“And what’s that question, why I did this to you? Why anyone could possibly be so cruel as to inflict this monstrous parody of an existence upon any living, thinking, feeling being, no matter what their crimes?”
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
GM: Chica’s lime-green ‘84 Ford EXP Turbo Coupe pulls up by the curb to Lou’s office. Today, if the interior contents are any indication, she’s probably calling it Whoopty Whoop Yo’ Ass. There’s a body bag laid out on the floor by the back seat, along with a second, smaller, and noticeably bulging ruffle bag that Lou knows she stores many of her favorite instruments of violence within.
Chica waits for Lou to close the door, but not to buckle his seatbelt as she hits the accelerator and asks, “Whozza lick an’ where he at?”
Louis: Lou grunts as the muscle car’s acceleration slams him back into the seat. He looks at Chica, feeling the equal press of years.
“Got to pay a gas bill, Shatoya,” he answers meaningfully, then raises a finger to his lips.
GM: Chica grunts but doesn’t lift her foot. Her driving is usually okay on the days she takes her pills. Those days aren’t every day.
Louis: Lou gives her an address, but it isn’t René’s, its Paola Quiñones’, who happens to Alejandra’s roommate and Lou’s friend but perhaps most importantly an ‘lineman’ at Entergy NOLA’s electric and natural gas utility provider.
The old PI then makes a sweep of the car, grunting and contorting in wince-worthy angles and sudden-swerve jostles.
GM: Lou plucks out the the tiny microphone hidden in the grills of the car’s front seat heater. Chica’s face contorts into a half-snarl, half-“not again” look of fatigued annoyance. This time, however, his former paramour keeps her mouth closed.
Louis: A less cynical or weary man might look smug. Lou, however, just frowns as the gut-wrenching worm of paranoia wriggles in his gut. He expertly places the well-concealed bug back, then speaks.
“But you didn’t come to hear about me begging for an extension on my utilities…”
GM: “God knows nobody’d give you one, th’ way you fuckin’ smell.”
Louis: Lou pauses for a moment, stung by his old paramour’s words but unable to protest. Alter all, he knows all too well how much truth hurts. Instead, he coughs, then rattles his briefcase pointedly.
“I got it, Chica. The con worked. I duped Ms. Silver Spoon that I found her sire even though I’ve turned up nothing. I rattled off an address in the French Quarter that’s undergoing renovation–and the best part is she can’t go investigate because of being forbidden by her bosses or something.”
He rattles the gator-skin compartment again, then adds, “Or well, that’s almost the best part. The best part is I scored. She gave me a drop, Chica.”
GM: For once Chica doesn’t say anything. She just stares ahead. Lou knows how she scored huge last month, something to do with the Baron’s people, and won’t have to worry about the Blood for months if she doesn’t do anything rash… which is never out of the question.
Lou still notes how pronounced her swallow is. The way her hands tighten around the steering wheel. How she shifts just so slightly in her seat.
Louis: The tells are all too familiar. The need. The emptiness. The thirst. He feels it too, after all. Keenly. More keenly in fact, as Lou’s last ‘dose’ was a while ago. A long while. Too long. There’s a reason why he didn’t bring out the vial. Didn’t and hasn’t flashed it. Multiple reasons.
Kindred aren’t the only ones who frenzy. Junkies comes in all stripes.
GM: “I’m stuffed t’ the gills, Lou,” Chica eventually replies.
She doesn’t turn to face him. Not because she wants to keep her attention on the road. This kind of avoidance is deliberate.
Louis: Lou’s own reply comes slowly, as if he has to reach deep into the bitter recesses of his gut and slowly, painfully drag it out of his mouth an into the painfully exposed air.
“I promised, Chica. I owe you.”
In this moment, there’s no pantomime for the electronic voyeur. The pain’s too real, too personal.
GM: The Green Machine’s tires screech as Chica pulls the car to an abrupt and all-too familiar stop. Lou jolts forward in his seat as the belt pulls taut against his chest. Chica doesn’t grit out the words so much as grind them out. She doesn’t turn to face Lou.
“Drink it now.”
Louis: Lou’s mouth goes dry. He mumbles something about how ‘he can’t’, but it’s barely audible or sensical over the unlocking click of the briefcase. The old man, whose face seems visibly older since he entered her car, stares at the woman, seeing at her naked heart and hunger and love, yes even love for the old pathetic man. But he can also sense the madness lingering at those emotions, the need that’s gnawing open her mind with the knowledge that the vitae is so close, so near, so available. Lou’s hand brushes against the vial. Not his real hand of course, but his prosthetic one. He doesn’t trust himself to get his skin so near to the substance again. Not now. Not when he’s promised. His hook clasps the vial. Its grip is neither sure nor steady, but it raises the vial and extends it to the bleach-haired woman with her manic, yet still so beautiful eyes of black Louisiana gold.
“I promised…” the man croaks. “…and we… keep our promises…”
He closes his bourbon-leaking eyes and half-moans, “Take it, Chica. Now. Please.”
GM: Those Louisiana-black gold eyes bulge wide and furious like cracked saucers as Lou draws out the vial in Chica’s presence. There’s a hunger there, a want, more desperate than any vampire’s. At least they can count on regular meals. The other ghoul’s pupils have actually dilated, her breath coming in ragged, faltering pants as she stares at Caroline’s bottled vitae. She’s not sweating, but only yet. If her eyes are Louisiana gold, it’s boiling and bubbling “gold” right now as they move between Lou’s hand and his face. Chica’s isn’t so visibly old as his, but right now, its lines seem to show every century that she’s lived.
Lou honestly can’t say whether she loves him or hates him in this moment.
Louis: Poison. The thought cuts through Lou’s mind like a cold, jagged scalpel. It’s poison. And he wants it. She wants it. Worse, they need it.
GM: “Fuckin’ blue blood vitae…” Chica hoarsely croaks.
Then without warning, she slams his head against the seat with one hand, yanks the vial out his hook with the other, pulls out the cork with her teeth, and spits it out.
“FUCK YOU, LOU! FUCK YOU WIT’ A CROWBAR UP YA MAMA’S FIVE DOLLA HAIRY HO ASS!”
Lou desperately fights back as Chica drives the vial towards his face.
Louis: Lou grunts, the impact and struggle smearing sweat and saliva on the dashboard.
This is what it does to them, makes them do to each other.
It’s why they keep leaving each other–and keep coming back together.
It’s what they want, what they hate, what they need.
GM: Lou drives his hook-hand into her stomach, cutting her off in mid-profanity-laden ranting. His other hand shoots out, grappling with Chica’s own all-too full hand. Clenched, sweaty fingers twist and awkwardly jostle. The vial slips out and plummets to the car’s floor like a falling star.
Shared horror flashes across the faces of both combatants.
With cat-like reflexes barely eclipsed by Lou’s own, Chica doesn’t catch the vial, but yanks Lou forward by his dishwater-hair, twists him around, and awkwardly slams the back of his head onto the car’s floor with a painful crack. The vial plunks against his face, Chica’s open hand trailing behind it like a catcher’s mitt. Caroline’s blood spills over Lou’s lips.
Louis: Or, would, if the old man were only an old man. But he’s not just old–he’s got one foot already firmly set in Hell. In an irony which no doubt draws the lament of angels and rueful mirth of fiends, Lou draws upon that same damned power from which he seeks to presently escape. He wills the fetid, dregs of false blood in his aged veins to quicken and flood his muscles and marrow with inhuman speed. He snags the vial from his cheek in the camera-flash instant before Chica’s hand smashes down. The vial flies outward, tumbling, and spinning. Lou tries to clasp it, crush it, and fling it into the mouth of his swearing, screaming ex-lover and fellow blood-junkie.
He tries. But supernatural swiftness means little when crushed to the ground in all-too cramped confines. It’s too little. Too late.
GM: Chica’s reflexes are too slow to react to Lou’s faster-than-human squirming and thrashing. But they don’t need to be, in the confined space. Her hand clamps down over Lou’s mouth—and the vial with it. He tastes the telltale junkie-sweat off her palms. The plastic of the vial. And something else hasn’t tasted for a very, very long time. That he swore he’d never taste again. Chica spits to the side and snarls, her Louisiana-gold eyes mad with rage and a denied junkie’s terrible want,
“Fuck yo stupid oath.”
