still. Sitting out in the back rows of the church, beside this filthy and pathetic thing. Her rapist, in spirit if not in body, who condemned her to Hell by his will and has seen her soul dragged through the gutter, through the filth and broken glass that has left her faith tattered, bleeding, and infected with the Sanctified’s darker strain.

She hates him. Wants to scream at him. Wants to demand answers. Wants to demand recognition. Apologies. This king among kings among kings. This being that has seen century after century of life, that walked the earth before Europeans walked the Americas. That has seen things she cannot imagine and risen to the top. She’s seen the competition. Seen Coco, and Matheson, and Savoy, and even Maldonato. Beings of ancient power that could only pretend at being what he is. That he chose her, picked her among millions. Pride, that most difficult of sins, burns in her heart. And desire: to be taken in, to be embraced, to be loved. To earn his affection, or at least his respect. She wants to reach out. To weep at his feet. To touch him and see if he’s real. A sire. She hardly knows what that means, what it could mean. Her maker. Her dark progenitor, this being that opened her eyes up to an entire world she couldn’t imagine, a world she wouldn’t turn away from now even if she could. Her father and her mother. She loves him.

But just like her father, just like her mother, there he stands. Not even looking upon her. Focused upon his business at hand. Sparing her not even a glance. This man that calls to power, that is called to power. Responsible. Occupied. Busy. It’s a cruel joke, like much of her Requiem. An heiress heir to nothing, and to everything. The mightiest sire in the city, and yet sireless, selling her future for crumbs dolled out by the all-seeing, all-laughing, jesters of the court. A new father, this one into the blood. And no different than the last.

And, she decides, he would mourn my death no more than my flesh and blood.

All these things she wants, and needs. This figure that could be everything to her. And she can only watch, as silent as the rest.

George: George, already very presently risen, plants his cold blue eyes firmly on the prince as he strides down. His usual grin is replaced by a firm line as he softly bows his head in deference while the Hussar recites Vidal’s titles. At the ghoul’s completion, he offers the prince a distinctly deep bow, a full head deeper than the one he afforded the Cabildo. He all but bangs his skull on the floor.

GM: No Kindred jeer or snicker at George’s motion. The prince of New Orleans regally takes his place, standing, behind the altar’s desk, staring down upon the congregation like a wrathful god judging his children—and finding them wanting. Maldonato stands to the prince’s right hand. Donovan stands a further pace behind to his left.

Vidal raises both his arms high. “Behold Longinus, spear of damnation, humbled and exalted before man! Behold the fruit of the blood of the anointed one, wandering in the wilderness! Behold his hunger, his fangs bared, his eyes empty! Woe unto you, children of the night, that such sin has come unto you!”

The prince motions and attendants begin the sacred ritae with much pomp and circumstance: smoldering incense, flasks of blood, rote memorandum chanting of parts of The Testament of Longinus, call-and-response. A choir of young boys, their eyes blank and glazed, sing hymns in Latin.

“Incline your ears, O my children of the night, and let these humble words fly to your hearts. Know that the teachings of our father Longinus are a great burden upon us, and that the judgment of God is most justly severe. Recognize that these words are written not at the bidding of any man, nor any demon, but for and through the purpose of our God.”

“That though you are Damned, your Damnation has purpose. It is the will of God that you are what you are, and the will of God is that the Damned exist to show the evils of turning from Him. The evil become Damned; God has taken those worthy of His love to His own side. It is the will of God that we yet walk, even after death, for we are his messengers to Kindred and men. We are the wolves of Heaven, and in our presence, only the faithful do not tremble. We are holy lightning, and when we strike, only the faithful do not burn. Where we walk, evil is destroyed. Where we walk, God takes those worthy of His love to His own side.”

“We know that as the Damned we are preordained to sin, both venal and mortal. How blessed are we, then, that our mortality is guaranteed through our Damnation! For we are not only doomed to die, but are dead already. We have died and we will die and our death shall be everlasting. Let hymns of praise be sung to God and his almighty Damnation!”

Vidal motions for silence, then sharply bows his head and clasps his pale hands in prayer. The rest of the congregation follows suit.

