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Blood and Bourbon

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Story Thirteen, Louis II

“I’ve come to believe that getting old is one of the hardest things you can do. But not getting old—that’s even harder.”
Louis Fontaine


Saturday night, 12 December 2015, AM

The Sonics’ lyrics blare out as a bubblegum pink ’60s Chevelle convertible drives through the night.



GM: Some folks like water
Some folks like wine
But I like the taste
Of straight strychnine
(Hey, hey)


You may think it’s funny
That I like this stuff
But once you’ve tried it
You can’t get enough
(Wow!)


Wine is red
Poison is blue
Strychnine is good
For what’s ailin’ you
(Wow!)


Wine is red
Poison is blue
Strychnine is good
For what’s ailin’ you
(Wow!)


The car isn’t going fast enough to be speeding, but Vinny’s not taking his chances lingering in the area longer than they have to.

They got in. Now they’re getting out.

“So,” says the slim, olive-skinned, and stubble-faced man.

The word lingers in the air like the smell of Lex’s cigarettes. Lou’s not sure there’s much need to smoke with the staked vampire locked in the back trunk, and he’d be lying if he said it’s harmless. He’s felt so much better since he stopped swallowing smoke down his lungs.

The black-haired, dusky-skinned resident physician takes a long pull of her cigarette, as if waiting for Vinny to say anything more.

When he doesn’t, she finally fills in, “Good to have one more leech off the streets.”

She gives a sharp, phlegmy cough and pats her throat. Vinny’s eyes drift from the road and towards her.

Grating static fills the radio until she’s finished coughing and the detective looks away.

“But not sure what you needed us for, Lou,” Lex rasps.

“You seemed to have things pretty well in hand.”

Louis: Squished in the back seat of the ‘64 Chevelle, the old man almost misses the unspoken question. It’s not so much Lottie’s blaring garage punk as much as Lou’s screaming joints. Absent the adrenaline rush of the hunt, Lou’s arching, arthritic body is reminding him of every day of his multi-century existence. It’s not so bad he’d share Savoy’s hot tub, but it’s damned close.

It doesn’t help that the tall, shovel-shouldered gumshoe is rolled up into the backseat like a canned sardine. He’d have more room if they just put down the Chevelle’s powder-white soft top. It would also help with the smell.

With Alejandra puffing like the old NE&NO, the cigarette smell is strong enough to build a garage on top of it. For most, the cloud would be merely suffocating, but for the old man forced to quit cold turkey a few months ago, it’s outright drowning.

The only thing saving his coffin-nail sobriety is Lex’s recent switch to Circinus’ menthol brand, Wendigo Kiss. The old gumshoe finds the corn mint aroma obnoxiously cloying. If he didn’t, he’d have already bummed a cig, or ten, off the pathologist. Then again, being nearly asphyxiated by the menthol fumes helps to distract him from his real jonesing.

_Tender mercies, Big Top Bob, tender mercies. _

Still, Lou’s thoughts can’t help but drift behind him, to the sleeping bag-stuffed, staked vampire in the Chevelle’s truck. Say what you will about Lottie, but the girl’s got ample trunk space. Her patience for the Latina riding shotgun, however, is clearly in shorter supply.

Noting the ghost-car’s green eyes, Lou momentarily sidesteps Lex’s remarks and gently raps a scarred knuckle on Lottie’s soft top.

“Hey, Miss Beauregard, how about some Fats Domino?”

GM: The old man is answered with a click from the radio.



GM: I want you to take me where I belong
Where hearts have been broken with a kiss and a song
Spend the rest of my days without any cares
Ev’ry one understands me in the valley of tears.
Soft words have been
Ev’ry one understands me in the valley of tears.


Circinus isn’t really marketed towards customers like him. It’s for the ones like Lex. Young and hip. He got a look at that cigarette pack and it was damn sleek-looking. Sleek.

Since when have cigarette packs looked sleek?

He’s a man out of time.

Him and Lottie.

“You get anything made after we were born?” Lex asks dryly.

The music plays louder.

Vinny shakes his head.

“Sorry.”

Louis: Lou can’t help but smile at the trio’s ‘conversation.’ The change in music also eases his mood, or at least distracts him from the fire in his joints. Despite the song’s melancholic lyrics and minor key undertones, the smooth blend of Fats’ buttery voice, warm sax, and gospel choir back-up soothe Lou’s soul as well as any Balm of Gilead.

Does the old man wipe away a tear at the song’s conclusion? Perhaps. But it just might be the menthol cigarette smoke that’s burning his eyes. The old man does not say.

Instead, Lou gives an appreciative tap on the Chevelle’s upholstery, as if patting Lottie on the back for a job well done. A second latter, he uses his prosthetic hook to point out an exit.

“Vinny, hit the ramp up here at the Wing Shack, past the dealers’, and jump on Route 10 towards Metairie.”

Lou doesn’t like leaving his city, especially for its western neighbors. Compared to the Big Easy, the likes of Metairie and Kenner feel like they have all the personality of a paper cup. Nevertheless, tonight is one of those rare nights that Lope leaves his city.

GM: Vinny pulls onto the I-10. The unsightly freeway cuts through the heart of the Big Easy, and Lou recalls its construction destroying a once-thriving black neighborhood around Tremé (ironically, to make access to the suburbs more convenient), but it’ll get them where they need to go. Down the CBD, through Mid-City and the Back o’ Town. Then it’s smooth sailing into the Big Easy’s suburbs. You could take those cookie-cutter houses and plop them into the suburbs of any other city in America.

Metairie even has a bigger shopping mall than anywhere in New Orleans. Lakeside Shopping Center.

Over 100 shops and eateries. Maybe Lou’s problems will all be solved by buying the right knickknack.

“Metairie could belong to any other city” isn’t something everyone says, though. Lou remembers Fat City back in the ‘70s and ’80s. Metairie’s answer to the French Quarter.

Before Vinny’s time, though.

Before Lex’s time, too.

The old man is before so many people’s times.

Louis: Once they safely merge onto the expressway, Lou finally circles back to Alejandra’s earlier remark. He coughs a bit, as if trying to cold-start his smoke-aching throat, then finally spits out:

“Common sense would’ve told me not to bother waking you three at the devil’s hour to play backup while I bag a dime-a-dozen leech. Common sense says go home and forget it, no money coming in. But common sense always speaks too late. Common sense is the guy who tells you that you ought to have had your brakes relined last week before you smashed a front end this week. Common sense is the Monday morning quarterback who could have won the ball game if he’d been on the team. But he never is. He’s high up in the stands with a flask on his hip. Common sense is the little man in a gray suit who never makes a mistake in addition. But it’s always somebody else’s money he’s adding up.”

He takes off his hat and runs his shovel hand over his scalp. “When playing with leeches, common sense is helpful as a fork paired with crab bisque.”

He looks outside the window at the night-lit urban sprawl. “Better to have backup and not need it, then to need it and not have it.”

“Then again, maybe I just rang you up because I missed your mugs. Advent’s a lonely time to be alone, and it’s good to see some friendly faces before lighting the rose candle tomorrow.”

The old man’s smile slides a bit. He doesn’t like playing the sentimental card, but lately it’s like a 2-7 offsuit that keeps showing up in his hand. Maybe it’s the holiday season. Or just another burden of sobriety. Or perhaps it’s because he’s preparing to die. Again. Maybe for the last time.

At that morbid thought, the ex-drunk sucks his gums, as if reflexively hankering for some booze to drown his woes. But he knows there’s not enough sauce in the world to do that. Instead, he idly itches some track-marks beneath this trench, and forces himself to refocus on his friends in front of him, rather than ride the mental current back to the blood in the trunk.

“The Cardonas getting up for Gaudete Sunday at your dad’s place?” the old gumshoe asks, skipping the sensitive topic of the Alejandra’s family—especially with Lottie around.

GM: “Common sense never has been too common, I guess,” Vinny remarks.

“Should call it something else, honestly.”

“Uncommon sense.”

“Rare sense.”

“Common or rare, I’m glad you had some, Lou,” says Lex, taking another long drag of her smoke.

She smiles at his next words.

“You look good. You know that? Whatever you’re doing, I wish I could prescribe it to my patients.”

“You want somewhere to be on Christmas, you’re welcome to come celebrate it with my family.”

“In Houston, aren’t they?” asks Vinny.

Si. Holidays are the one thing with them I’ve not been able to get out of.”

“I feel you,” says the detective.

“I wouldn’t mind coming to yours to get out of mine.”

Louis: Lou laughs at, but not quite off, the compliment. “Who you kidding, Alejandra?”

“Last I heard, your patients are biopsied droplets pressed between glass-plates.”

It’s a good-natured jibe, given with an ugly but sincere smile.

GM: The car hits a sudden bump in the road. Vinny grasps the steering wheel tighter.

Then he coughs.

“But, ah. Can’t duck out of my family’s Christmas plans either.”

His hold on the steering wheel relaxes.

You know how families are."

Louis: Lou gives the pair—if not the trio—a slow glance.

GM:Si,” Lex repeats, before glancing back towards Lou. Her look is somewhat more somber.

“You know those aren’t my only patients, Lou.”

Doctors are always in demand among the Kappas. Among all hunters.

They can’t afford to be picky over specialties.

Louis: Lou nods in a conceding gesture. It’s a sad truth, but at least it’s a truth.

GM: Another group of people it can be hard to say no to.

Louis: “Well, if you want to give them a prescription for what I got, you can jot down a lifetime supply of cold turkey.”

“No sauce.”

“No coffin nails.”

“That, and some sleep. Not great sleep, but sleep. In a bed, not chair.”

“Oh, and a diet of four-square meals made with ingredients other than those made by Jack Daniels, Captain Morgan, or Jim Bean.”

GM: “You get hitched or something, Lou?” Vinny asks.

Louis: Lou laughs. “I’m not cruel enough to put a woman through that kind of misery.”

Not anymore, not again.

But he doesn’t say that, instead settling for, “Not at my age.”

He almost confesses right there and then that he was previously married, but that was another lifetime ago. Several actually. Before Lou, before Enrique. Technically, the Galvestons never got divorced, though technically, they also both died in the speakeasy fire. Thinking about his ‘wife’ and their last bitter parting causes the old man to inwardly sigh, as if drawing in a knife right between his ribs and straight to his scarred heart.

Outwardly, though, he forces a smile back on his face, and offers a lighter, easier confession: “But you’re right to guess that there’s a lady involved in all those healthy choices. I certainly wouldn’t have the guts to make them alone, much less keep them.”

“We all need better angels of our nature,” he adds, tapping Lottie to make sure she’s paying attention to something other than the pretty Latina riding shotgun.

GM: “It’s always a lady,” says Vinny.

Louis: Lou huffs, “Genesis 2:18. God says it’s not good for man to be alone. He could’ve given Adam some bowling buddies, but nope, God hooked him up with Eve.”

“But then, Vinny, I bet your nonna has close to branded that scripture on your backside by now.”

He doesn’t let that topic linger long though, as he once again tries to steer it to safer subjects—at least while within the Chevelle. “But how’s the rest of your family doing these days?”

“How’s retirement treating your old man?”

GM: “He’s getting out of jail soon, so there’s that,” Vinny says wryly.

“Gaudete Sunday is happening, to answer your earlier question.”

“He’s really looking forward to it.”

“Says he’s ‘had enough of being Silver Penny Sal.’”

“Lucky, Marie, and all the others will be there too. It’s kind of doubling as his ‘welcome back’ party.”

“You’d be welcome there too.”

“Ditto Christmas if you don’t want to make a trip out to Houston.”

Louis: Some currents are just too damned strong to swim against, Lou grouses, not entirely unhappily.

But he smiles at the generous invite. “Good for Boxcars, but I’ll need you to give him my love tomorrow, as I can’t attend. Christmas, maybe. Tomorrow, I promised to visit a pair of orphans. Doubt they’ll want my company, but it’s the right thing to do.”

GM: “It’s Christmas,” says Lex.

Louis: Lou shrugs.

“How about your brother?” he says, asking after Vinny’s twin.

GM: “He’s still never seen the inside of a jail cell. As an inmate, anyway.”

“Dad’s still proud he’s ‘grown up more like Accardo than Capone.’”

Louis: Lou laughs. “I’ve heard it said that all a police record means in this rotten crime-ridden city is whether or not a guy knows the ‘right’ people.”

GM: Vinny snorts. “I’ll not disagree there.”

“He’s still smart. Always has been.”

“Smarter than me.”

“You think he’d have made it through OPP during Katrina?” Lex asks.

“Maybe,” says Vinny. “Maybe not. I don’t think he’d have been in that situation to begin with.”

Louis: “Smarts help,” Lou says, neither agreeing or disagreeing with Vinny’s assessment, “but life’s not chess. It also takes guts and a good heart.”

“And we don’t know the final score until St. Peter tells us at the pearly gate.”


Saturday night, 12 December 2015, AM

Louis: Thirty miles later, Lottie’s white-walled are soiled with the mud of Maurepas Swamp. With Kenner’s western levee behind them, the travelers can no longer see the metropolis’ night-polluting light. Winter similarly mutes the swamp’s insectile songs, making their surroundings comparatively soft and quiet. Above them, white moonlight shines cold and clear, like the justice Lou dreams of but rarely finds in the waking world. The devil’s hour has passed, but the dark still reigns.

Lou continues to lead them through that darkness, departing Route 10 for Old U.S. 51, before exiting just past Frenier Road onto a nameless, shoulder-less dirt road that has the barest hint of rainwashed gravel and old tire tracks. The group fortunately only have to travel a mile only the treacherous road before they reach their destination: the duck hunting lodge of NOPD’s Captain Otis K. Wiggons.

GM: Lou confirms the lodge’s vacancy with a call to its owner. Vinny warns the ex-detective that the NOPD is still doggedly hunting for him over the Rampart Street affair several months ago (he’s at a loss why they “still have such a big hard-on over that”), and that Lou will find few friends among the force’s top brass… though its middle to lower ranks may be another matter. Lou still has many friends on the NOPD. Officers are already well-accustomed to playing dumb and looking the other way. Vinny thinks Wiggons will be safe to contact, given his and Lou’s friendship… but when the old man decides to use a public payphone, Vinny doesn’t tell him he’s being too paranoid. Lex tells him he’s being smart.

Wiggons is surprised to hear from Lou but seemingly happy to invite the ex-cop over for dinner later tonight. He confirms that yes, he’s home. Carla will be happy to serve up an additional plate (“or several”) for a guest.

Lou supposes that’s no surprise… December 10th may be duck hunting season, but Wiggons has mentioned before that Carla thinks it’s “too close” to Christmas. Carla doesn’t mind her husband’s recreational hunting, but she asks him to hold off during the holidays. To remember that it’s the season of peace and goodwill, for all of God’s creatures. Even ducks.

Wiggons thinks it’s a load of nonsense, and has regaled Lou with more than one anecdote about how ducks are “fucking rapists.” Males frequently copulate with females by force. Many males won’t even deign to help their mates and will abandon them afterwards.

But whatever. Plenty other days to hunt if holding off for now somehow makes his wife feel better. Otis clearly thinks he is humoring her.

“Ducks will be fuckin’ rapists no matter the season.”

“Merry Christmas, you flat-billed little rapists.”

Wiggons doesn’t ask Lou about anything related to Rampart Street.

Maybe he’s just being rightfully cautious over the phone.

Or maybe he’s trying to lull the ex-cop into a false sense of security, and a mob of cops—and their friends in the shadows—will be waiting for Lou at the Wiggons residence.

Too bad for him, if he’s genuine, that Lou’s skipping dinner.

Louis: Having so confirmed and doubly ensured the lodge is vacant for the weekend, Lou directs Vinny, or more accurately Lottie, to pull into the small lodge’s empty carport beside a parked ATV. Curtailing their hour-long conversation about families, holidays, and future plans, Lou bids his friends wait inside the Chevelle until the PI can do a thorough sweep of the area. Still paranoid despite his 3-month sobriety, the gumshoe ghoul makes sure Otis hasn’t installed any new cameras or security system to the small lodge or trails to its duck-stands. He also triple-checks the perimeter before picking the backdoor and casing inside to confirm the lodge is indeed empty.

Only then does he motion for Alejandra and Vinny to go inside, pointing out a path that lets them remain under the eaves of nearby trees. He doesn’t comment on suspected satellite-surveillance, but both of his mortals friends can tell the old man is on edge.

“Vinny, I need to talk to Lottie. Alone.”

He then spares a glance at Lex, adding in Spanish that he needs time and space to “no tener pelos en la lengua”, an idiom which the Texican-American pathologist readily understands indicates a tough, but honest talk that doesn’t mince words. With a salute of his hat, he elaborates:

“Antes del amanecer, es posible que todos necesitemos ese tipo de honestidad. Especialmente con nuestros propios corazones.”

(“Before dawn, we all might need that kind of honesty. Especially with our own hearts.”)

GM: Lex and Vinny either humor Lou’s paranoia, suppose it can’t hurt to sweep for bugs, or both. He finds that Wiggons has indeed set up a new camera system, but it’s simple enough for the centuries-old PI to disable and confirm the lodge has no eavesdroppers… that he can detect.

The worm of paranoia never stops wriggling.

Lex is amenable to “taking a smoke break” for Lou to “no tener pelos en la lengua.” Vinny doesn’t make the obvious crack on her not needing a specific break to smoke.

He initially says something about going with her, only for Lottie to belch a noxious-smelling black cloud of exhaust.

“Think I’ll take a walk,” he says. “Stretch my legs a bit.”

Lex doesn’t object. But her eyes linger on him for a moment.

Soon enough, Lou is left alone with the pink ’64 Chevelle.

Louis: Lou waits till the bantamweight and doctor are out of earshot and eyeshot before beginning with a soft opening. Both literal and figurative.

Gently popping open the Chevelle’s trunk, he says out loud, “You’ve done a good job taking care of him, Miss Beauregard.”

Unzipping the staked vampire and preparing the hematology supplies Alejandra brought, Lou continues, “It’s a hard line he’s walking, what with his family and the badge.”

GM: There’s a low rumble from the car’s engine.

Louis: Lou pauses as if trying to better suss out the sentiment of the ‘car’. Unlike Lottie’s well-maintained, the old man’s fluency in ghost automobile is a bit rusty. After a moment, he proceeds to hook up the IV and pump to the staked vampire, only pausing once to wave in the direction of the lodge.

GM: The staked Quarter rat stares up at him with equal parts fear and anger on her dirty face.

She looks so young.

Could’ve been a classmate of Lottie’s.

Louis: Her glare slides right off the calloused vampire hunter. Instead, Lou continues his ‘conversation’ with the car.

“Lottie, not sure if you’ve ever meet the owner of this duck lodge. He’s a fellow NOPD, like Vinny, but he’s the captain of District Investigative Unit-Person Crimes in the 1st district.”

GM: There’s silence from the engine at that.

Probably not.

Louis: Lou nods. “Thought as much. He’s a real hard case, Otis, is. Also racist as they come. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s like the old timers who considered Italians like Vinny’s families not to be white.”

He pauses the briefest of moments to let that sink in. Racial relations in the ‘60s were bad enough, but anti-miscegenation mores of that era were largely responsible for Charlotte’s traumatic death—just as her deathbed racial slurs led to her soul’s cursed binding to the Chevelle.

GM: A faint plume of noxious-smelling black trails from the car’s exhaust.

It smells even worse than the one Lex got.

Louis: Lou waves a hand to clear the odorous exhaust, even as he chuckles loudly. Not at Lottie, but rather in agreement, which he makes clear as he speaks, “My sentiments exactly, miss.”

He checks to make sure the IV pump is working, then adds with a gentle pluck of a leaf from Lottie’s soft-top: “I’m gonna tell you something I’ve never told you, something not even Vinny knows. But I was married. Long time ago. Before your parents were twinkles in their parents’ eyes. My wife, she was black.”

Is.

A frown creases his face, as he considers what ‘tense’ Chica actually is now—and what guilt he must shoulder for any change in that status.

“Salome was her name,” he says, pushing forward. “Her eyes were like pools of Louisiana gold: black, wet, and just one spark away from becoming an inferno. I loved her. Still do, I guess. But I lost her.”

He shakes his head.

“All of which is to say that Otis and I don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things.”

“You understand?”

GM: The car’s radio clicks on.



GM: I got a whole lot of loving for you
True, true love for you
I got a whole lot of loving for you


I got a whole lot of (kiss-kiss) for you
Whole lot of (kiss-kiss) for you
I got a whole lot of kisses for you


I got a whole lot of (clap-clap) to do
A whole lot of (clap-clap) to do
And I’m so glad to see you


Louis: The music flows into Lou, filling his face with a smile.

“That’s right, miss; a whole lot of loving, kisses and all.” He can’t help but laugh and smile again. The joy feels strange on his face. He gently pats her soft top again. “You’re getting better at that. Making people happy.”

“Vinny too. You helped save him from a dark spot.”

Another pause.

“And maybe he’s helped you.”

GM: The car’s engine rumbles faintly.

Louis: “Love does that. It’s like a light. When bright and true enough, it can push back the darkness. Even the darkness of hate.”

The Gospel of John swims through the old man’s heart. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

He doesn’t share the biblical verse, though. After all, Lottie is arguably still a 16-year-old girl. Even if her soul wasn’t bound to a car, Lou has a sense that scriptural sermons wouldn’t be the ticket.

But that doesn’t mean his words don’t include a confession or two.

“And I’m sorry, awfully sorry, that I couldn’t help you feel that light back when we first met.”

GM: There’s a grittier-sounding engine rumble. Not quite angry, but not quite forgiving either.

Louis: He raises his sole corporeal hand as if in defense, or perhaps surrender. “I’m not asking for forgiveness. I don’t deserve it. I… I had a lot of darkness in me, back then. Still do. But less I hope now.”

He shrugs.

“Still not trying to excuse what I did, just to properly explain it. Not the boot, mind. I think you properly earned that for trying to run me over.” He continues quickly, “But for leaving you in the impound.”

He struggles to compose words as he re-contemplates the horror of what those four decades must have been like for her. “I… I told you before that I didn’t mean to… not that long, not at all. I know you don’t have cause to believe me. I was living in the LaLaurie House.”

He pauses again, cocking an eye at the Chevelle. “Yeah, that one. Even girls that don’t go to fancy schools like McGehee still know about that place. Or think they do. The truth is worse than the rumors. Blackest of black darkness.” He sucks his gums again, his face blanching ever so slightly. “I thought I could drive the darkness from it, but it put more darkness in me than I light in it.”

He raises his amputated hand, “It was poisoning me, squeezing out the little light I had, leaving me even littler to give to you.”

“And I’m sorry for that.”

“Doesn’t change what I did. But I thought you should know. God knows I owe you that much. And more.”

GM: By all accounts, that house is still managing to pour out darkness uninterrupted.

Two men dead.

Two girls shot.

Another girl’s life destroyed.

Gettis cracked.

Tante told him the girl refused to heed her warning.

He should know better than anyone.

No good can come of nights slept in that house.

There’s a low rumble from the car’s engine when Lou mentions the LaLaurie House. There’s a shaking, trembling quality to it. Almost… fearful.

Perhaps she does believe him.

Louis: Lou’s face softens. It’s an odd look on him. But he wears it sincerely, if awkwardly.

GM: Lou’s kept abreast, too, even before the Rampart Street affair. The house has passed into new ownership. The mother of one of the rich girls shot in the aftermath of the disastrous sleepover.

Louis: Inwardly he grimaces at that recollection.

GM: Maybe he could have done more.

Given the other girl more than just a note.

Louis: Maybe.

Maybe he could have done more.

Should is a different matter.

He definitely should have done more.

GM: Then again, Tante said stabbing the girl in the hand and screaming prophecies of doom wasn’t enough to change her mind.

But when has anyone ever listened to Tante prophecying doom?

Louis: No prophet is accepted in his own country.

Or hers.

GM: The curse of all seers.

Lottie’s engine gives another low rumble.

It’s a quiet sound. A tired sound. A faintly restless sound.

Too tired to hate, after 40 years in the impound.

Still not wholesale forgiving.

But at least moving on.

Vinny’s given her something to move on to, at least.

Louis: It’s a sentiment Lou well understands. Knows. Feels. Deeply. Deeper than bones.

He nods. His spectral hand grabbing the echo of her door-handle like a handshake.

GM: The car’s radio clicks on again.



GM: Every night about this time
I go to sleep to keep from cryin’
Every night about this time
I go to sleep to keep from cryin’


After a moment it clicks off, then starts up another song.



GM: I want you to take me where I belong
Where hearts have been broken with a kiss and a song
Spend the rest of my days without any cares
Ev’ry one understands me in the valley of tears.
Soft words have been
Ev’ry one understands me in the valley of tears.


Louis: Lou listens to every word, letting them pour into him like coffee. Black. Strong. Bitter. But not without some sweetness. A few drops of sugar. And maybe a few more tears.

Weighed down by that heavy brew, the old man sinks to the ground. Joints pop, and muscles groan. Lou winces and grunts in off-key harmony. Amidst that painful melody, the old man privately wishes he had a cold bottle of Jack and a hot Marlboro. He settles for sobriety. Reluctantly. But tonight, he has bigger regrets and greater needs than sauce and smokes.

“Miss Beauregard, I’ve come to believe that getting old is one of the hardest things you can do. But not getting old—that’s even harder.”

He tries to get up, but his sore, arthritic knees and back protest a bit too louder. So he settles for waving his hook at Lottie’s truck. “Miss Beauregard, I’ve been around the block a long time. Too many laps around it, in fact. Back when we first met, you knew me as Enrique Salvador. That wasn’t my first life. I’ve had others before it.”

He starts counting on his fingers, but he runs out of them. Only one hand, after all.

“God didn’t build us to live that long. Not since the flood, I guess. Sure, hate and blood can sustain you for a long time, if you nurse it real slow. But there’s a limit. And I think I crossed it a while ago. I think I’m all but done hating, and all but done with blood. It’s time to move on. Time to let go.”

He stares out into the swamp. Past the lodge and carport and parked Chevelle. It’s pristine wilderness. Not a day different from how it looked a century ago. Or the one before it. Or the one prior to that. Sure, the individual bugs, critters, and even trees have all come and gone and come and gone again and again, but the swamp as a whole is the same. Same verdancy. Same vitality. There’s a beauty to that. Maybe even some comfort.

“I’d be lying if I said I knew what’s on the other side. I’ve seen too much to say there’s no hell. The real question is whether there’s a heaven—and whether you, I, or the ones we love get to go there. Without knowing that, it’s hard to let go of life, even for those of us living a half-life like you and me. It’s hard to let go of what you’ve got when you don’t know what you’ll get, even when what you’ve got feels like too many thorns and too few petals.”

“But there are petals. They’re different for each of us, but we both have them. Things we’d miss. Things we love. People too. People, most of all.”

He doesn’t need to stare off in Vinny’s direction or say his name.

Instead, he forces himself to rise. Grunting and wincing all over again. He checks the IV pump, seeing he’s drained the vampire dry, siphoning five vials of the precious, damnable, and damning liquid. He pockets the vials, then wraps up and stows the medical equipment. He leaves the trunk open, though, leaving the staked, now exsanguinated vampire exposed.

He checks his watch, then shuffles to the front of the car, as if to allow them to talk face-to-face.

But the old man makes sure to stand where, if necessary, he can quickly pivot away from, say, an out-of-control, murderous car. Lou has not lived so long by making the same mistakes twice.

He reaches into his trench coat and produces a manila envelope like a secretarial magic trick devoid of flourish.

“I’ve never had kids of my own. Never raised any either. Maybe if I had, I’d be better. In a lot of ways. Like helping others like yourself move on, to learn to let go and move off into the beyond, despite the uncertainties.”

He shrugs, unsure of himself.

“But I know someone who has. Good woman. No stranger to pain. Loss. Betrayal. Grief. A mother. Her son died young. Bad. So bad he couldn’t move on. He found me, but like you, I couldn’t help him move on. But I found her, and she helped him. Helped him find solace. Peace. Courage. She has a gift. For helping and healing broken things. Even ones as bad as me.”

“Maybe she can help you too. Help you more than I did or could.”

He idly slides his gumshoe over the ground, awaiting her response.

GM: The Quarter rat looks drained by this point. Her fangs are long in her mouth, her skin tighter around her face, and her bloodshot eyes oh so hungry. She’s jonesing. Bad.

One ghoul’s gain, one vampire’s loss.

Blood’s always been a zero-sum game.

Lottie’s engine, meanwhile, rumbles at the long-time PI’s bittersweet words.

Louis: Lou takes the rumble for a good sign. It’s a hell of a lot more articulate than most teens these days.

“All right, I’ll speak with her. Talk with Vinny too.”

Another pause.

GM: The engine’s rumble deepens at that statement. Like he’s jumped the gun.

But not by too much, either.

It’s not telling him no.

Talking, at least, can’t hurt.

The mother of a dead son can’t force the Chevelle to face her demons and let go of them, surrendering her fate to the great and terrifying unknown.

Just ask her to.

Like she’s asked others to.

It’s not as hard as you’d think it is, she said to Lou once. It’s not a matter of convincing them to trust in God or that something better waits on the other side.

The truth is, most of them are just tired.

Tired of the half-life that’s such a pale echo of what they used to know.

Tired enough to want to rest.

Even if they don’t know what they’ll wake up to, or if they will at all.

They’re just tired.

Sometimes, the old man (the too old man) may not feel so different from the restless dead.

Lottie’s engine, meanwhile, exhales another faint plume of exhaust. It wafts above the staked and ravenous-looking Quarter rat.

They look around the same age.

She has no particular grievance against the leeches.

The bokor could’ve been human or less than.

Louis: Lou, on the hand, does have grievances, as does Vinny.

As do more souls than he could name. Even sober.

He looks back at the open trunk and the plume of smoke that rises into the purpling sky of night-dawn. He then glances back at the lodge.

“The racist hard case who owns this place,” he says, half-reaching for a cigarette that isn’t there, “There’s one thing he and I do see eye-to-eye on.”

“We both hunt rapists.”

“Different species, but rapists all the same. The specimen in the back, there, is one of them. My specialty. Vampires. But they don’t typically use that name. Instead, they refer to themselves with other titles. Kindred. Cainites. Licks. Ventrue. Brujah. Nosferatu. Lasombra. Other names too. So many others.”

“But to their victims? They’re known by different names. Leeches is a common one. They suck blood, after all. But that word lets these monsters off too easily. Real leeches are just opportunistic vermin, small slimy things that feed purely through instinct. Animalistic reflex. Vampires are worse. Much worse.”

“They hide what they really are to get close. Most seduce their prey. Others just physically overpower their victims. And they feed, taking without true consent. They gratify their own lusts, and violate their victims. Sometimes, it’s just sexual violation. Other times, it’s mingled with pain. Mutilation. And that’s just the body. Some have powers. To steal and warp memories. To bend minds into whatever shape they want.”

“If that’s not a rapist, I don’t know what is, Miss Beauregard.”

He pauses again, as if his cadence is used to stopping for a pull of a cig or puff of its smoke. Or maybe he’s stalling. Swallowing some courage before saying the next hard thing.

“Those boys who raped and killed you. They once acted like your friends. A boyfriend even. But they took without consent. They violated you. Hurt you. Bled you.”

He doesn’t make eye-contact. His voice is quiet as the night. This is not the sensational headline of a muckraker. Just cold, hard facts.

“And as bad as they were, those boys are dead. You saw to one. We say to the second. War got the third. A bit slower, but it got him all the same. And even if all that hadn’t, old age eventually would have punched their tickets, with St. Peter telling them their score.”

“But that monster there,” his voice breaks with a bit of rising heat, “it doesn’t have a shelf life. They can live forever. And the longer they live, the older they get, the worse they become. They can rape forever, Charlotte.”

He looks up, seeing if she follows. Understands.

GM: Perhaps, if Charlotte Beauregard still had a face, it would redden at the old hunter’s incendiary words. At the comparisons between the vampire and the gang of delinquent youth who made her what she now is.

Perhaps she would say angry words of her own. Perhaps she would want some hand in the creature’s fate.

Perhaps she would say nothing at all, and let the older hunter do as he willed with the staked vampire.

There’s not a lot a car can say either way.

A thick plume of noxious-smelling black exhaust escapes the Chevelle’s engine.

Dawn, meanwhile, slowly steals over the night. Lou can see the first signs on the vampire as much as anything in the sky. The initial, still-faint blackening of flesh. It remains Lou of onions left to sautee in a pan for too long. Not fatal, at this juncture. Not ruined.

But all one has to do is leave them to burn.

The vampire’s starved, newly terror-filled eyes meet Lou’s in silent plea.

Perhaps a crap shot, after his diatribe.

But the only shot left.

Louis: Unfortunately for the vampire, her shot can’t penetrate Lou’s kevlar-clad heart. Instead, he continues his ‘conversation’ with the Chevelle.

“Vinny ever tell you about Dorthea Clermonte? About how she died?”

A pause.

“Flash a wiper if yes,” he adds.

GM: The car’s windshield wipers move back and forth, once.

Louis: He eyes the wiper, then glances at the waking sun.

Running out of time.

In more ways then one.

“Had to ask,” he replies to the car, “I could see him holding back on the details. Not to hurt you, mind, but rather to spare your feelings. You don’t exactly make it a secret that you don’t like other women in his life.”

There’s a hint of a smile on the old PI’s face. Half a frown too.

GM: Dorthea’s not much threat to Lottie anymore, at least.

Louis: It’s small comfort to know she allows room enough for another dead girl in his life.

Lou pushes past the thought.

“Point is, miss, Vinny knows what these things are: monsters. But he doesn’t know enough. Not enough to protect himself or the ones he loves.”

He looks again at the sun and the related smoke rising from the singeing ‘onion’.

“Among those of us who dedicate our lives to hunting these and similar monsters, we call it the Vigil. We stand watch over the night, holding our candles. Our light. To hold back the darkness. But the thing about light is that it grows brighter and stronger with more candles.”

“My candle’s burned bright, but it’s about to be all burned up. Others will need to take the Vigil in my place. I’m going to give Vinny another chance. Another call to that fight. If he chooses to walk away again, that’s his choice. But if not… he’s going to need all the help he can get. All the light he can gather, whether quick or dead.”

“Think on that, please. And if you can, help him—and let others help him too. Who knows? Maybe doing that will help you too.”

GM: The car does seem to think on that, if the silence is any indication.

Finally, there’s another flick of the windshield wipers.

Louis: Lou nods gravely, but gratefully, at that agreement. He steps forward, putting his spectral and corporeal hands on her hood and whispers a prayer like a priest bestowing a blessing on her head.

“Thank you,” he says, simply at the close of the short benediction. He then steps aside, walking towards the road to flag down Alejandra and Vinny. As he does so, he adds quickly, “Time’s running up, but two last things. One, watch out for the Panther that Vinny’s been hunting. My gut tells me he’s one of them.” He jerks a thumb at the smoking vampire in her trunk. “But an older one. A worse one. Even if Vinny denies the Vigil this second time, he might still be chasing the darkness—and sometimes the darkness chases back.”

“Second, I have another friend, Benoît Quebedeaux. He’s a houngan who serves the loa with the white hand. One of the good ones. You told me that the bokor who came upon you offered you help, but you refused it, so he cursed you with the black hand. Maybe accepting help from a houngan’s white hand can help you find rest. Maybe not. But I’ll let Vinny know, in case you want to try. Sorry I don’t have more time to talk, kid, but the sun doesn’t wait for old, ugly men or young, pretty girls.”

With that parting thought, he goes to collect the detective and pathologist.

He hopes they haven’t gone too far. The sun won’t wait for them either.

GM: Lou finds them in short enough order.

Alejandra is smoking. Lou’s felt so much better since he quit. And Lex doesn’t have the Blood to keep her going like she does. Cancer seems likely in her future at the rate she goes through packs.

Vinny is off walking. Both of Lou’s friends are enjoying the sunrise. Vinny remarks how it “makes the air taste like wine, outside the city.” Perhaps Lou supposes he’s enjoying it too.

He supposes the one person who isn’t won’t be around to complain for much longer.

Louis: Wine and cigs, the old gumshoe grouses mentally, Remind me not to ask either of these two to be my AA sponsor.

But outwardly he smiles. He breathes deep of the fresh air—or at least as much of the non-menthol kind he can around Lex. Either way, it’s good to walk with friends. But ultimately, it’s the dawn that is most responsible for the grin that tugs at his wrinkled lips. Dawn always makes the old man happy. And today’s dawn doubly so.

“Happy Gaudete Sunday, my friends. The sun’s volunteered to light the rose candle.”

Lottie’s trunk makes for an odd advent wreath, but it’s no stranger than Lou’s ‘candle’.

GM: The three get back just in time to watch it happen.

Lou’s seen it enough times.

First, gray plumes of smoke rise from the vampire as her skin blisters, like a sunburn. A really bad sunburn. The kind that leaves white layers of dead skin over ugly red that someone can painfully peel off.

Then the skin blackens.

Really blackens. This is no sunburn. This no overcooked food. This is ‘hand pressed against a lit stove.’ The smell of burning flesh in Lou’s nostrils is unmistakable. The ‘burning alive’ stage. The vampire’s skin takes on the texture and color of charcoal.

The smoke gets worse. Blacker. Thicker fouler.

Then the skin bursts into flames. The staked vampire’s mouth yawns in silent scream. The eyes melt into goo. Blackened, burning, half-liquefied flesh is incinerated before it can even run off the flame-licked skeleton beneath.

Then just like that, there’s nothing left but ashes. The stake falls to the bottom of the trunk with a light plunk. Smoke wafts from the destroyed vampire’s empty clothes.

Raphael’s curse claims its due.

Louis: Throughout that supernatural combustion, Lou watches. And he hopes his compatriots do the same. As the flames reach their climax, the old man recites the traditional introit of Gaudete Mass:

“Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione et obsecratione cum gratiarum actione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.”

(“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.”)

The Catholic church teaches that Gaudete Sunday is a time to pause from fretting over all one hasn’t yet done, to instead think of all the good things life has given them. As Lou watches the vampire become ash, he tries his best to hearken to that papal admonition. There is so much he hasn’t done during his Vigil. So much to fret and worry over. So much left to do.

But here, in this moment, surrounded by friends, he thanks God for the things life has given him.

Like a city with one less leech.


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Story Thirteen, Celia XVIII

“I’m stupid.”
Celia Flores


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

Celia: One of the girls inside of Jade takes her time moving past the pair of Anarchs once the masked harpy takes his leave. She occupies herself with other art, other conversations, looks for all the world as if she is not watching him. As if she has not noticed him. As if his mere proximity has not left her dead heart racing.

She broke him.

But they can still be beautiful.

She waits for an opening. She makes idle chatter with one of the Baron’s girls, the one she’d needed to speak to anyway, and through veiled comments and clever word play sets up a meeting outside of Elysium where the pair of them can let their hair down.

She speaks to the thief about something similar.

She sends a text to a cabin boy about a party and a new friend his friend might like to meet, and maybe they should set them up. She’d love to bring her by.

And another text to a jock with a smile worthy of a rattler asking if he has a moment to “chill.”

The broken-hearted boy stays in her peripheral.

GM: Amandine is sour but at the prospect of meeting with one of Savoy’s people, but willing to do so in return for an owed boon.

The thief, in contrast, is happy to do so. They can talk after Elysium tonight or at the party tomorrow.

The cabin boy texts back that he’s always happy the meet new friends. Especially fuckable ones.

Well, more like only fuckable ones.

Ditto attending parties.

The jock does have a free moment that chill.

The broken-hearted boy is keeping her in his peripheral.

And beneath the carefully neutral mask, he does not look happy.

Celia: Jade agrees to the boon with a tight smile and says she’ll see the girl later. She’s happy the thief is happy to see her, at least, but opts for tomorrow. She has another meeting this evening, unfortunately. She lets the cabinboy know that the theme is the ’20s and asks if he wants her to doll him up to be a fuckable little bitch again. Maybe Joy would like to go. She can meet him beforehand. The jock gets a time and place.

At some point Jade excuses herself from her present company to take a final stroll. Alone. Maybe towards the car lot, if no one is going that way, or deeper into the park if so. The bait is set if the boy wants to follow.

GM: It’s a date with the first too.

The cabin boy is happy to go as a cabin girl. Easier to get with, too.

The jock will see her there.

The boy waits a good amount of time, so they don’t seem to be leaving together.

Then he follows her off.

The mask drops away. His face is angry.

Celia: When isn’t it?

Jade disappears, the coward, and Leila has already decided that this isn’t her talk. Celia meanders toward her car, but there’s nowhere to have this conversation. Even the appearance of being alone doesn’t actually mean anything. She’d thought she was alone in the shower, too, and the shadow dancer had shown her the error there.

GM: That’s why Veronica had chastised her for not learning to soul scry. Does she want to be caught with her pants down?

Celia: It’s so boring. Her mind has much more going on than the normal person’s. There are so many of her. But she’d be happy to learn that trick her sire and Harlequin can do.

Celia pulls her phone from her pocket as if it had rung, answering with a brief, “hello?” A pause. A smile. Then, “Hey, babe. Yeah, I have a free minute. I’ll swing by. Talk to you soon.”

Surely he knows she means him. He can follow her to another location and they can have it out. She gets into her car and starts to drive, trusting that he’ll follow. There’s only one road out of here; nothing suspicious about that.

GM: Her trust proves aptly placed. He gets in and follows with his own car.

Celia: Celia sends a text to Reggie that she’s on her way to his place. Might as well stop by while she’s already in the area. And it’s less weird if Roderick stays in Mid-City. He doesn’t want to be seen entering the Quarter, but Jade’s face isn’t unwelcome here. She drives in the general direction of Legal Wings, then pulls her car into an out of the way spot and turns off her lights. She unlocks her passenger door for him.

GM: He gets out of the car, seizes her by the throat, lifts her off her heels, and slams her hard against the vehicle’s side.

“Not what it looks like?” he asks conversationally, vice-like fingers cutting off the air supply she doesn’t need.

Celia: This is certainly not how she thought it would go.

Perhaps that was stupid of her.

The last of her air is forced from her lungs when he slams her against her own car, hands flying to his wrist as if to pry him off of her. But she stops before she even starts, simply holding onto his wrist. There’s no fear in her eyes. She knows how much he hates the scared woman act. Still, pinned as she is, she can’t speak. There’s no air left for her. Her lips move soundlessly, then she finally gives a tiny nod. She taps against his fingers to silently ask him to release her.

GM: His fingers un-clench. Slightly.

But he doesn’t release her.

Her Beast snarls in her ears.

Celia: There’s a lot of snarling in her ears these nights. From Beasts and masks and personalities. From her sire and Harlequin and Alana, all of them clamoring for something else. Another piece of her. Another part of her.

And now Roderick has come to demand his piece, too.

She sucks down what air she can. Not to breathe, just to speak.

“Set up,” she gets out. The sound is tiny; it’s an effort to keep it from sounding strangled. “Cover up. Can explain.”

GM: He just waits.

Just holds her.

Crushed against her car.

Helpless.

His expression is flat.

Celia: Jade wriggles her pinky between his fingers and her throat. She doesn’t otherwise move, eyes locked on his face.

“Taking down Agnello. Needed assistance. He has reason to help. Once he’s gone, two down. Just him. Shift the blame his way. Get him out too. Easier to take down the rest of who you want. Meantime, gather intel. Who, what, where. For you. It’s for you.”

GM: “Really,” he says.

“Working with Mafia scum.”

“For me.”

“Without asking me.”

Celia: Her Beast snarls at that, too. She doesn’t need his permission.

There’s another part of her that likes it, though. Her throat bobs against his palm when she swallows.

“You have other things on your mind. I wanted to help.”

GM: Lightning-fast, a stake appears in Rod’s hand and rams towards her heart.

She feels her limbs go completely stiff as the wood pierces bone like flesh.

Her lover just looks at her with that same calm-faced expression.

Celia: All she can do is stare back.

GM: Roderick picks her up, returns to his car, and unlocks the trunk, and lays her inside. He doesn’t dump her in, but neither is he gentle. She gets a last look at his face, as he removes her car keys, and then the lid slams down.

A short while passes, and then she feels movement underneath as the car drives.

Maybe this was how her mom felt, seven years ago.

Trussed up and helpless in the back of a car.

Being driven off towards an unknown fate.

Celia can even see the glow-in-the-dark release lever.

Did her mom see one, too?

Celia: Terror takes her firmly in its grasp. She can’t move. Can’t see. Can’t cry for help or press the release button or shift forms.

She’s trapped.

Helpless.

And unlike when her sire has hold of her, the fear of this new, unknown Roderick is very, very real. Thick and cloying, it fills the trunk.

Where is he taking her?

What is he going to do to her?

Her mind races with possibilities: leaving her for the sun. Dumping her in a fire, or trash compactor, or saw mill. Turning her in for her bastard blood. Taking her to his sire to rip apart.

The tears come but they don’t fall. Nothing in her body works. She can only lie where he set her, eyes on the glowing lever, and pray that something inside of him still cares for her.


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

GM: Celia has a decent while to pray. The car drives on for a while. She has no idea where they’re going. No idea what will happen when they get there.

Eventually, the car comes to a stop. The ignition dies. The trunk opens up. Roderick stares down at her. They’re in a parking garage.

Without a word, he picks her up and slings her over his shoulder. The stake pushes a little deeper. He closes the trunk, locks the car, looks around, then takes the stairs up. All Celia can see is floor.

“Whoa, hey, she all right?” asks an unfamiliar male voice.

She can’t see the speaker.

“Don’t worry about her,” says Roderick.

“She just did something dumb.”

“She’s lucky I’m here.”

Celia: Lucky.

Lucky he staked her. Kidnapped her. Put her in a trunk.

She can’t speak. Maybe she’d cry for help if she could. Or agree with him.

It could be worse, right? He could have done to her what he’d done to his brother.

GM: “She on something?” asks the other man.

“I’ve been pretty tolerant of her shit up until now,” Roderick says.

“But, you know, this evening…”

“She just doesn’t get it. She just doesn’t learn.”

“I think tonight may be an eye-opener, though.”

Celia: Stupid can be taught.

It just takes longer.

GM: Daddy knew that.

“Oh?” asks the other man.

“Yes,” says Roderick.

“Well, this has been a good talk, getting all of that off my chest. But I trust you’re going to keep what you’ve seen to yourself.”

“Hey, man, if she’s been outta line…” says the other man.

Celia: Run, she thinks.

GM: “You could drop her off in my place.”

The other man sounds like he’s grinning.

“We could tie her to the bed. When she wakes up, I could fuck her. Tied down. Then you could come in, ‘rescue’ her, and say this is what she gets when she pulls shit.”

Celia: She recoils at the thought.

He wouldn’t.

Would he?

GM: “That would probably be very instructive,” says Roderick thoughtfully.

“But… I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.”

“Elijah,” says the man.

“Elijah,” repeats Roderick.

“Well, Elijah, that’s very thoughtful of you to offer.”

In an instant, Roderick’s voice becomes venom.

“Except for how the thought of her being with someone else makes me want to bash in some fucking heads.

There’s a sharp cry, and then a brutally hard crack before something heavy hits the ground.

There’s movement under Celia as Roderick turns around.

Then a heavy thump, thump, thump, thump.

Like a body rolling down a flight of stairs.

Celia: She wishes she could close her eyes. That she could close her ears. That she wasn’t here to witness this. There’s not even satisfaction. Just terror tinged with dismay, hot and sour in the back of her throat.

Is he dead? He can’t be dead. Please don’t be dead. Don’t let Roderick be that far gone.

GM: A door opens and closes.

She sees floor underneath her as Roderick keeps walking.

She hears some keys getting pulled out. A door opening.

He steps inside. Turns. Closes it. There’s more movement.

Roderick for a moment. Opens a cabinet or something. There’s a metallic sound.

Several.

More movement.

White tile, now.

Roderick hefts her off, then drops her in a bathtub.

Not hard. But not gentle.

He takes out two pairs of handcuffs, snaps them around her wrists, then snaps each around the tub’s railings. He closes the door, turns back, then pulls out the stake.

He stares down at her. There’s no smile on his face.

“The window is securely closed, but turn into a cat or a bird and you’ll regret it.”

“So what do you have to say for yourself, Celia?”

Celia: The same wide eyes stare up at him from her new position in the tub. She can only imagine that, if she’s here, it’s going to get messy. The scent of blood stopped bothering her after her Embrace, but all she sees now is a dark hallway, a large form, a hacksaw. She has no stomach to clench. No bile to rise up her throat. No uneven breathing, no hammering of her heart against her ribcage, no cold sweat.

Just dread. Formless, overwhelming, all consuming horror.

What is he going to do to her?

“I’m…” Her voice comes out in a rasp. She swallows, but her mouth is dry. It’s always dry. She’s dead. “I’m sorry. I should have asked.”

GM: “You should have asked,” he repeats back.

Maybe he’s agreeing.

Maybe he’s mocking.

“That’s your problem, Celia.”

“Well, one of them.”

“You’re always going around behind my back. Weaving your little webs of lies.”

“I remember saying that to you, one time. How you’d told so many lies and changed your story so many times I couldn’t even keep the details straight anymore.”

“Now, though?”

He’s silent for a moment. His eyes sweep her shackled form.

“Do you know what a ‘Gordian knot’ is, Celia?”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

GM: “Figures,” says Roderick.

Celia: It’s worse than a slap in the face.

GM: “It’s a Greek legend.”

“The legend goes, the people of an ancient city were without a king. An oracle at Telmissus decreed that the next man to enter the city driving an ox cart should become their king.”

“So one day, a peasant farmer named Gordias drove into town on an ox cart. He was immediately declared king.”

“Out of gratitude, his son Midas dedicated the ox cart to the Phrygian god Sabazios, whom the Greeks identified with Zeus. Midas tied the ox cart to a post with an intricate knot of cornel bark.”

“The knot was impossibly complex. No one could even tell how it was fastened. No one was clever enough. An oracle declared that any man who could unravel this ‘Gordian knot’ was destined to become the ruler of all of Asia.”

“Now, it’s unclear exactly how long the Gordian knot went unsolved for, because this is a legend, but it was probably a very long time. Long enough that enough people tried and failed for the knot to gain a reputation as being unsolvable.”

He gives a warmthless smile.

“Like your lies, Celia.”

“They were so complex and convoluted and tugged so many of my heartstrings, that even I couldn’t solve them. You tied your own Gordian knot around me.”

“But returning to the story. One day, a young conqueror came to the city. Some say this young conqueror was the son of a god. Seers foretold a very special destiny for him. He, too, wanted to rule the world.”

“So, of course he tried to solve the Gordian knot. He expected he could. Greatness was his destiny. He had been schooled as a youth by Aristotle himself! But the knot was unsolvable, even for him.”

“So what do you suppose this brilliant young conqueror and son of a god did to solve the unsolvable knot, Celia?”

Celia: She doesn’t know. She doesn’t want to know. She doesn’t want to learn how he’s going to solve the knot.

“…cut it?” Her voice is faint.

GM: “That’s exactly what he did, Celia,” Roderick smiles.

“He drew his sword and cut the knot in half with a single stroke.”

“It seems crude, until you think about it.”

“The prophecy never said how someone had to unravel the knot, if they wanted to rule Asia. They just had to unravel it. There was no requirement beyond that. Only our young conqueror was smart enough to come at the problem from another angle. To have the awareness to choose the path of least rather than maximum resistance.”

“In the end, all of the knot’s complexity was illusory.”

Celia: He’s going to kill her.

Tears leak from the corners of her eyes. He’s going to kill her. She’s going to die here. In this bathtub. Cuffed to the railing. He’s going to wash her ashes down the drain.

GM: “The knot was only an obstacle to people who were blind and shortsighted enough t… now why are you crying, Celia?”

Celia: “Don’t,” she whispers. “Please, don’t.”

GM: He yanks her hair almost hard enough to rip it out. Her scalp screams.

“Stop pleading.”

“I’ve had just about fucking enough of the scared woman act.”

Celia: The words die. She bites her lip to keep from making any noise, eyes squeezed tightly shut against the flow of red while she nods again and again.

GM: “Now, the way the story ends, that was that. The young conqueror cleaved the knot in half.”

“So you know what he did?”

“He went on to conquer all of Asia. From Asia Minor, which is modern-day Turkey if you didn’t know, all the way to the Indus and the Oxus. Those are rivers in India.”

“And his name was Alexander. Alexander the Great.”

“You do know who that is?”

Celia: She nods again.

GM: “Good.”

“I think the comparison between the legend and our relationship is very obvious, don’t you?”

“How there’s actually a very simple way to deal with all of your lies. All of your manipulations. All of your tears.”

“I was so fixated, for so long, on working through problems and dramas you’d created, and working through them on terms you’d set.”

“I thought if I was just smart enough I could solve them all.”

Celia: He’s going to kill her.

And she can’t even cry about it.

No one will know. No one will miss her. He’ll damn himself. Forever. Kill the girl who loves him, how do you come back from that?

Celia can’t move. She can’t breathe. She’s afraid to even look at him and she can’t let him see that. She shoves it down. She finds the edges of the fear and tries to smother it before it consumes her.

But she stays silent. She doesn’t trust herself to speak. She doesn’t know if there’s anything she can even say.

GM: “We have two options here, Celia. Two ways we can help you learn your lesson.”

“One. I can beat you into torpor. I’ll drop you off at the Evergreen, since Savoy and I are such good pals now. I doubt he’ll even mind I did that, so long as we stay pals.”

Roderick smiles.

“But I’m not a brute like your father was, Celia. I’m not going to just do that to you without your consent.”

“No, I’m still considerate enough to give you a choice. Multiple choices. Which brings us to your second one.”

“I help you cut through a Gordian knot of your own. I’ll drop one of my lies. I’ll tell you a truth.”

“You’re not going to like it, though. You’re not going to like it at all.”

He smiles down at his handcuffed lover.

“So. What’s it going to be, Celia?”

Celia: “What about… what about after? After I pick. After you tell me, or beat me.”

She hates that she’s asking. Hates that she’s clinging so desperately to who he once was.

“What then?”

GM: “That will be up to you, Celia. If you’ve learned your lesson, and stop whoring around with mobster scum—or whoring around with anyone, for that matter—I don’t see any reason why things can’t go on like before.”

“So that’s a question to ask yourself, more than me. Will you mess things up?”

Celia: She shouldn’t be relieved.

She shouldn’t be thinking about going back to before.

She should be running and screaming as far and fast as she can.

But she can’t help the tears that drip down her cheeks. The desire for him to touch her gently, to put his arms around her, to hold her and let her cry and tell her… that he forgives her. That he loves her.

She’d never understood, but now she does, and her heart cracks for herself, for her mother, for Roderick.

“Which one will hurt more,” she finally asks.

GM: “You must decide for yourself, Celia,” her lover explains patiently.

“That rather defeats the purpose of offering you a choice if I tell you one choice is better, doesn’t it?”

There’s an almost amused smile.

One that says ‘of course she didn’t get it.’

Celia: “I don’t want the better one.”

GM: He smiles and strokes her cheek.

“That’s good, Celia.”

“That shows me you’re sorry.”

His hand feels so gentle against her skin.

There’s no tautness to it.

“But you still need to decide for yourself.”

Celia: Her eyes close at the touch. She turns her face into it. For just a moment she lets herself pretend they’re in bed together. She pretends that he doesn’t have her cuffed to a tub, that he isn’t going to beat her senseless or break her heart the moment she opens her mouth to decide.

Her sire had beaten her. He hadn’t left her unconscious. He’d given her blood afterwards, fed her from his own vein, slipped the collar around her neck. She still disappointed him this evening. Roderick has beaten her before as well. And they’re here. Because it hasn’t sunken in.

“I’ll heal. The bones. The muscles. It will hurt, but I’ll heal. You have to… have to live with what I did. Every night. Have to make the conscious decision to stay. It hurts more, in the end.”

She searches his face with her eyes.

“The knot.”

GM: Roderick nods.

He strokes her cheek some more.

“So. You want the truth?”

Celia: No.

“Yes.”

GM: Roderick nods again and kneels down, closer to her level.

He moves his hand. Rests it on her shoulder.

He cups her face with his other hand. Turning it to meet his eyes.

Turning it so she cannot look away.

Celia: She doesn’t want it.

She doesn’t want it.

She doesn’t want it.

GM: That’s why she asked for it.

Then Roderick says:

“I was embellishing earlier. Yes, there are different kinds of intelligence. Different kinds of knowledge. Obviously, you know more than I do about medicine and biology. About cosmetics. About dance. But there was something else I omitted, and a lie by omission is still a lie.”

“The thing I omitted was the concept of averages. You add up the total value of something’s constituent parts, then you divide that value by its number of constituent parts. Which is a somewhat long-winded way of saying, the sum total of my knowledge and the value of that knowledge is greater than yours.”

“Unlike you, I didn’t drop out of college to half-ass my way through a joke ‘degree’ online. I earned a real college degree. I was raised in a household by two highly successful and academically and professionally accomplished parents, rather than a football brute and a ballet dancer. Every box I could tick in high school to academically distinguish myself, I ticked—did you know I was accepted into Yale? I declined, because I wanted to stay close to my family, and I knew my career would stay in New Orleans. I knew my life’s goal was to destroy the Mafia here.”

“I went to law school for three years and graduated top of my class. I received an informal but extremely comprehensive education from my sire that eclipsed any of my prior educational experiences. She taught me history, philosophy, political theory, warfare, and more subjects than you probably even know the names of. I went to London to study under my grandsire, who’s even more learned than my sire is.”

“And against all of that, Celia, you have… makeup.”

He gives her a patronizing smile.

Then he says it.

Two words.

Two bullets right to the brain.

“You’re stupid.”

Celia: The impact shatters what’s left of her.

A thousand tiny pieces of her float away. They find the cracks in the window and wriggle through, dancing on the wind once they’re free. They swirl down the drain and land in sodden heaps in the sewer until they’re flushed out to the sea. They kiss his cheeks, his lashes, his lips, then settle in his lungs. More of them catch the draft beneath the door and spread through the apartment, the hall, the stairwell. They stick to Elijah’s blood on the cement steps.

They travel, the little tiny pieces of her that he breaks with two casual words, through space and time, through air and sky. They see.

They know.

She knows.

A wooden face stares up at him. The blood stops circulating through her veins. Her mask disintegrates. Hollow eyes, sunken cheekbones, porcelain skin.

Dropout, dropout, dropout.

Like a dog walking on its hind legs.

Your dad’s right. You’re stupid. Pretty, but stupid.

This is all you’ll ever be good for.

She giggles.

Say you’re stupid, Celia.

I’m stupid, Daddy.

There’s my girl.

Her cheek rubs against his hand.

The laughter doesn’t stop.

She knows.

He knows.

Everyone knows.

The monster stares out at him from a lover’s eyes. It seethes. It hates. Him. Maxen. Preston. Isabel. Roxanne. All of them. It watches. It waits. It knows. The truth. The thing behind the mask. It calls the pieces of itself back. It makes a new mask.

The girl hurts. She’d wanted pain. She’d gotten it. Her giggle turns hysterical.

GM: The girl does hurt.

The girl hurts so much.

Control snaps like a flimsy leash. The Beast tears out, to visit that hurt upon its source.

Celia sees pure red. She hears the Beast’s frenzied screams. She feels pain. Pain around her cuffed wrists. Pain around her heeled feet, as she madly kicks and flails and throws herself against her bonds, screaming her hurt to the world. To the bathroom. To the author of all her hurt.

Then, just like that, it’s gone. Her lover is calmly pinning her down, one hand around her throat, another around one of her legs.

Waiting until her tantrum is over with.

Until her Beast exhausts itself, because she is unable to control it.

“Are you calm enough for me to remove my hands, Celia?” he asks patiently.

Celia: No.

She wants to go back to the red. She wants to go back to the haze. She wants it to stop hurting. She wants to stop knowing. She wants him to lie to her. She wants him to tell her he made it up, that he said what he knew would hurt her like she’d hurt him. She wants him to tell her that he loves her, that it doesn’t matter, that he’s sorry, that he forgives her. She wants him to ask if she can forgive him, if she can still love him, broken as he is, if they can move on from this. She wants his hand between her legs and his mouth at her throat and her fingers in his hair.

She wants to be human again.

She wants someone else to carry the weight for a while.

She wants to not be afraid to look into a mirror because the face staring back at her isn’t her own.

She wants to go home, but there are so many that she doesn’t even know what that means now, and she’d thought it was with him but there’s no home here, just hurt, just pain, just tears. She wants to stop hurting. But it’s still there. Raw. Red. Angry. She pokes at the wound and wants to disappear inside of it.

But she doesn’t. Her Beast stays quiet.

The girl in the tub moves her lips to answer his question, her voice as hollow as the rest of her:

“Yes.”

GM: He removes her hands.

Then he undoes her handcuffs.

Then he spreads his arms.

Spreads them wide to embrace her.

His face isn’t hard anymore.

There’s… it’s not sadness.

It’s sympathy.

Softness.

But he doesn’t lean it to hug her. He lets her accept his offered embrace. If that’s what she wants.

Celia: She sits up in the tub. Her eyes stay down, like a dog beaten one too many times. The movement of his arms draws her attention; maybe, for a moment, she thinks he means to hit her anyway. She stays still. And then she looks. And her face crumples. And she tucks herself against him, burying her face in his chest so he doesn’t see what he’s done to her.

GM: His strong arms envelop her.

Hold her close.

Hold her tight.

Hold her safe.

“It’s okay, Celia,” he murmurs in her ear.

“It’s okay.”

“I still love you.”

“Very much.”

Celia: Why?

GM: “You were scared that I wouldn’t, were you?”

“It’s okay.”

He holds her close. Like there’s no one in the world but them.

“I understand you. I accept you. I love you.”

“I think this could actually be a very good thing for us.”

“We can be honest. We can tell the truth. It can’t hurt us, now that it’s out.”

“You don’t need to be smart, Celia. You can leave the heavy thinking to me. I’m here for you. I can be smart enough for us both.”

There’s a smile in his voice as he rubs her back. Strokes her hair.

“Does that sound good to you?”

Celia: She doesn’t want to be stupid. She wants him to be proud of her. Not like a parent with their child’s macaroni art, but like an equal. So she asks, quietly, when her voice is steady, if he’ll teach her.

GM: “Teach you to be smart, Celia?” he asks.

Celia: She starts to nod… then thinks better of it. She doesn’t want him to tell her it’s impossible.

GM: “The operative question, of course, is how smart. It’s easier to gain 5 lbs of muscle than 50 lbs. How much intellectual ‘weight’ do you want to put on?”

Celia: “Smart enough to not be stupid.”

GM: “Okay,” he says.

“We can do that.”

“You need to get a college degree.”

“A real one, at a brick and mortar school.”

“You need to major in something more intellectually challenging than dance, too.”

Celia: “How? It’s during the day.”

GM: “There are evening classes, Celia.”

Celia: Not all of the classes are offered at night. But she doesn’t argue with him.

GM: “Plenty of working adults who take those.”

Celia: “Where?”

GM: “Tulane is the best school in the city. I’d go there. You can disguise yourself to hide from the sheriff’s agents.”

Celia: “Okay.”

GM: “Stealth mode on top makes you as hard to ferret out as any neonate can realistically expect to be. It also helps that you actually went to Tulane for a while and know the campus. You can blend in.”

He smiles. “Blending in is something you’re pretty good at.”

Celia: It’s lying and makeup. She doesn’t point it out.

GM: He finally pulls back and lays a hand on her shoulder.

“Now, Celia, there’s something else.”

Celia: She doesn’t know how much more she can take from him tonight.

But she doesn’t interrupt.

GM: “Letting Mafia scum put his arm around you is completely unacceptable. But there’s some measure of redemption for you in that.”

“You were acting out of stupidity rather than malice, weren’t you? You wanted to help me and just didn’t think it all the way through.”

Celia: Celia nods her head.

GM: “Good. Now tell me what you did wrong, in your own words, and what lesson you’ve learned from tonight.”

Celia: “I… let the Mafia scum touch me. I walked in with him. I made a scene. I didn’t ask you before I did it. I didn’t think about how it looked to you. I learned… I learned that… the knots. That I’m… what you think of me. That I was wrong. That you’re smart enough for both of us. That you can do the thinking for me. That when I’m wrong you’ll… give me a choice, and Savoy won’t care if you hurt me, and that you… still love me.”

Her eyes move to his face, searching for the answer to that question.

GM: “You’re right about everything up until ‘the knots’, Celia. ’ That doesn’t tell me what you’ve learned. That isn’t even grammatically correct.” His tone isn’t critical, but calm. Patient. “Try again. What did you learn there?”

Celia: Celia swallows. “You told me about the knot. The Gor… Gorgon…? Gordian Knot. The Gordian Knot. I learned the story behind it, and how it was solved, and you solved mine for me.”

GM: “What was your Gordian knot, Celia? How did I solve it?”

Celia: “You told me that you were sparing my feelings when I asked the other night. That there’s different kinds of intellect, but there’s still average intellect, and you know more than me. You told me you went to London with your grandsire. Did you fly? Or take a boat?”

GM: “That’s not germane right now, Celia. I’ll answer your questions after we’re finished here,” Roderick says, his tone mildly chiding.

Celia: Celia drops her gaze.

“You told me that I’m stupid.”

GM: “Good,” he says with a slight smile. “Specificity in language is important. I was also going to correct ’I’m what you think of me.’ But ‘Roderick told me I’m stupid’ isn’t a direct answer to my question either, Celia.”

“So tell me: what did you learn?”

Celia: Her eyes, still on his chest, go vacant.

“Tell me you’re stupid, Celia.”

“I’m stupid, Daddy.”

“There’s my girl.”

GM: He waits. Patiently.

But he doesn’t back down.

Celia: Her hands twist on her lap. The pointy edge of a ring cuts into her skin when she rotates it over and over and over again.

“He broke her arm. She went out the window and he broke her arm. The guards took her back. She cried, but they didn’t care. He broke the other one.”

“She wouldn’t tell him what he wanted.”

“He put a leash on her. He punished her for lying. Eat it. Eat it. All of it.”

“You’re my cute little bunny.”

“There’s a blue dress with yellow sunflowers.”

“I heard him hiss.”

“There were two.”

“All I wanted was a pony.”

“I’m sorry I asked for the pony.”

“The Wish Bringer was my grandpa. But he cursed us.”

“Tell me you’re stupid, Celia.”

“I’m stupid, Daddy.”

“They don’t send girls there for being stupid.”

“He wants me to say I’m stupid. But I never did.”

Her finger bleeds.

GM: Roderick frowns.

“This is not a direct answer to my question, Celia.”

“I have no reasonable basis to conclude you’ve learned your lesson if you can’t tell me what the lesson was.”

Celia: Celia’s not here anymore.

Whoever else is tells him what he wants, though.

“I’m stupid.”

GM: “Good.”

There’s a content smile as he touches her shoulder.

The two words her father never got her to say.

Two words she bled and suffered and screamed over his knee to avoid saying.

Because all he used to extract them was pain.

Physical pain.

But she knows from Elyse, doesn’t she?

Soothing balms make hurtful things hurt so much deeper.

Pleasure and pain, rewards and punishment.

Kindness and cruelty.

One must exercise both for optimal results.

And Roderick is that smart, isn’t he?

Celia: “He’s smart enough for both of us.”

GM: “‘Roderick is smart enough for both of us,’” her lover corrects. “Specificity in language is important, Celia.”

Celia: Who is Celia?

She died years ago.

GM: “Everything else you said you learned is correct. And the answer to your implicit final question is yes.”

“I do still love you.”

“I love you very, very much.”

Celia: He’s the second monster to say that to her.

GM: He cups her face in his hands, then leans in to plant a soft kiss upon her lips.

He pulls away, then hoists her up out of the tub in a classic bridal carry, holding her effortlessly aloft in his grasp.

He smiles at her.

“Now how does some makeup sex sound?”

Celia: Whoever she is likes the sound of that. She snuggles closer, her lips at his neck.

Here, at least, she excels.


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

GM: The makeup sex is good. It’s different than normal, too. Roderick is more forceful, this time. More direct. He pins her down a lot, holding her tight in his implacable grip. He decides what positions they assume. When they change them. When and where Celia (or whoever is now here) can bite.

But he’s gentle, too. Tender. Soft. They go slow, until she begs to go fast. He asks if this or that feels good. He does more, when she says yes. He kisses her. He embraces her. He brushes her hair. He smiles down at her, blue eyes shining.

There’s more blood, this time. Their Beasts are closer to the surface. They hurt each other. But it’s the gentlest of hurts. The best of hurts. He lets her know where she will hurt, and tells herself to make herself ready, and hurt blossoms into pleasure.

So much pleasure.

Pleasure over which he is in full control.

And when they’re done, when they lie spent and finished and bloody in each other’s arms, he pulls her close into spooning, and wraps his arms around her. He leaves in close and nuzzles her neck as he whispers,

“That was exquisite, Celia.”

“I love you so much.”

Celia: The girl in the shell surrenders herself to him. She doesn’t want to think. She moves how he shows her to, bites when he tells her to, hurts how he wants her to. It aches. But it’s the good sort of ache. The necessary sort of ache. She gives up control, letting him take what he wants, give what he wants. It’s what she wants, too.

He never penetrates her. She doesn’t ask him to. He’d do it, if he wanted, which means he doesn’t want. Another part of her dies, but fangs in her neck, her chest, her back, her wrist—they distract from the sharp pain of it.

This can be beautiful too.

She holds his arm when it’s over, her fingers soft against the back of his hand. His large hand. They dwarf hers; he can press his palm to her belly and touch the undersides of her breasts. They ache for it, but she doesn’t ask.

“I love you, Roderick,” she echoes.

GM: He smiles and does just that, slowly stroking his palm across her belly.

“What would you think about sharing a haven together?”

“Permanently. In the Quarter. A new one.”

Celia: “As Roderick and Jade?”

GM: “I’d say someone else and Jade, but no one except us should know.” He frowns. “And some of our ghouls. How much they should know is another question.”

“Your ability to change my face will come in handy, either way. Roderick can’t be seen spending so much time in the Quarter.”

Celia: “Roderick?”

GM: “Yes?”

Celia: “I forgot to tell you something. Earlier. Can I tell you now?”

GM: He pulls her closer, nuzzling his nose against her neck.

“You can tell me anything, Celia.”

Celia: “…anything?” she asks.

GM: “Anything,” he repeats.

Celia: “I was afraid when you followed me earlier. I wasn’t thinking straight. I was talking to the Mafia scum about your sister. He runs the block where she was found. You asked me to find her sire. I thought I could ask him. I’m sorry I forgot.”

GM: “Ah, that’s a good idea, Celia,” he says approvingly. “You should have asked me first, to get my input. But it’s a good idea.”

“Here’s my input now. We change our faces, ambush him, and hurt him until he tells us everything he knows. Then we dispose of him.”

Celia: “He’s important to Lord Savoy.”

GM: “That’s immaterial.”

Celia: “Can I… can I pose a… a question?”

GM: “Of course.”

Celia: “The war is heating up. You said that they’re prepping? Lord Savoy will need all of his people, won’t he? When the fighting starts? Can we take him out after?”

GM: “The war is bigger than Reynaldo Gui. He isn’t the fulcrum upon which Savoy’s success rests.”

Celia: “I was working on a plan to take down Agnello with him. And he offered… he wants to take me to Chicago. To meet his sire. I thought we could… his sire is Capone, allegedly, I thought it would be good insight to the entire organization..?”

GM: “No,” Roderick says shortly.

Celia: “No,” she echoes.

GM: He says nothing further.

But he does hold her.

Celia: She’s quiet for a time.

“Roderick,” she whispers, when she has had her fill of silence.

GM: “Yes?” he murmurs back.

Celia: “The other night… I wanted to talk to you. To tell you things. About me. If… if you love me, even though I’m… stupid… can you love me for the rest of it?”

GM: He nuzzles against her head some more.

“Of course, Celia. I’ll always love you.”

Celia: “…do you still want to get married?” she asks in a small voice.

GM: “Of course I do,” he smiles, running a hand along her belly.

“Who else would I want to spend the rest of my Requiem with?”

“There are going to be some changes in our relationship, but I think you’ll be on board with them.”

Celia: “Changes?”

GM: “I’m in charge,” he says simply.

“Most couples don’t like to acknowledge this sort of thing. But you know how much I believe in honesty.”

Celia: “What does that… entail?”

GM: “Not much that’s different. I’ll listen to your input and seek it as appropriate. I want you to feel valued and listened to. You’re the most important thing in my Requiem, Celia. That’s why it’s essential we do things right. We’ve had so many conflicts in the past. We made our own Gordian knot.”

“But tonight made me see.”

“When I cut through it, things go much better. For both of us.”

“I expect you to seek my input on everything of significant consequence to you. I will make the final decisions in our relationship. When you misbehave, I will correct the misbehavior, like I did tonight.”

“You will not be corrected arbitrarily. I will always tell you what you did wrong and why you are being corrected. You will tell me afterwards what you did wrong and what lesson you learned.”

“When you are well-behaved, you will not be corrected. When you are well-behaved, you will be rewarded. When you are well-behaved, we will both be happy.”

“I will protect you from anything and anyone that tries to hurt you. You will be safe with me. You will be loved with me.”

Celia: “Even… even if I mess up?”

GM: “Even when you mess up,” Roderick echoes.

“Hate the sin. Love the sinner.”

He gives her a squeeze.

“I believe in you, Celia. You’ll learn. I will be patient with you.”

Celia: “What are the sins?”

GM: “Associating with Mafia scum is one of them.”

“But in so many words, anything which I judge to put our well-being or the well-being of our relationship at risk.”

“That’s why it’s so important for you to consult with me before making significant decisions.”

“If you’d done that, tonight wouldn’t have happened.”

Celia: Tonight…

“I have a meeting,” she whispers, frantically looking for a clock.

GM: He guides her head back towards his.

“With whom and over what business?”

Celia: “Primogen Poincaré. About a missing person.” She’s sure she missed it by now. “And the Tremere. Occult studies.”

GM: “That first meeting sounds beneficial. What do you want to learn about the occult for?”

Celia: “My dad. There’s a…” he’s going to tell her she’s dumb. “…I wanted to look into demons. You told me they’d be a good source.”

GM: “Ah, yes,” he considers. “That could be productive too. Just know they’re probably going to ask a boon in exchange for significant knowledge.”

Celia: “Is that okay? Can I give them one?”

GM: Roderick thinks. “What do you want to learn about demons for? Suppose your father is being influenced by one, and that his actions weren’t fully his own. That’s the best case scenario. What then?”

Celia: “Defeat it? And… it’s good to know. If they’re out there. What they can do. And… I think I… met one.”

GM: “Okay. You can pledge them a boon. If you can, make it towards Lebeaux, or Bornemann if you can’t.”

Celia: “Roderick? My spa was bugged. I followed the trail and I think I met something… other. I think it’s the demon. I looked into it a little. Can I show you my research later?”

GM: “Absolutely. I’ll help however I can.”

Celia: “Thank you.”

GM: “When are your meetings?”

Celia: She tells him the times.

GM: Roderick lets her look at the clock.

“You have a good amount of time, then. Benefits of leaving Elysium early.”

“Enough time to fit something else in, probably.”

Celia: She doesn’t know how long they’ve been here. How long she was in the trunk. The tub. How long sex took. She’s glad that it wasn’t as long as she thought.

“My ghoul was supposed to tell me about the hunters,” she offers.

GM: “Then you should see him.”

Celia: She nods.

“Is… is my car far?”

GM: “Your car is where you left it. I can give you a lift.”

Celia: “Okay.”

GM: He turns her around and tilts her chin up in his hand.

“You’re okay, too, with how things are going to be now?”

Celia: “I’ve wanted to tell you everything for a long time.”

GM: “I know you have. We can whenever you’re ready.”

“But I need to hear, first, that you’re okay with these new ground rules.”

Celia: “What if we disagree?”

GM: “My decisions are final, Celia.”

Celia: “But you’ll listen, if I tell you something?”

“And you’ll consider it?”

“And you won’t… I won’t be hurt for asking?”

GM: “Of course. I’ll always listen to you and consider what you have to say. What you say is very important to me.”

“You’ll never be hurt, Celia. You’ll be corrected.”

“But there’s nothing to correct about questions.”

Celia: “…even if they’re stupid?”

GM: “There’s no such thing as a stupid question. All questions seek to correct ignorance. All questions are acolytes at the temple of knowledge.”

Celia: “Oh,” she says.

“Your decisions are final. I’ll tell you before I do anything significant. You’ll correct misbehavior.”

GM: “Good,” he nods.

“I’d like to hear now, in your own words, how this will benefit our relationship and benefit each of us.”

Celia: “You’re smarter than me. You see things I don’t. You have more training from your sire, your grandsire, and school. I’m important to you, so you want what’s best for me, and you’ll keep me safe. We love each other. It shows trust. And commitment. Corrections won’t be arbitrary, and you’ll seek my input because you value me. You’ll guide me down a better path and lift the weight from my shoulders.”

GM: “That’s perfect, Celia,” he smiles, and kisses her head.

“I’m proud of you. Tonight went very well.”

Celia: “You helped me see.”

GM: “Helping you is what I want to do.”

Celia: Celia rests her cheek on his chest.

“I know. I love you for it.”

