Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood and Bourbon

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Story Thirteen, Jean-Marc Prelude

Tuesday night, 16 February 2016, PM

Jean-Marc: The city smelled of hot sweat and half-hidden sin.

Just like a shameless, fecund harlot whose flimsy facade of modesty is meant only to tease and titillate.

Oh, that’s a good one, mused Jean-Marc, Gotta tuck that one away for a future piece, though the alliteration might be a bit too much. No need to over-sugar a good beignet.

The man took a long, slow inhalation, as if savoring New Orlean’s scent.

Yes, just like a shameless harlot whose facade of modesty is meant only to tease.

And just the way I like it, smiled Jean-Marc. The man sauntered past the urban boundaries of Vieux Carré into what was once Faubourg Ste. Marie. He preferred the old name; Central Business District just doesn’t have the same ring, no flair, no soul. Then again, Jean-Marc usually wasn’t one to care about souls–even his own.

He took another swig from his bottle of Bourdeaux wine. It was a 2005 Château Pétrus, a fine Merlot vintage–though in New Orleans its year was infamous at best. To Jean-Mac, the ‘venial scandal’ made the red wine taste all the sweeter. Not that it needed the help. After all, it was one of the finest bottles of wine he had ever tasted.

Damned well should be, too, Jean-Marc privately groused, Given that I blew more than two grand on less than a liter of the damned stuff. Still, his irritation was, like the Crescent City’s pretense of modesty, nakedly insincere.

After all, he thought with a returning smile that reflected the neon marquee of the Orpheum theater, Some days you just deserve to spoil yourself.

And today, at least according to Jean-Marc’s twisted ‘ethics’, was one of those days. Just this morning, several national tabloids had printed his expose on the Archdiocese of New Orleans and how over eighty of its currently serving priests had been involved in sexual abuse of children, nuns, and secret wives. Within a few hours, his article–or at least the most salacious (and mostly true) parts–were being passed around the Internet like a Rohypnol-laced red cup at one of Duke Elmhearst’s frat parties. By the afternoon, even prime-time cable networks like RED had picked up on the story, and their talking heads had further stirred the pot.

Much like the media’s autocannibalistic orgy, Jean-Marc’s path meandered. He dipped inside one of the CBD’s local department stores, Godchaux’s, to pick up a present for one his favorite ‘girlfriends’: Leslie St. George. After digging up her real name, Jean-Marc had long stopped using her pseudonym of Kristina Winters.

“Seriously, it’s a snooze-fest of a sobriquet,” he had told her during one of their ‘dates’, “Don’t get me wrong, I understand the need for using another handle. Hell, I only publish a quarter, maybe a tenth, of my material under my real name. But my dear, sweet, luscious fucking legs, you live in La Nouvelle-Orléans. If you’re going to come up with a fake name, let it at least be something with a little panache or Rabelaisian éclat. Kristina Winters… it’s like calling a vintage of Bourdeaux something atrociously banal like Bob or Karen. Your ears just vomited, didn’t they? Of course they did, because they, like you, are far too couth and chic."

Stepping back outside, he followed their agreed upon protocol of leaving the receipt inside her gift. This time, the present was a handbag: a baptismal white leather affair made by Mark Cross. It wasn’t Gucci or Louis Vuitton, but he appreciated the irony of the brand’s name, particularly the ‘passion’ Leslie would give him for the ‘Cross’. Still, the handbag left him $745 poorer. Passing by Gallier Hall’s Greek Revival architecture, he idly wondered how much of the handbag’s refund would go to his ‘girlfriend’ versus her boss, Ms. Roberts. He swallowed those thoughts just like his next swig of his Château Pétrus.

Hell, it doesn’t matter. It’s worth it, just like this damned good wine.

His thoughts turned back to his nationally circulating piece. It had taken him six years of hard investigation. Well, some of it was hard. After all, the line between artistic license and libel had long ago become fuzzy for Jean-Marc, just like how his head felt from the bottle of red. But the fuzziness helped him look past the bribes, false credentials, and blackmail. Just the usual ‘tabloid tricks’. It wasn’t his most solid piece of investigative journalism. It had holes, some of which were pretty gaping. He could have spent more time on it, verified all his sources, double-checked the purported facts and dates. But six years is a fucking long time–long enough. And there’s bills to pay. The boys at Harrah’s don’t let you play for free. Here and there, he may have ‘gilded a few lilies’, thrown in a few names of priests who might have been honest, good, and innocent men versus child-sodomists and nun-rapists. Then again, he didn’t really believe that honest, good, or innocent men existed.

So even if they didn’t molest some choir boy–, Jean-Marc rationalized to himself as he stepped onto Camp Street, –they were probably up to something else. That’s just life–a big bucket of shit we’re all swimming in. Ain’t nobody clean, so you’re either eating it or shoveling the shit.

And Jean-Marc definitely preferred to shovel. It didn’t matter whether it was a state senator’s son caught wearing blackface for a high school Halloween party, the newest starlet of Zodiac Productions busted for a DUI, or a respected philanthropist suspected of tax fraud. Ever since his days at Loyola, he had learned to love digging up other people’s dirt and rubbing it their ‘better-than-thou’ faces. And no one, in Jean-Marc’s eyes, was more sanctimonious than the Catholic church.

He took another hit of the red, then stared up at the towering Gothic architecture of St. Patrick’s church.

Looks like a giant ass-plug.

He raised his middle finger to church and to the heavens above it.

Well, God is a giant pain in the ass, so maybe it fits. Hmm, file that away too, maybe save it for a snarky tweet.

Resuming his stroll home, he gleefully considered how the article and related press coverage would hurt the church.

Hell, maybe it’ll finally bankrupt the archdiocese? If it does, shit, they should give me the fucking Pulitzer and Sydney Award. Oh, that would be so wicked delicious. They’d have to close down some more churches for sure, just like ’08 all over again. I wonder which one’s they’d axe… They’d soon as hand over the fucking Lance of Longinus as shut down St. Louis, but maybe Immaculate Conception? St. Alphonsus?

His speculative schadenfreude took him all the way to 812 Gravier Street, at the corner of Carondelet.

Ah, home, shit home.

As he had with the church, Jean-Marc gazed up at the historic Hibernia Bank Building. He took some pleasure in knowing the 23-story skyscraper was 355 feet tall; whereas, Patrick’s belltower was only 185 feet fall.

Take that, God, Mammon’s prick is way bigger than yours!

He laughed hard–perhaps a bit too hard at the crude jest–and then entered the lobby. On the way to the elevator, he passed by the floor’s retail bank and all that had remained of Hibernia Bank. If his sources were accurate, even their relocated St. Charles offices were about to be swallowed up the bigger Whitney Hancock or Bank of Columbia.

“Big fish eat the little fish, bigger fish eat the big one,” he drunkenly sung to himself as he stepped into the elevator and pressed his floor button: 21. He wasn’t surprised that he had the elevator to himself. The joint development venture hadn’t finished converting the upper bank floors into their planned 176 mixed-income apartments. He also wasn’t surprised when he entered his flat and found himself once more alone. Tabloid gossips make for coveted party conversationalists, but few want them around much longer.

Inside, the apartment was dark, but its large windows provided a sumptuous view of the city that sprawled out below and around the Hibernia building. Its fellow skyscrapers of former Faubourg Ste. Marie provided an angular backdrop of shadows and light that simultaneously obscured and revealed the Louisiana night-sky. Further off, the less vertically piercing wards of New Orleans glittered like an opera diva’s gem-studded brassière.

And just as fucking hot and sweaty too, I imagine, the man mused, momentarily taking in the grandeur of the sight that siphoned so much of his salary.

Not wanting to ‘depreciate’ that view, he didn’t bother turning on the lights inside his apartment. He still hadn’t decided whether he loved or hated his apartment’s interior. It was done in the Transistional Style. Jean-Marc wasn’t entirely sure that meant, though his “interior decorator”, an old Loyola acquaintance, had described it as a “mélange of fashions that incorporates the traditional old world and contemporary world of chrome and glass, blending curves and straight lines to balance the masculine and feminine”.

Yeah, whatever the fuck that means.

He did know that it was cheaper than some alternatives, as it meant minimal ornamentation, decoration, and accessories. His floors, walls, and even upholstery were all monochromatic, all the same shade of an ambiguous, pretentiously named gray that in certain light could look like a blanched blue, tan, or green. Otherwise, the only color in his apartment was from a few pieces of artwork, foremost of which included a massive oil painting of a winged lion–the symbol of Mark the Evangelist. It had been a joke from several of his friends, but he liked it.

After all, aren’t I a fucking evangelist? I tell the truth–or at least the tabloid headlines kind of truth. Short and powerful like a jab to the mouth. None of the obscure as hell, purple prose of St. John, or the pedantic, who-the-hell-cares minutiae of St. Matthew. Nah, my style is more like Mark’s. Shock and awe. Who got killed, who got fucked. Miracles, scandals, disasters. That’s all people really care about–the only truths that matter.

Unable to admire the oil painting in the dark, Jean-Marc sauntered over to his favorite couch, its soft, cashmere fabric the same gray as nearly everything else in his apartment. He set down the Godchaux’s shopping bag and bottle of half-drunk Bourdeaux on a nearby coffee table. Its high-gloss lacquer trapped some of New Orleans’ tequila, crimson, and amber night-lights. Stepping past the table, Jean-Marc plopped himself down onto the goose-feather and down-filled sofa. He then fished out his phone, a Sunburst Solaris. He had heard rumors of the smartphone’s secret backdoors and security breaches, but he had jail-breaked the device and added some patches. Plus, he figured that all of the newest phones had similar skeletons in their digital closet–just ones that were better hid.

The devil you know…, the man reflected as he unlocked his phone. He scrolled through his feeds, and became delighted to see how his article had started a firestorm. Posting a few comments here and there, he poured several strategic shots of textual gasoline onto the digital blaze. Satisfied with his ‘evangelism’, he opened up a custom chat-app and fired off a message to Leslie, seeing if she was available for a ‘date’.

Setting his phone down on the table, he waited for her reply. Sinking back into the sofa’s comfort, he gave a contented sigh. Yet, that sybaritic solace was soon broken when he heard a small, rustling or oscillating sound from within his apartment. He sat up and leaned forward to better listen.

What the hell is that?! he groused unhappily, Busted air compressor? Cockroach? Fuck, please let it not be cockroaches. I hate bugs.

Yet, no sooner had the sound started then it stopped. Jean-Marc tugged his earlobe, wondering if he’d drunken too much wine–or at least as much to start hearing things. Yet, just as he began to forget the incident and relax again, something flew out of the darkness. It landed with a small, flittering ‘thwap’ against the Godchaux’s shopping bag. Jean-Marc would claim he didn’t give a tiny shriek–but he did. After composing himself, he leaned forward once again, his eyes straining with little but the Solaris’s blue LEDs to help him see. Yet, even with that dim illumination, he spotted his intruder.

Is that a… cricket, or no, grasshopper?

His second guess was closer, as it was a locust. Jean-Marc watched as the insect crawled up the dangling strap of the Cross handbag. Although Louisiana had more than its fair share of bugs, locusts were not one of them, and the man wondered how it had found its way inside his skyscraper apartment.

Probably the construction, maybe it got sucked up the ventilation system? he mused idly, before reaching out to flick the fat insect away. As he did so, the locust leapt. It landed hard against the neck of the wine bottle, only to then leap away into the darkness. Its weight and movement tipped the bottle of Château Pétrus, causing it to fall and spill its ludicrously expensive red liquid all over his phone.

“God damn it!” the irate man yelled, and frantically tried to save both his phone and what was left in his two-grand bottle of wine. But the already imbibed alcohol made his hands fumble, causing him to knock the bottle off the table, only for it to uncannily crack against his porcelain tile flooring, spilling more of its precious contents. Reaching down to retrieve the bottle, his palm was painfully pricked by a silver of glass, causing him to reflexively drop and fully shatter the bottle. He swore as the last of the Bourdeaux spilled onto his floor.

“God damn it!” He roared again, flinging his likely ruined phone against a wall in a rage, “God damn this fucking night, and God damn me!”

“He has,” came a voice from the shadows.

Jean-Marc instinctively froze. Some animalistic, subconscious part of his brain processed that he was in the presence of a predator–and he was prey. Yet, the more rational part of his mind recognized that paralysis was a paltry defense. He silently cursed himself for keeping his Herculean handgun locked up in his bedroom. Without other options, he slowly reached down and gingerly felt for the neck of broken wine-bottle, hoping to find a make-shift weapon to defend himself.

Fear and alcohol muddled his thoughts. He couldn’t remember if he had relocked his front door after entering–or even if the door had been locked at all. He silently cursed himself again for throwing his phone away, as he was effectively in the dark now, with the city lights doing little to reveal his ‘second’ intruder.

“Who’s there?!” Jean-Marc shouted, his voice echoing against the gray walls, floors, and ceilings of his apartment. Against the sound of his own hammering heart, Jean-Marc heard something ‘plink’ against his floor with the light staccato of tapped porcelain.

“To you, I am Hãsîl,” spoke the intruder with a hollow, dead voice.

Hasil? Jean-Marc tried to scroll through his mental Rolodex, checking if the name rung some bell. Maybe a handle from one of my chat groups? No… wait, sounds Arabic… yeah, shit, I did do that one tabloid piece on the Saudi prince. Okay, it was more like twelve… but, shit, yeah, I did just ghostwrite that alt-right piece suggesting Westley Malveaux didn’t just take a drunken dive off Talal’s yacht, but got off’d by the Saudi as part of a power-move–a fuck-off to the Americans to stay out of the oil business. It was just click-bait, but what if…

Once again, Jean-Marc cursed himself for not having his gun, but he turned to the one weapon that had so often served him well through his years: his tongue:

“Look, Hasil, was it? If this is about the thing with the prince, consider it done. I’ll pull the plug on the whole fucking site if it floats Talal’s boat.”

Jean-Marc couldn’t help but flinch when a locust jumped up on his couch and begin to crawl towards his arm.

Damn, is that the same motherfucker or another one?

His attention, however, was soon drawn back to the darkness as his intruder spoke with a mirthless tone:

“Oh, I do serve a prince, but not the one of which you speak. Nor do I come on his behalf. That said, I am… disappointed that you would retract the piece. Are you not Jean-Marc the Evangelist? The Winged Lion would not so cravenly withdraw his words, but rather sealed them with his blood when the offended pagans of Alexandria placed a rope around his neck and drug him through the streets until he was dead.”

Shit, was Jean-Marc’s first panicked thought, as few besides his closest friends or rivals knew of his painting and private sobriquet. Furthermore, talk of martyrdom also didn’t ease his fraying nerves.

“Well," he said, "Maybe I’m a little more attached to my neck, so forgive me if I’m no saint.”

“Forgiveness used to be my divine mandate–,” the intruder whispered bitterly, “–but no longer, Jean-Marc.”

Double shit, Jean-Marc thought, then flinched again as a second locust leapt up on the handbag’s protruding strap. Despite the more immediate danger, he couldn’t help but try to brush away the insect, What is with these fuckers?

“They smell it,” the intruder said, as if answering Jean-Marc’s unspoken question.

“Smell what?” the man asked, both confused and irritated, as a third locust leapt onto the handbag.

Hamas.

“Hama-what?”

Hamas,” the intruder reiterated, and then elaborated as if Jean-Marc was back at Loyola attending a lecture, “It is a Hebrew word, occurring sixty times in the Old Testament, where it is used most prominently to describe mortal, versus divine, violence.”

“ותשחת הארץ לפני
האלהים ותמלא הארץ
חמס׃.”

“Or to translate in the lay tongue–,” the intruder continued, “’the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.’”

Jean-Marc shook his head in the darkness, unsure whether he was involved in an imminent shake-down, hit, lecture, or sermon. He wasn’t sure which he’d prefer.

“Look, I don’t know anything about all that,” Jean-Marc said. “I’m not a violent man, I just write–“

“Aren’t you though, Jean-Marc? Otherwise, I and they would not be here. Know that you are no longer among the living. Any falsehood you now speak is not made to men, but to God alone.”

Triple shit, Jean-Marc silently swore, This fucker’s a religious fanatic, probably a deluded zealot stirred up by today’s piece, looking for blood…

“It is your delusions that should concern you this night, Jean-Marc,” the dark voice intoned. “For despite your protestations of innocence, you are a violent man. Or have you so soon forgotten your bodily violence against the harlot.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?!”

“The harlot you intended to give this ‘gift’ to, the one that reeks of hamas. One of your nights of fornication was frustratingly curtailed when she told you her mother was sick. You let her go, in one of your few acts of charity. But you became enraged when you later discovered she had lied to you. Her mother had been fine, she just played on your sympathy, so she could go to a party aboard the Saturnalia. Warren Whitney’s lucre has always been filthier than yours, but it has also always been so much more.”

“Wha–h-how could you know that?!”

“You nursed your bitter hurt for a week, till you next fornicated with her. Then your rage boiled up. Things got ‘rough,’ as you would say. But the truth–even the tabloid kind–was that things became violent. You nearly strangled her to death. You wanted to strangle her to death. You coveted, Jean-Marc. Power, control. In your lust and rage, you wanted to own and use her as you and you alone wished.”

“But I didn’t!” Jean-Marc protested, not even noticing as a fourth locust crawled unto the handbag, while a fifth leapt onto his sofa. His face was hot, like it had been slapped with a plugged-in iron, and he felt not only shock but shame as he was forced to relive that dark moment:

“I didn’t strangle her–not… I backed off, I apologized, I swore it would never happen again, I made things right, she told me I made things right…”

A single tear streaked down the man’s face, and he wiped it away with his bloodied palm.

Across the room, the intruder seemed to draw in a deep breath, as if savoring some heady scent–much as Jean-Marc had done during his nocturnal stroll that now seemed so long ago.

“Yes,” the stranger said with an impassioned breath. “The Evangelist now speaks truth. But there is a second meaning to hamas, as the word also denotes ‘wrongdoing’ or ‘wickedness’, as for example, used by the prophet Isaiah:"

“ויתן את־רשעים
קברו ואת־עשיר
במתיו על לא־חמס
עשה ולא מרמה
בפיו׃.”

“’And they made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich his tomb; although he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.’"

“But unlike the Lamb of which Isaiah prophesied, you, Jean-Marc, you have done hamas, and your mouth has been filled with deceit. You have done much violence with your evangelism–and you have done it willingly and without penance, wallowing in your covetousness, jealousy, hatred, and pride.”

With each word of condemnation, another locust seemed to appear out of the darkness, till Jean-Marc was surrounded by a swarm that crawled over the table, sofa, and walls behind him. Terror seized him, and like a man desperate for aid, he uttered a vain prayer to the God and faith he had long ago abandoned and so repeatedly blasphemed.

His only answer was another set of ‘plinks’ as something tapped against his porcelain tile floors–something that was drawing nearer to the swarm-surrounded man.

“Vae desiderantibus diem Domini: ad quid eam vobis? Dies Domini ista tenebrae, et non lux.”

This time, perhaps by some dark miracle, Jean-Marc needed no translation, but perfectly understood the eschatological recitation from the Book of Amos:

(”Woe to them that desire the day of the Lord: to what end is it for you? The day of the Lord is darkness, and not light.")

Once more there was the tapping of porcelain, and the intruder’s voice was much closer. As before, it spoke another dark malediction, its voice the rustling of dead cypress branches. But this time, its malediction was accompanied by a growing, stridulating chorus of locusts–that, to his horror, had begun to crawl onto and over his flesh:

“Et quintus angelus tuba cecinit: et vidi stellam de caelo cecidisse in terram, et data est illi clavis putei abyssi. Et aperuit puteum abyssi: et ascendit fumus putei, sicut fumus fornacis magnae: et obscuratus est sol, et aer de fumo putei: et de fumo exierunt lucustae in terram et data est illis potestas, sicut habent potestatem scorpiones terrae: et praeceptum est illis ne laederent faenum terrae, neque omne viride, neque omnem arborem: nisi tantum homines, qui non habent signum Dei in frontibus: et datum est illis ne occiderent eos: sed ut cruciarentur mensibus quinque et cruciatus eorum, ut cruciatus scorpii cum percutit hominem. Et in diebus illis quaerent homines mortem, et non invenient eam, et desiderabunt mori et fugiet mors ab ipsis.”

(”And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.")

Jean-Marc screamed in terror. He tried to rise and run, but his foot slipped in the “damned” wine, causing him to trip and fall. One of his arms fell into the broken glass, further shattering it and lacerating his flesh. The locusts’ hymn of hunger grew. In despair, the prostrate man cried out to the darkness, his tears falling like the rivulets of blood from his body:

“W-what do you want? Please–please, just tell what you want, whatever it is, I’ll do it, j-just tell me, please…”

In the stygian dark, the kneeling, bleeding man felt a hand on his cheek. Its touch was cold and hard, like the porcelain beneath him. Then, with a gentleness that seemed to mock Jean-Marc’s pain, the inhuman hand tilted the ‘Evangelist’ to look up. Doing so, Jean-Marc finally saw his tormentor.

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Its shape mimicked a small, slight man clad in liturgical vestments, but its ‘flesh’ and clothes were fused and fashioned entirely from time-worn porcelain. Outside, the city lights gauntly stretched into the room, reflecting off the figure’s pale porcelain face like a ghostly halo. To Jean-Marc’s horror, that inhuman face regarded him with only one ceramic eye. Its other orb was an empty, abyss-black pit from which locusts crawled and flew into the room. The porcelain horror smiled, revealing sharp ceramic fangs:

“Why, Jean-Marc,” the hollow monster proclaimed, “I desire what I have always desired: God’s will. For your unrepentant sins, for your hamas, I call you to serve God’s wolves, since you would not serve His lambs. By the Undying Rite of the Lancea et Sanctum, I call you—command you—Jean-Marc the Evangelist, to accept the blood of the Damned, since you would not accept the blood of the Redeemed.”

“I-I… I d-don’t understand,” the man blathered amidst his tears, horror, and wounds. “I-I jus–“

But the monster silenced him with a porcelain finger pressed against his lips.

“You will, Jean-Marc. But for now, be silent:"

“Ideo prudens in tempore illo tacebit quia tempus malum est.”

(”Therefore, the prudent shall keep silence at that time, for it is an evil time.")

“Verily, Jean-Marc, I tell you that it is indeed an evil time. So listen and learn how it came to be, from the Malediction and Torments of Longinus, to the Hagiography of St. Cyprien the False, whose confession you shall hear and pen so that others might fear and learn the damnation that awaits them.”

The inhuman terror then closed its sole remaining eye and drew its porcelain hands together in supplication:

“Archangel Vahishtael, Amoniel of the Dominions; Sanctified Longinus of the Spear, and the Five Martyrs; St. Daniel of the Theban Legion, Maron of Icaria, Pazit of the Mount, and the crucified Adira and Gilad; hear my confession:"

“As Adam, I was born in Eden, where I conversed with God amid paradisiacal glory.”

“As Adam, I was tempted by a serpent, and partook of the forbidden fruit.”

“As Adam, I fell from grace, and was cast out from God’s presence.”

“Forever and ever, until the execution of all things,”

“Amen.”


Thursday afternoon, 25 February 2016

GM: The beast regarded the man with an indolent rage. Its silent expression clearly said it would gladly bite the man’s head off if not for the drizzling rain and arthritis in its aged legs. Of course, there were also the metal bars that separated them, but Jean-Marc wasn’t so gauche as to point out that banal truth. After all, even tabloid journalists have their limits.

Probably.

“How’s it going, Mel?”

The lion didn’t respond, save for a slow, fang-exposing yawn.

“Fucking doldrums again, eh?” Jean-Marc remarked, then added, “But cheer up, Detective, it’s almost feeding time.”

And we both know how much we love feeding time. Especially since—

His thoughts were interrupted as Audubon’s big cat zookeeper entered, a middle-aged black man wearing plastic overalls. He hefted a heavy bucket filled with bloody meat. The sanguine aroma made both man and beast salivate. Jean-Marc had to stop himself from licking his chops like the caged lion.

“Marc,” the zookeeper said with an evasive eye, “I can’t be doing this no more. My boss, he… he wouldn’t like it none if he found out I was lettin’ non-staff back ‘ere, ‘specially wit it bein’ after hours. So… this is the last time, a’ight?”

Jean-Marc smiled. The zookeeper, Daronté Du Pleiss, was like most sinners: all-too quick to disavow the Devil in public, but oh so coy in private…

“I believe what you meant to say was that this is the last time. Unless I brought you another set of courtside Pelican tickets. Which, I did.”

Jean-Marc slowly fanned out the basketball tickets as if he was the Sanhedrin counting out Judas’ thirty coins. He had scored the season tickets from the Pelicans’ star player, Jacaubré Brion, after Jean-Marc had done a ‘catch and kill’ for the professional athlete. According to his accusers, the ‘player’ had gotten indecently rough with a few of his girlfriends—which was doubly damning since Jacaubré was married. With all of the witnesses gag-ordered by NDAs, the athlete’s reputation—and lucrative endorsement’s—were safe, but only so long as Jean-Marc sat on the story. And so long as he did, Jacaubré’s ‘gifts’ continued to trickle in. Personally, Jean-Marc wasn’t the most avid of basketball fans, but he was never one to let a good thing, or bad, go to waste.

He waved the tickets in Daronté’s direction, then watched as the zookeeper had his own turn to salivate. Still, the zookeeper hesitated, setting down his slaughterhouse-bucket to nervously pace, one hand absent-mindedly grabbing the cross necklace tucked beneath his zoo uniform.

“I… I dunno, it’s risky…”

“Come on, Daronté,” Jean-Marc whispered, “we both know how much your son loves going to the games, how he brags to all his schoolmates and neighborhood friends, telling them about how his dad is a ‘front-row friend’ of the famous Jacaubré Brion. C’mon, Daronté, we wouldn’t want to disappoint the kid…”

“Fine, but you watch, and then you’s go,” the zookeeper said, letting go of his cross to grab the tickets and hastily hide them in his pocket.

Jean-Marc swallowed his private smile, savoring how he had used one sin’s ‘wages’ to purchase another. He had become especially attuned to those ironies ever since his ‘conversion.’ His thoughts, though, were once again interrupted by the visceral sloshing of blood, as the zookeeper re-hefted the bucket and began the lion’s feeding regimen. Jean-Marc watched with delight as the beast tore into the sluiced hunks of bloody horse meat, raw bones, and rabbit carcasses.

Even before his ‘conversion,’ Jean-Marc had always loved watching ‘Private Eye Mel’ eat. Officially, the zoo-trapped lion was named Richard, after the English king. But Jean-Marc didn’t approve of the trite name, so he came up with his own, inspired by the metal plaque that announced the beast’s abbreviated scientific species: P.l. Mel., short for Panthera leo melanochaita. Initially, he hadn’t decided what ‘Mel’ was short for, but as of late, Jean-Marc was leaning towards Melech, after the idolatrous god-king of the biblical Ammonites, whose ‘crown’ was taken by King David. In medieval times, Melech was considered the wage boss of Hell.

“For the wages of sin is death.”

“Whassat?” the zookeeper called back, his attention foremost fixed upon his grisly job.

“Nothing,” Jean-Marc lied, shaking his head with a worried frown. He hadn’t meant to say anything, but he had found himself doing that increasingly. Reciting scriptures. Most of the time, he didn’t even know their sources in the ‘Good Book’—or whether they were instead in the ‘Bad Book’ he had been learning so much about lately. He had never been a scriptural scholar, even before he became a severely lapsed Catholic. But ever since being ‘born again’ by Father d’Gerasene’s blood, he found his thoughts frequently drifting to scriptures and biblical stories like a lovestruck teen daydreaming of their first crush. He knew it should have bothered him—but all he could muster was a mild unease mingled with an ineffable awe and masochistic desire for more.

For a moment, Jean-Marc considered attacking Daronté. The zookeeper’s back was to him, and he was distracted. It would be relatively easy to stalk up to the man and knock him out with a well-executed chiến lược. From there, it would be child’s play to take the man’s key, and toss him into Mel’s feeding cage. The satiated beast probably wouldn’t eat Daronté, not at first, but Melech would likely kill the intruder for trespassing on his sovereign prison.

Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour…

Before Jean-Marc realized what he was doing, he started creeping up on the unsuspecting zookeeper. He halted himself, though, his head fuzzy as if he’s been drinking too much. Which, in a manner of speaking, he had.

“Why you do it?” Daronté asked, turning around to face Jean-Marc now that his task was done. If he noticed that that tabloid writer had stealthily closed the difference between them, he didn’t seem to care.

“What’s that?” the journalist asked, refocusing his attention.

“Why you come ‘ere, and watch Lil’ Richard eat his supper?”

“Little Richard?" Jean-Marc asked somewhat incredulously. To underscore the question, his gaze drifted to the quarter-ton male lion who was casually licking the blood from a paw that could easily shatter a human skull.

Daronté shrugged. “We in N’walins, ain’t we? Lil’ Richard actually came ‘ere, played Club Tiajuana, recorded at Cosimo’s studio, and riffed Tutti Frutti just across Lake Pontcartrain at the Dew Drop. But I ain’t never seen no royal Brit highness come down to N’walins.”

“Touché,” conceded Jean-Marc.

“A what now?”

“Never mind,” the journalist replied, his interest in the conversation waning as swiftly as it had waxed. He checked his smartwatch, the latest UMe model and replacement to his smashed Solaris, and looked for any interesting push-notifications. The zookeeper, however, didn’t take the hint, but posed again his earlier query:

“So, why you do it? I mean, you don’t seem no perv tryin’ to get off on it. And you ain’t never asked to feed ‘im or try to release Lil’ Richard like a crack pipe nutter. And I know these tickets ain’t no cheap seats, so why you do it? What’s in it for you?”

Jean-Marc paused and looked up from his newsfeed. He contemplated spinning a yarn for the curious, gullible zookeeper, but he decided the truth was sometimes far crueler than any lie:

“Every man has his private peccadillos, Daronté. One of mine’s a penchant—that means hobby—for collecting defunct or bellied-up newspaper prints. My pièce de résistance is a series of articles from 1884, published by L’Abeille de la Nouvelle-Orléans and its fiercest rival, Le Courrier de la Nouvelle Orleans.These papers were like the Celtics and Lakers of New Orleans’ journalism—they absolutely hated each other, as did their respective readers. Anyways, during the 1884 World’s Fair, a Frenchmen from Julia Street temporarily donated a lion allegedly from Paris’ Jeadin des Plantes to Audubon’s first animal exhibits. Even amongst the fair’s other exotic splendors, the lion drew particularly large crowds and widespread renown, as it was supposedly the last living Cape Lion on Earth. Most scholars had thought the subspecies had kicked the bucket a decade or two earlier. But there it was, a giant-ass lion with the Cape’s telltale black mane. The lion was dubbed Lézaire by L’Abeille, since it, like the biblical figure of Lazarus, had seemingly come back from the dead. Le Courrier tried to retort with its own sobriquet for the beast, but it never stuck. Anyways, Lézaire became something of a locally disputed symbol.”

“For some of, uh… your people, the color of the beast’s mane as well as its African origins meant Lézaire represented them. Also, they figured the Confederacy had tried to make them extinct as a ‘subspecies’ of people rather than property, but had ultimately failed. After all, they were still riding Reconstruction’s coattails. The more cynical colored folks, like those from the New Orleans Tribune, took the symbolism even farther, noting how the lion escaped extinction but still remained locked up in a cage, just like how former slaves had survived the Civil War, but had become ‘locked up’ by the fast-spawning Jim Crow laws.”

“Not to be outdone, the local Bourbon Democrats claimed Lézaire as their own symbol, as the ex-slave owning plantation farmers, businessmen, and professionals—or at least their power, authority, and riches—had been hunted to near-extinction by Union occupation, Reconstruction, and Radical Republican carpetbaggers. Yet, almost two decades after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, the ‘Redeemers’ were back, once more as the true ‘kings of the south.’ Also, the Bourbon Democrats, or their sympathetic journalists in Le Courrier used Lézaire’s South African connections to draw a comparison between the Redeemers’ post-Reconstruction victory and ousting of Yankee and Republican carpetbaggers to recent events in the Boer Republics, where the local white, but black slave-owning Boers successfully ousted the British’s ‘northern aggressions and encroachments’ during the First Boer War.”

Now it was Daronté’s turn to look disinterestedly at his watch: a fake Rolex that looked like it came out of a cheap toy capsule vending machine.

Noting he had lost his audience’s attention, Jean-Marc cursed silently. Not that he cared much for Daronté’s opinion, or expected the ill-educated zookeeper to understand, but rather, he realized he had unintentionally slipped into a de facto history lecture. That wasn’t the tabloid journalist’s traditionally pithy style, but it was like someone else he had come to intimately know, someone who had a penchant for pedantic catechisms.

Hell, most men became like their fathers, but fuck if I want to become my new one…

As if to prove he still retained his own identity, he tried to reengage Daronté with a tabloid headline:

“But Lézaire was a phony-ass fake.”

“Whussat?” the zookeeper said, looking up, perhaps drawn more by the cursing than anything else.

“The lion—he was as fake as a Tinder profile pic. But they only found out after the World’s Fair, after a bidding war between some Bourbon Democrats and a bunch of local black Buffalo Soldiers from the 9th Calvary Regiment. Pooling their resources together, the black soldiers won the bid, with the support of the Audubon Nature Institute. In fact, Daronté, the man who formally represented the Buffalo Soldiers, officially bought the lion, and gave Lézaire to the zoo was a Lt. Du Pleiss. Probably one of your relatives.”

“Oh, shit, really?” the zookeeper said with renewed interest and a slight puff of his chest. Of course, Jean-Marc had no clue if the zookeeper was related to any Buffalo Soldiers, much less the ones involved in the lion’s late 19th-century purchase.

But sometimes a story needs some fucking spice, a little lie or two to leaven the loaf.

“But you’s said the lion was a fake?”

“Hell, yes. No sooner did the zookeepers let the beast bathe, did they discover that Lézaire’s mane wasn’t really black. He was a natural blonde, but had been given a dye job good enough to fool folks from a distance. After all, how many people had seen a real Cape Lion to tell the difference? Oops. Obviously, the hoodwinked soldiers, zoo, and scientific community were livid. The scandal only thickened when they discovered that the French conman from Julia Street had vanished. Muck-racking reporters from the Tribune accused the Bourbon Democrats of being part of the scam. Allegedly, their bidding war had been but a ruse to bilk the black soldiers of their war-won life savings, further disenfranchising the former slaves. Not sure if that was true, but it made for a hell of a hot story.”

Jean-Marc looked with private satisfaction as the story seemed to ignite some anger in the usually placid zookeeper.

“So what, you’s like a fuckin’ sheet-wearing KKK white boy who gets off to watching a poor-ass black man take care of a lemon lion your people fucked some niggers into buyin’?”

Jean-Marc quickly extended two placating palms. Shaking his head, he replied, “Not at all. From my experience, white supremacy is even faker than Lézaire’s dye job. God made us all equal, just as the Devil made us all equal sinners. And for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t be invited to Kevin King’s dinner parties, as I’m what the old folks would call a quadroon or quarteron.”

“A what now?”

“Means I’ve got one-fourth African ancestry. Can’t really tell, and most folks just figure I’ve got Arabic blood. These days, it’s hard to know which ancestry, false or true, lands me in worse water.”

The zookeeper gave the journalist a disbelieving look-over, then shrugged. Glancing back at the lion, he asked:

“So what’s all this got’s to do wit Lil’ Richard?”

Jean-Marc smiled, this time sharing it with Daronté, or at least the lounging lion:

“Melech—or Little Richard as you call him—is descended from Lézaire. He’s like his great-great-great-grandson or something close. Doesn’t matter how many ‘greats,’ because here’s the fucking rub. A few years ago, a group of zoologists from all over the world did a bunch of genetic and phylogeographic studies—don’t ask me what the fuck those are exactly—with lions from southern and eastern African. But their results caused them to redo how lions are classified, with a bunch of lions living in Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa all being genetically close enough to be lumped together as Panthera leo melanochaita. This didn’t exactly make anybody’s primetime headline, but it did inspire some researchers at Tulane to collaborate with folks from here, the Transvaal Museum, and the Paris Museum of Natural History. They compared genetic assays from Cape lion skulls in the museums with DNA from this lion right here—and surprise, they found out he’s a quarteron Cape Lion. So, it looks like Lézaire was the real deal, after all. He was just one of the rare Cape lions who had tawny manes. Pretty fucking hilarious, right?”

“I… guess…” Daronté said, as if not entirely getting or caring for the punchline.

“That’s exactly it!” Jean-Marc exclaimed, walking closer to the cage and its now-pacing beast. “No one really gave a fuck! People were far more excited and interested in a story that looked like the truth than one that actually was. It doesn’t matter if Lézaire or this lion actually are Cape lions—people only care if they look like them, or look like what we fucking expect them to look like. It’s all about the masquerade! And the best, or worst, part of it all was that that the stories that got the most ink weren’t about revelations of truth, but rather the ones that covered the fucking scandals and lies!”

“I guess so, but—” the zookeeper said, as if to object to Jean-Marc’s story, or at least its damning implications for humanity.

“But nothing, Daronté,” the journalist interrupted, taking another step closer to the lion’s cage. “Go ahead and tell me I’m wrong. Tell me that most people care more about the hard truths versus the comforting lies, that they don’t prefer news that tears down other people’s glass houses so you don’t have to look your own in the eye and see all its cracks. If I’m wrong, then surely you’ll run home to your boy and tell him the truth—that Jacaubré Brion doesn’t know you from Adam, and you only scored the tickets by abusing the trust your boss has in you. But you and I both know you aren’t going to do that…”

So accused, the shame-faced zookeeper hung his head. Staring down, he fished out the Pelicans’ tickets. Once more, his other hand reflexively gripped his half-hidden cross necklace. So engrossed in his own thoughts, if not guilt, Daronté didn’t notice Jean-Marc’s continued approach to the lion’s cage, especially as the man resumed his ‘sermon’:

“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 placed his glass-pierced palm around one of the cage’s metal bars, provoking the beast within to violently pounce against its prison, slashing and roaring with hungry, murderous fury. Jean-Marc well understood the emotion, and wisely retracted his hand, but did not step back.

In the background, Daronté looked up with shocked alarm, and shouted at Jean-Marc to get away.

The Evangelist paid him no mind, but rather whispered to the roaring lion mere inches away:

“But we know the truth, don’t we, Detective Melech? You’ve cracked the case. God is real, and so is the Devil. And the bars that mortals place between themselves and the Damned have no power, for we’re all locked inside the same prison. And the wardens, the Sanctified children of Caine, secretly walk among Adam’s children, devouring whomever God wills. Forever and ever, until the end.”

The Evangelist finished his benediction with the Sign of the Inverted Cross, then stepped away from the still-raging lion. Outside, the rain had finally stopped, but a larger, darker storm was brewing in the night sky. Jean-Marc tipped his hat at the still-stunned, half-rambling, half-shouting zookeeper, and gave his parting ‘blessing’:

“See you next time, Daronté, and make sure you say ‘hi’ to the kid and Jacaubré for me. Unless you tell them the truth, but we both know you’d never do something so honest—or so cruel…”


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Story Thirteen, Celia XI

“Not needing to lie to people, to be able to be who you used to be… it’s necessary.”
Celia Flores


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, AM

Celia: Celia waits until the siblings are gone to change for her trip to Uptown. It’s an altogether inconvenient location, really, considering the distance between the two territories and the fact that the kook who runs the place owes a favor to Jade, not one of her many, many aliases. She does her face, rifles through her bookshelves for a gesture of goodwill (an inexpensive but older copy of Virgil’s Aeneid she’d picked up for one of her classes in undergrad at a used book store, recently rebound without any of the typical scrawling or highlighting or dog-eared pages that mark many students’ books) and tucks it into her purse with the still-damaged Lucy.

“Sorry it’s taking so long,” Celia says to the doll, “not many people can talk to dolls like Elyse does.” And Mom won’t even try.

GM: Lucy stares serenely back at her mother’s words.

Dolls are patient.

Celia: For a moment she debates how to get to the library. She could fly. It would be a quick trip in and out. Easier to sneak, isn’t it? But that involves cutting herself open to stuff things inside, spending the blood to shift, spending more to heal, spending more to rip it out, and then even more on the flight back. Her Beast is already annoyed that she’d done a good deed with the tattoo for Roderick—and some paranoid part of her wonders if he’s using it to kidnap his sister, but she tries to ignore that voice because Dani had said she wants to stay and he wouldn’t do that, would he?—and the blood that she banked is for Lebeaux. (Even though she wants it. She really wants it. She can just kill someone for Lebeaux, can’t she?)

Better to take a car. She calls for a Ryde with a pickup point down the block and a drop-off point near the library, conceals the Beast with a quick bit of shadow dancing, and relies on a mundane disguise to hide the rest of her: boring clothes and a lighter colored wig. Jade has black hair, so she finds a light brown one and tugs it into place. Another bit of shadow dancing turns her into any typical woman on the street. Nothing to see here.

She tells her driver to go through Mid-City rather than the Garden District or CBD. No reason to risk things more than she needs to. Even if she’s “discovered” in Mid-City she has the right to be there and isn’t an unwelcome sight like she might be elsewhere.

GM: The Ryde driver drops off Celia near the library.

It’s as she’s walking towards it that her purse strap abruptly snaps. Cat-quick, she snatches it up in her hands before Lucy can hit the ground. Her wig falls off.

Just then, a convertible with a ghoul and several other men and rounds the turn. He’s a skinhead built like a haystack and so covered in tattoos and metal studs and piercings that Celia almost thinks he’s full clothed. His friends don’t look much nicer.

Their eyes all settle on the attractive woman walking alone at night.

One of them whoops and hops out of the moving car to quickly approach her. The ghoul smirks and parks it at the curb. He and his other friends get out and file up to Celia.

“Lookin’ for a date, honey?” leers the ghoul.

Celia can see two tiny swastikas etched onto his front teeth.

Celia: What are the chances that the ghoul recognizes her through the makeup and shadow dancing? Even without a wig she shouldn’t look like herself, surely. Maybe they don’t know she’s a vampire. Maybe they’re just concerned that she lost her hair. She should have shaved her head, she reflects, she could have sold them on the idea of sickly cancer patient.

She squares up as they approach, eyes on the ghoul that leads this merry band of gentlemen.

“For a friend, actually.” A tilt of her head as she eyes him up and down, appraising. Not cute enough for someone like her to want to fuck, but maybe with a little bit of emotional play to make it believeable… A gentle wind blows the supernatural charm out of her, the sort of thing that captures attention and makes people a little more likely to listen to what she says.

“But if you’re offering,” she purrs, “how can I say no?”

GM: The unseen wave rolls out out. The mens’ eyes widen. They’re ugly men, by and large. Crude faces with cruder smiles, and even cruder beliefs worn over their bodies in ink and metal.

She thinks they were pretty likely to listen to those words anyway.

One man licks her face and squeezes her breast, so hard it feels like he’s trying to crush it. His breath smells rancid and foul.

“You guys can have her holes. I’m gonna fuck her tits. I’m gonna rub my dick all over her tits.”

“Aw, yeah,” says another with yellowed teeth. Her grabs her face and leans in close, running his tongue over her forehead. Strips of it are black and brown. His saliva smells like tobacco. “We’re gonna all cum on your face, you dirty whore. We’re gonna fuckin’ drown you in cum.”

“Fuck that,” says a third man with a jagged scar down his cheek. He slips his callused hands up her clothes. “I want to get her pregnant.”

“Your baby’s gonna have four dads, bitch,” leers the ghoul, watching with apparent amusement as his fellows molest her.

Celia: Well this backfired spectacularly.

For a moment she’s taken back in time, just another dumb teenager who asked for help and was put on her knees for it. Whore, they say, and she sees Paul’s face. Jamal’s face. She closes her eyes against the mental intrusion.

Easy to go along with it. To let them have their way with her. Easy to let another set of hands push her down, make her open her mouth, let them use her. She’ll limp away with her pride in tatters, but alive for all that.

Maybe she should.

Maybe Celia would.

But Celia died, and while Jade might have fucked one of them, might have let the ghoul put his tiny dick in her if it meant she got out of here without being punished, she’s not about to let these vermin touch her. Jade reaches out with the gift of her clan, smothering the lust inside these fellows. Maybe they thought they wanted to fuck, but their bodies say otherwise.

“I’m on my period,” she says by way of explanation for the sudden lack of interest, because plenty of normal “macho” men are squicked out by blood, and they seem the type.

Maybe they need another focus for their attention, too; maybe one of them has a juicy secret he’s been hiding, and his dick not working just makes him think about it and blurt it out.

GM: “You sick whore!” the third man exclaims in revulsion, withdrawing his hands like they’ve been coated in something foul. “You crazy, sick… you’re SICK!

Dangerous and equally disgusted expressions flash across the other men’s faces before the second man blurts out,

“My nigger parole officer makes me suck his cock after he found I was using.”

Three sets of alternately incredulous and coldly furious eyes immediately whip towards him.

Celia: Jade plays along, mouth going slack at the confession.

GM: “Wh-no he doesn’t!” the man suddenly exclaims, his eyes wide. “He’s so stupid, he doesn’t have any fuckin’ idea!”

Celia: No wonder he wanted to cum on her face. She bets the parole officer makes him take it like that.

Maybe it occurs to the other men, too.

Write what you know and all that.

GM: The other three men are very, very quiet. The hands on Jade go slack.

Celia: Jade drops the spotlight on her, sliding back into obscurity. As soon as the opportunity presents itself she’ll slip away.

GM: “He do that to you?” asks the ghoul, his voice calm. “‘Drown you in cum?’”

“No. Why the fuck would I say that!?” His eyes are wide. “It was a j-”

“I didn’t think it was funny,” the first man says coldly.

“Me neither,” says the third. There’s a look in his eyes.

They throw Jade to the ground with all the regard for a used condom. Her hands scrap against the pavement.

“Get out of here, cunt,” spits the ghoul without looking at her.

All three men advance towards their fellow.

He holds up his hands. “Wai-”

Celia: That’s her cue. She backpedals out of the way, then takes off as quickly as her little legs can carry her after climbing to her feet.

GM: First there’s the sound of protests, cut off under the sounds of fists and feet connecting with flesh.

It’s only after she’s a block away that she starts to hear true screams.

Celia: She almost feels bad.

But he called her a whore, so he deserves what he gets.


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, AM

GM: The Milton H. Latter Memorial Library crouches on a low grassy hill in the Garden District, isolated from even the leisurely district’s comparative hustle and bustle. Wind sighs through the leaves of old Southern oaks whose branches grasp at the building’s roof like gnarled, jealous black fingers.

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This late at night, the library is closed to the public. A locked door awaits Jade as she makes her way up the hill.

After several moments, there’s a low click from the other side.

Celia: Jade opens the door and slips inside once it unlocks, closing it behind her.

GM: She sees no one there. The library appears utterly deserted. Rows and rows of books stretch before her. There are no noisy children, crazy homeless people, or simple patrons quietly perusing the library’s books. The lights are out. The only sound comes from the low hum of ventilation ducts. Jade may as well be in a tomb.

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Celia: But someone opened the door for her, and Jade doesn’t mind going to find the Malkavian she’s looking for. fQuiet footfalls announce her presence through the stacks.

GM: The Toreador does not encounter a living soul as she stalks past the rows of books. She arrives at a reading room. Parts of the building’s interior still resemble the mansion it used to be, replete with a fireplace, fancy drapes and rugs, and old-fashioned brass light fixtures.

Milton_Latter_Interior.JPG
For a moment she thinks she’s seen a ghost. The figure on the couch looks like a librarian straight out of the ‘50s or ‘60s, down to the rhine-stone glasses, pearl necklace and auburn hair done up in a prim bun. She wears a frumpy wool cardigan, plaid skirt, and opaque tights. She’s pallid enough to mistake for a restless shade, but Jade’s Beast growls otherwise.

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She’s silently reading a book. She does not look up at Jade’s presence.

She does not turn the pages.

They turn on their own.

Celia: It’s certainly an unsettling atmosphere this late at night, and the strong evidence of spirits makes it even more so. If she hadn’t already believed in ghosts she’d be convinced with a trip to this library. The door, the pages—irrefutable evidence that the licks are not alone.

Jade approaches. No doubt Clairmont’s shades have told her that there’s company. She doesn’t clear her throat or otherwise draw attention to herself, though she pauses on the threshold to reach into her bag and pulls out the book.

GM: The air seems to grow thicker around Jade as she steps forward. Heavier. She feels like she is being watched. Like a shriveled, disapproving old librarian is glaring down the back of her neck and just waiting for her to transgress.

The librarian offers no response to Jade. She just keeps reading. Another page turns. It’s one of the last in the book.

Celia: The endings are the most important part. Jade knows how annoying it is to be interrupted while reading; she waits until Clairmont is ready for her. She doesn’t have anywhere to be until 4.

GM: Clairmont keeps reading.

Another page turns.

She keeps reading.

Then another.

Then another.

Then another.

Minutes pass.

Celia: At least there’s no annoying clock that ticks with every passing second. No doubt the librarians frown on such interruptions.

GM: The book abruptly closes. Clairmont looks up.

“I love hoaw it ends,” she says in a thick Boston accent. “We heah about Myhna Minkawff all throughout the nawvel and only then do we finally get tuh meet hah. She’s everything we imagined and ev’n wawse. She and Ignatius cawmpletely desahve each othah.”

Celia: Jade glances at the title when Clairmont closes the book before she smiles, lifting her eyes to the lick.

GM: It’s Confederacy of Dunces.

Celia: “I haven’t had the pleasure of that one yet,” Jade says honestly, “but I’m always looking for new things to read.”

GM: “You should read it. It’s vahy good. It’s famous faw its realistic depiction of the yat dialect. Many locals and writahs think that it’s the best depiction theyah is in any wawk of fiction.”

“I also love how much Boethius comes up, the sixth centuhwy is such an undahexplahed time period in fiction, at least in Rome. Which I suppose the book in’t actually set in, but I still like the numbah of references theyah ah. Boethius’ book is a plot duhvice.”

Celia: “I’ll have to add it to my list,” Jade says, “thank you for the recommendation. Waste of a Requiem to not use our time to appreciate the works of others.”

GM: “I hav’n’t read the Cawnsolation of Philosawphy, but whenevah I re-read Cawnfederacy it makes me want tuh read that too. Ignatius thought it was so inspiring. He’s hahdly a role model, but I just want tuh see what Toole thought he saw in it.”

“Would youh like tuh check out Cawnfederacy? I did just finish it, and it’s not on any othah patron’s wait list.”

Celia: Another book she hasn’t read.

“I’d love to. I brought one for you as well. It’s a classic, so I imagine you may have read it, but I think it’s an illuminating look into the lives and beliefs of those who lived in Virgil’s day.” She holds the book aloft for Clairmont and her wraiths to get a look.

GM: Clairmont gets up, looks at the copy of Virgil’s book for several minutes, then plucks it from Jade’s hands with an apparently happy air.

“Oh yes, I’ve read it, of cawse I’ve read it, but I’ll add it to the library. You can’t evah have tooah many cawpies. That way different people can check out cawpies at once. And sometimes they like some cawpies more than othahs. We have sehvwal cawpies of Cawnfederacy, I like tuh altahnate between them whenevah I re-read it, youh can pick which one yuh want tuh check out.”

Celia: “Sometimes the translations are different,” Jade adds, “which can change the contextual meaning of certain phrases, and provide some interesting commentary on people at that time as well.”

GM: “That too, so much all depends on the edition,” Clairmont agrees. She makes her way to the library’s front desk and steps behind the computer.

“Do yuh have a library cahd, ma’am?”

Celia: “It might be expired,” Jade admits, “I usually have one of my girls pick something up for me.”

GM: “Okay, we can renew it if it is, it’s no trouble,” says the Malkavian.

Celia: Jade digs through her bag. She finds a card, but it has Celia’s name on it. Whoops.

“I have her card,” she offers.

GM: “Well yuh can’t use someone else’s cahd if she isn’t checking out the book,” Clairmont declares offendedly. “We’ll get yuh one. What’s youh full name and date of bihth, ma’am?”

Celia: Jade gives it to her.

GM: Clairmont also asks for her address, phone number (work and home), postal code, gender, whether she lives in city limits, and similar such standard bureaucratic form information.

Celia: Jade gives her the information for Flawless. It’s the only place she takes mail with the name “Jade” anyway.

GM: Clairmont types it all in, tells Jade to wait a moment, then disappears into the back and comes back with a newly-laminated library card in the name of Jade Kalani.

“Sign heuh please, ma’am,” she says, indicating the blank space on the card. She provides a pen.

Celia: Jade signs her name.

GM: “Youh ah now a library patron, Miss Kalani,” Clairmont declares in a pleased tone. “Do youh have a book youh’d like tuh check out?”

Celia: “The one you recommended,” Jade says, “and the one you were just reading. Hopefully we can discuss them more in length during my next visit. I am also hoping to borrow a moment of your time, Miss Clairmont. Well, perhaps two moments.”

GM: Clairmont nods. “Okay. The cawpies will all be heah soon. Would she like tuh get a library card tooah?”

Celia: “If she doesn’t have one I’m sure she’ll appreciate the assistance.” Jade glances around. “For all the technological advances in our world, I think sometimes we forget how much information and knowledge lurks within the pages of institutes like these. I hit a snag on a recent research project when I came across an unfamiliar word and thought you might be able to direct me to an appropriate source.”

GM: Jade sees no one else.

“Of cawhse, Miss Kulani, I’d be happy tuh,” says the Malkavian. “But let’s get her a cahd first. Fahwst, last, and middle name?”

Celia: Jade blinks. She’d thought that Clairmont meant Alana or “Celia.” She looks down at her bag, then pulls out the doll.

“For Lucy, you mean?”

GM: Clairmont nods. “I presume you ah the parent oah guahdian.”

Celia: “I am.”

GM: “What awh her middle and last names?”

Celia: Jade hesitates. Then, “Diana. Flores.”

GM: Clairmont types into the computer. “So that’s Lucy Diahna Flawes?”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: Some more taps of the keyboard.

“Okay. How about…”

Date of birth.

Gender.

Mailing address.

City.

Postal code.

Home phone number.

Work phone number isn’t needed.

Does she live inside city limits?

Celia: Jade provides the relevant information. Lucy lives with her, so most of it is the same as what she provided.

GM: “Ah you shoah that’s right? She doan look older than sixteen, seventeen?” asks Clairmont after the pre-1989 birth date Jade provides.

She looks at Lucy.

“Oah, of cawse. Silly me.”

“We’ll go with the final date, then.”

Her fingers tap over the keyboard.

Celia: Jade’s eyes sweep back and forth between the pair as they… talk.

“You see and hear her,” she says.

GM: Clairmont keeps typing into the computer.

“I need tuh enter her infawmation. Yuh can’t have a library cahd without all the infawmation.”

Celia: Jade just nods.

She lets the librarian do her thing, providing what details she can.

GM: Clairmont enters it all, then disappears into the back. She returns with a laminated card that Jade is asked to sign, despite the birth date being for 1988.

October 10th, 1988.

Jade does some mental math.

Exactly 40 weeks, or three trimesters, to the day, before Celia was born.

Celia: “The final date?” Jade echoes.

Her release from the house?

GM: “That’s right,” Clairmont agrees. “Please sign foah her, ma’am, as the parent oah guahdian.”

Celia: Jade does as asked, still trying to figure out what it all means.

Maybe if she hadn’t torped Elyse she could have just asked her.

GM: “Heeuh you ah, young lady, you ah now a library patron,” Clairmont smiles at Lucy as she extends the card.

“Yes. That’s very bad. I’m sahry.”

She looks at Jade. “Would you like to hold onto it foah her, ma’am?”

“Yes, we do.”

“Seeing as she doesn’t have big enough pawckets.”

Celia: “Of course,” Jade says, extending her hand for the card. She slips both of the new cards into her purse.

She can’t help but feel like she’s missing part of the conversation.

GM: “I doan think they know, or maybe they do know. I can’t ask them that, because, you know.”

“Do you want to check out any books foah her, ma’am?”

“What’s it like?”

Celia: “I’m sorry,” Jade says softly, “I fear I’m missing part of the conversation.”

GM: “Oh, I’m sahwy,” Clairmont apologizes. “Do you want tuh check out any books foah her, ma’am?”

“It must be very boring.”

Celia: “Is there anything in particular she’d like to read?” Her eyes rest on the doll.

GM: “I’m not shoah. She wants tuh read it and she doesn’t. It’s vahy strange!”

Celia: “Maybe we could get it in case she decides she does?”

GM: “Okay. Excuse me.”

Clairmont disappears and returns several minutes later with an armful of books, including Pride and Prejudice. It’s Diana’s favorite book. She sets them down on the desk.

Celia: Jade touches the tips of her fingers to the book, recalling all the times she has seen her mother with a copy of it in hand.

“Miss Clairmont, Lucy and I have had some difficulty communicating with each other recently. I know she has something to tell me, but not what. Is there any chance you can assist?”

GM: Clairmont nods. “Which one of yoah, Miss Kalani?”

“Would they like library cahds too?”

Celia: “With… me, I think.”

She looks around, as if expecting to see the others beside her.

GM: She and Clairmont appear alone in the library but for Lucy.

“Yes, yes, youh have a cahd, I’m asking if they’d like ones.”

Celia: “Ah, I meant that I think her words were for me. One of them has a card. The other… prefers being read to.”

GM: Clairmont nods agreeably. “Okay. But it nevuh hurts tuh have a cahd.”

“Okay. I’ll take youh word fah it.”

“That’s intahesting. Is thahe more in you? Youh seem more real.”

Celia: “Just the three, I think.”

GM: “It must hurt, though.”

Celia: “To have multiples? Not necessarily. They’re like… built-in friends.”

True enough for what the Malkavian means, she thinks. Jade—Celia—doesn’t actually have multiple personalities. Of course she doesn’t. She just has multiple identities, personas and masks she can slip into depending on what she needs and how a conversation flows. Jade, Celia, Leilani.

…and the others. Star. Violet. Lilly. Neveah. Heather now. All of whom have built in stories, friends, lovers, careers… just like Jade does. Just like Celia does. Leilani to a lesser extent; she is, perhaps, the least developed of them all, but that comes from being sheltered and coddled her entire life, and there are few enough situations in her Requiem where such a persona can flourish.

They’re just masks, aren’t they?

But what about Elyse’s words, Lucy’s announcement that she’s pregnant with more sisters? What about the dolls, Lotus and Blossom and Princess, what about the iris and the bleeding heart? What about the male form she’d taken to fuck herself? The nameless doll that might be part of her more than either one of them realize?

Masks, all of them. There’s nothing more to it than that. She’s in control. She picks who interacts with whom.

That’s all it is.

GM: Of course it is.

She’s in control.

She created them, didn’t she?

“Oh, I meant hah. But I had a friend who had multiples, too. They kept hah safe. She died in Kahtrina. That was sad. We doan stick around like they do.”

Celia: They keep Celia safe, too.

“The multiples stick around?”

GM: “It depends. Only if they’re born before yuh die.”

“Usually.”

Celia: Part of her will be around forever, even if she’s dead. It’s an interesting thought.

GM: “Aftuh all, things can happen to them, like with Lucy.”

Celia: “Lucy was a multiple?”

GM: Clairmont nods. “Is a multiple.”

Celia: “And she was separated from her host.”

GM: “I doan think she likes it in there.”

Celia: “In the doll?”

GM: “Would youh like tuh be stuck in a doll?”

Celia: “No. I didn’t realize she was… stuck.”

“This is one of Lady Interpreter Benson’s creations,” Jade continues, “I thought she… was just that.”

GM: “Oh yes, I could tell,” nods Clairmont. “Elyse does vahy good wuhk.”

Celia: “Lucy was cleaved from her host and stuffed inside the doll?”

GM: “It’s more that she died, youh see.”

Celia: “She died,” Jade echoes.

GM: “We all die a little,” says Clairmont. “But sometimes we die more, youh know?”

Celia: “I’m sorry, I don’t follow. Can you explain?”

GM: “Well, youh look like youh died at least… oh, fouh times? Moah? I can’t really tell from here.”

Celia: “How could I die more than once, though..?”

GM: “That’s why youh should play it safe, get multiple cahds,” Clairmont nods.

“Do Lucy’s multiples have cahds? I’m not shoah how many she has.”

Celia: “I’m not certain. I didn’t realize there was more than Lucy.”

GM: “Of cawhse there are! People doan get born inside dolls.”

Celia: “I’m a little fuzzy on the details of how Lucy came to be.”

“Can you… help?”

GM: “Well, I’m bettah at death than birth, except when dying is how someone gets bahn.”

“Like heah, but not always.”

Celia: “Anything more than I know now would be of assistance.”

GM: “Youh get it bettah thane most of them do,” Clairmont nods, “but youh still have a way to go. Hawlequin can help youh theuh.”

“I doan really know about the multiples, except when they die. He knows more about the multiples when they doan’t die.”

Celia: “What about Lucy, in particular? If you can communicate with her and I am unable to right now? She gave me a message but hurt herself doing so, and I’d like to know what else she needs to tell me or how to fix it.”

GM: “Oh, well, she wants out.”

Celia: “A body, you mean?”

GM: “She really wants out.”

Celia: “I don’t know how to do that.”

GM: “That’s the point,” Clairmont nods.

“Elyse does vahy good work.”

Celia: “So you mean that Elyse trapped Lucy inside this doll when her host when to visit the Wedding Cake House. And there are multiple others inside the host, or inside Lucy, and they want out.”

GM: “I doan know without seeing the host, and they’d need tuh have died, anyway, or youh should see Hawlequin.”

Celia: “Okay.” Jade nods. “Thank you.”

GM: “Hawlequin knows about the multiples who haven’t died, like I said.”

“Lucy has died, so that’s how it is.”

“Also, she wants a Diahna tuh get her out.”

Celia: “Diana is afraid of her.”

GM: Clairmont shrugs.

Celia: “Is Diana the only one who can get her out?”

GM: “Well it’s a quesshun of can and a quesshun of how and a quesshun of what, and only Diahna ticks all three bawxes.”

“Which makes perfect sense.”

“Would you want uh strangah tuh take care of youah multiples? Or to do it youhself?”

“Are youh sure you doan want cahds for them all?”

Celia: “I think two out of three is enough for me, considering the last doesn’t read as much as she enjoys being read to. But there is something else you can assist with, if you don’t mind?”

GM: “Okay, what’s that?”

Celia: “It’s that research project I mentioned earlier. There’s just something I came across that I thought you might know, or might have heard of, that I haven’t.”

GM: “All right, what is it?”

Celia: “Glinko?”

GM: “I’d have tuh research that.”

Celia: Jade nods. “I couldn’t find much online, but I thought if anyone had the knowledge or the ability to find out more it’d be you. Do you keep archives of newspapers?”

GM: Clairmont nods in turn. “Yes, we have microfiche records.”

“I like those.”

Celia: “Do you mind if I browse? There was an incident a number of years ago I’d like to look into.”

GM: She nods again. “Youh have a library cahd, ma’am, go ahead.”

“We close at dawn.”

“Foah the aftuh-hours patrons.”

Celia: Jade beams at Clairmont.

“Thank you very much for your assistance.”

GM: She looks to the side. “Oh. Youh think?”

“Well yes, I am a librarian.”

“I just thought.”

“Okay.”

Celia: Jade waits for a polite moment to excuse herself, making sure she doesn’t cut off Clairmont or one of her wraiths. She carries Lucy with her as she moves toward the microfiche records.

GM:WAIT,” the Malkavian calls sharply.

Celia: Jade stops.

She turns.

GM: Clairmont just stares ahead.

Celia: Jade waits quietly.

GM: “Youah fahgetting something,” she whispers.

Celia: The books? She takes a step toward them.

GM: “Which edition do yuh want?” Clairmont smiles.

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Celia: “The second option, please.”

GM: “Thuh classic,” Janine says approvingly as she scans the book’s barcode and slides it over.

“Due back in two weeks.”

Celia: “I’ll make sure that it’s done.”

GM: She scans the next book too.

“Two weeks also, but youh can renew eithuh one online.”

“What about Pride and Prejuhdice foah Lucy?”

Celia: Jade nods, sliding the scanned books into her bag. She produces Lucy’s card for the third book.

GM: The third title is duly scanned as well.

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“Also, they say I helped youh, so I doan owe youh,” Clairmont adds.

Celia: “I’ll strike the debt,” Jade says.

GM: Clairmont nods, looks at Lucy, then drops her voice.

“Also, Lucy says if youh’d let Jade have her way, she was going tuh leave youah. Fawhevuh. And nevuh come back.”

Celia: With Diana? Jade glances down at the doll.

“I’m glad it didn’t come to that. I let things get out of hand. It won’t happen again.”

GM: “Lucy’s glad tooah.”

Celia: “Thank you again, Miss Clairmont.”

GM: “Youah welcome.”

Celia: Books checked out and doll in tow, Jade bids the Malkavian a good evening and moves through the stacks to find the readers.

GM: She locates them after a brief search.

Celia: She wants more information about the oven monster and what originally happened. The thing that made the news, with the guy and his girlfriend-slash-common-law-wife who he cooked and killed and ate, maybe in that order. Anything she can find, no matter how outlandish. She starts with the main newspapers and branches out from there, looking for opinion pieces, occult pieces, and anything else that even mentions it.

GM: Common law marriage, Celia discovers as a related piece of research, does not exist in Louisiana. The state stopped legally recognizing such marriages in 2001, as part of a broader national trend away from common law unions.

Celia: Good thing, too, or she and Randy might be technically (sort of?) married, and that would be an awkward explanation.

GM: Awkward in practice, too. He’d own half of her property.

Celia: If she owns him, though, what does that math work out to?

GM: She discovers a fair bit about the couple after reading through old newspapers.

Celia: Celia pages through the relevant articles, putting together a mental picture of the couple. Mental illness. Addiction. Chasing a high. Things she understands, even if not personally—though Mel had implied all licks are addicts, Celia isn’t entirely sure she believes it. Can you really be addicted to your food source when it’s the only thing you can have?

She pushes the thought aside, irrelevant as it is.

Rampart. She hadn’t been concerned about the location at the time, but it’s right across the street from that park where all of those licks were Embraced a number of years ago. And a VooDoo place nearby.

A few of the words and phrases give her pause: hacksaw, lack of remorse, sinful vices, death taking hold and changing someone’s journey… and there, “defeated by his own demons.” Defeated by someone’s demons, alright.

Unfortunately for them, their romance could never play out the way they hoped it would. Betrayal, deceit, lies, cheating, mental illness, drugs and alcohol… were all a cocktail for a disastrous and murderous romance.

Celia swallows the lump that forms in her throat. She’s not them. It doesn’t mean anything. All sorts of couples hit rough patches. He’s not going to…

She doesn’t want to dwell.

With Clairmont’s permission, Jade prints or makes copies of the articles she’d found to take with her and puts them into her bag with the rest of the books.

She has a handful of leads to pursue, in any case. Woke is sitting pretty in prison. No mention of Rodriguez’s sentence (only that she was convicted), but that should be easy enough to find. None of them paint a clear picture; she feels like she’s looking at a puzzle full of missing pieces. But she’ll tug what strings she can to find out more about this thing and its handler.


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, AM

GM: At 4 AM, she’s back at Pete’s office in the Evergreen. She knocks and comes in to find the detective changing out of a torn and bloodstained shirt into a fresh one.

Celia: She doesn’t mean to let her gaze linger, but it does. She’d be lying to herself if she said she’d never thought about it. Even the faint whiff of blood is enough to lengthen her fangs; she keeps her lips closed until the bloody shirt is disposed of. No need to give the detective the wrong idea.

…well.

Not really the wrong idea when there’s some kernel of truth in there somewhere.

“Rough night?”

GM: Pete’s shirtless frame isn’t as buff Roderick’s, who looks to Celia like he spent a lot of time at the bench press before Coco Embraced him, carefully sculpting his body to the point he wanted it to stay at forever. Pete has muscle, but he’s more wiry. Harder-seeming, in a way. More gristle and grit than sculpted excellence.

A night,” he says as he takes his seat.

Celia: Maybe he’ll let her touch him up next time she… touches him down? Unfixes his face? Whatever he wants to call it where she makes him older and uglier. The thought of Roderick absurdly makes her think of her sire and how buff he is by comparison (or at least what she’s seen of him, one whole forearm), but she tries not to let her thoughts wander down that path.

Celia closes the door and takes the seat across from him. She fishes through her purse for the thermos.

“Maybe this’ll make it better?”

GM: She tries, but they still do, until Pete opens the thermos. He doesn’t need to take a whiff.

He looks at it, then up to her.

“Celia, I overreacted last night,” he says with a sigh.

Celia: “Why do you say?”

GM: “Because I thought I was in love with your mom.”

“I’m not.”

“I’ve only spoken to her, what, once, twice, seven years ago.”

Celia: Denial, she thinks, but she simply nods.

GM: “I was in love with the idea of her.”

Celia: Her lips twist.

“Okay.”

GM: “A cop’s work isn’t honest work in this city. Everyone is on the take. I can count on one hand the number of cops I’ve known who aren’t on the take.”

I’m on the take, just to maintain my cover.”

“And that’s just the baseline. The normal joes clocking in to work every day, not thinking about it beyond that.”

“The real pieces of work. The Ricky Moutons. The Rich Gettises. The things they do and get away with. I’ve known cops who shoved pregnant women down flights of stairs. Who shook down old ladies for their social security checks. Who sold drugs on the streets. Who rape and steal and terrify and murder because they can get away with it, with near impunity. Thugs, animals, with badges.”

“Brass doesn’t care.”

“If you live in a posh place in the Garden District and an escort overdoses in your bedroom, or you just decide it would be fun to strangle her and not let go until the light goes out in her eyes, the right thing to do is call the cops.”

“Because they’ll sweep it up.”

“They know who butters their bread.”

Celia: Is he trying to convince her that he isn’t a good person because other people in the same occupation aren’t good people? That, what, her mom is a breath of fresh air because she’s pure an innocent and good, and it’s that ideal woman that he wants so he can take a break from the rest of the horrible world?

She’s quiet while he talks. She knows all about being in love with the idea of someone.

“But you’re not that person.”

GM: “I try not to be. But this isn’t about me and that.”

“We put on a uniform hoping to protect and serve, to make a difference in our communities. I did, at least.”

“I knew it wouldn’t be a bed of roses, when I signed up. I knew enough of how the world worked.”

“I still wanted to be the good guy. There are so few times, you get to just be the good guy.”

“Then your family called 911. And I got to be the good guy. I got to help a sweet mother and daughter get out from under their almost comically evil ex-husband and father.”

Celia: Sweet. That girl doesn’t exist. Not anymore. Maybe not even then.

And they hadn’t called 911. They’d called one of those “real pieces of work” because her grandmother had told her to call him, not the cops, someone who would actually do something.

She doesn’t interrupt.

GM: “How much I actually helped is debatable, but I got to be the good guy who did gentlemanly things like pick up a gaggle of kids in his car.”

“And that’s it.”

“The girl became a vampire and I didn’t see or speak to her mother again.”

Celia: “That’s not really it. You called me when you hadn’t heard from her the next night. You… explained everything to me when I got in over my head. You went to the hospital with me to get her, to move her. You took me to the doctor to fix her.”

He’d ponied up a fair amount of cash for it, too.

GM: “We can amend that to ’didn’t speak to her mother again.’ The point being, Celia, I was fixated on who I got to be to her. I loved who I got to be, for that brief moment. But past that, we’re practically strangers to each other.”

“She’s your mother and your ghoul. Do whatever you think is right with her. It’s not my business.”

Celia: She doesn’t know what he wants from her. He’s lying to her. Lying to himself, too, if he really thinks that it’s all that is. He’s been carrying a torch for her for years. And sure, maybe it’s unrequited, maybe it’s doomed, maybe she’s wrong and it is just the idea of being a hero and who he gets to be around Diana that he’s in love with… but isn’t that what love is? Being who you are inside, letting the other person bring out the best version of you? Isn’t that why she loves Roderick, because, like she’d explained to her mom, she can still be Celia around him? And why, in a less rose-tinted version of unlife, she loves her sire? Because she can be Jade around him?

…is she Jade? Or is she Celia? She can’t be both.

Can she?

Is Jade just who she thinks her sire and Veronica want her to be, and Celia is… who she wants to be?

Maybe she doesn’t know who she wants to be.

Maybe she is a—

No.

She stops that thought before it finishes.

She doesn’t argue the point with him. She doesn’t tell him he’s wrong. It brings up too many questions about herself, and if she’s not ready to deal with those demons then she doubts that he’s ready to deal with his.

“I don’t want her to be my ghoul,” she finally says. “I just want her to be my mom.”

GM: A bald man could tell her what she is.

Paul could tell her what she is.

Roderick is happy to tell her what she is, even if his answer probably isn’t the same as theirs.

Could her sire tell her too?

Savoy can. Her mom can. Dani can. Maybe Pete can.

Isn’t that the problem, that everyone all has such different visions for the Jade or Celia they want their Jade or Celia to be?

“It’s a little late for that,” says Pete.

Celia: If all of them know, then somewhere inside of her she knows too.

“It’s not,” she says to Pete.

“I might have found a solution.”

GM: “Oh?”

Celia: “I mean, the problem is the Masquerade, right? If someone finds out she knows, they’ll put her down, use it against me, whatever the case may be. But… what if they don’t?”

“What if no one ever finds out?”

GM: “Then that’s that. If she can keep a secret.”

Celia: “It’s more than that. There’s a… there’s a ritual.”

“No one would even look at her then.”

GM: “‘Ritual’ can have an infinitude of possible effects. That doesn’t narrow things down.”

Celia: “She’d be lucky. Lucky enough that anyone who wanted to investigate her would be sidetracked. Lucky enough that if someone were to fire a gun at her it’d misfire, or ricochet off a conveniently placed thing and hit them instead. Lucky enough that she wouldn’t suffer the effects of withdrawal when I stop giving her blood.”

GM: Pete frowns. “What’s powering it?”

Celia: “I don’t know if there’s a name for what they are. But there are people out there that are—” how had Marcel put it?—‘“blessed with good fortune.’ And I found one. Earlier tonight. And if I help someone with a big favor, he said he’d do the ritual for me and transfer the luck to a person of my choice."

GM: The Tremere’s frown deepens. “I’ve not heard of something like this.”

Celia: Neither had she. But there’s a lot she hasn’t heard of.

“I saw it in action, Pete. This guy walked out in front of cars and they all missed him. People tripped when they tried to punch him. He got out of handcuffs that had him tied to a bed. The bullet thing? I watched that happen.”

GM: “I believe you. There’s a lot of strange stuff out there.” His frown doesn’t abate. “I’m just wondering if that’s all it is.”

Celia: “He said they were human. Just lucky. Blessed by stars or fates or gods or something.”

GM: “All power has an origin. And side effects.”

Celia: She’s seen those side effects in play.

“It’s worth trying, isn’t it? I can always re-ghoul her if things go sideways.”

GM: Pete chews his lip.

“I think it’s an avenue worth looking into. But I’d advise looking it into before you go ahead with it.”

Celia: “Bit of a time crunch. He said the luck is going to start running out in about a week. And I have to figure out the favor before then.”

GM: “Who’s ‘he?’”

Celia: “Marcel Guilbeau.”

GM: Pete grunts. “Guy who runs a business where luck is king. Suppose it makes sense he’d know.”

“One concept that’s fairly universal in occult traditions is sympathy. Like draws like. It’s why you make voodoo dolls with somebody’s hair.”

“Do you consider your mother an already lucky person?”

Celia: Does she? She’s never really thought about it.

“I don’t think she’s unlucky,” she says at length. “I think some not so good things have happened to her but she’s managed to persevere. I think it’s lucky that I’m her daughter, that I… that I died for her. That Lucy has turned out like she is. That she found a good lawyer when she needed one. That she’s happy and healthy, besides the leg. That she’s lucky the same daughter can find the tools to fix said leg, or when your friend gets back into town learn to do it myself.”

The more she thinks about it, the more it seems likely that Diana is maybe a little bit lucky.

“Lucky that you were the cop to show up. That you helped. That you knew a doctor to fix her.”

GM: Pete grunts. “Could do worse, it sounds. But like I said. I’d advise looking further into this before you go ahead with anything.”

Celia: “I planned on it. I still just also have to get the favor out of the way.” A hopeful glance.

“I’m not going to let him do it to her without further research. Just, you know, time crunch.”

GM: “All right. Was there anything else tonight?”

Celia: Not even a nibble? Damnit, Pete.

“Yes.”

GM: He waits expectantly.

Celia: “There’s a few things,” she hedges. “If you have a minute.”

GM: “Spit it out, Celia.”

Celia: So she does.

“Do you know anything about demons?”

GM: “More than your average Camarilla lick, I expect, but I’m not an expert.”

Celia: “But your sire is,” she presses.

“Krystin said maybe he is,” she amends.

GM: “It’s not an area he’s a specialist in either. But I expect my sire does know more about demons than me.”

Celia: And he’s less murder-y than Pete’s grandsire.

“Oh. Is there an expert in the city? Or could you… introduce me? For a favor, or whatever he needs? Or you.”

GM: “I could introduce you. The Sanctified are usually the experts when it comes to demons. There are some Tremere who make a more dedicated study of demonology, but it’s a black art.”

Celia: She’ll just ask her sire than, shall she?

“I thought this would be a more accessible route.”

GM: “Could be. Depends what you want to know.”

Celia: Everything.

“I think I met one.”

GM: “Oh?”

Celia: Celia pulls the library papers out of her bag.

“Do you remember the thing that bugged my spa? So I followed it and it led here,” she points at the photo from the newspaper of the condemned house, “and this thing inside tried to eat me but I got out and I think we’re kind of friends now and I saw this lady come out tonight when I went back and she did this weird magic vanish-y trick with this, like, tainted blood that made her teleport out of the area. Not like vanish, like actually teleport, and she didn’t smell like vitae or anything but she did magic so I went to the library and it says right here that the guy wasn’t in his right mind, but that he was cooking his girlfriend but they didn’t find anything in his stomach so he didn’t eat her but this thing inside the house I think is what ate her, like he was feeding it maybe, and then you see right here how there’s this lack of remorse and empty feeling and hacksaw and I… met with someone who was like that but had an exorcism and said it was a demon.”

GM: Pete blinks for a moment to process that all.

“…all right, so what’s your interest in that? You think this possible demon bugged your spa?”

Celia: “Sort of? Also I was wondering if what this other person said is true?”

“Because I don’t know why a demon would bug my spa.”

GM: “I’d be at a loss to say why either. So you think the woman bugged your spa?”

Celia: “I have no idea who she is, though.”

“Or why they’d target me.”

GM: “What’d she look like?”

Celia: “I thought maybe it’d be like… hunters. Or Setites. Or honestly I thought it was Duke since it was kind of a botch job but it wasn’t, so…”

Celia describes the woman.

GM: “Hm. Can’t say I recognize. If you obtained an object she’s touched, I could get a look at her face. Having that would give some leads to run down.”

Celia: She could poke around the house. Maybe.

Or the bug.

GM: “Alternatively, bug the place in case she comes back.”

“Review the security around your spa, too.”

Celia: “I will.”

“I’d still like to learn more about them. This is pressing, of course, but so is the other person’s claim.”

GM: “Then as I said. I can introduce you to my sire, or I’d ask a priest like your Benson pal.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t think it’s going to be that easy with Benson, but she nods anyway.

GM: “Is that a yes or a no to him?”

Celia: “Yes, please.”

GM: “All right. I’ll ask.”

Celia: “Thank you. Any word on that stake?”

“I hit a wall with how I was looking into it. Fake name. Hate the idea of the hunters running around unchecked, though.”

GM: “On any given night there are who even knows how many hunters doing just that.”

Celia: “Then I hate the idea of hunters who went after my boyfriend unchecked.”

“And would like to find out who and what and why.”

“Since you said they seem… off.”

GM: “Hunter with the stake hasn’t said anything I want to make any moves over yet. Off or not, spying on hunters tends to be a lot like drug stings. Lot of waiting.”

Celia: “I s’pose I’ll learn to be patient, then.”

“Let me know, yeah? I’d like to assist.”

GM: “I will.”

Celia: “Thanks,” she says, tucking her papers back into her bag.

“Hey Pete,” she ventures after a moment, “do you need anything from me? You’ve been really helpful lately with everything and I just… you know?”

GM: “Yeah. I’ll let you know there, too, once there’s something.”

Celia: She nods. She’d told him the other night—anything.

“I’ll get out of your hair then.” She can figure out the rest of it on her own, she’s sure.


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, AM

GM: Roderick and Dani meet Celia back at her haven.

If he’s plotting to kidnap her, it looks like he’s planning to do that later.

Celia: All those terrible thoughts for nothing.

“How was your night?” she asks the pair.

GM: “It was good,” smiles Roderick, squeezing his sister’s shoulder. “We stopped off at Waffle House, then walked if off at City Park.”

“Stephen said we didn’t actually need to, because he’s pretty sure I can’t get fat,” says Dani. “I said we’d beat him up if I do.”

“There aren’t a lot of healthy places open 24/7,” says Roderick.

“He ate so much food,” says Dani. “A Texas cheesesteak melt, bacon, egg breakfast, triple chocolate pie…”

“Hey, it was all coming back out.”

Celia: “Might as well make it worth the purge.” The thought of eating makes her nauseous.

GM: “City Park was nice,” says Dani. “Isn’t really anyone else there this late. We just walked for a while, and… caught up. Or started to.”

“I’ve been gone for a lot of years,” says Roderick, giving his sister another squeeze.

“I’d never have wished the Embrace on her, or anyone, but… it’s just such a weight off. To have someone else who knows me as Stephen. Who I can be honest around.”

Celia: That’s what she was afraid of.

“I’m happy for you two. Glad you were able to work things out.”

“Not needing to lie to people, to be able to be who you used to be…” She curls against Roderick’s side. “It’s necessary.”

GM: “Me too,” says Dani, closing her eyes a moment to lean against her brother’s other side. “Just to have someone else who I can be open with, who doesn’t mind I’m duskborn…”

Roderick smiles and gives both women’s shoulders a squeeze.

“You were right, too, that he knows a lot,” says Dani. “But we tried not to talk too much about Kindred stuff, tonight.”

Celia: She doesn’t like this sharing thing.

“I told you he’s a good source. Better than me, I bet, with the history.” She tries for a wry smile but it ends up closer to a grimace.

Her eyes find any other spot in the room to rest on. She should be happy for them.

GM: Roderick rubs her back.

“Luck of Embrace, there. So much of what you can learn comes down to who you know. It’s not like we publish history books.”

“I’m glad she has us both, though. It sounds like she’s learned a lot of valuable things from you already.”

Celia: Lucky him. With his perfect sire. And his perfect Requiem. And his perfect job as the perfect scribe.

“Glad I could help.”

GM: “She mentioned the experiments you did to explore the limits of her powers. Good thinking with those.”

“He said he had some ideas too,” says Dani. “But like I said. We tried to limit tonight to personal stuff.”

Celia: She’s glad that while she was being molested by skinheads they were able to enjoy a stroll in the park. And chocolate pie.

“We should probably compare notes, see what we can find out.”

GM: Roderick nods. “I’ll consult what sources I can, too. We’ll find out everything we can. I want Dani to be the most knowledgeable duskborn in the city.”

“Speaking of more personal things, though…” says Dani, looking between the other two. “I just want to say, if you guys want to get married… go for it. I’d love to be your sister too, Celia.”

“I can’t imagine a better match. For either of you.”

Celia: Her lips form a smile.

Inside, though, she thinks how wrong the girl is.

She’ll ruin Roderick. And Dani. And everyone else who gets too close.

“Thanks,” she says, ignoring the pang. “He promised a super extravagant, romantic proposal.” She nudges him with her elbow. Finds another smile.

“I’m sure Mom will be thrilled.”

GM: Roderick smiles at the two.

“I’ll make it good. Enough to make up for the spoiled surprise.”

“And thanks, Dani. It means a lot to have your blessing.”

Celia: “Still probably a small ceremony,” she says with an effected sigh.

GM: “I’d rather have a small one, anyways,” says Roderick. “Big weddings are such a hassle. And I think you wind up inviting a bunch of people who honestly aren’t that meaningful in your life.”

Celia: “I know. Just…” She trails off. “It doesn’t matter, anyway.”

GM: “I want ours to be something intimate. With the people we love, not just co-workers and casual friends and distant relatives we haven’t seen in forever.”

His face falls a bit.

“I just wish Dad could come and know it’s me.”

Celia: He could.

Two ghouled parents.

Celia glances at Dani.

GM: Dani meets her gaze, then says,

“We could tell him the truth…”

Roderick just shakes his head.

“But would that be so bad?” she asks. “Stephen, it’d… it’d heal such a big hole in his heart, knowing you’re still alive…”

“That’s the temptation every lick faces,” Roderick answers heavily. “But if I tell Dad, why shouldn’t Celia tell Emily and her mom?”

“But they don’t think she’s dead,” says Dani.

Celia: “Emily would be a terrible renfield, anyway.”

GM: Roderick shakes his head. “I think making any family member into a renfield is a terrible idea.”

“You don’t have to make him a ghoul,” says Dani. “You could just tell him the truth.”

Roderick shakes his head again. “That’s almost as bad an idea.”

Celia: “What if no one found out..?”

GM: Roderick looks between them. “Dad’s a crusader. If we told him about this… he wouldn’t leave it alone.”

“It’s not in our family’s nature.”

“He wouldn’t just sit on the sidelines.”

“He’d take whatever action he thought was right.”

“And he’s a powerful, connected man. A Masquerade breach like that… you can’t just clean it up with a one-time boon to a kook or blue blood.”

Celia: Like putting down his son if he found out that he’s an undead abomination?

Is that what she saw in the vision? What she heard—the pounding of a gavel? Is it a court?

GM: “Emily’s just a med student. Celia’s mom is just a dance teacher. If either of them came forward, people would try to commit them, and that would be that. Dad could do god knows what in his position.”

Celia: “You think he would? Turn on you? Expose it? Expose us?”

GM: “I don’t think he’d turn on us,” says Roderick. “All I know is that leaving things alone isn’t in his nature.”

“And that once the genie is out of the bottle, there’s no putting him back in.”

Celia: “It was a nice thought, though.”

GM: Dani sighs.

“Well, Lucy will be an adorable flower girl, at least.”

Celia: “She will,” Celia agrees. “And we can invite him even if he doesn’t know it’s you, Rod.”

GM: He gives a sad smile. “True enough. I just wish… I just wish I could make him whole, and that it’s not just his dead son’s ex he’s seeing get married. Thinking the whole time if this could have been me walking down the aisle.”

Celia: If he even shows. He thinks Celia cheated on his son. Why come to the wedding?

GM: “I’m not sure he’ll even want to come, honestly. Especially if he’s gotten less social, like you’ve said,” he says to Dani.

Dani frowns. “Well, maybe if the dinner goes well, we can swing it.”

Celia: “He thinks I cheated on you,” Celia says bluntly.

“I doubt he’ll be happy to see me or accept an invitation.”

GM: “We can fix that,” says Dani.

“We can tell him… enough of the truth, without lying. We can say you were basically forced to break up. That you were under a ton of pressure, and you believed this was the best thing for Stephen.”

Celia: “I was planning on talking to him privately, before the dinner. If he’ll listen.”

GM: “What would you tell him?” asks Roderick.

Celia: “A version of the truth. That I was raped. That you and I had a pregnancy scare and you told me you weren’t ready to be a dad. That my conception was because of rape, and I wouldn’t do that to a child, but I wouldn’t force you into something you didn’t want. That I… told you I cheated on you so you wouldn’t stick around, so I didn’t ruin your life.”

GM: “With the idea you were raped by… your dad, and that’s how Lucy came to be?” says Roderick.

“I don’t think he needs to hear that much detail,” says Dani.

“He shouldn’t, it’s just important to have a guiding narrative in mind.”

Celia: “I was just going to leave the guy blank. It’s not as if there’s—”

Well, that doesn’t matter.

GM: “Okay. So Lucy was a product of rape. We had a pregnancy scare. I wasn’t ready to be a dad. All of this happened at a terrible time. You told me you cheated, to push me away. All of that is actually true,” considers Roderick.

“Okay. I think that’ll work. It means… a lot to me, that we aren’t actually lying to him, just not telling the full truth. It’s the closest thing we can be to honest.”

“That’s really smart, Celia.”

Celia: The words are almost foreign to her.

“Thanks,” she says after a minute.

GM: He smiles and rubs her back.

“We should get back to my place, if we’re still going to have time for your lesson.”

“He’s going to teach me, too,” smiles Dani. “But he said we’re at different levels, so different lessons would be best for now.”

Celia: “Makes sense. Maybe you can learn with Logan. Apparently Emily’s boyfriend handed him his ass earlier.”

“Did I tell you that he already likes you more than Randy because you know how to fight?”

GM: “You mentioned him. HEMA guy, right?” says Roderick. “I’m not surprised. I doubt Logan had any training with swords.”

Celia: “He was a real brat about it.”

GM: “If you’ve not had training, prepare to get handed your ass. If I were still a breather, I might lose to Emily’s boyfriend. I’ve probably spent less time handling swords than he has.”

