“A mask is going to break soon. You can’t keep it up forever.”
Sunday night, 20 March 2016, AM
Celia: Jade waits for the downtime between court and the party to approach her mark. It’s not a long journey: from Pietro’s lap a few spaces over, heels clicking delightfully in the ear of the boy she’d nabbed earlier. He follows her on hands and knees like the good little mind-wiped vessel that he is.
She slips onto the cowboy’s lap with a little giggle, fangs tracing a shallow trail down his neck.
GM: Tonight, at least, Reynaldo is no cowboy. He has on a gangster’s classic black and white pinstriped suit, with a black undershirt and white necktie, and two-toned oxford shoes of the same colors. A fedora substitutes for his usual hat.
It’s not an original look, but the Ventrue wears it well, and the change of headwear makes him stand out from his usual self.
He smirks faintly, gives her a moment to taste his skin, then pulls back enough to look her costume over.
“You wear the mob look better than I do.”
Celia: “I wear everything better than most,” she says with a smirk. She trails her fingertips up his arms then down his chest, finally returning to the white neck tie. She starts to loosen it.
“I’m confiscating your tie,” she says. “It’ll look better on me. And you made me wait an awfully long time after I shared something cool with you to reach out. That was very, very rude.”
Jade drapes the tie over her shoulders.
“What’s a lick gotta do to get a date if showing off isn’t enough?”
GM: “Good things come to those who wait, lush. We can afford to wait. What’s time to an immortal?” Gui rejoinds.
He watches with amusement as she takes his tie.
“I don’t know if that goes with your shirt and pearls.”
They are the same color.
Celia: “Who said I’m putting it around my neck?” Jade lifts one expertly sculpted brow at him. She slides her fingers up her legs, beneath the hem of the skirt. The tie disappears when her hands come back out.
“Some part of you should get into my panties since someone doesn’t want to put out.” Jade pouts at him. “I brought you a snack to share and everything.”
She shifts, straddling his lap so she can lean in to whisper in his ear.
“I have something exciting to share with you… privately.”
GM: “Black,” remarks Gui, following the motions of her fingers.
“That goes better with white, even if no one but me is going to see it.”
He runs a hand through her hair.
“But tell you what, lush. We can bring the Gamberro, if you like. He’s always hungry for a good time.”
“Consider it a make-up present from me to you.”
Celia: “He’s not nearly as cute as you, Reynaldo,” Jade pouts, “so I hope you’re not trying to pawn me off on him. But you can bring him. I enjoy an audience. And he might even like what I tell you, too.”
Fangs trace the lobe of his ear, her breath warm against his skin when she murmurs the rest of it low enough so that only he can hear.
“He’s got plenty big shoes to fill now that I’ve cleared some space.”
GM: “How intriguing. Let’s get to it, then.”
Gui picks up Jade under her legs, rises, and then sets her down. “You’re very light,” he remarks as he leads her to the Evergreen’s old-fashioned grilled elevator and takes it upstairs. The Ventrue has his own office space. It’s decorated more expensively than Pete’s, but still tastefully enough.
Some of the light fixtures actually wouldn’t look out of place at the ’20s party downstairs.
Celia: What’s a girl got to do to get a date in this place? Last night he was all but eating out of the palm of her hand. At least the Ventrue don’t mix business with pleasure. No reason to think they’re going to do anything but chat in his office.
A snap of her fingers has her chosen vessel following behind the pair of them, sending a shrug Gui’s way if he asks about it. It’s not like the poor dear is going to make it out of this with any of his memories intact. All the same, she tells him to wait outside the door when they step inside Gui’s office, eyes sweeping the space.
She wants an office. Maybe she’ll ask her grandsire for one this evening at their meeting. For the new role in his inner circle she’ll have created.
GM: Gui shoots off a text on their way.
“Nice body,” says the Ventrue.
He pulls her onto the couch.
“I don’t really use them.”
He starts removing her jacket.
Celia: The jacket slides off easily enough. Maybe she was wrong about not mixing business with pleasure. Or maybe he just wants a closer look at her era-appropriate clothing.
“Shame. I use mine all the time.”
“Nice things deserve to be seen.”
GM: “They certainly do.”
Gui leans in close, tracing fangs along skin as his hands methodically unbutton her shirt.
Celia: Jade giggles, pulling back just far enough to smile coyly at him.
“Thought you blue bloods didn’t mix business with pleasure.”
GM: “I don’t use this place for business, lush.”
The Ventrue’s hands resume their work as the door opens. A man strides in. At most angles, the ghoul known as the Gamberro looks like a handsome man: machismo made flesh. At another, though, he could be described as a pretentious boytoy thug. Compared to most men, he’s short, but his lean, prison-yard muscles make him look taller. Compared to most men, he’s young, probably not old enough to legally buy alcohol. But his gang-touting tats, cocaine-dusted nose, and body-bag stare make it clear that carding him would be a fatal mistake. His dark hair is short, freshly cut, and coiffed in that casually messy way that actually takes precise preening. He wears a pinstriped black and red suit with torn-away sleeves to show off his sun-ripe Sicilian-Latino skin and probably peacocking-flexed physique. All in all, he looks like he’s auditioning for a boy band or Tween Bop pin-up.
Gamberro looks over Jade’s body hungrily. Without a word, he joins them on the couch and rips at her clothes.
Gui makes a tsking noise. “Leave them intact, will you?”
“Looks better with them off,” says the ghoul.
“Unquestionably, but she does need to put them back on. Intact.”
Gamberro reluctantly slows and starts to unzip her skirt instead. Lust burns in the shorter man’s eyes.
Celia: Well that’s… certainly something. Expected, isn’t it, but also unexpected right this very moment. She thought she’d been clear with Reynaldo that she does have business to discuss with him. The stolen tie lands on the floor when the ghoul’s hands make quick work of her skirt, revealing the lacy black panties and garter belt.
The ghoul isn’t the only one who has lust shining in his eyes after that. It all but blazes out of her, and if she weren’t in the room with another lick the man pulling at her clothes would be able to smell her arousal. But she plays dead for now.
Two at once. This is what dreams are made of. She leans back against him with a soft sigh, enjoying the adoration, the way they’ve agreed how good she’ll look without her clothing—
And Roderick’s face slams into her. Mafia scum. Monogamy. What would he do if he saw her here now? Is going even this far cheating?
What are the rules with him anymore?
Fuck. It’s not like she can avoid him forever. (Can she avoid him forever? She kind of wants to avoid him forever.)
“Boys, boys, boys.” She holds up a hand, forestalling Gamberro and Gui from getting her further out of her clothes, “I do have business, first.”
It’s an effort to get the words out.
GM: Gamberro doesn’t slow down. He seizes Jade’s head between his hands and doesn’t press his lips to hers so much as smash them together. The kisses are rough, forceful, and hungry.
Celia: …well. She’d tried, right? Easier to give in, to let it happen, to cry rape, right?
For a moment she goes along with it. For a moment she loses herself in the feeling of lips on hers, teeth on hers, hands crushing her to him. She makes a noise, low and in the back of her throat, and her fingers curl in his shirt—
Roderick’s face appears in her mind again. His scowl. What’s he going to do to her if he sees her here like this? Put her back in the microwave?
Hatred surges through her at the thought. How dare he. The spoiled little boy found out that his world isn’t as rosy as he’d pretended for so long and he’d taken it out on her. After she told him everything. He needs her. He’s lucky that she wants him. Lucky that she’s willing to change for him. Lucky that she was willing to take his abuse, his vitriol, his—
She will not be the Diana to his Maxen. She will not let another boy decide what he wants with her and put her in another fucking box and tell her how to live. She’ll tell him dinner was canceled. Then she has five nights to figure out what she wants to do with him.
Celia’s control shatters. Jade growls, straddling Gamberro with her recently-bared legs, grinding down against him when her tongue plunders his mouth.
GM: “Guess this is our business,” Gui remarks with amusement as he unbuttons the rest of Jade’s shirt and pulls off the suspenders. Gamberro rips off her panties (“She doesn’t need those”), undoes his pants, and enters her with his cock. He pumps furiously back and forth, balls smacking against her thighs as he grunts and thrusts, savagely hard. Jade can see a mortal woman yelling for him to slow down, he hurts. Gui tosses away the last of Jade’s clothes, throws away his own, and sinks his fangs into her neck.
Celia: Sometimes pleasure is business. If Gui wants to continue working with her it’s best he find that out now.
Besides, she can always tell him what she wanted to later. And celebrate with another round of fangs in flesh.
The ghoul finds her wet. Wet enough to take his thrusts—which she doesn’t complain about, even urges him on with tiny little noises and requests for “faster” and “there”—and loses the last of her control when Gui bites. She tightens around the cock inside of her, fangs flashing in her mouth when she leans in to drink from the ghoul. Just a sip, then she twists, sinking into Gui instead to drink right from the source without any of that “letting it cool” nonsense. She doesn’t lick closed the wound on the ghoul, letting his blood continue to drip down his neck so she can lap it up when she goes back to him.
Pleasure certainly is business for Jade. She doesn’t give half effort here; everyone gets to be included.
GM: They don’t give half effort either.
Gamberro’s blood is hot and furious, but has a decidedly epicurean flavor; perhaps his Ventrue domitor’s lingering vitae, but Jade can taste the inherent pride and sense of superiority in his blood, admixed as it is the thuggish low-mindedness. The contrast is delicious. Gui’s blood, of course, is bluer than any mere ghoul’s, and cooler too, focused rather than furious, and provides a delectable third contrast to Gamberro’s previous two. Jade could suck between them forever.