GM: He hugs her close in his strong arms.

“I love you too, Celia. With all my heart.”

“Things are going to be better now.”

“I promise.”


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

Celia: They clean themselves up in the same tub he’d cuffed her in. Conscious of the time, they don’t linger, and soon they’re dressed and out the door. Celia offers to turn into Luna for the trip through the building, and sits on the floor if he needs her to when she switches back. She wouldn’t switch, but a question has been weighing on her mind, and she wants to ask before the night progresses.

“It’s about sex,” she says, growing steadily more flustered by the topic until she finally asks if they’re going to continue to do it like they did tonight. Her cheeks burn for the asking. If he wants to know why, she quietly admits that she “has a hard time focusing in the evenings without it.” She finds a roundabout way to ask if sex with kine is okay, both for its own merit and during feedings. There’s shame in her eyes when she asks. She doesn’t like admitting her shortcomings to him. And if he doesn’t want to do it like that anymore she doesn’t want to ask him to. Their time together should be enjoyable, not a chore.

But she doesn’t want to lie or cheat. She wants this to work. Their relationship is important to her. He is important to her.

GM: Roderick thinks turning into Luna is a good idea.

“We’ll continue to have sex,” he answers. “I’ll use my cock as a reward for when you’ve been especially good.”

He considers her next question for some time, silent as he drives.

“Bring home the next vessel you want to have sex with, so I can see, participate, and evaluate.”

“I’ll make a decision based on how that goes.”

Celia: Home. Where is that anymore?

“What about Alana?” she eventually asks.

GM: “Do that for her too. No sex until then.”

Celia: “She’s waiting for me. Tonight. She’s… I do with her what you’re doing with me. Sex as a reward. No sex as punishment. I’ve been putting her off, but she showed up at my mom’s house today, freaking out…”

GM: “Then that’s a good pretext over which to have no sex with her.”

“She shouldn’t expect rewards after she’s been bad.”

“It’s also a good time to tell her you’re going to potentially reevaluate your relationship based on her performance with me.”

“Don’t tell her you’re on the same system she is, though.”

“You are her domitor and should appear a fully dominant figure in her eyes.”

Celia: “We sleep together sometimes. During the day.”

GM: “We’re going to sleep together now. We can decide on what days we’re going to include Alana, if any.”

“That should be a privilege for her rather than a guarantee.”

Celia: “What about today?”

GM: “She’s been bad, Celia. No privileges today.”

“But if you mean us, yes, we can sleep together.”

Celia: “Where?”

GM: “My haven, for now, until we find a new one.”

Celia: She nods, is quiet for a moment, and finally asks about what sort of corrections she should expect. If they’ll all be like tonight. If torpor is something she should learn to expect.

GM: “It depends upon the nature of the infraction,” says Roderick. “Some will require more significant correction than others.”

“But I will always offer you a choice when torpor is on the table.”

“I’m not going to be your father and just beat you without your consent.”

Celia: There’s more she wants to talk to him about. More she wants to know now as opposed to later. She asks if they can have a longer conversation later. She understands the rules, what he expects, and accepts that. But there’s still more she wants to discuss.

GM: He answers of course. He’s happy to answer whatever questions she might have.

He tilts her chin up in his hand to meet his eyes.

“It feels good, doesn’t it, Celia, to have someone in the driver’s seat?”

Celia: “I know you want what’s best for us. I’ll feel better when I tell you everything. So you understand.”

GM: “Telling the truth is for the best, Celia.”

“It comes out either way. We might as well do it on our terms.”

“Truth always comes out.”


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

Celia: He drops her at her car. She tells him she loves him again before she gets out, and if he lets her she kisses him. She says she’ll see him tonight. She says that she’s grateful he helped her cut the knot. She says that she trusts him.

She watches him go in the rear view mirror after she turns the key in her ignition. For a moment she swears that her eyes are blue.

Whoever she is doesn’t think too hard about what that means. She pulls out of her spot and makes the trek to LegalWings to meet with Reggie and Rusty, if he’s there. She texts Dani on the way. She hasn’t heard from her and wants to make sure that she’s safe.

When she arrives at LegalWings she asks Rusty how it’s possible to track a phone, and if you need local access to it or if it’s something you can do with an app or other method. It was a new phone, but the user might have logged into their Sunfire account on it to transfer things from the old phone, and she supposes she answered her own question. She asks if he’d be able to find out who was tracking it and how they were tracking it and offers to bring him the phone. She’s paying, of course.

Then she meets with Reggie. She makes a comment about Randy never coming by, then asks how it went with the hunters.

GM: Is there anything she can to do help out right now? He’s asleep and won’t notice if she leaves.

Celia: Celia lets her know to sit tight. She says she found him. He’s safe. He’s okay. She mentions she wants to talk to her, but in person. Tomorrow, maybe. She does text over the badge numbers for Henry. She tells Dani to stay inside tonight, and to come back to the Quarter during the day.

She doesn’t explicitly say it, but there’s less chance of her being picked up that way. Celia will never forgive herself if something happens to Dani.

GM: Dani says she’ll pass along the badge numbers. She’s happy to come back over. Should they meet up at Flawless?

Celia: Yes, Celia responds.

She texts an approximate time that she’ll be there and tells her to enjoy the evening. They’ll make plans for the museum another day.

GM: Rusty isn’t present at LegalWings, but is available to talk over the phone. She has indeed answered her own question. There are many avenues by which to track phones.

Like all things, time and money indeed make possible to find out who was tracking the phone.

Celia: She’ll make sure he has both.

GM: Reggie, meanwhile, reports the following:

First, the handoff with ’Jade’s’ body was successful.

Unless the hunters later see through the ruse, as they seemed to buy it at the handoff, they now believe Jade Kalani tagged and bagged.

The hunters gave their names as Mr. Brown and Mr. Jones, but Reggie is not sure if those names are real. They said they worked for the federal government, though they were vague about what specific agency. They did, however, say that if the two ‘hunters’ brought them one more incapacitated vampire, they would be eligible to join their organization and receive training at a place called Glynco. Reggie wasn’t sure exactly where that was, but it seemed like the hunters he was pretending to be already knew, so he nodded along.

The hunters were extremely tight-lipped about… well, everything. However, there was one fact Reggie deduced… this offer did not feel unique to ‘Brooke’ and her partner. Mr. Jones and Mr. Brown had a very standoffish and dismissive attitude. Like there was ‘more where they came from.’ Reggie concluded the two were not only making this same offer to a large number of hunters, but getting rid of vampires does not actually seem to be their primary objective. Mr. Jones and Mr. Brown are sending hunters after comparative small fries. The goal seems to be to test their competence and dedication… and to recruit the most promising such hunters into their own organization.

They left Reggie and Randy with another time and meet spot to deliver their next vampire.

Celia: She asks if it sounded like vampires is all they hunt, or if they’re aware of the rest of the things out there.

GM: Reggie did not ask about other things.

Celia: She wants to know how long they have before the next meeting.

GM: About a week.

Celia: Were they given locations and targets or do they need to find their own?

GM: The latter.

The help from Savoy’s ghoul, Reggie grouses, was not very helpful. Reggie heard a voice in his ear whisper that’d it would be present during the handoff, and then absolutely no one was there except him and Randy.

Celia: Irritation at that news. Now everything she knows, he knows. She won’t get credit for any of it. Worse, she’ll tell Lebeaux this evening and he’ll say he already knows.

Stupid.

She explains that he was probably right there with them. He’s a shadow dancer. He’d have interceded if things went south.

Celia thanks him for a job well done and lets him know she’ll bring him in to consult on their next move within the next few days. She asks if he thinks Brown and Jones would be willing to provide backup if Reggie finds a “bigger score.”

GM: He thought they seemed like assholes.

“So they’d probably do the asshole thing.”

He grunts at the explanation on the shadow dancer.

Assholes are always the order of the day.


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

GM: It’s a short ride back to the Hotel Monteleone after Celia is finished with her business. Her mom said she could stop by anytime, though the hour is rather later than she is accustomed to, and it takes several knocks and texts before the door to Diana’s room swings open. Her mother greets her in a fluffy hotel bathrobe, messy bed hair, and still somewhat flushed-looking cheeks.

“Hel-lo, sweetie!” she exclaims with a slight giggle as she pulls Celia into a hug.

“How’s my lil’ bunny, huh?”

Celia: “Hi, Momma,” Celia greets the woman with a bemused smile. She lets herself be pulled in, using it as an opportunity to see if her eyes are glassy. “Get into the wine, Mom?”

GM: Her mother’s eyes do look glazed. She closes the door behind Celia. They’re in a one-bed room.

“Er, maybe just a bit, baby.”

“I don’t normally do this sort of thing!”

Celia: “No,” Celia muses, following her further into the room. She looks for her sisters—both of them. “How long’s it been since you’ve had a drink, Ma?”

GM: She doesn’t see either.

“Oh, goodness… maybe since that party?” thinks her mom, plopping down on the bed.

“A very long time! I feel so rebellious!”

“C’mere, sweetie, I wanna cuddle with my baby.”

Celia: After the night she’s had, Celia needs it. She leans into her mom, cuddling up against her as if she’s not a bloodsucking monster.

GM: Celia’s mom wraps an arm around her shoulders and leans a head against her daughter’s. The woman’s movements are… less restrained, she supposes.

“Oh, I love you so much, you know that? Just… lots!” she exclaims, giving a little giggle.

“I’m sorry, that isn’t very, ah, what’s the word…?”

“I love you lots either way,” she smiles again, giving Celia a tighter squeeze.

Celia: Grammatically correct? Celia doesn’t rebuke her mother for it. Not like Roderick had. There will be no “corrections” between this lick and her ghoul.

GM: There were, once.

But they walked back from that.

Celia: “I love you lots too, Momma. Thanks for bearing with me tonight while everything went down. I know it’s been a lot lately.”

GM: “It’s okay, sweetie! I want to do things for you!” she exclaims, giving Celia another emphatic squeeze.

“I love doin’ things for you. I just wish I could do more, sometimes.”

Celia: “You do plenty, Mom. You found all that stuff about the training center. And I was able to confirm it tonight. That’s something. You feed me. That’s something too.”

“You love me even though I’m… you know.”

GM: “That’s up to God, baby, between you and God, what that means. My job’s to be your mom. I’ll always be your mom.” Diana gives a sniff that turns into a snort as she shakes her head and touches a hand to her nose. “Oh, sorry! I know you don’t like when I cry!”

Celia: “Mom…” Celia touches a hand to Diana’s cheek. “You’re allowed to cry, Mom. It’s okay.”

GM: Her mom gives another half-sniff she tries to turn into a snort. “I am, but, but I cry a lot! And I know you don’t like it!”

“And Emi thinks I do it too much, sometimes, too, she doesn’t say, but I just really think she does.”

Celia: It reminds her all too much of her conversation with Roderick.

“Feel what you feel, Mom. Let it out. It’s okay to cry. That… that wasn’t me who said that to you.”

“You can’t control your feelings. Just let them out, okay?” Celia pulls her close, running a hand up and down her back.

GM: Her mother holds it in for several moments later, and then the water works start to freely flow.

“Celia, I, I hate it when I cry too, I really do, I hate it how I cry, I hate how weak I am, how much I cry, I know you say I’m not, but I am, ever…”

Celia: “Mom…” Celia doesn’t know where this is coming from. She’d never had that much experience drinking herself before her death, though she supposes she’d seen Emily get weepy a few times. “Mom, it’s okay. We’re working on it, right?”

GM:Are you?” her mom sniffs, looking at her with wetly imploring eyes. “What… what’s new? What’ve you worked on?”

Celia: Well, she meant her mom is working on it through fencing and learning more about her daughter’s real world, but this works too.

“I…” What has she been working on? Getting people killed. Turning into a doormat for her boyfriend. Stupid, he whispers, and she sees the resentment in his eyes.

“I found someone who could talk to Lucy,” she offers.

GM: Her mother’s breath comes shallower as her drunken eyes slightly widen. She hugs Celia closer.

“Talk about… what, sweetie?”

Celia: No. This was a bad idea. Her mom is already crying.

“We got her a library card. Some books. She’s… she likes the same books as you. And I spoke to someone else tonight who knows more about it, and he’s…” How does she describe Harlequin? His crazy speaks to her crazy.

“It’s all a process, Mom. Baby steps.”

GM: Her mom breathes rapidly and just holds on tight to Celia.

“What. What do you want to do, with… with…”

She doesn’t say the doll’s name.

Celia: “She’s at my place now, Mom. She can’t hurt you. It’s up to you.”

GM: She swallows.

“What’s. What’s up, to me.”

Celia: “What to do with her.”

GM: Diana breathes rapidly and clings to her daughter.

“What… what do you think?”

Celia: “I love you the way you are. I want you to do what’s best for you. If you want to reunite, we can. If you want to stay separate, we can.”

GM: Her mother cries into her shoulder.

“I’m so weak, Celia. I’m so weak. I didn’t help you, I didn’t help your brothers, your sisters, I wasn’t there, I didn’t do, do anything, I was weak, so weak…”

Celia: Celia continues to rub her hand up and down Diana’s back, holding her mother close to her.

“There wasn’t a lot you could do at the time. And you did when it mattered. You stepped up. That’s love. That’s what we needed. What I need.”

GM: Her mom’s voice is small in her ear.

“I, I’d have done more… once…”

Celia: “When she was part of you, you mean?”

GM: Her mom says nothing, then nods once.

Celia: “Mom… is that… hereditary? Did you get it from your dad? Or your mom?”

GM: Her mother looks away, cheeks faintly red.

“Your. Your grandma’s always been… strong. Your grandpa was softer.”

She sniffs again.

“I wish he hadn’t… then I’d have… never…”

“Then you and the others… I wish she’d… I wish she’d died, instead,” Diana says, her features briefly hardening.

Celia: “…what did he do, Momma?”

GM: The look passes like an odd lump in half-formed, still-malleable clay. Her mother sniffs again. “Died, sweetie. He died. Too early for you to even know him.”

“And then everything fell… fell apart.”

Celia: Celia nods gently. “She and you started fighting, right? Dad told me.”

GM: Her mom silently nods.

Celia: “Do you want to tell me more about that?”

GM: Diana looks at the bed.

“I hate her,” she whispers.

Celia: “I know. I’m sorry I tried to force you to talk to her. What happened, Mom? Was it the… place?”

GM: “We… we already didn’t get along, already couldn’t stand the sight of… that was just…”

Celia: “Of… each other?”

GM: Her mother nods.

Celia: “But… why?”

GM: “I wish she could see,” Diana says suddenly, squeezing Celia as her inebriated eyes flash. “I wish. She could see. See what it’s like. Walk a mile in… in my shoes! See what she says then!”

“See what she thinks of me then!”

Celia: Celia’s eyes move from her mother’s face. For a moment her vision blurs. Then she blinks and it’s back, and she touches a hand to her mother’s cheek, curling up on her lap with her knees bent and her head on her shoulder. Like the child she used to be.

“Momma?”

GM: “Sweetie?” her mom asks thickly, concern coloring over the look on her face. She hugs Celia close and gives her a squeeze, stroking the back of her daughter’s head with one hand. “What is it?”

Celia: “Daddy used to hurt us. Did Grammi do that too?”

GM: “N… no, sweetie. Not like he did.”

Celia: “But it hurt?”

GM: “She’s such a mean woman,” Diana mutters.

She sniffs and snuggles Celia closer.

Celia: “But why?”

GM: “I don’t know, why is anyone mean?”

Celia: “‘Cause they’re sad.”

GM: “I’m sad, and I’m not mean,” her mom sniffs.

Celia: “‘Cause you’re better.”

GM: Her mom smiles and squeezes her.

“Thanks, sweetie.”

“You make me want to be. You and Lucy and Emi and all your brothers and sisters.”

Celia: “I could tell someone beat her up,” she offers. “Joshy said that’s what big sis is for.”

GM: “Sorry, Joshy?” her mom asks.

Celia: “We’re friends.”

GM: “Oh. I don’t know if I… well, I suppose I do… but I don’t think that’s what Jesus, what Jesus would say…”

“Do you and Jesus talk much, these days, sweetie?” her mom asks.

“It’s been so long, since you came to church.”

Celia: There’s not an easy answer to that. She just shrugs.

GM: Her mom squeezes her again.

“You’re His cute lil’ bunny too.”

Celia: Her giggle turns into a laugh. “That’s not what the Sanctified say, but I appreciate the sentiment.”

GM: Her mom smiles back at her.

“Do you think He loves you, still?” she asks, curiously.

Celia: No. She’s a bloodsucking monster from someone’s nightmare.

“Who knows.”

She doesn’t know her own mind, let alone some possibly imaginary figment of the collective conscious of people who lived thousands of years before her.

GM: “I guess only Him. But I think He does. He loves everyone, baby, everyone. No matter what they’ve done. It’s up to them if they want to love Him back. I think that’s the only reason anyone goes to Hell, if they refuse His love.”

Diana holds her close for a while.

“What do you think Jesus wants me to do?” she asks.

Celia: “In regards to Lucy? Or your mother?”

GM: “…both, sweetie,” she says after a moment.

Celia: “He probably has a better idea what all happened between the two of you. I still don’t, not really. You only give me pieces of it.”

GM: Her mother gives a hmph that turns into a hiccup.

She holds a hand to her mouth.

“Oh. Excuse me.”

Celia: Celia gently pats her back, waiting for the story.

GM: “You’re always asking me about the past, Celia.”

“I just don’t know what you’re looking for.”

“There’s not a lot to say,” her mom answers anyway. “She was always a bad, bad woman. Didn’t approve of ballet. Couldn’t accept it made me happy. Couldn’t accept I didn’t want to break a glass ceiling like her or Prudence. Couldn’t understand all the sweat and blood that went into it.”

“I started on the big stage at 15, you know. Young.”

“You have to be tough.”

“Everyone looks at us on the stage, sees how pretty and pink and sylph-like we are, floatin’ along en pointe, but they don’t see what goes on backstage.”

“They don’t see the way adults will tell you, to your face, blunt as a frying pan, you are too fat. You are too slow. You are too ugly. You are too stupid. You are not good enough.”

“In front of all the other girls, public as a stroll in the park.”

“Who are all older than you. Some lots older than you. Who all want the choice roles, that only so many dancers are gonna get. The competition can get really fierce.”

“And don’t even get me started on the physical training. Or the eating disorders.”

“To do that, at 15? You have to be TOUGH.”

Her mother gives an angry sigh. “I used to be tough, you know. That’s how I made it!”

“I wouldn’t have made it in that environment, if I wasn’t tough! Not at 15!”

“Fudge, and Logan complains about the ROTC instructors sometimes! He’s gettin’ off light!”

“Your grandmother didn’t respect me. She didn’t respect all my hard work. All my blood and sweat. How tough I had to be.”

Celia: “That’s really it? She just didn’t respect your choice?”

GM: “‘Just’? I’ll tell you ‘just’! She was just awful! One time, she threw out my sewing kit. That I used to modify my ballet shoes. Just threw it out! Because I’d left it outside my room, so she chucked it out, told me to keep better track of my things.”

“Two days before a big show!”

“I had to run through the city, buy a new kit, buy new shoes, all my own money, and waste time on that, on re-fittin’ the shoes again, that I needed to spend practicing!”

“I was off my game, the next day! The show was worse! They gave me so much grief for it! ‘Dragging down the whole corps be ballet!’ I had to fight like hell just to stay on the troupe!”

“Thanks a lot, Momma, thanks a lot for all your love and support!”

Diana gives an angry half-strangled sob and wipes her eyes.

Celia: “I don’t understand. How could she be like that… and you be like this.”

GM: “Because I got it from your grandpa, that’s why. He had so much more love in his heart than she did.”

“He was always there! Every performance, even the kids’ ones! He found time!”

“Busy heart surgeon like him, he found time, and sent me cards and flowers with ‘thank you’s from the other hospital people when he couldn’t!”

“I always knew, when he couldn’t make it, who he was helping, how helpful the rest of the team all said he was being!”

Her mom sniffs again. “Oh, Daddy, I miss you so much. You cared, when she never did!”

“Such a mean, nasty, cruel woman!”

Celia: “Was she like that with your siblings?”

GM: “Oh no, she loved Prudence much more than me.”

“Stan too, though not as much.”

Celia: All parents have favorites, Roderick told her.

“Why?”

GM: “Because they were just more like her, I guess. I got all of Dad’s sweet, Stan got half, Prudence got zero.”

“Though I don’t feel very sweet right now,” her mother hmphs.

“Such a nasty woman.”

Celia: “We don’t have to talk about her, Mom. I didn’t realize… well, I didn’t realize the depth of everything between you. We don’t need to rehash.”

GM: “She sent me to the… DOLLHOUSE!”

Her mother gives a sob and covers her eyes.

Celia: “You’re out now, Momma. You’re out.”

GM: “No I’m not, no I’m not, I’m still there!”

Celia: “With… Lucy?”

GM: Her mother shudders at the doll’s name.

“I never got out, only… only half of me did!”

Celia: “I’ve had her for a long time, Mom. She’s out, too.”

GM: “She’s evil.

“I don’t know why, I don’t why you’d, you’d ever do that.”

Celia: Money. Connections. Power. Obsession. Madness.

All sorts of reasons. Celia doesn’t voice any of them, though. She just "hmm"s and holds her mom close.

GM: Her mom holds onto her for a while.

“She’s going to… she’s going to hurt you, baby.”

“She’s evil.”

Celia: “The doll?”

GM: Her mom closes her eyes and nods.

Celia: “Why would she hurt me?”

GM: “Because she’s from that place! That awful, awful pla-”

Celia: “She… helped me, before. I hesitated. And she told me to run. She got me to safety.”

Her sire, too, but she doesn’t add him into this.

GM: Her mom cuts off with a befuddled expression.

“What?”

Celia: “…what?”

GM: “She wouldn’t do that.”

“She wouldn’t help you.”

Celia: “But she… did.”

GM: “No. She’s from… why would she do that? Why would she ever do that?”

Celia: “I don’t… I don’t know. I was in trouble and she told me to run. So I did. And I got out. And all the other dolls were coming for me. They were going to turn me into one of them.”

GM: Diana doesn’t look sure of what to say.

Celia: “She’s from what? That place?”

GM: Her mom nods.

“What… happened, sweetie? That got you in trouble?”

“Are you still in trouble?”

Celia: “No. I’m okay. I saw what she did to you and I got angry. I let the Beast out. I came to and she was unconscious on the floor, and Lucy was staring up at me. I was going to help her, but Lucy… said to run.”

“And she said… she told the librarian that if I hadn’t undone what Jade did to you, she’d have left me forever.”

GM: “Oh. That’s what it was. Good. You were… you were a real hero to do that, baby.” Her mom hugs her. “A real hero. All those, those girls, in their… their hells. All of them, you gave… you gave hope…

Diana sniffles some more and wipes at her eyes.

Celia: She didn’t.

She’d ruined them too.

Broken them.

Like her mother.

GM: “That’s my… my Celia, always… always doing the right thing, even when it’s hard…” her mom sniffs, running a hand up and down her back.

She kisses the side of Celia’s face.

“I’m so proud of you, baby. So, so proud.”

Celia: “…I wasn’t doing the right thing, Mom.”

GM: “She’s… she’s pure evil, Celia. Just. Pure evil. You did right.”

Celia: “I used to do their makeup.”

GM: Her mom looks confused.

“Their… makeup?”

Celia: “To make them prettier.”

GM: Diana doesn’t say anything.

Her face just goes very still as she looks at Celia.

Celia: “I didn’t do the right thing.”

GM: “All… all the guards, cooks, at Auschwitz, couldn’t have been bad people,” her mom says slowly.

“They weren’t… the masterminds. They didn’t send people to the gas chambers.”

“They, they might not have even known. Had any choice.”

Celia: “They did.”

She did.

GM: “But, but it’s not always that simple. There’s… there’s worse grades, of bad.”

Her mom rubs her back.

“I’m not… I’m not going to say you… didn’t do bad… but you didn’t do as bad as her.

Celia: “Mom… I don’t know what you think it means to be what I am… but I’ve done… I’ve done awful things. Terrible things. Maybe not like her, but I’ve…” She looks down at her hands. “They’re not clean, Mom.”

GM: Her mother hugs her close.

“You said, baby, you said.”

“After… after what you did to me.”

Celia: “And if Lucy was part of you that was separated… she can’t be evil, Momma. You’re not.”

GM: “You walked back from it,” her mom presses. “What you did to me, as Jade. There is good in you. And maybe there’s bad too, okay, I guess there is, but we’ll… we’ll work through it, baby. We’ll talk sometime, about all the things you’ve done, and… what to do, goin’ forward. When I’m, ah, sober. Totally sober. But I am here for you and I love you and I’ll always love you, okay?” she says, giving Celia another squeeze.

Celia: One good deed can’t make up for everything she’s done, but she doesn’t argue.

“Why did you ask what you think I should do with her if she’s evil?”

GM: “Well, I… I was wondering what Jesus would do. Because she is evil.”

“Or, I… she really did help you?”

Celia: “She did.”

“Listen, Mom, there’s a… there are people who can talk to her. She wants out. A body.”

GM: Her mom takes that in slowly.

“What did you mean, she’d have left forever.”

Celia: “I don’t… really know. The people who can talk to her… they’re not…” Enlightened, he’d said. “…they’re not traditionally sane. But she said that Lucy would have left. And not come back.”

GM: “If you’d… if you’d made me stay…. Gr…”

Her mom doesn’t finish the name.

Celia: Celia just nods.

“I don’t… think she’s evil, Mom.”

“But I can bring her by, if you want..?”

GM: Celia’s mother gives a sharp intake of breath as she clutches her daughter.

“What… do you think will happen…?”

Celia: “She’ll talk to you. Maybe she’ll tell you what she wants. Maybe she’ll… I don’t know, Momma. All we can do is see. And if you want her back, we’ll find a way. If you want her separate, we’ll find a way.”

GM: Her mother’s face looks notably paler.

“Do… you think we should…?”

Celia: “I think we should let you talk to her. After that, we can make another decision.”

GM: Celia’s mom just holds on to her for a while.

Finally, she offers a mute nod.

Celia: “Tomorrow?” Celia asks. “To get it over with?”

GM: “Sweetie, I am going to be fully sober tomorrow.”

It seems like her mom is trying to smile. The expression mostly looks queasy.

Celia: “Do you… want to do it tonight?”

“I can go get her..?”

GM: “Let’s just get it over with,” her mom shudders.

Celia: “Do you want to come with me? I can show you my place.”

GM: “Yes. Yes, I’d love to see your place again, sweetie.” A smile starts to edge across her pale features.

“I’ll… I’ll get dressed, give me a minute.”

Celia: Celia nods. She’ll explain on the way.

GM: Her mom retrieves her clothes and steps inside the bathroom to change. She’s wearing the same dress from the family’s dinner with the Garrisons, but also slips on a pink coat and her new ballet flats from Emily. She takes a breath, then takes Celia’s hand and heads out with her, closing the hotel room door behind her.

“Lucy’s sleeping with Emily, she’ll be okay…”

Celia: “She’ll be okay,” Celia confirms.

GM: “Figured I’d get a separate room, for when you came by,” Celia’s mom says as they step into the elevator.

“You know. For dessert.” She manages a weak chuckle.

Celia: “I appreciate it. Hard to explain otherwise.” She smiles up at her mom, taking her hand. “You’re the best mom, you know that?”

GM: Her mom smiles back and hits the button. “I try to be, sweetie. I was really worried I wasn’t being a very good one, after… well, the truth came out.”

Celia: “It just took some adjusting. And we’re still working on it. Things don’t happen overnight.”

GM: “I guess not,” she says as the elevator descends. “But that’s all I want, to be a good mom to you.”

“And for you to be happy.”

Celia: “You’re a great mom. Always have been.”


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

GM: It’s a short enough drive back to Celia’s haven. Her mom looks out the window curiously.

“Have you moved, sweetie?”

Celia: “No. I have… multiple places. This is one that no one knows about. Except Roderick. And my sire.” And Randy, but he’s dead now. “Celia’s place is too public. Too easy to find. It leaves me too vulnerable during the day.”

GM: “Oh. Vulnerable to what?”

Celia: “Hunters. Ghouls. Enemies. Spies.”

GM: “Oh,” her mom repeats, as if still not sure what to make of that.

She gives Celia’s hand a squeeze. “Thank you for trusting me, sweetie. I won’t let anyone know where it is without asking you first.”

Celia: “Roderick asked me to move in with him,” Celia says on their way up. She unlocks the door and opens it for her mother, following her inside.

GM: “That’s wonderful!” Diana smiles. “Are you going to leave this place, then?”

She still looks around the place, her mother’s eyes happily curious to see what kind of home her daughter has made for herself.

Celia: Celia is happy to show her around. Letting Randy in on the secret had one benefit: he’d been able to meet the furniture people when they’d delivered her new things. The mess her sire had seen after Roderick took out his anger on her apartment is cleaned and gone, with a new couch, new rug, new shelves… everything the raging Brujah had destroyed is replaced, even the dented door of her closet.

“I don’t use the kitchen much,” Celia says when her mother stops as if to open the refrigerator. There’s only enough inside to look like an extremely busy bachelor(ette) lives here.

“I’m not sure. I like having my own place for things that I don’t want shared. And I have a lot of clothes…” Celia trails off, glancing at her closet.

He might expect her to get rid of it.

But he doesn’t have to know, right?

It’s not like she can invite her sire to his place.

GM: “I love it, sweetie!” her mom declares as she walks around, inspecting the decor and furnishings. “The brick walls give it a very cozy feel!”

“If you can afford it, then I’d say why not. Doesn’t hurt, if things are… dangerous.”

“Plus, can’t have too much space for clothes,” she winks.

Celia: “A friend of mine likes to give me jewelry,” Celia confides in a stage whisper, “so I have to have dresses to match. Wanna see?”

She doesn’t wait for an answer, taking her mother’s hand and tugging her towards the closet door. She opens it with a flourish, revealing the treasure trove of things inside: gowns, shoes, bags, accessories, purses, boots, skirts, lingerie, necklaces, earrings, bracelets… there’s a little bit of everything waiting for her mother to see.

“I, ah, ruined your dress earlier. The one you let me borrow. You can have one of mine, if you want..?”

GM: Her mom gives a squeal of delight at the horde of fashionable clothing and accessories. She takes out a number of different items, hanging them over herself or Celia to inspect in the mirror, and nodding her approval or saying how well this would pair with that.

“Oh, it’s okay! I’ve got plenty of dresses like those, got to live up to my last name,” she smiles. “But I would love to borrow some things from here! I just love how we’re the same size!”

“My goodness, I had no idea you owned so many clothes!”

Celia: It’s what she’s good at.

Clothes and makeup.

She hides the hurt in her eyes with a smile and laugh. “Hard to wear things like this at work. Licks are much more, ah, fashion savvy.”

GM: “Well maybe you could buck the trend, show off all those girls in their yoga pants that the boss dresses to impress,” her mom smiles.

Celia: “Don’t think doing a massage in haute couture would go over very well.”

“Maybe if Daddy wins the race for governor I’ll have an excuse to wear them. Parties and the like.” Or when she goes out to LA. Red carpet.

GM: “I guess not, but I admit it still seems a little strange to me, how girls like Piper can wear a face full of glam makeup and pair it with something mundane like yoga pants.”

“But there you go! Plenty reason to let the world see how fabulous Celia Flores can look,” her mom smiles.

“I’ll need to think of something to wear too, for when he wins…” she says thoughtfully.

Celia: “We’ll have to go shopping, I think.”

She sounds as if she can’t wait.

GM: “I guess we will,” her mom beams. “Dresses, shoes, jewelry, you name it! Can’t get caught in the same thing twice!”

Celia: “What would people say? The horror.”

GM: “I hope Lucy grows up to be the same size as us. It’d be so fun if we three could all share clothes.”

Celia: “You should keep that one,” Celia says, nodding toward the necklace her mother’s eye keeps drifting towards. “I don’t know if you could dress it down for work, but maybe a fancy dinner.”

Pic.jpg
GM: “Hmm,” her mom says thoughtfully as she picks it up, “maybe paired with the ballet flats, and one of my more casual dresses? Maybe somethin’ without too much neckline, so it draws the eye less?”

“This will definitely look nice at a fancy dinner, though. You think it’d be too fancy for another with the Garrisons?”

Celia: “Invitin’ Henry over again?” Celia asks with a wiggle of her brows.

GM: “I think so, that poor man was just so sad,” her mom answers, more seriously.

Celia: “I think you should definitely wear it to dinner. Dani and I were thinking we could all go to the history museum together, or the WWII one..?”

GM: “Oh, that’s a fun idea! Yes, I’ve gone there with Logan before, he just loves all of the World War II stuff.”

Celia: “He doesn’t get out much. Maybe he’ll… smile more.”

“I wish I could do something about Stephen and his dad, but… it’s different, there, he doesn’t want him to know.” Celia sighs.

GM: Her mom looks at her gravely.

“Celia… that man has got to know.”

Celia: “He can’t know.”

“That breaks the rules.”

“It’s Stephen’s choice, Mom.”

GM: “Celia, I know you saw how much pain he was in. All I can say is that you did not see it all. There is no loss, sweetie. Just no loss, that… you cannot even imagine what pain that man is going through. Not unless you are a parent.” Her mother’s voice starts to break a bit.

Celia: “It’s not our choice to make. I can’t take him on as a ghoul, and I wouldn’t… do that to Stephen.”

“What if another vampire took Emily or Logan as a ghoul? That’s what it would be like.”

GM: “Then don’t. Just tell him the truth.”

“Doesn’t matter how.”

“Just so long as he stops believing his baby boy is dead and in the ground.”

Celia: “I can… I can talk to Stephen about it.”

“See what he says.”

GM: “Okay. Okay, that sounds good, sweetie. This involves him too.”

Her mom also looks relieved they’re not going to fight over this issue.

Celia: “Let me find Lucy, though, before the night gets away from us.”

GM: Diana’s face grows very still again.

But she nods.

Celia: Celia takes her mother back into the other room, letting her have a seat on the couch while she locates the doll. Lucy is tucked away with Princess on one corner of Celia’s bed in a new blue dress, the pile of books on the nightstand beside her. She picks her up, Princess too, and brings the pair of them over to her mother to take a seat on the other edge of the couch.

GM: Lucy’s wide, glassy eyes are raptly focused on hers.

Princess looks demure and cute as ever in her ballet shoes.

Celia’s mother clutches her hands to her face and draws up her knees like a little girl. Her face is white and her breath comes fast as her daughter approaches with the dolls. But she does not run from the couch.

Her eyes rest on the second doll with equal parts dread and confusion.

Celia: “This is Princess,” Celia says by way of introduction. “She’s just here for moral support. She has a lot of love to share.” Nothing bad has ever happened to Princess. She’s Daddy’s little girl.

GM: The long-haired, large-eyed doll stares lovingly up at her mother as he holds her teddy bear.

“She’s… a doll…” Diana gets out in a high, trembling voice.

Celia: “She is.”

GM: Lucy’s eyes rest unerringly on her counterpart.

That’s when Celia hears it again, thick and heavy as porcelain:

JOIN

Celia: Celia sets Princess down on the couch beside her, Lucy next to her. She looks between Lucy and her mother for just a moment, as if wondering how she can possibly explain this.

“Um… Mom, you know how I can… turn into a cat?”

GM: Her mother gives a faltering nod.

Celia: “So… I have another form too. And I don’t want to scare you. But Lucy wants me to join them as my… other self.”

“She’s… like them.”

“Her name is Lotus.”

Celia: “So… don’t be alarmed Mom, okay? I’m still me. I’m going to bring Lotus out now, though. Okay?”

GM: Her mother is still white in the face. Still has her knees and hands raised up.

She doesn’t say anything.

Just gives another faltering nod.

Celia: It’s as much of a blessing she’s going to get. Celia tells her mom not to be afraid, that she’s still Celia…

Until she’s not.

Celia disappears into the porcelain embrace of Lotus, with her hand-stitched dress made of memories and long, curling hair. Her smile remains fixed, like all dolls, but it’s warm despite the cool, smooth ivory that makes up the rest of her. Like her counterpart, Lotus is fully made up.

She sits against the cushion, gazing up at Diana.

Pic.jpg
GM: Celia’s mother stares at the doll like it’s a smiling tiger. Grateful for the smile, over a snarl.

But wary.

Lucy stares ahead at the woman too. She does not look at Lotus.

Lotus hears it again. Heavy as porcelain:

JOIN

Celia: Lotus doesn’t think that the woman knows how to join them like this. But she waits. Maybe Lucy knows something she doesn’t.

GM: The doll’s eyes rest unerringly on Diana’s.

MERGE

Celia: Well that’s certainly not how Lotus expected this to go. Lucy doesn’t appear to need Lotus, doesn’t seem to want to speak to Lotus. Just Diana.

There’s a girl who promised her mother nothing bad would happen to her. A girl who’d once died for her mother to make sure nothing bad would happen to her. Just talking, she’d said. Promised. Just talking.

This isn’t talking. This is another demand on Diana. Another demand from the woman who has given so much of herself to everyone else.

Lotus fades away.

“Can you hear her, Momma?”

GM: There’s a look of some relief when Celia appears. Like one of three tigers has backed off, even if it’s a smiling one, and her daughter is now here instead.

She gives a faltering nod.

Celia: “She wants to merge. But we’re not ready for that, are we, Momma? Lucy, we’re not ready for that. Momma wants to talk.”

GM: The doll just stares ahead, her glassy eyes wide and unblinking.

“M-merge…?” Diana gets out, her throat dry.

Celia: “Put you back together, I think.”

GM: Her mom doesn’t blink either. Her eyes look equally big.

“H… how…?”

Celia: As if she knows. She can barely hold herself together, let alone try to keep someone else from falling further apart.

“You still haven’t decided if it’s something you want. That’s what we’re here to figure out, Lucy. If you and Diana can get along.”

GM: “I… wa… want…” her mother swallows, not once looking away from the doll, then gets out, “I want it back… who I… who I used to be…”

MERGE, repeats Lucy.

Princess stares ahead sweetly and hugs her teddy.

Celia: Silently, Celia picks up Lucy and hands her to her mother.

“When I learned how to become a doll, I sat in a room with them. A lot of them. And I had to focus on clearing my mind, being still, being quiet. You’re not becoming a doll, but letting a doll become you. So instead of clearing your mind… open it. Let her in. Connect to her. Here.” Celia touches a hand to her own heart, then gestures toward the same spot on Princess. “And here.” She touches her temple, then Princess’ temple.

“There’s… energy that connects everyone. Find that. And instead of pushing yourself along it—you know how I told you I do that?—you pull her to you.”

GM: Diana looks at the doll like it’s a scorpion preparing to sting her.

But slowly, falteringly, she spreads her arms to take Lucy. In the same position she used to hold the ‘real’ Lucy. The second Lucy.

The skin-to-porcelain contact makes her give an immediate hiss. The effect is like a spray of bleach over flowers. The woman’s skin seems to turn paler, sicklier, even as Lucy stares up at her with wide and glassy eyes. Celia is not sure if she can feed on her mother in this state tonight… it’s likely to take even more out of her.

Diana removes one hand, holding the doll against her stomach, and clutches Celia’s hand in her free one.

“I’ll try, sweetie… to pull her to me… but… help me, please… I need your help…”

The doll’s porcelain-hard little voice only repeats:

MERGE

Celia: She doesn’t like the way the doll seems to be leeching the very life from her mother. It’s not… normal, is it? If they’re merging, shouldn’t Diana be getting stronger? More healthy now that her whole self is returning to her?

Diana had said multiple times that the doll is evil. But that she wanted her back. What happens if she interrupts? Nothing good, she bets. Nothing good at all.

Celia squeezes her mother’s hand.

“What does it feel like, Momma? Does it hurt?”

GM: Her mother nods rapidly, blinking back tears.

“My, my feet, sweetie… when she… she made me dance…”

Celia knows all about how ‘she’ made her mother dance.

Celia: Celia kneels in front of her mother, gently easing her shoes off her feet. She touches light fingertips to the arches of her feet, offering what comfort she can through touch.

“Physically? Or like you’re back in chains?”

GM: The ballet flats with their extra arch support come off easily. Diana’s toenails are painted pink. At Flawless, like always. Celia’s mother takes a breath and nods at the familiar touch.

“B… both, sweetie…”

Celia: “Do you want to stop?”

GM: Her mother scrunches her eyes but shakes her head.

“I want… my… back…”

The glassy-eyed doll just stares silently upwards.

MERGE

“Please, sweetie… help me…”

Celia: “You have to bring her into you, Mom. You can hear her, right? In your head? Imagine there’s a line between your mind and hers. A phone line. She’s talking to you, you’re talking to her, but you’re separated by something. An obstacle. Glass, or a brick wall. Close your eyes. See it in your mind, the wall. Then find your way to her. Over, under, around. Put a door in the wall. Or a window. Let her see you. Call her home. She’s part of you, just far away, but she’s still you and you’re her. Like magnets, you’ll always be drawn to each other. Feel for that. Listen for it.”

GM: Diana closes her eyes.

“She’s… it’s a wall, and it’s so thick, it’s so tall, I don’t even know how to get through to her, but I’m dancing… I don’t know how that’ll help, but it feels right… dancing, en pointe, like I did before the accident… you think that’s right, sweetie, you think that’s helping…?”

Celia: “If you used to share dance with her, yes. What else did you used to share together? What else can you do to call her to you?”

GM: “I… I stole your grandmother’s car, once…”

“And ran off away… that’s why she sent me there…”

Celia: That seems like a poor reason to ruin a child.

“Was that the last time you and Lucy were together?”

GM: “When I… when I cleaned and put her away, the day I got out… and had to ask if I could be Diana again…”

Celia: “No, before that. When she was part of you.”

GM: “I danced… the… the way you saw…?”

“But it wasn’t dance, it wasn’t…!”

“I was mad with her… I was… a spitfire, like your granddaddy always said…”

Celia: “Maybe you could dance with Lucy. Remind her what it feels like to be part of you. Remind yourself what it feels like to be free. Whole.”

GM: “I can’t dance like that anymore, sweetie, but… maybe a waltz, or some easier positions…?”

Celia: “Maybe we wait,” Celia suggests gently, “until your leg is better.”

GM: “Okay, sweetie, if you think that’s best…” her mom breathes, nodding in relief.

Lucy’s porcelain gaze bores unerringly ahead.

MERGE

Celia: Celia reaches for the doll.

GM: Her mother surrenders Lucy to her.

Celia: “Sorry, Luce. She isn’t ready.”

GM: The porcelain figure’s glassy eyes stare endlessly into hers.

MERGE

Celia: “And what then?” Celia demands. “I put you in her and what then? You steal a car? Run away? Leave your family? Leave _me?”_

Call her stupid, like Roderick had, for trusting a doll?

GM: Lucy’s still expression does not change.

MERGE

“Ah, maybe we better get me back to my hotel, sweetie,” ventures Diana, rubbing her head.

Celia: “I’ll take you to talk to him tomorrow,” Celia says to Lucy. “He’ll be at the party. Then we’ll get her leg fixed, and you can merge. You’ll be whole again. Both of you.”

GM: MERGE

“That, ah, that sounds better,” nods her mom. “I don’t feel too good, anyways… you mind if we pass, tonight, on… dessert?”

Celia: Celia strokes a hand down Lucy’s hair, continuing to address the doll.

“Because I don’t know how, Lucy, and I don’t want to hurt you. What if I do it wrong? What if I break you? What if I break her? I’m not willing to take that chance with you. Trust me, okay? He’ll have a better method that doesn’t involve going back to… to her.”

A pause.

“I’ll take good care of you, Lucy. We’ll get you sorted.”

Celia kisses the doll’s cheek before setting her down next to Princess.

“Come on, Mom, let’s get you back to your room.”


Previous, by Narrative: Story Thirteen, Louis I
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Story Thirteen, Louis I

“Who the fuck are you!?!”
Unknown Quarter rat


Saturday night, 12 December 2015, AM

GM: Rampart Street.

It’s the gutter where Bourbon Street’s sleaze runs off.

Among the kine, it’s where one can go to find (cheap) prostitutes, pushers, junkies, and other unfortunates pushed to the French Quarter’s periphery, just along the border with poverty-stricken Tremé.

Between two houses, a man moans and shifts uneasily in his sleeping bag.

He’s an old man. His face shows a lot of years—or maybe just hard years.

There’s blotches over his many wrinkles. His hand-length graying beard is stringy and unkempt. His teeth are yellowed or missing. Even inside his sleeping bag, he wears a thick raggedy coat. He looks crazy to other people when he wears it, especially during the summer, but he really is physiologically colder, not just disoriented as to the time and place.

A discarded needle lies to the side, amidst his scattered belongings. He moans again, and his dog licks his face.

The dog’s ears suddenly flatten as it looks up.

A furious growl emanates from its throat.

Then it growls no more, and a shadow falls over the sleeping man.

He’s not the best pick.

But he’ll do.

An observer would see nothing untoward. No more than usual, at least.

Just the outline of a woman, equally disheveled-seeming but indistinct in the dark, bent over a sleeping form. A motionless dog lies nearby.

But to those with ears to listen, the telltale slurp is unmistakable.

To those with eyes to see, the motionless canine is not sleeping.

To those with scars to know, the homeless man’s moaning is not solely the product of a damaged mind.

And to those in whose hearts the Vigil burns bright:

The call to action is undeniable.

Louis: Heeding that call, the alley sheds a man.

He wears trouble. Trench coat, long and dark. Tie, slim and darker. Shirt, white as a coroner’s coat. Sensible shoes, the kind you wear to stalk devils. Felt hat, banded and tugged down like a salute to the shadows. A man, obscured.

But perhaps not a man. Not really, not anymore. Not for a long time.

He’s more. And less.

But he’s here. Le Loup of Nouvelle-Orléans. The Last Knight of St. Balacou. The Wolf of Wolves. Lope.

Some say that Lope is just a myth. A made-up story hunters tell each other when dusk comes and their knuckles whiten with fear. A tall tale to make them feel like they can prevail against the horrors of the night. Others say the legends are true, but the man is long gone. Long dead, just like the scores of blood-suckers he turned to ash. And others, others say he’s more than a man, a spirit of vengeance that returns every generation as the preyed-upon souls of New Orleans summon him with their cries for aid, for justice. For blood.

The man listens to those cries. The sounds of his city. The city he loves—and that loves him back like a kiss paired with a punch to the solar plexus. Far off, the banshee wail of police and fire sirens rise and fall, never silent for very long. Twenty-four hours a day, somebody in New Orleans is running, somebody else is trying to catch them. Out there in the night of a thousand crimes, people are dying, being maimed, cut by flying glass, crushed against steering wheels or under heavy tires. People are being beaten, robbed, strangled, raped, and murdered. People are hungry, sick, bored, desperate with loneliness or remorse or fear, angry, cruel, feverish, shaken by sobs. A city no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness. It all depends on where you sit and what your own private score is.

The man might claim he doesn’t have one. That he doesn’t care. That he just wants a drink and to go to bed.

But he’d be lying.

Truth is, the man’s here for blood, and he’s not asking for donations.

Beneath his gumshoe armor, the man stirs. It’s time. It’s been time, actually. Past time.

Still, he hesitates. It’s not fear that holds him back, not the fear of failure at least. He knows what he has to do. He knows how to do it. But once he steps from these shadows, he’s committing to a path that will take him to hells far worse than Rampart Street. Maybe he survives, maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he doesn’t deserve to.

Either way, tonight is a bottle that won’t drink itself.

That thought turns the lapsing alcoholic’s attention back to the present. To the imbibing vampire and victim down the street.

Rampart Street. A block away, she looks good. But up close, she looks like she’s made to be looked at from a block away.

Chasing that thought, the man looks down the alley, to where rests an idling ’64 Chevelle. Bubble-gum pink coat. Powder-white soft-top. A radio incapable of playing anything but Rat-Pack classics. And most importantly tonight, a spacious trunk.

The man doffs his hat, as if signaling the occupants of the Chevelle’s darkened cab. Doing so reveals his face. Grim and unlovely, but not unloving. A face riddled with scars that rat out old injuries like bad alibis. Atavistic brow. Thick-slabbed nose, mangled from kissing too many fists, crowbars, and brick walls. Iron-brush hair. Jutting underbite. Lantern jaw.

But no cigarette dangles from his lips.

It’s the first tell that something’s changed. And then there’s his stride as he finally steps from the shadowed alley. It’s faster. Stronger. As if he’s swapped his diet of Jimmy Dean and Jack Daniels for four-square meals a day. That, and his shoulders seem straighter, like he’s shed the weight of sleepless nights. Or some of them, at least.

His meat-slab hand—the only one he’s got—reaches into his trench. Past the pair of well-oiled revolvers that lightly sleep in a single shoulder-holster. Rather, his hand slips into a pocket and pulls out a switchblade. Its handle is a gaudy affair, a Mardi Gras parade of purple, yellow, and green glitter with a plastic king cake’s baby head as the pommel. Its blade, however, is all business. Sharp. Long. Hard. And most importantly to the hunter, anointed with blood. Blood that the man now smears with his forefinger into a puissant Cainite veve. At its completion, a rush of blood fills his hangdog ears. And he feels it. The blade. It’s heavier now. Hungrier. Like a jackhammer praying for concrete.

The Lope hears its cry.

It mirrors his own.

A thirst for vengeance.

Violence.

Blood.

Lou’s footfalls are like smoke as he slips down the alleyway. His prey is distracted. Hunched over. She never sees it coming—just like her own prey. Jacques doubtlessly delights in the irony—assuming Bloody Jack of Bourbon Street is watching. But Lou does not indulge in such idle thoughts. Rather, his mind is like the blade in his hand. Sharp. Focused. Deadly.

That veve-anointed knife descends in a lightning fast flicker. It’s no Parisian colichemarde from the Sun King’s court, but the blade allows far quicker, alley-tight strikes—especially in the hands of the supernaturally fast hunter. Lou’s ice-pick grip amplifies that speed and punching power, causing the knife to stab perhaps a dozen times into the vampire’s back before its undead psyche registers the first bright, blossom of pain that ushers in a cascade of agony. And unlike Rampart’s typical alley fighters, Lou keenly understands his prey’s peculiar anatomy. Each strike is that of an occult vivisectionist. One after another, those acupuncture-precise strikes fall on—and through—the Kindred’s winter coat, as the puffy insulation muffles the sounds of Lou’s cement-cracking blows like a suppressor. The coat’s stuffing also keeps the vampire’s punctured back from leaking everywhere. After all, the hunter has his own Masquerade to protect.

For each blow, he silently recites a name of a former friend, a fallen hunter.

The names are many.

So too are the vampire’s wounds.

And due to the blade’s veve, such wounds will not, cannot heal.

Not tonight at least—and Lou does not intend to let this monster see another.

GM: There are too many.

Too many names.

Too many friends.

But not too many blows.

Lou falls upon the Quarter rat (for what other vampire would feed upon Rampart Street’s homeless?) like a cat upon that same prey—deathly silent one moment, and then a storm of pain and steal the next. The expertly placed knife strikes slice through flesh and bone and coat alike. The vampire screams, caught completely by surprise as Lou all but vivisects her back and then tackles her to the ground, off of her prey. The homeless man screams too, as the warring alley fighters disturb his sleep. He doesn’t throw punches at any of them. He grabs as many of his things as he can in one motion, then bolts for his life. His sleeping bag is left behind.

But better to sleep upon hard streets than to sleep six feet under.

Or sleep in a wall, if you die in this city.

Or sleep in a hunter’s safehouse as their vitae, if you’re a vampire.

Lou can make out her features under the dim light of the moon. She looks young. Very young. Brown. Not brown of skin, which is white, but brown because her dirty face, matted hair, torn clothes, and tattered Doc Martens are all saturated with the color. She smells as bad as he used to. She looks barely a step above above the homeless man she tried to drain. Lou can see her warring against the Beast in her furious eyes as she snarls in his face.

Then she arches her back and howls.

Lou can hear them converging on him from all sides, even if his eyes can’t make them out in the gloom. Shapes. Low. Bestial. Four-legged. Canine growls split the air.

“You picked the wrong lick to fuck with, juicebag!” the vampire pinned beneath him snarls out.

As one, the snarling dogs leap.

Louis: But the alley is a chokehold—and the man’s squeezes his grip on it with uncanny speed, strength, and familiarity.

He knows his city’s gutters. Especially in the Quarter, their dimensions have changed little over the centuries. Nor have the monsters that inhabit them.

The old man, however, has picked up a few new tricks during the same time, and as the dogs leap, he uses both old and new to his advantage.

For all the curs’ numbers, they cannot fully surround him, not in the tight alley built for late 18th century needs. Moreover, the narrow corridor restricts the dogs’ movements, subtracting their potential strike vectors like Harrah’s draining its patrons’ bank accounts.

He further stacks the deck by hauling up the Quarter rat in a smooth, yet complex and frighteningly fast and inhumanly strong, movement that simultaneously locks one of the vamp’s arms between them as well places her in a headlock with Lou’s prosthetic-capped arm. His other arm—and sole hand—is thus left free to drop his switchblade. He doesn’t need its power anymore, not tonight at least, and besides, the power itself was only bestowed to the knife by his hand and blood. Any other weapon could suffice.

And tonight, that other weapon is a flashlight.

Unlike the bulky maglites he used while walking the beat with Lebeaux and Broussard, this flashlight is small but no less dangerous. It’s a tactical flashlight that snugly fits into his hammer grip, like a roll of quarters in a boxer’s fist, that also extends his striking distance by a few inches with its scalloped steel rim. But the PI is less interested in the weapon’s bone-shattering strength than its blinding 2,000 lumens.

As the mongrels converge, he perfectly times his thumb upon the flashlight’s back button, clicking it on and off to repeatedly blind the Kindred-summoned dogs. He waits, then shifts and sidesteps, allowing their fangs to accidentally rip into one another and the vampire that he cunningly uses as a meat shield. His strobe both gives him sight, but also denies them theirs. The intense light causes the dogs to reflexively, unwillingly blink, wince, and turn away, providing the perfect openings for cunning kicks and quick, killing jabs with the flashlight. Most of these jabs, though, are saved for the vampire in his coils.

Ultimately, the dogs are just a distraction.

The man knows his true enemy.

GM: The first blow smashes in a dog like a sledgehammer and sends the beast careening aside into the wall. There’s a whine as it hits the ground. Another blinded canine proves effortlessly easy for the already effortlessly graceful man to duck past, even in the cramped alleyway and with a headlocked vampire in one arm. The dog smashes headlong into another mutt racing down at Lou from the alley’s opposite side. Two more lightning-quick and crushingly hard blows ensure they don’t get up. A third blow takes out the first dog too for good measure.

The fourth dog, initially blocked by the others, has enough time to recover its vision and leap straight at Lou—just as the Quarter rat produces a knife with her free hand and rams it into Lou’s gut. Just as the dog’s slavering jaws reach his throat. There’s no escape, not through both of them. Stab and tear. Another man would be dead. Maybe the Lou of three months ago would be dead.

But Lou is not another man.

And he’s not the Lou of three months ago.

No, the Lou of tonight hasn’t dulled his mind with liquor, and sees it all coming. The Lou of tonight hasn’t dulled his body with starvation and cigarettes. The Lou of tonight ducks low beneath the dog, releases the Quarter rat, and runs straight towards the wall.

Then he runs up the wall.

The dog and Quarter rat don’t even see it coming when the flashlight descends from above with bone-breaking force over the canine’s head, putting the beast down for the count. The Quarter rat whirls and comes at him with the knife. Steel streaks towards the falling man’s chest. He can’t dodge.

Lou doesn’t try. He seizes the vampire’s wrist hard enough to make her scream and yanks her off her feet, even amidst his own mid-air descent. The centuries-old detective breaks his fall with a roll as the Quarter rat crashes against the alley wall. When she hits the ground, eyes wide as her prior wounds refuse to close, the stake from Lou’s coat pocket is already descending towards her chest.

She gets out one question before the wood pierces her heart:

“Who the fuck are you!?!”

Louis: Lou’s reply is swift and sharp as the stake—or it would be if he doesn’t have to pause to catch his breath. Still, he manages to cough out a sardonic answer, more to the alley than the immobile monster at this feet.

“Nobody special. Just a man who… needs a drink, a lot of life insurance, and a vacation.”

“Too bad… you can’t help me… with the last two.”

He wants to sit down, to massage his aching joints. He wants a damned cigarette. And a bottle of bourbon. He wants a lot of things. But the sober man has learned to push past his wants. Most of them at least.

Trabaja cuando estés vivo. Descansa cuando estés muerto.

(Work when you’re alive. Rest when you’re dead.)

The old words flit against his brain like the moths trying to commit suicide with Rampart’s streetlights. They were his father’s words. Words used whenever his son tried to substitute leisure for labor. Which was often.

The ghostly words stir the old man’s callous-clogged heart. And for a moment, he remembers. Not only the words, but also the voice of his father. His face still evades Lou’s memory, but the sound of his father’s voice, even chiding, makes him want to cry.

But that’s another want he pushes past.

After all, there’s work to be done, and he’s not dead yet.

And so, with naught but a brief, sad glimpse back at the dogs, he stuffs the staked vampire into the hobo’s sleeping bag. He then retrieves his switchblade and quickly covers up any other sign of his presence, before clicking off and stowing his flashlight. Once more in the dark, he slings his bag-zipped prize over his shoulder and shuffles down the alley way.

Once more, the alley swallows the man. But the city remains confident that when she calls her Lope again, he will answer.


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Story Thirteen, Celia XVI

“Show me that you are strong.”
Donovan


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

Celia: Her sire can fuck off. She’s busy.

That’s what she wants to say. That’s what she wants to feel. That she’s busy. That she doesn’t need him. That she doesn’t want him.

She can taste the lie.

“Never mind,” she mutters to Emily, because walking off without a word is worse than suspicious. “Enjoy the pie.”

GM: Her feet are already carrying her away as she takes off in a brisk jog.

Emily awkwardly catches the dropped pie plate. Some of the whipped cream spills over her hand.

“Celia, are-” she calls, but Celia’s no longer looking at her. She’s darting off into the rain.

Celia: Why is he here. Why now. What does he want that couldn’t wait for the next few hours when she sees him at Elysium?

Her eyes dart to the house, where Dani, Henry, and her mother wait. And behind her, unprotected, Lucy and Emily. Fear takes hold of her heart, killing whatever had been there before. He can’t be here. She doesn’t have anything for him. There’s no news, no momentum, no anything for her to share.

He’s going to be mad.

He’s going to hit her.

Celia ducks around the corner, out of Emily’s sight.

He came. Why? Does that mean he…? She can’t even finish the thought.

How does he even expect her to get up there? She can’t fly, and she’s hardly about to scale the side of the house. Not in the rain. Not in these shoes.

GM: Celia’s eyes aren’t the first thing to dart to the house.

And she is scaling the house.

She’s taking off at a running jump. Grabbing the gutter. Rain pours over her. She kicks with her shoes, the heels making poor purchase against the house’s side, then kicks them off. She grasps and pulls. Her hands slip in the rain. She pulls. It’s good she weighs so little as the drain groans in protest. She hauls herself up, crawling onto the roof on her belly like a dog.

“Celia!” yells Emily. She quickly sets down the plate inside, closes the door, and takes off after her.

“Wh-”

She whirls to face the dark figure suddenly beside her. He’s dressed in the black, double-breasted trench coat she saw him in last, its style vaguely reminiscent of a Gestapo officer’s. He carries no umbrella. The rain pours down over his corpse-like, pitiless marble face, and finds it colder still. He still does not blink as the moisture runs down his eyes in tears he will never shed.

Those stormy orbs bore into hers.

“I was never here.”

“Your exchange with Celia upset you.”

“Return inside.”

Emily’s eyes glaze over as she walks away.

Celia: The sound of her name passing his lips makes her dead heart flutter.

GM: Then he’s gone from the courtyard.

He’s on the roof again.

Staring down at Celia, shoe-less and lying on her belly in wet clothes as the rain weeps over her.

:: Explain. ::

Celia: She’d had to get up somehow. And she’d almost started down after him when he’d appeared beside Emily.

She rises now, her eyes finding his face.

Wet clothing presses against her skin. The brief exposure to the rain flattens her hair, plastering it across the back of her neck, down her shoulders. Even her wild mane is no match for New Orleans weather.

Explain.

Explain what?

GM: His frigid gaze bores into hers, eyes as cold and lifeless as any shark’s.

She screamed out all her grief.

All her pain.

She summoned him here.

Through their blood tie.

His time is valuable.

She has not called him without purpose.

Has she?

Celia: She never feels so small as when she’s next to him.

Maybe it’s the bond that makes her take a step. Then another. Maybe it’s the bond that makes her reach out, fingers brushing against the fabric of his coat. The bond again that makes her close the distance.

Hit her.

He’s going to hit her.

He’s going to be mad that she called out to him. She didn’t mean to. She didn’t mean to summon him.

She might as well give him something to be mad about.

Celia presses her face against his wet chest. Her arms slide around the back of him. If he breaks them, at least she’ll have gotten to use them first.

She smooths over the fear of his anger when she addresses him within her mind. He doesn’t need to know how much doing this has cost her. How much it hurts.

:: Duquette’s childe has turned against her. Your sire is pleased with me. He wants me to take on an expanded role within his court. We’re meeting tomorrow to discuss. ::

A question dances through her mind—how can she best serve him with this step?

GM: Roderick’s chest is warm.

His hands gentle, for all their strength.

Her sire’s chest is not warm.

And his hands are not gentle.

His cold, rain-slick hands seize her wrists and pull them apart. His grip makes her want to cry out. It’s as vice-like as Carolla’s ever was. He holds her arms out to their fullest extent, leaving her torso splayed out to the rain. Vulnerable. Exposed.

:: You did not call me to relay this information. ::

:: You offer it in placation. ::

Celia: Why ask then.

Why ask if he already knows.

Anger flares inside her chest, hot and heavy despite his cool, close proximity. The grip on her wrists makes her arms scream; she presses her lips together to keep it inside. A thousand and one lies flash through her mind: reasons she called out, things she could tell him, plots she could offer. But the rain drops steadily down upon her throat and chest, exposed as they are, chipping away at the edges of her rage to reveal the deep, all-consuming grief beneath it.

He doesn’t want to hear about her pain. He doesn’t want to know that he could be—it doesn’t matter. She stops the thought before it can take hold, ripping it out root and stem. He could be. But he won’t be.

She doesn’t deny his accusation. She doesn’t tell him that it was the pain of breaking her lover that she sent spiraling down the line to him. That she did it anyway. For him.

It’s what he expects from her. Always.

Better to admit the truth and let him decide what he wants to do to her because of it. Better to not waste his time making him sift through lies. He will punish her for it or he won’t; all she can do now is lessen the blow.

:: Yes, sire. ::

She needed to see him tonight. She’d planned on it. But she can’t run into him in the halls of Elysium. Not now, with his sire’s favor hanging in the balance. The game of cat and mouse she might have played another night would not be tolerated this evening; they’d sniff it out for the clumsy attempt to reach him that it is. People would talk. His sire would doubt her. Doubt the place he has intended for her. She’d ruin everything if she tried to reach out to him at Elysium. Better that she called out, that he’s here now instead of then.

Helpless, she dangles in his grip, the tips of her toes the only part of her that touch the roof. How easily he could tear her literally limb from limb. She pushes through the pain of his hands on her body. Pushes through the pain of breaking her lover. Pushes through the pain of the knowledge that she will never be to him what he is to her. She searches for the bit of him he’d left inside of her that night, the ice cold, merciless side that blunts her emotions until they, too, fall like rain to splash against the roof in tiny little puddles. They can’t matter. She finds her anchor. Not the girl who died with her weak, uncontrollable outbursts and broken heart. Not the harpy’s childe with her barbed tongue and casual cruelty. No, not Celia. Not Jade.

Someone Else.

:: To try to catch your eye this evening at Elysium would tip our hand, as would calling upon you in your domain. There are other updates. ::

The method was crude. But effective. His presence before her now proves that. Not that she’ll ever try it again; she lets him know as much, sending a wordless apology spinning down the connection between their minds for the interruption to his evening.

GM: Perhaps her sire starts to reply. Perhaps he buys it, or at least overlooks it. Perhaps thoughts start to travel down the mental link.

Or perhaps Someone Else’s cold heart will be needed.

Her sire’s stormy eyes flicker away from her face at the sudden impact against the roof.

It’s Roderick.

There’s something about his face that looks worse than when she last saw him. Physically it looks the same. Maybe it’s the rain. Maybe it’s the dark. It reminds Celia of the shadow over his own father’s face. He’s wearing his own overcoat, umbrella held in hand against the rain.

He looks and sees Celia held helplessly in the sheriff’s grip.

Without a word, he drops the umbrella and balls his fists.

He charges.

Celia: Ice grips her heart. Harder and colder than it had when her sire had summoned her to the roof. It takes hold and she sees the events play out:

Roderick charges the sheriff. Donovan takes his head off with the weapons she had given him. His body falls, crumbling to ash before it ever hits the ground. Celia is left alone to pick up the pieces of her broken Requiem.

No.

She doesn’t care how angry she is at him. She doesn’t care how crippled she has become by the pain of recent nights. She won’t let it happen. The bond makes her act: protect her sire.

But her heart makes her act too: protect her lover.

Her form twists, blurs, shifts. She’s a cat, and the sheriff’s grip slackens. She’s free. Luna lands on four paws, darting around the sheriff to launch herself forward—

And turns back into Celia halfway through the leap, momentum carrying her rain-slick form into Roderick before he can cross the distance between the pair of them.

GM: But it’s just like at the Dollhouse.

Too slow.

Slower than both of them.

Roderick’s form blurs across the roof, almost too fast for her to see.

Celia feels the release of pressure around her wrists, before she’s even finished transforming.

But she doesn’t see her sire’s move.

Just the results.

Suddenly, pale hands clasp around Roderick’s wrist.

Celia’s seen her dad do that martial arts move. You grab their whole arm, put your back to their chest, and hurl them over your shoulder to land back-first on the ground.

The sheriff only grabs Roderick’s wrist, and without any chest-to-back contact, uses the momentum of his charge to send him flying through the air like a ragdoll. The extra distance between their bodies is sure to give his impact that much extra force—made all the worse when she sees it’s Roderick’s chest slamming towards the roof, her sire having executed an impossible mid-air twist of the flying man’s arm that her father probably only wishes he had the reflexes and upper body strength to execute. Celia can already see what will happen next when Roderick’s chest hits the ground. The sheriff’s boot will stomp down mid-back, he’ll hold the Brujah’s arms pinned behind him, and the fight will already be over. He can stomp Roderick’s head apart like a pumpkin under his boots. Celia remembers the brutal power of those kicks her lover used to literally smash apart Carolla’s ribs, when he was buried under the tiger’s bulk. Is her sire that strong, too? Stronger? Just like that, one move, and Roderick is dead. The sheriff won’t even need to use his sword or bracers.

Celia: Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

For all the brains he claims to possess he’s nothing but an idiot when it comes to her and what he thinks he can do. Charging the sheriff. Why. Why?

The rain makes slick the roof beneath her bare feet. Her bare feet slip; rather than get between them she goes down hard to one knee, helpless to do anything but watch while her sire effortlessly pins the Brujah to the ground.

She knows well those heavy boots.

Remembers the crunch of the green-haired punk from what feels like a lifetime ago. His lifeless eyes. Her sire’s silent command to dispose of the body.

He can’t.

He can’t, he can’t, he can’t.

But he can. That’s the god awful truth. He can. And he will.

“No! Don’t, please—”

GM: But the Roderick so summarily staked at Cypress Grove was still a babe in the night.

It all happens too fast for Celia to follow, but the anatomy expert can surmise what did—that her lover executed his own mid-air contortion and somersault, this time one to make her ballerina parent green with envy, and sends his foot kicking into Donovan’s chest at an upward angle as he falls. It connects square with the sheriff’s center of gravity, sending him flying as Roderick hits the ground and spring-rolls into a fighting stance—except his foe already is flying. He hasn’t been thrown back at all. Donovan’s stiffened fingers drive into Roderick’s throat, seizing the opening from his split-second instinctive surprise at seeing the laws of gravity fail to affect his opponent. Celia’s lover gags under the crunch of bone but keeps his feet as he blurs backwards, fists raised in a boxer’s stance. Celia can see it in his defensive posture, in the look in his eyes. This is not a fight he thinks he can win.

“Ge… ou’! I’ll hol… ’im off!” Roderick rasps past his half-shattered throat.

Celia: He won’t, though. He’ll die. He’ll die trying, and the sheriff will catch her anyway, and then they’re both dead. Or maybe she’s not dead, maybe she’s just beaten to within an inch of her (un)life, maybe he just strings her up and uses her body as target practice, maybe he lets his ghouls have another go at her, but the result is the same: dead Roderick. Broken Celia.

But she runs.

She runs, because she can’t just stand there and watch. She runs, feet moving nimbly across the roof, blurring past her sire, throwing herself in his path in the momentary pause while the two size each other up.

Caroline had said he’s the worst sort of monster.

But he had shown her mercy once. Had shown her kindness. Compassion when she did not expect it. He had rescued her. Saved her.

It has to mean something.

It has to.

She’s not a fighter. Even on her best night. Even with the help of her tiger skin. And she can’t raise her fists against her sire; her very soul rebels at the thought.

But she can put herself between them. She can keep Roderick from launching an offensive assault against the sheriff. She can keep her sire from destroying him without destroying her too.

So she runs. She launches herself at Roderick. Not to attack, but to prevent him from it.

She puts herself between them. She puts her back to Roderick. She turns to face her sire, arms outstretched to protect the lick behind her.

“Mercy, Sheriff Donovan. Quarter, for the primogen’s childe.” For him, not for her. Roderick doesn’t know what he’d wandered into. What punishment is it to attack the sheriff? Whatever it is, she’ll take it in his stead. It’s not something she has to say. He knows.

It’s a gamble. Risking everything on the idea that somewhere inside of him there’s something that cares enough for her not to destroy her. That no matter his anger in this moment, no matter how disappointed he might be with her, he won’t strike that final blow to take her fully from the world. There’s something inside of him. Some part that wants her around. That wants her whole. Not broken.

Please. There has to be.

And then to Roderick, her very words a plea, “stand down. Go.

GM: But pleas have so rarely moved either of them.

Pleas for Roderick to abandon his lover to the sheriff’s cold mercies.

Pleas at all to the sheriff’s stone-like heart.

“GO!!!!” Roderick yells, and then suddenly Celia’s sailing through the air as he flings her. The Toreador’s last sight is of her sire’s dark form streaking towards Roderick, and then she hits the brick courtyard with a painful thump. The rain pours down around her as sounds of violence distantly echo from above, drowned out by the wind and the rain.

Just past the windows, she sees Dani, her mother, and Mr. Garrison eating pie around the dinner table. The dining room looks so warm and bright and dry as water patters against the glass. It looks a world away from the midnight battle raging between monsters atop the roof.

Mr. Garrison has no idea his son is up there, fighting for his unlife.

For her unlife.

Celia: Sometimes gamblers lose.

Celia feels the loss when her back hits the brick courtyard. If she were mortal the landing would be enough to force the air from her lungs. But she’s not. She’s dead. She’s on her feet immediately, springing upward, sprinting through the rain to the front of the house.

Stupid, to think that she could stop the sheriff from attacking Roderick, or stop Roderick from protecting her. No, she probably can’t stop the fight on her own, but she still needs to find a way to stop it. She can find a way to weather her sire’s anger at a later date; losing Roderick tonight means she loses everything, and not even the pull of the bond will stop her from seeing that he makes it out.

Her eyes dart down the block. Tours by NOLA Locals is just around the corner, and they close soon. Now, if she’s not mistaken. Which means their last tour and all their customers should be leaving… now. There they are, a whole group of them. No refunds, and everyone expects rain in New Orleans: it’s part of the experience. No excuses to not go.

Celia rounds the corner, waving her arms in excitement as the group and shouting out, “dollar shots! They’re giving out dollar shots at Cosimo’s!” Who can resist cheap booze? But she puts the power of her charm behind the words, pulling out all the stops. Cosimo’s Bar is a block away, right down Burgundy. They’ll have to pass the feuding licks on the roof. And she’ll be there, loudly amping them up, making their large group presence known to the two vampires on the roof who surely don’t want to be seen.

That’s the first rule of being a vampire: you don’t get caught being a vampire.

GM: Emily always found that strange. “Why is there a tour group here, this far from the Disneyland area of the Quarter? This is where people are supposed to fucking live in peace!” She did not like living near them or all the noise they made. She’d cynically speculated that the tour group was located here to cash in on the “by locals” angle. “Because they can say, look at us, we’re located where locals actually live.” Diana thought they weren’t so bad, but tried to plan Lucy’s naps and feedings around when a tour group wasn’t likely to pass by. The family eventually learned to predict it.

So did Celia.

Rain is part of the local experience, but the umbrella-holding crowd of tourists doesn’t seem to like it judging by their faces. Celia overhears the tour guide talking about an “ovulus” that can be used to commune with ghosts in VR, but the Toreador’s commanding sales pitch swiftly rolls over the woman’s tall tales, and none of the kine seem to care she’s running around barefoot without an umbrella as Arikel’s powers of bewitchment roll off of her in waves. Who can resist cheap shots. The tour guide shoots Celia and irritated starts trying to corral the tourists back onto their planned route, but far more of them look like they’re listening to the Toreador than to her. Actually, pretty much all of them.

The only question is whether Celia can bring them past the Flores house faster than her sire can take off Roderick’s head.

That’s also when Celia notices her mother—out looking for her?—clad in a red raincoat and carrying an umbrella. Diana doesn’t question what her daughter is doing, but just starts calling out, “Dollar shots this way, y’all! Come get ’em! Come get ’em!” while smiling and waving. She doesn’t jump around, not in heels and with her leg. But the schoolteacher’s long-practiced voice at corralling large groups of kids turns the eager flow of drink-seeking tourists into a practical stampede. The tour guide gives up and starts following the derailed tour group too. The dozen-odd gaggle of loudly and excitedly talking people are soon all around the Flores house.

“Oh, my goodness, sweetie, your shoes!” Celia’s mother frets as she gets the umbrella over her daughter’s head, then frowns. “Is something goin’ on…?”

Celia looks towards the house’s roof, her nocturnal vision cutting easily through the gloom. She sees Roderick’s horrifically destroyed, blood-crusted face rapidly mending itself back to pristine wholeness as he leaps down. Her sire is nowhere in sight.

For now.

Celia: For now.

Celia smiles at her mom as if nothing is wrong, moving the spotlight off of her and onto someone else in the group. The tour guide, maybe; she can tell who it is by how the woman is scowling, and with any luck the little boost Celia supplies will give them the chance to re-wrangle her group.

Either way, it’s not Celia’s problem anymore.

“Fighting,” she says in a low voice to her mother. “Go inside, I’ll be in. Two minutes. Friend is in the back.”

Her clothes are ruined. Soaked.

“Tell them the cat got out,” Celia suggests. It’ll explain her disappearance, the wet clothing. Good thing she and her mother are the same size; she can find something in her closet.

She ducks away, moving into the backyard to find Roderick.

GM: “Ok, I’ll keep them busy!” Celia’s mom nods, heading back in.

But she passes her daughter the umbrella anyway.

Celia: Little late for it to keep her dry, but she takes it all the same on her way into the back with a rueful smile.

She looks up towards the night sky and wherever her sire is.

That’s all she needs. Gone for now.

She’ll figure something out for later.

She always does.


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

GM: Roderick waits until the seemingly kine woman has disappeared. He doesn’t look much better than Celia. His soaked clothes are also torn, his hair is a complete mess, and even the rain can’t fall fast enough to wipe off the blood over his face, but he tries his best.

“Sheriff took off,” he says shortly. “Too much attention. But he can fly. He’ll be back.”

“We’re outclassed enough he can afford to let us go for a little.”

Celia: Celia agrees with a nod.

“Come inside. Mom keeps spare clothes for Logan. She won’t mind. Dani and your dad are here.”

GM: He shakes his head. “We don’t have time. We can’t stay here.”

“Also, our parents both think I’m dead.”

Celia: Celia gestures at his face. They’d never changed it back.

“Oh look, problem solved.”

“Attacked the fucking sheriff,” she mutters. “You’re an idiot.”

GM: He touches it as if remembering.

“This is going to take some getting used to.”

“Figured I’d abandon you to him and run away. You’re a bigger idiot.”

Celia: “I would have handled it.”

GM: He shakes his head.

“We need to go. Right now. Take everyone to the Evergreen. It’s a full house on Friday nights. Even better that the usual Kindred crowd won’t be there.”

Celia: “How are we explaining that to your dad?”

GM: “Figure something out. Right now, it’s the safest place in the Quarter from the sheriff. Even he won’t just barge in there.”

Celia: “Can we send him home? Sheriff has no beef with him.”

GM: “Sure. Hurry.”

Celia: “Come inside,” Celia says again. “So you’re not a sitting duck out here.”

She’s already moving towards the door.

GM: “This is going to take longer if you’re introducing everyone to your boyfriend. You need to get them out. Right now.”

Celia: “Don’t die.”

Then she’s gone, slipping into the house with an apologetic smile as she drips all over the floor.