George: George follows the rote he has been taught as one of the Sanctified, though it would be expected of him even if he were not counted among their membership. He folds his hands and bows his head. He knows the eyes of the prince are upon him most grievously, but he endeavors to pay it no mind.

GM: When the moment of prayer has passed, Vidal motions for communion to be set ready. Ghouls heft a number of bound and unconscious black men and women before the altar, assuredly Vodouisants if Vidal’s past choices are any indication. Father Malveaux draws a gold-hilted ceremonial knife. Every Sanctified Kindred is familiar with their covenant’s act of communion. Mortals who have transgressed are ritually bled into a sacred chalice over which the priest says his blessings, transubstantiating the mortal blood into Kindred vitae: sanguine proof of God’s own judgment upon them for their sins. In the Blood, one finds faith.

Yet as Father Malveaux approaches the sacrifices with the communion chalice, he sheathes his blade. Vidal informs the congregation in stern tones that there will be no communion. No one here shall not receive the Blood of the Dark Prophet—not yet, at least.

“Even among the Damned, there may yet be transgressors, my children,” the prince declares.

He goes on to iterate that several of his flock are guilty of blasphemy: communion cannot be administered to such sinners until they have atoned for their transgressions.

Many eyes look upon the prince in askance. He intones, “‘’So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!’ A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed.’”

Silence stretches before Vidal pronounces, “We are already damned, my children. God will not intercede to save us. He will send no angels to hold the lions’ jaws fast.”

The prince’s black gaze burns like the hungry ruby set upon his finger.

“The Testament of Longinus already names us wolves. Is it any great stretch to name ourselves lions?”

“Lions do not pray for deliverance, my children. They fight with tooth and claw. The Kindred who stand accused of blasphemy are damned and guilty by their natures: let them do battle with their fellow lions if they would postpone God’s judgment for their sins. George Vernon Smith, step forward!”

George: George strides forward confidently, to the front of the congregation. Into the circle before the pulpit. The center of the place, the center of the whole damned world it might very well be tonight. He stops as he reaches the very middle, and looks up to the pullpit. He does not draw his eyes parallel with Vidal’s, but keeps them politely on his stern face.

GM: “George Vernon Smith, you stand accused of the following sins: blasphemy through violation of the Masquerade and blasphemy through profaning the name of our Lord God. You have also been accused of the following lesser sins: obstructing the duties of diocesan officials and endangering the Requiems of three Kindred. Do you submit to immediate confession and penance for your sins, or do you maintain innocence in spite of your damned and guilty nature?”

George: “I am indeed guilty of many things, my prince. But I profess my innocence of these particular sins,” George says with a firm nod.

GM: “So be it,” the prince pronounces. “The advocate for the accused will step forward.”

“I am present, my prince,” replies a perfunctory voice with a British accent. The speaker is a young-looking African-American man with close-cropped hair and steel-rimmed glasses. His features are crisp and sharp, like newly-printed paper still warm with the printer’s heat. He’s dressed in a black Saville Row suit, white dress shirt, and navy necktie.

“The advocate for the prosecution will step forward,” Vidal bids.

“I am present, my prince,” responds a female voice. The speaker is beautiful, if one judges the symmetry of her features and he fullness and richness of her long brown hair. But her eyes are dark cool, her features unsmiling, and her skin is deathly pale. She does not look as if she has smiled in a very long time. She’s dressed in a conservative dark gray business suit that gives away little of who she is.

“Prosecutrix Cingolai, you may call your witnesses to the stand,” intones Vidal.

Cletus: The cathedral doors swing open like the welcoming gates of hell. And in walks another devil.


Cletus: He wears a half-buttoned shirt, spun from Angola’s finest felon-picked cotton, its fibers indelibly soaked with slave-labor sweat. His thrift-store overhauls are stained with blood, barbecue sauce, and cannibalistic lard. His sleeveless vest, crusted with dried mire and tooled with the heraldry of the Lost Cause, cannot conceal the hard, rangy lines of his powerful frame.

Muscles taught as a fishing line hooked to a two-hundred pound catfish swim beneath his clothes. Thick shoulders, corded neck, forearms built for strangling. Nor can his garments hide the coiled puissance of his gait. It is the stride of a swamp-cat, confident in its predatory strength, yet alert for prey. His cottonmouth-scaled boots click on the church cobblestone like a man knocking on a coffin.

