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Blood & Bourbon

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Story Thirteen, Julius I

“You cain’t swim ‘gainst its current, as dat don’t woik. No, yo gotta dive in, dive in all da way an’ make yo own melodic waves, make ‘em so gud an’ shugah-sweet da river cain’t help but swim wid yoself.”
Julius B. Baudoin

Thursday night, 25 February 2016, PM

GM: The trombone echoes over the Mississippi’s dark waters, long, slow, and mournful.

Brother I’m hungry
I can’t afford to eat
Brother it’s cold outside
Living rough on the streets

GM: Julius’ landlord hasn’t asked him to “play for Misha Sipokni” in a little while. He hasn’t had to. The musician is perfectly happy to play for the river himself. His father and grandfather worked the shipyards. He served in the Coast Guard. So much of his present empire is water-borne. He owes much to the river, or at least the Atlantic. He is glad his landlord seemingly recognizes that fact, or at least holds his own respect for the Mississippi, and still asks Julius to demonstrate his respect for the river from time to time.

In the land of milk and honey
Its hard to understand
Them that hold the power
In the palm of their hand

It’s easier rent than his other tasks.

It’s an easier task than tonight.

And have no comprehension
Of what it means to be
Standing at the mercy
Of begging and defeat

They say music soothes the savage beast. Julius has yet to see if it can soothe the savage Beast, at least tonight.

His people had disappointing reports. The long-awaited deal with the Vietnamese Triad fell through. The promised organ shipment was seized by law enforcement agents. Now the precious, life-rich organs are who knows where—nowhere that Julius can feast upon them. And there have been no recent funerals in Algiers. The kine aren’t dying fast enough. The subject came up, once, with his other patron. The infrequency of jazz funerals. The older vampire had smiled his supple fanged smile and told Julius that the kine are like bugs as well as cattle. Sure, their lifespan is infinitesimal compared to yours. But you usually can’t wait for them to die, when their imminent deaths suit your needs. It’s not practical.

No, he’d said. When they get in your ear, when they buzz and they need to die, you need to squash them.

And when a predator hungers, they cannot hope to stumble upon prey already dead.

So all you unworthy sinners
Without a pin to your name
Looking up at someone new
Writes the rules to the game

Twice-cursed, some have called him.

Curse enough to hunger for blood.

How much greater is the curse to hunger for flesh as well? The kine will not part with that so easily.

So Julius, twice-cursed, broods before the river.

And plays.

But we stand with no one among us
And watch without a tear
What’s becoming of our brothers
Every time, every time that we hear

The lyrics are from Family Dinner—Volume 2, by jazz fusion group Snarky Puppy, released only a month or so ago.

Brother I’m hungry
I can’t afford to eat
Brother it’s cold outside
Living rough on the streets

Yet, as Julius’ mighty lungs pump the trombone’s mournful music into the night air, he is not without an audience tonight.

The big cat’s tread is utterly silent. Julius does not hear the creature approach. He only sees it—and only, he is certain, because it wishes to be seen.

Qua. His landlord’s favorite servant. Perhaps more than him.

After all, the last reported sighting of a wild jaguar in Louisiana was in June 1886. Qua is quite possibly the last of his kind. A relic of the past preserved into the present through his undying master’s blood.

Caitiff, on the other hand, remain all too abundant.

The great cat silently sits down on its haunches.

Then it speaks. Its voice is soft and faint, like a ripple over the Mississippi at midnight, but with a distinctly feline undercurrent. Like a low growl.

“Therrre is a trespasserrr rrrithin my domain.”

“Rrremove him and yourrr corrrvée this rrrreek rrrill be fulfilled.”

The jaguar bares its teeth, so very long and sharp, and for a moment Julius thinks it means to attack. But the creature instead hacks a glob of blood over the ground. The coppery tang, event faint as it is, assails Julius’ nose and sends his Beast hungrily pacing behind its cage.

The cat speaks again.

“Taste it and you rrrill knorr the rrray to him.”

Julius: Behind Julius, the Mississippi sings its old familiar song, its waves a moonlit cascade of drum brushes softly caressing the snare-drum shoreline. He hears it, smells it, and feels it in his bones. But the blood before him… its notes burn brighter, louder, hotter. A soloing trumpet that cuts through city’s nighttime cacophony.

Following those notes, Julius sets down his trombone—tonight’s is a purple plastic affair he played on K&B’s ‘97 swan-song float—and approaches. At home inside “Algiers Pernt”, Julius has shed his faux-Zegna pinstripe and Uggo Vasare wingtips for a faded tee emblazoned with Circinus’ OPEC-era logo, baggy gym shorts, and knockoff Yeezy hightops. So dressed, he half-creeps, half-saunters towards the deadly, rosette-furred beast, carefully eyeing it through his counterfeit Gucci aviators. Glancing away only briefly to check the time on his Fauxlex Submariner, he then squats down before the globule and hums more to Misha Sipokni than to Qua.

“Awrite, I’ll lookit wot da cat dragged in den.”

Still, he gives the beast a respectful chin-nod before pinching the sanguine glob between his fingers.

Julius never needed his mama to tell him twice to eat his turnip greens, and he sure doesn’t need a cat to tell him twice to drink blood.

And so, without further ado, he sucks down the globule like a crawfish’s head.

GM: The taste hits him like a crawdaddy’s closing pincers.




And like a tune in a jazz musician’s heart, there’s something inside Julius that wants out.

The Caitiff forces it down with all his will, wrestling the Beast back into its cage. He cannot lose it against his landlord’s favorite pet. Whoever wins that fight, he still loses.

Like so much else that comes with being clanless.

Lose even if you win.

But the struggle is not an easy one. He feels his fangs protruding in his mouth. He hears the Beast roaring in his ears. He feels its claws raking the bars of its cage with every moment the vitae’s taste lingers on his tongue. That undeniable Brujah fire, even weak-blooded as it is. Julius hungers. His Beast hungers. He wants more.

But he doesn’t want just blood. Oh no.

No, there has only ever been one thing that can truly slake Julius’ hunger.

Not thirst.

Never thirst.

The jaguar, meanwhile, stares at Julius in that patiently knowing way only cats can. The beast flicks its tail once, then bounds off into the night.

But the Caitiff smells it.

From a thousand miles away.

An irresistible pull towards the rest of that blood.

Julius: Julius staggers as his tongue burns like noon-day asphalt. He grinds his jaws, as if trying to crush the itch he has to scratch. But the bruxism only makes it worse. The desire to gnash, rip, and chew. The hunger.

He steps back, and forces himself to turn towards the river. Away from where Qua sat, and away from the lingering aroma of its tantalizingly vitae-soaked organs. He knows he could follow that scent trail, or at least he could try. But his hunger hasn’t stripped him of all sanity, not yet at least. After all, he has another scent trail to follow, whose source promises a similarly visceral temptation—and one he can literally taste. He can’t deny the Beast inside his soul, but he can redirect it.

Picking up his trombone, he pauses briefly to regarding Ol’ Miss and her unceasing, yet ever-changing song. “It’s jass,” he murmurs like liquid thunder, “you don’t fight da rhythm, no. You cain’t swim ‘gainst its current, as dat don’t woik. No, yo gotta dive in, dive in all da way an’ make yo own melodic waves, make ‘em so gud an’ shugah-sweet da river cain’t help but swim wid yoself.”

The sentiment makes him smile. It’s a hungry smile. Hot and growling, but still a smile.

That smile lingers as the former Bleu Devil dimeback turns again—this time toward his quarry. His prey.

“Jass-time, it is den.”

And with that happy, hungry thought, the predator dances off into the darkness.

Thursday night, 25 February 2016, PM

GM: Julius dances through the night, and the ‘melody’ carries him along.

It’s like any dance, when good music is playing.

You just have to open your heart and let the music do the dancing for you.

Papa Juju’s sharp nose carries him through the homey pubs, small art galleries, and quaint Creole cottages of Algiers Point, until he reaches the border and its barbed wire fence. Security guards look askance when he wants to leave for the well-to-do neighborhood’s safety for the urban junglescape beyond, but they don’t stop him. It’s his funeral.

Or, if he has anything to say, someone else’s.

It’s just too bad theirs probably won’t get a jazz band.

Algiers Point is a neighborhood within a neighborhood. The divide becomes apparent the moment Julius crosses Opelousas Avenue. On one side of the six-foot wall, there are immaculately maintained 150-year-old homes. Almost every resident is white. On the other side, Julius sees boards and tarps over broken windows, graffiti ranging from gang tags to crudely-etched genitalia, trash littering the streets, and run-down homes that look like Katrina hit them yesterday. Practically everyone here is black. The occasional gunshot and car alarm provides a soundtrack.

One side is ’hood. The other is suburbs. Total opposites. Muddy and clean.

Julius: Julius breathes in the muddy scent. It smells like home—because it is. He would love to carouse in this jungle, his jungle, but his tongue still burns with the siren-hot tang of the Brujah’s blood. And then there’s the Hunger.

It’s like an old school phone constantly ringing in his head. He doesn’t dare pick up, not here, not now, and no matter how hard he tries, he can’t rip the cord out of its jack. It just keeps ringing. And ringing. And ringing.

“Damn gooks,” he grouses at the organ-belated Triad.

GM: Julius traipses through the familiar urban jungle. Few people are visible on the streets at this late hour, and few of them for any good purpose.

His own included.

He follows his nose like a broke musician chasing his promised pay.

But unlike a musician, his payday soon materializes.

He’s a Latino man in maybe his late 20s with a shaved head. He looks awful. His throat has a mass of uneven, savage scars, like it was torn apart by a wild animal, and there’s a deep-looking gash on one side of his neck. His wifebeater and pants are spattered with dried blood, but they do nothing to detract from his bulging biceps, ripped chest, and full-sleeve tattoos of a skull-faced woman with chains for hair. A gold cross glints from around his neck, along with a necklace threaded through two vampire-sized fangs. His knuckles are thick and scarred.

And, Julius can tell at a glance, they are Kindred.

Rage and pain waft off him like the Mississippi’s stench off a foolish swimmer. His eyes are enormous and bloodshot, and his fangs distended. But he does not move rashly. He’s creeping behind a one-story single-family house. Getting a look through the windows.

Julius: The sight of the trespasser caught mid-poaching in his hood enrages the already hunger-grated Caitiff. And the bloody scent of him… it just makes matters worse. Far worse.

Julius almost charges like it’s 4th down in Dillard Stadium, and the Latino just caught the pigskin. But the taste on Julius’ tongue reminds him of the trespasser’s clan: Brujah. If the tattooed thug knows the secrets of velocitas, then a blitz by the Caitiff likely won’t lead to a sack. Or a meal. And Julius—and his Beast—wants that meal ticket. Badly.

Thus, the hunter uses his damned blood to transform into a far smaller, stealthier predator, hoping to slink up and ambush the distracted Brujah.

Bones shrink. Skin follows with it, hardening to leathery scales. Limbs twist and contort, joints bending at new angles, and a tail sprouts. Only the fanged smile remains, though its number of fangs have multipled.

So transformed into a baby alligator, Julius hungrily creeps across the dog-piss-stained grass, using whatever foliage exists to conceal his approach.

GM: And so distracted by his own hunger, the tattooed Brujah appears not to notice the nearby and stealthily concealed young alligator.

That’s when he finishes jimmying with the window and lifts it up to slip inside.

Julius: And that’s when the cute but unseen baby gator transforms in the blink of an eye, not only rapidly accelerating in a fully grown bull, but also making a species-lateral metamorphosis from a Alligator mississippiensis into a Crocodylus acutus. The massive 15-foot American crocodile—seldom seen along the northern Gulf Coast—weighs close to a ton and has a 3,700 psi bite strength—the strongest of any living animal.

But this croc isn’t living.

But he’s hungry all the same.

Hungrier, actually, especially now that he is so very, very close to his already bloodied prey.

The phone’s ring is deafening now. So loud and demanding that it rings itself right off the receiving and pours out its salivating music. It’s hot, like when Julius finally directs his funeral band to cease its sombre melodies and “cut loose the corpse”. Except in this case, he’s the corpse. Or maybe the Brujah is. Either way, the Beast is free, and it enjoys its superhumanly strong, inhumanly large puppet.

So possessed, the 1-ton croc bull lunges at the unsuspecting Brujah with a wide-open maw. He half-hisses, half-growls as that maw frighteningly bites down with steel-shattering strength, fangs clamping onto and into the Brujah’s organ-rich torso.

GM: The crocodile feels something beneath it. Hard. Painful. But not debilitating. It doesn’t matter. It moves like a ghost.

One moment it’s crawling towards its prey. The next, its great jaws are clamping onto flesh. Bliss floods its mouth, hot and red and so much more of it, than the mere taste the juzz musician got. The crocodile will not settle for a mere taste. It’ll have it all.

Julius: Consumed by that sanguine fixation, the undead croc’s rational brain is clocked off, leaving dumb instinct to drive the cockpit. That instinct—which is part gridiron and part crocodilian—attempts to sweep the Brujah off his feet. But takedowns require arms, and death-rolls need water. All in all, it’s an awkward, ungainly set of reptilian movements that devolves into sod, tearing thrashing. Throughout it all though, the massive croc never releases its jaws, but merely continues to savagely bite down with cement-crushing force. More and more. Drinking, swallowing. More and more. Caring not what abuse it receives, only what gore it can gorge on. It closes its eyes, shielding its orbs underneath hard scales and just savors each swallow. More and more. It’s what the Beast wants. More and more. And that’s all that matters now. And maybe all that ever did. Or will.

GM: Abuse it receives—and dispenses—in spades.

To witness the death roll of a crocodile is to witness sheer power and force. Julius saw that firsthand, when he drained the beast and consumed its life to steal its shape. Crocodiles will “build up” before the roll; almost like the way sprinters tense up before bounding off into the race. He remembers how he could actually feel the crocodile as it tensed up. And when it exploded, like his mawla told him, he either wanted to be very far away from it—or on top of it. Preferably with other people piled up on it.

And being far away wasn’t an option.

It isn’t for the Brujah, either.

Massive jaws seize and tear as the crocodile tucks its legs in and rolls as best it can on dry land, shredding through muscle and bone. Flesh as well as blood vanishes down the great reptile’s gullet. Distantly, the crocodile registers blows raining down upon it, crushingly hard and brutally fast, one after another after another. Bones snap. The crocodile knows pain.

But it does not care. It just holds fast onto with its great jaws, tucks its legs, and rolls. Death roll is aptly named, for the crocodile’s roll can only end in one death—predator’s or prey’s.

No. That’s not true.

It can’t only end in one death.

The red haze eventually recedes, like it always does. The Man wins out over the Beast, like it always does—until the Beast returns.

Everything hurts. Everywhere. Everything is broken. Agony screams through the crocodile’s shattered bones as it tries to move. Knocked-out fangs litter the floor.

Agony screams through the crocodile’s jaws as it tries to open them. It can’t. It hurts too much. The Brujah snapped its upper jaw clean in half. It might never use it again, if the crocodile’s blood ran merely cold, and not room temperature.

The beast might never leave this place alive, if only it lived.

But it does not live.

And for all its pains and torments, its adversary has fared worse.

What’s left is barely recognizable as the Latino man it once was—there’s nothing left but shredded meat and equally shattered bone. The crocodile cannot even make out the face. Even the full sleeve tattoos on the bulging muscles are gone, sent to fill the beast’s hungry gullet. Only the pungent scent of the meat’s blood indicates it was once more (or less) than human.

But something is amiss.

Maybe it’s the coppery scent of the blood spattering the bedroom’s when did they get inside?) walls. The weak, piss-like stuff against the liquid fire that flows in the veins of Troile’s childer.

But more obvious is the extra leg—a dark-skinned leg, not a Latino man’s paler leg—lying in a grisly, silent heap at the food of a bed. There’s a sock on the leg. A simple white sock with a black stripe around the top.

Around where calf should connect to thigh is shredded flesh and naked bone lying in a pool of steadily spreading red.

The crocodile feels heavy.

And very, very full.

Julius: The croc bull gives a gluttonous belch that sours into a pain-wracked hiss. With the Beast sated—for now—Julius wills his gore-fed vitae to flow through his undead flesh in a restorative torrent that heals him and makes the agony recede in one scarlet wave.

As the red fog of Beast and pain twice-over wane, the croc regards anew his surroundings. And his victims, both intended and not.

He also scents the air, scanning for survivors and witnesses. As hellish as his home is, Julius knows that the screams of the crocodile-slaughtered are not regular contributors to Algiers’ night-track.

GM: Julius knows his people well… but not enough to identify them by just their feet. There is so little of his meal left.

He looks like he is in a bedroom. Or at least what’s left of one.

Everything has been completely trashed by the two vampires’ midnight battle.

Julius: The croc quickly scans the rest of the room, and the area outside it. He waddles, searching for portraits on the walls, nightstands, or otherwise, even as he tries to recall the home’s owners by its address. The rising guilt isn’t like the raging Beast’s hunger, but it’s gnawing on him all the same. Time is fleeting, but his half-dead conscious compels him to look. He doesn’t expect he’ll like any answer he finds—which is why he has to know.

Yet, even at the same time, the croc’s mind touches all it sees, gauging whether he thinks he could reasonably pass off the slaughter and destruction on a real, living croc. A bizarre, freak tragedy, yes, but a ‘natural’ one all the same. After all, Dashonte had told his cut-krewe plenty of tales of loose anacondas slithering into Floridian homes and swallowing whole families. Then again, maybe those were just urban legends—or Masquerade cover-ups…

GM: That’s when the door bursts open.

The crocodile lurches to the side as the baseball bat smashes down against the carpeted floor with a resounding crack. The holder is a man. Black. Middle-aged. Dressed in pajamas. His face is a mask of shock, incredulity, and horror—but above all, it’s two things.



The man bellows another wordless scream and swings the bat back towards the croc’s head.

Julius: Inside that croc’s head, Julius’ psyche recognizes the man. Yes, he’s the electrician who just finished wiring up one of Julius’ newest local businesses, an Algereen po’ boy bistro called The Sandwich Machine. Which definitely makes this Lamarque St, and the man… Townes, something Townes. Chaquille? Darius? Lamonte? Perhaps it would be easier to remember if the man wasn’t presently trying to brain Julius with a bat—just as it might be easier if most of the the man’s family wasn’t inside Julius’ belly.

Either way, it’s past time for Julius to leave. And not just to protect the Masquerade, but to avoid his neighbor from waking the now slumbering Beast inside the croc and subsequently buying a one-way ticket to see his family—or what’s left of them.

Grief sits heavy in the croc’s soul, almost as heavy as the bloody organs in his gut, but he quickly turns, away from Townes and towards Carlos. Or what remains of the Brujah. Julius snatches that hunk in his crocodilian maw and then attempts to flee.

GM: What’s left of Carlos is like a rag doll in the crocodile’s massive jaws. The beast rapidly clambers up the windowsill, dives through, and flees into the night. The crack of a baseball bat echoes behind him, along with Townes’ raw cries. The bereaved electrician chases after the crocodile, barefoot and clad only sleepwear as he runs down the street with his brandished bat. He screams and curses for his neighbors to come help him. To “stop the gator!” He sounds like a lunatic.

But Townes is but a man. He cannot keep up. Even normal crocodiles can out-sprint healthy human males by around 5 mph, and Julius knows this is no ordinary crocodile. Perhaps, in some part of his soul, Townes does too.

Townes shouts after the beast, a raw-throated and wordless sound bereft of any meaning save pain—and challenge. But the monster is gone like a half-remembered nightmare. Townes is but a barefoot man in pajamas, screaming into the night at the top of his lungs.

For a long moment, he just stares ahead.

Then he collapses to his knees.

And he weeps.




Clanless Julius may be.

But for all that his own kind might scorn his vitae, he is still a child of Caine.

He is still a lord of the night.

He is still a predator.

And these kine shall ever be his prey.

Julius: These kine

These people. His people.

Clanless, Julius may be, but he is not without a community. He knows from whence he’s come. More saliently, his relationship with the mortals in his domain is very different than that of most Kindred’s. And that difference has naught to do with Julius’ clanlessness, but rather all to do with his diet.

Namely, Julius’ peculiar appetites mean that he, by and large, does not feed from those within his domain. Thus, he does not look upon the mortals in his community as kine, or cattle being maintained for the slaughter. A mortal man might eat his cat and derive sustenance, but a sane one does not keep and maintain a cat for such a purpose. Ergo, he wouldn’t regard one as food, but rather as a source of affection, idle amusement, and perhaps even companionship and love. As such, the creature would be viewed as worthy of protection and care—not the same afforded to oneself or one’s kin, but a relationship invoking duty and responsibility all the same. And should a sane man by unfortunate accident or urgency kill and eat such a ‘pet’…

And so, as Julius flees westward along Lamarque, passing Teche and Brooklyn on his way to the river, such thoughts sit uneasily in his soul.

The gore inside his crocodilian stomach, however, rests just fine.

Which makes Julius not just a predator—but a monster.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Thirteen, Celia XV
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Next, by Character: Story Thirteen, Celia XVII, Julius II

Story Thirteen, Celia XV

“Just say you slept with him. Say you gave me your leftovers, say that our entire relationship was built on a lie.”
Celia Flores

Friday evening, 18 March 2016

GM: Dani is gone when Celia wakes up, but she’s left a note saying she’s at Diana’s house for the dinner with Henry. That’s still on.

There’s no texts from Roderick.

There’s one from Alana, though, about how much she misses Celia.

Dinner is pretty soon, and already a later one by kine standards. Any hunting looks like it will take place after that’s over.

There’s a text from her mom, though, saying she’s also prepared a helping of “your new favorite food! :)” to serve tonight.

Celia: She didn’t expect a message from Roderick. She tells herself it’s okay. He’d done this once when they were kine, too. Didn’t answer. Then just showed up. Maybe he’s doing that again.

She tries to ignore the fact that it’s the night her mom was kidnapped.

Celia keeps scrolling, looking for an answer from Mel. She checks in on the boys while she’s at it.

GM: Mel has responded in an affirmative, Put you on the schedule.

Reggie says there’s good news and asks where and when she wants to meet.

Celia: She breathes a sigh of relief on both counts.

Her mother gets a heart response back. Alana does as well. Reggie gets a comment about after dinner.

She should have time before Elysium, she thinks.