Louis: The droplet of 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. His blood-stained lips gurgle and mouth words like a transcendent lush intoning incoherent, forbidden scripture:
“I was thinking about that dame upstairs, and the way she had looked at me, and I wanted to see her again, close, without that damned staircase between us…”
He remembers the first time he kissed her. He never forgot, never could forget, but now, now he remembers. God, he remembers. It was at twilight under the evangeline oaks at the bayou. The sky was lavender and pink and streaked with fire along the horizon. She looked up into his face like an opening flower, and when his lips touched hers, she came against him, and he felt the heat in her sun-tanned body, and suddenly realized that he never had an idea what a kiss could be. She opened and closed her mouth slowly at first, then wider, changing the angle, her chin lifting, her lips dry and smooth, her face confident and serene, and loving. She let her hands slide down on his chest, and rested her head against his. He could hardly swallow, and the fireflies spun webs of red light amidst the black-green tangle of oak limbs overhead, and the sky from horizon to horizon was filled with the roar of cicadas.
He remembers the roar of flames, he feels their heat now, coursing through his old, broken body, his marrow smoldering. He tries to shed his clothes, writhing, on fire. God, on fire! The whole god-forsaken city is on fire! No bells, no bells, no bells, no bells, NO BELLS, NO BELLS, NO BELLS!!!!
He froths at the mouth, a red spray along his tongue, his own, and hers. He tastes her. Hot, red. So very, very red. “Et visum est aliud signum in cælo: et ecce draco magnus rufus habens capita septem et cornua decem et in capitibus suis septum diademata…”
Heaven is silent. No bells weep…
Just an old man defiled and broken.
He weeps for the Heavens.
He weeps for Hell.
He weeps for her.
Above all, he weeps for himself.
Slowly, painfully slowly, he unfurls like a war-torn flag, a blanch-white flag of surrender.
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
GM: Caroline waits and waits as the minutes of her brother’s life tick by. Wright calls her back when there’s five left.
“Donovan says you’re drivin’ to Perdido House. Black Chevrolet’s gonna be parked outside. You’ll get in.”
Caroline: A chill runs through her.
“You’re trading me.”
GM: There’s an effected snort.
“We do not fuckin’ negotiate with Tradition breakers. Sheriff’s gonna be pissed if you ain’t there in ten.”
Caroline: “I’ll be there.”
Caroline’s heeled feet are already descending the stairs from Lou’s office, the gumshoe having already since beat feet while she waited on the hound.
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
GM: Lou is brought careening back down to earth by a slap across his face and three words all but shouted into his ear:
“BUCK UP, FUCK!”
There’s a disgusted-sounding sniff.
“Pissed y’self like a goddamn baby.”
Louis: Lou’s only half present. At this point, he’s only half-dressed.
GM: There’s another slap across the other side of his face.
“You want me t’ change you too, or what?”
Louis: Lou finally registers the blow. Reflexively he tries to block it with his former boxing and sword hand, but it’s missing. For half a century, it’s been missing. His prosthetic arm dangles flaccidly, its harnessed jostled off during their scuffle and subsequent sanguineous catechisms.
“Rosa-” he begins but stops, looking down at his absent limb and mangled mechanical replacement.
He hauls himself awkwardly up, peeling himself away from his own filth and debasement like the rind of a rotten fruit.
GM: Chica looks at Lou for a long moment. It’s been even longer since she heard that name.
“Onea those trips, huh?”
Louis: He tries again, the blood in his mouth hot and pounding like a jackhammer hangover.
His eyes scan the streets, not in shame as much as slowly dawning remembrance. Coherence. Purpose.
“Help me up. I need… I just need a moment.”
His eyes cut meaningfully to the heater vent and the bug within it.
GM: Chica grunts and hefts Lou all the way up onto the driver’s seat, the previous site of their scuffle.
“I can kick yo ass, sure as hell can lift it up.”
Louis: The old man grunts, maybe even mumbles an apology to Chica. Yet, meanwhile, Lou expertly detaches the bug and hefts it carefully in his grasp. Then, the stained man half-stumbles out the car door.
“Just a moment.”
GM: Chica rolls her eyes. “Do NOT tell me you gonna hurl…”
Louis: Lou sits on the back of the lime-green muscle car, and lights up a cigarette, his eyes casually drinking in the street and its cars.
GM: The pair have left Lou’s office behind but are still in Mid-City. Car traffic is not so thick as it is in the CBD, but Lou can make out numerous vehicles on the road, their headlights flashing through night.
Louis: Fragments of tiny spiderwebs still float in his mind, tearing free of their old, ancient cellar corners.
The tragedy of life, is not that the beautiful things die young, but that they grow old and mean.
How many years ago had he heard that?
He takes a long drag to vainly calm his racehorse nerves and laughs bitterly. “Demasiado largo. Follando demasiado tiempo. Pero ella tenía razón. No en el camino que yo y ella pensamos. Pero ella tenía razón. Así que por todas las razones equivocadas…”
(“Too long. Fucking too long. But she was right. Not in the way I and she thought. But she was right. So right for all the wrong reasons…”)
Lou flicks the cigarette, watching it spin, bounce, and sputter into the gutter, just like so many of his dreams and former lives.
GM: Lou patiently waits for the next car to come along. It doesn’t take much waiting. He steps out into the center of the road, an indistinct phantom all-too difficult to notice at the best of times, and even harder in the middle of the night.
One moment, to a hapless driver, there’s nothing ahead of them but illuminated asphalt. Then there’s a man.
Headlights painfully flash in Lou’s eyes, momentarily blinding him. Absolute dark is encircled by absolute light that spills out to more dark, like an automotive-made halo. The car swerves, and Lou with it, his centuries-honed reflexes faster than any motorist’s control of their vehicle. The car pulls to a stop at the road’s side as a middle-aged African-American man wearing a blue dress shirt and yellow necktie steps out. He’s red in the face as he all but yells, “WHAT THE HELL, ASSHOLE!?”
Louis: Lou milks the ‘crash’. He rolls over the hood, letting his cursed half-dead flesh soak the little actual impact his inhuman reflexes choose not to evade. He rises from the asphalt, his shredded, half-ripped off and stained clothes and dangling hook creating an image that blurs the boundaries between pathetic, disgusting, and horrifying. Lou charges the man, spitting the blood from his bit tongue at the driver’s face and begins yelling back, rambling and ranting about nearly being killed, Chica’ car being struck, and other similarly falsely enraged accusations.
Still yelling, he throws a seemingly drunken punch only to accidentally miss, causing him to unintentionally stumble into the other man’s car, bashing his head and body against the consul and grill, his fist actually still expertly cradling the bug–which he attempts to cunningly plant.
GM: The man awkwardly jerks away and yells back in alarm at Lou’s awful visage, his flailing and seemingly ineffectual assault, or both. As the rancid PI’s bloodied head smacks against the dashboard, the man grabs Lou’s shoulders with the panicked, jerkish motions of someone who hasn’t had any formal combat training and shoves him onto the asphalt. He then all but flies back into his car, slams the door closed, and speeds off while yelling behind him, “I’LL SUE YOU FOR THIS, FUCKWAD!”
Lou’s only half-listening to the words. Now that he considers it, the man’s voice sounds a great deal like his own… that should leave whoever is listening on the device’s other end confused for a while longer.
Louis: A little while longer, the old man muses with a bitter hope and burning conviction.
Just a little while longer…
He scrapes himself up off the asphalt and falls into Chica’s car.
GM: Chica snorts at him.
Louis: “Moment’s passed. Let’s ride.”
GM: “Still got piss on yo leg. Fuckin’ baby.”
Louis: “And your hair still looks a polar bear’s ass. Crack ho.”
Lou gives her a smile. It’s bloodied and ugly, but all the more fierce.
GM: “An’ you’re the chewed-up fish I’ll shit out afta I beat yo wrinkly ass f’ the, oh, how many times is it now?”
Louis: “Not enough, Chica, not enough.”
GM: “Thas’ what your lovers say. Oh, wait. You don’t got any ‘cuz you’re a baby who pisses hisself an’ looks like polar bear shit.”
Louis: Lou laughs, and he surprises himself upon hearing the rising strength in it. Like a man coming awake after a long coma.
“Save some of that heat, Chica. I’ve got another white man’s ass for you to kick tonight.”
GM: “Yeah,” Chica says with another disdainful snort, “cuz yours is way too fuckin’ easy.”
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
GM: Caroline pulls outside of Perdido House. The black Chevrolet, a similar model to the Suburban provided by Blackwatch, is parked by the curb of the looming gargoyle-festooned skyscraper.
Caroline: She’s spent the breakneck drive giving instructions to Polk and firing off texts for Turner and Autumn, and slides the black leather bag she’s taken to throwing into her arranged transportation out of the back seat. She gives a last smile to the bodyguard. “Never boring at least?”
To the mercenary’s practiced eye it’s an act. A strong appearance put on to cover up weakness. Her employer is hurting, torn, conflicted.
GM: Polk just clenches her jaw and eyes the similar car. Meanwhile, its passenger door opens. A mirror-shaded man in a black suit and ear radio steps out and wordlessly holds it open for Caroline.