Celia: “It was more the attitude that I find amusing.”

GM: “Still, it’s flattering. Call me old-fashioned, but guys should know how to defend their women.”

“Oh my god, so sexist,” Dani says exaggeratedly.

Celia: Like her sire pulling her from the Dollhouse?

…does that make her his woman?

She tunes out the siblings, lost in the thought.

“He’ll be real upset when I hand him his ass,” she tacks on belatedly.

GM: “I’d like us to get to that point, actually,” Roderick answers seriously. “I’d feel more confident in your safety knowing you can go toe to toe with me.”

Dani’s smile dips a bit.

Maybe Celia could do that, some night.

But her?

Celia: “Hey,” she says to Dani, “there’s more to vampires than being a meathead like your brother. We’re taking another step tomorrow night, okay? You’ll get there. We’ll figure it out.”

They always do.


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, AM

GM: Back at Roderick’s new haven, Luna’s owner gives her lots of pets and belly rubs before Celia’s ready to come back. As he reminds her.

“We should get into a routine. The more times we practice, the harder the routine will be to break.”

They spend some time sparring. Roderick says she’s coming along well. “Maybe tomorrow night we can mix things up, and have you teach me those claws.”

“We should have you practice with those out too, come to think, if they’re your favored means of fighting.”

Celia: “You said they might make you lose it. That they’d actually hurt. How are you going to wake me if we both slip into the red?”

GM: “I’ve been thinking about that. I could get some arm guards.”

“Or could you dull them?”

Celia: She can’t help but think of the pair she gave her sire. They’d stop her claws. A knife. A sword. They were built for it.

“I can try.”

She hasn’t had much of a reason for dull claws. But she’s adept at shifting the rest of herself as needed, why not those?

GM: “Sounds good,” he smiles as they make their way to bed. He pulls off his sweats, then ‘helps’ Celia remove hers, and is true to his word about fucking her silly before dawn comes.

Celia: It’s the perfect time to strike.

He’ll never know. All she has to do is use the trick her alleged sire taught her, pull the cloud over his eyes, spill a little blood. Break the hold his sire has over him. It’ll pull him right into her arms. It’ll prevent any nonsense about Dani getting between them; she’ll be his rock, not the little thin-blood bitch.

All she has to do is slip the collar around his throat.

It’s afterward, while she lies pressed against his side, her boyfriend decidedly not fully bound to her, that she says what’s on her mind.

“You called me smart tonight.”

GM: “You are smart,” he smiles, his arms contently wrapped around her.

“It runs in the family. Your grandma’s a respected legal mind.”

“Your mom attended college with a family and career to balance.”

“Even your dad, much as I hate to admit it, isn’t an idiot.”

Celia: He’s not her dad, though. The words stick in her throat.

GM: “A scumbag rapist wifebeating child abuser, but not an idiot.”

“I’m sure the ways he belittled you aren’t possible to just get over, though. I’m sorry.”

“But he is wrong. Objectively wrong. You are smart.”

Celia: “Not as smart as you, though.” A higher pitch at the final word turns it into half a question.

GM: Her lover shakes his head.

“There are countless metrics by which to quantity intelligence. Even IQ scores are just an average of a panoply of separate, distinct tests. People tend to forget that part. A high IQ score is well and good if you get a consistently high score across all tests, but most people score higher on some tests and lower on others. Most people are good at different things.”

“Saying ’you’re smarter’ is like saying ’you’re more knowledgeable’. It’s an almost meaningless statement by itself. Smarter at what? More knowledgeable about what? I’m more knowledgeable than you about law, but you know more than I do about medical science. I don’t have a degree in that field like you do.”

Celia: The words are a balm to years-old wounds.

Why had she thought he’d just say yes? Why had she thought he’d take an opportunity to kick her while she’s vulnerable?

Because she expects it from everyone else.

But he’s not everyone else. He’s Stephen and she’s Celia and they love each other and even though the rest of the world sucks, theirs doesn’t have to. They can build a(n un)life together and be happy, and no one can take that away from them.

GM: Perhaps not.

But Celia’s last thought before daysleep takes her is of her sire’s face.


Thursday evening, 17 March 2016

GM: Celia rises the next night. Roderick greets her with a kiss, dresses with her, and says he’s going hunting and taking care of some legal work before he sees Dani again, “To teach her more about Kindred society.” After that, he’s got “lick business to attend to.” He asks if Celia wants to meet back up several hours before dawn, so they have time to do something together.

“We could watch a movie, but I’d like us to go on a proper date sometime,” he mentions. “Let’s think of ideas while we’re off doing our things.”

Alana greets Celia at Flawless to go over her schedule.

First, she has some actual clients to see tonight.

She’s also scheduled a bloc of time alone for her stomach addition.

Dani is coming by shortly before 10 to accompany Celia to Edith’s. She’s scheduled to come by Flawless on Saturday unless Celia wants to do another time.

Celia’s mother has come by with what Alana says she’s termed “good news.” Since tonight isn’t her weekly session, she’s currently being massaged by one of the girls.

Lastly, Peter Lebeaux has sent word on dates his sire can met Celia. The soonest is at the Tremere chantry on Friday night (technically Saturday morning), at 2 AM, but he is available afterwards until dawn.

“But you mentioned you’re seeing Lucia then, mistress, so how long do you think it’ll take and when do you want to pencil Bornemann in for? Lebeaux’s ghoul said he still needs a time, not a drop-in.” Dawn is around 6:45.

The ghoul also has a last matter to bring up.

“It’s been so long since we got to sleep together, mistress… I mean in bed, not just sex. I like being there, next to you, when you wake up. When can we do that again?” Alana asks longingly.

Celia: What do vampires do on dates? Anything non-food related, she supposes, though that doesn’t seem to be as much an issue for Roderick as it is most of them. She says she’ll let him know and is already thinking of ideas when they kiss goodbye—dancing, music venues, late night sky-diving…

She doesn’t ask about his lick business. Or tell him that she’s got plenty of her own tonight. Or that she’s already got a date with someone later.

If she had a stomach, maybe it would twist itself in knots. The scheduled addition is, perhaps, all too timely.

Celia changes for her clients while Alana lists her notes, the pair of them alone in her office. She doesn’t quite believe that Diana’s “good news” is going to be good for her, but she’ll give the woman the benefit of the doubt for now.

Pete sure managed to get in to see his sire quickly. Expedited the meeting for her, did he? She’ll have to find an appropriate way to thank him. Unfortunately it clashes with Lucia. And she can’t help but recall the fortune teller’s words, that the Giovannini will hurt her to give her the answers she needs. It’s an avenue she’ll take… but not if Clairmont’s claim that Harlequin can help pans out instead.

She hates that she’s already in debt to the masked harpy and not the other way around.

“Reschedule Lucia.” Twenty-four hours is enough notice for most people. “If she cannot see me in a relatively timely manner, tell her I didn’t want to be late but that I can be there at 4 AM rather than 3. Put Bornemann in for 2.” Demon talk can’t take longer than two hours, can it?

“Get me a meeting with Harlequin. Sooner rather than later, but don’t promise anything.” She could wait until she seems him tomorrow, Saturday, or Sunday to approach him herself, but she’d rather get it on the books than risk getting distracted.

“You know things have been tumultuous lately, ’Lana,” Celia finally says, addressing her last concern. She cups the ghoul’s cheek with her hand, thumb tracing across her lower lip. Her own follow after, gentle kisses pressed against the ghoul’s mouth, then jaw, then throat. Celia lifts her onto the desk, stepping between her legs. She wishes again for a cock. Wishes that it didn’t take so long to put one on herself. Wishes she had time to turn Alana into Celia and herself into someone else and show the girl…

Show her that she misses her, too. Her gentle touch. The noises she makes. The way her lashes flutter and her toes curl and how red her skin gets when she accepts her swats for whatever indiscretion the two of them deem appropriate.

“Tomorrow night,” she promises, nipping at Alana’s neck with the flats of her teeth. “Then we have all of Saturday evening before court to spend together.”

Her eyes slide to the clock. Is there time to fuck before her clients arrive?

GM: Celia hears the Tremere are all supposed to live together in the chantry, so that’s probably no surprise Pete saw him.

“All right, mistress,” Alana says to both meetings. “Do you want to change the meeting with Poincaré, too, to fit in this one?”

The ghoul shivers under her mistress’ touch, color quickly rising to her cheeks as she hungrily returns Celia’s kisses. “Yes, mistress… tomorrow…” Cock or not, she still pulls down Celia’s pants, twists around on the desk so her face is underneath her domitor’s charms, and starts hungrily eating her out.

Celia is not sure they have time for a very long fuck, between the multiple clients, whatever her mom is here for, and Edith’s meeting at 10.

Celia: They make it a quick fuck, then.

When it’s done and they’re both satisfied, Celia shakes her head at the question of Poincaré as she touches up her makeup in the mirror and fixes the hair that had come unbound during their tryst.

“Reschedule Lucia to another night,” she finally sighs, “or I’ll have to wait another week to see my grandsire. He’s a busy lick. Tell Bornemann 4 AM.”

GM: “All right, mistress, I’ll do that,” says Alana.

She sinks to her knees on the floor, like she’s giving Celia a blowjob, and buries her face against her domitor’s crotch as her tongue flecks out.

Celia: “We just got off,” Celia says with a laugh, pulling away from the ghoul. “Later, pet. It’s time for clients, now.”

GM: Alana nuzzles her head against Celia’s leg.

“We could have time, mistress, if you tell your silly mother to bother you tomorrow.”

Celia: “We’ll have time tomorrow as well.”

“I don’t doubt you’re going to surprise me with all sorts of fun things at our sleepover.”

GM: The ghoul smiles at and plants several worshipful kisses upon Celia’s foot, even if her eyes look faintly disappointed to be denied now.

Celia: They just had sex.

Literally. Just.

Celia runs a hand through Alana’s hair and takes her leave. The girl needs to get used to being disappointed. She had.


Thursday evening, 17 March 2016

Celia: The clients come and go, each of their needs seen to by Celia’s well-practiced hands. Charity Flynn mumbles about her husband’s treatment of their estranged daughter while Celia uses the fine edge of a scalpel to scrape off the top layer of her skin, taking the dead cells and fine, fuzzy hairs along with it. She keeps her eyes covered with a gel pad that will reduce the appearance of fine lines when she bleeds her, taking a single hit from the woman under the guise of “trying a new technique.” As the woman melts beneath her touch—that sanguine kiss is so dependable—Celia says that maybe she’d like to book a massage next time to help keep some of the stress from her body.

“Just set it up with Piper or Louise at the desk,” Celia smiles at the woman on her way out the door. Inside her chest her Beast purrs at the hapless kine and their doe-eyed adoration of the girl who keeps them young and beautiful. She doubts Preston has it so easy with meals delivered right to her, paying her for the service.

Lisa Greer is next. Star had given a gift card to Stan, who had apparently given it to Lisa, and her first trip in had turned her into a firm believer of Flawless’ place at the top of the spa world. Celia takes more from her than she had from Charity, excess blood poured into a container for later, and tells herself that it’s better for the woman to have less energy to worry about her missing “daughter.”

She’s such a helper.

GM: Charity gives a low gasp on the table as a blush tinges her cheeks red. She tells Celia that was “incredible” and is all-too happy to book another massage appointment.

“With you, of course,” she adds.

Celia: Of course. None of the others can do what she does.

GM: Stan’s wife Lisa is more subdued. She’s a small, slim woman with dark hair and sad eyes who admits she doesn’t do her art anymore, when Celia asks about her life.

“Some artists play into that tortured artist angle, and say it’s what inspires their work, but that… isn’t me. My art comes from a place of happiness.”

She’s quiet, when Celia takes from her. She closes her eyes and loses herself in the sensation.

And she talks, like they all do.

“I tried to do the right thing with her. I raised her as my own. I loved her as my own. But after she got older, around high school… she just never wanted to be as close to me.” Her voice quavers slightly. “I wonder if there’s something I could have done.”

Celia: Celia listens patiently as Lisa speaks, and only when she starts to blame herself does she cut in. She knows—knows—that the Summer thing has more to do with supernatural forces than just being raised by another family. But she doesn’t say it. She speaks instead of a girl she knew who was raised by her mother and the man she referred to as her dad, how even though the dad raised her as his own she felt as if she never belonged, how even now, as an adult, she’s waiting for him to finally say “you’re not my daughter.”

“It’s like this trump card they hold over you,” Celia says patiently, “and even if you’d never use it, even if my friend thought her dad would never use it, it’s always there in the back of the mind. Unwanted. Unaccepted. I have another friend, adopted at birth, who never got over the fact that his parents gave him up. His family is amazing. He loves them. But there’s always that pang of ‘why wasn’t I good enough?’ and it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with _them.”_

For all the drama that came with Maxen, for as awful as he is and was, sometimes she still wishes he were her real dad, and that they did have a better relationship growing up, and that her life hadn’t been something out of a horror novel.

GM: “Her birth mother… I’ve never been completely sure what to call her,” admits a paler and woozy-looking Lisa, “sees Summer, saw her, pretty often. They were close. But she has other children, who she’s raised with her husband. They met later. I wonder if Summer thought something about herself wasn’t good enough.”

“I just wish… I just wish she’d come home… we’re all so worried…”

Celia: She’s working on it.

“She will. When she’s ready.”

GM: The pale woman starts to softly cry.

Celia could taste it in her blood.

The sorrow.

The sour, heavy flavor.

So different from her usual candy-sweet and lust-filled vessels.

There’s depth to it. The sour isn’t bad at all. It tastes sincere. Real.

It’s not a fleeting, momentary sadness. It’s a parent’s all-consuming grief.

Let it not be said Summer’s stepmother doesn’t really love her.

Blood doesn’t lie.

Celia: Celia offers what comfort she can. It’s not enough; it never is. She can hardly say she knows Stan. She can’t offer that she’s looking into it, that she has two of her boys following every lead they have to find her.

She lets the sour note sit on her tongue. Will this be what her mother tastes like when she finds out what happened to Isabel? When she gets the letter that her estranged daughter perished in a far away country without any chance of reconciliation? What about if she tells her the real truth—that Isabel was another monster and had her heart torn out by her sister?

She didn’t do enough for her own family. But maybe she can patch up this one.

When the blood has vanished Celia reaches out with her gifts, murmuring that Summer will find her way home, that she’s out there somewhere thinking about her, that everything is going to be okay. She lets the words work their magic, easing the woman’s pain. She can do that much for her tonight.

Still, the taste of grief lingers.

GM: It’s a sobering question. Roderick thought she should give her family the closure.

Lisa sniffs and apologizes for “losing it.”

She says she’ll be sure to book another appointment.

They all do, after her kiss.

Celia: Celia smiles gently at her and tells her it’s not a problem. Emotional releases are all part of the service.

She really is such a helper.


Thursday evening, 17 March 2016

GM: It’s after Lisa departs that Celia sees her third mother for the evening.

“Hi, sweetie! It’s so good to see you!” Diana exclaims, pulling her daughter in for a hug. She looks great. There’s color in her cheeks and a spring in her step, despite Celia feeding on her yesterday. Blonde-haired and smiling widely and warm of skin, she seems the very opposite of the drained, dark-haired, mournful Lisa.

Celia: That’s a good sign.

That’s a very good sign.

Celia had been worried that she’d be down and out for a short while, but this is… perfect, really.

“You seem chipper,” Celia says with some amusement as she returns her mother’s hug. “How was your day?”

GM: “I’m always chipper to see my baby,” Diana smiles back. “And my day was very good, thanks for askin’! Look at these new shoes Emi got me! Aren’t they cute?”

Pic.jpg
“They have arch support! They’re very comfy to walk in!”

Celia: “Those are adorable, Mama.”

“They kind of look like ballet flats.”

GM: “Emi’s got great taste,” her mom smiles. “And they are ballet flats! Just really walkable ones. You know I usually wear heels to work, but Emi thought I should cut back, on account of my leg and all, so she got me these.”

Celia: “Smart thinking,” Celia says with a nod, “I bet it’ll help with that. Less of an adjustment that the rest of your body needs to compensate for.”

GM: “Yes, she’s always told me how unhealthy those shoes are—and in fairness, they are, extra weight on your toes and so many other reasons—but I think that whole thing with my meds and the surgery your dad was offering made her want to get me to stop.”

“She got me another pair too, in silver to go with these pink ones.”

Celia: “Always worth having good things in multiple colors,” Celia says with a laugh, thinking of her own closet.

GM: “It sure is. But before I ask about your day, or I suppose night, sweetie, I told Alana I had some good news. And I do—I feel really good!” her mom smiles. “I felt a lil’ woozy, after yesterday, but a-ok the next morning after a good snooze. It definitely helped me sleep.”

“So,” she says meaningfully, “if you’d like more… I think I can feed you.”

Celia: “You feel fine?” Celia asks. “You’re sure? No linger anything? No dizziness, no fatigue, no… nothing?”

GM: “Positive,” Diana nods. “I had those symptoms, after you left, but like I said… a-okay the next morning. I had no problems keepin’ up at work.”

“I did have to do some teaching from my stool, on account of the leg, but that’s nothin’ new.”

Celia: That certainly is good news. If she can add her mother to a feeding routine—

No. She shouldn’t think of her like that. She’s not a juicebag.

Even if she is.

“I just ate,” Celia admits, “but I could take some and save it for later, or stop by later…?”

That might put it too close to waking up for school, though. Maybe it’s better to do it now.

GM: “I think it’d be best if you do it before I go to sleep, but I can stay up a bit longer, if you need me to,” her mom nods.

“We could make this a nightly thing. Or you could just take more from me a couple times per week.”

Celia: “You’re okay with that? I’m literally taking from you.”

GM: “I nursed you when you were a baby, didn’t I? You took from me then too.”

Celia: “Fair point,” Celia acknowledges with a small smile. “I can save some for later, then. Let me find something to put it in.”

She doesn’t want to mix it with the rest of the blood. Who knows how that will affect the taste. But salons are full of bottles and containers, and Celia is back a moment later with one in hand.

GM: “Just tell me how you want to do this,” her mom nods.

Celia: Celia would rather keep her mother’s blood for herself than share it with others. She bleeds herself into the container for later, licks the wound closed, and tucks it away. She tries to make it quick; the expression on her mother’s face is no doubt one of desire for the blood.

“Neck?” Celia asks when it’s done.

GM: Diana watches the whole time.

She doesn’t say anything. Just watches.

“Yes, please,” she answers, clearing her throat.

“Or the wrist, whatever you’d like, sweetie.”

Celia: Celia goes for the neck. She doesn’t kiss her way down like she does for most vessels, like she’d just done with her mother. She brings her in, as if for a hug, and simply tilts her head to the side to sink her fangs into the woman’s neck.

GM: Her mother’s blood is everything that it was last time. And the time before that.

Warm. Tender. Filling. Full of life and love and gladness. Gladness at feeding her baby. There’s a sensation of release, of joy at being able to feed her baby, like she’d always wanted to with those meals Celia threw out or threw up or stirred around on her plate.

Lisa might be miserable, and her and Charity both unknowing, but Diana tastes all-too glad to surrender her vitae.

It’s not love for another daughter. For a stranger. It’s love just for Celia.

Celia: It’s not fair, really, how other blood will never compare to this. Even with the rest of the headaches that her mother has brought to her unlife, Celia will never regret this part of it, the taste of this love on her tongue. She drinks from the woman who so freely offers herself for her family.

She doesn’t take much. She doesn’t want to strain her mother despite her words that she bounced back relatively quickly. They’ll call this a test run, see if last night was a fluke or if she truly can give blood this often.

The thing inside of her likes that thought.

She licks the wounds in her neck closed and pulls back, flicking her tongue against her lips to swallow down the rest of it.

“Thank you,” she says sincerely.

GM: Diana closes her eyes as color rises to her cheeks. Her breath comes heavier as she loses herself in the sensation, and her eyes shine when she opens them.

“Thank you,” her mom says, touching her shoulder.

“Say, sweetie… I had an idea…”

“If you wanted, you could feed some more from me… and then let me drink from you… so we’d both get to enjoy it, for as long as we want and as much as want, but no one loses any more blood…”

Celia: She knew there had to be a catch.

“We can try it,” Celia says after a moment, “when I find a way to make it less addictive.”

GM: Her mother looks at her longingly for a moment. She opens her mouth. Starts to say something.

Then she looks down at her feet, in her new ballet flats.

Celia: “Mom,” Celia sighs, “the blood has power over people. It turns you into someone you’re not.”

GM: Red starts to color her cheeks again.

“I… I know, sweetie, I’m sorry…”

Celia: “I think it’s a smart idea. I know of another lick who did that with one of theirs, too. I’m just worried it’s going to… turn into a hold over you, and I’d like to preserve our relationship so it’s not all about blood and feeding.”

GM: Her mom looks up and nods emphatically, her expression sobering. “You’re… you’re right, baby. We agreed, only as much as you think I need, bare minimum… I just… I still think about it…”

Celia: “Also…” Celia clears her throat, almost uncomfortably.

Deliberately. It’s not like she actually needs to.

“Being fed from kind of makes most people, um, get in the mood.”

GM: “Oh. Mood, as in…?”

Celia: “What you’re describing is basically vampire sex.”

GM: Diana goes completely silent.

Her face looks mortified.

Celia: “It doesn’t need to be,” Celia quickly continues, “feeding from you, feeding you, that’s not sexual, but it’s very… intimate?”

GM: “Oh.” Her mother gives a not-quite exhalation of relief, though the discomfort doesn’t entirely vanish from her face. “It’s… it’s like breastfeeding, then? Everyone makes a fuss about how sexual that is, but it’s really not, at all.”

Celia: “Kind of? It’s also, like, what Roderick and I do when we have sex, and… I’ll be honest, Mom, a lot of people in my clan in particular are pretty sexual, and I—”

A pause.

“Can I ask you something?”

GM: That particular comparison doesn’t look like it assuages her mother’s discomfort.

But she nods. “Yes, of course.”

Celia: “Can you tell me what that’s like? Breastfeeding? I’ll never… you know…” A vague gesture at her flat stomach.

GM: Her mother gives an almost relieved laugh.

“Oh my goodness, where to start…”

“Well, I guess you are askin’ an expert. I’ve nursed more babies than this hand has fingers,” she smiles, holding one of them up in emphasis.

“So, like a lot of things, it really can vary. By the mom’s body and her relationship with the baby and how she’s feelin’ at a given moment.”

“In fact, the first time I breastfed you,” she smiles as she emphasizes the word, “it was actually a bit painful.”

“Wasn’t you, though! That was all me. I was young and dumb and had no idea what I was doin’,” she chuckles.

Celia: “Don’t some babies kind of chew?”

GM: “Yes, they can. You didn’t do that, you just had an improper latch. That can be from lip ties, tongue ties, too shallow a latch, and so on. That last is what you had. You want your nipple to hit the roof of the baby’s mouth and I wasn’t goin’ that far in.”

“Mind, it can be worse. There was one mama I knew who cried when she fed her baby, and described it as toe-curlingly painful. With actual blood in the milk! I’m sure glad I wasn’t her.”

Celia: None of that sounds particularly wonderful.

“But when it’s done right, it’s… nice?”

GM: Her mom nods emphatically. “It’s like massage, sweetie. You can do it wrong. Very wrong. But you can also do it right. Very right. And like massage, I think more experiences are good than bad.”

She pauses for a moment, then smiles.

“I’d say the best breastfeeding experience I had was with Lucy. Because, you know, lot of babies under my belt at that point. And brand new life with you and Emily. Fresh start.”

“If I were to describe what that was like…”

“So, physically, if you do it right, it’s a gentle tugging sensation. Warm and tingling. And there’s relief, too, because your breasts are full! That milk has weight, so it’s a little like, well, usin’ the loo!”

“But that’s just one component of it, the physical part. Emotionally, it’s…” Her mother’s face gets a fond look. “Oh, Celia. There’s nothing else like it. Cradling this new life in your arms, nourishing it… you just look down at your baby, this little miracle from God…. it’s just… you feel so close. I cried a lot of times, with Lucy. There’d been so much darkness in our lives. But looking down at her, something just so innocent… feeding her, helping her grow… answering hate with love… I saw God in that, when I looked in her eyes. I saw God.”

Her mother gives a sniffle, but smiles too.

Celia: Celia nods, though she doesn’t think she’ll ever understand. Not really. She glances down at the stomach that will never hold another life inside of it, the breasts that will never feed a child. Maybe a childe, if she were ever to do a sort of kinky thing like that, but not… not a normal kid. That life was ripped away from her.

“Sorry if asking is… weird.”

GM: “Oh, it’s not weird, sweetie! At all. It’s perfectly natural, I’m happy to tell you about it.”

She gives a rueful smile. “I’m just sorry if the way I described it sounds a lil’ cheesy. Some of it is the oxytocin.”

Celia: “It doesn’t sound cheesy,” Celia says, shaking her head. “It’s what I wanted to know. What I… I mean I’ll never…” she trails off helplessly, wringing her hands. It doesn’t matter. “Was it like that with me, too, once you got the hang of it? Even though my conception…?”

“I’m going to see someone later who has a child. A ghoul child. I just wondered if that’s what she gets from it, but it seems funny to ask her instead of you.”

GM: Celia’s mother smiles again and cups her cheek.

“Oh, sweetie. Once I got the hang of it… your conception was the furthest thing from my mind, next to the bundle of life in my arms.”

“I felt so close to you.”

“I felt like the luckiest mama in the world.”

“I felt amazing. I couldn’t believe I was getting to enjoy this.”

“I wasn’t looking for God as hard, back then. But I saw Him in your eyes too.”

“I would stroke your hair, and I would rock you, and I would think… who is Celia Flores goin’ to be. Who is this amazing lil’ baby goin’ to grow up to be.”

Celia: She’s glad that her mother hadn’t hated or resented her for her birth. That she was able to find peace instead of more strife. The woman has had enough of that. Had enough by that point, too.

“I bet you never guessed vampire,” Celia says with a small smile.

GM: “It wasn’t my first guess,” her mother laughs. “But I’m very happy, with who that lil’ baby has grown up to be.”

“And, you know, even if you don’t get to experience that… that’s okay. The world’s a big place. We don’t get to experience it all. But God shows us all joys and marvels. You’ve known love from a lot of people, shown them love… including one who calls you Mommy.” Her mother smiles. “That bit counts more than the breastfeeding, in the end. There’s plenty mamas who love their babies with formula. Breastfeeding is just one of many, many, many ways to love somebody.”

Celia: “I’m happy that you know, Mom. I know we got off to a rough start with it. I’m sorry. I hope I can make it up to you, that you think this is all worth it.”

GM: “I do, sweetie. I want to stay in your life. I want to be part of your life. If this is how we do it, then okay, this is how we do it.”

Celia: “I’d like to try the blood sharing thing with you,” she says after a moment, “if you still want it.”

GM: “I’m not sure, actually,” her mom says thoughtfully. “It’s… addictive, like you say…”

Celia: “It’s more than that. It makes me… the center of your world, basically, if you drink right from the vein.”

GM: Her mom just smiles at her.

“You’re already the center of my world.”

Celia: “In a supernatural way,” Celia clarifies. “Like if I told you to abandon Lucy and attend me, you might.”

“It’s one of the only ways our kind says they can feel love anymore.”

GM: Her mother looks horrified.

“That’s not love…”

“Love isn’t… love isn’t zero-sum, baby. The more you give… the more you have to give. Having Lucy didn’t make me love you and your brothers and sisters less. It made me love you more.

Celia: “That’s part of why I’m afraid of giving you more. If it’s not appropriately cooled, you’ll sacrifice everything for me.”

“It’s why we make ghouls. Or part of it. They’re bound.”

GM: “But… but I drank from you once,” her mother says, worry suddenly creasing her face.

Celia: “There’s three steps.”

GM: “So it takes until the third, to kick in…?”

Celia: “To kick in fully.”

GM: “Oh. I have… I have been thinking of you more, I guess.”

“But I think of you plenty anyways.”

Celia: “This is an all the time thing. Like an obsession. Like… you know how Alana gets about me?”

GM: She nods. “If more drinks would make me abandon Lucy, then that settles it. I can’t have any more.” Celia’s mom shakes her head. “Un-cooled, at least.”

Celia: “I’m trying to figure out a way to break it. But I’m trying to figure out a lot of stuff, honestly, and this is one of those things not a lot of people share. It’s a pretty common punishment with licks to make you drink from them.”

GM: “Thank you for sharing that, sweetie. I’m very glad I know.”

“There’s also…” Her mom pauses, then finally says, “Celia, I took advantage of Dani.”

Celia: “What?”

GM: “I asked her to feed me.”

“And she did.”

Celia: “Oh.”

“She… fed you.”

“How, uh, how was it?”

GM: “Because she trusted me, and was so grateful for everything, but… she tasted bad.” Diana looks back down at her new shoes. “Serves me right, I guess…”

Celia: Celia reaches a hand out to her mom. She should be angry. But she mostly just feels… bad.

“It’s okay. This is hard on you right now. It’s new. You don’t understand it all yet, and I was angry and didn’t explain everything. Dani is a thin-blood, though. Her blood won’t nourish you like mine will. Or at least… I don’t think it will. I guess we didn’t try that…”

GM: “Does it get any easier, Celia?” her mom asks plaintively, looking back up at her daughter. “The wanting? I thought about it all day, how I was going to ask you if we could feed each other…”

Celia: “I don’t think so,” she says with a sigh.

GM: “Oh.”

Celia: “You learn to… do things with it, I guess.”

“There’s a ghoul who said we’re all addicts, but she finds ways to channel it into positive stuff instead. She offered to take you around and teach you things—she’s been at it a while, was turning 150 when I met her first—but she implied punishment, so…”

GM: “Oh. You mean like with J… when you were Jade,” her mom says slowly.

Celia: “I’d tell her not to. But I don’t want her to find out who you are. We could test the mask. She could show you around?”

GM: “But, would she still hurt me,” her mom says in the same slow tone.

Celia: “Not if I told her not to. I think.”

“She’s not my ghoul, but she’s still a ghoul, and they usually kind of have to listen…”

GM: “Maybe we just shouldn’t chance it. You can tell me whatever I need to know.”

“Dani’s very eager to meet other vampires and ghouls and what have you, but I’ll be honest, sweetie, I’m not.”

“All of this, to me, is just… it’s a part of you, to learn more about.”

“So I want to.”

“But I don’t want to make it my own life, you know?”

Celia: “I think that’s wise.”

GM: “I have a family, I have a career, I’m not chompin’ at the bit to make a stand for duskborn equality or whatever else have you.”

“Even if I do agree there’s no reason they should be treated worse.”

“We’re just at different places in life. Dani’s still young and figuring hers out.”

“I’ve already got my life figured out.” Her mom smiles and touches her again. “Which, goes without sayin’, you are a very big part of.”

Celia: “It’s okay,” Celia tells her mom, “I understand. I’m kind of relieved,” she admits, “because it’s hard to balance who I am around you and who I am around other licks, and I’m already doing a poor job of it with Dani, and Alana keeps bugging me to go to lick events and it’s like she doesn’t realize that maybe they might hurt her while they’re in the moment, and it’s just… you know. A lot.”

“Like I’m being pulled in a bunch of different directions.”

“I keep trying to explain things to Dani about duskborn and I took her out last night and she got ignored and was kind of mad about it but like I warned her and it’s better she be ignored than slaughtered.”

GM: “I’d definitely take the former over the latter,” her mom says with a weak chuckle. “But I’m sorry, sweetie. It does sound like things are hard for you. Is there any way I can help?”

“With Dani or Alana or… anything or anyone else in your life? I want to make things easier for you.”

Celia: Is there?

“I… maybe?” Celia hedges. She taps her fingers against her leg, considering the issues before her. “I feel like I have a lot going on, and I think most of it I have to do myself because it’s meeting with people… and I know some of what I have going on you don’t want to be involved in, so I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, and there’s a fair amount of just general being around vampire stuff, but you mentioned you don’t really want to do that…”

She trails off. Research, maybe? Hunters?

“Have you heard the word glinko before?”

GM: Her mom thinks. “Ah, don’t think so, sweetie.”

“What’s the context?”

Celia: “Roderick and I almost got picked up by some hunters a few nights ago, and I had a friend do a ritual to find out how they found him, and that word came up. But I’m not familiar with it and apparently no one else has heard of it either.”

GM: “Oh. Well, I could ask some of my co-workers at McGehee, see if it’s anything. Benefit to workin’ at a good school, lots of educated people,” she smiles.

Celia: “Maybe not. I wouldn’t ask anyone who doesn’t know about all this. It’s kind of sensitive, and I don’t want to clue anyone in on anything.”

GM: “I’d leave out the vampire bits, of course.”

Celia: “Right, I just… kind of feel like it’s a hunter thing, and you’d be painting a target on your back.”

“I thought about asking your mom, actually…”

GM: “I don’t think she’d know any more about hunters than my co-workers.”

“But, okay, I won’t bring it up around them.”

“I could try and research it on my own…?”

Celia: “I have a strong suspicion your mom is, or at least was, a hunter.”

GM: Diana frowns. “Er, why is that, sweetie?”

Celia: “Things she’s said over time. Interactions we’ve had. That sort of thing.”

“I thought, uh, maybe you might have been one too.”

“When you were younger. And that’s why you weren’t surprised about me.”

GM: “This is my first vampire rodeo, far as I know,” her mom says with a chuckle.

“I never really got that, ah, I suppose ‘impression’ from your grandmother. She certainly never told me she was a vampire hunter. But I guess you’re the expert.”

Celia: “I could be wrong. It’s not like I’ve ever asked.”

GM: “Why don’t you do that, then?”

Celia: “Ask your mom if she hunts people like me?”

GM: “Well, I mean… how else could you find out for sure?”

Celia: “Not sure there’s a casual way to bring it up. And I don’t have the ability to erase memories.”

Bring her to the spa.

Question her there.

“Isn’t her birthday coming up?”

GM: “I suppose it is,” Diana grants.

She doesn’t send cards.

Celia: Maybe Celia will. With a gift card.

GM: “Well. Anyway. I could look into this ‘glinko’ thing on my own. McGehee has a good library.”

Celia: “Thanks. I’ll let you know if there’s anything else.” She brings her in for another hug. “You’re really the best mom anyone could ask for, you know that?”

GM: Her mom gives her a happy squeeze back. “Thanks, sweetie. And you’re really the best daughter anyone could ask for, so tit for tat!”

Celia: “Do you still want to try the blood thing…?”

GM: There’s longing in her eyes, for a moment.

But her mother just shakes her head.

“Also, I am more than happy to do, ah, ‘vampire stuff’ for you if it’d make your life easier, sweetie! I’m not goin’ to base my life around it, but if I can help yours, I want to! You said there might be something there?”

Celia: “Nothing super pressing. You’d have to know the right people, and Alana mostly handles it for me. I’d like to show you off at a clan or guild function or party, but Dicentra said you vetoed the idea of using a different material in your leg, and I don’t want to strain it.”

Celia shakes her head.

“Honestly, aside from the stuff I know you won’t talk to me about, you’re… mostly doing great. Helping with my cover. Feeding me. Keeping my secrets. It’s all good.”

“Unless you happen to be a whiz at breaking and entering and aren’t afraid of demons.”

GM: “Oh. Well, if it’s important to you, we could go ahead with some other material for my leg. I just figured if it was getting fixed anyway, there was no rush…” Diana’s face gets a hopeful look as she briefly massages her bad leg.

Celia: “We can wait.”

“There’s another guy in the city who might be able to help, but he’s… kind of scary.”

GM: “Okay. We can wait, and look into other avenues if this one doesn’t pan out. I’ll need time to practice, anyway, to get back in shape.”

“And afraid I’m not any good when it comes to breaking and entering, but if it’s for you I could try to face down a demon,” her mom chuckles.

“But things I won’t talk about, sweetie? Like what?”

Celia: “Just the… doll stuff. Lucy.” Celia shrugs, looking away for a moment.

GM: Her mom doesn’t say anything for a while.

When Celia looks back, Diana is looking away too.

Down at her new shoes.

“Why do you want me to, sweetie,” she says quietly.

Celia: “Because Lucy… talks to me. Because I’m about to trade some favors to find out the truth, and this would keep me from that. Because I think something weird happened to you the night you met Ron, and I… I saw a fortune teller, and none of it made sense, and it was a very bleak future for… for me. And you.”

GM: Her mother still doesn’t look up from the floor.

“What,” she says after another pause. “What do you want to know.”

Celia: “Was Lucy part of you?”

GM: “I. I don’t understand.”

Celia: “Like you know how I have Celia and Jade?”

GM: A nod.

Celia: “So… was she part of you?”

“Like a… multiple?”

Or did Elyse just cut out the “bad” parts?

…and stuff them inside a doll?

GM: Diana still doesn’t look up from the floor. She’s closed her eyes. Her voice is a croak when she talks again.

“Do you… do you have. Paper.”

Celia: Celia moves around her desk, pulling out a pen and pad of paper.

GM: They’re sitting down on chairs by the desk.

Celia: She hands them over, reclaiming her seat next to her mom.

GM: Diana takes a low, shuddering breath.

Her hand is shaking as she removes the pen’s cap.

Celia: Celia puts a hand on her mother’s shoulder, as if to remind her that she’s here.

Moral support and all that.

GM: She jots down one word in trembling, messy handwriting.

Yes

Celia: “She… cut her out of you?”

GM: Diana’s hand doesn’t move.

Then she just underlines the word.

Celia: “How many?”

GM: Her mother writes a question mark.

Celia: “Are there others? Other multiples?”

GM: no

Celia: “Is… she my… mom? Is she why?”

GM: Diana taps the question mark.

Celia: “With Ron.”

“Is she why you got together with Ron?”

GM: There’s a long pause.

Celia’s mother opens her mouth and taps the pen. She starts to nod. Then finally just shakes her head.

Celia: “I don’t understand.”

GM: Diana just shakes her head again.

Celia: “So it wasn’t her.”

“It was something else?”

GM: Another head shake.

Celia: “Then what?”

GM: Her mother taps the question mark.

Celia: “Everything I know from what she does to girls is that she turns them into chaste, demure women. They don’t drink. She doesn’t like sex, so she takes the enjoyment of it from others. But she let you out early at your mother’s behest. Said that you only needed a few minor tweaks, but were otherwise fine. And the last night you were there… that’s when I was conceived. You shouldn’t have wanted to have sex with him. But you did. You were drinking. And had sex. And people like me can make you do that.”

GM: Celia’s mother closes her eyes again and breathes heavily before she scratches out,

I don’t know. Only know about

There’s a pause as she holds the pen in the air. Her hand shakes before she finally just writes,

L

Celia: “Okay,” Celia says with a nod. “How long as she part of you?”

GM: Another pause.

Since born

Celia: “And she’s been gone since the doll’s creation?”

GM: Yes

Celia: “Who else knows?”

GM: Diana lifts up the pen, but her hand starts to tremble again. She squeezes her eyes shut, then finally just jots down, underlined once,

HER

Celia: Elyse.

“She’s in the doll. Lucy. There’s a lick who can talk to spirits. I saw her last night. She can talk to Lucy.”

“You can too, can’t you?”

GM: Diana covers her face with her hands.

But she nods. Once.

Celia: “You don’t want her back.”

GM: Celia’s mother opens her mouth. She stares at the paper. A tear runs down her face.

Celia: “It’s okay to say no.”

GM: She finally scrawls down,

Stole

Celia: “Stole?”

“She stole Lucy from you, you mean?”

GM: In capital letters,

ME

Celia’s mom looks at the word, then taps ‘stole’ and hangs her head.

Celia: “Stole… you?”

It would be so much easier if Diana just used her words.

GM: Diana nods again.

Celia: “Stole you from what?”

GM: Her mother underlines ME.

Celia: “Stole you from you.”

GM: Diana nods.

Celia: She’s quiet for a moment. Finally she nods.

“Okay. We don’t have to do that, then. Thanks for being honest with me about it.”

GM: After a moment,

Do what?

Celia: “Put you back together.”

GM: Her mom’s mouth falls open. She looks at Celia for a while, then gets out in a faltering voice,

“How…?”

Celia: “I don’t know. She just said it was possible. But if you don’t want to then we won’t.”

GM: Diana stares at Celia for a while with wide, almost disbelieving eyes, then shakes her head.

“I… I do…”

Celia: “But you said she stole you.”

GM: Her mother closes her eyes and nods.

Celia: “Then why would you want her back?”

GM: Diana looks at Celia imploringly, then presses a hand over her heart.

“I… lost…”

She presses the hand to her heart again.

Celia: There’s a word that comes to mind. She tries not to think it. It’s not true. She just doesn’t have all the pieces yet.

“Lost… what, Mom? I’m trying so hard to understand, but I don’t. You lost yourself? In like a fugue state?”

GM: Diana shakes her head again. She opens her mouth several times as if to spit something out, then touches her heart again.

“Who… I was…”

There’s that same, imploring look, but even more desperate. Celia’s mother looks like a prisoner behind bars begging for a key.

Celia: “They killed that part of you. You lost it. Into Lucy. You want it back. Right? That’s what you mean?”

GM: Celia’s mother touches a hand to her throat, as if trying to talk, then just nods rapidly.

Celia: “Okay. We can do that. I can do that. We’ll find a way. I have some people to talk to, and we’ll do it.”

“The lady I spoke to last night said you could set her free, so you have some sort of key to this.”

GM: Diana looks at her uncertainly.

Celia: “I don’t know,” she admits, “I’m not an expert. I just found this out last night.”

GM: Her mother looks down at the paper, then just nods again.

Celia: “We’ll figure it out. We’ll get you back together again, okay?”

GM: Another nod.

“Wh… when?”

Celia: “So. I mentioned the lady last night. She gave me the name of someone else, who I have Alana setting up a meeting with. But there’s also… I mentioned the fortune teller. The vision. She said there’s a clan of people who could help, but that it would… hurt.”

GM: “O… kay,” her mother mouths. “That sounds… good, sweetie.”

“Let me, know if…”

She gestures vaguely.

Then rubs her leg.

Celia: “Of course, Mama.” Celia takes a knee beside her mother’s chair, gently moving her hands out of the way so she can perform the massage movements instead. “How else can I help you right now?”

GM: “That’s good, sweetie… thanks…” Diana murmurs, closing her eyes as her daughter goes through the massage’s familiar motions. Celia’s mother looks tired. Tired and paler from their recent words, and the blood loss too.

“Maybe… pick up Emi or Dani, to give me a lift back home…? I don’t really feel tip top, and when my leg acts up, I worry about the breaks…”

Celia saw her pink Beetle parked by Flawless.

“Oh, wait… Dani is comin’ by… just to drive me home then, before you see that duskborn lady.”

Celia: “I can drop you. I’ll have Dani follow in your car.”

“Yeah.”

GM: “Okay. Do we need to scram, if that’s soon…?”

It’s not. Celia scheduled time for her stomach operation.

Celia: “Oh. No. I thought it was later than it is. I can drop you now and just have someone pick me up and bring me back, no big.”

GM: “Oh. Okay, sweetie.” Her mom smiles. “I should go to bed soon… school day tomorrow, plus dinner with Stephen’s family.”

Celia: “Come on, then, I’ll help you out.”


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

GM: It’s a short drive in her mom’s Beetle back to Diana’s house. Lucy is in bed at this hour, but Emily pops out of her room (where she was studying) to share hugs and say hi. Dani remarks Celia’s come by early, but says she can give her a lift back to Flawless in her own car. Diana bids the girls all goodnight and makes her way to Lucy’s room.

Celia: Celia hadn’t expected Dani to be there this early. After exchanging pleasantries with Emily and seeing her mother to bed, she says as much to Dani when they get back in the car.

“You’re early too. How’d it go with Rod?”

GM: “Oh, I haven’t seen him yet. He’s still doing work stuff,” says Dani as they get in her car.

“And was hunting earlier.”

Celia: “Oh. I thought he’d be done by now.”

GM: “He texted when we’d be able to hang.”

Celia: “Okay.”

GM: “Well, hunting takes about an hour, he said, and being a lawyer is a busy job.”

“He also told me about the ‘Rod’ name.”

“It’s really weird how he’s changed his name.”

Celia: “Most of us do. Keeps our families safe.”

“If he’d been Stephen Garrison his dad would be a target, you’d be a target.”

“Anyone who’s mad at him.”

“Or his sire.”

GM: “He explained. And it makes sense. Just weird to know he’s been going by this whole other name.”

“He said no one calls him Stephen anymore. Hasn’t in years.”

Celia: “No,” she agrees. “I did once on a date, years ago. Asked what he’d prefer. He said a clean break is best.”

GM: “It’s still hard for me to get accustomed to.”

“He said I could call him what I liked.”

Celia: “You’ll get it eventually. Not a big deal as long as you don’t slip up in front of someone else.”

“I have some work to do real quick when we get back to the spa, but then we can get going.”

GM: “Oh, I’ve got my laptop with me. It’s no rush, I can do schoolwork until you’re ready.”

Celia: “Thanks, Dani. Appreciate the help with my mom and all.”

GM: “It’s no problem. She and Emi have just been so nice to me.”

“Lucy, too.”

Celia: “I’d hope so. World hasn’t ruined her yet.”

She can only hope it stays that way.


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

Celia: Perhaps, she reflects as she closes herself in her work space and locks both sets of doors behind her, she should have listened to the fortune teller.

“You won’t like the answers.”

No, she supposes she doesn’t. She doesn’t like them at all. Her mom is a multiple. The “real” Diana is not the sweet, loving woman that she has known all her life, but apparently some sort of hellion that goes out late at night, steals cars, and carries guns around. Full of rage and who knows what else. That chat she’d had with Roderick, about how of course her mom would always love her? About how Elyse couldn’t completely change personalities? All of that goes out the window.

Her mom is a multiple.

Two personalities inside one body. Like Celia and Jade. Or Leilani. Or Violet. Or Lilly. Or Star. Or any of the others that clamor for control. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? She’s still in control. She still retains her memories. She doesn’t lose herself to a fugue state, doesn’t act against her very real core tenets and betray herself.

Does she?

If Jade is willing to hurt Diana, is Lucy willing to hurt Celia?

She doesn’t want her mom to be a multiple. She thought it was settled. That everything was going to be fine. That it would be smooth sailing from here on out: help Marcel, transfer the luck, Mom is happy and healthy and still willing to feed her, they continue to have a great relationship until she dies a very natural death.

Now this.

More turbulence.

More shit she has to deal with.

And all of it is Diana’s fault. Continuing to make problems. As if dying for her wasn’t enough. As if losing a friend and ally over her wasn’t enough. As if her very existence doesn’t absolutely weaken her when people who know her know where to target.

She should have left it alone.

She should have fucking left it alone.

But she kept picking and picking and picking because she’s so

fucking

stupid.

Even Roderick thinks so. Roderick, with his non-answer last night. Roderick, with his perfect fucking life and perfect Embrace and perfect sire and perfect Requiem and perfect fucking sister that he gets to have because she smoothed it over, because she made it better, because she fucked up her own plans by making sure that he wouldn’t lose everything, and now everyone thinks she’s a giant fucking fuckup.

And maybe she is.

The claws slide out. Long, sharp, deadly. Like the thing that takes over her mind. She doesn’t fight it. She lets it go, watching from behind its eyes as it tears through the steel room looking for something warm to destroy. Watches until she disappears into the red haze and loses sight of what happens while she’s gone.

Like a fugue state.

She’s on the floor when she comes back to herself, clothing shredded, face red with the blood that leaks from her eyes as hysterical laughter gurgles up from her gut. Laugh crying. Cry laughing. Whatever it is she’s doing it, shoulders shaking with the effort. Lack of air eventually causes the noise to fall silent, but on she goes, face contorted into a mockery of joy.

It’s all just so hilarious.

Her body eventually moves. She unlocks the door and steps back into the private suite of rooms reserved for Jade, though the lick has not yet arrived. Someone else pulls the body from beneath the table where she keeps it in temporary cold storage. Someone else makes a mental note to contact Ramon for the work he’d offered. Someone else runs through a tally of what sort of information they’re willing to trade, since a debt to the Nosferatu is not something that Jade or Celia or this other person want.

Claws slice into the blonde’s body, though “body” implies “whole” and this thing is decidedly not whole. It looks almost like that girl who’d fallen into the tiger pit all those years ago when they’d found her the next morning, bits and pieces already harvested by Celia or Jade or Dicentra or whoever else had gotten to her (someone else recalls that Alana had done the hair to turn it into a wig that Joy wore and that Dani now has, and Celia wonders if Louise would be interested in styling wigs and if that’s something they could start selling more of, as Jade had primarily used them for her own disguises and extensions for the girls, but it would give her something to do in the meantime while Celia figures out the licensing issue like the helper that she is).

The claws slice from sternum to groin. It takes a bit of effort to crack the ribs, but there are tools for that, and soon the pieces of bone sit in a bag to be ground up for more bonemeal (Celia recalls that she had forgotten to give the last bag to her mother for her garden and is glad that the growing season hasn’t quite started yet, and also wonders if maybe her grandsire’s rooftop gardens could use some, or maybe Dahlia Rose…?). The claws disappear once the body lays open on the table, and hands gently sift through the dead organs to find the stomach. Upper abdomen. Left side.

The human body is truly a fascinating thing. Food and air enter the same cavity but are filtered out by various parts. Food travels down to the esophagus to the lower esophageal sphincter, which contracts and expands to let things in. There the stomach secrets acids and enzymes to break down all the food that enters it (Celia had looked it up once to find that stomach acid falls between a 1 and 2 on the pH scale. Battery acid, pH 1, can dissolve metal and bone: that’s why people who throw up all the time ruin their teeth. Jade had experimented with ways to utilize it effectively when she’d found out). The stomach itself is lined with muscle fiber that churns to help digest things, and another sphincter releases the dissolved contents into the intestines to make its way down to the anal cavity.

This undead body has no need for most of that, though. A scalpel separates the top of the esophagus from the throat just below the trachea, where the upper esophageal sphincter sits. Another cut separates the stomach from the intestines and the contents are deposited into a bowl to be sifted through later. This long after death there’s little food to be found, but just because the human died doesn’t mean the bacteria inside did. They keep churning. Then to the sink, to rinse the stomach, and finally a pinch of fingers seals the pyloric sphincter shut. There’s no need to have a hole in the bottom that leaks food into the rest of the body.

Those same fingers go to work on the undead body, pulling apart skin and muscle to fit the esophagus into the throat (some part of Jade or maybe Celia or even Dicentra wonders where the blood goes when they drink it since it certainly doesn’t sit in their stomachs), and the lick stands in front of a mirror while it moves more muscle and flesh aside to nestle the stolen stomach into its body, moving various things around inside to make sure that the stomach is supported and won’t go bouncing around erratically if the body finds itself in a hectic situation. A test jump confirms that everything is locked into place, and quick fingers move skin, muscle, and sinew into their rightful areas once more.

Like magic.

The girl staring at herself in the mirror doesn’t look like she had surgery, let alone put a dead stomach inside of hers. Her body is perfect. Pristine.

Flawless.

GM: Lucy watches the whole time.

She doesn’t say anything.

She doesn’t judge.

She doesn’t shrink in fear.

Dolls don’t talk. Dolls don’t do any of those things. She just watches Celia/Jade/Someone Else patiently, hands folded across the lap of her baby blue dress.

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Perhaps she knows something of the tortured thoughts playing out in her mother’s head. (Heads?) Perhaps she knows nothing. Perhaps she would say much, if she could. Perhaps she would say nothing.

She just watches. She just waits. Patiently.

Dolls watch. Dolls wait. Dolls look pretty. It’s what they do.

Maxen would have preferred dolls to daughters, perhaps.

Celia: Maybe they don’t talk, but Celia/Jade/Someone Else (there really can’t be Someone Else, can there? And when had that become capitalized in her thoughts?) can talk enough for two, three, maybe even five people.

“I didn’t know,” she says to Lucy when it’s all over, washing her hands and face in the sink to get rid of the blood. “I said I’d help you. Fix you. Your voice. You’re in there somewhere, right?” She dries her hands and reaches for the doll, careful not to get her wet.

“…she’d still love me, right? You would too? You both? You saved me, you told me to run, you…”

That’s love, right? Saving someone? She doesn’t have to force her blood down her mother’s throat to make her love her, right?

Even the thought makes her recoil.

Has to be Celia asking these things, doesn’t it? Jade doesn’t care.

She stares at the doll cradled in her arms, half-tucked against her naked body, wide eyes imploring. An answer, a sign, anything.

GM: The doll doesn’t move away from Celia’s recently-wet hands. Dolls don’t move. Dolls aren’t scared to get wet, even if their owners and parents are.

Lucy doesn’t say yes. Lucy doesn’t say no. She just stares back at Celia with wide, expressive glass eyes.

Pic.jpg
Celia: Celia finally sighs down at the doll. Maybe she’s crazy for expecting an answer.

Maybe it runs in the family.

Maybe Elyse is her best path forward and she should suck it up and find a dancer to break with her. Maybe she can put some of Celia inside a doll, too.

“I’d offer to take you with me to Edith’s, but if her kids break you I’m going to be really mad.”

GM: Lucy serenely accepts this explanation too.

Dolls accept all things serenely.

Except when they talk.

Why are crazy people the only people who can talk to them?

Is she insane to expect an answer, or not insane enough?

Celia: Lucy used to talk to her. Sort of.

Does that make it better or worse?


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Story Thirteen, Celia X

“You only have one brother. You’re stuck with him.”
Celia Flores


Wednesday night, 16 March 2016, PM

Celia: Celia reaches for her phone to call herself a ride for the trek back to the Quarter. They make idle small talk while she waits and set a future date to get back together. Jade slides into the back of the car when it pulls up, aura dampened and face obscured to make her look like just another casino patron.

Despite his insistence that she send “Celia” to retrieve the items, Jade brings her luggage with her. She promises to send the girl by another evening for his amusement—“maybe to celebrate the return of the painting. Maybe you can have us both that night.”

She tucks the luggage full of belongings into the trunk and texts Randy to meet at her haven. She can hunt for Pete and Edith later; right now the world is literally at her fingertips and she has no desire to waste it. A second text to Reggie confirms that she is stopping by. Randy will pick her up shortly to serve as wheels into Mid-City, where both brothers wait.

In the back of the Ryde, Celia taps a message to Alana.

Didn’t tell me you fucked Josua. Nice score. Can’t be that submissive when you’re filling in, though. ;)

She sends the text and scrolls through her contacts until she reaches Reynaldo’s name. Why hasn’t he reached out to her? Is he not interested anymore because she’d shown him what she can do? She pouts at her phone as if an answer will appear.

GM: Josua pouts Celia won’t be by tonight, but seems content with that assurance of later.

Randy texts back he’ll see her at her haven.

Reggie says says he’ll see her there.

Alana texts back, Thanks! It was really easy to be around him, but I’ll try not to be in other places xoxo

A message from Reynaldo is not immediately forthcoming.

Celia: Jade sighs at her screen. It’s not as if the lick is psychic, she reminds herself. She’ll just have to go to him. That doesn’t look desperate at all.

Oh well. At least she has a reason to seek him out.

She fires off a text to Dani.

You up? Wanna hang? Have some errands to run but free in a bit.

GM: The text back is immediate.

Love to! I’m at your mom’s house, do you wanna meet there or someplace else?

Celia: Maybe my place?

GM: Ok, be there in a bit :)

Celia: It’s a quick ride back to her haven after that, where hopefully Randy is already waiting. She takes a moment to unpack and change into something more suitable for an evening of running around doing who knows what: black, short, with mesh cutouts along the midriff and thigh. A pair of nude heels complete the look.

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“So,” she says to Randy, “what do you mean Mabel thinks Reggie is Evan?”

GM: “I heard her calling him Evan,” he says. “When they were fucking.”

“And he was, uh, calling her Mom. It was pretty weird.”

Celia: “Ah… yeah apparently Evan used to call her Mom. Had a thing for MILFs.”

Maybe Reggie can keep her and continue that relationship. Maybe all Mabel needs is a good, firm dicking every once in a while.

GM: “Also, damn, babe, do you look great!”

Celia: She smiles up at Randy.

“Thank you. We’re heading to the office for a bit.” She gathers what she needs so they can head out.

GM: Dani arrives around the same time. She’s dressed in a short-sleeved top, booties, and knee-length skirt.

“Hey!” she smiles as she hugs Celia.

Celia: Awkward. She’d said “in a bit,” she recalls, as in “after her errands,” as in “why is Dani at my house right now.” If only Celia had gone back to her other haven like she’d intended to all along instead of playing it safe and going to the “public” haven, “Celia’s” haven, which has already been exposed who knows how many times.

She really needs a change of address once everything settles down.

None of that makes it to her face. She’s not even stiff when Dani leans in for a hug. Just the smiling friend, hugging her back.

“Hey, glad you could make it. You were sleeping earlier when I stopped by.” A nod to Randy excuses him from the room. Celia pulls Dani’s finished mask from her bag. “Want to try it out?”

GM: Dani says hello to him too, and he says as much back, before he takes his leave.

Dani nods and takes it out. Her eyebrows raise as she runs her fingers over the material.

“Oh, wow. This is… incredibly realistic.”

“This doesn’t even look like a mask.”

Celia: “No,” Celia says as Dani takes the mask from her, “nor should you feel it. It’s made to blend into the skin once applied. A little bit of makeup will cover the seam so no one knows it’s not real. There’s a wig, too. Darker, like you asked.”

Celia helps her put it on and adjusts the fit. Once it’s in place she holds out a mirror.

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GM: “Jesus,” Dani murmurs, staring at her new reflection. “I really look like a completely different person.”

Celia: “You’ll need a name.”

GM: “Hmm,” Dani says thoughtfully.

“So Danielle means ‘God is my judge,’ for Daniel surviving a night in the den of lions. That honestly seems pretty appropriate already. But we obviously can’t stick with that.”

“Hm, Daria, after the king who ordered Daniel thrown into the den?”

“Although maybe starting with a ‘d’ is too similar.”

Celia: “If you’re going to use this as your vampire name you could do something wild.”

GM: “Oh, what do vampires usually do there?”

Celia: “Depends. Some have normal names: Roderick, Reynaldo, Roxanne. A little dated, maybe, but normal enough. Some change them completely: Sundown, Harlequin, Perseus.”

GM: Dani thinks. “Maybe Attica, for Atticus Finch? He was always Stephen’s and my favorite literary character, growing up.”

Her face downturns briefly at the mention of her brother.

“Or, ugh, I already went with something legal for my tattoo. I guess I’m not a real person outside my job.”

Celia: “Keep the mask on for a while. See how it makes you feel. See what type of person it makes you want to be. There’s a freedom in being someone that isn’t you; maybe you’ll discover more about your real self when you’re not busy being Dani.”

GM: She looks in the mirror and gives a sigh. “Okay. I guess we don’t have to decide now.”

Celia: “Speaking of your brother.”

GM: “I haven’t decided how much rent to charge him yet.”

Celia: “I don’t think that’s going to be an effective tactic.”

GM: “Yeah, I don’t care. He owes me.”

Celia: “For what?”

GM: “Uh, everything?”

“How about we start with being a giant ass, hitting you like your dad did, throwing me around, scaring me, Dad loving him more, being a giant ass, letting us all think he was dead, being the golden son when he was alive, and oh, getting to be the golden son when he’s dead too, Mr. Primogen’s Childe, and being a giant ass,” Dani flares.

“And oh, did I mention being a giant ass?”

“And oh, all that bullshit about moving to Houston, because I’m just going to pack up my life for his convenience.”

Celia: “All right. Well, first of all, you don’t pick your sire any more than you pick your parents. They pick you. There’s not always a lot of say in whether or not you want it. Second of all, your dad loving him more is not Stephen’s fault, nor his being the golden child. That’s something that parents thrust upon you. Third of all, he had to let you think he was dead. It’s literally the first rule of being a vampire: you don’t talk about being a vampire.”

Celia runs a hand through her hair. This is not how she wants to spend her night.

“It’s not something he did lightly. Trust me. He’s cried about it. So if you’re going to be mad at him, be mad at him for things that he did rather than things that were done to him.”

GM: Dani’s glare subsides. A little. “Okay, I’m mad at him for physically abusing both of us, being a giant ass, expecting me to just move to Houston because he said so and the completely arrogant entitled attitude that’s reflective of for Mr. Golden Child, and also being a giant ass.”

“He hit you!”

“Your mom says that wasn’t really him, but I don’t really trust her advice when it comes to forgiving men who hit women.”

Celia: Celia gives that a wry smile.

“Any other time I’d agree with you. She and I also spoke about it earlier this evening. It’s… I hate to say it’s different, because don’t all battered women say that, but it’s different. I can show you. Not now, this very minute. But tonight.”

GM: Dani raises her eyebrows. “She said a monster took over. And that one also did when she fed you blood.”

“We talked tonight too, after I woke up.”

Celia: “The Beast.”

“What did you talk about?”

GM: “Uh, my living situation. I’ll be honest, I really wanted us to be roommates, but she said that wouldn’t work out.”

“And that… she and Emily really didn’t want me to be alone right now.”

“So we thought I’d stay with them until things are more… I guess settled.”

She gives a low, humorless laugh. “I guess until I’m less bothered by how somebody raped me.”

“Can I also just say it’s incredibly fucked up and makes flaming mad that every woman in your house has been raped?”

Emily was too, a long time ago in foster care. She says she’s past it. She mentioned it to help comfort Diana shortly after she moved in. Let her know she wasn’t alone.

Celia: “What is it, one in five? We’ve always been exceptional in my family.” It’s one of those things she has to laugh about so she doesn’t get upset.

“I am meeting with Reggie in a few minutes, but after that I was going to speak to the guy who runs the club where it all happened. We don’t usually come out right on cameras, but it’s a place to start. The blood sample you gave me unfortunately can’t be used to track your sire.”

“I thought I could take you with me to meet him, if you want.”

“I can’t promise he’s going to be civil.”

GM: “Oh,” says Dani when Reggie comes up.

“Yeah, I’d kinda hoped to tag along for your errands. It gets boring sitting around in a house where everyone is asleep all night.”

“But think I’ll pass on Reggie.”

“I said this over text, but when he was harassing your mom and me… it got worse whenever Lucy was in the room.”

“Like, she was catnip to him. It was so fucking creepy.”

Celia: “I think he has a thing for moms.”

GM: “Moms with six-year-olds.”

Celia: “Moms in general. He’s said some weird things.”

“The Blood can, uh… it can twist people.”

Or maybe Reggie was just always weird.

GM: “I’d cut him out of your life, honestly.”

Celia: “Mm, he does good work for me otherwise. I’ll just keep you guys separated.”

GM: Dani doesn’t look happy, but holds her tongue.

“Okay, I’d like to be with you when you talk to the club guy.”

“I’m guessing in case he knows anything about who did this to me?”

Celia: “I’m going to bring Stephen by later, after we talk to club guy, so I can safely show you the Beast and you two can hammer out the details of your relationship before we see your dad on Friday.”

“And yeah.”

“His club, he’s bound to know something, or know someone who does.”

“Granted, we don’t always know everything that goes on in our territory, so it could be a shot in the dark.”

She doesn’t think so, though.

GM: “Can’t hurt, though.”

“I’m also not sure I want to see Stephen, or to have him come to dinner.”

Celia: “It would mean a lot to me if you talk to him. He’s important to me. You’re important to me. I feel like it’s my fault your meeting went poorly and that I didn’t adequately prepare you, and… I want you two to have each other. Being a lick is lonely.”

GM: Dani crosses her arms. “I don’t expect a lot. But since you asked, okay, sure.”

“I’ll talk to him.”

Celia: “Thanks, Dani.” Celia ignores the crossed arms and brings her in for a hug. “He’s trying.”

GM: Dani hugs her back. “Also, I brought you something.”

She pulls out a sealed thermos from her shoulder bag.

“I went… hunting, earlier tonight. In the place you said I could.”

Celia: “Oh? How’d that go?”

GM: “I’m still getting the hang of this, but I have been doing it for a week. There’s some extra blood in there for you.”

“I guess I sort of assumed vampires could just get more whenever they wanted, but your mom made it sound like that was actually a pretty big deal.”

Celia: Celia eyes the thermos.

“It can be, yeah. Overcrowding, social events on the best hunting nights of the week, nocturnal hours, hunters…” She takes the thermos to check the volume of blood Dani has just handed her.

“This is great. Thank you. Really.”

GM: She’d peg it at two pints.

“You’re welcome. And credit where it’s due, it was your mom’s idea. I was bouncing around thoughts with her and she suggested you’d appreciate more.”

“I just… I don’t want to be a burden.”

“You’ve done a lot for me. And you said you owed it to Stephen’s memory, that night we first talked, but that’s obviously somewhat moot now that he isn’t dead.”

Celia: “She was right. I do appreciate it. And you’re not a burden. You’re just getting your feet wet. We all need someone to look out for us when we join this new unlife. Sometimes people get a bad break and they fizzle out, or get picked up by the wrong sort of krewe, or run into overly zealous hunters. I don’t want to see that to happen to you. You deserve more than that. And this is… this is really thoughtful, to bring this to me. Saves me a bunch of time tonight. Thank you.”

GM: “You’re welcome,” Dani repeats. “Like I said. I just want to pull my weight.”

“What are hunters?”

Celia: “Vampire hunters?”

“Monster hunters. Humans and other things that track us down and kill us. Or rip us apart.”

GM: “Oh.”

Celia: “There’s been some uptick lately in the city.”

GM: “I guess that was also in Dracula.

“Are they as dangerous as they are there? They kill the count.”

Celia: “They can be. Some of them, the new ones, they’re not. Two of them picked me up recently and I was able to lie my ass off and get out because they just don’t know any better. They’re human, I’m a vampire, even if they’re physically stronger than me I have a variety of tools at my disposal to let me get away. The powers. The ability to temporarily make myself stronger or faster.”

The fact that she can lie her ass off.

“Some of them know more, if they’ve been around longer. Or they know what can hurt us. When I was with Stephen the other day we were attacked by three of them with stakes and lighter fluid.”

GM: “Oh my god! What happened?”

“Obviously you made it out…”

Celia: “He tried to shove me into a bolthole and let himself get taken like an idiot.

GM: “That is completely the sort of thing he would do,” Dani says flatly.

“What a dumbass.”

Celia: “Wanted me to be safe, but… you know, I’m not going to sit there and let them take him away from me.”

GM: “So what happened? You fought them off?”

“And you showed Stephen that having a vagina isn’t actually a disability?”

Celia: “Ha. You know, he’s never really made any sexist comments to me like that. But it is part of why he’s going to teach me how to fight, since I only managed one on my own.”

GM: “He doesn’t know how to fight. Being a vampire just made him super strong.”

“Didn’t have to work for it or anything.”

Celia: “He’s learned. A lot of us make sure we know how.”

“You should learn, to be honest. Reggie said you weren’t holding the knife properly.”

“Emily’s boyfriend is teaching my mom to fence. It’s not the same as like… a bar brawl or anything, but it might give you a foundation if you want to join them.”

“Same with throwing a punch. Watched someone break their hand because they did it wrong once. I’ve gotten this far without knowing more than basics, but too many close calls recently for me to want to stay ignorant.”

GM: Dani’s silent for a moment.

“I think I’d feel good knowing how to defend myself, yeah.”

“I just… I never thought this sort of thing would happen to me. It was always someone else, you know?”

Celia: “We never do. This is the kind of thing that you see in movies or read about in books or hear about in the news. It’s never us. Until it is.”

GM: “Stephen said I’d always be weak. Because I’m duskborn.”

“Thin-blooded.”

Celia: “Yes and no. Your physiology is different. The girl we’re going to see tomorrow might be able to answer more of your questions; she’s had a thin-blood companion for… well, a long time. Oldest one I know of. That’s the problem, you know, not much is known about them. They—you—are new.”

“So I’m hoping she knows more.”

“You all seem to be different. Like. Take the average Toreador, right, we’re going to be mostly the same with few exceptions. But thin-bloods? I’ve seen some without fangs, or one fang. I’ve heard some have a Beast. I’ve heard some burn in the sun.”

GM: “I don’t know what to say there,” admits Dani. “But I guess, either way… if a vampire like Stephen attacks me, is there anything I can even do?”

Celia: “Stake him.”

GM: “But he’s so much stronger. Faster. He threw me around like I was nothing.”

Celia: “You fed recently, yeah? Have blood in you?”

GM: “Yeah, I do.”

Celia: Celia waves a hand at her couch.

“Throw it.”

GM: “…throw the couch?”

Celia: “Yeah, just see if you can throw it.”

“Or lift it.”

“Just as like, a baseline. To see what you can do.”

“Or, fuck, if you want I can make Stephen bring some weights with him tonight so we can get some accurate measurements.”

“And maybe go somewhere that we won’t destroy my stuff.” Celia casts a critical eye around the space.

GM: Dani grabs the couch around its bottom corners and tries to lift it up.

She gets about as far as any average breather before she has to let go. Its legs hit the floor with a clunk.

“He’s right,” she says dully. “I’m a fake vampire.”

Celia: “Nah.” Celia moves over to the couch and repeats Dani’s process; she doesn’t get it any higher than the other girl.

“We’re not all strong.”

GM: “You said you were good at other stuff, though.”

Celia: “Sure, but that was true when I was alive, too.”

“So, go inside your body for a minute, right? Focus on the blood in your veins. See if you can like… send it to the parts of your body you want to enhance. Picture giant, bulging muscles if you need to. And see if you can get the couch any higher.”

GM: Dani closes her eyes. She seems to try.

She tries to lift the couch.

She gets it no higher.

Celia: “Maybe you need lick blood. You’ve been able to use the powers before when you fed from me.”

GM: She looks at the couch for a moment, then sighs.

“I don’t mean to have a pity party. I want to be able to defend myself, it’s just… I just want us to be honest, so we’re not wasting time. I don’t want to overestimate myself and get into a situation I can’t handle. Will it actually make a difference?”

Celia: “Learning to fight? It’s better than not knowing.”

“But you’ll be at a disadvantage against someone like Stephen who can move as quickly as he does.”

“Then again, so am I.”

GM: “Right. That’s just what I’m wondering. If all real vampires can beat me anyway, and I can hit humans with that… charm, is there a point?”

Celia: “Sometimes you won’t be able to charm them. Sometimes it fails, or they resist it, or you just can’t touch their minds that way. Never only have one plan.”

GM: “Okay. I guess that makes sense.”

Celia: “We’ll test some theories tonight. Let me deal with Reggie real quick and get that out of the way, and then you and I can go talk to club guy, and then we can experiment.”

GM: “Okay. I can go back to your mom’s if you need time with him.”

Celia: “Meeting him in Mid-City. You can chill here if you want, or if you’d rather be at my mom’s I can call you when I’m done. You should just be able to peel the mask off yourself, Dicentra said.”

GM: “Oh! Speaking of, look at this.” Dani turns around. “You’ll have to pull my top to see, but it’s on my shoulder.”

Celia: Celia does just that, lifting Dani’s shirt out of the way so she can see the mark on her back. She lets out a low whistle.

“Lady Justice? I love it.”

GM: “Dicentra said it had to be symbolically fitting, because the tattoo would help me hide. I said that only by hiding could I receive justice, because existing vampire institutions don’t protect my life and liberty.”

“You should have seen the tattoo she gave your mom, too. It was a ballerina surrounded by flowers, with a tutu made out of petals.”

“I really liked her.”

Celia: “That sounds amazing. I’m glad that she was able to make it work for the two of you. She’s… she’s pretty great, yeah.”

It’s the second time this evening she’s had to talk about herself as if she were someone else, and at this point it’s not even mildly disorienting.

Is that a bad sign?

“Have you been practicing with it?”

GM: It can’t be any worse than having sex with herself.

Her doppelgänger. Not herself.

Right?

“I have, yeah, I went to school today with it ‘turned on.’ Nothing happened, but I guess that’s the point, isn’t it?”

Celia: The sex with herself was pretty hot, though. She can see why so many other people want to do it.

“That is the point. Usually it’s only other licks you’re going to try to fool. We can practice tonight.”

GM: “I really liked Dicentra. Pete said hugging was a no, but she was okay with it.”

“She said she’d been a mentor to you.”

Celia: “She has been. Makeup isn’t really a skill that vampires consider art, so there were some snide comments from other Toreador, but she’s been cool about it because she sculpts bodies and it’s kind of similar. She pushed me to do more of a med spa than just skincare and makeup.”

GM: “I set up an appointment at Flawless, by the way, I’m not sure if I already mentioned.”

Celia: “You did, yeah. I’m looking forward to it.”

GM: “Me too! Your mom said I shouldn’t pick anything, just lie back and let you do whatever.”

Celia: “Ha. It’s worked for her for years.”

GM: “Your receptionist was also really nice, she said she was a distant cousin of yours?”

Celia: “Natalie? Yeah. She’s great. Sometimes college kids and be flakes but she’s really on the ball.”

“Plus her dance schedule is crazy and I know what that’s like and we’re flexible with it.”

GM: “She mentioned she did dance, yeah, and that being able to get massages for her muscles was really a godsend. Your mom said she wished Flawless was open back when she danced, too.”

Celia: “Speaking of my mom. Your brother doesn’t know about her. Is it okay if we keep that between us?”

GM: “You mean that she knows about all this?”

Celia: “Yeah, that she knows and that she’s been given blood.”

GM: “Okay, I can keep that secret.”

Celia: “I might tell him eventually, I’m just… trying to be careful with how many people know. I don’t think he’d ever hurt her, but if he let it slip to the wrong person…” Celia trails off. “Our sires don’t get along.”

GM: Dani presses her lips. “I have a lot of bad things to stay about Stephen, but he isn’t a blabbermouth.”

“I wanted to tell Emily, by the way. What I was, and about all of this, because she’s your sister and she’s been so nice to me.”

“But your mom was really insistent I shouldn’t do that.”

Celia: “It’s less that he’s a blabbermouth and more just in case his sire can read minds, because I think she can also erase memories. Reading another lick’s mind is a really advanced talent, and one most of us can’t do, but I’d still rather not take chances with my mom.”

“And my mom was right about not telling Emily.”

“I’ve thought about it too, but it’s not worth what it would do to her.”

GM: “That’s basically what she said too.”

“Keeping secrets isn’t new in my family. I know there’s lots of ways for people to spill things when they don’t mean to, and that when there’s such a pervasive level of secrecy about something, there’s probably a valid reason behind it. I’m still just trying to understand what the specific reason is and how this all works.”

Celia: “Mostly it’s just like… we’re all assholes and will stab each other in the back for the slightest advantage.”

“So why give them the knife.”

GM: “I’d like to meet more vampires, so I can understand. But it sounds like we’re going to do that tonight, so, looking forward to it.”

Celia: “Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” is all Celia says to that.


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, AM

GM: LegalWings is open 24/7, even if the place is less staffed at this hour of the night. Jade walks in to find Reggie making out with Bette Malone behind the reception desk.

“Mmm, I’d just love it if your kid could see…” he purrs.

Celia: “Doubt it,” Jade drawls as she steps inside, “pretty sure Ricky beat up her last guy.”

GM: “Exactly,” says Reggie, taking his girl’s arrival in apparent stride. “I’d like to see him try. Then we’d do it in front of him.”

Bette’s a good-looking Italian-American woman in her middle years with dark eyes who still sports long dark brown hair. She still wears it well, unlike many women her age.

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“I’m sorry about that. Can we help you?” she asks, some red tinging her cheeks.

Celia: “I was here for him,” Jade says with a nod to Reggie, “but his brother will do if he’s otherwise occupied.” Jade winks at the pair of them and makes herself scarce, disappearing down the hall to Rusty’s office.

GM: She finds the oldest of the three brothers behind his computer.

“Yes?” he asks as she comes in.

Celia: The sight is a familiar one. Jade seats herself across the desk, one leg crossed over the other.

“Any luck with the phones?” Neither one of them waste time with pleasantries.

GM: “Yes. I’m in. What do you want to know?”

Celia: “Lee. I want to find Lee, or whatever his real name is. A living contact, someone I can pick up.”

GM: “There wasn’t anything on those phones for a Lee.”

Celia: “You said it could help find him.”

GM: “Could,” repeats Rusty.

Celia: Jade sighs at him.

“I need a living person to bring in so I can find out who they are and how they found me.”

“So anyone else they’ve had contact with. Anyone they’ve worked with. Anywhere they’ve been for extended periods of time.”

GM: “There wasn’t very much on these phones. I think they were expecting the phones might fall into other people’s hands.”

“There are calls made out to each other, as well as a single phone number.”

Rusty repeats it. It’s the same one Pete gave.

Celia:Nothing else?”

GM: Rusty also gives her a search on one of them for an address in Mid-City.

It’s the exact same information Pete gave her after getting into them.

Celia: And Pete had only needed to wiggle his fingers to do it.

GM: “It’s 2016. People are getting smarter about privacy and security. They know how much information their phones can carry.”

Celia: “Is it too much to hope for stupid adversaries?”

GM: “Hope is for idiots.”

“As is carrying a smartphone everywhere.”

“Lots of celebrities are using dumphones like these again too.”

Celia: Maybe she should start doing the same. The smartphone is convenient, but even if she keeps everything separate it’s still a risk. Multiple phones only sounds good in theory; it doesn’t prevent them from tracking her through it or whatever else a tech wiz can do.

“So nothing new there. Back to square one.”

“The plants from last night?”

GM: “All quiet there. Might be something later.”

Celia: All quiet.

The words fill her with trepidation. Were she human she imagines that a cold sweat would trickle down her back. How could it be all quiet? Had she trusted the wrong brothers with the task she normally leaves to Rusty? He’s her stealth expert, her breaking and entering guru, the one she’d had trained in advanced forms of shadow dancing that go beyond even her own capabilities. Despite his lack of interpersonal skills he’s the one that she trusts to get shit done when she needs situations monitored from afar.

And now he’s telling her that it’s quiet, and she can’t help but think that maybe she trusted the wrong brothers with the task. Maybe she should have sent Rusty in later, after they’d gotten a measure of their adversary. Demon, she has been thinking; she bugged the home of a demon. If it’s a demon. Maybe it’s a very hungry ghost. Or a disembodied lick. Or a gaggle of licks playing tricks on her.

She’d been hoping for something, anything, to tell her who it is that decided to hire a thin-blood to bug her spa or, maybe more importantly, what the thing inside the house is.

Now, sitting across from Rusty with nothing to go on, there’s a flutter of something like nerves that starts in her core and travels outwards. Butterflies, she thinks, and she wishes they would go away. She doesn’t have time to be nervous. She has shit to do, goals to accomplish, snakes to throw under the bus so she can be lucky all night every night—

Lucky.

She can be lucky. She is lucky. She’d tasted the luck, the gold, the electricity that had traveled through his veins, and she reaches for it now. It’s inside of her. You are what you eat and all that, and she’d stolen it from Gunner and from Josua and that means that it’s hers. Hers to do with as she wishes. Hers to command the fates and the stars and the universe and whatever the fuck else is out there to do what she wants, when she wants, because she’s Celia Fucking Flores and she is a god-damned goddess and she will not be stymied by poorly placed bugs.

She reaches for the butterflies inside of her stomach, the ones that flutter nervously this way and that as if she is some helpless doe, and she twists them. She has always been a physical creature, master of adapting to the situation at hand, able to mold and sculpt people and things to her will; her body will not betray her in this.

Celia brings them into the garden at her core. They touch the petals of the flowers, the bridge she has so recently constructed under her sire’s watchful gaze, the spinning disks of color that make her who she is. She bathes them in the light inside of her, drenches them in liquid luck, and tells them what she wants. They twist, sharpen, change before her very eyes: little bits of her will and intention woven into the fiber of what they are.

She smiles at the sight.

And then she sets them free.

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GM: Just like that, Rusty frowns and picks up a small device that Celia knows is the bug receiver. Voices emanate from it.

“I’m… hungry…”

“Tough shit.”

The voice is worn. Leathery. Pitiless. Female.

“You wait. Or you get nothing.”

“Back to eating humans.”

There’s a low, booming sound something hard rolling around inside an oven.

Then an even lower screeking sound, followed by a whoosh of preheating gas. Dull, heavy clangs sound at quieter volume, as though from more distant points.

“Bad idea,” says the female voice.

“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands, if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands…” goes a recorded-sounding child’s voice.

There’s an abrupt slam. Dozen of slams A low, warbling, shuddering roar splits the child’s song. It sounds truly pained.

CUNT I’LL EAT YOU I’LL EAT YOU CUNT I’LL EAT YOU CUNT I’LL EAT YOU CUNT EAT YOU CUNT EAT YOU…!”

“Yeah,” says the first voice.

“Bet you would.”

“But I’ve got that while I’m here, and we both know you can’t leave the house.”

The voices abruptly die.

Rusty frowns and checks the receiver.

“Damn. Lost reception.”

“But lucky you stopping by right now, I guess.”

Celia: “Lucky me,” Jade repeats. The bugs need fixed, then. She flashes Rusty a smile. “See what else you can find for me about the hunters.” She won’t tell him how; he’s better at the tech and tracking than she is and she’d be wasting her breath. He’ll know what to do.

The rest of her plans can wait.

In fact, everything else can wait. Everything else can be put on hold for this: finding the bitch before she flees the scene. Maybe it’s not the cunt that sent the thin-blood after her, maybe it’s just a friend of the cunt, or maybe it’s just the Oven Monster’s owner, but she’ll be damned if she lets the bitch get away and goes back to square one with this and the issue with the hunters.

Two quick steps take her to the window; she shoves it open. Her form blurs, twists, and the nightjar takes to the sky.

A little over two miles miles to the house if she’s constrained to roads and sidewalks, but birds don’t need to follow the rules of man. Her wings flap, lifting her higher into the air, riding the thermals to find the perfect cruising altitude and a tailwind to propel her forward. Maybe her luck is spent, but her determination sure as hell isn’t; she’ll run herself ragged if she needs to in order to arrive at the monster’s house with the woman still inside. A glimpse of the bitch, that’s all she needs, and then she’ll know where to go from there.

She can already picture it: dropping out of the sky onto an unsuspecting asshole. Stealing whatever it is that bound the monster to her. Feeding it to him, and what good friends they’d be after that.

She sucks in her aura as she flies, just another nocturnal bird against the dark sky.

She’s not going fast enough. The realization hits her as she flies; she’s caught up in the fantasy of digging her claws into the cunt that sent the half-breed after her. Inside of her the Beast roars with its approval; it all but salivates at the thought of what waits for it. Jade wrestles with it for control for a brief instant before finally giving in and letting it take the reins.

They’re in this together.

The Beast doesn’t just fly; it soars. It burns through the blood in her body, taking what it needs from the girl to fuel its furious flight across the city. It streaks through the sky, no more than a blur to those who happen to look up, instinctively taking the shortest route to the house that has been seared into the girl’s brain. The desire to rip and tear and shred overpowers everything else; her muscles would scream if they could. Instead it will be someone else screaming; all she has to do is find out who.

GM: The nightjar hurtles through the sky.

19.26 miles per hour.

Two miles.

Just over six minutes to get there.

Six minutes, for a normal nightjar.

One whose tiny wings and muscles aren’t dead and tireless.

One not blessed with the preternatural grace and speed of Arikel’s childer.

The unremarkable-looking bird is nothing like the Toreador who wears its shape. No one would notice it even if they could see it, and no one can see it. It’s too fast. It’s a gust of wind; a brief disturbance in the air. Cityscape soars past its binocular avian vision.

Just like that, the nightjar is there, at the Rampart Street address. It lands upon the roof. A woman strides out the back door.

She’s small of frame, around Jade’s height, maybe a little shorter. Caucasian. She looks in maybe her late 50s, with short gray hair and a lined, unattractive face. She’s dressed in a plain gray jumpsuit and sturdy, practical shoes. Women like her are invisible.

The only thing that stands out are her slate-gray eyes.

The eyes are hard and pitiless and ringed with dark circles. They’re the eyes of a human who just walked out of a monster’s lair, and they are utterly unafraid. Cautious, perhaps. But unafraid. There’s awareness of that fact, and even an arrogant, sneering disdain that covers the rest of the face, and speaks to the lone woman’s confidence. But more than anything else, the eyes speak to a soul-deep callousness. They’re eyes jaded to horror. Jaded to seeing it. Perhaps jaded to inflicting it.

The vampire doesn’t smell a drop of vitae on her.

The woman produces a tiny vial on a cord around her neck. She uncorks it and lets a drop of something red spill onto her finger. It looks like blood, smells like blood, but there’s something… off about the scent. The woman traces the blood over her forehead in a half-circular pattern, adds a line beneath it, and abruptly vanishes.

The nightjar is left seemingly alone.

Celia: Even in this form, the nightjar knows that her nose does not deceive her when she sniffs the air following the abrupt departure, searching for signs of the woman’s passing. She’s gone. Vanished. Not merely turned invisible, but actually gone—as if she had been teleported elsewhere.

Mage? Demon handler? She knows very well that licks are not the only things that go bump in the night. What sort of being can control a… demon? Poltergeist? She doesn’t know. Nor does she have any idea what it wants with her or why it had hired someone to bug her office.

Or if it was this thing at all.

She’d learned quite a bit for all that it didn’t truly answer her questions, though. Things to dissect later, when she does not have other pressing needs to attend to.

The nightjar flaps its wings, flitting through the night to find a safer place to exchange one form for another. She has hunting to do.


Wednesday night, 16 March 2016, PM

Celia: Celia takes her time getting ready for the hunt. It’s a delicate thing, this hunt. The right time but the wrong night, and if she were only hunting for herself it wouldn’t be such a big deal. But she isn’t hunting for herself, or rather she isn’t only hunting for herself. She’s hunting for the blood that she owes Lebeaux and the juice she’d promised Flannagan she’d bring to their meeting tomorrow.

And she’s hungry. So very, very hungry. She’s tired of being hungry.

She recalls, though, the thermos of blood that Dani had conveniently dropped off for her prior to her trip to Mid-City (she hadn’t wanted to see Reggie but is waiting for Celia to get back so they can run those other errands she’d mentioned, so she needs to make this quick), and after locking herself in the appropriate room in her spa—where else would she get ready?—she sniffs at the contents to make sure it’s an appropriate temperature. Her Beast howls its approval; the thermos had done its job well. She quaffs the blood, draining the steel container dry. She licks at the rim, licks at the lid, licks to make sure that it is entirely emptied and that not a single drop of blood remains. Then she tucks it back into her purse.

Maybe she’ll have Dani fill it again. Payment for services rendered.

Then she’s off again, face and makeup and hair done up to make her look like any other thrill-seeking young adult.

The thing about New Orleans is even though it’s a weekday there are enough tourists around that don’t need to be at work the next morning that the clubs are still poppin’. Not as busy as they’d be on a weekend, of course, but still busy enough for a lick to get her fix.

She finds it dancing on the floor of her chosen club, the Cat’s Meow, one of those lurid blue drinks in hand that seems to glow under the light from above. Celia’s smile is full of promises. A wink here, a touch there, and she has them eating out of the palm of her hand. They find a private locale and Celia sinks in.

GM: Wednesdays are a slow night for clubbing, but it’s never a slow night when you’re Celia Flores. Most guys are ignorant who she is, but their girlfriends all know. Celia lures a 20something yuppie tourist couple into a sweaty bathroom stall liaison. She rides the boy’s cock even as she eats out his girlfriend. She remembers the way Josua sank his fangs into her pubic mound and does that here. She feels her Beast’s hungry growls subside into a low murmur. She excuses herself for a moment, bleeding some of the vitae into Dani’s thermos, and returns to pleasure the boy with her mouth. It’s so easy to steal his blood together with his seed: the former is long since swallowed by the time she spits out the latter.

The boy complains about it.

Celia: Well she can’t have that. That poor kine, unsatisfied because Celia Flores hadn’t swallowed for him. She makes it up to him by taking him back into her mouth and giving him that red kiss, drinking more deeply from him than she had. She’d only taken a little nip before, just a taste to sate her Beast—she’d taken her fill earlier from his girlfriend—but now she gives him the same treatment until he’s weak in the knees and light in the head, excess going right into that thermos.

When he cums—and he does, she sees to it that he does—she swallows what she wants and then giggles and kisses his girlfriend, sharing the white stuff with her. Snowballing, they call it.

GM: Celia drinks deep. Oh so deep. The man sinks to the ground as she blows him, heedless of his girlfriend’s exclamations about how “oh my god, this is a public bathroom! You’ll have to sterilize those pants!”

He does things with his hands and mouth, at first. Pleasures her breasts while his girlfriend pleasures Celia’s loins with her fingers. As the vampire takes more, he eventually stops and just lays his hands on the floor, like a 19-year-old virgin Celia not sure what she’s supposed to do with them. His eyes close.

That brings him out of his funk for a bit, though, to see two kissing girls sharing his cum. Celia is so meticulous to share it all. The very fatigued-looking gives a very bleary smile and tries to stand up, perhaps hoping for round three. He awkwardly staggers forward, futilely tries to catch his fall against the stall’s obscenity-painted flat wall, and crashes flat on his face.

“Shit!” exclaims his girlfriend, rushing to his side. He moans under her touch.