Speaking of time… not much to waste before she’s late. She rises, showers, and dresses, keeping it elegant but casual. A nice dress. Nothing crazy. Nothing that Jade would wear, but still cute. Perfume. Heels.

It’s as she’s putting the finishing touches on her jewelry that she realizes she has the wrong face on. She huffs, fixing it, and touches up her makeup.

GM: It’s not the first time she’d have forgotten who she’s supposed to be.

Who even is she, anyway?

Celia: Celia, tonight.

That’s what the mirror says.

GM: Mirrors lie too.

She drives to her mom’s house and arrives to find the table set. Emily greets at the door with a hug and a “Damn, you look nice.” The smell of garlic and other savory scents hangs heavy in the warm, oven-heated air. Some windows are open to let it out. Diana and Lucy have kitchen aprons on as they toss a fruit salad together.

“Oh good, you’re here!” smiles her mom. “Hey Goose, let’s say hi to…”

The six-year-old hops off the kitchen stool, runs up to Celia, and seizes handfuls of her dress as she tries to clamber up the Toreador’s body like she’s scaling a rock wall.


“Oh, Luce, careful with her dress,” says Emily, scooping up the child to pass her to Celia.

“Dani’s arriving with her dad,” adds Diana with a smile for Lucy. “Say, sweetie, where’s your beau? Is he arriving on his own?”

Celia: It’s hard not to smile at the warm welcome, even if the oven makes her wary after everything she has found out and the thick smell of spices reminds her that she’s on a liquid diet for the rest of her unlife. Her Beast whines at her, reminding her that it wants blood, that she can play at being human all she wants but they both know the truth.

And these kine! They put themselves so close to her. Hugging. Holding. Smiling.

She smiles back, greeting her adoptive sister, accepting the offer of the child into her arms. How easy it would be to—

No, Celia reminds herself. Not them.

She spins the girl around with her, the hem of her dress lifting to swirl outward, and smothers the child’s face with kisses.

“Mwah, mwah, mwah!” She finds the tickle spot on her belly. “Here’s my little artist. I’ve gotten a whole bunch of compliments on that picture you drew me, you know. Gonna need to commission another.”

She keeps the child in her arms as her attention turns to her mother, offering a wry half-smile.

“I think so,” she says with an effected sigh. “He might be caught up at work, some big case I guess.”

GM: Lucy giggles and holds out her arms as Celia spins her around.

“Okay! I can draw lots more! Did ’Lana like it? And Landen?”

Alana didn’t have a word to say on it. Piper, Landen, Madison, and Natalie always have the most compliments for Lucy-related things.

Celia: “‘Lana was jealous I don’t hang her art,” Celia confides in a whisper.

GM: Lucy giggles some more. “Mine’s better.”

“It sure is, Goose. Best artist in the salon,” says Emily, tussling the girl’s hair.

“Best artist in this house, too,” adds Diana, smiling at Celia’s news. “Okay, good. We’re all really looking forward to meeting him!”

“Are you an’ Randy still friends?” asks Lucy.

Celia: “Maybe,” Celia says to her daughter. “We still have a place together that I need to discuss with him. Figure some things out. We might still be friends. I think we both knew it wasn’t going anywhere, but we were comfortable.”

GM: “Oh,” says Lucy in a not quite understanding tone.

“Are he an’ your boyfriend gonna be friends?”

“That’s usually tricky,” Emily answers wryly.

“That usually is,” Diana echoes. “Say, sweetie, would you like to do my makeup? Doesn’t need to be anythin’ too fancy, home dinner and all, but Stephen’s dad is an important man and I want to look good!”

Celia: They certainly won’t be friends if Roderick tries to kill Reggie again.

“I’d love to,” Celia says to her mom. “No harm lookin’ good for the cute man coming over, right Emi?” Celia winks at her adoptive sister as she sets Lucy back on the ground so she can follow her mom down the hall to her room.

GM: “Yep. Knock him dead, Mom,” smirks Emily.

“Oh, you two,” says Diana with an amused roll of her eyes.

“They should just hold hands,” says Lucy.

Emily scoops up the child and carries her back to the kitchen area while Diana leads Celia back to the vanity in her bedroom. Dani’s clearly taken much of it over, though, judging by the presence of her various personal effects.

“I thought I’d feed you once dinner is over, sweetie,” says Diana as she sits down before the mirror. “So it’s like dessert, after a so-so meal.”

“And it usually makes me a lil’ woozy, so better after company’s gone.”

“I feel good, though! Energy levels were just fine at work. I think we can make this a nightly thing,” she smiles.

Celia: She’s hardly going to say no to the offer of blood. Especially if it doesn’t bother her mother at all.

“If you’re sure,” she says after a moment of looking the woman up and down, as if for signs of illness. “Okay. I’d like that. Thanks, Mom.”

GM: Diana looks more than fine to her.

“Thank you, sweetie. I want to feed you,” she says, taking off her apron and draping it nearby.

Celia: “I don’t know if Stephen is coming.” She turns away, gathering her mother’s makeup supplies. It’s not a full kit like Celia’s, but the mother of an esthetician still has plenty to choose from.

GM: The mother of an esthetician indeed has plenty of cosmetics (every last one a Flawless-recommended brand), though the disappointment on her face is plain at Celia’s news.

“Oh. Why not?”

Celia: The disappointment is echoed in her daughter’s.

“We got some bad news last night. He didn’t come home. Dani and I spent the night together, and she said he got like this last time. Withdrawn.”

GM: “Oh, no. I’m so sorry!” exclaims her mom. “Is there anything we can do for him?”

Celia: “I don’t think so,” Celia says with a long sigh and shake of her head. “But if there is I’ll let you know.”

GM: “Please, do. How are things between the two of you? Still okay?”

Celia: “I think so.”

She hopes so.

GM: Her mom rubs her arm. “Okay. That’s good. I think that will mean a lot to him. Bad news is a little less bad when you have a love of your life to help you past it, at least.”

Celia: “Can’t be there for him if I can’t find him.”

“Was going to look after dinner.”

GM: “Oh. You don’t know where he is?” her mom asks with a worried look.

Celia: “No. I mean. I have a few places. I’m sure he does too.”

GM: “Do you still want to stay for dinner? I’m more than happy to have you over, but if you want to use the time for your beau, I completely understand.”

Celia: “There’s a function tonight, I’m sure he’ll be there if nothing else.”

Except he can’t be there as “Roderick” since his face is different.

Which means he has to seek her out if he wants her to change it back.

“I’m not blowing off dinner. He’s a big boy. He can handle himself.”

“I don’t need Mr. Garrison thinking I’m afraid of him or something.”

GM: “Okay,” her mom nods, “just thought I’d offer. I want your two’s relationship to work.”

Celia: “Kind of hoping he just shows up. I know he wants to see his dad again.”

GM: “I hope so too, I’d love to see him again! Is there anything in particular I should do around him, since, you know, vampire?”

Celia: “Don’t bleed, mostly. I didn’t tell him about you, either. I don’t want to lie to him, but Pe—er, my friend doesn’t think it’s safe.”

“But his clan is the angry clan.”

Celia works on her mother while they talk, using an array of brushes, powders, and pigments to give her a casual but flirty look. She keeps it toned down and suitable for her mother’s age and the fact that they’re staying in. One of those, “oh I just threw this on” looks.

GM: “Okay, don’t bleed or bring up vampire things,” her mom nods, sitting still before the mirror as her daughter does her face. “Oh, this looks very nice, sweetie. Pretty, but doesn’t look like we’re tryin’ too hard to be pretty either.”

Celia: “I’m glad you like it.” She tucks a strand of hair behind her mother’s ear. “Would it bother you if I told him about you?”

“And maybe… Dad?”

GM: “That I’m an, ah, ‘ghoul’,” her mom starts, then gives a little laugh. “Oh, I’m sorry, it just feels like such a funny name, still.”

“But no, I’d be fine if Stephen knows! I think he already knows all the dirty details when it comes to your father too, anyway.”

“I mean, he was there back when I was livin’ in that cruddy lil’ apartment.”

Celia: “He thinks it’s a bad idea to have him over on Sunday.”

GM: Her mom purses her lips slightly. “Emi thinks so too, I know.”

Celia: “I’m worried he’s going to try something with Lucy. Because of that vision you had.”

“If she wasn’t on the line I’d risk it, but now I’m just… nervous.”

GM: “You seemed to think it was a good idea earlier, sweetie. Did somethin’ happen to change your mind?”

Celia: “No. I guess not. I’m talking to someone tonight who knows more about it. And I’ll see the guy who, uh, claimed him at this event, so maybe I can… talk to him.”

As if she’d dare.

GM: “Okay, that all sounds good,” nods her mom. “Oh, say! I looked into that ‘glinko’ thing for you while I was at work, sweetie.”

Celia: “Oh? How’d that go?”

GM: “Well, I realized I wasn’t sure how you spelled it. Was it ‘g-l-i-n-k-o,’ or was it a ‘c’ instead of a ‘k’, or was it a ‘y’ instead of an ‘i’, or was it both. Because I didn’t find all that much for ‘glinco’ with an ‘i’ and a ‘k.’”

Celia: “…hm. I’m not sure, actually, I heard it said.”

Had she been spelling it wrong? Like an idiot?

GM: “So, I looked around for all four spellings. And the one I actually found a lot of stuff for was ‘glynco’ with a ‘y’ and a ‘c.’”

Celia: “Glynco,” Celia echoes.

GM: Diana nods. “It’s a place, in Georgia.”

Celia: “Where in Georgia?”

“Or rather, tell me what you found and I won’t interrupt. I hate when people do that when I’m trying to explain things, sorry.”

GM: “It’s okay,” her mom smiles. “It’s in Glynn County. Or rather, it is Glynn County, ‘Glynco’ is the acronym. You can look it up, there’s basically only one thing there beyond the usual small Southern county stuff. It’s where the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers is located. It’s where basically every federal law enforcement agency except the FBI sends their recruits to learn the ropes of bein’ a fed. Like boot camp or OCS, but for cops. State and local agencies sometimes send people there, too. It’s a really big place. It has its own zip code!”

Celia: “…huh.”

What does that mean? That the government has its own little band of hunters running around? That would make sense, wouldn’t it, with how they’d acted? She’s seen the movies, she knows the tropes; all those “feds” hate the “local guys” and vice versa. No wonder they hadn’t wanted any help.

“That’s… a lot. Thank you. I was going the wrong direction with everything.”

“Thank you,” she says again, pulling her mom in for a hug.

GM: Her mom gives her a happy squeeze back. “You’re welcome, sweetie! I’m really glad I could help you!”

Celia: “I know it’s been rocky lately, but you’re really the best mom a lick could ask for, you know that?”

GM: “Sorry, a lick?” she smiles as she lets Celia go. “Well, whatever it is, I’m glad. And you’re the best daughter any mom could ask for, makin’ me look so pretty for this nice dinner!”

Celia: “Vampire slang,” Celia says with a laugh. “And you’re already pretty. I just polished you up a little.”

GM: “That’s what you’re so good at, bringin’ out the best in everyone,” her mom smiles.

“Oh, by the way! I completely forgot to show you!”

She turns around on her seat and pulls up her dress, showing off Dicentra’s tattoo.

Celia: “Ooooh,” Celia enthuses, running a hand over the ink. “Very pretty, Mom.”

GM: “This is the tattoo Dr. Dicentra did for me! It really is, isn’t it? Ballerina bouquet!”

“I admit I wasn’t keen on the tattoo idea, but this really is just so pretty. And feels a little… rebellious,” she says with a low chuckle.

Celia: “It’s very fitting, Mom. Very you. I love it.”

GM: “I do, too!” says Diana, lowering her dress and turning back around. “I was stuck, you know, between flowers and a ballerina, so she suggested we just do both. So all those parts of me are on there.”

Celia: The hellebore is on there, too, thanks to Celia. The cure for insanity if you believe the old legends.

GM: “Oh, speakin’ of my body. I noticed lately that, ah, my tah-tahs are perkier,” says her mom in a low whisper, as if someone might overhear. “Is that because of anything to do with the blood, or just Flawless keepin’ me pretty?”

Celia: “Ah… that… um.”

“Kind of both?”

Technically it’s a thing with the blood.

And technically she runs Flawless.

So technically she’s not even lying.

“You won’t age while you have the blood.”

“And I’ve been doing some tricks on you when you come in, because you kind of implied I could, and I thought you wouldn’t mind…?”

“There’s things I can do that, like, a human can’t.”

Her mom has already seen it: Celia turning herself into Jade and back.

GM: “Oh, no, I don’t mind! Thank you very much, in fact. Like I said, sweetie, I’m play-doh in your hands on the spa table. You can do whatever you like to my body, I know you’ll make me pretty. I just wanted to know if this was due to you.” Her mom smiles. “I guess in hindsight it should’ve been obvious.”

Celia: “Well I’d hope not obvious. Can’t let people know,” Celia winks.

GM: “Oh, it wasn’t! I mean, people at work commented how pretty I looked, but I figured it was just more spa treatments. That’s what I told them, too. Recommendin’ your business wherever I can.” Her mom winks back. “But I wouldn’t have wondered if it was more if I hadn’t known about vampires and things.”

Celia: “Good. I’m glad. I try to keep it subtle.”

“I actually have some lick clients I make less attractive and age.” One client.

GM: “Now that sure is funny. Why would they want that?” Diana asks with a frown.

Celia: “Better for the Masquerade. That’s why I’ve continued to age and can stick around in your life, because I can change my appearance. A lot of us can’t. And it’s a dead giveaway. Stephen had to fake his death. I would have had to too, eventually.”

GM: “Oh. That is true. I guess I took it for granted, that all vampires did,” her mom says thoughtfully.

Celia: “We have mortal identities sometimes. But they never stick around for long. Or they’re reclusive.”

GM: “I’m glad you can. Dani told me about what losing Stephen did to their father. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“I know. I fought to keep you in my life. I wasn’t going to disappear if I didn’t have to.”

“And I’m… you know, I try to be better about it. I don’t feed on Emily or Lucy or anything. Or you, until you, uh, offered.”

“And with the second identity not many people could trace me back to you.”

GM: “Oh. I don’t think that would be a good idea at all, to feed on them,” her mother says concernedly. “They can’t consent. I know how important that is for you, with spa treatments.”

“And Lucy’s just a kid. She can’t even donate blood, legally. She still needs all of hers.”

“So I think you made the right decision there.”

“I know what I’m gettin’ into and have the blood to spare. I used to give at the hospital with Emi, every so often. Obviously not anymore now with you.”

Celia: “A lot of people like me don’t see it like that. Older you get, the less you care. Lose touch with mortals and stuff. They can be awful.”

“So I try to keep a clear divide.”

“And wouldn’t put you guys at risk like that.”

GM: “I think that… you did a bit, with Jade,” her mother ventures quietly.

“But I’m sorry, don’t mean to belabor the point. You walked back and that’s what matters.”

Celia: “I did. I put you at risk coming to you that night. I was hungry and it was close to dawn and I’d just gotten into two fights.” One-sided fights, both of them, but fights all the same. “It was irresponsible. And that night, with Jade… I was struggling to figure out what to do with you because I messed up bringing you into this, and I was mad. I lashed out.”

“I’m sorry.”

GM: Her mom hugs her. “It’s okay, baby. You fixed it, and that’s, that’s what counts. You saved me from goin’ back to… her, too, and leavin’ Lucy to grow up without her mother. I don’t think I even thanked you for that, did I?” she asks with a sniff.

Celia: “You don’t need to, Momma. I’d do anything for you and Luce, you know that.”

GM: “Well, thank you anyway. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you. Goin’ back there would have been…” her mom shudders, “like that… that moment in your office with Jade. With you as Jade. Just… forever…”

Celia: “I’m not gonna let that happen.”

“I’ve gone up against bigger, scarier things than her to keep you safe.”

GM: “I know you won’t, sweetie. I feel safe with you. And Emi and I still have that next lesson with Robby on Sunday, too, so… you won’t always have to do the heavy liftin’, hopefully.”

Celia: “When you’re ready, if you’re open to it, I can find another teacher for you. And there are tricks of the blood I can show you. Make you faster. Sturdier. I know you don’t want this life, but there’s nothin’ wrong with bein’ prepared.”

GM: “You’re right, there definitely isn’t,” her mom nods. “I actually have felt… lighter on my feet, already. More flexible. I actually did a couple positions lately that made Emi’s jaw drop, and she’d been sayin’ for years before that I had slinkies for joints,” she chuckles. “That’s the blood?”

Celia: “That’s the blood,” Celia confirms.

“My sire shared her skills with me once. Speed, strength, durability. All of it. I felt… like a god. Like I could do anything.”

GM: “They say to treat your body like a temple. Take good care of it, and I guess you’ll really feel the divine.”

“Though I guess that’s more than just takin’ good care.”

Celia: “Not much you can’t do with it. I’ve seen and heard of some crazy things.”

GM: “I’ll take your word for it,” Diana nods. “If there’s more tricks you want to teach me, I’d be happy to learn. There’s obviously a lot of ways bein’ faster and sturdier can come in handy with ballet.”

Celia: “What, you don’t want to be a cat like me?” Celia teases.

GM: Her mom laughs. “I’m sure that’d be… interesting! Little out there for me, but I’d be happy to give you belly rubs. Lucy, too.”

Celia: Celia makes a sound that’s almost a purr. Then she is purring, stretched out on her mother’s lap with her belly exposed, tail flicking in quiet contentment.

Luna does so love her belly rubs.

GM: “Oh my, goodness!” her mother laughs again, then proceeds to do just that, rubbing and scratching her fingers along the cat’s exposed furry belly. It’s a heavenly feeling for Luna, though there is an instinctive urge to claw at the laughing woman’s hands. Every cat owner knows the belly might always be a trap.

“Who’s a happy lil’ kitty, huh?”

Celia: Luna is a happy little kitty. She shows it with how her whole body vibrates while she purrs, pawing at her mother’s hands with sheathed claws. She blinks long and slow at Diana, conveying her feline affection.

Yeah, she thinks, life as a cat might not be so bad.

GM: “Oh, yes, Lucy would just love to play with you,” Diana murmurs, keeping one hand busy along the cat’s belly while her other moves up, scratching Luna’s chest and neck, and finally the underside of her head. These hands know how to please a cat.

“Huh? Huh? Who wikes sum scwatches on the chinny-chin-chin, huh?” Diana asks in her kitty voice.

Celia: Luna is content to enjoy the attention of Celia’s mother for a few long moments, purring and meowing and otherwise showing her appreciation for the physical affection. Soon, though, she knows that the girl inside has to come back out and deal with the rest of the evening. She finishes the session by rubbing her face on Diana’s cheek to mark the human as hers and leaps to the side, shifting to regain her form before her paws ever touch the ground.

GM: “That’s just… so…” Celia’s mom murmurs, smiling and shaking her head.

Celia: “Awesome,” Celia supplies.

GM: Diana laughs. “I guess that’s a good word.”

“I’m happier to pet a kitty than be a kitty, anyway, but I’d love to learn any tricks that help with ballet!”

“Sturdier would help just as much as bein’ faster. It is a very demanding activity on your body.” There’s a rueful smile. “And I’m not as young as I used to be.”

Celia: “I’ll show you some,” Celia says, “once life calms down a little. Randy might have to show you some of the stoneskin stuff, though, I never learned myself.”

GM: “Okay, that sounds good,” her mom nods. “Randy’s okay with you guys breaking up?”

“Or, well. I guess you said you’d just been pretending.”

“That still seems just so strange to me, sweetie, no offense,” she chuckles.

Celia: “There’s a pretty blurred line with my ghouls and I. I think because I’m young, they’re still… people to me. Most of us wouldn’t even pretend to date one, but he was a good cover.”

GM: “Well, we were startin’ to wonder why he hadn’t put a ring on your finger yet,” winks Diana. “Anyway, we’ve taken up enough time, I bet our guests will be here soon.”

Celia: “Probably. We should get back out there.”

GM: Her mom nods and squeezes her hand. “This has had challenges, sweetie. But I’m glad I know the real you. Tellin’ the truth always feels just so much better.”

Celia: It seems like that sentiment has been popping up everywhere lately.

Still, she’s seen what it had done to Roderick, and she’s wondering if everyone’s “wise advice” isn’t as wise as all that.

Time will tell.

Friday evening, 18 March 2016

GM: Celia gets a text from Dani saying she and her dad are a little ways away. Hadn’t she wanted to speak with him private? Before he comes inside would be a good time.

Celia’s mother insists on equipping her with an umbrella. “I think it’s goin’ to rain, sweetie! Don’t get wet!”

Celia: It’s always going to rain in this city.

Celia sends Dani a quick thanks and snags the umbrella from her mom.

“Just a quick chat with him,” she says to Diana, “but better safe than sorry.” She heads outside to wait.

GM: Her mom nods in agreement as she heads out.

It’s not long before the Garrisons’ car pulls up to the house’s to the small courtyard. It’s been seven years since Celia last saw Roderick’s father. Mr. Garrison has not aged well.

There are much deeper wrinkles under his eyes and lines along his jaw than Celia remembers. None of them look from smiling. His hair is thinner and has gone almost completely gray with a few strands of white. Celia can see why her father decided to just shave his all off. In comparison to her mother, who looks like she’s aged maybe half the years since Celia’s Embrace, Roderick’s father looks like those years have been twice as long for him.

The spa treatments are undoubtedly part of it.

But there is a shadow to the older man’s eyes that all the facials and waxings and body wraps in the world can’t take away. The experienced esthetician doesn’t need long to make that assessment.

“Celia,” Mr. Garrison greets perfunctorily. The words aren’t cool, but he doesn’t smile either. He’s dressed in dark slacks with a pale blue button-up shirt. He has a light coat and umbrella against the now-drizzling rain, which he’s holding over Dani. She has on a light purple shirt and black skirt.

“I told him the gist of the story,” says Dani, rubbing her dad’s shoulder.

“I’ll head inside if you two want to talk privately?”

Celia: It’s not the years. Not the spa treatments. Not the blood.

It’s the loss. The grief. Losing a child. No parent should ever have to bury their children. She can’t imagine the amount of pain that puts someone through. She’s lost people before—her sister, for all that they weren’t close at the end—and sometimes still feels a pang of hurt for what had happened to them. What she’d done.

But it’s nothing compared to what she sees in his face.