Caroline: She closes the door on Polk and the crisp sound of her heels snap and echo across the asphalt as she makes her way to the awaiting transportation. She extends a hand to the suited mirror of Polk.
“Check a lady’s back, will you?”
GM: “Get in,” the man orders, not taking Caroline’s hand.
Caroline: The pause gives her a moment to examine what awaits her inside the vehicle.
GM: The passenger seat is empty. There’s another suited ghoul occupying the driver’s. The pale, black-haired man sitting next to him does not wear a suit, but a sweater of the same color and dark gray slacks. A sword hangs from the back of his seat.
Caroline: Her temper flares, and her nerves, already worn thin stretch and tear even as her unbeating undead heart quickens in the presence of her regent. Only his presence spares the ghoul more than her withering gaze. She slides into the waiting seat.
GM: The car takes off as soon as Caroline and the suited ghoul get in. Donovan does not turn his head to look at her as he coolly intones,
“Inform me of everything you have learned pertaining to your sire and his activities since your previous night’s phone call to Hound Wright.”
Caroline: She hangs on each icy word like it’s the too-infrequent praise from her absent father, and takes a moment after he finishes speaking to realize it was a demand that requires a response. Then she starts speaking, remembering his response last time to deception. She speaks of the allies he’s courted, the ghouls he’s acquired, and his interest in her capture. She talks about his manipulation of the Eight-Nine-Six in the preceding nights against Caroline until they broke away from him, of the abduction of her ghoul and the plot to use her to capture Caroline. All the while she watches him, eyes shifting from the back of his headrest to the rear view mirror, waiting for some sign of his favor at the information.
GM: The black Chevrolet drives through the CBD’s clusters of skyscrapers, galleries and restaurants, passes through Canal Street’s wide thoroughfare, and continues on through the French Quarter’s low-rise posh hotels, bars, and tourist traps. The sheriff’s car stops a block away from a single-story red building unassuming but for the executioner’s axe hanging over the wooden front door.
Donovan does not turn from his seat to face Caroline throughout her exposition. He does not speak until she is finished.
“I have no further use for you. Leave.”
Caroline: Caroline, despite the lack of physical sensation, can’t help but have her skin crawl. Back in the Quarter again. Back where this nightmare began. She can almost feel the eyes staring at her from out in the street. It just feels wrong. Unwelcoming.
As does the entire situation. It’s too contrived, too easy. It screams trap.
“They’re going to expect this,” she chokes out to the sheriff, the concern for him too obvious in her voice. “It may even be what they want.”
Nonetheless, her hand moves to the door handle, and she starts to slip out.
GM: The sheriff offers no response to Caroline’s words as she exits the car. Once more, she stands naked and alone in the French Quarter’s dark streets.
In contrast to the teeming throngs that were present for Southern Decadence, however, the Vieux Carré feels next to barren of living souls on a late Tuesday night. No motion is evident past the black car’s tinted windows. Sickly green light from the nearby club spills over the Dungeon’s red, casting a ghoulish pallor over Caroline’s pale skin. Her shadow stretches long and uninterrupted across Toulouse Street’s asphalt.
She’s over ten minutes late for Westley.
Caroline: Caroline spares a glance towards “The Dungeon” and sets off away from it towards one of the Quarter’s many open bars, carrying the leather bag she brought with her in one hand. She needs to get off the street, where she feels so vulnerable.
GM: A lurid red neon sign winks out at Caroline from the dark. Saints and Sinners.
Caroline: Caroline flows towards the beacon like a star on a cloudy night.
GM: Leather and red velvet envelop Caroline like awaiting arms. Subdued lights glint from gold fixtures, a bare pittance next to the neon red that spills everywhere and bathes the already indistinct patrons in a sanguine sheen. A band blasts thumping music from the stage in tune to the audience’s writhing bodies.
Caroline: The scene near the stage is too self-indulgent and tacky, but Caroline is grateful for the crowd cover and picks up a drink at the bar before finding a table and digging out her phone.
GM: The bartender mixes up Caroline a “sinner”—Southern Comfort, Amaretto, house bourbon, peach schnapps, cranberry juice, sweet and sour.
“You don’t look like much of a saint,” the low-voiced man smirks as he slides it over.
Caroline: Caroline’s looks up from her phone, from which she’s just sent a text to Lou’s burner. Her gaze sweeps across the room seeking out other Kindred, or their thralls, before settling on the bartender. She’s not exactly dressed for this crowd, but she can make it work.
“Professional opinion?” she asks with a smirk.
GM: A new wave of red light spills over the man’s tattooed arms.
“I see enough to know.”
Caroline: The heiress crosses her legs and looks him over.
“I bet you do. And far more sinners than saints. Even if they walked in as the latter?”
GM: The bartender mixes up another drink and slides it off to a nearby patron.
“It takes a lifetime to be a saint and only one night to be a sinner.”
Caroline: “I’m sure you’d know all about that.”
GM: “You’re right. I do.”
Caroline: A smile as she nurses the drink and he makes another. Upon his return.
“So is this your typical crowd?”
GM: “Sometimes we have fuller nights than others. But the party never stops. Or the sins.”
Caroline: “I’m sure that suits you just fine.”
She looks down at her phone again. Another text goes out, this time to Polk. And another to Autumn.
GM: Polk texts back that she’s on her way.
Autumn confirms the message is received.
Caroline: Caroline casts another glance around the bar after sending off her last message as she locks the screen. Hostile. Uninviting. She feels like she’s back in that alley again with the Eight-Nine-Six. Twisting in the wind. Out of place. Unprepared.
There’s a twisting in her insides as she tries not to think on how much time has passed since Westley’s call.
How long he’s been in the hands of monsters.
How close at hand he is.
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
GM: Lou’s phone buzzes.
Louis: Lou bites back, or at least saves in reserve, whatever sardonic quip he had in store and looks at the phone to read the number.
Louis: He motions for Chica to burn rubber, then flips open the phone, cradling it to his ear with his asphalt-scrapped hand.
GM: There’s two cross streets in the French Quarter. Right by the Dungeon, Lou notes. And five more words:
Sheriff went fishing with me.
Louis: Lou grunts. He had expected a phone call, not a text, and it takes the anachronistic man a brief moment to reorient himself to the device. He considers ignoring it, the worm inside his gut more than disquieted by her text appearing mere seconds after ditching the bug. But something else compels his fingers as they awkwardly, one-handedly type back his reply:
You catch anything?
Caroline: Worm on the hook. Sinners & Saints.
A moment later:
Louis: Lou curses. He eyes Chica, then the phone. He recalls the perfect arc of his flicked cigarette as it spun its last swan dance. Perfect until it smashed into the oil-slick concrete and iron gutter. His thumb hovers over the phone’s keys. He hesitates another moment only to eventually find himself texting again–against his better judgment:
Tell me what you need.
Caroline: No response is immediately forthcoming.
Then, after several minutes:
I don’t know.
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
Caroline: That tattered conscience tears at her like a dress caught in the wind, trying to pull her along or rip free entirely, and her hand shakes. She buries it in her lap to hide the tremor.
GM: The bar’s blood-red lights continue to pulsate, bathing the writhing patrons underneath their sanguine sheen. At the seat next to Caroline’s, a girl pushes her drink away and grogs something about not feeling well. A scarlet-faced man murmurs something, places his arm around her shoulder to guide her off, then fondles her breasts. The bartender absently polishes a glass and glances at Caroline’s untouched drink.
“Yours doesn’t have anything like that.”
Caroline: Her hand snakes out to the girl before she can slip out of arm’s reach. “Why don’t you stay with me for now?”
She should let it go. It’s not only none of her business, but it’s actively the opposite of what she needs right now. She flashes what she hopes a friendly smile to the girl.
GM: The man tugs back as Caroline tries to pull away the dazed-looking girl. “Hey, I’m her boyfriend.”
Caroline: “And I’m her roommate,” Caroline replies, locking eyes with him. “Don’t worry, sweetie, I’ll make sure she gets home safe.”
GM: The man laughs cruelly and flashes Caroline a crimson-painted sneer.
“There’s plenty more.”
He lets go and vanishes into the pulsating throng of bodies.
Caroline: “But not this one,” she growls after him as she slides the girl into the seat beside her and looks her over.
GM: The girl rubs her head and grogs something inarticulate. Her age is hard to make out under the dark crimson “light.” She could be anywhere from her teens to twenties. She’s wearing a tight-fitting, mid-thigh, strapless club dress whose indigo color (it looks more like black contrasted by the club’s deep red) matches her dyed wavy hair.
The bartender smirks at Caroline. “I see enough sinners to know one. I still don’t see any saints.”
Caroline: “Even the devil has standards,” she snaps back as reaches for the girl’s bag and digs out her ID.