Savage, acetylene-blue eyes shine beneath the brim of a dented, manskin-leather hat. So beshadowed, his unblinking gaze burns like a butane torch, alluring and deadly. Equally mesmerizing and feral is the fanged smile that teases his supple lips. That smile promises much. Pleasure, pain, perfidy.

His body has the palpable odor of libido and heat lightning. His ruggedly handsome, sepulchral-cold face is slick with the night’s humidity, gleaming like moonshine. He carries the paradoxical mien of the bayou-born, the look of simple-mindedness mixed with the honor and hospitality of Southern aristocracy. Yet, lurking behind that mask is a monster, a remorseless sociopath whose evil blossomed long before his Embrace, but has since only grown into the most wicked of orchids.

Yet, the devil’s ‘guest’ is perhaps even more surprising. A half-ton gator, still dripping black bayou water, is slung over his shoulder with an alarming ease. Reptilian beast in tow, Cletus strolls down the cathedral center, up to George, and dumps the gator in his lap.

Up close, it is immediately evident that the gator is dead, its entrails gruesomely exposed and its body carved with colorful slurs. Maggots splatter at the sudden, violent impact. Cletus wipes his hands, messily splatting the viscera upon the manacled vampire.

GM: Most of the crowd’s leering, pale faces stare in stunned silence—as if unsure what to make of this unannounced newcomer, and whether his presence foretells mirth or the prince’s wrath.

Vidal’s expression remains motionless and unknowable, like a marble-carved statue.

George: George regards the strange Kindred with a cold but ultimately slightly confused mien as he dumps a dead gator at his feet, splatters him with gore, and proceeds to do so again. “I trust this is going somewhere,” he says as he looks towards Cingolai.

Cletus: “A present fer ya, George. Finer than frog-hair split four ways.”

George: He looks back towards the strange Kindred. “I can’t say I know precisely what to do with it. Not much you can make out of gator this long dead, save perhaps some shoes or of course gumbo,” George says with a grin.

Cletus: “Yer all wore out from bein’ nice. And we all done know how good a liar ya is. How yer shit-eating grin loves ta shovel it in, and shovel it out. We all know how ya love a good scapegoat, so I broughtcha one. Another bloody mess ya can blame on a beast—one other than ya one’s.”

GM: “You have many Kindred here at a disadvantage, Mr. Boggs,” Cingolai states levelly. “You know the name of the accused, but yours is yet unannounced.”

Cletus: “Cletus Lee Boggs,” the Cajun answers to the prosecutor’s query, but his blowtorch eyes remain fixed upon George’s. Unblinking, unflinching.

George: George is in the midst of attempting vainly to brush off his coat when he looks up to meet eyes with the Cajun staring at him. Distantly aware of the gore on his chest, he clearly doesn’t put his whole soul into the stare-off, and silently trails his eyes down to the floor in silence.

Cletus: Cletus spits as George caves. He half-snarls, “I’m da big mama-fuckin’ fella whose home y’all blue dicks crashed and den decided to throw a Kindred BBQ.”

He casually picks up the gator’s head and violently crushes its head, splattering both of them with its gore.

Caroline: The bizarre Kindred’s entrance is the only thing that jerks Caroline’s attention away from the prince, and he occupies her attention for only a few moments as he hauls in his grisly trophy. The words themselves are nearly lost as they’re traded by the two elder Kindred. The prince proves magnetic to her gaze, and it is only with purpose that she breaks away, in brief, now and again.

GM: Caroline’s sire watches like a silently judging god. Seemingly content to allow events to play out.

Cletus: Seeming satisfied, Cletus walks over to wherever the prosecutor motions him to stand or sit. He wipes off his hands once again, and then an almost beatific smile spreads across his face, like a cool breeze off the Potchartrain during summer’s inferno. He gives the proper salutations, verbal or otherwise, to the gathered elders.

GM: Cingolai does not smile, but her eyes look pleased upon hearing Cletus’ acrimonious words—and witnessing the results of his battle of wills. She motions for him to remain where he is. At the prosecutor’s tacit acceptance, laughter begins to sprout among the crowd of predators like out of control weeds. Suddenly, the sight of the rotting gator is funny. Laughter echoes and echoes throughout the cavernous church.