Celia finds a subdued smile for Dani, nodding her head in agreement at the girl’s offer.

“Thanks, Dani. We’ll just be a minute.”

She watches the girl go. Only once the door closes does Celia turn to look back at Henry. Mr. Garrison. Her should-be father-in-law. Would-be.


“Mr. Garrison,” Celia begins, “thank you for coming tonight. I guess Dani already told you most of it, but I wanted to… explain.”

GM: She supposes it’s no surprise her own parent has weathered the years so much better.

After all, Diana got a new child.

Mr. Garrison walks his daughter up to the house’s front steps, umbrella held overhead, and opens the door for her. Dani nods her thanks as she heads inside.

He turns to face Celia when they’re alone.

“Go ahead.”

Celia: “I don’t know how much she told you,” Celia says after a quiet moment, “but I’d like to tell you the rest of it. All of it.”

Rain patters across the umbrella, the water dripping to the ground below.

“I loved your son, Mr. Garrison. More than anything. We met and he… he changed my life. My family’s life. I don’t know if he told you about the abuse, or the time he met my father, or the things he used to do to me. To my mom. To my siblings. I don’t know that I would have been able to get out on my own. Stephen gave me courage. And hope. He was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

“We’d spoken about going away together. Getting out of the shadow that my father cast across us. He wanted to wait until he finished undergrad; he said he could go to law school anywhere. We’d briefly discussed a future together. Marriage. Kids.”

“It was all years off. He had to finish school. I was only nineteen. Neither of us were ready for that commitment. We’d had a, a scare, actually,” Celia flushes, looking away before she gathers herself. “I was late. And he’d said he wasn’t ready yet. That if I was, he’d rather… he wanted to wait. To find a solution to that.” Abortion, she means; she hopes he understands without the need to spell it out.

“So I said okay, if that happened we’d take care of it. It turned out to be nothing. We were both relieved.”

She pauses.

“The… there was a night when I had to go to the ER because of something that happened at home. The following night I was out. It was late. I was stupid. I was assaulted.” She takes a breath. “Raped, Mr. Garrison. I was raped. And with everything going on with my dad at the time, it didn’t occur to me to take a pill. So by the time I found out what had happened, it was too late to take the easy out. I went to a clinic.”

“I thought it would be easy. Suck it out. No problem.”

“It wasn’t. I don’t know if you know this, but they do an ultra-sound. Make you look at what you’re getting rid of before they’ll do the procedure. Talk about it like it’s already alive. I think that’s the point. Make young girls like me reconsider. Play on our feelings. Hormones.”

“It worked.”

“I knew Stephen wasn’t ready for that. And I knew he’d want to be. To do the right thing. Because that was who he was. Always doing the right thing for everyone. So I did what I thought was the right thing for him. I told him that I cheated on him so he didn’t… so he didn’t throw his life away on me.”

She doesn’t need to force the emotion. The way her voice cracks at the end is very, very real.

She wants to cry. She wants to, but she can’t, not in front of Mr. Garrison. So the world does it for her. The clouds loose the tears that she refuses to let fall, plinking off the umbrella, landing against the ground. Water splashes over her shoes.

“I thought it was right, and I wish I could take it back, and I’m sorry that things ended the way that they did.”

“I never thought it would turn out this way.”

GM: Mr. Garrison listens.

He doesn’t smile, or frown. He just listens. Intently. His knuckles whiten around the umbrella. His eyes don’t once leave Celia’s. He scarcely seems to even blink.

What’s it like, to receive personal news about a dead child? Is it like they’re still doing things, living a life of sorts, past the grave? Does it bring them back for a moment, in a way, to hear news about them?

But the news runs out. There won’t be any more. Mr. Garrison could query Celia for details all night long, ask for recollections of every word and conversation, but eventually, even with a flawless memory, she would run out.

Because Stephen is still dead. At least to his father.

There won’t ever be more news.

She can see the look in Mr. Garrison’s eyes. Simultaneously so close and so far away. Longing. Like he sees his dead son on the other side of a pane of glass, and for all that he might wish to pull Stephen through, can only brush his hands against it.

Forever out of reach.

Several moments pass after Celia finishes before he replies.

“My son was hurt by what you told him, Celia.” The man’s voice is a rasp.

“Badly. He never recovered from it. It took something out of him that he never got back. He dated no other girls. Then he died.”

Rain steadily plunks against the umbrellas.

“The truth would have been kinder. He could have decided for himself. I would have supported him in whatever decision he made.”

Celia: The words fall like blows against her body. It’s an effort not to flinch. Celia looks away. She could have told him the truth. Given him her blood. Let him come over to this world with her, picked a fight with the sire who had already been eyeing him for her own. Blood doll or ghoul, but they’d have been together, wouldn’t they. Like her and Randy.

She thought he’d be better off.

“I know that now,” she says to Mr. Garrison. She finds his face with her eyes once more. “It wasn’t my decision to make. I should… should have told him the truth. All of it. He deserved that.”

She could spin a story here about the abuse. Play up her age, inexperience, fear. And while it’s true, it’s not the truth. She doesn’t need to turn herself into a victim, paint herself as the “good guy” in the situation. None of it will bring Stephen back. Not for his father.

“I saw him once,” she says, whisper-quiet. “Before he died. I saw him. He came to the spa. He wanted to know. About Lucy.” The words tumble out of their own volition. She hadn’t meant to say this part. Half-formed, fragmented sentences pour from her lips. “I told him then. What happened. How it happened. Why I lied.”

Her lips twist.

“He said the same. That I should have told him. That things could have been different. We thought…” She sighs. “We thought we might try again. I told him I’d never lie to him again, and now he’s gone. You’re right. He was right. I was wrong.”

The timelines blur together, but the sentiment remains the same. She said she’d stop lying to him, that she’d tell him everything.

And now he’s gone.

GM: Being a ghoul seems to agree with Randy. With Alana. With Diana, as Mélissaire has always been so keen to remind her.

Would it have with Stephen? Always so ready, so eager, to fight for what he believed?

Mr. Garrison looks at Celia as she struggles with everything she hears. As she whispers. As she holds back tears. As she looks away.

When she looks back, Mr. Garrison is still staring at her. He doesn’t reach out to touch her. He doesn’t yell or look mad, either. His face looks like a tombstone. All these years later.

“It doesn’t matter,” he says.

“Who was right. Who was wrong.”

“He’s dead.”

The plunking rain and light from the house cast long, wavering shadows over Mr. Garrison’s aged face.

He really looks so much older.

Celia: She wishes he would yell.

Tell her it was her fault.

Because it was, even if he doesn’t know the truth. If she hadn’t broken up with Stephen he might still be alive. Not just saved from the “car crash,” but from the woman who had come to him after Celia had finished ripping out his heart.

Stephen hadn’t blamed her for it. His sire hadn’t blamed her for it. All sorts of people had a hand in Stephen’s Embrace. Even his father, standing here in front of her, face carved of marble; if he hadn’t raised such a good, decent person.

Celia doesn’t tell him any of it. She can’t. Stephen doesn’t want to involve his father in this life.

She remembers the way he’d cried in the car, years ago. How terrible she’d felt at being too much of a coward to offer to give him a new face so he could keep his lives separate.

But she couldn’t, could she? She hadn’t known of his Embrace until his release, and at that point everyone already knew that face as Roderick Durant.

It’s not her fault.

Even though it is.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Garrison. I’m very, very sorry that I hurt him. I wish that I could bring him back. I’d give anything to undo what happened to him.”

GM: “It doesn’t matter,” repeats the marble-faced man.

He still doesn’t yell.

He still doesn’t cry.

“You hurt him. You didn’t kill him. He died in a completely random accident that had no bearing upon anything that anyone in his life did or didn’t do.”

Rain dribbles off their umbrellas.

“I’d planned to give the two of you my house to raise your family in. To raise Lucy in, if that had been his decision. I’d have stayed to help, while he finished law school and prepared for the Bar, and moved out once he was financially self-sufficient.”

Her mom had offered to help with childcare too, that night when they discussed the possibility. Said she’d love to help.

And Stephen had been so freaked out they couldn’t raise a kid together, after that pregnancy scare. That they couldn’t manage it at that point in their lives.

Their parents didn’t seem to think so.

Celia: She knows.

Roderick had told her.

But Stephen had never told Celia, so Celia has to play her role. Her eyes flash in very real pain, lips parting slightly. She looks away once more. She hates them all over again. Hates them for killing her. For killing him. For existing. For breaking her to the point that she’d been perfectly willing to break him. The only decent one among them and she’d snapped him like a twig.

She hates them.

All of them.

She doesn’t want this life anymore. She’s tired of being a pet. Tired of being a slave. Tired of being bound to someone who will never care about her as much as Stephen did. As much as Roderick does.

No. Did. Past tense. How could he now when she’s broken him again?

She tugs at the bond. Digs her claws into it. Inside, where the DA can’t see, she fights a very real battle with herself. Nothing to do with him, right?

Except it’s everything to do with him.

He’d come for her father. Turned him into a monster. Protected him. Murdered her. Taken her from Stephen. Forced her to go to her grandsire, who had forced her into this. Flip Roderick.

Flip him, and break him in the meantime.

She hates them.

So she digs. Because it hurts. And it’s all she can do right now. Dig. Hurt herself further so she doesn’t hurt him. Dig again. Again. Again.

GM: It’s not his fault.

He didn’t tell her to do this.

He didn’t tell her to break Stephen.

He didn’t know any of the details.

He didn’t know what would happen.

He probably barely even knows Roderick. Much less Stephen.

Does he even know where they were to one another?

Does he even know what they still are?

Besides. He has been good to her.

He saved her from Elyse.

When has Roderick saved her? All he’s been is a source of problems. He’s not offered her a place at his side. He’s not promised her a future.


She wanted this.

She caused this.

She asked for the bond.

She picked him.

Like always.

Celia: She did. She picked him. She wants him. He has long been a balm to her hurts. Even now, not present, he soothes them.

So she fights.

And she loses.

It’s a bitter feeling, that loss. Like she’s helpless. Bound in chains, held captive by a monster in the darkness, treated like some sort of animal. She lashes out the only way she knows how: she finds the bond and sends her pain reeling along it.

Maybe he’ll hear her wordless shriek of rage and grief. Maybe he won’t. Maybe he doesn’t care.

Inside her chest her Beast purrs; it hates this show of emotional, human weakness. It’s pleased that she’s sending it elsewhere.

But she sees his eyes swimming in front of her, face pale in the night. Cold. Stern. Unaffected by her pitiful display of defiance. It shifts. Becomes his. Roderick’s. Not the Roderick from her memories, but the Roderick from the vision. Dark and cold. So much smarter than everyone else in the room. So much better than everyone else. The only one who can make the right decisions, isn’t he.

When had their features become so intertwined?

…and who had she sent that to?

His father said something. No doubt he expects an answer.

The perfect life had been waiting for her… if she hadn’t died. If he hadn’t died. If she’d been honest. Gone to him for help. Stopped playing with fire in an attempt to solve her own problems.

She cracks. The floodgates loosen. Celia turns away, pressing the heels of her palms into her eyes where the blood threatens to fall.

Just for a moment.

Just until she pulls herself back together. Seconds later. She wipes at her eyes. She turns to face his father. She knows how much men hate the emotional side of women. Stephen had told her as much.

So she kills it. Buries it deep. She’d shared the pain. She doesn’t need it anymore.

“That would have meant the world to us.”

“Some children hate it, you know. Following in their parent’s footsteps. They resent the expectations pushed upon them by their families. I asked him about it once, if he did. But he didn’t. He never did. He loved you, and Dani, and your father.”

GM: Mr. Garrison watches as Celia weeps. Weeps below her umbrella while the sky pours down its own grief overhead. It’s not so hard to catch some rainwater and pretend it’s tears, around the kine man with his dull senses.

He’s still staring at Celia when she looks back. He’s not reached out to comfort her. He doesn’t look disgusted either. There’s just that some marble-like expression on his too-old face.

“He was the brightest light in my life. He would have been an extraordinary attorney and public servant. He would have had a happy, loving family with many children and grandchildren. He would have done great things with his life.”

Mr. Garrison doesn’t smile at the words. They’re delivered with all the warmth of a tombstone.

“He’s dead and gone.”

Those ones are too.

Stephen’s father looks at the door.

“We should go inside.”

Celia: He’s just as broken as the rest of them.

As dead and buried as his child.

“Yes, Mr. Garrison.”

There’s nothing left to say. Celia opens the door for him.

GM: He preempts her and opens the door instead. She is the woman.

Celia: “Thank you,” she says as she slips past him.

For the door. For listening.

GM: Mr. Garrison follows behind her, closes his umbrella, and shakes it off over the mat before closing the door. Dani and Celia’s family are gathered inside. The night beyond the house feels very dark, very wet, and very cold.

Celia: She leaves the night at her back.

She’s here with her family.

Whatever lurks outside, the cold and the dark doesn’t touch them here.

Friday evening, 18 March 2016

Celia: Celia follows suit with her wet umbrella, gesturing vaguely toward the stand for him to put his in. She leads the way down the hall.

GM: He does so and follows her to the living room, where everyone is gathered. Diana is the first to rise. She’s put on a pair of pink heels to go with her rose-printed dress since Celia saw her last.

“Mr. Garrison, hello. I’m Diana. It’s so good to finally meet you,” she says, extending a hand. Her voice is quiet and her smile gentle rather than wide as she meets his eyes.

“You can call me Henry, Mrs. Flores,” he answers as he slowly shakes the hand.

“Well, to that I’ll also say you can call me Diana,” answers Celia’s mother with a note of mirth. But no more than a note. “And this is my other daughter Emily.”

“Stephen was a friend to me too, sir,” greets Emily as she shakes hands too. Her grip looks firmer than Diana’s, like always. “Dani might have mentioned we were classmates.”

Celia: Celia watches the introductions silently from her spot near Mr. Garrison. Near, but not next to. Part of the group, but away from it.

“Emily introduced us,” she adds quietly. A step takes her over to Lucy. She holds her arms out for the girl and picks her up, for once not spinning her around.

“This is Lucy. My daughter.”

GM: Lucy stares at Mr. Garrison without saying anything. There’s a curious and slightly afraid look on the child’s face.

Her held body tenses against Celia’s.

Celia: Celia doesn’t force an interaction. She steps back, as if the weight of the child is becoming too much for her small frame, and takes a seat on a free chair with a vaguely apologetic look.

GM: Diana sits down next to her. “Lucy, can you say hello?” she asks with a gentle smile, touching her ’granddaughter’s’ back as she looks between the child and Mr. Garrison.

“Hello,” Lucy repeats quietly.

Celia: She tries to see him through Lucy’s eyes, this tall man with his solemn eyes and haunted face, who no doubt sees Lucy as the reason his son died so unhappily. Celia runs a soothing hand down the child’s back.

GM: She hears the girl’s faster heartbeat in her ears, but it slows slightly at Diana’s and Celia’s combined touches.

“Hello, Lucy,” Mr. Garrison returns. He doesn’t manage a smile.

Celia: “This is Dani’s dad,” Celia tells her. “And Stephen’s.”

GM: Lucy just watches him without saying anything. She still looks a little afraid.

Celia: Celia shoots a helpless look at her mother.

GM: “Say, Henry, can I impose on you for a moment, before we start dinner?” Diana asks, patting Lucy’s head as she stands up. “My car’s been actin’ up and I’m wondering if I should take it in to the mechanic. If you know anything about cars, I’d be mighty obliged if you could lend an opinion.”

“I do,” says Mr. Garrison. “We can take a look.”

“Oh, thank you so much,” smiles Diana, briefly turning back to her daughters. “And Celia, Emily, maybe you can get Lucy off to bed, now that she’s said hello? She is up past her bedtime.”

She mouths ‘food’ from where Mr. Garrison can’t see.

Celia: Celia gives a tiny nod to her mother, rising to her feet as they leave.

“Grab her a plate, Emi, I’ll get her settled.”

GM: “Sorry,” Dani whispers after their parents’ forms recede. “Dad isn’t… he isn’t really social, these days.”

Celia: “He hates me,” Celia sighs.

GM: “He doesn’t hate you,” assures Dani. “He’s… he’s like this to most people.”

“I guess losing your kid will do that,” sighs Emily.

“Yeah. I meant it… he never got over Stephen,” says Dani.

Lucy silently follows the adults’ conversation as she clings to Celia.

“Listen, Lucy shouldn’t have to eat alone,” says Emily. “Bring her to my room, I’ll get plates for us both.” She turns to Lucy and smiles. “We can have dinner together in my bed, Goose, how’s that sound?”

Lucy gives a nod.

Celia: “How magnanimous,” Celia grumbles at her half-heartedly, “avoiding awkward dinners.”

“Come on, Goose. Let’s set up a picnic in Em’s room.”

GM: “I think Dad would prefer fewer people anyway,” says Dani. “And he doesn’t really know you, Emily, no offense.”

Celia: Celia rises, the child tucked against her.

GM: “Isn’t any to take,” says Emily. “Come on, you can help me with the plates.”

“Sure,” says Dani.

The two head off to the kitchen.

Celia: Celia starts towards Emily’s room.

“You okay, Luce?”

GM: Lucy’s face quavers.

“He looked really sad…”

Celia: “He is really sad.”

“His son passed away.”

GM: “Can you make him happy…?”

Celia: She can. She can take his pain, too.

But only temporarily.

“I don’t think so, Lucy. Not in a healthy way.”

GM: “Huh?” Lucy asks.

Celia: “No,” Celia clarifies.

GM: It’s a brief walk through the rain to the ‘carriage house,’ or rather, ‘carriage room’ where Emily stays, as it has only one room. She sees her mother and Stephen’s dad looking over her pink Beetle together with umbrellas out. Henry is bent over and talking indistinctly while he inspects something. Diana nods along with an ‘oh I see’ expression.

Celia: Good of her, Celia thinks, to give him a purpose. Something to do with his hands. She’s heard that it helps.

She turns the light on as she enters, looking around the room.

“Picnic on the floor? Or the bed?”

GM: “So he… says sad forever?” Lucy asks instead. Her face looks confused. And upset.

Celia: “I don’t know, Luce. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and it makes them really sad, and it takes a long time to be happy again.”

GM: Lucy sniffs several times, then starts quietly crying.

Celia: “Oh, sweetie…” Celia murmurs soft, soothing things to the girl, holding her close. “It’s okay, Lucy, it’s okay.”

Celia takes a seat on the bed and holds the crying Lucy against her, rocking her slowly back and forth.

There’s a song her mom used to sing to she and her siblings when they came to her with their childish woes. An old lullaby, a soft melody that Celia hums now for the daughter in her arms.

GM: The soothing lyrics and gentle motions eventually cause Lucy’s sniffles to trail off. She dabs at her eyes.

“I’d like… a picnic.”

Celia: “Picnics make everything better,” Celia agrees.

GM: Emily and Dani arrive with full plates of still-steaming food.

“Uh oh, we get upset?” asks Emily, looking at the child’s reddened eyes.

Celia: “She’s sad that Mr. Garrison is sad.”

“And wants us to make him happy.”

GM: “I wish we could too, Luce,” says Emily. She sets down the plates and kneels down on the floor to stroke Lucy’s back.

Celia: Celia takes the opportunity to look up at Dani, brows raised.

GM: Dani just has a sadly knowing look.

“I’m sorry. I should’ve… mentioned how he’s not very good company.”

“These days, when he thinks about Stephen.”

Celia: “I was just wondering if there’s something we can do.”

GM: “I wish there was.”

There’s a knowing lilt to her voice as she looks at Celia. Partly questioning.

“Mommy was quiet,” says Lucy. “With Mr. Garrison.”

Celia: “She was, Goose. Mommy is good at knowing how to act around people that are sad or mad or not feeling their best.”

Celia gives a tiny nod to Dani.

She could do something. Take it away. If that’s what his daughter wants.

She’ll talk about it on the way back. Warn her it’s temporary.

She wishes Stephen were here. That he could see… the love, maybe. The pain his absence causes. So he’d know that the world isn’t all bad. That there are still people who love him. Who miss him. Who need him.

GM: Dani looks a little gladder.

“Oh,” says Lucy.

“Did I hear something about a picnic?” asks Emily.

“Uh huh,” says Lucy.

Celia: “Should we send the kitties in? Make it a party?”

GM: “Ooh, good idea,” says Emily, then frowns. “Wait, Victor and Shadow should be in here. This is where we normally keep them when you’re over.”

Celia: “Maybe they got out when I opened the door?”

GM: “You’d have seen them, wouldn’t you?” says Emily, shaking her head.

“They must be in here still,” says Dani. “If you’re sure they were here?”

“Yeah, positive,” says Emily.

Celia: “Sleeping?”

“I can check the courtyard, though.”

Just listen for the hissing.

GM: Emily shakes her head again. “They’re in here. Door was closed the whole time.”

Celia: “Maybe they’re napping in your panty drawer.”

Celia wiggles her brows at Emily.

GM: “The pussies want to smell my pussy, huh?” smirks Emily.

Celia: “Who doesn’t?”

GM: “Maxen, probably, mongrel that I am.”

Celia: “That’s an image I don’t need,” Celia mutters.

GM: Emily gets down on her belly and looks under the bed.

“Oh. There they are.”

Celia: “Oh, good.”

That’s her cue to leave.

GM: “Jesus, they look spooked.”

“Their tails are huge.”

Celia: Definitely her cue to leave.

“They never liked me much,” Celia says with a shrug. She rises.

GM: “Why not?” asks Lucy.

Celia: “I’m cuter than them. They hate it.”

GM: “So they’re cuter than the rest of us? Or co-equal?” asks Emily, getting up from her belly.

Dani watches Celia as if to see how she handles this.

Celia: “Me, then the cats, then you.”


GM: “Ice cold, Celia. Ice cold.”

Celia: Celia winks at her.

GM: “How cute am I?” asks Lucy.

Celia: “Cuter than all of us combined.”

“That’s why they like you so much.”

GM: “Cuter than all of us and… beat me to it,” smirks Emily. “Kitties included.”

Celia: “They know they don’t stand a chance against you, Goose, so they have to love you.”

GM: A low growl goes up from under the bed.

Celia: “That’s them claiming their territory.”

GM: Lucy looks worried.

“They’re being scary…”

Celia: Celia takes a step toward the door.