GM: Riley Nielsen, born 1991, it dimly reads.
“He doesn’t, I’ve found, though he enjoys fooling himself,” the bartender answers with a shrug.
Caroline: Caroline focuses on the girl. “How are you doing, honey?” she asks, looking up, then glancing at her phone.
She texts out a short answer with one hand to Lou.
GM: “Uuuhhhhh…” is the girl’s only answer. She lays her arms down over the bar, and her head over her arms.
“But you know,” the bartender continues, “there’s one thing I’ve found that drives sinners to play saints. Guilt. Guilt over some sin so awful, that’s crossed so many lines, they feel they have no choice but to make up for it and become a saint. Or at least try.”
Caroline: Caroline flinches like he’s just punched her in the face.
GM: The scarlet-faced man smirks.
“I’m not really one for the ‘wise bartender’ stereotype. But I see so many sinners.”
Caroline: “I guess you see right through me,” Caroline all but sneers back.
“Or maybe I just don’t need to wear a mask. I know what I am.”
GM: “A sinner that knows what they are doesn’t pretend to be a saint.”
Caroline: She leans over the bar, voice just loud enough to be heard over the music and crowd.
“I’m a Catholic, darling. We’re all sinners. And we’re all doing the best we can.”
She leans back. “And among those bests, I think I can draw a hard line at ‘casually watching a girl get dragged off to get raped.’”
GM: The bartender doesn’t quite smirk at Caroline’s declaration, but his eyes glint against the bar’s scarlet light.
“Her ‘boyfriend’ was right. He’ll find someone else.”
His gaze lazily drifts towards the slumped-over girl.
“And someone else is going to find her, if she keeps going out like that. What have you accomplished besides making yourself feel like a saint for a moment, o sinner?”
Caroline: She clenches her teeth.
“I hate to break it to you, but disengaging and pretending there’s nothing you can do isn’t being a ‘sinner.’”
GM: “Hopefully for your friend you’ll still be around tomorrow. And the night after. And after.”
Caroline: “Were you always this bitter?”
GM: “Will you always be this… caring, I think, is the question.”
Caroline: She looks down at her ringing phone and unfamiliar number. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
She slides the accept bar on the phone.
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
Louis: Meanwhile, Lou fills in Chica on his plan as they cruise across the French Quarter. The buzz of his phone interrupts his line of thought. He stares down at the text and frowns. He checks his mental rolodex on Caroline’s reported whereabouts, but it’s a poor hand: a pair of nines at best. Nothing to wager good money on, much less throw good money after bad.
But sometimes, all you can do is play the hand you’re dealt. Spotting a payphone, Lou motions for Chica to pull over. “Just a moment,” he says, then adds pointedly, “A shorter moment that doesn’t involve car-hopping or asphalt kissing.”
GM: “As if,” Chica snorts. The Green Machine still pulls over.
Louis: Lou steps out, bizarrely content at his visible disarray, and makes a collect call to Caroline’s number. As the operator begins to patch through the call, Lou scans the streets and surroundings for any suspiciously attentive cars or pedestrians.
GM: Lou can see none.
Can see none, the worm of paranoia wriggles.
Louis: Lou sucks his gums, the taste of blood and worse long replacing the rich bourbon that served as his breakfast. A few seconds later, after Caroline accepts the collect call from “A skeptical fisherman,” Lou leads with a question.
“Ms. Malveaux, any change in your situation?”
Caroline: Loud music can be heard in the background, the chatter of a crowd, the sound of glasses against a bar. The Ventrue’s voice cuts through.
“Would you believe my date just dumped me out on the street?”
Louis: Lou’s answer sounds more sad and bitter than sardonic. “He’s not your type.”
Caroline: She looks around the bar and eyes the bartender.
“Do you still have plans tonight?”
Louis: “You know what they said about plans.”
A minor pause, then, “But yes, provided my date doesn’t me up too. For all I know, he might hook up with old ones.”
“But for now,” he adds, “let’s focus on the now. I think you better do some bailing of your own.”
Caroline: “So I’m not invited to the party?”
Louis: “One thing at a time, angel.”
Lou’s next words come out fast, like an old stenographer banging out words with little thought, or at least indelible familiarity:
“I don’t know if you have a ride, but I wouldn’t advise leaving in the same one. If they’re fishing, it’s time to pull a bait and switch, or at least jump off the hook. You say you’re at the Saints and Sinners, ok, let’s work with that. The place is used by the CDC to incubate sexually transmitted diseases, which is why it’s a frequent hot spot for Detective Mouton. Given the date and time, there’s a good chance he’s there. Look around. If he’s there, you can’t miss him. Guy looks like a beanpole decided to grow limbs and get a lip job with all the world’s spare collagen.”
Caroline: “There’s a complication. I have a passenger.”
Louis: There’s only the slightest pause.
“So long as she’s a… civilian, that’s even better. If eyes are watching for you to run, they won’t be expecting a pair and police escort. But do you see him?”
Caroline: Her eyes sweep the room for his described detective.
GM: It’s hard to make out specific people through the crowd and under the scintillating red lights, but Ricky Mouton is hard to miss, resembling nothing so much as a beanpole that decided to grow limbs. His narrow head is only slightly widened by his black sideburns and ‘70s style coiffure. His puffy lips are pressed into a smile, as if life is a joke whose punchline he alone knows. Even the bar’s pulsating red lights can’t hide the almost iridescent sheen that his contagious sleaze lends to his tan skin. His clothes consist of a ballooning yellow silk leisure shirt, a long white leather coat, bell-bottom dress slacks, and brown crocodile wingtips. All things told, the man looks like he’d have a pretty hard time with the ladies, which might explain the falsely eager expression of the scantily-attired woman he’s talking to. His hand is reaching underneath their shared table to stroke an exposed thigh her tight club dress doesn’t cover.
Louis: “Well?” Lou asks, readjusting his prosthetic hook.
Caroline: “Slimeball. I see him.”
Louis: “Yep, Detective Mouton makes slugs seem dry as a drunk in a twelve-week rehab. Anyways, that slimeball you see might be your ticket. You see, the boys in blue and those they bust refer to Ricky Mouton as ‘Cash Money.’ Despite what his badge might say, Ricky there worships the almighty dollar.”
Caroline: Despite. Caroline bites back a laugh.
“What’s the approach? Dangle the hook? Blunt or subtle?”
Louis: “Blunt. Give cash, promise more. Make sure you stiff-arm any attempts at sleaze. Ricky’s learned not to lose meal tickets by disrespecting big shots, so make sure he knows you’re a big shot. Say you and your friend need a discrete ride home right away. Have him put whatever ridiculous jacket he’s wearing over your head, handcuff the other one, and lead you both out the back. If he needs any more incentive, claim you can make his current Internal Affairs investigation go away. I have no clue if he actually has one right now, but a guy like him is always flirting with at least five. And that’s being generous.”
Another pause. “He gives you anymore flack with those fat lips, tell him you’re going to make a call to Sal’s wife, Gina. Then tell him, ‘If the dragon ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.’ But don’t use those last two cards unless you have to, since they’re mostly paper tigers.”
Caroline: “Is he read in?”
Louis: “He’s not drinking the juice, if that’s what you mean. Not last I checked. But you don’t need poison to make a dirty rat stink. He’s on more pads than most Ninth Ward prostitutes, so it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the local red-tabbers bribe him to run errands for them. That’s the ugly beauty of Mouton, he serves the higher bidder. So if they have him on a money leash, just bid more to make a tighter leash.”
“Your call. If you want, I can call some cleaner cops to pick you up. But that will take time. And frankly, Ms. Malveaux, I don’t know how much you have.”
Caroline: “Out the back is dangerous.”
Louis: “Front door, then,” Lou replies, nodding to an increasingly impatient Chica who sits in the idling EXP Turbo. “You want me to call someone else?”
Caroline: “No. I’ll reach you when I break clear.”
Louis: “Please do. And Ms. Malveaux, try to not to die. Again.”
Caroline: Caroline ends the call on that morbid topic.
“Trying, old man,” she grumbles to herself.
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
Caroline: Caroline shifts her attention to ‘Cash Money.’ She lets the Beast slip a blood-soaked appendage out of the cage, just a bit, a hook, to reel the detective in with rather than abandon her charity case at the bar. Besides, it’s not like she’s going to walk over and compete for attention with his chosen tramp.
GM: Cash Money’s beanpole-like face immediately looks up from the woman whose crotch he’s moved on to fingering. The sleazy, self-contented smirk is gone from his face. Bereft of it, there doesn’t seem to be much of anything left.
“That’s very touching you aren’t leaving her behind like you left your brother, you sickening hypocrite,” the bartender answers with a lazy smirk that all but drips venom.