Gui lets it cool, much as that might disappoint him. But Jade gets to feel his kiss all over her body, his fangs puncturing her skin from her neck to her arms to her wrists and everywhere between, interspersed by his lapping tongue.
Eventually, though, the Ventrue cannot resist her taste, her scent, her cries and growls, her beauty, everything that is so utterly irresistible about her. He sinks his fangs into her neck and drinks directly.
Gamberro pumps savagely back and forth into Jade’s wet cunt. He gasps and pants under her sweet kiss, sweat beading from his head, then seizes her neck and chokes her, squeezes her, tries the throttle the already departed life out of her. He bites too, as best he can with his flat teeth, sinking them around her breasts and gnawing until hot blood wells forth.
He raises a balled fist as if to beat, her, too, but Gui catches it in his palm with a reproached, “Save that for the kine.”
Celia: Good boy.
She’ll rip the hand off the next person that raises one against her.
She purrs instead, the sound audible despite the hands around her dead throat, and finds purchase on his back with her nails. Not enough to break the skin, no, just enough to leave her mark on him like he’d tried to do with her.
Pain gets him off? She can be that mistress too. She bites again, letting his warm blood fill her mouth.
And when she’s had enough of this being fucked, she switches it up. She flips them, lays the ghoul out on his back, and shows him what it really means to be fucked by a lick. She rides him just as hard and fast as he pumped into her.
A nail across her chest lets the blood spill forth when she leans forward, pinning his arms above his head to take what she wants from this mortal beneath her.
GM: Gamberro hisses with pleasure at the pain across his back. He even lets her flip him over. It’s several seconds after she pins his arms that he snarls, “Soy un vaccaro!” and tackles her off the couch.
(“I am a Vaccaro!”)
The two hit the floor with a crash. Gui dives after them. The floor creeks under their rolling bodies as they pull themselves up and force the others down, each participant trying to establish dominance. Snarling, biting, fucking, fighting. Red spatters across the floor until the ghoul pants and blows his load. Sticky white seed drips from Jade’s dead cunt, but the two licks stop on their own time, not the ghoul’s. It’s several more minutes before the vampires’ Beasts exhaust themselves, glutted on one another’s heady vitae, and the three lie spent and still over the blood-streaked rug.
“I’ll have to get that replaced.”
Celia: Jade lies still where she has fallen upon Gui after their Beasts have taken their fill, head resting on his chest as if it has every right to be there. She tugs at Gamberro until the ghoul is at her back, turning herself into the center of the Jade-sandwich between these two thoroughly sated partners of hers.
Amusement tugs her lips into a smile at the Ventrue’s words.
“Dunno, ‘Naldo, gives it a nice little gothic touch. Fresh blood in the mob lick’s office. It’s a classic. What’s not to love?”
GM: “Mm, unprofessional, though. Smart mob licks clean up their messes.”
“I like it,” says Gamberro. “Blood on the ground. Shows you mean business.”
Celia: “Speaking of business,” Jade drawls, “I did have something to tell you.”
GM: The Ventre rises, back to business just like that.
“Let’s hit the showers, then.”
Sunday night, 20 March 2016, AM
Celia: Jade finishes her business and waits long enough for the foreign vitae to meld into her own system before she finds a cannister. Two “hits” of blood seep into the open mouth of the container when she bites her own wrist with her fangs, part of the payment due to Roderick.
Her Beast howls its complaints. How dare she give any of their precious vitae to that sap, it snarls. How dare she give away her blood to someone who abused her, who made her beg and plead and get on her knees in order to mend what he had done to her, who demanded reciprocity when she took what she needed from him to mend the body that he had damaged. It makes its fury known when it rakes the insides of her chest with its claws.
She bleeds for every drop.
And once it’s done she takes the elevator down to rejoin the rest of the post-court, pre-party festivities. Her gaze sweeps the assembled licks, head cocking to one side as she surveys the options. Josua and Alana haven’t arrived yet. The Boggs patriarch looks deep in conversation with the rest of his clan—she lifts her chin at Luicia in an I’ll see you soon kind of nod but chooses not to interrupt.
She has another lick to talk to this evening, and she leads Reggie his way—she’s not done with him yet, he’ll be dismissed in a moment so he can question the licks, but she needs him for this next little bit while she speaks to the Caitiff.
Jade slides onto the chair beside the black musician, offering a winning smile.
“Now a good time?”
Julius: “Cud lissenin to you’s evah not be uh gud time?” drawls Papa Juju in his slow, grits-thick accent. His dawning smile causes his diamond-studded fang to shine once more. Both smile and diamond seem genuine, tonight, though appearances can be deceiving as the Toreador well knows.
Celia: “True enough, Papa Jules,” she says with a smile as warm as the long-forgotten summer sun. All the same, Jade can’t help but wonder just what the little snake had whispered in his ear.
“But it was you who claimed a story for me this evenin’,” she reminds him. “Shall we find your friend for the telling?”
Julius: “Fo’sho,” replies the Caitiff with a honeyed ease as he rises from his not-human chair. “Evah bin learned yoself Italiano, dawl?”
The jazzman extends a genteel if gorrila-sized arm to the ‘lady’.
Celia: “Mm, can’t say that I have.” Jade slips her arm through his, palm resting on his forearm. “You going to stick around to translate for me?”
GM: Of course he will.
Because she’s Jade Kalani.
Who’ll turn down time with the prettiest lick in the city?
Sunday night, 20 March 2016, AM
GM: The showers may or may not turn into round two. Eventually, the trio are clothed and clean as they return to Gui’s office. The Ventrue takes a seat at his desk.
“So what’s business, lush?”
Celia: Clean but panty-less (how many nights in a row has this happened?), Jade leans her hip against Gui’s desk rather than take the chair across from him. She glances at Gamberro, as if wondering if he should be here for this, but he’s not her ghoul. If Gui wants him here then he stays.
“You said the whole mob thing in NOLA is a large pie, but I got you another slice of it.”
GM: “Oh?” the Ventrue asks, intrigued.
Celia: “You’re not going to tell on me, are you?” she teases.
GM: “Cross my heart and hope to live.”
Celia: “One of your competitors has been eliminated.” Jade tilts her head to one side, flashing him a smile. “Mr. Carolla’s hold on the local families is yours to claim.”
GM: “Isn’t that some unexpected good news plopped into my lap,” smiles Gui. “How do you know this?”
Gamberro raises his eyebrows.
Celia: “Oh, well, I killed him. Obviously. I figured if you’re taking me home to meet your sire I might as well show I’m worth the trip.”
Jade’s smile turns sharp. She’s just full of little surprises, isn’t she.
GM: Gui’s eyebrows raise too.
“That is more than worth the trip, Miss Kalani. How did it go down?”
Celia: “It started when he hit me while we fucked.” Her eyes cut to Gamberro. “I’d advise against that with me, darling. You’re fun, let’s keep it there.”
Jade crosses her arms, returning her gaze to Gui.
“Then he went after someone that I call friend and thought I’d be happy to assist. And I was. Happy to assist my friend and turn on him when he squeezed the trigger.”
GM: The ghoul crosses his own arms.
“How unfortunate for him,” smiles Gui.
“But then, I suppose he was never much of a judge of character.”
“Or someone who knew how to treat a lady.”
“When was this?”
Celia: Jade winks at the ghoul when his movement draws her attention. She’s happy to go for round three, but she’s not a breather: she won’t suffer abuse from the kine.
“Hold that thought, Reynaldo. I’m happy to tell you everything. I even have proof. But the girl at your club. What did you find out for me?”
GM: Gui seems to consider for a moment.
“Wait outside,” he tells Gamberro.
The ghoul stares at his domitor for a moment. He does not look happy.
But he walks outside.
Celia: Jade watches him go, then returns her eyes to Gui.
GM: “The door, too,” says Gui.
Gamberro closes it.
“Useful, but doesn’t like taking orders,” remarks Gui.
Celia: “Mm. So it seems. There’s some merit in not being a zombie.”
GM: “Yes, there is. But as far as the girl in the club.”
He regards her for a moment.
“You say you have proof. How soon can you have it delivered?”
Celia: “Tomorrow. After Elysium.”
GM: “I see. What do you want to know about the club girl?”
Celia: Jade lifts a brow at his first comment.
“Is that not soon enough for you?”
GM: “It’s workable.”
Celia: “Who turned her.”
GM: “Hmm. I’ll tell you what.”
“Deliver me the proof tomorrow, and I’ll tell you tomorrow.”
“Deliver me the proof tonight, and I’ll deliver you the sire.”
Celia: Jade flashes another smile.
“What’re you doing after the party?”
Sunday night, 20 March 2016, AM
Celia: Jade finds the boytoy waiting for her outside Gui’s office when they leave, a time and place set for their meeting tonight after she sees her grandsire, and tugs him after her. She’d meant to crack him open with Gui, but maybe he’s not the Ventrue’s type.
They’d shared plenty of blood as is, hadn’t they.
She scrolls through her phone to find Reggie’s number and sends him another text to the tune of “get the box beneath my bed and meet me at the party.”
She finds a secluded little space of her own to sink into the vessel while she waits, enjoying the way his hands grip her waist and hips. The grip grows more slack the more she takes, though, and before long he’s all but fumbling with stiff fingers at her while the wall supports most of his weight. She finally pulls back, licking the holes closed.