GM: Dani follows her. “All right, we’ll leave you two to set up the picnic. Hopefully the kitties will calm down.”

Celia: Celia hesitates, then takes a knee to peer under the bed. Just in case.

She keeps her distance.

GM: She’s greeted by two furious hisses as the cats’ ears go flat. Lower growls go up from their throats.

Celia: “Yeah, yeah,” Celia mutters, “screw you too.”

GM: “Make them stop!” pleads Lucy.

She doesn’t fool them.

Celia: Stupid cats.

Celia moves away from the bed.

GM: Smart cats.

Very smart cats.

She fools everyone else.

Celia: “They’ll calm down if you share some dinner with them, I bet. Just don’t tell Mommy.”

GM: “That’s an idea,” says Emily, patting Lucy’s back. “I bet they’ll just love some chicken. Mommy Celia will be by later to tuck you in, won’t she?”

Celia: “I will,” Celia promises.

“Love you, Goose.”

“Enjoy your picnic.”

“You too I guess, uggo.”

GM: “Love you, Mommy,” Lucy repeats.

Emily smiles at her, then removes the top-most blanket from her bed. “All right, this should be a good picnic blankie…”

Friday evening, 18 March 2016

GM: Dani follows Celia back into the main house.

“Wow, so… animals really hate licks?”

Celia: “Most of us.”

“They can sense the Beast, I guess.”

GM: “They like me, like I’ve said.”

Celia: “Some of you are lucky.”

“They all hate me, though.”

“Stephen doesn’t have a problem with animals.”

GM: “Huh. He was always a big pet lover.”

Celia: “Could be that.”

GM: “So about my dad…”

Celia: “Yeah. I can take it from him. His grief. Just temporarily, though. It’ll be back.”

GM: “Really? Are there side effects?”

Celia: “Not really. It’s fake, though. It kind of… numbs him. Like really strong meds.”

GM: “Oh. Would we be able to cheer him up?”

“I mean, only so much, obviously.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“I can manipulate a lot of emotions. Happiness isn’t one of them.”

“Probably because I’m an undead abomination that true happiness escapes.”

“But who’s counting.”

GM: “Well, I guess I’m half one,” Dani remarks. “But I meant if you do it, numb his pain, could anything we do still cheer him up?”

Celia: “I think so. It just takes away what’s there, so if we introduce something on top of it…”

“Stephen… doesn’t like it. Using powers like this. On family.”

GM: “Oh? The use here sounds pretty ethical.”

“Though you could raise questions of consent.”

Celia: “That’s the problem. Slippery slope.”

GM: “Maybe better not, then.”

“I mean, if it’s only for an evening anyway…”

Celia: “I’m sorry, Dani. I wish I could help.”

GM: Dani looks sad. “Thanks. Me too.”

“He isn’t always… this bad.”

Celia: “I think it’s me, honestly.”

GM: “I think it’s Stephen.”

Celia: “I guess it’s a good thing he isn’t here, you know.”

“As my new partner. Rubbing it in your dad’s face, basically.”

GM: “Ah. Yeah. I guess maybe that’s worked out, actually.”

Celia: “Did you hear from him…?”

GM: Dani shakes her head.

Celia: “I’ll find him. When we’re done here.”

“C’mon, then. Let’s go have dinner.”

GM: Dani nods and follows her to the dining room. The click of Diana’s heels soon announces her and Mr. Garrison.

“We ended up talkin’ about cars for a while,” she smiles. Still fainter and quieter than her usual self.

“But okay, food’s all out, let’s eat. Did Emi decide to stay with Lucy?”

Celia: “She did,” Celia tells her mom as she takes a seat. “Car okay?”

GM: Diana nods. “We’re going to hold off on taking it in. It’s just an older car, no gettin’ around that. I’m very fond of it, though. Still the same one I got you for college!”

Celia: “I remember,” Celia says with a smile.

“Thank you for taking a look, Mr. Garrison.”

GM: “You’re welcome, Celia.”

Her mom smiles back at her. “All right, so for dinner tonight we’ve got slow-cooked lemon chicken, collard greens, and citrus salad. There’s shoofly pie for dessert, that’s still in the kitchen.”

Celia: “Looks great, Ma.”

GM: The chicken thighs are cooked up tender and juicy in a buttery lemon garlic sauce, probably made with broth too, judging by how they’re all but swimming in it. They also smell of onion powder, paprika, chili pepper flakes, and Italian seasoning. Parsley flakes and lemon wedges provide a finishing touch.

The first side dish is drunken collard greens, made with bourbon, bacon bits, diced sweet onion, and a few tablespoons of bacon grease in place of butter for extra decadence.

A fruit salad of diced strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries provides a contrast in colors and temperates. A light sauce of honey, poppyseed, and lime enhances the fruits’ natural sweetness.

“Thank you, sweetie, I’m so glad it does,” her mom smiles back at her, though with a hint of apology. They both know she isn’t going to enjoy it.

“Henry, would you like to lead us in prayer?” she asks.

Celia: Is Mr. Garrison religious?

Celia casts a glance his way.

GM: Henry merely holds his hands together and closes his eyes. Diana and Dani do the same and bow their heads.

“Lord God, Heavenly Father, bless us and these Thy gifts which we receive from Thy bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen,” he recites.

“Amen,” echoes Celia’s mom.

“Amen,” murmurs Dani.

Celia: “Amen,” Celia says.

GM: “Henry, w-” Diana starts before the chime of the doorbell.

There’s another chime.

Then another.

Then another.

The person at the door is barely pausing before hitting the bell again.

“Oh, who could that be,” Celia’s mom frowns.

“Oh! Celia, didn’t you say this might be someone you were expectin’? Would you like to get it?” she asks.

Dani looks hopeful, as if having the same thought.

Celia: Celia slides immediately from her seat to answer the door.

GM: It’s Alana. The ghoul looks on the verge of tears under her umbrella.

Celia: Celia closes the door behind her as she steps outside.

GM: “You ignored my text,” she says sullenly.

“I thought I’d find you here.”

“With them.

Celia: “I sent you a text,” she says, confused.

GM: “You’ve shut me out!” exclaims the ghoul, breathing hard.

“You think I don’t notice how we aren’t sleeping together anymore!?”

“We just stopped!

Celia: “Alana,” Celia says sharply, “pull yourself together. I literally said that I’d be with you tonight.”

GM: “You weren’t at the spa! I was going to surprise you! I’d spent HOURS!”

“They come first, every single time! Always!”

She casts a hateful glare at the house.

Celia: “Alana. Knock it off. I’ve been walking a tight line lately, this is not helping.”

GM: “That’s what you always say!” The ghoul’s eyes are wide. “I tried to bring it up and you blew me off! You keep saying later! You said you’d reward me, and you never did! You just forget about me! For your stupid family! THEY ALWAYS COME FIRST!” The last words are exclaimed with a half-gulp, half-sob.

Celia: Celia seizes the ghoul by the throat and slams her bodily against the side of the house. Fangs bared, she leans in.

“My Masquerade comes before everything. You get rewarded when you earn rewards, not when you show up and cause a scene,” Celia hisses at her.

GM: Alana starts full-on crying. She doesn’t try to force away Celia’s hands.

“You don’t love me, you’re bored with me, I knew it, I knew it…”

Celia: “I’m bored of the emotional outbreaks.”

“I’m bored of not knowing whether you can stay by my side.”

“I’m bored when you make me think you can’t handle this.”

GM: Alana chokes past the grip on her neck.

“You’re lying! You kept saying how good I was doing! You kept and kept and kept saying it, and we’ve only had sex once!”

Celia: “We literally had sex yesterday.”

GM: “We used to have sex EVERY DAY!”

Celia: “I’m about to take you to LA with me for months so we can fuck.”


“I am on a very, very delicate missive for Lord Savoy. Being here is part of it. If we fuck it up, do you want to answer to him?”

GM: “Why don’t we SLEEP TOGETHER ANYMORE?!” the ghoul sobs.

Celia: There’s nothing nice in the expression that crosses Celia’s face. There’s nothing human in her eyes, not narrowed the way they are with her lips pulled back and teeth bared in silent snarl at the sniveling bitch in front of her. The tips of her nails dig into Alana’s neck. Not claws, not yet, but close.

“Don’t you ever show up at my door and throw a fit like some sort of child. I have been nice to you. I have been patient with you. I have been good to you, better than you’d find with any other domitor in the city. I will not tolerate this sort of pathetic, whimpering, tantrum-throwing behavior because you didn’t get what you want.”

“You know my schedule. You knew I wouldn’t be at the spa tonight, not before this dinner, maybe not even before Elysium. Don’t you dare act shocked that I followed my schedule.”

“You want sex?” Celia hisses at her. “I want competence. And right now you’re nothing but a liability. You know what we do to liabilities, ’Lana?”

She leans in, her face filling the ghoul’s vision.

GM: Alana chokes past the grip around her neck, a stifled and gasp-like sound together with her sniffling. She still doesn’t try to push Jade away, but fear starts to edge out the anger in her eyes as she feels the sharpening nails’ bite.

“I’m s-sorry, mistress, I jus, just want to sleep with y-you, not even sex, that’s a-all.”

The ghoul’s voice quavers.

“Mistress, I miss you…”

Celia: “And what,” Celia growls at her, “happened to waiting until tonight, like we’d talked about? Did you forget how calendars work? Can you no longer recall the days of the week? What happened to tonight?

GM: “I’m sorry, mistress, I just, I thought you’d leave again, after we had sex, and I just… I thought about where you were, and I lost it.” She makes several more sounds past the near-claws around her throat. “I’m sorry, mistress, do you want to punish me…?”

Celia: Jesus fucking christ.

Celia squeezes. Squeezes, because she’s been on the other side of that grip and she knows what it’s like to think that the person with their hands around your throat isn’t going to stop. Squeezes, because the pain that’s bottled up inside of her needs an outlet and the stupid but pretty whore in front of her is close. Squeezes, because she’d rather choke the life from her than listen to another minute of her whimpering.

She waits until Alana’s hands grow limp. Until the fear in her eyes turns to terror. Until the black spots begin to swim in her vision.

GM: Alana doesn’t struggle at first. She makes choking sounds as the rain patters against her increasingly blue face, but she doesn’t raise her hands. It’s not until Jade doesn’t let go, until she keeps squeezing and squeezing and squeezing, that she finally tries to pry her domitor’s fingers off. Jade sees it in her eyes, amidst the terror. That primal urge in all forms of life. To live. To survive, just another day.

But Alana’s limp fingers are no match for the furious Toreador’s ruthless grip.

Celia: And then she stops. She eases up. She leans in, fangs long in her mouth.

“Go. Home. Go home and handcuff yourself to the bed and I will deal with you when I get there.”

GM: Alana collapses to her domitor’s feet, knees painfully hitting the courtyard’s rain-slick bricks. She gags in pain for several moments, hands massaging her throat before she falteringly rasps out,

“Do you… want me… naked, mis… tress?”

Celia: “Get out of my sight.”

GM: Alana looks into her domitor’s eyes for a moment, then picks up her dropped umbrella, ambles to her feet, and retreats to her parked car. She stops at the door, turns back, and weakly calls out,

“I just want to get your orders right, m-mistress…”

Celia: Celia stares silently through the rain at the ghoul. She offers no further guidance.

Without a word she turns back to the house and steps inside, shutting the door firmly behind her.


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

GM: She hears the car’s ignition starting before she walks back into the dining room. Her mother and Dani looks somewhat surprised, and disappointed, to see her return by herself.

“Oh. Who was that at the door, sweetie?” her mom asks.

“They were really bangin’ that bell.”

Celia: No one, she almost tells them. But that’s both rude and not true, and not an answer any of them is likely to accept.

“Alana,” she says as she slides into her chair. “Problem at the spa and she got worried when I didn’t answer my phone.”

Vampire thing, Dani and Diana should realize.

GM: “Oh no,” says her mom. “Wasn’t anything too serious, I hope?”

Celia: “The break-in,” Celia says with a forced sigh. Then, looking up at Henry, she gives an apologetic smile.

“My spa was broken into earlier in the week. My manager and I had plans to meet to run over some numbers today but my appointments ran long, and she let her imagination get the best of her. My apologies for the interruption.”

GM: “Unfortunate,” frowns Mr. Garrison. It looks like no one’s touched their food while Celia excused herself, but they start their meal in earnest now that she’s back. Mr. Garrison starts to cut a chicken thigh. “Did you find the person responsible?”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“No.” Not technically. “That’s the weird part, though, nothing was missing. Nothing was stolen.” She looks down at her plate, beginning to cut into one of the pieces of chicken someone had laid out for her. A small portion; she assumes Diana is responsible and smiles at her mother.

“So the alarm went off and we filed a police report, but they basically said there’s nothing to be done since they didn’t find anything and nothing was missing. They did use it as an excuse to shake down my other manager for protection money.

“One of my girls said it sounded like someone from the Insta community trying to send a message, I guess they do that on other platforms? Swatting? But no one was hurt so I don’t really understand it, I guess.”

GM: There’s also some greens and fruit salad on the plate. But the portions look as small as they can be without prompting questions, and her mom smiles back at her.

Mr. Garrison’s frown remains in place. “Do you know the names or badge numbers of the officers responsible?”

Celia: “Yes, I wrote them down when they told me what happened. She made it sound like there wasn’t much I could do…?”

GM: “Give them to me before I head out. I’ll have someone at my office take it up with Internal Affairs.”

Celia: “Oh, yes, okay. I will. Thank you, Mr. Garrison. That’s—thank you.”

GM: “Consider investing in cameras if you haven’t, or better cameras if you have. Alarms only catch faces if someone arrives in time.”

Celia: Celia nods. Better cameras, she can do that. She’ll have Rusty take a look. And Randy. His cameras had caught the would-be bugger, but who knows what might happen in the future.

She looks to her plate, unable to put off forcing the food down her throat anymore. Hopefully this stomach thing works. A nudge to her Beast, just in case, and Celia finally takes a bite.

Still awful.

Still tastes like literal shit.

Still an effort to chew, letting it roll around in her mouth like humans do.

Bit of a giveaway if she swallows her food whole, isn’t it.

GM: Diana tries not to look too obviously sympathetic as Celia forces herself to chew.

“I was starting to tell Henry the story of the situation we were in before Stephen came along,” says her mom. “You know it all, of course. You want to tell him how cruddy that old apartment of mine was?” she asks with a rueful smile.

Celia: She swallows the masticated chicken carcass.

“With the, ah, shared bathroom? Where one of your neighbors liked to shoot up?”

GM: “Oh my lord,” Diana murmurs. “Technically not even a neighbor. She was evicted. But she still came in to the bathroom to shoot up. I remember knockin’ on the door once, after someone was in there for a while, and hearin’ ‘present!’ in this breathless voice. I asked if she’d be out soon, she said yes, and the whole place was completely trashed when I came in. Just…” She shakes her head. “I feel sorry for the folks who still have to live there.”

Celia: “I always tried to make sure I didn’t have to use it when I was there. Stopped on the way if I needed to.”

“When Stephen came over…” Celia glances at Dani, then Mr. Garrison. “I imagine he told you about dinner with my father?”

GM: “Yes, I always laid down strips of toilet paper over the toilet seat,” her mother nods grimly. “And I felt just so embarrassed, sweetie. And bad for you. That you saw me livin’ like that, that you couldn’t even use the loo without feeling grossed out.”

Celia: “I think, more than that, what stuck with me was the way you’d been cut out completely. The photos you had to take from Facemash because he wouldn’t… let you have anything.”

GM: “Facemash photos?” Dani asks.

“Of my kids,” says Diana. “That was the only way I could have pictures of them.”

Celia: “‘Clean break.’”

GM: “That’s awful,” says Dani. “And yes. Stephen told us all about… ‘the worst dinner ever.’ That’s what he called it.”

Celia: “It was.”

“So going from that to introducing him to my mom… it was night and day.”

GM: “He said your dad basically made you be a servant.”

Celia: Celia nods her head, her eyes clouding with the memory of mortification.

GM: “He did say the second dinner was better, though. That how different it was almost gave him whiplash.”

“He said you and your mom seemed happy together. That the food ‘tasted less like fear and more like love.’ I told him that was corny.”

“I think that’s very sweet,” smiles Diana.

Celia: “It sounds like something he would say.” There’s a warmth to her smile that has been missing since last night.

GM: Mr. Garrison doesn’t say anything. Just listens and eats.

Celia: “I think without him we’d still be there. In that apartment. He’s the one who pushed my mom to do something about it.”

GM: “He gave us the number for an attorney, to call about an insurance settlement and regaining custody of my kids,” Diana nods. “But my goodness, sweetie, if he hadn’t… where do you think you’d be now, at 27?”

Celia: “Married to someone Dad picked for me.”

GM: “I know I’d still be drowning in medical debt and getting my wages garnished. Livin’ in that crummy apartment.”

“We wouldn’t have met Emily, either.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“Emily introduced Stephen and I, actually.”

“They… I think they had some classes together?”

“I told her to introduce me to someone cute and nice in exchange for some makeup tips, I think. She knocked it out of the park.”

GM: Dani nods. “They went out on two dates, but she said she was too busy with work and school to make a regular thing of it. So things never went anywhere with them.”

Celia: Celia’s smile tightens. She busies herself with the food on her plate.

“They never mentioned.”

GM: “Maybe she thought that would complicate things, sweetie,” says Diana. “Since he was your first boy.”

Celia: It shouldn’t bother her. It was years ago. Stephen is dead, and she has Roderick, and Roderick chose her.

But it does.

She makes a vague sound and cuts another piece of meat to shove into her mouth.

That’s the benefit of being mortal, she supposes: the built in excuse that she can’t talk with her mouth full.

GM: “Stephen had other girlfriends, too, in the past. But none he was as into as you,” says Dani.

Celia: Ah, well, that makes her feel better about breaking his heart.


Three times?

She can’t keep track anymore.

Maybe he should have tried harder with Emily. She’s going to be a doctor soon. She’s so smart.

They can go be smart together.

GM: Doctor and lawyer. Sounds like a more natural pairing than esthetician and lawyer.

Celia: Esthetician with an online medical degree, which is almost like it’s fake.

GM: The corpses she dissected (and created) are real enough.

But that might be worse than fake in his eyes.

Celia: All those issues with “lying” and he’d never told her that he’d fucked her sister.

Who’s the fucking liar now.

Maybe he even put it in Roxanne, too.

And Ryllie. Why not.

She’ll throw Lucy at him next time he comes over to see if he wants to complete the Flores Girls.

GM: “You okay, sweetie?” her mom asks, rubbing her shoulder.

Celia: “Didn’t realize he and Emily hooked up.”

GM: “I don’t know if they did,” says Dani. “Just that they went on two dates.”

Celia: He’d hooked up with her on their first.

“Not the sort of thing he’d tell you though,” Celia points out.

Another bite.

She swallows more shit.

And it sits, like a lead weight, in the pit of her borrowed stomach.

She doesn’t miss this feeling.

GM: “I guess not,” says Dani. “Athough-”

“I don’t think we need to discuss your brother’s history in that area, Danielle,” says Mr. Garrison over some greens.

“Right. Sorry, Daddy.”

Celia: Maybe she’ll fuck his sister.

Let him see how it feels.

Celia spears a piece of fruit with the tines of her fork and brings it to her mouth.

GM: It’s squishier.

But tastes just as ashen.

Celia: It joins the rest of the garbage she’ll need to evacuate later.

She lets her mother find a new topic of discussion, her thoughts on her missing boyfriend.

GM: Diana continues to tell the story and brings up all the help that Vivian and Stephen were with her and Celia’s assorted legal travails. Mr. Garrison listens, attentively but largely silently. Danielle finally asks, “Can I ask something, Mrs. Flores?”

“Oh of course, Danielle.”

“Your mom is a judge, Payton Underwood. Why didn’t you just go to her, at any point?”

Celia: Celia glances at her mother.

GM: “We weren’t on good terms, unfortunately,” Diana answers. She keeps her voice more sad than cool.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” says Dani.

“Me too. But Celia went to her for help too, I’ll get to that later in the story, and she sees Lucy semi-regularly these days.”

It’s technically not a lie. Just leaves out the ‘still are.’

“That’s good,” says Dani.

“I’ve worked with her. She’s a decent woman,” says Mr. Garrison.

“Tough. Won’t be intimidated.”

Celia: “I’ve always found her so.” Celia pushes another berry around on her plate. She hasn’t seen her since she learned that she’d sent her mother to the Dollhouse.

GM: She’ll want to see Lucy again at some point.

Celia: The second Lucy, anyway.

Celia still hasn’t decided what she’ll say.

Or how she should feel.

Stephen would know.

But Stephen is dead.

GM: Roderick, too.

Celia: Probably.

Missing, anyway.

She’ll find him.

GM: Diana continues the story. How Stephen was patient and understanding, but also unrelenting when he realized the full depth of the Flores family’s situation. How he gave his and Viv’s numbers even when Diana didn’t seem like she wanted to use them, and how he turned out to be right when Diana finally set up the meeting after more encouragement from Celia. How nervous she was for that first consultation. How she brought Celia along, “Even though she couldn’t sit in, privilege and all, and mainly wound up sittin’ in the waiting room to make her mom feel less scared,” she describes ruefully.

Celia: “All we had to do was file a police report after that,” Celia adds. Her brow furrows. “Oh, Grandma did help there. She gave us the number to call. Told us to ask for someone specific, someone like her that wouldn’t be afraid of Dad.”

GM: There’s slower chewing as Celia brings up Richard Gettis.

“He was definitely that,” Diana murmurs.

Celia: Celia watches Mr. Garrison, though she’s as unobtrusive about it as she can be.

GM: “It’s a tragedy,” says Stephen’s father. “Stephen told me the details. Detective Gettis was one of the NOPD’s finest officers before he became a murderer.”

Celia: “Did you know him, Mr. Garrison?”

GM: “In passing. We had more contact when I was an ADA.”

“He helped put a lot of bad people behind bars.”

Celia: Another nod.

“Grandma said the same.”

GM: “It’s just such a tragedy,” Diana repeats. “I taught both of those girls, in my classes. Just such sweet girls.”

“One of my co-workers lost her job, too, in the fallout.”

“Oh, who?” asks Dani.