He’s a lean man. Slightly taller than average for a man. Around the same height as her in tall shoes. Not exceptionally muscled. No excess body fat though. Lean and languid. Ink tattoos, their patterns indistinct in the dark, coil up his arms like incestuously knotted snakes. He’s dressed casually in a short-sleeved navy polo shirt, black belt, and dark slacks.
His face is long and high-cheekboned, just slightly darker than Caroline’s. It’s faded to a healthy tan, yet a century of undeath has simultaneously bleached it pale and left it seemingly neither alive nor dead—the struggle of Man and Beast writ across the contours of his face.
His eyes, perhaps a clear gray outside of Saints & Sinners, seem to drink in the bar’s pulsating, blood-red lights with the same thirst that has claimed God only knows how many lives—one of the bar’s present occupants among them. They glow an angry crimson, promising a damnation more real and immediate than Uncle Orson ever could. There’s a wildness dancing through those eyes in tune to the bar’s teeming throngs. It’s a mixture of cruelty, amusement, lust, madness, bitterness, and melancholy. His crooked smirk promises equal parts mirth and mockery, gallantry and monstrosity.
“Are you still lost, little lamb?”
Caroline: The Ventrue heiress slide her gaze back to the bartender, all the while keeping her Beast focused on Cash Money. Drawing him in.
“I’m sorry, am I supposed to be surprised?”
She digs something out of her bag with one hand. She doesn’t quite meet his eyes.
“The too-insightful bartender picking a fight with his patron? A little obvious, don’t you think?”
GM: A smirk traces her sire’s red-painted lips.
“Release Cash Money.”
The redbone cop all-too eagerly returns to his impatient tramp as her Beast dies.
Caroline: “What do you want?”
GM: René strides outside the bar.
“Follow me upstairs. Take your friend with you.”
Caroline: Caroline feels her body moving at his command.
“Why are you doing this? Why do you even care, pops?” she demands. She’s waited what feels like years to throw that word in his face.
GM: The two vampires depart the throngs of teeming revelers. René proceeds towards a back door, smirks and holds it open for Caroline, as if to say ‘ladies first.’
Caroline: She unwillingly continues on, the drugged girl leaning heavily on her shoulder.
“Why are we going upstairs?” she growls. “Is this where you explain what’s going on? Why you FUCKING did this to me? Or are you just going to kill me. Again.”
GM: René closes the door behind Caroline and follows her up the building’s stairs. The blaring music and dancing crowd fades to an increasingly low din with every step the pair climb.
They reach the top, and Caroline’s sire pauses to get the door for her again. It leads past a short halfway into an almost ordinary-looking office space: desk with computer and printer, swivel chair, and couch that a motionlesss woman in business casual is slumped over.
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t wait for the command. She walks in.
GM: René pulls the woman off with neither brusqueness nor gentleness and lays her on the floor. He motions to the now-unoccupied seat. “Do sit down, Caroline.”
Caroline: She grinds her teeth as she slides into the seat. “Why thank you.”
She drags the girl down beside her.
GM: The barely conscious woman groans and lolls against Caroline’s shoulder. René, meanwhile, pulls out the chair from behind the desk and sits down, facing Caroline.
“Your brother said all the usual things you’d expect from someone in his situation. I won’t bother repeating them. But there was one thing that stood out to me. He thought you ‘understood’ him where no one else in your family did, except for your mother.”
Caroline: Her face twists between fury and grief.
GM: “That you were one of the only two who actually loved him.”
Caroline: “I’m going to… I’m going to kill you. I swear to god.”
GM: René offers a mirthless laugh. “Robert already beat you to the punch there by a hundred years. Still, I was surprised by what your brother had to say. I hadn’t been expecting you to actually stride into the Dungeon, before I kidnapped him, but the way he went on…”
Caroline: There’s anguish written across her face.
GM: “I’m not one to relish pain to the same extent that others there do. But there is a certain… beauty to such moments.”
Caroline: “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS!?” she all but screams in his face. All pretense of pride and composure is gone beneath a mask of rage, hate, and grief, a boiling pot of mixed emotions fit to be called gumbo.
GM: Amusement glitters in René’s wild, now clear-gray eyes.
“All masks, all deceptions, all the little white lies people tell themselves… they fall away like snowflakes when someone is staring death in the eye. When they know, truly know, that their time on God’s earth is about to run out. There’s no longer any point in keeping up the lies, and that’s when you see what a man is made of. What ideals he cherishes. What people he loves. Who he truly is, underneath it all. I relish those moments, Caroline.”
“It was your name Westley screamed past all the blood. Yours and your mother’s.”
Caroline: Her fingers dig into the sofa, and there’s a sound of tearing fabric as Caroline’s teeth grind together. Her eyes well with crimson and the deluge opens up, scarlet raindrops rolling down her cheeks. The creature inside her lashes out screaming, trying to break free, and she holds on only in her grief, clinging to it, cling to her own pain. Refusing to let the Beast have its way. It’s her suffering. She isn’t going to hide behind a rabid animal.
“Is he dead?” she chokes out.
GM: Her sire throws back his head and laughs.
“That’s a child’s fantasy. No, you made your choice for poor Westley. It’s not the one he would have made for you if his last words were any indication.”
“You’d know better than me, though. Was he really that selfless, or just desperate for whatever scraps of affection someone in your family tossed his way?”
Caroline: “What did you do to him?”
GM: “Enough that he was begging to die rather than live by the the end.”
Caroline: “I HATE YOU!” she snarls, blood dripping from her face. “WHY!? WHY ARE YOU DOING ALL OF THIS?!”
GM: “Why didn’t you do anything for your brother?” René poses. “Do you enjoy this life, enough for it to be worth more than his? Or are you simply afraid to die and go somewhere even worse?”
Caroline: A crack appears in her enraged mask, but only for a moment.
“You wouldn’t have let him go.”
GM: “Oh, I’m sure that’s easy to believe, Caroline. Or at least something you’d like to believe. Lets you wash your wash of him, keep your conscience clean. But wouldn’t the alternative be so much worse?”
Caroline: “They’ll catch you. Eventually.” She shakes her head. “Regardless of what you do to me. They’ll catch you. And you’ll burn with me.”
GM: Her sire gives another bleak laugh. “We’re all going to burn. Maybe in two weeks, maybe in a hundred years, maybe in a thousand. But unless you don’t believe in God, there’s going to be a final reckoning for all of us. Immortality is a lie.”
Caroline: “You know I believe in God.”
GM: “Then you know it’s not a matter of if, but when.”
Caroline: “Then I’ll take cold comfort in the fact that I’ll see you in Hell.”
If Caroline were alive at this point, she might be sobbing. She might be spraying snot everywhere. Instead there’s only blood rolling down her face. Rivers of blood.
GM: “A very cold comfort, if Dante was right,” René smiles. “Betrayers to family, after all, are condemned to the second ring of the ninth circle of hell. It’s quite a chilly place.”
Caroline: “Why? Why do this? Isn’t this existence awful enough? How could you do this to someone? Why me?”
GM: “You know,” René blithely continues, “to a casual reader, how Dante assigned sins to hells appears completely arbitrary. But there’s actually a very precise order to it. The cardinal of all virtues to Dante, you see, was love.”
Caroline: “Did you just want to destroy someone? Ruin their lives and everything they ever touched? Everyone?”
GM: “The hells are ranked according to the degree by which they are removed from love. So lust occupies the uppermost circle—Limbo notwithstanding—as it’s simply ‘misguided’ love. While Cocytus occupies the lowest circle for reasons you’re far more personally acquainted with than I am. Because traitors twist love, use it to hurt those who loved them, and consequently reject it to the greatest degree.”
René smiles and traces one of the faded ink tattoos over his arms. “Semper fidelis. I’m sure you know the saying, one of your ghouls is a former Marine.”
Caroline: “Congratulations. You succeed. You ruined me,” she spits. “You fucking coward.”
She focuses on her rage. Her hate. On anything to avoid thinking about Westley’s last moments. On what he must have gone though. What he must have thought.
GM: “Also a far less grave sin, if Dante was right. But we’ve strayed from the subject, Caroline. Do you actually enjoy this life, or are you simply afraid to face what comes next?”
Caroline: “What does it matter? What do you care?”
GM: “I suppose it doesn’t, in the end. We’re both going to burn.” He smiles. “Or freeze.”
Caroline: “Do you just want some other way to torture me, René? Looking for your next dagger?”
GM: “No, I’m sure your brother’s fate wounded you more deeply than anything I can say here.”
Caroline: “You’re a monster.”
GM: “The retort to that is rather obvious, isn’t it? On the other hand, I’ve never left any of my brothers behind to die.”
Caroline: “If I thought, for a moment, that I could save him I’d have been there.”