“Oh my god, he’s pale. I think he’s really sick…”

“Those… hot dogs…” he groans.

“I told you those were sketchy! That guy had a handmade sign!” she berates.

Celia: They give her the excuse she needs; she’d been going to blame the alcohol, the sex, the sketchy bathroom. Maybe make up a lie about someone spiking drinks recently. No doubt that’ll end up online, though, and the place will take a ding, and it’ll make subsequent hunts harder.

This is perfect.

“Oh no,” Celia groans, “don’t tell me you mean the guy with the cart down the block?” A random guess, but vague enough that it might work. “You’ll want to take him back to your house. Hotel? Let him sleep it off, he might be down for a bit. My sister was knocked out for, like, three days after that.” Celia makes a face.

GM: “Fucking street vendors,” mutters the girl. “It wasn’t even a cart, it was a table with a sign taped to it. Just so sketchy.”

She tries to help up her guy. “C’mon, let’s get you out…”

She struggles under his weight as he lets her all but carry him.

“I don’t feel good…” he moans.

“Yes, I could tell.”

Celia: Celia hovers awkwardly, doing that vague thing with her hands that makes it look like she wants to help but isn’t sure how. She supports him where she can.

“Sorry,” she murmurs to the girl, “this probably didn’t help, you just seemed so excited about it and…” she trails off helplessly.

GM: “Just—ugh, there’s nowhere to sit in these stupid clubs! The bartender’d give us crap!” the girl huffs as she struggles under her barely shuffling boyfriend’s weight.

Celia: “Where are you staying? How far?”

GM: “At a hotel, it’s too far to walk, especially like this. I’d use my hands to hail a Ryde if he wasn’t about to friggin’ fall over!”

Celia: “Come on,” Celia says, “I’ve got him. Call for that Ryde and we’ll get him into the car.”

It’s a small thing, but maybe it makes up for what she’s done to them.

Maybe.


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, AM

Celia: ‘Good deed’ done for the evening, Celia gives Dani a call on her way to the Evergreen.

GM: It’s answered on the second ring.

“Hey,” she smiles.

Celia: “Hey Dani, wanted to see if you’re still up to go out. I know you have school early. I’m making a quick stop then can pick you up.”

“Or we can meet up first, if you’d rather?”

GM: “Is the quick stop anything you could use me around for?”

Celia: “Not really. Just dropping something off.”

GM: “Okay, maybe after then. There anything I should bring along?”

Celia: “Mm, wear something cute. We’re meeting some of my friends. I’d love for you to show off your new tattoo, actually.”

It’s about as subtle as she can make it while still telling her what she needs: it’s time to test the mask. They’d talked about testing it and now’s the time.

GM: “Oh, good idea. You think I should make the tattoo the center of the outfit, and not wear anything that’d distract?”

Actually wear something cute, or are they just testing the tattoo?

Celia: “Probably,” Celia readily agrees, “they’re pretty discerning and kind of snobby sometimes.”

They’re that kind of lick.

GM: “Okay, sounds good. I’ll see you in a bit.”

Celia: “See you soon!” Celia hangs up and heads into the Evergreen to ask after Lebeaux.

GM: Late Wednesday night at the Evergreen isn’t so busy as the weekends. Celia finds Mélissaire in the midst of arranging some trysts between clients and girls. The warden isn’t currently in, but they expect him back “around 4 AM.”

Celia: Celia pencils herself into his schedule at that time.

Celia: There’s something she needs to talk to Mel about, but Dani is waiting on her. She’ll come by later for that. She waves goodbye to the ghoul and heads out to meet the girl.

GM: She finds Dani dressed in the same outfit she last saw the girl in, a blue top and darker skirt. Her tattoo isn’t visible.

“I can change if this isn’t right for where we’re going.”

“Also, are your calls being monitored?”

Celia: “Not specifically, but my salon was bugged and hunters are known to do this sort of thing. Phones are easy to bug. You don’t want to say anything sensitive about any of this.”

“Anything sensitive, you say in person.”

“Not even hunters, just anything.”

“Did you think of a new name for your mask?”

GM: “Okay. That makes sense. I know the basics of wiretapping and all that.”

“I guess Van Helsing got high-tech.”

“And I guess I don’t have much imagination, because the best I came up with was Hannah.”

Celia: “You also might not want to mention Stephen by name via phone.”

“Since he’s… dead.”

GM: “Good point. That didn’t occur to me when I was mad.”

Celia: “All good. And Hannah is fine, if that’s what you want. You can always change it.”

GM: “I just picked it because it sounded forgettable.”

“Ordinary American name.”

Celia: “It is forgettable. And that makes it good.” Celia smiles at her. “So we can use the mask and pass you off as my ghoul if you’d like, since I wouldn’t bring a breather into this club. We’ll see if the Duskborn thing fools the guy we’re going to meet.”

Celia: “And if not, then we reassess in the future and change the mask.”

GM: “Okay, sounds good,” Dani smiles back.

Celia: “You remember how to act the part?”

GM: “Basically your employee. Subservient.”

Celia: “We’ll say you’re new if you slip up.”

GM: “Your mom said that licks can be really cruel to renfields. That they can see them as slaves.”

“Hit them and humiliate them.”

Celia: “And worse than that, yeah. I’ve seen some shit.”

GM: “She also said some are better.”

“Or rather, she said you said.”

Celia: “Some of them are better. Your brother is one of them.”

“And… well, me, I hope.”

GM: “Alana seemed… pretty okay.”

“What’s Stephen like?”

Celia: “One is a lawyer. She brings home work for him that he does and she gets the credit. He bills her but she looks good.”

“…I’m not sure about the rest.”

“But… I mean, out of all the licks I know, he’s the most… good.”

“I heard that he’s pushing for better ghoul rights.”

“Things like that.”

GM: “Maybe he’s actually a jerk if that’s all you know,” Dani hmphs.

Celia: “We’re very private people. He doesn’t know about all of mine.”

GM: “Why make people ghouls?”

“I mean, I get it, your mom explained they live forever.”

Celia: “They get powers from us. Stronger, faster. Live forever. They manage our affairs during the day.”

GM: “Sure, but there’s… side effects.”

“Some people might rather not be ghouls, so why not just tell them the truth?”

Celia: “People like your brother give them that option.”

“Some people don’t.”

GM: Dani looks surprised. “What’s he do if they say no?”

Celia: “Has his sire wipe their memories.”

GM: “Oh. That actually wasn’t what I meant. Why not have people serve a ghoul’s role without actually being a ghoul?”

“Like, why not just tell your mom the truth without giving her blood.”

Celia: “If anyone finds out what she knows she’s a risk to the whole secrecy thing. The Traditions.”

GM: “Sure, you’re following the law so the two of you won’t get punished for not following it, but I mean why do the Traditions mandate that. The Masquerade is obviously imperfect anyways if there are hunters. Why not just let ‘friendly’ humans know the truth? Why do they have to be ghouls?”

Celia: “It’s just against the rules. Someone who finds out will use it against you. Blackmail. I don’t think you understand the, uh, whole severity of it. The people in charge made the rules and we have to follow them because they have all the power. It’s like that with humans, too, and laws they make.”

There’s a brief pause.

“Honestly, your brother might be the best person to talk to about it.”

“He seemed to be better at explaining everything than I was.”

GM: “Okay, sure, but that’s not what I asked. I meant why are the rules this way. Why do they prohibit telling humans about vampires without also turning them into ghouls. Because the whole premise of the Masquerade seems faulty when there are vampire hunters. There are humans who find out anyway.”

Celia: “It was that way. A long time ago there was a city that was open about what they are, and vampires and humans lived and worked in harmony. And the Brujah say it was a really amazing place and things went well. But there was some beef between the Ventrue and the Brujah during the, um, Punic Wars. So the Ventrue started the Camarilla and said it was bad what the Brujah were doing, so they created the Traditions. It’s… literally just another way for them to control everything and say that they’re right since they think they that they should be in charge of everything.”

“Like, that’s how all governments are. They say what they want and create things to be that way and everyone goes along with it and if you don’t you’re punished. And there’s not really anyone you can go to to complain about it. Don’t like it? Leave the city. But it’s the same everywhere.”

GM: “So there isn’t an actual practical reason for it. It’s the same bullshit that says duskborn are ‘less than.’” Dani looks angry.

“I don’t think your mom wants to be a ghoul. But it’s that or you both get executed.”

“All the Camarilla seems like it does is make people miserable.”

Celia: Celia sighs.

“I’m working on another avenue for her. Did she tell you that? That she doesn’t want to be?”

“And… yeah. The world pretty much sucks. There are some cool perks, but otherwise it can be awful and lonely and isolating and demoralizing and all sorts of depressing. I didn’t have a choice, just like my mom didn’t have a choice. She… might have died, Dani, there was a lot of blood.” There’s a haunted look in her eyes as she lifts them from the ground to take in the girl before her. “We’re monsters. Worse than what they write about in fiction. It’s not some romantic tale about vigilante justice or eternal love or whatever the books make it out to be. We hunt and kill and prey on people. And when you do that long enough you turn into things like them, the people who are in charge. You stop caring. You get callous and cold and awful.”

“But, honestly, you’d need to ask someone better versed in history than me about it because I don’t think I’m doing a good job explaining things, and it’s all very one sided what I tell you right now because it’s what I heard from Roderick.”

GM: Dani listens to Celia’s explanation with that same unsmiling look.

“Well, who can I ask? You’re the only lick I know. You and my brother.”

“And Pete, but I don’t know if that counts.”

“I agree, though, that it’s important to know the history of all this, and how things got to be this way.”

Celia: “Your brother is a good source,” Celia says again.

“But we’re going to meet a Ventrue, I could talk to him about it if you want.”

GM: Dani nods. “Yes, please!”

Celia: “History just wasn’t… it’s not my sire’s thing, you know?”

“So I don’t know all of it.”

GM: “Well, that makes us all. And no, your mom didn’t tell me she didn’t want to be a ghoul, it’s just my read.”

Celia: “I don’t want her to be one any more than she wants to be one.”

“I’d also like you to speak with him tonight.”

“Your brother.”

“If your dad is coming over on Friday, and he’s going to be there, I’d like you two to work things out so there’s no drama at dinner.”

GM: “I figured you didn’t. That’s why it’s so fucked.”

Celia: “It’s a relief that she knows.” There’s a small smile on her face. “She… said she still loves me, even like this, and that’s… you know?”

GM: “Yeah.” Dani smiles. “I’m happy you both still have that. You deserve it.”

Celia: Does she? After all she’s done?

Celia doesn’t voice the thought. She’s glad one of them still thinks kind words about her.

GM: “And I’ll talk with my brother, like I said. I’m just not expecting a lot.”

“Wish I had a sibling more like yours.”

Celia: “Who, Emily?”

GM: “Yeah.”

Celia: “She makes up for the one I have that I don’t get along with.”

“For what it’s worth, Dani, he means well. He’s just… you know.”

GM: “Why are you changing your mind about him?”

Celia: “What do you mean?”

GM: “You weren’t pushing me to make up earlier.”

Celia: Celia sighs. She runs a hand down her face.

“I fucked up, Dani. The way I introduced you. I should have prepped you better, I shouldn’t have said some of the things I did, I should have… been better about it. I’m sorry. It’s my fault.”

GM: “You didn’t do anything. Stephen’s responsible for his own behavior.”

Celia: “I could have done it better,” Celia says quietly. “And now you two are fighting and it’s… it’s my fault.”

GM: “It’s his fault.”

Celia: “Will you at least talk to him and let me try to fix it?”

“So I can just… feel better about it?”

GM: “Yes, I said I’d do that.”

“I’m just not expecting anything to come of it.”

“Since he’s an ass.”

Celia: “Well, come on then, we can at least do something you’ll enjoy.”


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, AM

GM: The Twilight Club is located on the upper floor of a set of shops next to the Beach on Bourbon. Entrance to the club is obtained via a flight of stairs in the middle of the building that leads up into a hollowed alcove. At the top of the stairs is a solid white door that opens into the club. Because the club is not advertised and has no signs to attract attention, Jade knows almost no mortals try to go there, and those who do are told it is a private room.

The club’s interior is furnished in an elegant style resembling a gentleman’s club from the 1920s. Dark brown carpeting covers the floor from wall to large. Oak-stained bookcases reaching from floor to ceiling line two of the walls. The wall facing facing the street has two large French windows that open onto a balcony overlooking Bourbon Street. Jazz music wafts into it from the street and from nearby buildings. Piper would probably love the place.

The club is divided into two sections to accommodate the stairwell. One side serves as a game area, featuring a pool table surrounded by several barstools and with a light hanging overhead. The other side has a wide TV (currently turned off) set beside several lounge tables and chairs. The center of the room has large, plush leather couch with cherry-wood end tables on either side and a glass-topped coffee table before it. The table has current copies of various magazines and newspapers from Forbes to The Wall Street Journal. Two wingbacked chairs with tan upholstery sit on opposite sides facing the couch, along with several more end tables.

Several Kindred are at the club tonight. Gui is there, playing a game of cribbage with Sterling (“The Man With the Silver Smile”) while several ghouls watch. Eris D. and Emerson Newhouse Hearst play a game of pool.

“Laura Melton” is also present, smiling as she watches the cribbage and pools.

“…so, boom, just like that, he blew the head clean off,” says Hearst over a tap-clunk from the pool stick.

“Ooh, I’m still gonna get some fourth opinions from the voices, but… I think I believe you,” smiles Eris.

“‘Cuz I’m handsome?” smirks Hearst.

Eris giggles. “Okay, because of that too.”

“Also, if he was really exaggerating, he’d have said he did it,” Laura Melton smiles up at the biker.

Hearst inclines his head in gracious acknowledgement.

Gui, meanwhile, motions for a pause to the cribbage game as he gets up to greet Jade.

“Miss Kalani, always a pleasure. More beauty is never an unwelcome sight at my door.”

He doesn’t spare Hannah a glance.

Celia: Celia (Jade) tells Dani (Hannah) on the way that there’s a chance she’s going to be completely ignored by the Kindred in the hall. A lot of them don’t even notice the ghouls that serve; they’re all but invisible to the licks of the city. But she also mentions, because she has a penchant for over-complicating everything with “what if?” scenarios, that they might pay attention to her as a new face with Jade, and suggests that they play into the “temporary ghoul who caught my interest” stereotype that is true of almost all Toreador. She remembers that Dani had an interest in writing when they’d met all those years ago (something about the school paper?) and suggests she try something along those lines.

“Maybe poetry. Or tongue-twisters. Or riddles!” She gives her a few that stuck with her from months ago, though she doesn’t mention the when or why of how she came across them, and only shrugs if Hannah asks.

She leads the way up the stairs, eyes sweeping across the room to take in the various licks and ghouls—where’s that white one that runs around with Sterling?—though her attention is captured almost immediately by Melton (convenient) and Gui.

“Mister Gui.” Jade purrs his name as he steps closer, a smile curling the corners of her lips and lighting up her eyes. She rises to the tips of her toes to air kiss both cheeks when he stops before her. “You certainly know how to make a lick feel both welcome and desired.”

GM: Dani thinks those are good riddles. She’ll try those if anyone pays attention to her.

The albino actually isn’t here tonight.

Gui kisses her cheeks back.

“Easy to do both when it’s a desirable lick. What can I do for you this evening?”

Celia: One of these nights she’ll stop in just to say hello and play a game of pool with the licks at the table. Maybe when she doesn’t have her boyfriend’s sister in tow.

“I’m hoping to steal a moment of your time, if you don’t mind stepping away from your game.”

GM: “All right. Miss Melton, maybe you and Sterling would care to start a separate game.”

Both Kindred indicate they’d be happy to.

Gui takes Jade outside to the to the balcony overlooking Bourbon Street. Hannah is still ignored.

Celia: Jade lets Hannah decide what she wants to do, whether that’s remain behind to watch the licks with the other ghouls or follow her out to the balcony.

Celia: Once outside she leans a hip against the balcony, looking out over the streets below.

“There was an incident a few nights ago at one of your clubs,” she says after a moment. “I’d hoped that you could help shed some light on it.”

GM: Hannah follows them.

“Go on,” says Gui.

Celia: “A girl was Embraced. I’d like to find out by who. You don’t happen to have cameras in your club, do you?”

GM: “Sure. Cameras won’t catch any licks, though.”

Celia: “They’ll catch this one.”

GM: “Oh?”

Celia: She gives him a look. There’s only one sort of lick caught on cameras.

GM: He shakes his head in disgust.

“Don’t know what it is to you, but I’m not going to have licks making abortions at my club.”

Celia: “Hence my desire to find the thing.”

GM: “I’ll take care of them. I trust you’ve already taken care of the bastard?”

Celia: Jade gives him a playful smile.

“Remember that thing I showed you? I need more parts. They’re so… versatile.”

GM: “Yes, I do. You’re a lick of many talents.”

Celia: He has no idea.

“That’s why it interests me,” she says with a shrug, “and why I’d like to find him and take him off your hands.”

GM: “Assuming it’s a he.”

Celia: “He, she, they’re both destined for death. Does it matter?”

GM: He stares down over the busy street’s throngs of partygoers. Bourbon Street is never quiet, at least at night.

“I suppose not. I’ll let you know if my people find anything on the cameras.”

Celia: “Thanks, Reynaldo.” She smiles up at him.

GM: “My pleasure, lush.”

Celia: “You’ll let me know if not so I can pursue other avenues, won’t you?” She doesn’t quite bat her lashes—it’s not that obvious—but her eyes widen as she looks up at him with slightly parted lips and they flutter becomingly.

GM: Gui looks at her with some amusement.

“That’s a lot of trouble for the sire of an ashed abortion.”

“There are corpses in the Red Room if you’re short on parts.”

Celia: “Corpses can’t regrow,” Jade pouts.

GM: “I didn’t know abortions could do that.”

Celia: “They’re full of surprises.”

GM: “I suppose they are.” He glances back in the club. “Ah, seems Hearst’s left. We’d better help keep the game going.”

Celia: “Pool?” Jade arches a brow but follows him in.

GM: The pair are interrupted when the club’s door slams open. Camilla Doriocourt and Alexander Wright stride in, accompanied by several ghouls.

Doriocourt stares coldly at Sterling.

“You. With us.”

Celia: Jade hangs back with Hannah, watching the events unfold. She wonders what Sterling had done that Wright and Doriocourt have been sent to retrieve him.

GM: “Me?” asks Sterling in an amusedly quizzical tone. He points to his head with both hands as if to make fully sure. “‘With you’ in what sense, Hound Doriocourt? Because I ca-”

Whatever witty line he had gets cut off as Wright blurs forward and rams a stake into the Malkavian’s chest. He topples over backwards.

Celia: She makes no move to intervene. Not her fight. She barely knows the gambler.

GM: Laura Melton and Eris D. look as if they’ve both reached a similar conclusion.

Gui seems to read the room and consider the odds. Two of the hounds and their ghoul backup against him and any of the renfields that are his. Three noncombatant licks who’d probably rather save their skins.

Celia: She’s less interested in her own skin than the “ghoul” she’d brought with her. It’s a quick swipe of a blade to separate her head from her shoulders. Jade makes a motion at her behind her back to stay there; they’d been on their way in from the balcony, but Hannah hadn’t yet crossed the threshold. Jade plants a hip against the door and crosses her arms, a casual pose that lets her body block the girl from coming in.

“What’d he do?” she drawls as the Malkavian falls.

GM: The hounds ignore Jade completely as their ghouls hoist up the staked Kindred.

Celia: Cunts.

GM: “We’re happy to assist the prince’s justice,” smiles Gui. “Do you need help moving him to your car?”

“No,” responds Doriocourt.

Wright doesn’t say anything. Without further ado, the hounds and their ghouls troop out of the club with Sterling’s paralyzed corpse.

Celia: Jade really hates that bitch.

GM: “A visit from the prince’s jackbooted thugs. That’s always fun,” says Melton after they’re gone.

Celia: “They sure know how to ruin the mood.”

Emerson certainly had a timely exit.

GM: “Why did that happen?” Hannah asks Jade. Her eyes don’t fully rest on the Toreador’s, though, as if hoping some of the other Kindred will explain.

Gui glances at the ‘ghoul.’ It’s not an inviting glance.

“Let’s show them they can’t,” he smiles, as if she hadn’t said anything.

Celia: Jade’s lips twist. She doesn’t offer an explanation to the other licks for her overly curious ghoul.

“What do you have in mind?”

GM: “I’ve got a bottle of vitae from a rather succulent vessel saved here. It’ll go to whoever beats me at poker. And if I win, the loser has to bleed herself.”

“I’d rather watch,” smiles Melton.

“I’ll be the moral support.”

Hannah doesn’t look happy to be ignored, but says nothing further.

Celia: They have time for a game. Jade fires off a quick text to Roderick about meeting up later and gives an approximate time for the three of them to get together. Then she takes Sterling’s abandoned seat.

“I hope this spot isn’t unlucky.” A glance at Melton, a lift of her brows. “I’ve got a seat for you if you want to be my moral support.” She pats her lap and winks.


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, AM

GM: Melton is happy to “support” Jade during her hand, but she ends up breaking even when Eris D. wins the poker game and claims Gui’s bottle of vitae. Shep Jennings comes in with Marcio de la Cruz at the tail end, and it’s like Sterling wasn’t staked and abducted on the premises at all.

Hannah doesn’t look especially happy as they drive away.

“They treated me like I was invisible.”

Celia: “Yes,” Jade agrees. She’s not terribly upset about not winning; at least she hadn’t lost. And Melton hadn’t seemed too put out with what happened in the shower, or at least hadn’t brought it up, and Jade had left it alone. No one else’s business, really. She’d alluded to getting together later and left it at that.

“They would treat you worse if they knew what you are.”

“Being invisible can be useful.”

“They say things around you. Think you’re not listening.”

GM: “I guess. This was… honestly pretty disappointing.”

“I thought I’d at least get to talk to other vampires.”

“And the ghouls didn’t seem like they wanted to talk either.”

“I’m happy I have you and your mom, but I just wanted to get to know some other… blooded people.”

Celia: “I’m sorry,” Jade says to her. “I know how much you want to be part of the group. This is what I mean, though, everyone is…. kind of an asshole”

GM: “Just was really disappointing.”

“Are all get-togethers like this? Are there ones I can actually talk to other vampires at?”

Celia: “As a ghoul or thin-blood?”

GM: “Either.”

“And I like ‘duskborn’ more than ‘thin-blood.’”

Celia: ‘Thin-blood’ is better than ‘abortion,’ but Jade doesn’t point it out.

“I’m going to talk to someone who knows more about the duskborn tomorrow. She’ll have a better idea. Alana might have a good idea for ghoul get-togethers, too. They’re usually not very, um, front and center at lick events.”

GM: “Can I come to that? I’d like to hear whatever she has to say too.”

Celia: “Yes.” A pause, then, “She’s kind of weird.”

GM: “Well, so’s all of this.”

Celia: “She’s weird by lick standards.”

GM: “I’ll take it if she at least talks to me. I’ll ask Alana about ghoul get-togethers, too.”

“Maybe I should try to meet other duskborn, though. They don’t have any reason to treat me badly.”

Celia: “You’re pampered by another lick,” Jade points out, “they could be jealous.”

“I’d leave that out of any chatting you do.”

GM: “I won’t say anything, then. Do they have a place they tend to meet up?”

Celia: “I see a lot of them around Jackson Square, but… I’d look for someone more like Strickland. She seems to have a better handle on things.”

GM: “Strickland?”

Celia: “Pat. Patricia. She’s duskborn like you. Was one of the only survivors of the massacre I told you about. She fights pretty hard for equality.”

GM: “She sounds like the first person I want to talk with, then.”

“Where can I find her?”

Celia: Aside from her lover’s house?

“Not sure. The girl tomorrow might know.”

GM: “Okay. All the more reason to see her, then.”

“I hope Gui can find something on those cameras.”

Celia: “Me too. Otherwise I’m sure I’ll need to trade him a favor to get access to the club and do some digging.”

“And possibly tell him that I have more of a personal interest in it than I let on.” She sighs.

GM: “I’ll make it up to you, if you have to. Just tell me how.”

“I don’t want to be a burden.”

Celia: “The blood you brought me earlier? That was really thoughtful. And helpful. Kept me from losing my cool when I had to pick up more.”

GM: “Okay. I can do that again.”

Celia: “I’ll let you know if I think of anything else. But it saves a lot of time, too. I appreciated it.”

GM: “I’m glad.”

Celia: “Ready to see your brother?”

GM: “I suppose as I’ll ever be.”


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, AM

Celia: Celia takes Dani back to her place, the one where they’d met up earlier this evening. She’d offered Roderick the use of Randy to drive if he needs to do his incognito thing; no one will think it weird if Randy is coming to meet her.

“I suppose I could clean up a bit,” Celia says wryly, eyeing the destroyed chair from last time she’d brought Roderick over. “I still need to order furniture for my other place. Want to help me pick some stuff out?” She pulls out a phone.

GM: Dani is happy to and spends a while picking out pieces with Celia. Eventually, there’s a knock at the door.

Celia: “You ready?” she asks the girl.

GM: “I’m not scared of him. Just mad.”

Celia: Celia squeezes her hand. “It’s gonna be okay.”

She moves to open the door.

GM: Roderick walks in. “Dani, Celia. Hey,” he says, giving Celia’s hand a squeeze but not a full hug, seemingly so as not to block out Dani from his sight.

“Hey,” his sister responds curtly.

“So, there’s going to be a dinner with dad-”

“Yes, I know,” she interrupts.

“Right. I’d just like to clear the air, so things aren’t tense at it.”

“Okay. Go clear the air,” says Dani.

Celia: Celia takes a seat, gesturing for Roderick to do the same.

GM: Roderick gratefully takes the opening.

Dani stands for a moment, then sits on a separate chair, crossing her arms.

“I’m sorry I scared you the last time I was here,” he starts.

“I’m not scared of you.”

He doesn’t argue the point. “I’m sorry I lost my temper and physically manhandled you.”

“Great,” says Dani.

Roderick’s silent for a moment at the aloof response, then continues, “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you when you needed me to be. I know how hard all of this has been for you, and-”

“I don’t think you know at all, actually,” says Dani, arms still crossed.

“Since when haven’t you been the golden child who wins at everything.”

Celia: The girl has a point. Roderick has been exceptionally lucky with his Requiem.

GM: “Believe me, Dani, I know what it’s like now for not everything to go my way-”

“Oh, yeah right,” his sister scoffs.

Celia: “What happened?” Celia asks him, concern in her voice.

GM: “It’s nothing new,” he answers. “You’ve just… you’ve shared a lot with me recently, Celia. You know my Requiem isn’t a bed of roses, and that I have problems too.”

“Oh, I feel so bad for you!” Dani exclaims, rolling her eyes. “Poor Stephen, not everything going his way! Too much tarnish on the silver platter?”

“The Requiem isn’t easy for anyone, Dani-”

“Oh, sure! Way fucking easier for you than me, looks like!”

“Hey,” she continues, “if yours is so bad, wanna trade? You wanna be an ‘abortion?’”

Celia: “Rod, why don’t you—” she cuts off, wincing at Dani’s slur.

GM: Roderick winces. “I’m sorry you heard that term.”

“You’re sorry, that’s useful.”

“I hope it can be. I came here to apolog-”

“Great, you’ve apologized. Good for you. Did your good deed. Your sister’s being totally unreasonable if she’s still mad.”

Celia: “Dani,” Celia says softly, “you only have one brother. You’re stuck with him. Maybe just… give him a chance to explain some of what’s going on with him?”

GM: “Oh so it’s about him. His problems. His apologies. Him getting to cross that off his do list, ‘said sorry to my abortion sister.’”

Celia: “That’s not what this is about.”

“And if it were, you know I’d boot him out of here.”

GM: “She would,” says Roderick. “This is about you.”

Dani just waits expectantly.

Celia: “He’s starting off with an apology because you deserve an apology for what happened, not to lighten his conscience.”

“Rod, why don’t you… tell her a little bit. About stuff recently?”

“Or do you want to see that he wasn’t making up the thing about the Beast, Dani?”

GM: “Yeah, let’s see that. I don’t care what he’s been up to,” says Dani.

“Because, oh my god, does this whole ‘Beast’ thing sound just like Celia’s dad.”

“’It’s not really me that’s beating my wife and kids!’”

Celia: “Do you want to, ah, hold me down, or do you think you can catch me when it gets out?”

GM: “I can catch you,” says Roderick.

“Because you’ll always win against a girl,” says Dani.

Celia: “He’s stronger and faster than me.”

“His clan makes it more pronounced.”

GM: She doesn’t argue the point further.

Celia: “You can… um, you want to just punch me, or…?”

That definitely sells the idea he’s not abusive.

GM:Oh my god,” says Dani.

Celia: “There are only a few ways to bring it out. Violence is one of them.”

GM: “Yes, heaven fucking forbid you should lose it if someone hits you!”

“Especially a guy who says he loves you.”

“I’m sure that isn’t a sore spot at all.”

“Maybe we should bring it out another way,” says Roderick.

Celia: “I just ate,” Celia sighs.

GM: “Okay. We could try fire, but that might set me off too.”

Celia: “No fire.”

GM: “Maybe Dani could hurt you.”

Celia: “You’ll catch me before I get to her?”

GM: “Yep.”

Celia: “You swear?

GM: “I swear. I won’t let you hurt her.”

“How noble,” says Dani.

Celia: “There’s probably a knife in the kitchen, if you want to stab me, Dani. Or could punch my nose, I guess. Quick jab, break it.”

GM: Dani takes that in slowly. “You want me to break your nose?”

“It’s fine,” says Roderick. “We heal easily.”

Celia: Celia just nods.

She rises, readying herself to get hit in the face.

“Pretend I’m him,” she suggests.

GM: “I don’t want to hurt you…”

Celia: “It won’t.”

“I mean, it will. But not lasting.”

GM: “…I’m not sure I can break a nose with my hand, either. It’d have to be the knife…”

Celia: “Nose bones are pretty easy to break.”

“But you can grab a knife if you want.”

GM: “They look that way in the movies, but movies get a lot of stuff wrong.”

Celia: Celia’s nose has been broken enough times that she’s pretty sure they’re more delicate than all that, but she just smiles.

She moves into the kitchen to find the blade, offering the large butcher’s knife to Dani.

“It will hurt for a minute,” she says, “but no lasting damage.”

“And I think it’s important you see this.”

“Because the Beast is very real. And it comes out enough that you should be aware of it. In our society, you’re held responsible for what it does, even though it’s not you. But with your brother and I… it’s different when you’re in love, Dani. I can’t blame him for what he does to me when he’s like that, because it’s so, so hard to control.”

GM: Dani looks dubious as she accepts the knife, but says, “Well, all right. Do you have anywhere you want me to… stab you?”

Celia: “Side has worked before.”

“Or back, so I’m facing your brother.”

GM: “Okay. Do you do you want to take your dress off so I don’t ruin it?”

Celia: “Good thinking.”

GM: “Your belly might be best,” says Roderick. “So she can see the change on your face.”

Celia: Fortunately, Celia’s never minded nudity. She lets Roderick unzip the back of it for her, thoughts traveling to another lick who had helped her out of a dress only recently, and steps out of the material. She’s left in her lacy black bra and panties and looks not the least bit uncomfortable as she stands in front of Dani, waiting for the girl to plunge the knife into her stomach.

“Ready.”

GM: Dani looks a little bashful at Celia’s near-nude state, but doesn’t look away. She lifts up the knife. She looks at Celia’s belly, then back to the knife.

She lifts it higher.

She looks back at Celia’s stomach.

Her grip around the knife tightens.

Her face scrunches.

Finally, she lowers it.

“I… I can’t,” murmurs the twice-bound duskborn.

Celia: Well, here goes nothing.

“You’re a fucking abortion and I was embarrassed to be seen with you,” Jade snarls at her.

GM: Dani glares angrily. Her knuckles around the knife tighten.

But that’s all they do.

Celia: “You can’t even stab someone?”

“Christ, waste of space. She’s all yours, Rod. I’m done wasting my time on this pathetic half breed.”

GM: Dani’s eyes brim with anger.

She tries to lift the knife again.

But she cannot bring herself to strike her regnant.

Roderick frowns.

Celia: “Do it,” she tells Roderick. “Show her.”

GM: “You could stab yourself. Pain is pain. Beast doesn’t care who it’s from.”

Celia: “Great, thanks for making me look like a bitch for no reason.”

GM: “It was a good idea,” he says.

Celia: “No it wasn’t. Now she thinks that’s what I think of her.”

“It was stupid. It’s all just fucking stupid.”

Like me, goes unsaid.

GM: Dani’s silent throughout the two’s initial exchange.

“I know it’s not,” she finally says, slowly. “You just…”

She looks at the knife, then lowers her head.

“I’m so pathetic. I can’t even stab someone.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t let the thought linger. She seizes the knife from Dani and plunges it into her own thigh.

GM: “That’s n-” Roderick starts.

Pain stabs through her. It’s more than enough, on top of the humiliation. The anger. The stupidity. The Beast roars to break free.

Celia: She doesn’t even try to hold it back. She lets it out.

All the pain, all the anger, all the everything she has ever felt because of him. Because he had to go and get Embraced like a fucking putz because he couldn’t handle that a girl broke up with him. The jealousy that he’d gotten a better sire, one who pays attention to him. The times he’d implied she’s less intelligent than him. The times he’d turned her down for sex. The bragging she’d done on his behalf at Elysium to keep him from getting his ass kicked by Garcia in a duel so he could save face, and she gets none of the credit for waking his ass up before he got jumped and died. The way he’d fucking cried over rapist, scumbag assholes that would have torn him apart.

And that time—those times, multiple, with an S—that he’d taken it out on her. His fists. Her face.

The Beast hates him. Because of him she’s stuck with this pathetic halfbreed. Because of him she can’t enjoy the sex she has with other people. He told Coco about her. Her whole family is in danger and it’s

because

of

him.

A snarl rips from her throat. The Beast doesn’t care what the girl wants, or maybe they’re just in agreement here, because she launches herself at him with no regard to her own safety or anything even resembling emotions.

She just wants to rip his fucking head off.

GM: But she’s used to not getting the things she wants.

The rage explodes through her an inferno. When the red flames clear, Roderick’s got her pinned to the ground in a double wrist lock. He doesn’t even look particularly strained from holding her down and waiting for the frenzy to run its course.

Say what one will about her lover, maybe she was wrong about the “get his ass kicked in a duel” part.

Almost absurdly, the scene makes her think of her sire. How this is what he’d do if she attacked him, and he didn’t simply destroy her. Hold her down like a disobedient child. Perhaps he’d even spank her, like Roderick has said he’s not into, for being such a bad girl. It’s so hard not to think about him, even here.

“You okay?” Roderick asks.

He slowly eases off of her, stands, and offers a hand up.

Celia: It’s not fair. Why does he get to just hold her down like she’s nothing? Why does he get to be strong and smart and capable and have a good sire and get everything he ever fucking wants? She hates him, she hates him, she hates him. It’s all she can think about while she’s thrashing beneath him, snarling and bucking and raging at how much she hates him.

Even when she snaps back it takes a moment for her to come into her own. Beneath him. Like he wants her to be? Is Dani right about him, that he’s just the golden child(e) and she’ll always be less than? She doesn’t know.

But she does think of her sire. How easily he’d pin her down. How he’d promised to punish her if he caught her again in his territory. How he’d knelt before her to offer his vein, pressing his wrist against her fangs, the cold taste of him in her throat.

Another snarl rips through her. Not from anger this time, but from desire. Even back in her own body with her own mind she bucks, thrashes, grinding up against him with whatever part of her can reach.

Then he’s gone. Off of her. Offering a hand. And, once more, she’s left unsatisfied, and she looks…

Ridiculous.

GM: Roderick doesn’t remark on it. Like it’s all part of the frenzy. His hand remains out.

Dani’s standing nearby. But not too nearby.

She doesn’t look like she doesn’t believe in frenzies anymore.

“Jesus…” she murmurs.

Celia: Celia doesn’t quite meet her gaze. She reaches blindly for her dress.

GM: She doesn’t feel it nearby.

“Sorry. Didn’t want to risk you shredding it,” says Roderick. He hands it over.

“What you saw can happen to all of us,” he tells his sister. “It just hits my clan worse.”

“Worse?” Dani asks.

“Yeah. A lot more things can set us off. And it doesn’t help how strong we tend to be.”

Celia: “More frequently.”

Celia pulls on the dress. She’s still looking anywhere else.

GM: Roderick kneels down and rests a hand on her shoulder.

“You sure you’re okay?”

Celia: How can she explain the shame? The lingering emotions that she doesn’t want to voice?

She takes a moment to smooth her dress down over her stomach and hips and pulls the knife from her thigh. A wince accompanies the motion, then she lifts a hand to touch Roderick’s fingers.

“Yeah. Just… yeah.”

GM: She finds the knife already gone, perhaps yanked out during their scuffle, or perhaps already removed by Roderick.

He wraps an arm around her so she can lean against his shoulder.

“Sorry. Letting the Beast out never feels good.”

Celia: Celia leans into him, pressing her face against his chest. She’s quiet for a long moment, nodding her head in agreement. Finally, she looks up at Dani.

“It sucks. Every time it comes out, it ruins things. You’ve seen… you know what it did. What happened because of it.” Her mom, she means. “And you’ve seen it on him. And you’ve seen it from me now. It’s awful.

GM: Roderick hugs her close, wrapping both his arms around her and running a hand down her hair as she processes.

Dani is sitting down on the floor too by the time Celia looks up. She remains at a safe distance from the two.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I didn’t… I didn’t realize.”

“Your… ghoul,” she substitutes, “even told me how scary it was, when you were thirsty.”

“I didn’t believe. I’m sorry.”

Celia: “It’s that old saying,” Celia says with a shake of her head. She makes no motion to move away from Roderick. “Seeing is believing. Hard to take something seriously without witnessing it. You saw that earlier tonight, too.”

GM: “I don’t hit her when I’m myself, Dani,” Roderick says. His voice is soft as he holds Celia. “I’m not her dad. I love her. I’d never do that to her.”

“But the thing inside both of us, inside of every nightborn Kindred, is as bad as her dad.”

“Worse than her dad, by some metrics.”

Celia: “There’s no reasoning with it. It overcomes you and you get lost in it, and there’s not… it’s not you anymore. I wanted to kill him.”

GM: Dani looks between them.

“So what do you… do about it?”

“Am I ever going to ‘frenzy’ like that?”

Roderick shakes his head. “I’m not an expert on duskborn physiology, but no. They don’t seem to have Beasts like we do.”

“That’s… one of the advantages they have over nightborn Kindred.”

“You can spend time around Dad without ever worrying about losing control.”

Celia: “That’s why I’m not afraid of letting you near my family.”

GM: “That’s why… that’s why I cut myself out of your lives.” His voice gets a little choked.

“It was terrible to do. I know.”

Celia: “And why Roderick couldn’t be. Why he…” She trails off as he echoes her thoughts.

GM: “But I couldn’t… I couldn’t risk a scene like this happening, around you.”

“Around Dad.”

“I couldn’t keep putting your lives in danger.”

“And I did lose it around you both. You don’t remember, thanks to Coco, but… that was that. I knew I couldn’t… couldn’t stay.”

Dani is quiet for a while.

Celia: Celia is quiet while he talks. She keeps him close to her, their roles switching as soon as the words leave his mouth. Her hand rubs up and down his back, her touch light and gentle.

GM: “I’m sorry,” Roderick repeats. “I know how much leaving hurt you both. I miss Dad. I miss… I miss him so much, Dani, you know how close we were.” His voice starts to break again. “But I, I couldn’t just keep… putting your lives in danger, just so I’d get… get to keep a family…”

He buries his face against Celia’s head. She can smell the faint coppery tang leaking from his eyes.

Celia: It’s hard to ignore the voice that whispers her sire wouldn’t cry over kine. That he would never feel the need to explain himself to a thin-blood.

It’s an effort to shove the thought away. To keep him close to her, crying as he is.

“It’s a risk,” she says to Dani, holding her brother close, “every time I see my family. I take precautions when I can, but it’s… it’s hard. It’s so hard. To go from what he was, what anyone was, to… to this. Knowing there’s a thing inside of you that only wants to fight and kill and feed.”

And fuck.

That most of all. Even now the scent of blood sharpens the fangs in her mouth.

GM: Dani inches forward and lays a tentative hand on Roderick’s shoulder.

He pulls his head up from Celia as he feels it, then removes one arm from her to slip around his sister.

“I just… I just want to help you, Dani. I’m sorry this happened to you. I want to make it easier, however I can.”

Her face wavers as her eyes cut to Celia’s.

Celia: Celia meets her gaze. She reaches out, bringing the girl’s hand into her own. The rest of her stays curled against Roderick. He’s not her sire, but he’s warm and available and loves her, and maybe if she believes in it hard enough it’ll be… well, it’s something.

“We met with the guy who runs the Quarter. He’s fine with you staying. There’s not going to be an active hunt on you or anything. No raids or purges or massacres. I also… he knows who I am. My real identity. Who you are to me. You’re not a political prisoner or anything, like Rod—Stephen thought.” Celia doesn’t quite purse her lips, but they twitch as if she might.

Celia: “I have territory here. It’s—sorry, Rod, but it’s true—the best feeding in the city. You won’t be hungry. Ever. I don’t have any other tenants, so there’s plenty to share.”

GM: Dani takes her hand. Celia can feel her lover’s body instantly tense.

“Dani,” he says slowly, “there’s something you need to understand about licks.”

“A lot of us are very bad people.”

“Even without the Beast.”

“And the older we get, the worse we tend to get.”

“We hurt people. We kill people. For our own selfish benefit.”

“A lot of Kindred society ultimately comes down to fighting other Kindred, for social dominance and control of resources.”

“Think of the Camarilla as a giant crime family. Or perhaps more accurately, like the Commission.”

Celia: Celia sighs, but doesn’t otherwise interrupt.

GM: “There are maybe five different ‘families’ in the city here. All competing for resources—blood, money, territory, social influence.”

Dani looks at Celia when she sighs, but nods along at her brother’s words. “Okay…”

“Some of them, and this is my personal opinion, are better than others. I think the one I work with is the best option.”

“Most licks work with a ‘family’ they think is the lesser evil, or which can best serve their personal interests, or both.”

“But you can’t really opt out.”

“The Kindred who Celia is talking about, Antoine Savoy, runs one of the bigger families that controls the French Quarter.”

“He got where he is by being ‘nicer’ to young licks and duskborn than his two biggest competitors.”

“That’s also relative when I say ‘nicer.’ He still treats duskborn like garbage. He just doesn’t engage in active genocide like the biggest family does.”

“Celia explained this,” nods Dani. “The Sanctified, led by Vidal. The prince.”

“Yes, that’s them,” says her brother.

Celia: “Your brother has met him one whole time. I’ve been dealing with him for years. He’s repeating what he has heard other licks—who don’t like him, by the way—say.”

GM: Roderick frowns. “I’ve seen and listened to him countless times in Elysium, Celia. I’ve also seen him when the Cabildo has met with him.”

“But all of that is moot, because I don’t need to know him personally to know how he runs his ‘family.’ Do you need to have met Lucky Luciano to know how he ran the Genovese?”

“Of course not,” says Dani. “If you met him in person he’d have spun things and lied about it.”

“You’d only need to meet him if you were working with law enforcement to bring him down. And you’d want to try to independently verify everything he said.”

“Exactly,” Roderick nods.

“Savoy is basically a mob boss, Dani.”

“An almost literal one, in fact. He works with the mortal Mafia.”

Celia: “So does Vidal.”

GM: “One of his subordinates does. But that’s still why I don’t work for Vidal. He obviously has nothing against the Mafia.”

Celia: “No, just your sire, who—”

Celia cuts off abruptly.

GM: He looks at Celia sharply, then back Dani. “I work for the Anarchs. Who my sire leads. They have what you could call a nonaggression agreement with Vidal, rather than Savoy, because they consider him the lesser evil. He murders duskborn just for being duskborn. He’s not a good person by any stretch.”

“Savoy isn’t a good person either. They’re both mob bosses. Both are totally committed to expanding their power at whatever the cost in human suffering.”

“And Savoy wants to use you to get to me.”

Celia: “There’s a separate sect of Anarchs that jumped from his sire’s side to Savoy’s a few months back,” Celia cuts in.

GM: Dani looks between them.

“There are,” Roderick says. “They’re led by a lick who murders and humiliates people for fun.”

“I consider them a greater evil than the faction of Anarchs I’ve remained with.”

Celia: “That’s my sire you’re talking about,” Celia says sharply.

GM: “It is. Do you deny she does that?”

Celia: “Do you deny yours sold out dozens of duskborn to curry favor with the prince?”

GM: “She didn’t sell them out. She couldn’t have stopped it. That massacre was happening with or without her.”

Celia: “Uh huh.”

“She didn’t give him the location and make herself scarce to save face.”

GM: Dani looks between them.

“If there’s one thing you should take away from this, Dani, it’s that there are no true good guys,” Roderick says heavily.

Celia: “Savoy literally told you he doesn’t want to use her to get to you. If you want to take your chances with her outside the Quarter, fine. See how well she fares against the raids. See if your sire cares that it’s your sister who she’s selling out.”

GM: “You actually fucking believe that?” Roderick exclaims. “Celia, he doesn’t care about Dani. She means nothing to him. Just like I mean nothing to him. All he cares about is how he can manipulate us to advance his position.”

Celia: “And how is he going to do that when he told you to get her out if that’s what you wanted?”

GM: “Butter me up, for starters. He has a plan to lure me to his side, and Dani is one piece of it. I know how elders work, Celia. I get to see them with their hair down.”

Celia: Yeah, he’s so important with his special scribe duties that lets him find out all sorts of things and see how awful the rest of them are.

Celia huffs, but keeps the “pet” comment to herself.

GM: “That’s why I wanted to get you out of the city, Dani,” Roderick says. “I’m not going to make you, if you don’t want to. But I don’t believe you are safe here in the city, with a mob boss who knows who you are to me, and who will seek to use you against me. I think it’s just as unsafe for you to stay here in the Quarter as it was for me to stay in your and Dad’s lives. If I don’t play ball the way Savoy wants, it’s entirely possible he’ll conclude his current tactic isn’t working, and switch to a much nastier one.”

Dani looks back to Celia, the question in her eyes.

Celia: “It’s possible that Savoy wanted, past tense, to use you against him. And if I hadn’t come to Roderick about it, he might have succeeded. But I did.

Celia makes an aborted motion to reach for his hand. She halts halfway, fingers curling into a fist. She looks away.

“I know you think I’m st—… ignorant. You’ve said as much.” Multiple times. She blinks away something that might turn red if she let it manifest. “I’m not, not here. Killing her is just going to turn you against him. It’ll probably turn your sire against him. And it’s going to turn me against him.”

Celia looks up at Dani. She doesn’t want to hear whatever it is Roderick will say about that. Something like, “why would he care if a neonate is mad at him? What are you going to do, Celia, you dumb whore?”

“He’s known who I am for my entire Requiem. He helped me move my family into the Quarter, when things were bad with my dad. He knows who they are. What they mean to me. I spent… I spent everything I had on a night doctor to fix my mom after my dad took her toes off. I had nothing. He put me up, paid for Emily, helped me open my business without scoffing at the idea of a vampire playing with makeup. He…” she looks down at her hands, uncurling her fingers. “I messed up once. Early. He wanted me to do something, and I messed it up, and it was… it was bad. Something he’d been working on for years that I just blew up. I was weeks old. He didn’t have any reason to be nice about it. But he was.”

GM: “I don’t think less of you intellectually, Celia,” Roderick says gently. “I just think he’s manipulating you. That’s a thing crime bosses do. They tell their people not to cause trouble around a certain neighborhood, and to do nice things instead to win the residents’ loyalty. But all of it is with a payoff in mind.”

“And Savoy’s actions do have a practical payoff. They’ve made you loyal, and they’ve gotten you in his camp. You’re a useful asset. But if you stopped being useful, he’d drop you like a hot potato.”

“And if there’s ever something he really wants to do, that he knows you won’t like, your opinion isn’t going to stop him. He’ll just do it behind your back. And even if you find out, what’s a neonate like you actually going to do?”

Celia: She can’t tell him the truth about it. That she’s his blood. That if she were anyone else, sure, she’d get it. But she’s not anyone else. She’s his grandchilde.

“There’s plenty I could do,” is all she says to that. “You don’t spend seven years in someone’s court without learning a thing or two about how they operate.”

GM: “Then you should be scared,” says Roderick. “Because if he thinks it serves his interests to do something you might not like, and if he thinks you could find out, he might just kill you too. He’s an elder, Celia, and you’re not his childe. You’re not his Blood. That’s all they care about.”

Celia: But she is.

GM: “He’s fooled you like he has everyone else.”

Dani looks between them. The two’s words tug at her. Celia’s message of hope and comfort and belonging. Her brother’s practical, fact-based cautions. That term over and over, “mob boss,” that means so much to the Garrisons.

Both of their words pull at her.

But in the end, so does the bond.

“I want to stay in the Quarter,” she finally says. “With Celia.”

Roderick effects a sigh.

“All right. It’s your decision.”

“You’re an adult. And your own Kindred.”

Celia: “I’m not going to let anything happen to her, Roderick. Just like you wouldn’t let anything happen to me. We’re going to be sisters soon, aren’t we? You’re not alone in this.”

“I’ve already made arrangements for her. She has a new identity. We have a cover. And…” she looks around. “I can ditch this place anyway, get something closer to the border for you two.”

GM: “Well, that’d be something,” says Roderick. “And maybe I can take you out of the Quarter sometimes, too. It’s not safe for me to come here all the time.”

“I got a tattoo,” says Dani. “That lets me appear mortal. And another face.”

“Mask?” asks Roderick.

“Yeah.”

“Okay, that could work. That’s safe.”

Celia: “I passed her off as a ghoul earlier. In front of a fair number of licks. No one noticed anything. And it’s not like I’m going to tell Savoy about her new face.”

GM: “Let’s keep it that way. Only we three need to know.”

Celia: “Well… I mean, Dicentra knows. I thought maybe we’d have her make another for Dani the duskborn versus Dani the ghoul, since her other face has been seen as Jade’s ghoul. But I don’t want to get too complicated. Thought I’d talk to you about it.”

“There’s also…”

“We, um, so I took her out as my renfield tonight, and two of the hounds showed up. I, uh, was a little panicked they’d come for her, so I thought about paying Dicentra for a… for a mark. Just in case she’s ever picked up like that.”

GM: “That’s the tattoo?” Roderick asks.

“Yeah,” Dani nods.

“All right,” says Roderick. “So, you have two faces. Celia’s ghoul, who Dicentra definitely knows about, and some other licks casually saw.”

“And you have Dani, who’s mortal to most people but a known duskborn to Savoy, Preston, and anyone else they’ve told.”

“Plus, maybe, your sire.”

Dani gets a still look at that.

Roderick touches her shoulder. “We’ll find them.”

She nods.

“I think it would be safe to have a third mortal face who only we know about,” says Roderick. “Dicentra’s an unknown quantity. Who knows who she works for. You should probably just use mundane wigs and makeup for that.”

“Celia can do that, makeup wizard that she is,” he smiles.

“Okay,” says Dani. “Though what would we use that face for?”

“I’m not sure yet. Just useful to have the option,” her brother answers.

“Anytime you don’t want to take a chance on other licks.”

Celia: “I have someone looking into her sire,” Celia tells Roderick. Then, by way of explanation, “not my turf. If it doesn’t pan out I’ll get more personally involved. Just didn’t want to step on toes if I could avoid it.”

He’d seemed surprised to hear about the thin-blood in his club for all that Savoy and Preston had implied he was watching her.

“More identities is never a bad idea,” she says to Dani. “Too many people know about Celia and Jade.” A sigh. Roderick’s sire is the only one that really concerns her. She looks at him, as if to convey that same thought.

“But I meant the… mark of the city, you know, the duskborn thing.”

GM: “Seems fair to try the easiest way first,” he nods.

“But that also isn’t a bad idea as far as the brand. The main question is whether she could still hide it. Because it’s better to get mistaken for a ghoul than even a branded duskborn.”

Celia: “As long as it’s in a hide-able place. Watch band. Upper arm.”

GM: “I want to talk to other duskborn,” says Dani.

Celia: Celia nods at Dani.

“We’re working on that, too,” she says to Roderick.

GM: “There are ones in Mid-City I could introduce you to,” he says. “Just not as Dani.”

“I thought the prince massacred them…?” she asks.

“He picks them up where he can,” says Roderick. “Sends the hounds through on sweeps. But there are some. They just don’t advertise it.”

“Still. If people think you’re Jade’s ghoul with your earlier face, another disguise wouldn’t be a bad idea.”

“I just don’t like Celia owing Dicentra so many favors.”

“I can’t even volunteer any of them, because I don’t want Dicentra knowing we’re related.”

Celia: Well there goes that plan.

Celia shrugs.

“We can settle up later if you feel the need to make it up to me.”

GM: “Cute,” he smiles. “I can’t make it up to you in ways that count with other licks, though.”

Dani rolls her eyes. “Get a room, you two.”

Celia: “Mm, yes please.”

GM: Roderick chuckles at that and gives her a squeeze.

Celia: Maybe they’ll skip sparring tonight, get right to the other sort of manhandling.

GM: “Later. I can bring you back to my haven for the day.”

“Oh my god, are you seriously talking about banging in front of me?” says Dani.

Celia: Celia wiggles her brows at Dani.

GM: “Blugh! I don’t want to hear about my brother’s sex life, thanks!”

Roderick chuckles some more.

Celia: “If he’s technically dead does it even count as being related anymore?” Not that she would ever bang a relative.

GM: Just spank one bare-bottom.

And ask to be spanked back.

But she was copying another relative, there. For that first part.

“Oh my god, of course it does!” says Dani.

Celia: Well, she’d also fucked her cousin, so there’s that. But she tries not to think about it too hard.

GM: “I’m actually glad it still squicks you out,” says Roderick. “Some licks can get into some… pretty deviant stuff.”

Celia: Celia abruptly realizes why the idea of sex in general might make Dani uncomfortable. She busies herself with her cuticles.

“We don’t have to talk about it.”

GM: “Yes, I’d prefer that,” Dani agrees.

“Okay. Dani, maybe you’d like to spend some time together tonight,” says Roderick. “I cleared my schedule.”

“Oh, doing…?”

“Just catching up. We could get some food. Take a walk someplace.”

“You can eat food?”

He shakes his head. “I have to throw it up. But I can enjoy it. Most licks think that’s pretty gross.”

“I don’t think it is. I mean, I still eat,” says Dani.

“But, okay. That sounds good. Getting some food.”

“Great,” Roderick smiles. “Maybe… hmm. I’d rather not be seen around the Quarter. Or either of us be seen together.”

“God,” sighs Dani. “Is it really like this all the time?”

“We can’t just get some beignets or whatever without worrying about being seen?”

Celia: “Pretty much,” Celia says. “Roderick and I don’t go out on normal dates, either. Can’t be seen together.” Her shoulders lift in a shrug, as if it doesn’t bother her, but her tone betrays the truth.

GM: “What a fucking miserable way to live,” says Dani.

“We’ll order in,” says Roderick.

Celia: “I can scram if you want to stay here,” Celia offers. “Less chance getting picked up on your way out.”

GM: “I’d really like to stretch my legs or just get a change of scenery,” says Dani. “You know, after all that’s happened here?”

Celia: Celia nods.

“Sure thing. Understandable.”

GM: “Can we really not go anywhere or do anything?”

“Maybe with another mask,” thinks Roderick, “but that also means Celia-”

“This is miserable,” says Dani.

“We really can’t just drive to a park or whatever?”

“Or just fucking drive a while?”

“We can,” says Roderick. “But there are risks.”

“I almost don’t care at this point,” says Dani. “This doesn’t sound like any way to live.”

“Okay. Maybe… Celia, could you disguise her?” Roderick asks. “Mundane makeup, wig, change of clothes? You can use your tattoo, and I can take you someplace.”

Celia: “Do you have your mask on you?” Celia asks Roderick.

GM: “I do,” he says. “Doesn’t hide that I’m a lick, but can’t hurt to combine with that.”

Celia: “I might have something that can help. Hold on, let me find it.”

Celia rises to her feet and moves into the other room.

Celia: It’s a quick search to find what she’s looking for: a piece of cardstock and a black marker. A few quick strokes in the general shape of a cloak (for “hiding something”) and she caps the marker, tucking the cardstock into one of her many purses. She brings the purse out with her, rifling through it to find the cardstock she’d just drawn on (as if she hadn’t just planted it).

“She’s been working on this new thing,” Celia tells Roderick, “like a temporary tattoo, for emergency situations. Or something like this.” She smiles at him.

“Where do you want it?”

GM: “If you paid her for that, I don’t know we should use it on this,” says Roderick. “It’s enough to have Dani use her tattoo and get a mundane disguise.”

Celia: “It’s an experimental thing, she wanted me to test it.”

GM: “All right. Anywhere’s okay with me.”

Celia: She has Roderick remove his shirt so she can put the temporary tattoo on his side, hidden beneath his clothing.

And now the tricky part: doing the thing without letting him know she’s doing the thing. Her claws come out—she can hardly say that she has tattoo equipment laying around—and she dips the tip of them into her already bleeding thigh. No need to make a new cut when this will do. The claws pick up the blood, tracing the black lines she’d drawn on the cardstock. She presses it against his side, warns him she’s going to make the cut, and does so. It’s quite unlike getting a tattoo: the tips of her nails drag rather than dig, marking him with a scar that looks like the cloak she’d drawn. She murmurs as she works, the words whispered over and over beneath her breath, barely loud enough for him to hear.

“Tatuajes oculto.”

When she’s done she sits back on her heels, pulling the cardstock away. It’s crude work, nothing like what Dicentra had done for his sister, but it should serve his purpose for this evening.

GM: “Wow, you got buff,” Dani remarks when Roderick takes his shirt off.

“Yeah. I made sure to work out a lot before my Embrace,” he answers.

Both siblings watch with interest as Celia administers the quick tattoo.

“Huh,” says Roderick. “That’s very convenient. How long will it last?”

Celia: “Temporary. The rest of the night.” A wry smile. “You’d hardly want that on you forever.”

GM: “Ha. Very true.” He pulls his shirt back on, then kisses her cheek. “Thanks, Celia.”

Celia: “Rude,” she huffs, but there’s no heat to it.

GM: “Do we have what you need here to disguise Dani, or is that at the spa?”

Celia: “You think I don’t keep makeup literally everywhere?”

GM: He laughs. “Clearly I wasn’t thinking.”

Celia: Her laughter follows her out of the room. She’s back again with kit in hand, tells Roderick to pick something cute out of her closet for his sister, and gets to work turning Dani into someone else.

Celia: Celia doesn’t need to resort to fleshcrafting when she’s as skilled as she is with a makeup brush. There’s a lot that can be done with mundane powders, liquids, and colors: contour can change the entire face shape, foundation can be mixed to make someone lighter or darker, various hues can be used to completely hide features or accent others. Celia does it all, and she does it well. Where Dani is angular she makes her round. Where Dani has blemishes or rough patches she smooths it out.

But it’s the eyes that steal the show. Her flat, almost boring blues are brought to life with the golds and browns and other neutrals that Celia piles on around them, lashes lengthened with mascara, eyes lined in black liquid. She doesn’t wing it—this face is too soft for that look—but she fills in the little gaps between her lashes to create one long, unbroken line. A pop of color on her lips—matte, something that will last through whatever food they decide to eat—finishes it off.

They chat while Celia works, a more easy-going conversation than it would have been prior, and she’s happy that the siblings finally have something nice to talk about. She twists Dani’s hair into a complicated updo and sets it with a spray.

At some point she mentions that she’s probably going to ditch this haven, and asks Dani if she still wants a place together. Part time. Celia barely sleeps in the same place more than one night in a row, these few evenings with Roderick notwithstanding.

GM: Dani nods eagerly that she would love a place together. She can spend nights Celia’s not there at Diana’s place. And possibly a few anyway. She doesn’t want to stay with Celia’s family forever, just until she’s on her feet.

Roderick comes back with the clothes while Celia works. Contrary to “cute,” he seems to have picked something designed to be forgettable, simple jeans and tee and sweatshirt, though in colors Dani doesn’t usually go for.

Brother and sister are very impressed with the results of Celia’s work when she’s finished and shows it off in the mirror. Like everyone always is. “I have to give you credit,” says Roderick. “I really wasn’t sure how much you’d be able to change with just makeup. This is really good.”

“Spoken like a true guy,” says Dani dryly. “Makeup can do a lot. My facial shape looks different.”

Roderick nods. “I still think it’d be best to change her hair with a wig. You don’t have one around, do you?”

Celia: She probably does. Mundane wigs work for plenty of on-the-go disguises. She excuses herself to find one, returning with a long, dark wig that compliments Dani’s coloring.

“You can change in my room if you want,” Celia says to Dani after she puts the wig in place. They’re relatively similar sizes.

And it’ll give her a moment alone with Roderick.

GM: “If you have any glasses, that’d be even better, though I fee safe enough with the wig and makeup,” says Roderick.

“I’ll try to avoid smudging the makeup,” says Dani as she takes the clothes and wigs. “Should’ve changed first, in hindsight.”

She heads off, in any case.

Celia: Celia watches her go, shaking her head at the comment. She should have suggested it.

Her attention shifts to Roderick, brows lifting slightly. She takes a step toward him, then another, and finally presses herself against him, looking up at him from underneath her lashes.

GM: He smiles and runs his hands along her hips, leaning in close to breathe in her scent.

“I’ll still fuck you silly before sunup.”

Celia: “That a promise, Mr. Durant?”

GM: His hands move lower down to appreciatively squeeze her rump.

“A promise whose fulfillment is eagerly anticipated, Miss Flores.”

Celia: “You’re insatiable,” Celia murmurs, leaning in to press a kiss against his lips. She keeps it brief, aware of his sister’s presence in the next room. “You’re not doing anything dumb tonight with her, are you?”

GM: “Only because you’re irresistible,” he smiles. “And no. Just catch up over the past too many years over some food.”

Celia: “I’m glad you worked it out.” Or rather that Celia worked it out.

GM: “I am too. Thanks for your help with that.” He gives her a squeeze. “With everything.”

“It means so much to have someone in my unlife who’s not just working another angle.”

“Who actually just cares.”

Celia: She ignores the pang. She does care. Of course she cares.

She buries it, lifting herself to the tips of her toes to press another kiss against his lips. Dani be damned, she wants to ignore how ugly the world is for a minute. She wants to forget about the time she betrayed him, wants to forget that they’re on opposite sides of this war, that she’s working to undermine his sire, that her sire… something. Her sire something. That’s as far as she gets before she loses herself in the feeling of his lips on hers.

GM: Roderick returns the kiss with vigor, before sweeping her legs out from beneath her and hoisting her into the air, arm underneath her knees, as his lips continue to explore hers. That continues for a too-brief moment before Dani walks in and he sets Celia down.

“Get a room already,” his sister huffs.

Celia: “We are in a room,” she shoots back, not bothering to stop what she’s doing.

GM: “Later,” Roderick repeats, amused, as he disengages from Celia’s lips. “We’ll have plenty of time.”

Celia: Celia heaves a sigh.

“Be safe tonight,” she says as he sets her down. “Both of you.”

GM: “You too,” Roderick says, giving her a chaste kiss on the cheek. “I love you.”

Celia: “I love you too. I’ll see you in a few hours.”

She hopes she will, anyway. The he hasn’t just used her to disguise Dani and himself to get out of the city, that all of the work she has put into cultivating Dani as an almost pawn will be for nothing, that she won’t go back to Savoy and have to say, “so about those siblings…” and be dropped like the hot potato Roderick mentioned.

But he wouldn’t do that, would he? She can trust him, can’t she? He loves her. And they’re both twice-bonded to her. Even if Roderick gets her out of the city of course Dani will come back. Celia had dangled all the answers in front of her: her sire, the thin-bloods, a place together. She’d peppered their conversations with enough to tempt the girl into coming back, has done far more for her than her brother can despite their shared blood (and how much does that count for now anyway, with his sister what she is?). It’s why she hadn’t pushed harder about his sire being a bitch, because she can’t risk alienating the both of them now when everything is coming together. Push too hard and he’ll see it for the obvious ploy it is when the truth of Carolla comes out.

It’s enough. Even if the thought of Roderick having someone else to lean on chips away at her own hold over him.

She’ll just have to do something about that, won’t she?


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Story Thirteen, Genevieve V, Sterling V

“Beautiful.”
The Man With The Silver Smile


Thursday night, 6 June 2013, PM

Genevieve: This time of night a line wraps around the side of the building, eager club-goers waiting for a chance to test their luck against the players at the Silver Dollar. Some of them just came for the atmosphere, one of the few places left in the Quarter that doesn’t cater to the tourist crowd. Hardly a literal hole in the wall, just lesser-known than the prime stomping ground of Bourbon or even Royal Street. The kind of place where anyone can get their rocks off, either through the openly flowing booze, the easy access to drugs, or the girls who shake everything they’ve got in the face of everyone they see. Slinky dresses, sky-high heels, the smell of their last cigarette on their breath. Extra pairs of panties in their purses for those times someone decides they want to pay the fee for a little extra and take them out into the alley, the bathroom, or just a dark corner to cop more than a feel.

It always rubbed Gen the wrong way.

She wouldn’t be here if her domitor hadn’t expressly summoned her this evening, told her to meet him at 11 PM sharp. Something about someone that needs to be fired. He’d gotten misty-voiced over the phone, told her he didn’t want to do it himself, that it needed a delicate touch. A woman’s touch. Something like that; she’d stopped listening the moment he told her that he needed her. That had been enough. She’s pretty sure the rest of it was a lie, anyway.

Haymaker is at the door to let her in, the “employee” entrance that actually is a literal hole in the wall, a small opening tucked tight between two buildings that leads to the steel door where Sterling’s people come and go, and where, she knows, other licks like him often show up to get their jollies off. No waiting at this door, you just knock and someone lets you in, though if they ain’t ever seen you before there’s bound to be some questions. It’s the worst kept secret in the city; Gen even thinks that Sterling was the one to start the spread of it so that those who walk the night like him don’t need to wait. She’s sure he’s got other secret entrances too—why wouldn’t he?—but this one is the one he has his people use, so that’s the one she goes to.

She spares a look for Haymaker as he shuts the door behind her. The black man just shrugs.

Interesting.

Without a word she strides down the hall that will take her to where she assumes her domitor waits for her, the office at the top of the stairs that overlooks the whole place.

Sterling: The office is nice without being exquisite. Everything in here, from the glossy pinups to the vintage jukebox to the gassy, greasy lighting screams wealth without taste, power without restraint.

The men in here are like that, too. There’s always a few guys in here; it’s less Sterling’s office than it is his clubhouse. There’s Caprese, fat and sweating and always ready to break somebody’s nose, fiddling poorly with the Jukebox and muttering under his breath. There’s Mouse, named for his big ears but not his size, which is considerable. Heckle, the manager, who looks like he still doesn’t know how he got this job. All wear cheap suits that look like it and do nothing for their gout. The rest of Sterling’s goons are probably working the floor.

And of course, there’s the monster himself, dressed like a supervillain and looking innocent as a priest behind his desk. He gives her a sad smile.

And then there’s the woman. Girl, really. She can’t be more than 20, in a cocktail dress and mascara that’s running down her cheeks with tears.

Gen’s usually the only woman in here. The other girl doesn’t seem to notice her coming in.

“I-I’ll do better next week, Mister Oz. I promise. I just—I need my paycheck now. I really can’t wait until Monday-“

“We’ve heard you already, you slow bitch,” mutters Caprese as he thuds the jukebox. “More whining won’t make the big man care more.”

“I’m afraid he’s right, Candice,” Sterling says apologetically. “Me, I like bending the rules. But I made Heckle the manager precisely because he’s a stickler for these kinds of things. I’m afraid you’ll have go put in extra hours if you want fast cash—in the high rollers lounge.”

Candice flushes, looks to the ground. “I’m not—I’m just a waitress.”

Heckle guffaws. “Didn’t stop you showing some tit to get the job. Whores always get prideful once they get paid.”

“I’m not—“ but the rest of her words are lost to her sobs.

Sterling regards her placidly, then looks to his Conscience. Green eyes glitter with something neither good nor evil, and certainly not human. She recognizes the look.

He wants to play a game.

Genevieve: It’s a look she recognizes, but not one that she likes. The door closes behind her, cutting off the girl’s cries before they can carry down the stairs. Her eyes sweep the room, taking it all in. Sterling might be the only one to notice the way her jaw works as her stare lands on Caprese, on his fist striking the jukebox. Graceful movements take her across the room, the sort of coiled energy found in the predators like him, the gift of speed he’s given her flitting through her veins to make every motion precise. She’s got the sort of easy languidness that comes from years of throwing her body across a gym.

Gen bends at the knee, reaching behind the jukebox to lift the plug. She doesn’t say anything to the fat man as she hands it over; her look does enough of that for her.

Moron.

“Accounting trouble?” she asks Sterling.

Sterling: “Something like that,” he agrees cheerfully. “Heckle, what’s our policy on advance pay?”

“We don’t,” the manager grunts. “But we always need volunteers for the lounge, if they’re willing to put some skin on the line—“

“-and in other places,” guffaws Caprese. He leers cheerfully at her. It’s the closest she’ll get to a thanks.

“And yet, Candice here seems to value her dignity more highly than her… what was it? Dental bills, right? Never had to deal with them, myself. Perks of being an absent parent.”

Candice is still crying. “I don’t—I don’t value—I’ll do anything, but isn’t there another way?”

Sterling shrugs. “I can’t think of one. Can you, Conscience?”

Genevieve: Gen doesn’t so much as grind her teeth together. Another way, indeed. The leers of the fat would-be mobster will be the least of her worries if she steps in.

“She could ask her dentist for a payment plan,” she says carefully. She knows it isn’t what he wants, but he’s fooling himself if he thinks she’s going to put her own skin on the line without exploring other options. “Credit cards. Payday loans. The interest will eat her alive.” So will the boys in the high roller room.

Sterling: “I already did,” sniffles the unfortunate waitress. “I’m already broke. I wouldn’t be asking if I wasn’t tapped out.”

“You could always play our tables after your shift,” Sterling says breezily. “You might get lucky.”

She cries harder.

Sterling conjures a handkerchief from nowhere and flicks it at her daintily. Always the gentleman.

Genevieve: Of course she wouldn’t be asking if she weren’t tapped out. No one asks Sterling unless they’re desperate. Or foolish. He always finds a way for the house to win.

He’s not that bad. That’s the blood talking, though, she’s sure of it.

“Give her the advance, Mister Oz. To cover the bills and whatever other creditors she sold her soul to. Send her home.”

She meets his eye. Gives him a long look, then finally a nod.

“If it’s a body the lounge needs, Nicoise is enough to go around.”

Sterling: She’s seen some of the high rollers lounge, but never been made to linger. Anything can happen there, if somebody wants to pay for it. And the clients always can.

Caprese scowls at her jibe, but the other men chortle.

“Nobody’ll pay to see his fat ass on all fours,” Heckle says dismissively. “Boss, let’s just kick her out. Going back and forth on this. Candy, do you want cash or do you want to pretend you aren’t for sale?”

Candice doesn’t look pretty, when she’s crying. Just broken. “I—okay, okay, I can—I’ll do it, if I can get the money tonight.”

Heckle whistles lewdly and starts counting out bills from his wallet. “And you can keep whatever you make inside, obviously.”

Candice shudders.

Sterling shrugs and leans back, but he looks coolly amused.

She’s going to have to say it, in front of the goons and everybody. To volunteer. She can spare an innocent, if she wants to. Can help Sterling do the right thing.

The righter thing, anyways.

Genevieve: Her lips flatten into a thin line.

Bastard.

“Go home, Candice. I’ll work the lounge.”

Sterling: The waitress blinks and stares at her as if seeing for the first time. “W-what? No. No, I need the money.”

Behind her, Caprese chortles. “The freak’s a little strapped for cash, huh?”

Sterling holds up a finger. “Conscience, do you need the money? Or would you like to work so Candice doesn’t have to?”

Genevieve: “Her makeup is smeared,” Gen says, voice cold. As if that is the only reason. “She won’t earn a dime like that, and the lounge will be known as a place where broken girls work, which will cut into future profits. Send her home. Give her my take.”

He knows she doesn’t need the money. Caprese should know that too, though she can’t imagine how he rubs two thoughts together let alone retains what he does manage to think.

Sterling: He’s smarter than he looks. Probably he just thinks she’s a whore.

Genevieve: He couldn’t pay her enough, even if she were.

Sterling: “Are you—really?” The girl says, still in shock. “You mean it?”

Genevieve: She’d need a pair of tweezers to find the limp excuse of flesh he calls a dick.

Gen just looks at the girl. Then jerks her head toward the door.

Sterling: Heckle gives her the money, shaking his head. She can’t get out fast enough, still murmuring her disbelieving thanks as she goes.

“You’re too soft, sweetheart,” he tells her. “Shift starts in fifteen. Hit the dressing room. There’s always a few extra ‘tards in there. I hope you’re not on your period, either, because you don’t get to wear anything else. No pads or tampons or whatever the fuck. Nobody wants to see that.”

Caprese laughs again. “Maybe I’ll visit you on my break, pasty.”

He’s white, too, of course. But not like her.

Not like a freak.

Sterling goes back to a game of solitaire. Maybe she’ll see him later. Or maybe not. Maybe he just wanted to see if she would actually submit herself for the sake of some random girl.

Maybe he was testing her. Did she pass?

Genevieve: “I hope you do, Caprese. Bring a map and I’ll show you where everything goes, even.”

Her eyes slide toward her domitor. She thought he’d say something, at least. Acknowledge what he’s making her do, what he knew she would do if pressed. She won’t have that conversation in front of the others, though. She won’t let them see how much it takes out of her to do this thing for the girl, for him.

She has half a mind to tell the boys to get out so she can have a word with him. But if he wanted a word he’d have made it happen, wouldn’t have turned immediately to the game of cards. Maybe he doesn’t see the look of wounded betrayal on her face when she turns to go. Muddying his Conscience again.

Sterling: She slinks off. The waiting room is full of other girls, waitresses and “entertainers” with less modesty. Somebody tosses a leotard at her when she asks. It’s silver, form-hugging, and leaves her back mostly bare. It doesn’t cover so much as it clings. There’s other girls in leotards, too. The other volunteers trying to make money, except they actually need it. None of them look happy, or comfortable in the outfit.

People stare at her as she changes. That’s the same as ever. She’s a freak, after all. Everybody wonders what an albino looks like naked.

Genevieve: White. She looks white. She looks the same as them, the same bits and pieces, only hers are white on white on white. Pale pink nipples, pale pink lips. Darker now that she’s flushing, that the other girls are looking—staring. She turns her back to the room as if that will help, as if that makes any of this better.

She hates him.

How can he make her do this?

No, that’s the problem, isn’t it. He didn’t make her. He didn’t say anything. He just expected her to do the right thing, to submit herself to humiliation rather than let some poor girl do it in her stead. He knew exactly what she would do but let her make the choice.

She looks in the mirror when she’s done. The silver hugs her like a second skin. Her body shivers at the chill— she’s sure that he keeps it cool so that his patrons can see the outline of her nipples beneath the thin fabric. As requested, she’d stripped completely to put it on. No bra, no panties, not even pasties. Someone passes her a tube of lipstick that she swipes across her mouth, the same pale pink shade as the rest of her. She has a face that’s made to be stared at, meant to be different; she won’t hide behind the powders the other girls use. A pair of heels complete the look, lengthen her legs, lift her already firm ass.

She hates him.

She really does.

That’s all she can think about as she walks through the door of the dressing room to make her way to the lounge.

Sterling: And yet, and yet, the bond whispers to her. The way he held her before a mirror and called her beautiful. The small kindnesses he’s shown her.

The ways he seems to delight in humiliating her, in particular.

“You look marvelous, Connie.”

His voice is a whisper in her ear as she walks past patrons on the floor in step with the other volunteers, naked without the dignity of being naked. Mobsters leer. So do the gamblers, drunks and carousers who ogle her, the whitest girl in New Orleans. Worst might be the woman she passes, who smirk at her, secure in their obvious superiority. They get to wear real clothes. She’s just a piece of the scenery.

She looks up and sees him across the room, regarding the floor from his elevated mezzanine. He can whisper to her without deigning to acknowledge her in public. It probably wouldn’t be proper for him to mingle with the entertainment.

And yet—he says she looks marvelous.

“You didn’t have to do what you did. You still don’t. You can quit at any time. You’ll just have to give the money back. Or, well. Candice will. The choice is yours.”

Choice. His cruelest gift to her.

Genevieve: It isn’t fair.

It isn’t fair that he can whisper in her ear like that from across the room. It isn’t fair that the sound of his voice sends shivers down her spine, that his comments make her flush, that he can watch her from above and pull every thought from her mind.

She looks towards the windows she knows he’s peering out of. The expression on her face doesn’t change, but she shakes her head. No. She won’t go running. If this is how he wants her to serve—if this is how he wants to see his conscience, spread open for the rest of the world’s viewing pleasure—then who is she to deny it?

She turns her face away, then her whole body. She will not give him the satisfaction of watching her sweat. Her eyes dart toward the other girls, watching to see how they do it so she can best play along.

Sterling: They aren’t any more experienced, for the most part. Most of the girls who volunteer for this don’t do it a second time. It pays well.

That’s the only reason anybody would do it at all.

There’s five of them in their leotards, all at least a little attractive but none so uniquely freakish as her. One of the bouncers leads them to the lounge entrance, but he doesn’t follow them in, only holds the door open.

They aren’t supposed to be protected inside.

The lounge is busy tonight, which means a dozen or so patrons. Mostly men, but a few bored-looking women too. The lighting is dark and purplish with patches of neon glare. The silver leotards practically seem to glow under the lights. There are games tables, a bar tended by another silver-leotarded bartender, a jacuzzi, what looks like a mud pit, lots of private booths with curtains for isolation.

A place to sin in peace.

There’s a DJ, too, who calls over spinning tracks and thudding bass:

“The dolls are here, ladies and gents. Here are the rules: they say no, they leave without pay. You offer them money, even a penny, they say yes. Every single one of them agreed to be here, and every single one is yours to play with for whatever you pay them. They listen to whoever pays them the most. And that. Is. It.”

The cheers and lewd laughter are audible even over the music. Some of the younger faces seem agog with the possibilities.

The other ‘dolls’ do their best to force smiles. But it’s okay that they don’t look happy. That’s not the priority of this particular game.

“Look at that one,” one of the women says. Twentysomething, fat. Pointing at Gen. “Is that a fucking albino?”

“Looks like it.”

“Poor thing probably couldn’t make any money at the circus.”

Her friends laugh.

One of them’s waving her over. People are pulling out their wallets.

Genevieve: Even a penny.

Sterling, you bastard. If he’d wanted to see her naked there are easier ways.

Gen doesn’t pretend to smile. She won’t put on a show for these people, not like that. It’s almost a relief to be called over immediately, to have the choice of her actions taken from her for the evening. The humiliation can begin immediately. At least it isn’t like a normal club where she’d need to approach them, debase herself before them, and hope they find her alluring enough to shove a dollar in her thong.

Gen cuts smoothly through the crowd, the first of the girls to be given work. She’d be proud if her stomach weren’t twisting. Her brows lift once she reaches the fat woman’s side.

Are there rules against talking? Bartering? No one had told her. That must mean there aren’t.

“Yes?”

Sterling: “Not even polite,” the fat lady snorts.

“She’s uncultured,” the man next to her says. He looks like her, but he must be anorexic, or have some other kind of eating disorder, because he’s bone-thin. “Probably never had an etiquette lesson in her life, poor little freak.”

“Let’s teach her some manners,” says the lady. She digs out a purse, rifles through it. There’s a lot of green in there. “What’s your name, honey, when you aren’t prancing around commando for petty cash?”

She draws out a penny, looking faintly surprised she found it. “Let’s start as cheap as you, hmm? Apologize for being rude, ugly, and indecent. Oh, and a mutant.”

“I don’t think she’s ugly,” the man opines.

“That’s because you’re a skeleton, Tristan,” the woman says exasperated.

Genevieve: She’s already thinking of ways to get him back for this.

“My sincerest apologies, madam, for offending you with my very nature. Uncouth beasts should not be allowed to parade in public. Shall I call the zoo?”

Sterling: Tristan giggles. It’s an ugly sound. “She’s funny.”

The lady sneers. “I didn’t hear you say anything about being ugly. Or indecent. Or a mutant. I want to hear you say you’re sorry for being such a hideous albino mutant whore. Or no penny for you.”

So this is how people act, when they don’t have to pretend to be nice.

Genevieve: Gen spares a look for Tristan. She favors him with a wink.

“I will allow you to give me a dollar per apology, if that appeases you. But it is my mother you must make apologize, truly, for it is from her I sprung to be the mutant you see before you. And perhaps my father is to blame as well, for teaching me moderation. How very alien that concept must be.”

Her eyes cut down the woman’s “figure.”

Sterling: “You can take the penny, you arrogant little whore, or you can refuse and leave.”

Her eyes are dangerous now. “And then you won’t make a red cent. And you’ll be just as much of a freak, but without any circus money.”

Those are the rules. They aren’t meant to support her needling the clientele.

Genevieve: Gen looses a breath. If she is kicked out for her attitude then all of this was for nothing, and the girl she sought to “save” from this fate will only be worse off. She bows her head. Lets the woman feel powerful.

“Yes ma’am, I thought only to provide entertainment to your friend, free of charge. I misspoke. I apologize.”

She pauses, but only briefly. Long enough to swallow her pride.

“I’m sorry that I am a mutant freak. I wish it were not so. I admit to being ugly, indecent, and arrogant.”

The words are stated flatly, to the woman’s shoes.

Sterling: “Good girl,” the lady purrs. “I saw you wink at my brother. Do you have a little crush, circus freak?”

“Marge, please,” Tristan mutters.

“We can make things interesting. I’ll give you… fifty dollars if you sit on his lap. He’s bony, but I think he’ll manage.”

Tristan sighs. He does not, however, argue.

Genevieve: “Yes, ma’am, the circus freak has a crush.”

Easier that way, to refer to herself as the freak. Shedding her dignity is less painful if she can pretend she’s talking about someone else.

Gen slides in front of Tristan, lowering herself onto his lap. It’s an odd pairing, the skeleton and the albino. She holds herself stiffly, keeping herself as distant from him as she can for all that she is perched on his lap.

Please don’t touch me.

Expectant eyes turn to Marge.

Sterling: But he does touch her. One hand on her thigh, the other on her ass. A faint squeeze. She could fry something in the grease from Tristan’s smile.

“Circus freak,” the fat lady says, “you dirty little girl. Do you like your outfit, or should I pay you to take it off? That way everybody would see what a freak you are even more clearly.”

She reaches out and traces a finger across the leotard’s chest. Her chest.

“Or are you going to ask us nicely to let you keep your whorish little leotard on?”

Marge pinches her nipple through the fabric, suddenly and sharply.

Genevieve: Her cheeks heat at the words and Tristan’s touch. Surely she can’t be made to strip; there must be rules, things they can’t make her do, guidelines, anything. She clings to that hope… then, with a lurch of her stomach, recalls the sorts of horrors she has seen here, the games with the guns and bullets and spray of blood across the walls.

No limits. Why would they come if there were limits?

Her mouth is half open to answer the question when the woman strikes. Instinct makes her pull back, as if to escape the pinching fingers, but Tristan’s bony form is behind her and she only ends up sprawled more thoroughly across his lap. Nowhere to go. She cries out in shock and pain, shaking her head back and forth as her fingers twist.

Ask nicely, she’d said. Gen grabs onto that, working the words out around the lump that has settled firmly in her throat.

“Please let me keep my whore outfit.”

Sterling: Marge stares at her. Looks her in the eye, one woman to another.

And then she lets out the laughter. Bright, cruel peals of it, every bit as sharp and evil as any high school girl’s.

“Oh, sweetie. You actually—” She laughs harder. “I’m sorry, your face, your voice—oh, I’m sorry.” Her tone says she isn’t. “I love this place. Let the poor girl up, Tristan. She’s in for a hard night.”

Another squeeze, and she’s thrust upwards, discarded. Tristan’s laughing, too.

“Oh, and here’s your money. Circus freak.”

She feels her leotard’s rear pulled away, stretched like a swimsuit, and before she can even process the violation she feels a bill slipped between her exposed buttocks and the outfit as it’s allowed to snap back against her flesh, the numeral fifty protruding from the garment’s rear. Like an obscene, sideways tail. The dismissal is as clear as it is brutish.

They’re done with her. For now.

Genevieve: Gen doesn’t know if—or even how—she should respond. The flush spreads from her cheeks to her neck and chest, turning her red beneath the lights of the lounge. She thanks the woman for her time less she think that Gen is ungrateful for the money, slapped even as it is so rudely against her ass.

Fifty dollars. And a penny, but maybe the woman forgot, and she isn’t going to go back for a penny. How much does the girl need? How much is dental work? How long until the night is over? How long before she can slink out without even her pride intact? Her eyes search the wall for a clock, though she knows she will find none. No clocks in casinos, even underground ones, nothing to remind people that there is life outside of these walls.

Gen slinks away, eyes on the floor. Perhaps if she does not see them wave at her she can safely ignore them.

Sterling: But they see her. She’s quickly called over, made to fetch drinks, to prep tables, ordered this way and that by men whose only purpose is to keep her running. She’s pulled into more laps. Called more names. “Slut” is popular, but so is “Casper.”

It’s not long before somebody gets bored and tells her to bare her breasts.

“And bounce around a little. Squeeze ’em together,” the drunk fiftysomething man says, brandishing several hundred dollar bills. His friends laugh indulgently, all eyes settled on the albino.

Some of the other girls have already been made to get naked. One is getting fucked on a table across the room. Another is merely being passed around a gaggle of men that grab at her with impunity.

But not the circus freak. They just want her to show some tit and shake.

GM: The grabbing is only the prelude.

At one table, a woman lies back-down over the surface while a man shits in her mouth. The stench is awful. The revulsion on her face is even worse. His friends hold her down as they chant, “Swallow! Swallow! Swallow!” She’ll get extra money if she swallows. The second man who’s burying his cock up her cunt seems almost an afterthought.

Another girl, also lying back-down over a table, is also tied down and getting fed water through a funnel in her mouth. That looks harmless enough, until Gen sees how much water. The nearby men have at least a dozen milk jugs. There is no possible way that much fluid can fit in her stomach, but it looks as if the men are doing their damndest to find out how much can. They say she’ll earn a thousand dollars for every jug she swallows. The ones who aren’t force-feeding her are also taking turns fucking her. They smack her grotesquely swollen belly like a drum as they thrust back and forth. Genny can hear the water sloshing around inside.

At another table, the men are preparing to waterboard another tied-down girl, except with booze instead of water. They laugh about how this is actually “boozeboarding.” They say how CIA agents break after only 14 seconds, so she’ll get a thousand dollars a second. Ready? Go.

The next table over, the patrons are playing Russian roulette. There’s some kind of betting pool going on. Gen isn’t sure exactly what, only that one of the girls is taking turns firing the revolver at every patron, in clockwise order around the table. Click. Empty. Click. Empty. Click. Empty. Click. Boom. A wide-eyed corpse slumps forward as the bullet takes him right in the forehead. The girl screams as blood gets everywhere. The men roar with laughter and pull off the newly-dead corpse’s pants. Its cock is still hard. They make the girl fuck it.

At still another table, every man has a switchblade and girl on their lap who they’re offering money in return for “pounds of flesh.” The more pieces of themselves the girls let the men cut off, the latter explain, the more the girls get paid. There’s also a pool going. Whichever girl gets cut up worst not only gets the money from that, she also gets all of the other girls’ money. So no matter how deeply the knife bites, they get nothing, if it doesn’t bite them deepest of all. It’s a race to the bottom. A race to hurt themselves worst. Gen watches the pale-faced and eventually red-spattered girls start with nicks along their wrists, then work their way up to teeth and nails and arm stabbings, then severed ears and fingertips and facial scarring, and then one deliriously crying and beeding girl begs her man to stab out her left eye when he promises her a jaw-dropping sum, because oh god she needs the money. The men laugh that unless someone else wants to lose both her eyes, they have a winner. Everything has its price.

The lounge is everything Sterling said.

Anything goes.

Genevieve: She doesn’t disappoint with the drinks, with the tables, with the side work that they make her do before the patrons snatch her up again. She’s quick. Smart. Everything gets to where it needs to go, nothing is spilled, someone even tips her for the trouble. She can almost pretend that she’s just a waitress.

Until they start to fondle her again. Until they pinch and pull and—

No. She’s not going to uncover herself, she isn’t.

But the threat is there. Do it or walk away with nothing.

She’s on his lap, made to straddle him only moments ago. If she does it here at least no one can see, right? No one but the drunk man. And his friends. And anyone looking at her. She almost shakes her head. Almost gets up, walks to the door.