GM: “…she wasn’t kidding about you chasing down Victor,” says Dani as a soaked Celia enters the dining room.

Celia: “I’m so sorry,” she says to the gathering at large. “Went to give Emi the pie and the cat ran right past me. Had to climb a tree to get it back. Poor Lucy was bawling her eyes out.”

“So much for this dress,” she says with a laugh. “Mom, I’m gonna grab something from your closet.”

She waits until Mr. Garrison looks away to make a face at Dani, a nod to follow her out.

GM: “You should’ve let us know,” says Mr. Garrison critically. “You shouldn’t have had to do that.”

“Oh, you’re such a gentleman, Henry,” smiles Diana. “At your age.”

“And feel free, sweetie! My closet’s yours.” Her eyes look the slightest bit fretful, but she turns back to their guest.

“Danielle, why are you leaving our host’s table?” Mr. Garrison asks, even more critically.

“Oh, I just thought I’d help Celia pick something. Mrs. Flores, do you mind? I’ve had enough pie anyways, I think,” answers Dani.

“Please, go on! We can clean up here,” says Diana, her eyes briefly meeting Celia’s as if to confirm.

Celia: Celia waves a hand.

“Didn’t think it’d take quite that long, Mr. Garrison. But next time I’ll leave the cat rescuing to you.” She smiles, meets her mother’s eyes with a tiny nod, and moves off.

GM: “…the cats hate you. What’s going on?” asks Dani.

Celia: “Trouble,” Celia says tightly. She pulls off her wet dress as soon as she’s out of eyesight of the table, picking up the pace. “We need to evacuate. Get your dad to go home. I’m taking my family to the Evergreen. Tell him… you’re sick. Go with him.”

GM: “I want to help,” says Dani. “He can get home on his own. Unless it’s after him?”

“In which case, I want you with us. Because I’m a useless abortion.”

Celia: “No. I just don’t have a better way of getting him to leave.”

“You’re not useless,” Celia says. But she doesn’t have time to argue. She grabs the first dress she sees—a floral-printed sundress—and pulls it on.

“I don’t think he’s going to want to go to the Evergreen.”

GM: Flower-themed clothes are a common staple in her mother’s closet.

“The Evergreen… that’s that VIP club, right?”

Celia: “Yeah. I don’t even know if you’ll be able to get in.”

“Not many licks there tonight.”

“But it’s Savoy’s stronghold. Trouble won’t reach us there.”

GM: “Tattoo makes me mortal, doesn’t it? I’m the DA’s daughter.”

“But you’re right. He hates clubs.”

“He just wants to go home now and go to bed early.”

Celia: “It’s just your brother and I in trouble. I think we should just go. I just don’t want to leave everyone unprotected.”

GM: “I guess that won’t hurt. I’ll get my dad out and tell your mom you’ll fill her in?”

Celia: “Yeah. Fuck. Fuck me. This is all my fault. If I hadn’t gone outside. Jesus.”

No time.

GM: “How’s this your faul… never mind, I’ll get my dad out.”

Dani heads back out.

Celia: Celia finds a pair of flats to slip on. Easier to run in. She rummages through the dresser for the spare clothes she’d told Roderick about. Hardly his usual fare, but it’ll do. She shoves it into a bag.

She follows Dani back out to the dining room.

GM: She finds their parents saying a hurried good night as Dani rubs her forehead with a bleary look.

Celia: “Oh no,” Celia murmurs, “feel better, Dani. Mr. Garrison, it was so nice to see you. I hope we can do this again soon.”

GM: Diana nods along. “…I’m so sorry to end the night so abruptly, Henry, maybe we can finish Stephen’s story over another dinner?”

“I’ll look at my schedule,” says Mr. Garrison. “Thank you for your hospitality, Diana, Celia. It was an excellent dinner.”

“You’re very welcome, we’d be happy to make y’all another,” winks Celia’s mom as she shows the pair out. “Dani, get better soon.”

“Thanks, Mrs. Flores.”

“All right, good night, y’all.”

“Good night.”

Celia: Celia echoes the sentiments on their way out.

GM: Diana turns back to Celia as she closes the door.

“Okay, sweetie, what do we need to do?”

“And Lucy. Is Lucy in danger.” Her face grows immediately grave.

Celia: “Get out. Rod says Evergreen, but—” Celia shakes her head. “I don’t know how to explain that to anyone. Emily. Lucy. I think… hotel? Or I have a safe house…”

GM: “I’m not sure how I’d explain a hotel, sweetie.” Celia’s mom thinks. “Maybe for some last night drinks at the bar, then we stay the night after we have too many to drive back?”

“But, darn, she knows I don’t drink.”

“And taking Lucy out for that seems odd.”

Celia: “Tell her Henry made you feel pretty and it ended early and you want to go out?”

“Girls night?”

GM: “Okay. Girls means all girls. Any men who want to hit on me should know exactly what they’re gettin’ into?”

Celia: “Yeah. That should do it.”

“I’m sorry, Mom. It’s not normally like this.”

GM: “It’s okay, sweetie! Better safe than sorry!”

“How’s the Monteleone, with its carousel bar?”

Celia: She considers, then nods.

“Should work. I don’t think they’re looking for you. Just me.”

“Stephen is here. I’m going to bring him in to change. His face is different.”

GM: “All right. Feel free to take any clothes or whatever you need. I’ve got some of Logan’s I was mending for him.”

Celia: “Got ’em. Go get the girls. We need to hurry.”

Celia does just that, moving toward the door to wave Roderick inside.

GM: “Okay! Text me when you’re there, sweetie!” her mom calls, then heads out to Emily’s room.

She does not see her lover outside.

Celia: Her eyes take on the telltale glow of the Beast within while she scans the darkness. He has to be here.

“Roderick,” she hisses.

GM: She sees nothing.

Celia: “Roderick!”

GM: Her only answer is the pounding rain.

Celia: He can’t be gone. He can’t be.

She steps out into the night.

GM: The rain falls over her newly-dry dress.

Celia: No, no, no.

She was only inside for a minute.

He can’t have come and gone in that time. He can’t have.

She shakes her head, denying what she knows is true: he did.

Celia’s newly dry dress is only exposed to the rain for a minute, just long enough for her fingers to blur across her face to turn her back into Jade. Then it disappears with the rest of her as her entire form shifts, taking on the form of the nightjar.

Her sire isn’t the only one who can fly.

Her wings beat against the air to lift her into the sky, sending the bird sailing through the rain.

She’ll find him.


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

GM: The nightjar takes to the skies. The bird notes several details.

First, the extra car that had been parked near her mother’s house is gone.

Second, the car is driving through the Quarter, a grimly resolved look on Roderick’s already grimmer face.

Third, the sheriff is flying after the car from dozens of feet up, like an enormous black bat.

Celia: That stupid motherfucker.

She’s going to kill him. She’s going to save him from the sheriff and then she’s going to kill him.

The nightjar soars after the car and her sire, beating its wings furiously through the air to keep up. It rips through the options in its mind: dive bomb the sheriff. Distract him. Get Roderick to safety. Weather his anger. Dive bomb the car. Take on the sheriff together.

Roderick has to be going to the Evergreen. That’s what he said, right? Evergreen.

And what is he going to do when he gets there? Who will he run his mouth to?

Idiots, the both of them, she could have handled it.

The nightjar makes its decision. It tucks its wings and dives through the storm toward the lick flying after the car, swooping down with the intent to land upon his back or shoulder, wherever it can find purchase with its tiny claws.

GM: Too fast to follow, Donovan seizes the bird out of mid-air. Pale and rain-slick hands mercilessly crush in the tiny avian’s throat. His flight does not slow.

:: Prove you are more useful alive than dead. ::

Celia: The bird might trill, but the hand around its body prevents the noise from escaping its newly savaged throat. Her wings beat ineffectually against the hand that holds her.

:: I will handle him. Let me handle him. ::

She already has a lie prepared.

:: I will keep him quiet. ::

She just needs him to back off so she can talk to Roderick without the threat of attack looming.

:: I’ll deliver us both to you if I fail. ::

She won’t, though. Not with their unlives hanging in the balance.

GM: Silence is the nightjar’s only answer as the sheriff’s dark form races through the air.

Celia: She doesn’t know if that’s acceptance of her proposal or not. But there’s little the nightjar can do trapped in his grasp as it is. It’s along for the ride now, desperately aware of how fragile this form it wears is. One clenched fist…

:: He’s afraid. For me. He trusts me. I can handle him. ::

Break something. If he breaks something on her, something more than what he has, it’ll send a message that the sheriff came back for her, not for Roderick. She’ll say his new face saved him, that he didn’t know who Roderick is, that he got away, that Celia was too slow. Got caught. She won’t make him look bad. She’d never make him look bad. Primogen’s childe could be anyone. Maybe he didn’t hear over the rain. Maybe it was a bluff. Why would Donovan know that Jade can fleshcraft? Why would he assume that Roderick and Jade had anything to do with each other? She’ll know how to spin it when Roderick talks to her about it. He’ll buy it. He’s bonded to her. He’s been swallowing her lies for years.

And there are so many reasons she could give him for the sheriff’s visit, none of which make it look like they have anything to do with each other. He interrupted what looked like a punishment anyway. He didn’t see anything. Didn’t hear anything.

It will work.

Her sire just needs to trust her.

And if she’s wrong, well, she’d already promised to deliver the pair of them. She’ll use force if she has to. She has plenty of blood to burn through to subdue the already injured Brujah.

Unless he just wants her to catch Roderick so he can wipe clean what he saw, put someone else’s face in there, maybe delete it completely. She’ll do that. She’ll take him to the haven to ambush. He knows the one.

But don’t kill him. Please don’t kill him.

GM: Wind and rain whips past. The sheriff’s vice-like hand squeezes. More bones crunch throughout the tiny bird’s body.

Celia: Terror grips the nightjar. It’s not an answer. That’s not an answer. It doesn’t know what he wants, which parts are unacceptable to him. Its wings flutter, trapped as they are within his hand.

No one has ever accused Celia’s thoughts of moving too quickly. No, not too quickly, but perhaps too sporadically for someone else to make sense of it. Perhaps her shielding has payed off in dividends and her sire is no deeper in her mind now than anyone else who had ever given her a cursory scan. Or perhaps it is simply the pursuit that has his attention divided, and he spares no more than the small bit of focus that it takes to wordlessly communicate with her.

She thought that he knew everything, but when she gives herself a moment to put herself in his shoes she realizes that maybe… maybe he doesn’t.

Slowly, the terror abates. It won’t serve her well. She reaches again for the ice inside her veins, the reason he had chosen her that evening in 2009. It’s inside of her somewhere; all she has to do is bring it to the surface. She slows her thoughts, sending them his way only once she has gotten a handle on them.

The lick they’re chasing is Roderick Durant, Coco’s childe, and he has known about “Celia” since shortly after their release in 2010. He knows her as Veronica’s childe. As far as Roderick knows the only “connection” between Celia and Sheriff Donovan is that she grew up in Audubon and went to Tulane with thousands of other students. He has no reason to suspect there’s anything deeper there. She has never, would never, tell him otherwise. She knew him in her mortal life; they had been lovers then, together until her Embrace, and recently rekindled their romance as Kindred. No one is supposed to know. They play for opposite teams, so they had kept it secret, and his facial reconstruction had been to sneak him into the Quarter last night and for their plans this evening.

He wasn’t supposed to see her sire. They were never supposed to run into each other; it had been unfortunate timing.

Roderick is her… what had Mélissaire called it? Morality pet. And she’d broken him so she could further Savoy’s goals. So she could further her sire’s goals. She’d done it to him. For them.

She’d broken him so she could turn him away from his sire. Savoy has his ear on the Cabildo so he can further disrupt the prince’s plots. She has been working on it for weeks and it finally came to fruition. She repeats the line about his sire offering her an expanded role in his court. Tomorrow. They’re meeting tomorrow to discuss. Her role will better serve her sire; she will be closer to the action, will be privy to more sensitive information, both through Savoy and through Roderick himself. She is more than capable of pulling Cabildo secrets from Roderick if Donovan so wishes. She has ways of getting inside people’s heads with them none the wiser and will use it for him.

And she can handle him tonight. Her sire doesn’t need to waste his time chasing down Roderick. She has a series of lies already prepared for him, and she’ll twist them to accommodate whatever he says to her. Roderick has been swallowing her lies for years; what’s another handful? She’ll tell him the sheriff found out she’d been meddling with the Flores still in Audubon. She’ll tell him he knows that she has been asking questions about Maxen, and that he forced her to give up her plans to derail him, tell him that the injuries she has sustained were after she tried to run. She’ll say that Roderick’s mask had saved him. Why would the sheriff think to look into Roderick when no one knows that Jade and Roderick are anything more than two young licks on opposite sides with sires that hate each other? This new face can disappear. She’ll spin it to preserve his image. She’d never make him look bad.

She’ll lie. Because she’s so good at lying and knows exactly how to play Roderick. She’ll keep him quiet.

And tonight, tomorrow, Sunday: whenever he wants her to answer for the waste of his time this evening she will. She’ll have a better report for him once she finishes with Roderick, probably better when she finishes with Savoy tomorrow. She’ll meet him wherever he wants and tell him everything she’s gathered since their last time together. The hunters, and what she’s found that threatens them all. Caroline, her progress bringing the girl to heel. Savoy’s plans to corral two of the prince’s “loyal Ventrue” to his side. The lick behind the fiasco at the zoo. Intel about his pawns, or a way to help them move forward.

There’s more she can give him. But not in this narrow window of time if he doesn’t let her stop Roderick right now, tonight, like she knows that she can.

GM: Her sire’s cold hands release the nightjar with its crushed wings. Only by grace of the same gift that saved her mother and impressed Caroline does the bird not plummet like a stone.

:: I will know all that transpires between you. Your punishment will be commensurate to your success. ::

Celia: There’s only one thing left to say in this situation.

:: Yes, sire. ::


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

GM: It’s not a long flight to catch up with Roderick. It’s a fall, as much as anything. His head whips to the side as he sees the bird approach by the window.

Celia: She can hardly shift into her cat or human form here. And she lacks her sire’s (and her clan’s) ability to contact him mind-to-mind. But she has other tools at her disposal, things that will (hopefully) clue him in to her identity. Even in this form she smells like a lick. But she kills the aura, dampening it until she’s just a bird again, and then drops the power to project her predatory nature. Again she kills it, and again she lets the cloaking take effect.

Like a beacon in the night, she flickers her aura between mortal and lick, hoping he knows her well enough to know its her. He’s seen her shift. He knows she can cloak. How many licks in the city are looking for him and can both shift and shadow dance?

And how many random licks that can is he bonded to? Who else would he feel the pull toward?

GM: Roderick rolls down the window, then his hand blurs towards the bird.

Celia: The nightjar makes no effort to avoid his hand. It collapses into his palm, half-broken wings tucked against its tiny body. She trusts that the large brain of his clued him in to who she is. If not, well, she supposes she has suffered worse at his hands.

GM: Roderick sets the bird down at the foot of the adjacent passenger seat and rolls the window back up.

“You can turn back to confirm you’re who I’m presuming you are.”

Celia: The change is instant: nightjar to Jade. The shift in physique makes her wince; she grits her teeth against the feeling of bone grinding on bone, but there’s nothing to be done for it. She’s already riding the edge and doesn’t want to lose it in the car with him if she risks mending.

She looks up at him from her spot on the floor. It feels like too much effort to climb into the seat. Has her night really just begun?

“Thanks for not…” she makes a fist to demonstrate. Crushing her. “Family is out. Your dad. Dani. Safe. Mine too.”

If her body wasn’t half broken maybe she’d be able to form longer sentences. The pain distracts her. Fuck him for squeezing after he’d confirmed her identity.

“Spa,” she gets out. “Blood. Need blood. No people.”

GM: “The sheriff’s probably following me,” he says tightly. “You shouldn’t have come after me. Don’t get up on the seat.”

“You shouldn’t be wearing your Jade face, either.”

Celia: “Stupid,” she mutters, more to herself than him. “Need to change your face. Back to Rod. Spa. Or haven. Pick one. Not following. Bought us time.”

GM: “How?” he asks sharply.

Celia: “I’ll explain,” she promises, voice pitching into a whine. “Hurts. Please.”

GM: “If we go back to Flawless, and he follows us, it could all be over.”

“For both of us.”

Celia: “Haven. No connection to us.”

GM: Roderick drives.

“What the fuck was he even doing at your family’s house!?”

Celia: She giggles, the sound reminiscent of the noise he’d made last night when he found out about Carolla. There’s a hysterical edge to it.

“Daddy.”

“Found out. What I was doing.”

GM: “So he knows Celia is a lick.”

“Because he wouldn’t give a fuck if Celia the breather has dinner with her father.”

Celia: “Told you. Years ago. Knows Celia.”

GM: “So why hasn’t he ashed you?”

Celia: “For what? Existing?”

GM: “For being a nobody in larger Kindred society and infringing on his domain.”

“He absolutely would ash you for those reasons.”

“But he hasn’t. And you say you’ve delayed him. You wanted me to drive back to Flawless when he’s on my tail!”

“Celia, what the hell is going on here?”

Celia: “I traded. Bargained. For my life. Unlife. Whatever. Bought time. Promise. Trust me. Won’t kill. Not yet.”

“Rod, it hurts,” she tries again. “Spa or haven, let mend. Please. Tell you.” It’s an effort to shift across the floor, but she does so, laying her cheek on his knee and blinking up at him with eyes fogged by pain.

If they don’t get back to her haven or spa so she can fix his face and mend she’s going to be worse than useless if she’s wrong about her trade. She tells him so in fragmented sentences.

GM: Roderick stares down at her.

“Okay. I trust you.”

He turns the car around.

“We’ll go back to Flawless. Instead of my old place.”

Celia: She nods her head and closes her eyes, leaning against him.

GM: He touches her head, but keeps his other hand on the wheel. He parks at Flawless. He carries her in his arms to Jade’s suite. He grimaces several times himself as he walks, though, and Celia smells blood on him.

Celia: “You’re hurt,” she murmurs once he sets her down. “How bad?”

GM: “I fought the sheriff on my own,” he says frankly. “I’ve healed the worst of it. Healed more during the fight. But I’m hungry. Right now would be a good time for the rest of… his juice.”

Celia: Celia nods. That had been her thought as well.

“Are you gonna lose it?”

“Room for that,” she adds, jerking her chin toward the door in question.

GM: He shakes his head. “That’s why I haven’t completely healed.”

Celia: “Oh. I might,” she admits.

GM: “Ok. You can drink in the room.”

“What about your ghouls?”

“Be useful to send them hunting right now.”

Celia: Celia nods. She brings her heel against the underside of the table, where she’d set aside the blood from Carolla and the other guy. Thin-blood. Ghoul. Whoever it once belonged to, it’s hers now.

“’Lana busy. Could send boys.”

Could call her mom, too.

GM: “’Lana looks way better at picking up people than either of them.”

“It’s a Friday night in the Quarter.”

Celia: “Busy,” Celia repeats.

“Dani could.”

“Have seven pints, though.”

“Could hunt after, us.”

GM: Roderick looks a little stiff at the thought of his sister doing that.

“I don’t know if we’ll have time before Elysium, with everything else.”

Celia: God, fuck Elysium. She hates that she has to go or lose face with those stuck up cunts.

No, that’s not fair. She’s just annoyed right now that things are unraveling.

GM: “But seven pints. Okay. That should help take the edge off.”

“You’ll need to fix my face, too. Some of the ‘everything else.’”

“Might as well text your ghouls now.”

Celia: “Dani?” Celia asks again.

GM: “…how has she been feeding?”

Celia: “Club.”

GM: “I actually never asked.”

Celia: “Gave her access.”

GM: “I don’t like her picking up guys at clubs.”

Celia: “You gonna baby bird her?”

GM: A scowl.

Celia: “Have a whole block. Could sneak instead.”

“Sleepers.”

GM: “That’s hard without veiling or burglary skills.”

Celia: “Blood’s here,” Celia says, nudging the door with her foot again. “Heat up. Don’t want to risk.”

GM: He takes the containers and sticks them in the microwave.

Celia: Celia pulls out her phone to send a series of texts while he busies himself with that.

The first to her mom, telling her everything is okay, but that she got held up at the spa and might not make it to ladies night.

The second to Randy, asking if he and his brother want to stop for a pizza and swing by.

GM: The response back is immediate.

Oh good, I’m so relieved! Maybe you’d like to stop by after everyone’s gone to bed? I still have your favorite treat… :)

Celia: Might be late. Party tonight. Thanks for saving some for me, you’re the best.

GM: Ok, I’ll let you know our room numbers! Have a feeling we might have too many to make it back. Lucy and Emi can have a sleepover in a room together!

Celia: Wild night? I’ll try to stop by before I head out. ;)

GM: Oh you! Hopefully not too wild with Lucy as our chaperon! :)

Celia: “Fam safe,” she announces after she sends a final heart to her mom.

GM: Randy responds shortly later that it’ll be a sure thing as far as that pizza.

Celia: She sends him a heart, too.

GM: Roderick takes out the heated blood with a long look.

“Drink up and we’ll talk about that.”

Celia: Celia slips into the “panic room” to take her share.

She’s glad she did. The moment the blood touches her tongue her Beast comes snarling to the surface, howling its unhappiness to the world at large. Her claws come out—they always come out when her Beast has its way—but there’s little to be destroyed in the bare, steel room.

By design.

Roderick’s design, actually. It’s his doing that there’s a room like this in her spa to begin with; all those years ago she’d discussed the idea of it with him while he still thought she was Jade, that her Brujah and other unruly clients needed a place to “let it out” prior to her treatments. A portion of the money from her mother had gone to making sure that she and her Kindred clients would have a space to give in to their more primal urges.

Her Beast’s claws swipe uselessly at the wall, enraged that much more that there’s nothing soft or breakable to dig into. That there’s no warm body. It’s like a solitary wank after years of the best sex imaginable: absolutely awful and unfulfilling. It slavers and howls and otherwise makes a nuisance of itself inside the steel box, safely contained in here if not in her.

She doesn’t know how long it takes over, only that when it’s gone her clothes are shredded and hang in tatters from her frame.

She scowls at no one in particular. That’s her mother’s dress.

Some snide side of her argues that her mother has plenty of floral print dresses and won’t miss this one.

Either way, Celia finishes her blood once the Beast’s tantrum has run its course.

GM: She comes out to find Roderick waiting near the door. The scent of blood wafting from him doesn’t smell as strong.

He looks over her torn clothes.

“Guess you needed that.”

Celia: “Thought I got off with a couple of broken bones?”

GM: He lays down on the table where Carolla used to be.

“You can tell me where things stand with the sheriff while you fix my face.”

Celia: His face isn’t the only thing that needs fixed. Celia’s body needs fixed, too. She sends the blood pumping through herself to the affected areas, letting it heal her broken bones and torn muscles before she begins to work on Roderick’s face. Only when it’s done does she begin her work to turn him from the Italian-esque man from last night to the Roderick the world knows him as.

Donovan will know everything that she says to him, and everything he says back. She’ll have to make sure she doesn’t fuck it up.

“He found out about my dad. Not dinner. I don’t think he cares about dinner. You keep bringing up the fact that Savoy hasn’t helped me with him, but I didn’t need his help. I was handling it on my own.”

GM: “Then all the less reason to let you live.”

Celia: “Sure. If I was a nobody, sure. But I’m not a nobody, and what I did I’ll have to be the one to undo. What’re they called, dead drops?”

GM: He winces as she starts to rearrange his flesh, moving the muscle like it can never move on its own.

“Yes. What about them?”

Celia: “Someone told me about them a long time ago,” she says, thinking of her ghost-turned-lick cousin. He still hasn’t called. “Told me if I was ever going to try to fuck someone over, to avoid getting fucked myself, set it up. So I did. Won’t stop him if he really wants to ash me, mind.”

She gives a brief warning before twisting a muscle in his cheek.

GM: He growls at the sensation.

“Celia, you’re telling this in pieces that don’t make any sense by themselves.”

Celia: Celia finally sighs.

“Yeah. Okay. I was trying to save face. I threw someone under the bus so he’d lay off me while I took care of the dead drops.”

GM: “That still doesn’t make sense.”

“He could just ash them and then you.”

Celia: “Sure. He could ash whoever. I just watched him try to ash you.”

“By the way,” she says, pausing her movements, “if you ever do anything that dumb again I’m going to stake you and stash you in a basement somewhere.”

“I’ll come down for cuddles. Maybe we’ll fuck. But stop trying to get yourself killed on my account.”

“Second time you’ve done that.”

“Wonder if you can still get hard if you’re staked,” she muses, resuming her work.

GM: Roderick does not look very aroused between the pain he’s in and the topic at hand.

“Yes. He can ash whoever. So why not you?”

Celia: “Because there would be no clear winner for the cutest lick in the city contest, and everyone would be so busy trying to figure that out that nothing else would ever get done.”

She smirks.

GM: “I’m not in the mood, Celia,” her lover growls as she reshapes his nose. His jaw twitches with pain as flint dances in his eyes.

Celia: “What do you want from me, Roderick? Do you want to hear that I’m scared shitless? Do you want to hear that I think he’s going to find me more useful dead than alive and once I finish fixing the mess I caused with my dad he’s absolutely going to ash me, then take my mom, Emily, and Lucy for the trouble? Do you want me to say I am so absolutely terrified of him that all I can think about is going out with a fucking bang if he’s going to get rid of me anyway? Is that what you want? Do you want me to cry on your shoulder a little bit so you can feel like a man comforting a woman in her time of need?”

“Do you think it helped that a random lick showed up at my house to fight him when I had it handled and now I have to find some way to spin that so he doesn’t know it was you, so that you don’t die too you big, dumb, fucking _idiot?”_

GM: Roderick suddenly leaps up from the table, seizes Celia’s throat between his hands, and slams her against the wall. His eyes flash as fangs jut from his mouth.

“I SEE now, Celia!”

“I have had a bad fucking week!”

“My sire’s a fucking liar! My sister’s an abortion! My dad’s the walking dead! I have a new brother, lucky me, who’s scum of the earth!”

He laughs.

“Well, I see now! Savoy and I had a good long talk!”

“I see a lot more now! I’m seeing a LOT of pieces that don’t add up, RIGHT HERE!”

He breaks off in laughter again, like she’s just told a funny joke.

“It’s so funny.”

“Savoy’s the only one who makes sense, these nights…”

Celia: Celia wraps her fingers around the hands holding her up, pressing her back as far against the wall as she can go. She makes a choking sound around his grip. Face half finished as he is, he only looks that much more monstrous.

“Ss—stah—ple—”

GM: He gives her a good hard shake.

“Oh, you stop it! The scared woman act!”

“I told you, Celia… I see MORE now!”

“This has been a real eye-opener!”

Celia: Her head slams back against the wall with the shake. When she looks at him again the fear has left her eyes.

“Let… go,” she growls at him, the words half a wheeze.

GM: “See, there we go! There’s the real Celia!” he laughs. “Let’s have it out, real Celia! Let’s have it all out! Let truth reign! Let the truth have its day… when we aren’t spewing SHIT!”

“Dead drops! ’I’ll handle the sheriff!’ HA! HA HA HA HA!”

“Everyone lies… all the fucking time… you were good at lying, weren’t you, even before you died? ‘I never slept with anyone but you,’ except I didn’t… except I did… HA! Had me wrapped around your finger!”

“Back and forth, back and forth, I can’t even keep straight how many times!”

Celia: Celia works a hand between his palm and her throat, giving herself enough room to breathe so she can speak.

She starts to open her mouth.

And then she remembers the vision, the way the Stephen there had ripped out her tongue, and thinks better of it.

GM: He patiently lets her make some more room.

He smiles and waits.

Celia: What does she say here? I can explain? He’ll never trust a word she says.

She can’t bear to look at him. And even though he is scaring her, even though she does want to curl into a ball and weep for the boy she used to know, she knows how that’ll look: like she’s just playing the same old tune as always.

Her sire really is going to kill her.

“I’ll tell you,” she finally says, “no lies, no bullshit. I’ll tell you. Everything.”

GM: He makes a sweeping motion with his other hand.

Celia: “Let me down.” A pause. “Please.”

GM: He releases his hand. Her feet hit the ground in their borrowed flats.

She remembers how he looked on the roof, in his false face, the rain beating down around him with his fists balled, Celia held helplessly in her sire’s grip. He looked ready to charge her sire. He did charge her sire. The right thing, no matter how dangerous or what it threatened to cost.

Here, in Jade’s suite, talking to Jade the liar, his face is neither one man nor another’s, its features monstrously twisted out of shape. There’s a cool look in his eyes under the equally cold light of the monster’s playhouse.

But Celia the innocent damsel was another lie too, wasn’t it? How likely was her sire to kill her right there? He risked his unlife for a stupid thing, thinking it was the right thing.

Celia: She stares up at him. Part of her—the Celia part, probably—doesn’t want to move from where he’d dropped her. That part of her still thinks that Stephen is in there somewhere, that she can salvage this, that she can get him back before he turns into the monster she saw him become. The other part—the Jade part—demands that she take control.

So she does.

She swallows her fear. She straightens her spine. She moves from where he dropped her, aware that he is faster than her, stronger than her, that distance only creates the illusion of safety—no, that’s Celia again.

Why won’t the bitch stay dead?

“Will you hear me out? All of it?” Celia again. Jade wouldn’t ask.

GM: “Go on.”

It might be Stephen answering.

Or Roderick.

Or whoever the man with half a face is.

Celia: “You’re right. I didn’t handle the sheriff. I couldn’t handle the sheriff. He was following your car. You bought me time to get away. To get us all away. It was… brave. And selfless. I thought I took too long inside, getting them all out. You weren’t out there when I came back. I thought he took you. Without your face, you were a nobody that had attacked him. Even if you were Roderick, you still attacked him.”

She—who is she anymore?—looks away.

“I can fly. You saw. I was… going to do something really stupid. I thought he maybe took you back to Audubon, and I was going to fly in as Jade.” A gesture to her face. “I don’t know what I’d have done when I got there. It was a half-baked plan. Then I saw you. Saw him. I flew towards him. He caught me.”

Her voice lacks any emotion. She keeps it as flat as possible lest he accuse her of playing the scared woman again.

“He was still following you. I thought he was going to kill you. I said you were my lover. That it was a misunderstanding. I begged him not to kill you. Then he started squeezing. Crushing me. So I told him… I told him if it was ‘you’ or me, I’d pick me every time. Save my own skin. Licks expect it. I said you trust me. That I’d handle you. That I’d deliver you, if needed. That he didn’t need to waste his time, that I’d do it. Everyone thinks I’m a whore; why wouldn’t I sell you out. I’d have another boyfriend by Elysium. He didn’t have a reason to trust me, so I gave him one. And I piled it on, on top of that. I’ve been working on a lot of projects lately, been looking into a lot of things. I offered to share with him. Anything he wanted.”

She finally looks back up at him.

“I thought I could lie to you to keep you from asking questions. That we could change your face back. I could tell him I’d handled it. We’d never see the other face again. No one would know what happened. He’d save face. I’d sell out whoever he wanted. We’d call it a done deal. One time thing. Debt disclosed.”

GM: Roderick listens.

Whoever listens.

“And what about you and the sheriff on the roof?” he asks flatly.

Celia: She swallows. It’s a reflexive action, completely unnecessary to her dead state. All it does is display her discomfort.

“You told me once that I could trust you. That you’re not like every other lick. That you won’t use what I tell you against me. Is that still true?”

GM: “Yes,” he answers tightly.

Celia: “I’m a bastard. Veronica didn’t get permission to ‘Embrace’ me until I was already dead.”

She drops her gaze.

“There’s no statue of limitations on Kindred crimes against the Traditions. I don’t actually know if I can get in trouble for it. I can hardly ask someone about it. And I think… sometimes I think I was an accident.”

GM: “You can get in trouble for it. So can she.”

Celia: Celia—Celia, she’s Celia—closes her eyes and gives a faint nod.

GM: “What does that have to do with the sheriff being at your mom’s house?”

Celia: Celia finds his face with her eyes.

“He knows. He’s known since the beginning. He called it in.”

GM: “To do, what?”

Celia: “At the risk of angering you,” Celia says quietly, “I can’t tell you. But it’s nothing against you. Or Dani. Or your dad. Your family is safe. I promise.”

“I trust you. I do. I wouldn’t have told you any of this if I didn’t. But I don’t trust him not to hurt me, or my family, or anyone else I care about, if I say anything else.”

GM: That takes a while to play out on his half-face.

“You better not complain about any secrets I keep,” he finally mutters.

Celia: For a moment, Celia turns her face away. She does it to hide the way her lip trembles, the relief that his words bring her, the fear in her eyes that he wouldn’t accept her answer.

Or her.

She looks up again and takes a halting step toward him. Then another. Approaching him like a dog that has been kicked too many times, that expects the boot before a gentle hand.

She used to play at being skittish around him. Now, though, there’s nothing coy or deceitful in the slight rounding of her spine, the way her eyes kiss the floor, then his face, then his chest, and finally the floor again, the way her weight shifts and the edge of her shoe drags slightly against the ground. Wary. But controlled. He might not notice it if he’s not looking for it.

Then she’s in front of him, folding herself against him without a word, pressing her face against his chest. His warm chest. His strong—so strong, by turns gentle and cruel—hands right there. She doesn’t cry. She doesn’t tremble. She keeps it inside where no one can see, unable or unwilling to admit even to herself that some part of her is afraid of this new Roderick.

GM: His hands wrap around her back and hold her close. Slowly, like it’s a motion they haven’t done in a long time. But it’s still familiar.

His chest isn’t warm, though.

It’s cool.

No steady heartbeat greets her ears.

That’s not familiar.

Celia: Somehow, that’s worse than anything else he could have said or done.

She broke him.

And here’s the proof.


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

GM: Roderick lies still as Celia twists the rest of his face back to its old features. He doesn’t seem to feel like talking. Maybe from the pain. Maybe not.

“I wonder if this is a fully accurate recreation, if you’re working from visual memory,” he says, looking his face over in the mirror when she’s done.

His tone is bland.

Celia: There’s a time or two when she opens her mouth to say something, but seems to lose her nerve or think better of it. She doesn’t speak until he does.

“Memory is fallible.”

GM: “I suppose I’m probably not the same person anymore.”

“Oh well.”

Celia: “No,” she says quietly. “You’re not.”

GM: He shrugs and pulls on his coat.

Celia: She doesn’t know how to act around him anymore. She doesn’t know what to say. What do to with her hands. She reaches for him, but there’s no warmth anymore, and she doesn’t find the comfort she’s looking for.

“Roderick.”

GM: He turns and looks.

Celia: “We’re… are we..?” She gestures between the pair of them.

GM: He waits as if for her to finish.

Celia: “…are we okay?”

GM: “No.”

Celia: “No,” she echoes, as if she has never heard the word before.

GM: “You won. My sire’s a lying piece of shit after all.”

Celia: Why is that her fault? She hadn’t made Coco Embrace Carolla.

Or lie about it.

“I didn’t… that’s not what I wanted. That’s never what I wanted. I didn’t win.

GM: “It’s so inconvenient how my sister’s an abortion.”

Celia: “…why?”

GM: “Because she’s weak.”

Celia: “Why does that matter?”

GM: “I’m going to kill him. The sheriff.”

Celia: “Wha—why?”

GM: “I can’t win against him by myself, but I can fight him without dying like chaff. Give me a smart and competent coterie, and we could probably pull it off. With acceptable casualties if we had a tactical advantage, and probably heavy ones if we didn’t.”

Roderick’s voice is calm.

“So, too bad my sister’s an abortion. She’d just be a burden.”

Celia: “What do you gain,” she asks, “by killing him?” She doesn’t even know how to begin to touch the topic of his sister.

GM: He looks at her like she’s asked a stupid question.

Celia: She stares back at him.

GM: “Preston said you were spoiled, you know. That you just wanted to play house and paint faces in your spa, and never think about the silly war going on.”

Celia: That doesn’t surprise her.

Preston doesn’t know about half the shit she gets up to, though.

GM: “Use your head. Why would I want him ashed?”

“How does that change the political situation and why is that change desirable to me?”

Celia: “I see.”

GM: “Good. Savoy at least thinks you do.”

Celia: “Weird that you’d talk about me in a meeting for you.”

GM: “I’m sure you never talked about me with them at all.”

Celia: She has never felt more alone than she does right now. She stares, covering the hurt, shoving it deep inside.

GM: “You could help kill him too,” he considers. “Eventually. You need more training, first. We’ll work on that.”

Celia: “Tonight?” she asks. “Like usual?”

GM: “I’m busy tonight.” He looks at the security monitor. “There’s your ghoul. That’s my cue.”

Celia: “Roderick. Wait.”

GM: He waits.

Celia: It’s like one of those movies where someone calls out for the other one to stop but they keep going. Somehow she thought he’d keep going. That’s a good sign, isn’t it, that he stopped?

She takes a step toward him. Then another.

“You said we’re not okay. And you’re busy tonight. You have other things on your mind. That’s fine. But when? When are we going to talk? When can we sit down to discuss everything?”

When does she get him back?

GM: “Talk about what?”

“I’m not breaking up with you, if that’s what you’re worried over.”

Celia: It is.

And it seems like such a stupid thing to worry about.

But she nods all the same.

“Okay,” is all she says. Then, “I love you. That hasn’t changed. Whatever else changes. That hasn’t.”

GM: “Dani said you were insecure, but I suppose it beats being an abortion.”

Celia: “Did Dani tell you why I’m insecure?”

GM: He turns to go.

“Later. Your ghoul’s here. Love you too.”

He gives a faint snicker. “Tell Dani to stop being an abortion, also.”

Celia: Sure. She’ll get right on that.

For a dead body, her heart certainly hurts a whole hell of a lot.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM

GM: Randy comes in by himself, not a vessel in sight.

“Sorry, babe,” he says sheepishly.

“Early hour at the clubs, and Reggie wanted to do some… skeezy stuff.”

Celia: “I’m not hungry,” Celia mutters.

She is. She’s always hungry. But it’s a psychosomatic response to the altercation with Roderick. She isn’t in the mood for a writhing, squirming vessel.

GM: “Told me to tell you himself if I wasn’t up for it, so…”

“But I brought you something else!”

Celia: “Hm?”

GM: That’s when her sire’s sword gorily cleaves through Randy’s arms and legs like a knife through butter. The newly quadriplegic ghoul’s raw-throated screams echo off the suite’s soundproofed walls as his torso hits the floor in a gory heap. The stench of his voided bowels fills Celia’s nostrils as his eyes roll back in his head.

He screams.

He screams.

He screams.

Her sire’s cool voice sounds within her head.

:: You have endangered the secrecy of our association twice in as many weeks. Continued carelessness will imperil those for whom you care. ::

Randy screams.

Celia: She hadn’t even been looking.

That’s the worst part, isn’t it, that she hadn’t been looking at her ghoul while he addressed her because she’d been so busy turning over the Roderick problem in her mind, wondering if and when he’d ever go back to his normal self.

It’s the blood that makes her look. Already too late to do anything but stare in mute horror as the blade cleaves once, twice, three times. How many times? She doesn’t know. She wasn’t really looking. But she smells it. And she hears it.

She thought she’d had time. That’s the only absurd thought that goes through her mind. That she thought she’d had more time.

But here he is.

Randy’s screams echo through the suite, reverberating off the walls, filling her head. Is there enough blood in her body to fix that? Where would she even begin? She stares. She stares because she’d just been thinking that he’s at least warm. That he could hold her for just a moment. That he could stand in for the boyfriend she’d just lost. That she can go home to Alana tonight and tell her everything is okay and spend the day with her.

How many parts can a person be cut into before they stop being a person anymore?

She drags her eyes up to his face. His cold, cruel face. How had she ever thought she loved him?

She darts forward, tearing into her wrist with her teeth, bringing the blood to the boy on the ground.

Not too late. Please let it not be too late.

GM: Her sire’s booted foot kicks aside what’s left of Randy. The quadriplegic man’s face audibly crunches against the wall.

His screams are fainter.

:: Little life remains in him. It will take time to regenerate his limbs. He will cost vitae for no practical returns. ::

Her sire’s cool hand cups Celia’s chin, tilting up her eyes to meet his.

Randy screams.

:: Show me that you are strong. ::

Celia: Celia has waited years for him to touch her like this. For his hands to cup her chin, for him to lift her gaze to his, for his lips to—

No. He’s missing that part.

He’s always missing that part.

He will never love her.

Not like Stephen had.

Not like Roderick did.

Not even like Randy does.

Randy, whose screams echo in her ears. Randy, who she’d teased for years because he’s so cute when he’s flustered. Randy, who is never too busy to answer her calls. Who is always there for her. Who is brave to the point of stupidity, and would never let anything bad happen to her. Not while he’s around. She still lies to him about killing people. Still protects him from the worst side of herself. Because he was her Stephen stand-in for all those years. Warm. Strong. Gentle.

Innocent.

With Roderick cracked, who is left to take that role?

She stares into the lifeless eyes of her sire and knows the truth: he’s more monstrous than any of the rest of their kind. How long does it take to get that way? How many hundreds of years? How old is he, or what was wrong with him in his mortal life that he turned into this?

Who hurt him?

And how had she ever thought she’d be enough to fix it?

The words from that night come back to her. “Great evil… upon this child… curse… this child.”

Him, the cursed child. The demonic presence. And he’d chosen her. What does that say about her? What does that say about what he saw inside of her? Is Caroline right, that their histories made them ideal candidates for their Embrace: beaten, weak, submissive. Or is there more to it than that?

They will kill him. Savoy, Roderick, Caroline, Pete. The whole city wants him dead. She will be the only one who misses him. The only one who mourns him.

And still he tortures her.

No practical returns, he says, as if there is nothing practical in the way that the ghoul has held her together these long years through long nights of loneliness and isolation. As if his ability to regenerate and her ability to sculpt the flesh back onto his bones will leave him down and out. As if she cares that she’ll need to slaughter a dozen people to give him what he needs to survive.

All these people around her and no one she can be herself with. Always a mask. Always another lie. Another part of her she hides to be what they want her to be, who they want her to be. Her mother’s daughter. Her father’s daughter. Donovan’s childe. Savoy’s grandchilde. Veronica’s childe. The damsel. The doctor. The healer. The helper. The liar.

Jade.

Celia.

Someone Else.

Someone Else stares out from Celia’s eyes and Jade’s face.

:: All she ever wanted was to love you. ::

The collar chafes. Even now, with her ghoul bleeding out on the ground, with the remnants of her sanity slipping away, she wants his approval. Wants him to pat her on the head. Wants him to bring her into his arms when it’s done.

And he won’t.

He never will.

He’s not that guy.

She’s not that girl.

Maybe she never was. Maybe that’s why he had taken her. Or maybe it was all an accident, and her presumed loyalty is just an advantageous byproduct. Years of watching her mother go through it and she turned out just the same: accepting his abuse because she thinks she deserves it. Broken cycle? No. Not for her.

Someone Else reaches for his sword, closing her fingers around the handle. She tugs. It’s too big for her. Too heavy. She doesn’t have much experience with swords. But who needs experience when all she’s doing is cleaving a head from a body?

She swings.

GM: The saber isn’t as heavy as perhaps she expected. Randy and Reggie only ever showed her how to practice with knives, but Emily had passed on that fact from Robbie. Robby said historic swords actually aren’t that heavy. They’re meant to be used, after all.

Then again, it’s not like she’s picking this up for a fight.

Randy’s limbless body flops onto its back. The smell of blood is so strong. She can drink from him. He’ll have delivered a vessel after all.

He was never much good at that, hunting for her.

Was never much good at a lot of stuff, next to his brothers. What the fuck was she going to use a race car driver for anyway? Cars to Mélissaire are just a hobby.

Randy flops onto his back. His face is a mosaic of raw, uncomprehending agony. Every line deepened a thousandfold. Tears stream from his bloodshot eyes. Blood freely leaks from his broken nose. He smells like piss and shit, past the blood. He looks up at Celia with wide, delirious eyes. Boy’s eyes, blue or green or hazel, once bright with life and unearned confidence. For a moment, he does not even seem to see the sword. A fragile smile touches his lips as he whispers,

“…babe…?”

Then the steel parts his head from his neck.

Blood sprays over Celia’s face.

The severed head rolls across the floor. It hits the wall with a light thump. It rolls over onto its side, fragile smile frozen eternally in place.

Boy’s eyes stare up at her.

Celia: His screams echo in her ears long after the noise itself dies.

Long after he dies.

One of the girls inside of her had once told another person how the sound of screaming is what sticks with someone when the rest of the memory has faded. How the smell of blood and the sight of gore will be the first thing to go, drifting into the obscurity of long-lost thoughts. Hazy. You can tug at it when you want, force yourself to see it again, let your brain fill in the details that you forget over the years.

But it’s the screaming that haunts your sleep. She’ll never forget the sound of his death rattle. Dozens of lives taken with her own hand and this will be the one that sticks. She’ll add it to the raw, throat-bleeding pitch her mother had reached the night Maxen sawed through her leg. The ragged, throaty gasps when she’d been transported high above the city in the arms of a monster.

Funny. He’d been there for all three of the screams in her collection.

The saber drips blood when she’s done with it. One of the girls’ mother had once said that you should clean something when you’re done with it, before you give it back. Or if it’s an empty container you fill it. Bake a pie. Make a casserole. Et cetera.

It’s just good manners.

Someone Else wipes the bloody blade across the remnants of her dress. The steel comes away gleaming. Wordlessly, she offers it back to Donovan.

GM: Her sire accepts the clean blade, opens his coat, and sheaths it in the scabbard hanging from his hip. All like she’s returning one of her mom’s rinsed-out tupperware containers.

He cups her face in his pale, mercilessly strong hands. She wonders if he could crack her skull like an egg between them.

:: You have shown strength. ::

:: I am pleased. ::

Corpse-cold lips meet hers.

Celia: Corpse-cold. Like Roderick’s now. Like Randy’s, if she were to pluck his head from the ground and press her lips against his.

No, Dicentra whispers, he was mortal. It takes longer than that for his body to cool. Randy would still be warm.

She’ll never be warm.

She’ll never sleep with him now. Seven years of promises, date finally set, and it ends with the swing of a sword.

She’ll see that fragile, broken smile every time she closes her eyes. Hear that final “…babe…” playing on loop.

Something gives.

That’s the thing about ice: it cracks under pressure.

It starts as a giggle. He touches his lips to hers and she giggles. And then she isn’t Someone Else anymore, she’s Jade and she has the sheriff in her grasp, and she’s not the passive lover that Celia had once been, letting him kiss her and leave her with nothing but a smear of blood on her lips.

Her hands seize his coat, pulling herself closer to him because she’s under no illusion that he’ll move toward her. She’s empty, but he can fill her. Her lips part beneath his brutal assault, fangs flashing. Him?

The blood.

And the whore inside of her.

She lies with her body rather than her tongue—though she lies with that too. Eager. Like nothing has changed, like it hasn’t broken. She nips at him with her fangs. He’d made her kill her boy. He will give her this.

GM: So he does.

Winter-cold fangs trail down her throat, then stab into her neck. The ice has cracked; he flows in. Strong arms seize up Celia in their grasp, then suddenly her back is smashing against the wall, hard enough to crack bone. She didn’t see either of them move. Rapture shudders through her as his frigid kiss takes hold, an orgasm rippling through her neck. There’s another gory crunch, and she sees his foot has stomped in Randy’s skull. The fragile smile is only half a smile. The other side of his face is blood and gore and messy shards of bone. Her sire picks it up by the hair, then pulls away from her, retracting his fangs. The bliss ends, but crimson fills her nose. A low slurp sounds as the sheriff drinks his fill from what’s left of Randy. Holding it out for her, too, to claim her fill.

Waste not, want not.

Celia: Waste not.

She would have had her fill later. But she’s pleased that he offers. That they’re sharing a meal together.

It’s all so normal.

The collar she had tugged so hard at earlier this evening suddenly doesn’t feel so tight anymore.

Suspended in the air with her sire’s body holding her up, her legs around his waist and back against the wall, all she has to do is lean in to move her fangs from her sire to Randy’s corpse. She does so, the already-cooling blood a familiar taste across her tongue. She meets his eyes over their shared “vessel.” There’s something inherently intimate about drinking together.

She’s not done with him when it’s over. When they drain the body she leans in to lick the blood from his lips and the sound she makes isn’t entirely human.

It’s a feline sound. A purr. Her whole form vibrates with the sound, eyes alight in sated desire.

She was never so bold with him before. She always let him lead, only accepted what he offered. Tonight, though, she took what she wanted.

She doesn’t wiggle when they’re done, content to hold the position against him. She rests a cheek on his shoulder.

He said he’d hear everything. That he’d see everything. Was he in her head? Or lying about it? Or following, invisible, undetected by either of them? No wonder he prefers the mind to mind contact. She should learn.

If he was, though, then she doesn’t need to waste his time repeating it.

And Roderick… she doesn’t know how to fix him, but she won’t betray him by actively spilling about him. She’d done that once and look where she’d ended up for it: with a boyfriend as fucked in the head as she is. Unbalanced. He’d told her to drop the scared woman act, but those hands around her throat had been too convincing, too similar to another raging Brujah, to leave her as anything other than distinctly nervous.

He said she could trust him. It goes both ways.

GM: Her sire drinks what’s left of Randy with her. He picks up each of the ghoul’s four severed limbs, sucks from them like drumsticks while she does the same, then tosses them aside once they’re spent. Randy’s torso gets the same treatment. The neck is still the best place to feed. Her sire rolls up his sleeve, extends the blade from her bracer, and carves open Randy’s chest. There’s even more to drink there. He pries open the ribcage with his hand and squeezes the heart to make the blood flow.

They drain what’s left of her ghoul until nothing remains.

Her sire lets the exsanguinated body parts hit the floor like emptied beer cans.

Perhaps, on another occasion, they might fuck all night long.

But sharing a meal is nice.

For Jade. For Someone Else.

Celia alone feels for what’s become of Randy.

Feels enough to tug against the collar.

To tug, and tug, and tug until—

But that’s not a face she can wear. Those aren’t thoughts she can think. Not here.

Her other selves can handle this.

It’s like she said to Clairmont.

They keep her safe.

It’s her sire who finally breaks contact. Randy’s hand gorily crunches apart under the uncaring tread of his feet as he makes his way to the sink. He cleans the blood from his waterproofed coat.

Celia: It’s the heart that makes her realize maybe they are cut from the same cloth after all. When he rips open the chest with no regard for the fact that it was once a living, breathing person and drains the blood, squeezing the heart to get out every last drop. She can almost forget that it’s Randy, caught up in appreciating that they have a similar style of consumption.

But only almost.

Reggie had done something similar last night, when she’d drained the mortal and the thin-blood. Stomped across them. She’d thought it was hot when he’d done it. Had turned it into a flirty little game. “Make me cum right when he dies.”

It’s less fun when it’s her ghoul who died. Her boy who is trod upon.

She watches the brisk, meticulous movements of her sire. She almost offers the shower in the other room, idly wondering what he looks like beneath the coat. She’s never seen. Just the forearm. Like some sort of Victorian-era ankle glimpse.

GM: He cleans the blood from that same forearm. It may as well be chiseled from white stone for all the life and fleshy softness that Celia sees.

He cleans the blood from his bracer. She had wondered if he would care what the leather was made from, then decided he would not.

Her sire finishes, then steps out into the rain.

He’s gone in an eyeblink.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM

Celia: There’s little enough time for her to do any of the fifteen tasks she would like to do before Elysium starts. She’d like to skip it, if she’s being honest with herself, but fuck if she doesn’t want to hear about not being there again. And with Roderick pissed at her, who is going to tell her what she missed? He’s going to be like every other lick, determining how useful she is to him or dropping her like last month’s old news.

So she multitasks.

She starts stripping the body—body, she has to think of it like a body, not like the living, breathing person he once was, not the warm boy she’d shielded from the worst sides of herself, not the boy she had planned on falling into bed with tonight because she needs the comfort—

She can’t think about what she’s doing.

It’s a body. Like anyone else on her table. She reduces who he was to a series of muscles, bones, tendons. That’s all he is now. That’s all he can be or she’s going to start spiraling down a dark path that she can’t—she can’t, she can’t, she can’t.

For one long moment she closes her eyes, breathing in hard through her nose. It still doesn’t do anything for her. She gets back to work.

And while she works she calls his brother.

GM: “Yeah?” he asks after picking up.

Celia: “Hey.” What do you say to someone whose twin you just killed? Triplet. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know yet. She has time. It’s just a body.

“Manage to catch up with your friend today?”

GM: “Yep. You want me to stop by?”

Celia: “I don’t have time. Have to meet someone. Can meet you after?”

GM: “Randy couldn’t find a pizza he was okay with. I’d scoped out a million places. Fucking idiot.”

Celia: “Oh. I was wondering what happened there.”

“Forgot how picky he is.”

GM: “Randy happened.”

Celia: Is. Not was. That’s good. Good cover.

GM: “He’s just such an idiot.”

Celia: “He was helpful today, though? With your friend?”

GM: “Yeah, he was okay there. How’s in a couple hours?”

“Flawless or LegalWings, whatever.”

Celia: “Sure. I’ll give you a buzz. You guys still hanging?”

GM: “Who, Randy?”

Celia: “No, your buddy.”

GM: “He’s an idiot, but he’s not going anywhere.”

“Brother and all.”

Celia: “Meant your friend,” she says with a laugh. “I didn’t know if it was an all day affair. I assume Randy isn’t going anywhere.”

That’s natural, right?

Is it?

Would she say that?

GM: “No way, with how obsessed with you he is. You’ll be the death of him.”

Celia: Yeah.

She will.

GM: “We aren’t, anyway. Had to take off.”

Celia: “Oh?”

GM: The clock is ticking.

Celia: “Never mind, tell me later.”

“I’ll see you in a bit.”

GM: “A’ight. I’ll fuck your brains out.”

Celia: “Looking forward to it.”

GM: Click.

Celia: There isn’t much left of Randy to strip into parts. She’s done with him by the time the call ends, already reaching for a spare set of clothes so she can get home, change, and head to Elysium. She pulls the battery out of his phone and takes a spare minute to delete the security footage showing his appearance. Then she’s out the door with the rest of his personal effects to dispose of them.

She has a feeling it’s going to be a long night.


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Story Thirteen, Julius I

“You cain’t swim ‘gainst its current, as dat don’t woik. No, yo gotta dive in, dive in all da way an’ make yo own melodic waves, make ‘em so gud an’ shugah-sweet da river cain’t help but swim wid yoself.”
Julius B. Baudoin


Thursday night, 25 February 2016, PM

GM: The trombone echoes over the Mississippi’s dark waters, long, slow, and mournful.

Brother I’m hungry
I can’t afford to eat
Brother it’s cold outside
Living rough on the streets



GM: Julius’ landlord hasn’t asked him to “play for Misha Sipokni” in a little while. He hasn’t had to. The musician is perfectly happy to play for the river himself. His father and grandfather worked the shipyards. He served in the Coast Guard. So much of his present empire is water-borne. He owes much to the river, or at least the Atlantic. He is glad his landlord seemingly recognizes that fact, or at least holds his own respect for the Mississippi, and still asks Julius to demonstrate his respect for the river from time to time.

In the land of milk and honey
Its hard to understand
Them that hold the power
In the palm of their hand


It’s easier rent than his other tasks.

It’s an easier task than tonight.

And have no comprehension
Of what it means to be
Standing at the mercy
Of begging and defeat


They say music soothes the savage beast. Julius has yet to see if it can soothe the savage Beast, at least tonight.

His people had disappointing reports. The long-awaited deal with the Vietnamese Triad fell through. The promised organ shipment was seized by law enforcement agents. Now the precious, life-rich organs are who knows where—nowhere that Julius can feast upon them. And there have been no recent funerals in Algiers. The kine aren’t dying fast enough. The subject came up, once, with his other patron. The infrequency of jazz funerals. The older vampire had smiled his supple fanged smile and told Julius that the kine are like bugs as well as cattle. Sure, their lifespan is infinitesimal compared to yours. But you usually can’t wait for them to die, when their imminent deaths suit your needs. It’s not practical.

No, he’d said. When they get in your ear, when they buzz and they need to die, you need to squash them.

And when a predator hungers, they cannot hope to stumble upon prey already dead.

So all you unworthy sinners
Without a pin to your name
Looking up at someone new
Writes the rules to the game


Twice-cursed, some have called him.

Curse enough to hunger for blood.

How much greater is the curse to hunger for flesh as well? The kine will not part with that so easily.

So Julius, twice-cursed, broods before the river.

And plays.

But we stand with no one among us
And watch without a tear
What’s becoming of our brothers
Every time, every time that we hear


The lyrics are from Family Dinner—Volume 2, by jazz fusion group Snarky Puppy, released only a month or so ago.

Brother I’m hungry
I can’t afford to eat
Brother it’s cold outside
Living rough on the streets


Yet, as Julius’ mighty lungs pump the trombone’s mournful music into the night air, he is not without an audience tonight.

Qua.jpg
The big cat’s tread is utterly silent. Julius does not hear the creature approach. He only sees it—and only, he is certain, because it wishes to be seen.

Qua. His landlord’s favorite servant. Perhaps more than him.

After all, the last reported sighting of a wild jaguar in Louisiana was in June 1886. Qua is quite possibly the last of his kind. A relic of the past preserved into the present through his undying master’s blood.

Caitiff, on the other hand, remain all too abundant.

The great cat silently sits down on its haunches.

Then it speaks. Its voice is soft and faint, like a ripple over the Mississippi at midnight, but with a distinctly feline undercurrent. Like a low growl.

“Therrre is a trespasserrr rrrithin my domain.”

“Rrremove him and yourrr corrrvée this rrrreek rrrill be fulfilled.”

The jaguar bares its teeth, so very long and sharp, and for a moment Julius thinks it means to attack. But the creature instead hacks a glob of blood over the ground. The coppery tang, event faint as it is, assails Julius’ nose and sends his Beast hungrily pacing behind its cage.

The cat speaks again.

“Taste it and you rrrill knorr the rrray to him.”

Julius: Behind Julius, the Mississippi sings its old familiar song, its waves a moonlit cascade of drum brushes softly caressing the snare-drum shoreline. He hears it, smells it, and feels it in his bones. But the blood before him… its notes burn brighter, louder, hotter. A soloing trumpet that cuts through city’s nighttime cacophony.

Following those notes, Julius sets down his trombone—tonight’s is a purple plastic affair he played on K&B’s ‘97 swan-song float—and approaches. At home inside “Algiers Pernt”, Julius has shed his faux-Zegna pinstripe and Uggo Vasare wingtips for a faded tee emblazoned with Circinus’ OPEC-era logo, baggy gym shorts, and knockoff Yeezy hightops. So dressed, he half-creeps, half-saunters towards the deadly, rosette-furred beast, carefully eyeing it through his counterfeit Gucci aviators. Glancing away only briefly to check the time on his Fauxlex Submariner, he then squats down before the globule and hums more to Misha Sipokni than to Qua.

“Awrite, I’ll lookit wot da cat dragged in den.”

Still, he gives the beast a respectful chin-nod before pinching the sanguine glob between his fingers.

Julius never needed his mama to tell him twice to eat his turnip greens, and he sure doesn’t need a cat to tell him twice to drink blood.

And so, without further ado, he sucks down the globule like a crawfish’s head.

GM: The taste hits him like a crawdaddy’s closing pincers.

Red.

Hot.

Heady.

And like a tune in a jazz musician’s heart, there’s something inside Julius that wants out.

The Caitiff forces it down with all his will, wrestling the Beast back into its cage. He cannot lose it against his landlord’s favorite pet. Whoever wins that fight, he still loses.

Like so much else that comes with being clanless.

Lose even if you win.

But the struggle is not an easy one. He feels his fangs protruding in his mouth. He hears the Beast roaring in his ears. He feels its claws raking the bars of its cage with every moment the vitae’s taste lingers on his tongue. That undeniable Brujah fire, even weak-blooded as it is. Julius hungers. His Beast hungers. He wants more.

But he doesn’t want just blood. Oh no.

No, there has only ever been one thing that can truly slake Julius’ hunger.

Not thirst.

Never thirst.

The jaguar, meanwhile, stares at Julius in that patiently knowing way only cats can. The beast flicks its tail once, then bounds off into the night.

But the Caitiff smells it.

From a thousand miles away.

An irresistible pull towards the rest of that blood.

Julius: Julius staggers as his tongue burns like noon-day asphalt. He grinds his jaws, as if trying to crush the itch he has to scratch. But the bruxism only makes it worse. The desire to gnash, rip, and chew. The hunger.

He steps back, and forces himself to turn towards the river. Away from where Qua sat, and away from the lingering aroma of its tantalizingly vitae-soaked organs. He knows he could follow that scent trail, or at least he could try. But his hunger hasn’t stripped him of all sanity, not yet at least. After all, he has another scent trail to follow, whose source promises a similarly visceral temptation—and one he can literally taste. He can’t deny the Beast inside his soul, but he can redirect it.

Picking up his trombone, he pauses briefly to regarding Ol’ Miss and her unceasing, yet ever-changing song. “It’s jass,” he murmurs like liquid thunder, “you don’t fight da rhythm, no. You cain’t swim ‘gainst its current, as dat don’t woik. No, yo gotta dive in, dive in all da way an’ make yo own melodic waves, make ‘em so gud an’ shugah-sweet da river cain’t help but swim wid yoself.”

The sentiment makes him smile. It’s a hungry smile. Hot and growling, but still a smile.

That smile lingers as the former Bleu Devil dimeback turns again—this time toward his quarry. His prey.

“Jass-time, it is den.”

And with that happy, hungry thought, the predator dances off into the darkness.


Thursday night, 25 February 2016, PM

GM: Julius dances through the night, and the ‘melody’ carries him along.

It’s like any dance, when good music is playing.

You just have to open your heart and let the music do the dancing for you.

Papa Juju’s sharp nose carries him through the homey pubs, small art galleries, and quaint Creole cottages of Algiers Point, until he reaches the border and its barbed wire fence. Security guards look askance when he wants to leave for the well-to-do neighborhood’s safety for the urban junglescape beyond, but they don’t stop him. It’s his funeral.

Or, if he has anything to say, someone else’s.

It’s just too bad theirs probably won’t get a jazz band.

Algiers Point is a neighborhood within a neighborhood. The divide becomes apparent the moment Julius crosses Opelousas Avenue. On one side of the six-foot wall, there are immaculately maintained 150-year-old homes. Almost every resident is white. On the other side, Julius sees boards and tarps over broken windows, graffiti ranging from gang tags to crudely-etched genitalia, trash littering the streets, and run-down homes that look like Katrina hit them yesterday. Practically everyone here is black. The occasional gunshot and car alarm provides a soundtrack.

One side is ’hood. The other is suburbs. Total opposites. Muddy and clean.

Julius: Julius breathes in the muddy scent. It smells like home—because it is. He would love to carouse in this jungle, his jungle, but his tongue still burns with the siren-hot tang of the Brujah’s blood. And then there’s the Hunger.

It’s like an old school phone constantly ringing in his head. He doesn’t dare pick up, not here, not now, and no matter how hard he tries, he can’t rip the cord out of its jack. It just keeps ringing. And ringing. And ringing.

“Damn gooks,” he grouses at the organ-belated Triad.

GM: Julius traipses through the familiar urban jungle. Few people are visible on the streets at this late hour, and few of them for any good purpose.

His own included.

He follows his nose like a broke musician chasing his promised pay.

But unlike a musician, his payday soon materializes.

He’s a Latino man in maybe his late 20s with a shaved head. He looks awful. His throat has a mass of uneven, savage scars, like it was torn apart by a wild animal, and there’s a deep-looking gash on one side of his neck. His wifebeater and pants are spattered with dried blood, but they do nothing to detract from his bulging biceps, ripped chest, and full-sleeve tattoos of a skull-faced woman with chains for hair. A gold cross glints from around his neck, along with a necklace threaded through two vampire-sized fangs. His knuckles are thick and scarred.

And, Julius can tell at a glance, they are Kindred.

diego.jpg
Rage and pain waft off him like the Mississippi’s stench off a foolish swimmer. His eyes are enormous and bloodshot, and his fangs distended. But he does not move rashly. He’s creeping behind a one-story single-family house. Getting a look through the windows.

Julius: The sight of the trespasser caught mid-poaching in his hood enrages the already hunger-grated Caitiff. And the bloody scent of him… it just makes matters worse. Far worse.

Julius almost charges like it’s 4th down in Dillard Stadium, and the Latino just caught the pigskin. But the taste on Julius’ tongue reminds him of the trespasser’s clan: Brujah. If the tattooed thug knows the secrets of velocitas, then a blitz by the Caitiff likely won’t lead to a sack. Or a meal. And Julius—and his Beast—wants that meal ticket. Badly.

Thus, the hunter uses his damned blood to transform into a far smaller, stealthier predator, hoping to slink up and ambush the distracted Brujah.

Bones shrink. Skin follows with it, hardening to leathery scales. Limbs twist and contort, joints bending at new angles, and a tail sprouts. Only the fanged smile remains, though its number of fangs have multipled.

So transformed into a baby alligator, Julius hungrily creeps across the dog-piss-stained grass, using whatever foliage exists to conceal his approach.

GM: And so distracted by his own hunger, the tattooed Brujah appears not to notice the nearby and stealthily concealed young alligator.

That’s when he finishes jimmying with the window and lifts it up to slip inside.

Julius: And that’s when the cute but unseen baby gator transforms in the blink of an eye, not only rapidly accelerating in a fully grown bull, but also making a species-lateral metamorphosis from a Alligator mississippiensis into a Crocodylus acutus. The massive 15-foot American crocodile—seldom seen along the northern Gulf Coast—weighs close to a ton and has a 3,700 psi bite strength—the strongest of any living animal.

But this croc isn’t living.

But he’s hungry all the same.

Hungrier, actually, especially now that he is so very, very close to his already bloodied prey.

The phone’s ring is deafening now. So loud and demanding that it rings itself right off the receiving and pours out its salivating music. It’s hot, like when Julius finally directs his funeral band to cease its sombre melodies and “cut loose the corpse”. Except in this case, he’s the corpse. Or maybe the Brujah is. Either way, the Beast is free, and it enjoys its superhumanly strong, inhumanly large puppet.

So possessed, the 1-ton croc bull lunges at the unsuspecting Brujah with a wide-open maw. He half-hisses, half-growls as that maw frighteningly bites down with steel-shattering strength, fangs clamping onto and into the Brujah’s organ-rich torso.

GM: The crocodile feels something beneath it. Hard. Painful. But not debilitating. It doesn’t matter. It moves like a ghost.

One moment it’s crawling towards its prey. The next, its great jaws are clamping onto flesh. Bliss floods its mouth, hot and red and so much more of it, than the mere taste the juzz musician got. The crocodile will not settle for a mere taste. It’ll have it all.

Julius: Consumed by that sanguine fixation, the undead croc’s rational brain is clocked off, leaving dumb instinct to drive the cockpit. That instinct—which is part gridiron and part crocodilian—attempts to sweep the Brujah off his feet. But takedowns require arms, and death-rolls need water. All in all, it’s an awkward, ungainly set of reptilian movements that devolves into sod, tearing thrashing. Throughout it all though, the massive croc never releases its jaws, but merely continues to savagely bite down with cement-crushing force. More and more. Drinking, swallowing. More and more. Caring not what abuse it receives, only what gore it can gorge on. It closes its eyes, shielding its orbs underneath hard scales and just savors each swallow. More and more. It’s what the Beast wants. More and more. And that’s all that matters now. And maybe all that ever did. Or will.

GM: Abuse it receives—and dispenses—in spades.

To witness the death roll of a crocodile is to witness sheer power and force. Julius saw that firsthand, when he drained the beast and consumed its life to steal its shape. Crocodiles will “build up” before the roll; almost like the way sprinters tense up before bounding off into the race. He remembers how he could actually feel the crocodile as it tensed up. And when it exploded, like his mawla told him, he either wanted to be very far away from it—or on top of it. Preferably with other people piled up on it.

And being far away wasn’t an option.

It isn’t for the Brujah, either.

Massive jaws seize and tear as the crocodile tucks its legs in and rolls as best it can on dry land, shredding through muscle and bone. Flesh as well as blood vanishes down the great reptile’s gullet. Distantly, the crocodile registers blows raining down upon it, crushingly hard and brutally fast, one after another after another. Bones snap. The crocodile knows pain.

But it does not care. It just holds fast onto with its great jaws, tucks its legs, and rolls. Death roll is aptly named, for the crocodile’s roll can only end in one death—predator’s or prey’s.

No. That’s not true.

It can’t only end in one death.

The red haze eventually recedes, like it always does. The Man wins out over the Beast, like it always does—until the Beast returns.

Everything hurts. Everywhere. Everything is broken. Agony screams through the crocodile’s shattered bones as it tries to move. Knocked-out fangs litter the floor.

Agony screams through the crocodile’s jaws as it tries to open them. It can’t. It hurts too much. The Brujah snapped its upper jaw clean in half. It might never use it again, if the crocodile’s blood ran merely cold, and not room temperature.

The beast might never leave this place alive, if only it lived.

But it does not live.

And for all its pains and torments, its adversary has fared worse.

What’s left is barely recognizable as the Latino man it once was—there’s nothing left but shredded meat and equally shattered bone. The crocodile cannot even make out the face. Even the full sleeve tattoos on the bulging muscles are gone, sent to fill the beast’s hungry gullet. Only the pungent scent of the meat’s blood indicates it was once more (or less) than human.

But something is amiss.

Maybe it’s the coppery scent of the blood spattering the bedroom’s when did they get inside?) walls. The weak, piss-like stuff against the liquid fire that flows in the veins of Troile’s childer.

But more obvious is the extra leg—a dark-skinned leg, not a Latino man’s paler leg—lying in a grisly, silent heap at the food of a bed. There’s a sock on the leg. A simple white sock with a black stripe around the top.

Around where calf should connect to thigh is shredded flesh and naked bone lying in a pool of steadily spreading red.

The crocodile feels heavy.

And very, very full.

Julius: The croc bull gives a gluttonous belch that sours into a pain-wracked hiss. With the Beast sated—for now—Julius wills his gore-fed vitae to flow through his undead flesh in a restorative torrent that heals him and makes the agony recede in one scarlet wave.

As the red fog of Beast and pain twice-over wane, the croc regards anew his surroundings. And his victims, both intended and not.

He also scents the air, scanning for survivors and witnesses. As hellish as his home is, Julius knows that the screams of the crocodile-slaughtered are not regular contributors to Algiers’ night-track.

GM: Julius knows his people well… but not enough to identify them by just their feet. There is so little of his meal left.

He looks like he is in a bedroom. Or at least what’s left of one.

Everything has been completely trashed by the two vampires’ midnight battle.

Julius: The croc quickly scans the rest of the room, and the area outside it. He waddles, searching for portraits on the walls, nightstands, or otherwise, even as he tries to recall the home’s owners by its address. The rising guilt isn’t like the raging Beast’s hunger, but it’s gnawing on him all the same. Time is fleeting, but his half-dead conscious compels him to look. He doesn’t expect he’ll like any answer he finds—which is why he has to know.

Yet, even at the same time, the croc’s mind touches all it sees, gauging whether he thinks he could reasonably pass off the slaughter and destruction on a real, living croc. A bizarre, freak tragedy, yes, but a ‘natural’ one all the same. After all, Dashonte had told his cut-krewe plenty of tales of loose anacondas slithering into Floridian homes and swallowing whole families. Then again, maybe those were just urban legends—or Masquerade cover-ups…

GM: That’s when the door bursts open.

The crocodile lurches to the side as the baseball bat smashes down against the carpeted floor with a resounding crack. The holder is a man. Black. Middle-aged. Dressed in pajamas. His face is a mask of shock, incredulity, and horror—but above all, it’s two things.

Rage.

Grief.

The man bellows another wordless scream and swings the bat back towards the croc’s head.

Julius: Inside that croc’s head, Julius’ psyche recognizes the man. Yes, he’s the electrician who just finished wiring up one of Julius’ newest local businesses, an Algereen po’ boy bistro called The Sandwich Machine. Which definitely makes this Lamarque St, and the man… Townes, something Townes. Chaquille? Darius? Lamonte? Perhaps it would be easier to remember if the man wasn’t presently trying to brain Julius with a bat—just as it might be easier if most of the the man’s family wasn’t inside Julius’ belly.

Either way, it’s past time for Julius to leave. And not just to protect the Masquerade, but to avoid his neighbor from waking the now slumbering Beast inside the croc and subsequently buying a one-way ticket to see his family—or what’s left of them.

Grief sits heavy in the croc’s soul, almost as heavy as the bloody organs in his gut, but he quickly turns, away from Townes and towards Carlos. Or what remains of the Brujah. Julius snatches that hunk in his crocodilian maw and then attempts to flee.

GM: What’s left of Carlos is like a rag doll in the crocodile’s massive jaws. The beast rapidly clambers up the windowsill, dives through, and flees into the night. The crack of a baseball bat echoes behind him, along with Townes’ raw cries. The bereaved electrician chases after the crocodile, barefoot and clad only sleepwear as he runs down the street with his brandished bat. He screams and curses for his neighbors to come help him. To “stop the gator!” He sounds like a lunatic.

But Townes is but a man. He cannot keep up. Even normal crocodiles can out-sprint healthy human males by around 5 mph, and Julius knows this is no ordinary crocodile. Perhaps, in some part of his soul, Townes does too.

Townes shouts after the beast, a raw-throated and wordless sound bereft of any meaning save pain—and challenge. But the monster is gone like a half-remembered nightmare. Townes is but a barefoot man in pajamas, screaming into the night at the top of his lungs.

For a long moment, he just stares ahead.

Then he collapses to his knees.

And he weeps.

Helpless.

Impotent.

Kine.

Clanless Julius may be.

But for all that his own kind might scorn his vitae, he is still a child of Caine.

He is still a lord of the night.

He is still a predator.

And these kine shall ever be his prey.

Julius: These kine

These people. His people.

Clanless, Julius may be, but he is not without a community. He knows from whence he’s come. More saliently, his relationship with the mortals in his domain is very different than that of most Kindred’s. And that difference has naught to do with Julius’ clanlessness, but rather all to do with his diet.

Namely, Julius’ peculiar appetites mean that he, by and large, does not feed from those within his domain. Thus, he does not look upon the mortals in his community as kine, or cattle being maintained for the slaughter. A mortal man might eat his cat and derive sustenance, but a sane one does not keep and maintain a cat for such a purpose. Ergo, he wouldn’t regard one as food, but rather as a source of affection, idle amusement, and perhaps even companionship and love. As such, the creature would be viewed as worthy of protection and care—not the same afforded to oneself or one’s kin, but a relationship invoking duty and responsibility all the same. And should a sane man by unfortunate accident or urgency kill and eat such a ‘pet’…

And so, as Julius flees westward along Lamarque, passing Teche and Brooklyn on his way to the river, such thoughts sit uneasily in his soul.

The gore inside his crocodilian stomach, however, rests just fine.

Which makes Julius not just a predator—but a monster.


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Story Thirteen, Celia XV

“Just say you slept with him. Say you gave me your leftovers, say that our entire relationship was built on a lie.”
Celia Flores


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

GM: Dani is gone when Celia wakes up, but she’s left a note saying she’s at Diana’s house for the dinner with Henry. That’s still on.

There’s no texts from Roderick.

There’s one from Alana, though, about how much she misses Celia.

Dinner is pretty soon, and already a later one by kine standards. Any hunting looks like it will take place after that’s over.

There’s a text from her mom, though, saying she’s also prepared a helping of “your new favorite food! :)” to serve tonight.

Celia: She didn’t expect a message from Roderick. She tells herself it’s okay. He’d done this once when they were kine, too. Didn’t answer. Then just showed up. Maybe he’s doing that again.

She tries to ignore the fact that it’s the night her mom was kidnapped.

Celia keeps scrolling, looking for an answer from Mel. She checks in on the boys while she’s at it.

GM: Mel has responded in an affirmative, Put you on the schedule.

Reggie says there’s good news and asks where and when she wants to meet.

Celia: She breathes a sigh of relief on both counts.

Her mother gets a heart response back. Alana does as well. Reggie gets a comment about after dinner.

She should have time before Elysium, she thinks.

Speaking of time… not much to waste before she’s late. She rises, showers, and dresses, keeping it elegant but casual. A nice dress. Nothing crazy. Nothing that Jade would wear, but still cute. Perfume. Heels.

It’s as she’s putting the finishing touches on her jewelry that she realizes she has the wrong face on. She huffs, fixing it, and touches up her makeup.

GM: It’s not the first time she’d have forgotten who she’s supposed to be.

Who even is she, anyway?

Celia: Celia, tonight.

That’s what the mirror says.

GM: Mirrors lie too.

She drives to her mom’s house and arrives to find the table set. Emily greets at the door with a hug and a “Damn, you look nice.” The smell of garlic and other savory scents hangs heavy in the warm, oven-heated air. Some windows are open to let it out. Diana and Lucy have kitchen aprons on as they toss a fruit salad together.