GM: “Mmm. You could have tried to negotiate with me. You can’t ever replace a brother, true, but it’ll take my entire Requiem twice over to replace Kelford. He’d have been quite an asset to bargain with.”
Caroline: “This would be the part where I’d taunt you about him, but I’m not a fucking monster like you. He cared about you. Loved you. For a century.”
GM: “No, just someone who abandoned her own flesh and blood when he needed her most. And please, if you’re mistaking the blood bond for love, it’s as close to that as we are to being human.”
Caroline: “He said he was worried about you. How you’d become so self-loathing.”
GM: “Well, perhaps if he’s lucky he’ll get to roast in one of the upper hells.”
Caroline: “You still haven’t answered my question.”
GM: “And what’s that question, why I did this to you? Why anyone could possibly be so cruel as to inflict this monstrous parody of an existence upon any living, thinking, feeling being, no matter what their crimes?”
Caroline: She says nothing, only stares at him. The tears have stopped, for now, but the blood remains, awful rivers charted down her porcelain face.
After a moment, “And why bring Westley into it. Why did you care about capturing me? What’s the point of this?”
GM: René leans back in his chair.
“Well, I’ll say this much to begin with, it wasn’t out of some misguided religious zeal. If you ask me, which you have, I think the Sanctified’s entire dogma is a load of claptrap. Not that God cursed us, or that we’re monsters, but that He’d actually trust creatures as flawed and broken as us to do His work. We simply aren’t very good tools. How many of our kind really only prey upon sinners? How many innocents have you murdered in all of two weeks?”
Caroline: Her face hardens.
GM: “That’s leaving out poor Westley, but congratulations, you’re walking proof the Sanctified are deluding themselves.”
Caroline: “They would disagree.”
GM: “Oh yes, and they’d punish me for speaking blasphemy too, but that’s among the least of my sins.”
“That wasn’t an ‘I disagree,’ though. You haven’t bought into their little fantasy that our existence has purpose, have you?”
Caroline: “I don’t know. I’ve been too preoccupied to bury myself in dogma. I do know that my… victim,” the word does not come out easily, “wasn’t what they would describe as an innocent though.”
GM: “Did they deserve death, then? Were you a righteous wolf of God, dispensing His judgment upon a wayward sinner?”
Caroline: “I was starving and in agony, and completely out of control. Is that God acting through me?”
The words sound hollow even to her.
“It doesn’t really matter, does it? Not right now. Not to either of us. Either you’ll kill me or they will. Either I’ll kill you or they will. Either way, I’m not sure it’s a productive topic for contemplation in our final hours.”
GM: “If you ascribe to the idea that God is present in or simply acts through the Beast, how do you explain the Sanctified being perfectly willing to frenzy at the people Longinus says not to kill? Wave vitae in front of a starving Kindred and they’ll lose control, God’s will be damned.”
Caroline: “You want a firm answer? I don’t think God would let us exist without some purpose. Maybe though if you’d hung around instead of leaving me I wouldn’t have ended up with what you consider the wrong crowd.”
GM: “Oh, I could care less which of the covenants’ drivel you fill your ears with, I’m probably going to kill you in a few minutes.”
Caroline: “Then tell me why in the hell you did it in the first place!” The anger is back.
GM: René sits down on the couch across from Caroline and lifts up her chin with a slender hand. His eyes travel the length of her face.
“You’re beautiful, you know. I’m sure you do. Death becomes you.”
Caroline: “As beautiful as a corpse when a mortician is done with it.”
GM: “Yes. But those last only so long before crumbling apart. Besides. Even dead, there’s a life to you no mortician’s hand could impart.”
Caroline: “Why did you have to drag my family into it? Why couldn’t you just ruin me? Kill me? Embrace me? Whatever the hell you wanted. Why ever you wanted?”
GM: René hasn’t removed his hand from Caroline, continuing to study the contours of her face.
“Well, Westley was to get you here. Which it still did, I might add. Donovan will be just at home as you in Hell’s lowest circle. I think the temperature rather becomes him already.”
Caroline: “What are you talking about?”
But she already knows. Or at least suspects.
“Either he set me up, or you used me to set him up. Or both.”
GM: René smirks and finally withdraws his hand.
“Yes, those things do get to be a rather incestuous mess where our kind are concerned. Plots within plots crossbred with other plots. You ask me, the whole thing is worth swearing off, but I suppose it’s inevitable you’ll get pulled back in too. Such is the Jyhad.”
Caroline: “The what?”
GM: “The Jyhad. The Great Game, the Eternal Struggle, the Danse Macabre, or whatever sobriquet you want to call it by. I think ‘petty bickering’ is the most fitting, but what else are our kind supposed to do with eternity if we can’t bicker?”
René offers a sallow parody of a smile.
“Let it not be said I haven’t taught my childe anything.”
Caroline: “Are you done gloating, then? Going to leave me as you found me? In the dark.”
GM: “Mmm. Tell you what, Caroline, when you’re a moment away from being ashes, I’ll whisper it in your ear. But if things don’t turn out that way, well, I am petty enough to think it’s amusing if you never find out.”
Caroline: “So, what are we waiting for then, dad. Having trouble getting it up?”
GM: “If you’d like, I can try my hand on your friend and see.”
René smiles as he glances towards the slumped-over girl on the couch.
Caroline: Caroline’s mouth slams shut.
GM: Her sire laughs.
“Pick her up.”
Caroline: She mechanically complies.
GM: René walks behind the room’s desk, strips off his shirt, and pulls on a long-sleeved white dress shirt and casual dark outer jacket. He smiles back at Caroline.
Caroline: “Leave her the fuck alone!”
GM: “Robert always thought I was something of a clotheshorse. Said a Toreador probably would’ve Embraced me if he hadn’t. But depending on how things turn out, well, I may as well meet my end well-dressed.”
Caroline: She grinds her teeth.
GM: René picks up a cane and pulls out the handle, revealing a slender blade. He turns it over, puts it back, and hooks the cane to his belt.
“Always check your weapons.”
He then picks up a wooden stake and looks it over in turn.
Caroline: She can do little but watch.
GM: “It’s time for us to go. In…” He glances down at his watch. “Three, two, one…”
The office’s door explodes open.
An eyeblink passes. René is crouched over a body on the floor. There’s two more bodies, suited men wearing mirrored shades, missing their heads. Caroline spots them several feet away. Blood leaks from their amputated necks. More blood is spattered over the couch and desk.
René pulls away. The corpse on the ground is Donovan, with a stake in his chest. Caroline’s sire looks up. There’s several more figures past the doorway. Dark men, with darker smiles. Blades in their hands. Kindred.
René nods at them. “Well done. He’s all Savoy’s.”
“Now, my childe and I have somewhere to be.”
Caroline: “Donovan!” Caroline croaks out. “Who are they? What did you do?”
GM: One of the beshadowed men offers René a dead smile.
“May the Ghede continue to bless you.”
“Yes, I’m sure they will. Caroline, follow.”
Caroline: She robotically follows after her sire, drugged woman in hand.
GM: “And please, you know he wouldn’t be crying over you.”
Caroline: Caroline looks down as she goes. Care about her or not, Donovan was her last hope here. Her last real hope.
After all, what’s a washed-up, one-handed old bum going to do?
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
Louis: Lou’s barely stepped off the curb when his pink bedazzled burned lights up. Lou curses, but flips open the phone. What he hears, however, causes him to curse a lot more. Silently, but no less furiously.
GM: Chica rolls her eyes. “You havin’ a fight wit’ your boyfriend over that?”
Louis: In a flurry of movements that would ordinarily seem impossible for the decrepit drunk, Lou mutes his phone, jams it against his ear, races to Chica’s car, barreling his torso through the rolled down driver’s side window, and explains the situation as he steals enough coinage to make a single call from the payphone. A preternaturally short time later, Lou’s punching in a number he hadn’t expected to call. Not tonight at least.
GM: “Who the fuck izzis?” snaps a man’s voice.
It’s the last thing he says. Lou has to check to make sure he’s not been disconnected. Wright’s kind, after all, don’t breathe.
Louis: The PI doesn’t answer, not with his own words. Not yet at least. He turns the phone, angling it and increasing its volume so that the hound can hear Caroline explain in her own all-too raw words:
“Why are we going upstairs? Is this where you explain what’s going on? Why you FUCKING did this to me? Or are you just going to kill me. Again.”
Lou lets the clandestine, if makeshift conference call continue for just long enough so he’s sure Wright understands the situation–or at least the players involved. Lou then cuts in, supplying another key piece of information: the setting. “Upper floor, Saints and Sinners.”
He listens for a response.
GM: None is forthcoming.