George: “I fail to see in what way you take issue with me then, Mr. Boggs,” George says plainly without lifting his eyes from the floor. “Your issue is with Mr. Slane Holland. He chose the place for the—barbecue, as you put it. Everything occurred under his supervision.”

GM: “Don’t you go blamin’ me for that clusterfuck, Smith,” growls a voice from the crowd.

The speaker is a tall man in his early middle years with black hair just starting to gray, a thick nose, and a full beard. His steely gray eyes stare unrelentingly into George’s. He’s dressed in an old-fashioned wool suit and vest without any necktie.

“You know what I was there for? Damage control. In case any funny business went on. Like the whole warehouse blowin’ sky high.”

George: “Nonetheless, you had control of the meeting place, Mr. Holland. It was your decision which placed it within Slidell.”

GM: “And yours to blow up half the goddamned town.”

Cletus: “You be done a good job controlling the damage, too, yun did,” Clete says with a harsh smile at Holland’s retort.

George: “Because you were failing to do your one job—as you—and the good Mr. Boggs just put it. With whom were you and your men too engaged to assist me against Mr. Matheson’s attempt on my unlife?”

GM: The elder Ventrue does not deign to reply to his younger clanmate. His eyes remain cool and his head proud and high.

Cletus: “And are you’s saying,” Clete further cuts in, “that Holland done supervised your Willy Pete fireworks?”

George: “He very well had the opportunity to search me before I went in, and elected not to,” George adds.

Cletus: Clete just laughs.

GM: “Let me spell things out for you Yanks and hicks nice and simple,” Holland snarls, rising to his feet.

George: “Does this explanation include why you and your men were having such trouble with Miss Adler that I had to detonate a grenade to preserve my Requiem?” George intercuts.

Cletus: Clete waves a shushing hand. “Na, let ‘em jabber. I’d like to hear ’em.” He tilts back his hat, exposing his raised brow to Holland.

George: George shrugs, with his soft grin at the sight of the snarling lictor being forced to explain why the whole thing—under his supervision, went to such shit.

“Yes, please, Mr. Holland. Do expound upon your failures to do your job.”

GM: Holland looks more than ready to continue, but Matheson’s cool eyes cut towards the prosecution.

“Objection, Prince Vidal,” Cingolai speaks up. “Mr. Smith makes accusations against his elder and impugns his character before Mr. Matheson’s trial has even begun. I request that appropriate disciplinary action be taken.”

George: “Excuse me, Prosecutrix Cingolai. I wasn’t aware that owls had character to impugn,” he says with a snide look back towards the crowd.

GM: Matheson’s cold blue eyes freeze on George.

“How dare you,” he whispers.

His voice is so quiet George almost does not hear it.

He says nothing further.

All of the room’s Ventrue are staring at George too, for this unprecedented public slandering of his elder’s dignitas. Cingolai. Holland. McGinn. Guilbeau. Malveaux. Hurst. Brown. Adler. Brodowski. Gui.

Their faces could be carved from stone.

There are no friends among them.

George’s advocate starts to speak. “Prince Vidal. My client-”

He looks upon the prince’s eyes, then loses his voice.

Then he looks away.

The prince’s gaze is black as night and terrible as a gathering storm. It scours through the younger Kindred like an unholy fire.


Cletus: Cletus shivers, surprised, and even a bit excited by that stab of fear.

GM: “Prosecutrix Cingolai,” rings his voice, “Your objection is sustained. This trial will proceed in an orderly fashion. Accusations against Mr. Matheson will be dealt with during his own trial.”

His black gaze slowly settles upon George.

“You will refrain from further slander against your elder’s character.”

“Your previous slander shall be dealt with in due course.”

George: George nods in simple, but firm understanding to the prince’s order.

GM: “Mr. Holland,” Vidal continues.

The storm loses some of its fury.


“You shall hold your tongue against Mr. Smith until you are permitted to cross-examine him. Mr. Smith and Mr. Boggs shall hold their tongues against you.”

Cletus: Cletus sucks on his gums and nods real slow-like.

George: George simply nods in assent—again.

GM: Holland nods squarely.