“Ms. Perry,” answers Diana. “You wouldn’t have had any classes with her, though, Dani. She started at McGehee after your time.”

“That’s too bad,” frowns Dani. “I suppose it beats being shot, though. I had some classes with one of the Devillers. Adeline. I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like for the families.”

Celia: “I’m friends with her sister. The oldest. Cécilia.”

And Caroline. Sort of. Are they friends? She’s not quite sure. Hard to be, sires who they are.

“She implied the, erm, pressures of the job got to him when we spoke about it.”

GM: “There has been extensive investigation into Richard Gettis,” says Mr. Garrison. “I am inclined to agree with your grandmother. The man had no family, friends, or interests outside of his job.”

“Frontline police work is highly stressful. Homicide work is even more so. These people are exposed to the worst of humanity on a regular basis.”

“Richard Gettis did not have any stabilizing influences in his life.”

Celia: Like Mr. Garrison himself, if Dani’s words can be believed. She glances at the girl, then back to her dad.

“Aren’t you as well, Mr. Garrison? Stephen used to tell me about the pressures of your position as well. The danger, with who you go after.”

Easy to see Mr. Garrison going down that same road, isn’t it. Son dead. Daughter dead, technically.

GM: “My job is not easy, but I am more insulated than Detective Gettis from many of the stresses he faced. Death threats against judges and prosecutors have grown increasingly common in recent years, and are most commonly leveled by organized crime groups, but actual murders remain rare. The Prosecutors Memorial at the Ernest F. Hollings National Advocacy Center, which honors prosecutors killed during the performance of their duties, has fewer than 20 names.”

“Oh, when did that go up?” asks Diana.

“2004,” Mr. Garrison answers. “The first name is from 1982.”

“The number of police officers killed in the line of duty is far higher.”

Celia: “That isn’t quite what I meant, Mr. Garrison. I know you’re not on the ground level like an officer, but it’s still a high stress, high stakes world, and Stephen mentioned…” she trails off for a moment, then finally plunges forward. “Well, he mentioned things the organized crime families would try to do to intimidate your family, your father’s family. And, forgive me if this is overstepping, but Dani mentioned that your life has become mostly work and sleep.”

She offers a gentle smile.

“I’m not saying that you might crack. You strike me as a hard man to crack, personally. But if you’d like an outlet, something to do outside of work, somewhere you can… I hate to say relax, but…”

“There’s always a chair open for you, I guess is what I’m saying.”

GM: “There is only one organized crime family with a grudge against mine,” Mr. Garrison corrects. “Their attempts at intimidation have never amounted to anything more than scare tactics. None of us have been placed in physical danger or lost our lives. I am too prominent a public official to be safely killed. The prosecution of my murder would dominate the focus of my successor’s term.”

He casts a faintly reproachful look at his daughter when Celia talks about his life, then turns back to her.

“I will have to decline. My available free time is extremely limited.”

“Well, we’re just glad to have you here tonight,” Diana smiles. “And that does explain why you don’t have a protective detail. Lucky us, not needing to prepare extra food.” She doesn’t chuckle, but she does smile a little wider.

“I receive details on an as-needed basis. Only the mayor has a permanent one,” says Mr. Garrison.

“But they eat while they are off-duty.”

Celia: He wasn’t this cold when she’d met him the first time. Maybe she’d pushed too soon.

GM: “I read about the ex-wife of India’s prime minister needing to cook meals for her protective detail,” says Dani. “All the time. The article also said they’d sleep in her house, be slobs in the bathroom, and basically bum free room and board off of her.”

Celia: “Sounds kind of like a cultural thing. Isn’t India a little backwards in their treatment of women in general?”

GM: “She said she didn’t even want them, they were such a pain to put up with. But yeah. Just a lot more corruption and… sleaziness. And sexism.”

Celia: “We’re still guilty of that here, to some degree.”

GM: “I guess the Pavaghis have brought over a taste of that, though,” says Dani.

“I think they owned my old apartment, actually,” says Diana.

Dani shakes her head. “Guess that’s no surprise. Slumlords.”

“Hasn’t Rich Pavaghi’s wife gone to your spa a few times, actually?” asks Celia’s mom.

Celia: “She has, yes. She’s a regular, actually.”

“Well, since they moved back here, anyway.”

GM: “Oh, I thought they lived in Kenner?” says Dani. “That’s, what, a 40 minute drive both ways?”

“Well, my baby’s very talented at what she does,” Diana smiles proudly, wrapping an arm around Celia.

Celia: Celia laughs.

“I doubt I’m the only reason she makes the drive.”

“But I’d meant moving closer from Baton Rouge, anyway.”

GM: “Ah, true. She’s got a million kids and grandkids in the city,” says Dani. “Probably comes over for them too.”

“She’s devoted to her kids, I’ll give her that,” nods Diana. “She moved in with her son when he was elected governor, to help out, as I remember.”

“Basically sidelined his wife in the media, though,” says Dani. “Strikes me more as controlling than devoted. I guess lucky for her kids and grandkids she has so many. Diffuses attention.”

Celia: “One of them is over at Bloom Couture. Have you been, Mr. Garrison?”

GM: “I have not,” he answers.

“It’s a very pretty place,” smiles Diana. “I get a lot of my gardening supplies there. But I doubt you have time for that sort of thing, with your job.”

Mr. Garrison simply nods as he cuts up another chicken thigh.

“Does it feel skeezy working on your mom’s old slumlord?” asks Dani. “The whole family is just so… scummy.”

Celia: “Honestly? No. I can’t let it get to me. Once someone is on my table it’s really just their body I’m looking at, and I put everything else away. There was someone once… early, I was still kind of new to it, but I knew him from college. He was kind of… I hate to say bully, but he was. I don’t think he recognized me, but I remembered him, and I just had to ignore it and deal with the fact that he was on my table. It’s a shift in power dynamics for sure, and it was weird for a minute, but then I just let it go.”

It had helped that she was a vampire and he was still kine, but she doesn’t mention that to Mr. Garrison.

GM: “Oh. What’d he do to you?” asks Dani.

“As a bully.”

Celia: “Before I met Stephen I was invited to a party by some of the people from one of my dance classes. Was supposed to just be a small thing, a break from the production, and I figured no big. They said no alcohol, it wouldn’t be wild. But, ah, one of them brought a flask they started passing around, and then they got bored of hanging out with just our small group and wanted to go to a ‘real’ party, so we ended up on Greek Row. You ever meet someone and just know they’re bad news? He was that kind of person.” Celia shakes her head. She doesn’t look like she wants to get into the rest of it.

GM: Her mother looks at her concernedly.

“I’m sorry,” says Dani. “The parties at Tulane can get… out of hand.”

“But you don’t see anything when someone is on your table,” says Diana, changing the subject for her. “You’ve said that to me, how they become just a body you need to work on, and pretty much all bodies are the same.”

Celia: “Basically.”

GM: “What do you think you’ll want to do with me when I come in?” asks Dani. “Or is that better as a surprise?”

Celia: “Mmm, depends on what you’re looking for. We could keep it simple, with a massage or facial, or get into some other things. If you want to relax and unwind, though, nothing really beats a massage. I generally tailor things to the client, though.”

She doesn’t pointedly look at Mr. Garrison , but she does sweep her gaze past him all the same.

“Dessert?” she asks at large. “Should I get the pie, Momma?”

“You can finish telling Mr. Garrison without me interrupting,” she adds with a slight smile.

GM: “I think a massage sounds good, then,” says Dani.

“That also sounds good, sweetie, you can find it in the oven,” her mom smiles back. “There’s whipped cream in the fridge, too!”

“I’ll help,” says Dani, rising from her seat and gathering up some of the plates.

“Oh, Dani, you’re a guest,” starts Diana.

“It’s okay, Mrs. Flores. You can tell my dad the rest of the story yourself.”

“All right, if you’re sure.”

Celia supposes she’s spent enough time talking about her boyfriend for one night.

Friday evening, 18 March 2016

GM: Dani carries out plates and serving containers with Celia.

“So Stephen said something about you two wanting to set our parents up?”

Celia: Celia gathers what she can, moving into the kitchen to scrape things into the compost bin, rinse plates, put some of the dishes away, and fill the dishwasher.

“Mm, he mentioned it. I don’t think I’m helping.”

GM: “Oh, why not?”

Celia: “I’m pretty sure your dad hates me and every time I open my mouth he’s reminded that I left Stephen.”

GM: “I don’t think he hates you,” says Dani as she helps out. “Believe me, you’d know if he did.”

Celia: “‘Always have a plate open,’” Celia mutters. “Idiot.”

GM: “Plate open?”

Celia: Celia gives a disgusted sigh.

“Exactly. It makes no sense. Why would I say that. Because I’m an idiot, Dani.”

GM: “Oh. You meant chair.”

“Yeah, sorry. Dad is just… really business-focused. I don’t know if he’s ever been to a spa.”

Celia: “The sentiment remains the same, he blew it off.”

“I was talking about inviting him back to dinner again.”

GM: “That might be better, actually. Since he still has to eat.”

Celia: “I already did, Dani. Didn’t you hear him? He said no.”

GM: “Sorry? You just invited him to the spa, if I wasn’t zoning out?”

Celia: “No. Before that. When you asked about my grandma and he mentioned the cop. I invited him back.”

GM: “Oh. I thought you meant the spa.”

Celia: “I didn’t invite him to the spa at all.”

“I mean if he wants to come, sure, but it doesn’t seem like his groove.”

GM: “Yeah, that’s what I figured.”

“Maybe we can clarify?”

“I think it would be good for him to get out more.”

“Or at least, get in, somewhere else with different people.”

Celia: She thought she’d been perfectly clear.

GM: “I think it’d be good for him to date again too. He just doesn’t have any patience for it.”

Celia: “I think it would be weird to date my stepbrother, but… my mom would be good for him. Your dad.”

“She’s got a lot of love and patience.”

GM: “I think so. She made him feel all manly with the car, too.”

Celia: “Yeah. Like that. Give him something to do with his hands. Makes them feel needed.”

GM: “You also did that with the cops who shook you down. When he said he’d do something about it.”

Celia: Celia smiles at her.


GM: “I hope he does, too. I can’t believe they tried to extort you.”

“Well, I can. It’s just awful.”

Celia: “They’re all awful.”

“Your dad is one of the last few remaining good ones.”

“Him and… well. Stephen.”

GM: Dani shakes her head. “There are plenty of good cops, lawyers, and judges. It’s just… a lot of things are rigged against them.”

“But that’s a bigger topic.”

“What do you think we can do to set them up?”

Celia: “What does he like to do? Or used to like to do?”

GM: “He might be if he went there. He just… isn’t that interested in trying new things, anymore.”

“He used to be. Before Stephen.”

Celia: “If he were around I’d just suggest a double date.”

GM: “Oh, that’s an idea.”

“Though I’ll call it a victory just to get him to go.”

“Maybe try not to frame it as a date, too.”

Celia: “Well. Maybe Mom can say she wants to check out the new exhibit or something.”

“And I’ll offer to watch Lucy.”

GM: “Maybe we could all go? That feels less like a date. Explains why your mom wants to go, too, show Lucy a museum.”

Celia: “Oh, that’s better.”

“Maybe they have a late night?”

GM: “He’s busy during the day, anyway, so. And your mom knows you can only do nights.”

Celia: “Alright. We’ll make it work, then. Maybe Stephen will be able to make it.”

GM: “I hope so. For him.”

“Dad, at least, I don’t think would mind one less stranger.”

“Should your mom know we’re trying to set them up?”

Celia: “I dunno. She’s kind of set on seeing Maxen again.”

“Might just put my foot down there.”

“Trying to see how it goes tonight with some leads I have to follow.”

GM: “Leads with your dad?”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “I dunno that you can stop her from seeing him if she wants to. I mean, she’s your mom.”

Celia: “I can if I tell her the truth.”

“And make it a lick politics thing.”

“Which it is.”

GM: “I dunno, if there was a guy I loved… did lick politics stop you and Stephen?”

Celia: It might have.

GM: “I mean, you aren’t supposed to be seeing each other, but it’s not gotten in the way.”

Celia: “Hasn’t it? We have to hide from everyone. Someone touched me last week and he was going to challenge him to a duel for the insult.”

GM: “That’s kinda romantic,” Dani smiles.

Celia: “We got jumped by hunters and everyone thinks he’s the only one who did anything to stop them.”

“It was, yeah.”

Celia can’t help but smile too.

GM: “I bet he’d win, too. You guys were incredible against those mobsters.”

Celia: “Yeah, well, it didn’t end up happening.”

“Next time, I guess.”

GM: “Yeah. So, you wanna set up the WWII museum outing?”

Celia: “Guess so. Wanna grab the pie? Ovens don’t always agree with my kind. I’ll get the whipped cream.”

GM: “Okay,” says Dani, getting some mitts and opening the oven. “Why don’t they?”

Celia: “Fire.”

“Rather not risk it with this many people around.”

GM: “Can’t hurt,” Dani agrees as she hefts the pie dish.

Celia: Celia locates the whipped cream and serving utensils and starts towards the door. She stops, though, before she crosses the threshold, and turns to look at Dani once more.

“Did he sleep with her?” she asks in a low voice. “Emily. Did he?”

GM: “Um. I’m honestly not sure,” Dani answers. “Does it matter, though? It was forever ago. And I can definitely tell you he was nowhere nearly as into her.”

Celia: “I don’t know why I care,” she mutters.

GM: “You seemed, well… insecure about the relationship, honestly, when we talked,” says Dani. “This feels like more of that.”

Celia: “He’s smarter than me. Stronger than me. Faster than me. Better than me. He called me a whore. What’s not to be insecure about?”

“And now he’s gone, and I can’t find him. And it’s my fault he’s a vampire, and probably my fault he’s gone.”

GM: Dani sets down the pie and rests her hands on Celia’s shoulders.

“Look. He’s not better than you, and he doesn’t think so. He’s sorry he hurt you. Really sorry. He wants your guys’ relationship to work. It means the world to him.”

Celia: “He left.

“He didn’t come back.”

GM: “He’s left me too.”

“But he’s gonna come back.”

“I mean, what, is he going to just disappear forever?”

Celia: “Maybe.”

GM: “He didn’t before, when you broke up. He just… wanted space.”

Celia: “What if he’s dead? What if he didn’t make it somewhere safe this morning? What if more hunters picked him up? What if Carolla’s goons found him?”

What if Savoy did something to him?

What if he went to confront Coco and she smacked him back down to size?

GM: “He’s tough and smart. Isn’t he?” says Dani.

Celia: “He was also angry and hurt.”

GM: “All right, so, what can we do, besides worry?”

Celia: “Get through dinner and find him.”

GM: “Okay. You want to go look for him?”

Celia: “I have a loose end to tie up. Then yes, before Elysium, I’d like to look.”

GM: “Okay. I’ll go with you.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“Dessert first, though.”

GM: “He’s not in love with Emily, by the way. He took it pretty casually when they had to stop seeing each other. And that was seven years ago, when he was human.”

Celia: “They still fucked. And he never told me. And she never told me.”

“Whatever. I don’t care.”

The more she thinks about it the more she realizes it’s true. She doesn’t care. Celia is dead. Stephen is dead. Roderick is probably dead, too. What’s left to cherish? Why not take the last of her happy memories from her, tarnish them with the idea that Emily and Stephen hooked up and she got her sister’s sloppy seconds? Everything else is already ruined, anyway.

GM: “I don’t think they were trying to lie to you. I think it just never registered as important. It was two dates. Ending things with Emily basically got a ‘too bad’ and then he moved on to other girls. Ending things with you destroyed his world.”

Celia: “I don’t care,” Celia says again.

GM: “You do care. I just don’t want this to hurt you more.”

Celia: “You brought it up."

GM: “You’re being defensive.”

Celia: “Of course I’m being defensive! I was supposed to be a one night stand. He told me that. He said that to me, that’s all I was supposed to be. Emily introduced us because he was looking to get laid and she wanted to show me a good first time and had already sampled the goods. And I’d never been with anyone, and he offered to make it special, and he did. And it was a lie. The whole thing was a lie. And years later I’m still in love with him and he’s not. He left. And he didn’t come back.

“We were supposed to talk. We were supposed to clear the air between us so we could be together. And he never came back. He doesn’t care.”

“So don’t. Don’t tell me that our relationship is important to him when he couldn’t be bothered to show up.”

GM: “Celia, do you really think your relationship doesn’t matter to him? That boom, just like that, he dropped something with seven years of history?”

Celia: Celia sighs down at her.

“You didn’t see his face last night, Dani. You didn’t hear his voice.”

GM: “How does that even matter if they slept together? How does that make what you had a lie? He had girlfriends before you! Long-term ones, even.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t expect her to understand. She’s never had a boyfriend. Never been through anything to do with the heart. Doesn’t know Stephen, not like Celia does, not that way. The romantic way. The “on the other end of his fists” way. The broken way. Twice broken, her fault both times, isn’t it? Explaining it to her isn’t going to make her understand any better. It’s like the frenzy thing: she had to see it to get it.

“Come on,” she says, “the story isn’t that long.”

Dani doesn’t know the truth, anyway.

But Emily does.

Roderick does.

She’ll find it when she finds him.

Friday evening, 18 March 2016

Celia: She leads the way back into the dining room, forcing a smile.

“Dessert has arrived.”


“Oh, th-thank you, you two,” Diana smiles as the two arrive. She looks a little emotional as they set the pie down and dabs at her eyes.

Celia: Celia touches a hand to her shoulder after she sets the whipped cream down on the table, brows lifted.

GM: “Just retellin’ the whole story, baby, and what a brave, sweet, kind-hearted boy Stephen was,” answers her mom, laying a hand on top of Celia’s. “Gets me a little emotional.”

“Me as well, Diana,” answers Mr. Garrison. His voice is slightly uneven.

Celia: Celia nods in understanding. She gives her mom’s shoulder a squeeze.

GM: Her mom smiles at her and turns to the dessert.

“So this is a mostly classic shoofly pie, it’s got molasses and crumbs and pie crust, pretty much, but I added some chocolate chips too. Thought we’d experiment and see how the flavors combine.”

“Celia, I know how much you want to watch your figure for those Instagram posts, do you still want any?”

Celia: “I might pass, if that’s all right. Molasses is a little heavy for me. I can take a slice to Emi, though.”

GM: Her mom nods. “It’s okay. There’s nothin’ healthy in dessert. And that would be very thoughtful, sweetie, though with Victor and Shadow…”

Celia: “I’ll make it quick.” Celia cuts a piece, then a smaller one for Lucy, and heaps a mountain of whipped cream atop them both. She nabs two forks and is out the door before anyone can ask if she’s allergic to cats or what.

Quick steps take her across the yard to the carriage house, where she knocks twice on the door and says, “Hey it’s Celia, brought dessert, wanna come out a sec, Em?”

GM: Carriage room, technically, as Emily enjoys calling it. Her voice answers, “Sure, out in a sec,” a moment later. The door opens before too much rain can patter against her umbrella.

“Thanks, pie wouldn’t have been Instagram-worthy if we’d cut slices earlier.”

Celia: “Can’t have that.”

“Hey, so it came up at dinner that you and Stephen used to date. Why didn’t you tell me you’d hooked up?”


“Didn’t realize we were eskimo sisters.” Celia wiggles her eyebrows.

GM: Emily laughs. “Well, we only went out a couple times before I told him it wouldn’t work. He took it pretty well.”

Celia: “But you did. Hook up.”


GM: “Ah, geez. Are you feeling grossed out?”

Celia: “Tell me.”

“Tell me if you slept with him.”

“It doesn’t matter, it was before we were together, he’s dead and gone, but I’d like to know.”

“So did you?”

Celia waits. Expectant.

It shouldn’t take this long to get an answer. The pie is probably getting cold. It’s a yes or no question. One syllable. That’s all it is. Three letters at most. Just say it, Emily. Just say you slept with him. Say you gave me your leftovers, say that our entire relationship was built on a lie, that I’ve never even had my own boyfriend because someone else got to him first. Did you tell him I’d be easy? Did you say that I’d be down for a one night stand because I was curious about sex? Did you tell him he could pop my cherry? And, what, he stayed because I was too stupid to realize what the two of you had done? Did you laugh about it afterwards? Was it like one of those shitty teenage movies where you set a dude up with a girl as a joke and he falls for her and then she finds out and it ruins everything?

Because that’s what this will do. Ruin everything. Them sleeping together kills everything she’d ever felt for him. Everything. There’s not an ounce of it left if they slept together. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was. It doesn’t matter that he’s dead. It doesn’t matter that she’s dead.

She had this. This one thing that was special. This one thing she could cherish from her mortal life.

It’s just one word.

One word.

Just say it.

GM: That’s when Celia feels it. Descending like a shadow over the moon.

The familiar icy hand locked in sudden death grip around her heart.




Her head whips to the house’s roof, as though grabbed by a magnet.

He’s there. Perched on it like some enormous black bat come home to roost.

Her sire has arrived.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Thirteen, Celia XIV
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Next, by Character: Story Thirteen, Celia XVI

Story Thirteen, Celia XIV

“She lied to me.”
Roderick Durant

Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

GM: The pair drive back to Flawless. Dani and the brothers are there, in Jade’s suite. Carolla lies on the central table with a stake pounded into him. Somewhat needlessly, given his torpid state.

Celia: Better safe than sorry, though.

“Where’s the ghoul?” she asks Dani.

GM: “You need him for anything? ‘Cuz to me he sounded like a giant headache she couldn’t work up the stones to take care of,” answers Reggie.

Celia: Surely he’s not talking about her.

Jade gives him a sharp look.

“I do.”

GM: “Well, that’s too bad. I already killed him.”

Celia: “You what?!

GM: Dani’s mouth falls open.

Roderick seizes the ghoul by the throat and slams him back-first into the wall.

Celia: “Don’t!”

Celia is at his side in an instant, hands on the arm holding up the ghoul, pulling him back.

Or attempting to.

GM: She finds the Brujah’s grip quite implacable. Randy yells, “Hey!” and tries to pry him off too, but Roderick just shoves him hard enough to send the ghoul sprawling over his face. Reggie gives a pained grunt past the vice-like hand around his throat, but doesn’t struggle.

Celia: “Rod! Stop it!”

There’s not much room between the pair, but she worms her way in what space exists all the same, shoving at Rod with the flats of her palms.