Gen lifts a hand to slide the strap of her “outfit” down one shoulder, then the other. The movements are slow, hesitant. The material clings to her chest rather than fall of its own volition. Too much to ask for it to do her that courtesy; she can’t just pretend it fell. It takes conscious effort for her to slide it down her chest, face smarting in humiliation.

Pale. White. Alabaster. Exactly the ghostly color for which they call her.

The blood that Sterling gives to her keeps her young. No matter her real age, she has the tight, lean body of a woman in her twenties. So when she moves, they bounce, nipples stiff in the cool air of the lounge. She covers them when he tells her to press them together, as if that will preserve whatever is left of her modesty.

Her face turns away.

Sterling: Cheers and guffaws meet her display. Her hands are teased away from their position, and the drunkard leans forwards and actually runs his tongue across one breast, to the delight of his friends.

“Bet you taste like white chocolate,” one of them slurs at her as she’s assaulted. Then he tosses some money at her, for compensation.

The man who’s lap she straddles slides a hand up her leotard, tracing between her legs.

“Say you like it,” he says between tonguefuls of her breasts. “Scream it for us.”

Genevieve: The taunting comes from all around her. She has no safe place to rest her eyes, no friendly face that she can look upon in the crowd. Just this leering, drunk, desperate man. Her whole form is stiff; she presses her thighs together as if to stop his wandering hands, but his fingers find her anyway. She finally just closes her eyes. With her eyes closed they can’t hurt her, they can’t touch her, she can pretend that he is someone else.

Ever fiber of her being rebels against the idea of telling them she likes it. Even if she did, she isn’t that sort vocal creature.

She shakes her head back and forth.

Sterling: “You need to offer her money,” one of his friends says. Her assaulter traces her mons, bounces her like a child on his leg.

“A thousand bucks, you beautiful white cunt. Say you like it. C’mon. Say it. Nice and loud.”

His fingers poke at her entrance, but don’t penetrate. His tongue lashes against her nipples, stiffening them mercilessly.

“Say you like it, you silly little whore. Shout it. Or I’ll make you dance for us.”

They know she doesn’t want to. That’s what makes it so fun for them.

“And open your eyes, or I’ll make you say it again.”

“Say it.”

A flash. Somebody’s taken a picture of her.

Genevieve: Gen squirms on his lap. She starts to shake her head again, to deny him, but the offer of money holds her fast. She has to. A thousand dollars—that’s a lot of fucking dental work. Her nipples are so hard they ache under his continued assault. The threat of his fingers sliding into her, the threat of being forced to dance for them, the flash of the camera—it’s too much.

She wishes the floor would open up and swallow her whole.

“I like it,” she whispers. Her lips barely move, eyes still squeezed tightly shut. They open a second later.

Sterling: “Louder, sweetie,” he says. He bites, this time, gnawing at her nipples. “Shout what a slut you are.”

His fingers find her lips. They start to pull them apart.

Now or never.

Genevieve: Her head drops back when his teeth sink into her flesh, mouth opening in a wordless cry. Words fail her. She doesn’t know what to say, how to say it, what they want to hear.

“I’m a slut,” she manages, barely louder than before. Her eyes find the ceiling. “I’m—I like it, I do, I’m just a freak whore, a dirty slut.” She doesn’t even know what she’s saying. None of it sounds right; it’s the awkward confession of a girl who has never done this before. She presses her hands against her face to hide her shame.

Sterling: She feels his fingers on her lips. Holding her open.

Then they retreat.

“Good whore,” he says, and spits in her face.

They’re guffawing as she’s pushed off of his lap, the joke over, her leotard half-off.

Genevieve: She lands hard on the ground. No one steps in to help her up, no one offers a hand. Her eyes stay down as she rises, spit dripping down her face. She turns away with her ill-gotten cash and tugs the straps back into their rightful place to cover herself once more. She doesn’t thank him for the privilege.

Sterling: A hand on her shoulder. An arm around her waist. Somebody’s dabbing at the spit on her face with a handkerchief.

“Ah, Conscience. You can quit at any time.”

It’s him. Him, come to watch her degradation. Maybe even to participate.

Did he hear her say she liked it, a moment ago?

Genevieve: Gen jerks away from him, anger in her eyes.

“My name,” she hisses at him, “is Genevieve.”

She stalks off.

Sterling: He’s with her, keeping pace easily. “So indignant! Would you prefer I treat you cruelly, or lie? Your strength of spirit makes you beautiful, Gen. I want to share that beauty. To celebrate it.”

He presses a money clip into her hands.

“Now, are you mine or not? Will you endure these humiliations, or leave?”

Genevieve: Gen halts once the money touches her hand. She looks down at it, then up at him. She plasters on a smile, sickly sweet; she’s never smiled for him, not like this.

“Shall I simper for you, sir? Is there a dog in a corner somewhere you’d like me to fuck?”

Sterling: “No. I just want you to take off your leotard and follow me to the stage.”

He says it so easily. So smoothly.

“Or you can leave here, and abandon your foolish quest to do the right thing.”

Genevieve: Naked. On stage. All eyes on her. Even if they’re not inclined to look he’ll make them look, make them watch, make them see.

He can’t. He can’t do that to her.

Her stomach has fallen to her feet. She is not sure if it will ever right itself. The false smile disappears as quickly as it came, and the eyes that look to him now are full of apprehension.

“Don’t,” she whispers, shaking her head, “don’t make me. Not that.” She presses the money back toward him, as if that will make this all disappear.

Sterling: “I’ll be with you,” he says. “Holding you. Protecting you. But I won’t make you do anything.”

He doesn’t take the money back.

“You can stop anytime, Gen. If you only silence your conscience.”

“I’ll even take your memories, if you like.”

Genevieve: That’s what he wants, isn’t it? For her to be as heartless and misguided as him.

She won’t. She won’t be like him. She will never be like him.

She strips. The silver leotard comes off in one fluid motion, dropping down her body, down her legs, to pool around her heels. The look she gives him could melt steel.

Sterling: He beams.

He takes her hand.

He leads her through the lounge, as people whistle and catcall—but they do not presume to approach. Not with him by her side.

He leads her, naked and white, onto the stage, his arm around her bare waist.

“Brave, bare Gen,” he whispers without moving his lips. “Beautiful.”

Genevieve: I hate you, she thinks back, and she hopes that he can hear it.

Sterling: Her heels make her naked body taller. Tall enough that he has to stretch slightly to kiss her on the forehead. She can feel the tenderness in the motion. His twisted, bizarre love.

Eyes pivot as they take the stage, the man with the silver smile and his naked, stark-white Conscience.

And then he’s twirling her, and they’re dancing.

He’s dancing with her, in public, like she’s his queen. Like he does with his paramour, sometimes.

Except she’s naked.

But nobody laughs as they dance.

Nobody jeers.

Genevieve: Their gazes are heavy, all the same. She cannot forget they are there.

That they can see.

Her. All of her. Exposed.

Sterling: He twirls her for them. Bares her front, her back. Pivots and bends her backwards.

But he isn’t just exposing her. He’s… displaying her. Like he would a piece of art. A prized possession.

He strokes between her legs, and his hands move with impossible speed over her body. Tweaking. Teasing.

Arousing.

She can see Caprese in the crowd. Heckle, too. Faces she knows. That know her.

They look awestruck.

Genevieve: It can’t be her they’re looking at. It has to be him. His speed, his grace; the fact that he twirls so effortlessly across the stage with the help.

She doesn’t look. Can’t look. Can’t bear the sight of the crowd, knowing that they’re looking at her, that there will be not a single pair of eyes in this city who doesn’t see her next and wonder at what she looks like in the lounge, on her knees, spread open, poked and prodded and pulled until she finally snaps.

She does not dare close her eyes. She keeps them on him, as if there is no world except for him, as if they are not on a stage. Her body quivers at his touch, bending, arching, spinning; she is just an extension of his will.

Sterling: But she keeps pace with him. Complements him so effortlessly.

He’s kissing her, suddenly, full on the lips, kissing her and his Blood inside her is screaming, as his hands roam her body and start to play.

“Beautiful,” he whispers, as he pushes her buttons and makes her come undone, onstage.

Next to him.

Genevieve: He can’t be.

It’s against the rules.

There’s no kissing in the masked city.

She’s a slave, she’s beneath him, she’s—

But he is. He is kissing her. In front of everyone. They can all see his hands on her. Hear the breath leave her body as he touches, strokes, displays. Smell the molten liquid that makes her slick to his touch. Her tightly coiled control rips itself apart; her seams split, exposing the truth, her truth, and leaves her a quivering, heaving mess of a woman with nothing to lose, whose cries split the air when he sends her over the edge. She comes apart in his arms. The rest of the world doesn’t matter. Not now.

Not ever.


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Story Thirteen, Celia IX

“Feeling lucky?”
Gunner


Wednesday night, 16 March 2016, PM

GM: The pair lie upon the floor in one another’s arms. Their hair and makeup is mussed, despite their best efforts, but Josua doesn’t seem to care. Not if he may hold the goddess close—or rather, be held by her, his head resting just below her breasts, her hands stroking his hair. He rubs his hairless legs against Jade’s, shivering at the sensation.

“We’re sex bombs. You know that? Just look at us. We’re primed and ready to explode.”

“And we just did.”

Celia: “We just did,” she agrees. Her fingers run through the silky smooth strands of the dead girl’s hair. What had her name been? Brianna? Bree? Brittany? She thinks it might have been a B, but she doesn’t recall ever asking. Just draining her, swallowing every last drop, sinking into the warmth of blood and ecstasy.

Literal ecstasy.

God, what a night.

Jade’s lipstick does not bleed, but Joy’s had. So had some of the power around her eyes, and the wings she’d been given look a little… off-kilter. It will be a quick touch up to set it right, made faster still by the gifts of her clan. In a moment, though. Now, she wants to enjoy the weight of Joy pressed against her, the feel of those silken strands.

“A bit premature,” she says idly, “we could have ensnared a whole slew of mortals, brought them back here to worship.”

She touches a finger to Joy’s lips.

“I’ll see you on your knees yet, darling.”

GM: “Oh, yes, mistress,” purrs Joy, nuzzling her belly. “We both want to see me suck a whole army’s worth of cocks. These lips were made for cocks.”

Celia: “They make gags, did you know, that keep your mouth open. O-ring gags, they’re called. You’d just have to kneel there and take it while they fuck your face if I got you one of those. Strap you down. Let men fill you from both ends.”

“You’re such a fuckable little bitch.”

GM: “I really am. I dress like such a slut, too. I can’t even leave my dressing room without fucking someone. I’d probably take the entire casino in my mouth and up my ass if I tottered out of here.”

“I wouldn’t even get to feed, with an o-ring gag. I wouldn’t even be a real lick. I’d just be a piece of ass.”

Celia: That’s all she is now. A piece of ass. Jade’s piece. Jade’s creation.

Jade shifts, thighs spreading to either side of Joy’s hips. She uses the weight of her body to pin the slut down, reaching for the bag of cosmetics. A few tweaks and her face is set to rights again.

“Next time,” she tells Joy. “Next time, I’ll let them bend you over like the whore that you are and stick as many cocks in you as they like. Now, though, we have a game to play.”

GM: Joy beams and bats her lashes under the makeup artist’s touch.

“We do. I haven’t even sucked any cocks yet, but I just want to say how educational this has been, and how much better I understand women now. I’m just as promiscuous as I was as Josua, but when I’m Joy I’m this absolutely shameless, cock-ravenous slut who’ll spread her legs the moment someone looks at her. It’s so illuminating to see myself that way.”

“I’m just such a slut.”

Celia: She longs for a cock again. She’d make Joy swallow it.

“Such a slut,” Jade agrees. She rises, towering over the girl on her back. On her back, like sluts should be. Back or knees; that’s where they belong.

Jade fixes her appearance in the mirror. Only when she’s done does she return her attention to Joy the slut.

“I suppose it would raise too many questions to make you crawl after me. Pity. You look good on your knees.”

Celia: All the same, a snap of her fingers summons Joy after her as she strides from the cabin.

There are more people yet to admire her work.

GM: Joy dutifully licks her shoes as she fixes her face, running a longing tongue up and down the straps and heels.

“Are we going to see Marcel, mistress?” asks Joy, her own heels clicking after Jade.

Celia: “Is it time already?”

GM: “We have some time left, mistress.”
“I could really lick your shoes, get them up to polish.”

Celia: “Mm,” Jade hums, finally turning to look at her, “and how would your lover feel if he found you with your tongue on my shoes?”

GM: “He’d know this is where an enormous, completely shameless slut like me belongs. But he’d be too polite to say it.”

Celia: “Do my heels need shining?” Jade glances down at them. “Did you miss a spot earlier?”

GM: “Oh I bet I did, mistress, I was probably too busy imagining them as cocks down my throat to do the job properly.”
“Or you could take me out in front of the casino guests and show them what a complete slut I am.”

Celia: Jade taps the roof of her mouth with her tongue, tutting at the excuse.

“If he finds cause to be displeased with my appearance because of your oversight, I’ll see to it that the next man who touches you splits you open.”

She knows just the one.

“Come, Joy. Let’s give them a show.”

GM: “It’s impossible for anyone to be displeased by your appearance, mistress. Just my polishing job. I hope he is, though. Getting split open is just what a hungry slut like me gets wet thinking about,” giggles Joy.

She clicks along after Jade to the main gambling hall, where the pair are assailed by a riot of sounds, smells, and scintillating colors. The first thing they notice is the massive array of slot machines with blinking lights, whirring sirens, and tokens clattering into the metal payout drawers. Gold and bright primary colors glint excitedly everywhere. Rowdy jazz music plays from speakers and a live band. Crowds of clapping, exclaiming, shouting people are clustered around the array of games, including three-card poker, blackjack, roulette, craps, Mississippi Stud, and Ultimate Texas Hold’em—and the ever-present slot machines that make up the most of any casino’s revenue. An all-you-can-eat Creole/Caribbean-themed buffet and bar is set up in the corner, along with the band. Cocktail waitresses weave their way through the lively crowds while suited croupiers smartly deal out cards.

Celia: She’d been too wrapped up in Josua’s embrace to pay much attention to her surroundings last time. Now, though, freed from the blessing of her clan, Jade sweeps her eyes around the casino. Larger than she had anticipated for it being on a boat. Nicer, too; she’d been picturing more of the same from the racino.

She ignores the slot machines entirely—she has had no luck there and her particular skills suit her better at the tables where she plays against other patrons rather than the house. Hold ’Em, specifically, though she doubts the prince will take kindly to her robbing his players blind.

“What’s your poison?” she asks Joy. “Craps is always a crowd favorite. Maybe someone will let you blow on their dice.” High energy around a craps table.

And half the players don’t understand the rules, just throw their chips onto numbers and hope for the best.

GM: “Craps sounds perfect, mistress. I’ll lick those dice right in front of them, totally shameless,” giggles Joy.

Celia: “I bet you could blow someone under the table. No cameras down there.”

GM: “I’d want a camera to capture that, though.”

Celia: “Not some stern-faced security guard that drags you before your mistress and asks what you think you’re doing sucking a cock without permission?”

GM: “The guards would all want me to blow them too. And you’d say yes, a slut like me was born to swallow dicks down her mouth.”

Celia: “If I had a cock,” Jade murmurs in her ear as they wind through the floor of breathers, “I’d make you kneel under the table no matter where I was with it in your mouth at all times. I’d let other people take a turn for a red chip. You would work your way around the table, swallowing load after load, until I told you to stop.”

GM: Joy gives another girlishly delighted giggle. “Why don’t we do that, mistress? I can just suck the heel of your shoe, instead of your cock.”
“See how many red chips you can pick up.”

Celia: “Your friend won’t mind the spectacle?”

GM: “Would you, mistress? If it were your casino?”

Celia: Probably.

She looks around to get the measure of the typical patron, wondering how far she can push this.

GM: New Orleans isn’t Vegas, and the Alystra isn’t Harrah’s. They look mostly middle-class. “The richer patrons usually go to the baccarat lounge upstairs,” Joy adds.

Celia: She’s less interested in their wallets than she is the sort of person they are. The kind who don’t bat an eye at a BJ under the table? How many other hookers are here this evening? Jade scans the crowd.

GM: This place seems higher-class than Harrah’s.

Which is to say, the hookers are more discrete, and any giving under-the-table blowjobs are being pretty careful not to get caught.

Celia: Jade won’t be the one to cause a scene within someone else’s territory, tempting though it is. She shakes her head at Joy’s insistence.

GM: Joy makes a pouty face. “We’re a pair of sneaky girls, aren’t we?”

Celia: Jade can’t help but smirk.

“Are you trying to get me kicked out so you can hog him to yourself? That’s rude, pet.”

“That makes you a selfish little slut.”

GM: “You need a self to be selfish, mistress. Joy is just an extension of Jade. She’s a piece of Jade’s art.”

“I’m definitely a slut, though.”

Celia: “The thing about sneaking, you know, is that in order to do so you have to be ordinary. Nothing about us is ordinary. We turn heads. We want people to look at us.”

The look she gives Joy dares her to disagree.

She casts another appraising eye around the room, looking for a likely target. Someone with whom Joy can get down and dirty like she wants to. Someone who might even pay for the pleasure of it, turning Joy into the literal whore that Jade knows she is.

And there they are, the sort of mark that Jade searches for. Seven of them at a Hold ‘Em table with their leisure suits or their t-shirts paired with jeans and their stacks of chips. Casually dressed, but to the trained eye—her eye—they scream what they are. Wealthy. Experienced. She pegs the short, dumpy, dark-haired one as a pro player. The thin, twitchy one as a dealer or bookie, maybe both. The old one as a retired… something. Something that hardened him, that makes him slow to smile, but she knows with certainty that it isn’t his pension or his 401k that he’s gambling away this evening. A larger one, black, with a silver watch on his wrist. Blancpain. She can see it from here; despite the loose jeans and too-large shirt, he’s a man of means. And a virgin. She can tell by the way he smiles at the cocktail waitress in her little corset and skirt, by the way he laughs too long and too loudly at her joke, by the way he hands her an extra green chip when she drops off the drink and touches a hand to his shoulder.

Clever girl.

Jade watches the play from the corner of her eye as she approaches the cage to exchange her cash, handing over five crisp bills to receive a plastic tray full of red and white. Jade thanks the cashier with a smile and moves off, tugging Joy with her. A word to the hostess and the two girls are on their way to the table.

“Stand behind me,” Jade murmurs to Joy, “and work out that knot in my shoulder. We’ll see where it goes from there.”

There’s no such knot. Jade’s body is flawless.

“Evening, boys,” she says to the assembled men as she takes the final seat, just in time to catch the little blind. She sets down two white chips and waits for the cards, lifting just the corners to check them.

GM: Joy murmurs for Jade to appear normally in the cameras. Marcel’s people are trained to look for players who don’t show up normally, and will automatically assume they are cheating.

There may not be a knot in her shoulders, but Joy relishes touching them all the same. Very clearly so. She flashes the other players a wide smile as she works her hands back and forth over Jade’s skin. Both girls draw immediate looks from everybody. Some of the players try to look less smitten than others. But all of them must be.

How can they not be, to play alongside a goddess and her creation?

The short, dumpy man smirks between the pair of them. He looks pretty young. “Evening, lovelies. Feeling lucky?”

The older one grunts, though his stare lingers on Jade. Is it lust?

Mr. Blancpain them both and repeats, “Evening, lovelies,” with a wide smile.

Definitely virgin, to be repeating the other guy’s greeting.

Joy eyes all three, and the others too, as if deciding who to blow.

Or blow first.

The dealer, meanwhile, deals cards. Jade gets a nine and six of spades.

Celia: Jade inclines her head toward the dealer, the man she pegged as the pro player (now reconsidering, since she’s never known a pro player to talk about “luck” at a poker table when they all mostly believe it’s a game of skill), and the virgin. She follows Joy’s advice to make sure that she appears normal to the cameras; she’s had so much practice with it, after all.

“Brought my darling charm with me,” she says all the same, making a vague gesture toward Joy, “how could I not?”

Not a great start to her night with that hand, but six and nine are rather auspicious for her, aren’t they? Blatantly sexual and all that; maybe she’ll catch a straight. She’s already in for two. She’ll call the five and limp in if the table lets her.

But when the betting comes back around and the short man raises by $150, Jade simply folds her hand.

GM: There’s three cards on the table now. Seven of clubs, ten of clubs, three of hearts.

“Good luck charm might work better than a darling charm,” says the short man.

“Oh, a darling charm can work for a lot of things,” smiles Josua, still working Jade’s shoulder.

The virgin’s stare lingers on them both.

The fourth card is an eight of diamonds. Another man folds. The others check. The short man raises another $50.

The fifth card is a jack of diamonds. Everyone reveals their hands. The short man has the ace of hearts and a six of clubs. The chips all go to him.

“I don’t believe that poker’s a game of skill,” he says as he collects his chips.

The older man looks at him like he’s stupid.

“If luck is on your side, it doesn’t matter how good or bad you are.”

“Should I suck his cock?” Joy murmurs in Jade’s ear.

Celia: The words draw a peal of laughter from Jade. She lifts a hand to cover her mouth, and if anyone glances her way she simply shakes her head. Amusement dances in her eyes.

He’s one of those.

The button moves to the left and Jade is now the big blind. She sets down her red chip before the cards ever pass to her.

“Luck,” she says with a faint smile, “or a large stack to buy the pot.”

She does not dignify Joy’s question with a response. It’s a clear no.

GM: She gets the ace of clubs and the ace of spades.

One man calls.

The short man just smiles and raises another $150.

The virgin calls.

The older man folds.

One man folds. Another calls too.

Celia: Pocket aces? There’s no hesitation. Jade calls.

GM: Everyone plays through the hand as the dealer deals his cards. There are some more calls, checks, and folds, but two aces make the hand a largely foregone conclusion. When all the cards are laid out, and everyone reveals their hands, the short man had a king and queen. A great hand, but not good enough. The virgin and the others didn’t even venture higher than numbered man.

The chips go to Jade.

“Luck’s on your side this time,” the short man says breazily.

The old man snorts. “I’da raised earlier.”

Celia: Jade stacks her winnings in front of her, one brow arched at the old man’s comments. She’d gone all in by the end of it.

“Sure,” she says, “and chased everyone off the hand.” Which means less winnings, but Jade won’t be so crass as to discuss money at the poker table. She just smiles.

“I s’pose my girl is a good luck charm after all.”

GM: “Yeah,” says the virgin, “she’s definitely a good luck charm!”

“There are places you can just buy it, kid,” says the old man with another snort.

Celia: “A cute, lucky charm,” Jade agrees. She blatantly eyes him. “You want to borrow her?”

GM: The short man grins. “I believe in luck, but not lucky charms. Though she’s clearly charmed the table.”

There’s nothing at all subtle about the hungry smile Joy flashes the virgin.

“You sure you won’t need her luck?” the virgins asks with a mildly forced-sounding chuckle.

Celia: “I can come off her for a hand or two. Just make it worth my time.”

“Those hands of hers are magic.”

GM: Joy gives a bimbo-ish giggle and touches her fingertips to her lips. Her eyes don’t leave the virgin. She doesn’t say anything. Just plays the dumb bimbo on Jade’s arm.

“Okay then, you bet I will,” the virgin readily agrees.

Celia: Jade waves a hand at Joy.

“Go on then, dollface.”

“Make the man happy.”

GM: Joy gives a delighted giggle and starts to work her hands up and down the man’s shoulders. She’s very intimate in her touch. She leans in close so her hair brushes against his shoulders, but she doesn’t stay still. Sometimes her breasts brush against him. Sometimes she breathes half-audible sultry-sounding things in his ears. Jade is pretty sure she fondles his dick under the table, too.

Far from being a good luck charm, the virgin is flustered to the point he can barely think straight. He places big bets and raises as often as he can, just to look big and bold when Joy coyly whispers what a big pair he has.

The cocktail waitress gives Joy a dirty look when she comes by again.

Celia: As if Joy or Jade care about the dirty looks given to them by the kine who carry drinks for a living.

Maybe the others at the table don’t notice the way that Joy’s hands slip beneath the table, but Jade, seated right next to the virgin, hears the sudden intake of his breath when Joy’s hands find the spot where he’s really tense. She smirks and plays her hand, taking advantage of his distraction to force him into a large bet that nets her half his stack.

Joy carries on while Jade plays with the boys, making idle chitchat as the time passes. True to his word, the short, dumpy guy who believes in Lady Luck seems to have a knack for getting exactly what he needs. Lucky plays fast and loose with his chips as if he knows that she’s smiling down on him, and more than once he flips his cards to show something Jade wouldn’t have kept—lower, off suit—but still manages to win the pot. One hand he forces another player all in and they reveal their hands; it looks like the other guy has him beat until the dealer lays out the last card and the gentleman who loses mutters angrily about “catching the nuts on the river” before he stalks from the table. Jade winks at Lucky as they watch him go.

There’s always someone waiting to take the empty seat. Players come and go as the cards are dealt and chips change hands. Lucky tips the dealer well when she rotates out to make room for one of her coworkers.

By the time Jade and Joy start thinking that they should get going to meet Marcel, Lucky has the rest of the table beat in stack height. Jade isn’t so crass as to count her money at the table (or reference the song), but she’s at least doubled her initial investment and is pretty secure with her “second place” earnings.

GM: The virgin tries to stay attached to Joy. He offers to buy her drinks. “Or food. Or whatever you want.”

Joy gives a delighted-sounding giggle and glances Jade’s way as if for permission.

Lucky grins at both ladies as the game concludes and walks over to a Mississippi Stud table. He promptly starts winning at that too.

Jade sees the pit boss and several guards and floormen all watching him now.

The eye in the sky, of course, is always watching.

Celia: Jade gives Joy and the virgin a long look, then finally nods her head. Of course Joy can play with her new toy. She pulls Joy close as she starts stacking chips on the rack to cash out, leaning in to whisper in her ear.

“You are going to take your new friend into a private, secluded area and blow his mind. Get on your knees. Unzip him. And suck his cock like the fuckable little faggot I’ve turned you into.” She touches a hand to Joy’s cheek, thumb tracing her lips. “Make sure you swallow.”

GM: Joy gives another bimbo-ish giggle.

“Yes, ma’am. Right on my knees, like I’m meant for. I’ll throw up in front of you, so you can be double sure.” She hungrily licks her lips. “Unless you’d like to watch?”

Lucky, meanwhile, soon wins a jackpot. He’s got so many chips.

Celia: He has to be doing something. No one is that lucky. And he hadn’t played well enough for her to think that he’s some sort of idiot savant.

Jade shakes her head at Joy, nodding for her to enjoy the virgin on her own. She’s tempted—she’d like to watch Joy be a slut—but the intrigue surrounding Lucky simply calls to her.

It’s not natural.

What is it?

It reminds her, frankly, of her Uncle Seb and his uncanny ability to win whatever his little heart desires. Jade watches from nearby to see if she can suss out his trick.

GM: Joy takes the virgin by the hand, rubs her hips against his flank, and makes off with him, promising to “blow your mind, sweetheart.” She’s all giggles and sly (or obvious) touches, constantly in motion, constantly teasing and caressing and flirting. The man stammers is assent as if unable to believe this is happening.

Lucky doesn’t seem to be palming cards or leveraging sleight of hand. If the dealers are in on it, they’re very good actors, because they’re watching him just as suspiciously. Jade can’t see anything untoward in what he’s doing.

Beyond the fact that he just keeps winning.

Or that he doesn’t seem to care how intently the casino is watching. He can’t possibly be unaware.

Celia: He’s still winning by the time the cashier finishes with her chips. Jade finally slides closer.

“You weren’t kidding.”

GM: “I was born lucky,” he replies breezily.

He counts his many, many winnings.

“Want to hit the slots?”

Celia: “You lucky there, too?” She sounds amused, but walks with him.

GM: He walks up to one, feeds in a coin, and pulls the lever. Three bananas turn up. Coins pour out.

“I’m lucky everywhere,” he grins.

“Want some of those? I can just get more.”

He indicates the coins.

Every employee eye in the casino is on him now.

Celia: “Lucky everywhere?” Jade eyes him as the coins pour out of the machine. It’s the sort of thing she’s only seen happen in movies. “How do I get some of that to rub off on me?”

GM: “Honestly?” smirks the kid. “You’re either born lucky or you’re not. Good things happen around me, though. Stick around and some will probably happen to you.”

Celia: “You mean like I’ll get to watch the security guys use your face as a punching bag?”

GM: His smirk doesn’t fade. “Didn’t I just say I was lucky at everything?”

Celia: “Even love?”

GM: “Yeah, I’ve banged a ton of girls.”

“Everyone likes a winner.”

Celia: “So you use your luck to rob casinos blind and get into girls’ pants.”

GM: “Yep. Can you think of a better use?”

Celia: Several.

“Probably. But I see the appeal.” Since he has none of his own.

GM: Lucky pulls the levers for a few more slots. He wins at every one.

“Hey, can I get a bag for all this?” he asks an employee.

“Of course, sir,” comes a very frosty response.

The pit boss and several security guards walk up to him.

“You need to come with us, sir.”

“Oh, sure,” he says absently. “Bag first, okay?”

Celia: Jade does that thing she does sometimes, the one that makes people like her and listen to her as if she has any right to be there. She says she wants to tag along and bats her lashes even though it isn’t strictly necessary.

GM: All of the employees prove more than amenable to her company.

“You’ll get your money from us, sir,” says the pit boss.

“Okay, that works,” shrugs Lucky.

Everyone goes back to what looks like the manager’s office. The manager is a bearded, balding, middle-aged man in a dark suit who does not look at all happy to see Lucky and Jade across from his desk.

“So,” he says, spreading his hands.

“You think we’re fucking idiots?”

“I’m just lucky. That’s all,” grins Lucky.

“You’re lucky,” says the manager.

“Yep,” says Lucky.

“You just won the privilege to play a very exclusive game with us, Gunner. You’re the only guy in the casino who gets to play it.”

“Really?” asks Gunner. He’s leaning back in his seat and not looking at the man anymore. He’s staring up at the eye in the sky.

The manager follows his gaze to the camera with a thin smile. “Yes, Gunner, we’re watching here.”

“We’re watching everywhere.”

Celia: Jade wants to play, too.

GM: “So what’s the game?” smiles Gunner, finally looking back at the man.

“We take turns beating your ass until you tell us why you’re so lucky,” says the manager with a very nasty smile. One of the guards grabs Gunner’s chair, spins it around, and throws a punch at him.

The man trips over his own feet and crashes flat on his face.

Celia: Oh.

Oh.

He’s actually lucky in all things.

GM: Gunner clucks his tongue.

“So, can I have my money now?”

Celia: What does lucky blood taste like? If she drinks from him, will she absorb some of that?

She doesn’t know, but she wants to find out.

GM: The manager rises from his seat.

The ceiling fan suddenly snaps off and crashes into him. The man goes down in a heap behind his desk.

Gunner looks at the other guard, who’s pulled a gun.

“Hey, are you allowed to have those?”

The man squeezes the trigger. The explosively loud bullet ricochets off the wall and hits him in the knee. He goes down in a screaming, bleeding heap.

“So, should I go to the cage?” Gunner asks, removing his hands from his ears. He covered them just in time.

“You… idiot…” rasps the manager’s voice from below his desk, “when our boss gets back…”

Jade smells blood from there.

“So he’s not here? Wow, lucky me,” smiles Gunner.

He looks at Jade. “Wanna visit the cage? I don’t think these guys actually have my money.”

“It’ll turn up, though.”

He peers down at the motionless first guard.

“Oh, wow. I think he actually knocked himself out. What a fucking clutz.”

Celia: Jade had nothing to do with this, but somehow she feels like Marcel is going to find a way to blame her for it. Maybe if she keeps tabs on the lucky guy he won’t have a reason to.

“How deliciously illuminating. I think you’re right that they don’t have your money; shall we?” She rises, stepping neatly over the prone man to move toward the door.

GM: The bleeding, sweating man on the grasps for his gun.

Gunner shakes his head at him.

“That’s a really bad idea.”

He kicks the gun away, slips an arm around Jade’s waist, and walks out with her.

“Believe me now?”

Celia: “You certainly caught my attention, and that’s lucky in and of itself.” She’s a shameless flatterer.

Of herself.

GM: Gunner laughs. “You wouldn’t be here with me if it wasn’t.”

Celia: “Does that mean anything we do together is bound to succeed?”

GM: “Basically, yeah.”

Celia: She can think of so many fun uses for a lucky friend.

Jade smiles winningly up at him as they traverse the floor and head to the cage, already running through a handful of scenarios.

Maybe she’ll keep him.

GM: Gunner smiles back and squeezes her ass. He walks up to the cage and asks for his winnings. The man on the inside saw him go off with the pit boss. Everyone saw him. He hands over the money in a bag.

Celia: “We should make you really lucky,” she murmurs into his ear as he collects his winnings.

GM: “Huh, I think the pit boss ran off,” says Gunner, striding towards the exit with her.

“How do you figure there?” he asks, amused.

“You wouldn’t believe some of the things that’ve happened to me.”

Celia: “No?”

“Tell me.”

GM: “Let me show you.”

Celia: “Show me?”

GM: The two walks down the riverboat casino’s ramp. Gunner walks dead into traffic, spreads his arms, and falls over onto the road like he’s doing a snow angel.

Traffic screams and blares. Tires squeal. Cars furiously honk. Drivers shout from their windows. Gunner just lies there.

More cars madly careen past. Horns ceaselessly blare. Some tires miss him by bare inches.

He just lies there. Untouched.

Celia: Jade waits safely on the sidewalk.

“That’s hardly proof,” she calls out to him, “since they’d avoid hitting you anyway.”

GM: Gunner gets up, takes his time dusting himself off, and walks back as passing drivers scream after him.

“We’re pretty past proof.”

“I’m invincible. I don’t think there’s anything that can actually hurt me.”

“Believe me, I’ve tested it. I’ve jumped off buildings. Tried to shoot myself with a gun. OD’d on drugs.”

“I think I’m some kind of god or something.”

Celia: “A god,” she repeats, amused.

GM: “You got a better name?”

Celia: “I don’t know if I believe you, is all. If you jumped into a bathtub with a toaster are you telling me that you wouldn’t die?”

GM: “Yep.”

Celia: “You’ve never gotten sick? Broken a bone?”

GM: “Nope.”

Celia: “Have you ever actually been sad?”

“Lost your keys?”

“Been broken up with?”

GM: “Oh, yeah. But I always find someone new.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever lost my keys.”

Celia: “Hm.” Jade eyes him. “Did you grow up in New Orleans? I can’t imagine you’ve been able to hit the casinos here without getting caught for that long.”

GM: He just laughs. “Get caught and… what?”

Celia: “They’d ban you, wouldn’t they?”

GM: “You think that’d stop me?”

“But no, I’m not from here. New Orleans was just a place I wanted to visit.”

Celia: “You in town for a while?”

GM: “Haven’t decided. Long as I have fun.”

“Where do you want to go bang?”

Celia: “My cabin is on the boat.” Jade eyes him. “Think you’re lucky enough to get out twice without the guards catching you?”

GM: “Sure am. You work for the owner or something?”

Celia: “His lover. I guess we’ll see if you can win me over.”

GM: He shrugs. “I will or I won’t. Either way, I’ll end up in someone’s bed.”

“I can say basically whatever I want to girls. If I really want pussy, some will fall into my lap.”

Celia: “Funny,” she says as they head back inside, “I have the same effect on men.”

GM: “It’s probably what you’re best at.” Gunner follows her in. Things have seemingly gone back to normal in the casino, though employees immediately start watching him. He’s seemingly unconcerned.

Celia: “Mmm,” Jade muses, watching the guards watch them. She winks at one. “You’re probably right. I suppose you’ll have to let me know how I compare to the bevy of other beautiful women who throw themselves at you.”

Where had Joy gotten to? Jade scans the casino floor as they go.

GM: Joy’s back at another table, shamelessly flirting with several men at once. The slut must have sucked off the virgin already.

Celia: Jade wiggles her fingers at the girl in a sort of “come hither” motion.

“You don’t mind sharing, do you?” she asks her would-be companion.

How lucky: two gorgeous girls and one man.

GM: Joy murmurs something to the men, fondles both of their dicks, and saunters on over.

“Just my luck,” grins Gunner.

Celia: “Look what I found,” Jade says to Joy, taking her by the arm, “the luckiest guy in the city.”

“And he’s all ours tonight.”

GM: “Lucky us,” giggles Joy.

“You don’t know the half of it,” smirks Gunner. “I’m Gunner.”

“I’m Joy. I’m a slut,” beams Joy.

“Wow, I really am lucky,” says Gunner.

Celia: “She gives great head,” Jade offers.

“Spends a lot of time on her knees, you see.”

GM: “I was born to be on my knees,” nods Joy. “I’ve already sucked off one guy tonight and I’m hungry for more.”

Celia: “And did he tell you how amazing you are with that pretty little mouth of yours?”

GM: “Oh yes, mistress, he was ecstatic. He blew the biggest load into my mouth and I swallowed it all.” Joy giggles again and brushes against Gunner, all smiles and tender caresses. “But enough talking, talking isn’t what my mouth is for. Getting dicks crammed into it is what my mouth is for. If I’m talking and not sucking a dick, something is really wrong.”

“She your sub or something?” Gunner asks Jade, amused.

He’s already very, very hard, though. Joy smiles and strokes his crotch.

Celia: “She’s my pet,” Jade tells him. “If she’s good tonight she gets a little collar and everything. Isn’t that right, sweetling?”

GM: “That’s right, mistress. You can lead me around on a little leash and everything,” beams Joy.

Celia: “Only if she’s a good girl,” Jade says to Lucky. “Otherwise she gets the boot. You’ll have to let me know how she compares, too. Lucky was just telling me about all the women who throw themselves at him because he’s such a lucky guy. I don’t think any of them were as cute as us, though.”

GM: “Or as eager,” grins Gunner. “Lead the way, ladies.”

Celia: Jade leads the way toward Joy’s cabin, giving the girl a look as if to ask if it’s okay that they take Lucky back there.

GM: She nods, but also taps her canines, shakes her head, and mouths ‘permission.’

Celia: Jade knows the rules, but she appreciates the warning regardless. She gives a tiny nod and a shrug in response; maybe she’ll sip from Joy once she’s had a taste to see if they both get lucky from the kine’s blood.

It doesn’t take long to reach the cabin. Jade has Joy let them in and closes the door behind the three of them.

She doesn’t lock it, just in case Joy’s other lover decides he wants to get in on the action with Lucky.

GM: Gunner pushes them both onto the bed and starts hungrily pulling off the girls’ clothes.

Joy goes straight for his cock.

Celia: There’s not much to pull off beneath Jade’s dress; when the material clings so soundly to her body she doesn’t bother wearing anything beneath it to break up the clean lines. She lays Gunner out on the bed while Joy toys with him and searches briefly for the handcuffs to bind his wrists to the posters.

GM: “Ooh, nothing underneath,” Gunner grins. He starts to pleasure her breasts with his mouth while Joy sucks his cock. He doesn’t fight, though, when Jade cuffs him to the bed. Just grins.

After all, can they keep him there if he really wants to leave?

Celia: They’ll find out shortly, won’t they?

But why would he want to leave?

He’s got a girl on his knees for him.

And another one stretched above where he’s sprawled out on his back, teasing him by letting him kiss her mouth, then her neck, then her nipples, then finally positioning herself over his face so he can use his tongue between her legs while Joy takes him into her mouth.

GM: Gunner licks, nips, and tugs Jade’s nipples, burying his face against her breasts. He hungrily eats out her pussy and sounds like he’s thoroughly enjoying himself from the way Joy sucks his cock. Maybe she’s just great at blowjobs.

But Jade can smell the blood in her mouth.

It’s like nothing she’s smelled before. Somehow… electric.

Celia: She wants it. It isn’t fair that Joy gets to take his blood when Jade was the one to lure him back here. Joy hadn’t done that. She’d gone off to fuck the virgin and Jade had followed Gunner and stayed near his side and brought him back to the ship. Even his attention to her clit with his tongue doesn’t distract her from the scent of the blood.

Her fangs grow long in her mouth as she pictures herself leaning down to take a little nibble for herself.

There’s a compromise in here somewhere, isn’t there? Joy takes from Gunner. Jade takes from Joy. It’s a second-hand, vicarious sort of hit, but maybe it will be enough to scratch that itch. She bends at the waist, keeping herself positioned above Gunner, and pulls Joy’s hair to the side to expose the back of her neck. The tips of her fangs dig into skin.

It’s not technically poaching.

Blood wells. Jade licks it clean.

GM: Joy’s blood, or rather, Gunner’s, tastes like… gold.

Electricity.

Slowly but surely, an exhilarating sense of infinite opportunity steals through Jade. She feels as though she can do anything, anything at all… and the impossibly seems suddenly not only possible, but positively easy…

But it’s only for a moment, and gone just as fast she pulls back from Jade’s neck. There’s only a pleasant buzz on her tongue, a sense of having touched something huge, something incredible… and walking away with a thimbleful.

Joy continues to rapturously suck Gunner’s cock.

Celia: Liquid luck.

It’s like liquid courage, only Jade knows that no matter what she attempts to do it’s going to turn out just right. Not just to her, either; it’s not the sort of thing that makes a sorority girl think she killed it at karaoke when she’s never been able to hold a tune. It’s the sort of thing that makes the same girl actually kill it when a record label exec just happens to be drinking at the bar and “likes the cut of her jib, why don’t you sign right there on the dotted line sweetheart so we can make all your dreams come true?”

It’s the sort of thing that puts a tingle in her spine and a fire in her core. It’s gold and diamonds and every home run and royal flush and winning lottery ticket.

Maybe he is a god. Maybe he’s the god of luck. Maybe he’s the god of luck and she’s the goddess of love and beauty and together they can make lucky, beautiful things happen.

Maybe the luckiest thing that could ever happen to him is that he meets Jade and she gives him immortality in exchange for the gold in his veins.

She struck gold.

And she keeps digging.

She doesn’t let up; she drinks from Joy until Joy ceases drinking from Gunner.

GM: She doesn’t.

But Joy promptly turns and throws her off.

“You got a taste already,” she purrs. “Rest is mine. Only so much I can take while playing it safe.”

She rapturously licks her lips. “God, what the fuck even is he…?”

“Hey, cock here, requires sucking,” says Gunner.

Celia: Her claws almost come out when Joy tosses her aside.

She almost throws down with the greedy bitch who thinks to deny her the spoils of her oh-so-clever hunt.

Only almost, though. Waste of luck, isn’t it? She can think of so many better uses for what thrums through her veins right now.

She leans in only to lick closed the holes her fangs left behind.

“You heard him, slut. Put that mouth off yours to use.”

GM: “With pleasure, mistress,” Joy beams, all submissive smiles again as she wraps her lips back around Gunner’s lick. There’s absolutely nothing fake about her pleasure. She pleases him real good. Gunner is gasping, straining against the cuffs, his toes all but curling.

“Oh, fuck, you’re good…!”

Celia: Jade’s probably better.

But she isn’t so crass as to say it. She watches instead: watches her tease him with a tongue along the shaft, watches her use her fangs to tear tiny little cuts into his flesh so she can lap at the blood, watches her close her lips around the head of his cock. She takes her pleasure from his mouth instead, muffling the cries about how good Joy is, putting his tongue exactly where she wants it to be: worshiping her.

And when she finally does find her release it’s the kind that makes her toes curl and her (useless) breath catch in her chest and drenches him with the evidence of a job well done.

Joy can’t take that away from her.

GM: “What should we do with you…” purrs Joy as the three lie spent in one another’s arms. Wet in one of their cases, sweating in another one’s, and satisfied for all three. There’s cum all over Joy’s face, but she daintily removes as much of his blown load as she can with her fingers and slowly licks it up. She swallows it down with an audible gulp, as if to give him the best of both worlds.

“Marcel should be back soon. It’s funny he isn’t here already, he normally isn’t late for anything.”

Celia: “Mm,” Jade muses, trailing a hand down Gunner’s chest, “maybe he’d be mad about this one robbing him blind and his luck saw to it that he was kept away.”

GM: “Or maybe it’ll be my luck he gets back and sees me in bed with his girl, before I get away again,” Gunner remarks lazily.

“Someone’s confident,” purrs Joy.

“It’s easy to be confident when you’re lucky,” says Gunner.

“Why isn’t anyone doing anything if you robbed the casino blind?”

Celia: “They tried.”

GM: “Maybe they’ll try again,” says Gunner. “Or maybe they just don’t know I’m here. Lost me in the crowd or something.”

“You never know what luck’s gonna be.”

“Guess not,” says Joy, resting her head against his shoulder now that his cum’s all licked up.

“You’re so tasty… I really wonder what we should do with you…”

Celia: Jade knows what she wants to do with him.

But she doesn’t share her thoughts.

She doesn’t even think her thoughts.

She fills her mind with images of watching Joy suck off a line of cocks while chips rain down around them.

GM: “Maybe we should get in touch with Marcel, just to see what happens…”

Celia: “Give him a ring, then.” Jade trails a hand down Gunner’s chest. “Let him know we have a new toy for him to play with. Maybe he’ll have you bend him over for being a bad boy.” She nips at his neck, careful not to draw blood.

“I’d offer to blow him while we wait to end that age-old debate about who does it better, but you’ve got the advantage of equipment there.”

GM: Gunner frowns.

“Er, what?”

Celia: Jade giggles, pressing a finger to Gunner’s lips.

“Shh, it’s okay.” She shifts, moving over him to straddle his hips. “Joy’s really good with her mouth, but I blow her out of the water when it comes to being on top.”

GM: Gunner’s erection is getting increasingly limp.

“You said equipment…” he says with a long look at Joy.

Joy gives a delighted giggle.

She lifts her dress and pulls down her panties.

Gunner blanches.

“You… FREAK WHORE…!”

Joy giggles again. “And you loved every moment of it. We could tell.”

Celia: “It’s okay, baby, don’t be too upset with yourself. Joy’s mouth is magical. But so is my pussy, and all you had was a taste.” She wiggles a little, using a hand to stroke him firm again. “Don’t you want the real thing now?”

GM: Gunner twists and pulls at the cuffs. They come off.

“Oh no!” exclaims Joy.

“You’re fucking SICK!” yells Gunner, rolling off the bed and pulling up his pants.

Celia: He throws Jade off of him as easily as he gets out of the cuffs. She lands on the other side of the bed, giggling all the while, watching in amusement as he gets dressed.

“He’s so cute when he’s flustered,” she says to Joy. “Get Marcel in here, pet, he’ll be interested in seeing this.”

GM: “Sure thing, mistress,” giggles Joy, tapping off a text.

Celia: “Come back to bed, Gunner, let me show you how it’s done.” She pats the spot beside her, reaching toward him with the innate gifts of the blood. Her clan’s gift. Her gift. Her gift more than anyone’s. Seduction, the thing that makes men want to bury themselves between her thighs and women fall to their knees in submission. Seldom used—when has she needed the assistance to make someone want to worship her?—but still a valuable tool in her kit all the same.

That sense of heady desire flares from the very core of her being, unfurling like a mist to surround him, to fill him with that same sense of lust and craving that ensnares so many others with just a tilt of her head and crook of her finger. Lucky guy, isn’t he, to have such an alluring woman like her interested in him.

Her smile promises such a good time, if only he’ll come back to bed.

GM: Gunner stares for a moment, then pulls his pants off. He pushes Jade down against the bed and buries his now-firm cock between her thighs.

Celia: With luck—and they seem to have that in spades—Marcel won’t see Jade rutting with the kine like some sort of breather herself. But she can’t think about that now. Now she’s focused on absolutely blowing his mind with her body. Maybe it’s him. Maybe it’s her. Maybe it’s a combination of them both, or the fact that there’s danger lurking, or the effects of the star mode she whacked him with; whatever it is, he hits all the right spots on her and she hits all the right spots on him, and they fight and tussle and grapple for dominance. Jade lets him take top for a time, then flips him over and shows him how it’s done. Like this, she says with her hips and her hands and her mouth.

She lets him finish inside—her cunt is as dead as the rest of her despite its warmth—and feels it trickle out of her when she finally rolls off.

GM: They don’t fight alone, either. Joy clambers on too. Gunner starts again with instinctive revulsion, then Joy smiles and touches his cheek. All his disgust melts away. She sits on top of his face and lets Gunner suck her cock while she buries her own face between Jade’s breasts, licking, nipping, biting, and sucking. The coppery scent of vitae fills the air while while her fingers play alongside Gunner’s cock, mercilessly teasing and rubbing Jade’s sweet little nub.

Gunner feels pretty exhausted, though, and isn’t the best partner. His thrusts lack vigor and he seems relieved to just lie there as Jade takes top and does the heavy lifting. His face is pale. Joy did feed on him fairly deeply.

Celia: It’s enough for her, at least; she finds release between his cock and Joy’s fingers, and when it’s over she’s covered in cum and sweat and blood and—

“—desperately need a shower,” she says to Joy, “before Marcel arrives. Both of us.”

GM: “Oh, I think I rather enjoy looking at you three this way,” comes a man’s smiling voice.

Baton Rouge’s prince-in-exile is a tall and handsome man with rectangular features, a prominent nose, dark caramel-brown hair sculpted into a short mustache and goatee, and deep blue eyes. Two gold crucifix earrings hang from his ears. Jade’s never seen him without them. He’s dressed in a tailored navy silk jacket that flatters his trim physique, tan slacks, and a white dress shirt without a tie.

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He glances at the large bag full of cash, then smiles back at Gunner. “It’d be my pleasure if you and your friends could join me for a late dinner. The Alystra’s biggest winner deserves some comps, after all.”

Gunner looks at Marcel with something between amusement and curiosity. “Your people tried to beat the shit out of me for cheating.”

“Yes, I’m terribly sorry about that,” replies Marcel. “They’re fairly zealous. Have to be in, this business. Gamblers will always look for a way to cheat. But I’ve reviewed the tapes, talked with my people, and I’ve concluded that you owe your streak of good fortune simply to being very, very lucky. There’s no rule against being lucky.”

“I’m glad you see it that way,” replies Gunner. “I am lucky. Very, very lucky.”

“As this encounter rather proves, doesn’t it?” Marcel agrees amiably. “Come, why don’t you three put on your clothes—or leave them off, as you prefer. We won’t be disturbed.”

Celia: Naked, covered in blood, and smelling of sex isn’t exactly how Jade had wanted to greet the prince-in-exile.

Well, that’s not true. Naked and covered in blood seems appropriate given what Josua has told her about the lick; it’s the sex thing that gives her pause, and maybe the fact that he heard her call him “Marcel” to Josua, but a quick glance at his face—smiling—tells her that maybe he’s not bothered by it.

Maybe she’s gotten lucky.

Jade winks at the prince in lieu of an obsequious bow in front of the mortal—Masquerade and all that—and slips into her dress. She’s not modest or shy about her body, but she’d gone through all the effort of selecting the gown and by God Marcel will see her in it.

GM: The ex-prince smiles back, then looks at Joy. “This is a new look on you.”

“Does it please His Majesty?” smiles Joy, tilting her head and placing a hand against her hip. She’s still wearing her dress.

“Oh, yes.”

“Are you a king or something?” asks Gunner, amused.

He’s fairly sluggish in pulling on his clothes.

“Or something,” agrees Marcel. “Don’t forget your money. Leaving that much on the floor is tempting fate.”

Gunner puts on his shirt and slings the bag over his shoulder. The three proceed to a private dining room with a lone table seated next to a window overlooking of the dark Mississippi. Staff bring in plates of food that looks like it’s from the buffet. They don’t give funny looks or ask questions about the three’s messy state.

Gunner plops down heavily in his chair and digs heartily into the shrimp and sausage jambalaya. “God, that took a lot out of me.”

“I can’t blame you, those ladies look very vigorous,” smiles Marcel. He doesn’t move to eat any of the food on his plate. “Salt?”

“Sure,” says Gunner between a mouthful.

Marcel moves to pass him a shaker, but knocks it over. Salt spills all over the tablecloth.

“Oh, dear. I hope you don’t believe in bad luck.”

“Don’t worry, I don’t,” smiles Gunner between a bite of shrimp.

“Really?” asks Marcel, before a broad-shouldered and well-muscled man smashes Gunner’s face onto the table. The grim-faced, suit-wearing man kicks out Gunner’s chair, then delivers two more brutally hard kicks to the man’s gut after he hits the floor. Gunner gags and jerks.

“You should.”

Celia: Jade ceases pushing the food around her plate at the commotion, looking first to Gunner and then to Josua. She sighs heavily, forcing the air from her lungs.

“How silly of us,” she says to the boy-turned-girl, “there are plenty of mirrors in your cabin we could have broken to save His Majesty the trouble.”

GM: “Yes, that’d have rather done the trick too,” says Marcel.

Joy holds a hand to her mouth and giggles. She hasn’t touched her food either.

Marcel glances at the large, suited man.

“Get my money back where it belongs.”

The man picks up the bag of cash and tosses it to another employee, who disappears through the door.

“Wh…” gasps Gunner. He tries to rise to his feet, but the suited man delivers another hard kick to his kidneys. He curls up and moans.

“I’m afraid luck can only get you so far without brains, Mr. Gunner,” says Marcel. “And by my estimate you’re in rather short supply of both right now.”

“Not a good place to be, given how much you owe me.”

“Owe… you?” Gunner gasps out from the floor.

“Yes.”

“Got back your… mon… how th’ fuck di…”

“So I did. But you also owe me for my time and trouble, my injured employees, and not least of all, my casino’s loss of reputation. It’s your ‘luck’ no one heard the gunshot, but everyone saw you cheat. This sort of thing looks very bad. At least with most forms of cheating, the entire casino can’t tell when someone thinks they’re getting away with it.”

“And since I owe Miss Kalani for bringing you back after you got away, we’ll put you on the hook to her too.”

“Ooh, someone’s gonna get it,” giggles Joy.

Celia: She almost feels bad for the kine; it’s easy to imagine that someone as old as Marcel has plenty of ways to make a man pay, none of them involving dollars or cents.

Waste of blood though, isn’t it? Especially that blood.

Perhaps she has a solution.

In fact, she does have a solution.

“Madam Alsten-Pirrie has shown me a number of decidedly delicious punishments for those with grasping hands, my prince. I’d be delighted to take him off of yours and mete out justice on your behalf.” She smiles down at the man on the floor. “I’d offer something in return, of course.”

GM: “No doubt you’d be equally happy to make sure his blood doesn’t go to waste, Miss Kalani,” says Marcel with a knowing smile.

“But I’m a reasonable prince. Go on.”

“Listen… I can, get you money…” wheezes Gunner.

“I’m sure you can,” Marcel says to the kine. “But I have money, and if I let you go, I’m fairly confident I’m never going to see you again.”

“You’ll probably catch a lucky break, if any of us go looking for you.”

Gunner doesn’t deny it.

Joy clicks her tongue.

Celia: Jade smiles at Marcel’s words, giving a little shrug of her shoulders.

“Waste not, want not. Josua has told me you have a little problem with the rattlers. One of them owes me a favor; perhaps I can be of some assistance there.”

GM: “So you’d trade me the favor for Gunner’s blood,” considers Marcel. “Who’s the rattler?”

“Bl… ood?” Gunner gets out.

“Oh yes, Mr. Gunner. Your blood is worth a great deal,” says the ex-prince.

“You’ll be paying me back with it, one way or another.”

Celia: “He’s new,” Jade says, lifting her shoulders with another shrug. “But if you’d rather not take a gamble there, Your Majesty, then I understand if you’d rather utilize my skill set to find out what you need to know.”

She has already proved her worth, hasn’t she?

GM: “Yes, I only gamble recreationally,” says Marcel. “There’s no gambling at all in running a casino. Take it from me, Mr. Gunner: the house always wins in the end.”

“That’s why you should just let the house fuck you,” agrees Joy.

Gunner gives a moan.

“There’s a variety of ways I can use the luck in your blood,” says Marcel. “I’m undecided on how, though.”

“I’ll tell you what, Miss Kalani,” he says. “I’m a reasonable Kindred, and you brought Mr. Gunner back after he gave my people the slip, so I’ll consider half the blood originally in his veins to be yours.”

“Help me with my cottonmouth problem, and I’ll tell you just what Mr. Gunner is, what ways there are to use his luck—beyond the obvious—and what ways there are to witlessly spoil it. For us as well as him.”

“Deal?”

Celia: Jade only has to consider it for a moment before finally nodding her head.

“You have yourself a deal, Prince Guilbeau.”

GM: “Wait,” Gunner wheezes, raising a placating hand. “What if-”

“Be quiet,” orders Marcel, his voice heavy.

Gunner’s mouth works. No sound comes out. Joy smirks. Marcel turns back to Jade, then dismisses the suited man (ghoul?) with a wave.

“People like Mr. Gunner, you’ve probably guessed, are naturally blessed with good fortune.”

“Some say they’ve made deals with a crossroads devil. Some say they’ve made a lucky prayer or tossed a coin into a fountain at some Japanese deity’s shrine. Some say they were born under a lucky comet. Some say they’ve ritually stolen their good fortune from others. And some just say they’re naturally lucky bastards.”

“Could be some, all, or none of those things. Who knows.”

“Don’t ask your average Tremere about them. Most warlocks probably won’t know a thing.”

“They’re drawn to casinos, though, for obvious reasons. Like flies to honey. Mr. Gunner isn’t the first one I’ve dealt with, though he is one of the stronger ones. They aren’t all as lucky as him.”

“There’s no reliable way to detect them that I know of. The smart ones, they play some losing hands, win a jackpot, play some more losing hands, and then never come back.”

“Of course, most of them aren’t smart. They live on the edge. And why shouldn’t they? Their luck always carries them through. They have no reason to change their behavior if they never experience consequences.”

Marcel smiles down at the curled-up and silently mouthing Gunner.

“If.”

“Omens of bad luck neutralize their powers, for a little while. Spilled salt, broken mirrors, black cats, walking under a ladder, you name it.”

“There’s no power without a catch. For them, us, anyone.”

Celia: “Everything has a price,” Jade agrees with a small smile. “Perhaps he should have realized that when I went to fetch him and brought in another just as lovely.” A nod toward Joy.

“He’s human, though? Or something different?”

GM: “Besides being preternaturally lucky, he’s as human as anyone not in this room.”

Celia: Jade nods. She leans back in her chair, contemplating the man on the ground and the exiled prince in front of her.

“Bit of a gold mine, isn’t he.” How fortunate for Marcel that Jade brought him back and all but hand-delivered him. “And aside from robbing casinos—” which Jade has no need for, since she all but cleaned house at the poker table on skill rather than luck and has no desire to wind up on the other end of that large ghoul’s fists despite her natural hardiness “—how might one best utilize that luck?”

GM: “There are four ways.”

“One, we can simply drink it. Some of the good luck will rub off on us. Outrageously good things can happen, or calamities can be turned aside. The deeper the drink, the stronger the luck. And before you ask, keeping kine like Mr. Gunner chained up in a dungeon surrounded by spilled salt so we can drink them forever doesn’t work out. Too much bad luck rubs off.”

“Secondly, there’s ghouling them. That makes their luck stick around quite a bit longer than drinking it. Eventually, though, that luck fades away too. Something within our blood just doesn’t agree with it. The Embrace would probably kill it even quicker, but that’s conjecture on my part.”

“Third, there’s stealing their luck and binding it to a talisman, like a rabbit’s foot. As long as you carry it, you’ll be lucky. The good luck never seems to extend to keeping the talisman, though. They have ways of getting lost after a while. But they’re usually good for more luck than just drinking it.”

“Fourth, there’s stealing their luck and transferring it to another person. A ghoul works like I’ve described. An ordinary kine, though, would enjoy Mr. Gunner’s good fortune for the rest of their life.”

Gunner’s eyes widen with horror as he reflexively tries to rise, earning another swift kick to his belly. The large ghoul’s foot stomps down over his back several times for good measure. Hard. His mouth works in a silent moan.

“Oh, yes, perhaps that’d be the most cruel punishment of all,” says Marcel.

“Letting you walk out of here, alive and whole, with only a few bruises and edits to your memories. But without your luck.”

He smiles down at the beaten man.

“And what are you without your luck, Mr. Gunner? Not much at all, I’m inclined to think.”

Joy titters.

Celia: There goes her plan to keep him locked in a room with an assortment of black cats.

“If you bind his luck to another kine, you’d run into similar problems as before: you can’t keep them. Unless they already like you and want to stick around, or owe everything they are to you…”

Or they love you unconditionally.

So much so that they’ll submit to being a ghoul and getting a tattoo and feeding you and learning how to fence if it means getting to keep their memories of what you are, and maybe a little bit of luck is enough to get them off the blood that hooks them so they can enjoy a mortal life without risking the Masquerade because, lucky them, no one ever looks their way.

“Can it be split between multiple talismans or people? If he’s as strong as you say, Prince Guilbeau.”

GM: “His probably can, yes,” says Marcel. “They’ll be individually less potent, though. You have the same amount of luck, it’s just a question of where you want to spread it around.”

Celia: “A ritual, is it? The stealing and binding?”

GM: “Yes, it is.”

“That brings us to our next order of business.”

“I’m going to stash away Mr. Gunner someplace safe and secure. I’m going to bleed him periodically, and he is going to make me very lucky. I’ll give it a week before his luck starts to atrophy, and probably a month before it’s gone completely.”

“You have that long to bring me actionable information on my cottonmouth problem. If you don’t, you’ll owe me a different favor in return for the information I’ve given you. "

“If you can go one further, and actually lift Marie out of her torpor, I’ll do you one better.”

“I’ll give you all that’s left of Mr. Gunner and his luck. You can drink him, or I’ll perform the ritual on a talisman, ghoul, or kine of your choice.”

“Also, if you’re tempted to steal him from me—don’t take this personally, I do run a casino, and you’re friends with a master thief—I’m probably the only Kindred in the city who knows the ritual. If you manage to spirit Mr. Gunner away, all he’ll be good for is drinking.”

Celia: “Not to mention it will sour all future arrangements between the pair of us, and there’s still so much we can do for each other.” Her smile is full of promises. “The earlier mentioned half,” she asks, “what of that?”

GM: “You’ll get that over the next few nights. Josua’s already bled him deeply and I don’t want to kill him from overfeeding.”

Joy titters again and strokes Marcel’s arm. “Just wait until you try him, my prince. He tastes incredible.

Celia: “Will you tell me about Marie? What you’ve tried? What you know? I’d hate to waste time treading the same ground.”

GM: Marcel does so. Marie and Anthony were out hunting together when they were attacked by Setites, who torpored Marie and almost slew Anthony. Marcel has fed Marie his blood to no effect, and he’s fed her blood from another Kindred of comparable age, just to be sure the problem didn’t lie with his vitae. Both have had no effect.

“I think the Setites cursed her somehow,” he says. “The serpents who torpored her would likely know more. Perhaps how to lift it.”

“I’ve spoken to blood sorcerers from the Sanctified, the Anarchs, and the Crones, but they’ve been of little assistance.”

“And the Tremere will not help Marie.”

“So that leaves the serpents who did this to her, but my reach in the Quarter is limited.”

Celia: “The Tremere won’t help Marie?” Jade lifts her brows at that.

GM: “She’s a renegade from the Pyramid under sentence of death.”

Celia:That sounds like an interesting story.”

GM: “Yes, it is. But it’s decidedly moot until she wakes up.”

Celia: Jade assures him that she will do what she can for Marie. His influence might not stretch far enough into the Quarter to be useful, but hers certainly does.

And she has just the friend to speak to about this.


Wednesday night, 16 March 2016, PM

Celia: It’s with an additional spring in her step that Jade takes her leave of Marcel for the evening, their plans to share the prince-in-exile put on hold with the appearance of Gunner and the oh-so-tempting bait he’d dangled in front of her. The two Toreador return to Josua’s cabin to retrieve her things and collect her painting.

GM: Josua, still dressed as Joy, reports to his/her chagrin that Jade’s portrait has gone missing.

“Believe me, I’m as pissed off about it as you are,” s/he pouts.

“It was a really good portrait and I was going to charge you a decent amount for it.”

The pair are interrupted, though, when Josua/Joy has to run to the bathroom to vomit up the cum s/he’s swallowed.

Celia: “…it’s missing?” She waits in the doorway while he vomits.

GM: Josua/Joy wipes his/her mouth, and with it, some of the lipstick. Josua seems like he’s coming back.

“Yeah. I’m sorry. I have no idea where it’s gone.”

Celia: “How could it have gone missing..?”

GM: “I wish I knew. It was such a good painting!”

Celia: “It’s a casino. Did you check the tapes?”

GM: “Oh, that’s an idea. I hadn’t gotten around to it.”

“Ok, I’ll ask the guys there to take a look.”

Celia: “Thanks. When did it disappear?”

GM: “Hm, I think a few nights ago?”

Celia: “Someone ransacked your room a few nights ago and you haven’t gotten around to finding out who?”

GM: “Well, you know, things and people to do.”

“And the painting was all that disappeared, it’s not like they tore up my room.”

Celia: “And you don’t think that’s weird?”

GM: Josua slips out of the dress and folds it up.

“Well, stuff gets stolen. It was a really good portrait.”

Celia: “Yes,” Jade agrees, “that’s why I want it back.”

GM: “I’ll get it back, don’t worry. I want you to have it just as much as you do.” He takes off his bra and panties.

Celia: “Didn’t you have other work go missing?” Jade crosses her arms. The word ‘hunter’ had been thrown around over that.

GM: “I did, yeah. Marcel’s really worried about it.” Josua unbuckles the straps to his heels.

“But nothing’s happened, so how bad can it be?”

Celia: “Hunters.”

“Or, you know, your sire.”

GM: “Maybe if I’m lucky they’ll ash her.”

“And I am lucky. I drank a fair bit of that guy’s blood.”

Celia: “No,” she corrects, “what I meant was maybe it’s her keeping tabs on you.”

GM: Josua pauses at that.

Something passes in his eyes.

“Okay, I’ll talk to the people who watch the tapes, first thing.”

Celia: “If you want assistance tracking someone, let me know.”

GM: “I will. Marcel would be, uh, really upset if he knew this happened again.”

Celia: “Especially if it means his security failed to prevent it.”

GM: “So I can’t really ask him to have his people look for it.”

“He’s already got them looking for my sire, anyway.”

Celia: “Might be worth letting him know his place is compromised.”

GM: “Maybe after we get the portrait back. Less bad news.”

Celia: Jade rubs a hand across her face.

“I have enough going on without getting picked up by hunters.”

GM: Josua steps behind her and rubs her shoulders.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get it back. That’s a really smart idea with the casino cameras.”

Celia: “Unless she’s shadow dancing, or morphed, or came in through your window…”

GM: “You’re way too sexy to get picked up by van helsings.”

Celia: “Mmm, did I tell you about the pair who found me and how I convinced them to fuck and let me go?”

GM: Josua laughs. “Oh my god, for real?”

Celia: “‘Sex ritual,’” Jade tells him with a roll of her eyes.

GM: His hands wander down her breasts and hips.

“Oh, I’d like to do a sex ritual.”

Celia: “I bet you would,” Jade murmurs, leaning back against him.

GM: “You’re sex on legs, you know that? Someone could spend all day fucking you. And me. We have so much in common.”

He hugs her close, back against his chest. His mouth trails her neck, planting licks, nips, and kisses.

Celia: “No wonder Marcel didn’t tumble with us. He wouldn’t have gotten anything done the rest of the night.” Her head tilts to the side, exposing the long line of her neck for his mouth. “You’re insatiable.”

GM: “Only because you’re so, so much to state with… someone could fuck you forever, and it’d never get old… I can’t get enough of you… and I’m such a sexy sexy slut, you can’t get enough of me…”

He tugs her back to the bedroom, naked but for his wig. He falls back onto the bed with her, his supple hands caressing up her belly to squeeze and pinch her breasts. Then he crawls around and buries his mouth between her thighs in a 69 position. His firm cock rubs against her face.

Celia: It doesn’t rub against her face for long; within seconds she takes it into her mouth. Her fangs puncture his skin near the head of his cock, but she brings the whole thing into her mouth to show him once more that his words about it “never getting old” are absolutely spot-on.

GM: Josua’s fangs pierce the flesh above her clit even as his tongue seeks out her sweetest spot. The minutes pass, and her lover’s mouth leaves her screaming and clutching the sheets as wave after wave of sensation rocks through her loins, sating the Beast and the Man (or Woman) in equal measure. His hot blood shoots down her throat like cum as she rapturously sucks his cock. She can see why Alana gave the most enthusiastic blowjob she’s ever seen (from someone else). It’s just too bad all the things she can do with her tongue don’t do anything for him: now that she’s had a cock and had it sucked she does have a better idea of how to pleasure someone else’s.

She sups from him, and he sups from her. The two’s blood becomes as one. They leave each other in a spent and sated pile on the bed. That tingling sense of infinite possibility lingers on her tongue like electricity… and stronger than it did before.

Celia: She’s giddy by the end of it, her body a bundle of sensitive nerves and bliss that might have once left her lightheaded and dizzy and absolutely unable to bear the thought of prying herself out of bed to face the night. Now, though, now she’s electric; now she’s charged; now she’s fire.

She can do anything.

And there’s more. So much more waiting for her, all she has to do is skin some snakes for Marcel.

Marcel. Now there’s a lick she can get behind. Maybe she’ll reach out to her contacts in Baton Rouge, see if she can’t find out how to put him back into power up there, split her time between the cities on the lap of luxury in both. Pity he’d thrown in with Vidal; he’s so well-suited to the Quarter, isn’t it?

She giggles at the thought. She barely knows him. She’s just imagining.

“Do you think he liked me?” she asks Josua when she finally takes to her feet, reaching for the understated clothes she had arrived in.

GM: “I think so,” says Josua, leaning his head against his fist and laying another hand over his thigh. “I mean, maybe it’s a little early, since you haven’t even fucked him yet, but he’s definitely interested if you can help out Marie.”

“And you did bring back that Gunner guy.”

“I mean, probably the only way he’d be happier there is if you brought him the other one.”

Celia: “What other one?”

GM: “The other lucky guy.”

“He mentioned that to me once, a while back. He said there was one in the city.”

“Could be a lucky girl, for all I know.”

“But they’re smart and subtle and haven’t ever come to the casino.”

Celia: “Hm. How’s he know about them then?”

GM: “Couldn’t tell you. He just said he had his ‘sources.’”

Celia: “Mm, the old licks and their secrets.” Jade thinks she might know someone who knows someone who might be lucky.

GM: “But whatever. This Gunner guy is really lucky. Marcel’s really happy to have his hands on him.”

Celia: “I’m glad I lured him back in, then.”

GM: “Serves him right, robbing the casino. That was a really stupid idea.”

Celia: “Marcel was right about playing it smart. Play some losing hands, at least. Don’t brag about winning.”

GM: “Yeah, I remember. He said to play some losing hands, then win a jackpot, then lose some more, then never come back. That seems pretty smart.”

Celia: “He was pretty smug about the whole thing.”

GM: “He is Ventrue,” laughs Josua.

Celia: “Oh, I meant Gunner.”

GM: “Oh, I thought you thought Marcel was smug.”

Celia: “Marcel was… surprisingly approachable.”

GM: “I think he’s a little smug.”

“He’d be a great prince, wouldn’t he?”

“Gunner was pretty stupid, you’re right. I don’t think he even knew about vampires.”

Celia: “Well, neither did either of us prior to our Embrace.”

GM: “Marcel says a bunch of licks have tried to rob him before. That they see the casino as this great place for fast cash.”

“But he knows pretty much all the standard tricks, and he automatically assumes that any lick with a really lucky streak is cheating.”

Celia: “Uh oh. Is he going to send someone to break my kneecaps because I won at poker?” She sounds more amused than worried.

“I avoided the other table games so he wouldn’t think I was stealing from him.”

GM: “I don’t think so. He knows that game’s more skill than luck.”

“He’s okay if licks play at his casino, anyway, he just says they should view it as a fun evening rather than a place to make lots of money.”

Celia: “Never gamble what you can’t afford to lose and all that. It could be easy, though. To dip into their heads and see their cards, that sort of thing.”

“Stupid, though. Wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of whatever he could dish out. Unless it’s in like… a hot way.” Jade wiggles her brows at Josua as she finishes dressing.

“I’m going to head out. Let me know about the painting and what you find on the security footage.”

GM: Josua grins as he watches her pull on her clothes.

“This is like covering great art. It’s a public service if everyone gets to see it.”

“Oh well, you picked a good time. I don’t think Marcel’s really in the mood for sex right now.”

“Thinking about Gunner and his casino and everything.”

“That’s how you know he’s a blue blood and not a torrie, fucking always comes second.”

Celia: “What a terrible way to prioritize.” Jade smirks at him. “I won’t take it personally that we didn’t end up in bed, then.”

GM: “I know. It really is.”

“Feel free to send back Celia to pick up all your clothes.”

Celia: “So you can fuck her again?”

GM: “Why else?” he grins.

Celia: “I’m sure she’d enjoy that.”

GM: “You know I’d show her a great time.”

“There’s just nothing like the sight of a famous breather on their knees. You must fuck her all the time too.”

Celia: Jade just grins at him.

“You’ve no idea.”


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Story Thirteen, Celia VIII

“Just look at what you’ve done to us."
Josua Cambridge


Wednesday evening, 16 March 2016

GM: Celia wakes up in her lover’s arms. Her phone, like so often, has a number of text messages.

The oldest, from Logan, reads Robby is a cuck.

Celia: Celia exhales sharply through her nose at the message. Quietly, though. She thinks maybe she woke up before Roderick for once. Not that her half-laugh would wake him.

lol why?

GM: Her brother does not immediately reply.

A later one, from Emily, reads Oh man. Story for you later tonight.

Celia: Oh boy.

Oh boy.

Are you bringing Robby to dinner?

GM: A third, from her mom, reads Would you like to swing by later tonight, sweetie? Maybe I can have a better dinner for you then :)

nah just us + mom + Lucy + Dani, Emily texts back.

Celia: oh okay. i wanted u 2 meet someone but can do another day

GM: can do tonight if you want, it’s just a casual dinner

Celia: “You up?” Celia asks over her shoulder.

GM: There’s another text from Randy.

Reggie’s been fucking Mabel, do u care?

Celia: Consensual?

GM: “Mmm. Yeah,” Rod answers, giving her a kiss.

maybe?

Celia: find out.

“Oh. I was going to shave your head.”

GM: kk

“Ah, but I’m a dude, that’d actually look good on me,” he smirks, pulling her against him.

Celia: “I dunno, I bet you have a pointy dome under there.”

She snuggles closer anyway, peering up at his head as if she can see beneath his hairline.

GM: “We can find out, if you like. It’ll just grow back.”

Celia: “Mm. Maybe tonight, then.” She can replace Blossom’s beau’s hair with Roderick’s, if she wants. She’d cut and colored her own, but if he’s offering…

“Mom is having Dani over for dinner tonight.”

“I was going to ask if you wanted to join us, but then I thought maybe not a good idea..?”

GM: He thinks. “Maybe ask Dani?”

“Actually, she’ll probably be pissed after you tell her she’s not emotionally blackmailing me for rent money.”

Celia: “Maybe you two can work it out tonight so Friday isn’t awkward as fuck.”

GM: “Ah, that’s a really good point. I don’t want to get into anything around Dad.”

“I also don’t want to around your family, frankly. Maybe we should just meet somewhere privately?”

“This isn’t their drama.”

Celia: “Oh. Yeah, for sure. She said she’s relatively free tonight.”

Celia fires off a quick text to Dani.

He wants to talk to you. Can we meet after dinner?

GM: There isn’t an immediate response.

Celia: “Mostly,” she says, “I want you to meet my mom with your new face.”

“So that when you inevitably ask me to marry you it’s not going to be weird.”

It won’t be anyway, she knows, since Diana knows.

But it’s better for her cover.

“And Emily,” she adds.

GM: “Okay,” he says. “Let’s just resolve our drama away from them. It’s really bad manners to drag uninvolved people into it.”

Celia: “Nah,” Celia disagrees, “Emily and Mom would love to play mediator, and I’d make a big batch of popcorn for all of us.”

“And we’d throw it at you when you say the wrong thing.”

“Very helpful.”

GM: He cracks a smile. “Ha. Maybe that would lighten the mood.”

Celia: “And Lucy would tell you you’re both being silly and to hug and make up.”

GM: “Six-year-olds can be smarter than grown-ups a surprising number of times.”

Celia: “I am a genius,” she tells him, setting her phone aside to flip the pair so that she straddles his hips.

“More that they lack a filter.”

GM: “Who says that isn’t smarter?” he asks, pulling her in for a deep kiss.

“God, you’re so hot.”

“It’s such a privilege to wake up next to you, you know that? So many licks don’t have that.”

Celia: “That’s why they’re all miserable old cunts.”

GM: “Whereas we have your happy sexy cunt.”

Celia: “Wet, too. You should do something about that.”

GM: “I still owe you.”

So he does.


Wednesday evening, 16 March 2016

Celia: When they’re done, Celia tells Roderick that she’ll let him know what Dani says. They can meet up at the place they met before, if he wants (“Celia’s house”), and then she’s on her way to Flawless to meet Alana and have a quick bite before dinner.

The routine for a quick snack is pretty simple: Alana brings the client back to work on them, flips a switch that lets Celia know they’re ready (whether this means they have a mask on or are laying face down with their eyes closed varies from service to service), and Alana makes some excuse to open the door. Hot towels. Hot stones. Glass of water. Need more product. Whatever it is, she lets Celia slip inside to feed.

Alana, still wearing Celia’s face, is with a local EMT that hates how she looks and still lives with her mom. Celia has been able to help suggest style and makeup changes, removed a lot of the old acne scars that had plagued the girl since childhood, and over the past few months has really let the inner glow shine through. Celia snacks on her while she’s masking, eyes closed beneath the damp cloth stretched across them that “reduces puffiness and delivers hyaluronic acid to the area to minimize fine lines and wrinkles.”

It’s a convenient excuse.

GM: It’s a convenient feeding routine.

Alana looks just like Celia. Can do the same things to a client that Celia does. The hapless kine likely wouldn’t even notice the switch, even if she had the open eyes to see.

Abby White looks better under Celia’s capable hands. She’s still overweight, but that’s nothing Celia couldn’t fix either, if she wanted to. Alana looks at the plump girl with the same withering contempt she regards all overweight people.

But fat or thin, her blood is just as hot and vital over Celia’s tongue. Her Beast was a hungry thing, after all that sex with Roderick.

After all that sex the previous night, too.

Celia: And tonight, with as much as she has going on and all the flesh she has to sculpt, Celia takes more than she needs. She doesn’t have time to see more clients and take little sips from them all as she normally would; she bleeds herself instead while she works, making an excuse about a new product and microneedling that’s going to make Abby feel tired for a few days and to take it easy while her body recovers.

Her Beast, at least, is content with the knowledge that she has banked as much as she has, and looks forward to imbibing it later. Celia pointedly does not think about the other people the blood is for; she only plans to drink it if something crazy happens.

Celia slips back out the door once she’s done with Abby, moving into Jade’s suite to get ready for Alana. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes for her to finish with Abby; she’d been on the second mask and all that’s left is to remove it and moisturize.

GM: Alana is back promptly.

“It was good for everyone to see you around during the day, mistress,” she says as she lays down.

“I had Louise fill in again during the audition.”

Celia: “How did it go?”

GM: “It went very well, mistress! Ron said it was mostly a formality, we’d have the part ‘as long as we didn’t vomit over the camera.’ But I still think that it did.”

“I asked if he could schedule any night roles or shoots, too, just in case you wanted to do some acting yourself.”

“He said he’d get back to me.”

Celia: “Perfect.” Celia smiles down at herself, syringe of anesthetic in hand. “I’m very proud of you, ‘Lana. I’m excited to see where this goes. I don’t know that we’ll be an actress forever, but it will be fun for a while.”

“Little pinch, darling.” The needle pierces her flesh.

GM: Celia’s face beams at her mistress’ praise.

“I loved being you, mistress. I spent soooo much time in front of the mirror, after you gave me permission…”

Celia: “I don’t doubt that,” Celia says with a grin. “Maybe I’ll keep you like this for a while when we go to LA and turn myself into your boyfriend instead of Jade.”

GM: “I’ll suck your cock all night long, mistress,” Alana purrs. “I’ll go to sleep with it in my mouth.”

Celia: “We’d never leave the haven.”

GM: “I’ll snuggle up to you during the day, when you’re asleep, fit your dick in my mouth, and lie there until you wake up. For hours. Sucking your cock is such an honor, mistress.”

Celia: Celia leans down to press a kiss against the lips that look like hers.

“You’re insatiable, pet. I love it.”

GM: Alana kisses her hungrily back.

“I had another dirty thought, mistress… there are cock gags, I’m sure you know. Gags shaped like cocks, with these big thick panels in front. Very sexy. But they’re made of plastic, of course.”

“You could make a real cock gag, with a real cock, for us. You could lock it on me so I’m stuck with a real dick in my mouth until you decide I can use it for something else.”

“You could take me out in public, somewhere with lots of people. And I’ll have a real dick in my mouth the entire time, and not be able to say anything.”

Celia: “Like a sex club?” Celia muses, unsurprisingly aroused at the thought.

GM: “Yes, mistress. Where they all could know.”

“Or even somewhere boring, like a church. Somewhere you’re not supposed to do sexy things. I could stare at a priest with a real dick in my mouth.”

Celia: “Pretty sure we’d be chased out of a church.”

“I’ll consider it.”

GM: “A sex club would be very sexy too, mistress. The only thing more sexy than a gag in my mouth is a gag that’s also a real cock.”

Celia: “Tempting. What if we made it hollow so that anyone could put their cock inside of it? I could walk you around on a leash and let people use you like they want to.”

GM: “A cock in a cock, mistress,” Alana beams. “That’s perfect! Then they could all cum in my mouth too, and you’d never even have to take the gag out.”

“I’d have to swallow all of their cum. Or just let it all sit in my mouth.”

Celia: “Good girls swallow.”

GM: “Yes, mistress. I’d swallow it all.”

“It’s just very sexy to know I wouldn’t have a choice.”

“If I were bad and didn’t swallow, you could say you wouldn’t remove the gag until I did.”

“I might have this big, big load of cum in my mouth, from god knows how many guys, that I’d have thought I could get away with spitting out, once the gag was out, and then you’d punish me for being bad by making me swallow all of it at once.”

“It would be like drinking cum, there’d be so much.”

“Drinking, not just swallowing.”

Celia: “I’ll work on something for you, then.”

GM: “Thank you, mistress,” Alana beams.

Celia: Then the work begins, the sculpting and twisting to turn Celia back into Alana: lighter hair, darker skin, eyes that gently lift in the corners, lips a little more full than Celia’s own. Less padding in the breasts and butt—Celia has always enjoyed a tiny bit of extra there, whereas Alana does not like any reminders that she used to be fat. She scrubs away Celia from her ghoul until just Alana remains, working quickly but not impossibly fast.

GM: Alana’s voice slurs as the anesthesia kicks in. She remains still as Celia works on her, then thanks her mistress for giving her her body back. And for her use of Celia’s oh-so-sexy body.

Celia: When it’s done, Celia asks Alana if she was able to get ahold of Lucia for her.

GM: “Yeth, mithreth. The thaid the could mee’ you a’ the Thangio’anni manthe in thoo thayths, a’ 3 AM.”

Celia: “Friday at 3?” Celia repeats.

GM: Alana nods her head.

Celia: “Perfect.”

Celia tells her to enjoy her evening and that she’ll be wrapped up with family stuff for a while.

Once Alana is gone, Celia turns to the next mask that she needs to make. She has no immediate plans to put Diana around any Kindred, but Roderick will need a disguise for this evening. Her fingers form the second of his masks, smoothing it out into a face that looks nothing like him but is still attractive enough to be seen with Jade. It doesn’t take long.

Once it’s done she slides both masks and the wig into her bag to distribute to the Garrisons tonight and heads out to meet her mother.


Wednesday night, 16 March 2016, PM

GM: Dani still hasn’t gotten back to Celia. Roderick texts that he supposes Celia can ask in person, then. He’ll come over when his sister gives the thumbs up.

Celia: She says she’ll let him know.

GM: Celia arrives, meanwhile, at her family’s house. Emily and Diana both greet her with her hugs. Lucy is asleep in bed. Dinner is already eaten. Diana makes a show of offering Celia food, “If you haven’t already eaten, sweetie,” but doesn’t press as hard this time. The question mainly seems asked for Emily’s benefit.

“All right, I gotta tell you this,” Emily grins, plopping down on the living room couch.

“So, between Mom and I wanting to learn how to stab properly, and then Logan too, Robby decided it might be best to just practice on our own, outside of HEMA.”

“And we were able to fit in some time to do it today, at Mom’s classroom. Which was pretty convenient.”

“Wide open space we wouldn’t be bothered and all.”

“We wanted you to come-”

“-but you had an important client,” Diana nods.

“So hope you don’t feel bad we didn’t invite you, sweetie.”

“Also, Emi, do we really need to tell this stor-”

“-are you kidding, Mom? It’s a fucking awesome story!”

Diana hems and wrings her hands.

“So, Logan was a total butthead,” says Emily, turning back to Celia.

“He went on about a bunch of machismo bullshit, some real he-man stuff, about having a ‘hunger to win’ and how you had to enjoy hurting people to be good at fencing.”

“He gave Robby a ton of pointers. Robby, who’s been practicing swordfighting for years, unlike Logan, who’s only just picked up a sword.”

“Yay for my boyfriend getting to experience some mansplaining.”

“He really was just trying to help, sweetie,” says Diana.

“Well, he wasn’t. He had this really arrogant, confrontational body language too. Implied Robby was a ‘nice guy’ and a wimp. And a nerd.”

“And, you know, Robby can be a little shy. And he’s pretty modest. He’s not as much of a bitch as me.”

“So he didn’t make too big a deal with Logan, though I was starting to get pissed.”

“So, they’ve got all their equipment on, got the swords, Logan boasts about his ‘hunger to win’… and Robby completely hands him his ass.”

“Like, it’s not even close. Robby just knocks the sword out his hand, twice, and has his sword at Logan’s throat. Like Logan’s got butterfingers.”

“Then when they go again, and Robby lets Logan take the offense—lets him—he just blocks and dodges everything Logan throws at him when he’s nothing, and when he makes these big stupid charges, Robby taps his chest with the sword. Where he coulda slashed him open.”

“It goes on like that. Logan just completely fucking loses it, screaming all sorts of shit, and then Robby literally knocks him on his ass. Like, trips him. The whole thing’s just laughably one-sided.”

“So much for Mr. Nice Guy Cuck.”

Emily’s smiling widely. Diana just makes a fretful expression and clears her throat.

Celia: “Jeeze,” Celia laughs when the story is over, “I was wondering why he sent me that text. That puts everything into perspective.” Celia shakes her head. “He said similar to me yesterday, about needing a killer instinct.”

GM: “Shows what that counts for.”

Celia: “How’d it go otherwise?”

GM: “Well, I was really turned on. Seeing my boyfriend kick ass. I gave him a blowjob in the car at the McGehee parking lot.”

Diana looks scandalized. “Oh! Emi!”

Celia: “Hell yeah.” Celia high fives her.

GM: Emily high-fives her back. “I mean it was strategic, doing it in the car meant he was ready to go again when we got back to his apartment. Because I was still really horny.”

“Sweetie, that’s—someone could have seen you!” exclaims Diana.

“And—the car, you might have… gotten it dirty!”

“Relax, Mom, I swallowed so we didn’t have to clean up cum from the car seat,” Emily grins. “Whole thing was very efficient.”

Celia: “That’s the best way to do it,” Celia nods.

GM: Diana looks like she’s about to pass out.

Celia: “Stephen and I used to fuck in the car. Windows got all foggy.”

GM: “Aw, that’s sweet,” says Emily. “In semi-public?”

Celia: “Think someone took a photo.”

GM: Diana’s hands fly to her mouth.

“Relax, that would’ve been… seven years ago,” says Emily. “Doubt anything’s going to come of it after this long.”

Celia: She can’t share that she just did it last night, too, but with someone else.

So she doesn’t.

Just grins.

GM: “I didn’t know windows actually fogged, though. Robby and I’ll have to try that.”

“Oh! Sweetie, you could get caught! Please don’t!” their mother exclaims.

Celia: “Tell them to join in, if you are.”

GM: “Bingo. They’ll be co-conspirators in the… crime?”

“Please tell me you’re pullin’ my leg,” murmurs Diana.

“I dunno, depends how hot the photographer is,” says Emily.

Celia: “Bingo,” Celia says, “no uglies. No uggos in your threesome.”

GM: Diana clears her throat and says, “The practice went very well, otherwise, sweetie. After, ah, Logan quit. I kissed his boo-boos all better-”

“-which he was a jerk about too, but I guess at least he let you,” says Emily. “I’m glad you stayed, though.”

Celia: “Glad you had fun with it. Learn a lot?”

“Did Dani already head out? I thought I was on time.”

GM: “Dani’s asleep, sweetie,” says her mom. “She came back from school and-”

“-wait, Mom, you’re not finished. Tell Celia how great you did,” smiles Emily.