“Oh good, you’re here!” smiles her mom. “Hey Goose, let’s say hi to…”

The six-year-old hops off the kitchen stool, runs up to Celia, and seizes handfuls of her dress as she tries to clamber up the Toreador’s body like she’s scaling a rock wall.

“Hiiiiiiiii!”

“Oh, Luce, careful with her dress,” says Emily, scooping up the child to pass her to Celia.

“Dani’s arriving with her dad,” adds Diana with a smile for Lucy. “Say, sweetie, where’s your beau? Is he arriving on his own?”

Celia: It’s hard not to smile at the warm welcome, even if the oven makes her wary after everything she has found out and the thick smell of spices reminds her that she’s on a liquid diet for the rest of her unlife. Her Beast whines at her, reminding her that it wants blood, that she can play at being human all she wants but they both know the truth.

And these kine! They put themselves so close to her. Hugging. Holding. Smiling.

She smiles back, greeting her adoptive sister, accepting the offer of the child into her arms. How easy it would be to—

No, Celia reminds herself. Not them.

She spins the girl around with her, the hem of her dress lifting to swirl outward, and smothers the child’s face with kisses.

“Mwah, mwah, mwah!” She finds the tickle spot on her belly. “Here’s my little artist. I’ve gotten a whole bunch of compliments on that picture you drew me, you know. Gonna need to commission another.”

She keeps the child in her arms as her attention turns to her mother, offering a wry half-smile.

“I think so,” she says with an effected sigh. “He might be caught up at work, some big case I guess.”

GM: Lucy giggles and holds out her arms as Celia spins her around.

“Okay! I can draw lots more! Did ’Lana like it? And Landen?”

Alana didn’t have a word to say on it. Piper, Landen, Madison, and Natalie always have the most compliments for Lucy-related things.

Celia: “‘Lana was jealous I don’t hang her art,” Celia confides in a whisper.

GM: Lucy giggles some more. “Mine’s better.”

“It sure is, Goose. Best artist in the salon,” says Emily, tussling the girl’s hair.

“Best artist in this house, too,” adds Diana, smiling at Celia’s news. “Okay, good. We’re all really looking forward to meeting him!”

“Are you an’ Randy still friends?” asks Lucy.

Celia: “Maybe,” Celia says to her daughter. “We still have a place together that I need to discuss with him. Figure some things out. We might still be friends. I think we both knew it wasn’t going anywhere, but we were comfortable.”

GM: “Oh,” says Lucy in a not quite understanding tone.

“Are he an’ your boyfriend gonna be friends?”

“That’s usually tricky,” Emily answers wryly.

“That usually is,” Diana echoes. “Say, sweetie, would you like to do my makeup? Doesn’t need to be anythin’ too fancy, home dinner and all, but Stephen’s dad is an important man and I want to look good!”

Celia: They certainly won’t be friends if Roderick tries to kill Reggie again.

“I’d love to,” Celia says to her mom. “No harm lookin’ good for the cute man coming over, right Emi?” Celia winks at her adoptive sister as she sets Lucy back on the ground so she can follow her mom down the hall to her room.

GM: “Yep. Knock him dead, Mom,” smirks Emily.

“Oh, you two,” says Diana with an amused roll of her eyes.

“They should just hold hands,” says Lucy.

Emily scoops up the child and carries her back to the kitchen area while Diana leads Celia back to the vanity in her bedroom. Dani’s clearly taken much of it over, though, judging by the presence of her various personal effects.

“I thought I’d feed you once dinner is over, sweetie,” says Diana as she sits down before the mirror. “So it’s like dessert, after a so-so meal.”

“And it usually makes me a lil’ woozy, so better after company’s gone.”

“I feel good, though! Energy levels were just fine at work. I think we can make this a nightly thing,” she smiles.

Celia: She’s hardly going to say no to the offer of blood. Especially if it doesn’t bother her mother at all.

“If you’re sure,” she says after a moment of looking the woman up and down, as if for signs of illness. “Okay. I’d like that. Thanks, Mom.”

GM: Diana looks more than fine to her.

“Thank you, sweetie. I want to feed you,” she says, taking off her apron and draping it nearby.

Celia: “I don’t know if Stephen is coming.” She turns away, gathering her mother’s makeup supplies. It’s not a full kit like Celia’s, but the mother of an esthetician still has plenty to choose from.

GM: The mother of an esthetician indeed has plenty of cosmetics (every last one a Flawless-recommended brand), though the disappointment on her face is plain at Celia’s news.

“Oh. Why not?”

Celia: The disappointment is echoed in her daughter’s.

“We got some bad news last night. He didn’t come home. Dani and I spent the night together, and she said he got like this last time. Withdrawn.”

GM: “Oh, no. I’m so sorry!” exclaims her mom. “Is there anything we can do for him?”

Celia: “I don’t think so,” Celia says with a long sigh and shake of her head. “But if there is I’ll let you know.”

GM: “Please, do. How are things between the two of you? Still okay?”

Celia: “I think so.”

She hopes so.

GM: Her mom rubs her arm. “Okay. That’s good. I think that will mean a lot to him. Bad news is a little less bad when you have a love of your life to help you past it, at least.”

Celia: “Can’t be there for him if I can’t find him.”

“Was going to look after dinner.”

GM: “Oh. You don’t know where he is?” her mom asks with a worried look.

Celia: “No. I mean. I have a few places. I’m sure he does too.”

GM: “Do you still want to stay for dinner? I’m more than happy to have you over, but if you want to use the time for your beau, I completely understand.”

Celia: “There’s a function tonight, I’m sure he’ll be there if nothing else.”

Except he can’t be there as “Roderick” since his face is different.

Which means he has to seek her out if he wants her to change it back.

“I’m not blowing off dinner. He’s a big boy. He can handle himself.”

“I don’t need Mr. Garrison thinking I’m afraid of him or something.”

GM: “Okay,” her mom nods, “just thought I’d offer. I want your two’s relationship to work.”

Celia: “Kind of hoping he just shows up. I know he wants to see his dad again.”

GM: “I hope so too, I’d love to see him again! Is there anything in particular I should do around him, since, you know, vampire?”

Celia: “Don’t bleed, mostly. I didn’t tell him about you, either. I don’t want to lie to him, but Pe—er, my friend doesn’t think it’s safe.”

“But his clan is the angry clan.”

Celia works on her mother while they talk, using an array of brushes, powders, and pigments to give her a casual but flirty look. She keeps it toned down and suitable for her mother’s age and the fact that they’re staying in. One of those, “oh I just threw this on” looks.

GM: “Okay, don’t bleed or bring up vampire things,” her mom nods, sitting still before the mirror as her daughter does her face. “Oh, this looks very nice, sweetie. Pretty, but doesn’t look like we’re tryin’ too hard to be pretty either.”

Celia: “I’m glad you like it.” She tucks a strand of hair behind her mother’s ear. “Would it bother you if I told him about you?”

“And maybe… Dad?”

GM: “That I’m an, ah, ‘ghoul’,” her mom starts, then gives a little laugh. “Oh, I’m sorry, it just feels like such a funny name, still.”

“But no, I’d be fine if Stephen knows! I think he already knows all the dirty details when it comes to your father too, anyway.”

“I mean, he was there back when I was livin’ in that cruddy lil’ apartment.”

Celia: “He thinks it’s a bad idea to have him over on Sunday.”

GM: Her mom purses her lips slightly. “Emi thinks so too, I know.”

Celia: “I’m worried he’s going to try something with Lucy. Because of that vision you had.”

“If she wasn’t on the line I’d risk it, but now I’m just… nervous.”

GM: “You seemed to think it was a good idea earlier, sweetie. Did somethin’ happen to change your mind?”

Celia: “No. I guess not. I’m talking to someone tonight who knows more about it. And I’ll see the guy who, uh, claimed him at this event, so maybe I can… talk to him.”

As if she’d dare.

GM: “Okay, that all sounds good,” nods her mom. “Oh, say! I looked into that ‘glinko’ thing for you while I was at work, sweetie.”

Celia: “Oh? How’d that go?”

GM: “Well, I realized I wasn’t sure how you spelled it. Was it ‘g-l-i-n-k-o,’ or was it a ‘c’ instead of a ‘k’, or was it a ‘y’ instead of an ‘i’, or was it both. Because I didn’t find all that much for ‘glinco’ with an ‘i’ and a ‘k.’”

Celia: “…hm. I’m not sure, actually, I heard it said.”

Had she been spelling it wrong? Like an idiot?

GM: “So, I looked around for all four spellings. And the one I actually found a lot of stuff for was ‘glynco’ with a ‘y’ and a ‘c.’”

Celia: “Glynco,” Celia echoes.

GM: Diana nods. “It’s a place, in Georgia.”

Celia: “Where in Georgia?”

“Or rather, tell me what you found and I won’t interrupt. I hate when people do that when I’m trying to explain things, sorry.”

GM: “It’s okay,” her mom smiles. “It’s in Glynn County. Or rather, it is Glynn County, ‘Glynco’ is the acronym. You can look it up, there’s basically only one thing there beyond the usual small Southern county stuff. It’s where the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers is located. It’s where basically every federal law enforcement agency except the FBI sends their recruits to learn the ropes of bein’ a fed. Like boot camp or OCS, but for cops. State and local agencies sometimes send people there, too. It’s a really big place. It has its own zip code!”

Celia: “…huh.”

What does that mean? That the government has its own little band of hunters running around? That would make sense, wouldn’t it, with how they’d acted? She’s seen the movies, she knows the tropes; all those “feds” hate the “local guys” and vice versa. No wonder they hadn’t wanted any help.

“That’s… a lot. Thank you. I was going the wrong direction with everything.”

“Thank you,” she says again, pulling her mom in for a hug.

GM: Her mom gives her a happy squeeze back. “You’re welcome, sweetie! I’m really glad I could help you!”

Celia: “I know it’s been rocky lately, but you’re really the best mom a lick could ask for, you know that?”

GM: “Sorry, a lick?” she smiles as she lets Celia go. “Well, whatever it is, I’m glad. And you’re the best daughter any mom could ask for, makin’ me look so pretty for this nice dinner!”

Celia: “Vampire slang,” Celia says with a laugh. “And you’re already pretty. I just polished you up a little.”

GM: “That’s what you’re so good at, bringin’ out the best in everyone,” her mom smiles.

“Oh, by the way! I completely forgot to show you!”

She turns around on her seat and pulls up her dress, showing off Dicentra’s tattoo.

Celia: “Ooooh,” Celia enthuses, running a hand over the ink. “Very pretty, Mom.”

GM: “This is the tattoo Dr. Dicentra did for me! It really is, isn’t it? Ballerina bouquet!”

“I admit I wasn’t keen on the tattoo idea, but this really is just so pretty. And feels a little… rebellious,” she says with a low chuckle.

Celia: “It’s very fitting, Mom. Very you. I love it.”

GM: “I do, too!” says Diana, lowering her dress and turning back around. “I was stuck, you know, between flowers and a ballerina, so she suggested we just do both. So all those parts of me are on there.”

Celia: The hellebore is on there, too, thanks to Celia. The cure for insanity if you believe the old legends.

GM: “Oh, speakin’ of my body. I noticed lately that, ah, my tah-tahs are perkier,” says her mom in a low whisper, as if someone might overhear. “Is that because of anything to do with the blood, or just Flawless keepin’ me pretty?”

Celia: “Ah… that… um.”

“Kind of both?”

Technically it’s a thing with the blood.

And technically she runs Flawless.

So technically she’s not even lying.

“You won’t age while you have the blood.”

“And I’ve been doing some tricks on you when you come in, because you kind of implied I could, and I thought you wouldn’t mind…?”

“There’s things I can do that, like, a human can’t.”

Her mom has already seen it: Celia turning herself into Jade and back.

GM: “Oh, no, I don’t mind! Thank you very much, in fact. Like I said, sweetie, I’m play-doh in your hands on the spa table. You can do whatever you like to my body, I know you’ll make me pretty. I just wanted to know if this was due to you.” Her mom smiles. “I guess in hindsight it should’ve been obvious.”

Celia: “Well I’d hope not obvious. Can’t let people know,” Celia winks.

GM: “Oh, it wasn’t! I mean, people at work commented how pretty I looked, but I figured it was just more spa treatments. That’s what I told them, too. Recommendin’ your business wherever I can.” Her mom winks back. “But I wouldn’t have wondered if it was more if I hadn’t known about vampires and things.”

Celia: “Good. I’m glad. I try to keep it subtle.”

“I actually have some lick clients I make less attractive and age.” One client.

GM: “Now that sure is funny. Why would they want that?” Diana asks with a frown.

Celia: “Better for the Masquerade. That’s why I’ve continued to age and can stick around in your life, because I can change my appearance. A lot of us can’t. And it’s a dead giveaway. Stephen had to fake his death. I would have had to too, eventually.”

GM: “Oh. That is true. I guess I took it for granted, that all vampires did,” her mom says thoughtfully.

Celia: “We have mortal identities sometimes. But they never stick around for long. Or they’re reclusive.”

GM: “I’m glad you can. Dani told me about what losing Stephen did to their father. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“I know. I fought to keep you in my life. I wasn’t going to disappear if I didn’t have to.”

“And I’m… you know, I try to be better about it. I don’t feed on Emily or Lucy or anything. Or you, until you, uh, offered.”

“And with the second identity not many people could trace me back to you.”

GM: “Oh. I don’t think that would be a good idea at all, to feed on them,” her mother says concernedly. “They can’t consent. I know how important that is for you, with spa treatments.”

“And Lucy’s just a kid. She can’t even donate blood, legally. She still needs all of hers.”

“So I think you made the right decision there.”

“I know what I’m gettin’ into and have the blood to spare. I used to give at the hospital with Emi, every so often. Obviously not anymore now with you.”

Celia: “A lot of people like me don’t see it like that. Older you get, the less you care. Lose touch with mortals and stuff. They can be awful.”

“So I try to keep a clear divide.”

“And wouldn’t put you guys at risk like that.”

GM: “I think that… you did a bit, with Jade,” her mother ventures quietly.

“But I’m sorry, don’t mean to belabor the point. You walked back and that’s what matters.”

Celia: “I did. I put you at risk coming to you that night. I was hungry and it was close to dawn and I’d just gotten into two fights.” One-sided fights, both of them, but fights all the same. “It was irresponsible. And that night, with Jade… I was struggling to figure out what to do with you because I messed up bringing you into this, and I was mad. I lashed out.”

“I’m sorry.”

GM: Her mom hugs her. “It’s okay, baby. You fixed it, and that’s, that’s what counts. You saved me from goin’ back to… her, too, and leavin’ Lucy to grow up without her mother. I don’t think I even thanked you for that, did I?” she asks with a sniff.

Celia: “You don’t need to, Momma. I’d do anything for you and Luce, you know that.”

GM: “Well, thank you anyway. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you. Goin’ back there would have been…” her mom shudders, “like that… that moment in your office with Jade. With you as Jade. Just… forever…”

Celia: “I’m not gonna let that happen.”

“I’ve gone up against bigger, scarier things than her to keep you safe.”

GM: “I know you won’t, sweetie. I feel safe with you. And Emi and I still have that next lesson with Robby on Sunday, too, so… you won’t always have to do the heavy liftin’, hopefully.”

Celia: “When you’re ready, if you’re open to it, I can find another teacher for you. And there are tricks of the blood I can show you. Make you faster. Sturdier. I know you don’t want this life, but there’s nothin’ wrong with bein’ prepared.”

GM: “You’re right, there definitely isn’t,” her mom nods. “I actually have felt… lighter on my feet, already. More flexible. I actually did a couple positions lately that made Emi’s jaw drop, and she’d been sayin’ for years before that I had slinkies for joints,” she chuckles. “That’s the blood?”

Celia: “That’s the blood,” Celia confirms.

“My sire shared her skills with me once. Speed, strength, durability. All of it. I felt… like a god. Like I could do anything.”

GM: “They say to treat your body like a temple. Take good care of it, and I guess you’ll really feel the divine.”

“Though I guess that’s more than just takin’ good care.”

Celia: “Not much you can’t do with it. I’ve seen and heard of some crazy things.”

GM: “I’ll take your word for it,” Diana nods. “If there’s more tricks you want to teach me, I’d be happy to learn. There’s obviously a lot of ways bein’ faster and sturdier can come in handy with ballet.”

Celia: “What, you don’t want to be a cat like me?” Celia teases.

GM: Her mom laughs. “I’m sure that’d be… interesting! Little out there for me, but I’d be happy to give you belly rubs. Lucy, too.”

Celia: Celia makes a sound that’s almost a purr. Then she is purring, stretched out on her mother’s lap with her belly exposed, tail flicking in quiet contentment.

Luna does so love her belly rubs.

GM: “Oh my, goodness!” her mother laughs again, then proceeds to do just that, rubbing and scratching her fingers along the cat’s exposed furry belly. It’s a heavenly feeling for Luna, though there is an instinctive urge to claw at the laughing woman’s hands. Every cat owner knows the belly might always be a trap.

“Who’s a happy lil’ kitty, huh?”

Celia: Luna is a happy little kitty. She shows it with how her whole body vibrates while she purrs, pawing at her mother’s hands with sheathed claws. She blinks long and slow at Diana, conveying her feline affection.

Yeah, she thinks, life as a cat might not be so bad.

GM: “Oh, yes, Lucy would just love to play with you,” Diana murmurs, keeping one hand busy along the cat’s belly while her other moves up, scratching Luna’s chest and neck, and finally the underside of her head. These hands know how to please a cat.

“Huh? Huh? Who wikes sum scwatches on the chinny-chin-chin, huh?” Diana asks in her kitty voice.

Celia: Luna is content to enjoy the attention of Celia’s mother for a few long moments, purring and meowing and otherwise showing her appreciation for the physical affection. Soon, though, she knows that the girl inside has to come back out and deal with the rest of the evening. She finishes the session by rubbing her face on Diana’s cheek to mark the human as hers and leaps to the side, shifting to regain her form before her paws ever touch the ground.

GM: “That’s just… so…” Celia’s mom murmurs, smiling and shaking her head.

Celia: “Awesome,” Celia supplies.

GM: Diana laughs. “I guess that’s a good word.”

“I’m happier to pet a kitty than be a kitty, anyway, but I’d love to learn any tricks that help with ballet!”

“Sturdier would help just as much as bein’ faster. It is a very demanding activity on your body.” There’s a rueful smile. “And I’m not as young as I used to be.”

Celia: “I’ll show you some,” Celia says, “once life calms down a little. Randy might have to show you some of the stoneskin stuff, though, I never learned myself.”

GM: “Okay, that sounds good,” her mom nods. “Randy’s okay with you guys breaking up?”

“Or, well. I guess you said you’d just been pretending.”

“That still seems just so strange to me, sweetie, no offense,” she chuckles.

Celia: “There’s a pretty blurred line with my ghouls and I. I think because I’m young, they’re still… people to me. Most of us wouldn’t even pretend to date one, but he was a good cover.”

GM: “Well, we were startin’ to wonder why he hadn’t put a ring on your finger yet,” winks Diana. “Anyway, we’ve taken up enough time, I bet our guests will be here soon.”

Celia: “Probably. We should get back out there.”

GM: Her mom nods and squeezes her hand. “This has had challenges, sweetie. But I’m glad I know the real you. Tellin’ the truth always feels just so much better.”

Celia: It seems like that sentiment has been popping up everywhere lately.

Still, she’s seen what it had done to Roderick, and she’s wondering if everyone’s “wise advice” isn’t as wise as all that.

Time will tell.


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

GM: Celia gets a text from Dani saying she and her dad are a little ways away. Hadn’t she wanted to speak with him private? Before he comes inside would be a good time.

Celia’s mother insists on equipping her with an umbrella. “I think it’s goin’ to rain, sweetie! Don’t get wet!”

Celia: It’s always going to rain in this city.

Celia sends Dani a quick thanks and snags the umbrella from her mom.

“Just a quick chat with him,” she says to Diana, “but better safe than sorry.” She heads outside to wait.

GM: Her mom nods in agreement as she heads out.

It’s not long before the Garrisons’ car pulls up to the house’s to the small courtyard. It’s been seven years since Celia last saw Roderick’s father. Mr. Garrison has not aged well.

There are much deeper wrinkles under his eyes and lines along his jaw than Celia remembers. None of them look from smiling. His hair is thinner and has gone almost completely gray with a few strands of white. Celia can see why her father decided to just shave his all off. In comparison to her mother, who looks like she’s aged maybe half the years since Celia’s Embrace, Roderick’s father looks like those years have been twice as long for him.

The spa treatments are undoubtedly part of it.

But there is a shadow to the older man’s eyes that all the facials and waxings and body wraps in the world can’t take away. The experienced esthetician doesn’t need long to make that assessment.

“Celia,” Mr. Garrison greets perfunctorily. The words aren’t cool, but he doesn’t smile either. He’s dressed in dark slacks with a pale blue button-up shirt. He has a light coat and umbrella against the now-drizzling rain, which he’s holding over Dani. She has on a light purple shirt and black skirt.

“I told him the gist of the story,” says Dani, rubbing her dad’s shoulder.

“I’ll head inside if you two want to talk privately?”

Celia: It’s not the years. Not the spa treatments. Not the blood.

It’s the loss. The grief. Losing a child. No parent should ever have to bury their children. She can’t imagine the amount of pain that puts someone through. She’s lost people before—her sister, for all that they weren’t close at the end—and sometimes still feels a pang of hurt for what had happened to them. What she’d done.

But it’s nothing compared to what she sees in his face.

Haunted.

Celia finds a subdued smile for Dani, nodding her head in agreement at the girl’s offer.

“Thanks, Dani. We’ll just be a minute.”

She watches the girl go. Only once the door closes does Celia turn to look back at Henry. Mr. Garrison. Her should-be father-in-law. Would-be.

Will-be.

“Mr. Garrison,” Celia begins, “thank you for coming tonight. I guess Dani already told you most of it, but I wanted to… explain.”

GM: She supposes it’s no surprise her own parent has weathered the years so much better.

After all, Diana got a new child.

Mr. Garrison walks his daughter up to the house’s front steps, umbrella held overhead, and opens the door for her. Dani nods her thanks as she heads inside.

He turns to face Celia when they’re alone.

“Go ahead.”

Celia: “I don’t know how much she told you,” Celia says after a quiet moment, “but I’d like to tell you the rest of it. All of it.”

Rain patters across the umbrella, the water dripping to the ground below.

“I loved your son, Mr. Garrison. More than anything. We met and he… he changed my life. My family’s life. I don’t know if he told you about the abuse, or the time he met my father, or the things he used to do to me. To my mom. To my siblings. I don’t know that I would have been able to get out on my own. Stephen gave me courage. And hope. He was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

“We’d spoken about going away together. Getting out of the shadow that my father cast across us. He wanted to wait until he finished undergrad; he said he could go to law school anywhere. We’d briefly discussed a future together. Marriage. Kids.”

“It was all years off. He had to finish school. I was only nineteen. Neither of us were ready for that commitment. We’d had a, a scare, actually,” Celia flushes, looking away before she gathers herself. “I was late. And he’d said he wasn’t ready yet. That if I was, he’d rather… he wanted to wait. To find a solution to that.” Abortion, she means; she hopes he understands without the need to spell it out.

“So I said okay, if that happened we’d take care of it. It turned out to be nothing. We were both relieved.”

She pauses.

“The… there was a night when I had to go to the ER because of something that happened at home. The following night I was out. It was late. I was stupid. I was assaulted.” She takes a breath. “Raped, Mr. Garrison. I was raped. And with everything going on with my dad at the time, it didn’t occur to me to take a pill. So by the time I found out what had happened, it was too late to take the easy out. I went to a clinic.”

“I thought it would be easy. Suck it out. No problem.”

“It wasn’t. I don’t know if you know this, but they do an ultra-sound. Make you look at what you’re getting rid of before they’ll do the procedure. Talk about it like it’s already alive. I think that’s the point. Make young girls like me reconsider. Play on our feelings. Hormones.”

“It worked.”

“I knew Stephen wasn’t ready for that. And I knew he’d want to be. To do the right thing. Because that was who he was. Always doing the right thing for everyone. So I did what I thought was the right thing for him. I told him that I cheated on him so he didn’t… so he didn’t throw his life away on me.”

She doesn’t need to force the emotion. The way her voice cracks at the end is very, very real.

She wants to cry. She wants to, but she can’t, not in front of Mr. Garrison. So the world does it for her. The clouds loose the tears that she refuses to let fall, plinking off the umbrella, landing against the ground. Water splashes over her shoes.

“I thought it was right, and I wish I could take it back, and I’m sorry that things ended the way that they did.”

“I never thought it would turn out this way.”

GM: Mr. Garrison listens.

He doesn’t smile, or frown. He just listens. Intently. His knuckles whiten around the umbrella. His eyes don’t once leave Celia’s. He scarcely seems to even blink.

What’s it like, to receive personal news about a dead child? Is it like they’re still doing things, living a life of sorts, past the grave? Does it bring them back for a moment, in a way, to hear news about them?

But the news runs out. There won’t be any more. Mr. Garrison could query Celia for details all night long, ask for recollections of every word and conversation, but eventually, even with a flawless memory, she would run out.

Because Stephen is still dead. At least to his father.

There won’t ever be more news.

She can see the look in Mr. Garrison’s eyes. Simultaneously so close and so far away. Longing. Like he sees his dead son on the other side of a pane of glass, and for all that he might wish to pull Stephen through, can only brush his hands against it.

Forever out of reach.

Several moments pass after Celia finishes before he replies.

“My son was hurt by what you told him, Celia.” The man’s voice is a rasp.

“Badly. He never recovered from it. It took something out of him that he never got back. He dated no other girls. Then he died.”

Rain steadily plunks against the umbrellas.

“The truth would have been kinder. He could have decided for himself. I would have supported him in whatever decision he made.”

Celia: The words fall like blows against her body. It’s an effort not to flinch. Celia looks away. She could have told him the truth. Given him her blood. Let him come over to this world with her, picked a fight with the sire who had already been eyeing him for her own. Blood doll or ghoul, but they’d have been together, wouldn’t they. Like her and Randy.

She thought he’d be better off.

“I know that now,” she says to Mr. Garrison. She finds his face with her eyes once more. “It wasn’t my decision to make. I should… should have told him the truth. All of it. He deserved that.”

She could spin a story here about the abuse. Play up her age, inexperience, fear. And while it’s true, it’s not the truth. She doesn’t need to turn herself into a victim, paint herself as the “good guy” in the situation. None of it will bring Stephen back. Not for his father.

“I saw him once,” she says, whisper-quiet. “Before he died. I saw him. He came to the spa. He wanted to know. About Lucy.” The words tumble out of their own volition. She hadn’t meant to say this part. Half-formed, fragmented sentences pour from her lips. “I told him then. What happened. How it happened. Why I lied.”

Her lips twist.

“He said the same. That I should have told him. That things could have been different. We thought…” She sighs. “We thought we might try again. I told him I’d never lie to him again, and now he’s gone. You’re right. He was right. I was wrong.”

The timelines blur together, but the sentiment remains the same. She said she’d stop lying to him, that she’d tell him everything.

And now he’s gone.

GM: Being a ghoul seems to agree with Randy. With Alana. With Diana, as Mélissaire has always been so keen to remind her.

Would it have with Stephen? Always so ready, so eager, to fight for what he believed?

Mr. Garrison looks at Celia as she struggles with everything she hears. As she whispers. As she holds back tears. As she looks away.

When she looks back, Mr. Garrison is still staring at her. He doesn’t reach out to touch her. He doesn’t yell or look mad, either. His face looks like a tombstone. All these years later.

“It doesn’t matter,” he says.

“Who was right. Who was wrong.”

“He’s dead.”

The plunking rain and light from the house cast long, wavering shadows over Mr. Garrison’s aged face.

He really looks so much older.

Celia: She wishes he would yell.

Tell her it was her fault.

Because it was, even if he doesn’t know the truth. If she hadn’t broken up with Stephen he might still be alive. Not just saved from the “car crash,” but from the woman who had come to him after Celia had finished ripping out his heart.

Stephen hadn’t blamed her for it. His sire hadn’t blamed her for it. All sorts of people had a hand in Stephen’s Embrace. Even his father, standing here in front of her, face carved of marble; if he hadn’t raised such a good, decent person.

Celia doesn’t tell him any of it. She can’t. Stephen doesn’t want to involve his father in this life.

She remembers the way he’d cried in the car, years ago. How terrible she’d felt at being too much of a coward to offer to give him a new face so he could keep his lives separate.

But she couldn’t, could she? She hadn’t known of his Embrace until his release, and at that point everyone already knew that face as Roderick Durant.

It’s not her fault.

Even though it is.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Garrison. I’m very, very sorry that I hurt him. I wish that I could bring him back. I’d give anything to undo what happened to him.”

GM: “It doesn’t matter,” repeats the marble-faced man.

He still doesn’t yell.

He still doesn’t cry.

“You hurt him. You didn’t kill him. He died in a completely random accident that had no bearing upon anything that anyone in his life did or didn’t do.”

Rain dribbles off their umbrellas.

“I’d planned to give the two of you my house to raise your family in. To raise Lucy in, if that had been his decision. I’d have stayed to help, while he finished law school and prepared for the Bar, and moved out once he was financially self-sufficient.”

Her mom had offered to help with childcare too, that night when they discussed the possibility. Said she’d love to help.

And Stephen had been so freaked out they couldn’t raise a kid together, after that pregnancy scare. That they couldn’t manage it at that point in their lives.

Their parents didn’t seem to think so.

Celia: She knows.

Roderick had told her.

But Stephen had never told Celia, so Celia has to play her role. Her eyes flash in very real pain, lips parting slightly. She looks away once more. She hates them all over again. Hates them for killing her. For killing him. For existing. For breaking her to the point that she’d been perfectly willing to break him. The only decent one among them and she’d snapped him like a twig.

She hates them.

All of them.

She doesn’t want this life anymore. She’s tired of being a pet. Tired of being a slave. Tired of being bound to someone who will never care about her as much as Stephen did. As much as Roderick does.

No. Did. Past tense. How could he now when she’s broken him again?

She tugs at the bond. Digs her claws into it. Inside, where the DA can’t see, she fights a very real battle with herself. Nothing to do with him, right?

Except it’s everything to do with him.

He’d come for her father. Turned him into a monster. Protected him. Murdered her. Taken her from Stephen. Forced her to go to her grandsire, who had forced her into this. Flip Roderick.

Flip him, and break him in the meantime.

She hates them.

So she digs. Because it hurts. And it’s all she can do right now. Dig. Hurt herself further so she doesn’t hurt him. Dig again. Again. Again.

GM: It’s not his fault.

He didn’t tell her to do this.

He didn’t tell her to break Stephen.

He didn’t know any of the details.

He didn’t know what would happen.

He probably barely even knows Roderick. Much less Stephen.

Does he even know where they were to one another?

Does he even know what they still are?

Besides. He has been good to her.

He saved her from Elyse.

When has Roderick saved her? All he’s been is a source of problems. He’s not offered her a place at his side. He’s not promised her a future.

Besides.

She wanted this.

She caused this.

She asked for the bond.

She picked him.

Like always.

Celia: She did. She picked him. She wants him. He has long been a balm to her hurts. Even now, not present, he soothes them.

So she fights.

And she loses.

It’s a bitter feeling, that loss. Like she’s helpless. Bound in chains, held captive by a monster in the darkness, treated like some sort of animal. She lashes out the only way she knows how: she finds the bond and sends her pain reeling along it.

Maybe he’ll hear her wordless shriek of rage and grief. Maybe he won’t. Maybe he doesn’t care.

Inside her chest her Beast purrs; it hates this show of emotional, human weakness. It’s pleased that she’s sending it elsewhere.

But she sees his eyes swimming in front of her, face pale in the night. Cold. Stern. Unaffected by her pitiful display of defiance. It shifts. Becomes his. Roderick’s. Not the Roderick from her memories, but the Roderick from the vision. Dark and cold. So much smarter than everyone else in the room. So much better than everyone else. The only one who can make the right decisions, isn’t he.

When had their features become so intertwined?

…and who had she sent that to?

His father said something. No doubt he expects an answer.

The perfect life had been waiting for her… if she hadn’t died. If he hadn’t died. If she’d been honest. Gone to him for help. Stopped playing with fire in an attempt to solve her own problems.

She cracks. The floodgates loosen. Celia turns away, pressing the heels of her palms into her eyes where the blood threatens to fall.

Just for a moment.

Just until she pulls herself back together. Seconds later. She wipes at her eyes. She turns to face his father. She knows how much men hate the emotional side of women. Stephen had told her as much.

So she kills it. Buries it deep. She’d shared the pain. She doesn’t need it anymore.

“That would have meant the world to us.”

“Some children hate it, you know. Following in their parent’s footsteps. They resent the expectations pushed upon them by their families. I asked him about it once, if he did. But he didn’t. He never did. He loved you, and Dani, and your father.”

GM: Mr. Garrison watches as Celia weeps. Weeps below her umbrella while the sky pours down its own grief overhead. It’s not so hard to catch some rainwater and pretend it’s tears, around the kine man with his dull senses.

He’s still staring at Celia when she looks back. He’s not reached out to comfort her. He doesn’t look disgusted either. There’s just that some marble-like expression on his too-old face.

“He was the brightest light in my life. He would have been an extraordinary attorney and public servant. He would have had a happy, loving family with many children and grandchildren. He would have done great things with his life.”

Mr. Garrison doesn’t smile at the words. They’re delivered with all the warmth of a tombstone.

“He’s dead and gone.”

Those ones are too.

Stephen’s father looks at the door.

“We should go inside.”

Celia: He’s just as broken as the rest of them.

As dead and buried as his child.

“Yes, Mr. Garrison.”

There’s nothing left to say. Celia opens the door for him.

GM: He preempts her and opens the door instead. She is the woman.

Celia: “Thank you,” she says as she slips past him.

For the door. For listening.

GM: Mr. Garrison follows behind her, closes his umbrella, and shakes it off over the mat before closing the door. Dani and Celia’s family are gathered inside. The night beyond the house feels very dark, very wet, and very cold.

Celia: She leaves the night at her back.

She’s here with her family.

Whatever lurks outside, the cold and the dark doesn’t touch them here.


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

Celia: Celia follows suit with her wet umbrella, gesturing vaguely toward the stand for him to put his in. She leads the way down the hall.

GM: He does so and follows her to the living room, where everyone is gathered. Diana is the first to rise. She’s put on a pair of pink heels to go with her rose-printed dress since Celia saw her last.

“Mr. Garrison, hello. I’m Diana. It’s so good to finally meet you,” she says, extending a hand. Her voice is quiet and her smile gentle rather than wide as she meets his eyes.

“You can call me Henry, Mrs. Flores,” he answers as he slowly shakes the hand.

“Well, to that I’ll also say you can call me Diana,” answers Celia’s mother with a note of mirth. But no more than a note. “And this is my other daughter Emily.”

“Stephen was a friend to me too, sir,” greets Emily as she shakes hands too. Her grip looks firmer than Diana’s, like always. “Dani might have mentioned we were classmates.”

Celia: Celia watches the introductions silently from her spot near Mr. Garrison. Near, but not next to. Part of the group, but away from it.

“Emily introduced us,” she adds quietly. A step takes her over to Lucy. She holds her arms out for the girl and picks her up, for once not spinning her around.

“This is Lucy. My daughter.”

GM: Lucy stares at Mr. Garrison without saying anything. There’s a curious and slightly afraid look on the child’s face.

Her held body tenses against Celia’s.

Celia: Celia doesn’t force an interaction. She steps back, as if the weight of the child is becoming too much for her small frame, and takes a seat on a free chair with a vaguely apologetic look.

GM: Diana sits down next to her. “Lucy, can you say hello?” she asks with a gentle smile, touching her ’granddaughter’s’ back as she looks between the child and Mr. Garrison.

“Hello,” Lucy repeats quietly.

Celia: She tries to see him through Lucy’s eyes, this tall man with his solemn eyes and haunted face, who no doubt sees Lucy as the reason his son died so unhappily. Celia runs a soothing hand down the child’s back.

GM: She hears the girl’s faster heartbeat in her ears, but it slows slightly at Diana’s and Celia’s combined touches.

“Hello, Lucy,” Mr. Garrison returns. He doesn’t manage a smile.

Celia: “This is Dani’s dad,” Celia tells her. “And Stephen’s.”

GM: Lucy just watches him without saying anything. She still looks a little afraid.

Celia: Celia shoots a helpless look at her mother.

GM: “Say, Henry, can I impose on you for a moment, before we start dinner?” Diana asks, patting Lucy’s head as she stands up. “My car’s been actin’ up and I’m wondering if I should take it in to the mechanic. If you know anything about cars, I’d be mighty obliged if you could lend an opinion.”

“I do,” says Mr. Garrison. “We can take a look.”

“Oh, thank you so much,” smiles Diana, briefly turning back to her daughters. “And Celia, Emily, maybe you can get Lucy off to bed, now that she’s said hello? She is up past her bedtime.”

She mouths ‘food’ from where Mr. Garrison can’t see.

Celia: Celia gives a tiny nod to her mother, rising to her feet as they leave.

“Grab her a plate, Emi, I’ll get her settled.”

GM: “Sorry,” Dani whispers after their parents’ forms recede. “Dad isn’t… he isn’t really social, these days.”

Celia: “He hates me,” Celia sighs.

GM: “He doesn’t hate you,” assures Dani. “He’s… he’s like this to most people.”

“I guess losing your kid will do that,” sighs Emily.

“Yeah. I meant it… he never got over Stephen,” says Dani.

Lucy silently follows the adults’ conversation as she clings to Celia.

“Listen, Lucy shouldn’t have to eat alone,” says Emily. “Bring her to my room, I’ll get plates for us both.” She turns to Lucy and smiles. “We can have dinner together in my bed, Goose, how’s that sound?”

Lucy gives a nod.

Celia: “How magnanimous,” Celia grumbles at her half-heartedly, “avoiding awkward dinners.”

“Come on, Goose. Let’s set up a picnic in Em’s room.”

GM: “I think Dad would prefer fewer people anyway,” says Dani. “And he doesn’t really know you, Emily, no offense.”

Celia: Celia rises, the child tucked against her.

GM: “Isn’t any to take,” says Emily. “Come on, you can help me with the plates.”

“Sure,” says Dani.

The two head off to the kitchen.

Celia: Celia starts towards Emily’s room.

“You okay, Luce?”

GM: Lucy’s face quavers.

“He looked really sad…”

Celia: “He is really sad.”

“His son passed away.”

GM: “Can you make him happy…?”

Celia: She can. She can take his pain, too.

But only temporarily.

“I don’t think so, Lucy. Not in a healthy way.”

GM: “Huh?” Lucy asks.

Celia: “No,” Celia clarifies.

GM: It’s a brief walk through the rain to the ‘carriage house,’ or rather, ‘carriage room’ where Emily stays, as it has only one room. She sees her mother and Stephen’s dad looking over her pink Beetle together with umbrellas out. Henry is bent over and talking indistinctly while he inspects something. Diana nods along with an ‘oh I see’ expression.

Celia: Good of her, Celia thinks, to give him a purpose. Something to do with his hands. She’s heard that it helps.

She turns the light on as she enters, looking around the room.

“Picnic on the floor? Or the bed?”

GM: “So he… says sad forever?” Lucy asks instead. Her face looks confused. And upset.

Celia: “I don’t know, Luce. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and it makes them really sad, and it takes a long time to be happy again.”

GM: Lucy sniffs several times, then starts quietly crying.

Celia: “Oh, sweetie…” Celia murmurs soft, soothing things to the girl, holding her close. “It’s okay, Lucy, it’s okay.”

Celia takes a seat on the bed and holds the crying Lucy against her, rocking her slowly back and forth.

There’s a song her mom used to sing to she and her siblings when they came to her with their childish woes. An old lullaby, a soft melody that Celia hums now for the daughter in her arms.

GM: The soothing lyrics and gentle motions eventually cause Lucy’s sniffles to trail off. She dabs at her eyes.

“I’d like… a picnic.”

Celia: “Picnics make everything better,” Celia agrees.

GM: Emily and Dani arrive with full plates of still-steaming food.

“Uh oh, we get upset?” asks Emily, looking at the child’s reddened eyes.

Celia: “She’s sad that Mr. Garrison is sad.”

“And wants us to make him happy.”

GM: “I wish we could too, Luce,” says Emily. She sets down the plates and kneels down on the floor to stroke Lucy’s back.

Celia: Celia takes the opportunity to look up at Dani, brows raised.

GM: Dani just has a sadly knowing look.

“I’m sorry. I should’ve… mentioned how he’s not very good company.”

“These days, when he thinks about Stephen.”

Celia: “I was just wondering if there’s something we can do.”

GM: “I wish there was.”

There’s a knowing lilt to her voice as she looks at Celia. Partly questioning.

“Mommy was quiet,” says Lucy. “With Mr. Garrison.”

Celia: “She was, Goose. Mommy is good at knowing how to act around people that are sad or mad or not feeling their best.”

Celia gives a tiny nod to Dani.

She could do something. Take it away. If that’s what his daughter wants.

She’ll talk about it on the way back. Warn her it’s temporary.

She wishes Stephen were here. That he could see… the love, maybe. The pain his absence causes. So he’d know that the world isn’t all bad. That there are still people who love him. Who miss him. Who need him.

GM: Dani looks a little gladder.

“Oh,” says Lucy.

“Did I hear something about a picnic?” asks Emily.

“Uh huh,” says Lucy.

Celia: “Should we send the kitties in? Make it a party?”

GM: “Ooh, good idea,” says Emily, then frowns. “Wait, Victor and Shadow should be in here. This is where we normally keep them when you’re over.”

Celia: “Maybe they got out when I opened the door?”

GM: “You’d have seen them, wouldn’t you?” says Emily, shaking her head.

“They must be in here still,” says Dani. “If you’re sure they were here?”

“Yeah, positive,” says Emily.

Celia: “Sleeping?”

“I can check the courtyard, though.”

Just listen for the hissing.

GM: Emily shakes her head again. “They’re in here. Door was closed the whole time.”

Celia: “Maybe they’re napping in your panty drawer.”

Celia wiggles her brows at Emily.

GM: “The pussies want to smell my pussy, huh?” smirks Emily.

Celia: “Who doesn’t?”

GM: “Maxen, probably, mongrel that I am.”

Celia: “That’s an image I don’t need,” Celia mutters.

GM: Emily gets down on her belly and looks under the bed.

“Oh. There they are.”

Celia: “Oh, good.”

That’s her cue to leave.

GM: “Jesus, they look spooked.”

“Their tails are huge.”

Celia: Definitely her cue to leave.

“They never liked me much,” Celia says with a shrug. She rises.

GM: “Why not?” asks Lucy.

Celia: “I’m cuter than them. They hate it.”

GM: “So they’re cuter than the rest of us? Or co-equal?” asks Emily, getting up from her belly.

Dani watches Celia as if to see how she handles this.

Celia: “Me, then the cats, then you.”

“Obviously.”

GM: “Ice cold, Celia. Ice cold.”

Celia: Celia winks at her.

GM: “How cute am I?” asks Lucy.

Celia: “Cuter than all of us combined.”

“That’s why they like you so much.”

GM: “Cuter than all of us and… beat me to it,” smirks Emily. “Kitties included.”

Celia: “They know they don’t stand a chance against you, Goose, so they have to love you.”

GM: A low growl goes up from under the bed.

Celia: “That’s them claiming their territory.”

GM: Lucy looks worried.

“They’re being scary…”

Celia: Celia takes a step toward the door.

GM: Dani follows her. “All right, we’ll leave you two to set up the picnic. Hopefully the kitties will calm down.”

Celia: Celia hesitates, then takes a knee to peer under the bed. Just in case.

She keeps her distance.

GM: She’s greeted by two furious hisses as the cats’ ears go flat. Lower growls go up from their throats.

Celia: “Yeah, yeah,” Celia mutters, “screw you too.”

GM: “Make them stop!” pleads Lucy.

She doesn’t fool them.

Celia: Stupid cats.

Celia moves away from the bed.

GM: Smart cats.

Very smart cats.

She fools everyone else.

Celia: “They’ll calm down if you share some dinner with them, I bet. Just don’t tell Mommy.”

GM: “That’s an idea,” says Emily, patting Lucy’s back. “I bet they’ll just love some chicken. Mommy Celia will be by later to tuck you in, won’t she?”

Celia: “I will,” Celia promises.

“Love you, Goose.”

“Enjoy your picnic.”

“You too I guess, uggo.”

GM: “Love you, Mommy,” Lucy repeats.

Emily smiles at her, then removes the top-most blanket from her bed. “All right, this should be a good picnic blankie…”


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

GM: Dani follows Celia back into the main house.

“Wow, so… animals really hate licks?”

Celia: “Most of us.”

“They can sense the Beast, I guess.”

GM: “They like me, like I’ve said.”

Celia: “Some of you are lucky.”

“They all hate me, though.”

“Stephen doesn’t have a problem with animals.”

GM: “Huh. He was always a big pet lover.”

Celia: “Could be that.”

GM: “So about my dad…”

Celia: “Yeah. I can take it from him. His grief. Just temporarily, though. It’ll be back.”

GM: “Really? Are there side effects?”

Celia: “Not really. It’s fake, though. It kind of… numbs him. Like really strong meds.”

GM: “Oh. Would we be able to cheer him up?”

“I mean, only so much, obviously.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“I can manipulate a lot of emotions. Happiness isn’t one of them.”

“Probably because I’m an undead abomination that true happiness escapes.”

“But who’s counting.”

GM: “Well, I guess I’m half one,” Dani remarks. “But I meant if you do it, numb his pain, could anything we do still cheer him up?”

Celia: “I think so. It just takes away what’s there, so if we introduce something on top of it…”

“Stephen… doesn’t like it. Using powers like this. On family.”

GM: “Oh? The use here sounds pretty ethical.”

“Though you could raise questions of consent.”

Celia: “That’s the problem. Slippery slope.”

GM: “Maybe better not, then.”

“I mean, if it’s only for an evening anyway…”

Celia: “I’m sorry, Dani. I wish I could help.”

GM: Dani looks sad. “Thanks. Me too.”

“He isn’t always… this bad.”

Celia: “I think it’s me, honestly.”

GM: “I think it’s Stephen.”

Celia: “I guess it’s a good thing he isn’t here, you know.”

“As my new partner. Rubbing it in your dad’s face, basically.”

GM: “Ah. Yeah. I guess maybe that’s worked out, actually.”

Celia: “Did you hear from him..?”

GM: Dani shakes her head.

Celia: “I’ll find him. When we’re done here.”

“C’mon, then. Let’s go have dinner.”

GM: Dani nods and follows her to the dining room. The click of Diana’s heels soon announces her and Mr. Garrison.

“We ended up talkin’ about cars for a while,” she smiles. Still fainter and quieter than her usual self.

“But okay, food’s all out, let’s eat. Did Emi decide to stay with Lucy?”

Celia: “She did,” Celia tells her mom as she takes a seat. “Car okay?”

GM: Diana nods. “We’re going to hold off on taking it in. It’s just an older car, no gettin’ around that. I’m very fond of it, though. Still the same one I got you for college!”

Celia: “I remember,” Celia says with a smile.

“Thank you for taking a look, Mr. Garrison.”

GM: “You’re welcome, Celia.”

Her mom smiles back at her. “All right, so for dinner tonight we’ve got slow-cooked lemon chicken, collard greens, and citrus salad. There’s shoofly pie for dessert, that’s still in the kitchen.”

Celia: “Looks great, Ma.”

GM: The chicken thighs are cooked up tender and juicy in a buttery lemon garlic sauce, probably made with broth too, judging by how they’re all but swimming in it. They also smell of onion powder, paprika, chili pepper flakes, and Italian seasoning. Parsley flakes and lemon wedges provide a finishing touch.

Lemon_Chicken.jpg
Lemon_Chicken1.jpg
Lemon_Chicken2.jpg
The first side dish is drunken collard greens, made with bourbon, bacon bits, diced sweet onion, and a few tablespoons of bacon grease in place of butter for extra decadence.

Collard_Greens.jpg
A fruit salad of diced strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries provides a contrast in colors and temperates. A light sauce of honey, poppyseed, and lime enhances the fruits’ natural sweetness.

berry-fruit-salad-5.jpg
“Thank you, sweetie, I’m so glad it does,” her mom smiles back at her, though with a hint of apology. They both know she isn’t going to enjoy it.

“Henry, would you like to lead us in prayer?” she asks.

Celia: Is Mr. Garrison religious?

Celia casts a glance his way.

GM: Henry merely holds his hands together and closes his eyes. Diana and Dani do the same and bow their heads.

“Lord God, Heavenly Father, bless us and these Thy gifts which we receive from Thy bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen,” he recites.

“Amen,” echoes Celia’s mom.

“Amen,” murmurs Dani.

Celia: “Amen,” Celia says.

GM: “Henry, w-” Diana starts before the chime of the doorbell.

There’s another chime.

Then another.

Then another.

The person at the door is barely pausing before hitting the bell again.

“Oh, who could that be,” Celia’s mom frowns.

“Oh! Celia, didn’t you say this might be someone you were expectin’? Would you like to get it?” she asks.

Dani looks hopeful, as if having the same thought.

Celia: Celia slides immediately from her seat to answer the door.

GM: It’s Alana. The ghoul looks on the verge of tears under her umbrella.

Celia: Celia closes the door behind her as she steps outside.

GM: “You ignored my text,” she says sullenly.

“I thought I’d find you here.”

“With them.

Celia: “I sent you a text,” she says, confused.

GM: “You’ve shut me out!” exclaims the ghoul, breathing hard.

“You think I don’t notice how we aren’t sleeping together anymore!?”

“We just stopped!

Celia: “Alana,” Celia says sharply, “pull yourself together. I literally said that I’d be with you tonight.”

GM: “You weren’t at the spa! I was going to surprise you! I’d spent HOURS!”

“They come first, every single time! Always!”

She casts a hateful glare at the house.

Celia: “Alana. Knock it off. I’ve been walking a tight line lately, this is not helping.”

GM: “That’s what you always say!” The ghoul’s eyes are wide. “I tried to bring it up and you blew me off! You keep saying later! You said you’d reward me, and you never did! You just forget about me! For your stupid family! THEY ALWAYS COME FIRST!” The last words are exclaimed with a half-gulp, half-sob.

Celia: Celia seizes the ghoul by the throat and slams her bodily against the side of the house. Fangs bared, she leans in.

“My Masquerade comes before everything. You get rewarded when you earn rewards, not when you show up and cause a scene,” Celia hisses at her.

GM: Alana starts full-on crying. She doesn’t try to force away Celia’s hands.

“You don’t love me, you’re bored with me, I knew it, I knew it…”

Celia: “I’m bored of the emotional outbreaks.”

“I’m bored of not knowing whether you can stay by my side.”

“I’m bored when you make me think you can’t handle this.”

GM: Alana chokes past the grip on her neck.

“You’re lying! You kept saying how good I was doing! You kept and kept and kept saying it, and we’ve only had sex once!”

Celia: “We literally had sex yesterday.”

GM: “We used to have sex EVERY DAY!”

Celia: “I’m about to take you to LA with me for months so we can fuck.”

“Alana.”

“I am on a very, very delicate missive for Lord Savoy. Being here is part of it. If we fuck it up, do you want to answer to him?”

GM: “Why don’t we SLEEP TOGETHER ANYMORE?!” the ghoul sobs.

Celia: There’s nothing nice in the expression that crosses Celia’s face. There’s nothing human in her eyes, not narrowed the way they are with her lips pulled back and teeth bared in silent snarl at the sniveling bitch in front of her. The tips of her nails dig into Alana’s neck. Not claws, not yet, but close.

“Don’t you ever show up at my door and throw a fit like some sort of child. I have been nice to you. I have been patient with you. I have been good to you, better than you’d find with any other domitor in the city. I will not tolerate this sort of pathetic, whimpering, tantrum-throwing behavior because you didn’t get what you want.”

“You know my schedule. You knew I wouldn’t be at the spa tonight, not before this dinner, maybe not even before Elysium. Don’t you dare act shocked that I followed my schedule.”

“You want sex?” Celia hisses at her. “I want competence. And right now you’re nothing but a liability. You know what we do to liabilities, ’Lana?”

She leans in, her face filling the ghoul’s vision.

GM: Alana chokes past the grip around her neck, a stifled and gasp-like sound together with her sniffling. She still doesn’t try to push Jade away, but fear starts to edge out the anger in her eyes as she feels the sharpening nails’ bite.

“I’m s-sorry, mistress, I jus, just want to sleep with y-you, not even sex, that’s a-all.”

The ghoul’s voice quavers.

“Mistress, I miss you…”

Celia: “And what,” Celia growls at her, “happened to waiting until tonight, like we’d talked about? Did you forget how calendars work? Can you no longer recall the days of the week? What happened to tonight?

GM: “I’m sorry, mistress, I just, I thought you’d leave again, after we had sex, and I just… I thought about where you were, and I lost it.” She makes several more sounds past the near-claws around her throat. “I’m sorry, mistress, do you want to punish me…?”

Celia: Jesus fucking christ.

Celia squeezes. Squeezes, because she’s been on the other side of that grip and she knows what it’s like to think that the person with their hands around your throat isn’t going to stop. Squeezes, because the pain that’s bottled up inside of her needs an outlet and the stupid but pretty whore in front of her is close. Squeezes, because she’d rather choke the life from her than listen to another minute of her whimpering.

She waits until Alana’s hands grow limp. Until the fear in her eyes turns to terror. Until the black spots begin to swim in her vision.

GM: Alana doesn’t struggle at first. She makes choking sounds as the rain patters against her increasingly blue face, but she doesn’t raise her hands. It’s not until Jade doesn’t let go, until she keeps squeezing and squeezing and squeezing, that she finally tries to pry her domitor’s fingers off. Jade sees it in her eyes, amidst the terror. That primal urge in all forms of life. To live. To survive, just another day.

But Alana’s limp fingers are no match for the furious Toreador’s ruthless grip.

Celia: And then she stops. She eases up. She leans in, fangs long in her mouth.

“Go. Home. Go home and handcuff yourself to the bed and I will deal with you when I get there.”

GM: Alana collapses to her domitor’s feet, knees painfully hitting the courtyard’s rain-slick bricks. She gags in pain for several moments, hands massaging her throat before she falteringly rasps out,

“Do you… want me… naked, mis… tress?”

Celia: “Get out of my sight.”

GM: Alana looks into her domitor’s eyes for a moment, then picks up her dropped umbrella, ambles to her feet, and retreats to her parked car. She stops at the door, turns back, and weakly calls out,

“I just want to get your orders right, m-mistress…”

Celia: Celia stares silently through the rain at the ghoul. She offers no further guidance.

Without a word she turns back to the house and steps inside, shutting the door firmly behind her.

Ghouls.


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

GM: She hears the car’s ignition starting before she walks back into the dining room. Her mother and Dani looks somewhat surprised, and disappointed, to see her return by herself.

“Oh. Who was that at the door, sweetie?” her mom asks.

“They were really bangin’ that bell.”

Celia: No one, she almost tells them. But that’s both rude and not true, and not an answer any of them is likely to accept.

“Alana,” she says as she slides into her chair. “Problem at the spa and she got worried when I didn’t answer my phone.”

Vampire thing, Dani and Diana should realize.

GM: “Oh no,” says her mom. “Wasn’t anything too serious, I hope?”

Celia: “The break-in,” Celia says with a forced sigh. Then, looking up at Henry, she gives an apologetic smile.

“My spa was broken into earlier in the week. My manager and I had plans to meet to run over some numbers today but my appointments ran long, and she let her imagination get the best of her. My apologies for the interruption.”

GM: “Unfortunate,” frowns Mr. Garrison. It looks like no one’s touched their food while Celia excused herself, but they start their meal in earnest now that she’s back. Mr. Garrison starts to cut a chicken thigh. “Did you find the person responsible?”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“No.” Not technically. “That’s the weird part, though, nothing was missing. Nothing was stolen.” She looks down at her plate, beginning to cut into one of the pieces of chicken someone had laid out for her. A small portion; she assumes Diana is responsible and smiles at her mother.

“So the alarm went off and we filed a police report, but they basically said there’s nothing to be done since they didn’t find anything and nothing was missing. They did use it as an excuse to shake down my other manager for protection money.

“One of my girls said it sounded like someone from the Insta community trying to send a message, I guess they do that on other platforms? Swatting? But no one was hurt so I don’t really understand it, I guess.”

GM: There’s also some greens and fruit salad on the plate. But the portions look as small as they can be without prompting questions, and her mom smiles back at her.

Mr. Garrison’s frown remains in place. “Do you know the names or badge numbers of the officers responsible?”

Celia: “Yes, I wrote them down when they told me what happened. She made it sound like there wasn’t much I could do..?”

GM: “Give them to me before I head out. I’ll have someone at my office take it up with Internal Affairs.”

Celia: “Oh, yes, okay. I will. Thank you, Mr. Garrison. That’s—thank you.”

GM: “Consider investing in cameras if you haven’t, or better cameras if you have. Alarms only catch faces if someone arrives in time.”

Celia: Celia nods. Better cameras, she can do that. She’ll have Rusty take a look. And Randy. His cameras had caught the would-be bugger, but who knows what might happen in the future.

She looks to her plate, unable to put off forcing the food down her throat anymore. Hopefully this stomach thing works. A nudge to her Beast, just in case, and Celia finally takes a bite.

Still awful.

Still tastes like literal shit.

Still an effort to chew, letting it roll around in her mouth like humans do.

Bit of a giveaway if she swallows her food whole, isn’t it.

GM: Diana tries not to look too obviously sympathetic as Celia forces herself to chew.

“I was starting to tell Henry the story of the situation we were in before Stephen came along,” says her mom. “You know it all, of course. You want to tell him how cruddy that old apartment of mine was?” she asks with a rueful smile.

Celia: She swallows the masticated chicken carcass.

“With the, ah, shared bathroom? Where one of your neighbors liked to shoot up?”

GM: “Oh my lord,” Diana murmurs. “Technically not even a neighbor. She was evicted. But she still came in to the bathroom to shoot up. I remember knockin’ on the door once, after someone was in there for a while, and hearin’ ‘present!’ in this breathless voice. I asked if she’d be out soon, she said yes, and the whole place was completely trashed when I came in. Just…” She shakes her head. “I feel sorry for the folks who still have to live there.”

Celia: “I always tried to make sure I didn’t have to use it when I was there. Stopped on the way if I needed to.”

“When Stephen came over…” Celia glances at Dani, then Mr. Garrison. “I imagine he told you about dinner with my father?”

GM: “Yes, I always laid down strips of toilet paper over the toilet seat,” her mother nods grimly. “And I felt just so embarrassed, sweetie. And bad for you. That you saw me livin’ like that, that you couldn’t even use the loo without feeling grossed out.”

Celia: “I think, more than that, what stuck with me was the way you’d been cut out completely. The photos you had to take from Facebook because he wouldn’t… let you have anything.”

GM: “Facebook photos?” Dani asks.

“Of my kids,” says Diana. “That was the only way I could have pictures of them.”

Celia: “‘Clean break.’”

GM: “That’s awful,” says Dani. “And yes. Stephen told us all about… ‘the worst dinner ever.’ That’s what he called it.”

Celia: “It was.”

“So going from that to introducing him to my mom… It was night and day.”

GM: “He said your dad basically made you be a servant.”

Celia: Celia nods her head, her eyes clouding with the memory of mortification.

GM: “He did say the second dinner was better, though. That how different it was almost gave him whiplash.”

“He said you and your mom seemed happy together. That the food ‘tasted less like fear and more like love.’ I told him that was corny.”

“I think that’s very sweet,” smiles Diana.

Celia: “It sounds like something he would say.” There’s a warmth to her smile that has been missing since last night.

GM: Mr. Garrison doesn’t say anything. Just listens and eats.

Celia: “I think without him we’d still be there. In that apartment. He’s the one who pushed my mom to do something about it.”

GM: “He gave us the number for an attorney, to call about an insurance settlement and regaining custody of my kids,” Diana nods. “But my goodness, sweetie, if he hadn’t… where do you think you’d be now, at 27?”

Celia: “Married to someone Dad picked for me.”

GM: “I know I’d still be drowning in medical debt and getting my wages garnished. Livin’ in that crummy apartment.”

“We wouldn’t have met Emily, either.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“Emily introduced Stephen and I, actually.”

“They… I think they had some classes together?”

“I told her to introduce me to someone cute and nice in exchange for some makeup tips, I think. She knocked it out of the park.”

GM: Dani nods. “They went out on two dates, but she said she was too busy with work and school to make a regular thing of it. So things never went anywhere with them.”

Celia: Celia’s smile tightens. She busies herself with the food on her plate.

“They never mentioned.”

GM: “Maybe she thought that would complicate things, sweetie,” says Diana. “Since he was your first boy.”

Celia: It shouldn’t bother her. It was years ago. Stephen is dead, and she has Roderick, and Roderick chose her.

But it does.

She makes a vague sound and cuts another piece of meat to shove into her mouth.

That’s the benefit of being mortal, she supposes: the built in excuse that she can’t talk with her mouth full.

GM: “Stephen had other girlfriends, too, in the past. But none he was as into as you,” says Dani.

Celia: Ah, well, that makes her feel better about breaking his heart.

Twice.

Three times?

She can’t keep track anymore.

Maybe he should have tried harder with Emily. She’s going to be a doctor soon. She’s so smart.

They can go be smart together.

GM: Doctor and lawyer. Sounds like a more natural pairing than esthetician and lawyer.

Celia: Esthetician with an online medical degree, which is almost like it’s fake.

GM: The corpses she dissected (and created) are real enough.

But that might be worse than fake in his eyes.

Celia: All those issues with “lying” and he’d never told her that he’d fucked her sister.

Who’s the fucking liar now.

Maybe he even put it in Roxanne, too.

And Ryllie. Why not.

She’ll throw Lucy at him next time he comes over to see if he wants to complete the Flores Girls.

GM: “You okay, sweetie?” her mom asks, rubbing her shoulder.

Celia: “Didn’t realize he and Emily hooked up.”

GM: “I don’t know if they did,” says Dani. “Just that they went on two dates.”

Celia: He’d hooked up with her on their first.

“Not the sort of thing he’d tell you though,” Celia points out.

Another bite.

She swallows more shit.

And it sits, like a lead weight, in the pit of her borrowed stomach.

She doesn’t miss this feeling.

GM: “I guess not,” says Dani. “Athough-”

“I don’t think we need to discuss your brother’s history in that area, Danielle,” says Mr. Garrison over some greens.

“Right. Sorry, Daddy.”

Celia: Maybe she’ll fuck his sister.

Let him see how it feels.

Celia spears a piece of fruit with the tines of her fork and brings it to her mouth.

GM: It’s squishier.

But tastes just as ashen.

Celia: It joins the rest of the garbage she’ll need to evacuate later.

She lets her mother find a new topic of discussion, her thoughts on her missing boyfriend.

GM: Diana continues to tell the story and brings up all the help that Vivian and Stephen were with her and Celia’s assorted legal travails. Mr. Garrison listens, attentively but largely silently. Danielle finally asks, “Can I ask something, Mrs. Flores?”

“Oh of course, Danielle.”

“Your mom is a judge, Payton Underwood. Why didn’t you just go to her, at any point?”

Celia: Celia glances at her mother.

GM: “We weren’t on good terms, unfortunately,” Diana answers. She keeps her voice more sad than cool.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” says Dani.

“Me too. But Celia went to her for help too, I’ll get to that later in the story, and she sees Lucy semi-regularly these days.”

It’s technically not a lie. Just leaves out the ‘still are.’

“That’s good,” says Dani.

“I’ve worked with her. She’s a decent woman,” says Mr. Garrison.

“Tough. Won’t be intimidated.”

Celia: “I’ve always found her so.” Celia pushes another berry around on her plate. She hasn’t seen her since she learned that she’d sent her mother to the Dollhouse.

GM: She’ll want to see Lucy again at some point.

Celia: The second Lucy, anyway.

Celia still hasn’t decided what she’ll say.

Or how she should feel.

Stephen would know.

But Stephen is dead.

GM: Roderick, too.

Celia: Probably.

Missing, anyway.

She’ll find him.

GM: Diana continues the story. How Stephen was patient and understanding, but also unrelenting when he realized the full depth of the Flores family’s situation. How he gave his and Viv’s numbers even when Diana didn’t seem like she wanted to use them, and how he turned out to be right when Diana finally set up the meeting after more encouragement from Celia. How nervous she was for that first consultation. How she brought Celia along, “Even though she couldn’t sit in, privilege and all, and mainly wound up sittin’ in the waiting room to make her mom feel less scared,” she describes ruefully.

Celia: “All we had to do was file a police report after that,” Celia adds. Her brow furrows. “Oh, Grandma did help there. She gave us the number to call. Told us to ask for someone specific, someone like her that wouldn’t be afraid of Dad.”

GM: There’s slower chewing as Celia brings up Richard Gettis.

“He was definitely that,” Diana murmurs.

Celia: Celia watches Mr. Garrison, though she’s as unobtrusive about it as she can be.

GM: “It’s a tragedy,” says Stephen’s father. “Stephen told me the details. Detective Gettis was one of the NOPD’s finest officers before he became a murderer.”

Celia: “Did you know him, Mr. Garrison?”

GM: “In passing. We had more contact when I was an ADA.”

“He helped put a lot of bad people behind bars.”

Celia: Another nod.

“Grandma said the same.”

GM: “It’s just such a tragedy,” Diana repeats. “I taught both of those girls, in my classes. Just such sweet girls.”

“One of my co-workers lost her job, too, in the fallout.”

“Oh, who?” asks Dani.

“Ms. Perry,” answers Diana. “You wouldn’t have had any classes with her, though, Dani. She started at McGehee after your time.”

“That’s too bad,” frowns Dani. “I suppose it beats being shot, though. I had some classes with one of the Devillers. Adeline. I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like for the families.”

Celia: “I’m friends with her sister. The oldest. Cécilia.”

And Caroline. Sort of. Are they friends? She’s not quite sure. Hard to be, sires who they are.

“She implied the, erm, pressures of the job got to him when we spoke about it.”

GM: “There has been extensive investigation into Richard Gettis,” says Mr. Garrison. “I am inclined to agree with your grandmother. The man had no family, friends, or interests outside of his job.”

“Frontline police work is highly stressful. Homicide work is even more so. These people are exposed to the worst of humanity on a regular basis.”

“Richard Gettis did not have any stabilizing influences in his life.”

Celia: Like Mr. Garrison himself, if Dani’s words can be believed. She glances at the girl, then back to her dad.

“Aren’t you as well, Mr. Garrison? Stephen used to tell me about the pressures of your position as well. The danger, with who you go after.”

Easy to see Mr. Garrison going down that same road, isn’t it. Son dead. Daughter dead, technically.

GM: “My job is not easy, but I am more insulated than Detective Gettis from many of the stresses he faced. Death threats against judges and prosecutors have grown increasingly common in recent years, and are most commonly leveled by organized crime groups, but actual murders remain rare. The Prosecutors Memorial at the Ernest F. Hollings National Advocacy Center, which honors prosecutors killed during the performance of their duties, has fewer than 20 names.”

“Oh, when did that go up?” asks Diana.

“2004,” Mr. Garrison answers. “The first name is from 1982.”

“The number of police officers killed in the line of duty is far higher.”

Celia: “That isn’t quite what I meant, Mr. Garrison. I know you’re not on the ground level like an officer, but it’s still a high stress, high stakes world, and Stephen mentioned…” she trails off for a moment, then finally plunges forward. “Well, he mentioned things the organized crime families would try to do to intimidate your family, your father’s family. And, forgive me if this is overstepping, but Dani mentioned that your life has become mostly work and sleep.”

She offers a gentle smile.

“I’m not saying that you might crack. You strike me as a hard man to crack, personally. But if you’d like an outlet, something to do outside of work, somewhere you can… I hate to say relax, but…”

“There’s always a chair open for you, I guess is what I’m saying.”

GM: “There is only one organized crime family with a grudge against mine,” Mr. Garrison corrects. “Their attempts at intimidation have never amounted to anything more than scare tactics. None of us have been placed in physical danger or lost our lives. I am too prominent a public official to be safely killed. The prosecution of my murder would dominate the focus of my successor’s term.”

He casts a faintly reproachful look at his daughter when Celia talks about his life, then turns back to her.

“I will have to decline. My available free time is extremely limited.”

“Well, we’re just glad to have you here tonight,” Diana smiles. “And that does explain why you don’t have a protective detail. Lucky us, not needing to prepare extra food.” She doesn’t chuckle, but she does smile a little wider.

“I receive details on an as-needed basis. Only the mayor has a permanent one,” says Mr. Garrison.

“But they eat while they are off-duty.”

Celia: He wasn’t this cold when she’d met him the first time. Maybe she’d pushed too soon.

GM: “I read about the ex-wife of India’s prime minister needing to cook meals for her protective detail,” says Dani. “All the time. The article also said they’d sleep in her house, be slobs in the bathroom, and basically bum free room and board off of her.”

Celia: “Sounds kind of like a cultural thing. Isn’t India a little backwards in their treatment of women in general?”

GM: “She said she didn’t even want them, they were such a pain to put up with. But yeah. Just a lot more corruption and… sleaziness. And sexism.”

Celia: “We’re still guilty of that here, to some degree.”

GM: “I guess the Pavaghis have brought over a taste of that, though,” says Dani.

“I think they owned my old apartment, actually,” says Diana.

Dani shakes her head. “Guess that’s no surprise. Slumlords.”

“Hasn’t Rich Pavaghi’s wife gone to your spa a few times, actually?” asks Celia’s mom.

Celia: “She has, yes. She’s a regular, actually.”

“Well, since they moved back here, anyway.”

GM: “Oh, I thought they lived in Kenner?” says Dani. “That’s, what, a 40 minute drive both ways?”

“Well, my baby’s very talented at what she does,” Diana smiles proudly, wrapping an arm around Celia.

Celia: Celia laughs.

“I doubt I’m the only reason she makes the drive.”

“But I’d meant moving closer from Baton Rouge, anyway.”

GM: “Ah, true. She’s got a million kids and grandkids in the city,” says Dani. “Probably comes over for them too.”

“She’s devoted to her kids, I’ll give her that,” nods Diana. “She moved in with her son when he was elected governor, to help out, as I remember.”

“Basically sidelined his wife in the media, though,” says Dani. “Strikes me more as controlling than devoted. I guess lucky for her kids and grandkids she has so many. Diffuses attention.”

Celia: “One of them is over at Bloom Couture. Have you been, Mr. Garrison?”

GM: “I have not,” he answers.

“It’s a very pretty place,” smiles Diana. “I get a lot of my gardening supplies there. But I doubt you have time for that sort of thing, with your job.”

Mr. Garrison simply nods as he cuts up another chicken thigh.

“Does it feel skeezy working on your mom’s old slumlord?” asks Dani. “The whole family is just so… scummy.”

Celia: “Honestly? No. I can’t let it get to me. Once someone is on my table it’s really just their body I’m looking at, and I put everything else away. There was someone once… early, I was still kind of new to it, but I knew him from college. He was kind of… I hate to say bully, but he was. I don’t think he recognized me, but I remembered him, and I just had to ignore it and deal with the fact that he was on my table. It’s a shift in power dynamics for sure, and it was weird for a minute, but then I just let it go.”

It had helped that she was a vampire and he was still kine, but she doesn’t mention that to Mr. Garrison.

GM: “Oh. What’d he do to you?” asks Dani.

“As a bully.”

Celia: “Before I met Stephen I was invited to a party by some of the people from one of my dance classes. Was supposed to just be a small thing, a break from the production, and I figured no big. They said no alcohol, it wouldn’t be wild. But, ah, one of them brought a flask they started passing around, and then they got bored of hanging out with just our small group and wanted to go to a ‘real’ party, so we ended up on Greek Row. You ever meet someone and just know they’re bad news? He was that kind of person.” Celia shakes her head. She doesn’t look like she wants to get into the rest of it.

GM: Her mother looks at her concernedly.

“I’m sorry,” says Dani. “The parties at Tulane can get… out of hand.”

“But you don’t see anything when someone is on your table,” says Diana, changing the subject for her. “You’ve said that to me, how they become just a body you need to work on, and pretty much all bodies are the same.”

Celia: “Basically.”

GM: “What do you think you’ll want to do with me when I come in?” asks Dani. “Or is that better as a surprise?”

Celia: “Mmm, depends on what you’re looking for. We could keep it simple, with a massage or facial, or get into some other things. If you want to relax and unwind, though, nothing really beats a massage. I generally tailor things to the client, though.”

She doesn’t pointedly look at Mr. Garrison , but she does sweep her gaze past him all the same.

“Dessert?” she asks at large. “Should I get the pie, Momma?”

“You can finish telling Mr. Garrison without me interrupting,” she adds with a slight smile.

GM: “I think a massage sounds good, then,” says Dani.

“That also sounds good, sweetie, you can find it in the oven,” her mom smiles back. “There’s whipped cream in the fridge, too!”

“I’ll help,” says Dani, rising from her seat and gathering up some of the plates.

“Oh, Dani, you’re a guest,” starts Diana.

“It’s okay, Mrs. Flores. You can tell my dad the rest of the story yourself.”

“All right, if you’re sure.”

Celia supposes she’s spent enough time talking about her boyfriend for one night.


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

GM: Dani carries out plates and serving containers with Celia.

“So Stephen said something about you two wanting to set our parents up?”

Celia: Celia gathers what she can, moving into the kitchen to scrape things into the compost bin, rinse plates, put some of the dishes away, and fill the dishwasher.

“Mm, he mentioned it. I don’t think I’m helping.”

GM: “Oh, why not?”

Celia: “I’m pretty sure your dad hates me and every time I open my mouth he’s reminded that I left Stephen.”

GM: “I don’t think he hates you,” says Dani as she helps out. “Believe me, you’d know if he did.”

Celia: “‘Always have a plate open,’” Celia mutters. “Idiot.”

GM: “Plate open?”

Celia: Celia gives a disgusted sigh.

“Exactly. It makes no sense. Why would I say that. Because I’m an idiot, Dani.”

GM: “Oh. You meant chair.”

“Yeah, sorry. Dad is just… really business-focused. I don’t know if he’s ever been to a spa.”

Celia: “The sentiment remains the same, he blew it off.”

“I was talking about inviting him back to dinner again.”

GM: “That might be better, actually. Since he still has to eat.”

Celia: “I already did, Dani. Didn’t you hear him? He said no.”

GM: “Sorry? You just invited him to the spa, if I wasn’t zoning out?”

Celia: “No. Before that. When you asked about my grandma and he mentioned the cop. I invited him back.”

GM: “Oh. I thought you meant the spa.”

Celia: “I didn’t invite him to the spa at all.”

“I mean if he wants to come, sure, but it doesn’t seem like his groove.”

GM: “Yeah, that’s what I figured.”

“Maybe we can clarify?”

“I think it would be good for him to get out more.”

“Or at least, get in, somewhere else with different people.”

Celia: She thought she’d been perfectly clear.

GM: “I think it’d be good for him to date again too. He just doesn’t have any patience for it.”

Celia: “I think it would be weird to date my stepbrother, but… my mom would be good for him. Your dad.”

“She’s got a lot of love and patience.”

GM: “I think so. She made him feel all manly with the car, too.”

Celia: “Yeah. Like that. Give him something to do with his hands. Makes them feel needed.”

GM: “You also did that with the cops who shook you down. When he said he’d do something about it.”

Celia: Celia smiles at her.

“Yes.”

GM: “I hope he does, too. I can’t believe they tried to extort you.”

“Well, I can. It’s just awful.”

Celia: “They’re all awful.”

“Your dad is one of the last few remaining good ones.”

“Him and… well. Stephen.”

GM: Dani shakes her head. “There are plenty of good cops, lawyers, and judges. It’s just… a lot of things are rigged against them.”

“But that’s a bigger topic.”

“What do you think we can do to set them up?”

Celia: “What does he like to do? Or used to like to do?”

GM: “He might be if he went there. He just… isn’t that interested in trying new things, anymore.”

“He used to be. Before Stephen.”

Celia: “If he were around I’d just suggest a double date.”

GM: “Oh, that’s an idea.”

“Though I’ll call it a victory just to get him to go.”

“Maybe try not to frame it as a date, too.”

Celia: “Well. Maybe Mom can say she wants to check out the new exhibit or something.”

“And I’ll offer to watch Lucy.”

GM: “Maybe we could all go? That feels less like a date. Explains why your mom wants to go, too, show Lucy a museum.”

Celia: “Oh, that’s better.”

“Maybe they have a late night?”

GM: “He’s busy during the day, anyway, so. And your mom knows you can only do nights.”

Celia: “Alright. We’ll make it work, then. Maybe Stephen will be able to make it.”

GM: “I hope so. For him.”

“Dad, at least, I don’t think would mind one less stranger.”

“Should your mom know we’re trying to set them up?”

Celia: “I dunno. She’s kind of set on seeing Maxen again.”

“Might just put my foot down there.”

“Trying to see how it goes tonight with some leads I have to follow.”

GM: “Leads with your dad?”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “I dunno that you can stop her from seeing him if she wants to. I mean, she’s your mom.”