“This trial will continue,” the prince orders.

Cletus: Cletus gives a look to the prosecutrix, twirling a muscular finger as if to ask if George or he have the floor.

GM: The Ventrue flicks a hand towards Cletus.

George: George’s eyes finally settle back firmly onto Cletus’ face, though their eyes do not meet for a second time. To address whatever he has to say.

Cletus: Cletus drawls, “So, just likeyat, why donna ya tell me, for Mr. Holland, what his role was, far ya understood. At yer lil’ BBQ, that is.”

GM: “Damage control, you inbred hick! Do you need it broken up into fewer words?” calls a voice from the sea of pale faces. More than a few chortle at the remark. George and Caroline recognize the speaker as Roxanne Gerlette.

Cletus: “Sticks and stones,” Cletus poo-paws with a smile and a hand. “I’m tryin’ to ascertain George’s understandin’. His lips are shifty, after all.”

George: “Mr. Holland’s involvement was pervasive and total. As far as I knew, when I contacted him with my plan to convene myself, Mr. Matheson, and Primogen Hurst to discover the identity of an unknown Kindred who attacked me…”

George briefly summarizes the chain of events that led to the warehouse meeting in Slidell. He relays the details of Hurst’s roadside attack as they related to him personally, leaving out those exclusive to Clan Ventrue, such as the Gerousia’s meeting and clan-wide search for the traitor among their ranks. He casts Holland as acting as a neutral mediative party.

“…I left it to Mr. Holland to select a place for the meeting, and whether it should occur at all. Mr. Matheson and Primogen Hurst can attest to his presence, as they would have both had to pass by him to enter the warehouse. To my understanding, no aspect of the events that occurred in that warehouse in Slidell were outside Mr. Holland’s control, or opportunity to control. Including that it was in Slidell. Or that it occurred at all.”

GM: Holland’s eyes remain hard as rocks, and his jaw set like a shotgun ready to go off.

But the lictor does not disobey his strategos.

Cletus: Cletus turns back to the Ventrue. “So, in your sweet fine mind, did Mr. Holland approve of your Willy Pete party?”

George: “By failing to act at his one job—damage control, as he himself put it, yes. I only resorted to the use of the grenade when my Requiem became endangered by Mr. Matheson’s frenzy. I would not have done so if he had taken them from me. Or if he had elected to be inside the warehouse. Or had he and his men audibly engaged with some other party, likewise his responsibility to forsee and protect against. What precisely would you do if you had an enraged elder in front of you, and a grenade beneath his feet, Mr. Boggs? Allow him to kill you?”

Cletus: “I wouldn’t ‘ave smuggled in a white phosphorous grenade, particularly not in Slidell. But maybe I’m just an inbred hick, and I think real simple.”

George: “Call me paranoid if you will, but it turned out to be a necessary precaution to secure my Requiem.”

GM: “Objection, Prince Vidal,” Cingolai cuts in. “Mr. Smith is blatantly misconstruing facts. It is well-established that Mr. Holland and his subordinates were engaged with an unknown third party at the purported time of Mr. Matheson’s attack.”

George: “Pardon, Prosecutrix Cingolai, Prince Vidal, those gathered among us. If it was heard that I did not believe Mr. Holland to be otherwise engaged, I wholeheartedly lost track of my tongue. I believed I said ‘If he were not otherwise audibly engaged’. Due apologies if it came out or was interpreted as anything else. I would not have used the grenade if I believed Mr. Holland were in a position to assist me against Mr. Matheson.”

GM: Vidal’s black gaze settles on George.

“This court does not look favorably upon such slips of the tongue, Mr. Smith, and will consider them in rendering your judgment.”

George: “Of course, my prince. Dearly sorry again.”

Cletus: Cletus continues, “See, e’en an inbred hick like me knows dat Article 1 of Protocol III o’ da Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons be defining an incendiary weapon as ’any weapon or munition which is primarily designed ta set fire ta objects or ta cause burn injury ta persons through da action of flame, heat, or combination ’of, produced by a chemical reaction of a substance delivered on target.”