“Stop it. Stop it! Let him go.”

GM: “I could… read this whole thing…” grunts Reggie. “Princess throwin’ a fit… ‘oh, no, don’t be the bad guy!‘… pissed at you, if you did it… but scared shitless he’d remember… giant fuckin’ liability…”

He manages a grin.

“So Mr. Bad Guy took care of it…”

Celia: He’s right.

GM: “Go on… Mr. Tough Guy… you gonna kill me instead?”

Celia: “Shut UP, Reggie!” Celia snaps at him. She turns back to Roderick.

“Roderick, please, let him go.”

GM: Roderick doesn’t answer. His fangs are distended, his eyes wide and furious. A choked half-growl escapes his throat.

Dani turns from staring daggers at Reggie to looking Celia with fear. She starts to edge away.

“Is he gonna lose it…?”

Celia: “Get out, Dani. Go. Randy, go. Now.”

Celia waits until she hears the door close, then reaches for Roderick, hands on either side of his face.

“Stop it,” she says to him. There’s no fear in her voice or face, just a gentle command. Soft, like the rest of her, but there’s steel in her spine now. She’s not going to let her boyfriend become a murderer. “Reel it in. You don’t want to hurt him. You don’t want to be like him. Let him go. Let him go, and we’ll deal with this. You are not a murderer.”

GM: The ghoul and thin-blood give the two vampires a long look, but edge their way out.

Roderick squeezes Reggie until his smirk is completely gone and he starts to turn blue. Survival instincts overtake the smugness in his eyes as he starts to fight back. The Blood enhances his muscles too, and for a moment it looks like he might throw Roderick off before the Brujah clamps a second hand around his throat. The two struggle for several moments, but in the end, it isn’t physical strength that decides Reggie’s life, but Celia’s gentle yet unwavering implorations. The burgeoning fury in Roderick’s eyes wavers like a torch under heavy rain, then finally gutters out as he drops the ghoul to his feet. Reggie gags and massages his neck.

Roderick stares down at him.

“Get out of my sight, you trash.”

The ghoul silently picks himself up, hand still to his neck, and retreats from the room.

Celia: Celia helps him to his feet if he lets her, moving with him to the edge of the room to see him out. He doesn’t need her, but she needs him; she needs to make sure he’s okay, that he’s breathing, that he isn’t about to keel over. She locks the door behind him and turns to face the Brujah.

GM: Roderick slowly shakes his head.

“I’d have killed him if you hadn’t talked me down.”

“He should have known better.”

Celia: “He should have. And he didn’t. And you didn’t.”

GM: “I do know better. That’s what’s so fucking awful about it.”

“Because it doesn’t matter.”

Celia: “It does matter. We don’t judge other people by their intentions, just by their actions. And you didn’t do anything. That is what matters.”

GM: “This time.”

Celia: “Yeah? So you’re going to mope about it because you might maybe one day lose it again?”

“You’re going to beat yourself up about it because this time you didn’t but you have the potential to?”

“You know what, Roderick? So do I. Every time I go out and feed I have the potential to murder someone, and I don’t, and I’m not going to sit here being mad about it because I might.

GM: He shakes his head again. “I’m not going to mope. I’m just wondering how long I’ll last before I lose it.”

“Really lose it.”

“Your clan likes to say they don’t have a curse. Mine finds that harder to spin.”

Celia: “Of course we have a fucking curse. We all do. And we all have a Beast.”

GM: “Ours is worse. But that’s nothing new.” He looks at the door. “Your ghoul needs to face justice.”

“He murdered a defenseless man.”

Celia: “Yeah? What do you propose I do to him?”

GM: “I’m sure he’s done a lot of illegal things. Let him go to prison.”

Celia: “He’s a ghoul. You know that’s a terrible idea.”

GM: “Abandoned ghouls exist. Independents. But I suppose he might come after you,” Roderick relents.

“Trade him to another domitor.”

Celia: “…why?”

GM: “Because I doubt they’ll be as kind as you.”

Celia: “Hand him off to get abused. Do you hear yourself?”

“Why, knowing what I’ve been through, do you think that I would willingly do that to someone?”

“You think smacking him around some is going to make him a better person?”

“You think it worked on my mom, Roderick? Made her better when my dad hit her?”

“Think it made me smarter when he knocked me around?”

“You think that time he beat me until I could barely walk was for my benefit?”

GM: “My god no, Celia! But there was a critical difference. He’s a murderer. You and your mom weren’t. Should he just get away with that? Should there be no accountability? He obviously doesn’t regret what he’s done.”

Celia: “Of course he doesn’t! You think I don’t know that? That he absolutely thinks he did the right thing? You heard him. And he’s right. He did do the right thing. He got his hands dirty so I didn’t have to. So you didn’t have to. That guy was absolutely a liability.”

“He did what he did to protect me.”

“To protect you.”


“Our families.”

GM: Roderick shakes his head. “I won’t ever condone murder, Celia, except in direct self-defense. We could have found another way, like we have with Carolla. Maybe gotten a lick good at mind control to erase his memories. That’s off the table now.”

Celia: “Yeah. So is finding out what he knew. So are all of the answers I’d have gotten from him. It sucks. I’m mad at him too. And I can’t bring him back to life. So unless you can, we’re moving on.”

“Because unless you’re secretly friends with the prince or someone else who can erase years worth of memories, Reggie isn’t going anywhere. He knows everything about me. I will deal with him.”

GM: “Your ghoul can’t just get away with murder, Celia. There needs to be a consequence for his actions.”

Celia: “And, as his domitor, I will handle it.”

“I don’t tell you what to do with your ghouls. Don’t tell me what to do with mine.”

GM: “I hope you would tell me, actually, if they did something awful and my response seemed inadequate.”

“But fine. He is your ghoul. I trust you’ll handle it.”

Celia: Celia stares at him a moment longer, as if waiting for another argument. When it doesn’t come she finally nods.

“I’ll get rid of it.” The body, she means.

GM: “Okay.” He raises no objection.

He looks at Carolla.

Celia: “His, too.” She jerks her chin at the torpid lick.

GM: “I have things I’d like to ask him. But our blood isn’t strong enough to revive him.”

Celia: “No,” she agrees.

GM: “And I don’t want to bring in anyone else.”

Celia: “I was thinking the same.”

GM: “I’ll take care of him. Bury him somewhere no one will ever unearth him.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“I have a better idea.”

GM: Roderick thinks.

“Wait. Could you change his body?”

Celia: “…for what purpose?”

GM: “Hiding who he is when we transport him. Just in case someone gets a look.”

Celia: “I mean, yeah. Skin is skin. I can change it.”

GM: “Extra layer of security.”

“Maybe take away his muscles, too.”

Celia: “Yeah? Graft them on you?”

GM: “God, no. I’m happy with mine. I don’t want anything from his body on me. I just like the idea of a tough Mafia thug being made weak.”

“Further helps conceal who he is, too.”

Celia: “Yeah. I can. Ask Randy to get me a cup. And a bag.”

GM: “Too bad he’s not awake. I’d like to see how he reacts to being the weak and helpless one.”

“Granted, I suppose you can’t take away his super-strength.”

Celia: “Probably not. Just his regular strength. I think.”

“I guess I’ve never tested that.”

“Just the other way.”

GM: “Perfect time to find out, then.”

Celia: “No, I mean, we won’t know without him being up.”

“Obviously I can take it.”

GM: “Ah. True. What was your idea, anyway?”

Celia: “There’s an apron in the next—oh.”

“I found the hunters that tracked me. I have a way to contact them. I was sending the boys undercover. Tomorrow, actually. We’d hatched the plan. Works better if they bring a body, though.”

“Find out what they know. Who else they’re targeting. Keep people safe.”

GM: “So your ghouls as ostensible hunters are bringing the body to trade to other hunters?”

Celia: Celia nods.

GM: “Only reason I can think of they’d want a staked lick is for interrogation and perhaps research purposes.”

Celia: “Not like they can revive him.”

GM: “Yeah, I was about to say.”

“If they even know how that works.”

Celia: “The ones who grabbed me were pretty clueless.”

“They’d heard of the mindfucking, kept me blindfolded or gagged by turns, but I’m not a fucking stiff.”

GM: “Most hunters don’t know a lot. And you’d need fairly potent blood to revive another lick, anyway.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

“So it gets us some intel. And gets rid of him.”

“Drain him first, so they don’t create independents or anything.”

GM: “Okay. Your cover will probably be blown after the handoff, though. Or they’ll at least be pissed.”

Celia: “I’ll deal with it if it is.”

GM: “They’ll have paid for a staked vampire that’s effectively just a corpse. I’d feel ripped off if I was a hunter.”

“But okay.”

Celia: “Sucks for them.”

GM: “Main question. What do they do with his body when he seems for all intents and purposes to be dead?”

Celia: Celia shrugs.

“We’re all technically dead.”

GM: “That’s semantics here.”

Celia: She can’t help but smile.

GM: He smiles back. “I suppose they might dispose of the body. Or perhaps vivisect for study, if they’re a more scientific bunch.”

Celia: “You know what’s fucked?”

“Like what’s really fucked?”

GM: “What?”

Celia: “I keep thinking that the best way to find out who they are and what they want is to let them deliver me.”

“Then get out.”

GM: “What if you make Carolla here look like you?”

“Then the hunters believe you’re tagged and bagged.”

Celia: “Yeah, but then I’m not actually there.”


“Someone bugged the spa. Looking for Jade. Shortly after I got caught as Celia and said the name Jade.”

“Said she was my sire.”

GM: “Right. So, let them think they’ve got Jade.”

“It’s not foolproof, but who knows, it might throw them off your trail.”

Celia: “That’s not a bad idea.”

GM: “It’s not like hunters go to Elysium to see you up and about.”

Celia: “I don’t know for sure that it’s connected, but maybe…”

“You know they thought that killing your sire would cure it?”

GM: “Huh. That’s how it is in some vampire media.”

Celia: “They believe all sorts of weird shit.”

GM: “I’ve also heard that rumor from some duskborn.”

“That killing your sire undoes your Embrace.”

Celia: “Couldn’t happen, though. Any time an elder dies you’d have like dozens of licks just going mortal.”

“Plus look at Max and Hennesy. His sire’s ash.”

GM: “The people circulating that rumor probably don’t know just how widespread Kindred bloodlines are. Or maybe they figure it only affects the killer.”


“I suppose Carolla is going to get a set of tits.”

Celia: “Nice tits.”

GM: A faint smile. “I can attest. If his sacrifice makes you safer from hunters, I’m all for it.”

Celia: “We should cover his disappearance more. I don’t want his uncle coming after me or my family. Or you.”

GM: Roderick nods soberly.

Celia: “Wear his face around a little, maybe.”

GM: “That’s why I was pretty paranoid about this.”

“I could wear his face, though. I know enough of how the Mafia operates.”

Celia: “…wonder if you could infiltrate.”

GM: Roderick considers.

“That’s not a bad plan at all.”

Celia: “You think you could act enough like him?”

GM: “That might be harder. What I have is the knowledge.”

Celia: “Worth thinking about, anyway.”

GM: He nods. “Very much so. For now, let’s just get rid of the real Carolla. We already did good letting two licks see him after he disappeared.”

Celia: Celia nods. She sets about gathering the supplies she’s going to need: a bowl, to drain him into. A cup, so she can use his own blood against him. A garbage bag for the spare parts. An apron for herself, a second for Rod.

“You gonna watch?” she asks him, using her claws to cut a hole in the side of his neck. A second later her hand punches through his chest to find his heart, squeezing the blood from his veins into the waiting bowl.

GM: “I’d be interested,” he nods, tying on the apron. He watches her initial work. “Geez. What’s that part for?”

Celia: “Heart is literally just a pump that moves the blood through the body. You can’t usually drain someone the whole way just through feeding, but you can this way.”

“Waste not and all that.”

GM: “That makes perfect sense.”

“Hmm. I bet a sorcerer would know all sorts of things to do with his blood.”

Celia: “Probably.”

GM: “What do you want to use it for?”

Celia: “Drink it, mostly. I burned through enough keeping him from murdering the two of us.”

“Fucker can pay me back.”

GM: “That works. I’m getting munchies too.”

Celia, however, doesn’t find much blood to squeeze. The horribly savaged Brujah was clearly burning through a great deal over the course of the fight.

Celia: She eyes the amount she’s able to squeeze out of him. Enough to share?

More than enough to share.

“Microwave in the next room. Unless you like it cold. Can each have a hit now, save some for later?”

GM: “That works.” Roderick fills up some containers and carries them away.

He’s back a few minutes later.

“Well, cheers.” He raises his.

Celia: Celia tucks away the rest of it for later. She lifts her glass, clinking it against his.


GM: Roderick downs the blood.

Then he doesn’t move.

The glass shatters over the floor, spilling its remaining blood as it falls from slack fingers.

Celia: Celia follows suit, swallowing it down. She’s absorbed in drinking—god, she loves Brujah blood—and only glances his way when the glass hits the ground. She looks at it, then up at him, and then at the glass in her hand.

GM: Roderick leaps upon Carolla’s vivisected body with a choked roar, bringing his fists down over and over and over as he smashes bones and pulverizes flesh with mindless, ravening fury.

Celia: Celia darts backwards, away from the angry vampire. She readies a stake in case he comes at her.

GM: He doesn’t. He mindlessly savages and rips apart Carolla’s already torpid form.

Celia: She doesn’t interrupt. She remembers too well what happened last time she’d tried to do something when he’d been raging inside a confined space with her.

Better Carolla than her.

GM: He smashes in Carolla’s ribs. Rips out arms and leg from sockets. Snaps them apart. Snaps the spine. Caves in the skull.

He just keeps going.

Celia: Years as a lick has afforded her some emotional detachment to watching a body get torn apart. She’s done it enough times herself. She’s already cataloging what she’ll need to put back together. Whether she’ll be able to put him back together. How many extra parts she’ll need to fix.

But with his attention focused as it is on the Brujah, maybe he doesn’t notice her crouching near the table to get a look at the guts and parts that fly off.

You can tell so much from the flesh once it leaves a lick’s body.

GM: Roderick doesn’t cease or pause in his furious assault. His fists smash and smash and smash into Carolla’s, reducing it to no more pulp. Every part of his body—including the skull.

Celia: Maybe she’d thought there was some part of her boyfriend left. Some part of Stephen. Something that would make him not absolutely destroy the body on the table in front of him despite his rage at what he found.

But he goes for the skull, and her brief investigation comes to a halt when she sees what he’s about to do.

It’s just like at Elysium. He was going to goad Garcia into saying something that would prompt a duel. And now, here, he’s going to destroy what’s left of Carolla.

He’s going to do the one thing that he doesn’t want to do, no matter how mad he is right now.

He’s going to ash him.


The roar is torn out of her as soon as she sees it and she moves more quickly than she has this evening, bursting forward to launch herself at him. Her claws come out. He’s stronger than her, she knows that, but maybe they’ll give her the edge that she needs.

She will not let him destroy the fucker—not matter how much he deserves it—and further blacken his soul. Not on her watch.

Her Beast, riding high from its victory earlier in the night, roars its approval. It rattles the cage. It wants out.

GM: She has plans enough to blacken her own soul, anyway.

Upon Carolla’s.

Souls for power, like she said to Caroline.

The torpid Brujah is so much closer than L.A. is.

Celia: But she’s stronger than her Beast.

She always has been.

She’s not the helpless, doe-eyed damsel she pretends to be. This entire night proved that. She’d torped Carolla. Taken out him and his goon. Hatched a plan to frame someone else. Laid plans to infiltrate both the Mafia and the hunters. Told Roderick to fuck off when he thought he could tell her how to discipline her ghouls.

No, she’s not a damsel.

Just an angry lick that isn’t going to let everything she has worked so hard for be ruined by a guy with a rage issue.

GM: Celia streaks into Roderick, knocking him off the table. The frenzying Brujah smashes a fist into her face, crunching in her nose and sending teeth flying as he scrambles back towards his clanmate’s torpid form. Celia sweeps a leg underneath his, tripping her lover onto his chin. He flips around and delivers a rib-shattering kick to her torso, then scrambles to his feet. He’s too fast to stop from rising, but not so fast that she can’t still throw herself onto his back, knocking him to the floor again. Another furious fist smashes into her face. On and on and on, Roderick tries to set upon his helpless clanmate, and Celia heedlessly throws herself in his path. He shatters bone and bruises skin and worse. But Celia will not be denied. She must maintain the proper order—him the better man, her the monster. She cannot let the vision come to pass. She just has to hold out. She just has to hold him at bay until the fury passes, no matter how much it hurts, no matter how much precious blood it costs her—until, finally, it does. Roderick collapses to his knees, coated in his lover’s lifeblood, red tears welling from his own eyes.

“C… Celia…”

Celia: There’s little enough vitae left in her when it’s over.

She can feel it. Gnawing. Twisting. Hungry.

She’s always so hungry.

How much of her is broken? What had he done to her? How many bones? How much of her face?

God, not her face.

Bones rejoin. Flesh rights itself. His fists don’t leave a permanent mark on her. Not anymore.

No. Not a damsel at all.

She moves to him when it’s over, sinking onto her knees beside him, pulling him into her arms. Her lips find his neck. Chaste. Brief. Her hand presses against the back of his head, holding him to her. Her fingers slide through his hair.

“I’ve got you,” she whispers. “I’ve got you.”

GM: Her lover weeps in her embrace. Tiny streams of runs over her arms, hot and furious, but undeniably grief-stricken.

“C-Celia,” Roderick rasps out, “h-e’s… he’s…!”

Celia: “Your brother,” she says for him. She leaves Coco’s name out of it. “I could taste it. Taste you.”

GM: Roderick closes his eyes for a moment. He doesn’t swallow. The physiological need is long past.

But he repeats the words himself. As if it’s important for him to say the truth aloud. To not shirk from it, in even this moment.

“He’s… my… BROTHER!

She has never heard his voice so broken. So raw. So crushed.

Since he died.

For a moment, she’s Celia Flores, newly-Embraced fledgling again, with a mortal boyfriend she can’t stay together with. She’s telling him, the man whose children she wanted to bear, that they’re through. Because she cheated on him. Because she was broken inside and his love wasn’t enough to fix her. Because he loved her and trusted her and he made a sucker’s bet, and she twisted all of that love and trust like a knife in his gut. To hurt him like only someone you’ve opened your heart and soul to can ever hurt you.

That’s what his voice sounds like.

That moment from 2009.

When he begged her to get help.

Celia: She blinks and it’s there in her eyes: pain. The pain that she caused. Continues to cause. Now. Then.

She did this.

She made this happen.

To please someone else. To make her sire happy. To make her grandsire happy. Their goals, not hers, never hers. She doesn’t want him to hurt like this. Once is enough.

Isn’t it better, some part of her asks, that he knows? Better that found out? Better that he didn’t continue his Requiem ignorant to the fact that his sire lied to him?

That’s what it all comes down to, isn’t it. The difference between them:


Or beauty?

He has gotten his truth and it has broken him.

The red runs down her cheeks. She doesn’t try to stop it. She doesn’t want it anymore. She doesn’t want to be this person anymore. She doesn’t want to play their games and ruin people because she, too, knows the truth: they’re all fucking terrible. Every single one of them. Except for him. He’s not. He’s not, but they’re going to ruin him. He’s not, but they’re going to blacken him. They’re going to twist him, to tear him apart, to leave him nothing but an empty, hollow corpse, because that’s what they do. That’s what they are.

They’re monsters.

And she hates them for it.

Every single one of them.

Even him.

What do you do when you find out your life is a lie?

She had abandoned her mom. Left her in the hospital. Broken. Bleeding. Hurting. Isolated.

Nothing had helped.

He had. Eventually. When she’d found him, he’d been there for her. Put her back together. Let her tell him everything on her time. When she was ready. Didn’t push.

So she doesn’t push now. She keeps her arms around him, touch soft against his skin, holding him to her like she wished someone would hold her.

GM: She holds him.

Holds him as he holds the burden of his truth.

Holds him as it crushes him.

Holds him as it grinds his bones.

Holds him as it squeezes the tears from his ducts.

Holds him as he raises his head, his eyes lost and confused, like a newborn beholding the world for the first time.

And not liking what it sees.

“She lied to me,” he whispers.

“She,” he repeats, each word falling from his lips like a stone, “Lied. To. Me.”

He looks around, as if not recognizing the spa. He repeats the words again. There’s a strange, almost lyrical cadence to them, as if he can’t understand them. As if in saying them aloud, he might come to realize what they mean. They sound almost innocent.

“She… lied… to me.”

Celia: She did.

She lied.

Celia doesn’t say it, though. He doesn’t need to hear it from her. There’s enough bad blood between them about his sire.

GM: He laughs. It’s a light sound. Almost a giggle.

“She lied to me.”

“She… lied to me.”

He runs a hand through his hair and bursts out laughing. His smile is huge. Far too huge for his face, like a cracked mirror being crammed into a too-small frame.

“I’m the stupid one!"


He cannot contain the laughter. It bursts from his dead lungs, filling the room, jubilant and exalting as a cyanide pill in a birthday cake it rings off the walls.

“I see now!”

“I SEE now!”

Celia: He’s hysterical.

Literally cracked.

Celia swallows. She doesn’t know what to say.

GM: “I’m not stupid anymore, Celia!” he grins at her. He seizes her cheeks between his hands, crushingly hard.

“They all said it was you, but it was me!”

“I was stupid!"

“But not anymore!”

“Oh no! Oh no, oh no, not anymore!”

“I won’t be stupid EVER AGAIN!”

Celia: She tries to talk around the grip he has on her cheeks. But it hurts to try to move her jaw. She pulls at his hands, backpedaling.


GM: “I GET it now, Celia!” he yells, shaking her back and forth. Her skull slams into the wall hard enough to make spots blossom across her sight if she were mortal, but he doesn’t seem to notice. He throws back his head and laughs.

“I GET it! How it all really works!”

“How THEY all really work!”

“How the world really works!”

“Oh, I’m so smart, like they all said I was! I finally get it!”

Celia: She doesn’t.

She doesn’t have any idea what he’s talking about. What he thinks he gets.

Maybe it’s her head slamming into the wall. She keeps herself quiet, pulling away from him.

GM:YOU got it!” he declares, thrusting a finger at her.

“And they all said you were so stupid.”