“Oh, well, I was a lil’ nervous at first, but Robby told me how Jean-Claude Van Damme did karate and ballet, and thought ballet was way harder. So that made me feel better.”

“But it was interesting! I knew from an academic standpoint that ballet had its roots in fencing, but it was pretty neat to give that the ol’ college try!”

“She did great,” says Emily. “Robby complimented her technique way more times than mine. His girlfriend,” she emphasizes with a mock-severe look towards their mom. “Kept saying how graceful and flexible she was, and how she made every move look like a dance.”

“Oh, he had plenty to compliment you about, sweetie, for one thing you were-”

“Nah, you earned it, Mom. You beat me fair and square,” says Emily. “You did great. Be proud of that.”

Celia: “That’s awesome, Mom. I’m real proud of you. Gonna stick with it?”

GM: Diana blushes a little. “Thanks, you two. And I think so! Robby said my bum leg would probably give me a hard time, at some point, but there was no reason we couldn’t take things a lil’ slower.”

Celia: “Awesome. I’m glad you had fun and learned a lot. That’s great! And I’m glad you are gonna take it slow when your leg hurts.”

“Speaking of…”

“When do you want me to set up dinner with Maxen?”

GM: “Oh, we actually did set up a dinner date this Sunday, sweetie, through Logan. Does that work for you, or should we reschedule?”

Celia: “Oh. Yeah, that’ll work. What time?”

“Are Logan and David coming?”

GM: “7 PM. We thought we’d do it after Lucy’s in bed. I don’t… quite want to have them together, just yet.”

Emily gives a firm nod.

Celia: Celia nods as well.

“For the best.”

GM: “And no, it’ll be just us three and your father.”

Celia: “Sounds like a plan. What happened with Viv, Em?”

GM: “I thought we’d invite the others, after… after we’ve eased back into things some more.”

Celia: “For sure. I feel like I haven’t seen David in ages. Maybe I’ll call him, see if he wants to go out.”

GM: “I know he’s been busy with law school. He and Dani are actually classmates! Maybe somethin’ with them both?”

Celia: “That could be fun.”

Double date with two sets of siblings, that’s not weird at all.

GM: “So with Viv, she said if she wasn’t arrested or anything, there was little legal question here,” answers Emily. “She said Maxen could come forward later, but that it’d mostly be a ‘he said, she said’ and she doubt Mom would sell me out.”

Diana gives a firm nod.

“So 2 v 1 witness and no claim at the time. She said that’s pretty open and shut.”

Celia: “Sounds like it worked out pretty well then. That’s great.”

“Stab him again on Sunday if he gets lippy.”

GM: “I’ll be sure to.”

Emily sounds mostly kidding.

“Viv ran through with me how that might play out. Maxen comes forward this morning and says, ‘Emily stabbed me.’ Police ask why he didn’t call them at the time. Mom and I deny it. And now the story is ‘big former football player claims he is stabbed by way smaller woman. She and his ex deny it.’”

“Viv said he could pursue a civic tort, but hard to win that one for the same reason. Big strong guy claims weak little girl stabbed him, how do you break as a juror? She said he could mostly make headaches, make our life annoying, file a police report and get me brought in for questioning, bothered by cops, etc. But unless Mom breaks against me, hard to sell.”

“And that’s happenin’ when hell freezes over,” says Diana.

Emily smiles. “Plus, that isn’t a police report he wants to file as a legislator, let alone a prospective governor. ‘Majority leader’s ex-wife’s adopted daughter stabs him when he visits ex-wife with restraining order.’”

“Viv did say this would be a different story if I was Emile, though. Yay for having a hole between my legs.”

“But she said without evidence, like a knife with my prints and his blood, or a recording, this whole thing is just a domestic squabble.”

“And even then, his whole tough guy reputation as a big strong physical dude gets undermined if he fires a report about a girl stabbing him.”

“Plus, finally, she said you and Mom have the resources to help me through anything that’d really fuck a lower income person. Days off from work, going to court, talking to cops, etc.”

“So, yeah,” Emily finishes. “I’m just really relieved not to have this hanging over us.”

Diana nods. “Viv does good work! I made her a batch of cookies to say thanks.”

“You do pay her, Mom.”

“I know, but still. She’s done a lot for us.”

“You’re right, she has.”

Celia: Celia listens to it all, looking for any holes in the story, anything that Maxen could use against them. It sounds, though, like the biggest threat to them right now isn’t the mortal world at all.

It’s her world.

And she’s not really concerned about that, either.

She’s glad of that, at least, and she says as much—though not in so many words—slinging an arm around Emily and announcing that “I guess we’re stuck with you, which is great ‘cause listen I don’t think Robby wants to fight me for conjugal visitation rights.”

GM: Emily grins and squeezes her shoulder back. “Then don’t. Maybe you could both… visit. At once. Do they allow that?”

Celia: “I’d blow your mind, sweetheart, Robby would never hold a candle to what I can show you.”

Celia wiggles her brows.

“But also no, I think you’re limited to one.”

GM: “We’ll smuggle you in then. In a cake you can burst out of.”

Celia: “Naked.”

GM: “Like with a file. But a bigger cake. Mom can bake it.”

Celia: “Mom, get crackin’.”

“Emi said she’d lick the frosting off my… nose.”

GM: “I’d lick you in lots of places, to be extra sure I got it all. And you’d wonder if we were still in prison, ‘cuz you’d be seeing stars.”

Celia: “Oh damn, girl, maybe I should introduce you to my new friend-boy, we can tag team ’im.”

GM: "Dangerous. Both of us together might leave him in a coma. But isn’t the love that burns brightest that which burns briefest, or something poetic?’

“Yes, let’s talk about your new beau!” Diana agrees emphatically.

Celia: Celia giggles at the mortified look on her mother’s face.

“I think we broke her brain,” she loudly whispers to Emily.

“Technically, Ma, we’re not sisters. Technically. So it’s not weird.”

GM: “And if I shove you off a cliff, it’s gravity or the ground which kills you, not me,” Diana huffs.

Emily whistles. “Love the new attitude. Seriously.”

Celia: “Y’think it bothers her more that we’re two ladies or that she considers us both her babies?”

GM: “Mom, which is it? Inquiring minds want to know.”

“Not-dirty minds wouldn’t think to know!” Diana declares with another huff.

Her attempt at a glare still looks a kitten trying to mimic a roaring lion.

Celia: “Uh oh. Now we’ve done it.”

GM: Emily grins. “Maybe practice in front of the mirror a few more times.”

Celia: “Maybe get a sword, I bet you’d look more intimidating with a sword.”

GM: “I don’t have a sword,” Diana hmphs. “You two have such dirty minds, you really know that!”

“Do we? That’s news to me,” says Emily.

Celia: “I had no idea.”

GM: “Because I thought we had really squeaky-clean minds and needed to visit some, uh, ‘places of ill repute’ to get some experience. Stop being so sheltered.”

Celia: “We should go make it rain on some strippers. See how flustered Robby gets. Let some other girl tease him for an hour or two. Then take him home and blow his mind.”

GM: “Er, rain?” asks Diana.

“Pee on them,” says Emily. “That’s what you do at strip clubs, you pee on the girls. Make it rain.”

“What!” exclaims Diana.

Celia: “Yeah, golden shower, Ma. Real messy. That’s why the floors are so sticky.”

GM: “How do you know they’re stick… oh, lord, sweetie, have you been to one?! You could get… you could get…!” Diana waves her hand, fumbling for words.

Celia: “Danced on a pole once and everything.”

GM: “It’s true, I was the pole,” says Emily.

Celia: Celia shifts onto Emi’s lap, moving her hips in a suggestive way.

“All those dance lessons made me real flexible.”

GM: Emily smirks and runs her hands up and down Celia’s torso.

“You could get more flexible with, with ballet lessons! Which take a lot of time, so no time for strip clubs!” says their mom.

Celia: Celia purrs at Emily.

“Twenty dollars and my shirt comes off.”

GM: “Forty dollars for the shirt to stay on!” declares Diana.

“Oh, bidding war,” says Emily.

Celia: “How much am I worth to you, Emi?”

GM: “Sixty, at least,” says Emily.

“Eighty!” counter-bids Diana.

Celia: “Sorry, Emi, looks like the ballerina has you beat.”

“Private show later,” she stage whispers behind her hand. “Don’t tell Mom.”

GM: “The ballerina is goin’ to ask her lawyer to write an airtight contract so the eighty is binding ’til Kingdom Come,” huffs Diana.

Celia: “Speaking of lawyers.”

Celia finally slides off of Emily’s lap to take the seat next to her instead.

“Watcha makin’ for Friday?”

GM: Diana looks relieved.

Emily gives her a look of exaggerated longing.

Celia: Celia winks and blows a kiss.

GM: “Ah, let’s see, I was thinkin’ some oven-fried chicken, or maybe crock pot chicken and dumplings,” says Diana.

“With some kind of salad or green side, and shoofly pie for dessert.”

Celia: “Sounds delicious.”

They both know it doesn’t.

GM: “Maybe a second side too, since we’ll have lots of people. I’m goin’ to go grocery shopping tomorrow.”

But they pretend.

Celia: “I, ah, was gonna clear it with Dani first, get her opinion on it, but I ran into a guy who used to know Stephen. Went to school with him. Was thinking about bringing him.”

GM: “Oh, he your new guy?” asks Emily, wiggling her eyebrows.

Celia: “Actually… yes.”

GM: “Good. Randy wasn’t going anywhere. Not with you, anyway.”

Celia: “At least you and Logan agree on something.”

GM: “A stopped clock is right twice a day.”

Celia: “I think you’ll both like him. Might bring him by before Friday so it’s not your first time meeting him.”

“Probably not tell Henry he’s my new guy, focus on the friend angle.”

GM: “Be happy to,” nods Emily.

“Just give advance notice, so I can cook up somethin’ to woo you his heart,” her mom winks.

“Huh. He’s got the same name as Stephen’s dad,” says Emily.

Celia: “Oh. No. I meant Henry as in Stephen’s dad.”

“Don’t tell Stephen’s dad about my love life.”

GM: “Oh. Yeah. That makes total sense.”

Diana nods.

Celia: “Awesome. I’m excited for you two to meet him. I told him about Robby,” she says to Emily, “and his HEMA stuff. He said it sounds cool and that he might want to play some World of Shadow games with us.”

GM: “Yeah, you mentioned earlier. Robby said he’d be happy to run a session for us all.”

“It’s good nerdy fun with lots of banter between dice rolls and unhealthy snacks.”

“Oh, I’ll make y’all healthier snacks, if you want,” says Diana.

Celia: “I think it’s the point of the gaming,” Celia says to her mom. “To eat junk food.”

GM: “But don’t you want to eat healthy food, if it’s still tasty?”

“Well it’s sort of like you could give a blowjob in the privacy of your own bedroom, or on your knees in a school parking lot,” says Emily.

Celia: Celia snorts into her hand, dissolving into laughter.

GM: “I don’t know what the appeal is there,” Diana mutters.

Celia: “The thrill of someone wanking while they watch from afar and knowing you got two dudes off at once?”

GM: “It’s—it’s a girl’s school! The only men are responsible adults, thank you!”

Celia: “Show the girls what waits for them in their future, then.”

GM: “Or their parents. Yell, ‘This is your daughter pursuing her dreams of higher education!’ at them.”

Celia: “You know what they say about successful women.”

GM: “What, that they suck cock too?”

Celia: “Somethin’ somethin’ makin’ bank on their back.”

GM: “Er?” asks Diana.

“Never mind, I don’t want to know!”

“She’s so innocent,” says Emily. “Part of me wants to croon and preserve it, and the other part of me wants to totally despoil it.”

Celia: “We can bring her clubbing with us.”

GM: “Fuck, it’s been forever since I went out. School and all.”

Celia: “You’ve been real boring lately,” Celia agrees. “Blow it off, let’s go out soon.”

GM: “We’ll make it a girl’s night and pick up lots of hot guys.”

“You two have boyfriends!” says Diana.

“And we still will, if no one’s a blabbermouth,” smiles Emily.

Celia: “Variety, et cetera. Plus half of them are for you.”

GM: “Blugh! No thank you! We’ll do an arts and crafts night with Lucy instead, how’s that?”

Celia: “Hmm… hot sex, drugs, dancing, and loud music… or coloring with a six-year-old…”

GM: “That is a very easy decision!” declares Diana. “We can take turns sitting her on our laps and coloring over her shoulder.”

Celia: “Uh huh. We could do both.”

GM: “Read my mind,” says Emily. “We can draw sex positions with them. Sort of a ‘pick in advance’ thing.”

Celia: “Bingo.”

GM: “You are not drawin’ sex positions around my baby,” hmphs Diana.

Celia: “She’s gotta learn sometime.”

GM: “Start ‘em young. Plus we’re all your babies, aren’t we?”

“Yes, you are. And speakin’ of, Emi, don’t you have school to study for?”

“Ah, yeah. I kinda do.”

Celia: “Go, go,” Celia shoos her, “so we can play Doctor later.”

GM: “I’ll know that many more spots to touch you.” She gives Celia a hug. “This is fun, though, having someone else in the house with some adult humor.”

Celia: Celia slings an arm around her. “I’m always gonna be here for you. We’ll get the boys together soon. I’ll text you.”

GM: “Rad. Count on it.” Emily gives Celia another squeeze, then she’s off to her room.

“You two drive me bonkers, sometimes, but I’m glad you have each other,” smiles Diana.

Celia: “Me too. Minus the bonkers.”

GM: “I don’t mind, sweetie. I really don’t. Sisters tease.”

Celia: “That might be something you need to come to terms with, though.” Celia glances down the hall to make sure Emily’s door is shut. “There’s a lot of that kind of stuff with my kind.”

GM: Emily sleeps in the attached carriage house (more like carriage room), so there’s that much extra distance.

“Oh, like how?” Diana looks worried.

Celia: “Just if you’re ever around it, there’s a lot of… sex, I guess.”

GM: “Ah. Well, I’d appreciate you not takin’ me to that, sweetie. It just isn’t my scene.”

“But if it happens, I suppose I’ll just try and pretend I’m in a rose garden, or somethin’.”

Celia: “I’ll, ah, try to avoid taking you to anything like that.”

“Your leg okay after the fencing?”

GM: “Thanks,” her mom nods. “We took things slow, and Emi gave me a massage after we were done. But I wouldn’t say no to another,” she smiles.

Celia: “A quick one, if that’s all right. I have a few meetings tonight.”

GM: “Of course, sweetie. My leg doesn’t really hurt right now, anyways.”

“I wanted to talk to you about Dani, unless you had anything to bring up first?”

Celia: “No, go ahead.”

GM: “She… told me about Stephen,” Celia’s mom says quietly.

“Is it true that he’s… Celia, is he hitting you…?” she whispers, her eyes wide with a mother’s concern.

Celia: Oh.

“She… told you about Stephen?”

GM: Diana nods.

It’s probably no surprise, with the amount of time the two have been spending together.

Celia: Celia runs a hand through her hair. She hadn’t decided yet if she wanted to tell her mom who her boyfriend really is.

Maybe it’s better this way.

“He’s… it’s… he’s not abusive, Mom.”

GM: “But is he hitting you?” she asks.

Celia: “He just… it’s different, with his clan, they just have this anger about them. And… he did, yes, but it’s… he… I don’t want to say that I deserved it, but the situation was… complicated.”

“I had to break up with him. When I was turned into this. I had to tell him something that would make him not want to see me ever again. So I told him I cheated on him.”

“And then I saw him later, and he was like me, and he… we started talking, a little, and I told him who I was, and he was… he blamed me for being turned, too. Said that I tore out his heart and that he wouldn’t have accepted it if not for me, that when his sire asked if he wanted it he said he had nothing else to live for.”

GM: “Oh, Celia, baby…” her mom whispers, her face pained as she squeezes her daughter’s hands.

Celia: “I guess he’d been kind of stalking me online. And Lucy. He thought she was his. And he asked if that’s why we needed the pill the one night, if she was someone else’s kid.”

GM: “Oh. What did… you tell him about her?”

Diana’s face is wary.

Celia: “That she’s not mine. He knew the dates didn’t add up anyway. And then he said I was lying and he lost control of his Beast and attacked me.”

“We didn’t talk for a few years.”

“And then I… asked him out.”

“And things were good for a few weeks.”

“…and then they weren’t.”

GM: Diana listens, holding Celia’s hands in hers but not judging yet. There’s an odd tinge of apprehension and hope to her face.

Celia: “He wanted to know the truth about the cheating. Said that… that our past dictates our present. So I… I told him. I told him the truth.”

Celia looks away from her mom.

GM: “Oh, Celia…” Her mom murmurs, embracing her tight and stroking her hair.

“It’s okay, sweetie… we all make mistakes, we all fall short… I don’t blame you…”

Celia: “So he… he hit me for it,” Celia whispers into her mom’s shoulder. “He got angry and lost control.”

GM: Her mom just hugs her close and runs a hand up and down her back.

“I’m sorry, baby… that must have been very, very painful…”

If nothing else, she knows what she’s talking about there.

Celia: “We’re hard to keep down.”

GM: “We… vampires?”

Celia: “Yeah. Your type, too.”

GM: “We are?”

Celia: “Yeah. You heal with blood. I could stab you and you’d heal it. Only a few things can really kill me. The rest of it just knocks me out.”

GM: “Oh. That’s… handy, but here’s hopin’ we won’t need it much.”

There’s a hungry look in Diana’s eyes at the words ‘heal with blood.’ Perhaps Celia would then have to replace it.

But she quickly asks, “But you got back together?”

Celia: “Yeah. Recently. But it’s… it’s hard to date like this. People just… they suck. I’ve had a handful of flings—” more than a handful “—but no one I love.”

GM: “I’m sorry, sweetie. A mom’s love might not be the same, but you’ll always have it,” her mom smiles in answer to her initial words, rubbing her arm.

Celia: “Can’t take you to bed with me, though,” Celia tells her, echoing the words she’d said to her and Emily nights ago.

GM: “Well, hence not the same,” her mom says with a wry half-smile.

Celia: “But I love him. I can talk to him. I can be Celia around him.”

GM: “So you have to be Jade around other vampires. But Stephen brings out Celia?”

Celia: Celia nods.

“Yes, exactly.”

GM: “That sounds like something very precious and special.”

Celia: Her sire brings out Celia as well, but that’s too complicated to get into with her mother.

“It is. He loves me, too, even though he… even though he hurt me. It’s not like it was with Dad. It’s not.”

GM: “Is he sorry he did?”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “He’s said so?”

Celia: Had he? She thought so.

“Yes.”

GM: “Then that’s somethin’ your father never did,” Celia’s mom nods. “Until now, anyway. He never once said sorry before, even when we made up.”

Celia: “He’s not like Dad. It’s different. It was just twice, and… I’ve gotten faster since then, so if he’s about to lose it I know to get away.”

GM: “It sounds like you both messed up… but wanted to make up.”

Celia: “We did.”

GM: “That happens.”

“You think he might… lose it again, ever?”

Celia: “…honestly? Yes. But not at me. Not like that.”

“It’s like… okay, the other night when I was in the tub.”

GM: “I remember that. It was very scary…”

Celia: “I lost control. But it wasn’t at you, it was just… I was hungry, and you were there.”

“That’s when the Beast comes out. And that’s what happens with him. He loses control.”

GM: “That wasn’t you I saw in your eyes, baby. A mom knows her kids.”

Celia: “It’s not me. It’s this other part of me. We all have one. I mean, Dani doesn’t, but it’s different.”

GM: “Oh, why not?”

Celia: “Thin-blood. Their physiology is different. They’re too far removed from the original vampire to manifest a lot of the same things we do.”

GM: “Oh. Dani explained that. She said she wasn’t a real vampire.”

Celia: “Some people think she isn’t. They’d call her a half-breed.”

GM: “She said you said she had fangs and drank blood.”

Diana is quiet for a moment. “Jade called me a half-breed. Or… you did, as Jade, rather.”

Celia: “It just means ghoul, in that case. In Dani’s it’s… like a slur.”

GM: “Dani doesn’t deserve slurs. She’s a sweet girl.”

Celia: “True-blooded vampires think they’re better than everyone else. Ghouls, thin-bloods, kine. They’re the white supremacists of our world, basically.”

Celia shakes her head.

“It doesn’t matter how sweet she is if no one accepts her. They killed someone at a party on Saturday just for being like her.”

GM: “I accept her.”

Celia: “You’re not a vampire.”

GM: “Well, I thought that didn’t really matter?”

Celia: “I mean it doesn’t matter if you accept her.”

GM: “I think it matters a lot to h-” Diana starts.

Celia: “Not to my society.”

GM: “Oh, I see.”

Celia: “It’s like the Mexican kid telling the black kid that he accepts him. None of us care. You’re not white, so that’s all they see.”

GM: Diana frowns faintly at that comparison.

Celia: “There are people, like me, who aren’t bothered by it, but most people… most people consider them abominations.”

“Even her brother…” Celia shakes her head. “He lost it when he found out.”

GM: “His Beast, you mean? Or really him?”

Celia: “He lost it and his Beast came out.”

GM: “Okay. Dani is… blaming him, rather than the Beast.”

Celia: “She hasn’t seen it. She doesn’t understand. He almost lost it when they met but I… I got in the middle of it. Calmed him down. I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t.”

“I didn’t warn her well enough about him,” Celia says with a sigh, “and now they’re mad at each other.”

GM: “I think we can both try to calm the waters,” says Diana. “If we explain what the Beast is, maybe.”

Celia: “I don’t think explaining is going to work. Maybe if we show her.”

GM: “Dani is very, very lonely. She might be mad at her brother, but I think she really wants to have someone else she can talk to and confide in. She needs more people than just us.”

“A big brother’s love would be a wonderful thing for her to have right now. Especially Stephen’s! He was such a nice boy, it kills me that she doesn’t want to see him.”

Celia: “I’m trying to get them together tonight so they can talk.”

GM: “Sooner they make up, the better,” Diana nods.

“Showin’ her the Beast might be a good idea too, if she doesn’t get hurt. Show versus tell, and all.”

Celia: “I could have Stephen, ah, cuff me or something.”

GM: Her mother gives a worried frown. “Would that hurt you? I know you said you don’t as easily, but…”

Celia: “He’d have to bring it out. It comes out when we’re hurt, hungry, angry.”

GM: “I don’t want to hurt you, sweetie…” her mom murmurs. “Maybe I can just explain what happened with us, to Dani.”

Celia: “You can try.”

GM: “And you could too. Two trusted voices and all.”

Celia: “Worth a shot. Being stabbed isn’t my idea of a good time.”

GM: Her mom squeezes her hands. “I won’t let someone stab you, sweetie. I’ll fight ’em off, if they try.”

Celia: Celia smiles at that. “One fencing lesson and you’re ready to take on the world.”

GM: “When my baby’s on the line, you bet,” her mom chuckles. “If it keeps you safer, my heart’s all in it.”

Celia: “I’m glad to hear it.”

“I didn’t tell Stephen about you.”

GM: “Oh, yes, we got distracted! I just want to say, sweetie, he’s an absolutely wonderful boy and I’m overjoyed he’s still alive and that you two can still be together. He did so much for our family. For you. He was really… I could just tell, he held your heart in a way Randy simply didn’t. I am beyond happy for both of you. I wish you many long and happy years together.” Her mom smiles and rests her hands on Celia’s shoulders as she talks.

Celia: Celia tries to smile. She does. But the thought of the future that’s waiting for her, the idea of turning him into something like that… The smile takes longer than normal to lift her lips, and it doesn’t quite meet her eyes.

“Me too, Mom. I just hope one night it’ll be easier than it is right now.”

GM: “Can I help make it easier?” Diana asks, glancing long into her daughter’s eyes.

“I want you to be happy with your beau.”

Celia: “It’s just… politics. Bit of a Romeo and Juliet situation.”

GM: “Well, if it means somethin’, your family approves. Theirs didn’t.”

Celia: Celia laughs at that.

“That’s true. Now we just need the vampire family to approve.”

GM: “We’ll work on that, then. But what matters is you two have each other, and you have something very precious. Anything that can drive back Jade and let you be Celia is worth its weight in gold.”

“Anyway, sweetie, we got a lil’ side-tracked. I wanted to talk about Dani.”

Celia: “Right. Go ahead.”

GM: “All right, so, here’s the situation with her. She’s told me just about everything I think she’s told you. I’ve helped her move her things over here, temporarily. I woke her up early today, to go to law school, and she came back and passed out. I want to get her on a schedule where she’s up early, stays awake, and goes to bed early, ‘cause it’s not healthy to break up your sleep.”

“For, ah, non-vampires, anyway. I don’t know if that’s the same with vampires.”

“She’s sleeping in my bedroom right now, by the way. I’ve been sleeping with Lucy. Fun lil’ slumber party for us.”

Celia: “We normally sleep all day and don’t sleep otherwise.”

GM: “Ah, well, sounds like the rules are different for her. She’s asleep in my room now, like I said.”

“I’ve talked to her about school, and she’s been… sweetie, she was raped and turned into a vampire. She’s fallen behind. In her coursework, job, you name it. I’ve talked with her boss and professors, to help straighten things out without saying too much about her situation, just letting them know she’s goin’ through a hard time and still wants to do her best. Emily and I have also helped her with her phone bill, laundry, car maintenance, basically all the lil’ life things she was letting slide."

“Emily has also been very good to her. Even if they can’t talk about quite as much. But she knows Dani was raped, and thinks that’s why she’s spending a lot of time in bed.”

Celia: Celia listens quietly. She hadn’t realized that Dani had fallen so behind.

GM: “She says she spent a lot of her time at that bar, trying to track down who did this to her. And just stay fed.”

“I’m very glad you found her. I think her life would have spiraled apart if you hadn’t.”

“She’s a smart and brave girl. She is able to talk about what happened to her and call it what it is. But… I think she is in a very vulnerable place, still. I really don’t think she should live alone. After your father… after your father raped me, I was so thankful to have Emily living in the same house. Because she knew and believed me and did so much to support me and help out. Especially pregnant. I really think Dani needs that kind of 24/7 support in her life right now.”

“I’d be happy to be that for her, and I think she’d be if I was, too. But she talks about you all the time. She talks about how much she’d have loved to be your roommate, and she was really sad you couldn’t be. Can I get you to reconsider?”

“She thinks just the world of you.”

Celia: Ah.

Yes.

The bond has come back to bite her in the ass.

“I… I’m never home, Mom. My house is literally a closet and a bed. I barely even sleep there most nights, and there’s a lot of… I mean, I have a very private life, it’s hard to just invite someone in to that. I could get, like, a communal place with her, but I’m not going to be there all the time. Like tonight I have a handful of meetings, and tomorrow I’ve got two more, and Friday is… well Fridays are usually pretty full, Saturdays I’m gone most of the night…”

Celia exhales heavily.

“And Stephen and I are supposed to get a place together. There’s a lot of, uh, sex.”

GM: “Hm. I don’t think she’d be offended, but bein’ a third wheel isn’t much fun.”

“I don’t think Dani wants to spend all of her time at home, anyways. I don’t think that’s good for her either. She needs to keep livin’ her life.”

Celia: “I told her the same thing.”

GM: “I just want her to have support when she is home. I don’t want her to live by herself right now.”

Celia: “I’ll think about it, see if I can figure something out. I just don’t know how supportive I’m going to be if I’m never home.”

GM: “Well, that could be here, if you can’t figure out something else. We have room to do this for a while. I’m just worried how we’ll explain her hours to Emily. Maybe we can get her accustomed to bein’ up during the day.”

Celia: “I’m supposed to meet with someone tomorrow night who knows more about the thin-bloods. I’ll see if she has any suggestions there.”

GM: “Okay. For now, I’d postpone the apartment idea, until she’s in a better place mentally. Right now I think she would benefit a lot from some live-in support.”

Celia: Maybe she can give her Mabel and they can… support each other.

GM: “Also, sweetie, I think she feels very helpless.”

Celia: “Helpless?”

GM: Her mom nods. “She didn’t find out who did this to her. She’s heard from you about how bad duskborn have it, what second-class citizens they are. She’s had to hide from and tiptoe around other vampires, get a special tattoo, jump through hoops with her job and work, not even pick up her own things from her apartment, that whole incident with her brother…” Diana pauses. “To be clear, sweetie, I believe you’re doin’ what’s best for her and her safety. I think she would be in a vastly worse place if she hadn’t met you. But I don’t think she feels like she has very much control in her life, or is able to do things that build confidence. I think that’s why she’s lashing out at her brother, because it lets her be in control of something. That’s my read, anyway.”

Celia: “Ah…” She hadn’t considered that. But she’s been acting like a mother bear, hasn’t she, to keep Dani safe.

“What do you think I should do?”

GM: Her mom thinks. “Is there anywhere you can let her make many choices? Or, color outside the lines? Help you out in some way? I think she’d feel better if she felt needed and useful. Like she was earnin’ her keep. You remember how important that was to Emily, when she moved in with me.”

Celia: “Maybe?” Celia hedges. “I’ve gotten so used to doing things on my own, I didn’t really think about asking her for help. I didn’t want to burden her after everything she’s been through, thought she could just focus on school…”

GM: “I think if she’s at all like her brother, she feels best when she feels needed. Like she’s making a difference.”

“And I think she is a lot like her brother, despite how… how low an opinion, I guess, she has of herself.”

Celia: “All right. Yeah. I can think of something.”

GM: Diana beams. “Wonderful, sweetie! Do you want to wake her up and tell her about it?”

Celia: Celia checks the time.

GM: The ladybug clock reads half past 8.

“Or I could pass it on, whatever works,” Diana says at her glance up.

Celia: “Ah, I can’t right now actually. I need to be across the city in thirty minutes.”

“Can you tell her I’ll call her later? I have a meeting, but I’ll swing by after.”

GM: “Okay. I’ll probably be asleep, if that’ll take you a while, so you can let yourself in.” Celia still has a house key.

“Or, actually, you could give her a call first, so she can clear out the cats. They don’t seem to mind her at all.”

Celia: “Thanks for putting them away. I was wondering why no one hissed at me tonight.”

GM: “Yes, they’re in Emi’s bedroom. I’ll do that whenever you come over now.”

Celia: “I have to get going, though. I didn’t realize the time.”

GM: “Oh! One last thing, sweetie. Are you hungry?”

Celia: “…yes?”

GM: Her mom nods. “Would you like my wrist or neck?”

Celia: Is this weird?

This is weird.

Pete would be so mad at her.

But the woman just tastes so good.

“Whatever you’re comfortable with.” Her fangs are already out; she runs her tongue across the sharp edges. “You’ll be woozy tomorrow. Nothing important going on?”

GM: “How woozy? I have work, but I could call in sick if you need a lot.”

Celia: “No, no. Just… a little more tired, maybe. I only need a little.”

GM: “Okay. I can manage that for you, sweetie.”

Diana leans forward, baring her neck.

Celia: She’s just never going to tell Pete.

Ever.

Already close enough to touch, Celia closes the distance between them. It’s like going in for a hug and resting her cheek against her shoulder, only now… now she opens her mouth and pierces her mother’s flesh with her fangs, sinking into the embrace and closing her eyes as the rich, warm blood spills across her tongue.

She drinks.

GM: It tastes like love.

Just like last time.

A mother’s love. Endlessly, willingly, happily giving. Like warm chicken soup, homemade just for her. There’s a stronger, purer flavor to it, this time. There’s none of the fear, shock, and disorientation that spiked her last libation from the woman. That bitter undercurrent is all gone. This is rich and warm and full. For a moment, Celia can forget her Beast’s pangs, and glow under the taste of that liquid love, that she could cultivate from no other vessel.

And Celia knows. She can taste it. Her mother wants this. Not just the pleasure of Celia’s kiss. She may not even want that at all. She wants to give of herself, to help her daughter. There’s joy in her blood, at being able to give of herself for Celia. At being able to feed her baby.

Celia: Her kind will never know this taste. She can’t imagine there’s anyone else in the world who will ever know what love this pure tastes like.

She’s lucky.

So incredibly lucky.

She savors every mouthful that she swallows, letting it fill her with the emotion that everyone like her thinks is dead to them, lost forever when their mortal coils slough away. Is this what Celia tastes like when Roderick drinks from her? When her sire drinks from her?

Love. Pure, raw, unfiltered. Someone she’d do anything for.

She sips at the divine nectar offered to her and for a moment lets her troubles fade away. She wraps herself in love, a warm blanket on a cold night.

When she finally pulls back, licking closed the holes, she swears that she can see stars.

GM: Her mother’s breath comes heavier in her ears. A blush has crept across the woman’s paler cheeks. Her eyes shine as she touches Celia’s cheek.

“You’ve had enough, baby?” she smiles. “I could give you more in a thermos, where it’ll stay warm, if you want some to save for later…”

Celia: Tempting. So very, very tempting.

But Celia shakes her head at the offer.

“You’ll hurt yourself if you give too much. I need you healthy. Once or twice a week, no more than that. Small amounts like this, right from the vein. That’s when it’s best. Something I can look forward to.”

GM: “Okay, sweetie. Just know that I’m always, always here if you need me, and if you need more, okay?”

Celia: “I know, Mom. I love you.”

GM: Her mother hugs her. “I love you too, Celia.”

Carpe noctem, is that what the phrase is? Go seize the night,” she smiles.

Celia: So she does. Celia melds into Jade when she turns away from her mother, fingers blurring across her face to transform the girl into the lick. Even in this face, Celia’s smile briefly shines through at her mother. She’s Jade, yes, but the daughter remains beneath the surface of the domitor. Her form blurs, first into a familiar gray cat to rub up against the woman’s legs with a purr and a meow, letting her know that something good still resides within her, and then the cat takes a running leap and shifts again. Fur becomes feathers, limbs become wings, and the nightjar takes off into the sky.


Wednesday night, 16 March 2016, PM

Celia: From this vantage point, high above the city, the girl and the bird both find peace. Even the Beast, hungry though it is, cannot help but be silent within her while she soars across the sky. Perhaps it, too, is thinking of another night, another flight; how many of them now has she spent with her sire?

She understands the yearning he has to travel as he does above the heads of the kine that scurry like ants beneath his booted feet. This is my city, she imagines him saying, though words do not frequently pass his lips. He had once told her it would all be his. Years ago, on the highest building in the city where he had collected her from her cousin’s apartment, he had said those words to her. It had pained her then. She had thought of how easily his plans could be stolen from her; she had not understood the words that followed, the place that he intended for her. Now, as the years have passed, she does. She is his tool.

Something within her, something made of steel rather than flesh, rebels at the thought.

She does not want to be a tool.

But that is the way of things, is it not? The elders among them turn the younger into pawns and tools until those younger prove themselves to be capable, to be worthy, and ascend further. So many her age are content to live their nightly existence; they never hunger for more, never seek to rise above what is handed to them. She and Roderick had spoken of it once, the neonates that pay lip service to their patron of choice and offer to be “ears on the ground,” as if there are not dozens like them who do the same thing. Selling hot air.

Jade, Celia, the Beast—they do not want to sell hot air. They wear the masks and say the words, but inside they scheme.

And tonight… tonight they prove to themselves, to their friends, to their sire and their grandsire why the Blood is not wasted on them.

Tonight they turn a boy into a girl, indifference into passion, acquaintance into ally.

Tonight they push the first of the dominoes that will spiral through the city.

The nightjar flaps its wings and soars, reveling in the freedom of the night sky and the thoughts that flit through its mind. One night, perhaps, it will fly beside the sire who blooded it.

Tonight, though, its mission is solitary.

The lights from below beckon the bird to begin its descent, spiraling slowly through the clouds to find the glow of the riverboat. Her playmate waits within.

She glides toward the window left open for her and drops into the painter’s cabin. She shifts from bird to lick.

Jade has arrived.

GM: Jade has arrived, and not a moment too soon.

Perhaps a few moments too early.

As the nightjar swoops by, it see Josua in bed with another vampire. She’s a short, slim, and black-haired Asian-American vampire who isn’t wearing anything. Josua isn’t either. The two Kindred are locked in one another’s embrace—or at least locked under the female one’s. She’s pushed him face-down into the bed and is straddling him from behind, raking fangs and nails down his skin as she laps up the cooling blood. Josua writhes underneath and whispers sweet, submissive words, the kind that are an endless roll of velvet against one’s ears.

There’s a precise perfection to her appearance, the esthetician behind the nightjar can tell. Neatly trimmed hair, long unbroken nails, plucked eyebrows, smooth shaved skin—care was taken prior to her Embrace, care that speaks to her sire’s attention to detail and calculated intentions. Details invisible to the kine, invisible to the trash at the edge of society, but all-too clear to those in the halls of power—or someone who runs a spa. It speaks to legacy and affection. The same care is evident in her manicured and painted nails, carefully styled hair, and a carefully styled, conservative-looking dark blouse and skirt currently lying on the ground.

Kyrstin_Grey.jpg
Alana, at least, has also come through. The nightjar sees the expected makeup case and two suitcases likely filled with folded clothes sitting in the corner of the room.

Celia: What’s this? Another tasty little morsel for her to top?

Someone else might be jealous, but Jade sees the offer for what it is: two for the price of one. Isn’t there a saying about early birds and worms?

Jade shifts, fangs already long in her mouth at the sight and scent of blood.

“Naughty naughty fledglings, starting without me.” Velveteen words drip from her tongue like thunder poured over ice, arousal and hunger in her eyes.

She doesn’t ask for permission. She doesn’t say that she’s going to join them. She just does, stalking forward on heeled shoes without bothering to remove the rest of her clothes. She slides in behind the Tremere—archon’s childe, she remembers from the club, and some part of her purrs at the delectable little treat he’s taken for himself, though she would expect nothing less than perfection from a fellow surgeon—and sinks the points of her fangs into her neck.

GM: “You showed up early,” laughs Josua. “I have a very full schedule…”

Kyrstin gives a low growl and turns around just as Jade’s fangs pierce her neck. The Tremere’s blood and her mother’s are like night and day. Yes, it isn’t brimming with love. But it’s stronger, headier, and with such a darker, sharper taste, all grim determination and jagged glass. It’s the difference between a loved one’s home-cooked soup and a highly-rated restaurant’s. It might not have the same love, the service with a smile. But it’s made by more technically proficient hands, from costlier ingredients, in a dedicated and likewise costlier setting. It’s a good contrast to go from day to night, rather than day to shoddier day like if she’d supped from another ghoul who didn’t love her.

Kyrstin’s hands, meanwhile, already work to tug off Jade’s shirt, then her fangs sink into the Toreador’s neck. The archon wouldn’t choose someone weak for his childe. Josua, beneath them both, pulls down Jade’s panties and teasingly traces his fangs across her lower lips. His painter’s hands appreciatively squeeze her posterior.

“A body built for bedrooms…” he murmurs, then sinks his fangs into her pubic mound.

Celia: Everything she takes the girl takes right back from her. Pity; she hadn’t wanted to need to break into the supply she has built up. But she will. After she enjoys these two.

Her clothing comes off with little regard to its structure, shirt shredded when the Tremere takes too long with the buttons down her front, skirt hiked up around her hips to give Josua the access he needs. A shift of her lower body positions her shins across his forearms, pressure applied to keep him pinned beneath her.

“Hush, pet,” she growls, lifting her mouth from Kyrstin just long enough to get the words out. Another shift of her hips and she’s put the best part of herself over him, pressing down to smother his lips with hers and present him with the feast he so clearly desires. Jade leans in again, claws and fangs tearing across Kyrstin’s chest. Her tongue follows.

GM: Josua likely couldn’t be happier to have any speech muffled beneath Jade’s best part. He struggles with his arms and makes little gasps and squeals in a very sexy way. His tongue expertly goes about its work, lapping and stroking and teasing her in all the right places even as bliss shudders up her loins from the kiss of her clanmate’s fangs. She’s sitting on a volt of electricity. She wants to scream and leap off, but not really, she actually wants to grind down, wants to shove her cunt against his face like she shoved her cock down Alana’s mouth, to make two holes become as one. He’s a fire smoldering beneath her, lending fuel to the lovemaking machine she is up top. Kyristin mirrors her motions. She bites and kisses, but mostly bites, across Jade’s lips, neck, shoulders, breasts. She rakes skin with her nails. She waits those tortuously long seconds for the blood to cool, then laps it up. The Tremere neonate doesn’t have passion so much as she has determination, relentlessly seizing what she wants. She isn’t a virtuoso like Josua. Her touch doesn’t please so much as take. She is, Jade assesses, his junior in the arts of love.

But then, she isn’t a Toreador.

Celia: She takes after her sire in that manner. Or at least that’s what Jade had always imagined when she fantasized about the archon: taking what he wants. Seizing it like he seizes everything else in his Requiem. Controlling her pleasure like he had controlled her body so effortlessly on the floor of the club; a hand here, a touch there, she had bent to his will. Restrained strength. Even his mind in hers had been delicate and precise, never venturing beyond what she had offered to show him.

Pity, too, as she’d had such wicked visions she could have shared that all involved his taught, toned body intertwined with hers.

She contents herself with the childe, some small part of her wondering if Grey and North have ever fucked, another part wondering at his response if she takes the fledgling for a lover to show her how it’s done.

Like this, her touch says, fangs trailing shallow scratches from clavicle to nipple in slow, prolonged movements. She goes the other way to lick it clean, down to up rather than up to down. Down, though, her hips over Josua’s mouth, riding the tongue he uses to tease her with as assuredly as she would ride another part.

GM: Maybe if she fucks Kyrstin hard enough her sire will feel it. Through the Blood.

What a compliment that would be.

Does Donovan feel it, when she gets fucked really hard and really well? Does he sense her pleasure? What feelings does it stir in his cold breast? She fucks so often, and so expertly, surely he’s felt it at least a few times.

It’s enough to think about him while she’s with them.

Jade shows the Tremere how it’s done. Like this. Like that. Slow. Savoring. Compatible with taking. Just do it right. She shows them both how it’s done. She reminds Josua it’s his place to lick, from the bottom, to worship her cunt and be thankful for it. He is. He so clearly is. The three lie spent on his silky sheets (of course he has good sheets) when they’re done, slick with one another’s vitae.

“Always a pleasure to be fucked by an expert…” the other Toreador purrs, stroking a hand along Jade’s vitae-smeared flank.

Celia: Does he feel it when she has a particularly strong release? Does it strike him in the middle of important meetings, a vision of her topping or being topped by someone else, the echo of her pleasure arcing through the space between them?

It’s a decidedly delicious thought, made all the better by the way the Tremere responds to her instruction.

When they’re both spent—she did that—and collapse onto the bed, Jade curls up behind Josua and nuzzles the back of his neck with her lips.

“Happy to assist,” she murmurs against his skin. Her tongue flicks along his flesh, wiping it clean of blood. She itches to sink her fangs into him again.

“I’m Jade,” she says to Kyrstin.

GM: Josua clearly has that same thought. He grins and starts to clean her up with his tongue too. They won’t let a droplet go to waste.

“Kyrstin,” replies Jon’s childe, propping her head up with her fist.

Celia: “I know your sire,” Jade says to her as Josua busies himself once more with his tongue. Her eyes flick down the naked girl’s body, appraising, then back up. “He has good taste.”

GM: “Then I am sure you are unsurprised. He is meticulous.”

Celia: “Excellent word choice for him.” Jade finally smiles, running a hand through Josua’s hair. “Are you being released upon his return?”

GM: Josua grins and continues to lip the bottom-most portions of her breasts. They’re clean of vitae.

“I am being released this Sunday,” Kyrstin answers.

Celia: “Congratulations,” Jade tells her, only momentarily distracted when Josua’s lip closes around a nipple. “I’ll be sure to attend. Is he back, then?”

“Perhaps a party afterward,” she muses, clearly already planning something.

GM: “Thanks,” says Kyrstin. “Archon North has pressing business elsewhere, but I’d still enjoy a party.”

“That must suck he won’t be there,” says Josua between sucks.

Kyrstin shrugs her slim shoulders. “He knows. He’s proud of me. It’s enough that I’m here because of him.”

Celia: It was enough for Jade that Donovan and Lord Savoy had been present at her release despite being introduced to their society as Veronica’s childe.

She asks after Kyrstin’s schedule and what night would work best, already wondering where she can throw a party for the girl. The one Veronica had hosted for her had been a night to remember; Jade will step in for North, if he’s busy with his archon things.

GM: The harpy’s childe got a party just for her, after all.

Kyrstin is free the Wednesday and Thursday after her release.

A buzz goes up from the phone amidst Jade’s clothes.

Celia: Jade lets her know she’ll be in touch.

“Hold that thought, pet,” she says to Josua, rolling off the bed to pluck the phone from where it sits beneath her clothing. She gets Kyrstin’s number and checks the message. Efficient.

GM: It’s from Randy, on her question about whether Reggie was fucking Mabel with her consent.

Mabel maybe thought it was Evan fucking her so kind of?

Celia: Thanks. I’ll handle.

Reggie is going to be the sort of rapist-vampire that nightmares are made of.

GM: He said it himself. He takes what he wants.

On the other hand, Jade’s heard a few licks say they’re all rapists, in their own way.

Celia: “I’m excited for the party now,” Jade says, dropping her phone back onto the pile of clothing and sliding into bed with the two. “I don’t suppose your lover will let you come to the Quarter if I host it there, hm?”

GM: “I don’t suppose so,” Josua says with an effected sigh.

“Perhaps Marigny,” says Kyrstin.

Celia: “Might as well.”

GM: Kyrstin doesn’t look disappointed, at least.

Celia: She would if she knew what sort of parties the Evergreen sees.

But Jade won’t burst her bubble.

Something Roderick had said to her about Tremere comes to mind. The demon thing. Is there a casual way to link demons, sex, and parties?

If anyone can do it, Jade can.

She makes idle chitchat for a moment, asking after the Tremere’s studies, and finally slips it into the conversation. Grunewald was the ghost expert; who’s the demonologist of New Orleans?

GM: Apparently, Jade can.

Kyrstin answers little about her thaumaturgic studies, directing conversation back to the party, but looks amused by Jade’s “joking” question. While the chantry doesn’t have a dedicated demonologist, Erwin Bornemann and Elsbeth von Steinhäuser likely know the most about demons, by dint of being the chantry’s senior-most Tremere.

Celia: Jade tucks that information away for later and lets Kyrstin steer them back toward party talk. She wants to know what Kyrstin wants to do to cut loose now that she’s “her own Kindred.”

GM: Kyrstin wants to indeed cut loose. Dancing. Partying. Music. Attractive vessels. “Like in college.”

She’s not interested, though, in “the kinkier shit.” Like vitae-gorged ghouls raping each other to death for the promise of more in front of laughing crowds.

It would be a lie to say Jade has never seen that.

Kyrstin, meanwhile, allows herself a faint smile.

“Lucky me to have a Toreador volunteering.”

Celia: Lucky indeed.

“I have a handful of clubs in the Quarter if you ever feel the need to cut loose after this party. Let me know; I’d be happy to take you out again.”

GM: Kyrstin nods. “I also enjoy piano music.”

Celia: “You should hear my grandsire play sometime.”

GM: “I fucked someone on a piano once,” Josua mentions idly.

Celia: “Did you play a tune?” Jade asks, one brow arched.

GM: “Sort of. I tried to hit the keys with my feet, but the positioning was awkward.”

Celia: “We should try again sometime.”

GM: “Yes, we should.”

Celia: “Or set a canvas on the ground and roll around in paint.”

“Or both.”

GM: “Mmm. I’d want to paint every last inch of you…” Josua murmurs, suckling her other nipple.

Kyrstin looks faintly amused again.

Toreador never stop thinking about sex.

Celia: Josua might have more sex than she does.

Is it possible?

Hadn’t she had three threesomes in one night last week?

Christ.

She’s happy to go again, though, or to let Kyrstin get on her way so she and Josua can get down to business. Sex business. Very serious stuff.

GM: Kyrstin’s libido seems satisfied. The blood disappears from her body with a murmured invocation and wave of her hand as she dresses. She says they have her number, then heads off.

Not everyone can be as much of a champ as the two Toreador.


Wednesday night, 16 March 2016, PM

GM: Josua doesn’t seem satisfied at all. He goes again with Jade. It’s everything and more that it was last time. It leaves her shivering with satisfaction and her Beast howling for more. They’re insatiable.

She’s not even sure how many times she had sex last night. There was Roderick, Reggie, Alana, the two breathers she picked up… and when was Vinny? That was also with Alana. It’s all blurring together.

“Mmm, good warm-up,” Josua purrs.

“But this is just practice for us with Marcel, me as a girl…”

Celia: They end up sprawled across the floor when they’re done the second time; at some point they had shifted and fallen and kept going, neither one of them bothered by the abrupt shift in position. Jade rests now with her head on his chest, tips of her claws running across his stomach.

“Mm,” she agrees, “just practice for Marcel.” Her eyes find the suitcases. “I see my delivery made it on time. Did you get a look at the girl who brought it?”

GM: “Yes, she was great in bed.”

Celia: Jade lifts a brow.

“You fucked Celia?”

GM: The other Toreador laughs and strokes her backside.

“You couldn’t have expected me not to help myself, sending in a treat like that.”

Celia: She’d left that out of the report.

GM: “I follow her on social media, so that was even better. There was lots of anticipation.”

Celia: “Wait a minute, so you got it up for her or you fangbanged her?”

GM: “Fangbanged. I’m happy to get you off the breather way, but it doesn’t do anything for me.”

“I did get her off that way too, though.”

Celia: “How chivalrous,” Jade says dryly. She’s both amused and aroused by the thought of Josua following Celia online and finally getting a chance to bang her. “Measure up to your expectations?”

GM: “Oh, yes,” he purrs. “I’d jerked off to her photos when I was alive. She was more submissive than I expected, but that might’ve been the renfield in her talking.”

“I gave her some of my blood, too, to balance what I took away. Since I’m so chivalrous.”

Celia: “Pity,” Jade says, nails tapping against his chest, “I was going to take it from you.”

GM: “She took it from me. I had her suck it from my dick.”

“There’s really nothing like the sight of a famous breather on their knees for you.”

Celia: Jade shifts, sliding down Josua’s body until she’s kneeling between his legs.

“Was she better than me?” Jade asks, fangs trailing down the inside of his thigh. “Should we compare?” She laps at the blood her teeth bring forth, not bothering to wait for it to cool; she wants to give him the full effect of the pleasure she can bring him.

GM: “Oh, there’s no comparison…” Josua grins. He sits up and wraps his legs around her torso, pulling her in close against him. His painter’s hands close around one of her breasts, not directly kneading it, but rubbing his palms against one another with the nipple caught between.

It’s tricky positioning, with her head so close to his cock.

Celia: It doesn’t stop her from taking what she wants from him. Last time he had put a tiny little prick at the head of his cock for her; now she creates the same sort of hole with the point of one fang, eagerly sucking the blood from him. Her mouth vibrates around him when he begins to touch her breast, growl or purr or breather-like moan muffled by the flesh in her mouth.

GM: He leans down, fangs piercing her neck as her own pierce his stiffened manhood. Bliss shudders through her as he wraps his arms around her, holding her close against him with all four limbs.

Celia: She doesn’t let it devolve into another full round of sex; they need to meet Marcel, after all, and Josua needs to be transformed first. She gives him enough of a taste to put her assuredly ahead of her ghoul before releasing him, pushing him back down onto the floor and settling herself above him.

“We should shower before we meet him, no? Come in fresh?”

GM: “Mistress knows best,” he smiles, his fingers idly finding their way towards her womanhood.

Celia: Her fingers close around his wrist, preventing him from touching her.

“I assume the breather way does nothing for him, either. I’d prefer if you not tell him, if that’s the case.”

GM: “Yes, I was going to say. Don’t cum. He’ll be really grossed out.”

Celia: “Old licks are so…” Jade just shakes her head.

GM: “I wish I could still fuck that way,” Josua sighs.

Celia: “Honestly, it’s pretty much the best of both worlds.”

GM: “I’m so jealous. I can still make myself hard, but it does nothing. Seeing Celia Flores suck me off is satisfying on a purely psychological level.”

“Don’t get… wet, either, or let your nipples get hard. Can you turn that off?”

Celia: “Ah. Right. Yeah. Kind of like how you turn it on. Just blood control.”

GM: “Okay, good. But don’t worry. It’ll still be a fantastic time. He’s amazing in bed.”

Celia: “Maybe I’ll join his harem and move in with you here,” Jade muses, “we’ll never leave the boat.”

GM: “He’d like that,” smiles Josua. “He’s always looking to build his harem.”

“Well. Since before Matheson, anyway.”

Celia: Jade winces. “Yeah, I imagine that put a damper on things.”

GM: “Yes, it’s an ugly look now.”

Celia: “I mean, it’s not like he’s doing the same thing.”

GM: “Oh, he isn’t, at all. But he figured the optics would be too hard to explain, and licks looking to sling mud might seize on it.”

“So with Marie in torpor and Evan gone, I’m the only one of his regular harem left.”

Celia: “Evan was his?”

GM: “Well, used to be. Roxanne was really jealous, so Evan left. He was really apologetic about the whole thing, tried to offer Marcel a boon, but he said no.”

“He’s pretty casual about it all, he knows flings don’t last forever.”

Celia: “Oh. Huh. I didn’t know that. I mean, I knew Roxanne was jealous about him being with other people, but… huh. Did Marcel ever look into what became of him?”

GM: “Oh, Rocco talked to him about it. But not really. Licks go missing sometimes and he figured the other Storyvilles would try to find Evan.”

“After this long he’s probably ash, which sucks. He was good in bed.”

Celia: “Always a loss.”

“Also, not to sound ignorant, but isn’t Marie relatively young? Why’s she torped?”

GM: “Marie got torped by Setites. Marcel’s fed her his blood, but she hasn’t woken up.”

Celia: “…what?”

GM: “We dunno what’s wrong with her.”

“Marcel thinks maybe the Setites put a curse on her or something.”

Celia: “That’s awful.”

GM: “Yeah, she was great in bed too.”

“She and Marcel had amazing chemistry. Even outside of bed.”

“Which was interesting, because he usually likes boys. Like, it’s not a hard preference, but I’ve seen him go for a lot more guy licks than girl licks.”

Celia: “Why does he make you dress like a girl, then?”

GM: Josua smiles. “Variety is nice, isn’t it?”

Celia: “Would he like me more if I were a boy?”

GM: “Hmm, maybe? Like I said, girls can do it for him. He was really into Marie. He just tends to prefer boys.”

“I guess it depends how sexy a boy you make.”

“He likes his boys sort of feminine, too. Hates facial hair on them. So I think that’s why the idea of me being a boy in girl’s clothes does it for him.”

Celia: “Well considering the base I’d have to work with…” Jade gestures down at her flawless self.

GM: Josua laughs.

“It’s a perfect base. Don’t worry. He’ll be all over you.”

Celia: “Mm. Good. I hate feeling rejected. I’d have to bring you back here for round… seven, or something, to make me feel better.”

GM: “He’ll love you. Just fuck him the way he likes it, and it won’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl.”

“He likes being on top. Ventrue, prince, and all.”

“But he doesn’t like it if you just submit and simper, he likes lovers with spirit. Who push back.”

“But he wants to win, because Ventrue prince and all.”

“And when he does win he doesn’t want to just beat you into submission, he wants you to surrender.”

“And he wants you to be happy surrendering. Because you realize his way is the best way. You know?”

Celia: “Surrender to the prince,” Jade says, nodding. If she weren’t busy practicing not getting wet in front of Marcel Josua might notice her arousal at the thought. Or maybe that was there from earlier. Who can tell with her.

Jade takes a moment to look around his room, searching for a microwave.

GM: There is none in the small cabin.

“He loves it when people call him ‘my prince,’ too. Or ‘Your Majesty.’”

“He’s a great prince, I think he should still be one.”

“I think it’s so awful what those sewer rats did. It’d have been so much fun to live in Baton Rouge under him.”

Celia: Well fuck.

“If and when he takes back the city, are you going back with him?”

GM: “Oh, yes! I’ll be a real prince’s boytoy, won’t I?” Josua grins.

“And he can do whatever he wants to me…”

Celia: “Does that make you a princess?” Jade asks idly.

GM: “I’d love to be his princess.”

“His princess bitch.”

Celia: “Mmm. Now that sounds delightful.”

GM: “He says he ran a lot of the city out of his bedroom, too, so that’s fun.”

“If you had sex with him and he liked it he’d give you better hunting grounds.”

Celia: Jade arches a brow.

“Marcel for prince,” she declares.

GM: “And if you lived with him in his haven, as part of his harem, then you’d really have it made.”

“He says neonates all competed with each other to impress him so they’d get to live with him.”

Celia: Jade can’t think of anyone who would offer her real competition.

GM: She’s flawless, after all.

Celia: “Are we sure he’s Ventrue? Sounds like the sort of Toreador prince I could get behind.”

GM: “Oh, so, that’s the thing.”

“He actually is Ventrue, and really Ventrue. He’s just really subtle about it.”

“He still, I guess you could say, thinks with his head. All of that with his harem, and the fucking him for better feeding grounds, is calculated. He has this whole rational explanation for why he does it.”

“I mean, he also likes it, but he does it because he thinks it works best.”

Celia: “Approachable, blood bonds, good time, doesn’t look like a stiff, instills competition to stay in his good graces. Probably more I’m missing.”

GM: “Yes, that’s basically it.”

Celia: “Makes sense.”

“If I’m ever prince maybe I’ll keep a harem, too.”

“Maybe I should start one now.”

GM: “I’ll compete to be in your harem.”

Celia: “You can keep the rest of my bitches in line.”

GM: “I’ll blow all the other entrants out of the water, when I’m not blowing you.”

Celia: “Are you going to blow me? I can find a doc to give me a cock if you’d like.”

GM: “Really? I thought you could use one of those double strap-ons. Where there’s a dick on both ends, so the deeper you peg a guy, the deeper you get fucked too.”

Celia: “Oh. Yes. I like that more. Let’s do that.”

GM: “I don’t know why any girl uses a single strap-on.”

Josua glances at the time. “We should get showered and changed, I want to hit the casino as a girl before we fuck Marcel and my clothes get ruined.”

Celia: “I, ah… you don’t have a microwave in here, darling,” she finally points out after she’s decided the appliance isn’t hiding behind an easel somewhere.

GM: “It’s cramped here. Why do you want a microwave?”

Celia: “Flying gave me the munchies and I brought a snack because I thought it might and cold blood is gross and I don’t want to lose it on your lover.”

GM: “Oh, okay. There’s a microwave in one of the staff rooms, we can use that.”

Celia: “Perfect.”

GM: “Permission to rise, mistress?”

Celia: “I suppose.”

GM: They get up. They shower. They still wind up fucking in the shower.

Josua gets dressed, leads her to the staff break room, gets out everyone but a girl he starts making out with, perhaps to “distract.” Jade is left to microwave her snack.

Celia: Distract.

Right.

Jade heats the saved blood in the microwave until it’s a little warmer than most humans run, then tells Josua she’s “riding the edge” and goes back to his room to lock herself in the recently fucked-in bathroom. Just in case.

She drinks all of it, already adjusting her schedule to give herself time to get more for Edith and Pete. Inconvenient. But it gave her wings. The literal sort, and the metaphorical sort; without them she wouldn’t have been able to add Grey to her list of conquests or find the next crumb in the trail that will lead her to finding out more about demons.

Not really a path she ever thought she’d want to go down, but here she is.

GM: Here she is.

It would be so easy, though. To just drain someone completely. To have more than enough blood for her needs.

Josua comes back soon enough. “Ready for my makeover?” he smiles.

Celia: She probably will, anyway. After she leaves here. Call Reggie and give him the task of getting rid of the body, which in this case really just means dragging it back to the spa for her. Still, it’s good practice for when he eventually joins her in undeath.

God, she’s really going to miss fucking him. She can’t imagine he’s going to be able to get it up like she does once he’s dead.

“Ready,” she says, makeup bag already unrolled and brushes on her hip. She gestures for him to take a seat. “Thanks for the assist.”

GM: “My pleasure,” he replies, sitting down. “Don’t we do makeup after I’m dressed up, though?”

“Unless it’s a dress that doesn’t have to go over my head.”

Celia: “Usually,” she agrees, “but we’re not quite the same size so nothing I brought is something that will need to go over the head. Zippers and whatnot, things you can step into.”

His chest is larger than hers. Not the tits, but the ribcage itself.

“If you’re eager to browse, though, be my guest.” She gestures toward the luggage full of clothing.

GM: “Makes sense,” he agrees, slipping off his shirt. It’s a trim, hairless, and well-proportioned chest.

“Oh no, we’ll do everything your way, mistress, in just the order you want,” he grins.

Celia: “I hope you know how to walk in heels,” is all she says to that.

GM: “Step down heel first, then toe. Take shorter steps.”

Celia: The work begins.

Josua is hardly the first male client she has ever put makeup on. Aside from Landen—whose face is structurally more masculine than most of her clients even if they aren’t technically a boy—she’s had plenty of them come into the spa over the years. Drag queens, male models, boys who just want to look pretty. Plus the dolls; though less frequent than the female dolls, she and Elyse have still worked on a handful of males.

The application process is similar. Josua has no hair to remove, no scruff on his face that she needs to get rid of, and the gel that she pumps into her fingers and smears across his skin meets no resistance.

“Moisturizer,” she explains, “to help the rest of it go on smoothly. If you like, I can have Celia drop off something for you to use nightly. Our skin takes a special sort of product.”

Her eyes find his again, lips curving into a smile.

“Not that you need much. You’re gorgeous.”

Familiar words; hadn’t she said the same to a blonde Ventrue once?

She dismisses the thought as quickly as it comes, reaching for the primer that will even out any rough patches, fill in any tiny little holes, and help the foundation adhere to his skin.

“Base coat,” she says, pouring a measure of liquid onto the back of her hand and dabbing at it with a brush. That, too, goes across the entirety of his face, blended out with a damp egg-shaped sponge and another brush all the way from his hairline to beyond his jaw. She lets it sit while she reaches for a palette of shadows, beginning with a flesh-toned color to create a base layer along his eyes to help blend everything together. Then white in the corners, applied with a tiny brush that only puts the pigment where she wants it to go. She pauses a moment while she looks into his eyes, debating on color for the lid.

Green can go a handful of ways. The neutrals work best with browns and taupe to make them pop, or any of the other smoky colors. Plum and gold can work as well. Green, too, to give vibrancy to the eyes themselves. He doesn’t have the coloring for plum, she thinks, and neutrals can be boring. But gold… gold might work. Gold and green? Is it too reminiscent of a snake?

No, she thinks, when Marcel sees him he will have no reason to think snake.

A new brush gathers the pigment from the palette, swiping it across his lid. Gold, olive, and pine, the colors bleeding into one another as she blends, blends, blends. Always blending. There will be no unblended lines on this masterpiece, not with Jade wielding the brush. A tiny drop of a green with hints of blue at the outer corner—dare she call it jade?—before the whole thing darkens and dissipates into a smoked out look toward the brow’s tail. Black liner across the top lid, flicked into a wing, and white at the waterline to widen his eyes.

Drama, she thinks. She has given him drama.

He will not be the playful sort of sub this evening; when the pair of them meet with Marcel they will show the faces of two beings that must be conquered by the prince before they will roll over and submit.

Jade works his brows next, plucking the stray hairs that make them too thick to be feminine and filling in the rest with a brown pomade slightly darker than his natural strands. She sculpts them with her tweezers and her pot of color, giving him a fine arch that makes it look like his eyes are constantly smiling.

Another coat of foundation erases any of the fallen pigment from his shadows. She uses another brush to swipe on highlighter that brings attention to his recently decked-out eyes, contour to erase the hard lines of his jaw, and blush to give his face a delicate flush.

She blends it all with brush and finger and sponge.

The boy beneath the makeup disappears as she works, the features becoming less masculine and more feminine with every stroke. A final application of powder locks the liquid in place, and a spritz from a black-capped pink bottle melds it all together.

Then it’s time for the extras: the strip of lashes she applies with a tiny amount of glue, the mascara to meld them together. And lipstick. Green can be hard to match, but Jade has all sorts of colors in her box of goodies, and she finds a liner and liquid lip in a berry that goes well with both the gold and the green.

“One moment,” Jade says before he looks into the mirror. She steps away to pick through the luggage, coming back with a wig and band. She pushes his hair back from his face and secures it with the band, then sets the wig overtop of it and secures it with a brush, a bit of glue, and a handful of tiny little clips that disappear as soon as she places them.

When she’s done, it looks as if she has taken an airbrush to his face.

His skin is smooth. His eyes sparkle. His features have been both softened and hardened, creating the illusion that Jade wants the world to see: Josua Cambridge, female.

Celia: When it’s done, Jade spends a long moment looking him over. She searches for flaws, searches for mistakes, searches for any sign that this isn’t what he might want. She tells him to smile, then to scowl, and finally to pout.

Perfection, she thinks. He is not a cherub-faced saint, no, but the drama of the eyes has not turned him into a vicious killer, either. It is not a look she would put on Veronica or Caroline, two licks with steel in their spine, but neither is it a look that she would give to a child, Leilani, or Celia herself. With this he can be what he wants: predator, prey, strong, weak, goddess, acolyte.

He can wear the mask he chooses.

She holds out a mirror.

GM: Jade and Elyse have worked on their share of male dolls. They’re a lot like Gabe was. Being given female bodies and dressed in female clothes is an immediate, humiliating blow to their spirits. Jade could call it sexist. Could remark on the things it says about gender roles and social views. But there’s nothing like being made to a wear a dress, panties, and bra—with real breasts—to emotionally castrate all but the most defiant males.

GM: Humiliation, Elyse always says, goes so much further than physical chastisement. Pain is an undesirable stimulus dolls will try to avoid. But humiliation destroys the capacity for resistance by making the doll see itself as less than it formerly was.

But Jade and Celia have worked on their share of men who enjoyed being prettied up, and Josua is no exception.

“Really, we still benefit from moisturizer?” he asks. “I thought our skin was perfect. Or at least stuck basically the way it was.”

He smiles at her words. “Yes please, though. Whatever makes me more gorgeous.”

They are familiar words.

But how many times has Josua probably described how much he loves women to other women, like he told Jade he did?

And Josua does clearly love women. Love being made up as a woman. He sits still, and with more difficulty, holds his face still as Jade reworks his face from male to female. He has good facial structure. Delicate lines. Not that a hand as masterful as Jade’s needs those, to bring out someone’s inner beauty, but it’s faster when there’s a lot of outside beauty already. He comes out divine. He’s gorgeous. Stunning. Head-turning. Josua holds the mirror to his face, but only high enough to see his lips—“Our clan blessing is going to kick in, if I see myself all dolled up, and then I’ll try to fuck you. We should at least wait until I’m done.”

But he relishes smiling, scowling, pouting in the mirror. He relishes smiling more than scowling, and pouting more than smiling.

They’re pretty lips.

They’re a pretty everything.

Because everything turns pretty around Jade.

“Wow. Just look at those lips,” he exclaims, holding his finger up to just beneath them, careful not to touch the lipstick. “I could suck so much dick with these lips.”

Celia: “You’re going to suck so much dick with those lips,” Jade tells him.

GM: He puckers his newly-red lips and kisses the air twice. “Yes ma’am!”

Celia: “Do you really think our clan’s blessing is going to make you want to fuck if you see yourself?” It’s an amusing thought.

“I can take a picture, if you want, to show you later.”

GM: “Oh, I’ll be completely off my game if I don’t even know how I look. You can just stop me if I try, and drive me crazy with anticipation, crazy enough to make me soaking wet if I was a real girl, until we see Marcel.”

Celia: “I imagine you’re going to be hit on more than me once we hit the floor,” Jade says with a pout.

“Why don’t we make a game of it? Whoever collects the most numbers wins.”

GM: Josua grins. “Oh, I’m amazing at fucking people, and getting people to want to fuck me, but I just know I’m going up against a master, here. I’m going to have to be at the absolute top of my game.”

“Loser owes the winner a boon?”

Celia: “No cheating. You can’t whack someone with star mode.”

“You need a name,” she adds. “And clothes.”

GM: “Hmm. How’s Josina?”

Celia: “Is Josina a real name?”

GM: “Does it sound real?”

Celia: “No.”

“Jessie?”

GM: “Jessie feels like a tomboy to me. I don’t want to be a tomboy, I want to be pretty girl who sucks so much dick. What about Joy?”

Celia: “Joy could work.”

GM: “Joy it is. Can you do anything for my shoulders? Those can be such a giveaway with transgender girls.”

Celia: “Any practice with a female voice?”

GM: “Hmm.” Josua clears his throat. “How’s this?” he asks in a smooth and velvety, higher-sounding one. It’s on the deeper end for a woman’s voice, but not unusually so.

Celia: “Better,” she nods. “I brought things that will hide the broader shoulders, in any case. With draping and such. And a bra. Unless you want me to cut you open and remove some parts. Just grab me a butcher’s knife, yeah?”

GM: Josua laughs. “Maybe if we had more time. I heard there are licks who cut out parts of themselves.”

“I’m not sure why they do it. So they weigh less?”

Celia: “Convenient carrying case.”

“I heard about a lick who pulled out his intestines and used them to strangle people. He didn’t want to lose any blood so he thought that was the best way.”

GM: “Seems easier just to carry rope.”

Celia: “I mean, I’m pretty sure he was fucked in the head before his Embrace, and it just brought out something even worse inside of him.”

Conscious of the time, though, Jade crosses the room to open the rest of the luggage. Inside is a pretty hefty selection of dresses, skirts, and lingerie in all sorts of colors and lengths.

“I brought a little bit of everything so you’d have options. A deeper V will distract from the shoulders. So will a cutout on the shoulders themselves. Probably nothing sleeveless or strapless, though.”

GM: “Let’s go with the v-neck. Really show off my new assets and draw eyes there.”

Celia: “Spoken like a true slut.”

GM: “I’m going to be a complete and total slut. The only reason I’m not already is that guys can’t be sluts.”

Celia: She gives him a look at that.

GM: “I mean, when did you ever hear of a guy getting shamed for having lots of sex?”

Celia: “Only rapists.”

Jade can’t help but think of Reggie again. He’s definitely on the line there. Maybe that’s why she likes him so much.

GM: “I hope someone rapes me, while I’m like this. That would be so sexy.”

“I think I should win if someone tries to do that, even if I get fewer numbers.”

“Same goes for you.”

Celia: Jade considers him for a moment, looking up from the selection of dresses in front of her.

“Does it count as rape if you want it to happen?”

GM: “Probably not, they just have to think we don’t. Or not bother with consent.”

He follows with clear interest, if not pleasure, but lets her pick.

Celia: “If you want to be raped,” Jade says idly, fingering the dress in her hands, “I could ask my friend to turn you into a real girl for a night. Give you a cute little pussy that someone can take advantage of. Really fuck you like a man fucks a woman.”

GM: “Oh really? That’d be so hot.”

Celia: “Win our bet and I’ll call in a favor.”

She finally offers him the first selection, holding it out for his perusal: long and red, deep V in the front, with two slits up the side all the way to the thighs and long sleeves that will hide his shoulders. It’ll allow for a peek of leg without showing off his male physique. She points out these features to him and sets it aside for his perusal.

Pic.jpg
The second dress is similarly designed, with a deep V, long sleeves, and a longer hem to hide his legs. Black instead of red, though, with a mesh sort of netting that will cover most of him. There’s also some open skin on the shoulders to show some skin, since it lacks the slits of the first.

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She offers a shorter one after that that will hit him mid thigh, charcoal with little sparkles on it, a deep V, and long sleeves to hide the shoulders.

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GM: “Wow, those are some really slutty necklines. Perfect for me,” Josua grins. “Let’s go with the third. Full-length dresses would be out of place on the casino floor. And I like the sparkles.”

“I’ve already shaved my legs for tonight.”

“And it’s a deal, too. We’ll call in your friend if I win, to give me a real pussy.”

Celia: The full length dresses hide the legs, which are decidedly masculine despite being shaved, but she’d already pointed that out to him. She simply nods and reaches for a bra, slipping it onto him and hooking it in the back. Josua isn’t the first boy she’s turned into a girl for the night; she’d pre-stuffed the bra to give him a set of tits bigger than her own. He’s larger than her, his frame can handle it. A bit of blending and contour with a brush across his chest makes them look as real as hers, too. No hack-jobs here.

Jade helps him into the dress—it’s not hard to get into a dress, really, but sometimes zippers in the back can be a little challenging—and adjusts it as needed, finally nodding her head.

“I had to guess on your shoe size,” she says, “so I went with a strappy, open toe. Gives more room.”

GM: “Perfect, I was just about to ask what we had,” he smiles, appreciatively squeezing his new breasts once he’s in the dress.

“God, I’m so fuckable.”

Celia: Jade can’t help but laugh. She tells him to hold still while she coats his nails in a quick-drying polish, fingers and toes both with a pop of color that contrasts nicely against the charcoal dress, and once those are dry helps him into the heels and fastens the buckles.

Finally, she offers him a selection of jewelry: necklaces, bracelets, or rings if he is so inclined in a variety of metals and tastes. She lets him pick his own accessories while she dresses herself.

He might think that floor-length dresses don’t have any business being on the casino floor, but Jade knows that the right body, the right attitude, the right woman can pull off a gown even in a place like this. She slips into it, a black number with just as many sparkles as Josua’s chosen number, with a plunging neckline and cutouts across her mid-drift. A slit up either side rise almost to her waist. The dress dances around her legs while she walks, showing off her toned and shapely thighs.

Pic.jpg
Some dresses wear the women, obscuring them from sight as it steals the stage, but even this dress can’t compete with the body it clings to. She pairs it with nude heels and pulls her hair into a twisting, half up style that leaves a handful of strands free to curl about and frame her face, the rest of it falling in a cascade of dark color down her back. No jewelry save the ever-present sun ring on her left hand.

Formal, but dressed down with the amount of skin it shows. Something that she can wear both on the casino floor and to meet the prince later. Adaptable to any situation. Like her.

“Ready?” she asks.

GM: Josua smiles as she does his nails and fastens his shoes. He spends some time selecting jewelry and goes with a double chain pendant that hangs low down his exposed neck, drawing further attention to his breasts, and some hoop earrings that also detract from the prominence of his shoulders—“Plus hoops have a kind of slutty vibe, don’t you think?” The long sleeves don’t leave much room for bracelets, but he goes goes with a simple gold wedding ring and attached diamond engagement ring, “So I can make jokes about that, and maybe it’ll make guys want to fuck me more, because who doesn’t love stealing something that isn’t theirs?”

But when Jade finishes with herself, he falls silent.

Silent. Still.

Mesmerized.

Celia: Josua’s chatter becomes the noisy backdrop to the cabin she has turned into a dressing suite. She laughs along with him, agreeing that hoops are slutty and that stolen things taste better, and becomes accustomed to his voice filling the space. It’s only when he stops that she looks up, catching his eye.

What does it for him? Is it the dress, the heels, the makeup? The exposed skin? Or is it Jade herself, the body she has spent countless hours turning into a living embodiment of art?

She aches to know what makes him stop and stare.

“Your future admirers are waiting.” Low, sultry tones, suggesting that she doesn’t care one whit who waits for them.

GM: Perhaps it’s some or all of those things about her. Perhaps it’s himself, as he stares into the wall-length mirror behind her. Perhaps it’s both.

His next words are a whisper.

My admirers.”

Your worshipers.”

Josua sinks to his knees, managing a graceful descent despite the heels.

“God creates. That’s the first thing he does, in the Bible. He makes the world. God is the supreme creator.”

The palms of his nailed hands stroke her exposed thighs caressingly, lovingly.

“The goddess creates.”

“Look at us. Just look at us. Just look at what you’ve done to us.”

Josua shivers and wraps his arms around Jade’s leg as though seeking assurance, a pillar to cling to amidst a raging storm. His new breasts press against her smooth skin as he breathes out, his voice at once choked and velvet,

“Long dress on the casino floor. You don’t follow the rules. You define them. You make them. You rise above them, like Aphrodite from the sea, and they all try to mimic you, they all want to capture your spark, your your brilliance, your glory, some mote of your divine light, but they’ll all fail, because you’d never try to be more perfect by being like someone else. The goddess does not mimic her worshipers. They are your worshipers. Everyone out there. That’s so perfect. That’s so fitting. I wear the short dress, the little dress, because that’s what everyone else does, and it really makes me the little bitch, next to you. That’s so fitting. Your dress is your cock and yours is longer than mine, so that double makes me your bitch. It’s such an honor to be your bitch, mistress. Man is less than the goddess. It is natural. It is right.”

He runs his cheek along her leg. He clings her leg like a lifeline as he slowly lowers his head until it rests almost at the floor. He kisses her feet. He kisses her toes. He kisses the nail of her big toe, then laps at the gaps between her toes with his tongue.

“The goddess creates. That’s what she does. You’ve created Joy. You took male and made it female, and just as sexy as before. You made your own world. I am your child, your creation, your heavenly breath. There can be no competition. Every number I get is a number you get. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see me, I see Jade. I see her touch on me. I see her touch on every part of me. I see her care, her knowledge, her taste, her style, her vision. Her presence.”

He works his way up, head still bowed before her in supplication. He kisses the strap of her shoes. He kisses her ankles. He kisses his way up her ankles. Up her legs.

“I feel your presence in the wig on my end. I feel your presence in the silky bra and panties teasing my skin. I feel your presence in the breasts I can’t stop squeezing. I feel your presence in the dress wrapped around me, enveloping me, oh god, mistress, you’re everywhere, you’re everything, I can’t escape you, I owe all I am to you, and I want to just hug myself and scream, it feels so good to have you in me. I can’t walk. I can’t think. I can’t talk, about anything except you. You’ve subsumed me. Oh, I just want to roll around on the floor, hugging myself, hugging you, screaming in ecstasy, in joy, because I am Joy, your creation, your extension, your avatar, and the only reason I’m not, the only reason I’m not rolling around on the floor like I’m possessed, which I am, possessed by Jade, is because I know it would displease you if I mussed up your work and to defy the goddess is unthinkable. I’ve got this beast inside of me, this sublime wellspring of energy. I’ve got you inside of me, all over me, all around me, I don’t think there even is a Josua now, there’s just Joy, there’s just Jade. I want a big strong man to bend me over and fuck me silly. I want him to use me completely while I bow down and worship you, and when he cums I want us both to scream your name as the goddess comes forth, because it’s not me he’s fucking, it’s you, your creation, your Joy.”

He kisses her thigh. He leaves a trail of kisses up her thigh. Adoring kisses. Worshipful kisses. He tastes her flesh as though it is divine mana. He clings to leg like he would cling to a pillar of pure light that could carry him into heaven. He peels back her gown’s slit skirt like a divine revelation lies beneath, and falls upon the flawless skin in rapture, trailing it with worshipful kisses.

Joy, mistress. Your Joy.”

Your. Joy.”

Celia: Aphrodite from the sea. It’s the second time someone has said that to her, that she is Aphrodite from the sea. That she has risen up and taken the sea with her. That she cannot be defined by the ideals of beauty because she, her, she creates them. She defines them. She is them. She is them and they are her, the bar that has been set, the level that others strive for. She is not the dress on the woman; she is not the gown on the rack; she is not even the regalia hanging from the stick-thin frames of the women in Paris and Milan and New York with their slightly stooped posture and their stage makeup.

She is the creator. The divine inspiration.

The goddess.

And, oh, how he worships her.

On his knees, his touch reverent, his words melodious. She basks in it. Revels in it. Rejoices in it. The praise that he lavishes upon her swells the heart within her chest, the head upon her shoulders, every word of it true, true, true.

She did this. Created him. Created her. Created Celia, created Jade, created others—so many others, all of them eye-catching beauties. Elyse has dolls, little bits of porcelain and glass and wood chippings that she glues together and arranges in their fancy little dresses. She has human dolls she molds into chaste beings: perfect wife, perfect mother, perfect woman.

But she—Jade, Celia, whoever she is, whoever she once was—she creates personas. Bodies are naught but clay beneath the tips of her fingers. She molds. Sculpts. Paints. The dolls sit pretty on their little shelves with their vacant eyes; hers walk, talk, breathe, love.

That’s the true art, there.

Inside her chest, her dead heart beats. A flush spreads through her body at his touch and words and adoration. She is an artist. She has created Joy. Created this moment, this passion.

She did this.

The goddess touches the tips of her pristine fingers to Joy’s cheek. Her nails stroke the delicate flesh, a tender gesture that ends at her chin. She lifts, tilting the eyes up to look at her. Green eyes framed in green and gold and black—smoky, nebulous eyes, eyes that shine in ardent desire.

“You are mine.”

Steel wrapped in velvet. Liquid fire. It pours from her lips, acceptance of his place beneath her. No, not acceptance; insistence. This is where he belongs: on his knees in front of her, grateful that she has allowed him even this much.

Her skirt parts for him. She welcomes his touch, the whisper of his breath across her skin as he rises higher, as his tongue teases the delicate folds beneath the fabric of her skirt. She asks for more; she pulls aside the material covering her chest and pierces herself with the point of one nail just above her nipple. Blood wells within the cut, then drips down the exposed flesh of her breast. Ambrosia, the divine nectar of the gods, and she offers him a taste for his steadfast devotion.

Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, tells him to drink from her earthbound sheath.

GM: Josua, Joy, whomever, rises so that he might fall upon the goddess, rapturously licking up the flowing blood. His mouth leaves lipstick prints across the pale breast. He rises further arms encircling her, his breasts pressing against hers. He seems to especially enjoy that sensation of their breasts touching, because he spends several moments doing nothing but rubbing his chest against hers, giggling with delight at the feeling. Then his mouth plants more of those worshipful kisses across her lower neck, stopping shy of her mouth, for he is not worthy to kiss her there. That is where a man kisses a woman, and where a woman kisses a woman.

He may be a woman.

But Jade is so much more.

So he does what all men and women do in the presence of the divine.

He sinks to his knees.

He worships her.


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Story Thirteen, Genevieve IV, Sterling IV

“Games are all that’s left of me.”
The Man With The Silver Smile


Wednesday night, 15 May 2013, PM

Sterling: The weeks pass. Sometimes he needs her frequently; by his side at the Silver Dollar as his moll, or to pass the early hours with a game, or to walk the streets with her and talk about nothing. Other times he does not call her for days, or occasionally in excess of a week, when his only excuse is that the sight of his conscience should surely make him ill.

Tonight, though, he wants to take her out to dinner. Dinner, and maybe a movie. He likes movies where he can bet on the endings.

He seems tired. His kind don’t seem tired often.

He tells her to take Ash. If she asks about the theaters not allowing the dog, he simply laughs.

Sterling: It’s a long walk. He wears an unusually subdued suit; it’s only grey, unlike his more garish usual patterns. He has the cane with him, but seems almost to lean on it.

“I had cancer,” he says apropos of nothing. “Before I died, I mean. I guess I still do, but it’s not bothering me.”

Genevieve: Ash walks well on a leash. She’d had to train him into the habit, but now he walks next to her as easily as she walks next to Sterling. He stops to sniff occasionally, so the two of them pause while he does so, and Gen keeps her attention on her domitor.

“I’d heard the change sends things like that into remission.” There’s a pause as she surveys him. “Your real voice, the smoker’s voice?”

He changes it often enough that she isn’t sure.

Sterling: “Yes,” he says, in that smoke-scarred rasp. “Once upon a time. I guess it’s my first voice, really.”

“Now,” he says in the almost feminine, supercilious voice he favors for social settings and witticism, “I suppose it’s just another.” He winks, like a magician explaining a trick.

“I was dying. I had a son, but I was going to be dead before he was grown anyways. I had a wife, but she would have wanted me to get help. And I didn’t want help. I wanted to keep my hair, my mind. My body.”

“Had family, too. And I loved them. But I didn’t want to tell them, either.”

Genevieve: “You told your wife about the Embrace but not your cancer?”

Sterling: He smiles briefly, and his silver teeth seem to grate against their bone neighbors. “It’s a long story. Suffice it to say there wasn’t a tremendous amount of rationality applied to either revelation.”

He points at the street. “You know this used to be called the Rue de Craps? They changed it because of all the churches. Bible-thumpers.”

He likes to change the subject when he’s uncomfortable. Even when he’s the one who started it.

Genevieve: Gen knows that he brought it up for a reason, though. She presses on. She can’t be afraid of him or she’d be a bad conscience.

“You miss them?”

Sterling: “Hmm. Not as much as I should. I should miss them more. My life should be woefully incomplete without them, my lady love and my baby boy. And maybe it is. But I’m too wretched of a bastard to notice.”

His voice turns real, for that last sentence.

Genevieve: “You notice. That’s why you bring it up.”

“That’s why you mentioned it to me, before.”

“And why you buy him things.”

“You’re wondering if you’re doing enough.”

Sterling: He is silent, for a while. They pass street performers, gay bars, nightclubs. Drunkards and tourists and the politer society of vagrants that police haven’t banished. It’s still early enough that the night feels safe, promising, rather than something with teeth that hides monsters in its shadows.

But monsters still walk. He still walks, leaning on a cane she’s pretty sure he doesn’t need. She notices the grey at the corners of his hair, the bags under his eyes that must have been there the night he died.

“Enough, like what? I wasn’t built for child-rearing, even before I became what I am. The kindest thing my kind can do is stay away. You know that better than anyone, I expect.”

Genevieve: “Then doesn’t that answer your question? That you’re doing enough. You’re staying away. Doing what you can for them from afar.”

She looks at him out of the corner of her eye. She had dressed for dinner and a movie as if this were a normal date, and her heels click along the ground. She takes his arm in her hand, leaning on him like she would any mortal.

“How long as it been since you have seen them?”

Sterling: He accepts her arm, accepts her proximity. She knows how she must smell to him. Intoxicating. Willing.

They get to the restaurant. It’s a nice place. French. The maitre d’ is very confused, but oddly non-argumentative, when Sterling tells him dogs are, in fact, allowed. He orders a drink he sips intermittently. She should get whatever she likes.

Genevieve: She doesn’t press him. She orders what’s on special, Coq a vin, and a drink as well. Chocolate soufflé for dessert, though they haven’t reached that yet. A glass of wine. Maybe two. Actually, she says to the waiter, a third. Keep them coming. She likes the taste. It makes her head as bubbly as the liquid in the glass.

Ash gets a meal as well, some sort of duck. Gen doesn’t press for details about it, just makes sure there’s no garlic or onions that can mess up his tiny tummy. Though she thinks Sterling could fix it, if the dog were to get sick. Still, she enjoys feeding him pieces of charred duck beneath the table. It’s greasy. Clings to her fingers. Other people stare, but she pays them no mind.

She only has eyes for her domitor. She waits, silently, for him to speak. He’d had a point.

Sterling: “Her, it’s not so hard to visit,” he says. “She hates me. She looks forward to my visits, I think, and we play chinese checkers. But she hates me. I can live with that. I see her a few times a year.”

Genevieve: “And him?” Gen prompts.

Sterling: “Him, I visit. Birthdays. Summers. Sometimes. When I trust myself.”

Genevieve: “Then why do I feel like you’re beating yourself up, Sterling?”

Sterling: “You’re my conscience. You’re supposed to beat me up. I try not to do your work for you.”

Genevieve: “Then I sense something is bothering you, but I can’t fulfill my duties unless you tell me what it is.”

She sips at the wine. It’s good. Expensive, but that’s not why she likes it. A dry white. Like her.

“…are you getting rid of me?”

Sterling: He blinks, actually surprised. “Why would you think that?”

“I won’t be rid of you for as long as I can help it. You’re too vexing, and therefore too exciting.”

“And fun to fluster, of course. Maybe I’ll play with you during the movie, just to see if you can keep quiet.”

It takes her a moment to realize he’s kidding.

Unless he isn’t.

Genevieve: She squirms in her seat. Her chest is tight; she drops her eyes to the plates in front of her. Her fault for wearing a dress, easy access and all that.

He’s kidding though. He has to be. The alternative is… she won’t think about it.

“I found some names for you,” she says abruptly, changing the subject. “If you still wanted me to… pursue that in with any of them.”

Sterling: He chuckles delightedly at her reaction. “Tell me why you thought I might be done with you. And what names? Regale me.”

It doesn’t escape her notice that he’s manipulated her into changing the subject.

Again.

Genevieve: “You brought me out, you brought the dog out, you were talking about death in a roundabout way. One last good night before you cut me loose, in… whatever way that means to you.”

She doesn’t give him the names yet. She watches him instead, waiting.

He’ll tell her. Eventually.

Sterling: His eyes twinkle. “No, no, Gen. This is just a quiet night with my Conscience. A last good night with you will be far grander than this.”

He spears a piece of food on his unused fork and offers it to her like she does to Ash.

“The year I died,” he says finally, after she bites, chews, “I lived like it. At least for those last few months. I was sober. Hadn’t been inside a casino for… four years. Maybe five. I had beat it. But then they told me I was gonna die. And all I could think about was how little time I had left to play.”

Genevieve: “Instead of telling them,” she says after she swallows the offered food, “you disappeared. Back to the casinos. Smoked more. Gambled more. Left the both of them to their own things.”

It’s a guess, but she thinks it’s a good one. She takes a drink of the wine.

“Left your wife at home with a newborn.”

Sterling: “Hmm,” he says. “I visited. But yes.”