“An inbred hick like me knows that da same protocol prohibits the use of said stuff, Willy Pete included, mind, ‘gainst civilians, which is also a big no-no by dem Geneva Conventions or in civilian areas. And so, even an inbred hick like me knows dat Slidell is home to Textron, a multi-billion dollar company dat does what, o guess o darlin’, but build and sell military-grade weapons and explosives.”

“So, when ya lit yer white candle, ya done set off a damned firestorm wit all kinds of Yankee feds crawlin’ o’er ma domain, askin’ all kinds o’ questions dat threaten da very Masquerade. So, if I done had a chance to lit dat candle, I wouldn’t. But dat’s jus’ me, an inbred hick. Maybe all ya don’t care too much ‘bout keepin’ dat First Law or whatnot.” Cletus cracks his neck, and smiles. It’s not a comforting one.

George: In reply to Cletus, George can only offer a soft smile to the other Kindred. “I would like to apologize for inconveniencing you personally with the fire, Mr. Boggs. But I fail to see in what way my detonating a bomb in a building violates the First Tradition in any way.”

GM: Sounds of open disgust go up from the crowd at George’s words.

“Failure’s the only bit you got right there, Smith!” jeers a voice.

Cletus: Cletus gives him a dead-pan look, as if he’s looking for signs of life, or unlife in the skull across from him.

GM: Brown quickly, mutely jerks his head at George.

“So you are saying, Mr. Smith,” Cingolai continues evenly, “that you resorted to justified measures to preserve your Requiem?”

George: “I resorted to the only measures available to me, Prosecutrix Cingolai. That it occurred in a warehouse in Slidell is an unfortunate circumstance—once again, a decision made solely by Mr. Holland. It is said readily among the Damned that intent matters for nothing against action. I will freely admit to exploding that warehouse in Slidell, but I did choose white phosphorous for more reasons than its flame. It burns at a high enough intensity to reduce basically all evidence to ash. I am plainly not responsible for the actions taken by other Kindred after the explosion, their violations of the Masquerade are their own trouble to defend. I took what measures were available to me to preserve the First Tradition and my own Requiem.”

Cletus: “Did ya, now?” Clete asks scathingly. “When ya ran yella from the BBQ, what did ya do? Did ya check on ol’ Holland—cause ya said he didn’t be having no control o’ things.”

GM: Holland’s stare has grown no less hard.

“To preserve the First Tradition and your Requiem,” Cingolai continues. “I see. Then I gather, Mr. Smith, that you believed the greater risk of other Kindred violating the First Tradition was justified by the preservation of your own Requiem.”

Cletus: Cletus looks as if he has more to say, but pauses.

GM: “Prince Vidal,” the prosecutor asks, “will you please explain before this assembly whether a violation of the Traditions is mitigated by the personal inconvenience of a single Kindred?”

Low peals of mocking laughter go up Cingolai’s query. But the crowd’s eyes linger on George.

“The canons of the Sanguineous Catechism and the Traditions of the Camarilla are absolute, Prosecutrix Cingolai. To break the Silence of the Blood is blasphemy against the word of the Dark Prophet and a violation of the Six Traditions,” the prince sternly pronounces. “Blasphemy cannot be mitigated by intent or circumstance—only forgiven through confession and penance.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty.” Cingolai turns to George. “Well, Mr. Smith, I hope that clarifies matters. The Camarilla’s laws—and the commandmanets of Longinus, within the Archdiocese of New Orleans—do not exist for your personal convenience. Your Requiem is less important than they are. The survival of all our kind, ensured through the Masquerade, is more important than any one Kindred.”

George: “I did not insinuate otherwise, Prosecutrix Cingolai. If I have violated the First Tradition, then obviously I will tender my Requiem to this court in whatever manner best resolves that violation. The protection of the Camarilla is paramount.”

Cletus: Cletus guffaws, “Oi, now ya so interested in being protection’ da Camarilla? But whatda ’bout back den, back in Slidell? Tell us whatda ya been done after ya threw den horseshoe.”

George: “Mr. Boggs. I maintain plainly that in no way did I, George Vernon Smith, reveal my true nature to those not of the Blood. That is the precise wording of the First Tradition, is it not?”