“Ha. Ha ha. Ha ha haha haaHAHAHAHAH!”

Celia: “Stop it, Roderick.”

GM: “You’re not stupid! You GOT IT, Celia! You got it YEARS before I did!”

“Years and years and YEARS!”

Celia: “Got what?

GM: He throws up his hands.

“The truth!”

“How it all works!”

He laughs again.

Celia: She doesn’t like this. It’s scaring her. He’s going to do something crazy. He’s going to do something stupid. He’s going to go cause problems somewhere.

He’s broken. They broke him. She broke him.


GM: “Took me long enough, with a brain as big as mine!”

“Well. Well, well, well, well, well. It’s time I stopped acting so stupid.”

Celia: “Roderick. Stop. Just… just take a minute, okay?”

GM: “Take me to Savoy, Celia.”

“He can be the second to see, just how smart I am now.”

Celia: Celia presses her lips together.

“What, now?”

GM: He smiles like it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

“Take me to Savoy, so I can sell out Coco and stab her in the back like she stabbed me.”

Celia: Celia reaches for her phone. She sends a text to Mel that she’s stopping by and bringing a friend. The ghoul will know what it means.

GM: “She fed me lies for years.”

“Well, I will feed her lies right back.”

“I will feed her plenty of lies indeed.”

“I think I’m going to be very good at lying, with a big brain like mine.”

Celia: It’s what she wanted.

What she’s been working towards. What everything she’s done these past weeks has been for.

Why, then, does victory ring so hollow?

Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: She asks him if he wants to change his face. But the lie he’s wearing right now works better. No need to tip anyone off. They keep it.

She asks, too, if he’s hungry. They take the edge off if he is. And she finds the blood she’d drained earlier to feed herself. Just in case.

She tells the boys to stay put, that she’ll be back for them, and tells Dani to get some sleep. “Something came up,” is all she says, “I’ll explain later.”

They wash off the blood and find new clothes. Celia turns herself into Jade. Then they’re in the car, driving toward the Evergreen.

GM: He waves off the offered blood. He’ll impose upon Lord Savoy. He’s sure the Toreador elder will be happy to satisfy his thirst.

“I’m going to squeeze him for everything he’s worth,” he declares.

Dani wants to talk to her brother. He tells her things are fine. He’ll see her later.

They drive to the Evergreen. He doesn’t talk along the way. Fabian receives them cordially and states Lord Savoy is due to return shortly. In the meantime, he bids the lovers to slake their thirst upon a few of Mélissaire’s girls. They feed together in one of the upstairs Louis XIV-themed sitting rooms. Roderick drinks thirstily from the attractive escort on his lap without making small talk. He licks the blood from his lips when she’s gone. He waits, patiently.

Celia: Jade doesn’t turn down the offer of free blood. They drink together. The girls are attractive; they have to be, they go to Flawless. She enjoys the way they writhe when she sinks in.

But they’re just a distraction to their real purpose this evening.

She waits with Roderick. Silent. She doesn’t force her company on him if he doesn’t want it. But she’s close, and she hopes that he does.

GM: He sits by her while she feeds, and even shares the same vessel at one point, eyes meeting as they drink. But he doesn’t seem to feel like talking once it’s done.

It’s not an overly long wait later before Antoine Savoy sweeps into the room, grinning from ear to ear. He’s trailed by Preston, Mélissaire, and a redheaded girl Jade hasn’t seen before. He warmly kisses his grandchilde upon both cheeks and greets a stonier-faced Roderick with a simple handshake.

“We have a great deal to discuss, Lord Savoy,” says the Brujah.

“Yes, I’m certain we do,” grins Savoy, clapping the taller man on the back and following him to the elevator with Preston.

“I’ll send for you in short order, my dear,” he says to Jade. “In the meantime, we’ll put Mélissaire and Theoline here at your disposal. Anything you might desire, they will arrange.”

The redhead looks no older than a teenager. Her milk-pale features are beautiful and unblemished, while her gaze is placid and tranquil. She’s garbed in a flowing white gown that strikingly contrasts her waist-length red hair and gives her an almost ethereal appearance. Jade’s seen them before, silently attending various elders. The casquette girls.

:: Use the time to think of what rewards you’d like. Don’t be modest! :: Savoy’s voice chuckles in her mind. :: I’m very, VERY pleased with you, Celia. I knew you’d come through on this one. I have good instincts for people—and so do you, to flip Coco’s childe! We’ll talk more about what kind of expanded role you might serve in my court going forward. ::

Celia: Jade halts in her tracks as the group disappears into the elevator. She’d thought that she would go with them. Would be part of it. Could listen in, learn at his side like Roderick got to with his sire.

Not tonight.

She doesn’t let it bother her. Rewards, he’d said. Part of his court. That can be part of it.

She reaches for the tether that links their minds together, sending back wordless affirmation filled with affection. Like a cat rubbing up against his thoughts, purring, its tail flicking in quiet contentment. He’s pleased. And she’s pleased that he’s pleased. And she can’t help but think of the pair of them in that hot tub together upstairs, no Preston to be found. There’s a giggle, the suggestion of a wink, and finally a :: Yes, grandsire. ::

Don’t be modest indeed.

GM: There’s an image of the two of them lazily reclining in the pool’s bubbling water together. Preston isn’t anywhere to be found.

Or their clothes.

Celia: Tease.

Her fangs lengthen at the image.

GM: “Just let us know what we can do for you, ma’am,” smiles Mélissaire as the old-fashioned wrought iron elevator coveys the other Kindred to the roof. “Lord Savoy is VERY pleased.”

Celia: Celia’s eyes stay on her boyfriend’s face until the doors close and they disappear to the floors above. She knows what she wants.


Back the way he was.

In love with her. Happy. Stressed, maybe, but happy. Working for good. Talking about a wedding.

Not this damaged, broken, cracked version of himself. Not this vengeful, spurned childe.

She wants what they had. And she’s afraid that it’s out of reach. Afraid that it wasn’t the hunters who had set him down the path to the Dark Roderick she had seen in her vision, but the betrayal of his sire.

Celia knows what she wants. But Celia is a liability in this place, and it’s not something they can do. She drowns.

Jade is there to pick up the pieces. She’s so good at her role. What had she once said? “I keep her safe.” She turns her gaze to the women.

What can they do for her? An elder ghoul and, if she’s not mistaken, a casquette girl. She’s seen them around before, and she’s heard of them, but she’s never had one at her disposal. She runs through a list of what she’s working on in her head: the hunters, the Setites, the demons.

VERY pleased, is he? She’ll see how pleased. How far that good will goes; whether or not the exiled prince is worth more to him than a viper who scurries through the Quarter.

“I need a cottonmouth,” Jade says to the ghoul. “Staked and delivered to me prior to Elysium tomorrow.”

“Failing that, a combat-trained shadow dancer for a pickup during the day.”

“Pierre, if he’s available,” she adds as an aside. He’d already made contact with the same group. Maybe he’ll give the boys an edge. It’s a bonus that she doesn’t need to change his face.

She tries to ignore the fact that she is very certain he is the one who had accosted her in the shower and received a taste of her claws for the effort.

Perhaps he shouldn’t have tried to use her without her consent.

Perhaps they’ll go for round two.

GM: “Lord Savoy will need to authorize a request like that first one,” answers Mélissaire, “but I can check and see, so far as Pierre.”

“Where and when is the pickup?”

Celia: “Tomorrow.” Jade gives her the time she’d worked out with the boys. “He’ll be with two of mine.”

A pause, then, “Let Lord Savoy know that the cottonmouth is to secure another friend for him.”

GM: Mélissaire nods and asks for a meet location or contact number so the other ghoul can know where to go.

“I think he’ll want to receive the details of that first request from you in person, ma’am. Friends don’t stake friends without a good reason, after all,” Mélissaire declares with an amused smile.

Celia: Better she tell him in person, anyway.

She gives Mel a contact number for Randy.

GM: “Very good, ma’am. Will there be anything else?” smiles the ghoul.

Theoline stands silently nearby with a placid expression.

Celia: “For tonight?” Jade considers. Something for her instead of furthering her grandsire’s goals and influence. Something personal and selfish.

She can think of dozens of things. None of them seem right.

She shifts her gaze to the casquette girl. Curiosity gnaws at her.


GM: The casquette girl meets her gaze calmly as she considers.

“Very good, ma’am,” Mélissaire repeats with another smile as she and Theoline show Jade downstairs. “Lord Savoy will be free to see you soon; he can swing tomorrow at 4 or Saturday at 3. Which of those nights would work better for you?”

Celia: “Not tonight?” She’d thought he meant tonight.

GM: “He expects dawn not to be too far off when he’s done with Mr. Durant, ma’am. He wants to give your meeting plenty of time as well.”

Celia: “Neither of those times work for me.”

GM: “I’ll check when a later time might be arranged, in that case.”

Celia: She wonders if he’s used to nobodies like Jade telling him that she’s busy.

“Let his guest know I’m going home for the evening.”

GM: Indeed, Jade could simply reschedule for the elder.

“I’ll do just that, ma’am. Have a very good night—you’ve been of great help to Lord Savoy,” wishes Mélissaire, bowing low.

Celia: She’s already had her meetings bumped. His own fault for only being free when she has other people to meet.

It’s like he did it on purpose.

Jade nods to the pair of ghouls and sees herself out.

Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: A text to Randy on the way out of the Evergreen assures that everything she needs is waiting for her when she gets back to Flawless. It might mean he has to take a trip to pick up the thin-blood she’d given them earlier to hold onto, but whatever; it’s there when she arrives.

She should probably have a separate site where she can butcher people, she thinks. Somewhere that no one can connect to Jade or Celia.

Not that she plans on butchering very many people. Right?

Just in case, though.

GM: Randy does not respond to the text. Jade finds both ghouls sound asleep when she gets back. Dani shoots her a text on the way back, though, and is still there. She asks what happened with her brother. “Where is he? I just, have a bad feeling with him losing it and not coming back… and what’s happening to the Mafia guy?”

Celia: Dani and her both, Celia can’t help but think.

“He got some bad news and had to handle it. I dropped him off, but he’s going to be a while. Close to dawn. I’d rather let him tell you what happened, if that’s okay.”

GM: “Okay…” Dani says slowly. “I’d just like to be there for him. Do you know where he’s gonna be?”

Celia: “He’s with another lick in a private meeting while they figure out a game plan.”

“You won’t be able to get in.”

“I wasn’t able to get in.”

GM: “Oh.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

“Nothing like feeling useless when someone you love is going through a hard time.”

GM: “I just have a bad feeling about this, Celia.”

Celia: Celia effects a sigh.

“Me too, Dani.”

“Do you have school tomorrow? You can come with me tonight and spend the day if you want. Maybe he’ll meet up with us before dawn.”

GM: “I do have school. But I’d love to!” she nods. “That’ll be before it starts anyway.”

Celia: “You getting enough sleep?”

GM: “I kind of wish we’d thought to ask Edith about that. Sometimes I’m pretty tired.”

Celia: “I’m sure she’d trade more information for blood.”

GM: “God. She, Rampart Street, all of that, was just…” Dani shivers.

“And then this. The same evening.”

“At least I had a gun this time. Stephen gave me one to keep in my purse.”

Celia: “Good. You know how to shoot?”

GM: She nods. “I have a permit. He and Dad showed me when I was younger.”

“We’d sometimes all go to the gun range together.”

Celia: “Won’t stop a lick. But might slow them down.”

“Good to know, in any case.”

GM: “I saw that firsthand, yeah.”

Celia: “Did he get hit? I was kind of… distracted.”

GM: “Carolla didn’t really seem to feel the rounds I put into him.”

“But I shot his ghoul.”

“Before Reggie murdered him.”

Celia: “Yeah, Rod and I talked about it.”

GM: “So did Randy and I. After I yelled at his brother.”

Celia: “How’d that go?”

GM: “About as well as you might expect.”

“He’s a pedophile murderer. You should do something about him.”

Celia: He’s not a pedophile. It’s not like he has sex with kids. He just likes the taboo of being with their moms.


“Hey, do you think it’s weird if I get Roderick a dog? He mentioned he misses Ajax, and I think maybe he could use some non-human, non-Kindred companionship.”

GM: “We talked about that, when I told him about Ajax. He said he was concerned about tamers.”

Celia: “He could learn, though.”

“Maybe I’ll wait.”

GM: “Maybe until he does. Good surprise present, though.”

Celia: “Dogs don’t much like me, anyway.”

GM: “Yeah, your mom says her cats hate you too.”

Celia: “Can’t please everyone.”

GM: “Well, I guess that’s one advantage to being duskborn. They seem to like me fine.”

Celia: Licks hate her, though. But Celia doesn’t point it out.

She knows which one she’d rather be.

GM: “Are we gonna be here a while, anyways? Is there a good spot I can get some shut-eye if so?”

Celia: “Take one of the massage rooms. Tables are pretty comfortable, just don’t roll off the edge. Or there’s chairs in them.”

GM: “Thanks. Feels weird being in a spa after hours like this.”

Celia: She laughs.

“Yeah. You get used to it.”

GM: Dani smiles faintly and shakes her head. “Just one of those places I never figured I was gonna be.”

“But I guess so was gunfights in a public park.”

Celia: “And friends with a vampire.”

GM: “And being a vampire. Are you going to do something about Reggie?”

Celia: “I already had this conversation once tonight, Dani. I’m not doing it again.”

GM: “With Stephen? I’ll grant he can’t exactly be prosecuted for murder, but he can’t just kill someone without some kind of consequence.”

Celia: Celia fixes her with a look.

“I will decide how and what for my ghouls are punished. That is no one else’s decision or business except for mine.”

GM: “Uh, I’m sorry, is there some kind of etiquette I’m missing here?”

Celia: “My ghouls are my business. What I do to them is my business. If I ask for input, fine. Otherwise, every lick who has a ghoul is in charge of what they do to theirs. You don’t tell someone else that they need to do something, or what it is you think they need to do.”

“So yes, that’s a complete breach of etiquette.”

“Politely, it’s like telling someone how to handle their child.”

GM: Dani frowns. “Your mom’s your ghoul. So how does that factor into it?”

Celia: “Weirdly.”

“I never intended for my mom to be my ghoul.”

“She’s… different.”

GM: “So, what, is she ‘your child’ too? And if not, why not? What’s the criteria that makes them only accountable to you?”

Celia: “Dani, I’d love to explain this to you, but I’m going to ask that you wait. I have a fuck ton of stuff to do right now before I get home and have had a very trying night where I was smacked around by a mafiosa and watched him try to murder my boyfriend.”

GM: “I had one where I was almost raped by homeless people and killed by two mafiosos, who I also saw try to murder my brother, and was largely helpless to do anything about it. Stephen looks like he’s letting things with Reggie be for now, so, fine, I’ll trust his judgment. And ask him about this. But I’m not letting it drop forever.”

Celia: “My ghouls, my business.”

GM: “We’ve already established there’s at least one exception to that rule.”

Celia: “Do you want to know,” she suddenly says, “what your brother wanted me to do to him?”

GM: “…sorry?”

Celia: “He wanted me to trade him to another domitor. Someone who is less ‘nice’ than me. He wanted me to hand him over to be beaten, abused, and otherwise defiled because to our kind, they’re nothing.”

GM: “He’s a pedophile murderer who’s apparently unaccountable to our justice system. There has the be some kind of consequence! If that’s the only one Stephen thought he could face, well, fuck, Celia, he killed someone in cold blood! That wasn’t self-defense!”

Celia: “So no, Dani, I’m not going to sit here and let the two of you tell me how to punish him for what he did. I am his domitor. I will handle it. My mother is a different story because she is my mother. Most licks don’t ghoul their mothers.”

“I said,” Celia repeats, “that I will handle it.

GM: “And I said I’d leave this alone tonight. But I’m going to ask Stephen about it.”

Celia: “Stephen and I,” Celia repeats, “already spoke about it.”

GM: “Then I guess he’ll talk with me about it too, because this ‘etiquette convention’ makes absolutely no sense. If your mom killed someone in cold blood, does she get to be prosecuted for it, or does she fall under ‘domitor justice’ too?”

Celia: “Jesus Christ,” Celia mutters.

“Licks don’t answer to the same justice system that you do. That’s all there is to it. Talk to Stephen if you want to, he’s going to tell you the same thing.”

“I said I’d handle it. I’m handling it.”

GM: “I know licks don’t answer to our justice system. You and Stephen explained the Traditions and how those are vampire laws. What’s inconsistent is where, apparently, ghouls fit into that, and why exceptions are made for ones who are immediate relatives to a vampire.”

Celia: “You’re missing the point.”

GM: “Well, I said I was going to drop this. So I will.”

“I’ll ask Stephen more.”

Celia: Great.

GM: “And let your mom know she can kill people if she ever feels like it, I guess.”

Celia: “That’s literally not what I said at all.”

“Stop twisting my words because you’re pissed at Reggie.”

“I said my mom was an exception to the parent/child dynamic. That was literally it.”

“If you took further meaning from it that’s on you.”

GM: “I’m going to get some shut-eye,” Dani says shortly. “Let me know when you’re done.”

Celia: She should have wiped her fucking memories.

Another fucking liability.

Celia snarls at the door once it closes. Maybe a night on Rampart Street would do her a world of good.

Nip that attitude right in the fucking bud.

This is why.

This. Right here.

This is why you’re not nice to people who are below you.

Because they get fucking uppity.

Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: Jade reheats the blood she’d taken from herself earlier once Dani sees herself out, downing two hits of it to slake her thirst before she even begins, and sets the other two aside. No doubt she’ll need them before the evening is out. She still has the blood from the pathetic half vampire, too; thin though it is it will still serve a use if she needs it to.

She starts with Randy, turning him into the hunter she’d killed. Then the thin-blood, turning him into “Jade.” Then Carolla, turning him into a nameless nobody with whatever parts she can salvage that Roderick hadn’t destroyed, though she has no intention of handing his body over. She keeps him staked. She’ll need a secure place to keep him while she figures out… well, while she figures out what to do with him.

That thing Caroline had told her is tempting.

So very, very tempting.

But she’ll keep him around until she meets with her grandsire, she thinks, in case he needs… what?

Whatever. Maybe she’s just not ready to drain someone of their soul.

Jade takes stock of her Beast after each transition, drinking as she needs to. No need to ride the edge when she has a surplus of blood this evening.

She finds she doesn’t need to. Her Beast is happy to watch her tear apart carcasses and sculpt them to her will. It’s pleased that she’s finally taking steps to end the threat to herself. Pleased that her grandsire is pleased, regardless of her role as taxi driver this evening. Pleased that maybe her lover won’t scoff at her for her actions here now that he’s had a taste of this life. It doesn’t fight her when she starts her work.

The ghoul’s body needs to be drained as well, then she can strip it down to parts she can use and parts she can’t. She has Reggie see to the first bit while she works on the rest of it, and when they’re both done it’s his turn on her table. She starts by checking him for any lasting injuries from Roderick’s hands.

GM: Randy groggily wakes up when Celia rouses him and requests a sedative. He stares at his new face in the mirror when she’s done and mutters, “I’ll never get used to that.”

The thin-blood, a middle-aged homeless man with stringy hair, bad teeth, and a haggard face marred with the telltale signs of years-long drug addiction, is soon a smoking hot 20something woman. He doesn’t even respond to the agonizing process of having his entire body re-sculpted from face to genitals. Just stares blankly up at the ceiling.

Jade could make a joke about doing him a favor.

Celia: Less of a favor since she’s getting rid of him.

But at least he’ll die pretty.

GM: Reggie guffaws with laughter after he comes in and asks.

“Damn. Upgrade for that guy.”

“I’d stick my cock in that if I wasn’t worried about catching something.”

Celia: “I bet you would.”

GM: Jade finds his throat to still have some telltale red abrasions, but her ghoul otherwise looks fine.

Celia: Good. She’d be pissed all over again if Roderick did any lasting damage.

“Next time,” she tells the ghoul, “don’t announce you killed someone in front of people.”

“And maybe wait until I have a chance to question him.”

GM: “Yeah, that probably woulda been smarter. Mainly wanted to get your friend’s panties in a wad.”

“Which it did.”

“Good point on the questioning, though.”

“I just saw what a huge fucking problem this guy was gonna be if we did anything else.”

Celia: “You did the right thing.”

“I would have killed him too.”

GM: “Yeah, I figured.”

Celia: “But them getting their panties in a wad means I have to listen to them bitch.”

“And they’re really fucking annoying.”

GM: “You want, I can punish her for you.”

Celia: “I want you to leave her alone and pretend I punished you.”

GM: “Okay, like, how?”

“Oh, maybe you made me fuck your double here without a rubber, before he got the sexy treatment.”

Celia: “Jesus.”

“Tell them I beat you or something. I doubt they’re going to ask.”

“Then again, maybe forcing you to fuck something you don’t want to fuck would work for them. They think you’re a pedophile.”

GM: Reggie rolls his eyes.

He walks up to the double and pulls down its pants and panties.

“Goddamn. That is a real fucking cunt,” he declares with a low whistle.

Celia: “Nice, isn’t it?”

She does good work.

GM: Reggie laughs again.

HUGE upgrade for this guy.”

“Will he have any idea?”

“Or I guess, she at this point.”

He pulls up the blouse and starts appreciatively squeezing the breasts.

“Oh yeah. Definitely ‘she’.”

Celia: “She’s pretty much dead at this point. You’re just using the body to get in and nab them.”

GM: “I dunno, she doesn’t look all dead to me…”

Celia: “You’re more of a slut than I am, Reg.”

GM: Reggie starts removing the double’s clothes.

Celia: “Tell you what. Bag those hunters for me and bring them back—alive—and I’ll turn someone into whatever you want them to be.”

GM: He gives in mid-undressing to give Jade a very dirty grin.

“Anyone I want, you say?”

Celia: Jade arches a brow at him.

GM: “You might regret that promise.”

Celia: “You going to ask for my mom?”

GM: He laughs.


Celia: “…my sister?”

GM: “My mom.”

Celia: She just nods.


GM: “Although… yours if I was banging you at the same time would be really hot too.”

Celia: “I kind of want to watch you fuck your mom, not gonna lie.”

GM: “Mmm, how’s this. I’ll put on a show for you with my mom, then we fuck each other and your mom together.”

Celia: “Bring me the hunters, Reg, and we’ve got nothing but time to play out our fucked up fantasies.”