By the time Reggie has joined her she’s already rejoined the party with the spent vessel, though he’s meandered off somewhere now that she’s done with him.
GM: The drained and pale-faced man shakily ambles off.
It’s a little while before the party is due to resume when Reggie shows up with the box.
“You hear from Randy?” he asks.
Celia: Jade asks after an empty room from Fabian so she can speak with Reggie. She starts by shaking her head at his question.
“No. Texted him earlier and he never got back to me. He hasn’t been in touch with you?”
GM: The Louis XIV-style sitting room upstairs is vacant.
“Nope,” says Reggie.
Celia: “That’s not like him.”
Celia: A frown crosses her pretty face.
GM: “Especially not getting back to you.”
Celia: “Yeah… I don’t like this, Reg.”
GM: “Everyone except Randy knows you can’t always text a girl back instantly.”
“And he always texts you instantly.”
Celia: “Mm, is that why you always wait?”
GM: “No, I got shit to do. It’s losers who don’t have shit and still make girls wait so they seem like they have shit are, well, fucking losers.”
Celia: Jade hides a smile when she ducks her head to adjust the corner of the box. She smooths it over when she looks back up.
“Is it too soon to be worried about him?”
GM: “Dunno. It’s weird.”
Celia: “I’m trying not to let my mind jump to the worst possible conclusions… but I had a run-in with a few licks last night, and another one told me there’s a race, and I think most of them know he’s the only real ‘racer’ ghoul around…”
She reaches for Reggie’s hand, looking decidedly nervous.
“You don’t think..?”
GM: Reggie frowns.
“It’s been a day. A race, though?”
“You think someone kidnapped him to drive a car?”
Celia: “No. I think someone kidnapped him to keep him from driving for me.”
GM: Reggie doesn’t say anything.
“Who’s got it out for you?”
“Who really wants to win?”
Celia: “If that’s… I mean, the prize isn’t worth killing over, there’s no reason to think they won’t let him go…”
She trails off, looking down at her hands for a second. She takes a useless breath.
“The hounds. Agnello and Doriocourt. Ryllie. None of them are here, though. Maybe one of the Axels want it, but we’re kind of tight most of the time… someone told me Shep has some ugly business with the guy running the race though.”
GM: “You kill him, can’t start shit over him being kidnapped,” Reggie says flatly.
Celia: Her jaw tightens.
“Then we find him, and we make them pay. Whoever it is. We gut them.”
GM: Reggie just looks ahead darkly.
“Who really wants to win this?”
“Are people betting money and shit, too, on the racers?”
Celia: “Prize is a vintage car. I imagine people are betting on the winners. I would.” She’s made bets over less. It’s one of the few times she’d have put money on Randy coming through for her, too. “But it’s not worth killing over. Not worth starting shit if someone didn’t already have beef with me.”
Claws slowly slide free from the tips of Jade’s fingers. Her blood drips down the razor-sharp nails.
“Unrelated, maybe? One of those thin-blooded fucks mad that we killed a few? Mobsters? That… fuck, that bitch that was spying on the spa?”
“A rat,” she snarls, “just to show they can.”
“Agnello looked ready for blood last night. Might have sent that sack of shit he calls a childe after me. Runs in Mid-City with the rest of the morons. Run-in with his krewe a few weeks ago with Randy, too. Couldn’t get to you or I so he took Randy.”
The more she talks the angrier she gets. Not only at this pretend threat she’s creating, but at the sire that took him from her and the lies she has to tell to cover his sins. Fangs erupt from her mouth.
But her mind balks at the thought of being mad at her sire. He was right. Randy was useless.
And it’s still a fucking mess.
She’ll spin his death how she can. She redirects the budding rage toward the unknown assailants.
GM: “Right,” says Reggie. There’s an increasingly black look on his face. “Hold your shit. This point, we don’t know shit. Guessing don’t do shit either.”
“I’m gonna call Rusty. Tell him to find Randy’s phone. Get him to work that angle.”
“I’m gonna work the crowds here. Find out who wants us to lose, or just really wants their guy to win. Who’s got a lot of money riding on this, who really wants that fuckin’ car, what-fuckin’-ever. Who’d want Randy taken out.”
Celia: Hold your shit? She almost snarls at him. In fact, she does snarl at him, but it’s short lived, dying as soon as the first sound passes her lips, face set into an intense look of hatred. But not at Reggie, no. At the death of his brother.
At what she’d done.
Taken off his head.
He’d trusted her.
She’s gone in a flash of gray, the tip of her tail disappearing beneath the sofa in the sitting room, and a furious yowl comes up from beneath it a second later. Something shreds. The carpet, the underside of the sofa, something soft.
Then she’s back, staring Reggie dead in the eyes.
“Find them. Find them and bring them to me. I’m going to watch them die.”
Sunday night, 20 March 2016, AM
Celia: Jade has one last piece of business with Reggie before he gets to go. She finds a less break-able, more private room for them to use and has him stage a “break in” and staking. Attacking Jade in her office. Pained cries. The sound of struggle. Enough to make it look like Jade was taken out and staked by hunters. Not an obvious ploy—he hits her to make it sound real, and she’s always been good at playing victim.
She passes him the bug and tells him to get it to the place they went before around 3:00. Pay a thin-blood to deliver it, she says, she doesn’t have backup for him. He knows how to be discrete, she’s counting on that here. She hands him a wad of cash for the delivery and tells him, in no uncertain terms, that he’s not to engage anything coming out of that house on his own, that he’s not even to go there.
Before they leave the room to rejoin the rest of the Evergreen’s guests she reaches for his hand, yanking him to a halt. Her eyes smolder when she meets his gaze.
“Don’t do anything yet. Just find out. Find out, then we’ll move. I’m not burying two of you.”
GM: Reggie’s pretty good at playing the victimizer, too.
“Hold your shit,” he repeats when he’s finished slugging the shit out of her. Maybe he finds it cathartic. “We don’t know what happened yet. Only been a day. But we’re gonna look now, ’cause the first 48 hours when someone goes missing are the most important.”
He takes the bug and cash.
“I’m gonna be so pissed if this idiot just lost his phone.”
He stares ahead darkly as he takes his leave.
“And even more if he didn’t.”
Celia: Her heart goes with him.
Sunday night, 20 March 2016, AM
Celia: Roderick’s words ring in her mind as Jade moves through the swath of licks and blood dolls toward the masked harpy, hips swaying with every step. Don’t talk to Malkavians, he’d said—or something similar, there had been so many new orders—and Harlequin is the worst. But Roderick is her boyfriend, not her keeper, and he doesn’t get to dictate which friends she keeps.
Besides, her mom told her it was okay.
And this will be the least of her sins this evening.
So off she goes, mask firmly in place as she approaches the lick who sees through it with ease, the sound of jazz and the staccato of her heels on the floor heralding her approach. She eases herself into whichever crowd of licks he’s ensconced himself with, waiting quietly with smile in place while she catches up to their conversation.
He’d been right, in the end. She’d rung the bell and the mask had recalibrated.
GM: Julius’ band is playing and the dance is still in full swing when Jade breaks off from her partner and approaches the Malkavian.
In 2016, jazz is almost always a sit-down concert experience—either in nightclubs where listeners sit at tables sipping overpriced drinks or in theaters where they sit in rows, checking the personnel in their glossy programs. But in the ‘20s, people actually danced to it, and that’s exactly what they do here at the retro-themed party. The music isn’t like today’s pop dance music, where the beat is pumped up to industrial proportions so it becomes unmistakable. With jazz tunes, the beat is buried beneath Julius’ trombone or King Bolden’s cornet solo pulling in another direction while the guitar plays a counter-rhythm. Savoy helpfully advised “those among us newer to the Blood” to “listen with both your ears right down to your feet!”
Harlequin is dressed much as he is in the modern era. His shoes are different, his shirt sleeves are baggier, a slender cape trails from his shoulders, and he wears a jester’s cap atop his head in place of a tricorn hat, but the Malkavian’s domino mask and garish, peacock-like attire would be just as home in the ‘20s as 2016. The biggest difference is the color—or lack thereof. Everything he wears is a light, dark, or in between shade of sepia brownish-gold. It’s as though Jade is viewing him through a vintage photograph. Even the whites of his eyes are awash under sepia tones.
He breaks off from his current partner, Veronica, with a, “Later, darling!” and sweeps up Jade with a giggle.
“A mask is going to break soon. You can’t keep it up forever. Eventually, the dam must break around the boy’s finger, and the water will come rushing in!”
Celia: Jade doesn’t miss a step when she’s swept up by the harpy, winking at her alleged sire as they twirl away on the floor. While these younger licks might not know how to find the beat when it’s not the bump and grind of club music, one of the girls inside of this body had taken extensive lessons as a child that serve her well now. The music flutters through her veins and she moves accordingly with the entirety of her being. She dances with the exuberance of a child who has not yet learned to be ashamed of her vibrant personality, the grace of a ballerina in training, the sensuality of a siren who knows just what notes to hit to lure sailors into her arms. Dancing is a full body hug, a woman had told her, dancing is the body’s way of expressing joy.
She expresses now. Dipping, twirling, jiving. She does more than keep up with her partner: she leads, just like he’d asked her to last night. She only wishes her skirt were longer, that it could flare out when she spins.
Harlequin’s young friend from last night is back when they slow enough to speak, dimples in her smile and stars in her eyes. They dim at the mention of the heartbroken boy.