Celia: “I can if I tell her the truth.”

“And make it a lick politics thing.”

“Which it is.”

GM: “I dunno, if there was a guy I loved… did lick politics stop you and Stephen?”

Celia: It might have.

GM: “I mean, you aren’t supposed to be seeing each other, but it’s not gotten in the way.”

Celia: “Hasn’t it? We have to hide from everyone. Someone touched me last week and he was going to challenge him to a duel for the insult.”

GM: “That’s kinda romantic,” Dani smiles.

Celia: “We got jumped by hunters and everyone thinks he’s the only one who did anything to stop them.”

“It was, yeah.”

Celia can’t help but smile too.

GM: “I bet he’d win, too. You guys were incredible against those mobsters.”

Celia: “Yeah, well, it didn’t end up happening.”

“Next time, I guess.”

GM: “Yeah. So, you wanna set up the WWII museum outing?”

Celia: “Guess so. Wanna grab the pie? Ovens don’t always agree with my kind. I’ll get the whipped cream.”

GM: “Okay,” says Dani, getting some mitts and opening the oven. “Why don’t they?”

Celia: “Fire.”

“Rather not risk it with this many people around.”

GM: “Can’t hurt,” Dani agrees as she hefts the pie dish.

Celia: Celia locates the whipped cream and serving utensils and starts towards the door. She stops, though, before she crosses the threshold, and turns to look at Dani once more.

“Did he sleep with her?” she asks in a low voice. “Emily. Did he?”

GM: “Um. I’m honestly not sure,” Dani answers. “Does it matter, though? It was forever ago. And I can definitely tell you he was nowhere nearly as into her.”

Celia: “I don’t know why I care,” she mutters.

GM: “You seemed, well… insecure about the relationship, honestly, when we talked,” says Dani. “This feels like more of that.”

Celia: “He’s smarter than me. Stronger than me. Faster than me. Better than me. He called me a whore. What’s not to be insecure about?”

“And now he’s gone, and I can’t find him. And it’s my fault he’s a vampire, and probably my fault he’s gone.”

GM: Dani sets down the pie and rests her hands on Celia’s shoulders.

“Look. He’s not better than you, and he doesn’t think so. He’s sorry he hurt you. Really sorry. He wants your guys’ relationship to work. It means the world to him.”

Celia: “He left.

“He didn’t come back.”

GM: “He’s left me too.”

“But he’s gonna come back.”

“I mean, what, is he going to just disappear forever?”

Celia: “Maybe.”

GM: “He didn’t before, when you broke up. He just… wanted space.”

Celia: “What if he’s dead? What if he didn’t make it somewhere safe this morning? What if more hunters picked him up? What if Carolla’s goons found him?”

What if Savoy did something to him?

What if he went to confront Coco and she smacked him back down to size?

GM: “He’s tough and smart. Isn’t he?” says Dani.

Celia: “He was also angry and hurt.”

GM: “All right, so, what can we do, besides worry?”

Celia: “Get through dinner and find him.”

GM: “Okay. You want to go look for him?”

Celia: “I have a loose end to tie up. Then yes, before Elysium, I’d like to look.”

GM: “Okay. I’ll go with you.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“Dessert first, though.”

GM: “He’s not in love with Emily, by the way. He took it pretty casually when they had to stop seeing each other. And that was seven years ago, when he was human.”

Celia: “They still fucked. And he never told me. And she never told me.”

“Whatever. I don’t care.”

The more she thinks about it the more she realizes it’s true. She doesn’t care. Celia is dead. Stephen is dead. Roderick is probably dead, too. What’s left to cherish? Why not take the last of her happy memories from her, tarnish them with the idea that Emily and Stephen hooked up and she got her sister’s sloppy seconds? Everything else is already ruined, anyway.

GM: “I don’t think they were trying to lie to you. I think it just never registered as important. It was two dates. Ending things with Emily basically got a ‘too bad’ and then he moved on to other girls. Ending things with you destroyed his world.”

Celia: “I don’t care,” Celia says again.

GM: “You do care. I just don’t want this to hurt you more.”

Celia: “You brought it up."

GM: “You’re being defensive.”

Celia: “Of course I’m being defensive! I was supposed to be a one night stand. He told me that. He said that to me, that’s all I was supposed to be. Emily introduced us because he was looking to get laid and she wanted to show me a good first time and had already sampled the goods. And I’d never been with anyone, and he offered to make it special, and he did. And it was a lie. The whole thing was a lie. And years later I’m still in love with him and he’s not. He left. And he didn’t come back.

“We were supposed to talk. We were supposed to clear the air between us so we could be together. And he never came back. He doesn’t care.”

“So don’t. Don’t tell me that our relationship is important to him when he couldn’t be bothered to show up.”

GM: “Celia, do you really think your relationship doesn’t matter to him? That boom, just like that, he dropped something with seven years of history?”

Celia: Celia sighs down at her.

“You didn’t see his face last night, Dani. You didn’t hear his voice.”

GM: “How does that even matter if they slept together? How does that make what you had a lie? He had girlfriends before you! Long-term ones, even.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t expect her to understand. She’s never had a boyfriend. Never been through anything to do with the heart. Doesn’t know Stephen, not like Celia does, not that way. The romantic way. The “on the other end of his fists” way. The broken way. Twice broken, her fault both times, isn’t it? Explaining it to her isn’t going to make her understand any better. It’s like the frenzy thing: she had to see it to get it.

“Come on,” she says, “the story isn’t that long.”

Dani doesn’t know the truth, anyway.

But Emily does.

Roderick does.

She’ll find it when she finds him.


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

Celia: She leads the way back into the dining room, forcing a smile.

“Dessert has arrived.”

GM:

“Oh, th-thank you, you two,” Diana smiles as the two arrive. She looks a little emotional as they set the pie down and dabs at her eyes.

Celia: Celia touches a hand to her shoulder after she sets the whipped cream down on the table, brows lifted.

GM: “Just retellin’ the whole story, baby, and what a brave, sweet, kind-hearted boy Stephen was,” answers her mom, laying a hand on top of Celia’s. “Gets me a little emotional.”

“Me as well, Diana,” answers Mr. Garrison. His voice is slightly uneven.

Celia: Celia nods in understanding. She gives her mom’s shoulder a squeeze.

GM: Her mom smiles at her and turns to the dessert.

Shoofly_Pie.jpg
“So this is a mostly classic shoofly pie, it’s got molasses and crumbs and pie crust, pretty much, but I added some chocolate chips too. Thought we’d experiment and see how the flavors combine.”

“Celia, I know how much you want to watch your figure for those Instagram posts, do you still want any?”

Celia: “I might pass, if that’s all right. Molasses is a little heavy for me. I can take a slice to Emi, though.”

GM: Her mom nods. “It’s okay. There’s nothin’ healthy in dessert. And that would be very thoughtful, sweetie, though with Victor and Shadow…”

Celia: “I’ll make it quick.” Celia cuts a piece, then a smaller one for Lucy, and heaps a mountain of whipped cream atop them both. She nabs two forks and is out the door before anyone can ask if she’s allergic to cats or what.

Quick steps take her across the yard to the carriage house, where she knocks twice on the door and says, “Hey it’s Celia, brought dessert, wanna come out a sec, Em?”

GM: Carriage room, technically, as Emily enjoys calling it. Her voice answers, “Sure, out in a sec,” a moment later. The door opens before too much rain can patter against her umbrella.

“Thanks, pie wouldn’t have been Instagram-worthy if we’d cut slices earlier.”

Celia: “Can’t have that.”

“Hey, so it came up at dinner that you and Stephen used to date. Why didn’t you tell me you’d hooked up?”

Smooth.

“Didn’t realize we were eskimo sisters.” Celia wiggles her eyebrows.

GM: Emily laughs. “Well, we only went out a couple times before I told him it wouldn’t work. He took it pretty well.”

Celia: “But you did. Hook up.”

“Right?”

GM: “Ah, geez. Are you feeling grossed out?”

Celia: “Tell me.”

“Tell me if you slept with him.”

“It doesn’t matter, it was before we were together, he’s dead and gone, but I’d like to know.”

“So did you?”

Celia waits. Expectant.

It shouldn’t take this long to get an answer. The pie is probably getting cold. It’s a yes or no question. One syllable. That’s all it is. Three letters at most. Just say it, Emily. Just say you slept with him. Say you gave me your leftovers, say that our entire relationship was built on a lie, that I’ve never even had my own boyfriend because someone else got to him first. Did you tell him I’d be easy? Did you say that I’d be down for a one night stand because I was curious about sex? Did you tell him he could pop my cherry? And, what, he stayed because I was too stupid to realize what the two of you had done? Did you laugh about it afterwards? Was it like one of those shitty teenage movies where you set a dude up with a girl as a joke and he falls for her and then she finds out and it ruins everything?

Because that’s what this will do. Ruin everything. Them sleeping together kills everything she’d ever felt for him. Everything. There’s not an ounce of it left if they slept together. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was. It doesn’t matter that he’s dead. It doesn’t matter that she’s dead.

She had this. This one thing that was special. This one thing she could cherish from her mortal life.

It’s just one word.

One word.

Just say it.

GM: That’s when Celia feels it. Descending like a shadow over the moon.

The familiar icy hand locked in sudden death grip around her heart.

Squeezing.

Crushing.

Pulling.

Her head whips to the house’s roof, as though grabbed by a magnet.

He’s there. Perched on it like some enormous black bat come home to roost.

Donovan.png
Her sire has arrived.


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Story Thirteen, Celia XIV

“She lied to me.”
Roderick Durant


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

GM: The pair drive back to Flawless. Dani and the brothers are there, in Jade’s suite. Carolla lies on the central table with a stake pounded into him. Somewhat needlessly, given his torpid state.

Celia: Better safe than sorry, though.

“Where’s the ghoul?” she asks Dani.

GM: “You need him for anything? ‘Cuz to me he sounded like a giant headache she couldn’t work up the stones to take care of,” answers Reggie.

Celia: Surely he’s not talking about her.

Jade gives him a sharp look.

“I do.”

GM: “Well, that’s too bad. I already killed him.”

Celia: “You what?!

GM: Dani’s mouth falls open.

Roderick seizes the ghoul by the throat and slams him back-first into the wall.

Celia: “Don’t!”

Celia is at his side in an instant, hands on the arm holding up the ghoul, pulling him back.

Or attempting to.

GM: She finds the Brujah’s grip quite implacable. Randy yells, “Hey!” and tries to pry him off too, but Roderick just shoves him hard enough to send the ghoul sprawling over his face. Reggie gives a pained grunt past the vice-like hand around his throat, but doesn’t struggle.

Celia: “Rod! Stop it!”

There’s not much room between the pair, but she worms her way in what space exists all the same, shoving at Rod with the flats of her palms.

“Stop it. Stop it! Let him go.”

GM: “I could… read this whole thing…” grunts Reggie. “Princess throwin’ a fit… ‘oh, no, don’t be the bad guy!‘… pissed at you, if you did it… but scared shitless he’d remember… giant fuckin’ liability…”

He manages a grin.

“So Mr. Bad Guy took care of it…”

Celia: He’s right.

GM: “Go on… Mr. Tough Guy… you gonna kill me instead?”

Celia: “Shut UP, Reggie!” Celia snaps at him. She turns back to Roderick.

“Roderick, please, let him go.”

GM: Roderick doesn’t answer. His fangs are distended, his eyes wide and furious. A choked half-growl escapes his throat.

Dani turns from staring daggers at Reggie to looking Celia with fear. She starts to edge away.

“Is he gonna lose it…?”

Celia: “Get out, Dani. Go. Randy, go. Now.”

Celia waits until she hears the door close, then reaches for Roderick, hands on either side of his face.

“Stop it,” she says to him. There’s no fear in her voice or face, just a gentle command. Soft, like the rest of her, but there’s steel in her spine now. She’s not going to let her boyfriend become a murderer. “Reel it in. You don’t want to hurt him. You don’t want to be like him. Let him go. Let him go, and we’ll deal with this. You are not a murderer.”

GM: The ghoul and thin-blood give the two vampires a long look, but edge their way out.

Roderick squeezes Reggie until his smirk is completely gone and he starts to turn blue. Survival instincts overtake the smugness in his eyes as he starts to fight back. The Blood enhances his muscles too, and for a moment it looks like he might throw Roderick off before the Brujah clamps a second hand around his throat. The two struggle for several moments, but in the end, it isn’t physical strength that decides Reggie’s life, but Celia’s gentle yet unwavering implorations. The burgeoning fury in Roderick’s eyes wavers like a torch under heavy rain, then finally gutters out as he drops the ghoul to his feet. Reggie gags and massages his neck.

Roderick stares down at him.

“Get out of my sight, you trash.”

The ghoul silently picks himself up, hand still to his neck, and retreats from the room.

Celia: Celia helps him to his feet if he lets her, moving with him to the edge of the room to see him out. He doesn’t need her, but she needs him; she needs to make sure he’s okay, that he’s breathing, that he isn’t about to keel over. She locks the door behind him and turns to face the Brujah.

GM: Roderick slowly shakes his head.

“I’d have killed him if you hadn’t talked me down.”

“He should have known better.”

Celia: “He should have. And he didn’t. And you didn’t.”

GM: “I do know better. That’s what’s so fucking awful about it.”

“Because it doesn’t matter.”

Celia: “It does matter. We don’t judge other people by their intentions, just by their actions. And you didn’t do anything. That is what matters.”

GM: “This time.”

Celia: “Yeah? So you’re going to mope about it because you might maybe one day lose it again?”

“You’re going to beat yourself up about it because this time you didn’t but you have the potential to?”

“You know what, Roderick? So do I. Every time I go out and feed I have the potential to murder someone, and I don’t, and I’m not going to sit here being mad about it because I might.

GM: He shakes his head again. “I’m not going to mope. I’m just wondering how long I’ll last before I lose it.”

“Really lose it.”

“Your clan likes to say they don’t have a curse. Mine finds that harder to spin.”

Celia: “Of course we have a fucking curse. We all do. And we all have a Beast.”

GM: “Ours is worse. But that’s nothing new.” He looks at the door. “Your ghoul needs to face justice.”

“He murdered a defenseless man.”

Celia: “Yeah? What do you propose I do to him?”

GM: “I’m sure he’s done a lot of illegal things. Let him go to prison.”

Celia: “He’s a ghoul. You know that’s a terrible idea.”

GM: “Abandoned ghouls exist. Independents. But I suppose he might come after you,” Roderick relents.

“Trade him to another domitor.”

Celia: “…why?”

GM: “Because I doubt they’ll be as kind as you.”

Celia: “Hand him off to get abused. Do you hear yourself?”

“Why, knowing what I’ve been through, do you think that I would willingly do that to someone?”

“You think smacking him around some is going to make him a better person?”

“You think it worked on my mom, Roderick? Made her better when my dad hit her?”

“Think it made me smarter when he knocked me around?”

“You think that time he beat me until I could barely walk was for my benefit?”

GM: “My god no, Celia! But there was a critical difference. He’s a murderer. You and your mom weren’t. Should he just get away with that? Should there be no accountability? He obviously doesn’t regret what he’s done.”

Celia: “Of course he doesn’t! You think I don’t know that? That he absolutely thinks he did the right thing? You heard him. And he’s right. He did do the right thing. He got his hands dirty so I didn’t have to. So you didn’t have to. That guy was absolutely a liability.”

“He did what he did to protect me.”

“To protect you.”

“Us.”

“Our families.”

GM: Roderick shakes his head. “I won’t ever condone murder, Celia, except in direct self-defense. We could have found another way, like we have with Carolla. Maybe gotten a lick good at mind control to erase his memories. That’s off the table now.”

Celia: “Yeah. So is finding out what he knew. So are all of the answers I’d have gotten from him. It sucks. I’m mad at him too. And I can’t bring him back to life. So unless you can, we’re moving on.”

“Because unless you’re secretly friends with the prince or someone else who can erase years worth of memories, Reggie isn’t going anywhere. He knows everything about me. I will deal with him.”

GM: “Your ghoul can’t just get away with murder, Celia. There needs to be a consequence for his actions.”

Celia: “And, as his domitor, I will handle it.”

“I don’t tell you what to do with your ghouls. Don’t tell me what to do with mine.”

GM: “I hope you would tell me, actually, if they did something awful and my response seemed inadequate.”

“But fine. He is your ghoul. I trust you’ll handle it.”

Celia: Celia stares at him a moment longer, as if waiting for another argument. When it doesn’t come she finally nods.

“I’ll get rid of it.” The body, she means.

GM: “Okay.” He raises no objection.

He looks at Carolla.

Celia: “His, too.” She jerks her chin at the torpid lick.

GM: “I have things I’d like to ask him. But our blood isn’t strong enough to revive him.”

Celia: “No,” she agrees.

GM: “And I don’t want to bring in anyone else.”

Celia: “I was thinking the same.”

GM: “I’ll take care of him. Bury him somewhere no one will ever unearth him.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“I have a better idea.”

GM: Roderick thinks.

“Wait. Could you change his body?”

Celia: “…for what purpose?”

GM: “Hiding who he is when we transport him. Just in case someone gets a look.”

Celia: “I mean, yeah. Skin is skin. I can change it.”

GM: “Extra layer of security.”

“Maybe take away his muscles, too.”

Celia: “Yeah? Graft them on you?”

GM: “God, no. I’m happy with mine. I don’t want anything from his body on me. I just like the idea of a tough Mafia thug being made weak.”

“Further helps conceal who he is, too.”

Celia: “Yeah. I can. Ask Randy to get me a cup. And a bag.”

GM: “Too bad he’s not awake. I’d like to see how he reacts to being the weak and helpless one.”

“Granted, I suppose you can’t take away his super-strength.”

Celia: “Probably not. Just his regular strength. I think.”

“I guess I’ve never tested that.”

“Just the other way.”

GM: “Perfect time to find out, then.”

Celia: “No, I mean, we won’t know without him being up.”

“Obviously I can take it.”

GM: “Ah. True. What was your idea, anyway?”

Celia: “There’s an apron in the next—oh.”

“I found the hunters that tracked me. I have a way to contact them. I was sending the boys undercover. Tomorrow, actually. We’d hatched the plan. Works better if they bring a body, though.”

“Find out what they know. Who else they’re targeting. Keep people safe.”

GM: “So your ghouls as ostensible hunters are bringing the body to trade to other hunters?”

Celia: Celia nods.

GM: “Only reason I can think of they’d want a staked lick is for interrogation and perhaps research purposes.”

Celia: “Not like they can revive him.”

GM: “Yeah, I was about to say.”

“If they even know how that works.”

Celia: “The ones who grabbed me were pretty clueless.”

“They’d heard of the mindfucking, kept me blindfolded or gagged by turns, but I’m not a fucking stiff.”

GM: “Most hunters don’t know a lot. And you’d need fairly potent blood to revive another lick, anyway.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

“So it gets us some intel. And gets rid of him.”

“Drain him first, so they don’t create independents or anything.”

GM: “Okay. Your cover will probably be blown after the handoff, though. Or they’ll at least be pissed.”

Celia: “I’ll deal with it if it is.”

GM: “They’ll have paid for a staked vampire that’s effectively just a corpse. I’d feel ripped off if I was a hunter.”

“But okay.”

Celia: “Sucks for them.”

GM: “Main question. What do they do with his body when he seems for all intents and purposes to be dead?”

Celia: Celia shrugs.

“We’re all technically dead.”

GM: “That’s semantics here.”

Celia: She can’t help but smile.

GM: He smiles back. “I suppose they might dispose of the body. Or perhaps vivisect for study, if they’re a more scientific bunch.”

Celia: “You know what’s fucked?”

“Like what’s really fucked?”

GM: “What?”

Celia: “I keep thinking that the best way to find out who they are and what they want is to let them deliver me.”

“Then get out.”

GM: “What if you make Carolla here look like you?”

“Then the hunters believe you’re tagged and bagged.”

Celia: “Yeah, but then I’m not actually there.”

“Though…”

“Someone bugged the spa. Looking for Jade. Shortly after I got caught as Celia and said the name Jade.”

“Said she was my sire.”

GM: “Right. So, let them think they’ve got Jade.”

“It’s not foolproof, but who knows, it might throw them off your trail.”

Celia: “That’s not a bad idea.”

GM: “It’s not like hunters go to Elysium to see you up and about.”

Celia: “I don’t know for sure that it’s connected, but maybe…”

“You know they thought that killing your sire would cure it?”

GM: “Huh. That’s how it is in some vampire media.”

Celia: “They believe all sorts of weird shit.”

GM: “I’ve also heard that rumor from some duskborn.”

“That killing your sire undoes your Embrace.”

Celia: “Couldn’t happen, though. Any time an elder dies you’d have like dozens of licks just going mortal.”

“Plus look at Max and Hennesy. His sire’s ash.”

GM: “The people circulating that rumor probably don’t know just how widespread Kindred bloodlines are. Or maybe they figure it only affects the killer.”

“Whatever.”

“I suppose Carolla is going to get a set of tits.”

Celia: “Nice tits.”

GM: A faint smile. “I can attest. If his sacrifice makes you safer from hunters, I’m all for it.”

Celia: “We should cover his disappearance more. I don’t want his uncle coming after me or my family. Or you.”

GM: Roderick nods soberly.

Celia: “Wear his face around a little, maybe.”

GM: “That’s why I was pretty paranoid about this.”

“I could wear his face, though. I know enough of how the Mafia operates.”

Celia: “…wonder if you could infiltrate.”

GM: Roderick considers.

“That’s not a bad plan at all.”

Celia: “You think you could act enough like him?”

GM: “That might be harder. What I have is the knowledge.”

Celia: “Worth thinking about, anyway.”

GM: He nods. “Very much so. For now, let’s just get rid of the real Carolla. We already did good letting two licks see him after he disappeared.”

Celia: Celia nods. She sets about gathering the supplies she’s going to need: a bowl, to drain him into. A cup, so she can use his own blood against him. A garbage bag for the spare parts. An apron for herself, a second for Rod.

“You gonna watch?” she asks him, using her claws to cut a hole in the side of his neck. A second later her hand punches through his chest to find his heart, squeezing the blood from his veins into the waiting bowl.

GM: “I’d be interested,” he nods, tying on the apron. He watches her initial work. “Geez. What’s that part for?”

Celia: “Heart is literally just a pump that moves the blood through the body. You can’t usually drain someone the whole way just through feeding, but you can this way.”

“Waste not and all that.”

GM: “That makes perfect sense.”

“Hmm. I bet a sorcerer would know all sorts of things to do with his blood.”

Celia: “Probably.”

GM: “What do you want to use it for?”

Celia: “Drink it, mostly. I burned through enough keeping him from murdering the two of us.”

“Fucker can pay me back.”

GM: “That works. I’m getting munchies too.”

Celia, however, doesn’t find much blood to squeeze. The horribly savaged Brujah was clearly burning through a great deal over the course of the fight.

Celia: She eyes the amount she’s able to squeeze out of him. Enough to share?

More than enough to share.

“Microwave in the next room. Unless you like it cold. Can each have a hit now, save some for later?”

GM: “That works.” Roderick fills up some containers and carries them away.

He’s back a few minutes later.

“Well, cheers.” He raises his.

Celia: Celia tucks away the rest of it for later. She lifts her glass, clinking it against his.

“Cheers.”

GM: Roderick downs the blood.

Then he doesn’t move.

The glass shatters over the floor, spilling its remaining blood as it falls from slack fingers.

Celia: Celia follows suit, swallowing it down. She’s absorbed in drinking—god, she loves Brujah blood—and only glances his way when the glass hits the ground. She looks at it, then up at him, and then at the glass in her hand.

GM: Roderick leaps upon Carolla’s vivisected body with a choked roar, bringing his fists down over and over and over as he smashes bones and pulverizes flesh with mindless, ravening fury.

Celia: Celia darts backwards, away from the angry vampire. She readies a stake in case he comes at her.

GM: He doesn’t. He mindlessly savages and rips apart Carolla’s already torpid form.

Celia: She doesn’t interrupt. She remembers too well what happened last time she’d tried to do something when he’d been raging inside a confined space with her.

Better Carolla than her.

GM: He smashes in Carolla’s ribs. Rips out arms and leg from sockets. Snaps them apart. Snaps the spine. Caves in the skull.

He just keeps going.

Celia: Years as a lick has afforded her some emotional detachment to watching a body get torn apart. She’s done it enough times herself. She’s already cataloging what she’ll need to put back together. Whether she’ll be able to put him back together. How many extra parts she’ll need to fix.

But with his attention focused as it is on the Brujah, maybe he doesn’t notice her crouching near the table to get a look at the guts and parts that fly off.

You can tell so much from the flesh once it leaves a lick’s body.

GM: Roderick doesn’t cease or pause in his furious assault. His fists smash and smash and smash into Carolla’s, reducing it to no more pulp. Every part of his body—including the skull.

Celia: Maybe she’d thought there was some part of her boyfriend left. Some part of Stephen. Something that would make him not absolutely destroy the body on the table in front of him despite his rage at what he found.

But he goes for the skull, and her brief investigation comes to a halt when she sees what he’s about to do.

It’s just like at Elysium. He was going to goad Garcia into saying something that would prompt a duel. And now, here, he’s going to destroy what’s left of Carolla.

He’s going to do the one thing that he doesn’t want to do, no matter how mad he is right now.

He’s going to ash him.

“NO!”

The roar is torn out of her as soon as she sees it and she moves more quickly than she has this evening, bursting forward to launch herself at him. Her claws come out. He’s stronger than her, she knows that, but maybe they’ll give her the edge that she needs.

She will not let him destroy the fucker—not matter how much he deserves it—and further blacken his soul. Not on her watch.

Her Beast, riding high from its victory earlier in the night, roars its approval. It rattles the cage. It wants out.

GM: She has plans enough to blacken her own soul, anyway.

Upon Carolla’s.

Souls for power, like she said to Caroline.

The torpid Brujah is so much closer than L.A. is.

Celia: But she’s stronger than her Beast.

She always has been.

She’s not the helpless, doe-eyed damsel she pretends to be. This entire night proved that. She’d torped Carolla. Taken out him and his goon. Hatched a plan to frame someone else. Laid plans to infiltrate both the Mafia and the hunters. Told Roderick to fuck off when he thought he could tell her how to discipline her ghouls.

No, she’s not a damsel.

Just an angry lick that isn’t going to let everything she has worked so hard for be ruined by a guy with a rage issue.

GM: Celia streaks into Roderick, knocking him off the table. The frenzying Brujah smashes a fist into her face, crunching in her nose and sending teeth flying as he scrambles back towards his clanmate’s torpid form. Celia sweeps a leg underneath his, tripping her lover onto his chin. He flips around and delivers a rib-shattering kick to her torso, then scrambles to his feet. He’s too fast to stop from rising, but not so fast that she can’t still throw herself onto his back, knocking him to the floor again. Another furious fist smashes into her face. On and on and on, Roderick tries to set upon his helpless clanmate, and Celia heedlessly throws herself in his path. He shatters bone and bruises skin and worse. But Celia will not be denied. She must maintain the proper order—him the better man, her the monster. She cannot let the vision come to pass. She just has to hold out. She just has to hold him at bay until the fury passes, no matter how much it hurts, no matter how much precious blood it costs her—until, finally, it does. Roderick collapses to his knees, coated in his lover’s lifeblood, red tears welling from his own eyes.

“C… Celia…”

Celia: There’s little enough vitae left in her when it’s over.

She can feel it. Gnawing. Twisting. Hungry.

She’s always so hungry.

How much of her is broken? What had he done to her? How many bones? How much of her face?

God, not her face.

Bones rejoin. Flesh rights itself. His fists don’t leave a permanent mark on her. Not anymore.

No. Not a damsel at all.

She moves to him when it’s over, sinking onto her knees beside him, pulling him into her arms. Her lips find his neck. Chaste. Brief. Her hand presses against the back of his head, holding him to her. Her fingers slide through his hair.

“I’ve got you,” she whispers. “I’ve got you.”

GM: Her lover weeps in her embrace. Tiny streams of runs over her arms, hot and furious, but undeniably grief-stricken.

“C-Celia,” Roderick rasps out, “h-e’s… he’s…!”

Celia: “Your brother,” she says for him. She leaves Coco’s name out of it. “I could taste it. Taste you.”

GM: Roderick closes his eyes for a moment. He doesn’t swallow. The physiological need is long past.

But he repeats the words himself. As if it’s important for him to say the truth aloud. To not shirk from it, in even this moment.

“He’s… my… BROTHER!

She has never heard his voice so broken. So raw. So crushed.

Since he died.

For a moment, she’s Celia Flores, newly-Embraced fledgling again, with a mortal boyfriend she can’t stay together with. She’s telling him, the man whose children she wanted to bear, that they’re through. Because she cheated on him. Because she was broken inside and his love wasn’t enough to fix her. Because he loved her and trusted her and he made a sucker’s bet, and she twisted all of that love and trust like a knife in his gut. To hurt him like only someone you’ve opened your heart and soul to can ever hurt you.

That’s what his voice sounds like.

That moment from 2009.

When he begged her to get help.

Celia: She blinks and it’s there in her eyes: pain. The pain that she caused. Continues to cause. Now. Then.

She did this.

She made this happen.

To please someone else. To make her sire happy. To make her grandsire happy. Their goals, not hers, never hers. She doesn’t want him to hurt like this. Once is enough.

Isn’t it better, some part of her asks, that he knows? Better that found out? Better that he didn’t continue his Requiem ignorant to the fact that his sire lied to him?

That’s what it all comes down to, isn’t it. The difference between them:

Truth?

Or beauty?

He has gotten his truth and it has broken him.

The red runs down her cheeks. She doesn’t try to stop it. She doesn’t want it anymore. She doesn’t want to be this person anymore. She doesn’t want to play their games and ruin people because she, too, knows the truth: they’re all fucking terrible. Every single one of them. Except for him. He’s not. He’s not, but they’re going to ruin him. He’s not, but they’re going to blacken him. They’re going to twist him, to tear him apart, to leave him nothing but an empty, hollow corpse, because that’s what they do. That’s what they are.

They’re monsters.

And she hates them for it.

Every single one of them.

Even him.

What do you do when you find out your life is a lie?

She had abandoned her mom. Left her in the hospital. Broken. Bleeding. Hurting. Isolated.

Nothing had helped.

He had. Eventually. When she’d found him, he’d been there for her. Put her back together. Let her tell him everything on her time. When she was ready. Didn’t push.

So she doesn’t push now. She keeps her arms around him, touch soft against his skin, holding him to her like she wished someone would hold her.

GM: She holds him.

Holds him as he holds the burden of his truth.

Holds him as it crushes him.

Holds him as it grinds his bones.

Holds him as it squeezes the tears from his ducts.

Holds him as he raises his head, his eyes lost and confused, like a newborn beholding the world for the first time.

And not liking what it sees.

“She lied to me,” he whispers.

“She,” he repeats, each word falling from his lips like a stone, “Lied. To. Me.”

He looks around, as if not recognizing the spa. He repeats the words again. There’s a strange, almost lyrical cadence to them, as if he can’t understand them. As if in saying them aloud, he might come to realize what they mean. They sound almost innocent.

“She… lied… to me.”

Celia: She did.

She lied.

Celia doesn’t say it, though. He doesn’t need to hear it from her. There’s enough bad blood between them about his sire.

GM: He laughs. It’s a light sound. Almost a giggle.

“She lied to me.”

“She… lied to me.”

He runs a hand through his hair and bursts out laughing. His smile is huge. Far too huge for his face, like a cracked mirror being crammed into a too-small frame.

“I’m the stupid one!"

“Ah ha! Ah ha ha ha! AH HA HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!”

He cannot contain the laughter. It bursts from his dead lungs, filling the room, jubilant and exalting as a cyanide pill in a birthday cake it rings off the walls.

“I see now!”

“I SEE now!”

Celia: He’s hysterical.

Literally cracked.

Celia swallows. She doesn’t know what to say.

GM: “I’m not stupid anymore, Celia!” he grins at her. He seizes her cheeks between his hands, crushingly hard.

“They all said it was you, but it was me!”

“I was stupid!"

“But not anymore!”

“Oh no! Oh no, oh no, not anymore!”

“I won’t be stupid EVER AGAIN!”

Celia: She tries to talk around the grip he has on her cheeks. But it hurts to try to move her jaw. She pulls at his hands, backpedaling.

“Wh—what?”

GM: “I GET it now, Celia!” he yells, shaking her back and forth. Her skull slams into the wall hard enough to make spots blossom across her sight if she were mortal, but he doesn’t seem to notice. He throws back his head and laughs.

“I GET it! How it all really works!”

“How THEY all really work!”

“How the world really works!”

“Oh, I’m so smart, like they all said I was! I finally get it!”

Celia: She doesn’t.

She doesn’t have any idea what he’s talking about. What he thinks he gets.

Maybe it’s her head slamming into the wall. She keeps herself quiet, pulling away from him.

GM:YOU got it!” he declares, thrusting a finger at her.

“And they all said you were so stupid.”

“Ha. Ha ha. Ha ha haha haaHAHAHAHAH!”

Celia: “Stop it, Roderick.”

GM: “You’re not stupid! You GOT IT, Celia! You got it YEARS before I did!”

“Years and years and YEARS!”

Celia: “Got what?

GM: He throws up his hands.

“The truth!”

“How it all works!”

He laughs again.

Celia: She doesn’t like this. It’s scaring her. He’s going to do something crazy. He’s going to do something stupid. He’s going to go cause problems somewhere.

He’s broken. They broke him. She broke him.

Again.

GM: “Took me long enough, with a brain as big as mine!”

“Well. Well, well, well, well, well. It’s time I stopped acting so stupid.”

Celia: “Roderick. Stop. Just… just take a minute, okay?”

GM: “Take me to Savoy, Celia.”

“He can be the second to see, just how smart I am now.”

Celia: Celia presses her lips together.

“What, now?”

GM: He smiles like it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

“Take me to Savoy, so I can sell out Coco and stab her in the back like she stabbed me.”

Celia: Celia reaches for her phone. She sends a text to Mel that she’s stopping by and bringing a friend. The ghoul will know what it means.

GM: “She fed me lies for years.”

“Well, I will feed her lies right back.”

“I will feed her plenty of lies indeed.”

“I think I’m going to be very good at lying, with a big brain like mine.”

Celia: It’s what she wanted.

What she’s been working towards. What everything she’s done these past weeks has been for.

Why, then, does victory ring so hollow?


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: She asks him if he wants to change his face. But the lie he’s wearing right now works better. No need to tip anyone off. They keep it.

She asks, too, if he’s hungry. They take the edge off if he is. And she finds the blood she’d drained earlier to feed herself. Just in case.

She tells the boys to stay put, that she’ll be back for them, and tells Dani to get some sleep. “Something came up,” is all she says, “I’ll explain later.”

They wash off the blood and find new clothes. Celia turns herself into Jade. Then they’re in the car, driving toward the Evergreen.

GM: He waves off the offered blood. He’ll impose upon Lord Savoy. He’s sure the Toreador elder will be happy to satisfy his thirst.

“I’m going to squeeze him for everything he’s worth,” he declares.

Dani wants to talk to her brother. He tells her things are fine. He’ll see her later.

They drive to the Evergreen. He doesn’t talk along the way. Fabian receives them cordially and states Lord Savoy is due to return shortly. In the meantime, he bids the lovers to slake their thirst upon a few of Mélissaire’s girls. They feed together in one of the upstairs Louis XIV-themed sitting rooms. Roderick drinks thirstily from the attractive escort on his lap without making small talk. He licks the blood from his lips when she’s gone. He waits, patiently.

Celia: Jade doesn’t turn down the offer of free blood. They drink together. The girls are attractive; they have to be, they go to Flawless. She enjoys the way they writhe when she sinks in.

But they’re just a distraction to their real purpose this evening.

She waits with Roderick. Silent. She doesn’t force her company on him if he doesn’t want it. But she’s close, and she hopes that he does.

GM: He sits by her while she feeds, and even shares the same vessel at one point, eyes meeting as they drink. But he doesn’t seem to feel like talking once it’s done.

It’s not an overly long wait later before Antoine Savoy sweeps into the room, grinning from ear to ear. He’s trailed by Preston, Mélissaire, and a redheaded girl Jade hasn’t seen before. He warmly kisses his grandchilde upon both cheeks and greets a stonier-faced Roderick with a simple handshake.

“We have a great deal to discuss, Lord Savoy,” says the Brujah.

“Yes, I’m certain we do,” grins Savoy, clapping the taller man on the back and following him to the elevator with Preston.

“I’ll send for you in short order, my dear,” he says to Jade. “In the meantime, we’ll put Mélissaire and Theoline here at your disposal. Anything you might desire, they will arrange.”

The redhead looks no older than a teenager. Her milk-pale features are beautiful and unblemished, while her gaze is placid and tranquil. She’s garbed in a flowing white gown that strikingly contrasts her waist-length red hair and gives her an almost ethereal appearance. Jade’s seen them before, silently attending various elders. The casquette girls.

:: Use the time to think of what rewards you’d like. Don’t be modest! :: Savoy’s voice chuckles in her mind. :: I’m very, VERY pleased with you, Celia. I knew you’d come through on this one. I have good instincts for people—and so do you, to flip Coco’s childe! We’ll talk more about what kind of expanded role you might serve in my court going forward. ::

Celia: Jade halts in her tracks as the group disappears into the elevator. She’d thought that she would go with them. Would be part of it. Could listen in, learn at his side like Roderick got to with his sire.

Not tonight.

She doesn’t let it bother her. Rewards, he’d said. Part of his court. That can be part of it.

She reaches for the tether that links their minds together, sending back wordless affirmation filled with affection. Like a cat rubbing up against his thoughts, purring, its tail flicking in quiet contentment. He’s pleased. And she’s pleased that he’s pleased. And she can’t help but think of the pair of them in that hot tub together upstairs, no Preston to be found. There’s a giggle, the suggestion of a wink, and finally a :: Yes, grandsire. ::

Don’t be modest indeed.

GM: There’s an image of the two of them lazily reclining in the pool’s bubbling water together. Preston isn’t anywhere to be found.

Or their clothes.

Celia: Tease.

Her fangs lengthen at the image.

GM: “Just let us know what we can do for you, ma’am,” smiles Mélissaire as the old-fashioned wrought iron elevator coveys the other Kindred to the roof. “Lord Savoy is VERY pleased.”

Celia: Celia’s eyes stay on her boyfriend’s face until the doors close and they disappear to the floors above. She knows what she wants.

Him.

Back the way he was.

In love with her. Happy. Stressed, maybe, but happy. Working for good. Talking about a wedding.

Not this damaged, broken, cracked version of himself. Not this vengeful, spurned childe.

She wants what they had. And she’s afraid that it’s out of reach. Afraid that it wasn’t the hunters who had set him down the path to the Dark Roderick she had seen in her vision, but the betrayal of his sire.

Celia knows what she wants. But Celia is a liability in this place, and it’s not something they can do. She drowns.

Jade is there to pick up the pieces. She’s so good at her role. What had she once said? “I keep her safe.” She turns her gaze to the women.

What can they do for her? An elder ghoul and, if she’s not mistaken, a casquette girl. She’s seen them around before, and she’s heard of them, but she’s never had one at her disposal. She runs through a list of what she’s working on in her head: the hunters, the Setites, the demons.

VERY pleased, is he? She’ll see how pleased. How far that good will goes; whether or not the exiled prince is worth more to him than a viper who scurries through the Quarter.

“I need a cottonmouth,” Jade says to the ghoul. “Staked and delivered to me prior to Elysium tomorrow.”

“Failing that, a combat-trained shadow dancer for a pickup during the day.”

“Pierre, if he’s available,” she adds as an aside. He’d already made contact with the same group. Maybe he’ll give the boys an edge. It’s a bonus that she doesn’t need to change his face.

She tries to ignore the fact that she is very certain he is the one who had accosted her in the shower and received a taste of her claws for the effort.

Perhaps he shouldn’t have tried to use her without her consent.

Perhaps they’ll go for round two.

GM: “Lord Savoy will need to authorize a request like that first one,” answers Mélissaire, “but I can check and see, so far as Pierre.”

“Where and when is the pickup?”

Celia: “Tomorrow.” Jade gives her the time she’d worked out with the boys. “He’ll be with two of mine.”

A pause, then, “Let Lord Savoy know that the cottonmouth is to secure another friend for him.”

GM: Mélissaire nods and asks for a meet location or contact number so the other ghoul can know where to go.

“I think he’ll want to receive the details of that first request from you in person, ma’am. Friends don’t stake friends without a good reason, after all,” Mélissaire declares with an amused smile.

Celia: Better she tell him in person, anyway.

She gives Mel a contact number for Randy.

GM: “Very good, ma’am. Will there be anything else?” smiles the ghoul.

Theoline stands silently nearby with a placidly blank expression.

Celia: “For tonight?” Jade considers. Something for her instead of furthering her grandsire’s goals and influence. Something personal and selfish.

She can think of dozens of things. None of them seem right.

She shifts her gaze to the casquette girl. Curiosity gnaws at her.

“No.”

GM: The casquette girl meets her gaze calmly as she considers.

“Very good, ma’am,” Mélissaire repeats with another smile as she and Theoline show Jade downstairs. “Lord Savoy will be free to see you soon; he can swing tomorrow at 4 or Saturday at 3. Which of those nights would work better for you?”

Celia: “Not tonight?” She’d thought he meant tonight.

GM: “He expects dawn not to be too far off when he’s done with Mr. Durant, ma’am. He wants to give your meeting plenty of time as well.”

Celia: “Neither of those times work for me.”

GM: “I’ll check when a later time might be arranged, in that case.”

Celia: She wonders if he’s used to nobodies like Jade telling him that she’s busy.

“Let his guest know I’m going home for the evening.”

GM: Indeed, Jade could simply reschedule for the elder.

“I’ll do just that, ma’am. Have a very good night—you’ve been of great help to Lord Savoy,” wishes Mélissaire, bowing low.

Celia: She’s already had her meetings bumped. His own fault for only being free when she has other people to meet.

It’s like he did it on purpose.

Jade nods to the pair of ghouls and sees herself out.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: A text to Randy on the way out of the Evergreen assures that everything she needs is waiting for her when she gets back to Flawless. It might mean he has to take a trip to pick up the thin-blood she’d given them earlier to hold onto, but whatever; it’s there when she arrives.

She should probably have a separate site where she can butcher people, she thinks. Somewhere that no one can connect to Jade or Celia.

Not that she plans on butchering very many people. Right?

Just in case, though.

GM: Randy does not respond to the text. Jade finds both ghouls sound asleep when she gets back. Dani shoots her a text on the way back, though, and is still there. She asks what happened with her brother. “Where is he? I just, have a bad feeling with him losing it and not coming back… and what’s happening to the Mafia guy?”

Celia: Dani and her both, Celia can’t help but think.

“He got some bad news and had to handle it. I dropped him off, but he’s going to be a while. Close to dawn. I’d rather let him tell you what happened, if that’s okay.”

GM: “Okay…” Dani says slowly. “I’d just like to be there for him. Do you know where he’s gonna be?”

Celia: “He’s with another lick in a private meeting while they figure out a game plan.”

“You won’t be able to get in.”

“I wasn’t able to get in.”

GM: “Oh.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

“Nothing like feeling useless when someone you love is going through a hard time.”

GM: “I just have a bad feeling about this, Celia.”

Celia: Celia effects a sigh.

“Me too, Dani.”

“Do you have school tomorrow? You can come with me tonight and spend the day if you want. Maybe he’ll meet up with us before dawn.”

GM: “I do have school. But I’d love to!” she nods. “That’ll be before it starts anyway.”

Celia: “You getting enough sleep?”

GM: “I kind of wish we’d thought to ask Edith about that. Sometimes I’m pretty tired.”

Celia: “I’m sure she’d trade more information for blood.”

GM: “God. She, Rampart Street, all of that, was just…” Dani shivers.

“And then this. The same evening.”

“At least I had a gun this time. Stephen gave me one to keep in my purse.”

Celia: “Good. You know how to shoot?”

GM: She nods. “I have a permit. He and Dad showed me when I was younger.”

“We’d sometimes all go to the gun range together.”

Celia: “Won’t stop a lick. But might slow them down.”

“Good to know, in any case.”

GM: “I saw that firsthand, yeah.”

Celia: “Did he get hit? I was kind of… distracted.”

GM: “Carolla didn’t really seem to feel the rounds I put into him.”

“But I shot his ghoul.”

“Before Reggie murdered him.”

Celia: “Yeah, Rod and I talked about it.”

GM: “So did Randy and I. After I yelled at his brother.”

Celia: “How’d that go?”

GM: “About as well as you might expect.”

“He’s a pedophile murderer. You should do something about him.”

Celia: He’s not a pedophile. It’s not like he has sex with kids. He just likes the taboo of being with their moms.

“Yep.”

“Hey, do you think it’s weird if I get Roderick a dog? He mentioned he misses Ajax, and I think maybe he could use some non-human, non-Kindred companionship.”

GM: “We talked about that, when I told him about Ajax. He said he was concerned about tamers.”

Celia: “He could learn, though.”

“Maybe I’ll wait.”

“Dogs don’t much like me, anyway.”

GM: “Maybe until he does. Good surprise present, though.”

“Yeah, your mom says her cats hate you too.”

Celia: “Can’t please everyone.”

GM: “Well, I guess that’s one advantage to being duskborn. They seem to like me fine.”

Celia: Licks hate her, though. But Celia doesn’t point it out.

She knows which one she’d rather be.

GM: “Are we gonna be here a while, anyways? Is there a good spot I can get some shut-eye if so?”

Celia: “Take one of the massage rooms. Tables are pretty comfortable, just don’t roll off the edge. Or there’s chairs in them.”

GM: “Thanks. Feels weird being in a spa after hours like this.”

Celia: She laughs.

“Yeah. You get used to it.”

GM: Dani smiles faintly and shakes her head. “Just one of those places I never figured I was gonna be.”

“But I guess so was gunfights in a public park.”

Celia: “And friends with a vampire.”

GM: “And being a vampire. Are you going to do something about Reggie?”

Celia: “I already had this conversation once tonight, Dani. I’m not doing it again.”

GM: “With Stephen? I’ll grant he can’t exactly be prosecuted for murder, but he can’t just kill someone without some kind of consequence.”

Celia: Celia fixes her with a look.

“I will decide how and what for my ghouls are punished. That is no one else’s decision or business except for mine.”

GM: “Uh, I’m sorry, is there some kind of etiquette I’m missing here?”

Celia: “My ghouls are my business. What I do to them is my business. If I ask for input, fine. Otherwise, every lick who has a ghoul is in charge of what they do to theirs. You don’t tell someone else that they need to do something, or what it is you think they need to do.”

“So yes, that’s a complete breach of etiquette.”

“Politely, it’s like telling someone how to handle their child.”

GM: Dani frowns. “Your mom’s your ghoul. So how does that factor into it?”

Celia: “Weirdly.”

“I never intended for my mom to be my ghoul.”

“She’s… different.”

GM: “So, what, is she ‘your child’ too? And if not, why not? What’s the criteria that makes them only accountable to you?”

Celia: “Dani, I’d love to explain this to you, but I’m going to ask that you wait. I have a fuck ton of stuff to do right now before I get home and have had a very trying night where I was smacked around by a Mafiosa and watched him try to murder my boyfriend.”

GM: “I had one where I was almost raped by homeless people and killed by two mafiosos, who I also saw try to murder my brother, and was largely helpless to do anything about it. Stephen looks like he’s letting things with Reggie be for now, so, fine, I’ll trust his judgment. And ask him about this. But I’m not letting it drop forever.”

Celia: “My ghouls, my business.”

GM: “We’ve already established there’s at least one exception to that rule.”

Celia: “Do you want to know,” she suddenly says, “what your brother wanted me to do to him?”

GM: “…sorry?”

Celia: “He wanted me to trade him to another domitor. Someone who is less ‘nice’ than me. He wanted me to hand him over to be beaten, abused, and otherwise defiled because to our kind, they’re nothing.”

GM: “He’s a pedophile murderer who’s apparently unaccountable to our justice system. There has the be some kind of consequence! If that’s the only one Stephen thought he could face, well, fuck, Celia, he killed someone in cold blood! That wasn’t self-defense!”

Celia: “So no, Dani, I’m not going to sit here and let the two of you tell me how to punish him for what he did. I am his domitor. I will handle it. My mother is a different story because she is my mother. Most licks don’t ghoul their mothers.”

“I said,” Celia repeats, “that I will handle it.

GM: “And I said I’d leave this alone tonight. But I’m going to ask Stephen about it.”

Celia: “Stephen and I,” Celia repeats, “already spoke about it.”

GM: “Then I guess he’ll talk with me about it too, because this ‘etiquette convention’ makes absolutely no sense. If your mom killed someone in cold blood, does she get to be prosecuted for it, or does she fall under ‘domitor justice’ too?”

Celia: “Jesus Christ,” Celia mutters.

“Licks don’t answer to the same justice system that you do. That’s all there is to it. Talk to Stephen if you want to, he’s going to tell you the same thing.”

“I said I’d handle it. I’m handling it.”

GM: “I know licks don’t answer to our justice system. You and Stephen explained the Traditions and how those are vampire laws. What’s inconsistent is where, apparently, ghouls fit into that, and why exceptions are made for ones who are immediate relatives to a vampire.”

Celia: “You’re missing the point.”

GM: “Well, I said I was going to drop this. So I will.”

“I’ll ask Stephen more.”

Celia: Great.

GM: “And let your mom know she can kill people if she ever feels like it, I guess.”

Celia: “That’s literally not what I said at all.”

“Stop twisting my words because you’re pissed at Reggie.”

“I said my mom was an exception to the parent/child dynamic. That was literally it.”

“If you took further meaning from it that’s on you.”

GM: “I’m going to get some shut-eye,” Dani says shortly. “Let me know when you’re done.”

Celia: She should have wiped her fucking memories.

Another fucking liability.

Celia snarls at the door once it closes. Maybe a night on Rampart Street would do her a world of good.

Nip that attitude right in the fucking bud.

This is why.

This. Right here.

This is why you’re not nice to people who are below you.

Because they get fucking uppity.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: Jade reheats the blood she’d taken from herself earlier once Dani sees herself out, downing two hits of it to slake her thirst before she even begins, and sets the other two aside. No doubt she’ll need them before the evening is out. She still has the blood from the pathetic half vampire, too; thin though it is it will still serve a use if she needs it to.

She starts with Randy, turning him into the hunter she’d killed. Then the thin-blood, turning him into “Jade.” Then Carolla, turning him into a nameless nobody with whatever parts she can salvage that Roderick hadn’t destroyed, though she has no intention of handing his body over. She keeps him staked. She’ll need a secure place to keep him while she figures out… well, while she figures out what to do with him.

That thing Caroline had told her is tempting.

So very, very tempting.

But she’ll keep him around until she meets with her grandsire, she thinks, in case he needs… what?

Whatever. Maybe she’s just not ready to drain someone of their soul.

Jade takes stock of her Beast after each transition, drinking as she needs to. No need to ride the edge when she has a surplus of blood this evening.

She finds she doesn’t need to. Her Beast is happy to watch her tear apart carcasses and sculpt them to her will. It’s pleased that she’s finally taking steps to end the threat to herself. Pleased that her grandsire is pleased, regardless of her role as taxi driver this evening. Pleased that maybe her lover won’t scoff at her for her actions here now that he’s had a taste of this life. It doesn’t fight her when she starts her work.

The ghoul’s body needs to be drained as well, then she can strip it down to parts she can use and parts she can’t. She has Reggie see to the first bit while she works on the rest of it, and when they’re both done it’s his turn on her table. She starts by checking him for any lasting injuries from Roderick’s hands.

GM: Randy groggily wakes up when Celia rouses him and requests a sedative. He stares at his new face in the mirror when she’s done and mutters, “I’ll never get used to that.”

The thin-blood, a middle-aged homeless man with stringy hair, bad teeth, and a haggard face marred with the telltale signs of years-long drug addiction, is soon a smoking hot 20something woman. He doesn’t even respond to the agonizing process of having his entire body resculpted from face to genitals. Just stares blankly up at the ceiling.

Jade could make a joke about doing him a favor.

Celia: Less of a favor since she’s getting rid of him.

But at least he’ll die pretty.

GM: Reggie guffaws with laughter after he comes in and asks.

“Damn. Upgrade for that guy.”

“I’d stick my cock in that if I wasn’t worried about catching something.”

Celia: “I bet you would.”

GM: Jade finds his throat to still have some telltale red abrasions, but her ghoul otherwise looks fine.

Celia: Good. She’d be pissed all over again if Roderick did any lasting damage.

“Next time,” she tells the ghoul, “don’t announce you killed someone in front of people.”

“And maybe wait until I have a chance to question him.”

GM: “Yeah, that probably woulda been smarter. Mainly wanted to get your friend’s panties in a wad.”

“Which it did.”

“Good point on the questioning, though.”

“I just saw what a huge fucking problem this guy was gonna be if we did anything else.”

Celia: “You did the right thing.”

“I would have killed him too.”

GM: “Yeah, I figured.”

Celia: “But them getting their panties in a wad means I have to listen to them bitch.”

“And they’re really fucking annoying.”

GM: “You want, I can punish her for you.”

Celia: “I want you to leave her alone and pretend I punished you.”

GM: “Okay, like, how?”

“Oh, maybe you made me fuck your double here without a rubber, before he got the sexy treatment.”

Celia: “Jesus.”

“Tell them I beat you or something. I doubt they’re going to ask.”

“Then again, maybe forcing you to fuck something you don’t want to fuck would work for them. They think you’re a pedophile.”

GM: Reggie rolls his eyes.

He walks up to the double and pulls down its pants and panties.

“Goddamn. That is a real fucking cunt,” he declares with a low whistle.

Celia: “Nice, isn’t it?”

She does good work.

GM: Reggie laughs again.

HUGE upgrade for this guy.”

“Will he have any idea?”

“Or I guess, she at this point.”

He pulls up the blouse and starts appreciatively squeezing the breasts.

“Oh yeah. Definitely ‘she.’”

Celia: “She’s pretty much dead at this point. You’re just using the body to get in and nab them.”

GM: “I dunno, she doesn’t look dead in all the ways that count to me…”

Celia: “You’re more of a slut than I am, Reg.”

GM: Reggie starts removing the double’s clothes.

Celia: “Tell you what. Bag those hunters for me and bring them back—alive—and I’ll turn someone into whatever you want them to be.”

GM: He gives in mid-undressing to give Jade a very dirty grin.

“Anyone I want, you say?”

Celia: Jade arches a brow at him.

GM: “You might regret that promise.”

Celia: “You going to ask for my mom?”

GM: He laughs.

“Close.”

Celia: “…my sister?”

GM: “My mom.”

Celia: She just nods.

“Done.”

GM: “Although… yours if I was banging you at the same time would be really hot too.”

Celia: “I kind of want to watch you fuck your mom, not gonna lie.”

GM: “Mmm, how’s this. I’ll put on a show for you with my mom, then we fuck each other and your mom together.”

Celia: “Bring me the hunters, Reg, and we’ve got nothing but time to play out our fucked up fantasies.”

GM: “I want you to have the same hair color,” he grins. “Bigger family resemblance.”

“I can’t really picture her with black hair. But you’d be a sexy blonde.”

Celia: She’d be a sexy anything.

GM: “Meantime,” he says, peeling off the last of the lookalike’s clothes, then hoisting up Jade on top of the torpid body,

“I’ve always wanted to do twins…”


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

GM: The sex with the staked double isn’t much, with their partner literally just lying there like a wooden board, but Reggie still seems to find it really hot. He and Jade do each other on top of ‘her’ in a variety of positions. Reggie tries to finish with a blowjob from the double (“you never want to give those”), but eventually makes do for just rubbing his cock back and forth along the tongue in the double’s held-open mouth. He blows his load all over ’Jade’s’ face with a pant.

“Fuck. That was hot.”

“You know, I bet the hunter REALLY won’t want to look like my mom.”

“Or to fuck me.”

“Or to fuck me looking like my mom.”

“So it’ll be like I’m raping my mom.”

His cock is already getting firm again.

Celia: She doesn’t judge him for it. Really.

But she does tell him that he’s going to have to wait before he gets off again.

As, uh, punishment.

Yeah. Punishment. Now she can say she punished him without lying. She makes him clean the thin-blood, too, and they rinse off together, and maybe she lied when she said he had to wait again because something about black dudes fucking her in the shower really does it for her and she has him take her again.

But now it’s starting for real this time.

She goes over the plan with him one more time when they’re done, after she changes his face and body to be something nondescript. Pierre will contact them. He’s met them before, he knows what’s up with them. Make sure they’re not being tracked or anything silly.

She asks if he has any questions.

GM: He doesn’t.

He’s eager to “go pick up my mom.”

But for now he needs “my fucking beauty sleep.” He and Randy drive home. Dani and Celia drive back to her haven. Things still feel tense and they don’t talk much.

The night sky starts to turn navy blue, but Roderick doesn’t come home.

Celia: She sends him a text to see if he’s okay, though she doesn’t really expect an answer.

GM: She doesn’t get one.

“What if something happened to him?” Dani finally asks, breaking the pair’s near-silence. “It’s going to be dawn soon, but I could go look.”

Celia: “I think he’s just angry,” Celia says quietly. “I don’t think anything happened to him.”

She reaches for Dani’s hand.

GM: Dani gives it a squeeze.

“Is he gonna be okay…?”

Celia: “I don’t know,” Celia admits. “He found out someone he trusted betrayed him.”

GM: “A lick?”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “He didn’t take it well. After you guys broke up.”

Celia: Celia wets her lips with her tongue. “What happened? What did he do?”

GM: “I don’t think I ever saw him with another girl.”

Celia: “Never?”

GM: “I mean, he had girlfriends before you. But not after.”

“That I saw.”

Celia: “Did he have anywhere he used to go?”

GM: “I don’t know. He just… shut down. Stopped responding to calls or texts or emails.”

“So I guess this isn’t new.”

Celia: “He might be at one of his other places…”

GM: “My dad got really worried after a while. Went to his apartment to see if he was okay.”

“They had a huge argument.”

“Really ugly.”

“Which was so weird, because they normally get along so well.”

“Got along so well.”

“He’s… like our dad, I guess. He also shuts down when he’s mad.”

“He also called up our mom to yell at her.”

Celia: Maybe Savoy staked him to keep him from doing anything stupid.

GM: “Screamed about walking out on the family and being a traitor and all sorts of… out there shit.”

“She told me about it later.”

Celia: “Jesus.”

Celia wipes at her eyes.

“He sounded like that tonight.”

“The way he sounded when I broke up with him.”

“Broken.”

GM: Dani’s quiet for a while.

“I stopped by his place too, a few days after Dad. He wouldn’t answer the door.”

“I finally started yelling at him and that got him to open up. He looked like he hadn’t been taking care of himself. And he yelled at me and told me I was a loser and that I’d always be second best.”

Celia: Celia presses her lips together.

“I’m sorry.”

“That it happened because of me.”

GM: Dani just looks sad for a moment.

“He chose to say that. It was on him.”

“He said sorry later.”

“Really apologized. Said how much he wished he could take it back.”

“But, just…”

She shrugs helplessly. “I don’t know. I don’t want to see him like this.”

“I feel like I just got him back.”

“And we have dinner tomorrow, with our dad and your family…”

Celia: “I know,” Celia says quietly. “I know. I feel the same. That I just got him back. And now this. And I don’t… I don’t know if there’s any coming back from this.”

GM: “I guess I won’t be asking him about the legal standing of ghouls after all.”

The sad attempt at levity doesn’t even deserve to be called a joke.

Celia: She tries to smile.

GM: “Does this sound like the whole… vision you had of him?”

“Well, were told about him, rather?”

Celia: “Sort of, yeah.”

GM: “Is there anything we can do?”

Celia: “Stem the tide. Keep it from getting worse. I kept him from killing two people tonight because he wouldn’t want that if he were thinking clearly. Find him. Bring him home.”

GM: “He got angry when Dad and I tried to get in his face.”

“But I guess that Stephen couldn’t kill people.”

Celia: “I don’t mean getting in his face.”

“Just… being there for him.”

GM: “I guess that’s all we can do.”

Jade feels herself growing sluggish. Sol’s harsh eye rises above the city.

Celia: “I guess our talk will have to wait for another night, too.”

Celia leans against Dani as the sun starts to rise. Not long before she goes under.

“I’m sorry I got snippy with you.”

She starts moving up the bed, burrowing beneath the blankets.

“…izzit weird if I ask you to sleep wi’ me?”

GM: “I’m sorry I got… belligerent. I could have asked less argumentatively.”

Dani helps her to the bedroom. She’s quiet for a moment at Celia’s question, as she looks at the bed, then finally replies,

“I’d… I’d feel safe with you.”

Celia: Celia pulls Dani close beneath the blankets, curling her body around her almost-sister-in-law. She takes what comfort she can from the girl in her arms. Not who she wants, no, but someone at least with whom she can share the burden of missing Stephen. Maybe together they can keep him from spiraling down into that dark place.

Her eyes close.

“We’ll fin’ him, Dani.”

“Not gonna… lose ’im… ’gain.”

GM: Dani feels tense at first, when Celia touches her. But it’s not after too much longer, doubtless aided by the bond, that she relaxes, and eventually, reciprocates. She wraps her arms around Celia and leans her head against her shoulder.

“This feels nice…”

Celia: “Mm,” Celia agrees. “Warm.”

GM: “You, too. I thought licks would be cold.”

Celia: “Special.” A long pause, as if searching for the words to explain. “Blood. Make warm. Pass as ’live.”

GM: “Oh. So most are cold.”

Celia: “Cold bad. Means bad. Beast.”

GM: Dani nuzzles her beneath the covers.

“Knew there was a reason I didn’t like them as much as you.”

Celia: Celia giggles. It’s a slower sound than normal.

“Love him,” she says after a quiet moment. “Love you.” She rubs her cheek against Dani’s chest.

GM: Dani gives her arms around Celia a squeeze.

“I love you too. You’re gonna be my sister.”

Celia: Celia nods in agreement.

Sisters.

She likes the sound of that.

GM: There’s a short laugh.

“Oh. We’re still in our clothes.”

“But I don’t really feel like getting pajamas.”

Celia: Celia fumbles for her shirt. Her fingers feel fat, barely responding to her commands.

She gives up after a minute.

GM: Dani giggles.

“Okay. Guess not.”

Celia: “Too hard,” Celia complains. “Tired. Sun up.”

“You do it.”

GM: Dani pauses a moment, then starts to pull off Celia’s clothes.

Celia: She helps where she can. Mostly it’s moving as she needs to.

“Don’ tell Steph you saw me naked.”

GM: “I won’t.”

Dani looks at her for a while. Her clothes are still on.

“You’re really pretty.”

“Prettier than me.”

Celia: “Nigh’ doc. Cheated.” Celia touches a hand to her face. It’s a lot of effort to make that move, but this seems important. “You pretty.”

GM: “I don’t have a boyfriend, though.”

“Didn’t when we met either.”

Celia: “Boys dumb.”

“More t’life than pretty.”

GM: “Yeah. But it helps.”

Celia: “Can show you. Tricks. Makeup.”

“D’centra help if you wan’.”

GM: “I haven’t really had much luck at relationships.”

“Oh. That’d be nice, yeah.”

Celia: “Have you?”

“Been with… someone.”

“Not that night.”

GM: Dani blushes and looks away.

Celia: Celia touches a hand to her cheek, gently pulling her face back towards her.

“S’okay. Nothin’ to be ’shamed of.”

GM: “I just… I think guys can tell I have… esteem issues.”

Celia: “We’ll fix.”

GM: “And the only ones who don’t care are… I have pride.”

Celia: “Wha’bout girls?”

GM: “Oh. I haven’t really thought about girls.”

Celia: “We don’… see genders, us’lly.”

“Dead, so, who cares.”

GM: “Oh,” repeats Dani.

“Like… biologically?”

Celia: “Wha’?”

GM: “Like. Is it a social thing, that ‘all vampires are gay,’ or is it biological?”

Celia: “Biolo.”

GM: “Oh.”

Celia: “Prince is ‘gay.’”

GM: “You’ve seemed…” She clears her throat.

Celia: “Hm?”

GM: “Just… y’know.” Color tinges Dani’s cheeks again.

Celia: “Open?”

GM: “Um, open?”

Celia: “Flex’ble. Both ways.”

GM: “Oh. I just meant… how pretty. I’ve noticed.”

Celia: “Oh. Though’ y’were callin’ me whore.”

GM: “What? Oh, no, no, never!”

Celia: “Steph’d be mad if I kiss you.”

GM: “Oh. You’re his girlfriend, I wouldn’t… I wouldn’t want that.”

Celia: “No?”

GM: “Well. I mean. You’re very pretty.” Dani’s cheeks start to redden again. “But you’re his.”

Celia: His.

She is, isn’t she.

She nods slowly.

“S’okay. Y’like… boys anyway.”

“Coul’ show you… good firs’ time. Redo. But his.”

GM: She nods back. “Yes. Boys.”

“Redo, you mea… oh.”

Her flush deepens.

“You’re his.”

“I’m sorry, I’m… talking crazy. Just stressed.”

Celia: “Goo’ stress ’lief.”

GM: “Well. I wouldn’t… know.”

Celia: “N’ver go’ off?”

“Dani.” Celia clicks her tongue.

GM: “Oh. I would. I’m not a total prude.”

“There’s a couple times I could’ve gotten laid. It just… made me feel cheap.”

Celia: “Why?”

“Natural. Par’ of life.”

“Dani,” Celia says when the girl seems too tongue tied to continue, “you hol’ me? I dun’ like bein’ ‘lone. C’n ge’ nake if y’wan’. Skin touch goo’ for moo’. Studies ‘bout i’.”

“But tired. Sun says go sleep.”

“Hol’ me, Dani.”

“Need you.”

“Safe.”

GM: Dani holds her. She doesn’t take off her own clothes. But she wraps her arms around Celia, lays her head against her brother’s paramour, and closes her eyes.

Safe.

Celia: Before she falls asleep Celia sighs loudly, reaching for her phone.

“Fuck,” she mutters as she sends the text to Mel.

Sat @3.

Then she’s out, her problems on pause for the day.

Monsters only exist at night.


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Story Thirteen, Jean-Marc I

“Blood runs freely and stains the earth through eternity, for we only have the appearance of eternity, but the Blood remains.”
Maledictions 12:11


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

GM: He said his name was Mason, and that he was a member of the Dirty Throws Krewe. Like every other Kindred krewe in the Big Easy, he said the Dirty Throws was composed entirely of neonates—most of whom tried very, very hard to stay below Prince Vidal’s increasingly unforgiving radar. The kid’s story, and a remarkable one it was, went something like this:

Everyone in town knows about the recent rash of poachings. (That’s a term elders use around here; it means somebody’s been feeding in another vampire’s territory.) Well, Mason claimed that he knew who was guilty of these indiscretions, or at least the most the recent spate of them. And the reason he knew was because the culprits had been his own coterie, the Dirty Throws.

Due to various personal problems Mason had with his krewemates, however, the rest of the krewe decided their only way out was to make a scapegoat of Mason. They intended to “turn him in” to the Guard de Ville (that’s the sheriff and hounds, the prince’s chief enforcers), in the hopes that their efforts would reward them two-fold: First, in the form of choice feeding grounds (a gift of thanks from a grateful prince, once word reached him), and second, they’d get the prince’s people to dispose of Mason for them. All in all, it wasn’t a bad plan.

Too bad Mason was on to them.

Scared as he was, not to mention entirely alone, Mason figured his only move left was to beat his treacherous krewemates to the punch. So he set up a meeting between himself and Alexander Wright, one of the Guard de Ville. Wright gave Mason a place and a time where they’d meet. The Brujah would then bring Mason safely to Donovan—the city’s sheriff and the long arm of Vidal himself—at a second, as yet undisclosed location. Once with the sheriff, Mason would turn his erstwhile allies in. Another solid plan.

Too bad the rest of the Dirty Throws were on to him.

When Jean-Marc first saw him, Mason was trying desperately to figure out how he was going to get to the meeting place in one piece tonight. If the Dirty Throws caught up to him before he could turn himself in, they would never let him survive. To Mason’s way of thinking, it was either them or him. The problem was, there was only one of him… and they could be anywhere.

That’s where Jean-Marc came in.



Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

GM: Louis Prima’s dulcet tones from the state of the art speakers are utterly at odds with the vampire before Jean-Marc. Then again, so is the rest of Clemens’. He sticks out like a sore thumb. Back hunched forward slightly, sneakered feet pressed anxiously together, shaky hands tucked into the pockets of his black and gold sweatshirt, he hardly looks the part of an immortal Cainite and lord of the night. He looks like one of Jean-Marc’s old classmates at Clark High, just another young black kid in over his head with gangs and the law.

He is in over his head with a gang and the law.

The more things change, the more they don’t.

“…that’s, that’s the story,” Mason breaks down, seemingly from equal parts hysteria and relief as his eyes sweep the well-heeled patrons. Even seated at the veranda rather than the 13-maximum serving lounge, the kid’s appearance (and definitely affect) should be enough to draw stares (or security), but the kine all ignore him like he’s one of them.

“Look,” he goes on, “I just need an escort to the meet site. Get me there, and Wright’ll see you helped. We’ll tell the sheriff, too, how you helped. Hell, you can come with me, tell him yourself if you want.”

Jean-Marc has never met the kid before in his life.

Mason just saw him, heard another vampire’s telltale lack of heartbeat, and spilled his guts.

It would be easy to spin something about people telling the truth when the chips are down. About trial and adversity allowing truth to triumph. But that isn’t how it works, is it? People don’t ever just tell the truth. They blurt it out in a rage or panic. They do it to save their hides. They do it as part of a transaction. They do it to hurt someone. Jean-Marc can name all-too many examples. Dinah. Doyle. Mason, here. Himself. Sometimes people even tell the truth to salve a guilty conscience. It’s harder to think of examples there. But people don’t ever tell the truth just to be truthful.

“Truth is like a king we pretend to idolize, or a God we pretend to worship, but we actually lock up in a cage, so he can’t get out and disturb our lives and beloved lies.”

Jean-Marc might suppose his soliloquy to Daronté was missing a few details. Sometimes people do let the lion out. Sometimes that actually is in their self-interest—so he’ll rip apart some poor sucker who isn’t you. Sometimes they’re just too stupid to understand the consequences, like the story—always, always a “story”—about the coed who got herself killed climbing into Audubon’s tiger enclosure. (One of Daronté’s “crack pipe nutters” by another name, her.)

But you don’t ever let the lion out just to see him roam free.

“They’ll reward you,” says Mason. “I just need an escort, in case the Throws try to fucking jump me.”

Jean-Marc: “Try?” Jean-Marc replies with an almost private arsenic smirk. The tabloid writer reluctantly folds his newspaper. He had been reading Deborah Carriere’s latest piece in the Times-Picayune, a tepid, yawn-pulling editorial about Rishu Pavaghi’s T-shirt shops misappropriating Vodouisant culture for cheap sales and cheaper laughs.

Oh how the mighty art fallen? Jean-Marc sardonically muses as he lays the folded newspaper beside his melting dram of Glass Slipper, a cocktail made of Old Forester Rye, Palo Cortado sherry, Ancho Reyes Ancho chile liqueur, Benedictine, and dashes of absinthe and Peychaud’s bitters. He regards the glass, and its yet untouched rim of Cajun seasoning salt.

He had come to Clemens’ to drink, or at least put up the pretense of drinking. But in truth, he had come to escape. Too long had he been trapped in his own penthouse suite atop Hibernia. Too long typing out code for Father d’Gerasene’s dark ecclesiastical dream. Too long staring at the black screen of his computer—and too long being stared at by the black, alien, ever-hungry eyes of the damned locusts that have invaded his penthouse. He swore the repulsive bugs were spying on him, for whenever he had tried to take a break from his digital labors, they had swarmed him; jumping, crawling, chirping, and chewing; till the tormented writer had returned to his assigned duties.

And so he had escaped his insectoid jailors, fleeing his erstwhile home for a slight reprieve to walk amongst the living. He knows he will have to return, at least ere the sun rose. But he had needed to clear his mind that was drowning in ghostly afterimages of terminal coding streams and scriptural passages till he could no longer tell them apart. No, he needed to taste the night. To drink in the sights and smells of the living, to remember what it was like…

Closing his eyes, he inhales, trying to breathe in the rich aromatic scents of the blended liquor.

But all he can smell is the blood of the man in front of him. Not that it’s really blood. Or a man. Regardless, it sings to him, calls to him like a private, wet, delectable sermon to his perverse soul:

Blood burns like the fire. Blood thunders like the storm.

Blood runs freely and stains the earth through eternity, for we only have the appearance of eternity, but the Blood remains.

I knew that I must become the master of the Blood or forever be its slave.

God damn it! Jean-Marc silently curses, his masquerading smirk souring at the unbidden mental recitation of the Maledictions. His Father might be proud, but Jean-Marc hates how the scriptures of the ‘Bad Book’ keep swimming in his brain like a swarm of rutting, spreading, consuming parasites.

Attempting to re-anchor himself, Jean-Marc steers his senses back to Mason. To his scent. To his words. To his story.

The tabloid journalist rolls the story’s details over his tongue as if he’s a sommelier detecting key ingredients. The Dirty Throws. A rash of poachings. The Guard de Ville. Wright. Donovan. Vidal. He was new to this scene, unfamiliar with its stage as well as its players, but the story… the story is all-too similar to countless confessions he’s heard before. A tale of thirst and desire, of haves and haves-not, of conquering temptation and sinful secrets, of betrayal and the looming shadow of threatening violence.

And like Father d’Gerasene’s unholy locusts, he can smell it. Hamas. But to the exploitive tabloid writer, there is also another scent to the story.

Opportunity.

The arsenic smile returns.

“Mason, Mason,” he says, “you did the right thing in coming to me. I’m going to help you. It’s the least I can do, after all.”

Eyeing the packed veranda and the streets beyond, he subtly rolls his right arm, awakening his smartwatch. “Now, Mason,” he continues, glancing down only long enough to digitally hail a ride with his Jaunt+ app and press the record function, “let’s start with the happy ending to your sad story; you’re to meet the Guard de Ville at what location and time?”

Awaiting an answer, he folds a day’s labor of cash under the undrunk dram, then adds, “And how may I ask did you set up this kiss and tell-all meeting?”

GM: Jean-Marc supposes Mason didn’t “come to him” so much as “break down around the nearest stranger without an audible heartbeat,” but the kid doesn’t argue the point.

Besides. Jean-Marc’s version, his own spin on the story, lets Mason keep more dignity.

Who wants the truth, indeed?

Mason’s shoulders slump with relief at the journalist’s answer. He doesn’t have his own drink in hand, and not for lack of good options at the bar. Whether that lack stems from forethought, cash, or simple inclination to choke down piss, remains to seen.

“30 minutes,” he says.

“It was… getting down to the wire.”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc seems surprised by the scant time. He doesn’t interrupt, but slowly rises, silently beckoning Mason to follow him. Inside, away from so many eyes and ears. He leads them into one of Clemens’ hidden stairwells, which the proprietor had installed as a surreptitious escape route in case a member’s spouse happened to walk in and otherwise see said member with an “unapproved” date.

GM: Mason hesitates for just a moment, but seems to realize he’s already cast the die.

There’s no use worrying what result it may turn up now.

“Huh. Like a secret passage…” he remarks.

“The meet site’s City Park,” he continues, following after Jean-Marc. “Figure it’s there because it’s no one’s territory, and more out of the way than the CBD.”

Jean-Marc: “City Park,” Jean-Marc repeats, “Any particular place inside the park?” His thoughts—in line with the stairwell’s intended function—are a-flutter with worry and blossoming contingency plans. He gives a nervous glance to the Jaunt app to see his ride’s current location and ETA.

GM: The ride’s some 5 minutes away. It’s not hard to find a Ryde or Jaunt in the CBD.

The distance to City Park is about 15 minutes by car.

Jean-Marc: Five minutes, he muses. Not too much time to kill…. but plenty enough time to fucking die.

GM: Too bad for the already dead.

“Yeah. The Singing Oak.”

The 1,000-acre park is one of the largest in the United States (some 1.5 times the size of Central Park), and would take considering time to travel by foot. But the Singing Oak is one of its southern-most points of interest. It looks just far enough away from the southern road to be free from prying eyes, while the Bayou St. John to the east gives some insulation from prying eyes in that direction.

“I guess not the Dueling Oak, ‘cuz, who knows if there’s any licks there fighting a duel right now, right?”

Jean-Marc: “Right, right,” Jean-Marc nods, filling away that helpful piece of information. He knows there are gaps in his education by Father d’Gerasene, but he didn’t know how large they were.

Large enough to fucking fall in…

“And how’d you set up this confessional with…” he pauses to recall the name, “Alexander Wright?”

GM: Mason nods. “I got in touch with Wright through one of his renfields,” he answers. “Let him know I had shit on the poachings. He gave me a number to text, said it was a burner. We set everything up in code.”

“Guess it’s not the ’90s anymore, right?”

NSA spying and shit.”