GM: “‘If’ you have violated the First Tradition? For a Kindred of your age, Mr. Smith, you appear to have a very narrow view of the actions necessary to maintain the Masquerade. Attracting significant attention from kine legal authorities, at the site of an otherwise private altercation among Kindred, is nearly as great an offense as openly demonstrating the Blood’s gifts.”

George: “You have just said yourself, Prosecutrix Cingolai. Intent and circumstance do not matter. The Tradition, as it is written, was upheld on my part.”

GM: Cingolai only shakes her head. “Mr. Smith. I should not find this necessary to explain to you, but unlike the kine, our race does not base its legal system upon the law as it is written. We take into account the purpose and spirit of our laws as much as their technical language. The purpose of the First Tradition is to conceal our existence from the kine. Mr. Boggs, do you believe that Mr. Smith’s actions in exploding a bag of phosphorous grenades within your domain were conductive to doing so?”

Cletus: Cletus bares his fangs in a fierce growl. “Ya have no fuckin’ clue how close ya came to ripping the Mask off, how ya endangered it. But I do—cause I been da one cleanin’ all ya messes.”

George: “Then you have done a fine job upholding the First Tradition in my stead, Mr. Boggs. If you would like to discuss a commensurate boon, I would be agreeable to such an arrangement. But as it is, you’ve merely concluded the argument.”

GM: “Concluded the argument? Mr. Boggs only found it necessary to go to such lengths to uphold the First Tradition because of your actions, Mr. Smith. Nor is a boon the normative sentence for violations of the First Tradition. Not in this archdiocese, nor any other Camarilla domain. Prince Vidal, would you be so kind as to explain the sentence in full?”

The prince utters but two words, his voice as heavy and relentless as an executioner’s axe:

“Final death.”

Cletus: Cletus feel a rising bump in his throat—and his crotch.

George: “I understand the punishment at hand, Prosecutrix. But Mr. Boggs just admitted that he’s cleaned up the ‘mess,’ as it were. There’s nothing more to discuss on this matter. I did not violate the First Tradition in the explosion, and Mr. Boggs has done a fine job in making sure the fallout did not also violate it.”

Cletus: “Been da, not been did,” Cletus adds, “And ya jus’ found dat out, and be believin’ cause I done told ya. It took me tellin’ ya, not ya comin’ to me, or comin’ back to check on ya mess.”

George: George smiles easily. “Prosecutrix Cingolai, I’m sorry to belabor the point again. But you seem to be contradicting the prince’s words not moments ago. When it comes to the Traditions, does intent matter? Either it does, or it does not.”

GM: Cingolai smiles thinly. “The intentions of lawbreakers do not matter, Mr. Smith. The intentions behind the Traditions do. Mr. Boggs’ actions do not exonerate your own. If he had not intervened when and as he did, the damage to the Masquerade would have even graver—as, indeed, you admit by the possibility that ‘the fallout’ of your own actions would have ‘also’ violated the First Tradition. You would appear to assume that all parties are innocent of blame in this matter, when, in fact, a grievous violation of the Masquerade nearly occured. Our prince has both obligation and every desire to eliminate the chance of another such breach ever occuring.”

“Your testimony thus far suggests it is highly probable you will violate the First Tradition again if you should find it personally convenient. You do not appear to understand the consequences of your actions, and you have presented no solution by which to ensure the future preservation of the Masquerade. I offer one, Mr. Smith—your final death.”

Cletus: Cletus cools, a wan smile at the affair before him, so tantalizingly close—but not so close he’s on the menu.

Caroline: The banter, so buzzing compared to her sire’s intoxicating presence, throws a wet blanket over Caroline’s longing. The conversation is not so unlike some that she herself has had in recent weeks, in fact it bears an uncanny resemblance to several. Such resemblance that she can well see the outcome of Smith’s argument even early on.

Maybe he could argue that the fire could have been attributed to mundane efforts, if he had taken actions to control the fire investigation. Maybe he could claim some degree of shelter had he done anything but flee the scene and pretend it hadn’t happened. But this… she can see only one outcome, racing forward like an engine under a full head of steam, and just as unstoppable… and unforgiving.

GM: The crowd seems to share Caroline’s sentiments. A few faces grimace. Some look disdainful. Far more leer like Cletus in anticipation of what can only come next.

Brown abruptly rises from his seat. “My prince. My client is guilty.”