“I was going to die. At the time, I thought, better they remember me as a bastard. Or some such reasoning. It wasn’t going to be my problem, in a few months.”

Genevieve: “And then you became… this.”

She sweeps over him with her eyes. Dead, but still around.

Sterling: “I died,” he agrees, “but not the way I’d expected. And suddenly I couldn’t make things right, but I couldn’t put off caring about it, either.”

He looks morose. “Do you think they’d be happier if I just died, instead of finding a way to survive?”

Genevieve: “I think,” she says slowly, “that death is very final. That if you want to fix things, it isn’t too late. That, more than yachts and Ferraris, your son wants a father, your wife a husband.”

Sterling: “The man who might have been either died last century,” he says. “How would I play father, now?”

Genevieve: “He’s young yet. You start by apologizing for the wasted time. By showing him what he needs to know to survive in this world. With your distance and his mother in a hospital, he needs someone steady. It’ll take patience. But if that’s the man you want to be… then that’s who you become.”

Sterling: “You make it sound so simple.”

Genevieve: “Isn’t it?”

“Put the games down with him.”

Sterling: “Games are all that’s left of me.”

Genevieve: “That’s a lie you tell yourself. A mask you hide behind to avoid anything real.”

Sterling: He giggles. “You haven’t met my old man yet, or you would know the importance of masks.”

Genevieve: “You’re deflecting.”

Sterling: “Of course. Change is tiresome. It’s work. I’ve always disliked work.”

Genevieve: Gen looses a sigh. She sits back in her seat, pushing food around on her plate with her fork. The other hand drops to rub the top of Ash’s head.

“Why ask, then?”

Sterling: “So you can nag me, obviously, and so I can articulate to myself the many reasons not to change until you find one that stymies me. I’m very, very good at being bad, Gen.”

Genevieve: “You want a reason to change?” She leans forward. “If you aren’t there for your son he’ll turn into you.”

Sterling: His face goes flat.

Genevieve: Maybe that was too far. She leans back again. Looks anywhere but at him.

Sterling: “Good conscience,” he says finally, in his real voice. “Good, good conscience. You bitch.”

He finishes a drink that must taste of ashes.

“I can always count on you, Gen.”

Genevieve: It doesn’t feel like praise. She downs the glass of wine.

Better her mind be cloudy for whatever happens next.


Wednesday night, 15 May 2013, PM

Sterling: They finish, and pay. Ash takes a piss on the street outside. Some of it gets on Sterling’s shoes. He doesn’t seem to notice.

He walks her, arm around her waist, occasionally on her stomach, to the theater.

Again, a red-shirted attendant tells them they can’t have dogs in here. This time Sterling simply shoves several pictures of Ben Franklin into his pocket and walks past him as he stammers.

“You choose the movie,” he whispers in her ear, the way he sometimes will without moving his lips or bending to her.

Genevieve: Every time he does that she thinks she is used to it, but it still sends a shiver down her spine. So does his arm around her waist. He’s not as cool as the others of his kind, but she still recognizes what he is, what she is to him.

There’s a moment, looking at the board, when she thinks to pick something cute and funny. Something animated. But his threat lingers in her mind, and she doesn’t think it appropriate to be fondled in a kids movie. She picks at random instead, the one with the short haired girl on the poster in a white jumpsuit.

This late, there aren’t many others around. They have their pick of seats. Gen leads him up the stairs to the last row.

She keeps the dog on her lap once they’re seated, as if that will protect her from Sterling’s wandering hands.

Sterling: They watch the trailers and make fun of them together. Or at least, Sterling does. He likes guessing things about the trailers.

His hands don’t wander. When the theater darkens and the curtains press in, though, he leans over, looks her in the eyes, and says, “This is a true story.”

Then he sits back and enjoys the… is it a documentary?

Genevieve: Gen giggles when he makes the comments about the trailers. It’s the first time she’s done so around him; it’s a sweet sound, so different than her dry laugh. Makes her ordinarily stern face seem pretty. Striking instead of alien. Young, even. Like she hadn’t spent years being abused by Sabbat packs.

Then he leans in and tells her the horror she’s about to witness is real.

He couldn’t have picked a better movie for it. It’s already shot in documentary style, with the events of the movie punctuated by interviews. Lower thirds are in all the right places.

She’s silent as she watches the events play out, watches the doctors run tests on an unsuspecting girl, watches the military come in to seize control of the facility, watches them electrocute the poor woman with the demon inside of her. It’s set in a mental institution.

Like the one he took her to. To play pretend. Even the props are real. Her body had jerked like that too. They don’t show the girl wetting herself from prolonged exposure to electrical shock, though. Must have edited it out.

Her eyes are wide. At some point Ash whines when she squeezes him too tightly. After that she buries her face in his fur.

It’s too real.

Sterling: He glances over at some point, sees her buried face. Maybe he reads her mind. Maybe that explains the tone of voice. “Shit. Shit, shit.”

He’s pulling her up. “Come on, we’re leaving. Shush, Ash.”

They’re outside. He sits her on a bench some way from the theater.

“Shh, Gen. Shh. It wasn’t real. I’m sorry. It wasn’t real.”

He doesn’t change his voice. It’s burned and cracked.

Genevieve: It is real, though. Even if the movie wasn’t, what’s inside of her head is very, very real.

She moves along with him, subservient as always, and keeps her eyes on the ground. She nods at her toes, as if they can see. She’d painted them a pretty shade of red for this evening. Red looks good on her, he used to say. She hates him, but he’s right. She’d even felt pretty after they were painted.

“Okay,” she says, voice small.

Sterling: “I didn’t mean to hurt you. It was supposed to be a joke. A bad joke, maybe, but a joke. Not a punishment. I can make you forget. Let me make you forget.”

Genevieve: She doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

“You can’t make me forget what he did.”

Sterling: He’s silent, for a moment.

“I didn’t know.”

Genevieve: “It’s okay.”

She’s shaken. It’s easy to see with how quickly she forgives him. The remnants of her former slave driver, perhaps: submit or be punished. She clutches the dog to her chest. His warm body feels nice.

Sterling: “It isn’t,” he says simply. “I can make you forget what you saw. Would you like that?”

Genevieve: “How big is my blooper reel?”

She’d heard someone say that once, about the memories they took away.

Sterling: “Short. For now. This will grow it.”

Genevieve: “It’s okay,” she says again.

She isn’t sure that she believes him. He could make her do anything over the course of a night and then take it all away. Or implant fake memories. Were her vacations fake, too?

Sterling: “I won’t, then. And no, they weren’t.”

He takes a moment to realize what he’s just said, and he says again, “Sorry.”

He hails a cab and soon they’re back at her apartment, him walking her through the door and holding Ash’s lead in the other hand.

“Take a seat. Do you have those, whatchamacallits, the TV libraries everybody has now?”

Genevieve: “…Webflix?”

She does, though. She hands him the remote.

Sterling: “Yes! That.”

He takes it and after a few moments navigates it to the ‘KIDS’ section.

They’re watching a movie with talking animals, now, and bright colors. He tosses a blanket over her, and goes to pour her something. A drink, if she has anything decent. Water, if she doesn’t. He turns out the lights so the high-definition TV illuminates the dark apartment. Then he joins her on the couch, scoops her onto him. She’s never noticed how scrawny he is, before. How thin.

He strokes her hair and makes soothing noises without changing his voice.

Genevieve: She’s dead weight in his arms. She doesn’t touch the drink he poured—wine, she has nice wine, she’d brought back a bottle from Paris (if that was even real, she thinks)—though it isn’t for lack of want. Her head rests on his shoulder, eyes focused on nothing. For all the times he’d ‘diddled her’—his words—she’d never actually been comfortable on his lap. She’d wanted this for a long time, though. It’s easy to relax against him. To let him soothe her with his touch and voice, to let the musical numbers from the show wash over her and make her, if not forget, then ignore.

It’s almost nice.

Sterling: It is, isn’t it?

When it’s over, he whispers in her ear. “I’m sorry. I made a mistake, tonight.”

Genevieve: “Don’t go,” she says to him. She tucks her face against his neck, breathing him in. She’s not so stiff as she was before. Relaxed, almost.

Sterling: His stubble tickles her forehead.

“Okay.”

He stays with her, warming her. “I don’t like hurting you, Gen. Not like that. I’ll be smarter next time.”

He runs a hand under her blouse, over her bare back. “You’ll be better tended. Like a good conscience is.”

“Such a good conscience.”

“Nearly always right.”

Genevieve: “Nearly?” she asks. “When did I get it wrong? I’ll do better.”

Sterling: He chuckles. “Shush, sweet. What would you like me to do to you, tonight?”

Genevieve: She just wants to stay like this. On his lap. His arms around her. She’d never liked being touched before, not by his kind. It made her skin crawl.

This, though, she can enjoy. She can forget that he was the one who turned her into this quivering mess of nerves this evening, that he triggered the memories that had nearly broken her.

“We could play a game,” she offers. He likes games.

Sterling: “Hmm? A game? And you won’t cheat?”

Genevieve: “I might cheat.”

Sterling: His arm flickers around her, traces a breast with a finger.

“My, my. Daring.”

“I’ll have to watch you carefully.”

Genevieve: His touch sends shivers down her spine. Her nipples stiffen beneath her clothing.

“You already do.”

Sterling: “You’re a pleasure to see. I like beautiful women, and lucky things. And you’re the luckiest ghoul in New Orleans, if I have anything to say about it.”

“What game shall we play? Something with cards, or a board? Something with fingers?”

Genevieve: “Fingers?”

Sterling: “Fingers,” he repeats. He takes one of her hands in his and waggles them.

“These.”

Genevieve: “…do you have to cut them off to play?”

Sterling: “Not at all.” He adjusts her fingers, shows her his.

“Like this.”

“What shall we play for?”

Genevieve: She can think of a number of things. Secrets, stories, clothing, favors. None of it seems right though. He always wins, too, so it has to be something she doesn’t mind giving up.

She lifts one shoulder in a shrugging movement.

Sterling: “So uncertain?” he chides.

“Why don’t we play for a kiss? If I win, you have to kiss me. And if I lose, I have to kiss you. That seems fair, doesn’t it?”

His fingers move. Glide over her arms, her stomach.

“Of course, I could cheat too. You’re very vulnerable, Genevieve. A very tender conscience.”

Genevieve: “You’re very distracting,” she points out. Her skin pebbles in the wake of his fingertips. Her breath is a little shaky, too. She presses her lips together, as if that will control it.

Sterling: “Distracting? How? Surely my statue doesn’t mind me running my hands along her?”

His hands are up her skirt, then, pinching her bottom before sliding down her thighs, then wrapping around her waist, pulling her against him.

“Hmm. You should find yourself a boyfriend, Gen. Then I won’t have to give you so many… treats. Are we playing, or are you too distracted?”

Genevieve: Her attention lingers on the word boyfriend. She lets her mind wander down that road. That dangerous, dangerous road. What would it be like to date again? To be taken out by someone who won’t mess with her head, or at least not in a supernatural way? Maybe, if things got ugly, Sterling could take that from her too.

“You want me to date?”

How clumsy would their touch be compared to his? What would it even feel like to be with someone again, to do more than just… fingers?

Her cheeks heat. She’s picturing Sterling beneath her, not some faceless guy.

Can he see that?

Oh no.

Sterling: He chuckles. “Is that what you’d like, Gen? Maybe if you win, I’ll let myself be yours for a night.”

His hands stop teasing and adjusting her. They float in front of hers.

“Maybe if you lose, I’ll choose your boyfriend for you. A man should look after his conscience. Or maybe I’ll just play with you for a night, and you won’t be able to tell me how wicked I’m being. I’ll be considerate, in any case. I still feel bad, you know.”

Genevieve: “I thought your kind couldn’t have sex.”

She touches a finger to the back of his hand, then looks back at him.

“If you choose my boyfriend for me, are you going to find someone who doesn’t make you jealous?”

There’s a small smile pulling at the corners of her lips. Maybe she has forgiven him.

Sterling: “Who would make me jealous?”

His hand moves. She feels herself bared from the waist down, her skirt and underthings on her one second, the next draped over the television.

“Is there somebody else you would pick I would disapprove of?” he ponders. “Somebody who could make you their conscience, instead of mine?”

“And believe me,” he says, his rough voice amused. “We can perform, if properly motivated.”

One hand awaits hers to play. The other traces her ass from her belly-button.

Genevieve: “Someone you—”

The rest of the words go unsaid. She covers herself with both hands, thighs pressing together around her arms. As if that will stop him.

“D-don’t tease, Sterling, that’s not. Not nice.”

Sterling: He laughs. “So earnest. Finish your sentence before you tell me about teasing.”

He pinches her again, his irregular breaths tickling her neck.

Genevieve: “Someone younger.”

She jumps when he pinches her, swatting at his hand. Then she realizes she is no longer covering herself and does so again. She scowls at him.

Sterling: He bites her, drinks for a moment. When he licks her wound clean, he’s practically purring.

“I like how you taste when you’re a little wound up. A little indignant. You need both hands to play, you know.”

“Someone younger? Do you think I’m an old man?”

Genevieve: “Yes.”

But she’s grinning, either from the teasing or the way he’d just drawn from her. She has to take a breath before she moves her hands away from herself, holding them out to play. One finger extended from one hand, she thinks that’s how he said to start.

Sterling: “Well, you know what they say about playing old men.”

They play.

He wins, like he so often does. But she has him for a moment. More than a moment, even. Maybe because he’s enjoying the expression on her face too much.

“You’re good, when you don’t worry about silly things. If I’m to pick a boyfriend for you, you’ll have to get over this shyness. But I hope you don’t. It’s very charming.” He spanks her, lightly. “What makes you think I’m old? Is it my touch?”

Genevieve: Silly things, like being half naked on his lap. She’s going to tell him, one day, that he should play naked. She doesn’t think it will bother him though.

Still, when he wins she can’t help but pout, then yelp as his hand connects to her. She shoots him a wounded look, though it’s all for show.

“No. You called it a TV library.”

She almost giggles again. He can see it start, but it’s not the same as it was in the theater.

“Are you? Going to pick someone for me, I mean.”

“I went… um. I went on a few dates.”

“There’s an app for that.”

Sterling: “I heard,” he says wryly. “And I died at the turn of the century. It was a time of cable. Were they good dates? Were they good enough for you? I suppose you aren’t so pliant for them as you are for me.”

“I’d almost think you like me, Genevieve. Wouldn’t you like a boyfriend? To distract you?”

His hand wanders. Feels the shape of her.

Genevieve: I do like you, she almost tells him.

Almost. It’s there, on the tip of her tongue, there in her thoughts. The thoughts that he so carelessly reads. The mind that he breaks into on a whim.

The body he touches without a care for how it makes her feel.

He’d never hurt her. Not like that. And though she could not stand the touch of these things, though she had once said she would rather cut her wrists than ever be subject to that torture, she doesn’t pull away. She leans in instead. Her thighs part. She’s his. She wants him. And it’s a shameful thing, that wanting. It makes her feel… wanton.

“No,” she tells him, finally, “they were terrible.”

Sterling: “And what was so terrible about them? Were they handsy?”

He plays with her, as if to demonstrate.

Wanton, maybe. But so happy, too.

Genevieve: She shakes her head at him, though it’s a brief movement lest he think it due to his hands.

“No.” Her voice is breathy, panting. “They were just awful people. One of them asked if I’m white all over. Before drinks even arrived.”

Sterling: “Oh, how crass. And what did you tell him?”

Genevieve: “I smiled coyly and waited until the drink arrived so I could pour it on him.”

Sterling: Sterling laughs, a real laugh. “You make me proud.”

His fingers speed up, pass like lightning over her, as if to emphasize his point.

“So much more fun to pamper than to punish, my little Conscience.”

“I’ll find you a good lover. One who treats you right.”

Genevieve: It could be him. But he has a paramour, she knows, and for all his talk of being able to perform with the right motivation she doesn’t think he actually enjoys the act of sex itself. So she’ll take his fingers, his mouth, whatever else he wants to share with her, and she’ll be grateful for it, and she’ll show him how grateful she is with the noises that she makes, the way her back arches, the way her eyes close as she comes apart in his arms, on his lap, her head thrown back to expose the long, pale line of her throat.

Sterling: "Good Genevieve. Very good… "


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Story Thirteen, Celia VII

“Meat doesn’t have a name.”
Unknown entity


Tuesday evening, 15 March 2016

GM: Celia wakes up on Roderick’s chest. She’s a girl again.

“You take up more space in this form,” he chuckles.

“Still don’t mind petting you, though.” He runs a hand down along her back.

Celia: “I could let Luna come out again, if you’d prefer her company.” Celia can’t purr, not like a cat, but the voice might remind him of the gray furball he picked up last night.

GM: Another chuckle. “Think she’d be out for a while if we did that. You get pretty in-character.”

Celia: “You seemed like you needed a pet to cuddle.”

GM: “I did. I really miss having a pet, sometimes.”

“Animals aren’t too scared of me. I just don’t think my haven would be a good environment for one.”

Celia: “Too many friends with whom they wouldn’t get along?”

GM: “That’s one reason. And the sewer rats, or any lick who’s good at doolittling, could use them.”

Celia: Ah, well, there’s a reason to get rid of Shadow and Victor, at least.

“Right.”

GM: “I’m jealous of the Gangrel. They have lots of animal friends.”

Celia: “You could learn.”

“Roxy has some animal friends.”

GM: “I could. I’ve also heard of licks ghouling animals. Dogs to create hellhounds.”

“Seems a little inhumane, but I suppose that’s not a barrier to most licks.”

Celia: “Is that any worse than ghouling humans?”

GM: “That’s a more complicated ethical debate. But I’d argue animals can’t give consent like humans can.”

Celia: “Some licks don’t need their humans to give consent. They just take what they want.”

GM: “They do. But I’d rather not be that kind of lick.”

Celia: “What do you do when your potential ghoul says no?”

GM: “I wouldn’t take them as my ghoul. I’d have another lick erase their memories.”

Celia: “I had a discussion recently with a ghoul who is on a series of rewards and punishment system with her domitor. Another lick who says she feeds them their monthly hit and more when she thinks they need it. What do you do?”

GM: “Probably closer to the latter, there. Sometimes I give them more for a job well-done. There are licks who give out all sorts of twisted punishments to their ghouls, but there’s no reason to do that beyond sadism. And I think it just breeds hate.”

Celia: “Creating addicts doesn’t bother you?”

GM: “Honestly? Yes. I explained to them that this substance would be incredibly addictive. I could at least be honest about that.”

“My sire… was pretty insistent that I take on ghouls.”

Celia: “I don’t imagine you keep a full stable, though.”

GM: “I have a couple,” he grants, somewhat uncomfortably. “The relationship is fundamentally unequal. I don’t think I realized how much so until I was into it. And at that point… they’d seen too much.”

“There are factions of Anarchs that support greater rights for ghouls. Some of them are pretty radical. But are they so much more so than the status quo?”

“I try to make the relationship an employer-employee one. Blood is money. More than money.”

Celia: “That’s not a bad way to do it.”

GM: “They used to wheedle me for blood pretty hard. I got firmer, but without punishing them. I just made very clear that you’re asking me for money when you’re asking me for blood.”

Celia: She should have tried that instead of bending her mother over her desk.

Well.

Now she knows for next time.

“Wish Veronica had explained it like that.”

GM: “Well, Veronica probably abuses the shit out of her ghouls.”

Celia: “Mm.” Celia shrugs. If he’s not going to bash Coco, she’s not going to bash Veronica.

GM: “The process wasn’t perfect. Initially I said yes, you can have more blood if you pay me a couple hundred dollars. I thought that would impress its value on them.”

“That was very stupid of me in hindsight.”

Celia: “They go broke trying to get their fix?”

GM: “Yep.”

Celia: Celia winces.

GM: “So I stopped. And reimbursed them the money.”

Celia: “That was nice of you.”

GM: “It was my fault. I hadn’t realized what I was doing.”

Celia: “There’s not really a guidebook to this sort of thing. Just what other licks tell you.”

“Sometimes they’re wrong. Or their method doesn’t work for you and yours.”

GM: “Anarchs share a lot of stuff. Maybe we should write a guidebook.”

“Ways to manage your ghouls. Pros and cons to each method.”

“Who to take as ghouls, what works and doesn’t work in domitor-ghoul relationships.”

“There’s a lot of bad information out there. Or at least bad ideas.”

Celia: “It doesn’t help that most of us stop seeing them as people.”

GM: “That’s the key thing. They are people. People we have a lot of power over.”

Celia: “There’s a thing we learned in school for skincare, about the power dynamics. It’s more taught to massage therapists because some people see that as inherently sexual, but there’s a power differential as soon as you have the client / provider relationship. How some people take advantage of it. It’s the same thing.”

“I mean you see it in any relationship like that, really. Teachers. Doctors. Et cetera.”

“But you’re in charge. These people trust you.”

GM: “Really? Interesting. My initial thought had been that it was a more customer-like relationship. They’re paying you for a service they can usually give up without major disruption to their lives and livelihoods.”

Celia: “Massage? Sort of. It’s a medical service under the state board regulations. People can get prescriptions for it, that sort of thing. I see a lot of workman’s comp people, people with real injuries who need assessment to return to work. It’s not something I advertise frequently, but they’re the clients I enjoy the most. Helping them walk again. Heal from their injuries, that sort of thing.”

“But you have to remember, right, if you’re the client you’re lying naked on my table and hoping that I can put you back together again.”

“When I say, this is what the problem is, you have to trust me. When I work on you, you’re trusting that I am fixing it. There are plenty of people out there who spread misinformation or get really skeevy about it. Sleep with their clients, that sort of thing.”

GM: “They do? I thought you said that was the surest way to lose your license. That there’s a whole yellow book. Well, figurative yellow book.”

Celia: “If you get caught.”

GM: “Ah. I guess it’s like anything, there.”

Celia: “Convince someone they’re not a victim, are they really going to report it?”

GM: “That explanation makes a lot more sense, as far as power dynamics. Massages have always been a luxury for me. They were something extra my esthetician girlfriend did.”

Celia: “Can still do.”

GM: He smiles. “I’d enjoy that. Though speaking of things to do for each other, what’s your bank account number?”

Celia: “Um?”

GM: “I owe you for wrecking your haven. And the chair.”

Celia: “And you want my account number for that instead of handing me a suitcase full of cash?”

GM: “Hm. Maybe it’s better, actually, if there isn’t an electronic record.”

Celia: “What do you even do for money that you just throw it around?”

GM: “Well, I’m not rolling in cash, but I practice law.”

Celia: “My fancy lawyer boy.”

“But also… how? If you’re, you know.”

GM: “One of my renfields is a lawyer. She brings home work that I do for her. I bill her an hourly rate, so we both come out even, and she gets a reputation at the office for being incredibly productive.”

Celia: “Ah. Makes sense.”

“I had an idea…”

GM: “Yeah?”

Celia: “For you and Dani. Going into business together. Since she’s a daywalker.”

“If you keep her in the city, I mean. I imagine, once she comes around, she’d be happy to work with you. I bet you could teach her a lot.”

GM: “That’s… possible,” he hedges. “I still need to figure out what to do with her. The city isn’t safe.”

Celia: “She saw the doc. Last night. Got a mark like yours. I paid for her to make it permanent.”

GM: “Thank you,” Roderick says sincerely. “She’ll benefit from that wherever she lives.”

Celia: “We might pass her off as a ghoul for a while. She seemed open to the idea.”

GM: “I need to get her out of the city. Maybe Savoy isn’t using her as a hostage over me, right now, but that could easily change.”

Celia: “I’m not saying not to. I just… think if you make her leave right now she’ll be mad.”

GM: “I agree. That’ll be counterproductive.”

Celia: “But she’s not my sister. Not yet.”

GM: “I’d like to mend things with her before getting married. I want her at the wedding, but I don’t want to use it as leverage to try to get her to speak with me again, either. That’d just taint it.”

“Although now that you mention it… there’s otherwise not much reason to hold off, is there?”

Celia: “That’s a romantic proposal.” Celia fans herself.

GM: He chuckles. “That isn’t the real proposal. By any stretch. Was mainly thinking out loud.”

“You deserve something a lot more romantic.”

Celia: “I’d still like you to meet my mom and Emily as Roderick.”

“Though, uh, Dani… was… um…”

GM: “Was…?”

“I’d also love to meet them as Roderick. And hopefully Lucy too.”

Celia: “I don’t want to hurt you, but she was unenthused at the idea of us getting married until you… learn to control your Beast, she said.”

GM: “That’s not happening any sooner than a sewer rat learning to be prettier.”

“Or a Ventrue learning to be a less picky eater. Or a Malkavian learning to be less crazy.”

Celia: “Or me not being adorable?”

GM: “Yes, though that’s not a curse,” he smiles. “I don’t think Dani understands what the Beast or clan curses are, anyways. Has she actually seen a frenzy?”

Celia: “I explained it to her. After you left. But no. Show versus tell. Easy to explain, harder to make her understand.”

GM: “Well, that’s how it is with everything. I gave demonstrations of my speed and strength to my ghouls, when I recruited them, so they could see I wasn’t just spouting crazy talk.”

Celia: “I thought you were going to lose it on her the other night.”

GM: “I might have,” he answers somberly. “That meeting was…”

“Well. It wasn’t what I’d hoped for.”

“I’m just glad I didn’t. It did enough damage to our relationship. I don’t need it damaging any others too.”

Celia: She asks what he means.

GM: “I hurt you. I beat you senseless. I made you scared of me,” he answers frankly.

“There’s been a couple times you’ve seemed scared that I’ll lose it. When that’s the last thing I’ve ever wanted. I want you to feel safe with me.”

Celia: Celia looks like she might try to deny it for a moment, then finally looks away. She doesn’t say anything.

GM: He hugs her.

“I’m sorry. I know I’ve apologized. I know I’ve not lost it around you since then. But abusing someone who trusts you leaves scars.”

Celia: “Hard to… to explain to Coco if you do, you know, what you were doing with me again. That’s… that’s all.”

It’s a bad lie.

GM: “Sorry, what does my sire have to do with this?”

Celia: “Last time. After it happened. You took me to her to wake me up.”

Both times, but she doesn’t point it out.

GM: “Yes. I trusted her to. She hasn’t abused or exploited you, has she?”

Celia: “That’s not what I meant. It doesn’t matter.”

GM: “But I know. Twice. If you ever get… torpored around me again, I’ll take you to someone else.” His jaw sets. “But it won’t be because of me.”

Celia: He’s missing the point.

But she just nods her head.

“Wouldn’t be here if I didn’t trust you.”

GM: He holds her close. “Thank you.”

“But I’m still sorry. Hurting someone who loves you is never okay.”

Celia: Then why does he do it at some point in the distant future?

Why the chains, the rape, the tongue pulling?

What does she do or not do to make it happen?

She can’t imagine this sweet boy turning into… that. That thing. That monster. She’d thought, for a moment as Sidra described him, that it was Maxen. Maybe Donovan. Cold and dark.

She would have never guessed it was Roderick.


Tuesday evening, 15 March 2016

GM: The two get ready for their nights and go about their separate ways. Roderick gives an address to meet her at (in cat form), over an hour before dawn, so they have to bang and talk at his haven. He calls a Ryde to get her where she needs to go.

She has some texts on her phone:

Hey, I forgot to tell you about this, but Viv says I’m not in trouble, says Emily.

You wanna come over for dinner sometime so I can tell about it?

Celia: Oh thank god. Yeah when are you thinking? Tmr? Thurs?

GM: How’s tmr? I’ll be studying more on Thurs

Celia: Kk. Sounds good.

GM: There’s another text from Dani.

School went well! Want to look into new places this evening?

Celia: Hey, sorry I don’t know if I can tonight, I have to meet w/ my brother and a few clients. Can call you after but might be late.

Glad school went well!

GM: Thanks! Gimme a call whenever.

Another text is from her mother.

Everyone at work today told me how pretty I am! I told them it was all thanks to YOU! :)

Has she been to work since Celia improved her body, after that meeting with Donovan?

Celia: Celia doesn’t think so. Maybe on Friday she went to work? The thing with her sire happened… Wednesday, and she took off Thursday… right?

Her days are starting to blur together.

You’re beautiful on your own, Mom. ♡

She’s glad she’s safe, though.

GM: Still more beautiful thanks to you! Emi says you’re coming over for dinner tomorrow, so see you then. :) Love you!

Celia: That was quick.

Love you too.

GM: She arrives at Flawless. Bentley Downs is her first client for the evening. She’s a blonde 20-something here on Daddy’s money, and last Celia heard, has held no job or harbored any ambitions of note since finishing college. Daddy just pays for everything.

Celia: She vaguely recalls Bentley from McGehee. She’d been the little cunt that had smeared Celia’s name in the mud after her dad attacked her mom because she never came back with the booze.

GM: “I’m still seeing my therapist, you know, about that funeral,” says Bentley.

Celia: She always takes a little more enjoyment than she should when she feeds from the girl.

“I imagine so,” Celia says while she works on Bentley. “That must have been an awful experience.”

GM: Bentley, at least, seems to enjoy it too. Celia’s hands are incredible.

“I still can’t believe I got arrested!

Celia’s heard the story. There was police violence at Mercurial Fernandez’s funeral. A former client of Bentley’s (for her budding and now largely defunct “talent agency”) who was murdered inside OPP. There was a riot at the funeral. Cops arrested lots of people. Bentley too, though Daddy quickly got her out. She’s been in therapy over the experience ever since.

Celia: Of course he did. He spoils her rotten. He talks about it sometimes on the table, everything he does for her. He has no ability to tell her “no.”

Sometimes Celia fantasizes about draining them both.

But she serves as a sympathetic ear to the girl, nodding and smiling and making soothing noises as needed.

“Who are you seeing again?” she asks while her hands work their magic.

GM: “Dr. Peterson. She’s been good. But I just can’t forget what I saw in there, what it felt like.” Bentley shivers. “I had no idea people could be so cruel…”

Celia: “Sometimes the world can be cruel,” Celia says sympathetically, “but luckily you don’t need to worry about that here. Deep breath for me, Bentley. There you go. Good.”

She works in silence some few moments longer, then asks if Bentley has been taking anything for the anxiety.

GM: Bentley takes a deep breath.

“Yes, I see a psychiatrist for a prescription there…”

Celia: “And you see me for bodily relief.” She finds a spot of tension and presses as Bentley exhales. “You’ll power through this. You’re a champ.”

“What else is going on with you?”

A few more minutes of this and she’ll sink in, but maybe Bentley has been up to something fun lately.

GM: “Honestly, not a lot,” Bentley says glumly. “The boy I was dating dumped me.”

Celia: “Oh no. What happened?”

GM: Bentley gives a sigh. “Just thought I was too big a mess.”

“And made fun of me for still living with my dad.”

“And said I’m never going to be anything but a trust fund kid.”

Celia: He’s probably right.

But Celia won’t be the one to tell her that.

“What do you want to do about that?”

GM: “Right now I just want to get over what happened so I can move on with my life,” sighs Bentley.

“Maybe I need a vacation.”

Celia: Celia wonders where her sympathy has disappeared to, but she finds it hard to feel anything for a girl who spent one whole night in jail before her daddy bailed her out.

“Maybe,” Celia says. She excuses herself a moment to switch candles, letting the scent of sea breeze and mojitos float through the treatment room. “Here’s a little vacation just for you, though.”

Heated oil makes her fingers glide across the girl’s skin. She lulls her into a sense of tranquility and calm, and once she’s finally where she wants her—already half asleep—she leans in to bite.

GM: Bentley gives a soft, fluttering little gasp. Her blood tastes pampered and sweetly spoiled, like a child’s birthday cake on their perfect day, but it’s distinctly more sour than it used to be before. There’s more sadness. The flavors don’t go together naturally. Celia might not like it. Or maybe she does, if she’s into the taste of despoiled innocence. Or at least rudely awakened ignorance.

Celia: Her annoyance bleeds into her feeding. She wants her clients to remain pampered and spoiled and sweet, without that tang of sour across the back of her tongue. Her Beast doesn’t care, glutton that it is, but the girl takes more than the single hit she might have otherwise, swallowing down mouthful after mouthful of the sour-sweet fare. She licks the wound once she’s done, savoring the final taste of it on her palate.

The work ends moments later.

Celia places two hands on either of Bentley’s shoulders as she draws the appointment to a close, quietly asking how she’s feeling.

GM: “Oh, that was… that was amazing…” Bentley murmurs, her cheeks flushed with afterglow.

“You’re really amazing, Celia… way better than my therapist…”

Celia: Celia laughs quietly.

“You’re welcome to see me anytime, Bentley.”

“Sometimes all you need is a little body work to feel great.”

GM: Bentley nods, a little paler, and thanks Celia for the amazing session before seeing herself out.

Another night, another client who slakes her thirst and feels better.


Tuesday evening, 15 March 2016

Celia: Celia flips the room once she’s done, then reaches for her phone to call Logan.

GM: He picks up after a few rings.

“Hey, sis.”

Celia: “Hey, Logan. You still free tonight? I know you’re in school and have a bed time and all.”

GM: “I gotta be up early for the ROTC, but yeah, I’m free. You wanna come over?”

Celia: The worst idea in the history of ideas.

“Yeah. Let me find some incognito clothes so your classmates don’t mob me again.”

GM: “Cool. See you soon.”

Celia: She hangs up, trying not to think about the fact that maybe, if she’s caught, her sire will teach her another lesson.

It shouldn’t excite her like it does.

GM: Her hopes are sadly disappointed. She arrives at Logan’s dorm room without incident. He greets her with a hug.

“Hey. Want anything to drink?”

Celia: No, Bentley saw to that.

“Maybe in a bit. Just came from the spa. Pushed water on my clients and all that, have to do the same. How’re you?”

GM: He looks all right. Still big and blonde. He answers her question with a smile.

“Mom and Dad are talking again.”

“He told me you two had dinner and that it went really well.”

Celia: “We did. I have you to thank for that, actually. We got together on Saturday.”

“It did go well.”

“It was kind of emotional, honestly.”

GM: “I bet it was. There was… just a lot there, you know?”

“And Dad’s running for governor! He said he told you there.”

Celia: “He did! I’m really excited for him.”

GM: “Me too! He’ll really clean the state up.”

“I won’t have to worry about ROTC stuff anymore, either. And, hell, maybe he can get me into West Point.”

“Things’ll be great for David and Sophia too, and Isabel when she comes home. And Mom won’t have to work anymore, she can be his queen. Lucy’ll be a princess.”

Celia: “He wants to have dinner with her. Mom, I mean. We might do a whole family thing.”

GM: “Oh yeah, he said he was setting that up with her. I thought it was just gonna be them, you, and Emily.”

Celia: “Who knows. I haven’t seen David in forever, though.”

GM: “Emily’s been kind of a bitch about it all, surprise surprise.”

Celia: “Ah… did you talk to her?”

GM: He rolls his eyes. “More like tried to.”

“She just can’t be happy for them.”

“Mom and Dad both sound really happy and excited when I talk to them, what else does she need?”

Celia: “She only has part of the story.”

GM: “We’ve talked a couple times since your and Dad’s dinner. She came over to my dorm today, though. With food.” He grins.

Celia: “Oooh, lookit your little spoiled ass self.”

GM: He laughs. “I’m not married yet, so.”

Celia: “The inherent sexism. Christ.”

GM: “Hey, I’d appreciate if Dad did, but simple fact Mom’s the better cook.”

“And that’s how it is in the military too, most wives are stay-at-homes or work part-time jobs. Since you move around so much. Hard for them to have careers.”

“I hear there’s actually a bunch who work at spas and salons.”

Celia: “It’s good part-time work.”

GM: “And just saying, it makes more sense for the part-time partner to do the cooking than the full-time one.”

Celia: “I don’t disagree. Randy did the cooking for us.”

Cooking, hunting, same difference.

Celia was fed either way.

GM: “Did? You guys break up?”

Celia: “Maybe,” Celia sighs.

GM: “It’s kind of a yes or no, isn’t it?”

He hugs her. “Sorry, though. Breakups suck.”

Celia: “I met someone else. I like Randy, but it’s… complicated.”

GM: “Who’s the other guy?”

Celia: “I’ll let you meet him when Mom does. He’s a lawyer.” Like Stephen, she doesn’t need to say.

Maybe Logan was too young, though.

GM: “Oh, yeah, dump Randy. Lawyer guy’s good.”

Celia: Celia looks amused.

“You don’t even know him.”

GM: “I know enough.”

Celia: “Oh?”

GM: “Randy’s just kind of a loser, isn’t he?”

Celia: “You’ve never said that before.”

GM: “Like, you’ve been together how many years, and he hasn’t proposed? And he works for a bail bond company.”

“You can do better. Lawyer’s better.”

“I didn’t say anything ’cuz you seemed like you were sticking with him.”

Celia: “Oh. Well, thanks for that. But maybe you’re right.”

GM: “I’ll still wanna meet lawyer guy. I’ll beat him up if he doesn’t treat my sis right.” Logan grins.

Celia: “Actually… you might get the chance. He’s who I want to introduce you to for some of your pent up, uh, feelings.”

GM: “Oh, how’s that?”

Celia: “Boxing. Or hand to hand combat. Whatever you prefer.”

GM: “Oh cool, he’s into that?”

“Yeah, hand to hand’d be pretty nice.”

Celia: “Very.”

GM: “I like him already.”

“But I’ll still beat his face in if he doesn’t treat you right.”

Celia: Celia smiles. “Thanks. Appreciate you looking out.”

“Mom tell you she’s going to hang with Robby to learn to fence?”

GM: Logan laughs out loud.

“Wait, what?”

Celia: “She wanted to spend more time with Robby now that he and Emily are getting serious. So Emily suggested it. Family bonding.”

GM: “I don’t think she can really do that with her leg.”

Celia: “Dad said something about a surgery?”

GM: “He did, yeah, after he wins. Which is a little while off.”

Celia: “She can start now, though. Just take it easy, learn slow.”

GM: “I mean, I guess. I dunno how good a teacher Robby is anyway.”

Celia: “You don’t like him?”

GM: “Oh I like him. He’s kind of a nerd, but he’s all right.”

“He’s a nice guy, though. Dad always says you need to be mean, to win in fights. You need the killer instinct.”

Celia: “Ruthless. Is the word you’re looking for.”

GM: “Says that’s what a lot of fights with untrained people come down to, actually. How far you’re willing to hurt, and get hurt.”

“Like. I don’t wanna kill people or anything, but just smashing someone’s face in, who deserves it. I like that.”

“I don’t think Robby wants to do that. He’s basically just playing D&D with swords and stuff.”

Celia: “LARPing,” Celia supplies.

“But yeah. You’re probably right.”

GM: “And Mom definitely doesn’t wanna smash in faces.”

Celia: “Sure, but she can learn.”

GM: “I dunno, I think you’re either born with it or you’re not. Like, Dad has it, I have it, but a lot of people don’t. ‘Cuz it’s more than just fighting, it’s how you go through life. Hunger to win.”

Celia: “Someone else said that to me, too.”

GM: “I think Roberts has that, ‘cuz, props to him, he’s a former Army Ranger, so I’m not gonna totally write him off.”

Celia: “And maybe she’ll hate it, but if she wants to try it I’m not going to discourage her.”

GM: “I guess it doesn’t hurt. Just be aware, she’s not actually gonna learn to fight or anything.”

“Robby isn’t competitive, and she sure as hell isn’t.”

Celia: “Go with them,” Celia suggests, “and then show me what it really looks like.”

GM: “Might hurt for Robby,” Logan smirks. “But sure, I can show ‘em how it’s done.”

There’s someone else who could, Celia knows.

Him.

He has the killer instinct.

Killer instinct to make Logan look like Mom.

Celia: Does she? Is that why he’d stolen her from her home, because she, too, has that sort of killer instinct?

She doubts it. No one has ever said that about her.

But he does. That voice in her head is right. He’s the most ruthless, coldest, darkest Kindred in the city, and the only one who makes her feel alive. He makes her heart beat again. Brings a flush to her cheeks and runs a tingle down her spine.

Is something wrong with her that the thought of him makes her…

Well. That doesn’t warrant mentioning in front of her brother.

“Looking forward to it.”


Tuesday evening, 15 March 2016

Celia: Logan and Celia make plans to meet up later in the week with her new boyfriend—Logan insists on calling him that even though Celia shakes her head and tells him it’s not that serious yet (which is a lie, but her human facade means she can’t really explain that Randy has never been her actual boyfriend)—and Celia heads out with a final hug.

Fortunately, she’s not mobbed on the way out.

She heads back to her haven to meet with Alana and the girls take their time going through the closet to select outfits. Celia does her face, then her own, and they take turns coming up with more and more outlandish backstories for their “characters.”

The problem, of course, is that Celia can’t simply make them drop-dead gorgeous, because that’s a bit of a dead giveaway to anyone who looks at them. Why would they be interested in a mobster, right? But she has zero desire to appear ugly, and Alana doesn’t want to be made more curvy than she needs to be.

So Celia ages them, turning them into handsome thirty-somethings rather than the young-20s they usually portray. Cute enough in a “recent divorcée” kind of way.

They head to the casino with plenty of dollars in their pockets to blow on a good time. Celia tells Alana who she’s looking for on the way; she doesn’t tell her about Harrah’s, just the job she’d been given in return for a favor.

“First contact,” she tells the girl when they arrive, both of them sucking in their auras to pass as mere mortals. “Real important part of the process. Help me find him, sweetheart.”

GM: At this hour, the actual horse racing is long since closed. It’s mainly the casino and food places that are open now. Fairgrounds doesn’t feel like the spot for someone to win huge jackpots, but it does feel like a good place to wind down after work with a couple drinks and fun at the penny slots. There’s a more Southern, down to-earth feel than there is at Harrah’s more corporate atmosphere.

Pic.jpg
“I think he’s right there,” whispers Alana, pointing at one of the slot machines. Celia sees a man who fits the photo she viewed online.

Celia: Celia, with a face that is distinctly non-Celia, nods at Alana’s direction. But she doesn’t approach. Not yet. That’s too needy. Instead she does what she does best: she spins a web. She orders a drink for both of them from a girl in a corset and short skirt (what is with casino uniforms, anyway? She expects it at Harrah’s or the Alystra, but not here), and sets them up at another slot machine.

“So you just put in the coin and pull?” she asks Alana.

As if she doesn’t know.

GM: Alana nods. “And if three of the same icon come up, you win!”

She takes a pull from the drink, sparing her domitor.

Celia: Celia gives her a grateful wink.

She puts the coin in and pulls the lever.

The problem, she realizes, is that slots are kind of a one person game.

GM: The machine comes up with a red letter A, J, and Q.

“Aww!” exclaims Alana.

Like it’s a surprise.

She glances at the poker table.

“Maybe lure him away…?” she murmurs.

Celia: Poker isn’t exactly a two player game, either. Blackjack would be good. Roulette. Craps. Anything but poker or slots.

She’ll manage.

She pulls again on the lever, idly wondering the best way to do this. She doesn’t want to just hit him with charm, but she could.

Just seems like cheating.

“Solo player games. Could spill a drink on him.”

Like in a movie.

She watches Vinny out of the corner of her eye to see what he’s up to.

GM: He’s still at the machine, and by all appearances, having no more luck than they are. A rueful smile touches his lips when he gets two horse symbols followed by a red ‘Q.’

“You spill the drink, mistress?” Alana whispers. A smile touches her lips at calling Celia ‘mistress’ in public.

“I could also check with the food staff if he’s had anything to eat, maybe he hasn’t yet.”

Celia: “Do that,” Celia nods.

“Bathroom is over there,” she says to Alana, then says she’s going to try a new machine. She positions herself closer to Vinny.

GM: Alana comes back in a little while. “He hasn’t,” she whispers.

Celia: “Invite him to dinner, you think?” Celia murmurs to Alana when she loses another coin.

GM: “I like the drink idea, mistress,” she answers. “Maybe both, after you spill?”

Celia: “Think he’s the kind of guy to forgive a pretty girl for spilling on him?”

GM: “Who couldn’t forgive a girl as pretty and winsome as you, mistress?” Alana beams.

Celia: It’s not like she can’t try again with another face if it doesn’t work.

GM: “I know I consider it an honor to get fluids from you spilled all over me…”

Celia: Celia giggles at Alana’s words. Still, she doesn’t think that spilling a drink on Vinny is the best way to get his attention. Unlike her, she doubts that Vinny keeps a spare change of clothes in his car or at various points around the city, and no one wants to sit at a casino cold and wet because some bimbo spilled their drink.

She comes up with a more direct plan, waiting until the machine swallows more of her coins and returns more horse-Q-horse and J-J-A results before crossing her arms over her chest. A toss of her head flips her hair over her shoulder and she finally turns to eye Vinny more blatantly.

“What’s your secret, then?” she asks. “Pull the lever a certain way?”

GM: He gives her a rueful smile. “Two symbols or one, payout’s the same either way.”

Celia: Celia pouts magnificently.

“We need a good luck charm.”

Another coin, another pull of the lever, another loss. She sighs, then moves a seat closer.

“I heard some people bet on bets. Like in poker, they’ll bet they get red or black cards in addition to on their hands, like normal.” She eyes him speculatively. “You want to make our own wager?”

GM: “Oh really?” he asks, face curious. “Sure. I’ll bet on getting a horse with you.” Another rueful smile. “Better odds of a payout than from these anyway.”

Celia: Celia grins at him. She pulls her chair closer.

“I bet you don’t get one, then, and I’ll double it if you get two. Go on then.”

GM: “Okay. How’s $5 for you if I get no horses, and $20 for me I get one?”

“Odds favor you, but I get three shots.”

Celia: Celia considers it, then nods.

“Deal.”

GM: “All right. Let’s try our luck…”

He pulls the lever.

Three symbols come up. There’s not a horse in them.

“Guess you’re the house,” Vinny says wryly. “You want chips or cash?”

Celia: “Oh, go on again,” Celia says, waving a hand. “It would hardly be sporting if I didn’t give you a chance to win it back. Jenny, you’ll keep track, won’t you?” Celia says to Alana.

GM: She nods and sips her drink. “$5 to you.”

“Okay, let’s go again,” says Vinny.

Another pull.

Still no more horses.

“$10,” smiles Vinny.

Just like that, in goes another token.

The horses still elude him.

Celia: “One more makes us even if you win,” she offers.

GM: He nods. “I had the same thought.”

Another token.

There’s a letter, there’s another letter… and then there’s a horse.

“And we’re even. Better payouts than real gambling,” chuckles Vinny.

“How about I buy you ladies some sandwiches with that $20?”

Celia: Celia can’t help but squeal when the horse comes up. She immediately blushes, giggling about how she was just excited to finally see it.

“I wouldn’t say no to that. You’re rather better company than the machines tonight.”

GM: Jenny squeals too and adds a, “Yes, please.”

He chuckles at their excitement.

“Machines at least won’t buy sandwiches. I’m Vinny.”

He extends a hand.

Celia: “They’re not very personable,” Celia agrees. She takes his hand. “Heather. And this is Jenny.”

GM: “Nice to meet you ladies,” he says, shaking Alana’s and then standing up. “This your first time gambling?”

Celia: “Oh no,” Heather tells him, “Jenny here is a card shark, don’t let the pretty face fool you. She’s meaner than a gator at Hold ‘Em. We were going to go to Harrah’s earlier only she said the last time she was there the play was lacking and everyone was real tight. So we thought we’d have some fun here instead.”

“And she said something about how all Harrah’s are the same and she wanted to see something with character while she’s in town. That right, Jenny?”

GM: She nods. “Harrah’s is like every other casino! I thought the only land-based one in the state would be something special.”

“Main thing keeping this one special is the horse races,” says Vinny. “You’ve obviously missed those, and slot machines are the same anywhere. But this one’s cozier. The people learn your name.”

Celia: “Maybe I’ll have to come back sometime to catch those. Do you come here often?” The overused pickup line comes out of her mouth and she laughs at herself. “I just meant do they know your name?”

GM: “First time I’ve actually heard someone ask that,” Vinny laughs. “Yeah. They do. I lose money here all the time.”

Celia: “That’s how they get you,” Heather says, nodding seriously.

GM: “So what are you ladies hungry for?” he asks as they approach the concessions. There’s hot dogs, grilled cheese, po’boys, pizza, hamburgers, salads, wraps, beans and rice, hot plates, chicken sandwiches, chicken wings, gumbo, sides, desserts and the usual to-go casual dining fare.

Celia: She surveys the options of food, not hungry for anything here, but orders something that she knows Alana might like. Not that she expects to be able to get out of pretending to eat; she vows to spend a few minutes in the spa tonight with Alana building the new stomach for her so she doesn’t need to keep going through this. Stomach, then penis, then sex.

GM: Alana goes for a healthy salad. Vinny orders a corned beef sandwich and onion rings. He asks if they’re sure all they want is one salad between them.

Celia: Oh, no, that won’t do. Heather orders her own. A wrap. Wraps are healthy, right? Chicken and lettuce and stuff inside a carb-loaded tortilla.

Yum.

GM: The three collect their food and sit down.

“You two from the city, or in town for the gambling?” Vinny asks as he takes a bite of his sandwich.

Celia: Heather puts off taking a bite of her wrap as long as she can, focusing on the conversation.

“I’m from here. Jenny is visiting. Birthday weekend.” Heather grins. It’s Tuesday. “What about you? I assume if you come here often enough they know you that you’re a local?”

GM: “Oh, happy birthday, Jenny,” smiles Vinny.

“Thanks,” says Alana with a dainty salad bite.

“Yep,” he answers. “Born and raised. Served in the Coast Guard for a little while and came back here after they kicked me out.”

Celia: “Uh oh. What’d you get kicked out for?”

“Is it a fun story? Did you go streaking?” Heather wiggles her eyebrows.

GM: Vinny laughs. “Me and some friends broke into our C.O.’s liquor cabinet and threw a party on a pleasure yacht, when we were supposed to be doing our jobs. We all got bad conduct discharges.”

“We were dumb kids.”

Celia: Heather laughs.

“That’s actually not that bad. Sounds like a good time.”

“What do you do now?”

GM: “I work for the city,” he says. “I’ve also been a boxer, jockey, and pawnshop worker.”

Celia: Interesting way to avoid saying he’s a cop.

“That sounds like a lot of different hats. What was your favorite?”

GM: “Hm, tough.” Vinny takes another sandwich bite. “Probably the pawn shop, though.”

“You get a lot of desperate people. Ones who want to pass off their crap as something other than it is. Something more valuable.”

“It’s a predatory business, in a lot of ways. And like I said, lot of desperate people. I don’t blame them.”

“But I’ve always loved busting fakes and phonies. Showing what’s real and what’s not.”

Celia: “You good at it? Spotting fakes?”

GM: “The guys I worked with thought so.”

Celia: “What kind of things do people try to pass off? Jewelry? Coins?”

GM: “Those are pretty common. You also run into fake watches, gold, jewels, that’s versus jewelry, baseball cards, designer items like purses… if you can think of it, and it’s worth something, there are fakes of it.”

“Don’t even get me started on fake art, but that tends to move in different circles than pawnshops. Though that’s also changing.”

Celia: “There’s a big market for fake designer purses. A lot pf people can’t tell the difference. Fake art, though? I thought that was something that only really happened in movies?”

She knows that’s not the case.

But she tilts her head a little, favoring him with a smile.

GM: “I thought so too,” nods Alana. “Like in conman movies, trying to swipe the Mona Lisa?”

“Oh, lord no,” says Vinny. “There are millions of fakes in the art world. Millions.”

“It’s harder to pass off now than it used to be, though, thanks to newer technologies. That’s why more pawnbrokers are dealing with it.”

“Because a lot of them are independent stores which can’t afford to use the same modern dating and analysis techniques.”

“But since the recession, pawnbrokers have been accepting more high-end items, like art.”

Celia: “Is that what you do now, consult with different pawn shops?”

GM: “Yeah. I still do a bit of that. Busting the fakes. Exposing the frauds. That’s where it’s at.”

Celia: “That sounds pretty exciting, to be honest.”

GM: “It is for me. Usually the other people are pissed.”

“Pissed they couldn’t make a larger buck, or pissed someone else tried to off them.”

Celia: “How do you prove the person who brought it in to pawn is either ignorant or guilty?”

GM: “Doesn’t really matter to the brokers. If it’s worth less than the seller made out, it’s worth less than the seller made out.”

“But I’ll tell them it’s a fake, explain why, and that’s usually the end of that. Don’t think I’ve ever met a broker who still wanted to buy something I said was fake at the initial price.”

Celia: “That makes sense,” Heather says with a nod. She finally picks at her wrap, abstaining from making a face as the taste of ash and shit touch her tongue.

This boy better be good in bed if she’s going to eat for him.

She chews, swallows, nods again.

“That’s way more exciting than what I do. And you were a jockey, you said? Here?”

GM: “Yep,” Vinny answers over another bite. “That came to an end after I put another jockey in the hospital.”

“You’ve had a pretty exciting life, it sounds,” smiles Alana. “What’s the story there?”

“He was cheating and tried to taser me in the bathroom,” says Vinny.

“I lost my temper pretty bad. It was a hot day and I’d had a bad losing streak. So I beat him into a coma and hung a toilet lid around his neck.”

“Sponsors dropped me pretty fast after that.”

Celia: “Do you regret it?”

“Kind of sounds like he deserved it if he was cheating.”

“Not to… be like that.”

GM: “Yeah. And I don’t. I got locked up in OPP for it when Katrina hit. That… helped open my eyes. That I needed to clean up my act.”

Celia: “You were locked in OPP during Katrina?”

GM: “Oh no, didn’t a lot of people die in the jail?” asks Alana.

“Yep,” says Vinny. “The place flooded. We were locked in our cells. People drowned like rats.”

Celia: “That’s awful.”

GM: “Lot of the guards couldn’t be assed to get us out. Some were even locked in themselves.”

“I spent two and a half days up to my chest in sewage water.”

Celia: Celia is suddenly more grateful for the way her father had whisked them out of the city, even if he’d decided to hit her for a while afterward.

Her nose wrinkles.

“How did you get out?”

GM: “Search and rescue. Cop found us. If she hadn’t, I’d be dead.”

“Sheriff said to leave us where we belonged. They actually transferred kids from juvenile to OPP. To ride out the storm.”

“They were shorter than us,” he adds grimly.

“Oh no…” murmurs Alana. “But you all got out safe? Well… the taller people?”

“Some of us died too,” says Vinny. “There wasn’t any food, water, light, ventilation.”

“Wasn’t much better after we got out, to be honest.”

Celia: “I can’t even imagine,” Heather says softly, shaking her head. “That’s just… that’s awful. I’m glad you got out.” She reaches out, touching his hand. As if realizing the breach of conduct she blushes, pulling back. “How’d things change for you then?”

GM: He offers her a reassuring smile as if to say all’s forgiven. “Well, like I said, they didn’t. They moved us to a prison camp. Guards beat a lot of people. Lot of prisoners had weapons. Wasn’t much food or medical care to go around. Bad recipe. Guy tried to shiv me for my dinner. Guards shot at us a couple times. When they were sick of dealing with that.”

“Were a lot of rapes, too. Gender segregation wasn’t as enforced.”

Celia: Heather blinks at that.

GM: “They didn’t mix us all together. But everything was an even bigger shit show, and lots of corners got cut.”

“For instance, we could watch the girls use the toilet. There was a 13-year-old who got a lot of catcalls when she did.”

Celia: “Oh.”

“Wow.”

GM: “Eventually she just stopped. I think she found a corner of the camp to piss in. So the older women beat her up. Then I think she just started pissing herself.”

“My god…” murmurs Alana. “What happened to her?”

“She got out. They probably left her on the side of the road somewhere with a jumpsuit on.”

“That’s how I got out, anyways. I wandered around for a while and tried to convince someone to let me use a phone to call my family. That was hard with the jumpsuit.”

Vinny shakes his head.

“Anyway. This isn’t a fun topic. But it was my wake-up call. I cleaned up my act.”

Celia: “Sorry,” Heather murmurs, “I didn’t mean to pry into it.”

“But that’s good, at least, that you were able to turn things around.”

GM: “I’m okay talking about it. More figured you ladies would rather talk about nicer things.”

Celia: Heather shakes her head.

“I thought it was pretty interesting. I didn’t live here then, so I’ve only really heard stories about what it was like, and the media kind of blows things up sometimes, you know?”

GM: “Or just doesn’t talk about them. They didn’t say anything about the jail inmates.”

“We were some of the worst hit. No one cared.”

Celia: “That’s what I mean, yeah.”

GM: “I made it out okay. Plenty others who didn’t.”

Celia: “I’m glad you did.”

Is that too much, too soon?

Maybe.

She says it anyway.

GM: “Me too,” he smiles back, taking another sandwich bite.

“Anyway. I’ve talked a lot about myself. Tell me about yourselves.”

Celia: “Oh,” Heather says, with a sly glance at Alana “Well, that’s a long story, but we met at college. I’m not sure that how is appropriate for the venue.” She laughs. “We’ve basically been friends since, but she lives in Austin and I moved to New Orleans. We still talk pretty much all the time and get together for birthdays and holidays. I keep trying to convince her to move here, but haven’t swayed her yet.”

GM: “Maybe someday,” smiles Jenny. “It’s tempting, but I have a job I really like in Austin.”

“What’s that?” asks Vinny.

“I’m a massage therapist,” answers Jenny. “I make people happy with my hands.”

“Good way to put it,” chuckles Vinny. “So how’d you and Heather meet?”

Jenny glances slyly back at Heather. “Like she said, it’s not very appropriate…”

“Oh, I think you’ve heard some pretty inappropriate stories from me already,” says Vinny, smiling between the two. “And now you’ve got me curious. How’d you two meet?”

Celia: Alana is the perfect partner for this.

“Well…” Heather says slowly, drawing the word out. She shares a look with Alana. “We were in our sophomore year and lived in the same dorm, and we had a class together. And there was a boy in the class that we both kind of had a thing for.”

Heather’s cheeks turn a little red. She looks away, as if she might not continue for a moment, and then finally finds his eyes again.

“So we thought that instead of fighting over him we’d just share him.”

GM: “Oh, boy,” laughs Vinny.

“I doubt he was complaining.”

“How’d it pan out?”

Celia: “We ended up as best friends and have done it a few times since.” Heather can’t help her grin. “I thought she was more interesting than him, in the end.”

GM: Jenny flashes another one and puts her arm around Heather’s waist.

Vinny laughs harder. “Oh, boy,” he repeats. “You two still together?”

“Oh no, I have a boyfriend now,” says Jenny.

Celia: “When she’s around, though.”

GM: “A little more often lately,” Jenny grants with a smile. “Heather got divorced.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” says Vinny.

Celia: Heather shrugs. “We weren’t well matched. How ’bout you, though? Girlfriend? Wife?”

GM: He shakes his head. “My aunts nag me about it all the time, but I’m not really looking.”

Celia: Heather shares a look with Alana, then glances back at him.

“Not even for a good time?”

GM: “Oh, my. That’s quite an offer.”

Celia: “If the machines aren’t putting out, someone might as well.”

GM: “You’re both knockouts. I’d be nuts to say no. Just, so we’re clear, no strings attached. I’m not looking for more right now.”

Celia: “No strings is exactly what I’m looking for.”

GM: “Perfect. How’s a hotel?”

Celia: “Perfect,” Heather echoes.

GM: The three finish their food. Vinny presumes the two came in their own car, so he offers to meet them there at a nearby place.

It’s casual enough how he phrases things, and maybe Heather wouldn’t pick up, but Celia does.

He really wants them to take separate cars to the hotel.

Celia: Why, though? What a weird thing to want.

Heather gives the best road head.

“You don’t want a preview?” she asks, flicking her tongue across her lips.

GM: Vinny laughs. “I’ll take no spoilers. Build up my anticipation.”

Celia: Heather giggles. “All right. We’ll meet you there.”

GM: “But Heather gives the best road head,” Alana remarks as they drive to the hotel.

“Oh well. Jenny can give Heather some, if she wants.”

Celia: “You spoil me, darling,” Celia says to Alana. “Why don’t you save it for tonight? Let’s blow this boy’s mind.”

“He seemed hesitant to share a car, anyway. But you did wonderful.”

GM: “Thank you, mistress,” Alana purrs, nuzzling against Celia’s head. “I’m just sorry I’ll have to share you with him.”

Celia: “We’ll have each other later, though, as promised. I know I told you no sex for a week, but your actions lately have shown me how deserving you are to have your punishment lifted.”

GM: “Oh, thank you, mistress,” Alana beams, her face radiant. “I can’t wait to suck your cock tonight. I’ll swallow it whole.”

“But I should still be punished a little, don’t you think? Maybe you can spank me…”

Celia: “I will. I’ll spank you tonight.”

“And then you can suck me off.”

“And then I’m going to fuck you.”

“After we fuck him, though.”

GM: “I can’t wait, mistress,” Alana purrs, rubbing against Celia.

“I want you to fuck my ass, while it’s nice and sore…”

“But I want you to fuck my pussy too, man and woman like it’s meant.”

Celia: Celia reaches a hand out as she drives, stroking a hand along the ghoul’s cheek.

“We’ll do it all tonight, darling. You’ll see.”

GM: Some ghouls, at least, respond well to rewards and punishments.

Or at least rewards.

Celia: Alana won’t mind when Celia gets wet while spanking her, either, or slips a few fingers inside.

GM: The pair arrive at the hotel with Vinny. It’s not as luxurious as one that Celia only dimly recalls another person going to, but the room is clean and the bed spacious and comfortable. Vinny greets the two women, then starts hungrily kissing Heather. His beard tickles her chin. His breath comes hot and heavy. He doesn’t feel like he’s done this in a while.

Celia: Heather has done this recently enough for the both of them. She’s happy to lead or follow as he needs, though once she realizes his inexperience she takes a more dominant role. Her lips clash against his, fingers sliding across his shoulders and then down his chest to undo the buttons on his shirt.

GM: Jenny unbuckles his pants. And Heather’s. She strokes his dick back and forth in her hand and slides a finger up Heather. Vinny tugs off her blouse. He squeezes and kisses her breasts, relishing in their touch. How long has it been since he held a woman’s tits?

“God, you’re both so hot…”

Celia: They are, aren’t they? Celia did that. Gave both of them the perfect round globes on their chest for him to touch. Her nipples stiffen at his attention, and when Alana starts to touch her she finds her domitor already wet. She lets him play how he wants, leaning in to kiss the side of his neck. Her fingers curl through his hair. She bites with the flats of her teeth, though keeps her fangs tucked away for now. After a second she reaches for Jenny, slipping the skirt down her long, shapely thighs to pool on the floor.

GM: He’s a slim man, with his clothes off, but toned and taut. Celia’s been with handsomer men, and better-smelling ones. His facial hair smells of sweat and drier cologne, only recently washed—for them? His head is starting to bald with his hat removed. Still, he’s vigorous and enthusiastic, and has a tight ass. He alternates between filling each woman as they kiss and fondle one another, stroking their clits. After Vinny blows his load in Celia, he goes down on Alana, pleasing both women with his mouth and fingers until he’s ready to go again with his dick. Vinny lasts a while. There’s a lot of energy in him, even beyond the hunger that must come from going a while without release (or at least a partner). The three finally lie still in a sweaty heap, Vinny with his arms around both women’s shoulders.

“Wow,” he says.

“That was… something else.”

Celia: His eagerness makes up for his lack of expertise, and Alana’s swift fingers find the spots that he doesn’t. Heather is just as loud as a girl named Cici had once been, showing her appreciation for Vinny with eager, happy noises and soft, breathy sounds that rise up from the back of her throat. When it’s over she curls herself against him, nuzzling his neck while Alana does the same from the other side.

“Amazing?” she supplies with a wicked grin.

GM: “I think I just lived every adolescent boy’s wet dream.”

Celia: “Happy to oblige,” Heather laughs.

GM: “Happier to have been obliged,” he remarks, squeezing the two women’s shoulders.

“It’s been a while since I last did this.”

Celia: “Yeah?” Heather kisses his cheek, her fingers tracing idle circles down his chest. “Doesn’t seem like it. I think I came at least three times.”

“If you want…” she shifts, rolling over to straddle his hips. Her thighs spread around him. “Jenny’s leaving town soon, but I’m always down for a no strings good time.”

GM: “It’s hard to say I wouldn’t be either, after this.”

His manhood looks too spent to go again, at least this soon, but he slides a finger inside of her with one hand. His other one starts stroking her clit.

Celia: Her body shifts, moving against the finger inside of her. A small noise comes from her throat, half a gasp and half a moan, needy and wanton. She leans back, palms stretched out behind her, letting him see all of her body while he brings her to another shuddering climax. It doesn’t take long. When it’s done she shifts again, leaning forward, capturing his lips in a lingering kiss that tells him all she needs him to know: she’ll always come when he calls.


Tuesday night, 15 March 2016, PM

GM: Celia returns to the brothers’ house after vomiting into a toilet, Vinny’s number newly added to her contacts. The thin-blood is still there. Gagged and tied to a chair inside of a closet. They smell worse than they did last time. Like stale sweat. Their eyes widen and they make loud muffled noises through the gag.

Celia: Jade smiles down at the thing once she arrives back at the home, in a forgiving mood now that she has made some progress for Pietro, herself, and Savoy and had a handful of orgasms to boot.

“Hello, there. Did you have a good day?” She reaches forward to undo the gag.

“I never learned your name,” she says idly.

GM: “Lady, lady lick, why you keepin’ me here, I did all you wanted…” protests the thin-blood.

Celia: “Did you?” Does he remember?

GM: “Yeah, I did, didn’t I? C’mon, tell me what I ain’t done!”

Celia: “What do you remember?”

GM: “I tol’ you how I planted the bug, but I didn’ hear shit over it, lady, okay?”

Celia: Jade nods. “You were going to get your friend for me, though.”

GM: “But, but you said you’d lemme go…”

Celia: “I did. After you get your friend for me. Otherwise you’ll just be back in my spa in a week, won’t you?”

“And we’ll do this all over again.”

“And while I enjoy seeing you and the night we shared… I’d rather deal with this now.”

She smiles.

GM: The thin-blood shakes their head. “I won’t, lady, swear! Caught me once, you ain’t gonna be as nice the second time, right?”

Celia: “No,” she agrees.

GM: “But okay, I’ll get your friend, jus’ lemme go after I do, lady, okay?”

Celia: “Which door are you marking?”

GM: The thin-blood tells her which.

Celia: “As soon as we collect your friend you are free to go.”

GM: “Okay, lady, you want me to lead you there?”

Celia: “No. I want you to stay here, comfortably as my guest, until we get him.”

GM: “But, but if I ain’ there, lady, how you know he gonna show?”

Celia: “I doubt he has eyes on you all the time.”

GM: “Can you at least lemme outta the closet, I’m all sore…”

Celia: “I can adjust your position,” Jade offers.

GM: “Please, lady, can’t you jus’… lock me in a room, or somethin’?”

Celia: “Are you going to run?”

GM: The thin-blood shakes their head. “I swear I won’t, lady, you’ll be real mad if I do. I’ll be locked in anyway, right?”

“C’mon, please, I’m real sore… I been sittin’ here all day, all night…”

Celia: “One moment.” Jade closes the door on it to see which of the brothers are around.

GM: Currently, only Randy seems to think staying to guard the prisoner is worth his time.

Celia: He’s right, but she needs the others for her plan this evening. She has him move the prisoner, making sure that he keeps him tied nice and tight, and gives Reggie a call.

GM: “Can I just keep… uh, is this a man or a woman?” asks Randy.

Celia: Jade shrugs at him. “Won’t tell me their name.”

“Be nice, we’re releasing them after this.”

GM: “Ok, can I just… keep them tied up in a room, but not be in the room?”

Celia: “You’re coming with me tonight,” Jade tells him, “so tie them tight.”

GM: “Oh, great, babe!” Randy beams.

“I’ll tie them tighter than, uh, really tight!”

Celia: “Excellent, darling.”

“Don’t let them get out or we’ll need to have words.”

GM: Randy nods along.

Reggie picks up after a few rings.

“What up?”

Celia: “I need you,” Jade says into the phone, “to show me what a badass you are.”

GM: “I’d say anytime, but I do that all the time.”

Celia: “Will you come home so I can explain?”

GM: “Sure. Less homely now, though, without your mom and friend.”

Celia: “But I’m here.”

GM: “True. Big net plus.”

“They were getting a lot less fun anyway.”

Celia: “I know,” Jade sighs into the phone, “I appreciate you putting up with them though.”

“Come see me, baby. I have fun plans for us tonight.”

GM: “On my way.”

“Also. Should probably keep your friend away from any knives in the house, if she’s staying with you,” he says before she hangs up.

Celia: She’ll have to ask him to explain that when he gets here.

Jade says she’ll see him soon and hangs up. She moves to check the bindings on their thin-blood friend.

She trusts Randy, but she’d rather not lose her asset.

And she has a question for the thin-blood.

She seats herself on the side of the bed where it has been tied, looking down at it with a gentle smile.

“I have one last question for you.”

GM: “Sure, lady lick, sure, what you wanna know?” asks the thin-blood.

Celia: “I’ve been told that some of the duskborn have the ability to use their blood for a sort of alchemy.”

GM: “Oh, uh, whas’ alchemy?”

Celia: “A sort of trick you do with your blood. Technically it’s a transformation of something from one state to another. Old chemistry. Some people think you can use it to turn metal into gold.” Jade smiles again, clearly dismissing the notion. “But the duskborn are said to be able to do things with the blood, and I had hoped to utilize your services if you knew about it.”

“I keep my contacts very, very comfortable.”

GM: “Oh, you mean like the mixers, lady? The cooks?”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “Yeah, I migh’, migh’ know one or two.”

Celia: “After all this is done with your friend, would you be willing to introduce me?”

GM: “Ah, sure, lady, keep me comfy how?”

Celia: “Money, blood, safety. You mentioned you don’t have a place to stay during the day. You live night to night.”

GM: “Yeah, yeah I do.”

Celia: “That can’t be very comfortable.”

GM: “Well, it, it how I always got by, I guess.”

Celia: Jade nods. “But you can’t thrive if you’re busy trying to survive.”

GM: “Well, sure, lady, I’ll hook you up, for somea all that.”

Celia: “Excellent. As soon as I get our friend I’ll come back for you to tell me more about these… cooks.”

GM: “Sure, you bet!”

“Can you untie me a little, maybe jus’ my legs?”

Celia: “Not yet, darling. Soon.”

GM: “C’mon, I ain’ gonna run, you said you’d give me blood an’ money an’ a place to sleep!”

“I can’t run anyway without my hands!”

Celia: “You invaded my domain,” Jade says to it, “which means you’re mine to do with as I wish under the laws of the Camarilla and the city. I could put you down, but I feel some affection for you.”

Jade reaches out, stroking a hand down its face. “I just don’t trust you yet. Prove to me I can while I’m gone and you’ll have the run of the house, or we can find you somewhere else.”

GM: The thin-blood pales at her initial words, then nods eagerly as if to encourage her. “Somewhere else?”

Celia: “If you want your own digs.”

GM: “Oh. Yeah, lady, that’d be great, that’d be real great!”

Celia: “Then just a little bit longer, okay?”

GM: “Okay, lady, okay…”

Celia: “I still need your name,” Jade says to it. “I just keep calling you ‘the duskborn’ in my head.”

GM: “Ah, my name’s Ebony, lady lick.”

Celia: “Ebony,” Jade repeats, “fitting. Did you pull that because mine is Jade?”

GM: “Ah, sorry, lady?”

Celia: “Your name isn’t Ebony. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t tell me when you want to be my friend. Truthfully, it rather hurts my feelings.”

GM: “Ah, I’m sorry, Jade, I’m real sorry, my name’s Shanice.”

Celia: Jade sighs at the thing.

“It’s like when you ask a stripper at a club, you know, and she gives you a fake name on top of her fake name.”

GM: “Look, lady, you say you don’ trust me, okay, I don’ really trust you! You tied me up all day!”

Celia: “I was honest about the fact that I’d leave you tied up all day. You bugged my spa and spied on me.”

GM: “Well, okay, my name ain’ Shanice, I’d jus’ rather hold out on the real one ‘til I ain’ tied up, yeah?”

Celia: Jade shrugs at it.

“Very well. There goes your bonus.”

She rises, striding for the door.

GM: “Wait, bonus?”

Celia: She pauses, glancing over her shoulder.

“Bonus,” she repeats, “for when I don’t need to play guessing games and waste my time prying information out of people.”

GM: “Okay, lady lick, I’m sorry, if I tell you my name, can I have the bonus?”

Celia: “I don’t know, darling, do you have proof it’s your name? You’ve lied to me twice.”

GM: “Ah, not really, sorry. I ain’ got any ID or stuff.”

Celia: Jade strides back to the bed, reaching out a hand to stroke it down the side of the thing’s face. Her touch is light, gentle enough to show it that she doesn’t wish it any harm. She sends a little burst of desire to please into that touch, reaching out with the innate sense of self as much as she does her hand. After a moment she asks again.

“Will you tell me your name? The truth, this time.” The words are just a murmur in the air between them, the promise of that “bonus” heavy on her tongue.

GM: “Deja,” the thin-blood gets out thickly.

“Can I have the bonus…?”

Celia: “Do you really know any cooks, Deja? I won’t be mad if you lied, just if you waste my time.”

GM: “I do, lady lick, swear!”

Celia: Jade just nods. She rises once more, pulling the money she hadn’t gambled away from her pocket. She pulls five bills free and sets it on the table next to the thin-blood, out of their reach but visible all the same.

“Yours,” she says to it. “I’ll see you soon, Deja.”


Tuesday night, 15 March 2016, PM

GM: Reggie greets her at the door with a hungry kiss.

“Missed me, sexy?”

Celia: If she had breath, he’d steal it.

As it is she gives the kisses freely, glad that she can have her way with him without feeling self-conscious about her mother, Lucy, or Dani in the room. Randy is otherwise occupied for at least another minute or two; she pulls Reggie forcibly against her by the front of his shirt, sandwiching herself between him and whatever wall is closest.

“Always,” she gets out, “stop leaving me. I need you.”

GM: “Makes you miss me…” His teeth grind against hers as his tongue explores her mouth. He shoves her hard against the wall, his hands possessively roaming her breasts, rear, and hips. One hand reaches inside her panties and teasingly explores her lower lips.

Celia: “It makes me impatient,” she disagrees, but her body responds to his touch all the same, and his fingers come away slick. Two sharp points trace down his neck, but Jade doesn’t bite into him despite how very tempting he is this evening. Nor does she let him go any further than this. Not with Randy in the house.

And she needs him for other things, besides.

She tells him so, whispering her desire to him in fragmented kisses while he fondles her, telling him that she needs him to help her trap an enemy. A big, strong enemy, someone he’ll be proud of taking down. A real vampire, not a pathetic half-breed.

Help me take him out, she tells him, show me how strong and tough you are.

GM: He’s up for it.

He always is.

He cups her head back with one hand and raises his wet fingers to her lips.

“Have a taste…”

Celia: Jade takes his fingers into her mouth, closing her lips around the digits to suck them clean. Her eyes never leave his.

GM: “Always,” he repeats, stroking back her hair from her face.

“I’ll pound a stake into that motherfucker.”

“Then I’ll pound something else into you…”

Celia: She certainly hopes so.

GM: He gathers weapons and equipment for the job, asking if there’s anything else they need before they get to the address.

Celia: They need his brother and Alana, actually, so while Reggie does his thing Jade does hers in a private room with the two of them. She had thought to turn Randy into the thin-blood, but between the two of them Alana is the better liar and closer to the thin-blood’s size anyway. She apologizes for the ugly face while she sculpts the flesh beneath her fingers, forming her into an exact replica of the thing tied up in the bedroom. Her blood in Alana’s veins will make her smell enough like a thin-blood that no one should detect the difference.

“Your name is Deja,” she tells Alana as she works, “but you might respond to Ebony or Shanice. When they arrive, tell them you picked up something good and that you want to talk privately.” She fills her in on a few of the thin-blood’s habits and speech patterns.

GM: “I look so ugly, mistress,” Alana mopes.

“So… eurgh.

Celia: “It’s just for an hour or two, ‘Lana. Then we’ll put you back to sorts and we get the rest of the night to unwind in each other’s arms.”

GM: “Okay, mistress. Okay.” The ghoul still shudders a little and looks away from her reflection.

Celia: Unfortunately Randy doesn’t shadow dance, but Jade gives him a small mark on his inner arm that will let him use the ability for the evening. Then she does her own face, turning herself into a nondescript nobody that no one would look twice at.

She goes over the plan with all of them: Alana will lure them out with the X on the door. The other three will keep lookout. If more than one lick shows or if they bring a retinue of ghouls, the plan becomes “extract Alana and get out.” Otherwise, Alana will take the contact somewhere private to be ambushed by Reggie, Randy, and Jade.

The rules are clear: minimize risks to themselves, don’t break the Masquerade, don’t tip off the guy to what’s going on.

Jade paces in the living room once it’s all set, finally turning to ask the boys if they think they’ll need more muscle. Combat, things like this, none of it is her strong suit, and they’re going in almost blind. Jade has a few ideas about who it might be, but she’s been wrong before. Either way, they can’t mess up. This isn’t a thin-blood they’re going after, but an honest to god vampire with who knows what abilities.

While Randy and Reggie discuss, Jade pulls Alana aside to record something for the bug.

“We found your sister,” Jade says to Celia.

There’s a pause.

“Where? How? What happened?” Celia’s voice sounds frantic, panicked.

“Dead,” Jade says heavily.

There’s a sharp intake of breath. Then the soft sound of crying.

“H-how?”

“The new blonde stiff told her that Meadows killed her boyfriend. Apparently thought she could take on the scourge herself.”

“Oh… oh my god, I…”

There’s muffled sobbing, as if the girl pressed her face into someone’s shoulder.

“I know, sweetheart,” Jade whispers, voice barely audible, “I know. Come here—”

“N-no! You said—you said you’d keep her safe! You said you’d help her, n-not let her die!"

“Celia…”

“Stop it! Stop it! I don’t want this anymore! I hate you!"

SMACK!

“I understand,” Jade says in a tightly controlled voice, “that you are emotional right now, and that you spoke without thinking. So you’ll only get ten blows for your outburst. Do it again and I’ll take your tongue. Do you understand? Good. Bend over. Skirt and panties. You know the words.”

SMACK!

Celia yelps at the blow.

“Whu—one, mistress, thank you for the lesson.”

SMACK!

“Two—two, mistress, thank you for the lesson.”

So it goes, on and on until ten. By the end of it Celia barely gasps out the numbers and words to her domitor.

“Clean yourself up,” Jade says coldly. Heels click across the ground. The door closes. Celia slumps to the ground, sobbing openly now that she’s alone.

GM: Alana listens, entranced, to the recording.

“It’s actually kind of hot…” she whispers at Celia with a salacious look.

Celia: Celia smiles. “Just in case things go south,” she tells Alana. “You get the signal then you hand over the information and tell him there’s more where that came from and that the bug is still in place. My priority is keeping you safe. Now… what’s a good tidbit we can record for this?”

GM: “Maybe a time and place where you’ll be alone? If they wanted to hurt you?”

Celia: “We don’t know that they do. I had another thought, tell me if this is too… weird…”

Jade tells Alana her idea.

GM: “It’s perfect, mistress,” Alana beams.

“And… pretty sexy, too…”

“Whoever gets it will really have something on their hands…”

Celia: “You mean their dick?” Jade drawls, brows lifted.

She’s not sure she agrees with the ghoul’s assessment, anyway. Maybe it’s better to to use her initial idea about a time she’s alone. Her grandsire always says you can never trust a ghoul to be honest with you…

Maybe it’s too much.

But it’s their backup plan, anyway.

God, she hopes she’s right about this.

Jade takes a moment to record what she had pitched to Alana, then returns to the living room to find out what Randy and Reggie have decided.

GM: The brothers are gung ho and ready to stride boldly into the night. Maybe they should let Alana go first, though, with her phone on so the rest of them can listen to what’s happening and plan accordingly.

Both brothers are bringing stakes. There’s also hairspray, if they want to literally play with fire.

GM: Celia’s phone then buzzes with texts from Dani.

Oh btw two dinner things

My dad said he could do Friday this week with your family, does that work for you?

Your mom also invited me to dinner tomorrow, guess we’ll be seeing each other a lot :)

She says I should come by your spa sometime too

Celia: Jade does not want fire anywhere near her. She tells the boys as much, her Beast whining in instinctive unease at the thought of an open, uncontrolled flame. They’ll stick to stakes and blades against their Kindred foes. And Jade has a few tricks of her own up her sleeve that should, hopefully, even the playing field if it comes down to that. Combat isn’t her strength, but she has other tools at her disposal should it come down to that. She will make do.

Alana will go in first to summon him, with an open line of communication on her person to let them hear what’s going on and decide how to play things. Jade gives her one last missive on her way out the door: if, for any reason, she is taken away from the scene, sell them on the idea of Celia as a ghoul who apparently resents her mistress and isn’t fully bound.

The rest of them will shadow dance to hide what they are and keep the lick ignorant to their presence. Randy and Reggie wear mundane disguises to hide who they are.

Jade checks her phone while she heats the remaining blood from her hunting expedition last night in the microwave, then calls Reggie over, asking what he meant about her friend and knives on the phone. She’s getting a bit of a Single White Female vibe from Dani anymore.

GM: The ghouls all agree to the parameters of Jade’s plan.

“She’s crazy, is what,” Reggie says.

“She tried to stab me last time we talked.”

“Your mom tried to kick me in the balls.”

“They’re both lucky I’m such a gentleman.”

Celia: “Whoa, what?”

GM: “What, you didn’t figure I could be sexy, competent, and a gentleman too?”

Celia: “I mean the stabbing and ball kicking.”

GM: “Like I said, they’re crazy.”

Celia: “When was this?”

GM: “When you were asleep.”

Celia: “Why?”

GM: “Because they’re crazy.”

Celia: “What did you do to them, Reggie?” Jade finishes off the last of the warmed blood, eyeing him past the rim.

GM: His gaze fixes on it.

“Hey, I didn’t do anything besides kiss them.”

“Told you. Gentleman.”

Celia: Jade just gives him a look.

“Reggie, I told you to leave them alone.”

GM: “Hey, I did. I didn’t try to fuck them.”

Celia: “Stop trying to kiss my mom. It makes me not want to fuck you.”

GM: “She isn’t here anymore, so happy to oblige. But if it makes you feel any better, she took away all the food she cooked.”

“Went on this crazy rant about it.”

Celia: “Oh?”

GM: “Like I said. She and your friend are crazy. Happy not to have ’em back.”

“This is a very un-sexy topic.”

Celia: Sounds like Diana finally stood up for herself. Dani too. Jade just makes a sympathetic noise at her ghoul, though.

“Eventually someone is going to geld you when you try to put it where it doesn’t belong, sweetheart. Stop trying to fuck my mom and friend. Any other woman, mkay?”

GM: “Any other woman, I wouldn’t be such a gentleman about her mom and friend.”

Celia: There’s nothing left in the glass when she’s done with it. She rinses it in the sink, watching the clock. She doesn’t want to give Alana too long a head start; she’s worried it will land her in trouble.

“Reggie,” she says, turning to him, “I like you. A lot. I don’t want you getting stabbed because you couldn’t keep it in your pants, mkay?”

GM: “Relax. Girl had no idea how to use that thing.”

Celia: That’s an oversight that will need fixed.

“This guy tonight might. Don’t get stabbed on me. I’ll miss you too much.”

GM: “Yeah, that guy I’ll stab the fuck back.”

Celia: “Right in his heart,” Jade agrees. “Put the big piece of wood in his chest. Then after you can put it in me.”

GM: “Count on it.”


Tuesday night, 15 March 2016, PM

GM: The drive to Rampart isn’t long. Celia and Dani text on the way. Dani is pleased to hear the rescheduled dinner date with her dad works. She says she’d love to make an appointment at the spa.

I mean I knew about it earlier but didn’t ever visit because yknow, Stephen

Celia: For sure. We can definitely get you in!

Celia fires off a handful of texts back and forth with Dani about the upcoming dinners and what sort of appointment she’s looking for at the spa. They do their job well, distracting Celia from the nerves that flutter through her stomach at the thought of what’s waiting for her tonight.

She’s going in blind.

She has theories, sure, but nothing concrete. None of this is her typical MO. She’s not the type of lick to respond with force; but then she’s not the type of lick to be so blatantly targeted like this, so maybe it is her typical MO and she just never knew. Maybe that lesson from her sire—you struck her, she’ll strike back—stuck the landing a little too well.

Maybe she’s just still worried about taking care of her mom and the rest of what’s hers.

So she distracts herself, first with her would-be sister and then her would-be lover. The one with the hat.

Hey babe what’s the theme for the party?

Does he text? He seems like the kind of guy to text. Young enough for it.

GM: Dani actually does not have a kind of appointment she’s looking for. Your mom says she just comes in and lets you do whatever to her, so thought I’d do the same

Gui does not provide as immediate a distraction.

Celia: How rude of him to not submit to her schedule.

Ha, she does. Np, can do. You gonna stay with her or back at my place?

GM: Her place. Thought you wanted me out of there

Temporary though. She’s been helping me move my stuff and look through listings

Celia: Do you want to schedule some visit times for Sunday? Can come with after work.

Work, daysleep, same difference.

Gives her time to find a few places.

And gives Celia time to tell Roderick he’s going to pony up rent.

GM: We’re both really glad to get out of Reggie’s place, he was awful

Sunday sounds great :)

Celia: I’m glad for you too. Almost decked him. Remind me to tell you something later, you gonna be up a bit?

GM: Yeah totally

Be more glad if you had decked him

He just would not fucking stop trying to kiss us and touch us

Celia: Yeah… I might.

GM: no matter how many times we said stop he just did not care

I had to threaten him with a knife to get him to back off

Celia: I heard.

GM: And then of course he started ranting how crazy I was

Yeah how crazy I don’t want to have sex after I’ve been raped

Celia: Obv not wanting his dick = crazy

Want to talk to you about that, too.

GM: He came on to your mom hardest whenever she was with Lucy. It was so fucking creepy.

Celia: wow.

GM: Yeah. Talk about what anyways?

What happened to me?

Celia: Yeah. Later though. If you want to talk about it. I won’t pry.

GM: Well. I don’t really remember a lot

Like I said

I almost thought I was… faking it?

Celia: not right now.

GM: well tldr I feel better talking about it. Your mom and I talked a lot

she told me about how she’d been raped

Celia: She did?

GM: Yeah. By your dad. A bunch of times. And that she thought it was ok for me to say I’d been even if I don’t remember much

She said she struggled with that a lot too, wondering if the rape that happened to her was actually rape because he was her husband

But she said you and Emily told her over and over that it was real

Celia: It was real. For her and for you. No one deserves that.

GM: Thanks. That helps to hear

Please don’t tell Stephen btw

Just don’t want to deal with that, he’ll go ballistic over it

Celia: He will, you’re right. I won’t say anything to him.

GM: What’s new with him?

Celia: Work mostly. Looking for a house. Misses you. Wants to go out this week, figure it will be a good time to tell him about what you want. Still thinks you should take that job offer in Houston.

GM: Fuck that

Celia: That’s what I told him you’d say.

GM: School’s here, my job’s here, the job I want is here, my dad’s here, you’re here, your mom’s here, my friends are here

Why the fuck would I want to just pack up for Houston

Because that’s convenient for him

Which actually makes me want to do it even less

When I already didn’t at all

Celia: For the “job” that Celia had just used as cover.

She’d explained this to Dani, not to say something weird via text. Now the girl is blowing it.

Celia sighs at her phone.

Yeah I get it. He’s being a butthead tbh.

GM: Fuck him

If he doesn’t pay my rent I’m never speaking to him again, tell him that

Celia: Will do.

What’s your schedule like these next few nights? Have a friend I want you to meet.

GM: Dani lists her work and school hours.

Pretty wide open apart from that. I’ve kinda been falling off the radar with my friends ¯\(ツ)

But yeah would love to meet yours

Celia: Dani needs to stop taking things at face value. No one Celia actually calls friend would want to meet the thin-blood.

Perf. I’ll set it up and let you know. Don’t ignore your friends though. Easy to isolate after sexual abuse but maybe some normalcy will do you good.

GM: I just feel a lot more able to talk about what happened with you and your mom, you know?

Celia: Yeah. I get it. Can feel really lonely, like you’re the only one who has ever been through it. I’m here for you. Sometimes just therapeutic to have a normal day out with friends is all I mean, helps remind you the world isn’t terrible.

Celia types out another message on her phone, debating if she wants to send it or not. She’s not looking for sympathy. But maybe it will do something for Dani. She presses Send.

Happened to me. Never told my mom. I know it’s not the same, prob doesn’t help, but you’re not alone.

GM: Oh my god I’m so sorry. I can talk now if you’d rather than text

Celia: Working on a project. Can talk later though.

GM: Ok. But thanks. Really glad to have you + your mom in my life right now

Celia:

We’re happy to have you in ours, too.

She’s glad she told Pete not to erase her memories. It might be a small lapse in security, but if Dani and Diana feel better to have each other then she won’t be the one to take it away. Everyone needs someone.