Louis: By the time René laughs and explains how Robert already beat Caroline “to the punch there by a hundred years” and explains kidnapping and torturing her brother in the Dungeon, Lou cuts in a second time.
“Either piss or get off the pot. The party line’s about to die.”
GM: There is still no response.
Louis: Lou no longer waits for one. He hangs up.
GM: Chica waits impatiently from the Green Machine.
Louis: She doesn’t have to wait long. Lou all but leaps into the car.
“Drive, Chica, drive like the motherfucker of all fucking bleeding periods is about to hit.”
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
GM: The two vampires proceed down the stairs. The music’s pounding and crowd’s roar washes back over them. René does not leave through the bar’s entrance, but takes a back door out, methodically scanning his surroundings with the same careful look Caroline has seen Turner wear.
Caroline: “You’re making a play. For who?”
GM: “Myself. I’ve debts to pay. The sheriff more than pays them back.”
“Oh, now let’s take care of how he found us.”
René reaches into Caroline’s purse and smashes her phone against the building’s outside wall. He drops the ruined device into a trash bin.
Caroline: She glowers behind a crimson-stained face.
GM: Her sire tsks. “I’m sure you can afford another. Did you even check to see if that thing was being used as a listening device?”
Caroline: “I’d rather hoped it was.”
GM: René looks up at the waiting cab. He gets in, followed by Caroline and the all-but unconscious girl she’s dragging along. The driver gapes at Caroline’s bloody face, only for René to curtly order him to drive them to a Rampart Street address. The man instantly settles down and complies. The French Quarter’s dark cityscape speeds past.
Caroline: “Who’s your actual target, René? You used me to draw out the sheriff. Used the Setites to take him down. Used Savoy… and still are. You came back here for a reason.” Caroline’s mind is working, her emotions pushed back.
GM: René methodically continues to scan the surrounding streets, his eyes not meeting Caroline’s.
“Well, I’m getting the hell out now. God knows I’m not going to be welcome after staking the sheriff.”
Caroline: She reads off a street sign as she passes, then another, quietly, trying to make sense of their destination. “So where are you going?”
GM: “Anywhere but here, really. Maybe Los Angeles. I’ve always liked the sun.”
Caroline: She snorts darkly in spite of herself.
“Do it in the city. Please.”
GM: René’s eyes are still fixed on the surrounding streets.
“What? Oh, of course, it’s a needless loose end hauling you across the country. Travel is hard enough with just one Kindred.”
“Word of advice, if you ever do. It’s about as dangerous for us now as it was for the kine a thousand years ago. Weeds out the weak and insincere, though. Only the strong and committed make it in the dark places between cities. Where no prince rules.”
Caroline: “Seems pretty unlikely right now. But I know what happens when we die again. I’d rather not have my ashes scattered all over some swamp.”
GM: “Would you like them in an urn? I can have it sent to your family.”
Caroline: She gives another snort. “What a mystery this is going to be. The stories they’ll tell.”
The weight of it all comes crashing down on her, and she’s grateful she’s facing away, out the window, where he can’t see her tears.
“The missing Malveaux.”
GM: “The missing Malveauxes,” her sire corrects.
Caroline: She has nothing further to say to that.
GM: On the west side of the French Quarter is Rampart Street, favored by the Kindred because of its easy prey. A divided, two-lane road, the sorry section of the French Quarter is known for the prostitutes, pushers and junkies who regularly hang out there. It’s the gutter that Bourbon Street’s sleaze runs off to.
Caroline: “Never thought I’d end up in a gutter.”
GM: “You’d be surprised at the places this existence can take you.”
Caroline: “Oh, the Places You’ll Go? I hated that book.”
GM: René only gives her a blank look.
Caroline: “Really? You… of course not.”
GM: The cab stops outside a run-down apartment complex marred by graffiti, peeling paint, and crusty-haired gutter punks sleeping in the streets. René orders Caroline to wipe her face and then tells the driver how he ferried some perfectly ordinary passengers from Point A to Point B. The driver nods calmly along at René’s words. He even pays the man as he gets out with Caroline and their all-but unconscious third wheel.
“It’s little touches like that, you know, to maintain the Masquerade. I don’t imagine you’ve had anyone to teach you.”
Caroline: She does the best she can, using the car window as a mirror as René deals with the driver.
“No. I didn’t. I got to pay in blood for all of my mistakes. Too often not my own.”
GM: “The Lasombra believe in survival of the fittest. Facing trials by fire. Maybe there’s something to that if you managed to eliminate my elder ghoul.”
Caroline: “That was a nasty touch, shooting at me right after Eight-Nine-Six attacked.”
GM: The two make their way up the apartment’s stairs.
“Yes, I’m sure it was. And now they’re being executed for violating the Masquerade, while you are blameless.”
Caroline: She frowns but says nothing.
GM: The pair proceed down a filthy, debris-strewn hallway lined with doors that aren’t numbered. Black mold grows on the peeling walls. The place has barely been maintained. Caroline can hear something, though, past the door of the unit René approaches. Heartbeats. Pumping that precious blood through veins.
René abruptly turns and retreats back down the hall, motioning for Caroline to follow. His hand clasps the hilt of his swordcane.
Caroline: “Things suddenly not going according to plan?” she asks.
GM: “Be quiet,” her sire hisses in a low voice. The two begin to make their way back down the stairs.
Caroline: She can do little besides comply, but a hint of a smile rolls across her face.
GM: “Attack anyone who assaults me,” René whispers. He produces a hand knife and extends it towards Caroline.
Caroline: She makes no move to take the knife.
GM: “Take it,” he impatiently orders.
Caroline: Reluctantly she does so. Or at least, with mental reluctance. Physically her actions remain on autopilot.
GM: The two vampires make their way down to the building’s equally dilapidated ground story. René approaches the front door. He pauses for a fraction of a second, clearly listening, and then pulls it open with his sword drawn.
Louis: The door slowly opens to reveal the inviting darkness of night. But a man stands in their way. He’s dressed in the gray-bland service uniform of Entergy Gas and Electric Utilities. He’s old. He hefts a gator-skinny briefcase to his chest and asks with a grim grin,
“Excuse me, sir, but do you have time to hear about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?”
He doesn’t wait for the answer, though, just flips open the briefcase to one-handedly grip a pistol-handed sawed-off shotgun which he promptly points at René.
GM: Revulsion twists René’s face at the crucifix around Lou’s neck. He doesn’t so much as pause before running the old man’s belly through with his sword in a barely visible blur.
But the motion is suddenly arrested as if by an invisible barrier. The blade swings, jerkingly, as René stumbles in place.
Caroline: The woman that pokes her head out of a door from which René backed away is is dressed in a conservative business suit. The shotgun in her hand is not conservative, nor is the rifle strapped across her chest but hanging to her side. The shotgun belches flame at the sword-armed man.
Caroline unwillingly and mutely leaps at Polk, knife flashing at the talented bodyguard. It comes up woefully short.
GM: The dragonsbreath rounds explode into René, leaving burning holes in his chest and turning his black jacket into a funeral pyre. The burning monster lets loose in an unintelligible howl and blurs up the stairs, his blade moving too fast to follow. Screams and thudding footsteps sound from inside the apartment units.
Louis: Yet, before the inhumanly fast vampire so escapes, the old man also moves with inhuman grace or at least hellish power to aim and fire his own shotgun filled with dragonsbreath. The wooden cross around his neck swings, his heart beats, and his bourbon eyes soak in the screams and burning flesh.
Caroline: The knife against snakes out with inhuman quickness despite the frown and frustration plastered across Caroline’s face. Fortunately, for all her swiftness, Polk is better trained. It finds no purchase in the former Secret Service agent.
Louis: The same former secret service agent is suddenly yanked inside the room by Chica, who herself steps back inside the blood-smeared room, a sword-cane wickedly gleaming in her other hand.
“Come get yo white ass slapped like yo motha fucka daddy did!”
GM: Lou’s shotgun roars with all the fury of a true wyrm, belching a veritable column of fire at the staircase. René is gone the moment the hot shell casings eject, but the old hunter notes with some satisfaction how his preternaturally fast (and still-burning) prey shrieks and stumbles, then re-apparates in front of Polk. None of the combatants can even follow his sword’s motions. One moment, the former Secret Service agent is fending off her own employer. The next, she’s a ravaged bleeding mess, all but ready to topple over.
René bares his fangs, letting out a strangled scream that, for once, sounds more human than bestial. The other combatants can’t make out his motions. There are crashing sounds against the floor and walls, then suddenly his jacket’s roaring flames are extinguished, though his clothes themselves remain charred tatters. His eyes bulge, nearly mad with the effort to contain his Beast.
Caroline: The ex-Secret Service agent doesn’t need to look to know she’s been hurt badly. Warm blood runs across her skin and soaks through her white shirt. She snaps off another booming, red-hot round in the narrow confines of the building, the weapon smoking in her hand.