“He put her in a box,” she confides in a whisper, “and the walls kept getting closer.”
GM: Harlequin titters again when Jade sweeps him up, and remarks approvingly as to the masculine elements of her costume. The harpy doesn’t seem to mind the shorter skirt one bit. He’s also quite light on his feet, but effects a sigh at Leilani’s question.
“We’re all boxed in, darling, and our boxes are boxed inside still other boxes. And this mask is poorly suited to leading.”
Celia: She hadn’t asked a question. But the girl who is, admittedly, poorly suited to leading disappears with a giggle. She’d liked him the most, but she knows when her presence is unwelcome.
“Kitties don’t hunt in pairs,” is all she says before she goes.
The ballerina spins on the tips of her toes when King Bolden squeals a note on the cornet.
Tap. Her heel against the floor. The dead girl stares from behind the mask of mob doll in pearls. Her sire’s words ring heavy in her mind.
Tap. Her heel against the floor. The innocent tilts her head with a dimpled smile, giggling about “scaredy cats.” Another spin, arms uplifted, and she says she’ll see him later when things slow down.
Tap. Her heel against the floor. The lick best suited to leading takes her place. She glides effortlessly across the floor with Harlequin, waiting for the right moment to bend him backwards into a dip. Her hands cradle his hip and low back, exposing the long line of his throat.
“When the box becomes too heavy to bear, what do you put inside to make it lighter?”
GM: Sometimes Harlequin lets Jade lock on the drummer to find the beat; sometimes she locks in on another instrument. The key is finding the pulse beneath everything that’s going on. It’s even easier when she has a dance partner who hears music the same way, which Harlequin seems to.
He giggles as she dips him low and lets go with one hand, dramatically splaying the other all the way to the floor.
“Who ever heard of putting more things inside a box to make it lighter?”
Celia: It’s another riddle. A word game. Jade smiles indulgently at the Malkavian in her grasp, though she does not extract a promise from him this time before she asks, as she rights the pair of them and lets her lips nestle against his throat when the music brings them together, if he’d like a hint.
GM: Harlequin gives another titter.
“Why, one puts in holes, of course.”
Celia: Jade giggles with him, lifting her arm to spin him on the floor. The pair is well suited to dancing with each other: they make it look easy to find the musical heartbeat that stirs their limbs to movement.
“Is it still a box after you’ve drilled the holes?”
GM: Harlequin capers his feet to the rhythm and twists behind her.
“What is a box? A container with a flat base and sides, or a container that may store and transport interior contents?”
“‘What is truth, too?’ asked Pilate.”
“I always say a prayer for pretty Pilate!”
Celia: Pretty Pilate.
Pretty but stupid.
The dead girl giggles. If even the ancients don’t know, who is he to demand it?
“There is no truth, only interpretations.”
GM: “And Masks.”
Celia: Gentle fingertips touch the edges of his when the music lets her pause for just one moment.
“To see the world through yours,” she sighs, but doesn’t pry.
GM: His velvet gloves are the same sepia monochrome as the rest of him, but feel soft against Jade’s skin.
“Masks are all truths, but my truth is not yours.”
Celia: “Sometimes new perspectives can be illuminating.”
The dead girl withdraws her hands from the edges of his mask, linking her fingers through his to spin around the floor once more.
“Once you put them on, though, it’s a challenge to the rest of the world to rip it off.”
GM: “Some masks are worn. Some masks are lost. It is the way of things.”
Celia: “Some are traded,” she responds with a smile, and the hat on her head takes the place of his crown when she swaps them out. The peacock feather she’d stolen from Pietro creates a garish contrast to the rest of his sepia-toned outfit.
“Vibrance is beauty. Beauty, truth.”
Sunday night, 20 March 2016, AM
Celia: A peck on Harlequin’s cheek and she’s gone with a wink, cutting into the pair of dancers next to her so that she ends up arm in arm with her own grandsire. Her heels this evening put her at his eye level. She lets him lead, following his well-practiced movements across the floor while the band continues their song.
“Lord Savoy. Dashing, as ever.”
GM: “Miss Kalani. As ravishing and complimentary as ever. I fear I am outmatched!” smiles the French Quarter lord as he takes her arm in arm. He’s a very good dancer, and soon Jade is spinning beneath his upraised right arm as he flings her out and yanks her back. His hips move to the primary beat coming from the drums, while his elbows and shoulders move to the secondary beats suggested by the horns.
Celia: All of the girls inside of the body beam at the Lord of the Quarter’s glib tongue, and the little one, still so close to the surface, sends tiny spots of blood to her cheeks for the flattery.
“Only a reflection of the light you shine.”
She’s happy to let him lead, to spin away and back and away again, to press against him when the music demands their close proximity. Happy, too, to wrap her hands through his and give a tiny, testing tug on the ring around his finger the next time he spins her out.
GM: “Reflections shine brighter light than the source,” Savoy merely smiles back.
Jade finds her hand removed from his with a timely spin when she tugs the ring.
Celia: No, she hadn’t really expected that to work. An apologetic flutter of her lashes puts her back in his arms.
“He makes it look so easy,” she sighs to her grandsire, cheek on his shoulder for the long, slow note the band belts out. She whispers an apology into the shell of his ear.
GM: “He’s had longer to practice. Repetition is the mother of skill,” the French Quarter lord smiles as he leads her about.
Celia: “If I promise to give it back will you take my pearls as collateral?”
She’ll wear nothing but his ring into the jacuzzi this evening.
GM: “I am afraid their value is not nearly equivalent, my dear. And pearls would seem in common supply this evening.”
“Like all clothes and jewels, they are made beautiful only by their wearer. And were it possible to abscond with Miss Kalani’s beauty as easily as her pearls, I should think she’d spend her whole Requiem fending off thieves!”
Celia: Her smile shows dimples. The little girl giggles, but concedes the round.
She’ll find another mark.
With a brush of fangs against his skin she lets the next would-be partner of Lord Savoy cut into their dance.
Sunday night, 20 March 2016, AM
GM: It’s 3 AM when Jade’s grandsire receives her atop the Evergreen’s rooftop garden. He’s changed out of his ‘20s costume into a modern burgundy sports coat and wingtip loafers. Preston, too, is back in her usual slate-gray skirtsuit. Fabian pulls out Jade’s seat.
“My thanks for your patience, my dear,” Savoy states, kissing the younger Toreador’s hand. “But good things come to those who wait! We’ve much to speak of, I’m sure, and much time now to speak. Where shall we begin?”
Celia: Jade dresses down rather than up. While Savoy and Preston both cover their bodies, she lets hers be seen, visible beneath the strips of red cloth she wears that serves as “dress.” A gold circlet around her neck draws the fabric across her chests but leaves the middle and lower parts of her breasts bare, and a strip around the stomach completes the third line of triangle that encompasses her naked flesh. Another loop around her hip leaves one side exposed in an asymmetrical cut that ends in a bow. She’s ditched the pearls and stolen accessories and let her hair down, wearing only a pair of golden heels to complete the look.
There’s little enough material for her to use to curtsy but she manages nonetheless, nodding as she rises to Preston and bidding the woman a quiet “good evening.”
Her smile cuts to Lord Savoy as Fabian pushes the chair back in for her, eyes alight in promised mischief.
“Business first, grandsire, so that we might unburden ourselves to play?”
GM: “Oh, I think just seeing you in such delectable attire is play enough, my dear—play enough to drive men mad with desire,” Savoy grins.
He strokes his half-beard in thought. “The cut feels especially appropriate for maritime play, with waves lapping at your exposed skin. I could see you lounging about on an ocean rock, luring passing sailors to pleasures unimagined.”
“The sirens could stand to take tips.”
Celia: Jade blooms beneath her grandsire’s praise.
“I suppose we’ll need to settle for the jacuzzi this evening in lieu of the ocean, and see what nymphs we can call forth from your rooftop garden.”
GM: “Oh, I believe a nymph is already present—and certainly the most comely nymph that shall ever grace my garden, even were we to call up more,” Savoy answers. “Shall we make play in our own small ocean now, or discuss business first?”
Celia: “Business first, grandsire. Unless Madam Preston wishes to join our revelry.” She glances in the Malkavian’s direction, brows lifted, but will begin if Preston has nothing to add to their banter.
GM: The Malkavian does not even glance up from her tablet.
Celia: Some siren song she sings that she can’t even get Preston to glance her way.
Perhaps a different tune.
“Before I begin with my grandsire, Madam Preston, were you able to speak to Regent McGinn about that little tidbit we’d discussed my last visit?”
GM: “It has been less than a week, Miss Kalani,” Preston states flatly, still typing into her Sunpad. “You will be notified when there is news.”
Celia: Ah, but they’d expected Roderick in less than that, hadn’t they. Funny how their sense of time only seems to flow in the direction most beneficial to them.
Amusement dances across her face as Jade returns her gaze to her grandsire.
“Warden Lebeaux and I met earlier this evening. He asked that I bring it to your attention so you could sign off on the next course of action. Those hunters who waylaid our other meeting had friends.”
Briefly, Jade tells them about what they’d found. The recruitment. The special training center in Glynco.
GM: Savoy strokes his half-beard again as he listens to Jade.
“Most intriguing, my dear. And concerning. You’ve done well to discover this information and bring it to me.”
“I’ll discuss options with the warden and a few others. Infiltrating Glynco would be a delicate operation. I’ll let you know how to proceed when I’ve made up my mind.”