Jean-Marc: “Yeah…” Jean-Marc vaguely agrees, his mind sizing up other treacherous but not fully perceived holes. “This, ah, renfield,” he asks, putting together the literary reference and silently blessing his sophomore Lit instructor, “he have a name?”

GM: “Yeah, DeShawn.”

Jean-Marc: The mental datafile gets dropped into another folder in Jean-Marc’s brain.

“And what about your krewe—your former krewe responsible for the poaching? Tell me about them. Names, what they look like, and what we should be looking out for when they come calling.”

GM: Jean-Marc might idly wonder if he’s the sole member of his Clark High class to recall the minor character’s name.

But then, it’s hard to imagine even his Abramson High classmates finding the literary reference nearly so applicable to their lives.

“Ha. Yeah. Former’s right, after this.”

“There’s three of them. Barely big enough to be a real krewe now, but, fuck. I don’t want to run into them in a dark alley.”

“Darryl’s big and black. He hits like a haystack. Caitiff. He’s got a chip on his shoulder. So he takes it out on other people.”

“Jazmine’s small and black. Really messy hair. Bites her nails a lot. Always looking around. She’s a kook. Dunno exactly what kind of crazy, just… there’s no fucking talking to her, sometimes. Does, just, random shit.”

“But sometimes she knows things, that she shouldn’t. It’s her I’m worried most about.”

Jean-Marc: “Like dropping the dime to Wright’s renfield.”

GM: “Or, what if she knows where to be.”

He shakes his head. “If it comes to a fight, she’s a pushover, just… fuck. She could fuck up everything.”

“Then there’s Kiara. She’s average height, black, always wears a beanie. She’s Brujah. Also kind of our leader.”

“Well, their their leader, I guess.”

“She’s smarter than Darryl, but she doesn’t pull shit out of thin air like Jazmine does.”

“Pretty good in a fight, but worse than Darryl.”

Jean-Marc: “Yes, yes,” Jean-Marc says, not wanting to interrupt but eager not to have Mason’s mind trip down a dark rabbit hole.

GM: “She’s stronger than fast, but still pretty damn fast.”

“That’s them, anyways. My good old krewe.”

Jean-Marc: “And you?” Jean-Marc quickly asks.

GM: “What about me?”

Jean-Marc: “Any particular talents to let the tabloids know about?”

GM: “Well, I can do some veiling. How I got in here.”

“Hell, if it was just Darryl and Kiara, I’d be a lot less scared.”

“I can also take a really hard beating.”

Jean-Marc: “Well, that’s good to hear,” Jean-Marc says, “though hopefully we can avoid one needed to be taken. But you said you’d be a lot less scared if it weren’t for Kiar—Jazmine. What’s it about her that makes you wanna shit a fucking brick? Or is it more the numbers game?”

GM: “Well, like I said, she knows shit. And she’s good at ESP. Scrying. I think she could still see me. And then she’d tell the others where to swing.”

“Like, that’s all I got, man. Veiling and taking a beating.”

“That’s everything in my bag of tricks.”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc nods, trying to process it all while part of him wishes he had just stayed home with the damned locusts. He tries to latch on to something he does know, does understand. And that’s about the burden of proof in the court of muckraking, that claiming someone’s laundry is dirty is rarely enough.

“And… just in case Wright asks, what kind of proof do you have that Darryl, Jazmine, and Kiara are responsible for the poaching?”

GM: Mason pauses with his mouth half-open.

“I can give dates. Times. They all match up.”

“And they can rip inside my head, if they want to, I’m not stupid enough to lie to the sheriff about this shit.”

Jean-Marc: It’s not much, Jean-Marc knows, but he’s published front page shockers with less.

GM: “You think that’ll be enough…?” Mason asks unsurely.

“I also know where their haven is. The johnny laws could look around there. Find evidence.”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc checks his watch.

Not enough tick-fucking-tock time.

GM: Indeed not. His Jaunt is about a minute away.

Jean-Marc: “Where’s their haven, Jason?” Jean-Marc asks, only peripherally looking up.

GM: “Mid-City. Prince pegged us all as Anarchs.”

“And it’s Mason.”

The ‘misremembered’ name, so similar-sounding to Mason, flows smoothly off Jean-Marc’s tongue. Mason doesn’t seem to register it until he’s already answered the reporter’s question.

Jean-Marc: “It is, isn’t it?” Jean-Marc asks. “Because that’s what regular licks do when names get mixed up. But back when I mixed up Kiara’s and Jazmine’s names, you didn’t so much as blink or swallow back a correction.”

He taps at his smartwatch. “So my ride arrives in one minute, so that’s exactly how long you have to come clean with me. Fill back in the deleted scenes from the director’s cut of your story, and that ride will be heading to the Singing Oak with further help from yours truly. Otherwise, I go back to enjoying looking at my whiskey cocktail and reading similarly cockshit, gaping whore-hole stories in The Times.”

The arsenic smile is gone—even if the arsenic remains.

GM: Mason stares at Jean-Marc for a moment.

The jittery fear slides off his face. He gets a very calm look.

“All right. There is no Dirty Throws Krewe. There are no poachings, and I’m not meeting with Wright.”

“My name isn’t Mason.”

“I’m closing a deal at City Park with the representative of someone powerful.”

“It’s illegal. But it’s profitable. More profitable than reporting it to the Guard de Ville is.”

“I do still need an escort. I wasn’t lying about that. The poachings story was in case you weren’t interested. You’d walk away and you wouldn’t know anything.”

“If we go to City Park together, I can cut you in on it.”

“If you get me there in one piece, undetected.”

“If you’re not interested, guess I’m going by myself.”

Jean-Marc: “Warmer, but your story still has a chilly draft from its holes. 30 seconds. You know, I think I might order a Butler’s Burning Orchard, as I really think the smoked apple juice and pickled jalapeño bring out the Cointreau and rye whiskey.”

GM: ‘Mason’ glares for a moment.

“I can’t tell you everything here.”

Especially if you’re not interested.”

“Something big is going down at City Park. Okay? I need an escort there.”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc looks around at the stairwell empty save for the pair. “If I’m not interested, it’s because dead hookers give more arousing lap dances. ‘Something big.’ I’m not a fucking shit-pant infant you can crinkle an empty candy wrapper to and expect to giggle and coo in amazement. I’m not saying let me taste the candy, but you gotta show or tell me what it is. And we’re playing baseball rules, so lie to me a third time, and the 9th inning ends with zero runs for your team.”

He looks back down at his watch. “What’s the deal, who’s it with, and why do you need an escort, much less of mine?”

GM: ‘Mason’ glowers at him a moment longer.

“All right. Fine. I’m going to kill someone who’s meeting me there.”

“I expect to get rewarded. Pretty well, too.”

“I want you, because an extra lick will make the fight more unfair, and because you’re not involved with any of the factions.”

“Which matters, and why I didn’t go to licks I knew, is because the original plan was to take you with me to the fight, win with the extra help, and then skip without owing you anything. All you’d have had was a fake name in a fake krewe and a bunch of bullshit about poaching. And because you’re not part of anyone’s club, no one would care you’d gotten stiffed. Plus you’d have been guilty too.”

“Help me kill this guy, cover it up, and you’ll get rewarded. And have an in with my club.”

“Also, in case you get the bright idea to report this to the Guard de Ville, assuming you can even get ahold of them that fast, I’ve got an ace up my sleeve that I’m pretty confident will mean you come away with jack and shit.”

“So that’s the truth. You want to get paid to kill somebody?”

Jean-Marc: At said revelation, Jean-Marc is rocked back on the heels of his suede boaters. It hits him in a way that seems to wash away his typical skepticism, accepting the third story as the Gospel truth. But which Gospel?

Kill.

GM: The primordial sin.

Caine’s sin.

Jean-Marc: Tu ne tueras point.

(Thou shalt not kill.)

The sixth commandment.

GM: But it wasn’t the first sin either, was it? That was Adam and Eve disobeying. Eating of the forbidden fruit.

Then lying to God. That was the second sin.

Jean-Marc has a banquet of sin before him. To be fed lies, to kill a man (or woman? he said “guy”), for the reward of forbidden fruits.

All three of the first three greatest hits.

Jean-Marc: But the words of Bishop Timotheus also arise inside his name, words learnt not in any Catholic catechism:

Spill only the blood of the living.

The second tradition.

Yet, and yet… the fruit tempts him. He smells its aroma. Hamas. The allure of the forbidden. He’s never killed anyone before… but then he realizes that is a lie. He stares down at his tattooed inner forearm, at the stars, each one a life he snuffed out. But that was with his pen, or more actually, suicide-inducing click of his keyboard. This would be… different.

His Jaunt+ app pings, notifying that his ride has arrived. He regards the serpent before him, unclear as to whether he will taste of the fruit. But what’s the fucking harm in looking at the tree at least? He knows the rationalization is thinner than one-ply toilet paper, and just as bad at cleaning away the shit. But he takes his first step all the same. To the tree.

It might not be Eden’s Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but the Singing Oak of City Park might damn him all the same.


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

GM: Darkened cityscape rolls past the Jaunt car’s windows. The CBD’s brutal glass and steel monoliths give way to Mid-City’s not-quite slums, not-quite respectable part of town. It’s in the middle of the city in more ways than one. The weather is pure New Orleans. Balmy with an overcast haze that threatens rain, and that distinctive low fog that rolls in off the Mississippi and settles in to the lesser trafficked areas this time of year. It seems to curl around the edges of nearby buildings as the car drives, always staying just out of reach, as though sentient and acutely aware that coming too close would be… unwise.

‘Mason,’ or whatever his name actually is, doesn’t move to talk. The kine driver doesn’t either. The Jaunt car carries Jean-Marc steadily closer to his contemplated sin.

What is it like, to kill someone, to watch the light go out in their eyes?

His ‘father,’ in blood and faith alike, surely knows.

Jean-Marc: The troubling, tempting question rests heavy on him like a suffocating blanket. He rolls down the luxury car’s window as if searching for air. The clean kind. He does not find it. But he leaves the window down, all the same, as if hopefully provides enough of a distraction and noise barrier for the driver, as Jean-Marc poses another, far more simple and less sinful question to his tempter.

“What’s the name of your date, again?”

GM: ‘Mason’ regards him for a moment. The slow-witted kid stumbling over his words from shaky, trembling anxiety feels all but gone. The other vampire’s eyes and features are cool.

Perhaps Jean-Marc wonders if he’s done this before, but it seems an almost silly question.

All of them do this at some point.

He was given the Blood so recently. That’s probably the only reason why he hasn’t. Does he pretend towards greater virtue?

Is anyone who claims greater virtue not just pretending?

“Wilson,” answers ‘Mason.’

There’s plenty gays in New Orleans.

Derivations of ‘fat’ were more common insults back in middle school, but the other kids called him ‘gay’ a few times too.

Jean-Marc: “Ah, Wilson, that’s right.” Jean-Marc says, “I recall you saying you knew each other from that, hmm, what did you call it, a ren fair? There was a baron, a prince, and, hmm, that other character. Their retainers were all jousting it out, creating quite the spectacle. But I believe you said Wilson and you were cheering for different sides. Remind me, which one was Wilson rooting for?”

GM: “Yeah. Ren fair. He couldn’t get over his hard-on for the baron.”

Jean-Marc: “Ah,” replies Jean-Marc in that same trite tone as if ‘Mason’ had just revealed what type of fabric softener he uses. “I bet he also rooted for the Detroit Lions back in ’08. And you, you were cheering for which of the other two at the fair?”

GM: “He did. Don’t remember him rooting for the Houston Texans. I’m not gonna say that’s as bad as not rooting for the Saints, but they are our neighbors.”

“Don’t remember who I did at the fair, either. Maybe we can ask after we see him.”

Jean-Marc: “Maybe,” Jean-Marc says in nonchalant agreement. After a moment, he turns back, as if he’s a bored passenger trying to kill time. “And so does Wilson know you’re coming, or is this a surprise date? I do know how you love your secrets, after all.”

GM: “Little bit of both,” ‘Mason’ answers, just as idly. “He knows I’m coming, but not what the date’s going to be.”

Jean-Marc: “Oh, I dare say the shock might well kill the chap, so we best be careful.”

Jean-Marc gives a smile as wide as a whiskey barrel.

But it’s a hollow one.

He lets the silence slip between them again, or at least the buffeting, voiceless ingress of outside air. Yet, as they approach their destination, he turns back to his co-passenger. “So remember back when we were going to party with Darryl and Jazmine? There was that guy that sat at my table, the one I didn’t know, but you did. I don’t think I really caught his name. It wasn’t Mason or Jason… what was it again? I wouldn’t want to be rude if I saw him again and had to admit I didn’t know his name.”

GM: There’s a thin smile.

“Ah, sorry. Don’t remember the guy’s name. I bet Wilson will, though, after we see him.”

“He’s got a better head for them.”

Jean-Marc: “But not for sports team,” Jean-Marc titters back, his own hollow smile thinning. He gives his co-passenger—or is it co-conspirator now?—another look over, trying to drink and see if he tastes any new flavors.

GM: Technically, one could say it’s both.

‘Mason’ is dressed generically. Black and gold sweatshirt. Blue jeans. Dark sneakers. He stuck out at Clemens’, but it’s a getup you could wear anywhere on the streets (or to the park) without drawing much attention. He looks young. Late teens. (Though how much does that count among immortals?) Black skin. Average height. Thin build. Clean-shaven. Dark hair cut short. He looks nonthreatening, or at least did. It’s a face that looks more suited to the scared kid he was playing back at Clemens’, than the co-conspirator and fellow murderer he apparently is now.

“Mm,” he agrees noncommittally.

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc takes another visual draught, a deeper pull, willing the blood within him to reveal, to pierce. He’s not looking for a vision from Amoniel, but he’ll take what he can get. Taking, after all, is one of his specialties, or at least that’s what his grand-maman would say of her candy-thieving ward.

But that memory stirs something in Jean-Marc’s otherwise calloused hamas-rotten heart. The feeling of failure, the shame of breaking his grand-mère’s trust, and losing her favor. The blood within his veins, it reminds him of another ‘parent’ whose trust and favor he does not wish to lose. He was bad at being good, bad at following the Good Book. The least he can do is be good at being bad, good at following the Bad Book. And then, as if speaking of the Devil makes him appear, the words of The 11th chapter of the Rule of Golgotha flows like a fresh wound dripping in his soul. He shall be guided by two things: the teachings of the Dark Father and the prayerful spirit of his own heart. And what had the Dark Father taught him? What had his own dark Father d’Gerasene taught him of Longinus’ teachings. Once more, another rip of his soul drips a scriptural passage to splatter onto his consciousness, this one aptly from the Teachings of Longinus: We must not slay a fellow, except to preserve the word of God.

So who is this serpent beside him? No true Wolf of God, that much is clear. But who is he? Jean-Marc has to know, had to see.

GM: And money-thieving. Grandpa might say that too. But they never caught him, did they? Grandmère left everything to him.

The Bad Book has another verse on that. Maybe not the perfect verse. Jean-Marc is still learning. But it feels applicable.

We are not so innocent as mortal man […] he will scheme and murder and bribe to gain what little earthly power he can, and then expects his comrades to hail him as a just and forthright man.

The Bad Book doesn’t mince words. Hypocritical lying murderers. Those are the innocents.

Jean-Marc is no innocent. ‘Mason’ isn’t either, he’s made that plain. The lie’s heart has already been cut out. The tabloid journalist’s incriminating photos have been snapped. The rest is mere formality.

What’s left of the lie runs off ’Mason’s’ face like so much water.

His face is different. He’s still a man, dark of skin, but he looks maybe a decade older. Maybe a decade and a half. Late 20s to mid-30s. He’s got some stubble around his lips and chin, the shadow of a beard and mustache that aren’t, and he’s bald too. His face is narrower. The eyes are further apart. It’s a different face for a different man. He’s several inches shorter and thicker of built. The clothes are different, too. He’s wearing dark rather than blue jeans, a different brand of sneakers, and a windbreaker rather than sweatshirt.

Jean-Marc supposes ‘Mason’ was telling the truth about veiling, at least.

Jean-Marc: Those always make the best lies. You don’t offer someone a glass full of arsenic. No, you give them some shit-sweet iced tea with a few drops of arsenic. That’s how you get them to drink it all up and thank you for it.

GM: ‘Mason’ is packing, too.

Semiautomatic handgun inside his windbreaker. Nasty-looking knife. Smartphone and wallet in the pockets of his jeans.

Jean-Marc supposes the former are for if they won’t take a long drink and say thanks.

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc silently curses. Somehow he thought bringing his Herculean handgun would clash with Clemens’ dress code. That, and his Bermudu suit didn’t come with a holster option. He doesn’t even own a knife, save for a few to spread butter and his 19-piece Shun set he purchased last Christmas for himself from Williams-Sonoma.

Shit, he thinks, I didn’t even bring a knife to a fucking gun fight.

But there are other weapons. And like ’Mason’s’ blade, Jean-Marc’s wiles have proven just as sharp and nasty.

Here’s to hoping my wits haven’t dulled to shit.

As the ride closes in on its destination, Jean-Marc is left wondering whether or how to pray—and to whom? Somehow, the Hail Mary’s his mémère taught him just don’t seem to fit the bill. Not anymore—and maybe for Jean-Marc (if he’s being really honest—which he rarely is) they never did.


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

GM: The route to City Park is an extended chore, as ‘Mason’ insists on overshooting cross streets and then doubling back to pick them up two, sometimes three or even four blocks further down. It’s seemingly his attempt at being circuitous, in the event that the duo and their driver are being followed, but Jean-Marc is unconvinced it accomplishes a whole hell of a lot more than wasting a fair piece of time—valuable time, with how little ‘Mason’ said they had left. Maybe that’s another lie too. The only person who seems actively happy at the detours, and the fact they make the digital meter run for a while longer, is the Jaunt driver.

All the same, the drive gets Jean-Marc and ‘Mason’ to City Park, and that’s where they want to be.

Jean-Marc: Or at least, that’s where ‘Mason’ wants to be. Jean-Marc is less sure. Still, the Evangelist is sure he’s glad the ride is over. Indeed, there’s no deceit in Jean-Marc as he scowls at the rising rideshare fee—especially since the Jaunt+ service adds a premium tax. As Mason exits the car on his side, Jean-Marc egresses on his, but he leaves his rear door open and stands in its threshold. Not for long, but long enough for him to pull up the Jaunt+ app and pay the detour-inflated price. That long, and just a few seconds longer as he makes a few smooth taps and swipes to pull up his contacts and call Hound Wright’s number—only to mute the called line and hide the call from his smartwatch’s face. The recording button similarly continues in the digital background.

Closing the door, he doesn’t deign to watch the driver pull away, just waits a second before he calls out to Mason, not shouting, but in a clear voice all the same. “Okay, all right, we’re here at the Park with the Singing Oak, all because you, ‘Mason’ or whatever your real fucking name is, say there’s this lick named Wilson you want to kill, all so you can get paid. So before we go any further, before anyone pisses in the eye of Timotheus’ second tradition, I have a few final questions. And this time, can we spare the bullshit? It’s muggy as hell out here in the Park, and I don’t have the patience to hear any more phony bullshit about beanie-wearing Brujah.”

“First off, who’s paying for the hit—and how do I know you won’t stiff me like that Jaunt ride?”

“And please, please, don’t say ‘trust me’, because your balance in the trust account is in the bleeding red. You lied to me more times than Clark High got shut down for lice infections.”

GM: The car pulls off into the night.

The UMe smartwatch shakes briefly as Jean-Marc mutes it, then only silence as the call goes through.

“How much was the Jaunt ride?” asks ‘Mason,’ eyes on his co-conspirator.

Jean-Marc: “It cost enough,” Jean-Marc replies sourly, but then rattles off the real number. “Figured I needed to give him a tip too, lest my account gets dinged, and we can’t have that at all.” He then regards ‘Mason.’ “But far more important is how much are you—we—getting paid?”

GM: ‘Mason’ reaches into pocket, opens his wallet, and hands Jean-Marc the same amount of cash.

“There. You weren’t stiffed.”

But the journalist’s hungry, preternaturally truth-ferreting gaze seizes upon the opening. In the brief moment it takes ‘Mason’ to remove the cash and then close the wallet, Jean-Marc immediately catalogs everything. It’s one of those RFID-blocking wallets that make digital theft harder, though it seems redundant in ’Mason’s’ case. He keeps a lot of cash in it. And a ticket stub to a music concert at the House of Blues.

In the French Quarter.

“Happy?” asks ‘Mason.’

Jean-Marc: “Happier,” Jean-Marc answers all-too truthfully, with a genuine smile—if less than genuine meaning. In his past life, a ticket to a music concert in the French Quarter would be all but meaningless, but in this ‘life,’ the ticket stub speaks as loud and clear as Satchmo’s trumpet.

Sliding the bills into his lapel pocket—and thus not revealing his own RFID-blocking wallet’s interior—he says with an only slightly reduced smile, “But don’t think I didn’t see what you just did there. I asked who’s paying and how much, and gave me some Hamiltons. So how—”

GM: “I’m not giving you any names for me or my boss until the job is done and you’re in too deep to have second thoughts.”

“As far as payment, though.”

Jean-Marc: He stops, pausing and taking a look around the Park to ensure they still remain the only visible, nearby occupants. “Okay, fine, fine, no more names—for now. But first, you said you had a way to make sure the Guard de Ville isn’t on to us. How? Because I know you think Wright is a thug with his fingers up his ass, but that zigzag Jaunt won’t mean squat against Vidal’s hounds.”

Technically, ‘Mason’ said no thing, and Jean-Marc has no clue of the vamp’s opinion of the hound, but the tabloid muckraker spices it up for his true UMe audience—and an audience of one Brujah whom he hopes is still listening and is now further rilled up. Not into a frenzy, but a poke at the Beast all the same.

GM: “Two ways,” says ‘Mason.’

“The first I’m keeping to myself.”

“The second is that Singing Oak isn’t where we’re meeting Wilson. Anyone who was snooping back at the bar can have fun searching all 1,000 acres of City Park while we do the deed and get out.”

“Know what else would’ve helped?”

“If all they’d heard was a bunch of bullshit about fake poaching by a fake krewe.”

Jean-Marc: “Ah, that is fuck-all clever…” Jean-Marc says in not-untrue admiration. “So where in the Park is this midnight rendezvous really happening, then,” he gazes around, “or is it not happening in the Park at all?”

As if to confirm that last suspicion, he raises his smartwatch-donned wrist and taps the device’s screen as if he’s waking up his Jaunt+ app. “Because that would be wicked smart indeed if we then hailed a ride somewhere completely different.”

GM: ‘Mason’ gives a thin smile.

“Good guess. This way. I don’t want us getting picked up at the mouth of the park.”

Jean-Marc: “Nor do I,” Jean-Marc agrees, make one tap and swipe, as if to put his smartwatch on sleep-mode—but in reality uses the one-press function on the call to share his location with Wright (assuming and hoping the hound hasn’t hung up).

“But one last question—the most important question,” Jean-Marc says as he half-hustles to catch up—but not too quickly either. “How much?”

GM: “Domain,” says Mason. “We’re fucking killing someone here, so I asked for some posh feeding grounds. Big enough to keep a real herd and feed more ghouls.”

“Blood for blood.”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc gives a low whistle in appreciation. Even the Testament of Longinus makes clear how valuable that prize is. Yet, a few seconds later, Jean-Marc pauses again mid-step.

“So… how’s that going to benefit me? Let me guess, I help out, and I get to be, what, your esquire or tenant?”

Jean-Marc was indeed a newcomer to the All-Night-Life, but Father d’Gerasene as the new Regent of Esplanade Ridge had dutifully explained the intricacies of feeding rights among the Damned.

GM: “Yep. You get a slice of that,” says ‘Mason.’ “And an in with my club. They’ll see you can get a job done and keep your mouth shut.”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc nods, as if in thoughtful consideration. “Speaking of getting the job done, what do you know of this Wilson other than his hard-on for the Baron?” He then thrusts out a wrist—the one not wearing his smartwatch—and reveals a tattoo on its inner arm. “See these stars?”

To a mortal, the tattoo of the heraldic lion displaying a newspaper would be invisible in the dark—especially the black row of stars in the inked rag. But Jean-Marc is no mere mortal, and nor is his would-be co-murderer.

“Each of them is for someone who’s died by my hand.”

Technically, ‘by his hand’ is accurate, though he doubts Mason would appreciate the truth of how the star-symbolized mortals died by suicide in the wake of Jean-Marc’s life-ruining tabloid evangelism.

“But I typically study my marks real hard and real slow, like a good fuck. But it sounds like it’s going to be a quick and dirty bang instead. Still, tell me what you know of this lick, and I’m not talking about his attitudes towards beanies.”

GM: ‘Mason’ looks over the stars.

It’s a long ‘list.’

It’s technically accurate, but dishonest in presentation.

Perhaps that makes it more true than unvarnished truth.

“Good,” he says, then starts walking again, away from the park’s entrance and its parked cars. “Wilson works for the Baron. At this point he’s more useful to our boss dead than alive.”

“They call him Spook Wilson. He’s a Malk.”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc nods, not yet revealing that he’s met or more technically seen Spook once, during what seemed a genuine, even amiable, conversation with an older Gangrel and fellow Crone by the name of Fayde.

“Hoping that’s not all you have, ‘Mason’,” Jean-Marc says, withdrawing his arm.

GM: “You’ve got a lot of questions,” remarks ‘Mason.’

Jean-Marc: “That’s how I got so smart—and long-lived.”

There’s a smugness to his reply. If he was a better man, it would only be an affection.

Then again, if he was a better man, he wouldn’t be here.

“But fine, enough with the questions. Just tell me how you want to do this, as this is your gig, really, and I’m just the side-act.”

He had wanted to say ‘front-page story’ and ‘back-rag piece’, but that would be showing too much of his true face.

Truth.

It’s like a fucking hot black bra. We hide it, but deep down we want it to be seen. We seek it, but as soon as we find it, all we want to do is take it off and throw it to the side.


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

GM: Despite (or perhaps because of) his paranoia, ‘Mason’ leads with surprising alacrity, his loose-laced Nikes scuffing first the sidewalk and then the foggy grass as he and Jean-Marc walk down City Park at its southern tip. At this hour, one normally expects the park to be dead quiet, with little activity to speak of. And for a moment, everything around the pair is silent. They stain to see or hear anything that would belie that norm tonight. Giddy wisps of dread swirl alongside the fog.

‘Mason’ is the one to hail their next ride on his phone, muttering something about “fucking Gangrel.” The pair slink down the grassy park’s wide paved roads. They steal underneath long-shadowed magnolias, Louisiana cypress, and Southern live oaks. ‘Thieves in the night’ would too kind a descriptor for this dark errand’s undertakers. They arrive at a black car. It’s a Ryde rather than Lyft. ‘Mason’ gets in without a word. He doesn’t talk. More cityscape rolls past.

Soon they’re driving through the Seventh Ward. Dinah once told him how Jude’s parents, ‘his’ paternal grandparents, used to live there. It was a good place to live if you were black. Once a quintessentally Creole neighborhood settled in the 1800s by les gens de couleur libres (free people of color) seeking to escape the overcrowded French Quarter, these darker-skinned Creoles were highly educated, skilled in the building trades, practiced Catholicism, and spoke perfect French.

Jean-Marc can’t comment on ‘his’ paternal grandparents, but he thinks Grandmere would have liked the Seventh Ward a lot.

Although Jim Crow and its “one drop rule” disenfranchised the Creoles as thoroughly as any Protestant and English-speaking former slaves (a group long held in contempt by the black Creoles), the Seventh Ward did not take things lying down. They had money. They were educated. Creole attorneys for the NAACP painstakingly fought to turn over Jim Crow laws one at a time. The neighborhood held the only high school in the city for African-Americans until 1942. As bad as Clark High might have been, Jean-Marc supposes it beats the alternative of “no school.” Culturally, the Seventh Ward’s vibrant community spawned many jazz greats like Buddie Petit, Lizzie Miles, and Barney Biggard. Financially, its affluent residents and family-owned businesses made it the most prosperous African-American business district in the country during its heyday, stretching all along Claiborne Avenue and into Tremé. Residents fondly remember the St. Bernard market at the corner of St. Bernard and Claiborne as well as Chez Helene at 1540 N. Robertson. Chez Helene gained national fame when “Frank’s Place,” a critically acclaimed sitcom inspired by that Seventh Ward restaurant, aired on CBS in 1988.

But what Jim Crow couldn’t do, the I-10 finally did.

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Jean-Marc’s seen the old photos. Heard the old stories, too, from current and former residents. Or friends of residents, in Jim’s case. It was a topic that made his (real) grandfather angry. Once, he’d told Jean-Marc, the neighborhood had Southern live oaks just like the ones in City Park. You had this beautiful stretch of greenery bisecting Claiborne Avenue and running down the whole of the Seventh Ward. It was great for the community, Jim had said, in so many ways. He used to play baseball games with some kids there.

Then the city chopped all the trees down, bulldozed over the grass, and built an interstate highway.

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It destroyed the neighborhood overnight. Property values plummeted. Smog and noise and the endless thrum of traffic replaced the chirp of birds, the laughter of playing children, and the conversations of families over summer picnics. Businesses and churches no longer wanted to be there. Suddenly an area that had been prosperous was quite undesirable. Homeowners moved, and finding their homes neither saleable nor rentable, eventually abandoned them. The irony of destroying this thriving business district in order to facilitate access to the suburbs was not lost on residents, or on Jean-Marc’s grandfather.

Mardi Gras wasn’t for black people originally, he’d said. It was for white people. The Zulus and the Mardi Gras Indians used to celebrate the black Mardi Gras along Claiborne Street, not Canal Street or St. Charles Avenue.

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And the trees, Jim had added—those Southern live oaks? The ones not chopped down were uprooted and placed on Harrison Avenue, a newly developed all-white neighborhood.

“Pillaging,” he’d called it.

Tonight, the Seventh Ward is a shell of what it used to be. Gunshots echo in the distance. The Ryde passes two police crime scenes replete with yellow tape and cruisers with flashing red and blue sirens. Jean-Marc looks out the window and sees a filthy-haired homeless men sitting outside threadbare camping tents. One squats over the ground as he defecates. Hollow-eyed crack fiends amble into ruined homes near the freeway, doubtless to shoot up. Gangsters cruise by in their flashy cars. The ceaseless roar of interstate traffic overhead swallows it all.

The real irony, Jim had observed, was that the whole thing came after the Civil Rights Act.

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc’s face sours as he watches the change of scenery and the flood of stories it resurrects. There’s a part of him—perhaps the fourth of blood that flows from his maternal grandfather—that burns and galls at the injustice, the loss, and the resultant blight that filled the vacuum. The other part just sighs and takes it like a dog being kicked in the stomach. After all, it’s better than the face.

Along the way, he tries to fill the space, as if he’s once again making chit-chat. This time, though, he’s not prying for information, as he believes ‘that dog won’t bark no more’ as Jim used to say. Rather, he points out occasional places they pass, noting how he used to eat at such-and-such place, smoke roaches behind another, and popped a few cherries here and there. The stories are false, mingled with bits here and there of stretched truth. But his goal isn’t to monologue a veridical or fraudulent life. Rather, it’s to give some aural clues as to their travel, like digital breadcrumbs for the hound to follow. He has no reason to suspect his smartwatch isn’t transmitting their location, but it helps to have a backup. Then again… Wright could have long ago hung up.

Occasionally, he takes out his bespoke breath-mint tin and rattles the Bêtises de Cambrai spearmint candies and artisanal mint julep-flavored Tic Tacs. At one point, he opens the tin and offers one to ‘Mason’. He doesn’t expect him to accept, but one has to entertain oneself the best one can.

During such diversions, however, he does glance up to the Ryde driver’s phone to see their destination, assuming it’s the terminal one this time.

GM: The best lies are the ones seeded with truth.

Jean-Marc has a decent well to draw on. Jim might not have made his home in the Seventh Ward, but he spent enough time there that Jean-Marc thinks he’s able to talk authentically about baseball games amidst the trees, or local residents’ forlorn efforts at spray-painting tree images onto the overpass’ supports. ‘Mason’ listens without talking much, his false face making occasional sounds and expressions of acknowledgement. There’s a lot of “mm-hmms.”

He declines the candies and Tic Tacs with a vaguely annoyed look. There’s only one person to pretend for around here.

The Ryde driver’s phone, meanwhile, says they are headed to Louis Armstrong Park.

Right on the border of Savoy’s and the Baron’s territories, and technically within the latter’s.

‘Mason’ has a wary look in his eyes as he stares out the Ryde’s windows, especially at the sounds of gunfire. The driver mutters, “This city is goin’ to hell, you know that? Completely to hell.”

‘Mason’ gives a faint sneer.

“‘Going’ means it hasn’t gotten there yet.”

“That’s what you should actually say. ‘This city has gone to hell.’”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc gives a half-smile. He doesn’t dispute the driver’s assertion, but it makes him pause and consider its implications, as it either means the Sanctified are doing really well, or really shitty at their divine mission. He’ll have to ask Father d’Gerasene the next time he sees him. That thought gives him a chill, a rush of mixed anticipation and dread.

He tries to squash that flutter of thoughts and emotions into a tight mason jar. “Louis Armstrong Park. I once bought a nice frankenbike there.”

Jean-Marc doesn’t reply. He may not have much experience against the easily provoked undead, but he knows not to poke an asset—at least when it doesn’t serve the Evangelist’s interests.

GM: The Ryde finally drops the pair off at their destination. ‘Mason’ gets out.

“You’re getting a negative review,” he snaps at the driver.

“The fuck? One star for you too, asshole,” glares the man.

“Won’t matter,” sneers ‘Mason.’ “Tah tah.” He slams the car door.

The vehicle angrily drives off with a honk.

Jean-Marc: Exiting the car, Jean-Marc raises a brow at the heated exchange, but otherwise stays silent. He places the tin back in its muffling pocket.

GM: “Fuck him,” snarls ‘Mason.’

“And your stupid tin. Who the fuck were you pretending for?”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc gives a teflon shrug. Maybe it’s disarming, maybe it’s infuriating. He then looks around, making sure no one else in earshot. He then adds in a much quieter voice. “Not saying I’m a Janus kid, but the Masquerade has its uses.”

He then looks around again. “Speaking of which, I hope we’re not meeting Wilson here. This isn’t the City Park; lots of eyes and ears around here. Most unfriendly.” He tries to inject a bit of fear in his eyes and stance. It’s not hard to do, given the circumstances, but he also hopes it will disarm ‘Mason’ a bit, help him to feel more in control and less in need of false bravado. Because that just gets you killed.

Again.

GM: “Keep your head,” says ‘Mason,’ his voice calming a little. “We’ll be in and out, and it’s easier street from there.”

Jean-Marc supposes it’s easier to feel safe with a fake face in fake clothes, too.

Jean-Marc: Meanwhile, Jean-Marc stands out like just like a sore thumb, but a broken one. At least, he did.

Reaching out, he silently recites an excerpt from the Rule of Golgotha:

_That with the power of Damnation comes limitation. The Damned hide among those who still enjoy God’s love, making themselves known only to exemplify fear and cull the unrepentant. _

He’s not sure if it’s a prayer or a headline, but he lets the silent words all the same wash over him even as he reluctantly releases some of the precious blood within him. The taste of Damnation, but also the power. As it flows through and over him, he becomes like Longinus in the sand, like Monachus and Maron in the clay jars, and Daniel in Mauritius’ chest. Hidden and overlooked.

He slides his tooth over his tongue. Is it drier now? Perhaps.

Turning back to ‘Mason’, he says, “So what’s the end-game plan? Because I sorely hope we’re not hitching another ride.”

GM: Headlines almost always get attention.

Prayers are up for debate.

“You’ll see,” says ‘Mason.’ He promptly moves off, scuffing his way to what would be a comfortable lead in more comfortable circumstances.

It feels like it’s been longer than 30 minutes.

The park’s entrance spells out the surname of the Crescent City’s jazz great in wide, bright letters. ’Mason’s’ footsteps thump against the concrete before they move onto grass, becoming softer and half-audible.

Jean-Marc: It does indeed feel like it’s been longer than 30 minutes. Then again, feelings are like orgasms. Some are real, some are fake as hell. Still, as Twain said, assuming is good, finding out is better. Thus, while Jean-Marc follows behind Mason—but not too closely, mind, as the lead here works to his favor—he wakes his smartwatch, checking not only the time, but also to see if his call or location-sharing is still active, before dowsing the latter app.

“So about that 30 minutes… I assume now that was just another pig with lipstick lie, or are we running late?”

GM: “Both,” says ‘Mason’, not turning to face him.

Jean-Marc finds the call not only still ongoing, he’s received a new text.

Bringing more guests to your boy’s party. Hope he don’t mind.

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc nearly chokes as he swallows down his smile. Quickly swiping the call and text to a hidden screen, he then hustles to catch up to ‘his boy’.

“Aren’t you worried about Spook bringing back-up too? I mean, he’s a Malk.” Jean-Marc gives their surrounding a meaningful look.

GM: “Shhh,” ‘Mason’ calls back, lowering his voice.’ “He’ll be up just ahead.”

The pair pass a bronze statue of the park’s namesake, trombone held in hand. ‘Mason’ doesn’t quite run, but doesn’t quite walk either as he slinks towards the Mahalia Jackson Building. He rounds the corner.

GM: Jean-Marc catches up just in time to watch ‘Mason’ freeze. Both hands jerk up from his sides a moment before, drawing swiftly up to his face as though to cover an open mouth or panicked eyes.

Two figures await the would-be murderers.

The first is a black man wearing a green jacket and a beret covering a mop of tangled dreadlocks. He’s stepping back with raised hands and huge eyes.

Her apparel is plain and worn. A brown denim jacket coated in faded stains. Pants of the same make and poor condition. Steel-toed work boots crusted with red that’s faded to black. Her neck-length mop of unruly brown hair looks like it’s cut with a hacksaw. Further tufts of hair sprout like weeds from her palms and neck. Any other individual so dressed and groomed would look like a homeless vagrant. Pale flesh drawn taught over bone, faintly glowing red eyes, and twitching calloused hands that end in clawed tips give immediate lie to that assumption.

The woman herself is distinctly mannish-looking, with wide shoulders, thickly muscled arms, and blockish facial features that could have been carved by an inept teenager who got an ‘F’ in their wood shop class. Her mouth is a flat, unmoving line, but her brown-gray eyes burn with slow-simmering anger. Not the controlled aggression of an attack dog pulling taut against its leash, but the ferality of a wild bear staring out from behind its cage’s bars. Contained, perhaps. But never tamed.

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Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc similarly freezes. He recognizes the black man with the dreadlocks and beret as Spook Wilson, but the feral woman—or monster that barely resembles such—is unknown to him. The fear she evokes, though, is all too easy to discern.

In the wake of that blatant fright, a scriptural passage from the Teaching of Longinus pierces his mind:

We are Heaven’s wolves, and in our presence only the faithful do not tremble. We are holy lightning, and when we strike, only the faithful do not burn. In the places where we walk, evil is destroyed. In the places where we walk, God takes those worthy of His love to His own side.

As Jean-Marc trembles, he knows he is neither faithful nor worthy of God’s love.

He remains similarly convinced that this monster before him is not one of Wright’s ‘guests’ brought to the ‘party’.

Holy mother of God lightning, why didn’t I just fucking stay home with the locusts…

GM: Before anyone can react, the woman’s hands explode through the torso of the man standing next to her, punching out completely through his back. The tips of her gore-soaked fingers end in knife-sized claws, black and utterly inhuman. The man gives a crisp wheeze and lurches forward onto the woman’s forearms, a heavy bead of red escaping his lips. The woman roars in his face, displaying rows of saw-like fangs, and pulls her hands free horizontally, all but exploding the man open as she rips through layers of fat, muscle, and bone with impossible, inhuman strength. The man is ripped almost literally in half. All that’s left untouched is his spinal cord. Blood froths from his mouth before he topples backwards, head grotesquely swinging towards his legs, his spine no longer able to support the weight of his upper torso.

His beret slips from the side of his head, falling limp to the gore-spattered ground.

His body hits the grass next with a heavy thump. His bloated, clammy features look like they’ve been dead for days.

Blood and shredded bits of meat stain the woman from head to toe. She throws back her head and roars again, a ghastly sound like a rabid bear with far too many chunks of meat lodged in its throat. Burning, hateful red eyes meet ’Mason’s’ and Jean-Marc’s, and then she’s gone as if she were never there.

Yet Jean-Marc strains his wide, horror-struck eyes.

Shadows gather about the woman, drawing her into the night, making her one with it. But he sees past them.

‘Mason’ looks wildly around, his face bone-white.

“Oh. Fuck. Fuck. FUCK!”

His wide, wild eyes look at Jean-Marc, then suddenly narrow.

‘Mason’ takes a single step back, regards Jean-Marc for another moment, and then takes off in a bolt. His legs move grotesquely, preternaturally fast, like a centipede’s, but the tabloid journalist’s unerring sight proves sharper still. He watches as the would-be murderer flees the scene in a literal blur. Flees Louis Armstrong Park and all its terrors.

Then, all that remains is quiet.

As Jean-Marc stands there, watching the blood pool on the ground beneath the clump of ash that used to be a dead man, a low, familiar rumble begins somewhere in the distance. This peal will soon be followed by a sharp crack, and then by hard, driving rain. He knows this because he know the city’s voice. This is one of her favorite songs, and he’s heard it many times before. He knows how she lives, breathes, communicates. And what she is trying to tell him now is simplicity itself. It’s the headline of his latest story:

There’s a storm coming.


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

Jean-Marc: Before the night-black heavens break, the storm within Jean-Marc unleashes its own torrent. As he wretches, the bitter odor of vomit mingles with the copper-heady scent of blood. Against that visceral backdrop, Jean-Marc’s harrowed mind similarly pukes up an intrusive verse from the befittingly named Torments:

“Nearly satisfied, I walk through the corridors where the stench of death is sharp and all-encompassing.”

The muckracker winces, and shakes his head, as if trying to dislodge the unbidden scripture as well as the gory after-images of what he has just beheld.

But both torments remain—as does the blood. He stares at the latter, knees buckled, as the the following verse of the 29th chapter of the Torments falls from his mouth like the emesis on his bearded chin:

“…wrath of God…”

He barely hears his own recitation, but the blood beckons him, grounds him, and brings him back to his visceral senses. His nostrils and tongue all but reach out for the bloodied grass, but his eyes, however, catch glance at his smartwatch. To his call, his audience, and his purpose. This time, the latter half of Torments 29:2 spills silently, but intentionally from his lips:

My work is almost done.

With that pseudo-benediction, he forces his still watery knees to hold his weight before backing away from the the simultaneously gory yet scene. After ensuring his call to Hound Wright is still live, he then swipes to another app. A GPS-tracking app, one specifically tied to a series of Bluetooth tracking tiles. He lingers the slightest of seconds to note where Leslie is before zooming in on the map-racing dot of his latest tile. A tile he had expertly slipped into ’Mason’s’ pocket of when he had offered the twice-distracted Kindred a mint. Having previously scanned his clothing like a TSA agent, Jean-Marc had noticed his tempter’s left pocket had a hole leading to a lining-pressed pouch filled with lint, some loose chain, and an old streetcar ticket. In other words, the perfect hiding spot for Jean-Marc’s tile.

Regarding the tile’s GPS-precise dot on his digital map, the Evangelist smiles, thin and long as a Christian Louboutin stiletto. Who the fuck, indeed, was I pretending for, ‘Mason’? he sardonically purrs.

The song of a cricket haunts the humid air, causing Jean-Marc’s indulgent schadenfreude to pass. After all, Hound Wright and his ‘guests’ are on their way. He will wait for them, still supernaturally unseen or unnoticed, but he needs to spend his remaining time preparing the story he will tell Hound Wright. Duplicity isn’t the issue, not when the truth is far more damning to the would-be-violator of Timotheus’ second tradition. Rather, the muckraker well knows the issue is how to best play to his audience. Which juicy details to squeeze till their last drop, and which to gloss over. To come clean, but come off clean too. Moreover, the Brujah hound is not known for his patience, so the tale will need to be punchy but pithy, a quick jab versus a long haymaker. Assembling the story in his mind, he mentally takes out the bleeding-red pen of an editor. It’s a tight deadline, but he’s had worse.

My work is almost done.


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Story Thirteen, Celia XIII

“I know how I like my women.”
William Carolla


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: They’re a mess when it’s over. Jade bleeds the excess into a cup, but there’s something so hot about being covered in blood while she fucks a ghoul and she wishes that Roderick were more into it.

Then again, she thinks that perhaps killing started him down the path that led to the vision, and she’s not interested in that. She’ll leave these moments to those of them who enjoy them. Like Reggie.

She drains the blood from the body with Reggie’s help, using him to hold the man aloft while she uses a hand to pump the heart like the literal valve that it is. She drinks until she’s full, puts the extra aside for later, and showers off the blood with Reggie. She has him take her again and finally gives him the hit she’d promised.

GM: Reggie learns something new when Celia’s heart-squeezing makes the blood come out faster. He takes her a third time with pleasure.

Whether it’s with as much pleasure as the hit is hard to say, but he thoroughly enjoys both.

Along with the fact that Randy is still waiting just the next room.

“He’s such a fucking idiot around you,” Reggie laughs as he dries and dresses himself.

Celia: “You’ve mentioned,” Jade drawls as she wrings the excess water out of her hair. It had been a thorough shower; no need for Carolla to smell the sex on her later and wonder if she’s as perverted as Roxanne. “Maybe getting laid will get it out of his system. And maybe he’ll still be an idiot. Regardless, I have a task for the two of you.”

She dresses, checks to make sure the thin-blood is still staked in the suite, and takes Reggie to find his brother. A wave of her hand dismisses any concern over taking so long. She checks the time to verify there’s enough before her meeting with the Brujah. No doubt fucking Reggie took up some of it, but a quick conversation should be doable.

“Your brother hit a wall looking into the hunters for me. I’d like to try a new tactic,” she says to the pair.

GM: Jade finds the thin-blood staked on the marble table. The man’s eyes do not follow hers as she approaches, but simply stare blankly upwards, seemingly oblivious as to her presence.

The ghouls both nod, listening.

Celia: “The guy he’s looking for doesn’t exist. Fake name. The other names haven’t turned up anything in a search, or at least no one has looked into their disappearances. The other lick I’m working with is sitting on a bugged stake. So yeah, I could twiddle my thumbs and wait, but I’m not a very patient person.” She favors them with a smile. They know.

“I’ve got their phones and the number they were communicating with. We can go about it a few ways. Call and trace the number, see what it turns out. Rusty will probably be on that for me.” Hadn’t he done that already? Why get the number if he’s not looking into it, right? She shoots him a text to tell him to do so if he hasn’t. Coded, obviously. “I can get the pair of you disguises, you can meet with the contacts. Maybe take a body with you.” Jade can think of a few licks she wouldn’t mind seeing the last of. “We can also stake out the apartment where I was nabbed. It’s in Mid-City. I imagine they’ll try again. The IDs they’ve got are fake, too. We’ll see if any of your ‘friends’ recognize the work.”

GM: The pair take a moment to process.

“Okay,” says Reggie. “Whose body?”

Celia: “Dunno yet,” Jade says cheerfully.

“There are so many to pick from.”

GM: Rusty texts back an affirmatory response.

“Sure are. Stake-outs are also boring as fuck,” says Reggie.

Celia: “Chance they won’t return, anyway, since their guys didn’t.”

Celia sends a text to Rod letting him know she found Dani’s phone and that she left her purse at the house for them. A second later she asks if he happened to find her friend’s ID at his apartment after their “wild party lol.”

Celia: “Thoughts on the rest of it?”

GM: Roderick texts back his gladness at the news and says he’ll let Dani know.

Her friend didn’t misplace his ID as far as he could find.

“Sounds good to me,” says Randy. “These guys tried to hurt you. Fuck waiting on some other lick.”

“Take the offense and all that.”

“Hey, you aren’t always an idiot,” says Reggie.

Celia: Jade favors the youngest brother with a smile.

“No IDs,” she says once she reads the text, “never mind that plan I guess.”

GM: “Ok, when do you want to kick this off?” asks the older of the pair.

Celia: “Could do it whenever.” They have the spare parts now. “It’ll be during the day. Lord Savoy has a shadow dancer that has met them already if you think going with him will be best.”

Gotta be a him, right? The one she’d (sort of) fucked in the shower.

“Guess I can’t count on him lending me the guy, though.”

“We’ll need to alter your faces, bodies.”

Celia: She’s only hesitant because she’s worried about losing them. She shouldn’t be worried, right? The other ghouls made it out.

“I guess tomorrow..?” Gives her little enough time to find a lick to send with them, but if they are working with the bitch with the tainted blood maybe it’ll come up.

GM: “Okay,” says Reggie. “Let us know whenever.”

Celia: “…you’re not worried about it? You two? Going in alone? Getting found out?”

“I guess we just need to find a lick, then.”

“Think they’d take a thin-blood?”

GM: “You got out, didn’t you?” Reggie shrugs.

“Be convenient with this guy already here.”

Celia: She might as well drain him while he’s here, too. Give him just enough to leave him “alive.” Keep the hunters from reviving him and learning anything about them, her, or her boys. Unless they don’t function like that. Maybe this is one of those things Edith could have told her; she didn’t think of it at the time.

“Yeah,” she says to that. “We’ll chance it. Fucker has fangs. Uneven, but fangs all the same. Alright. They needed three to be in the club. ‘My’ body was the first, this will be the second, see if they give you an address for the third or if it’s something you need to find yourselves. Find out what you can. Record what you can. But don’t get caught. That’s your priority: getting out. Clear? I’ll send a doc by your place tonight to alter your features. Use a burner. Car. Phone. Everything. Coded. The last pair said groceries. Address out in the fuckin’ boonies.”

GM: “Could just grab the fuckers,” says Reggie. “Hurt them until they squeal.”

Celia: “Think you could?”

GM: “Last ones were trouble, weren’t they?” says Randy.

Celia: “They were. And there’s something weird about these ones.”

GM: “But I dunno, two of us, plus surprise.”

Celia: “I mean yeah, that’s ideal if you could…”

GM: “Weird how?” asks Reggie.

Celia: “Not like normal hunters, my guy said. Looks down on potential assets. Cold.”

“Like… normally hunters want to work together.”

“These guys were real dismissive.”

“Of potential allies, I mean.”

GM: “Maybe ’cuz they were idiots who got themselves killed,” says Reggie.

Celia: “Right, well, the guy who I spoke to about it has more experience with these sort of things and is older than me, so I’m kind of inclined to trust him on this. And they didn’t know the others died.”

“But hey, if you can nab one without risking yourself, do it.”

“Look. Do what you can. Just don’t fucking die, okay?”

GM: “Don’t plan on that anytime soon,” smirks Reggie.

“You got it, babe. We’ll be careful,” says Randy.

Celia: “Then I’ll take what I need from this guy and you can turn him over to then. Expect the doc early this morning.”

She waits a beat in case they have any questions.

GM: “A’ight.”

They do not.

Celia: Then it’s time to drain a thin-blood to the point of almost-death and get ready for her date.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: It doesn’t take long for Jade to drain the halfbreed. She puts the blood aside, leaving it just enough to still be… alive. Animated. Whatever. Another night, perhaps, she’d have questioned the thing to learn what she could. But she has so many important things going on this evening, and she’s waited long enough to pounce on the hunters. Her boys aren’t useless, no matter how dumb Randy sometimes acts around her. They’ll get it done. This is the way forward.

The boys take the body with them when they go, still staked. One less trip for her later. She leaves with them, heading back to her haven to get ready for her date. Makeup. Hair. Nails. Once her body is ready she thumbs through her closet.

Years ago Roderick had enjoyed the pants Celia wore to a rant. Or at least to the car on the way to the rant, before they’d stopped to fuck because he couldn’t keep his hands off her. Brujah pants, he’d called them. The Mafiosa might not be an Anarch but he’s certainly still a Brujah, and she looks for something similar. Tight, to show off her tiny waist and shapely rear. Stiletto heels. Black shirt, also tight, and a black jacket top it off. She peruses accessories and settles for a gold branded belt.

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Jade winks at her reflection before she saunters from the haven to meet Carolla’s driver at the agreed upon address a few scant blocks away.

GM: Her reflection winks back, as if to say how smoking she is.

The car, a dark SUV, arrives about a minute after the agreed-upon time. The driver, a thuggish-looking man who’s crammed his large frame into a dark suit, gets out to open the passenger door for Jade.

She’s greeted inside the car by the Brujah himself. Will Carolla is a somewhat smaller but still large-framed and square-jawed man with slicked-back hair that has a few strands artfully loose. His features could be called handsome enough, in a blunt sort of way. Where Roderick’s face is narrower and smiles easily, most of his conviction seeming to glare out from within, everything about Carolla’s unsmiling face looks hard. A less kindly description referencing his low brow and flat, incurious eyes might be thuggish. He’s wearing a dark suit without a tie and several buttons around the collar undone.

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“You’re a sexy fucking bitch,” he says without preamble as he looks Jade up and down.

“Toreador,” grins the ghoul.

Carolla gets out of the seat, then all but seizes Jade as his hands tightly clamp around her arms, holding them fast against her sides. He slides back into the car and pulls her onto his lap. His hands are coarse and rough as they squeeze her skin through the leather.

“Like a sex doll. One of those robot sex dolls. I want to wind you up, watch you strut your Toreador ass, then bend you over and fuck you. You need a good hard fucking.”

Celia: It’s a different sort of dynamic on this lap. Not as safe and comfortable and smug as the position on Savoy’s, or as loving and warm as Roderick’s, or even as flirty and teasing as she is atop Gui. There’s an edge here, a sort of possessiveness and arrogance Carolla exudes that’s missing from the others. Like he’s already decided that she’s his and there’s nothing she can do about it.

Hauled bodily into the car, arms pinned at her sides, there’s little she can do but squirm against the Brujah’s body, ass grinding down against him with every movement. Almost like an accident; there’s a line between brazen slut and “giving in because he’s so goddamn charismatic and appealing” and she finds it, dancing upon it to give his ego a little stroke.

“Bend me over and fuck me,” Jade echoes, halfway between a drawl and a giggle, “what, like a breather?”

God, that’s hot.

She tells him so. That it’s so hot to finally find someone who knows what they want and isn’t afraid to seize it.

GM: “That’s fucking disgusting,” says Carolla, his features twisting in distaste. He roughly flips her over his knees and brings down his palm on her leather-clad ass. The blow is incredibly strong, and painful. He has to hold her in place with his other hand to keep it from knocking her off.

Celia: It’s not like she said she’s into it. Just asked. She was willing to go along with it if he likes it, that’s all.

Jade doesn’t need to force the yelp that the blow brings. Beneath the leather her flesh jiggles at the force of the slap, skin turning red.

If she weren’t focusing so hard on keeping her perverted nature quiet, she knows she’d be wet between the thighs.

GM: Carolla yanks her up by her hair and sweeps his other hand beneath her knees, lifting her up like one of those posable sex dolls to set back down on his lap, back to his chest. He makes a fist in her hair and yanks it back again, exposing her throat to the air while holding her head down beneath his shoulder level. His other hand doesn’t knead her breast so much as try to squeeze it apart. His fingers really hurt.

“Such a sexy fucking bitch,” he repeats. “You’d leave this car in a body bag if you were a breather.”

Motion starts beneath them as the car takes off.

Celia: She thinks it’s a compliment. In a weird, death threat sort of way. She rolls with it regardless, squirming in his grasp when he flips her again. There’s a moment where she’s free—but it’s just that, a moment. She loses handily, body bent and twisted the way he wants, throat exposed to fist and fang and whatever else he wants to do to her.

She knows his type. Roderick had told her all about them when they were breathers: how they expect their women to submit and deal with their manhandling. She’s not a woman, and he’s not a man, but the attitude persists despite their even standing: he expects to win. She’ll make him work for it, though. He expects that too. And victory is so much sweeter when your opponent doesn’t just roll over for you.

The breath leaves her body in a pained growl when his fingers dig into her chest. She snarls, lips pulled back to expose the fangs in her mouth. She bucks against him, twisting as if to escape, and brings an elbow into his side.

GM: Her elbow connects hard with the Brujah’s flank and elicits a surprised grunt, giving her a chance to squirm away. He lunges after her, seizing another fistful of hair. Her roots scream as he yanks her back, splaying her over his knees. A vice-like hand clamps around her throat.

“Feisty bitch,” he growls, fangs out as his eyes hungrily roam her leather-clad form. “Need to learn your place…”

Celia: Her roots aren’t the only thing that scream. The sound passes her lips for the brief moment before he cuts off her air, turning it into a strangled wheeze instead. She clamps her fingers around his wrist, trying to throw him off, but it’s all for show. They both know he’s stronger than her. And he can see it in her eyes: arousal.

GM: “Bitch likes that, huh?” He clamps his left hand around around her neck too, squeezing harder and harder until her neck feels ready to snap, then lets go with his right hand. He flips her over on his lap, ass in the air, and strokes his free hand along her leg. His hand runs over the leather before he grips her calf, hefting the leg above his head. His hand squeezes her boot heel.

“Yeah. Those are bitch boots you got on. Make you so fucking helpless. Tottering around. In your bitch boots. Any woman with boots like those is saying she wants to be bent over and fucked.”

He drops her leg to undo his pants, stiffens his cock with an apparent moment’s effort, then shoves her mouth over his member while his left hand continues to all but crush in her neck. His right hand returns to her leg again, pulling up the leather pant leg to expose bare flesh. His fangs sink into her calf like a drumstick.

Celia: She doesn’t need air. Black spots don’t swim in her field of vision. But she flails all the same, batting ineffectually at the hands that hold her down until the bones in her body grind together. Only then does she still, eyes wide upon his face, fingers curling around his wrist. She ceases her struggles. Then the flip, his hands roaming her body, his words running past her while she writhes, limbs twisted and yanked and—

Oh. There. A firm cock in her mouth. For all that he says the breather way is disgusting he sure doesn’t mind mimicking it. Fangs flash, nipping his skin. She fastens her lips around the flesh in her mouth and sucks, letting the warm vitae flow across her tongue. It’s hard to swallow with his hand on her neck but she does what she can, making soft, almost eager whimper-like noises around the vice grip on her throat to show him she has accepted her place in this dance.

The blood on her tongue, though… shock jolts through her, but only for a moment before she smooths it over and focuses on what she’s doing. All the same, emotion wars within her. Some part of her had hoped it wasn’t true. Another is filled with vicious satisfaction.

That lying cunt. She’s going to enjoy watching her kingdom topple.

But what sense does that make?

Is he lying? Doing the same thing she does? Enough shadow dancers in the city, aren’t there; even Edith said she can cloak. Not a very common trick, though.

But why? Why that? There’s no way he knows what she’s looking for. Unless there’s a leak. Who knows? Her, Savoy, Preston. To what end? Make her look foolish in front of her grandsire? Invictus stick together? Sabotage the entire Roderick plot before it begins? No wonder the bitch hasn’t called her back about their supposed meeting.

The lot of it flees her mind when he sinks his fangs into her calf. It’s a problem for another time. Right now she just wants to enjoy herself. She gives in to the thing inside of her that wants to fight, fuck, and feed.

GM: The fighting seems over with, but she still gets to fuck and feed.

Carolla’s blood fills her mouth, hot and furious. Like all Brujah blood. Almost spicy. It’s more bitter than Roderick’s, though. Saltier, too. And thicker. Stronger. Headier. By one way or another, he’s embraced his Beast to an extent her lover hasn’t. She can picture him crushing in hunters’ heads without worrying for their families.

It’s oddly titillating, trying to swallow down so much, and being cruelly denied by the hand crushing in her windpipe. Like a starving man being fed morsels at a time.

The Brujah hungrily rips and bites Jade’s flesh, savaging her calf like a true drumstick as he gulps down her blood by the mouthful. So much more than her. It’s not fair. He switches legs after a moment, dropping her first one and yanking the other into the air to rip into it too. He takes his fill, then drops it too. He uses his free hand to pound her ass as she choke-sucks his cock, bringing his palm down again and again and again. Jade remembers another girl, who screamed and sobbed and blubbered ‘til her throat was raw and her ass was bloody over her father’s knee, and perhaps wonders how much less time it would have taken the man if he had a Brujah’s strength. Jade has to awkwardly grab hold of him, grab the seat, grab anywhere, not to be sent flying off.

Celia: It’s mostly over, anyway. She still “struggles” a bit when he seems to be going soft on her, making sure to keep him on his toes. She’s a lick, not some blubbering breather that just submits to people when they win. And maybe she likes the idea of “losing” to Carolla. Maybe she likes it a lot. Maybe it’s him, or his blood, or the fact that he seems to know exactly what turns her on: the hard smacks against her ass that leave her yelping, yowling, hissing (strangled half-sounds, all of it), and clawing at him before he makes her settle back down so he can deliver another, a third, a fourth. She loses count. But she’s throbbing by the end of it, and there’s no doubt that if he tried this sort of thing with a breather she would leave in a body bag. But Jade is made of hardier material than all that; she doesn’t even bruise.

She’s not Celia.

She lets the Brujah have his fun. And when it’s done—when they’re relatively sated on blood and sex and aggression even though they both know there will be a round two whenever they reach their destination—she lets him arrange her on his lap again like those sex dolls he seems to favor, idly nipping at his neck with the flats of her teeth while the rest of her bleeds and throbs and curls contentedly against him like an overly large lap cat.

GM: Carolla seems to enjoy the continued token struggles, for they seem to make his hand come down all the harder and all the more times as he pounds her ass raw through the tight leather pants, like it’s a piece of meat he’s trying to pulverize with a tenderizer. He finally picks her up again, flips her over, and plops her back down on his lap. One of his hands fits around her waist.

“I had a girl, when I was a breather. I’d make her fuck a sex doll in front of me. I’d piss on her face and tell her she wasn’t good enough for my cock. Doll was all she’d get, unless she put on a really good show. Usually didn’t.”

“Then I’d bring in my other girl, and we’d fuck while she watched. She’d get to eat my cum out of the other girl’s snatch if she was good.”

“Then I’d slug them for being whores, and jack off over their faces, because I was tired of sticking my prick in a whore.”

“You remind me of the doll.”

Celia: “Of the… doll?”

GM: “Yeah.”

Celia: “How’s that?”

GM: “Dunno. Just do.”

Celia: She’s not quite certain if it’s a compliment.

“Sounds like you knew how you liked your women.”

GM: “I know how I like my women.”

“Don’t have the girl anymore, but still have the doll.”

Celia: “And your licks?” An appreciative glance up and down his form before she settles again. She lets out an amused sound at his mention of the doll. “What do you do with it now?”

GM: “Same thing. Make juicebag girls fuck it. See if they deserve my prick.”

Celia: “That do anything for you? Watching the kine fuck it?”

GM: “Sometimes. If they’re good.”

Celia: She arches a brow at him.

GM: “They’re good, I take just a little. They’re bad, I take everything.”

Celia: “And that line about deserving your prick?”

GM: “Getting to suck juice out of it.”

Celia: “So if they’re good you take a little, give a little,” Jade muses, “and keep them around for your entertainment?” A nod to the ghoul driving. “Their entertainment?”

GM: He effects a snort. “Would have to be really fucking entertainment to get juice just for that.”

“And fuck no. He buys his own whores.”

Celia: “Mm. Then what’s the point of keeping them around?”

GM: He barks a laugh.

“Fuck, you’re a Toreador. I don’t just use renfields for fucking.”

Celia: It’s Jade’s turn to effect a snort.

“Let that rumor get to you, I see.” She sounds more amused than heated.

GM: “I’ll bet $1,000 you fuck yours.”

Celia: “You think I’d let some renfield put their cock in me? Really.” Jade trails a hand down his chest. “There’s nothing interesting about a breather when I can have this.”

GM: “Fucking right.”

Celia: Ego as big as any stiff. Jade all but purrs at him, stroking the muscle beneath his suit jacket. She nips at his neck.

“Where are we headed, then?”

GM: His hand slides down her waist to give her ass an extremely hard squeeze.

“Roxanne’s hangouts. Porn studio after we find her.”

Celia: “Force her to perform? Nothing quite like the sight of a blue blood on their knees.”

GM: “Yeah.”

Celia: Too bad they won’t find the bitch.

“And what’s your plan for when she gets her krewe together to come after you for showing everyone her proper place? Pathetic as they are, they’ve still got the numbers.”

GM: “She’s never gonna leave.”

Celia: “Tragic,” Jade drawls.

GM: “For her.”

Celia: “Won’t age out like some of the girls in the biz. Has that whole teenage bimbo look going on.” Jade considers, then finally nods. “Good pick.”

GM: “Yeah.”

The pair go on a wild goose chase through the CBD, visiting an assortment of locations where Carolla apparently believes Roxanne may be found, each one as fruitless as the last. The evening slowly ticks by, and the Brujah’s temper rises with it. His driver starts to look nervous.

“Where the fuck is that whore?”

Celia: Jade, at least, hides her nerves better than the driver. She knows that Roxanne isn’t going to be found, but she does her part searching for the bitch. She finds any clues as to Roxanne’s recent activities that she can, looking for anything that ties her to Vidal, or anything that might lead her to Evan. This many months removed she doesn’t think there’s much to find, but she turns over what she can, bounces ideas off of Carolla, and makes sure to keep his mood in good spirits when he’s around her. So smart. So clever. How did he even hear about this particular place? She milks it for what it’s worth.

GM: True to Jade’s expectation, the trail is long cold this many months removed. There’s ample evidence Roxanne was a staunch Vidal supporter, but none that she had any personal ties to the prince. That fact does not help the Brujah’s increasingly volatile temper, which even her practiced flattery seems to do only so much to abate. Indeed, Jade can only reach one conclusion:

Carolla isn’t really looking for Roxanne to get a porn actress.

Celia: Jade hadn’t expected to find much. All the same, she filches any interesting tidbits that she comes across.

“What did she do to you,” Jade ventures after one of their stops, “and how can I make it better?”

GM: “She crossed my uncle,” he says flatly.

Celia: “The one with the crocs?” She can’t help but sound intrigued.

GM: Flint dances in his eyes. “No. The other fucking uncle with the crocs.”

Celia: Jade is silent for a moment, letting him stew. Finally she says, “I didn’t know she had anything to do with him.”

There’s an invitation to share, if he wants to tell her the story.

GM: Carolla’s fist smashes into Jade’s face like a sledgehammer, crunching in her jaw and nose with a grisly shatter that sends teeth flying. She goes flying too, across the car’s interior, and hits the door with a painful thud before landing on the ground. Blood seeps onto the floor mat from her face. Jade barely wrestles down her furious Beast as the red fury starts to edge out Carolla’s eyes.

“Fucking waste of a fucking night! Fucking cocksucking camwhore FUCK! FUCK!!!!

The Brujah’s next blow caves in the driver’s headrest and smashes it off the seat altogether. Carolla’s ghoul barely ducks as the headrest flies past him to hit the steering wheel, causing him to jerkingly swerve the car. Angry honks go up from traffic.

Celia: Jade should have kept her mouth shut. She rears backwards when the fist slams into her face, smothering her Beast inside her chest before it can do so much as hiss. She finds a spot on the floor and hunkers down, arms over her head, protecting herself from the almost-raging Brujah.

Occupational hazard, isn’t it, hanging out with the angry ones.

She waits a beat, looking for the signs of him completely losing his cool, and only once she’s sure he hasn’t she offers something else: the opportunity to put Gui in his place.

GM: “Yeah? Fucking how?” snarls the Brujah, fangs still jutting from his mouth.

Celia: “Party at the Evergreen on Saturday,” Jade offers, hands still up. “He set the theme. 1920s. In honor of his sire. I bet we can make him look real fuckin’ stupid.”

GM: Carolla grabs Jade by the hair and yanks her across the car floor. He twists it hard, forcing her to look up at him from the ground with her throat bared. He leans close.

“Look at you. You with your long fucking hair in your fucking bitch boots with your fucking hands up, you scared fucking woman.”

Celia: Jade’s fingers close around the wrist of the hand that yanks her head back, but she knows better than to try to get away. She meets his gaze, forcing herself to stare into the cold eyes that look upon her now. Bloodied, but not beaten.

“Lick,” she hisses at him, “and one who’s offering you another annoyance on a silver platter since we can’t find the cunt.”

GM: The Brujah doesn’t let go. He leans closer, enough to kiss.

“Say you’re a woman.”

Celia: Anger simmers just beneath the surface. He’s just like a bald man she used to know, using the word “woman” as an insult.

As if having a vagina is a fucking crippling disability.

“I’m as much a woman as you are a man.”

GM: And with those words, he smiles faintly and lets go.

“Right. Beast got riled up.”

Celia: If she were still mortal she might breathe a sigh of relief. But she’s not; she’s the undead abomination she claims to be, so she is still and silent, wary, rubbing at the roots of her hair with her fingers.

“Yeah,” she finally says.

GM: He picks her up and plops her back down on the seat.

“Okay. Party.”

“That sounds fun.”

“We can do that, you want.”

“Or there’s something we can do right now.”

Celia: “Yeah?”

“What’s that?”

GM: “Asshole your sire would be pretty happy if we ruined the night of.”

Celia: “That hardly narrows it down.”

GM: He barks another laugh.

“Yeah. She’s a piece of work.”

Celia: “She’s somethin’ all right. What do you have in mind? Or rather, who?”

GM: “I been working this a while. Asshole’s been a pain in my ass too. But now…”

He pulls out a phone. He unlocks it, then shows it to Jade. She sees a blipping dot on a map.

“…I can do this anytime, at my leisure.”

“Follow asshole’s every move.”

Celia: “Which asshole?” she asks, watching the blip.

GM: Carolla starts to answer, then follows her gaze to the screen.

“Oh fuck! Asshole’s in City Park, this is fucking perfect!”

“City Park,” he tells the ghoul.

Celia: Jade supposes that answers that. She’s along for the ride.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

GM: True to its name, City Park is the city’s largest park, replete with a miniature golf course, art museum, amusement park, playground, restaurants, and other attractions to the point that ‘park’ actually looks rather scarce, at least this far south. Still, there aren’t many people around this late at night.

The ghoul pulls into the closest parking lot. A children’s playground is visible across from the asphalt. The swings, slides, seesaws, sandbox, and other playground equipment stand still and barren at the late night hour.

It’s the same one Roderick took her to back in 2012.

Carolla opens the door and gets out. He picks Jade up, around the waist with both hands, then sets her down on the pavement.

“Let me see you strut your ass in those bitch boots.”

Celia: Jade uses the time in the car to wipe the worst of the blood from her face. It only serves to enhance the look. Like Rod once said, no one likes a lick showing up in brand new leathers to a rant; it screams of trying too hard.

She’s all eyes for the Brujah during the ride otherwise, letting out a delighted giggle when he picks her bodily up and sets her on her feet. She’s happy to show off her ample posterior with a strut in her bitch boots, heel-toe, one foot in front of the other. The boots lift her ass into the air, a sway with every step.

GM: Carolla watches appreciatively as her heels go click-click-click against the pavement.

“Fuck yeah. Look at those fucking hips. God. Any other time, I’d fuck you right here. "

“We’ll do that when we’re done. Can you fight?”

Celia: “Not as well as you, I imagine. But I manage.”

“We taking down a big tough guy?”

GM: “Yep.”

He doesn’t contest the “not as well” assertion at all.

Celia: She’s hardly going to lie about it with her ass on the line. Her hand squeezes his bicep, aroused despite the serious nature of his claim and burning curiosity.

“What’s the plan? I could distract him.”

GM: “The plan starts with you taking off the fucking bitch boots, if you’re actually serious about fighting too.”

Celia: Jade unzips and kicks them off without a word.

GM: He holds out his hand. The ghoul gives him a set of binoculars. He pulls up the map on his phone again.

“Right. We follow asshole from a distance. See if asshole’s with any friends. Odds look good, we jump asshole there, pound a stake into asshole’s chest.”

Celia: “And after?”

GM: “I fuck you in your bitch boots on top of asshole.”

Celia: Jade grins.

GM: “Put them in the car,” he says to the ghoul. “Fucking homeless or pervert will steal them.”

The ghoul picks up Jade’s shoes and puts them in the car.

“If asshole walks by the water, we hide under there. If asshole walks by a tree, we hide up there. Jump asshole out of fucking nowhere.”

“Tree is better. This suit is fucking expensive.”

Celia: “Hide. Jump the asshole. Fuck on the asshole.” She nods.

GM: “Yep. You know how to shoot or use a sword?”

Celia: “I’m okay with a knife. Better with these.” And there they are: claws sprouting from the tips of her fingers, just as pretty as the rest of her but with a lethal edge.

GM: “Good,” he nods. “How about shooting, in case there’s renfields?”

Celia: “Not really,” she admits. The claws slide back into her nail beds.

GM: “Okay. He’ll handle the shooting, if there’s any.”

The ghoul loads a firearm.

Celia: “Are you expecting a whole retinue?”

GM: “Probably not. Why take a retinue on a fucking walk in the park. But plan for the worst. Who knows what he’s doing here.”

Celia: She nods again. She does the same.

GM: “Stay out sight. Behind trees and bushes and shit. Doesn’t fucking matter asshole can see in the dark if there’s a plant in the way.”

Celia: She almost offers to cloak. But she’s already shared the claws, no need to tip her whole hand.

“Okay. I’ll follow your lead.” She pauses, then finally reaches out to touch his wrist. “Hey, Will, is he… dangerous? Stronger than you?”

GM: The Brujah barks a laugh.

“Fuck no.”

“But I’m not underestimating him either. He’ll be dangerous.”

“He can definitely take you.”

Celia: That’s not saying much.

“Guess I’ll have to work on it.”

GM: He shrugs.

“You’re a Toreador who struts around in bitch boots.”

Celia: “So’s my sire. Can still throw down with the best of them.”

GM: “Can throw down with the best of neonates. Bet the sheriff would hand her her ass.”

Celia: “Can’t imagine many asses he wouldn’t handle.”

She wishes he’d handle hers.

GM: He grunts and walks down the park’s trail, dimming the brightness on his phone. The ghoul gets out a heavy knife, locks the car, and follows behind.

Celia: Jade falls into step beside him, dimming her aura when he dims his phone. No need to make it look like there’s two licks around if she can avoid it.

GM: Jade’s never been on any dates here, but it’s a literal trip down memory lane for Celia.

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At the post-midnight hour, the trio seem to have the winding trails all to themselves. The forested park with its tall, drooping branches feels like something out of a primordial dream.

Celia: It might be romantic, if not for the way he’d slugged her earlier and the fact that they’re about to jump some unsuspecting soul.

GM: Carolla doesn’t pause to appreciate them like Roderick did, either. He just seems to make note of the camouflage in between checking his phone. He also says to “Watch out for any fucking Gangrel.”

Celia: Jade keeps her eyes peeled for other licks, whatever form they happen to choose.

A girl named Celia had once been worried about them while she was with her date, though she’d been riding the high of rekindled romance. Nothing had touched them that night.

The park seems altogether more sinister now.

GM: Carolla and the ghoul keep their eyes peeled too, albeit with the Brujah distracted following his map, but none of the trio sees any. Yet.

They finally reach a point where Carolla nods, “Fucking perfect. Asshole’s headed this way.”

He grabs Jade and unceremoniously throws her up at the canopy.

He throws his ghoul into the tree too, then seems to all but fly as he does a standing leap from the ground into the tree’s crown.

Celia: God, it’s hot.

Even now, middle of the night, waiting to jump some asshole—thrown bodily into the air really seems to do it for her. She doesn’t say anything, though, just keeps her eyes peeled on the path once she settles atop the branch he’d thrown her onto.

It’s almost like flying.

GM: He catches a branch too and swings around it, pulling out his phone. The dot on the map draws steadily closer. Carolla’s ghoul pulls the rifle off his back.

“I hold up one finger,” whispers Carolla. “You hit asshole with a head shot.”

“Two fingers. Up to you who to fire on.”

Celia: Smart. Roderick had told her he’d rather slow down a lick from afar with bullets.

GM: He shakes his head. “Fuck. Wish we’d had two heavy hitters in the car. I’d try to blow his head off too.”

Celia: Jade lets them plan. Without a gun she doesn’t have much to add to the conversation. She keeps her eyes peeled on the path.

GM: “Wait. You can’t fucking see in the dark, you useless piece of shit.”

“Sorry, boss.”

“You should have fucking said so. Give me that.”

Celia: Fucking renfields.

GM: “It’s got a scope,” declares the ghoul.

“I don’t fucking care. I’m taking the shot.” Carolla pulls it out of his hands.

Celia: Jade hesitates. Then, almost quicker than the eye can follow, she reaches out to mark the ghoul’s arm with her claws. An eye, slitted down the middle like a cat’s, stares up at them when she’s done.

“Blink,” she tells the ghoul.

GM: He blinks. His eyes glow red.

“Holy shit. I can see fine.”

“Like, not just through the scope. Fuckin’ everywhere.”

“Huh. Okay,” says Carolla. He looks at Jade, then back to his ghoul. “You take the shot. Better this way. Couldn’t pause to hand you back the gun after I took the shot.”

Celia: No one ever asks how. Jade doesn’t sigh. She just thinks about it.

GM: They settle in to wait.