“Incoming,” Polk growls to Chica. “Multiple vehicles.”
Louis: Lou surreptitiously drops the shotgun in the bushes as the black vans pull up. His hale hand rests lightly on his sabre beneath his jumpsuit.
Caroline: Caroline leaps past her sire into the room after her employee. The knife’s reach is all wrong for her, or maybe her heart isn’t in it as she fights against her sire’s programming. Whatever the case, her woes continue.
GM: René barely dodges Polk’s shotgun blast, and the dragonsbreath rounds only leave further scorches across his already perforated torso. Caroline’s sire looks like nothing so much as a walking burn victim. His clothes hang off his blackened, bullet-chewed chest in tatters, and enough hair is incinerated that he’s almost bald. He shows far too many teeth as he stares at Caroline and snarls,
“Dominate everyone to kill each other.”
The older Ventrue abruptly vanishes in place as if he were never there. The building’s fire escape bursts open as if by a poltergeist.
Louis: Another ghost follows after him.
The old man pushes his body beyond its limits, the vitae in his veins bleeding away like Louisiana fog at noonday. His skin tightens, his gums withdraw, his hair whitens and thins, as he burns away his mantle of false sanguineous life. No mortal man could or should ever run so fast, so far. His scream tears from his own mouth, disappearing in the stream of sliced air in front of him. Driven by a drive and desperation honed by centuries, the old man overtakes the fleeing ancilla.
Then, there’s a bright flash of old steel, a glint in the darkness like a falling star.
GM: For the others, it happens too fast to process.
For two men, time slows to a crawl.
To them, Lou’s blade seems to hang suspended in the air, in defiance of gravity, of human limitations, of all the self-important laws of physics that are woefully incapable of describing reality as it truly is. The rest of the world stares on at them, frozen in place, a snapshot of eternity that could last for ten milliseconds or ten thousand years.
René Baristheaut stares back at the old man, who in this out-of-time instant has no need for the false names that are so transient.
There’s much that’s written on his face. Pain. Fury. Fear. The cardinal three, right now. And hate. Bitterness. Loss. Despair. Madness. Disdain. Mockery. Amusement—black, bitter, and howling with laughter at his own fate, at Lou’s, at Caroline’s, mocking and laughing at it all, because if he didn’t laugh, the only alternative would be to weep—and once René started, once he saw his race for what it truly was, he might not ever stop.
Lou knows. He’s seen Caine’s children for what they are.
The blade falls.
He knows them for what they are. Monsters. No matter how they try to coat it.
The blade falls.
Not all the excuses, not all the rationalizations, not all the mockery in the world can hide it from him.
The blade falls.
René stares back up at Lou’s face. Perhaps he seeks some sin, some failing, some vulnerability to mock. Perhaps he expects to see a pathetic drunk. He sees iron. He sees the implacable resolve of a man whose centuries-spanning existence has been sustained not by vitae, but by purpose, and one greater than he could ever know.
The blade falls.
Fueled by Caroline’s vitae, guided by Lou’s hand, and inspired by a righteousness no son of Caine could ever lay claim to, the falling sword descends upon René Baristheaut like a long-evaded divine judgment. His judgment.
The vampire screams as Lou’s remorseless blade sheers through his spine and flays open his back. Blood pours forth. Droplets of red scatter like a child’s flung marbles—each one stolen from some human being, some victim who, no matter their crimes, did not deserve to be fed upon like cattle by this monster.
The old man’s blade delivers their justice—and more.
Time, held frozen, speeds forward like a spun clock as René Baristheaut buckles to his knees. He reaches out a hand as if to rage, to plea, to protest—but his words would fall upon deaf ears. The vampire crashes to his face. Time’s halted march resumes in full force as the grizzled old hunter stares down at his defeated quarry.
Justice has been served.
The old man turns his gaze up to the heavens. Unlike purgatory below, the dark heavens are soft and quiet. The white moonlight is cold and clear, like the justice men dream of but don’t find–save for rare nights like these.
He lets the pale moonlight bathe his face, mingling with his tears. His knees give out, bereft of vitae and overcome by emotions. He kneels against his ancient blade. Holding the cross to his lips, he prays. It is a silent prayer said for only the angels and God to hear.
But it is a short prayer, for purgatory is far from quiet and many devils run free. Justice may be served, but the law, both of the quick and the damned, is far from sated.
Law isn’t justice. It’s an imperfect mechanism. If one presses exactly the right buttons–and are oh so lucky–justice may show up in the answer.
The old man sighs. The cross falls to his neck, the blade is tossed back into his briefcase. He keeps his forensic glove on his hand, however, for the dirty work is not yet done. It’s never done, he thinks with a weariness to his brittle bones.
He fishes out Chica’s borrowed burner and texts Polk according to their plan, Fat Lady’s singing. He then unfolds the large duffel bag he retrieved from his case and shoves the torpid vampire into the bag.
Caroline: It’s like watching the wrath of Heaven descend. Through leaden limbs and iron bound orders she sees it happen, just peripherally, out of the corner of her eye. When dodging bullets she’d once thought she was fast. That she was nearly invincible. Faster than a speeding bullet. But Lou… the old man. The washed-up hack that smells of booze and crushed dreams. One minute he’s there feet from her, and the next René is on the ground in a heap of blood and flesh.
Whatever happens to her. Whether or not she survives this night and any other, at least there’s a closed loop. Justice? Maybe for Westley. Justice though is too sharp a word for her to touch. It’s a blade without a handle.
Vengeance is fullness of recompense, it’s satisfaction. And she’s not satisfied. She’ll never be able to take from René what he took from her. Her life. Her brother. Maybe her soul. There can be no accounting made of what’s been done. How can you repay in full what you can’t measure? What’s the price of a smile? The cost of a sunrise? The value of salvation?
And yet there’s something that stirs within her. That beats within her dead heart other than rage, and fear, and all too raw grief. Relief. A crushing, suffocating weight off her chest. In the smoke-filled, gunpowder-blasted, roaring-hot apartment she can breathe for the first time in weeks.
Louis: That breath, however, is soon stolen after Chica slams a broken cue-stick into her heart, causing the Ventrue to collapse like a string-cut marionette. Meanwhile, the mentally enslaved Polk shoots Chica–its bullet bloodily sinking a mere inch into the ghoul’s inhumanly tough breast. In retaliation, the black woman slaps the injured bodyguard with the flat of her sugarcane sword, literally beating the mind-control out of Polk’s skull.
“Cracker biatches, please,” Chica snorts. She turns to Polk. “Stick to the plan, which means clean up yo shit. This nigga ain’t yo mothafuckin’ maid.”
Lou’s text interrupts any further retort, as both woman rush to complete their and the PI’s earlier preparations. Doors fly open, bodies are hurled down a pre-arranged shute, and the gas utility van is loaded up with the duffel-bag staked Caroline while the apartment’s original inhabitants are less unconscious but unbound and safely on a nearby patio below. And then, like a domino tipped to create a chain reaction, Chica lobs a lit lighter across the balcony and bounces into the kitchen with its long gas-pumping oven. By the time Chica and Polk pick up Lou and his own duffel-bag body, the smoke from the violent but expertly crafted flash-gas explosion has vanished into the night.
GM: And so do they–or so they hope.
Black vans have by now surrounded the apartment complex. It’s a testament to Lou’s and the women’s skills that the process happens as fast as it does, like an assembly line in motion. They can smell the smoke as they leap into the white utility van, hit the accelerator, sand take off. Thudding feet, shouts of alarm, and screams of terror sound from behind them.
Two figures in the black Chevrolet don’t startle.
The first is the vehicle’s driver: a pale, clean-shaven man, with short, neatly combed black hair. He is dressed in a long-sleeved black polo shirt and navy slacks, and apart from the saber hanging by his seat, he would look like the host for a gallery opening or wine tasting… were it not for his eyes. They are the same sea-gray color as New Orleans’ troubled skies, and seem to pierce through to the very soul of whoever meets them.
Sitting next to him is the second figure, clad in a priest’s black habit. He is a slightly short, cadaverously thin man with limbs like a scarecrows, and skin so pale one would think he poured flour over it. His short, slicked-back hair is similarly white, and his eyes are an unhealthy reddish-pink. His nose is just a little large, his features just a little off: an albino. His head is bowed and his hands clasped in prayer.
“Baristheaut is in that van,” Father Malveaux rasps as he looks up.
The sheriff of New Orleans does not reply, but merely presses his foot down on the accelerator.
Meanwhile, a black Lincoln rounds the bend. The angel-faced, boyish-looking young man smiles to himself as he reaches the same conclusion.
The prince’s fugitive will be apprehended.