“Keep your ghouls away from these hunters for now, but stay ready and alert.”
Celia: Jade nods and promises to do just that.
She’ll need to find a replacement for Randy sooner rather than later. At least the hunt for his killer will keep his brothers busy.
Celia: “Mr. Durant is yours, but he’s not focusing on your goals right now. He’s busy tearing down the rest of your team. Myself. Mr. Gui. It’s wasted time, wasted energy, wasted attention.” A delicate pause. She doesn’t need to tell him all the details, but she does need to make her point known. The burns from the microwave and the knot he cut went more than skin deep.
“The betrayal of his sire broke him. He’s following you from anger at his sire rather than a belief in your goals. I won’t bore you with the details, grandsire, but I do not wish to see him become a detriment to your cause either.”
GM: Savoy chuckles.
“I don’t require Kindred to believe in my goals, my dear. Only that they that they assist those goals. Genuine belief has its uses, but ultimately, it’s lagniappe.”
“You say that he’s tearing down yourself and Mr. Gui, though. How is this?”
Celia: “Would you like the ugly details, grandsire?”
“I don’t wish to bore you with my personal Requiem.”
GM: “Do these domestic squabbles have actual bearing and impact upon Lord Savoy’s political endeavors?” asks Preston.
The sarcasm fairly drips from her voice at ‘domestic squabbles’.
Celia: “Only insofar as much as dead licks matter, Madam Preston.”
“But thank you for pretending you know anything about what I get up to between Elysiums.”
GM: “Your choice in apparel makes that fact more than plain, Miss Kalani,” answers the Malkavian.
Celia: Jade effects a snort.
GM: “Play nice, Nat,” reproaches Savoy, before raising his eyebrows at Jade’s words.
“Dead licks, you say?”
Celia: Doubtless Nat would prefer that everyone wedge a stick up their own ass and call it the height of fashion. Jade tunes her out, turning her attention to her grandsire.
“He told you he’d never work with you while you dealt with members of the Mafia. Did you think his threat an idle one?”
GM: “We spoke concerning Mr. Gui,” smiles Savoy. “But perhaps we didn’t speak enough. What would you tell me, my dear?”
Celia: “He’d like me to lure him to a meeting to kill him,” Jade says flatly.
“Failing that, he plans to beat me into torpor. Is that what you’d know, Nat? That I’ll be too busy being torped to be of use to my own grandsire because Mr. Durant couldn’t handle the fact that his rose-tinted worldview is a lie? Is that relevant enough for you? I might not be an important cog in your book, but I’m a cog all the same.”
She could have gotten a meeting with McGinn by now.
She brought proof of the Ventrue primogen.
She brought Roderick over.
She brought intel from the Cabildo before their spy was ever in place.
She warns him now of an attack on their own man.
She’s the one working to bring the exiled prince to their side as well. Brought his boytoy here. Planted seeds.
GM: Savoy’s smile widens.
“I’m pleased you’ve told me this, my dear.”
“I was hoping you were going to.”
Celia: Jade’s internal tirade ends at the words. She arches a brow at Savoy.
GM: “Oh, yes. I’ve already sanctioned Mr. Gui’s final death.”
Celia: Claws threaten to erupt from the tips of her fingers. She reins it in.
Another pause. Another game.
Oh, how she hates them.
GM: “Mr. Gui’s final death was one of the terms Mr. Durant and I reached in exchange for his support. I knew that Mr. Gui and Mr. Gurant could never coexist among my followers. Some people just aren’t ever going to play nice together, and you have to pick one or the other. Try to have it both ways and you wind up having it no ways.”
“Mr. Durant knew that he would be the prime suspect if Mr. Gui happened to go missing or turn up dead.” Savoy smiles. “Especially given his paramour’s ability to sculpt faces.”
“He wisely chose to go to me, rather than take ‘justice’ into his own hands.”
“I think he’ll go far among my followers.”
Savoy’s smile widens.
“Just as I think you will too, my dear.”
“You both remember who your first loyalty is towards.”
Celia: Will she?
Or is she another piece to be bartered and sacrificed?
GM: “Unlike Mr. Gui, whose first loyalty was regrettably towards his sire, even though he professed to be my man all along.”
Celia: Jade effects a sigh.
“That’s certainly disappointing. I was just starting to like him. I imagine if you were open to the idea of creating a win/win you’d have brought it up. Is there a timeline you’d like to use him in, or is the matter now up to my discretion with Mr. Durant?”
GM: “Sometimes there are no win-wins, my dear, and addition must be done with subtraction,” Savoy smiles. “Mr. Durant has my blessing to move against Mr. Gui whenever he pleases.”
Celia: Jade merely inclines her head at the words.
“With Gui, Carolla, and Agnello out of the picture, there’s a gap to fill.” Phrased as a statement, but the question is there in her voice.
GM: “Agnello is not out of the picture,” states Preston.
Celia: “No, not yet.”
Perhaps she had forgotten their plan.
Jade doesn’t even look at her.
GM: “Too true, Nat,” states Savoy. “That’s certainly the state of affairs we’d like to see, but we’ll not count our chickens before they’ve hatched either.”
Celia: She lets it go with a shrug.
GM: “Regardless of how things proceed with Hound Agnello, the Mafia will be Mr. Durant’s domain in those territories I control after Mr. Gui is gone.”
Celia: That’s an interesting twist.
GM: “Do you have other business, Miss Kalani?” inquires Preston.
Celia: “No, Madam Preston. You’re free to go. What comes next is more pleasure than business.”
GM: The Malkavian effects a snort and turns back to her tablet.
Celia: Savoy had asked to see her, not the other way around. She waits, smiling pleasantly at her grandsire.
GM: “I believe there is one remaining order of business before pleasure, my dear,” Savoy smiles back. “I did say rewards were your due for your help with Mr. Durant!”
Celia: He could start by asking her what he wants to know rather than rifling through her head with his secretary. Maybe show a little bit of trust to the grandchilde who has done everything he asks and then some.
Take her memories of the tryst with Gui and the ghoul if he’s going digging, keep her from lying to Roderick when he slaps her around in demand of the truth. If they’d met last night she’d have spent her reward on the boy, asked her grandsire for assistance with his new Bourbon identity, maybe lent a bit of credit to the new face and name.
Jade says none of this. She doesn’t even think it, not with the girl who is in control now. Someone deeper, someone wounded lets the raw ache scrape against her flesh and bones.
Jade effects a sigh, turning her attention to the steward.
“My apologies, Madam Preston. I’ve been rude to you this evening. You’ve been nothing but helpful and practical since my Embrace and I let other, unrelated things color my emotions and influence our interactions. I hope you can forgive the folly of youth.”
A slim leatherbound book makes its way onto the table. Lord knows where she has pulled it from.
“Truth is, Madam Preston, you intimidate me. You don’t need to play the strumpet to get things done. You’re comfortable in your own skin in a way that most others would tear you down for, and I let myself get caught up in that same mentality. I’d rather emulate you than continue down this destructive path.”
“If you have a moment, I’d like your input on a few designs. I’ve been experimenting with Kindred and kine anatomy and physiology and the properties that can be borrowed from or shared between both. I’d like to go bigger with this project, but I’d like to tailor them to what you and Lord Savoy will find useful.”
She flips open the book, turning a handful of pages to show the Malkavian various creatures. Some are winged, some bipedal, some fanged and clawed, some finned, some with tails. Some might pass as ordinary dogs or wolves until she points out the additions: bone spurs, spikes, venom quills.
Aside from the drawings there are pages and pages of notes with human anatomy, questions circled or crossed out, theories, plans, and various work arounds. One page shows the detailed vivisection of a human. Another has clear marks across the skin and arrows referring to where it should go for a different shape. Some pages have letters at the top: RO, RE, AN, NA, AC, CL. Some have designs beneath them. Others just have scribbles.
Her eyes dart between the two licks at the table.
“I’d like… room to work. I don’t know that there’s enough space for this at the spa. I don’t want it connected more than it needs to be to Jade or Celia. I have bigger ideas and plans than what my facilities can currently handle. I’d like to be able to devote time to different areas of study and disciplines, to connect with others who have gone down similar paths so that I don’t need to start from scratch. Your friend introduced me to the fae, but I want more than that. Loops. Mages. Demons. Ghosts. Test subjects. Teachers. I know it’s not always going to be in the city. I have a contact in Atlanta. And your broodmate is in LA, isn’t he? Uncle Q?”
For the first time since she has joined her grandsire she’s become animated, speaking with her whole body rather than just her lips. Her eyes shine in unrepressed, unstifled, unapologetic passion.
“This is what I want. To make these. To create. For you, for me. I want to stand at the edge of our collective imagination and ask what’s next. I want to stretch the limits of what we think is possible and go beyond to a place that everyone ignores because they can’t fathom the idea of things working like that. I want to meld science and magic and the Blood, to find the answers that no one has yet thought to look for, to master this craft beyond the scope of current limitations.”
“I’ve already done some of it. Grafted more muscle onto Tantal. Created a way to break into someone’s mind and learn their thoughts that doesn’t involve scrying. Create mindscapes for them to make them think they’re somewhere that they’re not. But there’s more. So much more.”
“And if Kindred can’t even fathom it, if they don’t think it’s possible? Then they’ll never see it coming. They’ll never stand a chance against you.”