They don’t wait long, though, before Jade sees Roderick and Dani walking down the trail together, clad in their masks. Their voices are inaudible at the current distance, but brother and sister are smiling at each other.

Celia: Oh.

Oh no.

Dread curls in her gut.

Not this. Not them.

He’ll kill her with the headshot. She doesn’t know if thin-bloods can come back from that, but she’s not going to risk Dani’s life on it. She has to stop him. Carolla and the goon. And she’d just marked him.

Jesus Christ she’s fucking stupid.

So fucking stupid.

What matters more to her: her lover… or her grandsire?

Neither, whispers his voice in her head.

She wishes he were here now. That he’d swoop in and take out Carolla for her so that she doesn’t need to dirty her hands, so that she can just play dumb when they ask her about it, because she’s so fucking good at that. Is there a way to reason with him? A way to get him to not attack?

Yeah. By redirecting his rage. Taking it out on her instead of Roderick.

Jade swallows. He’s had Roderick bugged for who knows how long. Following his every move. Leading him right back to her. Savoy offered to take him out for Roderick anyway, didn’t he? It’s no skin off their back if she just does it first.

Those masks might be their saving grace, though.

“Bugged a breather, did you? Hardly worth Veronica’s time.”

GM: Carolla holds a finger to his lips with a pissed off expression.

Celia: Jade gestures at where the non-vampires walk through the park.

“Worried about kine,” she continues. Stage whisper. “Took my fucking boots off for this nonsense.”

GM: “Shut UP, you stupid cunt,” he whisper-hisses.

Celia: Roderick… or her grandsire?

It’s not even a choice.

“I bet you five grand I can take them on my own.”

GM: Carolla looks as if he wants to rip Jade’s head off as she keeps talking and potentially compromising their hiding spot.

“Shut. Your. Mouth.”

But he doesn’t look at her. His eyes whip ahead towards the ‘mortals’ she points out for him.

Celia: “Hiding in the trees from fucking breathers.”

“Big bad fucking lick.”

“Give me the gun, let’s at least make it sporting.”

GM: Carolla seizes Jade and clamps one hand over her mouth to silence her. The Toreador’s struggles seem to only further enrage the Brujah, and he casually breaks her right hand with his other one, seizing it a vice-like grip and squeezing until the delicate bones crunch apart. Her left hand follows a moment later. What’s left looks as if someone pounded a sledgehammer over them.

Celia: Pain flares white hot through her body when her wrists snap, the eight tiny bones no match for his crushing grip. She doesn’t dare shriek when the Brujah has already made his annoyance known; the sound that passes from her lips to his palm is a low, keening whimper that cuts off as quickly as it begins. Jade ceases her struggles. In the car, even riding the dangerous edge, she’d thought herself relatively safe. His strength had been hot. Here and now with her lover, his sister, and her own self on the line, it’s downright terrifying.

GM: A brief smile plays over Carolla’s rough features, but then he and his ghoul frown at the unfamiliar approaching faces. The apparent breathers. Carolla looks down at his phone again, frowning in confusion as it apparently confirms that ‘asshole’ is right by, then seems to do a mental calculus if his ghoul takes the shot.

They’re Roderick in disguise. His ghoul shoots Roderick in the head.

They’re a pair of random breathers. His ghoul shoots a random breather in the head.

The Brujah points at the male ‘breather,’ then holds up one finger.

Celia: Licks smell even the faintest traces of blood in the air. Jade lets the tears come. Her aura flickers and drops. Her eyes flash red in the night. Haphazard, as if she can’t control it, as if the pain of having both wrists broken keeps her from being able to concentrate on maintaining the deception, but maybe the message reaches Roderick all the same. Maybe it’s enough to let him know something is wrong. She plays up the weak, womanly angle that Carolla has her pegged in, leaning back against him as if to silently acknowledge his superiority, nodding her head again and again to say I get it, I’ll be quiet. Each movement that jostles her arms sends a fresh cascade of bloody tears down her face. She sobs into the Brujah’s hand.

She should have played it another way. Could have played it another way. Now she’s sitting in a tree with a monster and his ghoul, learning first-hand why Roderick speaks so ill of the Mafia if this is the way they treat people. At least her spot pressed against Carolla’s side will keep him from jumping down immediately once the gun goes off.

No time for should have/could have, though. She has seconds before Roderick walks into view of the renfield. Seconds before he squeezes the trigger.

She makes them count.

Jade shifts against Carolla as she can, keeping her hands from view. No need to let him know that she’s sending the blood she needs to the area to snap her wrists back into place. She plays up the damsel; she’s just a weak woman and he’s a big strong manly man and she has definitely learned her place. She’s so sorry that she doubted him, sorry she questioned him; she just wanted him to think she’s as much of a badass as he is, and now she knows how stupid that was. Of course he’s in charge. She knows a winner when she sees one.

Celia has had so much practice in this role. She takes the reins, swimming to the surface to make it as believable as she can. She squirms, not to get free but to press herself closer, twisting her face to press it against his chest.

And there’s his throat. Waiting for her.

That’s the thing about lap cats: you never know how true the cat part of it is until the girl you’ve got your hands on shifts in the blink of an eye, turning into a deadly, 600-pound predator with nails as long as the fingers of the girl she used to be. The tiger’s jaws open wide to close around that throat in front of her, its snarl ripping through the night.

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GM: The tree branch snaps under the big cat’s quarter-ton weight, sending tiger and Brujah crashing to the grass in a heap. The tiger recovers first, with its four legs. Great jaws shoot straight for its prone adversary’s throat. Bone crunches and flesh tears as blood sprays over the striped cat.

Then, out of nowhere, Roderick appears. Perhaps he has no clue who the tiger is. But he knows who the mafioso underneath the tiger is. He doesn’t hesitate for a moment. He can’t get in a punch past the tiger’s bulk, but bone-shattering, brutally hard kicks smash into Carolla in blurs of motion.

Celia remembers a conversation at Flawless once, how Piper read an article about what to do if you’re attacked by a tiger. She said she read to stick your fist up its mouth. That will really fuck up its day. Emily was immediately skeptical. She said you should go for the sensitive parts instead, like its eyes. “You can’t fucking beat a tiger in a fight,” she’d said. “You just want to cause it enough pain to back away and figure this meal is more trouble than it’s worth. Maybe if you’re lucky you’ll blind it.”

She’d asked Robby his opinion afterwards, too. The HEMA enthusiast had agreed. Fighting a tiger alone and unarmed is a suicidally terrible idea: all you can do is cause it enough pain to back off. “I only know the basics of shooting, but that’s a situation where I’d MUCH rather have a gun than one of my swords,” she’d said he said. “The noise might scare it off even if you miss.”

“But yeah. This is why humans invented tools and hunted in groups. Lone unarmed human against an apex predator is no contest.”

Licks aren’t humans, though.

Carolla doesn’t go for the eye. He just drives his fist into the tiger’s throat, messily crunching in bone, before an equally savage follow-up to the nose smashes in the animal’s face. Undeterred, the tiger savages the shit out of Carolla with its claws, shredding muscle and sinew and reducing the mafioso’s fine suit to gore-stained tatters. Strips of bloody meat dangle from the beast’s claws and teeth.

Carolla’s ribs crunch apart under Roderick’s continued kicks. With a roar of bestial fury, Carolla seizes the tiger under its forelimbs and hurls the quarter-ton animal against the tree, which shakes to its roots. Branches and leaves snap off from the canopy as more gunshots split the air. The tiger can’t say from who as it regains its paws.

Roderick takes advantage of the opening, though, and delivers a downward punch to his still half-risen clanmate that all but explodes Carolla’s skull. His face looks like a shattered vase after a two-year-old tried to glue it back together.

Carolla is slammed back into the grass even as Roderick’s follow-up punch descends from his other fist. For a moment, it looks like he and tiger have won the fight, until the next gunshot takes him square in the back of the neck. He staggers forward. Carolla ambles to his feet, fangs bared and roaring past his half-destroyed throat, just as the tiger lunges at him. The great cat’s claws rip open his stomach but fail to knock him off his feet even as Roderick falls into a boxer’s stance, taking advantage of Carolla’s preoccupation to launch one-two combos with the full force of his body behind them. They’d be easier to counter if only the fight was one-on-one, and shatter bones faster than the other Brujah can mend them.

More gunshots go off.

Carolla has more than one foot in the grave already, but the frenzying Brujah fights like a demon, driving the tiger and his clanmate back with wild, bone-shattering blows. There’s a thump against the grass. A machete rams into the tiger’s flank. Carolla’s ghoul drags it back like he’s carving up a steak, taking some of the pressure off his domitor.

Celia: In this form, with this speed and size, the tiger can keep up with the fight where the girl couldn’t. Even launched as it is against the tree, body savaged by the fists of the Brujah that rain down upon it, its single-minded instinct runs deep: fuck up the other guy before he can fuck up the tiger and its allies. It shreds, bites, crushes, snaps—whatever part of the lick it can get to it rips into.

The gunshots register only in the back of its mind—how many people heard? will it draw the cops? how quickly does it need to end the fight to prevent the Masquerade from unraveling?—and it’s that last thought that propels the tiger forward to sink teeth and claw into the enemy.

Until that sword slices its flank. A machete. Who brings a fucking machete to the park. That’s all the girl inside the tiger has time to think before the Beast itself takes over; she doesn’t even fight it, letting the reins slip free of her grasp to give in to the monster inside just as surely as she gave in to the monster outside. Roderick had told her that she should keep it contained in a fight, but fuck that. She’ll take the edge. The annoyance of the sword is nothing compared to what the asshole in front of her can do with his bare hands. And once he goes down that sword-wielding douchebag is one chomp away from turning into a red smear on the ground. The tiger focuses its rage on the lick, launching itself forward on powerful hindquarters to knock his feet out from under him and take him down in a shower of blood and muscle and gore, claws ripping at his stomach and teeth clamping down around his throat. It rips and tears and ravages; no one fucks with the girl’s property and gets off with it.

GM: She doesn’t see what happens.

She never does, when the Beast takes over.

She just opens the floodgates, lets the red tide pour out, and stands back to let the Beast have its fun.

They might stay open for a second. They might stay open for a thousand years. Time loses meaning in the sea of red. The tiger likes this place.

When the red fog clears, tiger’s face is pressed flat against a tree. So is the rest of its body, from its neck down to its chest. Its paws are awkwardly splayed in the air. It can’t move. It feels a monstrously strong human-shaped weight pressing into its back, holding it in place against the tree.

“Right,” comes Roderick’s tight voice. “You don’t feel apeshit anymore. Turn back into a human and I’ll let you down.”

“Or at least a lick.”

“Is, is that…?” comes Dani’s voice.

“A lick? Yeah. Some of us can turn into animals,” answers her brother. “First time I’ve seen one become a tiger, though.”

“Jesus, that thing was terrifying,” says Dani.

Celia: The tiger doesn’t like this position pressed up against the tree. It’s unnatural. Painful, even, with its limbs stretched every which way and the weight of a body behind it. A familiar body. A boy that another cat knows.

The feline instincts run strong. It chuffs at the boy, tail flicking, and then it shifts. Its body twists and shrinks, its stripes spreading out across its body until the fur remains a single color, lightening to a dark gray from solid black.

Luna meows at her boy.

GM: A mortal man might stumble at the sudden disappearance of the big cat’s bulk and weight, but Roderick just lithely catches the smaller feline in his arms. The cat gets a look at him. He looks bad. His clothes are shredded tatters, there’s blood all over him from head to toe, and the mask is torn too. It’s now obviously a mask, as bits of his real face peak out.

He blinks upon recognizing the cat.

“C-Jade?!” he exclaims, catching himself.

Celia: Luna takes stock of her boy, then the girl behind him. Irritation surges through her tiny little body. He’s hers. Hers to protect. Someone hurt him, and she’s going to make them pay. She rubs her face against his chin, then twists again, looking past him for the bodies of Carolla and the goon.

GM: Both of them lie in heaps on the ground. As bad as Roderick looks, Carolla looks worse. His throat is a shredded ruin and his stomach’s actually been ripped open, replete with guts hanging all out. The torpid vampire’s eyes stare blankly into the night sky.

Celia: The cat hisses at his corpse, ears flat against her head.

GM: His ghoul lies equally motionless, but his guts are still inside his torso. Dani is bent over him. A handgun rests nearby on the very, very red grass. The cat can just smell the blood. It suffuses the entire scene like a primordial perfume.

“R-”

He cuts her off. “Shit, don’t use our names!”

“He’s not gonna make it!” says Dani.

Celia: Good.

GM: Roderick drops the cat, then bends to one knee over the fallen ghoul. He bites his wrist and holds it to the man’s mouth.

Celia: Jade shifts again, barefoot in the grass, and launches herself at Roderick.

GM: Her lover’s lightning-faster and brutally stronger arms snap out and slam her to the ground like she’s nothing.

Celia: “He tried to murder you both,” Celia snarls at him.

GM: Roderick lets the blood flow into the ghoul’s mouth. His eyes have barely had a chance to open before the Brujah’s fist descends against his head, and then he’s out again.

“Wait, why did you…” starts Dani.

“He’ll be unconscious for a while,” says Roderick. “Won’t remember this fight, either.”

“Wait, that’s not how knocking people out works,” frowns Dani. “Hollywood m-”

Roderick shakes his head. “It’s a trick of the Blood. He’ll forget.”

Celia: Celia climbs back to her feet, eyes moving back and forth between the siblings.

“We need to go. Now.”

GM: “We do,” Roderick says tightly. “We need to take care of his car. Where’s yours?”

Celia: “Taken care of.”

GM: “Fuck. Look at all this blood. We need to scrub this.”

“There were gunshots,” says Dani. “I don’t know we’ll have time. If there’s Gangrel in this park like you say. Those were LOUD.”

Celia: “Put the bodies in the car. I’ll take care of that. You use your speed and scrub it.”

GM: “Are you going to try to kill him again?” Roderick asks.

Celia: Celia glares at him.

“I wasn’t trying to kill him.”

GM: “I’m not doing that again,” he says flatly. “Doesn’t matter who. I’m not killing again.”

Celia: “I’m not going to kill him. We don’t have time to argue.”

GM: “Right. Taking them to our car. Back as fast as I can.” Roderick hefts his sister (who gives a started sound) and the ghoul over his shoulders in firemen’s carries, and then he’s gone in a blur.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: There’s a brief moment of indecision as he goes. He’d taken off the same way as Carolla’s car. Of course they used the same lot; how hadn’t she noticed his car when they’d arrived? What was she paying attention to instead? The thug in front of her, probably.

How long does it take to drain the body to the point that Caroline had told her about?

Longer than she has, she bets.

She could try it anyway. Maybe she should. She bends—

And hears a footstep behind her. The decision is taken from her when she looks up to see the two ghouls she’d summoned from the car finally arrive. Her hackles had been up the entire ride after Carolla smacked her around, and she’s glad she’d texted them when she did. Late to the fight, but just in time to be of some use.

“Take him. Get the blood off him. Go. You know where. Don’t let anything happen to him. Go. Hurry.”

GM: “Uh, gonna take a while to get off this much blood…” says Randy.

Reggie just grunts and hefts up the body.

Celia: Is this the right thing?

Or should she leave the body with Roderick? Let him taste that blood first hand?

She should, shouldn’t she? That’s what Savoy would want. What her sire would want.

Then what? How will she get it from him later?

She won’t. She won’t let him take it at all.

“This way,” she says instead. Toward the SUV.

GM: The brothers follow after her, torpid body held aloft.

Celia: “There’s a car. We need to get rid of it.” A quiet explanation, only the need to know.

GM: “Okay, there’s chop shops,” says Reggie.

Celia: “Mafia related. Can’t get back to us.”

GM: “Shit, really?”

Celia: Could take it to Shep, but what if he recognizes it?

“Yeah.”

GM: The three are interrupted as Roderick blurs to a stop in front of them.

He looks at the ghouls. “Can they help?”

Celia: “Yeah, that’s what I’m explaining to them now.”

GM: He shakes his head. “Stupid question.” He moves to relieve them of the body.

Celia: “They’ve got it.”

“We need to clean. They’re not as fast.”

“And they need to get out of here. Take the two cars. Randy can leave his keys. We scrub. Anyone comes by we just say we’re fucking. Explains the blood.”

“Randy will go with Dani. Reg, van.”

“Or she can drive your car. Give them your keys.”

GM: Roderick considers her plan, then nods.

“She’s already got them. I’ll text her to take off.” He pulls out his phone and taps away.

“A’ight. Same plan.” Reggie and Randy head off with the body.

Celia: They know where to go.

Celia makes sure to get Randy’s keys before he leaves.

Nothing like being stranded.

GM: “We can’t hide this completely,” says Roderick. His form blurs, and then he’s picked up several spent shell casings from the grass.

He tucks them in his pocket. “Too hard outdoors.”

“Maybe we should actually fuck, though. Get our blood everywhere.”

Celia: She does what she can, following his lead with her own burst of speed, picking up any stray articles she finds.

She pauses at his words.

“Yeah? Think it’ll help?”

GM: “Dunno, but it’s that or try to get out all the blood from everywhere.”

“Wait, we could pretend we were playing Nines. Explain the gunshots.”

Celia: “You don’t think the kine will wonder?”

She doesn’t say no, though.

GM: “Probably will.”

Celia: She wishes they had a Tremere right about now.

“Enough to get us in trouble?”

“Six Nines. I was the kidnapped lick. He took off after losing, you and I fucked.”

“Maybe better not to mention him.”

GM: Roderick shakes his head. “Rather not have him attached to us at all.”

He pulls out the shell casings. “Okay, these ones are from Dani’s semiauto, these others are… god fucking damn it, why did that guy bring a rifle? Mobsters don’t even use those!”

Roderick’s gone in another blur, then he’s back with another gun.

Celia: She starts to explain that he was trying to kill Roderick, but the Brujah is gone and back before she can open her mouth. Her eyes fix on the gun.

GM: “Took this from your ghouls. Someone who really knows guns and heard those shots might be suspicious when these casings don’t match the sounds, but not much we can do about that.”

“You don’t use rifles in Nines either.”

Celia: “How fast are you?” she blurts.

“I assume enough licks don’t use guns to know it doesn’t match. We’ll do what we can to cover it.”

GM: “Not fast enough to do that all the time. It’s giving me munchies. Bad. On top of that fight.” He grimaces.

Celia: “You gonna go postal?”

GM: “I’ll hold it in.”

Celia: She just nods.

GM: “Fuck. Maybe this whole thing is a dumb idea. More gunshots to get more spent casings is just making this worse.”

Celia: “Then let’s just clean it up and dip. I don’t know what else we can do.”

“What do you guys do after the games? How do you hide it?”

GM: “I don’t know either! But those gunshots happened and Carolla still came here. Nines is one way to explain it, but licks have to know it was us for it to actually seem like that and not just a random shooting, and that connects us to the place Carolla last was.”

“Fuck. Maybe I’m being paranoid wanting to explain all of that and the blood too, but I’d rather be too careful than not careful enough.”

Celia: “No. You’re right. We need to handle all aspects.”

Not to mention being seen together.

Fuck.

GM: “You think we should try to scrub as much as we can or stage it as Nines or what?”

Celia: “Cleaning up after Nines.”

Briefly, she explains. It already looks like they’re cleaning up from a game, trying not to draw notice from any breathers. Protecting the Masquerade and all that. They’ve got the shells in their pockets, they’re working on cleaning up their spilled blood… but it’s blood, you know, and they’re two horny neonates, and they got a little carried away, and Torrie Beasts only ever want to fuck anyway, so they did, and now they’re just scrubbing away the evidence of their tryst.

Because she has to assume that Anarchs don’t play their games and just abandon the sight.

GM: “All right. So you want someone to see us here?” he asks.

“That’s the only thing that will really cement Nines as a story.”

Celia: “Then everyone knows about us.”

GM: “If we don’t it’s just a random act of violence that somebody made an effort to up.”

“I have my mask, but obviously it’s not perfect anymore.”

“God damn it. What I’d give to be able to change faces right now like a sewer rat.”

Celia: “What, to bail, or to not get caught together?”

GM: “To get caught, looking like two licks who aren’t actually us.”

Celia: “Got a frame job in mind? Or two randoms?”

GM: He shakes his head. “Doesn’t matter. I don’t know how to veil.”

Celia: She’s going to throttle him if she has to ask what he wants one more time.

“I do. So tell me.”

GM: He raises his eyebrows, but answers, “Two randoms is easier. Anyone we try to frame might have an alibi.”

“Or, actually, we could make one Carolla. His blood is actually here.”

“Wait, no. That’s a pretty advanced veiling trick.”

“Two randoms, then.”

Celia: Celia nods. She turns away while he continues to talk. Her fingers blur across her face, then the side of her head. Her form flickers, blurring as the shadow dancing takes hold, just something to misdirect his eyes while she molds her skin like putty. It’s quick. When she turns again she’s not Celia anymore. She’s not Jade anymore. She’s someone else. Cute, but fuller cheeks and missing half the hair on the side of her head, like a buzz cut. All the rage these days, that style. Goes with her leathers, too, so she doesn’t even look out of place.

Guess_Who.jpg
“Hold still,” she says, reaching out to him. Another burst of speed, but a smaller one this time. Blood coats her fingers. She murmurs while she works, a string of vaguely Latin-sounding words that may or may not be an actual language but sure as hell sound like something out of a medical textbook. Her fingers move against the mask that he still wears, smoothing out the torn pieces, altering it to look like the thug they’d just beaten the fuck out off.

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Her Beast doesn’t even give a fuck. It’s still riding the high that she’d beaten the shit out of the douchebag she’s now looking at, pleased that she had let it out of the cage.

GM: He touches the mask, then stares at her, and reaches out to touch the shaved side of her head.

“That’s not shadow dancing.”

Celia: “No,” she agrees. She hesitates. Then, “Surprised?”

GM: “It explains the Jade face, too.”

“And how you’re also good at shapeshifting.”

Celia: “Yeah.” She reaches for his hand. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”

GM: “Why didn’t you?”

“I’m not just another lick. I wouldn’t try to use it against you.”

He sounds hurt.

Celia: “We were broken up. And it never seemed like a good time for it, lately, with everything going on. I didn’t know how to bring it up. There’s… a lot I didn’t know how to bring up, and I… I was going to talk to you about it tonight, when we got back, because things are getting really serious again and I don’t… I don’t want to lie to you about anything.”

“I was going to tell you before. A few years ago. I told you that you couldn’t tell anyone, and then you said ‘Maybe don’t then, I know how secretive night doctors can be,’ and…” she trails off.

GM: “You said knowing a night doctor was the secret. That there was a night doctor who owed you.”

Celia: Not-Celia looks away. Technically she’d just let him draw his own conclusions and said she wouldn’t confirm anything, but it doesn’t seem the sort of thing she should point out.

“We broke up before I got a chance to tell you.”

“And… I was going to. Tonight. Like I said.”

“Your si—” she cuts off before she finishes the word. “We had a talk tonight. In the car. She said that it seemed like I was still bitter and carrying a lot of baggage around because of everything before, and we’d never really aired it out, and I realized she’s right. I’m still holding part of myself away because… because it hurt. It hurt so much when you left. And it took so long to put myself back together and not mope and wait in my haven, watching the door, waiting for you to come back, praying that you’d come back, and then… and then you did, when I called, you did, and I’m still… good things don’t happen to me, they don’t, I’m just waiting for the moment it all falls apart again, and then she said that I just… I knew I didn’t want to be like that. It can’t be like that. We can’t be together with all this built up fear and paranoia and hurt and grief, I can’t be half-in because I think one night you’re going to wake up and realize you’re just better than me and don’t want to slum it because you won’t. You’re not like that.”

She wipes at her eyes. Her fingers come away red.

“So I was going to. To tell you. A lot of things. Because I don’t want us to be like every other lick in the city. I want what we had. Something real.”

She finally looks away.

“I just needed to get out of my own way and stop being afraid.”

GM: She feels her lover’s arm encircle her, as strong as ever but oh so gentle. He tilts her face up by the chin to meet his gaze.

“You don’t need to be afraid,” he says softly. His face is Carolla’s, but the expression on it is utterly at odds with the mafioso Celia knew only scant hours ago. There’s no mistaking them for the same person. “Okay? You don’t need to be afraid.”

“I’m sorry what I did to you when we broke up. I’m sorry I hurt you. Physically and emotionally. I’m sorry what that did, what I did, to our relationship and how I cultivated a climate where you believed you couldn’t tell the truth without getting dumped and physically beaten. I’m sorry I made you afraid to be honest. I’m sorry I made you afraid of me. It was shitty of me and I don’t have any excuse. I’d give anything to take it back.”

Celia: She wishes they were Stephen and Celia again, not William Carolla and Not-Celia. That they were in her haven and not the middle of the park with a crime scene to clean up. That she didn’t have a handful of other things to come clean about, so many lies that she doesn’t even know where to begin.

She tries not to think about it. She doesn’t want to think about it. It’s a problem for future Celia.

Celia presses her face against her boyfriend’s chest. No matter who she looks like and who he looks like, they’re still that.

“I… I have a lot to tell you.” The words are whisper-soft. “Promise me you won’t be mad later. Please. I hate being afraid of losing you.”

GM: He gives her another squeeze.

“I know. Dani told me about your conversation in the car. I figured… well, I suppose I didn’t figure anything. There’s just been so much else going on and I was happy just to have you back.”

“I can’t promise I won’t get mad at anything. But I do promise I won’t hurt you like I did last time, and that I won’t let my feelings ruin our relationship again.”

Celia: She’s quiet for a long moment.

“I love you,” she finally says. “I’m sorry I was afraid.” She touches a hand to the side of his face, thumb soft against his lips. “Not to change the subject… but we should either fuck to sell the story or get out of here.”

GM: “I love you too. But we should get caught, with these faces. Cleaning up our game.”

“Or I guess fucking, that sounds more believable.”

“And makes us look kind of dumb, too.”

Celia: “If we get in trouble for this I’m going to be so salty,” Celia mutters, but she’s already pulling her shirt over her head.

GM: Roderick smirks and leaves his on. “They’re bloody enough.” Then he tackles her to the grass and pierces her skin with his fangs.

Celia: Well that’s all she needs to get in the mood. She arches into him, keeping her breather reaction under control—few enough licks in the city get off that way—and sinks her teeth in to whatever part of him she can reach.

GM: The lovers know passion in one another’s arms (though Roderick still makes sure not to drink her blood before it’s cooled) until two Kindred appear on the scene. Jordan Petrowski, who Roderick mention was present at the Cypress Grove Massacre, and Ed Zuric, who Jade has seen in the French Quarter.

“Jesus H. Christ…” mutters Petrowski.

Celia: Celia thinks that maybe this is the face of a girl who had once been named Cici, and Cici doesn’t care if they’re being watched. She only stops if “Carolla” does, casting a glance at the two who’d happened upon them. She’d been a little rougher with him than normal, urging him to do the same (“he seems the type”), and her body wears the marks of their rough sex. She giggles, pointing out their audience to Carolla.

GM: ‘Carolla’ smirks up at the two Gangrel.

“Were those gunshots yours?” glares the gray-haired professor.

Celia: “We jus’ playin’.” A little more of a nasal whine than usual, the type of bitch who’s had her nose broken a time or two for getting lippy.

GM: Zuric rolls his eyes.

Petrowski shakes his head.

“You folks are lucky it’s not Meadows who found you. Go on, get.”

Celia: “Yeah, yeah,” Cici mumbles, pulling away from Carolla so she can find her shirt. “Jus’ blowin’ off steam. We’s goin’. C’mon, Willy, there’s better places to bone.”

She yanks her clothes on, makes a small scene about not being able to find her boots (“some pervert is prolly jackin’ off to ’em right now”) and stomps off.

GM: “The johnny laws are gettin’ your names and faces if there’s any shit over this,” says Zuric, rolling his eyes again.

‘Carolla’ just gives a thuggish glare.

Celia: Cici doesn’t even bother slowing down. She tosses her hair, scoffs, and keeps going, muttering about busybodies.

GM: That part’s not even a lie.

All she’d wanted was a romp of good sex in the park.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

GM: ‘Carolla’ follows Celia off.

“You have any idea where his car is?” he mutters.

“Ah, wait, shit. Keys.”

Celia: “Yep.” Celia leads the way, grateful to put the park, the scene, and the Gangrel behind them.

“What about them?”

She holds up the keys she’d gotten from Randy.

GM: He smiles with relief. “Oh, that’s right. Perfect. Didn’t want to have to smash in a window and deal with a car alarm too.”

“I guess we’ll try cars until one unlocks.”

He takes the keys and heads over to the nearest vehicle.

Celia: Celia gives him a look.

“I know which car is his.”

GM: “Same reason you were here in the park too?” he asks.

Celia: “…Randy left his car for us, I’m real confused what you’re on about.”

GM: “Wait, I thought you meant Carolla’s car. He probably had his keys.”

“I don’t want to leave it here.”

Celia: “Reg took it.”

“Weren’t you listening?”

GM: “Yes. It wasn’t clear whose cars you meant. But whatever, this works almost as well.”

Celia: “You were distracted by how cute I am, it’s okay.”

GM: “Always,” he smirks, getting in the car after she points it out. He waits for her to buckle her seatbelt, then pulls out of the lot.

“How did you wind up here, though? That obviously wasn’t a coincidence for a tiger to fall out of the same tree.”

“…how did you learn to morph into a tiger, while we’re at it?”

“Most I’ve seen shapeshifting licks turn into is wolves.”

Celia: Celia laughs.

“Kind of a long story, but the short of it is that Flanagan’s kid caused some trouble in Audubon Zoo, and the tiger was gonna be put down. I don’t know how much you know about shifting, but… you have to drain an animal to get their shape. Prove you’re the better predator. There’s actually a whole ritual I heard some licks do when they’re going to master another shape, real kind of Native vibe where they honor the spirit and soul, that kind of thing. Hard to do with a tiger, they’re not really local, so I couldn’t do a hunt like that. But… I mean, it was going to be put down anyway and… it seemed like a waste. I found out what company, hacked some records, snuck in during the day, bada-bing, I’m a tiger now.”

“I couldn’t really do the whole thing like some of the licks do. Could hardly release it to hunt, would have caused too much issue. But I did what I could.”

“Clawed the fuck out of me, tell you that.”

“Figured if I couldn’t even give it a fighting chance then I don’t deserve to wear its form.”

Celia touches a hand to her stomach, no doubt remembering the claws that had almost eviscerated her.

“I can’t scry,” she says after a minute. The words are almost blurted; it sounds like a confession. “I pretend I can since I’m supposed to be able to, but I never learned. Veronica used to get mad at me for it. She never… I mean she never said ‘stupid,’ but I think she was probably thinking it. And I used to wonder, you know, if that was why. Because we consider it a mental art, and my dad… but… I dunno, Pietro says most breathers are boring anyway, that their thoughts aren’t worth listening to, and I’m good at reading their bodies, and I’m just… I’m good at this. I learned this instead. I’m… I’m good at it.”

GM: Roderick listens.

“Well, that happens. Wright sucks at star mode, but he’s a better hand at mind control. I don’t envy what happened to the lick who called him a ‘discount Ventrue.’”

“It’s as I said. We’re all good at different things.”

Celia: “Guess I’m not dumb enough to say that to him. Jeeze.”

GM: “Your being able to change our faces was a LOT more useful than mind-reading would’ve been, too.”

“So foo to your sire if she thought you were stupid.”

Celia: “I still wish I could do that telepathy thing. Send you messages across the city.”

GM: “That’s a pretty advanced scrying trick from what I hear anyway. I’m just glad you could change our faces.”

“And I have heard that, about draining the animal. I didn’t know there was a ritual to it, though. That makes total sense.”

“Lot of Gangrel who say they like animals more than people.”

“There’s people who say that, too.”

Celia: “It’s easy to get sucked in when you’re shifted.”

GM: “I can attest,” he smirks.

“I think I read about that tiger in the news, too. Just such a stupid waste. It was a wild animal. It didn’t do anything that another wild animal wouldn’t have done under the same circumstances. All tigers are ‘man-eaters’ if a human gets in their faces and provokes them.”

Celia: “It was. I’m… honestly kind of surprised the kid got away with it.”

GM: Roderick frowns.

“Maybe she didn’t.”

Celia: “What do you mean?”

GM: “I just don’t see the sheriff letting something like that slide if he knew it was her.”

Celia: “Right.”

“What, you think he doesn’t know?”

“Did you know?”

Shit, did she just spill something on accident?

GM: “I mean, it’s possible. And I didn’t know, actually.”

Celia: “…oh.”

“Uh, don’t tell anyone?”

GM: “I’ve heard of Edith and her kids. It’s really fucked.”

“But I won’t.”

Celia: “I feel bad for her. And them.”

GM: “I feel worse for them.”

Celia: “I think sometimes that she’s not quite all there. She’s… a lot of us, you know, we go through it. Wanting kids. Not being able to have them. Hating it. And we get past it, but she’s so… fixated.”

GM: “I wanted kids with you. Would like them. More than anything.” He looks at her meaningfully. “But that’s not in the cards. God knows I’m not going to suggest we find a couple orphans to ghoul.”

Celia: “I know.” She squeezes his hand. “I would have loved to have your children. But ghouling them…” Celia shakes her head. “We could have a childe. You know, with an E. Pop out fully formed, that’s not weird at all.”

GM: He gives her a sad smile. “It’s not the same.”

“At least you have a ton of brothers and sisters to give you nieces and nephews, though. The Garrison name looks like it’s died with Dani. At least through my dad.”

Celia: “We can be godparents. For their entire line. Make up a story about being reclusive older relatives. Real eclectic.”

GM: “Godparents would be good. Keep our distance.”

“Then again, Lucy calls you mom, doesn’t she?”

Celia: “As far as everyone knows, I am her mom.”

GM: “Technically, almost everyone. But I’m glad you have that. Really. You have a sweet kid who thinks of you as her mom, who’s actually related to you, and whose life you can be in without living with… it really is the next best thing.”

“There’s a lot of licks who’d give a lot just for that.”

Celia: “Lot of licks who would try to take it away, too.”

“That’s why…” She gestures to her face.

GM: He nods. “Right. Smart.”

“I’m sorry I told Coco. I was new, I was devastated, I wasn’t thinking.”

Celia: “I wish she didn’t know. I don’t… dislike her, Rod, you know that right? I just… she knows…”

GM: “I just had to talk about you, us, to someone. I had no one else.”

“But it was irresponsible.”

“I made her swear not to ever tell anyone else, or to play any games with them. I told her we’d be through if she tried to use innocents like your family for any purpose.”

“I thought she would be mad at me. But she just said she understood and swore by her son’s memory that she wouldn’t ever touch them or reveal who they were to other licks.”

Celia: Moisture gathers at the corners of her eyes. She wipes at them before it has a chance to overflow and spill down her cheeks.

“Thank you. For that. For them. That means… that means a lot to me. More than I can put into words.”

GM: “It means less than if I’d just kept my mouth shut and not been so emotional. But it was the best thing I could think of after the milk was spilled.”

Celia: “You can’t change the past. You can only learn from it and move forward. And you have me now. Us. When you need to talk, I’m here.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

GM: He nods and gives her hand a squeeze. “I know.”

“Speaking of… where are your ghouls headed?”

Celia: “To strip the car. I told them to take care of it.”

GM: “Where are they dropping off Carolla?”

His voice gets an edge.

Celia: Celia shrinks against the door at the tone.

“Wha—what are you gonna do with him?”

GM: “I don’t know,” Roderick says frankly.

“Courts can’t try him. He’s a mobster with effective legal immunity.”

“But he can’t be allowed to go on preying upon people.” There’s a meaningful pause. “And I don’t just mean as a vampire.”

“Maybe stake him and bury him underground forever. The Sanctified actually believe in doing that to some criminals.”

Celia: “He’d deserve it.”

GM: “Yes. He would.”

“It’s unlife imprisonment. Seems the only realistic way to permanently curtail his crimes without simply leaving him to brighten sunrises.”

Celia: “How would you explain his disappearance..?”

GM: “Licks disappear semi-periodically without explanation.”

“Look at Evan Bourelle.”

“Lots of things that get them.”

“It’d be preferable if there was an explanation, but that also risks tipping our hand. Might be better for us just to stay as far away as possible.”

Celia: “No one can connect us to him. Those two saw this face. Except… well, the ghoul…”

GM: Roderick grimaces.

“We can’t stake him.”

“But, Celia, we’re not murderers. We don’t kill because it’s convenient.

“We can say it’s for a just cause, but what do reasons matter if our actions are the same?”

Celia: “He had the gun trained on your sister,” Celia says quietly. “He didn’t care that you didn’t look like you, or that you didn’t even smell like a lick, he was going to kill you both because it might be you.”

GM: “You think I don’t know that?”

“You think I don’t have any idea what these people are capable of?”

“What fucking animal scumbags they are? How much misery and suffering they cause?”

“I’m sure he’d have killed my dad and mom and anyone I’ve so much as talked with too, if he thought that would help bring me down.”

Celia: “I… I didn’t. I didn’t. I didn’t know. You told me about it but it was never… it was never real to me, just something you once said about them.”

Celia swallows.

“Why? What did you do to him? Why was he after you?”

GM: “I told you, on our first date. How they’d pick up the kids of people who crossed them from schools. Or break a ballerina’s legs if she couldn’t pay back her debts.”

“But I don’t blame you if it wasn’t real.”

“Frenzy wasn’t real to Dani until she saw, wasn’t it?”

Celia: “That’s what I mean. I’ve never been that close to it.”

GM: “Did he hurt you?” Roderick asks, suddenly looking her over again.

Celia: Celia looks away.

GM: “What happened?” he asks.

“How did you get here?”

“But, first, let me know where I’m driving.”

Celia: “Spa.”

GM: “Okay.” He finds a place to park the car. “Change my face. I do not want him seen showing up at your spa.”

Celia: It’s less of a face change than it is simply removing his mask.

“Easy off,” she explains.

GM: He pulls it off.

“Yes. But that’s still my face underneath.”

Celia: “You want a new face?”

“So ‘Roderick’ doesn’t show up at the spa?”

GM: He nods. “We still can’t be linked.”

Celia: “Can I make you cuter?”

She’s only teasing, but she gets to work on his skin with a warning that it’s going to hurt.

“Probably don’t refer to yourself in third person,” she says as she works, “it causes disassociation.”

GM: He lays his head down on her lap and gives a hiss of pain as she starts.

“Roderick will—nh—keep that in mind.”

Celia: Maybe now is a good time to tell him that she thinks there’s more inside of her than Celia and a fake name.

Or maybe it’s a conversation for another night. How would she even bring it up?

She works quickly, moving her fingers across his flesh to sculpt him into someone else. Someone attractive, with more facial hair and a sharp jaw. Someone who looks like they could be seen with Jade as a breather or a lick. Someone whose gaze smolders and makes her want to bare her throat and—

Well. Maybe it’s better she just focus on her work.

Pic.jpg
“I made you older. Maybe Italian. I dunno. What do you think?”

GM: Roderick does not enjoy the process. She has yet to meet anyone (well, with one exception) who does. But once the grimaces and grunts of pain are over and he looks in the mirror, he raises his new eyebrows.

“Wow. That’s… effective.”

“This could make spending time together a lot easier if we can be someone different every date…”

Celia: “It usually gives me the munchies,” Celia admits. “But I can hunt more, maybe.”

GM: “I can bring juice to cover my half.”

“Seriously. This would let us go out so many more places.”

“Without worrying all the damn time about being seen together.”

Celia: “I’d like that. Going out more.”

GM: “Me too. Could even just take turns changing faces, too. It’s plausible Roderick or Jade might go on dates as part of hunting.”

Celia: “More plausible Jade is seen with a new guy every night.”

She can’t quite keep the bitterness out of her voice.

GM: “And yet, she’s going out with the same one.”

“They don’t know you as well as they think.”

Celia: She doesn’t want to lie to him, so she just smiles, kisses his cheek, and starts fixing her own face.

GM: He pulls out his phone and taps out a text as she does.

“Telling Dani to come by the spa too.”

Celia: “Are you going to tell her about me?”

GM: “What about you? That you can change faces?”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “She told me how friendly this Dr. Dicentra was. Hugged her, didn’t mind she was a thin-blood, was a mentor to you. Also said you’d paid her for the mask job.”

Celia: Celia nods.

GM: “Why lie to her? She’s duskborn.”

Celia: “I lied to everyone.”

GM: “Dr. Dicentra charged me favors,” he hmphs.

Celia: Celia rolls her eyes.

“Never cashed in, did she?”

GM: “That’s normal. Lots of licks sit on them for a while.”

Celia: “What I meant was, do you really think I was going to take advantage of you like that?”

GM: “Of course not. It was just another thing to worry about when I’ve already had a lot.”

Celia: “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to add to it.”

“You don’t owe me anything. Just… don’t tell anyone it’s me.”

GM: He sighs. “It’s fine. It’s harmless. But, why lie to Dani? She’s excited to see the night doctor again. The only lick besides us who’s been really friendly to her.”

Celia: “Do you want to be the one to tell her that Dicentra was only nice because it’s me?”

“How do you… how do you tell someone something after you’ve already lied to them?”

GM: “You tell them what you lied about, why you did it, and you say you’re sorry. It might hurt at first, but it’s better for you both in the long run.”

Celia: She’ll see if he stands by that later tonight.

GM: “Dani would rather have truth than lies. All our family would.”

Celia: “Even if it’s a really bad lie?”

GM: “Especially if it’s a really bad lie.”

Celia: “I thought you might hit me. Back in the park. After I changed your face, when you looked like him, and I thought… you know, at least it’s Will doing it, at least that’s consistent.”

“It doesn’t come easy. Being honest. Not now. Not when I’ve had to lie to everyone about everything for so long, juggling two different lives, trying to remember who is supposed to know what.”

GM: “I think, after all that, it would probably feel like a weight off your shoulders just to be honest.”

Celia: “Unless they hate you for it.”

GM: “And wonder the entire time if they’d actually hate the real me, and feel like the whole relationship is fake? That sounds awful.”

“I’d rather have honest hate.”

Celia: “But I don’t want you to hate me.”

GM: “I think we hold pretty different values in that regard, Celia.”

“If someone would hate the real you, then you never had anything.”

Celia: “Why can’t you just tell me that of course you won’t hate me and you’ll hear me out before you decide my face looks better split apart?”

GM: “I did tell you that. I told you I might be angry, but also that I’d never hurt you in that same way again.”

“It’s okay for couples to get angry. The emotions are there. Better you have them out honestly than bury them and let them fester and taint everything.”

“You can’t eject them. You have to deal with them somehow.”

Celia: You can eject other people, though. Kick them out of your life and never see them again. Make them wish they’d kept their mouth shut and believed the pretty lie in their little world of pretend.

Celia doesn’t say anything for a long moment while they drive, her eyes on the window now that she has finished with her face. She supposes they’ll find out tonight if Roderick thinks he can stick around knowing who she is.

“He hurt me,” she says finally, eyes still on the lights passing by their borrowed car. “You asked earlier.”

GM: “How?” he asks.

Celia: “He was looking for my sister.” Her voice is quiet. She doesn’t look at him. “I guess he was mad at her, she crossed his uncle. He wanted to teach her a lesson. He was going to… I don’t know. Rape her. Let some kine rape her. Said she’d never leave the studio, so I figure he’d probably just kill her when he’s done. Licks disappear, right?”

“But he couldn’t find her. I thought, you know, he seems to know all these places she’s been to, all her usual hangouts, and I don’t have any proof that Meadows killed her, and I thought maybe if I went with him I could find something, like a trail or something, but there was nothing. And he was getting mad. Really mad. And I said… I don’t know, I don’t even remember, I asked something about his uncle I think, asked about what she’d done, and he… he lashed out. You know how it is. Brujah. The strength. The speed. I’m not much of a fighter on my best day.” Her attempt at a laugh is hollow. “And we were in the car. There was nowhere to run.”

“He had his hands…” Celia touches a hand to her throat. “We don’t need to breathe, I guess, but it’s still… I felt everything grinding together, and he put me…” her voice gets quieter. “I was on my knees, with my hands up, I guess I thought I could fend him off, make him stop, and he… he told me how pathetic I am. How weak. Like a woman, he said.”

She doesn’t need to explain the way he had turned it into an insult. Roderick knows all about the sexism inherent to the Mafia.

“So I tried to divert his attention from me. I offered to take him to a party because… Rod, the way he spoke about what he wanted to do with Isabel, what he’s done to other women… what if it was me? What if he just…?”

Easy to picture. Celia on her knees. Smacked around. Forced into some weird sort of Mafia-run prostitution ring. Turned into a whore for Carolla’s amusement. Unable to get out. Eventually disappearing, with no one the wiser. Who would look for a harpy’s childe?

“Everyone knows how much he hates Gui. I said he’d be at this party, that we could do something there. It made him back off. But then he said he had another idea. A better idea. That he’d been tracking ‘this asshole’ for a long time. That he was going to finally pounce. Showed me a blip on a map on his phone. So we went to the park and I started to get a really bad feeling about it, but he threw me up into that tree with his ghoul and the gun and… I saw you before he did. And I knew what he was going to do.”

Celia looks down at her hands.

“So I tried to divert his attention again. To me. To make him mad at me so he wouldn’t hurt you. The rifle was right on Dani. I know they can mend but… I wasn’t going to take the chance. I kept talking. Loudly. And he told me to stop, told me to shut up, but I didn’t, so he… pulled me over and silenced me with his hand, and since I’d pissed him off he thought he’d just break my wrists while he was at it. Both of them.”

Celia stares down at her hands, circling the wrist of her left hand with her right middle finger and thumb.

“So I started crying, because, you know, blood. He already thought I was weak, who cared if I cried. I thought maybe you’d smell it and know something was wrong. I was trying to make you turn around, or at least tip you off so you didn’t walk in blind.”

“But you kept coming.”

“I figured the tiger was my only way out. Distract him long enough so that you’d take Dani and run.”

“I should’ve known better. Of course you wouldn’t run. Even against an apeshit tiger, apparently.” She can’t help but laugh. It’s less strained than before. The danger is over. Carolla was beaten. There’d been no lasting damage, not to Celia.

“I’m fine now,” she says. “But you asked. And there are other, bigger issues it brings up.”

GM: Roderick listens and holds his tongue as he drives. The talk about Carolla slapping Celia around makes him clench his jaw and grip the steering wheel, but at this point, he looks more relieved that it’s over with and Celia is clearly safe.

“Okay,” he says slowly when she’s finished. “This raises a lot of questions.”

“First. Does he know about the Celia/Jade connection? Because that seems like a hell of a coincidence he’d bring you to go looking for Roxanne.” Roderick shakes his head. “And then go looking for me. There’s no way that’s a coincidence he’d go after two Embraced people from your mortal life, at the same time he’s dragging you along. Just no way. How did you run into him?”

Celia: “I… don’t think so?” She puts the question in her voice. “I don’t think he knows, there are only a handful of people who do know and none of them would have any reason to tell him. I don’t think he expected me to defend you. He thought it would be me, him, and his ghoul against you, so the whole tiger thing caught him by surprise.”

“As far as Roxanne… I, uh, I mean there’s nothing that links us together. He seemed like he expected me to be cool with what he was going to do to her. I guess I did kind of make fun of her on Friday and he was there for it.”

Her brow furrows.

“He said he’d been tracking you for a while…”

“Rod,” she says, reaching for his hand. “He’d been tracking you. How was he tracking you? It was like a GPS thing. He pulled it up on his phone.”

GM: Her lover frowns deeply.

“I have absolutely no idea. But we need to fix that, ASAP.”

Celia: “It couldn’t be your phone. You had a new one. And it’s not like you hang out with him.”

“Who have you been with recently?”

“Anything you wear all the time?”

GM: He shakes his head, parks the car, pulls open his phone, and starts going through it.

“I don’t see what else it could be. There’s a million ways to hack a phone. I’m not a tech expert.”

Celia: “…what if it’s inside you?”

“Like what if someone put something in you?”

“And made you forget?”

GM: He raises his eyebrows.

“It’s possible. I guess we should scan me for…” he frowns. “The spa might not be a good idea after all.”

“In case it’s the phone, though, here’s what we’ll do.”

Celia: “I can look. When we get there. Inside of you. If there’s something in you I can find it.”

“God, what if that’s how the hunters found you?”

GM: Roderick grimaces. “Only one way to find out. I’m going to hide this phone somewhere close, though, and get a new one. I’ve installed a tracking app on it.”

Celia: “Clever.”

GM: “If it stays where it is, then okay, phone is probably fine. If someone finds it and moves it, then we’ll be the ones tracking them. I figure getting all my data will be a tempting prospect. I’ve deleted everything sensitive. I’m sure a specialist can get it back, but we’ll call that good enough for now.”

Celia: Celia nods. It’s a good plan.

GM: “As far as searching me, though, do it here.”

Celia: “I… I can’t. It hurts. A lot. And we’re out in the open. Someone might see.”

GM: “Okay. I don’t want to do it at your spa, though.”

Celia: “Then where? Anywhere we go before we find out is going to be an issue.”

GM: He thinks. “What about my old haven? It’s obviously already compromised, but it should give us privacy for a little while. We can use the tub if it’s messy.”

Celia: “What about Dani? And the bodies?”

GM: “I told her to stop by Flawless.”

Celia: “The boys should be there. Soon if not now. It’s at least extra muscle if anything dumb happens. And I have blood there. I’m riding the edge, Rod. I don’t want to risk something.”

GM: “Would you rather risk going apeshit or someone tracking me back to Flawless?”

“If you lose it I can hold you down until it passes.”

Celia: Celia rubs a hand across her face.

“I’m more worried about you losing it when I cut you open.”

GM: “Valid. You could stake me.”

Celia: “All right,” she finally relents. “I’ll let Luna out when we get close to the border.”

GM: “How’d you get her shape, by the way? If you have to kill the animal…”

Celia: “Alana found her at a shelter. It’s supposed to be a no-kill shelter, but I had her look into it a little. Apparently they get around that technicality by sending excess pets to another place to put down, so they can still claim they don’t. Good for their image. The lady at the shelter said she’d been there for a long time and they didn’t have room anymore. People only want kittens, you know?”

GM: He nods.

Celia: “I didn’t just murder a cat. I tried to… be decent about it.”

GM: Roderick effects a faint sigh.

“That’s sad.”

“That’s really sad.”

“When you just think about all of those unwanted pets sitting in shelters. Or dying on the streets.”

“This is why you spay and neuter. And we still have puppy mills!”

Celia: “Everyone wants the purebred puppies with the perfect looks. One of my girls at the spa adopted a dog from a puppy mill. The mom, I mean, after she was rescued and the place was shut down. She was like 13 and had a bunch of health issues but Piper took her in and kept her comfortable for a few years until she passed.”

GM: “Good for Piper. The conditions for dogs at those places are beyond deplorable. And we still have them whelping out crateloads of puppies when there are so many unadopted pets!”

“It’s just as bad for cats with kitten mills. Everyone wants kittens.”

Celia: “It’s pretty awful. People kind of suck.”

GM: “Yeah. Animals don’t.”

“I miss Ajax.”

“He was such a good boy. Such a gentle giant.”

Celia: “He was really friendly. I always thought big dogs were kind of aggressive, but he was gentle, yeah, like you said.”

“You could get another dog, you know.”

“You said animals like you.”

GM: “They do. I’m just… worried about sewer rats.”

Celia: “In particular? Or anyone who can tame?”

GM: “I suppose anyone who can tame makes it a risk, but they do it the most.”

“Pets can have a lot of valuable information about your haven, your activities, your comings and goings.”

Celia: “Abellard tried to put a rat in my cunt,” Celia mutters.

GM: “Jesus Christ,” mutters Roderick.

“What a pervert. Tried and failed, I hope?”

Celia: “I snagged its tail before it got anywhere.”

“Just fucking gross.”

GM: “Amen.”

“I’d feel better about pets, anyway, if I could tame.”

Celia: “You could learn.”

GM: “I could. It’s a valuable discipline.”

Celia: “I know a few people who know. One of them is pretty desperate to trade favors.”

GM: “I might take you up on that. I’d like another dog.”

“Dani tells me Ajax passed away a few years ago.”

Celia: “If shit ever hits the fan for me I’m coming to live with you as Luna, just so you know.”

A pause.

“Oh. I’m so sorry to hear that.”

GM: He effects another sigh. “It happens. Dogs don’t live forever. But thanks.”

Celia: Makes her wonder what happened to Sugar Cube.

GM: She lost interest in that pony pretty fast.

Celia: She was eight.

She shouldn’t have been given a pony.

GM: For so many reasons.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

GM: The pair drive back to Roderick’s old apartment at The Preserve. His lease isn’t actually up yet, so he still has the space. He finds a place to ditch his possibly hacked phone. He also suggests Celia not turn into Luna. “You already look different, and maybe someone will recognize another guy carrying the same cat. Unlikely, but at this point… I’m just feeling pretty paranoid.”

Celia: She’s happy to go along with his plan.

GM: “Also, crap. My clothes. These things are a bloody mess.”

Celia: “Randy might have something in the back…” Celia twists in her seat, searching through his things.

What sort of Toreador ghoul would he be if he didn’t?

GM: The fit isn’t perfect, but Roderick strips and changes without complaint, giving Celia a nice look at his abs and muscles as he does.

Celia: She doesn’t mind the view.

Not at all.

She keeps her lips closed to hide the growing boner, though.

“Is it weird if we fuck wearing different faces?”

GM: He thinks on that. “I suppose it’s a way to mix things up.”

Celia: “As if you’d ever get bored of me.”

GM: “Ha. I’d never ever.”

Celia: “Come on, Romeo, let’s go digging through your insides.”

GM: “Keep up that dirty talk and you’re going to make me jump you right here,” he smirks.

They bring a stake from the car and take the elevator up. Rod hoists Celia into a bridal carry when he sees she’s missing her shoes. “I’m not going to have you getting crud over your pretty feet.” Rod’s old unit looks like any bare apartment unit does. Everything has been moved out.

“What happened to your shoes, by the way?” he asks as he turns for her to close the door.

Celia: “Carolla made me take them off. If I was serious about fighting, he said, I had to get rid of them. They’re in his car.”

GM: “Sensible if they were impractical. At least you didn’t lose them.”

Celia: “They were cute. I’d be sad if I did.”

GM: “You make everything look cute, though,” he says as he carries her into the bathroom.

“I’ve always dug how short you are.”

“Fun-sized.”

Celia: “I’m not that short,” she huffs.

GM: “5’3” is below the female U.S. average."

Celia: “Who wants to be average?”

GM: “Lot of us aren’t. But I’m happy to be taller.”

Celia: “Mm. Perfect size for me.”

GM: “Yep. Tall guy and short girl really does it for me.”

“Also another reason I hate your dad. He’s just so much bigger and heavier than you and your mom. It’s a grotesquely unfair fight even if he didn’t have more training.”

“Big enough height and weight differences can be incredibly hard for even expert martial artists to overcome.”

“And he just… smacked around women who could never in a thousand years have taken him in a fair fight. It’s so disgusting I get mad just thinking about it.”

Celia: Celia remembers well the size difference between her parents. Watching her dad launch himself down at the stairs at her mom. The sound of her screams.

“Yeah,” she says vaguely. It takes her a moment to come back into the present.

“He’s coming over on Sunday.”

GM: “Dani thinks you and your mom are nuts.”

Celia: “Maybe.”

“I’ll find out soon, I guess.”

GM: “What do you hope to achieve that you didn’t at your last dinner?”

Celia: “Mom just wanted to see him again. And Emily wanted a chance to call him on his bullshit. And… there’s a… there’s a lot, really, that I haven’t talked about with him, that I’m still looking into.”

GM: “He’s scum.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t know how to answer that, so she just nods.

“Feel free to say you told me so, I guess.”

“You ready?” she asks, hefting the stake.

GM: Roderick seems to visibly hold his tongue, then removes his clothes and lays down in the tub.

“Do it.”

Celia: “Say it,” Celia says.

“Whatever you were just holding back. Just say it.”

GM: “I think it’s a bad idea, demons or no demons.”

“Dani thinks the demon talk is pure crazy.”

Celia: “Yeah well Dani thought that reading Dracula counted as research.”

“And she’s been around for like a week.”

“I bet she doesn’t believe in werewolves or fairies either.”

GM: “She doesn’t know better. But demons are just so many question marks and unknowns even for us, Celia.”

“Do you really want to gamble your dad hurting your family again over ‘a demon made me do it?’”

Celia: “I found someone to talk to me about it who knows more.”

“I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do.”

“You never knew him, before.”

GM: “Cut him out of your life.”

“That’s the other thing you can do.”

Celia: “Tell you what, Rod. Tomorrow, at Elysium, I’ll put myself in the sheriff’s path and ask him if we can chat about my daddy, and I’ll let you know what he says.”

GM: He sighs.

“It’s your decision. You wanted to know what I was holding back, so that was it.”

Celia: “You think I’m kidding?”

“I’ll do it.”

GM: “Uh, I see no possible way that ends well.”

Celia: Maybe Roderick doesn’t know him as well as Celia does.

And maybe Celia is just making up stories in her head about what she thinks the reality of the situation is, and Roderick is right: there’s no way it ends well.

“Sorry,” she sighs. “Maybe you’re right.”

“Mom had a vision that Maxen was going to take Lucy away. Maybe bringing him into the house is just a really bad idea.”

“I guess I wasn’t as on guard around him at dinner because I wanted so badly to believe what he was saying.”

GM: “Cost-benefit analysis. What’s the worst that could realistically happen, what’s the best that could realistically happen, and how likely are both?”

Celia: “Let me think about it while I cut you open. I think better when I’m elbow deep inside of people.”

GM: He smirks. “All right. Have at it.”

Celia: So she does.

She presses the stake into his chest and makes sure he can’t move before she begins her work, using her claws to cut him open and sift through his insides. She’s not sure how much he still feels, even staked, but she knows he’s conscious at least—he’d told her how he’d counted the bodies flying out of Cypress Grove. So she keeps up a running commentary on what she’s doing, tells him that most of his insides are basically useless at this point, and looks for anything out of place.

GM: The stake easily slides in past his ribcage. Like a knife through flesh rather than bone. Her lover lies there, helpless and immobilized beneath her hands, utterly at her mercy, but his eyes are trusting.

Celia: She’d had trusting eyes like that, once.

On the roof.

When her sire had smacked her around and broken her jaw.

She wonders if she’d have to stake him to go through his body, or if his iron-fisted control would just let her do her work while he watched.

GM: The latter, of course.

Because he’s better.

Celia: Maybe she can cut him open and find the thing that has him in his grasp. Cut it out of him.

GM: Roderick’s eyes bulge as Celia slices him open and literally rips through his guts. The heady aroma of Brujah vitae with the stink of years-atrophied internal organs (after she slices bits away) hits Celia’s nose. Her lover can’t scream, or even move his mouth, but the muscles in his jaw go tight as a drum.

She recognizes, too, when it’s no longer him staring out past his eyes.

Celia: She’s glad for the stake. Glad that it keeps him pinned, that she doesn’t need to try fighting him off.

She stops talking when he disappears into the red.

It’s not worth saying anything; he won’t remember it anyway.

Maybe now’s the perfect time to confess, though. Tell him about all the shitty things she’s ever done. Tempting, isn’t it, to bare her soul to him like he bares his guts to her.

GM: He won’t remember.

Celia: She opens her mouth. But the noose around her neck jerks tight, constricting unnecessary breath, and she can’t say what she was going to.

It’s not her secret.

There’s something else she can do, though. Another way she can take advantage of his gap in memories.

She can bond him. Cut into her flesh. Drip it into his mouth. He’ll never know. When he comes to he’ll just be in love with her; he won’t feel the rest of them breaking. Snapping. Like hers had done when she’d taken that third drink from her sire.

She can tell him everything then. Confess to what she’d done. He’ll still love her. He has to love her. The blood demands it.

She checks that the Beast still has him in thrall.

GM: Hate, pain, and hunger is all that stares out from his maddened eyes.

Celia: He’ll never know.

He’ll never know she did it to him.

If he finds out, she’ll mindfuck him. She knows enough people who can do it.

And he’ll love her.

Forever.

He won’t spill her secrets. He won’t be able to. He’ll be caught, just like she is. And she’d told him so much. So, so much.

It’s the best thing for them, isn’t it?

Coco had already betrayed him. He’ll be so hurt by that. But he can turn to her. Will turn to her. He’ll come over. They won’t have to hide what they are anymore.

Celia bites into her wrist.

She moves it toward his mouth.

…and she stops, staring down at the staked, raging Brujah, who had trusted her enough to let her do this to him, to make him helpless, to work with her on ways to be together even though they’re on different sides of the fence.

She can’t.

She can’t do it to him.

Not like this.

Quick as that, she licks the wound closed, hating herself for even thinking about it.

She’s not a monster.

Celia turns her face away from his, resuming her search through his body.

GM: That proves less illuminating, perhaps, than the search through her own soul.

She finds nothing out of the ordinary in her lover’s insides.

At least on those grounds, he looks safe to bring back to Flawless.

Celia: She hopes she didn’t miss something. That she wasn’t distracted by the pull to bond him and overlooked anything out of the ordinary.

She closes him up, but waits until he’s calm to remove the stake.

“I didn’t find anything,” she says once she has.

Maybe her conscience.

“Sorry I had to rip you open for that.”

GM: Roderick gives a wet, ragged-sounding gasp and clutches his stomach for several moments, closing his eyes.

“Still… glad… you looked.”

“But… fuck… that… hurt.”

Celia: Celia holds a hand against the side of his face.

“I’m sorry,” she murmurs. “I was going to give you a sedative at the spa, but I don’t have any on me usually. I guess I can carry it from now on, just for stuff like this.”

GM: “That’s… smart.”

“So was… staking. Beast… definitely got out.”

Celia: “Yeah,” she nods. “But it’s okay. It didn’t do anything.”

And she didn’t do anything.

GM: “Can’t do much… staked.”

Celia: “I love you,” she says abruptly. “I don’t care what else happens, or how our talk goes tonight. I love you. So much.”

GM: So much.

But not as much.

Celia: No.

Never as much.

But he’s what she has.

GM: “I love you… too,” he smiles, stroking the hand against his cheek. “It’ll go… it’ll go well. I know.”

Celia: Celia leans over the tub to press a soft kiss against his lips.

It’ll go well.

Everything rides on it.


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Story Thirteen, Celia XII

“Please. My kids are so thirsty.”
Edith Flannagan


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

GM: Dani and Celia take the former’s car to Edith’s.

Or they can take Celia’s car. Dani’s fine either way.

“…so she knows a lot about duskborn, you’d said?” asks the thin-blood as the Quarter rolls past.

Celia: Dani’s car is fine. Celia makes sure to bring the blood.

“She has a duskborn child. A little girl she adopted who was Embraced. They’ve been together a long time.”

GM: Dani looks faintly horrified.

“People Embrace little kids?”

Celia: “…yeah. Sometimes. Not a lot.”

“It’s really messed up.”

“People ghoul them sometimes too.”

“But, you know, she’s spent a lot of time with her, so she probably knows more than anyone else.”

GM: “I hope so. I have a lot to ask.”

“That is really messed up, though.”

“This is hard enough for an adult.”

Celia: “Just don’t say anything to offend her, yeah? She’s… pretty protective of her brood.”

GM: “I’ll try not to. I don’t have any problem with her, just whoever would do that to a little kid.”

Celia: “Maybe don’t tell your brother I brought you to see her.”

“I don’t think he approves of my friends sometimes.”

GM: “Oh, why’s that?”

“He says he has friends he doesn’t always approve of too.”

“He says it’s pretty hard to find any licks you always approve of.”

“Including, ah, yourself.”

Celia: “It—oh. What did he say?”

GM: “Just that we all do things we regret and wish we could take back at some point.”

“The Beast, and social pressures too.”

“He told how sick he felt in Elysium bragging about those vampire hunters he’d killed.”

Celia: “He told you about that? Killing them?”

GM: “Yeah. And how… he had to chop up and dump their bodies,” Dani says slowly.

Celia: Celia sighs. “Yeah. He did.”

“We got jumped.”

GM: “What a horrible position to be in.”

Celia: “It’s not his fault.”

GM: “I don’t blame him, and you, for killing them. Even frenzy aside, it was self-defense. They were committing a home invasion and employing lethal force.”

Celia: “I tried to explain that to him.”

“I have to be honest with you, Dani, I don’t regret what I did. I’d do it again if it meant I kept him safe.”

GM: “He agrees with you. He just wishes he’d been able to take them alive instead of killing them.”

“And I agree with him.”

Celia: “Killing them was regrettable.”

GM: “It’s gotten to him, Celia.”

“He sees blood on his hands.”

“He felt like a mobster dumping body parts into the Gulf.”

Celia: She wants to push further, find out what he said about her. But this is… more important.

“I don’t know how to help him, Dani. I don’t know how to make that better. I tried telling him it was self defense, that he saved the both of us, but he…”

GM: “I wish there’d been another way. For his sake.”

“He said that was something he’d been able to hold onto. That he wasn’t a killer.”

“He says licks call it… being a virgin.”

Celia: “They do, yeah.”

“But it wasn’t like that. He didn’t just hulk out and smash something.”

“They invaded his space. Our space. We both would have died.”

GM: “I know. I told him that. That he can still say he’s only ever killed in self-defense, rather than for personal gain.”

“He says he’s going to investigate their families. See what pain their absences have caused and make amends if he can.”

Celia: “Did he already find them? The families?”

GM: “He says he’s still investigating that. They didn’t have a lot of identifying information.”

Celia: “Tell him when he does, I guess, that I’ll… help make reparations. I had a hand in this.”

“He might not have lost if I hadn’t told him…”

GM: “Told him?” Dani asks.

Celia: “I was picked up by hunters. I told you about it, I think. That’s why you’re avoiding the club. I told him what they did to me, and I think if I hadn’t…” She trails off. “It’s my fault, isn’t it? That he killed them?”

GM: She thinks. “Ah, sorry. There’s just been such a big info dump between everything you and your mom and Stephen all have told me.”

Celia: “It’s okay. Not a pretty story. I doubt I told you everything. Will you let me know, though? Or tell him? When he finds them?”

GM: Dani nods.

Celia: “Anything you think will help him?”

GM: “I think this will help. Just making things right with their families. He’d also probably feel better if he found evidence they were bad people—deliberately bad, not just misguided. He said they could’ve thought he was a many-times unrepentant killer for all we know.”

“And maybe they thought they were doing the right thing.”

“But, hell, maybe they didn’t care. Maybe they also beat their wives and kids like your dad.”

“I don’t think Stephen is ever going to be comfortable with nonjudicial killings. I don’t think I’m ever going to be either. But there are degrees of bad and degrees of harm.”

Celia: “Yeah, well, I’d rather not be raped and tortured again on the off chance they’re not bad people.”

“The last pair didn’t think I was bad and they still planned on killing me.”

“But I’ll do what I can to help him out. I guess I just see it differently. He wasn’t the one picked up prior.”

GM: “Oh. You told me you’d been raped, over the phone…”

Celia: Celia effects a snort.

“That was hardly the first time.”

GM: Dani briefly looks away from the road, at Celia’s face.

“Oh my god, Celia, I’m so sorry…”

Celia: “It’s fine. This isn’t about me.”

“I’ve had… years to process.”

GM: Dani looks back towards the road.

“Does it get…?”

Celia: “Easier? Yes and no. Sometimes I still think about it. Sometimes someone touches me and I’m right back to that mindset. Last night someone… well, it doesn’t matter, but I almost froze up again. When I see someone who looks like him. When I hear his name.”

She takes a breath. It does little for her.

“I went through a phase afterward. I slept with everything I could. I thought it made me in control of my body. Like I owned my sexuality. And I did. But he used to… he used to call me a whore. His whore. So I felt like I was… living up to that. Like it was all I’d ever be good for.”

Her eyes find the window.

“Toreador think our clan isn’t cursed. That we can still love. That we’re blessed. And maybe that’s true. But I think, sometimes, that maybe I was cursed to… need it. To need it now. To feel like I’m in control again. To accept physical love in place of mental or emotional love because that’s all I’m worth.”

A tongue pressed against the roof of her mouth keeps her lip from trembling.

GM: More than just a whore.

“I have made a whore of you, Celia,” he would smile with his plastic smile, his fist in her hair and his cock in her mouth.

He never got tired of that phrase. ‘Made a whore of you.’

“My very own teenage whore,” he would repeat, touching her throat as she sucked him off. Touching her cartoid artery, where her pulse was.

It seemed such a strange thing. Like so much of him. Was he checking she was still alive? Didn’t the fact she was sucking him off make that evident? Was it somehow symbolic, insinuating she was only ‘really’ alive while sucking cock? That this was her life’s purpose?

Just that odd little gesture.

“Ah, but let us not leap to conclusions. Perhaps you were already a whore, Celia. Have you performed sexual acts for monetary compensation before? You have taken so well to a whore’s trade, I cannot discount the possibility you are already acquainted with it.”

“You are either an experienced whore, with many previous transactions to be ashamed of, or you are a born natural and suitable for no other purpose.”

Celia: She never knew what he wanted her to say when he asked that. She hadn’t done anything like this with someone before. She’d tried to tell him that. “No,” she’d always say, “I haven’t, I’ve never… yours, you said that—that I’m… yours.” His whore. On her knees, eyes on him, swallowing him down every time. Five hundred dollars.

GM: He’d smiled again at that. Mockingly.

“Then you are a natural-born whore. Why, it sounds almost wholesome.”

e’d released her hair then, to grab both sides of her face, and pumped faster. Like her face was really just another hole. A closable cunt on her neck.

“Your instincts as a prostitute are quite uncanny, my whore. Even without prior experience, you sought out a potential customer and insinuated the exchange of services that might transpire. All without saying a thing, at 19 years old. Perhaps you believe yourself clever, able to enjoy the fruits of a whore’s labor without the self-blame of choosing your profession. Perhaps you even tell yourself you were forced into this. You are not clever, my little whore. You are stupid. My stupid little teenage whore. Your lies and manipulations do not fool me, for I know whores to be dishonest creatures by nature. Only pain may extract truth from them.”

“You chose this, my whore. You sought this out. You always come back. Every week. You enjoy this. This moment is the defining picture of your life, now and forever. Celia—Flores—the—eternal—whore!"

He’d panted with those last words before he pulled out and came over her face. Sticky white semen dripped down her skin. Dribbled over the carpet.

“Eat it, whore. Collect my seed upon your fingers and swallow it all. Or you will be paid $20. It is a typical rate for a cheap, worthless whore who cannot do as she is told. It is equivalent to a hit of crack, in fact.”

Celia: So she had. On her knees, face and lips sticky with his cum, she’d used her fingers to scrape against the white dribbles on the carpet. A glance up at him told her all she needed to know, though, without him saying a word. A moment later she’d bent over, forearms against the ground, to use her tongue to lap it up. Rough fibers mixed with semen touched her lips, wiry and bristly, mingling with the taste of salt.

At least it’s clean, she’d though, absurdly; the house is practically sterile. Spotless. Like there’s no one who actually lives here, just Paul and a horde of maids to clean up after him.

When she was done getting it off the floor she used her fingers on her face, wiping it off before putting those in her mouth as well to lick them clean. She’d swallowed it all.

GM: “Like a dog chasing scraps,” he’d sneered as she licked it up. “What an obedient whore. What an instinctive, natural-born whore. I’m not sure if I should be pleased or disgusted that I do not need to discipline against the use of fingers.”

He’d abruptly spat on her then, when she was finished.

“My saliva is cleaner than you, whore, so you may use it as a cleaning agent for your face.”

He’d given her the money, then. Dropped it on the ground, at his feet, for her to pick up.

“Show yourself out, whore. Your services tonight are no longer required.”

“Crawl. I enjoy the sight of my whore upon her knees.”

That’s how much her self-respect was worth.

$500 a pop.

Celia looks into the car window, and Paul’s plastic face smiles back in the reflection.

Celia: “It was a long time ago,” Celia says, almost to herself. Or maybe to him. “You get past it.”

GM: “You’re worth so much more than that!” Dani exclaims, looking away from the road again. “Your family loves you, just so much. They don’t think that. Stephen doesn’t think that. I don’t think that.”

Celia: Bitter laughter cuts off abruptly when she realizes that Dani is serious.

“Of course he thinks that. He thinks I’m a dumb, worthless whore.”

GM: “What?! He doesn’t, he thinks the world of you!”

Celia: “I saw a vision, Dani, of the future, where he has me chained up like some sort of animal and he says that!”

GM: “What? A vision?”

Celia: “That stupid fortune teller I told you about.”

“I was looking into other things, I didn’t even want for me, and she showed me that.”

GM: “Fortune tellers are full of bullshit. They just want you to come back for more readings.”

Celia: “She’s a lick.”

GM: “Okay, so is… fortune telling actually for real?” Dani looks dubious. “Or could she just be lying about that too?”

“Like, I get… Stephen called it ‘munchies,’ making the Blood do things. Maybe even if she is a real fortune teller she’s just lying because it’s more convenient. Save on some blood.”

Celia: “She wouldn’t have known about him.”

“She used his name. His real name.”

GM: “Oh.”

“I’m not sure how you’d pick that up on a cold reading.”

“Maybe she found out some other way?”

Celia: “I wasn’t even asking about me. And no one knows about us. And even if she did know about us, she wouldn’t know the name Stephen.”

GM: “Maybe she was just wrong, then.”

“Because Stephen wouldn’t do that.”

“What possible reason would he?”

Celia: Celia can think of plenty of reasons.

“I don’t know.”

GM: “Okay. How accurate are lick fortune tellers? Can they get stuff wrong?”

Celia: “It’s what might be. It’s not a certainty.”

GM: “Have you gone to many before?”

Celia: Celia shrugs.

“Future isn’t set in stone.”

GM: “Have you told him about this?”

Celia: “How could I?”

“How could I say, ‘hey you turn into a monster?’”

“How could I tell him that maybe it’s my fault because he killed two people for me?”

GM: “Well, the same way you told me.”

“I think he’d want to know. And I think it’d be good to tell him.”

“Just so you can talk about this and face this together. Like couples do.”

“And, hey, maybe he’d have insights or know things that cast the situation in a different light, or give a better sense of what to do.”

“Doesn’t ever hurt to get another opinion.”

Celia: “Or maybe he’ll ask his sire about it because he goes to her for everything and tell her more shit about me she doesn’t need to know.”

GM: “Ask him not to tell her, then.”

“Ask him to promise, if you want to impress how serious this is. Stephen’s good for his word.”

Celia: “We broke up before. Years ago. I told him about the rape.” She gives a short laugh, humorless. “He called me a whore and beat the shit out of me. And then he told her about it.”

GM: “What!?”

Celia: “It happened while we were together.”

“For months.”

GM: Dani’s parked the car. “Okay, maybe… he didn’t mention this, can you clear the air? Because there’s… some kind of happy ending, if you got back together?”

Celia: “I don’t want to add to his stress. It’s not his problem.”

GM: “I think he would consider it his problem, when it’s about him. And you.”

Celia: “He has more important things to worry about than our relationship status and whether or not his girlfriend had a weird vision of the future.”

GM: “He considers your relationship status to be very important.”

Celia: “Not if he apparently doesn’t approve of me.”

GM: Dani looks at her imploringly and touches her shoulder. “Celia… you sound so full of… just, doubt and mistrust and bad thoughts about yourself, and what Stephen thinks about you. It feels really unhealthy.”

“Stephen would want to help you.”

“I want to help you!”

“Can you really see this getting better on its own, by not talking?”

“Maybe you dodge a bullet and nothing happens, but what if something does? What if talking about it and facing it together lets you fix it?”

Celia: “What if he just calls me a whore again and I lose everything?”

GM: Dani gives a faint, disbelieving smile and rubs her shoulder. “Celia, why would he call you a whore and break up over a… fortune teller’s vision? That’s completely silly.”

Celia: Because she’s going to fuck someone else before she goes home to him tonight.

Because she’s in love with her sire.

Because she sold him out to Savoy.

Because she’ll break his bond to Coco with her own to get what she wants.

…even if she doesn’t know what that is anymore.

“Yeah,” she finally says, “I’ll talk to him.”

GM: “Okay, good,” smiles Dani.

“And… what’s the story with your second breakup?”

“I just want to understand better, since it sounds like there’s still a lot of… bad feelings over that.”

Celia: “I cheated on him,” Celia says flatly, “with the guy who raped me.”

GM: “That isn’t cheating. That’s just rape.”

Celia: “I continued to see him. I went to his house. And let him use me. For months.”

GM: “Oh.”

Celia: “And when I tried to break it off, he had his friend rape me.”

“And later they came into my house and they did it again.”

GM: “Oh my god, Celia…”

Dani hugs her.

“You didn’t deserve that, okay? I’m so sorry that happened to you…”

“You tried to do the right thing, you tried to end it… that counts.”

Celia: “Does it?”

GM: “Yes!” Dani exclaims, giving her a firmer squeeze. “He thinks it does, I know that.”

Celia: “He didn’t seem to think so when I told him about it.”

GM: “But you said he frenzied, right?”

Celia: “And then refused to speak to me for years.”

“No apology.”

“Nothing.”

GM: “Has he apologized since you got back together?”