Tuesday night, 15 March 2016, PM

GM: Rampart Street is a shithole. Situated only just across the border with Treme, it’s the gutter that Bourbon Street’s sleaze runs off to. Buildings are run down and neglected and sprayed with gang tags. Celia hears a car alarm and gunshot go off in the distance. Homeless people sleep on the trash-littered streets. Prostitutes advertise their services. The Pavaghi doll she and Elyse worked on said its family were slumlords here. Kindred graffiti, its meaning only plain to dead eyes in the language of the Cacophony, proclaims that one is entering Savoy’s territory.

Reggie eyes the place and then Celia warily as he parks the car. “Stick close.”

Alana wrinkles her nose.

Celia: “Won’t it look suspicious if we’re all with her?” Celia asks Reggie. She trusts his judgement more than her own in this; he has done this sort of work before far more often than her.

GM: Reggie shrugs. “Said you wanted her to go in on her own. I mean when we get out.”

Celia: Oh.

She nods, has Alana turn her phone on so they can listen in, and tells her they’ll be right here. Reminds her to fidget like the thin-blood had. Offers some last words of encouragement and advice, anything she thinks will keep the girl safe, and finally sends her on her way.

Celia: She has Reggie scope out the best area for their ambush while they wait. Somewhere secluded where they can hem him in and no one can see.

GM: The site they’re to spray the door at is a shitty-looking house with boarded-up windows and cracked glass. Paint peels from the grimy walls. The place doesn’t look like it’s been lived in for years.

Celia: It hasn’t been. She knows why, too, and the words that boy had once told her to try to scare her come to her now about the murder-suicide, body baked in the oven and eaten, and still-missing flesh.

She hadn’t realized it was this house. But she doesn’t know of any licks that have claimed it; maybe it just makes a good target since no one fucks with it.

Maybe.

Hopefully.

GM: Alana gets out, eyeing some of the nearby homeless warily, and sprays an ‘x’ over the door.

With a low creak, it slowly swings open.

Celia: Oh, no. This hadn’t been part of the plan.

GM: She glances back towards her mistress uncertainly.

Celia: She doesn’t think it’s a good idea for Alana to go inside. She’d thought she was dealing with someone else, someone less… scary. Someone normal. A lick, certainly, but the normal sort.

What happens if she sends Alana inside? She dies because they think she’s the thin-blood?

Celia’s unfamiliar lips purse at the thought.

“This is bad,” she says to the boys. “I thought it would come out. I can sneak in, maybe…?”

Rusty should have come to this. His animal form is less noticeable than hers, and he’s her resident stealth expert. But it would be the both of them inside without her if it had come to that. She’s glad she left him at home; there’s no temptation now to send him in and risk him as well.

“Ideas. Quickly.”

GM: “You shouldn’t go in, babe, way too risky!” says Randy.

Celia: But is that because it’s actually risky or because he’s in love with her because she feeds him blood?

She glances at Reggie.

GM: “Do what you gotta do,” shrugs Reggie, “but I’ll be right behind if you’re goin’ in.”

Celia: “Stay in the car, Randy. We’re not out in fifteen you get out of here. Reggie, with me. Pretend you’re Randy.”

Her hands blur across her face in the shadows of the backseat, twisting her features until she’s Celia once more. She’s glad, not the for the first time, that the triplets are nearly identical; Reggie will have no difficulty passing as his younger brother. It’s something they’ve done before, though normally with more warning.

Celia slides out of car, the vague outline of a plan taking hold in her brain. She shouldn’t have done this so early. Should have waited until Saturday. But the thing on the bug supports this ridiculous idea of hers.

“Deja,” she says quietly to Alana, “you can’t go in there. I heard about the last thin-bloods that did. I’ll go. I’m not like you. And I can… can tell them more.” She puts a tiny tremor in her voice, suggesting nerves and fear and dread and something… steely. Determined. She takes the recording and tells “Deja” to go home.

Celia: Staring at the house in front of her, Reggie at her side, she can’t help but think about a night from another lifetime.

How the door at Audubon had swung open for her at the lightest touch.

Then, as now, she had a recording with her. Then, as now, she had told someone to wait in the car. Then, she had been worried that her father was waiting inside. He or his master, the monster that crawled out from under the bed.

She had gone in anyway, summoned by the beckon of the open door.

She remembers the stillness of the house. The shadow that had separated itself from the night. The hand that clapped over her mouth to keep her from screaming.

The moment had stretched into eternity. Her eyes had rolled in terror when the harsh voice began to speak to her. She was certain she was dead.

But that was then, when she was a breather with a broken arm and bruised flesh and afraid of things that go bump in the night.

Now she’s seven years a lick. At home in the dark.

Now she’s the thing that goes bump in the night.

She’s no longer afraid of shadows.

Now, though, she knows that this lack of fear will not serve her. The thing inside, whoever it is, was expecting someone that isn’t her. They’d wanted the thin-blood. The informant. The spy.

They don’t know that they’re about to get the Chameleon.

She slips into the mask with the tremor she had put into her voice seconds ago. She slips into it with the way her shoulders hunch slightly. She slips into it with the shuffle of her feet across the ground, weight shifting from toe to toe, and the way she peers into the shadows of the condemned home as if she cannot see clearly in the dark.

Inside her chest, her heart beats. Her diaphragm expands. She blinks. Smooth, practiced gestures from living with her breather family and passing for so long as human.

She slips into the mask of Celia the ghoul.

GM: “Deja” looks worried for a moment. More than the real Deja probably would have ever been. But at Celia’s words, the cowardly thin-blood all but bolts for the safety of the car.

Randy starts to protest when Celia leaves. Reggie pats his shoulder and says, “I got her, bro. Keep ’Lana safe.”

Deja passes off the bug receiver to Celia.

“Chin high,” Reggie says loudly, taking Celia by the arm as they exit the car. “I got you.”

Celia: He says it twice, that he’s got her.

She hopes he’s right.

Celia nods as if steeling herself and lifts her chin as advised. Wheels within wheels; she projects the aura of false confidence, skittish but determined, bolstered by the man beside her. Her hand slides into his as they approach the open door, sinking into the role of Celia and her beloved boyfriend.

She hesitates on the threshold. Her eyes search the gloom, an unfocused glaze to them with a slightly puckered brow as if she cannot see, as if she is not a creature of the night.

GM: It’s a long-feeling walk to the abandoned house’s front door. A homeless man sleeping the next block over turns over and moans. Another homeless man points out the pair, leers at them past rotted teeth, and cackles.

“Hehehe… heh heh… hehe…”

“Hehehe…”

The door is still ajar.

Unlocked.

Open.

Reggie gives it a push.

There’s a low creak of floorboards as the pair stride inside. The stench is what hits Celia immediately. It’s awful. It smells like no one has lived here for years.

It smells like there’s a reason no one’s lived here for years.

Celia’s eyes see through the gloom, this time. Well that they do. There are no lights.

GM: The inside of the house looks even worse than the outside. Paint doesn’t jut peel from the decaying walls, it’s gone in sections and exposing rotted wooden beams beneath. The house is empty of furnishings and decor. Truly bare houses always look so strange. So empty.

Reggie peers through the gloom. He doesn’t turn on a flashlight.

He takes a creaking step forward.

That’s when the door slams shut behind them.

Celia: The slam of the door is enough to make Celia the ghoul jump. She clutches at Reggie’s hand, forcing the heart inside her chest to beat faster, faster, faster. Her breath comes in quick, short puffs of air.

Behind the mask, Jade assesses the situation coolly, picking apart the details with what she knows of her kind.

It doesn’t add up.

Anyone with an aptitude for shadow dancing wouldn’t have needed to hire a thin-blood to plant the device when it could have broken in on its own without getting caught. Unless it’s near the door, standing still. Or not shadow dancing.

Or it’s a trap, set from the word “go.”

At Reggie’s side, Celia lets a tremble appear in her hands. She clenches them as if to obscure the tiny movement, and inside their sockets she darts her eyes in half a hundred directions.

She’s had so much practice at being afraid.

“He—hello?”

GM: An inhumanly deep voice splits the rancid air.

“Room for two more in the oven…”

Celia can’t see where it’s coming from.

But there’s a new smell wafting up her nose.

A smell like cooking flesh.

Celia: This was the worst idea in the history of ideas.

“My mistake,” she stutters, “sorry to disturb you, I was looking for someone else.”

Celia takes a step backward, tugging Reggie with her toward the door. She reaches for the handle.

GM: Her fingers close around it. The door does not budge.

Reggie snarls and whips out his gun, eyes furiously scanning the gloom.

“You have ’til it preheats to get me to let you go.”

Celia: Celia puts her hand on Reggie’s arm, shaking her head. A gun isn’t going to do either of them any good. She doesn’t think this is a lick that they’re dealing with. Ghost? Something else, something darker? Whatever it is, she doesn’t think it’s what wanted to put the bug in the spa.

How quickly do ovens preheat? Depends on the temperature. They have a few minutes at most.

Then what?

She doesn’t want to know. She tries not to think about it.

“Thank you,” Celia says to the still-empty room, unsure of where to look. Maybe she sounds silly, thanking someone for the opportunity to not die, but being polite has never hurt before. “I’m very sorry for barging in on you like this. I hadn’t realized that the home is claimed.”

What does it want? What do all things want? Sustenance. Safety. Information. Power.

“I was supposed to meet someone,” she says again. “They hired someone else to look into a lick that I know, and I… I wanted to help. I’m well-suited to that sort of thing.”

She swallows, the sound loud in the still, musty air.

“My name is Celia,” she offers.

GM: A horrible sound splits the air. Booming and scraping, like someone alternately pounding and scraping the inside of an oven as hard as they can.

It sounds almost like laughter.

“Meat doesn’t have a name.”

Celia: Celia lets out a breathless giggle. She nods her head, hand tightening around Reggie’s.

“You’re right,” she agrees. “Is that what you’re looking for? Meat? I’m happy to bring you some. There was an article in the paper a few years back, about a man who cooked his girlfriend and ate part of her. No one has wanted to touch this place since.”

The words linger.

“I imagine you’re hungry, without regular visits.”

GM: Reggie’s face is still bared in a snarl. He hasn’t put away his gun.

The room is starting to feel warmer. Celia can hear the steady ‘whoomp’ sound of an older, gas-powered oven.

“I want ghoul meat… vampire meat…”

Celia: “Well, see, that’s perfect, isn’t it? I can bring you some. Ghouls and vampires. Steady supply for letting us go. You won’t have to be hungry anymore.”

GM: “You might lie… you smell so good…”

Celia: “A lot of people would lie in this situation,” Celia says, “but I’m not. I know what it’s like to be hungry. And I had a friend… a friend, maybe like you, who couldn’t gather his own sustenance. He didn’t want meat, but it was similar. I helped him gather what he needed.”

“If you want,” she says after a second of hesitation, “I can stay here with you and send my friend here to get meat for you. If you promise you’ll let me go afterward, when he comes back.”

“Just to show you that I’m good for it.”

GM: Reggie looks at her like she’s crazy.

Celia: Maybe she is.

GM: “How fuckin’ fast do you expect us to round up other licks and renfields?” he mutters under his breath.

Celia: “Deja,” she murmurs back.

GM: “Right,” says Reggie, louder. “We got a vampire we can bring you. Right now.”

The air is silent.

But getting warmer.

Finally, the deep voice splits the stillness.

“Deal.”

Celia: “Thank you,” Celia says again. “He’ll go get the vampire.” There’s a long pause, then she asks, “would you still like me to keep you company while you wait?”

GM: There’s a harsh sound like a slamming oven door. The voice scrapes like angry metal.

“People come into my house. Less people leave. That’s the RULE.”

Celia: “I’ll stay,” Celia says. “I’m going to move away from the door and you can open it for him and he’ll bring the vampire. That way we stay within the rules.”

GM: “Ask again.”

“Oven’s warm already…”

There’s a deep inhalation-like reverberation.

“You smell so good…”

Celia: “I misspoke,” Celia says to it, “my apologies. I only meant that I didn’t want to infringe upon your hospitality by making an assumption.” Celia gives Reggie’s hand a squeeze before she lets go, stepping further into the room and away from the door.

GM: Reggie gives Celia a long look, then tries the door. It opens. He doesn’t look back, just strides out.

It slams shut after him.

Silence fills the now-warm house.

Celia: Celia tries not to flinch at the sound of the door closing behind her. She hopes he hurries. She continues breathing, blinking, sending blood through her body to force her heart to beat. She continues to look human.

After a moment of silence, she finally takes a chance and opens her mouth.

“Do you mind if I speak to you, or would you prefer that I wait quietly?”

GM: The thing’s answer booms out like a slamming oven door.

“Whatever.”

Celia: That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for conversation.

GM: The house gets steadily warmer.

Celia: “How often?” Celia asks the warm house. “For your deliveries.”

GM: “‘Til I’m hungry.”

Celia: “Okay,” she says, as if that makes sense. “My friend, the one I mentioned I help? He’s a ghost. I heard there are a lot of them in the Quarter.”

GM: “Can’t eat ghosts.”

Celia: “No meat on ghosts, though,” she says with a nod. “But a lot of licks here, too. And ghouls. You picked a good place for it.”

GM: “Taste good. Licks taste best.”

Celia: “Can I ask… do you cook them before you eat them? I thought they might, ah, not play well with fire?”

GM: “Have to eat fast.”

Celia: “You know that licks, um, they regrow. You could harvest it, maybe, and then the next night they’re healed. Maybe they’re good for more than one meal?”

GM: “Like the sounds they make.”

“Might try. If the sounds stay good.”

Celia: “I could bring you handcuffs,” Celia offers, “so that they don’t wiggle around on you.”

GM: “Okay.”

Celia: “Okay. I’ll get you a good pair. Really strong.”

“Are you… are you a ghost?” She glances around the still dark room. “You don’t have to tell me, if you don’t want, if it’s rude to ask.”

GM: Silence.

“I’m hungry.”

Celia: Celia nods, falling silent.

She hopes Reggie gets back soon.

GM: Silence stretches.

The house continues to gets warmer.

It’s stiflingly so by the time a bang sounds on the door.

It creaks open. Reggie comes inside, half-dragging Deja by their hair. They’re still gagged and tied up. They look at Celia desperately and make helplessly muffled sounds past the gag.

“This fuck was trying to escape,” says Reggie.

Celia: Celia nods. She had assumed it would try.

She almost feels bad for it.

GM: “Randy ties good knots, at least.”

“Mmm-f! L-pl-mmmm! Pmmm!!!” the thin-blood begs, pinking tears squeezing from their eyes.

There’s a distant sound like an oven door slamming open.

“Leave the meat.”

Deja tries to scream past the gag and meets Celia’s gaze imploringly.

Celia: The tears and screaming make her hesitate.

She feels bad for it. She really does. No one deserves this sort of fate, being fed to a monster.

But it had spied on her. It learned things about her. It would have sold that information—even though it’s gone—to the highest bidder, or to any bidder. Someone could break into its mind and learn everything despite what Pete had done to it.

Reggie’s hand on her arm keeps her from saying anything stupid. She lets him pull her toward the door.

It had a miserable existence anyway. It’s better this way.

GM: “Bring a lick next time.”

But the door opens for Celia and Reggie when they move to leave. There’s a heavy and final-sounding metallic crashing noise. Raw, terrified screams follow in the pair’s wake.

A miserable existence.

And a miserable end.


Tuesday night, 15 March 2016, PM

GM: “What the fuck was that?” asks Reggie as Randy drives them off.

Celia: Celia had made Reggie sit in the back with her on the way out. She’s not trembling—she only does that for show—but she can’t help but think that she had come very, very close to being the one that ended up in the oven. The hand that holds his is white-knuckled. She leans against him.

“I don’t know,” she says, “I have no idea. I don’t think it’s a ghost. Ghosts don’t eat meat. But if it’s eating licks… someone told me that, you know, we evolve to eat things weaker than us. So if it’s eating licks, it’s stronger than licks.”

“It said it likes how we sound when we scream.”

GM: “Well that’s a fucking happy thought,” mutters Reggie.

“So you gonna feed it more?” asks Randy.

Celia: “I… guess so.”

GM: “Yeah, how’s that help us?” asks Reggie.

“The mistress could feed it people she doesn’t like,” says Alana, somewhat white-faced herself.

“Okay, sure. But why not just walk the fuck away?” says Reggie.

Celia: “Because what if it can come after us?”

“We need to find out what it is. What its limits are.”

“And maybe we can make it a friend.”

GM: “Well… it wanted you to help it eat, mistress,” says Alana. “That’s something?”

Celia: “I had a theory it might not be able to leave the house. But if I’m wrong…”

GM: “Why can’t it?” asks Reggie.

Celia: “I don’t know. Why would it accept a trade if it could go out and get its own?”

GM: “Maybe it’s… lazy?” asks Randy. “Like, I can make food myself. But I like someone else making it more.”

“Amen to that,” says Reggie. “Thing sounded… I dunno, how hungry did you think it was?”

“If I’m hungry enough, I’ll say fuck it and cook something.”

Celia: “It thought I was human,” she says, “because of the shadow dancing. Both of us. I don’t think we’d have been able to leave if it knew the truth.”

“Unless it wasn’t fooled by that at all.”

“Since it kept saying I smell good, not you.” Celia glances at Reggie.

GM: “Maybe it smelled what good care you take of your body, mistress,” smiles Alana.

“You do smell so good.”

Celia: Her smile is fleeting.

“Thanks. But I doubt it.”

GM: “Well… that means either you fooled it, or you didn’t, but it still wanted you to get more… ‘food’ anyway?”

Celia: “And handcuffs.”

Celia tells them about the “harvesting.”

“That suggests it has a body, doesn’t it?”

GM: “Why didn’t we see anything?” asks Reggie.

Celia: “Turning invisible is a fairly common shadow dancing ability.”

“But… it could not have a body, I don’t know.”

“It wasn’t very forthcoming when I asked.”

GM: “All right, so how do we find out more?”

“Or, main point, whether it can leave the house or not?”

“‘Cuz if it can’t, fuck it.”

Celia: “Thin-bloods might know more about it, if they know to avoid the house after the last time.”

Pete, too, but she thinks he might be mad at her.

Maybe her recently returned from the Shadowlands former ghost friend.

GM: She’s still not sure how the fuck that happened.

Celia: Right? How the fuck?

It’s not like she can call him up and tell him that she knows.

But she’d nudged him toward her all the same, so she’s hoping her phone rings at some point.

GM: “More low-lifes,” says Reggie. “That’s fun.”

“I have to go to bed soon, mistress, for work… can we get my face fixed?” asks Alana.

Celia: “Yes. Randy, drop us at the spa.”

GM: “Got it, babe.”


Tuesday night, 15 March 2016, PM

GM: They’re soon back at the spa. Reggie says he has other places to be if Celia doesn’t need him, but Randy seems happy to play taxi driver waiting in the car. Alana seems even happier to get back to Jade’s suite so Celia can fix her face.

Or perhaps relieved, more so than happy.

Relieved and shuddering with disgust.

Celia: Celia sends Randy and Alana inside to take a moment alone with Reggie.

GM: He smirks, grabs her head with both hands, and pulls her into a hungry and forceful kiss.

Celia: Oh. Well. That’s not what she’d been going for, but she doesn’t complain.

GM: He pushes her against the seat and kneads her breasts as his tongue explores her mouth. His fingers soon find their way between her legs as he unzips his pants and pulls her head down over his firm member.

Celia: He knows better than that. There’s a snarl from the lick he’s trying to shove down as she yanks away, flipping the pair of them so that her thighs are spread over either side of his lap. A bit of maneuvering and she finds another hole for him to fill.

GM: This is far from Reggie’s first attempt to get head, but he doesn’t complain. He holds her tight against him as his tongue meets hers again, and then he’s pulling up her shirt to squeeze and suck her breasts. She rides him as he does, burying his cock inside her, and soon the car seat is wet with his sweat, both if their fluids, and smells of fucking.

Sex in the car has always held a special place for her.

Celia: Maybe, in another life, Celia would feel some sort of emotional upheaval about this. Maybe she’d cry and tell him how afraid she was, that she thought maybe he might not come back for her, that she thought she was going to die—burn, she was going to burn—but there he was like some bounty hunter in shining armor.

But that’s not this life. He’s not that guy.

And she’s not that girl anymore.

She takes what she wants from him, her movements frantic and needy, her nails raking down his back when he pushes her over the edge to find release. She doesn’t stop. The windows fog. It reminds her of another night, a night where she whispered to a different boy that she loved him. There are no tender whispers now. No promises of the future. Just two people releasing pent up tension in the back seat of a car.

GM: “Fuck,” Reggie mutters when they’re done. His motions were no less hungry and needful than hers, and there’s bite marks over her own skin. He seems like he had a lot of stress to burn off too.

“Doing this with my bro right inside.”

“God that makes it even hotter.”

Celia: When it’s done she stays still above him, his rapidly softening cock finally making its way out of her.

It doesn’t bother him that he’s fucking his brother’s “girlfriend?”

She’s not sure she wants to ask.

But she does.

GM: “That makes it even hotter,” Reggie repeats with a smirk, stroking Celia’s face.

“What’s his is mine…”

Celia: “That’s a real fucked up family dynamic,” she tells him, but there’s not a lot of judgement in her voice. She’s probably done worse.

And, really, it is kind of hot.

Maybe she’ll get them together sometime.

GM: Reggie shrugs. “I take what I want.”

Celia: “And what do you want?”

She’s not asking about her. Obviously he wants her.

GM: “You, for starters.”

“You and your mom together would be even hotter, with your kid just outside the door…”

Celia: Celia snorts.

“My mom and not my sister?”

GM: “She isn’t really your sister. That makes it less hot.”

Celia: “What if I want you and your brother at the same time? Hot then?”

GM: Reggie snorts. “Randy wouldn’t even know what to do with his cock.”

“He’s a total moron around you.”

Celia: “What’s he like when he isn’t around me?”

GM: “Less of a moron.”

“More like me.”

Celia: “He should try being like that all the time.”

GM: “You just turn him into a complete idiot.”

Celia: It’s not like she means to.

GM: “That’s happened with him and a couple other girls before. Ones he was really into.”

“But never this bad.”

Celia: “You telling me that your brother is in love with me?”

GM: Reggie snorts again.

“If that’s what you want to call being a total fucking idiot, sure.”

“Three-way with him would suck. Rusty too. He just isn’t into that.”

“Maybe my mom, though.”

Celia: Celia considers that. She’d only ever idly thought of fucking Regina. The woman is a tiger, though, she’ll give her that.

GM: “Hey, deal. I’ll let you fuck me and my mom together, if you let me fuck you and your mom together.”

Celia: “If my mom ever wants to fuck you, I’ll let you know.”

GM: “She’s not ever gonna on her own. We gotta encourage her.”

“Deal of a lifetime I’m offering,” he smirks. “My mom’s fantastic in bed.”

Celia: “How would you know that?”

GM: “‘Cuz I know her. She’s fierce. And I know she still fucks a lot of guys.”

Celia: “And you think she’ll want to fuck her son and her other son’s girlfriend?”

GM: Reggie just smirks. “Don’t think I can talk her into it? Since when have I let you down?”

Celia: “Never,” she admits, “that’s why I like you so much. Tell you what. Talk your mom into it and I’ll talk to mine about it.”

GM: “Just bring her back to the house and we’ll make it happen.”

Celia: “I am not going to rape my mom.”

“She has an aversion to sex. She needs some gentle coaxing.”

GM: “She’ll enjoy it once we get going. Sometimes you just gotta rip the band-aid off. Doing it slow just makes it worse.”

Celia: “Don’t touch my mom,” Celia says flatly. “I’ll let you know when you can.”

“Until then, keep your hands and dick and mouth to yourself.”

GM: “That three-way with my mom and me’ll be waiting when you do.”

Celia: Celia rolls her eyes. They’d gotten off topic.

She almost asks him again what he wants, but the moment has passed. The way his eyes had lingered on the blood earlier had made her think that maybe he wants more than being a ghoul forever.

“Did Rusty make any headway on the hunter?” she asks instead.

GM: “Dunno. Ask him.”

Celia: Celia sighs at him.

“That’s what I pay you for. Help him with it. I don’t want to be attacked again.” She pats his cheek. “Then I can’t fuck you anymore, and that would be a tragedy.”

GM: “It really would be.”

“Not to get all mushy and shit, but fucking you is somethin’ fucking else.”

Celia: She grins. “I knew you had a heart somewhere.”

“You know if you’re ever turned your dick probably won’t work anymore.” Idle words, but she watches his face as she says them, looking for a reaction to the thought of being turned.

GM: “How’s drinking blood compare?” he asks, frankly.

Celia: “That’s what sex is to most of them. It’s… comparable, honestly. I can do it their way and be completely satisfied, or do it this way and be completely satisfied.”

GM: “Sounds like an okay trade.”

Celia: “Can’t walk in the sun. No food. More rules. Need permission to travel between territories. You’ll get a little Beast of your very own. It can get pretty lonely.”

“Advantages too, though.”

“Do you want that? To be a lick?”

GM: “You’re tougher and stronger, right?”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “Sounds like a good deal.”

“Gotta pay extra for the better gun. But fuck if I don’t want the better gun.”

Celia: “I don’t think you’d be a good Toreador,” Celia points out, “unless you have some hidden artistic talent I don’t know about. Play the kazoo?”

GM: “I’m an artist at fucking, aren’t I?”

Celia: Celia laughs. “They don’t count that. Shame, too, I think they’d make me a grand master if they did.”

GM: “They sure would,” Randy smirks.

“Whatever, though. Vampire’s a vampire.”

Celia: “I’ll see what I can do for you, if that’s something you want.”

GM: There’s that same hungry gleam in his eye.

“Bet on it.”

Celia: Celia lets that hunger turn into something else. She takes him again. It’s quick, it’s messy, and when it’s over she presses her lips against his as if it’s the last time she’ll ever do so.

It isn’t, she knows, but the countdown has started.


Wednesday night, 16 March 2016, AM

GM: Alana is all-too eager to get back to Jade’s suite once Celia and Reggie are finished fucking. She looks positively miserable to be trapped in Deja’s face. But she doesn’t whine.

Randy obliviously asks if she and his bro had a good talk.

“Know he can be kinda a jerk around you, babe.”

Celia: “It was interesting,” she says. “But he won’t give it a rest about fucking my mom.”

Celia leads the trio to her workstation, though, and lets Alana get comfortable on the table.

“You have an audition tomorrow,” she tells the girl, “that you’ll need to be me for.”

GM: “I love being you, mistress. I do all sorts of dirty things in front of a mirror, when I am…” she purrs.

Celia: That’s pretty hot, Celia admits to herself.

“I’m going to fuck you while you’re me.”

“I’m going to make you get down on your knees and suck the blood out of my cock.”

“And then I’m going to bend you over and fuck you.”

GM: Alana’s eyes positively flutter.

“Hurry, mistress…” she breathes.

Randy just clears his throat.

“Right, uh, I’ll stand guard outside.”

Celia: Celia finds the needle full of local anesthetic so that the girl doesn’t need to suffer while she’s on the table.

“Wait,” she says to Randy.

GM: He pauses.

Celia: Celia pierces Alana’s flesh with the needle and pushes down on the plunger to inject her with it.

“Do you want to fuck her while she’s me?”

GM: “Thank you, mithress,” Alana murmurs as the numbing sets in.

Her eyes get very flat, though, at Celia’s offer.

Celia: “You don’t want to let me watch you fuck him?” Celia asks her, running a hand down her cheek.

“What if we share you?”

GM: Randy looks between her and Celia. “Uh, I’m good, babe. Rather save it for just us, our special night.”

Alana looks even less happy at those last two words.

Celia: “Mm,” Celia says, waving a hand at him to send him on his way.

GM: “He’ll juth blow hith load before hith panth are even off,” Alana says loudly as his form retreats.

Celia: “What a compliment that would be,” Celia teases her.

GM: “Then he’d juth cwy.”

“Thath heth thoooo thorry, babe.”

Celia: She waits until the door closes behind him before she scowls down at Alana.

“Ten swats for that. I told you to be nice to him.”

GM: “Yeth, mithreth,” the ghoul murmurs.

“I’m thorry I dithobeyed.”

Celia: No she isn’t.

But Celia doesn’t correct her.

She just begins the work to transform Deja’s face into Celia’s.

GM: “I juth wan the beth for you, mithreth,” Alana says as she works, keeping her lip movements minimal.

Celia: “I’ve been thinking about that,” Celia says while she twists the flesh and muscle to resemble her own. She doesn’t even need a reference; she’s sure that she could do this transformation blind.

GM: “Yeth, mithreth?”

Celia: “I think I’d like you to learn an art form. You keep asking to come to the parties, and while the sight of you on your knees certainly titillates me, I think you’d enjoy yourself more if you were able to be adored by everyone.”

GM: “You know I’m goo with ewything here, mithreth, I can make them all pwethy… no’ ath pwethy ath you, of courth,” she says with an anesthesia-stiffened smile, “bu clother to i’.”

Celia: “Mm,” Celia says once more.

GM: “I can learn otha things, though, if tha’d make you happier, mithreth,” she adds.

Celia: “I’m just debating how to move things around if we bring on Louise full time as a manager here.”

“I thought maybe you’d want something else to do.”

GM: “Oh I love thpa work, mithreth, I’m no’ u’appy here.”

“But I wan’ tho do wha’ever maketh you happieth, moth of all.”

“Juth thell me wha’.”

Celia: “We’ll get past LA first and see where that leaves us.”

She moves on from Alana’s face, now a carbon copy of her own, to begin sculpting the rest of the body. Their sizes are similar, but Celia tucks a few things here and there and pads a few others.

GM: “Okay, mithreth. I’ll love gowig tho Hollywoo’ with you.”

Celia: “Have to nail the audition first,” Celia tells her while she finishes the work. “Know your lines?”

GM: “Yeth, mithreth, I’ve rea’ an’ pwacithed ova an’ ova.”

Celia: “Perfect. Now the real question: how big of a cock should I give myself?”

GM: “The biggeth, mithreth,” Alana beams, as much as she can.

“Thpli me open…”

Celia: “You’re not going to be able to get your pretty little mouth around it if I make it that big,” Celia teases. But she drops beneath the table to find the flesh she had harvested prior, pulling free a handful of preserved human skin, muscles, and connective tissue from the man Gui had dropped off. When was that? Last week? Two weeks ago? Back before her Requiem had blown up with hunters and Roderick and thin-bloods, when she’d just been practicing her ability to turn flesh into other objects. The dick had remained mostly intact, but she adds to it now, globbing on a handful of flesh and molding it into a roughly phallic shape. The skin is like clay beneath her fingers.

She’s done with the sculpting in short order and holds the finished product up for Alana to see, asking if she thinks it’s big enough.

GM: “Cram ith in, mithreth, I wan’ tho thoke on ith…” Alana says with a numb-sounding purr.

“Yeth, thath nithe an’ fat, mithreth… thick in in me…”

Celia: “I will, pet. As soon as you stop drooling on yourself and take your swats.”

It’s a deft bit of work to turn her clit into a cock. She uses the borrowed flesh from the dead man, twisting things around to connect blood vessels, arteries, and nerve endings. She’s done the reverse enough times and practiced on enough corpses that the work itself is quick. She’s done it to herself, too, but only for curiosity’s sake; she’s never actually fucked anyone like this yet.

Once it’s on she strokes a hand along the flesh, marveling at the way it comes to life beneath her touch. It stiffens, aching to be touched.

Celia glances down at the rest of herself. She kept her pussy and tits intact this time rather than smoothing it all out; she wants the best of both worlds, Alana’s fingers in her cunt with her lips on her cock. Already she’s wet. She can feel it when she moves, stripping from her shirt and bra to leave the clothing discarded on the floor. She stands over the table near Alana’s face.

“This is what you want?” she asks, stroking a hand up and down her freshly forged cock.

GM: Beauty is pain. Always has. Always will. Completely remaking some of the most sensitive spots on her body is excruciatingly painful, but there’s pleasure to it, too. That knife-thin edge between pain and pleasure, slanted heavily towards pain, but not enough that she can’t lose sight of the other side. Celia’s new cock is sore even as it stiffens. There’s a lot of hurt in her, now. Hurt she can take out on this simpering little sub. Fuck her until she screams. Fuck her until she’s jelly. Fuck all the pain away.

The simpering little sub who looks exactly like her.

Is this what it was like for Jamal? Maybe she can strangle the little bitch too. Pinch her nose. Really see things from his perspective. Knowing Alana, she’s going to enjoy the spankings anyway. They aren’t nearly the punishment for her they were for Diana.

“Yeth, mithreth,” Alana whimpers, motionless on the table. Celia can see in her eyes how hungry she is for that cock. How hungry another Celia is for that cock.

She demurely lowers her gaze. “Bu’ we hath tho do my thwath firth, liy you thaid…”

Celia: “Mm,” Celia murmurs, running a hand down Alana’s cheek. “I do have to swat you first, you’re absolutely right.”

It’s less for Alana than it is for her; she knows the girl gets off to it the same as she does, that it’s not so much a punishment for either of them as it is foreplay.

“I’m going to get something,” she tells the ghoul, “be naked and bent over the table when I get back.”

Her bare feet make not a sound against the floor as she strides off.

GM: “Yeth, mithreth,” the ghoul answers demurely. When Celia gets back, she sees herself naked and bent over as instructed.

This should help Jade play the role of Celia’s domitor even better.

She actually has spanked the girl.

Or at least her lookalike.

Celia can smell her lookalike’s arousal, too, see the wetness trickling down her thighs. Alana has already been fingering herself. Fingering Celia’s body.

Celia: “Now there’s a sight,” Celia purrs as she stalks back into the room with a bag in hand. Alana’s sex glistens in the light shining down from above. Alana’s, she wonders, or Celia’s? And if this is Celia, what does that make her?

Jade.

Of course.

Jade sets the bag down on the table next to where Celia bends over, pressing her hips against her backside. Her cock has gone flaccid in her time away, but it won’t be long until it’s hard again. She leans into the quivering kine, bending with her until her lips touch the back of her neck. Her arms slide around the front of the girl, fingers roughly pinching and squeezing her nipples.

“You were touching yourself,” Jade murmurs. “Did I say you could do that?”

GM: “No, mithreth,” Alana whimpers, her hands falling away. She positions them behind her back, just over her ass, as if Jade has tied them there. “I’m vewy thowwy… ith your body, tha’ you own… both of them…”

“Alana’th an’ Thelia’th…”

Celia: “Alana and Celia,” Jade agrees, “they’re both mine. You are mine. I own you.”

A pair of cuffs taken from the bag snap around Celia’s wrists. Thick leather bands kept together by a metal chain, with a handful of D-rings that Jade can use to further attach her to things and position her as needed.

“Maybe,” she tells the ghoul, “I won’t let you cum tonight. Maybe I’ll take you right to that edge and deny you now since you decided to touch my property without my permission. I’ll tie you down and leave you squirming and listen to you beg me to let you. And then I’ll walk away.”

GM: “Yeth, mithreth…” Alana whimpers, giving a little gasp of pleasure at the sensation of the snugly securing leather. “I’ll juth kith the ground, where you walk away… an’ run my tongue over itht, an’ kith it, an’ be thankful for tha’…”

“I’m vewy happy for you tho own me, mithreth, even if you don’ let me cum…”

“I love how you own me…”

Celia: “What a good little girl,” Jade says to Celia. She takes a step away. “So submissive. So obedient. The perfect little whore.”

Saying the word sends a thrill through her. She says it again, “whore,” letting it fall from her tongue like a pet name.

“You are a little whore, aren’t you? No sex for a week, I said, because we both knew that was the ultimate punishment for you. Do you think you deserve it now, whore?”

She lashes out, striking Celia across the ass. Her eyes flash as the flesh jiggles and turns red beneath the blow.

GM: Celia cries out under the sharp smack and presses her face against the table.

“I detherve wha’e’r you thay I detherve, mithreth… your properthy doeth’n have opinions… your properthy juth obeyths…”

“I’m your whore, I o’ny fuck who you tell me…”

Celia: “Then why would you think it’s acceptable to fuck yourself? That’s my body. My property.”

Another sharp, stinging smack, harder this time.

GM: There’s another loud, equally sharp cry. Celia’s hands reflexively strain against her cuffs.

“Becauth I’m weak, mithreth, an’ a whore… I need you tho keep me in line… you tho conthrol my life for me… you know be’er than me…”

Celia: “You’re a whore,” Jade agrees. “My whore.”

Another smack. Only the third, and she’d promised ten.

An idea takes hold in her mind.

“You fuck who I tell you to, don’t you?”

She wonders if he’s even up at this hour. How he’d react to being given the offer to fuck Celia again.

GM: “Yeth, mithreth,” whimpers Celia. There’s a lower cry after the third smack. “I don’ ge’ tho dethide anything im my life tha’ you don’ le’ me.”

Celia: Maybe next time, after she has a chance to enjoy the girl first.

Another smack across the flesh, her handprint becoming more clear with each blow.

A fifth.

A sixth.

She reminds Celia what a whore she is every time she strikes her. Makes her apologize for being a whore. For touching herself. For not fucking Randy like the whore that she is. For refusing her mistress. For a host of sins, like the fact that her pussy is dripping onto Jade’s hand every time she strikes her.

Like a fucking faucet.

Jade reaches ten and pauses, watching her doppelganger writhe against the wrist restraints. She strokes her other hand almost tenderly down her spine.

“Have you learned your lesson, my pretty little whore?”

GM: She can see why Paul liked it.

Why Jamal liked it.

There’s something about the sight of Celia Flores, crying out and writhing beneath her mistress’ blows, but liking it, too. Getting wet like a fucking faucet with every smack as her ass turns redder. She’s a whore. A filthy whore who needs to be put in her place. Who needs to be governed, controlled, taught under pain. Tamed.

“Yes, mistress,” whispers Celia, shivering under her owner’s touch. “I’m a whore. I’m such a whore. But I’m your whore, you own me, and I just want to be pretty for you.”

She wonders if it’s Paul’s face and not Jade’s that would stare back at her from a mirror right now.

Celia: Everything is about sex. Except sex. Sex is about power.

Someone had told her that once. Someone she had fucked, she’s sure. The words come back to her now as she stares down at Celia Flores, “my pretty little whore.”

Pretty.

So pretty.

But stupid.

Stupid, to ghoul her mom. Celia gets another swat for that. Harder.

Stupid, to talk about it in her spa.

Another swat. Harder.

Stupid, to never learn how to erase memories and fix things herself.

Another swat. Harder.

Stupid, to lose it on Elyse in the first place.

Another swat. Harder.

But pretty. So pretty. The way her skin reddens, so pretty. The way it splits beneath her hand, so pretty. The blood that drips down her cheeks.

So pretty.

And the sounds. The sounds the black skinned beauty had once coaxed out of her while her cousin watched, spread open on her lap so he could see everything, face red in humiliation and something she doesn’t want to name, something like desire. Long nails that could have shredded her dipping inside her cunt, slick with the evidence of her whore nature. Created for this. Groomed for this. By her mother, by her father, by her next door neighbor and his big, scary guards who liked to make her scream.

Fingers pinching her nipples. Squeezing. Crushing.

“Happy noises, little toy.”

Veronica’s words, Jade’s lips, the same helpless little mortal.

Jade takes what she wants from the whore. Bends her over the table and buries her borrowed cock inside. Yanks her up, flush against her chest, and licks the back of her neck. Takes her jaw in hand and turns her head to the side, licking the tears away.

“Delicious,” Paul purrs, “the tears of a whore.”

Feather-light fingers brush against her clit. They bring her to the edge but never over, teasing Celia until she’s a quivering, trembling mess in Jade’s arms.

They shift. Jade pins her to the wall with Celia’s legs around her waist.

“That’s what daddies are for,” Jamal says. His lips swallow her cries.

They shift. Jade kneels on the ground with Celia bent over in front of her. She guides her cock into Celia’s ass, fingers digging into her hips.

“This is your true purpose,” Paul grunts, “this is what whores do.”

She smells blood.

“Open up.”

Celia on her knees, looking up with fear in her eyes. Jade’s fingers pinch her nose until she opens her mouth; she shoves herself inside, making the whore choke on it. Fingers around her throat cut off her air.

“Scream,” Jamal says.

Celia screams. Flesh muffles her cries.

No one knows what’s going on upstairs.

A claw slices into the tip of her dick. A final thrust and blood spurts into the waiting mouth.

Then it’s over.

She finishes with the whore.

Jade pulls Celia close, trailing kisses down her cheek and neck. Her mouth fastens around a nipple. Fingers move inside her body, coaxing her to another shuddering climax. She whispers words of encouragement and finally swallows the delicious cries with her mouth.

They bathe together in the suite, Celia curled against Jade’s body. Jade takes her again, gently this time, and they drink from each other at the point of climax. They ride the waves until they crest and crash against each other. Jade kisses her soundly when they’re done.

No whores, not here, just Jade and Celia.

GM: That’s one thing Paul never did.

He was never gentle.

Jade’s learned it time and again, with Elyse. You break the dolls fastest by pairing kindness with cruelty. Pain with pleasure. Sternness with affection. Hardness with gentleness. Humans are social animals, wired to be nice to people who are nice to them. The psyche has a hard time reconciling how to respond when someone is good to them and horrible to them at the same time. Stronger psyches recognize they are being hurt and refuse to give their tormentor a pass. Weaker psyches fold and rationalize why they’re being hurt. It’s okay because their tormentor is nice to them too.

Some take longer than others.

But Jade has yet to see a doll whose psyche didn’t fold.

Like her mother folded.

Like Celia would have folded, if only Paul or Maxen had been nice to her too. They’d have broken her completely.

Celia is weak.

Celia screams as Jade punishes her for it. For her disgusting weakness. For her disgusting whore nature. For being so fucking stupid. Celia cries. Celia hurts. Celia’s tears taste delicious with her hurt. But Celia does what she’d told, because that’s the only thing she can do right, even if it takes lots of punishments to make it sink in.

Stupid can be taught. It just takes longer, says Maxen.

So she teaches the stupid whore. Fists her cunt as she cries. Yanks her hair. Rams her ass until she bleeds. Pinches her nipples until she cries. Chokes her, throttles that stupid fucking bitch, cuts off her air, watches her gasp for it past the cock she tries to spit out, but there’s nothing she can do about it, with her hands bound behind her back. That earns more time with the fingers pinched over her nose. The stupid bitch will be taught. It’ll just take longer.

But she’ll be a whore. She’ll always be a whore. Jade can tell the instant she pierces her cock and lets Celia have a taste. Jade or Celia or somebody once knew a gay friend who said women gave worse blowjobs. “It’s just that you don’t have dicks. You don’t know what it’s like to be on the receiving end.”

Maybe that’s true.

But gay or straight, man or woman:

Jade has never seen a more enthusiastic blowjob than the one Celia gives.

At that first taste of vitae, everything else slides off her face like makeup under a faucet. All of her pain and fear. All of her cries. All of her tears. At that hit of her drug of choice, Celia the ghoul sucks cock like she’s receiving divine communion. She swallows it balls and all. She all but eats that dick off its owner’s crotch. At that taste of vitae, is forgiven. She wants it every bit as much as Jamal said she did. Celia Flores lives for the dick. If it means she gets a hit.

Such a whore.

She just wants blood instead of money.

Then, just like with Elyse.

The aftercare.

Kissing in the shower. Making love in the shower. Making love with herself. Paul never did this. He should have. The sweet dessert after the meaty course. The indulgence. Dolls get rewards after their lessons, if they’re good. Celia told her mother she loved her and would always fight for her. Celia wants someone to do that for her too. Jade is who she can’t be around the monsters. Jade will stick up for her. Jade will defend her. Jade only punishes her out of love, so that she will do better, and Jade is so very very happy when she does better.

Maybe some would call it a devil’s bargain.

But the Flores family have been making those all their lives.

They lie in one another’s arms after they’re spent, warm and wet, owner and pet, Jade and Celia.

One soul in two bodies.

Two shards of the same psyche.

“I love you, mistress…”


Wednesday night, 16 March 2016, AM

Celia: Jade has a final task for Celia when they’re done: she tells her to collect the hair she’d taken from the girl last week, the really beautiful blonde hair, and to mix a darker color for it. Jade is going to turn it into a wig. Color doesn’t take long to mix, and Alana is a deft hand at applying it; in the end it’s a rich, coffee-colored brown with a balayage of caramel and mahogany. Natural, but just as glossy and beautiful as Jade would wear on her own head.

She checks her phone while Alana works, looking for a message back from Gui.

GM: 1920s, reads the Ventrue’s text back. Great Gatsby. In the South.

The parties aren’t costume-themed every week, or every other week. But this week, apparently, they are twice in a row, in defiance of previous patterns. The French Quarter lord and his master of elysium prefer to keep things fresh.

Piper, she’s sure, would kill to attend.

Celia: The Ventrue gets a thumbs up back from Jade. She’s glad there’s a theme this week and she hadn’t looked silly asking about something that didn’t exist. ‘20s, though. Interesting. Wasn’t that when his sire was all the rage?

She thanks Alana with a final kiss and sends her on her way, wishing her good luck at the audition tomorrow. She tells her to have fun with the fame, too; maybe even do a photoshoot if she wants. Somewhere sunny.

“Tell Randy to stick around.”

GM: Alana happily obeys all of her mistress’ instructions, and says she’s sure he’ll have lots of fun.

She asks for permission to finger herself (and more) in Celia’s body.

Celia: Jade gives Alana permission to do as she will so long as she doesn’t take any photos or video of anything sexual.

GM: Alana is thrilled to receive her mistress’ permission.

Celia: When Alana is finally gone Jade removes the borrowed cock and pulls out a handful of other supplies that she needs, enough flesh for three more masks. It had worked well with Roderick; now she needs one for Dani, her mother’s first face, and another for Roderick.

Dani’s first. The flesh from the dead girl works just as well here as it had for the hair, and while she works she searches through her contacts for Edith Flannagan’s number. They’re not best friends, per se, but they’ve seen each other around enough, and Jade gives her a ring.

GM: Jade’s Beast is a greedy, rapacious thing as she molds flesh to her will. She feels the vitae all but leaking out of her fingers as it snarls in her ear for daring to think:

Roderick’s sister would not approve of how this mask was made. Of where its parts came from.

She’s as much a Boy Scout as he is. Minus the boy parts.

Celia: Minus the boy parts and the Gold Award.

GM: Eagle Scout. Gold Award.

Just as lacking, regardless of the parts.

Celia: And now here Dani is causing problems for Celia without even realizing. Her Beast hates the thought of giving something so weak a chance to pass as someone else. Diana’s and Roderick’s will need to wait until she can slake her hunger.

GM: More than several rings go up before Celia is greeted by a strained-sounding, “Hello?” Children’s cries are audible in the background.

Celia: “Hey, Edith, it’s Jade. You have a second?”

First name basis and everything.

GM: The cries’ volumes initially don’t diminish. Then they do.

“Oh, of course, Jade. What can I do for you?”

Celia: “I’ll keep it brief. Sounds like your hands are full. I have some questions that I wanted to throw your way; you’re a bit of an expert in the subject. Are you free tomorrow or the night after? Whenever is best for you.”

GM: “I’m free either night,” Edith says quickly. “If you can bring some juice, I’ll answer whatever you want. The little ’uns are… hungry.”

Of course they’re hungry.

Everyone knows that Edith Flannagan keeps a larger stable of ghouls than Jade (plus a needy “daughter”), in a much smaller domain, and spoils them rotten. The bill is always coming due.

Celia: “Sure thing, Edith. How’s Thursday, then? Gives me time to go to the store.”

She tries not to think about the fact that she’s contributing to the problem.

GM: Who knows how much longer her neighbors are going to tolerate it.

Celia: Jade has heard rumors that the little monster might need a muzzle soon.

GM: “Okay, Thursday. How’s at 10—”

There’s a crashing sound, then a high-pitched shriek.

“Sorry, I have to go,” Edith says quickly.

The line clicks.

Celia: This is why she’s glad she’ll never have kids.

Jade hangs up and looks down at the finished mask. It’s cute enough. Won’t draw attention to Dani. She’ll need to figure out an easy way to apply and remove it, though, otherwise she’s going to have to spin a handful of tales. Something with the blood, probably.

She’ll figure it out.

She puts the rest of the material away for now.

GM: The prospect of kids with Stephen didn’t seem so bad, she once thought.

They’d have probably been less of a handful than Edith’s.

Celia: And less hungry.

Maybe.

Celia: The option is closed to her now, anyway. She finishes wiping down her station, sends a text to Alana to set up a meeting with Lucia, and showers off the smell of sex and blood before finding a spare shirt and skirt that she’d left here at some point.

She still needs to meet up with Gui, she can’t help but think as she dresses; she thought that he would have called her by now instead of making her chase after him. She’d mentioned multiple times she wants to talk. Maybe she needs to be more forward than blatantly sitting on his lap and flirting with him. Take his pants off, see where that gets her.

Celia entertains idle fantasies about the pair of them on her way out the door, Randy in tow. She’d meant to do something with him tonight, too.

“When’s our date?” she asks as she slides inside the front seat and directs him to the club. Not yet closing time; enough time to find a vessel for a quick snack before she has to meet Roderick.

GM: He asks if “Friday during normal hours” works, and upon hearing she has dinner with Henry Garrison then, he suggests the next Friday.

“It’s gonna be, it’s gonna be really special, babe,” he grins.

Celia: “Must be, if you’re making me wait a whole extra week for it.” She takes his hand in hers. “I’m excited.”

GM: “Me too. You’ll, you’ll really like it!”

Alana texts back that she’ll do so, and also gives a preemptive heads up that she’s going to bed.

Celia: She sends a heart to Alana, kisses Randy on the cheek when he pulls up outside the club and says she’ll see him tomorrow, and slips into the club to hunt.

GM: An hour later, Jade catches another two service industry workers hopping the late night bars. She goes back to one of their places. Or they go back to hers. It doesn’t matter. She’s irresistible. The kine all but melt around her into spontaneous orgy. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel to make them fall for her.

Veronica and Pietro always complain mortals can be too easy.

Celia: They have been lately, but Celia won’t complain like her elder clanmates. She doesn’t want to fight for her dinner if she doesn’t need to; she remembers all too clearly what happened last time. She’s pleased with the easy catch, pleased to be shared, pleased to cut herself and bleed into an empty container to save for later. Blood for Pete. Maybe for Edith. Maybe for Donovan, if she and Elyse ever make it work again. Not that she’ll need to pay a toll if they’re not working in Riverbend.

Oh no, how is she going to conveniently bump into her favorite lay now?


Wednesday night, 16 March 2016, AM

Celia: When she’s done with the men she catches a Ryde to the border. The girl disappears, the cat in its place, and when Roderick arrives she’s just as cuddly an affectionate as last time, perched on his lap while he travels the streets of Mid-City to take her back to his temporary haven.

GM: The pair have some time remaining when they get back. Roderick pets the cat and asks if the girl finally wants to learn to fight.

Or to enjoy belly rubs.

Celia: When the girl emerges—still on his lap, since Luna hadn’t bothered moving once he’d carried her inside and posed the question—she tells him that if he breaks her nose she’s going to hire someone to beat him up.

GM: “Beat me yourself. I’ll show you how,” he smirks.

Roderick says there’s three things for them to go over:

One, basic technical proficiency with very basic things, like throwing a straight punch, Celia getting her hands up to protect her head, that kind of stuff.

Second, developing the ability to react to getting hit without panic—and from that, the Beast—taking over. Roderick says this is harder than she might think. Lots of people just can’t do it, or take a ton of time to do it.

Third, developing the aggression response that lets her actually try to hurt the other person—outside of the Beast’s influence. Most people have a gut aversion to seriously, physically hurting other human beings. It’s an instinct he needs to train her rational self out of.

Celia: It’s an instinct she doesn’t have.

If someone is coming after her, she doesn’t think she’ll have any trouble responding with equal force.

But she nods anyway, because maybe she shouldn’t be like that.

GM: “I’m not talking about your Beast,” he adds. “It obviously has no problems going for the kill. We’re teaching you to fight without your Beast.”

“And this is a lot harder than you might think it is.”

Celia: Maybe for a nice guy like him.

GM: “Unless you’ve done serious physical harm to someone before, when the time comes, you WILL hesitate unless you’re a complete sociopath. It’s simply not something that modern society trains us to do.”

Celia: “Modern society didn’t train me to fight at all,” she says with a rueful smile. “But I’m happy we’re fixing that.”

She doesn’t touch his sociopath comment.

Of course she’s not a sociopath. She has so many feelings she doesn’t know what to do with them.

GM: “That’s right,” he nods. The pair have changed out of clothes into sweats (separately, at Roderick’s insistence, so they don’t get distracted fucking). He’s also cleared most of his living room. “Those second and third things are also linked. Because in addition to having a hard time inflicting violence, most people don’t react well to having it inflicted on them. They freeze or panic. The average person who gets punched in the mouth the first time doesn’t start swinging back, but goes into a psychological state we call ‘the black’ where their rational thinking and ability to formulate plans goes to shit and their animal fight or flight instinct kicks in.”

“They’re as much a danger to themselves as their opponents in that state. Or, to a physically matched opponent with actual combat training, probably no danger at all.”

“However, Kindred are different. When we go into ‘the black,’ our Beast takes over. The Beast obviously knows how to fight. This is why your average lick off the street, even without any other powers or advantages inherent to our condition, is so much more dangerous compared to the average human being. Their Beast will never panic or hesitate, and will go straight for the kill, even if they have no combat training.”

“In some ways, starting a fight with a lick who’s had no combat training can actually be more dangerous for your average breather. Because a lick with training is much more likely to remain in control of themselves and can choose not to kill.”

Celia: “Doesn’t it make more sense to let the Beast take over if I think I’m going to get into a fight, then? If it knows how to fight?”

GM: “Absolutely not!” exclaims Roderick, shaking his head.

“Maybe in some fights. But you’re playing with fire.”

“What’s your objective in the fight? Are you trying to disable someone? Protect someone? Scare someone? Take a prisoner? Will you withdraw after accomplishing an objective?”

“At what point will you retreat if you start to lose? Presumably you’re not fighting to the death, since most people don’t do that. They run away if they don’t think a fight’s outcome is worth their life.”

“All of that goes out the window once your Beast takes over. It will mindlessly fight until either it or the opposition is dead. It won’t retreat, it won’t surrender, it won’t care about anything except pulverizing whatever’s hurting it.”

“What happens if a sniper takes shots at you from five stories up? If you’re in control, you can formulate a plan to eliminate the threat you can’t immediately perceive. The Beast will just jump at the nearest moving thing and rip it apart, even if it’s no threat to you.”

Celia: “Why would a sniper be shooting at me, though?”

It’s not that she disagrees.

GM: “Because even if head shots couldn’t seriously fuck up your night, which they can, long-range shooting is an efficient method of taking out frenzying licks. We aren’t bulletproof, just bullet-resistant. Enough shots add up, especially from higher-caliber weapons. And if the frenzying lick you’re shooting from range can’t actually fight back, because they’re incapable of formulating a plan to take out an opponent they can’t see, then you’re basically shooting fish in a barrel.”

“If I had to pick between slugging it out with a frenzying lick or taking shots from a distance with a Remington 700, I’d pick the Remington.”

“Why wouldn’t I? It’s so much less risk for me.”

Celia: “Mm, okay. So no Beast.”

GM: “Now, maybe your fight actually will be simple. Maybe it’s just you and one or several people slugging it out until one side falls over. Maybe the terrain doesn’t offer a retreating opponent any places to hide. Maybe you’re simply trying to take down your opponent at any cost, in a setting where you can afford to turn off your brain. Your Beast will be a big help there.”

“But lots of fights won’t be that simple. Any fight that requires you to exercise tactics or any form of higher cognition—like, here’s another example, if you’re fighting somewhere that risks the Masquerade—your Beast is a liability, full stop.”

“Think of your Beast as a grenade. It’s dangerous. It’s messy. It is very likely to cause collateral damage. There are times to use it. There are times not to use it.”

“Moreover, your Beast can already take care of itself. I can’t train your Beast to be a better fighter. It operates off pure instinct. I can only train you.”

Celia: “How do you control it? Brujah and all.”

GM: “By getting punched in the face enough times that you don’t enter ‘the black’ and let your Beast take over.”

“It’s not a surefire thing. Even with training, your Beast still might take over. But without training, it’s almost certain that your Beast will. Especially for my clan.”

Celia: “So your plan,” Celia says slowly, “is to repeatedly punch me in the face.”

GM: “I’ll teach you how to block and punch back too. But yes, I will try to punch you. That’s what people do in real fights.”

Celia: That’s not what she meant, and he knows it.

But she just says, “Okay.”

GM: “All right.” Roderick takes Celia’s arm in his and pulls it up. “First lesson is kind of fundamental, and seems easier than it is. Lots of people who throw a punch for the first time at a solid object hurt themselves, because they don’t keep their forearm and wrist or hand in line. They end up hurting their wrist or hand. Getting to the point where you can do basic things like kneeing or punching takes longer than you think.”

“So that’s what we’re going to do tonight.”

Roderick pats the wall-mounted punching bag he’s brought out, gives Celia some pointers, and tells her to throw a few punches. He’ll correct her technique as needed.

He watches appraisingly as she does so. He’s silent for the first round until he says, “I think we might have just been wasting your time.”

“You already know how to throw a basic punch. You’ve had some training.”

Celia: Celia drops her hands from where they’d been up near her face to “protect her pretty”—Reggie’s words when he’d shown her the same thing years ago—and shrugs.

“Randy likes UFC.”

They’d both taken turns showing her the basics for times they couldn’t be around. They’d made it a habit for her to swing with her whole body to put more force behind the punch, though she’s always been faster than she is strong.

GM: “Clearly you like it too. But okay, that’s good. It saves us the need to go over a lot of fundamentals.”

He raises up his own fists. “All right, won’t be anything too serious, but let’s try you in some actual sparring…”


Wednesday night, 16 March 2016, AM

GM: Celia doesn’t get sore or tired, which is good. The two spend the remainder of the night throwing punches and kicks at one another. Celia immediately picks up that she has a lot to pick up. Roderick can not only send her flying with a well-placed punch, he’s a lot faster than she is, too. Still, Roderick seems happy with how the night goes. Lots of opponents she goes up against may be preternaturally strong and fast. Roderick doesn’t tell her that combat training will make those inborn advantages irrelevant, but he can teach her how to work around them, and how to use her own gifts of the Blood to maximum effect. She’s pretty fast, so that’s what their lessons are going to revolve around… as well as the built-in claws she’ll frequently (but not always) be able to whip out.

Like any skill, it comes down to practice. Practice to get good and practice to stay sharp. Roderick wants to spar with her every night before bed. If they stick to a regular schedule, she’ll become a better fighter.

He remarks approvingly of how well she did tonight, and says he feels good knowing she can already defend herself.

Celia: She doesn’t get sore, she doesn’t get tired, and she doesn’t sweat. She wonders, when it’s over and he’s telling her about his training plan for her, why they bothered to change into sweats to begin with if neither one of them have that particular bodily function anymore. Range of motion in non-restrictive clothing, she guesses. Or maybe it’s that she looks absolutely fetching in one of his shirts (she hadn’t brought sweats of her own) with its neckline large enough to slip off her shoulder and her hair pulled back in a messy ponytail.

She agrees to the proposed schedule of every night before bed, her stomach fluttering at the thought that he wants to keep her around.

Why wouldn’t he? Even in the vision he’d—

The reminder of it is enough to make her mood plummet, her fantasy of finding a house with a spare room they can turn into a sparring ring dissipating into the air. She needs to find a way to fix it. A glance at the clock shows a spare bit of time before daysleep will claim them both.

“Thank you for the lesson.”

Familiar words. She can’t help but think of Donovan giving her another sort of lesson on the rooftop of her haven, how much stronger and faster he is than the both of them. What would it be like to stand across the ring from him?

Exhilarating, probably.

Another flutter. She dismisses it.

GM: She looks absolutely fetching in anything, he’s said before.

And in nothing. Definitely in nothing, too.

“You’re welcome,” her lover answers.

Those words, at least, are unfamiliar.

But so are her sire’s other lessons. What would his training regimen look like? Would he teach her, if she impressed him enough?

Celia: Still, there’s something a little special about wearing his shirt and looking as adorable as she does in it. Especially perched on the edge of the bed as she is, knees drawn up to her chest. Small and cute and maybe a little vulnerable, but that’s what he’s here for, isn’t it? A big strong Brujah to protect his tiny little lover.

Then again, who needs Roderick when she has—could have?—Donovan.

“Can we talk for a sec?”

GM: “Sure. What’s up?”

“You look absolutely adorable, by the way,” Roderick mentions, slinging an arm around her shoulder.

Celia: “I’ve been thinking about you and Dani. I spoke to her a little bit. And I wanted to run some things by you.”

GM: “All right. What’d you have in mind?”

Celia: “Just… listen before you say anything, okay?”

GM: He gives her a squeeze. “Okay. I’ll keep my mouth closed.”

Celia: “Well, I guess you can answer questions that I ask. Like… you want a relationship with her, right? Even though she’s thin-blood?”

GM: “Yes, of course! She’s my sister, before she’s anything else.”

“Just like you’re my girlfriend who I wanted to have my children with, and who I still want to spend eternity with, before you’re any Kindred labels.”

Celia: She’s not that girl anymore, though. She wonders when he’s going to realize that.

But she smiles at him, because she thinks that might be the sort of response he’s looking for and this conversation isn’t about her, and leans her head on his shoulder.

“So. Dani is mad at you. Like, really mad. And maybe it’s kind of irrational, since you didn’t do this to her, and it’s not your fault she was born female or that your dad, uh, that he loves you more.”

“The thing is, right, she had all these years where she thought that you were gone. So she was making her own way through life. And yeah she kind of followed in your footsteps, but she was still in control.”

“And then you came back and tried to tell her that you know what’s best for her and she has to listen to you.”

“And even though I’ve tried to explain the city’s politics to her, even though she understands now that she’s a thin-blood, she doesn’t really get it. So hearing you say, ‘give up your life and move to another city where you don’t know anyone,’ is just another example of the family dynamic you used to have where you were the golden child and she was, y’know, second or third class.”

“And I don’t think that you can have that same relationship with her. She’s family. She’s not just a thin-blood. She’s not just another lick who you have authority over.”

“She doesn’t want to leave.”

“Her friends are here. School is here. Her job is here.”

“It’s like that conversation we had where we discussed ghouling family members, you know? You can’t have the same sort of dynamic with them as you do with other renfields, and it might not be the same dynamic as when you were alive, either.”

“But there’s a middle ground somewhere that you can find.”

“And I’ve been calling in favors, I think I told you, and she and I have a bit of a plan, and I’ve been looking more into thin-bloods lately to see what sort of things they can do and what their limits are, and once we find those I think we’ll have a better idea of what to do with her.”

GM: Roderick listens. True to her request, he doesn’t speak yet.

Celia: “So my advice,” she says finally, “is to let her stay with me and finish school, at least, and reassess. I think if you show her that you’re not just going to waltz in and take over her Requiem she might be a little more receptive to what you have to say.”

“Also she said she won’t forgive you unless you pay her rent for the next year after she finds a place in the Quarter.”

These last words come out in a rush.

Finally, she makes a motion like he can speak again.

GM: “Why on earth should I pay her rent?” he asks at length.

Celia: Celia lifts one shoulder in a shrug.

“That’s just what she texted me today.”

GM: “I might do that if she asked me, and needed the financial assistance. But I don’t appreciate threats and ultimatums.”

He glowers.

“At all.”

Celia: Whoops.

“Sorry, that was… I should have delivered that better.”

GM: “You delivered what she said.”

Celia: “She does need the financial assistance.”

GM: “Then she can ask. Instead of threaten.”

“I’m also not even decided I want to enable that decision, even if she does ask politely.”

Celia: “You want her to stay at her place in Riverbend? Probably not ideal, but I can… I’ll see what I can do…?”

GM: “I get that she’s scared. I get that she might need time apart.”

“But she needs to get over herself. I don’t owe her anything for being, in a word, more successful. Or for Dad loving me more.”

“This isn’t ’I’m terrified of my brother’s unholy strength and rage’ Dani talking. This is ‘I resent my brother’s success and want to financially extort him through emotional blackmail’ Dani talking.”

Celia: Celia quietly nods her head.

“How d’you want me to handle that, then?”

GM: “Exactly what I said. She needs to ask me, politely, and have a relationship with me before I’m willing to help her out financially. And she should feel ashamed for trying to emotionally blackmail me. I’m not playing that game.”

“I’m not sure if I want her stay in Riverbend.” Roderick rubs his head. “I’m still mulling things over.”

“I’m trying to find out what Savoy’s angle is. I need to know that before I make a decision about what to do. It’s too big a variable to leave unaccounted for.”

“But your point is taken. I’ll try to be less dictating and more… suggesting once I’ve figured that out. It obviously pushed a lot of the wrong buttons with her.”

Celia: “Hard to know what to say to someone when you explain you’re a lick. And not actually dead.”

GM: “I had no idea how to have that conversation.”

Celia: “Did it better than I would have, I bet.”

GM: “Eh. Think you’d have handled it better.”

“Wouldn’t hurt either that your sister doesn’t have so much resentment towards you.”

Celia: “Emily?”

GM: “Yeah. If this were her and not Dani who’d been Embraced as a thin-blood.”

Celia: “Maybe her, sure. Isabel hates me, though.”

“Imagine it would have gone the same.”

GM: “You ever wonder what happened to her? How she’s managing out in Sudan?”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a long moment.

Finally, in a small voice, she says, “She’s not.”

GM: “Sorry?”

Celia: “She’s not in Sudan. She never was.”

GM: Roderick frowns.

“So what was that story hiding?”

Celia: “Same thing it hides for the rest of us. She was Embraced.”

GM: “What!? When, by who?”

Celia: “She was released with the rest of us on the anniversary. Roxanne.”

GM: “Oh my god. All that time. I’ve seen Roxanne in passing, but…” He shakes his head. “I never really spoke with her that much. I only saw Isabel once, too. Years ago, when she was acting like a completely different person. I guess I just never connected their faces.”

“Why’d you never say anything?”

Celia: “Same reason I never told anyone you were Stephen Garrison. It’s not my business to disclose.”

GM: “I’m your boyfriend,” he declares in a moderately offended tone. “And I never got the impression you two were close.”

Celia: “It doesn’t matter,” Celia says in a voice that has been numbed so it doesn’t crack. She looks away from him, but she can’t hide the scent of blood that gathers in the corners of her eyes.

“She’s dead.”

GM: Roderick pulls her into his embrace. “What?! My god, when?”

Celia: She’s stiff at first, as if unwilling to burden him with her tears and emotion when he has his own shit going on. And then she softens and the red drips down her cheeks and she tells him, in broken, fragmented sentences, that she found out the same night she found out about Dani, but that Dani is still alive and Isabel isn’t and she wanted to prevent Roderick from feeling this same sort of loss. She doesn’t need to breathe, she doesn’t sniffle, her shoulders don’t shake. But she clings to him, face buried against his chest and neck and shoulder, and blood stains her skin.

GM: Roderick holds her tight, cupping her head with one of his hands, and murmurs sympathies and assurances.

“Jesus, Celia, I’m so sorry…”

“I knew you weren’t close, but I can’t imagine how you must be feeling…”

Celia: “Em-empty, mostly. L-like it’s my-my fault. She needed help and I didn’t… I couldn’t… I never did enough.”

GM: He shakes his head. “You’re not responsible for what happened to Isabel. She made her own choices. So did her sire.”

Celia: She lifts her head, looking up at him with eyes haunted by past mistakes. “I was so… just so mad at her for such a long time. I thought, after my Embrace, I’d never have to see her again, and there she was released on the same night. It took years to speak to her, and… and when Evan went missing I… I didn’t have enough leads to follow, and everyone else was looking too, but… but it’s wrong, the whole thing was wrong, that stupid bitch lied about what happened and got my fucking sister killed.”

GM: Roderick frowns and presses a comforting hand against her cheek. “Who lied to you? What happened?”

Celia: “It doesn’t matter,” Celia finally mutters, pulling away from him to wipe at her eyes. Her fingers come away red. “I didn’t do enough for her and she died. Vidal’s agents killed her. Loyal to the prince and she was still—still put down. Now I’m the one that has to—has to lie about it when my family asks, when Mom says ‘how do you think she’s doing, will she ever forgive me’ and Logan asks if I heard from her and Dad says ’she’s the reason I saw the error of my ways,’ and starts spouting some bullshit Catholic rhetoric.”

GM: “I’d definitely tell them something,” Roderick says thoughtfully. “Just to give closure, so the wound can heal.”

Celia: “Yeah, that’s what my family needs, more drama.”

GM: “Drama’s unavoidable either way. It’ll just hurt them worse if they wonder forever what happened and why she no longer talks with them.”

“I’ve known some people with estranged family. The lack of contact and any closure from that is just the worst thing. It’s an infected wound that constantly eats at them. Some get over it, but they’re worse for it. The whole thing just lacks resolution.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t bother pointing out that she’s hardly going to take his advice on family when he went ahead and fractured his own.

GM: “Maybe just say she was killed in Sudan? It’s a dangerous country.”

Celia: “How would I even know that?”

GM: “Or rather, find a way to make them believe so.”

“Isn’t she doing missionary work? Fake a phone call or letter from the organization she ostensibly works for. Celia Flores doesn’t have to be the first person who knows.”

Celia: “Maybe,” she hedges. She had other plans for the identity.

GM: “How else do you want to get your family the news without a body?”

Celia: Celia shrugs. She doesn’t bother looking at him, instead letting her eyes land on a pattern in the carpeting.

“I was supposed to protect her,” Celia tells the floor. “Older sister and all. Protect all of them. They’re a mess. My family is a mess. David’s anxiety. Logan’s anger. Soph’s…” Celia shakes her head. “Mom’s fucked. Dad’s fucked. Lucy might not be, but batting 1 for 8 is… I mean that’s just bad.”

It doesn’t even count Ethan. Who knows what’s wrong with that kid.

GM: He gives her another squeeze.

“Honestly, all families are screwed up to some degree. I know mine is.”

“There’s obviously Dani’s problems, how my dad took my death, the dysfunction around my mom, the divorce… all families have problems.”

“But they can be wonderful things too. Your family got a lot better once your dad was removed from the equation.”

“I don’t think Emily or your grandma are too screwed, either.”

Celia: “My grandmother is the reason my mother is fucked. And my dad is back in the equation.”

GM: “Your mom is her own person. And you can force your dad out.”

Celia: She’s not going to explain the Dollhouse to him.

“I never told you about dinner.”

GM: “Happy to listen, if you want me to.”

“Or maybe you’d just like to be a cat.”

Celia: “I don’t really want to hear that I’m being stupid for wanting to believe what he said.”

GM: “Everyone wants to believe the best about their family.”

Celia: None of it is her story to tell. Maxen is her sire’s pawn. If there is something demonic going on with him, she’s not going to be the one that spills it to Roderick. Nor will she tell him that he’s running for governor. So she doesn’t talk politics and she doesn’t tell him about the dead priest or the exorcism.

But she can—and does—tell him the rest of it. That he’d been trying to find himself religiously. That he found copies of all the things he’d once destroyed to give back to his ex-wife. That he apologized for what he’d done, and admitted that words alone won’t make up for anything, but that he’d like to attempt to make it up to her, Emily, and Diana. That Emily and Diana had agreed to dinner with him to see what he has to say.

GM: Roderick listens.

“How do you feel about that dinner?”

“The upcoming one, that is.”

Celia: “Like the sheriff is going to find out and wonder what the fuck I think I’m doing with him, mostly.”

“Other than that, I don’t know. Apprehensive. Emily is going to blame me if it blows up in my face.”

“She and Logan have been getting into it lately about the whole thing. Logan thinks it’s great. Mom is… wants her man back.”

“Her words,” Celia clarifies.

Pete’s going to ask what the fuck she thinks she’s doing, too.

The idea of teasing him about Diana isn’t even appealing anymore.

GM: “Do you want to see what happens at it?” Roderick asks. “Or call the thing off?”

Celia: “I want to see what happens.”

“I want to know what’s wrong with him. What was wrong with him when we were kids.”

“Why he went from someone who would let me put lipstick and a dress on him to… that.”

GM: “Do you think you’ll find out at dinner?”

Celia: “No. It’s not like I can whack him with a charm in front of everyone and demand the truth.”

GM: “You could in private. I’d normally be against violating the minds of family members, but his case is a pretty special exception. Given how despicably he treated you.”

Celia: “What, you don’t think it’d be easier to just go knock on Donovan’s door and ask what’s up with his pet?”

“Hey bud, can I have my dad back? He seems normal again. Thanks.”

GM: Roderick shakes his head. “I don’t think there’s a power that can do that to someone, Celia.”

“Warp them into a totally different person for decades, and then just… come off, no side effects, and everything goes back to the way it used to be. That sounds too convenient.”

“Maybe you could spy on your dad, though. See how he behaves in private versus public.”

Celia: Except Donovan already knows all the ways she has to spy.

“Yeah?”

GM: “Bug his house.”

Celia: “Maybe he was possessed.” Celia wiggles her brows at him. “Maybe my bugs will pick up satanic rituals that he does on the full moon.”

GM: “I’m mostly sure demonic possession is real,” Roderick answers humorlessly.

Celia: “Oh?”

She makes a motion with her hand, prompting further explanation.

GM: “I’m not an expert on it, by any means. But are demons such a stretch when we have vampires?”

Celia: “No. I was kind of thinking the same thing.”

“Have any friends that are demonologists?”

GM: He shakes his head. “I know very little about it. Just off-hand references by some of the primogen.”

“Barely even anything. But it sounded like they believed in demons.”

Celia: “Which ones?”

GM: “Steinhäuser. Chastain. Maldonato.”

“I’d talk to a priest, anyway, if you want to know more about demons.”

Celia: “What priest? Malveaux is missing. You mean like a breather?”

GM: “My lord, no. But there are priests besides him.”

“I suppose most aren’t friendly to you, though, besides Benson.”

“The Tremere also might know about demons.”

Celia: “You think it’s like the movies where they’re tied to a specific person or place?”

GM: “Who even knows.”

Celia: “So much for all your book learnin’,” she sighs at him.

GM: “So much indeed,” he smirks. “Maybe I should just spend the rest of my Requiem satisfying you in bed.”

Celia: “You can start now.”

“Oh, wait, no.”

“First, your dad is coming to dinner on Friday, would you like to be there?”

“Then you can start.”

GM: “Oh. I was gonna ask if you were still in the mood.”

“With your sister and all.”

“But yes. I would. A lot.”

Celia: “I’ve known about her for a week and still managed to fuck you silly,” Celia points out.

GM: “True. Friday will hopefully be enough time for Dani to cool down, too.”

Celia: “She said your dad doesn’t really like a lot of new people. Figure out how you want me to introduce you. I think maybe ‘my boyfriend’ will hit a raw spot for him, considering.”

“I thought maybe Stephen’s friend from college..?”

GM: Roderick thinks.

“That works. I am a lawyer. I can be his friend from law school.”

Celia: “If you go postal in my house near my family I’m going to beat you up,” Celia warns him.

“My boyfriend taught me how.”

GM: “I’d beat myself up, and worse, if I lost it around your family,” Roderick answers grimly.

Celia: “Excellent. I’ll get my boyfriend to beat you up.”

She nudges him with her shoulder.

“I wouldn’t invite you if I didn’t think you could control yourself. I trust you.”

GM: “Thank you,” he says, sincerely. “I’ll be worthy of that trust. I promise.”

Celia: “I know. Now I think you owe me some head..?”

GM: He smiles, pulls off her sweats, spreads her legs, and busies his mouth between her thighs.

Just like their first time.

Celia: His tongue and fingers are enough to make her forget her own name when her toes curl and stars float in front of her eyes.

It’s a bright spot to end the night on.


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Story Thirteen, Celia VI

“Wouldn’t the world be a nicer place if we could all just be nicer.”
Peter Lebeaux


Tuesday night, 15 March 2016, AM

GM: Celia finds Dani in the living room as she leaves the bathroom, now playing Xbox.

“Hey, question.”

Celia: “Shoot.”

GM: “There’s, ah, someone in Reggie’s bedroom who looks in pretty bad shape.”

Celia: “The homeless-looking one?”

GM: “Homeless?” frowns Dani.

“No, she doesn’t look homeless. Just… miserable.”

Celia: “Oh. Mabel. Yes.”

GM: “And pretty pale.”

“I didn’t even know she was here until tonight.”

Celia: Does she still look pale? Celia doesn’t remember taking that much from her.

“She lost her domitor.”

GM: “I don’t think your mom knows she’s here, either.”

Celia: “No, she doesn’t.”

GM: “Reggie wanted us to stay out of his room.”

“But he’s a douchebag, so fuck him.”

Celia: “Mm. Generally there are rules like that for a reason, though. That order came from me.”

“It was also given to him to keep him from coercing you up there.”

GM: “Well, thanks for that, at least.” Dani gives a sigh. “She looked like she could really use a friend, though.”

“I tried to comfort her but she kinda pushed me away.”

Celia: “I hope you didn’t tell her much.”

“I haven’t decided what is going to be done with her, yet. She’s been through a lot.”

GM: “Just that my name was Danielle and I was staying here for now.”

“She wasn’t talkative. She said she wanted to go back to sleep so she could dream about Evan.”

“She’s really messed up, Celia.”

Celia: “I know,” Celia sighs. “Evan is missing. Dead. People have been looking for him, but he’s… I mean, that’s why I went to see the fortune teller.”

GM: “Evan is another lick?”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “Ah, right. Because he was her domitor.”

“I feel bad for her. But I’m not sure what I can do.”

Celia: “Honestly? Not a lot, I don’t think. I’m looking into Evan’s disappearance, but no one seems to know much of anything. Be there for her if she wants to talk, but… she’s really broken up about it.”

GM: “He must’ve been really important to her.”

“Is that how it is with all ghouls?”

Celia: “Some more so than others. He seemed to treat her well. Like a mother, but… uh, with sex as well.”

GM: “Uh, you don’t have sex with your mother.”

Celia: “She’s not his real mom.”

GM: “Well, whatever made them happy, I guess.”

“It obviously did for her to be this broken up over it.”

“Is there anything I can do right now? I’m mostly just killing time, now that Lucy, Alana, and your mom are all in bed.” Dani gestures at the Xbox.

Celia: “I saw your brother earlier tonight. He offered to go into Riverbend to get your things for you. Would you like to see him, or should I tell him to just drop them off?”

GM: Dani purses her lips.

Celia: “You’re allowed to say no.”

GM: “How was he?”

Celia: “He’s…” Celia trails off. “You asked me not to lie to you, so I won’t.”

“He said that he didn’t realize you’d be so angry. He’s worried. He’s still planning on taking you out of the city.”

GM: Dani glares.

“Is he sorry?”

Celia: “He just kept saying that isn’t how it was supposed to go.”

GM: “So, what, he wasn’t sorry?”

She makes a huffing sound.

“That’s so him.”

Celia: “He’s very self-righteous, Dani.”

“I love him, I do, but he’s stubborn and pig-headed sometimes and it makes me want to scream.”

“And he’s just obsessed with his sire and how amazing she is and she’s the one who set up the entire murder of duskborn that I told you about, and I just don’t understand it.”

GM: “Oh my god, I forgot all about that. That his sire was the one.”

Celia: “Probably for the best. I doubt he’d be happy I told you.”

GM: “You should be honest about that. He likes honesty. We all do.”

Celia: “Dani, the last time I was honest with him about something like that he beat the fuck out of me.”

GM: “I’m sorry, there’s just been so much to process lately. When was it he abused you there?”

Celia: “Which time?”

GM: “Oh my god,” Dani mutters, pressing her palm to her forehead.

“Okay, you know, I don’t want to see him.”

Celia: Celia makes a face, as if she realizes what she’s just done.

“I… okay. I won’t push it. I was hoping to introduce him to my mom now that she’s in the know. And bring him for dinner with your dad. But if you don’t want me to do that, I won’t.”

GM: Dani sighs.

“Well, I guess I can’t avoid him forever.”

Celia: “Take some time, process how you’re feeling. I’ll let him down easy.”

GM: “But… Jesus, Celia, he hits you!”

Celia: “I… well, last time he just destroyed my haven.”

GM: “Oh, I guess that’s so much better.”

“I still remember him explaining it as a ‘genetic disorder.’”

Celia: “I know. I…” Celia trails off, looking down at her hands. “I keep wondering if I’m turning into my mom. He’s only done it a few times, but I keep making excuses…”

GM: “Is that even remotely true?”

Celia: “It’s not not true. The Brujah have a hairpin trigger. They run hot. Any little thing will set them off. I recognized it in him last night, when he was coming at you after he threw you around. That’s why I got in the middle.”

GM: “I don’t understand that. All Brujah ‘run hot?’ What if you’re a calm person before you’re a Brujah?”

Celia: “People say that all of the clans were cursed by Caine. Brujah is anger.”

“They used to be what he talked about, philosopher-kings, but mostly they’re just rebellious assholes anymore.”

GM: “I thought you said Toreador don’t have a curse?”

Celia: “No,” Celia says, “Toreador was given a blessing. So, the way the story goes, Caine sired a handful of childer. And their childer, the thirteen of them, rose up against their sires and killed them. When Caine found out he was mad, so he cursed them all. Except Toreador didn’t join her siblings, she withheld from the violence, so he blessed her instead.”

“It’s all very biblical.”

GM: “But it has some basis in reality, since the rats all look hideous?”

Celia: “Yes.”

“Or, well, maybe they’re that way because they live in the sewers.”

“I’ve been down there. Not pretty.”

GM: “Ugh. I don’t want to meet one.”

“Stephen said you had a… Beast too, though?”

Celia: “I do,” Celia confirms.

“When I’m hungry, when I’m really angry, it comes out.”

GM: “The whole thing kind of sounds like an excuse to me.”

Celia: “It’s about control, really.”

“So, for example, I went to see my mom after everything went down. I was starving. I was injured. And I got hit by the sun.”

“But I still kept it together. I didn’t lose it on her.”

GM: “I mean, when normal people are hungry, we get snappish and irritable and don’t think as clearly. That isn’t unique to vampires.”

Celia: “I know,” Celia says with a forced sigh. “It doesn’t make sense until you feel it. Like an animal inside of you. He is cursed, but it’s… who he is now. There have been a few times I’ve been afraid of saying something to him because I know he doesn’t have the control he needs.”

GM: “That… sounds like an abusive relationship.”

Celia: “He’s supposed to teach me how to fight so we don’t have to worry about it.”

GM: “So, what, you can hit him back if he hits you?”

Celia: “No.”

GM: “That’s, uh…”

Celia: “So I can fend him off.”

GM: “Celia, that’s like… keeping a fire extinguisher in your kitchen, because the gas stove keeps starting fires, instead of fixing the stove.”

“Or ditching it if you can’t fix it.”

Celia: “I love him, Dani,” Celia says helplessly.

GM: “But he hits you. That isn’t love.”

Celia: “We broke up before and it’s… I miss him. I missed him. The whole time. We’ve been through so much together.”

GM: “Well, maybe take a break until he learns to control himself better. Stephen has gotten everything he’s ever wanted in life. Everything. Maybe make him actually work for this.”

“If he really loves you, he’ll make that effort.”

Celia: “I… okay. I’ll talk to him. You’re probably right. I’m blinded by who he used to be, I think.”

GM: Dani nods. “You can tell him this isn’t a breakup. Just a pause until he can fix his problem.”

“Though who knows what the odds of that are.”

Celia: “I don’t know that there’s anyone else in the city I could feel the same way about. We had this whole plan for a life together, we were talking about getting married like normal people do…”

“He found a house for us, even.”

GM: “You were?” Dani looks a little gushy-faced. “I’d love it if that could happen, Celia, if we could be sisters-in-law…”

“But he can’t keep hitting you! That’s not okay. If he wants that wedding, he needs to earn it.”

Celia: “I’ll talk to him,” Celia says again, “and tell him that. Because I’d love for you to be my sister, Dani. It should have happened years ago.”

GM: “It should.” Dani pulls her onto the couch and gives her a hug.

Celia: Celia holds her tight.

“I’m going to send the doc over later to mark you, and to give you a mask so we can create your new identity for licks, okay?”

“Probably close to dawn so she can do my mom, too.”

GM: “Okay. Also, speaking of. Can I go back to school tomorrow?”

“Or rather, today.”

Celia: “As soon as you get the mark, yes.”

“Just make sure you don’t linger after dark.”

“And absolutely no feeding in Riverbend.”

GM: “I won’t. I can leave before dark.”

“You said something about getting a place for me in the Quarter, too?”

Celia: “Yes.”

“Well… Stephen wanted…”

Celia shakes her head.

“It doesn’t matter. Yes.”

GM: “Okay. If it’s trouble, your mom said I could stay with her. When I told her how I couldn’t live in Riverbend.”

Celia: “Oh.”

“Do you want to stay with her?”

GM: “I mean, she’s really nice. But she said Emily doesn’t know, and I’d still be falling asleep as soon as school was over.”

Celia: “Emily doesn’t know,” Celia confirms, “and I don’t want her brought into this. If you want to stay there temporarily, you can. The place you were at before was… compromised, unfortunately. I kind of trust the guy who found out about it, but you never know.”

Trusted him enough to tell him she’s a night doc, anyway. And he already knows about Dani.

“I’ll get some funds together and we’ll get you your own place.”

“Maybe that can be part of Stephen’s penance.” Celia winks.

GM: “You know, that sounds very appropriate,” Dani says approvingly. “Yes. I felt a little bad freeloading off of you, that was one of the reasons I liked your mom’s offer, but I’d be okay with Stephen paying for my place.”

“We could also be roommates, if you want, with Stephen covering my rent.”

Celia: “I appreciate the offer, and that would probably be fun, but I have a place I usually stay, and Stephen and I have been spending the day together too.”

Mostly it cramps her libido.

GM: “A pause in the relationship means you don’t sleep together,” says Dani, half-amused.

Celia: “Mm. Yeah, but it was my place first. It’s a studio, otherwise I’d offer to let you move in. Bit cramped.”

GM: “We could get another place,” Dani proposes. “I’d love to be roomies! And, like I said, Stephen’ll pay my share.”

Celia: Celia finds a polite way to say “no” to Dani, though she promises plenty of sleepovers.

GM: Dani is a little disappointed, having seemed to really latch on to the idea of Celia as a roommate, but looks forward to those.

Celia: After a few more moments of pleasant small-talk, and an assurance that Celia will serve as intermediary for Stephen to deliver her things, Celia excuses herself to finish up with the thin-blood.

She raids Randy’s closet, selecting a clean outfit that he won’t miss, and heads back into the bathroom to drain the water and dry it off.

Hopefully the boys will be back soon.

GM: The thin-blood gratefully changes into the provided clothes.

“What, what now, lady lick?”

The brothers, however, get back soon. Reggie tosses Jade the receiver.

Celia: Well, Jade helps it dress anyway. Bit awkward with the cuffs, but they manage one limb at a time.

GM: “Short range. Couldn’t have picked up anything if it was buried in the park.”

Celia: Jade looks back at the thin-blood, as if waiting for something more.

GM: “Like I said, lady lick, there it be… there’s the other half of the bug, all yours…”

Celia: “It did pick up everything. I was just told how much I inadvertently spilled.”

She looks back to the thin-blood.

“Care to explain?”

GM: The thin-blood holds up their hands. “I, I did, didn’t I? It wasn’t really at the park, that ain’ where they picked it up…”

“Yeah,” says Reggie. “This was stashed close enough to Flawless to pick up everything.”

Celia: Awkward. Jade had misunderstood and thought it meant the thing was lying to her again. After a moment she finally smiles.

“Great.”

She glances at the time.

Is there enough of it to summon the thin-blood’s friend before her meeting?

GM: Probably not.

Celia: Awkward.

Her mysterious new potential lover will need to wait a night. They can remain a secret admirer for one more evening.

“Trust doesn’t come easy to our kind,” Jade tells the thin-blood. “So I hope you’ll pardon me when I keep you for the day so you can summon your friend for me. You’ll be fed and left alone and safe from the sun and your abusers, and tomorrow we’ll reassess and see if you want what I can offer you.”

GM: “All righ’, lady lick, you bet,” nods the thin-blood. “You bet, I stay outta the way.”

“You don’t actually want this thing around the girls in the house, do you?” snorts Reggie.

“Bro, you’re kinda one to talk,” says Randy.

“I am. I’m hot stuff.”

Celia: “No,” Jade says, “the place is getting cramped enough. Stay here a moment.”

As if the thing has a choice. She leaves with the boys and shuts the door.

“Closet?” she asks them. “Could leave it tied. I just need to make sure things go off as they need to with its friend so we can stop whatever problem this is before it gets any bigger.”

GM: “Works,” says Reggie. “Tied and gagged.”

Celia: “Make sure you feed it. Food, not blood.”

“I’ll have the rest of them out of your hair soon.”

GM: “Do they need food?” asks Reggie.

“Dani ate Diana’s stuff, didn’t she?” says Randy.

“I guess.”

Celia: “Some of them. Maybe ask it? They could be different.”

“Thanks for the quick pick up.”