GM: “Very impressive, my dear!” exclaims Savoy, raptly following Jade’s hand through the book’s flipping pages. “I admit the hows and details of this are over my head. You’re a more educated Kindred than I am. In another life, I could perhaps see you as a doctor.” He chuckles. “Or perhaps simply another face. But I can all-too readily see the usefulness and potential in improving upon nature’s designs! I’m to understand it’s what many Tzimisce do with their ghouls and even their own bodies.”
He smiles widely as he looks up from the notes, back towards Jade’s face.
“It’s a beautiful thing to see you like this. To see your knowledge, to feel your passion, to hear your vision. To witness you bloom. You are so much more than just a pretty face, whatever cruel tongues might say.”
“Quentin is in Los Angeles,” he nods in answer to her question. “I don’t think he could be much help with these sorts of things. His interests are less esoteric.”
“But there is another group of Kindred who perhaps could.” Savoy strokes his half-beard in thought. “The Ordo Dracul could explain their philosophy better than me, but I think they share the same goals as you. To take life and unlife apart, figure out what makes it tick, and build it back into superior forms. To investigate our world’s mysteries and unknowns. They’re rather wed to the Baron’s apron strings, lamentably… but it doesn’t need to be Jade Kalani who approaches them, does it now?” he smiles. “Perhaps Dr. Dicentra. Perhaps a new name and face.”
He shrugs and smiles again.
“An idle thought, my dear. I would see you surrounded by those who share your knowledge, your passion, and your vision. I would see the glorious flower that is your mind bloom amidst a field of like flowers.”
“But as to my own role in that, if you’d like separate facilities from Flawless, I think such can be arranged. Would you like them here in the French Quarter, or beyond?”
Preston’s response is less effusive.
“I am not one to fixate upon unproductive past emotions, Miss Kalani. I will be civil for as long as you are.”
She does not criticize—which may be praise enough.
Celia: The praise itself is almost reward enough. Not being dismissed for her ideas, not being laughed at, ridiculed, called crazy or cruel or sadistic.
Because it is. It can be. Experiments on humans, what gives her the right? How dare she play Creator? What makes her think she knows better than whatever divine entity had given them life and unlife in the first place?
She’d almost expected harsh words to that effect. Told that there’s no use for her creatures. That she doesn’t even have the skill to talk to animals and how dare she think that she can handle something like a horde of hellhounds or hellbats or hellcats or hell-whatever-the-fuck (and why hell? It could be any other prefix or adjective and if she’s making these things from scratch and paving the way then why not name them something better, something after herself? Starhounds, with eyes that blaze like diamonds).
But there’s none of that. They’d listened. Approved. Even Preston hadn’t criticized. No snide comments about any of it.
Her flower blooms.
He wants to help. To support. And there’s so much she can do if she has his support. They think she plays with makeup. Her own lover had said as much.
They have no idea. None at all. She will show them what she can do. She will continue to grow and expand and change and scatter roots and seeds across the city, state, and country, will turn the very world into the garden that she cultivates.
Ordo Dracul. It’s not the first time she has heard the word, though those who whisper its name in New Orleans do so as surreptitiously as they can. None want to appear sympathetic to their cause when the prince and his Sanctified hold such emnity toward their beliefs. What easier way to gather goodwill than to turn in a dragon?
Jade slows her thoughts before they can spiral too far down the rabbit hole. He had asked her a question.
“The Quarter is the most convenient. It would be well protected within your borders, easy to get to. I only worry at the lack of space. The crowds. I spoke to a Nosferatu who can build down, basement level and beyond if such is the desire, and the warden said he could perform the spell needed to keep it from flooding.”
Is there an advantage to doing it outside of the Quarter? Space. But she trades safety for that space, the possibility of being discovered. Better to keep it contained underground, isn’t it? Multiple levels. Various terrain. Already she itches to draw the prints.
“I only mentioned Uncle Q as a means to an end. A contact on the west coast should my journey take me there for further research. Just a wider net of connections, to find those who would join in, assist, or teach. Those who are not tied so closely to the Baron.” A brief pause. “For all that the rumors claim Dicentra is part of the Ordo, I do not think that I know any other than the Baron’s Gangrel who claim membership. I could create the new identity for such a venture, though I wonder if there’s anyone closer to home that would be more approachable.”
A tiny lift of her brows is the only indication of her question. Does he have someone he can direct her to?
“There is, ah, one more thing, that’s quite delicate…”
GM: Savoy motions with a hand.
“Proceed, my dear.”
Celia: “Ah, well, test subjects, grandsire. It’s easy for me to pick up kine and even thin-bloods, and I’ve done work on both. Access to the red room has given me plenty of parts to use as well. No trouble there.” She smiles.
“It’s less easy to obtain stronger subjects. Licks. Other supers. I am not asking anyone to hunt for me,” she adds quickly, “but I thought maybe if someone has been marked for death, or if you no longer find them useful I could work with them..? There’s more I can do on a torpid or animated lick than a dead one. I imagine that Mr. Durant would like to slay Gui himself, so perhaps not this instance, but in the future. If you’re amenable. I don’t plan to go slay your subjects on a whim, just thought if they’re already going to die I may as well turn their last nights into something useful.”
GM: “I see no harm in such a thing,” smiles Savoy. “Not with every Kindred marked for death, as you observe. But otherwise, ‘waste not, want not’!”
Celia: Her smile stretches across her face.
“Thank you, grandsire.”
GM: “You are most welcome, my dear. I shall eagerly await your flower’s fruits! I suppose that brings us back to the question of where in the Quarter you’d like the, shall we call it, lab space?”
Celia: “I’d thought to use the space next to the spa, but the business is filled and that seems, ah, too close. I suppose if it’s underground it doesn’t quite matter, as all I’d need is an access door… or a business above to cover it…” Jade hesitates for a moment.
“There’s a spa on Iberville near Decatur. It’s open 24 hours. It has a lot next to it.” Rare in the Quarter, and great for transporting subjects. No doubt she can add a door to the lot if needed. “It’s, ah, well it’s less a spa than a massage parlor, the sort where the kine can pay extra for sexual favors. It could be shut down for that. Or taken over.” It’s not like she has a problem with someone paying for sex. Imagine all the clients she could pick up if they think they’re paying for a happy ending and she gets her fangs in them instead. All the blood she’d have access to for her work.
“Ochsner has an urgent care facility right next door to it, so there are plenty of people coming and going at all hours in various states of disarray.”
GM: “Any of those locations might serve,” Savoy grants. “Which do you desire most?”
Celia: The Iberville location is only a block away from Canal Street and the CBD. Hardly as protected as she’d like it to be, but if no one knows about it then there’s no reason to look for it. Just another seedy parlor. If Flawless ever were infiltrated or attacked—and it has been bugged before; she can’t help but wonder if Reggie passed off the bug okay, or if she’s now in some sort of deeper trouble over it, or if he’d even found someone to drop it off or if right now he’s beating at the door to get out while the oven preheats—then at least the second location will be safe. Less tie to Celia, less tie to Jade, less tie to Dicentra.
“The spa on Iberville, I think.”
GM: “Very good,” says Savoy. “Nat will arrange the details.”
The Malkavian asks whether she wants the spa shut down or taken over, where in the building she wants the lab space (or if it is to simply be the whole building), what equipment she requires, and similar such details.
Celia: Jade gives the Malkavian the information she requires. She doesn’t skimp on the equipment, and makes sure to include things for building and room security, as well as restraints, locks, and adequate sound proofing. She adds a few modifications to the existing business but would like to leave that part of it mostly intact, taking over rather than shutting down. It’s a good cover for what she wants to do, and she won’t turn away a built in client base that can further her goals even if it’s just through the blood in their bodies.
She clarifies if the lab itself will be built down to allow room for growth and additional protection from prying eyes, or if they’ll keep it above ground.
When it’s all sussed out to their satisfaction, Jade looks once more to her grandsire.
“Is there an Ordo member you can direct me towards to get started?”
GM: Preston says that building underground is not viable. Buildings in the French Quarter do not have basements. She asks where on the premises Jade desires the lab space.
Celia: “Oh,” Jade says, “the Nosferatu construction lick said he could do it and I’d just need to find a ‘magic man’ to do a spell for support. Is, ah… were they just playing tricks on me?”
GM: Preston gives her a flat look.
“Not everything is about your insecurities, Miss Kalani. I fail to see why Mr. Korda would waste his time telling you such.”
Celia: “I was going to have some work done on the spa. Then the whole hunter thing happened and I shifted my priorities around.”
Regardless, if it isn’t possible she can make other accommodations within the building itself, and she goes over them with Preston.
GM: Preston says Jade would have to speak with the Nosferatu to see whether constructing a basement under the spa is feasible. The Malkavian can move ahead with a non-basement lab space now or wait until Jade has made arrangements with Mr. Korda for a basement space.
Celia: Jade is happy to begin the process now and expand later, if needed. She thanks Preston for going over everything with her.
GM: Preston gives her a cross look.
“We are not finished, Miss Kalani. The spa, after all, is already owned by kine and frequented by kine. You say you wish the business taken over rather than shut down. Where on the premises do you desire the lab space? How do you wish to ensure your presence and activities are overlooked?”
Celia: Blood races to her cheeks, turning them pink.
“Overly excited,” she murmurs in apology. “Used to you knowing what I’m going to say before I do.” A soft smile, an attempt at levity rather than an accusation.