Incredulous murmurs go up from the crowd. Brown’s face does not waver as he continues,

“He is guilty of leveraging a boon from another Kindred in exchange for his silence—a Kindred who attempted to obtain their own boon from Mr. Smith by placing explosives within his bags, in an ill-considered attempt to ensure his survival in the event that negotiations with Mr. Matheson sufficiently deteriorated.”

Brown turns to his client. “It is no longer tenable for you to fulfill your promise, Mr. Smith. You must name this criminal.”

Cletus: Cletus cocks his head, as if someone just changed the channel on his rabbit-eared TV.

Caroline: Too little. At this point he’s only dragging others down.

GM: “An obvious farce, Mr. Brown,” Cingolai smiles thinly.

George: George offers a polite, but pleased smile to his counsel, before returning his attention to the court. “Yes, it’s true. I have been protecting someone…”

George sadly turns his head towards Hurst, and bows it softly.

“I’m afraid I cannot shoulder the burden of your actions any longer, Primogen Hurst. I wish I could keep my promise that your name would go down unsullied by all this, I certainly do not blame you for all that you tried to do to preserve your lineage’s honor, and my Requiem at that, but as I said in the warehouse. ‘By and by, we all pay our _dues.’_ I release you of your debt.”

George subtly inflects on certain words, to remind Hurst of certain things.

GM: The crowd roars with laughter as if they’ve been told some grand joke. Cingolai eyes George like a wolf about to tear out her prey’s throat.

The entire room’s amused gaze settles on Gabriel Hurst.

He stares back at George with deliberate, knowing eyes. He raises no objection. He offers no defense.

Hurst is silent.

The crowd’s laughter begins to die.

“Primogen Hurst, please answer the court—did you plant those explosives within Mr. Smith’s bag?” Cingolai demands. “Did you pledge him a boon in return for his silence?”

Gabriel Hurst only stares back in silence.

“Primogen Hurst, answer this court!”

Caroline: Caroline narrows her eyes at the sheer viciousness of it all, but it does little to move her. A card played too late, however powerful it may be, she decides.

GM: Hurst finally speaks, his eyes impossibly heavy.

“Mr. Smith is right.”

The crowd erupts.

Slander,” Matheson hisses. “That viper would let the entire city burn for his actions if he believed it would preserve his own Requiem!”

“I did it, my sire. I planted the bombs,” Hurst stonily answers, but his words are soon scarcely audible.

The crowd’s roar is an almost palpable thing, washing over George as explosively as the fallout of his bob: “HURST! HURST! HURST! HURST!” Dozens of pale faces contort into malevolent sneers, jab their fingers, and scream pitiless vindications—it’s Hurst! HURST! HURST!

George: George, for his part, regards Hurst with a face which mirrors remorse almost perfectly. Almost.

GM: The elders’ faces are masks—mostly. Savoy looks as if someone just handed him a Christmas present. Maldonato’s could be carved from stone. Cingolai sharply calls out her own objections, as do a number of other voices—Holland’s own angry one included. But they are in a sharply decreasing minority against the chanting, screaming mob:


Cletus: Cletus turns towards the ‘accused’, his gaze flicking once or twice up the brim of his hat at Vidal.

GM: The prince’s face remains the same chiseled marble statue that Cletus last glimpsed. Vidal’s stare meets Donovan’s, who issues several orders to the nearby ghouls. One of the black-suited men hands him a pump-action shotgun. Two others drag up something indistinct. The sheriff turns and promptly fires his weapon into the staked, limp body of Bliss Jackson.

The gunshot’s explosively loud roar finally silenced the animated crowd. They look towards the source of the noise, and the ghouls already beginning to clean up the mess.

George: George nods and wheels back around to face Vidal, the Cabildo, the prosecutrix, and Vidal. While the shell housing a monstrous desire for power forces another stupid grin onto the thing serving as its fate, what little remains of a consciousness remarks inwardly that Hurst is a poor tool to lose, but perhaps at no better a time. Centuries hence from this night, when all have forgotten it save George, he might favor a neonate of Artemis Orthia with the tale of Gabriel Hurst and John Harley Matheson. But for now, he remains firmly in the present. Grinning like a moron.

“There you have it.”