GM: “Hunting down low-lifes is our specialty,” says Reggie.

Celia: “Tomorrow we get to jump an actual lick. Should be fun.”

GM: “Lookin’ forward to it.”

Celia: She’s not.

But at least one of them is excited.


Tuesday night, 15 March 2016, AM

GM: “Mélissaire said you wanted to talk,” says Pete after Celia arrives at the Evergreen.

Celia: “I do, yeah. Thanks for seeing me.”

Celia takes the offered chair in his office, door closed. It’s a familiar scene.

“For starters, how is Tantal?”

GM: “He’s happy. Said he initially wanted his old body back, but the thought of you sticking a garbage bag of fat back inside him was too unappetizing.”

“He says more girls are hitting on him.”

Celia: Celia grins.

GM: “Says it feels better to be light, too.”

Celia: “I’m glad. Happy for him. You’re pleased with the changes?”

GM: “He just took all the extra bulk for granted.”

“I’m happy that he’s happy.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“Alana said the same when I took it off of her. You don’t realize how much you’re carrying around because you just get used to it.”

GM: “People can get used to anything.”

Celia: “Mm. You’re right.” Another small nod. “I haven’t been able to find out what a glinko is. And the name we got was a fake, my guy says. They’re looking into the real thing, phones are going to help.”

GM: “Good.”

Celia: “Anything else from the bug we planted?”

GM: “Yep. It’s wound up with a hunter.”

“She hasn’t gone after any licks yet, but she’s planning to.”

“When she does, I’ll be there.”

Celia: “Good. I still want to find out how they found Roderick, hoping this not-Lee guy can tell me more.”

GM: “Maybe this lady will also be able when we have her.”

Celia: “My spa was also broken into last night again.”

GM: “That’s unfortunate. Anything stolen?”

Celia: “No. Thought it might be the hunters, actually, but it doesn’t make sense to do during the night. Was a thin-blood I ran into in the Square. Planted a bug. Picked up a few things that I’d rather not get out.”

“Was put up to it by someone, though, so I’m tracking down that lead.”

GM: “If you have the bug, we can trace it back.”

Celia: “I have the receiver already. He buried it near by. Short range. Said he didn’t tell anyone else.”

“Well, said he tried to come here to sell the info. But that no one would let him in.”

GM: “I see. Sounds like you have things in hand?”

Celia: “Sort of. Supposed to contact his friend tomorrow so I can find out who. Just that he knows.”

GM: “Sounds like a lead worth pursuing. Interesting the thin-blood had the receiver.”

Celia: “He said something about the person tracing it back to them. And not wanting that. They were supposed to meet on Saturday. Figured I’d get him to come early and see what I can find.”

GM: “Hm. That intermediary does it make harder to trace, but there’s other ways to.”

Celia: “It’s… I mean, if it was just me I wouldn’t be as worried, but it’s about my mom.”

GM: Lebeaux frowns.

“What about her? Were you talking about Lucy’s father?”

Celia: “Ah, he came up, yeah, but there’s… a little more to it than that…”

“So…”

“So my mom, um, she kind of… knows about me.”

GM: The detective does a double take.

“She what?”

“All right. Forget it. Get her to me, I’ll make her forget.”

Celia: “I don’t… know if it will be that easy, actually. It’s, um. There were some really heightened emotions. There was a problem with another lick, some near death experiences, some hard conversations… Mel said that it might be patchy work, at best.”

“Is that true?”

GM: Lebeaux doesn’t say anything for a moment.

He looks very grave.

“It depends on the memories,” he answers slowly. “It depends on the cover story.”

“The midwife. That was easy. All I did was swap your mom’s face with yours.”

Celia: “I think she might have been exposed to all of this a long time ago,” Celia says quietly, “before I was even born.”

GM: “You think? Do you know?”

Celia: “…she was one of Benson’s dolls.”

GM: Lebeaux doesn’t say anything to that.

His fist just clenches.

His fangs come out.

“Fucking anorexic cunt,” he snarls.

Celia: Celia doesn’t think she’s ever heard him swear before.

“It explains… you know, a lot,” she continues in a smaller voice.

GM: “Yeah. Yeah, I guess it does.

Celia: She thinks to tell him that she fucked up Elyse for it, but she doesn’t know if that will make things worse if he asks how she got out. Not that she expects him to know about the haven’s doll-defense system.

GM: The detective just stares past Celia with a black look.

He doesn’t speak.

Celia: Her eyes drop. She feels like it’s her fault somehow that Diana was a doll, but she had nothing to do with it. She wasn’t even born yet. It’s not her fault.

It’s not her fault.

“Sorry,” she finally tells the carpet anyway. “They wanted her back so I… I interceded, and now my mom knows.”

GM: Celia’s words seem to slowly draw Pete back.

“How much does she know?”

Celia: “A lot.”

GM: “When did she learn it?”

Celia: “Sunday morning. And tonight.”

GM: Another moment of silence.

“How’d she take it?”

Celia: “Honestly? Pretty well.”

“I always thought, you know, what if I told her. I never planned to. But she was… just really accepting about it. Really, really calm.”

GM: “Could be worse,” the detective says slowly. “We can tell her you’re gay.”

“That you had a miscarriage.”

“That you discovered you’re infertile.”

“Something.”

Celia: “Do you think that is going to to work? She knows about Jade. About ghouls. About the blood.”

GM: “I don’t… I don’t know.”

“Maybe.”

Celia: “I offered to erase her memories so she doesn’t have to lie. She said she’d rather know.” Celia twists her hands in her lap. “Mel gave me some ideas about what to do with her like that, and I can teach her shadow dancing to hide how she tastes, and give her a new face if she’s ever around anyone.”

She sounds like a kid asking to keep the dog that followed her home. I’ll walk it and feed it and take care of it.

“And I can… can fix her leg, you know, so she’s not in pain all the time.”

GM: Pete’s face is very still. He looks Celia directly in the eye.

“Oh, really? Teach her shadow dancing?”

“Yes, I bet Mel did have a lot of ideas if that was on the table.”

Celia: “I don’t know what you mean.”

There’s some context she’s missing, she’s sure.

The emphasis was weird.

GM: “If you feed your mother your blood and make her a ghoul, a fucking drug addict!” Pete snarls.

“How the hell else does she learn shadow dancing!?”

Celia: This was a mistake.

“She asked if there was a way to make it less addictive,” Celia finally says. “I told her I’d look into it. I thought if anyone would know it would be you.”

GM: “Tell me she hasn’t tasted it, yet, Celia,” Pete gets out. “Tell me it hasn’t touched her.”

Celia: She can’t do that, though.

So she stays silent.

GM: Pete looks at her.

He waits.

He waits.

Finally, he leans forward and plants his hands against his head.

Celia: “She was dying. There was blood… everywhere, there was blood everywhere. I couldn’t just… watch her die if I could… if I could fix it, should I have just…? Would that be… would that be better?”

GM: “Fuck should-haves,” the detective snarls, looking up. “It’s too late. It’s the situation now.”

“All right. All right. Maybe we… she tried heroin, she tried something sketchy for the pain, we get her to rehab…”

Celia: Celia quietly listens to him spin his ideas, waiting for the words she knows are coming:

stupid

useless

fuckup

Something burns in the corners of her eyes, but a blink keeps it from making an appearance.

GM: “I’m… I’m not objective,” Pete says suddenly, quietly, running a hand through his hair. He sounds like he’s talking to himself. His eyes are large. “I’m not thinking objectively. I’m not capable. I’m incapable.”

He looks up and stares at her again.

“Celia, am I grasping at straws?”

Celia: She doesn’t want to see him like this, either.

But she lifts her eyes, finally, and gives a small nod.

“I… I think you might be.”

GM: The detective doesn’t say anything.

Just hangs his head against his hands.

Celia: The bright side, of course, is now he can take her out.

But Celia doesn’t mention that.

GM: The silence stretches for about a minute before he looks up. There’s something in his eyes.

“Who… else knows.”

“That she knows.”

“That she’s blooded.”

Celia: “Mel. My ghouls, all four of them. Dani. Roderick.”

“You, now.”

GM: “Call your ghouls,” says Pete. He pulls out his own phone.

“They’re coming here. I’m coming to them. Whatever. They’re seeing me.”

Celia: Celia reaches for her phone.

GM: “Hey, Mel,” Pete says into his. “I need to talk to you, can you swing by?”

A pause.

“Okay, thanks.”

He hangs up.

Celia: She dials Randy, knowing he’s awake. She just left him.

GM: He picks up immediately and tries to sound casual.

“Hey, babe.”

Celia: “Hey, sweetheart. Can you come up to the Evergreen with your brothers and Alana? Wake them up.”

GM: “Sure thing, babe. See you soon.”

Pete asks Celia some questions about her conversation with Mélissaire.

There’s a knock against the door. The ghoul comes in.

“Hello, Warden L-” she smiles.

Pete stares into her eyes.

“You didn’t talk to Celia about her mom.”

Mélissaire’s eyes glaze over.

“Actually, you did, but it was hypothetically. Her mom had been driving her crazy. Celia was really thinking hard about ghouling her. So you gave her all of that helpful advice.”

“She doesn’t think she’s going to, though.”

“But she appreciated the advice. And the sympathy. Still gave you a hit for it.”

Celia: Celia waits quietly while Pete delivers the message to Mel to rewrite her memories. Will it work if she still does what Mel said, though? Or are those options now closed to her? She looks to Pete, uncertain.

GM: He looks at her, then cautiously says, “Whatever’s on your mind. Write it down.”

Celia: She scrawls across a page.

What if I follow her advice about the dancer / fencer? Will she connect the dots?

GM: Pete scowls.

Celia: Should I have them bring the thin-blood that knows?

She’d planned to kill it.

But if Pete can wipe it, maybe that’s a better outcome.

GM: “Forget the dancer, fencer advice. You wanted to get Dr. Dicentra to fix her leg, then have her start her own production company with Celia’s backing. Good investment over the years, you thought. Make Celia really popular with a lot of Toreador.”

Mel receives this placidly.

Pete talks with her about something inane-sounding, then sends the smiling ghoul away.

“Right. One down.”

“And tell your people they’re not meeting us at the Evergreen, actually. More suspicious to have them all barging in.”

Celia: Celia immediately calls Randy back and tells him to nix the last order. She’s coming to them.

GM: Pete gets into a nondescript older-looking Chevy with her. It’s the first time Celia thinks she’s seen the Tremere’s car.

He doesn’t talk as they drive. Just stares out into the night.

Stares and tightly grips the wheel.

Celia: Celia tells him what he needs to know to fix the memories, but otherwise remains silent.

GM: “You’re paying for this,” he mutters when she’s done. “Costs me juice.”

Celia: “Anything you need.”

She means it, too.

Anything.

GM: “Get Roderick to come over. ‘Stare into my eyes’ time for him too.”

Celia: “Oh,” she says quietly. “Okay.”

She calls him.

GM: “Yeah?” he asks.

Celia: “Can you come meet me? I need your help.”

She gives him the address.

GM: “Sure,” he answers without hesitation. “I was swinging by anyways to drop off Dani’s stuff.”

Celia: “It’s not for that. She’s still mad at you. Very mad.”

GM: “Oh,” he says.

“All right. Still need to drop it off anyways.”

Celia: “Thanks, Roderick. I’ll see you soon.”

She’s glad he got out of Riverbend safely, anyway.

GM: Pete doesn’t talk for a while.

“You said there’s a Dani who also knows.”

Celia: “Garrison. His sister. And the thin-blood overheard some stuff on the bug.”

GM: “Who’s that?”

Celia: “They’re both here.”

GM: “What do they need to forget?”

Celia: “Dani… opened up a lot to her. About… who she was, what happened to her, her Embrace. I thought maybe it would do her good to have someone she can talk to.”

GM: Pete doesn’t say anything for a bit.

“There’s no magic fix,” he then says. “To make vitae less addictive.”

“It’s heroin.”

“It’s crack.”

“It’s meth.”

“You know any way to take those without addiction?”

Celia: “No.”

“We worked out a schedule,” she offers. “I do it with one of my others.”

GM: “Water’s wet. Sugar’s sweet. Drugs are addictive. Just what it is.”

Celia: “I could… get rid of Celia,” she finally says.

GM: “A schedule?”

Celia: “For blood. So she knows what she’s getting when. Mel told me to, um, reward and punish, but she’s my mom, so…”

GM: “Mel’s a cunt,” the detective snarls, mashing the horn at a nearby car that didn’t do much of anything. It honks angrily back.

Celia: “How do you do it, with Tantal..?”

GM: “Tantal isn’t my mom. If the lack of tits didn’t give it away.”

Celia: “I didn’t know if you had general advice,” she says to the window.

GM: “I’m his boss. I’m his supplier. That’s all I’ve ever been to him. There’s nothing we get confused. He gets his dose twice a month. He gets more when I think he needs it.”

“I don’t give him extra for good job performance. Junkies don’t think straight when it’s their fix on the line.”

“I don’t give him less for poor job performance. Because Junkies don’t think straight when it’s their fix on the line.”

“I don’t like what I’ve done to him. He was hooked by the time I realized. Before I realized. He’s a hand-me-down.”

Celia: She’s waiting for it, she realizes. For him to tell her that he’s disappointed. That he doesn’t want anything to do with her anymore. That she’s stupid. Irresponsible. Reckless. A waste of blood. No wonder her sire left her. Et cetera.

“You said you’re happy when he’s happy, though. That’s better than most of them can say about us.”

GM: “That’s me. Your friendly neighborhood heroin dealer.”

Celia: So much for that.

“…do you think I should just… get rid of Celia?”

GM: “Why?”

Celia: “She’s in danger, isn’t she? I’d rather her be safe and sad.”

GM: “Just minutes ago I was hearing bodyguard and dancer ideas.”

Celia: “I mean yeah, if she’s going to be part of it anyway.”

GM: “Just minutes ago you told me I was grasping at straws trying to fix her memories.”

“If that’s off the table I don’t see how it helps to lose her daughter on top.”

Celia: “I just wanted what’s best for them.”

GM: “So do we all, kid,” the detective says bitterly.

Celia: “D’you think it has merit, then, or am I also grasping at straws?”

GM: “She already knows the truth. She already has the blood in her system. It’s too little too late for Celia Flores to disappear.”

Celia: “I meant the other thing. The dancing.”

GM: “I should have seen this coming. I really should have. But I told you no, every time you asked, keep Celia alive.”

Celia: “It’s hardly your advice that made me fuck up something else.”

GM: “This was inevitable. It always fucking is. If we don’t stay away.”

“But no, I didn’t want to make her bury her daughter. I didn’t want to put her through that grief. I wasn’t objective.”

Celia: “You can just say it, Pete. It’s on me. I’m st—I’m a fuckup. I messed up. I can’t do anything right. Everyone else thinks so.”

GM: “I don’t care about your pity party right now,” the detective growls.

“I could’ve stopped this and I didn’t.”

“You were young and didn’t know better.”

“I did.”

Celia: Unless asked more questions, Celia remains quiet for the rest of the ride back to the house.

GM: That makes both of them.


Tuesday night, 15 March 2016, AM

GM: They get back to the house. Pete doesn’t waste time. He goes around to each ghoul, looks deep into their eyes, then tells them what to remember and what to forget.

He tells the ghouls to back to bed and fall asleep.

He does the same to the thin-blood in the closet.

Celia: She makes sure that the thin-blood doesn’t remember anything it overheard, including that she’s Jade and Celia. Safer for her mom, so no one thinks to use “Celia” against her.

GM: Pete doesn’t ask twice. He tells the thin-blood to forget everything, absolutely everything. Their eyes glaze over at his words.

“How much does your mom remember about this Dani?” Pete asks after shutting the closet door. “Will she be reasonable?”

Celia: “I knew Dani before my Embrace. Her brother is the one who helped Mom out of the tough spot. Dani was… she’s Roderick’s sister, the thin-blood. She offered to let her live with her while we sort everything. She’s had a rough go.” Celia sighs. “I thought it would be good for both of them to have someone to talk to.”

“Mom might be upset.”

But she’s usually reasonable. Elyse saw to that.

GM: Pete looks tired. He looks tired in the same way Roderick does. It doesn’t look as new on him, and it looks all the deeper for that.

“Fine. She’ll remember.”

Celia: “But not Roderick.” Celia doesn’t quite make it a question.

GM: “He’s a real lick, isn’t he?”

Celia: So much for introducing Mom to her boyfriend.

“Yeah.”

GM: “You want to take a bet on your mom with another bloodsucker? A real one?”

Celia: She doesn’t think Roderick would ever hurt her mom.

Then again, she’d seen that vision. She never thought he’d hurt her like that, either.

“No.”

“Did… while we wait, Pete. Thank you. For… for everything.”

GM: The detective grunts.

Celia: She doesn’t push it.

GM: “I just burned through a lot of juice. Go get a glass.”

Celia: Celia disappears into the kitchen.

She finds a clean glass and brings it back.

When he tells her how much, though, she hesitates. She doesn’t have quite that much, she says. She just needs a minute to get it.

GM: He grunts again.

“Pay me back the rest next time if it’s too much.”

Celia: Fangs tear into her flesh and her Beast howls in her ears. It demands to know what she thinks she’s doing sharing her blood when it has so little to begin with; it wants to know why she thinks some stupid kine is worth all of the effort she has gone through when the bitch has done nothing for her. It snarls and snaps and fights her for every drop, and the pitiful amount that Celia bleeds into the cup is not nearly enough to replace what Pete has spent on her this evening. But it’s what she has. It’s all she can offer. She can’t risk giving more, not when the beat of multiple heartbeats call her name.

“Sorry,” she tells him when she holds it out, her most frequently used word this evening.

GM: Pete just waits for the blood to cool, then swigs it down.

“I hear you there,” he suddenly says.

Dani peaks out from behind the door.

“Um… hi.”

Pete looks the thin-blood over.

Celia: Celia watches his face.

“Dani, hi.”

She waits a beat, as if waiting for him to stop her.

“This is the warden. Warden Lebeaux.”

GM: He grunts.

Celia: “This is Dani. Danielle Garrison.”

She doesn’t think he cares.

But she’ll be polite.

GM: “It’s nice to meet you, ah, Warden Lebeaux,” she says, extending a hand.

“We don’t do that,” says Pete.

“Oh,” says Dani.

She lets the hand drop a little lamely.

Pete glances around the house.

“Could be worse digs for someone like you.”

“I hear,” she nods. “Celia’s been really nice…”

Celia: “We’re looking for a place for her,” Celia tells him. “Rod—er, Stephen is on his way over, Dani, with your stuff.”

GM: Dani’s expression gets a little frostier. “I still don’t want to talk to him.”

Celia: “I know. He just has to speak with the warden for a minute. I won’t even tell him you’re here, if you don’t want.”

GM: “It’s fine if he knows. He can know I’m here and don’t want to talk until he,” she seems to moderate herself around Pete, “learns to control himself better.”

The Tremere effects a snort.

“I’m sorry, did…?”

“Good luck,” is all Pete says.

Celia: Celia just nods. “Yeah. We’re going to have that chat later tonight, after I finish up here.”

GM: “Oh, good.”

She looks back to Pete, who hasn’t said anything, then Celia, with a ‘what should I say’ expression.

Celia: Celia gives a tiny shake of her head, mouthing the word ‘later’ at her.

GM: The detective just waits until there’s a knock on the door.

Celia: “Ah, that’s him. Dani, if you want to head upstairs for a sec?”

GM: “Yes, sure.” Dani heads off.

Celia: Celia waits until the girl does so before moving toward the door.

She opens it.

GM: It’s Roderick. He’s carrying two full suitcases and a backpack.

Celia: “Hey, come on in.”

Another place she’ll need to move.

GM: “There’s more in the car. I figured she wouldn’t be coming back to her apartment for a while, if ever, so I brought basically everything.”

Celia: “Oh, that was thoughtful of you. I’m sure she’ll appreciate it.”

GM: “I hope s…”

Roderick’s cut off as Pete approaches him and says, “You never saw me.”

Roderick starts to stare back defiantly, but he’s caught flat-footed talking to Celia. His eyes glaze over.

Celia: Oh thank God.

She did not need an angry Roderick in the house with her mother.

GM: Pete tells him what to remember. They just talked about ghouling her. Celia didn’t actually do it. Celia was repeating the conversation she had with Mélissaire.

Pete makes sure to sprinkle in as many of the same details as he can.

Celia: It’s easy to imagine: a frantic Celia crying about Elyse and wondering if ghouling her mother is the best option for her. The same conversation about the pros and cons. How Celia would be a fucked up person if she did it. Celia eventually being calmed down by him and talked out of it, agreeing to fix things on her end rather than involve her mother.

Celia stands quietly—uselessly—to the side while it happens.

GM: Pete finishes up with her lover, then says, “We’ll drive back in my car when you’re done. I’ll wait upstairs until the other vampire is out of the house.”

He looks back to Roderick. “Finish unloading the stuff from your car.”

Celia: Celia nods at his direction, standing in the same spot she was moments ago for when Roderick inevitably wakes up from his fugue state.

GM: When the Brujah comes back with more boxes, Pete is gone.

Celia: “She will,” Celia tells him, as if there had never been a break in the conversation.

She helps stack the boxes out of the way for Dani to peruse at her leisure.

GM: Roderick looks upstairs a few times, as if wondering whether his sister is there, but doesn’t say anything.

It doesn’t take long. He carries the heavy moving boxes like they’re nothing.

“If you want anything unpacked, I can do that pretty fast. Superspeed has its advantages.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head at the offer. “The boxes won’t be here long. But I’ll keep it in mind when she needs unpacked.”

“Once things calm down she might even enjoy seeing that. Just… give her some space for right now.”

“We’ll talk later tonight. I’ll be home soon.”

GM: “All right,” he relents.

He glances back up the stairs and effects a sigh.

“I feel like I really bungled things.”

Celia: “If anyone can find a way to make it right, it’s you.”

She leans in to press a kiss against his cheek.

“Thanks for getting everything for her. I’ll get it to her and then you and I can figure things out.”

If he continues to linger, Celia confesses that she’s very, very hungry and unless he wants to share—does he want to share? She’s on the verge of loss of self control but he could hold her down—she needs to get out of the house.

GM: Roderick says he’s already “too close to the Beast for comfort” to have any vitae to spare, but he can restrain her if she can get a drink from somewhere else.

It’s hard not to think of her mother sleeping just upstairs. Always so eager to feed her baby.

Or Alana. She loves her mistress’ kiss.

Or the thin-blood. How bad can their vitae be?

Or she could charge Dani rent for all she’s done for her.

There’s the brothers, too. Such strong and healthy boys.

Or Lucy… it’s hard to imagine more succulently innocent blood. Celia’s already tasted the mother. But what about the daughter? The horrors that have touched the rest of the Flores family have never touched her. She’s been raised with nothing but love. Celia would taste that in the child’s blood, she’s sure. Lucy could survive just a sip…

So many sleeping, idle vessels. So conveniently nearby.

Celia: She is not feeding on Lucy.

Or her mother.

Not while Pete is nearby.

And not on Dani while Roderick is here. That’s just awkward.

But the others. The ghouls. She tries to remember who she has fed from recently. Alana and Randy and Reggie. She needs Alana at full capacity if she’s running a game with her tomorrow. And Reggie and Randy have work.

But the thin-blood, there’s an option. Make it useful for doing what it did. And with it sleeping it’ll never know. Blood is blood. Her Beast hadn’t rebelled when she’d tasted Dani’s weak fare.

“Okay,” she finally agrees, because what other option does she have? “Let me get him.” She can carry a thin-blood down the stairs.

GM: The thin-blood is still gagged and tied up in the closet, though looks awake. Muffled noises sound from behind the cloth.

Celia: Oh, good. It’s awake. Jade tells it to stand up and takes it back down the stairs, where the still-disguised Roderick is waiting. She’s a little annoyed, she guesses, that Pete erased everything from its mind this evening, which includes the goodwill she had instilled in it with the bath—a real bonding experience, that—but she knew it would sell her out eventually.

“I’ll explain later,” she says to Roderick to forestall any questions.

GM: Pete had explained to her that he cannot remove emotions, only memories.

That’s exactly why he couldn’t just erase everything in her mother’s head.

Celia: She’s still gentle enough with it.

GM: The thin-blood haplessly shuffles along with bound knees. The stairs are tricky.

Celia: She’s not a monster, she gives it a hand.

GM: “All right,” Roderick says bemusedly. “You want me to hold you down?”

Celia: “Yes. However you think is best.”

GM: He looks back at the thin-blood.

“You’re feeding her. She’s close to the edge. You’re okay with that?”

Celia: Fucking Roderick.

“Payment for the break-in,” Jade tells it.

GM: The thin-blood gives a faltering nod.

“All right,” Roderick says slowly. He undoes the bonds around one of the thin-blood’s arms, then steps behind Celia and wraps his arms tightly around her. “Give her your wrist.”

The thin-blood does so. Celia has tasted ghouls with richer vitae. It’s stronger than a mortal’s, but only barely, and all the worse for it. It’s like someone took a prime cut of steak and lathered it with cheap ketchup and condiments. At least an O’Tolley’s burger is consistent in what it is.

Celia: And despite her worry and precaution, despite the anxiety she’d felt about feeding on someone, her Beast, at least, does not slip its bonds this evening. Roderick holding her is enough to remind it that if she does lose control he’s going to beat her silly.

So she drinks the poor fare from the thin-blood’s wrist, swallowing down mouthful after mouthful of almost-rancid blood that, if she were less hungry, more picky, more able to find something better in a pinch, she might even spit out as Reggie had.

GM: The flavor is exceptionally sour, bitter, and almost moldy, like that same steak was left to ferment with a moldy burger bun over it for days, and only hastily removed. Roderick holds her still until she nods for him to stop.

The thin-blood droopily lets their wrist fall.

It’s hard not to think longingly towards her spa.

So many vessels, prepped and pampered exactly as she desires.

There’s no blood like that of a satisfied, relaxed client. She can drink it all up for herself. Savor the spa experience through them.

Celia: It really does pale in comparison. She’ll have to snack on something better tomorrow before she goes to meet Vinny with Alana. Maybe a few somethings.

“Thank you,” she tells it as she takes it back upstairs. “We’ll finish our discussion tomorrow. One of mine will feed you in the morning.” Food, she means, not blood, but the sentiment is the same. She puts it back where it had been after redoing its ties and wishes it a good evening, then returns to thank Roderick.

“I didn’t want to risk anything,” she says, “thank you for understanding.”

GM: There’s another muffled sound past the gag as Celia closes the door.

“As long as no one’s dead,” he says. “That was one of the sorrier-looking… ghouls I’ve seen?”

Celia: “Not mine,” Celia tells him, “trying to get him cleaned up. I’ll explain the whole thing later.”

GM: “All right.” He gives her a hug. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Celia: “Are you not spending the day?”

GM: “Here? This is deeper in the Quarter.”

Celia: “No, I meant at my place.”

GM: “Although I suppose I’m disguised.”

Celia: “You said tomorrow. I was going to meet you later.”

She makes a gesture with her hand and wiggles her eyebrows at him.

It’s blatantly sexual.

GM: He smiles. It’s a little weary, and part of him doesn’t look in the mood. But there’s another, hungry part, the same one that publicly screwed her in the seat of his car so long ago, that more than does.

“I suppose I did say I was going to fuck you in that dress.”

Celia: “You promised, as I recall.”

GM: “I did. But my krewe got in touch with me. They need me around. And… this thing with Dani is kind of killing my boner, to be honest.”

Celia: “…oh.”

GM: “Just not in the mood, sorry.”

Celia: “Yeah, all right.”

“I guess I’ll see you… tomorrow, then.”

GM: “You will. How about I show you my new place?”

“Temporary place, but place all the same.”

Celia: “Sure.” She tries to sound enthused.

GM: “Look, it’s not you.”

Celia: It is her. She’s just not more important to him than his sister or his krewe.

GM: “You’re still the cutest lick in the city.”

Celia: Her smile doesn’t quite reach her eyes.

GM: “Celia, if this was your sister, Emily instead of Dani, would you be in the mood?”

Celia: “It’s fine. That’s not what I’m thinking about right now anyway.”

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

GM: “If your whole family thought you were dead for four years, then you find out one of them’s a thin-blood, and you’re doing everything in your power to keep them safe from predatory elders, not feeling like you can turn to your own sire, but just when you think there might be one bright spot to this, that at least you don’t have to pretend you’re dead anymore, you have this huge fight…”

Celia: “I didn’t say anything, Roderick. It’s fine. I have other stuff on my mind, too. Being with you just makes me feel like everything is okay in the world, but it’s selfish of me. You’re right.”

“I’m excited to see the new place. Thanks for bringing her things. I’ll tell her you said hi. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

GM: Celia can all but see the bond tugging in his face. To not let this drop, if she might be unhappy.

Celia: “One day alone won’t kill me.”

GM: “We could still sleep together, at the new place. It’d feel really good to have you in my arms.” His face looks genuine enough at that.

Celia: “Sure. I’ll call you later, then. I have some things to finish up here.”

GM: “Okay.” He works out a place to meet her outside Mid-City. “We can have you turn into a cat again, just to be safe.”

Celia: “Perfect.”

GM: “I’m going to see the night doctor to change me back.”

He gives her a kiss and heads off after a last goodbye.

Celia: “He’s gone,” she calls up the stairs once his car pulls away.

GM: “Right,” says Pete. “You have anything to finish up here?”

Celia: “Nothing I can’t handle later.”

GM: He gets into his car with her and drives.

“Beats me why I even care this much,” he mutters. “I helped her once. That was all.”

Celia: “She’s a nice woman who doesn’t deserve terrible things to happen to her,” Celia offers.

“And you’re a nice Kindred.”

GM: “Wouldn’t the world be a nicer place if we could all just be nicer.”

Celia: “Someone tell that to all the other licks.”

GM: “It’s not possible to make vitae inherently less addicting, but I can dilute its strength. Turn it from pure meth to cut meth.”

Celia: “Would that help with her cravings, you think?”

GM: “Maybe. All dope fiends have cravings.”

“But if I had to get someone addicted to heroin, I suppose I’d choose a weaker strain.”

Celia: “She’ll be pleased to hear that, anyway. She was struggling with the idea of being… an addict.” Celia forces the air out of her lungs in a sigh. “Can I tell her you helped, or do you want me to leave it alone?”

GM: The Tremere’s response is as heavy as it is immediate.

“Leave it alone.”

Celia: “I got her to quit the extra dance lessons for that family,” she says, “so she’s… you know, not in danger there, at least.”

GM: “Good,” he grunts. “That was something else to leave alone. Whatever it even was.”

Celia: “Nothing I want to play with.”

GM: “There are… alchemists, they call them, among the thin-bloods. They work with weak, half-ass vitae a lot more than I do. One of them might be able to do more.”

Celia: Maybe the thing in her closet knows about it. Or knows someone who knows someone. She nods.

“I’ll look into it. Flannagan knows a lot about them, I think, because of her… kid.”

GM: Pete’s expression turns immediately sour.

“Her tot-sized serial murderer.”

Celia: “Yeah. That one.”

GM: “Goddamn basket case.”

“But where there’s enough crazy there’s a way.”

Celia: “Hey, Pete?” Celia says after a minute. “I don’t know if you can tell me, but did Dani’s blood turn up anything about who did this to her? Just, you know, while we’re on the subject of… rapists and murderers.”

GM: “If you mean can it trace her sire, thin-bloods’ vitae is notoriously useless at that.”

Celia: “Oh. I didn’t know that.”

GM: “The ties that bind us, sire to childe, don’t exist with them.”

Celia: “I thought that might be too easy, yeah,” Celia says wryly.

GM: “Danielle’s sire could be right in front of her and there’d be no blood pull. It’s the same with Caitiff.”

Celia: “So I’ll have to find him or her the old fashioned way.”

Whatever that is. Maybe Gui has cameras inside his club.

She doesn’t ask about Carolla and Roderick; if Savoy wants her to know, he’ll tell her.

GM: “It’s why the ‘Clan Caine’ rhetoric is a load of nonsense. They aren’t a clan. There’s no glue holding them together like there is with us. They’re a bunch of unrelated people living under the same roof, not a biological family.”

“And yes. You probably will. For all the good it’ll do you.”

Celia: “It might make Dani feel better to know why.” Celia still doesn’t.

“Though I guess ‘it was an accident’ doesn’t do her much good.”

GM: “Or maybe her sire was a vindictive loser who saw a moderately pretty girl and wanted to make her suffer.”

Celia: “Whoever it was raped her and left her in a dumpster when they were done with her. I imagine being able to look him in the eye will at least bring some closure.”

“Even if it doesn’t undo anything.”

GM: “Or her. But I’ll grant that a ‘he’ is more likely.”

Celia: “Awful way to wake up.”

GM: “Looks pretty pampered now, at least.”

Celia: “She’s my friend. Was my friend. Is still, I guess.”

GM: “She’s lucky.”

Celia: “Preston thinks she’s a waste of time and resources. But most people like us do, I guess.”

GM: “There’s worse things to spend time and resources on than friends.”

Celia: “Thanks for being decent to her, anyway.”

GM: Pete grunts.

“Shitty deal. Brother a primogen’s childe.”

Celia: “He was always the golden child. Even when I met them as a breather. Their dad idolized him and not her. Shit hand the whole way through.”

“She was less than pleased to find out about him.”

GM: “I bet. Good disguise you had him in. He didn’t smell like a lick, either.”

Celia: “Shadow dancing trick. Learned it a long time ago. Have a way to pass it on, if you ever need it.”

GM: “I’ll keep in mind.”

Celia: “Going to teach my mom, too. Make sure she can pass. So no one knows. Get her a new face if she’s ever around licks.”

GM: “Smart.”

Celia: “Trying to manage it as best I can. See if I can undo some of Benson’s programming.”

GM: “That’s tricky. Easier to destroy anything than build it back up.”

Celia: “I don’t want to destroy my mom. Someone told me once she’d be a good ghoul, used to serving, but that doesn’t sit right with me.”

“So I’m… figuring it out, you know.”

GM: “Mélissaire told you that.”

Celia: “Ah, yes.”

GM: “She’d have made sure Savoy knew it was her idea, too, if she thought your mom worked out well.”

“I don’t need to say he doesn’t need to know this.”

Celia: “If Mel talked to him after she talked to me…”

GM: “She’d have waited until he could see how your new ghoul panned out, for best results.”

Celia: “Oh. Then as long as he stays out of my head, I guess we’re good.”

GM: “Or the Garrison girl keeps her mouth shut.”

Celia: “She will. She doesn’t have a reason to talk about my mom to someone.”

“And she likes me. I’ve bent over backwards for her to make her feel welcome and comfortable.”

And she’s bonded.

GM: “She have any future beyond as your pet? Things could get messier then.”

Celia: “She wants to be a lawyer.”

GM: Pete grunts.

“Guess we’ll see.”

Celia: “Do you have better ideas for her? Little limited, with the blood.”

GM: “I meant with your mom. If she wants to be a lawyer, I don’t see why not.”

Celia: “Oh.”

“I wanted to kind of keep things normal with us. Emily’s boyfriend is going to teach her how to fence so she’s not a sitting duck. I’m going to teach her shadow dancing. Just in case a lick ever tastes her. She wants to dance again, so I thought I’d use Mel’s idea there.”

GM: “Some combat training seems wise. I’d advise hand-to-hand too. Swords might be the weapon of choice against us, but there are lots of times you won’t have access to one.”

Celia: “I’ll let her know.”

“She keeps saying that she’s weak, that she’s a girl so she can’t do anything.”

Celia sighs.

GM: “Well, there’s a reason most cops and military are men. But girls can learn too.”

Celia: “Sure. Physically, the bodies are different. I don’t disagree there. But she can still be capable.”

“And with the blood… I mean, against other kine it’ll even the playing field.”

GM: “Physically, but also temperament. Among cops, we have two kinds. Herbivores and carnivores. You ever hear of them?”

Celia: “No.”

GM: “Carnivore cops are assertive and confrontational. They’re happy to use force. They practice the most at the shooting range. They’re alert and sharp-eyed on patrol. They accrue more citizen complaints, but have a higher clearance rate of cases. They get into more fights and pick up more injuries, but die less often on the line of duty.”

“Herbivore cops try to avoid confrontation. They’d rather not use force. They do the minimum practice at the range and prefer to use pepper spray. They try not to notice threatening situations they might get involved in. They have lower clearance rates. They get into fewer fights and pick up fewer injuries, but they’re more likely to die on the line of duty. They’re also more likely to rise to the upper ranks, where things get political. Office politics agree with them more.”

“Like in all things, there’s a scale. Few cops fit exclusively into one category. But it’s easy for us to assess each other’s positions on the scale.”

“Lot more women cops are herbivores than men. Call it biology. Call it society. I know more male carnivores either way.”

Celia: “Sure,” Celia agrees. “I can see the logic there. I understand what you mean. We’re different. Biologically, chemically, physically, mentally. We’re raised different ways. But, Pete… the words that come out of her mouth sometimes, you know? The only time I ever saw her show any backbone was when Maxen put me in the hospital. I was bleeding on her in the back seat of the car and she finally had fire again, and it was amazing to see. She’s been through Hell. So many times. And she’s still amazing. And I just want her to see that too.”

“That she’s strong in a different way. Just because she can’t throw a car around doesn’t mean she’s not worth a damn.”

GM: “She’s far from the first abused woman whose kids’ safety finally roused her to do something.”

“I also agree with you. I can’t throw cars around, and I don’t believe you can either.”

Celia: “I haven’t tried,” Celia admits, “but the whole idea of it is very unlikely. Our strengths are elsewhere.”

GM: “Regardless, her learning self-defense can only be good for her. And for you.”

Celia: “Roderick said the elders are prepping for civil war.”

“And that the Quarter is going to see the worst of it.”

GM: “If that happens, he’s probably right.”

Celia: “He’s supposed to teach me, but I can find someone else to teach my mom.”

GM: “There’s lots of options. Find a self-defense class to pick up the basics.”

“Or hell. Bring her in disguise. Establish the fake identity in multiple places.”

Celia: “That’s a solid idea.”

GM: The Evergreen approaches. Pete parks the car.

“Tell me if anything else comes up with her.”

Celia: “Like dinner with Maxen?”

GM: “What?”

Celia: “I had dinner with Maxen. He wants to see her to apologize. I put him off.”

GM: “Apologies and two cents will buy you jack and squat.”

Celia: “Yeah, that’s what Emily said.”

GM: “Your father is a shitbag. The less his family sees of him, the better.”

Celia: It’s not her story to tell, so she doesn’t.

“I’ll keep you in the loop, anyway. Shadow dancing is going to be enough to get her through the day at McGehee, right?”

GM: “Most likely. More than likely. I wouldn’t bother stationing any ghouls, much less soul scrying ghouls, at a girl’s school if I were the prince.”

“And she shouldn’t have to deal with any trying to taste her blood unless she does something stupid.”

Celia: He’s the third person who has said that. It has to be true, right?

GM: “Violating the Second Tradition is easier than we like to make out.”

“Crime clearance rates in the U.S. are pretty dismal, and the smaller the crime, the lower the rate. That’s as true for us as it is for kine.”

Celia: Celia has gotten away with it often enough.

“I’ll take your word for it.”

GM: Another grunt as they get out.

“Look after your mom, kid.”

Celia: He could do it instead, if he wanted. But he doesn’t, and she doesn’t offer. She just nods.

“I will, Pete.”


Tuesday night, 15 March 2016, AM

GM: “I want you to bring Mr. Carolla to the Evergreen, my dear,” says Savoy as the three wait for Fabian to bring up ‘Melton.’

“It’s time we laid the question of his sire to rest once and for all.”

Celia: “Yes, sir. I’m meeting with him on Thursday at 1 AM; does that suit your purpose?”

They have already given her time to change her face so that it won’t be “Jade” that Melton sees.

“Or I can convince him to come to the party Saturday, I’m sure.”

If they want to pull another Melton-bait.

GM: “What does my schedule look like this Thursday, Nat?” asks Savoy.

“Largely full on Thursday, sir. The party, however, poses a convenient pretext,” answers Preston.

“I agree,” says Savoy, before turning to Celia. “All right, my dear. Get him to come here. I want Lebeaux to test his vitae after you taste it, to be doubly sure of things. If he’s Coco’s childe, he’s our best chance to sway Roderick to our side.”

Celia: At least they don’t need to pretend that Celia isn’t going to sleep with him on Thursday. Whoever else was supposed to get a sample must have fallen through.

“Yes, grandsire. I’ll make sure it’s done.”

“The chat with him earlier went as you desired, then?”

GM: “Oh, I haven’t spoken with him, my dear. Merely took a chance on someone else who wasn’t able to rise to the occasion.”

Celia: She tries not to look for the comparison between herself and his other contact. She’s going to make this work.

“My apologies, I wasn’t clear. I meant with Mr. Durant.”

GM: “Ah, yes! Our discussion went excellently, Celia, and it was thanks to you we made it happen,” Savoy beams.

“The seed has been planted.”

“All that’s necessary is some nice weather to help it grow.”

Celia: “Is there anything else I can do to assist, aside from with Mr. Carolla?”

GM: “Mr. Carolla is our next objective now. If he’s Mr. Durant’s broodmate, that’ll be all we need. If he’s not, we’ll try something else.”

Celia: “Yes, sir.”

GM: Savoy glances up. “Ah, and here’s our guest of the hour!”

Several ghouls bearing a staked body. It does not belong to Laura Melton, however, but a perhaps 12-year-old girl.

Celia: …oh god, is that the real her? Did she sleep with a child?

GM: The ghouls set her down on the grass. She’s a pale-skinned nymphet with only the barest beginnings of breasts and delicately coiffed brown hair.

Pic.jpg
Celia: She’s old, though. Or at least she had potent enough blood.

And she thought being turned at 19 was bad.

GM: The ghouls remove the stake at Savoy’s motion and depart.

“Elianna, my dear!” Savoy exclaims with a chuckle. “I suppose that rather clears things up. You don’t know what’s become of the real Laura Melton, do you?”

“Oh, I’ve no idea, Lord Savoy,” smiles the 12-year-old as she sits up. “You could have simply asked me. But I understand why you didn’t.”

Celia: It’s not as if Jade had known. It’s not her fault, right? She’d just been keeping a potential infiltrator from Savoy’s court. She had no idea that he and this Elianna were on a first name basis.

Can they still be friends after this, or is this the sort of thing you can’t forgive someone for? Her eyes slide to Lord Savoy, as if wondering if he’s annoyed that she wasted his time on it.

The girl looks less than upset, anyway. And it’s not as if she knew that Jade turned her in. It could have been anyone. And she saw Jade get staked too.

She should say something.

She’s just not quite sure what.

GM: Her grandsire’s eye meets hers, but his smile doesn’t waver.

“I’m glad you do,” he replies. “My court would rather be safe than sorry.”

“What is your purpose in wearing Laura Melton’s face, Madam Daugherty?” inquires Preston.

“Oh, I’m sure you can guess,” smiles the 12-year-old. “The real Laura wasn’t around, so someone might as well use her face.”

“I suppose someone may as well,” chuckles the French Quarter lord. “And I suppose we indeed can guess! You’ll be sure follow all the rules while you’re borrowing it, my dear?”

“Of course, Lord Savoy. I’ll be a good girl,” Elianna answers, bowing her head and using a device that might be demure if her tongue wasn’t forked. Her too-adult eyes dance with faint mirth.

The Toreador only chuckles harder, though Preston merely goes back to something on her tablet.

“Cat got your tongue?” Elianna asks Jade.

Celia: Forked tongue. Child that wants to hide who she is. Blood she didn’t recognize.

Cat got her tongue? No, the snake did.

“Shame,” Jade finally drawls in a voice that isn’t her own, “I had hoped you could put the Melton matter to rest. I imagine your new lover will be pleased to see you’ve returned.”

GM: “Which one?” smiles the girl.

“Interesting you’re here, though. You must be part of the reason that I am.”

“Do you have any remaining business while you are here, Madam Daughtery?” asks Preston.

“No,” Elianna answers. She inclines her head to the French Quarter lord. “My thanks for your understanding, Lord Savoy.”

Celia: Jade doesn’t deny it, though she hardly offers anything more to go on. She’s just another lick with a stolen face.

GM: “Always a pleasure to have you at the Evergreen, Elianna. Or I suppose Laura,” smiles the Toreador.

Elianna smiles back, her forked tongue briefly tasting the air. Her form shimmers, and then her smile is Laura Melton’s.

“Well done, my dear,” Savoy says to Jade after the ‘Gangrel’ is gone.

“She’s been reminded that nothing happens within these walls that I don’t know.”

Celia: She accepts the words with a dip of her head, gladthat he’s at least not annoyed at the waste of his time.

“Who, ah, who is she? If I can ask..?”

GM: “Her name is Elianna Daughtery.”

“She already heard that, sir.”

“For completeness’ sake,” smiles Savoy. “She’s a Setite, and she’s welcome at the Evergreen.”

Celia: Not-Jade’s lips quirk in amusement at Preston’s interjection.

GM: “I imagine Laura Melton’s face is how she’ll be moving around beyond the Quarter, now.”

“Very economical of her, to take the face of an already disappeared Kindred.”

Celia: “Best way to do it, sir. Slip into someone else’s life. Or Requiem.”

GM: “You seem to have recently assumed my mode of address for Lord Savoy, Miss Kalani. Is there a reason?” inquires Preston.

Celia: Habit, mostly, to pick up what other people say.

“No, Madam Preston. Lord Savoy.”

GM: “You both can call me whatever you please,” says Savoy. “In any case, my dear, the serpents are good friends to make, if you still want to. We can count on them to never take up with Prince Vidal or the Baron. Don’t ever trust them fully, though.” The French Quarter lord chuckles. “Of course, that same advice can be said for any Kindred!”

Celia: “Yes, grandsire.” Jade has her own mode of address for the Lord of the French Quarter. “I will keep that in mind. Thank you.”

Briefly, she asks if he’d like to follow the same sort of normal tactic with Mr. Carolla, and once that has been hashed out she bids the two a good evening.


Tuesday night, 15 March 2016, AM

Celia: The nice thing about New Orleans, Jade has come to realize, is that many of the bars are open 24/7, and liquor is served all time of night. Unfortunately, The Cat’s Meow and Bourbon Heat are not among those who stay open at all hours of the day and night, and it’s a Monday besides. Harder to find a willing vessel she can sneak off to the bathroom or car with, but not impossible. Her domain spans an entire city block; worst case scenario she can break into one of those houses and feed on a sleeping vessel if she needs to.

Or take a hit from her mom.

But she’ll try this first, prowling the streets for any late-night club goers that venture too far into her domain. Or a homeless person; this late she’s not really that picky.

GM: At 4 AM on a Monday night, the clubs are all but dead. But this is New Orleans. Most bars close at 2 or 4, but more than a few never close, or close between 7 AM and 11 AM. People still walk around the street with open containers (“not just allowed, but encouraged!”). Fewer people may take advantage of those hours on a Monday than a weekend, but Jade still winds up arm in arm with two service industry workers getting off their jobs. That’s what that life is. Work hard, party hard, until you’re too old.

Or get out.

But neither seems to expect that.

Emily was lucky.

Celia: They’ll get out of this encounter, at least, tempting though it is to drain the two men dry and leave them nothing but decent-looking corpses to be found by the morning sun. It’s a lot of blood.

Like, a lot of blood.

But she’s not going to kill someone—two someones—when she’d just told Roderick she’s trying to be a better person, when she has seen firsthand what happens when “Jade” comes out too frequently.

She contents herself with drinking from both under the guise of being shared, amused to find the trace hints of liquor in their systems. Someone was naughty at work this evening. It’s enough to make her giggly when the clothes come off, enough to let her relax and enjoy the experience with one in front and one behind. She bleeds herself halfway through to save it for later, either for herself or the juice she promised Pete.

Blood never goes to waste.

When it’s done she leaves them with a final kiss on the cheek, wishes them good night, and heads home to play doctor.

GM: It’s easy to imagine both licks approving of her restraint.

She finds Dani in the dining room hard at work on her own laptop, law textbooks spread out, most of the other boxes still packed. She’s changed into some leggings and a top that look like hers, too.

Celia: The doctor lets herself in, playing the role of “Jade’s trusted doctor friend” when she announces herself to Danielle before approaching.

“Miss Kalani sent me. I am Dr. Dicentra.” Her voice comes out from behind the mask that hides her false face. “She said I am to meet with Miss Garrison and Mrs. Flores.”

GM: “Oh, hi, Dr. Dicentra,” Dani says, rising. “My name’s Danielle. It’s really nice to meet a friend of Miss Kalani’s.”

She doesn’t offer a hand to shake.

“Where would be best for you to work?”

Celia: “Danielle,” the doctor echoes. Dicentra probably doesn’t like thin-bloods more than any other true-blooded lick, but nothing colors her voice. Doctors have the fortune of being neutral in politics and personal matters, she thinks. The mask doesn’t move, though; she could be sneering or smiling and no one would know.

Anyone else would probably tell her she’s wrong. But she’s Jade’s friend.

“A table, couch, or bed will suffice.”

“Though the mark you are to receive is small; you could stay there, if you’d prefer.”

GM: “Okay. Why don’t we do a couch, since you probably won’t want me to move my arms anyway.” Danielle heads to the living room with her, removes her top, and lays down on the couch.

“Can it be anywhere?”

Celia: “It can be.”

GM: “Okay, how about my shoulder blade? I’m studying to be a lawyer and tattoos are a no.”

“Can it look like anything?”

Celia: “Your shoulder blade will suffice, though I will caution you against wearing something that shows off the area. Tank tops. Sleeveless dresses. Swimsuits. And so long as it represents what I am infusing you with, it can look like anything. Shadow dancing. Did Jade explain?”

GM: Dani nods. “Ah, can I not ever show it off? I was mainly worried about what I’d wear to work.”

Celia: “You can show it off. I only meant for your peace of mind regarding visible tattoos.”

GM: “Okay. I’m all right with it on my shoulder. I won’t be showing that off at my job.”

“Would Lady Justice count as representative?”

She gives a short laugh. “Little obvious, but I’ve never thought of getting a tattoo before.”

Celia: “The art of shadow dancing is to blend. To obscure who you are and meld into the shadows. To pass unseen, without a trace, beneath the notice of others. To wear a new mask and become anyone. Explain how Lady Justice fits this idea for you and I will see it done.”

GM: “Because this is what I have to do still live the life I want,” Dani answers, resolutely. “The… Camarilla’s existing legal institutions are not equitable, and do not protect my life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. To receive justice, I must hide.”

Celia: Dicentra considers the explanation. Finally, she nods.

“As you will.”

GM: “Maybe work Lady Justice wearing a hood, too?”

Celia: “Lady Justice is blind,” Dicentra says slowly, “but for this, I think, she will need her eyes to see the injustice of your situation so that she might harbor you from those who wish you ill. A hood to conceal her face, as this conceals yours. Very well, Danielle.”

GM: Dani shakes her head. “Justice needs to be blind, or she’s not just.”

“Maybe she’ll take longer to get where she needs. But she’ll get there.”

Celia: It’s not her body. Dicentra doesn’t push the issue. She tells Dani that there will be pain and then begins her work.

Tattoos are nothing more than ink injected beneath the epidermis and into the dermis itself. Dicentra has done this sort of work before; most recently with Roderick Durant, who had, surprisingly, not requested a similar sort of “justice” motif for his mark.

A tattoo artist’s machine can pierce the skin up to three-thousand times per minute to deliver the ink beneath the skin. Dicentra is no machine, but the gifts of Caine serve her well this evening. She breaks the skin over and over and over again to deliver the pigment as needed, etching out the shape of a hooded lady justice. A second pass fills it in with color or black ink as Dani requests. Red is a popular color, though Dicentra often warns her clients that it is not so common among the kine and will stick out to others.

Dicentra does not provide half-baked work. When it’s done, the tattoo looks freshly healed; there will be no peeling like the kine have, no lotion that needs be applied. Just smooth skin now illustrated by the chosen image.

GM: Dani gives a hissed sound of pain at first and clenches a cushion, but it’s not too bad. The shoulders have few nerve endings and Dicentra does quick work.

Dani asks her about herself as she works. Has she been doing this for long? How does she know Jade?

Celia: The lies come easily. Dicentra is happy to distract her client with chatter.

She has been offering body modifications for a very long time. She does everything from facial reconstruction to unwanted parts removal (she has had a number of trans clients, she explains) to smoothing things over for Kindred who no longer want to deal with the nightly hassle of shaving or cutting their hair.

“We don’t all die as we wish to.”

She says that she met Jade at the beginning of the lick’s Requiem. The lick caught her eye at a Toreador guild function; while another of the clan rolled their eyes at her playing with foundation and blush, Dicentra saw potential. She took Jade under her wing and has served as a mentor of sorts, though they have since become fast friends.

There are other services she provides. Almost anything with the body, such as the mask that Jade has commissioned for Danielle. It is not yet ready; Dicentra wanted to speak to Danielle personally to suss out what sort of appearance she would like.

GM: Danielle is very interested to hear all of that and has many questions, both about Kindred physiology and the night doctor’s relationship to Jade.

“I’m happy you were there for her. She’s been a mentor for me, too.”

“Hm, I’m not picky, beyond ‘not ugly,’” says Dani at the question of how her mask should look. “Of all that’s changing is my face, right? Maybe something that goes well with a longer, darker wig.”

Celia: “I can work within those parameters. It will be delivered shortly. And yes, she said as much.”

Dicentra finally pulls away and offers Danielle a hand mirror so she can check it out in the bathroom.

GM: “It looks wonderful!” Danielle exclaims with a smile. “Thank you so much!”

“Can I hug you? I’ve heard that shaking hands is a no, so…”

Celia: She’s accepted more intimate forms of gratitude. She allows Danielle to hug her; she doesn’t even pretend that it bothers her, letting the thin-blood thing remain just another far-off problem for the girl.

“She told me about your situation,” Dicentra says once it ends.

GM: Danielle gives her a grateful squeeze.

“Then I guess you know how thankful I am. This’ll let me still become a lawyer.”

Celia: “I am happy to be of service. Should you require further services, Jade can contact me.”

“Will you send Mrs. Flores down?”

GM: She nods. “Of course. Be a sec.”

Dani disappears, then returns with a somewhat frumpy-looking Diana who hasn’t had time to shower or do her hair and face, though she’s changed into a blouse and skirt. She smiles when she sees Dicentra and attempts to greet her with a hug.

“Thank you so much for comin’ so late, doctor!”

Celia: It would be rude of her to turn the woman away when she just accepted a hug from Danielle. She hugs Diana in greeting.

“Good evening, Mrs. Flores.” She offers the same sort of introduction that she had given Dani, though she does not mention the name “Jade.”

GM: Diana takes that all in with a nod.

“It’s very nice to meet you, doctor. Can we get you anything to drink or munch on while you’re here?”

Celia: The doctor laughs.

“Unless you are offering to replace the juice I will spend working on you, I believe I will decline.”

GM: Diana looks thoughtful. “That seems only fair, if you’re workin’-”

“Was, ah, that not paid for?” Dani asks, seeming to notice Jade’s name not coming up.

Celia: “She and I have an arrangement,” Dicentra tells Danielle, “though it does not include blood.” Amused, she turns back to Diana. “Most licks will not turn down the offer.”

GM: “Okay, so it’s only polite?” Diana nods. “Well, why don’t we-”

“I don’t think you need to,” says Dani.

Celia: Dicentra inclines her head toward Danielle.

“She is correct, Mrs. Flores.”

GM: “Well, all right. But just let me know if you get hungry, you are helping us out.”

Celia: “We are always hungry.”

GM: “I think she’ll be fine, too,” says Dani.

“Well, I’m sorry. That doesn’t sound too fun.” Diana looks sympathetic.

Celia: “Did she not explain that to you?”

GM: “Oh, she did. It’s just somethin’ else to hear from someone else, you know?”

The trio make their way to the couch in short enough order, Dani and Dicentra explaining what to expect. Diana nods, removes her blouse, and lays down.

“Oh, gosh, what to ask for… this seems so naughty, gettin’ a tattoo. So… rebellious.

“Let’s maybe do it on my back, so my kids don’t get any ideas?”

Celia: “That will be a good spot for it. Do you know what sort of mark you would like? It is meant to represent shadow dancing. Perhaps a pair of ballet shoes? She tells me you are a dancer.”

GM: Diana nods. “That’s just what I was thinkin’! A pair of pointe shoes, a ballerina, or maybe a flower. I can’t decide.”

“How well does a flower represent shadow dancing, you think?” asks Dani.

“Hm, I suppose not so well,” says Diana. “It was for my name. But I’d be happy with pointe shoes or a ballerina.”

Celia: “If you would like a flower, we can make a flower. There are some that bloom at night: the moonflower, the night phlox, the angel’s trumpet. Or perhaps, should you be able to look past the name, the Hellebore. Unlike most florals, they can bloom in the middle of winter when other plants still shake beneath the soil. They are hardy things, able to survive weather that would kill the more delicate species, root and stem. Though pretty, they protect themselves well; even animals will not eat from their leaves.”

Dicentra gives Diana a long look.

“It is also called the Christmas rose, and has a home in Greek mythology. It was thought to cure madness.”

GM: “Oh, now that is inspiring…” Diana murmurs. “Hm, how about we do both? A hellebore, with the silhouette of a ballerina with her arms raised in the center? Or maybe the hellebore for her tutu?”

Celia: “That would be fitting. I can do either.”

GM: “Okay. Let’s do… oh,” she chuckles, “it’s hard to decide.”

Celia: “It can be both, Mrs. Flores. Tattoos are deeply personal things that can have plenty of meaning. I can build an entire bouquet for you with the ballerina.”

GM: “Oh, perfect, then! But would it be a very big tattoo? I don’t want it to take up too much of my back, when my kids see me at the beach or pool.”

Celia: “It will be small enough to conceal, Mrs. Flores.”

GM: “Okay, that sounds like a winner, then. Ballerina bouquet!”

“Ballerina bouquet,” Dani repeats, smiling.

Diana gives a little laugh. “This feels just so rebellious, a tattoo…”

Celia: Before she begins, she takes a moment to heat the blood she had reserved. She is not yet close to the edge, but she is too close to risk around a house full of sleeping potential victims.

She takes one draught, just enough to slake the beginnings of hunger, and saves the rest for later.

Then her work begins. As before, her fingers blur across the surface of the skin, using a needle to pierce the flesh to deposit tiny dots of pigment across Diana’s back. She puts the mark in a small, easy to conceal spot near the small of her back, close to where the line of her panties would ordinarily rest. It will be concealed by anything the woman wears, but will be enough to protect her.

Dicentra builds the story of the ballerina into her work. The hellebore takes center stage as the outline and the ballerina’s skirt, but the other flowers have a place as well: the rose of her daughter’s clan, the aforementioned moonflower, the angel’s trumpet that also blooms at night. The ballerina stands en pointe in the center of the image, one leg lifted as if at any moment she will leap off the skin. Her arms form a perfect circle above her head, where more tiny petals have been placed.

GM: Diana whimpers under the needle’s prick, at first, but the lower back has few nerve endings and Dani holds her hand. Dani takes a picture of the tattoo with her phone so she can see the final result.

“Oh my goodness…” she murmurs when she sees it. “This is just, this is just absolutely gorgeous! She looks like she’s about to jump right off my skin… and a good thing, too, I want to ask if I can borrow that fabulous costume!”

“You do beautiful work, Dr. Dicentra, thank you so much!” she exclaims, hugging the leather-clad doctor.

Celia: Dicentra accepts the second hug from Diana, smiling beneath her mask. Her Beast had not even minded the work.

“You are very welcome, Mrs. Flores. I am happy to be of assistance with this. This should flavor both of your blood to taste mortal so that those like me, or those with our gifts, cannot pick up on you.”

“There is one more thing I have been asked to pass along to you both.”

GM: “Perfect,” Diana nods. “Practical and pretty! I’ll give your business five stars over Yelp,” she winks.

“What’s that, in any case?”

Celia: Dicentra laughs at Diana’s words. If only there were a Yelp for vampire services. Perhaps someone will create one to keep their kind honest.

She can imagine the sort of horror stories that would appear on there.

“Earlier this evening the memories of your status were removed from the ghouls in the home. Danielle was allowed to keep hers at Miss Kalani’s behest. She is tied up this evening and will not be home to tell you, but asked me to pass it along.”

GM: “Oh. Okay,” Diana says. She looks more bummed not to see Celia than anything else. “Lips zipped around them all, in that case?”

Celia: “Yes, Mrs. Flores. She will be around tomorrow to touch base. I believe that you can return home soon.”

GM: “Maybe that’ll make Reggie hit on you less,” Dani mutters.

“Ugh.” Diana pulls a face, then turns back to the night doctor. “Did she say it’d be okay for me to go into work today?”

Celia: “Yes. You are free to return to work.”

GM: “Wonderful. Thanks so much for lettin’ us know, I’m sure you have lots of clients and things you’d rather do than play messenger.”

Celia: Briefly, Dicentra explains how the tattoos work to conceal what they are, and how the women must “activate” them.

But she shakes her head at Diana’s words.

“I was coming here regardless, and these sorts of messages cannot be conveyed electronically.”

GM: Both of them listen attentively and ask a few questions, then repeat their thanks that they can go back to their lives.

Celia: “Should you need anything in the future, she can contact me.”

GM: “Ah, speakin’ of… I’m sure she already asked, so maybe its’s silly of me to, but can you do anything for old injuries? I have this bum leg…”

Celia: “We have spoken of it. Yes and no. My work does not go bone deep, but I can can fix the scar tissue.” Dicentra nods toward Diana’s cut arm, then holds out a hand. “There, for example.” She’s glad she saw it; she had almost forgotten.

“I have colleagues who can do bone work. I plan to soon learn; there are few of us who do these sorts of things with the bodies, and teachers often jealously guard their secrets. I have put her in contact with one of them to see about the leg. Unless you wish me to remove the bone and replace it with something else entirely.”

GM: Diana offers her arm so the doctor can take a closer look.

“Oh. That sounds a little scary,” she murmurs. “Maybe see what you hear back from your colleagues. I’ve had it 13 years, I can have it a lil’ longer. Thank you so much for all you’ve done, again.”

“Yes, thank you so much,” Dani repeats. “I don’t know if you’ll ever need anything from us, but if you do…”

Celia: A pass of her hands removes the scar from the tissue. It looks as if she had never cut herself. Her blood sings inside her body; the girl beneath the mask is pleased that she can finally offer the service to her mother, regardless of what face she wears.

How can she be a monster when her very actions show her to be a healer?

“Keep yourselves safe. I know how much she cares for both of you.”

GM: “Oh, that looks wonderful, doctor! It’s just, all gone! Thank you so much!” Diana exclaims.

She gives Dicentra another hug.

“You keep yourself safe. She says how rough the whole… Camarilla is, but you’re a good person, I can tell.”

“And I’ll echo what Dani said, you ever need us, just give a holler!”

Celia: It’s difficult not to slip in the face of such love, but Dicentra plays the role that she has cast for herself. She hugs both of the women again and thanks them for their well-wishes, saying that “you never know when you need a friend.”

If they have no further questions, she takes her leave back into the night, a little lighter than when she had seen it last.


Tuesday night, 15 March 2016, AM

Celia: A gray cat sits on the side of the road near Mid-City, licking a paw and stroking its face and whiskers. Its color keeps it almost invisible to the predators in the night, and a trick with shadows and auras occludes it from another sort of predator.

The cat flicks its tail as it waits.

It had almost not come to this spot. It had almost allowed the girl to call the boy and cancel; the cat remembers what had happened the last time it had spent the day. But the idea of loose hunters and the boy sleeping alone, without the cat to defend it and slaughter the birds that might come for it to steal it away, does not sit well with the cat. The boy belongs to it. And it has not yet found the rat.

The girl, too, has her own reasons for coming. She’s rather fond of her tongue. She doesn’t like the idea of living in chains. She’s curious, like her counterpart, about a whole host of details that she can get to the bottom of with a simple conversation.

So the cat sits on the side of the road, cleaning its paws and flicking its tail. It waits for its boy.

GM: That cat doesn’t wait long.

The boy’s car pulls up. The boy gets out. He’s got a cat bag in hand. One of those more comfortable, less claustrophobic kitty carriers.

“Hey, puss,” he smiles, kneeling down to scratch the cat’s ears.

Celia: It might be less claustrophobic, but the cat does not like the idea of a carrier at all. The cat is a spoiled thing; it likes laps and wants its boy to be close.

The cat purrs once the boy touches it, arching its back and winding around his feet the way cats do. It rubs its face against his fingers, marking him as belonging to it.

GM: The boy laughs, pets the cat’s back, and moves is face closer as he scratches both sides of its neck, just under the whiskers.

“Hey, puss,” he coos again.

Celia: The cat’s eyes close in contentment. Cats do not have the same sort of blink reflex that humans do, and this cat, who was once a Kindred and before that a woman, does not feel its loss. But cats communicate through their eyes just as much as any other animal; the slow, languid blink now conveys its affection for the boy. It purrs again, its body vibrating, and leans in to touch its nose to the boy’s.

GM: He smiles as he accepts the kitty kiss, then pulls the cat against his chest. He nuzzles the back on its head with his chin, strokes the hair leading from its own chin to its chest. His other hand starts to scratch the belly.

“You’re very affectionate.”

Celia: Cats are very affectionate.

And the girl is very affectionate.

Together they’re a cuddle monster.

The cat meows at its boy, as if in agreement, and its body turns to liquid in the boy’s arms as the belly rubs begin. The boy can feel the depths of its affection in the way it purrs. It blinks again, one slow movement.

This, it thinks, is the life.

GM: “I could do this forever,” he smiles, his hands scratching back and forth across the belly. Back and forth.

“But the sun’s coming up soon, puss. How about we continue this back at my place, on a nice soft bed?”

He opens the cloth carrier and sets it in front of the cat.

Celia: The cat meows at the carrier, a plaintive, wheedling sound. It turns its face away.

GM: “It’s really comfy,” says the boy, scratching its head. “It’s not like most carriers, hard and plastic. This one is like being in a cardboard box.”

“You love boxes, don’t you?”

Celia: Cats like boxes, that’s true.

But the girl likes laps more.

It doesn’t want to be shut in a box. It darts behind the boy’s legs, as if that will keep it safe from the carrier.

GM: He turns around and pets down the cat’s back some more. “Other option is you sit on my lap when I’m driving.”

Celia: Oh no.

The horror.

Not the lap.

These are the things the cat would say, if it could. It’s sassy like that.

But it doesn’t make human sounds, so it purrs instead.

GM: “All right,” he chuckles. “Come on.” He hoists the carrier’s strap over his shoulder, picks up the cat, and holds it against his chest as he opens the car door. He gets in and sets the cat down on his lap, closes the door, and takes the wheel.

Celia: The cat takes its time making itself comfortable. It kneads his lap with its paws, turns around three times, and finally settles. It rubs its face against the boy’s belly while he drives.

GM: He smiles and pets the cat with one hand, keeping the other on the wheel. They drive to an apartment complex in Mid-City called the Crescent Club. It’s a nice building with an outdoor pool that looks a lot like The Preserve did. Gentrifying. He parks the car and gets out with the cat cradles in both arms, empty carrier strapped over his back.

“You’re so spoiled.”

He rubs his chin against its head.

“You need a name.”

Celia: It meows in agreement.

GM: “Maybe Smokey?”

Celia: The cat flicks its tail.

GM: “Smokey it is.” He rubs its head again.

Celia: The cat thinks the boy is not very good at cat language. It does not love the name Smokey.

GM: “Smokey, for your gray fur.”

Celia: The cat bops its boy on the nose with its paw.

GM: “Okay, that’s a no, then,” he smiles.

“Luna, for the moon? That’s gray too. And you’re pretty nocturnal.”

Celia: Luna is nice. The cat purrs.

GM: “Luna. Okay. It’s good to give you a name, Luna,” he says, planting a kiss on its head.

Celia: Luna rubs its cheek on the boy’s face and chin as he carries it inside.

GM: He takes the elevator up and unlocks his unit. It’s a nice and tastefully furnished space. Already completely unpacked with all of the things from his old apartment. Celia might suppose it’s no surprise he’d be done fast.

But what does Luna care.

Celia: Luna heard mention of a soft bed.

GM: He sets down the carrier when they’re inside, takes off his shoes (without his hands), and carries the cat to the soft double-sized bed.

“See, isn’t that a big fluffy comforter?”

He takes off his coat and clothes, stripping down to his boxers.

“Being dead has some perks. Don’t need to do the laundry as often.”

Celia: Luna’s little feet do not make a sound when they touch down on the soft comforter on the bed. It rolls around on the space, frolicking as cats do, and only pauses to watch the boy disrobe. The girl inside wonders if the boy would like her to come out, but he seems as if he might need the affection of a cat more than the demands of a girl, and so she stays inside. Luna meows at his mention of laundry, evidently amused at the thought.

When he comes near Luna rubs itself against his bare chest, purring all the while, and finally settles on his chest. Most cats sleep on their people because they like the rhythm of the heartbeat and the slow, steady breaths that they take, but Luna knows the boy is dead. It just wants to be close to him. It rubs its face against his chin.

GM: Roderick smiles and strokes Luna’s head. Pet-pet-pet goes the boy’s hand, from behind the cat’s ears to down across its back.

“Doesn’t have the same security as my old place, yet, but extra thick shades and drapes over the windows there.”

Celia: Luna meows at the boy, as if asking why he needs the security if the place is temporary. It seems content to remain a cat if he’s content talking to himself.

GM: “So I won’t be caught with my pants down if something happens,” he answers with a chuckle, stroking the cat. “Hope for the best but prepare for the worst, and all that.”

Celia: The cat purrs. It obviously accepts that answer. It uses its rough tongue to lick his chin, then rubs against him once more.

Luna likes being his pet.

Maybe the vision was a metaphor.

GM: Maybe the girl can stop it from coming to pass.

Maybe the Ravnos was full of shit anyway.

Maybe this will all work out.

Maybe.


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Story Thirteen, Genevieve III, Sterling III

“Say you’re sorry, Brittney."
Genevieve Ellison


Wednesday, 17 April 2013, PM

Sterling: It is a week later, to the minute. The Man with the Silver Smile has many flaws, but unpunctuality is not one of them.

There are three short knocks at her door.

Genevieve: Gen has to move Ash out of the way with her foot before she can open it. The puppy huffs at her and sits on his haunches, and she reaches for the door, unsure of what to expect on the other side.

Sterling: It’s Sterling. And he’s brought… her. Glassy-eyed and oblivious behind him.

“Ah, Madam Genevieve,” he says, bowing and flourishing the cane that she knows by now holds a sword. “May we enter?”

Genevieve: Gen steps backwards, away from the door. A vague gesture of her arm welcomes the two them into her home.

Brittney. Fucking. Mitchell.

She looks the same, if that’s possible. How is that possible, even? Gen hasn’t seen her in years. She had stopped aging, though. Brittney just looks… plastic. Her pencil straight black hair is going gray at the roots, which means she’s due for a touch up soon, but the rest of her looks like it has seen the sharp side of a surgeon’s knife. Short, sculpted, pretty in a vacant sort of way. Though that might just be the look in her eyes, Gen notes.

Not that it’s any different than it was in high school.

Her tan is real. She’s got that going for her.

“What?” Gen looks at Sterling.

Sterling: “Up to you,” he says happily, and closes the door.

“Brittney, go sit on the couch.”

She does so with slow, plodding steps.

“Remind me what it was she did to you again? All the things she did to you?”

Genevieve: “You ever see those movies about girls in high school? You know the kind. New girl, befriended by mean girl, mean girl turns out to be mean girl, fake surprise twist.” Gen’s voice is calm, even.

“It wasn’t like that. She was my friend. Yeah, she sat next to me on a dare, but then we were… friends.”

Something twists inside of her.

“Until we weren’t. Third through eighth grade we were inseparable. Did everything together. I was in gymnastics, so she wanted to be in gymnastics. She was good. I was better,” Gen’s eyes flick toward Sterling, “but she was good. That wasn’t good enough for her, though. She didn’t like coming in second. There was another girl, Brittany. They thought they were so cute together with their matching names. They had it out for me. But this one,” Gen jerks her chin at Brittney, “she was the little ringleader. Started telling people all about me. Adopted. Unloved. Alien. White pussy. Told people my mom slept with the coach and that’s how we afforded lessons. That I slept with the coach so that’s how we afforded lessons. That I was so good on the beam because I was used to thick things between my legs.”

Her smile lacks humor. She’s never been this cold before.

“None of that really bothered me, you know. People always talked. Albino. Freak. Alien.” She shrugs. “What bothered me was the pranks. Itching powder in the chalk. Cutting up my leotards so they split during vault. Embarrassing things, really. Until they weren’t.”

She levels her gaze at Sterling.

“Did I tell you what prevented me from going to the Olympics? Because I should have, you know. I was good. Very good. People think I just didn’t make the cut. But that wasn’t the case, was it, Brit? I did make the cut. Right here.” She holds out her hand. There’s a very faint, thin scar that starts at her wrist and extends halfway down her forearm. “Palmaris longus. There’s not a lot of them on this side, so when you cut one it hurts. It hurts real bad.”
Genevieve: “There’s not a lot you do for wrist injuries. Ice. Rest. But who has time to rest with the Olympics coming, right? And all of our events include wrist mobility: vault, floor, uneven bars, beam. There’s no getting away from it. But when you can’t hyperextend your hand?”

There’s another slow shake of her head.

“That was it. Years of work. Ruined. She didn’t even compete, either, because she didn’t make the team. ‘Lacks imagination.’ ’Doesn’t stick her landings.’”

Sterling: “Sounds like you have some thoughts,” Sterling says mildly.

Genevieve: “I mean, really, maybe I should thank her. Wouldn’t have gone to UCLA without her. Wouldn’t have met Michael. Wouldn’t be here, now. Right?” She makes a sound. It might be a laugh.

Sterling: He looks to Brittney, and crosses to her in a few quick strides. He crouches and looks into the woman’s vacant eyes.

”Obey all commands beginning with your name. Wake up.”

The woman’s eyes open. She blinks. “What the fuck?”

Sterling: Sterling looks back at Genevieve. “Your ball, my conscience.”

Genevieve: She fantasized about this day for a long time. Every time she had to squeeze that stupid ball in the doctor’s office she imagined it was Brittney’s throat. Every hour she spent doing mobility and wrist exercises instead of practicing at the gym it dug a little deeper. For years she carried around that rage and hatred. The entire year of ’92, and then again in ’96, she dreaded listening to and watching the coverage.

“Isn’t that supposed to be you?” people would say when the gymnastic events began.

That knife had dug deep. Both of them, the one in her wrist and the one that twisted in her gut every time she had to hear something about the girls who had gone on. In the gym there was no escaping it. At school there was no escaping it. And there was Brittney. Always. Taunting. At school, at the gym, everywhere.

Like here, now, in the home that’s supposed to be hers. That’s supposed to be safe from things like this, from memories like these. The anger she thought she’d feel is… missing. Flat.

“As your conscience,” Gen says slowly, “I must advise you that this feels distinctly vengeful.”

Sterling: “It is,” he agrees cheerily. “Distinctly. Vengeance gets a bad rap, you know. It’s rather thirst-quenching.” He blinks. “Although, to be fair, that might only be when you’re drinking them.”

“What the fuck?” Brittney asks, louder. “Who—“ her eyes meet Gen’s. “G-genny?”

Genevieve: “Oh good, you remember me.” Gen smiles a little broken smile at the woman. Then she jerks the sleeve of her shirt back, thrusting her arm with its scar beneath her nose. “Do you remember this?”

Brittney’s eyes are wide. She shakes her head back and forth, lifts her hands as if to ward off the two of them.

“It was a joke, it was just supposed to be a joke, you weren’t supposed to get hurt—”

“You twisted the knife! What sort of joke is that? You had him hold me down and you dug it in there—”

She’s cut off by the sound of Brittney’s laughter.

“So what? So what? Did you think you had a chance at anything? That anyone saw you as more than a freak? You think the United States wanted your pasty ass representing them? You’re nothing. You’re an embarrassment. You’re—”

Gen’s fist takes her in the face. Brittney topples backwards and Gen is on her in an instant, furniture knocked aside as the two women roll around on the floor. The bitch is no match for the ghoul, though. She’s bigger and stronger besides. Soon Brittney is flat on her back while Gen unleashes on her from above. Both of them are screaming.

There’s nothing pretty about it.

Sterling: Maybe he should step in.

Nah.

He scoops up Ash before the pooch can scurry away from him and tickles the canine’s belly. “Shh. Sorry I was in a bad mood last week.”

Meanwhile, Brittney’s spitting blood. “What the fuck! What is this! You freaky albino bitch, I’ll get you arrested for this, my brother-in-law’s a cop, you stupid cun—“

Genevieve: Gen knows how to throw a punch to make it hurt. Brittney’s nose flattens with a crunch before she can finish the word, and anything after that is lost in a nasal whine. Teeth fly out of her mouth on the next blow. Gen’s knuckles are bloody by the time she rolls off of her and to her feet.

“Get up.” The girl just groans. She doesn’t move. There’s still some fire in her eyes, though, and Gen has a cure for that. “Brittney, get up.”

Sterling: Brittney gets up, eyes full of hatred.

And fear.

Genevieve: Convenient trick. Gen is going to have to ask Sterling to teach it to her.

But she isn’t interested in the slow shuffle of a woman following commands. Her hands fist through that long, black hair and she drags the bitch into the kitchen. Tells her to stand in front of the stove. Gen leans forward and flips one of the knobs to the side. The igniter clicks three times before the gas lights, blue fire wooshing to life.

“Say you’re sorry, Brittney.”

There’s no supernatural command there.

Sterling: “Wha’ da FUCK?!” Brittney squeals.

“Ooh, that didn’t sound like sorry,” chimes in Sterling. Ash is happily nibbling on his wrist and slurping at the stuff coming out.

Sterling: “Ah’m sorry! Ah’m SORRY!”

Genevieve: “Doesn’t really sound like you mean it, Brit. Tell you what. Why don’t you pick one? Your hands or your face.”

Sterling: Sterling whistles. The choice. She really has been paying attention.

“Wha—wha, ‘oo bitch! ‘Oo BITCH!”

Genevieve: “I can pick for you. Brittney, hold your hands over the fire. Just until you feel the heat. Then you’re gonna move it down every time I tell you to, how’s that?” Gen smiles. It’s a pretty smile. Shows all her teeth, something Brittney lacks now.

“What did you do after high school, Brit? Go off to college? Stick with gymnastics? You didn’t. You know how I know you didn’t? Because I looked you up. You only ever did it because I did it, isn’t that right? We did everything together. Brittney, put your hands closer to the fire. You feel that heat? Did you know,” she says slowly, “that it takes seven seconds for human skin to catch on fire? One hundred and forty degrees for fat to start melting. How much work did you have done, Brit? I think you’ve missed a spot. I could take care of that for you.”

Genevieve: “So I guess,” Gen continues conversationally while the woman squirms, “I guess I kind of want to know why you thought it was okay to mess up me when it wasn’t even something you went after anyway. Because that just seems like a waste. That seem like a waste to you, Brit?”

The only answer is a shriek.

“Huh. No. That doesn’t sound right.”

Genevieve: “Brittney, tell me, does that seem like a waste?”

Sterling: “How do you think she learned all that, Ash?” Sterling coos. “She’s very smart. And you’re a very thirsty dog. Yes, you are. Yes you are.”

“Puh-PLEASE!” Brittney screams. “Ah’m sorry! Ah’m SORRY!”

But she puts her hands closer to the fire. When the heat gets more intense, she tries to move them away. But it’s easy to hold her there.

Genevieve: “Huh. Doesn’t sound right. Brittney, put your hands a little closer. Why don’t you just touch the grate, actually. Dip your hand in, we’ll see if that seven seconds thing is really true. Touch it and you’re free, Brit.”

“If you don’t, Brit, I’m going to hold your face over the fire. Eyelid skin is the thinnest skin. That’ll melt. Your eyeballs will turn to goo, then just drip out of your head. I guess it won’t matter what the rest of your face looks like since you won’t be able to see it. But hey, if we walk down the street together maybe they’ll stare at you for a change. What do you think, Brittney? Think they’ll call you freak?”

That smile has turned manic. She grips Brittney by the hair, turns her face around so she can look into her eyes.

“Think of what a waste that would be.”

There’s a final act of defiance. A final curse slung at her from Brittney. Good thing it’s a single syllable, because that’s all the girl has time for. Gen lets go of her hair. She grabs the wrist instead and forces it down into the fire. Skin sizzles, blisters, and melts. Brittney screams. She struggles backwards and Gen lets her go, watching the girl cry on the ground. Her right hand is a twisted mass of crackled, red skin. The smell is the worst of it. Acrid. Pungent.

Gen’s hand is burned too, red and raw and glistening. She reaches out with the other one to turn off the stove to hide the grimace. She takes a breath to gather herself, then turns to find Sterling.

“Get her out of my house.”

Sterling: He does, but it takes a while. He shoos Ash away and talks to Brittney for a while. He explains how she was walking home from work, when she was assaulted by a homeless man in an alley. He had a lighter and a jar of gasoline and he held her down while she screamed. His teeth were yellowed and cracked. But nobody came. Her hand burnt. She must have run to the hospital in shock, when it was all over.

”Go there now,” he says, and she goes, her ruined hand hanging limp and loose.

It takes a while. He’s very thorough with the details.

When she’s gone, though, the smell still lingers.

He turns those dollar-green eyes to Gen.

“So you did learn something, in the years he kept you.”

Genevieve: She does not listen to him in the other room. She does not hear what he says, does not think about what she just did to the woman who, so long ago, ruined her life.

Maybe she thought he would fix it before he sent her on her way. Maybe she thought she would have time to run her hand beneath the lukewarm water—not cold, she had learned that lesson—before he returned.

Now her hand is burning at her side, and it is with every bit of concentration and focus that she does not look at it, that she meets his eyes instead. Is that judgement in his voice? She lifts her chin, defiant.

“I would be a poor student if I had not.”

Sterling: “And you are anything but that, Gen,” he says. “I’m impressed, further. Morality costs nothing from people who do not know the taste of sin. That you’re such a good conscience speaks to your strength of character. Or perhaps your flexibility.”

Genevieve: “The world isn’t black and white, as much as some wish it were so.”

Her hand throbs. She looks down at it.

“It had a price.”

Sterling: “It always does,” Sterling says. “Except in a wager, if course.”

“Are you going to tell me what a wicked thing I’ve done, tonight? Tempting my own conscience so?”

Genevieve: “It was,” she tells him, “it was a wicked thing to do. To bring her into my home. To tell me to let go, to do what I wanted.” Someone else might be shaken by these events. But Gen just looks at him, expression cool.

“Thank you. For the satisfaction.”

She holds out her hand. Her mangled, burned fingers. They had caught the edge of the flame. Nowhere near as bad as Brittney’s, but still red, raw, weeping. It hurts. Her fingers tremble. Her whole arm shakes.

“Have I earned a drink?”

Sterling: “You tell me, O Captain of my Soul.”

Genevieve: “Do you want that third step?” She regards him with head slightly tilted. “Do you want me to be bound to you? Obsessed? Unable to get you out of my mind? Do you think I am, perhaps, not already there?”

It scares her, that thought. Being completely beholden to him. She’s been there before. He’d seen here there before. A puddle of uselessness while they waited for it to fade from him, the other, the one whose name she doesn’t even think now.

“I don’t think you do,” she answers for him. “I think you like that I have my own will, to be honest. If I’m tied so tightly around you, how will you know if what I say is the truth or if it’s just what you want to hear?”

Sterling: He inclines his head. “I want my conscience honest, and grateful, and safe from poachers,” he says. “The bond would supply two, but not all three. And yet, I wonder if you want me as your domitor enough to only be half-bound. Rather a risk, I suppose.”

Genevieve: “You mean you can’t see the answer inside my head?”

Sterling: “I don’t read your mind all the time, Gen. The same reason I let you wear clothes most of the time.”

“Even though you look delicious without them.”

Genevieve: Some of that heat moves from her hand to her face.

“Then you’re not in there now? You don’t see what I’m thinking?”

What she’s remembering. His hand up her skirt. His lips on her neck. The delicate shudder that runs down her body at the memory.

Sterling: “Mmm,” he purrs. “Well, you know what they say about inviting my kind in. Would you like an encore, tonight? One that doesn’t end in cheating?”

Genevieve: “I can hardly cheat with fingers melted together.”

Sterling: “Then let’s fix that.” He tears open his wrist with his fangs, lets the vitae spill out over his shoes, the floor. “You don’t mind getting on your knees for me, do you?”

Genevieve: Her eyes shut for a brief moment. There are glasses in the kitchen. But this is hardly the first time he has done this to her, and she swallows whatever pride she has left. She drops to her knees in front of him, then lower, onto her stomach, to lick the vitae from the floor. As soon as it touches her tongue she forgets what it was she was so upset about in the first place. There’s not a drop that goes to waste, not a single platelet that she doesn’t lap up from the floor… and then his shoes. Her lips and tongue suck and slurp and lick until they’re clean, until it’s gone, and when she looks up at him again her mouth is bereft of any trace of it.

Her hand is fixed, healthy and whole, but Gen remains on her knees. This is where he put her.

Sterling: “Good conscience,” Sterling coos. “Sweet conscience. I don’t want to humiliate you, you know. You’re just so pretty down there.”

He pets her head, like she might Ash.

“Now, I think you’ve earned a treat. Would you like me to finish what I started, Gen? Or would that be immoral? To play with you the way I’d like to, even if you’d like it too?”

Genevieve: There’s something soothing in the way he speaks to her, even when it’s like a dog. Any shame she might have felt at being on her knees is gone. He didn’t have to beat it out of her; he just had to show her that she likes it down here.

“Is it?” she asks. “What you want? Or would it be a pity thing?”

Sterling: “Am I a monster moved by pity, Gen? You know me well enough by now. I am sentimental, but I appreciate beautiful things. And you are a beautiful thing.” He touches his fingers to her chin. “Follow me. I’ll show you.”

There’s a mirror in her apartment. Maybe it doesn’t see much use, but even a freak like her wants to check her appearance every once in a while. Sterling leads her there. She knows his kind don’t normally appear normally in mirrors, but this time he does. She can see his eyes twinkling at the top of the mirror, his chin resting on her head.

Before she can do much more than see that, she feels the buttons on her pants coming undone, her blouse being cleared from her shoulders.

He undresses her quickly, gently, perfunctorily, tapping her feet when he wants her to step out of things. Like he might a living doll.

She stares at herself in the mirror, naked, held by the monster.

Genevieve: It’s an effort to keep her eyes on the mirror. She doesn’t want to look at herself. She doesn’t want to see herself bared, especially knowing that he is looking, too. But he has her in such a way that it’s impossible for her to cover herself with hand and arm, and so she keeps her eyes averted instead, ignoring the way her heart flutters, ignoring the skin that prickles beneath his cool touch.

She doesn’t look, so she doesn’t see what he does. There is no beauty there. Just hard lines, awkward angles, not enough padding. She turns her eyes away.

Sterling: “Look, and see what I see,” he purrs, and touches her chin, gently forcing her to see.

“Beauty. Like a statue. But no statue ever tasted so good.”

He runs his fingers, cool but not cold as other monsters’, over her. All of her.

“So precious. So shy, even for so much beauty. Did your husband not tell you you were beautiful, Gen?”

Genevieve: She changed her mind. If this is what it means to be bound to him she doesn’t want it. She shakes her head. With her chin in his grip it’s a tiny movement, and it ends abruptly when he trails them down.

She almost tells him to stop. The words are in her mouth, ready to be set free if only she were to open it, but she doesn’t. Not until he asks.

“No,” she tells him.

She can’t remember a time when her husband had said that to her. Their wedding day, maybe, when she’d been dolled up. He’d never done this.

Sterling: “No? Then he did not know what he had.”

He drinks from her, and starts playing. He plays with everything, this man with a silver smile.

But this time, he finishes. She finishes.

“Beauty,” he whispers in her ear, as she’s made to watch.

Genevieve: There’s a moment where maybe she believes him. When his teeth sink into her and she comes apart in his arms, when every tightly wound bit of her unravels and it’s because of him, she believes him. That he thinks she’s beautiful. That she is beautiful.

Beautiful, and his.

There’s a certainty with which she knows that now as the sounds leave her body. She was made for him. For this moment. To be in his arms, bared to the world, with his hands on her and his eyes on her and his mouth on her. She doesn’t think anything will ever come close to this bliss.

Except that third step. And when it’s over and she’s trembling in his arms, her knees weak, her eyes on him in the mirror, she asks him for it.

Sterling: “Ah, my sweet,” he says, and he’s carrying her, carrying her naked body, to her bed. "Inevitably, I will. Of course I will. But now, rest. Be happy. And be my conscience. The nights ahead are dark, and I will need one… "

He tucks her in, strokes her fondly. Even kisses her forehead.

“Beauty,” he says again. “Now become a sleeping beauty. Sleep.”

Genevieve: The darkness claims her quickly. She is out, and in her dreams she sees herself as he does.

Beautiful.


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