She pulls a page from her notebook and sketches a rough outline of the business in question, then draws in an estimation of the rooms. She has been inside enough spas and salons in her brief Requiem that, even if the dimensions aren’t an exact match, it will be a close enough approximation. She spends a few minutes explaining her vision for it: turning the business into a front, clearing out the back area / office space for her own work, using a separate entrance directly from the lot next door. She mentions the failsafes she has in place in her own spa, the steel, soundproof room, the “exam tables” attached directly to the ground, the drains, the cold storage. Here she could see mortuary-like boxes built into the walls to hold immobile subjects (bodies or torpid licks), so that all the pieces of them stay together until she uses them.
It’s as she’s considering Preston’s final question—soundproofing, plenty of locks, possibly an anti-tech device to prevent snooping, salt “wards” for the intangible sort of spy—that she thinks it might just be better to close the business down, or divide the lab space from the business entirely. Split it into two separate halves that only share a wall. But then what’s the use of keeping the business itself? She can put a parlor anywhere else in the Quarter to serve the same purpose if such is her desire.
GM: Savoy concurs. Preston thinks it would be more efficacious simply to take over an adjacent building, or close down the massage parlor itself, than to keep the parlor open and make so many modifications to it. Such is likely to arouse the curiosity of the employees.
“It would be a simple enough front to associate the lab with one of Mr. Savoy’s businesses and say it is being used for storage space.”
Celia: Jade nods in agreement. She’d thought to find some of her own people to put in there, but even that will lead to questions, and while she knows there’s some advanced shadow dancing trick to hide a building she doesn’t think she’s yet skilled enough to pull it off.
“Thank you, yes, that is a better idea.”
GM: “Splendid,” smiles Savoy. “The Pavaghis certainly use enough real estate for storage space or keep it vacant altogether. That shouldn’t attract much notice.”
“We can arrange the building’s initial usage for some other purpose, sir, and have that purpose fall through. It is less common to rent or purchase otherwise occupied buildings for storage space. I would suggest arranging for a kine pawn to purchase a building adjacent to the massage parlor, then allowing whatever business is located therein to fail, either on its own or through sabotage.”
“Well-considered, Nat,” smiles Savoy. “Let’s get someone else to foot the bill for this, in fact. Real estate isn’t cheap! Find some other business or entrepreneur we’re not presently associated with. That should further muddy the connection. We’ll allow them to eat the financial loss.”
Celia: Relief spreads through her. Their ideas are better than her own. She’s glad to have them on her side, glad that they’re willing to share their expertise and resources and experience with her. She says as much, thanking them again. It will go much more smoothly this way, will be a further divide between Celia/Jade and the lab.
She thinks that’s it, then. She’d discussed her vision, had been granted the reward, had been supported in her endeavor. She’d brought up the hunters and the death of Gui. All that’s left is the Ordo.
Jade brings it back around to that after a moment. Savoy and Preston have already done so much for her this evening, so she won’t press her luck, but if he does have a name that isn’t the Baron’s pet Gangrel…
GM: “It may also be simpler, sir, just to sabotage the business or its building and drive the owners to sell for a low price,” continues Preston. “Some deficiency in the building could explain it being purchased for simple storage space.”
Savoy nods. “Look into the parlor’s neighboring buildings, Nat. Do whatever’s most cost-effective.”
“And it’s my pleasure, my dear,” her grandsire smiles at her. “As far as the Ordo’s other members in New Orleans, there are no still-unliving ones I recall off-hand. They do keep that a secret!” he chuckles. “I might start by looking into whatever Kindred you think could be secret members of the Ordo on the basis of shared interests and worldviews. Kendall could be dangerous to tangle with, as she may be wise to any apparent animals surveying her movements.”
“Then again, with a new face, you could simply approach her directly.”
“But she is likely to be slower to trust than more junior members.”
Celia: And likely not someone Jade could handle in a confrontation if it comes to that for any reason. Still, there’s some merit to befriending the Baron’s number two girl, isn’t there.
It’s not as if she only has one chance a first impression with any of these people.
Something to look into, anyway. She has a few rocks she can turn over in the meantime.
“Yes, grandsire. Thank you for the advice. I’ll find them.”
Celia: Her eyes move toward the jacuzzi. She recalls the image he’d sent her the other night, the pair of them alone and naked, bloody and sated. Jade relocates, moving around the table to his lap without a word. She’d worn something that can be quickly removed in anticipation of their play.
Unbidden, his voice comes to her.
No, she’d echoed.
Do I need to use a shorter word?
Needlessly, she swallows. She’d thought there could be a future with Gui instead of Durant, but his Requiem will be over within the week, and there’s nothing she can do about it. Even her suggestion to turn it into a win/win had been shot down despite how easy it would be. She could give Roderick a fake body, change Gui’s identity, take him to LA with her while things blow over here, ensure that he’s working toward Savoy’s goals rather than his sire’s…
She blinks back something that might be emotion. After giving so much of herself to Roderick, after the pain he’d put her through the last two nights, she’d wanted someone gentle. For all that he’s in the Mafia, Reynaldo had never treated her poorly. Always like an equal. Always with respect.
Now he’s to be snuffed out by the Brujah’s blind rage. Her fault, isn’t it, if she hadn’t shown up with him—
No, that isn’t right. Grandsire had said this was already agreed to. Durant’s ask for joining the Bourbons. It had nothing to do with her. He’d just taken some of the rest of his fury out on her for being seen with him.
“If you’re in my head,” Jade says quietly to Savoy, “and you think that won’t work, will you take the memory away so he doesn’t try to extract it from me?”
GM: “You presume I am both willing and able to violate the sanctity of your mind, my dear,” answers Savoy.
He winks. “That isn’t the sort of power I’m about to confirm or deny having.”
His expression grows more somber again, though, at Jade’s tone.
“What memory is this you would see removed—and who is it you fear would seek to take it from you?”
Celia: “You’ve answered my questions without me asking before,” Jade points out, but she doesn’t sound as if she minds. She rests her cheek on his shoulder, fingers idly tracing the edge of his lapels. Preston’s earlier comment about domestic squabbles plays in the back of her mind.
“I slept with Mr. Gui and his associate earlier. I thought we could… well, it doesn’t matter, he won’t be around. I don’t want to upset Durant before he’s firmly entrenched on your side.”
It sounds moderately less pathetic than “he’s going to correct me again.”
GM: Savoy chuckles in response to Jade’s first question.
“My dear, I would not divulge the extent of my powers merely to preemptively answer your questions. One need not be able to read minds to read people!”
It’s Preston, though, who responds to Jade’s second statement before her grandsire can. The disdain all but drips from the Malkavian’s voice.
“You are a truly pathetic creature, Miss Kalani.”
Celia: Jade says nothing further. She rises and sees herself out.
GM: Savoy frowns and holds up a hand in forestallement.
“That’s quite enough of that, Nat. The two of you were playing nice not so long ago. Temper your tongue.”
“As you say, sir,” Preston answers stiffly.
Savoy turns to Jade.
“If it’s your wish, my dear, I could remove that memory. But I think it’d be treating symptoms rather than causes.”
“Truly, what is it you fear? I doubt very much that Mr. Durant can plumb the depths of a Kindred’s thoughts and memories.”
“Nor that he could compel you to divulge it with sublimitas, if you are already so adverse.”
Celia: The cause, sir, is that I let my neighbor turn me into a whore. The cause is that my father invited that thing into our home and turned it into a place of terror rather than safety. The cause is that I watched him beat my mother for years before he finally tried to kill her. The cause is that I traded my life for hers to Veronica, then was stolen from the sire who wanted me by the bastard who took and then abandoned me. The cause, she wants to snarl, is that I did what you asked of me like the good little pawn that I am. I turned him against his sire. I broke him. And now that I’ve done it, what’s to stop me from being the next piece that’s bartered and sacrificed because Durant has decided he doesn’t want me around anymore? What’s to stop that Ventrue cunt from waltzing in here and demanding my head because I convinced her Celia and I are two separate people and the prince’s childe is more valuable than the whore?
She wants to laugh at his question. But nothing comes out.
No, he thinks himself a genius but lacks the ability to get into my mind. But who needs scrying or domination when he can just beat me until I tell him what he wants. Who cares what he does or if it hurts when a sip of blood can put me back together again. Who cares about having a spine, and this she yearns to spit at Preston, when the only way to not rock the boat and fuck it all up for you is to lie there and take it like a fucking doormat because if I say or do the wrong thing it’s my fault that you lost him before he was ever even useful, so I just shut up and let it happen and act like pathetic creature you think I am. I try to go far enough into my own mind that someone else comes out because that was the only way to survive then and it’s the only way to survive now. Come on, Nat, you’re a Malk. Did you think all these eyes you see staring back at you are because I was happy and healthy and safe during my formative years? Did you think that because I grew up in Audubon and woke up on Antoine’s lap I was spoiled, that I haven’t been raped and abused and traumatized by people who are supposed to be on my side?
The bitch isn’t in control anymore, though. The thoughts halt themselves. They leave nothing behind but the cool kiss of ice. Someone Else smiles as if there’s not a care in the world.
“Nothing that a little blood won’t fix, Lord Savoy.”
GM: Perhaps Jade’s grandsire can and does read her thoughts.
Perhaps he can and chooses not to.
Perhaps he simply cannot.
But at Someone Else’s smile, he simply grins back.
And everything is fine in the world.
“There’s not much a few splashes of the good wine can’t fix,” Savoy agrees.
“The Blood is what it always comes back to, in the end.”