Celia: “Yeah,” Celia finally sighs, rubbing at her eyes.

GM: “Well, better late than never. Which is the same thing I’d say about trying to break it off with a rapist.”

Celia: “I found out later he was a ghoul. I don’t doubt there was some sort of mind-fuckery going on at the time.”

GM: “So you might not have even chosen to cheat on Stephen?”

Celia: “I’ve never gone back to ask him, but yeah, there’s a chance.”

GM: “Well, uh, don’t feel like you have to now.”

“But, okay. So you told Stephen about that, and he lost it, and you didn’t speak until a little while ago.”

Celia: “Basically.”

GM: “How does that fit with the first time he thought you cheated, as a breather? I know he knew about it then.”

“He said you’d dumped him and told him you’d cheated because his love wasn’t enough to overcome years of abuse.”

Celia: “I just told him I cheated on him so he’d leave me alone. I almost lost it on him and killed him. So it wasn’t safe.”

“Then we got back together and he insinuated that because I’m Toreador I’m a slut, then demanded the truth. So I told him the truth.”

GM: Dani winces.

“I don’t… think he was trying to say you were a slut.”

“He can just be a little clueless about this stuff.”

Celia: “Maybe.”

GM: “And he can be pretty self-righteous.”

“It feels like… your relationship has a ton of past baggage.”

Celia: “Yep.”

GM: “But you want it to work now.”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “So does he. You’re on the same side.”

Celia: “…oh. I guess I never thought about it like that.”

GM: “…that he wants your relationship to work too?”

Celia: “That we’re on the same side.”

“I keep thinking… we’re on different political sides, but… with this, at least, we’re… not.”

GM: “You are. He wants it to work. I know he’s messed up in the past, but he’s sorry and he loves you. He looked so happy when he talked about having your relationship again. He said you’re one of the best things to ever happen to him, and how thankful he is to still have you in his life since becoming a vampire.”

Celia: “Oh,” she says again, more quietly this time.

The best thing that ever happened to him.

And she’s bonded to someone else. Hopelessly in love with someone else. Someone who will never love her like Roderick does. Who hasn’t been through all of the things with her that he has. Who hurts her to teach her the place he has in mind for her: on her knees. Like Paul.

She’d messed up.

She’d really, really messed up.

GM: “He said he likes to carry you. That it’s ‘so Celia,’” Dani smiles, “how you’d be able to find a cute use for a power of the Blood he always just saw as a tool.”

Celia: Cute use? Does she mean Luna?

GM: “Like, I remember when you came over for dinner, when we first met, I said how he was ‘just really into you’ and you smiled back saying you were ‘really into him too…’”

“It just feels like you still have that, even if there’s a lot of baggage too.”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a long moment. There’s a lot she wants to say. A lot she wants to confess. All the shitty, awful things she’s done, will probably continue to do. She’d just cut open a human girl without an ounce of remorse to make a dinner meeting more palatable. She’s cheated on him. Tonight, even. With Alana. And probably will again later this evening.

In the end, though, she doesn’t unburden herself. She just nods.

“Thanks, Dani. You’re right. Thanks for listening, and sorry I… unloaded. There’s not really any vampire counselors.”

GM: “You’re gonna be my sister, right?” she smiles. “I’m happy to, anytime. So is Stephen, and your mom. We all love you.”

Celia: For now, anyway.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

GM: “Oh, shit!” exclaims Dani, looking at the time. “We’re late!”

It’s not that long a drive from Flawless to Edith’s address. In fact, it looks as if Dani took a detour so they’d have time to talk.

Edith lives closer to the north part of the Quarter, where buildings turn from bars and clubs and tourist attractions to homes and apartments. It’s still on Rampart Street, though. This close to Treme and the Seventh Ward, the spit starts to wear off the Quarter’s polish—or perhaps it becomes plain how much was black from tobacco spittle all along. Trash isn’t as picked up. Buildings are cheaper, dirtier, graffiti-tagged, and falling apart. Celia hears a few gunshots and car alarms. There are homeless, too, camped out with their sleeping bags and shopping carts and bags of trash and belongings, plus the odd worn-looking camping tent. There’s fewer of them than south in the Quarter, but their expressions look just as glum, intoxicated, or blanked out. Sounds of fornication echo from one of the tents. Numerous sets of male eyes follow the two women’s car.

Some of them smell like thin-bloods.

They otherwise look identical to their breather counterparts.

“This doesn’t look like a safe place for us, Celia…” Dani says warily.

It’s just one block north and several east of her mom’s house.

There was more than one reason she had wanted to live in the Garden District.

Celia: Celia quietly points out the thin-bloods that they pass, though she’s careful to keep her voice low and not attract any attention to the pair of them.

“Jade,” Celia reminds her. Then, “No, it isn’t. This is where the Caitiff live. Where anyone who isn’t someone lives.”

Slim pickings.

But plentiful, for a girl who doesn’t mind picking apart a carcass. Who would miss these vagrants? She’d get so much use out of their parts…

She could filter their blood through her body. Give it to her mother. Make it taste good again.

Maybe one of these nights she’ll make another trip down here, see what sort of use she can get out of them.

GM: The pair are still in the car. The homeless, and the thin-bloods, are right by the address for Edith’s house. It’s better-maintained than its neighbors, but it looks like someone trying to maintain a ’50s family home in the inner city without so much as a white picket fence.

Dani watches intently as Jade points out the duskborn, but still says, “I think those guys are gonna make trouble for us by ourselves…”

“Wish we’d brought Stephen.”

Celia: “They’ll try,” Jade says.

GM: “You think we can stop them…?”

Celia: “I think they know better than to mess with Savoy’s lapcat.”

GM: “But I can’t smell you, how can they?”

Celia: Jade smiles, flashing fangs.

GM: Dani gives a wan one back.

“I guess this is the only way to get answers, either way.”

All the same, Celia sees pepper spray in her purse as she picks it up.

The pair get out. The two women are immediately accosted by half a dozen dirty, unwashed-smelling men literally screaming in their faces for money. Two duskborn, twice as many kine.

Celia: Jade shoulders her way through them, Dani in tow.

GM: The mob falls upon the pair like a pack of starving dogs. Dirty hands seize everywhere, copping feels, ripping at clothes, and pulling away belongings as the men hoot and bellow. Celia’s purse disappears into the mob as Dani screams and flails, and then the Toreador feels an uneven set of fangs, one substantially smaller than the other, sink into her neck.

Celia: The Beast rears its ugly head when the fangs touch her neck. Aware of how absolutely terrible it would be to lose it here, Celia stuffs it down. She reaches out, snarling in the thin-blood’s face. Her eyes flash, anger simmering just beneath the surface. She lets him see it. The Beast. She lets him feel the power it has over him, the sheer, overwhelming charisma that it forces down his throat, so much sweeter than whatever blood he’d just taken from her. What is she?

“Get my purse back,” she demands of it.

GM: The thin-blood, a middle-aged homeless man with a wildly unkempt beard who looks old enough to be Celia’s dad (if she were black) can’t meet the Toreador’s face. Not with his buried against her neck. But the snarl behind her words, and the weight of her presence, rolling out like a wave, stirs an equally primal response. He turns and bolts, shoving past his fellows, leaving a precious opening as a flailing Dani screams at the top of her lungs, “GET OFF GET OFF GET OFF!!!” Celia can feel the other thin-blood’s presence too, weaker than hers, but nevertheless adding to its weight. Celia’s assailant makes no effort whatsoever to retrieve her purse. Some practiced moves from Roderick culminating with a solid kick to the thief’s balls, plus a timely flail from Dani, knock the purse to the ground, its strap broken and contents haphazardly spilled everywhere. Dani hits the ground in a similar heap, breathing hard with wild eyes.

Celia: Celia retrieves her purse after the thief goes down, stuffing things back inside. She doesn’t care about the money. It’s replaceable. She makes enough. But the rest of it, that’s her focus. That and pulling Dani to her feet once she regains her own, bolting for the safety of the Caitiff’s house.

GM: She finds the door locked tight. Dani bangs against it.

“Let us in!!!”

No one answers her plea.

Celia: “Edith,” Jade says into the door, “it’s Jade.”

GM: A shadow passes behind the windowshades. There are bars over the windows.

After a moment, the door swings open.

Celia: Jade steps inside, pulling Dani after her. She pushes the door shut behind her.

“Some neighbors,” she remarks to her hostess.

GM: Their hostesses are two. The first is a bedraggled-looking young woman with unkempt blonde hair dressed in a Cinderella t-shirt and sweatpants with a gun awkwardly shoved back into the pockets. The other ‘hostess’ is a young child, maybe elementary school age, with cleaner brown hair wearing a little girl dress that Lucy might be found in. Her face, though, has none of Lucy’s excitement or sense of wonder.

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“Sorry, ah, Jade, ma’am,” apologizes Cinderella. “That’s just… the neighborhood.”

She and the child do up half a dozen bolts and chains on the door’s other side.

Dani watches them do so, arms tightly crossed around herself.

Celia: Jade doesn’t say much to that. It really is the neighborhood. A fate she saved Dani from, with her comfortable offer of staying with her and lush hunting grounds.

Even so, a quick text to “her boys” implies the need of their services later. She’s not dealing with that again.

She’ll find that wretched thin-blood, though, and take back what is hers.

She finds a smile for Cinderella and the child, at least.

“We managed.”

GM: “Text—you know who,” says Dani, catching herself as she touches her mask.

Roderick, obviously.

Celia: Obviously.

She debates the merits of that before nodding and doing that as well.

GM: Affirmative responses from all three ping back soon.

“They made off with my purse,” Dani says glumly.

Celia: “Shit. I thought they just got mine.”

GM: “I need to get a new phone. And my credit cards canceled.”

Celia: Irritation surges through her. She should have brought a fucking gun, even if she doesn’t know how to shoot. It’s an oversight she needs to correct. Now.

“I’ll take care of it,” Celia tells her.

The phone, she means. There is little she can do about the cards.

Another text summons the two boys now, a description of her assailant included. Bonus if they find the purse and its contents.

She’ll kill the bastard and enjoy doing so.

GM: “It’s okay. Stores won’t be open until sunup, and—sorry, I’m being rude,” Dani says to the two ghouls.

“It’s okay,” says the younger ghoul. “Mom’s just glad you’re here.”

The time on Celia’s phone is more than reasonably late.

It’s a nice change of pace to be the more important lick.

Celia: It really is.

Still, they’d gotten kind of distracted on the phone; who knows if Jade had even agreed to the time before the shrieking children claimed her attention.

“Lead the way,” she says to the pair.

GM: On it, comes Reggie’s confident response.

Celia: Finding scumbags is their thing. She’s happy to leave it to them.

GM: A child’s high-pitched shriek sounds from further inside the house.

“Let’s hurry,” Cinderella and the ghoul both say at once, taking off in a near-run into the house.

Jade and Dani follow behind into the living room. A tea party looks in progress, or at least an attempted tea party. The room’s furniture has been moved off to the side, and there’s a picnic blanket laid out on the floor, underneath several child-sized tables of mismatching heights crammed together. A white tablecloth with pink heart border is spread out over the separate tables in a seeming effort to make them look like the same table. It doesn’t. The tea party feels like it was supposed to happen outside, but couldn’t, for the same reason the front door has half a dozen locks and the windows have bars.

Atop the table, there’s a spread of mismatched plates, trays, and teacups. Some of them are ceramic, others plastic, some Disney-themed, some plain, others printed with hearts and flowers. Much of the tableware looks disposable. Most of the non-disposable pieces are badly chipped and look as if they’ve been superglued back together, and multiple times. Jade can’t imagine a physically and mentally competent adult breaking so many dishes so many times, at least by themselves.

The food consists of tiny sandwiches made from normal-sized Wonder Bread cut into tiny, tea party-sized sections. It’s the sole item that’s not dessert. Everything else is sweets. There’s a platter of homemade-looking chocolate cookies, but everything else is candy. Platters of Hostess twinkies and ding dongs, bowls of M&M’s and gummy bars, trays of candy bars and ice cream sandwiches, and tubs of ice cream lathered with nutella. The largest bowl of all, a giant red plastic one that looks meant for cooking rather than serving, is filled to the brim with a mix of white sugar, brown sugar, chocolate chips, nutella, and over a dozen melted sticks of butter, all mushed together into a lifetime’s worth of diabetes and heart attacks.

It doesn’t even pretend to be anything besides fat and sugar.

Almost as an afterthought, there’s a kettle for the tea party’s tea, along with several bottles of Big Shot soda.

Geraldine Maude Danvers is a little girl old enough to be Lucy’s first grade classmate, or maybe even still in kindergarten. She has the smooth skin all children do, shoulder-length blonde-brown hair, and furious-looking brown eyes. The thin-blood is standing on top of the table, barefoot and clad in a chocolate-smeared white dress, screaming as she throws a platter of oreos against the wall.

YOU! SAID! BLOOD!!!!! NOW!!!!!

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Two more children scream, flinch, and burst into tears at the violent action. Both ghouls, Celia has heard. The first, Melody, is darker of hair and looks around the same age.

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She starts trying to sing “Th-the it-itsy-bittsy s-spider went up-” but she’s cut off as Geraldine grabs the tea kettle and hurls it at the wall with a terrific noise, sending tea spilling over the moved-aside furniture. At that, she just wails,

“Y-you s-said blood!!!”

The youngest, Harper, doesn’t say anything. The baby-aged ghoul looks too young to have learned to talk. She just cries and blubbers and smacks her hands against the table, adding her wails to the childish cacophony.

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At the center of it all is Edith Flannagan, single mother of four.

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She has a handsome face. The jaw is a little too wide to be considered “delicate,” but she wears it well and her eyes make up for any supposed defect. The backs of her arms look a little fleshy, suggesting a life of indulgence, but otherwise she’s rather trim. She looks like someone who took care of her appearance when she was alive. Hats to keep the sun out of her face, seaweed baths and paraffin wraps at the local spa, pink and white nails. Hair perfectly coiffed. When Jade normally sees the Caitiff, she looks put together. She still uses that old Estee Lauder brown pencil liner on her eyes, still artificially colors her cheeks with “blusher,” still coats the mascara on her lashes. Right now, her makeup looks smeared from a child’s flailing hand. Her long and curly red-dyed hair looks mussed and tangled. She wears a wide-hemmed, retro dress out of the ‘50s with several fresh-looking food stains over the front. She’s planting her hands down on the wobbling tables as she pleads,

“She’s here! She’s here! Blood’s here!!!”

Geraldine’s head whips around as Jade, Dani, and the two ghouls enter the room. She leaps off the table, clearing over half the room without a running start, and pounces on Cinderella. Fangs sink into the woman’s thigh. Cinderella gives a cry of alarm and tries to fling Geraldine off, only for Edith to scream, “Oh no you don’t!!!” and tackle the ghoul onto the tables. There’s a terrific crash as they collapse and sandwiches, soda, candy, and the bowl of congealed sugar and fat spills over everyone.

More tableware shatters. The younger ghoul children scream louder. The oldest (Lily, Jade recalls) pulls them away and yells something that’s lost under the commotion. Edith holds Cinderella down as she flails and yells, “Stop it! Just stop! Let her drink!” as Geraldine thirstily claims her fill.

Dani watches the unfolding scene with her mouth open.

“What the fuck!?”

Celia: What the fuck indeed.

It’s like something out of a nightmare. The sort of thing that they should show teenagers in Sex Ed. to warn them about the dangers of having children: that they’re loud, messy, and completely fucking uncontrollable.

Is this a thin-blooded sort of frenzy? Throwing and screaming and still somewhat human, her Beast too weak to fully break the chains the little girl has cast over it?

No, she realizes, just a tantrum.

The “blood’s here” announcement readies her for action, but the child vampire doesn’t come for Jade or Dani. It goes for Cinderella instead—a saving grace for it, truly, because Jade would have had no qualms punting the thing in the face to send it sailing across the room if it tried to sink those baby fangs into her. She’s had enough blood ripped from her body for one night.

“Come on,” Jade says to Dani, moving past the flailing women on the ground to where the other Flannagan children huddle together across the room. Her aura precedes her: a calming, even-keeled sort of presence intended to soothe. Then there’s the lick herself: poised, smiling, beautiful. Like a living doll herself, isn’t she, with those wide eyes and long hair and gently curving lips, in a grown-up, refined version of a dress meant for tea parties.

“Hello, little ladies. You remember Auntie Jade?” She crouches in front of the girls, reaching out a thumb to wipe some of the smeared chocolate off of Melody’s face. “Why don’t we let Mommy take care of Geraldine and ’Ella and you three can show me where she keeps the spare cups and kettle?” Jade scoops up Harper, tucking the infant against her side, and holds out a hand for Lily or Melody to take.

GM: Harper buries her face against Jade with a wet half-sob, half-hiccup. Jade never carried around Lucy, but there’s another girl she knows well who did. Melody is the first of the other children to take Jade’s hand at Lily’s nod. Melody casts a fearful glance towards the women on the tables, then starts to falteringly sing,

“Cups, cups, cups,
Cups inside the cupboards
Cupboards inside the kitchen
Kitchen inside the house…”


Lily points in its direction.

Dani watches as Edith holds down Cinderella, who by this point has stopped struggling against her domitor and Geraldine, and furtively whispers, “Are they going to kill her?”

Celia: The baby ghoul fits snugly against her side. Like she was made for it. Jade takes to the child-holding well, at least, for not having had a single person around to tell her “hold it it like this.” She brings the girls with her as they move toward the kitchen, following Lily’s pointed finger.

“No,” she murmurs back to Dani, “she’s just hungry. Edith has a large family; it’s hard to keep this many mouths fed on this side of town.” The ghetto. Where Dani might have ended up, thin-blood that she is.

Inside the kitchen, Jade keeps an arm beneath Harper’s weight while she sifts through the cabinets for the cups. She hands them one by one to Lily or Melody to set on the kitchen table.

“What song were you singing, Melody? Do you want to sing it for Auntie Jade and her friend? Lily, is there a spare kettle?”

GM: Dani casts the pair a worried look. “I’m going to watch them, just in case things get out of hand.” She stays in the living room with her arms folded.

Harper sniffs and snivels over her shirt some more.

“Made up the song
Singing’s how I do my part
There’s a tune in every heart
Tune in every he-eart…”
sings Melody.

Lily retrieves a battered-looking second kettle.

Celia: Jade favors Melody with a smile as she makes up a new song, then finds a rag to start wiping at Harper’s face to keep the worst of it from her clothing.

Edith can hardly afford to get rid of another ghoul now. Jade is pretty sure that Cinderella has been with them since their arrival. Others come and go (often at the hands of the little monster in the other room), but Ella is the constant. Dani is welcome to watch, though, if it makes her feel better.

Then again, if Edith weren’t trying to keep the ghoul fed as well she’d have more for her daughters and Geraldine. Maybe a quick death is the best thing for all of them.

Jade looks at the two girls sitting in the kitchen with her. If Geraldine is feeding now, she can probably give the juice to the other two. She finds the container of blood she’d brought with her, the two pints she’d bled from herself after taking it from her clients, and pours it into the kettle to heat.

This is fine, right? It’s not like Edith wanted the blood for herself to distribute. The girls can eat and then go to bed and she and Edith can chat. Sometimes that’s all her mom wanted when Lucy was little: a little help feeding and cleaning her and then some adult time with Celia and Emily.

“Seats, ladies,” Jade says to the two. She sits too, Harper on her lap. “Lily, will you pour for us?”

GM: Three ghouls and one spoiled thin-blood would still be a lot for one Caitiff on Rampart Street.

Everyone says it’s a matter of time until Edith Flannagan’s house of cards comes falling apart.

It’s awkward to carry a baby in one hand and a purse with a broken strap in her other. Lily helps. All of the kids watch as Jade pours out the blood. Even Harper. The youngest ghoul starts softly crying again and greedily tugging at the air.

The other two kids sit down. Utterly silent. Watching the kettle like hawks.

Lily pours.

Celia: Jade heard that some people have been calling for the extermination of Geraldine, too. Murder machine. Masquerade breach waiting to happen. It’s a wonder her sire had never paid a visit to the house after what happened at the zoo.

Not that Jade is complaining. She’d made out like a bandit after the poor girl died. Where else would she have found a tiger in New Orleans?

Jade waits until the blood hits the cups to nudge them toward the girls on their chipped saucers. Two cups for two girls. Harper seems too little to be able to manage a cup like this. She’s still hungry though, isn’t she? Still addicted like the rest of them. It’s not as if the addiction passes her by because she’s a baby. She’s heard of babies being born that were addicted to whatever chemicals their mothers were on at the time of their pregnancy and birth, how loudly they wail while they go through withdrawals.

Is it crossing a line if she…? It’s not like she’ll ever get another chance. She won’t have children of her own. Edith is busy. Dani is busy. Jade runs her fingers through the baby’s hair, nuzzling the top of her head.

GM: Lily and Melody drink immediately. They take it slow. Closing their eyes. Savoring the taste. The ghouls who aren’t completely new tend to do that. Stretch out the hit as long as they can. It’s only the brand new ones, like Diana after Jade punished her, who try to gulp it down as fast as possible.

Harper, though, is much less of a good sport than Lucy was (and even Lucy had her bad days, like any baby). The ghouled infant loudly cries and squirms in Jade’s grasp, reaching desperately for the blood.

Celia: It’s the crying that does it in the end. Whenever Lucy had started crying Celia had immediately handed her back to her mom so she could quiet her. She’d told Celia once that you learn to recognize the cries of your child; she’d always seemed to know exactly what to do with Lucy to get her to calm down, whether it was a pacifier, a nipple, or changing a wet diaper.

Jade doesn’t know Harper’s individual cries. But she recognizes hunger well enough. …It’s only fair, right? To feed them all?

A quick flick of her fingers undoes the top few buttons of her top, and another unhooks the clasp of her bra. The cups slide free, exposing her breasts. Jade pulls aside the shirt, settles Harper in the crook of her arm, and makes a tiny prick in one nipple. She guides it into the wailing infant’s mouth.

GM: Harper instantly shuts up and starts sucking.

It’s like Diana described. A tugging, tingling sensation against her breast. But there’s no relief, like she’s using the bathroom. Just faint agitation from the Beast. Growling.

It usually took some time, too, when Celia’s mom calmed down a crying Lucy. She’d have to rock the child and sing to her or go through the unpleasant experience of changing a fouled diaper. When the answer was nursing, Lucy would cry and sniffle and take coaxing or effort to position the nipple just right. Diana said she always preferred to nurse a calm baby, “Even if that isn’t always in the cards.”

But with Harper, it’s like a switch is flipped.

There’s no calming down period. The tears just stop, like a faucet turned off. There’s no effort involved on Jade’s part, no nursery rhyme encores or gentle coaxing like Diana had to do. The infant just shuts up and sucks, with bulging eyes and a ravenous vigor unlike anything Celia ever saw from Lucy.

Celia: Well this is certainly one way to make a crying infant settle. Not that she’d ever do it to anyone that isn’t already a ghoul. Or create a ghoul child of her own. What sort of fucked up person does that to a kid?

It’s not quite the experience her mother had described. She feels less like she’s sharing part of herself than simply having it taken from her. It’s not the intimacy she’d expected. Maybe because it isn’t her child. Maybe because it’s taking the blood from her. Maybe she just doesn’t like sharing. It’s hers. But while her Beast may growl, it doesn’t cause a scene; this tiny little thing is helpless before her, utterly in her power. There’s a sense of superiority there, not only for the ghoul in her arms but the Caitiff and half-vampires in the other room. They can’t provide like this. But Jade can.

So she feeds it, letting baby Harper get her fix, searching for that sense of bliss her mother described just earlier this evening. She cradles the back of the infant’s head, murmurs soft nothings to her as she drinks, and lets herself get off on the weirdly intoxicating power trip.

GM: Edith Flannagan, clearly.

Jade waits and waits, but the sensation her mother described doesn’t come. Maybe because it’s not her kid (or her sister). Maybe because she’s losing something. Diana said the more love you give away, the more you have to give, but Jade knows that’s utterly untrue when it comes to vitae. There’s just loss.

Or at least a trade. Little Harper looks totally within her power. Like she’d do anything for that blood. It always looked the other way around for Celia’s mother: Lucy just sucked while Diana looked as if she’d have done anything for that child.

Celia couldn’t ever nurse Lucy. Diana could pass the child off to her daughter, sing together with her, put the baby to bed with her, but nursing was one thing only the girl’s actual mother could do. Even if they pretended otherwise. She remembers, after the child was delivered and her brothers and sisters moved back in, how Emily had the idea for Diana to store her milk in formula bottles (she was aghast how expensive it was) and feed to Lucy for the ‘benefit’ of the other Flores children. Celia was supposed to be the one lactating, if anyone was. Lucy could only get breastfed where her ‘aunts and uncles’ couldn’t see.

It was a lot of effort, to maintain the illusion that Celia could do something she couldn’t do.

But there’s no illusion here. Reggie and Diana both didn’t seem to enjoy the taste of thin-blooded vitae, and Edith is stretched so thing with so many mouths to feed. Jade has enough to spare. Jade has the power.

Harper, oblivious to the dynamic, just continues to thirstily suck from the bleeding nipple.

Celia: If she’d been more concerned about it at the time, Celia might have suggested an overhaul of her own chest to add mammary glands, or at least make the ones she had then work. They’re as dead as the rest of her, but it’s really just a system of tubes, isn’t it? No reason she couldn’t fix them up to make them work now if she really wanted to. Maybe she can offer it to Edith if the woman still wants to actually breastfeed (or at least pour formula into herself that later comes out the nipple). Like cum tubes. But for babies.

Then, she’d been busy experimenting with other things. Now, the idea has some merit. Maybe that would give her the sense of euphoria her mother had talked about. She’s already given herself a fake stomach, a handful of identities, a cock; what’s working breasts to all that?

This long into her Requiem, Jade recognizes when a ghoul has taken enough from her to get their fix. She lets the baby get to that point before finally pulling the nipple free from her greedy mouth and tucks herself away.

GM: The baby immediately starts bawling again and reaches for the disappearing nipple.

The other girls watch silently past their drained cups.

Celia: The baby can cry all it wants. Jade isn’t going to bleed herself dry for someone else’s ghoul.

Surely Edith should be free soon.

GM: Harper bawls and tugs and rubs her head over Jade’s covered breasts.

The other girls feel almost embarrassed.

Celia: “She’s not old enough to understand,” Jade says to them with a little shrug. She shifts the child from one arm to the other, tickling her belly with her fingers.

GM: Harper just keeps crying.

Celia: “Why don’t you check on your mother, Lily,” Jade says to the girl in question. A second passes before she reaches out to smother the child’s wild emotions with that gift of hers.

GM: Harper shuts up, though she doesn’t stop staring at Jade’s breasts either.

Lily does so, hopping off her seat, but there’s no need. Footsteps become audible to Jade’s ears as Edith, Geraldine, and Dani walk in. The Caitiff and her ‘daughter’ have clean faces and have changed clothes. They’re holding hands.

“I’m sorry about that, they’ve not had much to eat lately,” says Edith.

“…oh. Did you feed them?”

“She didn’t, she didn’t,
We’re still very hungry
We’re still so hungry
Please, Mama, feed us,
Please, Mama, fill us,”
sings Melody.

Celia: Jade gives Melody a disapproving glance.

Addicts.

“I fed all three,” she confirms.

GM: Lily opens her mouth, then doesn’t say anything, looking between Edith and Jade.

Edith picks up one of the cups and sniffs it. It’s completely drained, without so much as a drop remaining. Maybe no human would smell anything, but Jade can still pick up a telltale coppery whiff.

“Liar,” Edith says to Melody.

“I can smell blood in that.”

Melody lowers her head.

Edith sits down, pulls the ghoul over her lap, pulls up her dress, and delivers five hard swats to her backside. Melody yelps and gulps.

“Five spanks for five verses of lies,” says Edith. “Say you’re sorry.”

“I’m-m sorry,” sniffs Melody.

“Lily, you didn’t lie, but you didn’t tell the truth. One spank,” says Edith.

The older ghoul lays over her domitor’s lap and presents her posterior. Her cheeks tinge red as everyone else in the room watches.

Dani looks vaguely uncomfortable. Geraldine smiles.

Celia: Jade knew a girl who used to be spanked like this, with everyone watching. But Jade never was. And she thinks that liars deserve punishments. She’d done the same to her ghoul recently for being a greedy little thing, too.

GM: Until Celia helped the ghoul spank her back, at least. They told her to stay away from them both.

Celia: Jade had spanked Celia, too. Right before she fucked her.

She doubts Edith is going to go that route with the little girls, unless their relationship is even more twisted than she’d imagined.

She says nothing about the corporal punishment, in any case. Everyone handles their ghouls differently.

GM: Edith sets Lily down after delivering the one spank.

“I’m sorry about that,” she repeats.

Celia: “Kids,” she says with a knowing smile. She glances at Dani, as if to ask about Cinderella, but she imagines the thin-blood would be more upset if anything had actually happened to the ghoul. No doubt she’s sleeping it off.

“It should hold them over for a while, anyway.” A lift of her brows, as if asking how Edith plans to care for them after that.

“I saw you on patrol the other night. Find anything?”

GM: Edith shakes her head in frustration. “I was… counting on it. Savoy rewards us whenever we do.”

“And the kids are always hungry.”

Celia: “I can imagine. Hard to keep them full with a stable this large.” If Dani weren’t here she’d suggest taking one of the homeless off the streets and draining them, but Dani is here, so she doesn’t.

GM: “Who’s she?” asks Gerladine.

“That’s Jade, honey, she also lives in the Quarter,” says Edith, pulling the child onto her lap.

Technically true, if somewhat misleading.

Jade doesn’t live in a slum.

Dani sits down too.

“Hannah said you ran into the homeless outside. Sorry about that. Did you kill any of the thin-bloods?” she asks, not even trying to hide the hope in her voice.

Dani frowns.

“We didn’t, no.”

Edith looks disappointed. “Oh.”

“Because they’re attacking you?” Dani asks.

“Sometimes. Only when they get really hungry,” says Edith. “They know I’m a real Kindred.” There’s some pride in the Caitiff’s voice at that.

Dani doesn’t say anything there.

“But there’s more of them,” continues Edith. “And they’re still dangerous. They were bad, bad, trashy people when they were alive. Still are.”

“So you want them dead so they can’t attack you when they’re really hungry?” asks Dani.

“You ask a lot of questions for a ghoul,” says Edith with a faint frown. But she still answers, “If they were dead I’d be able to hunt their homeless friends, without worrying about them attacking me back.”

She makes a face. “I’m sure their blood’s awful. But it’s still blood.”

“Can’t you just hunt somewhere else?” asks Dani.

“No, I can’t!” exclaims Edith, looking as if she’s trying not to sound too frustrated around Jade.

Celia: It’s amusing, this being in charge thing. She recognizes the look on Edith’s face very well; more than once she’s had to bite her tongue around her “superiors.”

“Edith is Caitiff,” she says to Dani.

“Their domain in the Quarter is the edges. Out here. If she hunts elsewhere, she’s poaching.”

GM: “Yes, Lord Savoy’s very generous,” agrees Edith.

Even Dani isn’t so green not to recognize the sucking up for what it is.

But she doesn’t say anything.

“This is boring,” says Geraldine, slapping her hand against the table several times.

Celia: “Is it?” Jade asks the child. “We came for you, actually.”

GM: “Lily, Melody, why don’t you take Geraldine a-” Edith cuts off, though, as Jade speaks.

“Me?” asks the thin-blood.

Celia: “You,” Jade confirms with a nod. “And your mother.” Her eyes cut to Edith’s. “It’s an area you might be a bit of an expert in, Edith, considering.” She tilts her head, eyeing the child.

GM: “Ah, yes, I’m sorry,” Edith apologizes. “You’re here on business, and you fed the little ’uns, what can I do for you?”

Celia: “I have some questions about thin-bloods.” A casual wave of her hand includes Hannah in the discussion. “She’s here to take notes and make sure I don’t forget anything, so I’m sure she’ll be jumping in as well.”

“With as long as Geraldine has been with you, I thought you’d know more than most of the vagrants on the street.”

“And I’m always happy to see the girls.”

When they’re not wailing.

GM: Edith smiles. “They love visitors too. Don’t you, girls?”

There are nods from them all.

“Geraldine’s been my daughter for about 20 years, she says,” smiling again as she adjusts the child vampire on her lap. “So I think I know a lot about them. I’ve seen it all firsthand. How does… one hit for every topic’s worth of notes sound?”

She glances around the cups. “So that’s two topics, for everything so far. Or three, if you fed Harper too.” She looks at the still-sniffling infant.

“She did,” says Lily.

Melody nods too.

“Okay, three,” says Edith. “I’m sorry, that’s what you said. Three. With more if you want to feed Cinderella too.”

“Or feed the others some more.”

“Is Cinderella her actual name?” asks Dani.

“Yes,” Geraldine answers peevishy.

“Yes, she doesn’t have another name,” says Edith, backing the child up.

“Okay, Cinderella,” nods Dani.

“Do you have a pen and paper I could take notes with?”

“Yes, over there.” Edith points.

Dani retrieves a pen and notepad, then sits back down.

Celia: Edith might have trouble keeping the girls from going hungry if she’s feeding them this liberally. Jade would probably space the feedings out a little more, but she’s not going to tell someone else how to parent. Lord knows she has no idea what she’d be doing.

Though that’s more of a ghoul thing than a parent thing, if she’s being honest.

“We’ll start with the Blood.” Edith can probably hear the emphasis on the word. “Mine gives me the traditional gifts of my clan. Yours allows you different abilities. I’ve done some experimenting with a thin-blood I found. He seems only to be able to perform the same sorts of things you or I can do if he has lick blood in his system. Is that typical of them?”

GM: “Sometimes,” says Edith. “Most of them are what they eat. Their abilities change with whatever blood they drink.”

Celia: “So if the thin-blood drank from me, he’d take on some of my abilities. But if he drank from a Gangrel, he’d get something else?”

“How far does that go? Specialized, unique abilities? More advanced things?”

GM: “Yes. But kine too. If they drink from a marathon runner, they’ll get stone skin. If they drink from a clubber, they’ll get charm.”

Celia: Fascinating. And also in line with her theory.

GM: “The more they drink, or the richer the blood, the stronger their abilities are.”

“But only up to a point.”

Celia: “But they only have it until they use it?”

GM: “Until they drink from different blood.”

Dani dutifully scrawls away.

Celia: “So it doesn’t need to actively be in their system, just the last thing they ate?”

GM: “They need both of those.”

Celia: “Up to a point, you said?”

GM: Edith’s lips purse. “That’s a separate topic. How strong they can get. There are different ways they can.”

Celia: The same way the blonde had suggested getting stronger? She doubts Dani will go for it. She lifts her brows at the girl in question. No doubt she wants to know her limits, but she won’t speak for her.

GM: “How can they do that?” Dani asks.

Celia: Jade gives a nod, assenting to the further topic.

GM: “They can only develop very basic abilities, through normal feeding,” says Edith. “The ones any fledgling can pick up in a night or two.”

“If they drink deep enough to kill, or from a vessel with a dyscrasia, they can get a little more advanced.”

Celia: “Permanently?”

GM: Edith shakes her head. “Just until they feed again. Or lose the blood.”

“Blood from other licks does more for them, though.”

“They need to drink more of it, but Geraldine’s been able to do the same things I can, after she feeds enough.”

Celia: Jade lifts a brow at the Caitiff.

“How advanced is that?”

It’s not like Jade keeps up with the generations of the clanless.

GM: “I’m not a master at any discipline. But it’s more than she was able to do just from killing.”

“That seems like an easy way for them to get better at being vampires, then,” says Dani.

Edith shrugs. “Most true-blooded licks won’t share with them.”

Celia: But Dani’s got two in her corner that might.

A feedback loop, like Diana had suggested earlier.

GM: “And it’s not like they can steal it easy.”

Celia: Neither of them would really lose blood… she idly contemplates how telling Roderick she wants to swap blood with his sister would go. For science.

“No,” Jade agrees.

Even though she’d just had hers stolen.

“Their blood will never thicken with age, then. Not like ours.”

“Everything they do is a temporary fix.”

GM: “Yes. It’s all temporary.”

Celia: “Geraldine is still a child,” Jade ventures.

GM: “Yes, what about it?”

Celia: “She won’t age, ever? Or it’s so slow we don’t notice it?”

GM: “She hasn’t aged a day.”

Celia: Jade nods. She’d assumed as much.

GM: “I’ve had her for around twenty years.”

Celia: Jade looks to the child vampire, listening for a heartbeat.

GM: She can hear one. Just like with Dani.

“That’s also starting to be a separate topic.”

Celia: Jade rifles through her purse, pulling out a tiny notebook. She flips it open to a page and consults the nonexistent writing, then offers it to Dani.

“One of those?” she asks, giving Dani free reign to pursue her own line of questioning.

GM: Dani frowns, thinking.

“Yeah, that looks good.”

Seems up to Jade.

Celia: Dani’s the thin-blood and it’s about her, but Jade doesn’t argue the point. If she wants to leave it up to Jade she can do so.

“I’ve heard some of them can do a sort of alchemy thing with their blood.”

GM: Edith makes an expression of distaste.

“They’re… drug dealers. That’s all they are. It’s disgusting.”

“But what is it they do?” asks Dani.

“Gutter magic. If you could even call it that.”

Celia: Jade waits, expectant.

GM: “It’s disgusting. They’re disgusting.”

Celia: “I’ll need you to be more specific on the gutter magic.”

GM: “I don’t associate with those sorts of people,” the Caitiff declares. There’s a note of some pride to her voice.

“But can you tell us anything?” asks Dani.

“I don’t associate with those lowlifes,” she repeats. “You can ask me something else.”

Celia: “Even if it meant Geraldine could do magic?” There’s some skepticism to her voice.

GM: “Magic? Like a fairy?” asks Geraldine.

“It’s not magic like a fairy,” says Edith. “It’s not something little girls do. It’s gross and yucky and there’s… poop.”

“Ewww,” says Geraldine.

Celia: “I’d like to know what you know. I paid for the information.”

Jade can take her blood back, if the Caitiff likes.

GM: “You can ask me something else,” Edith says stiffly.

Celia: That baby is still in her arms.

GM: She looks at Harper, who by this point looks like she’s dozed off, and repeats, “That can’t be all you want to know. Ask me about something else. I won’t charge you for the alchemy… answer.”

“Magic isn’t real,” adds Geraldine.

“I pushed off the fairy and she couldn’t fly.”

Dani frowns.

Celia: Jade’s lips twitch.

“No, I can’t imagine she did,” she says to the child. She doesn’t correct her, though.

“If you can’t tell me about the alchemy, can you tell me where to find an alchemist? I presume you heard enough about it from someone to point me in their direction.”

GM: Fairies are real, though. And their magic. Celia knows that from experience.

Edith makes an expression of distaste.

“I can’t, beyond Rampart Street, but you probably guessed that.”

“I won’t charge you for that answer either.”

Celia: Well at least she’s fair with her pricing.

GM: “So, what else?”

Celia: Jade glances at Dani. She’d thought she was going to have to feed one of them again, but she’s drawing a blank. Dani wants to meet them, but it sounds like Edith doesn’t hang out with many of them, and if she can’t tell her about the alchemists…

She’d had so much to offer Edith, too. So many favors she could trade for knowledge.

GM: Dani looks back at her unsurely.

Celia: Jade finally shrugs. She’d wanted the alchemist for her own selfish reasons.

“Compared to a true-blooded lick, do they retain similar properties? The healing, the regeneration, the lack of illness, et cetera?”

GM: “Yes and no,” says Edith. “Gerladine’s gotten sick. But not very often.”

Celia: “The others, though? The mending? Regenerating lost parts?”

GM: “I don’t know if she can do that. I’ve never tried to find out. But she can heal cuts and bruises with blood.”

“I usually tell her not to, though, and to just let Mommy give her a band-aid. And she gets better on her own, not like we do.”

“Sorry, you can’t get better on your own?” asks Dani.

Edith looks at her, then answers, “If you cut us, we stay cut until we spend blood to heal. Our bodies don’t do that on their own. Geraldine’s does.”

“I’m special,” declares Geraldine.

“Yes you are!” says Edith, bouncing the thin-blood on her knee. “The most special duskborn in the city!”

Celia: She’s certainly something.

Jade finds a smile for the child and her mother.

“It certainly sounds like it.”

GM: “Can duskborn become nightborn?” Dani asks abruptly.

“They can’t,” says Edith.

Dani does her best not to look crestfallen.

“I won’t charge for that either, since I didn’t tell you anything,” says Edith.

Celia: “Appreciate it,” Jade says, keeping the dryness out of her tone.

“I think that’s all I have, then.”

GM: “Oh. That’s all?”

Celia: “Can’t think of anything else that isn’t alchemy-related, and you’ve already said you don’t hang much with them.”

GM: “But, there’s so much to them. I could tell you a lot more.” Edith looks fairly desperate at the chance to get more blood right in front of her.

Celia: “Such as?”

GM: “Well, everything. They’re different in basically every way. Some little, some big.”

“Anything you think about true-bloods, that you take for granted, they do at least a little differently.”

Celia: “Tell me what you know,” Jade says evenly, “and I’ll decide how many hits it’s worth, or if I can finagle something… extra.”

GM: “We’d be here for hours if I told you everything. Can you narrow it down?”

Celia: “What do you specialize in, Edith? Power wise. What’s your area of expertise?”

GM: “Stone skin. Cloaking. Taming.”

Celia: “I’ll trade you a hit of mine for a hit of yours.”

GM: Edith looks confused. “Sorry?”

Celia: “Your abilities are different than mine. I’d like to see this totem twisting in action.”

GM: “I’m sorry, you mean with a duskborn?”

Celia: “Yes.”

“Well, I guess I don’t really care what you do with mine. You can keep it for yourself or give it to one of your girls.”

GM: “Two hits of yours, then. Swapping a hit for a hit still leaves me even.”

Celia: Jade laughs.

“No, but thanks.”

GM: “I’m just proposing an even trade. You’d get to see what a duskborn can do, I’m not any richer.”

Celia: “It’s not an even trade. I’ve already theorized that the duskborn take on what they eat, you simply confirmed it. I have other sources that won’t put me out blood. If you’re not interested you’re not interested, and that’s perfectly fine.”

GM: “So do you want it for something else, as part of another trade? We could throw it in as lagniappe,” Edith relents.

Celia: “I don’t want to play twenty questions all night. I don’t have any pressing concerns about the duskborn, and I imagine most of what I’d ask I can find out through observation and my own experimentation.” Jade leans forward in her chair. “You mentioned there’s stuff I take for granted about being a lick that you can’t with them. Give me the major differences and I’ll give you the two-for-one that you want. I’ll feed whichever kids you like. What is it?”

GM: “Okay, they still frenzy. That’s a myth they can’t.”

Celia: That gets an arched brow.

“All of them?”

GM: “I don’t spend as much time around other duskborn, but I think so. I know Geraldine does.”

Celia: “Is she fourteenth? Or higher?”

GM: “I don’t know. They’re all the same, either way.”

“She’s at least fourteenth, obviously.”

Celia: “Some of them have one fang, or none. Their differences are only physical?”

GM: “Wait, but they don’t frenzy,” says Dani, more than a little perturbed. “You can hit them or stab them or whatever else, can’t you?”

Celia: “Was Geraldine’s earlier fit a frenzy, or just a tantrum? What draws it out? How does it differ from a true blood?”

GM: “They can only frenzy under two circumstances,” says Edith. “One is if they’re really, really hurt. On the brink of death. That’s enough to wake up their Beasts. Give them a last fighting chance.”

“And the second?” says Dani.

“If they’re hungry,” says Edith. “Low on blood. Then if you stab them, hit them, burn them, whatever, their Beast can get out.”

Dani tries not to look too perturbed.

“A duskborn I’ve talked said he didn’t ever feel… a Beast,” she says. “He felt normal. But there are Brujah who always feel it in the backs of their heads, furious, waiting to rip out.”

“That’s normal,” says Edith. “They basically don’t have a Beast, most of the time. It only comes out when they’re hungry or about to die.”

Celia: “So long as they’re never grievously injured or starving, they can function as normal.”

GM: “Yes. That’s where the myth they don’t frenzy comes from.”

“And it’s easier for them to resist the Beast than true-bloods, too. Theirs is weaker.”

Celia: “That’s certainly something,” Jade murmurs.

GM: Edith looks between them appraisingly.

“I think that’s worth a hit.”

Celia: “It is,” Jade agrees.

GM: Edith moves a cup near her.

Celia: Jade sinks her fangs into her wrist, then holds it over the cup.

GM: Everyone at the table but Dani watches with rapt eyes.

Edith waits for it to cool, then raises it to her lips.

Geraldine grabs at it.

“I want!”

“It’s for Cinderella,” says Edith. “So I can feed her-”

“I want!” Geraldine repeats.

“If she’s better she can with y-”

“I—WANT!!!” Geraldine shrieks.

She stands up and lunges at the cup. Edith gives an exclamation of alarm as she pulls it away, trying desperately not to spill it.

GIVE IT TO ME GIVE IT TO ME GIVE IT TO ME!!!” yells the duskborn, tugging at her arms.

Celia: “Sit down,” Jade snarls at the child, lashing out with her Beast to put weight behind her words.

GM: Geraldine’s temper tantrum wilts like a weeks-old flower. She whimpers and curls up against her mother.

Don’t you do that!” Edith suddenly snarls back, baring her fangs in a feral hiss as her eyes flash.

Celia: Jade rises, her own fangs bared at the Caitiff. A hiss passes from her lips. She is not intimidated by this nobody.

“She’d have spilled it all over the floor. Are you going to ask her to lap it up, like some sort of dog?”

GM: Jade’s seen domitors who make their ghouls do that.

Edith shoots up from her chair too, locking gazes with Jade. The hiss goes on as her fangs protrude.

Then the sound dies.

She sits down and looks away.

Dani warily looks between the once-feuding vampires.

Celia: Jade lets the silence linger. But only for a moment. She sits down after the Caitiff does, her fangs disappearing behind her lips.

“I have something special for Geraldine.”

A balm of sorts, though she can’t help but feel a surge of glee at putting the nobody in her place.

GM: Edith looks up.

“Please don’t hurt her,” she begs, clutching the duskborn tight against her chest with both hands. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Celia: It’s a nice change of pace.

GM: “She doesn’t mean that kind of special,” says Dani.

Celia: “I’m not here to take your child away from you, Edith.”

GM: “We’re not going to hurt you,” adds Dani. “Or her. Just… drink your blood, all right? You earned it.”

Edith glares faintly at the ‘ghoul.’ But she drinks.

The other ghoul children watch in fretful silence.

Harper suddenly wakes up and starts crying again.

“Lily, Melody, why don’t you put Harper to bed,” says Edith. “And go play a game, checkers, with Geraldine?”

The ghouls fretfully look towards Jade, as if to see whether she’s going to stop them.

Celia: Jade makes no motion to do so. She nods her head.

GM: Melody retrieves a now-crying Harper. Lily takes a still-sniffling Geraldine, who she all but staggers trying to carry. The ghouls and duskborn depart the room.

“You’re kind of spoiling her,” says Dani. “She’ll just continue to act-”

“That’s none of your business, half-blood!” Edith flares back.

But the fangs don’t come out.

Celia: Jade turns a baleful glare on Hannah.

“You don’t tell other licks how to treat their ghouls. I brought you here to take notes.”

GM: Dani glares back, at first.

But then she minds her cover and lowers her head.

“She’s new,” says Edith.

Celia: “She is.”

“I’m still breaking her in.”

GM: “I’m sorry, ma’am,” says Dani.

The tone isn’t completely right. But it’s deferential enough.

Edith smiles faintly.

Celia: Jade considers the lesson learned. She sifts through her purse, pulling out the final bottle of blood.

GM: Edith looks at it.

“So you’d also asked about their fangs.”

Celia: “I did. I’ve seen some with one, some with none, some with chipped fangs, some with little bitty baby fangs.”

GM: “Some have normal fangs. But it’s one of the most common deformities.”

Celia: “I already know about that. Is there something else to it?”

GM: “Like what? Whether they can still feed normally?”

“Most of them can. It’s a little or a lot more awkward, but they can.”

“Some have to use knives, because their fangs are so underdeveloped, or they just don’t have any. Kine obviously don’t enjoy that.”

Celia: “No, I imagine they don’t.”

“None of this is news to me.”

GM: Edith’s voice gets a bit more deferential. “Okay. What do you mean, something else?”

Celia: “You brought up their fangs. I thought maybe there was more to it than that. I only mentioned them in passing.”

GM: “Is is it symptomatic of larger differences between duskborn and nightborn,” ventures Dani. “Like, for instance, how they can walk in the sun-”

“They can’t do that,” says Edith.

Celia: Jade arches a brow.

GM: Dani looks at Jade. “We heard of one who could.”

“That’s just another myth,” says Edith.

Celia: “We’ve witnessed it.”

GM: Edith looks between them. “For how long?”

“Hours,” says Dani. “I saw him. He didn’t have any problems during the day.”

Celia: “No protective covering. No burning. No singes.”

“Hannah tailed him.”

GM: “Your ghoul probably just saw another ghoul,” says Edith. “Most duskborn take longer to burn than nightborn do. And they can last a while. But they still burn.”

“Geraldine burns.”

Celia: Jade shakes her head.

“I’ve confirmed he’s duskborn.”

GM: “That’s the first time I’ve heard of that.”

“Well. It’d be the first reliable time.”

“Lots of licks say they can’t burn in the sun, and it’s an exaggeration. They just burn slower and heal faster.”

“Geraldine does.”

Celia: “I’ll test it again, but so far everything suggests he doesn’t.”

GM: “Okay. Geraldine’s the only one I’ve spent twenty years with,” Edith grants.

Celia: “It made me wonder if they were all different, since someone else said the same.”

“Multiple others,” she amends.

GM: “I’ve known ones with different powers,” says Edith. “And weaknesses.”

“Some that couldn’t get sick or hurt by guns.”

“Some that still frenzied or couldn’t use their blood to heal.”

Celia: “They don’t seem to follow the same rules as us.”

GM: “In what sense?”

Celia: “Give me any Brujah and I’ll tell you what the majority of them can do. The mending. The powers, strength and speed and charisma. The weaknesses, like their rage. Sure, there are outliers. But the duskborn seem to vary more often than the rest of us.”

GM: “Some of it might be ignorance,” says Edith. “But you might be right, too. Not all of the ones I’ve known can do what Geraldine can do.”

“Though she is very special, too. Oldest duskborn in the city.”

“Maybe it’s nature’s way of compensating.”

Celia: “Has she gotten stronger as the years have passed?”

“Or is it like you said, everything is temporary?”

GM: “She’s physically strong for her age. You saw her jump around—that’s stone fists, blood’s might, hulking, whatever you want to call it. That’s how she pushed off the, ah, ‘fairy’.”

“That’s stayed, despite whatever she drinks. But she was always that way, for as long as I’ve known her.”

“Everything else, with disciplines, is temporary.”

Celia: Jade just nods her head.

“Thank you for the assistance this evening.”

GM: “You’re welcome.” A pause. “All of that since the frenzy is worth a hit.”

There’s a buzz from Jade’s phone.

Found your thief. Also picked you up another snack.

Celia: Jade glances at her phone. Perfect.

“I need to get going,” she tells Edith. She slides the blood across the table to her.

GM: Edith drinks it down.

“The things since the frenzy, too,” she repeats.

“You didn’t know all of that.”

Celia: “The fangs? I knew about the fangs. And their differences.”

“You learned about the daywalking."

GM: “Geraldine can’t daywalk. That doesn’t help me.”

Celia: “Repeating things I already know doesn’t help me.”

GM: “Anything else you want, then. Knowledge about thin-bloods. Boons. Anything else you need. Please. My kids are so thirsty. This will only last so long. I’m sorry we butted heads. Anything you want, I can do,” Edith says, desperately.

Celia: “Keep the trade,” Jade finally says, “and we’ll keep this line of communication open. I’m sure I’ll need something in the future.”

GM: Edith looks like she wants to plead further, then just says, “Okay. Here’s my number.” She lists it off.

Celia: “If you think of anything else, you know where to reach me.” There’s a promise behind her words.

She gave her five hits, though. For what’s essentially a conversation. She doesn’t feel too bad about not giving more.

GM: Edith nods. “Okay. I will. Flawless?”

Celia: “Flawless or a phone call.” She leaves her number.

GM: The Caitiff says she’ll be in touch.

Sounds of commotion echo from the next room over. Edith quickly excuses herself and darts off to attend the latest domestic crisis. Dani warily follows her out of the house, pepper spray clutches firmly in hand this time as her eyes sweep the slum for more bands of encroaching predators.

Celia supposes that whatever her lot in the French Quarter, it could always be worse.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

GM: “This is going to sound like the most privileged white girl thing to say, but… I’m better than that,” Dani says once they’re back in the car.

“Than living in a slum with a dozen locks on the doors and glued-together tableware for Wonder Bread tea sandwiches.”

“Would that… would that really be me without you and Stephen…?”

Celia: “Like Edith? I doubt it.” Celia shakes her head.

“Edith is a true-blood. Caitiff, but still true-blood.” A pause. “You’d probably be like one of the people outside the door.”

GM: Dani looks horrified.

“My dad’s the fucking D.A.! My mom works at Vanderbilt! I went to the ‘debutante West Point,’ I’m going to be a lawyer! I’m not a Malveaux, but, fuck, I’m not… that! I’m not!”

Celia: “A lot of them don’t have those connections,” Celia agrees. “But, Dani… no one cares who you used to be, not if it doesn’t benefit them. It could keep you off the streets, sure, I’ll agree with you there. But nice places, nice homes, nice streets—those are all the turf of bigger, stronger, older vampires. They get wind of you and then best case scenario you’re out on your ass here with the rest of them.”

GM: Dani shudders. “I know they don’t care. That’s what’s so awful. I don’t… I don’t want to be that!”

Celia: “You won’t be. You have two of us looking out for you.”

“But that’s why I told him not to send you to Houston.”

GM: “Because that’s what I’d be over there.”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “I hate this. I hate that I was turned into this. That I have garbage blood. Like Stephen told me everyone else thinks.”

Celia: “There are some benefits,” Celia says hesitantly. “You heard what Edith said, about being able to learn all sorts of different powers. We can get you some blood from Stephen and I to keep you juiced up, if you want. See what all you can learn. You’ll never get old, so you can practice law for as long as you want.”

“And… I mean, you know, she’s not an expert even if she has Geraldine. She doesn’t know everything that’s out there. No one does. Maybe we can find something else, you know?”

“Because… magic is real, no matter what the kid said.”

GM: “I hope,” Dani says glumly. “Celia, I don’t want to be duskborn. I’ve always been second best, my whole life, and this isn’t just… it’s not even that.

Celia: No. It’s last. Not even that, it’s a consolation prize. A pat on the back, maybe. Worse.

“She mentioned killing people,” Celia says after a second. “I assume you’re not into that, even if it would make you stronger.”

GM: “I think how they’re, we’re, treated is horrible. I’d never do that or be part of it. Hell, I’d even like to fight against it. I’d just… rather not do it as one of them. Let me be the fucking rich girl who fights for poor people, yes that’s entitled, no I don’t even care.”

“I don’t want to kill people. She said it was just temporary anyway.”

Celia: “Yeah,” she says, “I didn’t think so. It’s a quick road down a dark path, I bet.”

“Maybe there’s a different solution.”

“If you’re passing as a mortal, maybe there’s stuff you can do that way. Since, um, ghouls aren’t quite respected either.” She winces. “Sorry I reprimanded you.”

“Just the… cover.”

GM: “It’s okay. And I picked up on that, yeah.”

“Fucking Christ. Edith was pathetic and even she thought she was better than ghouls.”

Celia: “It was an interesting twist to be the most important person in the room,” Celia says wryly.

“But you’re right. She is.”

“That’s how they all are. Even the lowest of them needs someone else to look down on.”

GM: There’s a tap against the car window. It’s Roderick in his disguise.

Dani doesn’t say anything, just pulls open the door and hugs him.

Celia: Celia waves at him from over Dani’s shoulder.

GM: He waves back with an amused smile, but it fades when he says, “Hey, you’re trembling. Is everything-”

“We got jumped and attacked by a bunch of homeless people, and I wish you’d been there, and Edith was awful,” says Dani.

Celia: “Dani lost her purse,” Celia adds. “And one of them bit me.”

GM: “What!?” He looks between Celia and his sister. “Where are they? I’ll make them regret that.”

Celia: Celia glances in the direction of the gaggle of homeless people, even though she knows the blood thief isn’t there.

GM: Most of them are gone. The remaining ones look asleep or strung out.

Celia: So much for playing hero.

GM: Roderick looks in their direction. “Those guys?”

Dani shakes her head.

Celia: “They’re gone.”

Celia glances at the time, wondering if she has a moment to talk to the pair before she has to meet the brothers and get ready for her date.

GM: There’s time.

“All right,” he says, “I can look for them. What’d they look like?”

“Like a bunch of dirty homeless people,” says Dani.

“There’s a lot of those,” says her brother.

Celia: “They’re probably long gone,” Celia says heavily. “Just reminds me that I need you to show me how to throw a better hook, and whatever training you think I need to keep the Beast back. It tried to get out and I was too busy focusing on keeping it in to be able to fight them off.”

“Should have known better than to come out this way without backup. Sorry, Dani.”

GM: “It’s okay. We got out. Just… god, yes! Show me how to punch too!”

Roderick nods. “I can show you both how to do that. There’s no cure for the Beast, but the more familiar you are with combat, and the calmer a head you can maintain, the harder it is for the Beast to get out.”

“I still have a Beast,” says Dani.

“What? I thought duskborn didn’t frenzy.”

Celia: “Do we want to drive and chat? Back to my place?”

“Edith said there are things that can draw it out of duskborn.”

GM: “Oh my god yes, I don’t want to stay here,” agrees Dani.

Celia: “Extreme hunger, or on the brink of death.”

GM: “Okay,” says Roderick. “That’s good to know.” He glowers in the direction of the homeless. “I suppose they probably are long gone. Dani, we’d better cancel your credit cards, and disable your stolen pho-” He pauses. “Actually, we might be able to track it.”

Celia: “Let’s get back to my place and take a look so we’re not just sitting out here.”

GM: “Okay. Meet you there.”


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: Celia sends a text to Reggie on the way.

Find a purse by chance?

GM: Yep. Guy who stole it still had it.

Celia: Where are you?

Not that it matters.

Nvm. Can you give to Randy to bring to my place? Will be with you shortly for the rest of it.

GM: K. Bring your thief and snack too?

Celia: No. Stay there. Will meet you soon.

GM: I’m at a disgusting shithole. Can drop off at your spa.

Celia: That works. Stick around though, have a gift for you.

GM: I got one too and it’ll make you scream all night long ;)

Celia: :eggplant: :peach: :sweat-drops: :heart-eyes:

GM: Soon enough, Celia and the Garrison siblings are back at her place.

Dani fills her brother in on what they learned at Edith’s.

“Okay,” he says, “that’s useful to know. I’d heard about duskborn changing their disciplines. I didn’t know that was how they did it.”

“I thought you knew a fair amount of duskborn,” says Dani.

Celia: He does.

He just doesn’t talk to them.

GM: “Fewer since the Cypress Grove Massacre,” he grimaces. “But I’m not sure all of them knew how their disciplines worked.”

Celia: “It confirmed what I thought, though. Anything we know she can learn.”

GM: “And just the fine details of how it works.”

“That information about Kindred blood, for instance.”

Celia: Celia had already assumed that, though. She thought she’d talked to him about it already.

GM: Dani looks between them. “Can you make me stronger?”

For a moment, there’s that look every lick gets in their eye when asked for blood.

Roderick thinks. “If you give me some of yours first, I could give it back, and we could do this every night. Balances out.”

Celia: “She seemed to kind of spontaneously develop it, like I didn’t have to teach her how to charm someone. I think she might be able to just… pick things up.”

“But that’s something we can probably test.”

GM: “All right,” says Dani. She shows her fangs and bites into her wrist.

The blood doesn’t flow immediately.

She has to growl and actively bite deeper. Practically chew.

There’s a flash of pity in Roderick’s eyes when she’s not looking up.

Celia: “I can get a cup,” Celia says, rising, “so you’re not… like… sex…” she trails off awkwardly, both at the words and the way Dani has to bite into herself.

GM: “Cups are better anyways,” says Roderick.

“You shouldn’t drink directly from me.”

“Oh, why not?” asks Dani.

Celia: She should have kept her mouth shut.

Celia rummages through her cabinets for a cup.

She finds an old tube of lipstick and roll-on perfume while she’s looking and wonders how it ended up in the cabinet.

GM: “Because of the bond,” says Roderick, gently tugging away Dani’s wrist to make her stop.

Celia: Celia returns with the cup, casually nodding her head in agreement at Roderick’s words. The look in her eye suggests she already explained this to Dani.

GM: “Sorry?” says Dani.

He glances her way. “Think she’s already covered it.”

Celia: “When I went over the Traditions,” Celia says gently, “the usual punishments, but how they’d be worse for you because of being duskborn, remember?”

“I know I threw a lot at you that night…” She trails off, offering Roderick the cup.

Now would be a perfect time for Randy to show up.

GM: “You did, yeah,” says Dani. “What’s the bond, though?”

Celia: It shouldn’t be a big deal. Something she’d already told Dani. So she acts like it’s not a big deal, keeping her tone casual.

“When you share blood with someone and take it right from the source, it creates the bond. Like them more. That sort of thing. Sometimes elders use it as punishment, and sometimes licks do it with each other in a blood marriage. Like Roderick and I…”

She lifts her eyes to his face.

“Might do that, maybe? A mutual..?”

GM: Her sire’s face stares back at her.

“That’s traditional,” Roderick says. “All the way, to consummate things. But I feel like two steps is already enough. At three… does your love become artificial?”

“Steps?” asks Dani.

Celia: Celia lets the hurt flash across her face. She drops her gaze a beat too slow to hide it, looking away. He can answer his sister’s questions.

GM: “Hey, what is it?” he says, resting his hands on her shoulders.

“We haven’t taken the full plunge.”

Celia: “You don’t want to,” she says to the ground.

GM: “You do? What’s your thinking there?”

Celia: Severing the hold his sire has over him, mostly.

“N-nothing. It was st-stupid.” She wipes at the red threatening to fall from her eyes.

GM: He pulls her in to a hug.

“Hey, hey. It’s okay. Talk to me.”

Celia: For a moment she’s stiff. For a moment, she’s mindful of Dani’s presence in the room. But then she uses it, lifting her eyes to the girl as if to say, “the vision.” Maybe Celia was right to be worried in the car. A second later she buries her face against his chest, whispering half-formed words and sentences about having already lost him twice, he’s the only good thing that has ever happened to her, wanting to love him forever, never being torn apart… it’s like something out of a fairy tale, isn’t it? Eternal love. There’s nothing artificial about it if it’s built on something real.

GM: “Okay,” he says, stroking her hair and back as he holds her. “Okay. There are lots of Kindred who feel the same way as you. It’s a perfectly legitimate point of view. There’s nothing stupid about it. The traditional blood marriage is built off it.”

Celia: “Y-you don’t like me enough to w-want one.”

GM: “What?! Celia, don’t be crazy, I love you!”

Celia: Just not enough to willingly make it permanent.

“Okay,” she says quietly.

It’s a completely inadequate response to what he said, but she doesn’t offer anything more. The two syllables carry the weight of her hurt and rejection. She slides off of him, saying something about finding a cup, and moves into the kitchen. She doesn’t even look at the one she’d already put on the table.

GM: He follows after her. Dani, looking somewhat uncomfortable throughout the lovers’ dispute, stays where she is.

“I have concerns about it,” he says, putting his hands on her shoulders again. “But I want the same thing as you, a loving marriage that lasts for as long as we do. I’m just weighing whether a full bond is the best way to help us achieve that.”

Celia: She doesn’t turn to face him, staying where she is in front of the counter with her palms resting upon it. She can see her reflection in the window: a trail of red tears staining her skin, her lover standing behind her. In the window his face shifts, turning into her sire’s once more. And there, beside him, Roderick’s sire with the golden hair. More shadowy figures pop into place, other people she has been bound to: her adoptive sire’s sneering face. Pietro’s casual amusement. Her grandsire’s genial smile, expression caught mid-laugh. The cowboy’s lips forming the word “lush” as he tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. All of them pulling her in different directions… until she’d taken that leap with her sire. Already in love with him, worried someone would try to yank her away, she took the “punishment” of that third sip.

How many is Roderick bound to? How many licks have collared him? How many of them demand his attention and service? Even if she didn’t want to break the hold his sire has over him she’d still want to come first. Sharing her lover has never sat well with her. Anyone else, maybe. But not him. Not Roderick.

There’s some truth to this display of emotions, then. Some tiny kernel of love behind all the manipulation, buried deep beneath what she feels for her sire but still present.

She takes a breath, wipes at her bleeding eyes, and finally turns to him.

“Can we continue this later? There are things I want to talk to you about, but…” her gaze dips past him to where his sister waits in the other room. “I don’t want to waste your night with her.”

GM: “I can see Dani later,” he says, tilting her chin up in his hands to meet his gaze. His fangs are long in his mouth at the heady scent of her tears, but his eyes are no less concerned. “You’re upset right now.”

Maybe he’d say that anyway.

But his sister isn’t the one he’s twice-collared to.

Granted, neither is Celia.

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“Don’t do that to her.” She lowers her voice, leaning in. “She just found out a lot, she saw them outside Edith’s… don’t do that to her, Roderick, we can talk later. I’ll be okay. I shouldn’t be… I just assumed…”

She trails off. It’s enough to know that he’d blow off his sister if she asked him to.

GM: “You’re positive you want to wait?” he asks, giving her a long look. “Dani’s here. She’s safe. She’s not about to get jumped by more homeless.”

Celia: “It’s… probably a long conversation. Go out with your sister. We’ll have the rest of the night.” Celia touches the tips of her fingers to his cheek. “And the rest of everything.”

GM: “We will,” he smiles. “All right. I love you. Collar or no collar.” He gives her a soft kiss on the lips.

Celia: She doesn’t mean to let it linger, but she does, pulling him against her until her low back hits the counter top.

How much of it is the bond? And how much is him? Would he still love her if he knew everything? Or is it artificial, like he’d said?

She’d loved him without it. And him, the other one, the one she can’t help but compare him to. There wouldn’t even be a conversation with him. Just silent demands, cold lips, the taste of blood.

It’s not fake. It can’t be.

“I love you too,” she says when she finally pulls away.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: With Roderick’s hand in hers, Celia leads the way back to the sitting room where they’d left Dani. She gives the girl a look through still slightly-red eyes, silently conveying a reference to their earlier conversation.

“Sorry,” she says to Dani, “I didn’t mean to fall apart in front of you.”

No doubt Dani remembers the words in the car: Celia’s concern about the vision, her brother.

GM: “It’s okay,” says Dani, looking between the pair concernedly. “Things are good now?”

“Yeah,” says Roderick. “Come on. We’ve got a lot to cover tonight.”

Dani looks back at Celia for a moment, as if to ask about that very vision.

“Well, while I’m here, can I ask you two what a blood marriage is?” she says instead.

“It’s a Kindred marriage,” says Roderick. “It’s similar enough the breather version, though brides usually wear black instead of white. Some do red, but that’s more ‘liberal.’”

“Black?”

“Because you’re making death together, not life,” her brother explains. “Endless and eternal death. Guests usually dress for a funeral. The sire gives away the bride rather than the father, and the couple seals the union in blood to show their commitment. In place of a kiss. In fact, more traditional Kindred think a blood marriage without that is like a breather marriage without sex—it hasn’t been consummated.”

“There’s other customs too, like sometimes the sire carrying the bride in a coffin, and the couple feeding on a vessel together. Mortal spouses are usually preferred. There’s more feeding afterwards.”

“That sounds… morbid,” says Dani.

“It can be. It’s usually a Sanctified or Crone priest who blesses the union, too.”

“I don’t really want a vermilion wedding for us, though. I’d rather get married as breathers, with Celia all in white.”

Celia: Celia hesitates long enough that Dani moves on without mentioning the vision. She looks relieved; she doesn’t think that talking about it in front of Dani, or even right now, is going to do either of them any good. Maybe Dani will mention it to her brother during their chat tonight.

“I don’t think it’s all that morbid,” Celia says. “If you’re not killing the vessels it’s kind of like how some breathers do that unity cup thing, only with blood instead of wine. I can’t imagine my sire giving me away, though. Maybe my grandsire.”

Not that Roderick would want him at the wedding.

Celia lifts her shoulders in a shrug. After a moment she sighs. “I kind of want both.”

“I don’t even know who I’d invite, though, and it seems like everyone would be shitty about it because of how young we are. Maybe if we were older. Or uniting a covenant. Or even just more important.”

GM: “There are younger licks who have vermilion weddings. And there are ones I’d want to invite. The problem is none of them can know.”

“I’d obviously love to have Coco.”

“But I’d love to have my dad and friends from my human life too.”

“What, you still don’t want Mom?” asks Dani. “After all I said? She was just as broken up at your funeral.”

Roderick effects a sigh. “It’s moot. They both think I’m dead either way.”

Celia: She hates to agree with him, but it’s true. Celia gives his hand a squeeze.

“We can talk about it further. It’s not like we’re getting married tomorrow or anything.”

GM: “True enough,” her lover agrees. “Anyway. We should get going.” He gives her another kiss. “Love you.”

Celia: She thought Randy would be here by now with the bag, but she supposes she can give it to her later.

“Love you too. I’ll see you later tonight. Have fun together.”

A final kiss sees them out.

So long as I come first.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: A second after they leave she digs her phone out of her bag to call the missing ghoul.

GM: He is on his way with his brother. A snack and the thief is too much for one person to physically carry.

Jade has a moderate wait before they’re there, along with two unclean (and unclean-smelling) homeless men. One has a stake rammed through his heart. The other is handcuffed and makes terrified sounds past a cloth gag.

Randy comes back with the purse after another trip.

“This asshole was a giant pain in the ass the entire time,” says Reggie, giving him a hard shove to the ground. He hits his face and makes a sound of pain. “Wish we’d had a sedative.”

“Illegal for cops to use on people, but we aren’t fucking cops.”

Granted, drinking a sedated man’s blood would sedate Jade too.

Celia: Not if she lets it wear off. She’ll get them something, in any case.

“I thought we were meeting at the spa,” she says idly, looking at the struggling man on the ground.

GM: Reggie shrugs.

The gagged man makes noises that sound like pleading.

Celia: “Messier here,” she says with a forced sigh.

There’s no wet room in her haven like there is at the spa, despite what rumors claim.

GM: “Well, you aren’t gonna kill him, babe?” says Randy.

“You’re such an idiot around her,” says Reggie.

Celia: “He stole from me,” Jade says to the pair, “and this one bit me. Besides, think of how much I’ll have to share when I do.”

She looks up, catching sight of his face. The expectation that she’s not that bad. She hesitates a moment, then finally does what she does best: she lies.

“Just a hit,” she sighs, “for me, for you two. But there’s people coming by later and I don’t want to risk spilling.” A gesture toward the light carpet, the cream colored couch.

GM: The words ‘share’ and ‘hit’ gets both ghouls’ immediate attention.

“Okay,” Randy says, seemingly relieved. “Could use the bathroom.”

“Or just haul these idiots to the spa,” says Reggie.

The gagged man makes more noises.

Celia: “The spa is easier,” Jade says with a nod. She does so appreciate Reggie’s quick uptake and pragmatism. “I need a space for him, anyway.” A vague nod of her chin to the thin-blood.

“So, whose car?” She smiles at her boys.

GM: They take the two brothers’ cars to Flawless. At this hour, the spa is silent and still. They enter Jade’s suite. Reggie dumps the handcuffed man onto the ground in an unceremonious heap. Randy hauls the staked thin-blood onto the marble slab of a table.

Celia: Jade is content to leave the thin-blood alone for a moment. His staked form probably isn’t going anywhere.

“Is he going to say anything interesting if I ungag him?” she asks the brothers about the other.

GM: “Doubt it,” says Reggie.

“Some people don’t have shit to say.”

That’s Veronica says about Micheal.

There’s nothing worth listening to out of that mouth. So he doesn’t get to use it.

Celia: Veronica is right, too.

GM: “I think you’ve got lots to say, babe,” Randy adds supportively.

“So smooth,” snorts Reggie.

Celia: Well that’s nice of him. Celia gives him a smile.

GM: He smiles widely back.

The homeless man moans and pulls against the cuffs.

Celia: “Why don’t you wait outside a sec, Randy, so I can get what I need and then share.”

GM: “Okay,” he smiles, stepping out.

Reggie immediately shoves her against the wall, his breath coming hot and heavy as he grabs her head and hungrily explores her mouth with his tongue. He drops his hands after a moment, squeezing her ass with one while his other slides down her pants.

“Yeah, I got what you need…”

Celia: Well this certainly isn’t what she’d meant, but she’s hardly going to complain. She tugs him, pulling him with her until her back hits the wall, shimmying out of her pants the moment his hands drop. Hers find the buttons on his jeans, yanking them down just far enough to expose the part that she wants.

GM: He fills her eagerly. “Wrap your legs around me,” he murmurs, hefting her into the air. The strong ghoul isn’t so strong as Roderick, but the Blood’s gifts together with Jade’s light weight (courtesy of her removed organs) make the stand and carry position easy to pull off. Reggie pants as he thrusts into her and carries her across the room. He stomps down hard on the homeless man, eliciting a chorus of pained muffled sounds as the man tries to crawl away.

Celia: Jade’s thighs spread around him when he asks, feet leaving the floor. He keeps her aloft, filling her with his stiff cock as soon as she’s airborne, her own noises joining those of the homeless man. She digs her fingers into his shoulder, then the back of his head, pulling his lips against hers; a second later she cuts through her own tongue with her fangs. A second nip cuts into him. She drinks from him and he from her, blood mingling on their tongues while they fuck.

GM: The taste of his domitor’s blood only further inflames Reggie. He stomps down hard enough on the homeless man’s hand that Jade hears a nasty crunch. The man’s scream is audible past his gag. Reggie pants like a bull in heat as he carries Jade over to the table, throws off the staked thin-blood, and takes her over it. The marble is cool, but his body is warm as his balls slap against her thighs. The Toreador’s juices run down the table’s drainage, and then finally the ghoul’s seed after he blows his load and it seeps out of her.

“God, that cuck’s in the next room…” he pants.

Celia: That makes it even hotter, doesn’t it? So does the man’s screams behind the gag. When Jade cums she cums hard, burying her face into the hollow of his neck as everything hits her.

“You’re going to be the best lick,” she murmurs against his skin once it’s over, “but I am really going to miss fucking you.”

GM: “We can still feed,” he says, idly tracing a finger across her breasts.

“That bedwarmer you got me is working out pretty well. We should fuck with her around.”

Celia: “It’s not the same,” she sighs, running her fingers through his short hair. “So much better when you do both at the same time.”

“With her watching?”

“Or part of it?”

GM: “Part of it. I can do your ass and she can eat you out.”

Celia: That sounds like a winning combination.

“We will, then.”

“You like her?”

GM: “She cried and yelled a lot the first few times, but she doesn’t really do that anymore.”

Celia: “Cried like… telling you to stop?”

GM: Reggie shrugs.

“Think she just needed a dick inside to stop crying over Evan.”

Celia: “You want her? Once we get you Embraced?”

“Already broken in.”

GM: “She isn’t you, but yeah, why not.”

Celia: “I can’t be your ghoul,” Jade says with some amusement.

GM: “Duh. Meant in bed.”

Celia: “If your dick doesn’t work anymore you won’t want her like that, either.”

“But she’s still a useful servant.”

GM: “You said feeding’s just as good. Can still do that to her.”

Celia: “Mm.” Jade presses a kiss against his cheek. “Maybe you’ll keep it.”

GM: “More’s always better.”

“Dropped some hints around my mom. Think she’d be up for a three-way. Just set me up with you and yours.”

“Also, if you can have your kid in the next room, I’ll make it even better.”

“Could invite Randy over to babysit her while we fuck…”

Jade can see his cock growing stiff again.

Celia: It’s enough for her, too. Minus the thoughts about her mom.

But she flips the pair of them so that she’s on top, leaning down to whisper in his ear.

“I’m going to drain him,” she says of the homeless guy, “and I want you to fuck me while I do.”

GM: “Let’s hose him down first. He smells.”

Celia: Jade makes a vague gesture toward the hose. It’s usually to spray the place down, but it’ll work for this.

“Have at it.”

She busies herself stripping.

GM: The man is trying to escape past the door, but cannot get far with his hands cuffed behind his back. He makes more pleading noises as Reggie grabs him by the ear, adding, “Mom still likes to do this,” and hauls back for a good hosing down under cold water. Reggie tears off the man’s wet clothes after that. Ribs show on his scar-ridden body.

Celia: Jade finds a container to bleed into. No need to let it go to waste.

“You shouldn’t have stolen from me,” Jade says to the wet, naked man. She strides toward him, heels clicking. They’re the only thing she still wears. Fangs flash in her mouth as she approaches.

“Make me cum right when he dies, Reggie.”

GM: Her lover does his best.


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