Sunday night, 20 March 2016, AM
Celia: Whoever she is doesn’t stop to dwell on yet another ruined meeting with Lord Savoy. She doesn’t laugh to herself about his attempt to occlude the ability to break into her mind, as if she doesn’t suspect he does it every time. As if she doesn’t know the reason for Preston’s presence at every meeting is to snoop and share and erase whatever memories they don’t want her to keep about what they did to her.
She no longer cares what they think of her. She got her lab. That’s all that matters.
The girl in charge pulls her phone from her pocket to send a text to the asshole she’d contacted earlier with the “date.”
Spa in 45 if you can make it. Before or after. Lmk.
Then she drives, heading back to the spa before her window of time closes with Carolla. She only has so much of it this evening to make it all work.
GM: Before she arrives, Jade spots a bird in the sky following her back to Flawless.
Celia: She doesn’t pull into the spa with a tail. Jade calls Reggie.
Celia: “You in the Quarter? I’ve got company.”
Her tone says it isn’t the good kind.
GM: “No. Mid-City.”
Celia: “You drop the thing off okay?”
GM: “I’m looking for Randy.”
Celia: It jogs a memory.
“Get somewhere safe. Think his trouble just found me.”
She turns. Turns again. Starts heading back to the Evergreen.
GM: The drive is only two blocks.
The bird soon disappears.
“Fuck that. What trouble? Where are you?”
Celia: “Back at the Evergreen. Being followed. Told you I thought it was that prick deputy.” Deputy. Hound. He gets it. “Pissed him off last night. Think I saw him.”
Savoy had said their threats weren’t idle ones. She’d laugh if the situation didn’t leave her in a bad spot.
Is this what she gets for mentally losing her shit? Sold out to the hounds?
Jade keeps Reggie on the line with her. She doesn’t think there’s anyone else to call. None of her friends are fighters. No one but Roderick, and who knows if he’ll come running should she need him.
She can just change. Do her face. One of the other employees, maybe. Louise. She has a reason to be there late at night, at least. Alana’s face is too well known. Or go cat. Call Dani. As if the thin-blood offers any help against this sort of thing.
Get some last use out of him before Roderick tears him apart.
It’s an ugly look no matter what way she slices it.
“Reg, hold on a sec, I’m gonna make a quick call.”
She switches lines and calls the guy that said he’d always protect her.
GM: Reg starts to say something. There’s a “fuck”.
Roderick picks up after several rings.
Celia: It’s not possible that they got to Reg already, right? That exclamation was for some other reason, right?
Worry ties a knot in her gut.
“Hey. Hate to bother you, think I’m in trouble, can you come get me?”
Maybe it’s nothing.
Maybe it was just a bird.
Maybe she’s fine now.
Maybe she’s going to die tonight.
GM: “Have you done as I told you?”
Celia: “That’s where we’re headed if you can make it.”
GM: “That was very fast, Celia.”
Roderick’s tone sounds more suspicious than pleased.
“What is the meeting time and location, and who’s meeting who?”
Celia: “Well I told him that I had something cool to show him and he cleared his schedule. He said it could be tomorrow, but then mentioned if we made it tonight he’s got a date for Dani too.”
He’s smart enough to know what that means, isn’t he?
“It’s soon, though, and I’m kind of stuck somewhere, which is why I need you sooner rather than later. But it’s short notice, so if you can’t make it then I can set up another time.”
GM: “Who is the meeting between, Celia?” Roderick repeats.
“You and our friend, or our friend and someone else?”
Celia: She knows it’s the wrong answer before she says it.
“Me and him.”
GM: His voice is cold.
“Then you failed to do as I asked.”
Celia: Celia holds back a sigh.
“I thought the additional guest was worth the deviance from our plans. I’ll reschedule and handle this incident on my own. If you don’t hear from me again, it was Agnello.”
She thinks about saying she loves him, but he’d told her he wants the truth. So she says a quiet “goodnight” before she switches lines.
GM: “We’re not finished yet, Celia,” Roderick interrupts as she starts to say “goodnight.”
“You don’t end our calls. I do. Is that understood?”
Celia: She’s going to gouge her claws through his eyeballs.
Celia finds her inner pathetic creature, the one Preston hates so much. The one who cowers at the sound of a raised voice. She thinks its name might be Grace.
Or maybe Diana.
I’ll be a good wife.
Just until he’s in too deep to get out. Just until he can’t turn away from Savoy. Don’t rock the boat. Not yet.
“Yes, I understand. I’m being followed. I’m in trouble. I needed help. I’ll figure it out so I don’t inconvenience you. I need to get off the phone so I can handle this, is that okay?”
Even locked inside her car within shouting distance of the Evergreen, she doesn’t feel safe. This whole call was a waste of time. She doesn’t know why she’d bothered.
She should have lied.
She’s going to die because Roderick is too much of a prick to listen to her. She’d laugh, but mostly she feels like crying. She keeps it inside, though. He hates that act.
GM: “No, not yet,” Roderick answers.
“You haven’t done as I asked. But finding a date for Dani is worthwhile, so I’ll tell you what. If you want my assistance with something now, that can be your reward.”
Celia: Hatred seethes within her.
“I’m at the Evergreen.”
GM: “I can’t be seen at the Evergreen. If you’re already there, you’ll be safe from Agnello. Spend the day.”
Celia: Staying at the Evergreen means losing the sire.
“Okay,” she agrees.
As if she can’t meet Roderick somewhere else where he can be seen so she can finish her plans this evening. She doesn’t bother suggesting it. Waste of time.
“I need to call Dani to cancel our plans, is that okay?”
At least over the phone she only needs to fake the emotion in her voice. A glance in the mirror shows the flat, dead eyes of someone playing a boring role.
GM: “You know how much Dani wants a date, Celia. I’m sure she’d be happy to have one at the Evergreen. It isn’t my first choice, but it’s good enough.”
Celia: “Oh, great, I’ll call her and let her know. Thanks.”
She smiles in the general direction of her phone, the sort of face-wide, maniacal smile that would make anyone near her pause and take a step back.
GM: “We’re talking about Dani’s date, Celia. A date involves two or more parties. I’d like to meet this guy before he goes out with my sister. You said their date was going to happen tonight. Why are you now saying those plans need to be canceled?”
“Or were you talking about your own plans with Dani, rather than the guy she’s meeting?”
Celia: “Dani and I were going to get together tonight. I meant my plans with her.”
GM: “Canceling those is fine. Tell me about the plans with the guy she’s meeting.”
Celia: “Well. I will when I get them rescheduled. Since we had a different meeting place in mind I need to reach out to let him know.”
“And her, too. Oh boy, lot of calls to make, I better get started.”
GM: “Don’t be sarcastic with me, Celia. You’re not making sense. Maybe it’s because you’re so stupid.”
“You said there were plans with the guy Dani is going to meet. You said those plans were happening tonight. Why are you now saying they need to be rescheduled?”
Celia: Celia starts to respond. She gets a handful of words in before she cuts off in a scream.
The line goes dead.
“Reg?” she asks into the other line.
GM: That line is silent.
She waits a beat, phone pressed to her ear.
GM: Her phone app says she has no calls active.
Celia: She dials Reggie.
GM: It doesn’t pick up.
“Yo. Leave a message,” sounds Reggie’s voice.
Celia: She doesn’t leave a message.
Celia sends a quick text to Dani to postpone their plans tonight. Stay home, she says. Don’t leave home.
A second to Gui, letting him know that she’s running late and needs an extra 15 minutes before she sees him. Doesn’t want to keep him waiting.
Then she’s out of the car, moving quickly toward the Evergreen so she can duck inside.
GM: Celia steps out of her car.
Pavement slams against her chin as something seizes her ankles, cat-quick, and suddenly she’s pulled underneath her car. The snarling face of Rocco Agnello looms over hers as a stake drives towards her heart.
Celia: Celia shrieks. She’d been expecting the attack from above, not below.
At least she’d been right.
But he’d fucked up in yanking her toward him. She isn’t some helpless doe in close quarters, not when her very hands are weapons in their own right. She reaches for his face with the fingers that have so frequently sculpted the flesh of others in a messy swipe. Rather than create she simply destroys.
GM: Perhaps Rocco realizes just how deadly those fingers are, and how sharp the rose’s thorns may prick.
If he doesn’t, it’s his lucky night that the stake finds purchase in Jade’s heart so quickly. She goes instantly rigid as the wood pierces flesh.
Agnello pulls her keys out of her hands. He lies still atop her, eyes peeled on the curb beyond the car.
A second scream goes up, loudly piercing the night. Jade can’t make out more than shoes and pant legs exiting the Evergreen. Moving towards it.
Away from her.
Rocco waits until they’re gone, then wastes no time. He crawls out from under the car, opens the trunk with Jade’s keys, then pulls her out cat-quick and dumps her in. The trunk closes. After another moment, she distantly hears a door open and close.
Then, there’s motion underneath her as the car takes off.
Celia: The stake stops her movements, but not her thoughts. Those race while the events carry on around them. Another victim? What are the odds?
She’s seen Pietro do the trick often enough to know what it is, to know that Rocco here either has some shadow dancing skill or an accomplice.
At least she’d told Reggie. And Roderick. Maybe the scream tipped him off. A lie at the time, but she’s always been good at playing victim. Maybe he bought it. Maybe he’s worried. Maybe he’s coming.
Maybe he doesn’t care.
But locked in a trunk for the second time in two nights, eyes fixated on the glow in the dark escape lever, she can’t help but think that being right this time hasn’t gotten her anywhere but in trouble.
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