GM: “I want you to have the same hair color,” he grins. “Bigger family resemblance.”

“I can’t really picture her with black hair. But you’d be a sexy blonde.”

Celia: She’d be a sexy anything.

GM: “Meantime,” he says, peeling off the last of the lookalike’s clothes, then hoisting up Jade on top of the torpid body,

“I’ve always wanted to do twins…”

Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

GM: The sex with the staked double isn’t much, with their partner literally just lying there like a wooden board. Reggie still seems to find it really hot. He and Jade do each other on top of ‘her’ in a variety of positions. Reggie tries to finish with a blowjob from the double (“you never want to give those”), but eventually makes do with rubbing his cock back and forth along the double’s tongue. Jade has to hold ‘her’ mouth open and occasionally assist Reggie with her hand. The ghoul blows his load all over ’Jade’s’ face.

“Fuck, that was hot,” he pants.

“You know, I bet the hunter REALLY won’t want to look like my mom.”

“Or to fuck me.”

“Or to fuck me looking like my mom.”

“So it’ll be like I’m raping my mom.”

His cock is already getting firm again.

Celia: She doesn’t judge him for it. Really.

But she does tell him that he’s going to have to wait before he gets off again.

As, uh, punishment.

Yeah. Punishment. Now she can say she punished him without lying. She makes him clean the thin-blood, too, and they rinse off together, and maybe she lied when she said he had to wait again because something about black dudes fucking her in the shower really does it for her and she has him take her again.

But now it’s starting for real this time.

She goes over the plan with him one more time when they’re done, after she changes his face and body to be something nondescript. Pierre will contact them. He’s met them before, he knows what’s up with them. Make sure they’re not being tracked or anything silly.

She asks if he has any questions.

GM: He doesn’t.

He’s eager to “go pick up my mom.”

But for now he needs “my fucking beauty sleep.” He and Randy drive home. Dani and Celia drive back to her haven. Things still feel tense and they don’t talk much.

The night sky starts to turn navy blue, but Roderick doesn’t come home.

Celia: She sends him a text to see if he’s okay, though she doesn’t really expect an answer.

GM: She doesn’t get one.

“What if something happened to him?” Dani finally asks, breaking the pair’s near-silence. “It’s going to be dawn soon, but I could go look.”

Celia: “I think he’s just angry,” Celia says quietly. “I don’t think anything happened to him.”

She reaches for Dani’s hand.

GM: Dani gives it a squeeze.

“Is he gonna be okay…?”

Celia: “I don’t know,” Celia admits. “He found out someone he trusted betrayed him.”

GM: “A lick?”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “He didn’t take it well. After you guys broke up.”

Celia: Celia wets her lips with her tongue. “What happened? What did he do?”

GM: “I don’t think I ever saw him with another girl.”

Celia: “Never?”

GM: “I mean, he had girlfriends before you. But not after.”

“That I saw.”

Celia: “Did he have anywhere he used to go?”

GM: “I don’t know. He just… shut down. Stopped responding to calls or texts or emails.”

“So I guess this isn’t new.”

Celia: “He might be at one of his other places…”

GM: “My dad got really worried after a while. Went to his apartment to see if he was okay.”

“They had a huge argument.”

“Really ugly.”

“Which was so weird, because they normally get along so well.”

“Got along so well.”

“He’s… like our dad, I guess. He also shuts down when he’s mad.”

“He also called up our mom to yell at her.”

Celia: Maybe Savoy staked him to keep him from doing anything stupid.

GM: “Screamed about walking out on the family and being a traitor and all sorts of… out there shit.”

“She told me about it later.”

Celia: “Jesus.”

Celia wipes at her eyes.

“He sounded like that tonight.”

“The way he sounded when I broke up with him.”


GM: Dani’s quiet for a while.

“I stopped by his place too, a few days after Dad. He wouldn’t answer the door.”

“I finally started yelling at him and that got him to open up. He looked like he hadn’t been taking care of himself. And he yelled at me and told me I was a loser and that I’d always be second best.”

Celia: Celia presses her lips together.

“I’m sorry.”

“That it happened because of me.”

GM: Dani just looks sad for a moment.

“He chose to say that. It was on him.”

“He said sorry later.”

“Really apologized. Said how much he wished he could take it back.”

“But, just…”

She shrugs helplessly. “I don’t know. I don’t want to see him like this.”

“I feel like I just got him back.”

“And we have dinner tomorrow, with our dad and your family…”

Celia: “I know,” Celia says quietly. “I know. I feel the same. That I just got him back. And now this. And I don’t… I don’t know if there’s any coming back from this.”

GM: “I guess I won’t be asking him about the legal standing of ghouls after all.”

The attempt at levity doesn’t even deserve to be called a joke.

Celia: She tries to smile.

GM: “Does this sound like the whole… vision you had of him?”

“Well, were told about him, rather?”

Celia: “Sort of, yeah.”

GM: “Is there anything we can do?”

Celia: “Stem the tide. Keep it from getting worse. I kept him from killing two people tonight because he wouldn’t want that if he were thinking clearly. Find him. Bring him home.”

GM: “He got angry when Dad and I tried to get in his face.”

“But I guess that Stephen couldn’t kill people.”

Celia: “I don’t mean getting in his face.”

“Just… being there for him.”

GM: “I guess that’s all we can do.”

Jade feels herself growing sluggish. Sol’s harsh eye rises above the city.

Celia: “I guess our talk will have to wait for another night, too.”

Celia leans against Dani as the sun starts to rise. Not long before she goes under.

“I’m sorry I got snippy with you.”

GM: “I’m sorry I got… belligerent. I could have asked less argumentatively.”

Celia: She starts moving up the bed, burrowing beneath the blankets.

“…izzit weird if I ask you to sleep wi’ me?”

GM: Dani helps her to the bedroom. She’s quiet for a moment at Celia’s question, as she looks at the bed, then finally replies,

“I’d… I’d feel safe with you.”

Celia: Celia pulls Dani close beneath the blankets, curling her body around her almost-sister-in-law. She takes what comfort she can from the girl in her arms. Not who she wants, no, but someone at least with whom she can share the burden of missing Stephen. Maybe together they can keep him from spiraling down into that dark place.

Her eyes close.

“We’ll fin’ him, Dani.”

“Not gonna… lose ’im… ’gain.”

GM: Dani feels tense at first, when Celia touches her. But it’s not after too much longer, doubtless aided by the bond, that she relaxes, and eventually, reciprocates. She wraps her arms around Celia and leans her head against her shoulder.

“This feels nice…”

Celia: “Mm,” Celia agrees. “Warm.”

GM: “You, too. I thought licks would be cold.”

Celia: “Special.” A long pause, as if searching for the words to explain. “Blood. Make warm. Pass as ’live.”

GM: “Oh. So most are cold.”

Celia: “Cold bad. Means bad. Beast.”

GM: Dani nuzzles her beneath the covers.

“Knew there was a reason I didn’t like them as much as you.”

Celia: Celia giggles. It’s a slower sound than normal.

“Love him,” she says after a quiet moment. “Love you.” She rubs her cheek against Dani’s chest.

GM: Dani gives her arms around Celia a squeeze.

“I love you too. You’re gonna be my sister.”

Celia: Celia nods in agreement.


She likes the sound of that.

GM: There’s a short laugh.

“Oh. We’re still in our clothes.”

“But I don’t really feel like getting pajamas.”

Celia: Celia fumbles for her shirt. Her fingers feel fat, barely responding to her commands.

She gives up after a minute.

GM: Dani giggles.

“Okay. Guess not.”

Celia: “Too hard,” Celia complains. “Tired. Sun up.”

“You do it.”

GM: Dani pauses a moment, then starts to pull off Celia’s clothes.

Celia: She helps where she can. Mostly it’s moving as she needs to.

“Don’ tell Steph you saw me naked.”

GM: “I won’t.”

Dani looks at her for a while. Her clothes are still on.

“You’re really pretty.”

“Prettier than me.”

Celia: “Nigh’ doc. Cheated.” Celia touches a hand to her face. It’s a lot of effort to make that move, but this seems important. “You pretty.”

GM: “I don’t have a boyfriend, though.”

“Didn’t when we met either.”

Celia: “Boys dumb.”

“More t’life than pretty.”

GM: “Yeah. But it helps.”

Celia: “Can show you. Tricks. Makeup.”

“D’centra help if you wan’.”

GM: “I haven’t really had much luck at relationships.”

“Oh. That’d be nice, yeah.”

Celia: “Have you?”

“Been with… someone.”

“Not that night.”

GM: Dani blushes and looks away.

Celia: Celia touches a hand to her cheek, gently pulling her face back towards her.

“S’okay. Nothin’ to be ’shamed of.”

GM: “I just… I think guys can tell I have… esteem issues.”

Celia: “We’ll fix.”

GM: “And the only ones who don’t care are… I have pride.”

Celia: “Wha’bout girls?”

GM: “Oh. I haven’t really thought about girls.”

Celia: “We don’… see genders, us’lly.”

“Dead, so, who cares.”

GM: “Oh,” repeats Dani.

“Like… biologically?”

Celia: “Wha’?”

GM: “Like. Is it a social thing, that ‘all vampires are gay,’ or is it biological?”

Celia: “Biolo.”

GM: “Oh.”

Celia: “Prince is ‘gay.’”

GM: “You’ve seemed…” She clears her throat.

Celia: “Hm?”

GM: “Just… y’know.” Color tinges Dani’s cheeks again.

Celia: “Open?”

GM: “Um, open?”

Celia: “Flex’ble. Both ways.”

GM: “Oh. I just meant… how pretty. I’ve noticed.”

Celia: “Oh. Though’ y’were callin’ me whore.”

GM: “What? Oh, no, no, never!”

Celia: “Steph’d be mad if I kiss you.”

GM: “Oh. You’re his girlfriend, I wouldn’t… I wouldn’t want that.”

Celia: “No?”

GM: “Well. I mean. You’re very pretty.” Dani’s cheeks start to redden again. “But you’re his.”

Celia: His.

She is, isn’t she.

She nods slowly.

“S’okay. Y’like… boys anyway.”

“Coul’ show you… good firs’ time. Redo. But his.”

GM: She nods back. “Yes. Boys.”

“Redo, you mea… oh.”

Her flush deepens.

“You’re his.”

“I’m sorry, I’m… talking crazy. Just stressed.”

Celia: “Goo’ stress ’lief.”

GM: “Well. I wouldn’t… know.”

Celia: “N’ver go’ off?”

“Dani.” Celia clicks her tongue.

GM: “Oh. I would. I’m not a total prude.”

“There’s a couple times I could’ve gotten laid. It just… made me feel cheap.”

Celia: “Why?”

“Natural. Par’ of life.”

“Dani,” Celia says when the girl seems too tongue tied to continue, “you hol’ me? I dun’ like bein’ ‘lone. C’n ge’ nake if y’wan’. Skin touch goo’ for moo’. Studies ‘bout i’.”

“But tired. Sun says go sleep.”

“Hol’ me, Dani.”

“Need you.”


GM: Dani holds her. She doesn’t take off her own clothes. But she wraps her arms around Celia, lays her head against her brother’s paramour, and closes her eyes.


Celia: Before she falls asleep Celia sighs loudly, reaching for her phone.

“Fuck,” she mutters as she sends the text to Mel.

Sat @3.

Then she’s out, her problems on pause for the day.

Monsters only exist at night.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Thirteen, Jean-Marc I
Next, by Narrative: Story Thirteen, Celia XV

Previous, by Character: Story Thirteen, Celia XIII
Next, by Character: Story Thirteen, Celia XV

Story Thirteen, Jean-Marc I

“Blood runs freely and stains the earth through eternity, for we only have the appearance of eternity, but the Blood remains.”
Maledictions 12:11

Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

GM: He said his name was Mason, and that he was a member of the Dirty Throws Krewe. Like every other Kindred krewe in the Big Easy, he said the Dirty Throws was composed entirely of neonates—most of whom tried very, very hard to stay below Prince Vidal’s increasingly unforgiving radar. The kid’s story, and a remarkable one it was, went something like this:

Everyone in town knows about the recent rash of poachings. (That’s a term elders use around here; it means somebody’s been feeding in another vampire’s territory.) Well, Mason claimed that he knew who was guilty of these indiscretions, or at least the most the recent spate of them. And the reason he knew was because the culprits had been his own coterie, the Dirty Throws.

Due to various personal problems Mason had with his krewemates, however, the rest of the krewe decided their only way out was to make a scapegoat of Mason. They intended to “turn him in” to the Guard de Ville (that’s the sheriff and hounds, the prince’s chief enforcers), in the hopes that their efforts would reward them two-fold: First, in the form of choice feeding grounds (a gift of thanks from a grateful prince, once word reached him), and second, they’d get the prince’s people to dispose of Mason for them. All in all, it wasn’t a bad plan.

Too bad Mason was on to them.

Scared as he was, not to mention entirely alone, Mason figured his only move left was to beat his treacherous krewemates to the punch. So he set up a meeting between himself and Alexander Wright, one of the Guard de Ville. Wright gave Mason a place and a time where they’d meet. The Brujah would then bring Mason safely to Donovan—the city’s sheriff and the long arm of Vidal himself—at a second, as yet undisclosed location. Once with the sheriff, Mason would turn his erstwhile allies in. Another solid plan.

Too bad the rest of the Dirty Throws were on to him.

When Jean-Marc first saw him, Mason was trying desperately to figure out how he was going to get to the meeting place in one piece tonight. If the Dirty Throws caught up to him before he could turn himself in, they would never let him survive. To Mason’s way of thinking, it was either them or him. The problem was, there was only one of him… and they could be anywhere.

That’s where Jean-Marc came in.

Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

GM: Louis Prima’s dulcet tones from the state of the art speakers are utterly at odds with the vampire before Jean-Marc. Then again, so is the rest of Clemens’. He sticks out like a sore thumb. Back hunched forward slightly, sneakered feet pressed anxiously together, shaky hands tucked into the pockets of his black and gold sweatshirt, he hardly looks the part of an immortal Cainite and lord of the night. He looks like one of Jean-Marc’s old classmates at Clark High, just another young black kid in over his head with gangs and the law.

He is in over his head with a gang and the law.

The more things change, the more they don’t.

“…that’s, that’s the story,” Mason breaks down, seemingly from equal parts hysteria and relief as his eyes sweep the well-heeled patrons. Even seated at the veranda rather than the 13-maximum serving lounge, the kid’s appearance (and definitely affect) should be enough to draw stares (or security), but the kine all ignore him like he’s one of them.

“Look,” he goes on, “I just need an escort to the meet site. Get me there, and Wright’ll see you helped. We’ll tell the sheriff, too, how you helped. Hell, you can come with me, tell him yourself if you want.”

Jean-Marc has never met the kid before in his life.

Mason just saw him, heard another vampire’s telltale lack of heartbeat, and spilled his guts.

It would be easy to spin something about people telling the truth when the chips are down. About trial and adversity allowing truth to triumph. But that isn’t how it works, is it? People don’t ever just tell the truth. They blurt it out in a rage or panic. They do it to save their hides. They do it as part of a transaction. They do it to hurt someone. Jean-Marc can name all-too many examples. Dinah. Doyle. Mason, here. Himself. Sometimes people even tell the truth to salve a guilty conscience. It’s harder to think of examples there. But people don’t ever tell the truth just to be truthful.

“Truth is like a king we pretend to idolize, or a God we pretend to worship, but we actually lock up in a cage, so he can’t get out and disturb our lives and beloved lies.”

Jean-Marc might suppose his soliloquy to Daronté was missing a few details. Sometimes people do let the lion out. Sometimes that actually is in their self-interest—so he’ll rip apart some poor sucker who isn’t you. Sometimes they’re just too stupid to understand the consequences, like the story—always, always a “story”—about the coed who got herself killed climbing into Audubon’s tiger enclosure. (One of Daronté’s “crack pipe nutters” by another name, her.)

But you don’t ever let the lion out just to see him roam free.

“They’ll reward you,” says Mason. “I just need an escort, in case the Throws try to fucking jump me.”

Jean-Marc: “Try?” Jean-Marc replies with an almost private arsenic smirk. The tabloid writer reluctantly folds his newspaper. He had been reading Deborah Carriere’s latest piece in the Times-Picayune, a tepid, yawn-pulling editorial about Rishu Pavaghi’s T-shirt shops misappropriating Vodouisant culture for cheap sales and cheaper laughs.

Oh how the mighty art fallen? Jean-Marc sardonically muses as he lays the folded newspaper beside his melting dram of Glass Slipper, a cocktail made of Old Forester Rye, Palo Cortado sherry, Ancho Reyes Ancho chile liqueur, Benedictine, and dashes of absinthe and Peychaud’s bitters. He regards the glass, and its yet untouched rim of Cajun seasoning salt.

He had come to Clemens’ to drink, or at least put up the pretense of drinking. But in truth, he had come to escape. Too long had he been trapped in his own penthouse suite atop Hibernia. Too long typing out code for Father d’Gerasene’s dark ecclesiastical dream. Too long staring at the black screen of his computer—and too long being stared at by the black, alien, ever-hungry eyes of the damned locusts that have invaded his penthouse. He swore the repulsive bugs were spying on him, for whenever he had tried to take a break from his digital labors, they had swarmed him; jumping, crawling, chirping, and chewing; till the tormented writer had returned to his assigned duties.

And so he had escaped his insectoid jailors, fleeing his erstwhile home for a slight reprieve to walk amongst the living. He knows he will have to return, at least ere the sun rose. But he had needed to clear his mind that was drowning in ghostly afterimages of terminal coding streams and scriptural passages till he could no longer tell them apart. No, he needed to taste the night. To drink in the sights and smells of the living, to remember what it was like…

Closing his eyes, he inhales, trying to breathe in the rich aromatic scents of the blended liquor.

But all he can smell is the blood of the man in front of him. Not that it’s really blood. Or a man. Regardless, it sings to him, calls to him like a private, wet, delectable sermon to his perverse soul:

Blood burns like the fire. Blood thunders like the storm.

Blood runs freely and stains the earth through eternity, for we only have the appearance of eternity, but the Blood remains.

I knew that I must become the master of the Blood or forever be its slave.

God damn it! Jean-Marc silently curses, his masquerading smirk souring at the unbidden mental recitation of the Maledictions. His Father might be proud, but Jean-Marc hates how the scriptures of the ‘Bad Book’ keep swimming in his brain like a swarm of rutting, spreading, consuming parasites.

Attempting to re-anchor himself, Jean-Marc steers his senses back to Mason. To his scent. To his words. To his story.

The tabloid journalist rolls the story’s details over his tongue as if he’s a sommelier detecting key ingredients. The Dirty Throws. A rash of poachings. The Guard de Ville. Wright. Donovan. Vidal. He was new to this scene, unfamiliar with its stage as well as its players, but the story… the story is all-too similar to countless confessions he’s heard before. A tale of thirst and desire, of haves and haves-not, of conquering temptation and sinful secrets, of betrayal and the looming shadow of threatening violence.

And like Father d’Gerasene’s unholy locusts, he can smell it. Hamas. But to the exploitive tabloid writer, there is also another scent to the story.


The arsenic smile returns.

“Mason, Mason,” he says, “you did the right thing in coming to me. I’m going to help you. It’s the least I can do, after all.”

Eyeing the packed veranda and the streets beyond, he subtly rolls his right arm, awakening his smartwatch. “Now, Mason,” he continues, glancing down only long enough to digitally hail a ride with his Jaunt+ app and press the record function, “let’s start with the happy ending to your sad story; you’re to meet the Guard de Ville at what location and time?”

Awaiting an answer, he folds a day’s labor of cash under the undrunk dram, then adds, “And how may I ask did you set up this kiss and tell-all meeting?”

GM: Jean-Marc supposes Mason didn’t “come to him” so much as “break down around the nearest stranger without an audible heartbeat,” but the kid doesn’t argue the point.

Besides. Jean-Marc’s version, his own spin on the story, lets Mason keep more dignity.

Who wants the truth, indeed?

Mason’s shoulders slump with relief at the journalist’s answer. He doesn’t have his own drink in hand, and not for lack of good options at the bar. Whether that lack stems from forethought, cash, or simple inclination to choke down piss, remains to seen.

“30 minutes,” he says.

“It was… getting down to the wire.”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc seems surprised by the scant time. He doesn’t interrupt, but slowly rises, silently beckoning Mason to follow him. Inside, away from so many eyes and ears. He leads them into one of Clemens’ hidden stairwells, which the proprietor had installed as a surreptitious escape route in case a member’s spouse happened to walk in and otherwise see said member with an “unapproved” date.

GM: Mason hesitates for just a moment, but seems to realize he’s already cast the die.

There’s no use worrying what result it may turn up now.

“Huh. Like a secret passage…” he remarks.

“The meet site’s City Park,” he continues, following after Jean-Marc. “Figure it’s there because it’s no one’s territory, and more out of the way than the CBD.”

Jean-Marc: “City Park,” Jean-Marc repeats, “Any particular place inside the park?” His thoughts—in line with the stairwell’s intended function—are a-flutter with worry and blossoming contingency plans. He gives a nervous glance to the Jaunt app to see his ride’s current location and ETA.

GM: The ride’s some 5 minutes away. It’s not hard to find a Ryde or Jaunt in the CBD.

The distance to City Park is about 15 minutes by car.

Jean-Marc: Five minutes, he muses. Not too much time to kill…. but plenty enough time to fucking die.

GM: Too bad for the already dead.

“Yeah. The Singing Oak.”

The 1,000-acre park is one of the largest in the United States (some 1.5 times the size of Central Park), and would take considering time to travel by foot. But the Singing Oak is one of its southern-most points of interest. It looks just far enough away from the southern road to be free from prying eyes, while the Bayou St. John to the east gives some insulation from prying eyes in that direction.

“I guess not the Dueling Oak, ‘cuz, who knows if there’s any licks there fighting a duel right now, right?”

Jean-Marc: “Right, right,” Jean-Marc nods, filling away that helpful piece of information. He knows there are gaps in his education by Father d’Gerasene, but he didn’t know how large they were.

Large enough to fucking fall in…

“And how’d you set up this confessional with…” he pauses to recall the name, “Alexander Wright?”

GM: Mason nods. “I got in touch with Wright through one of his renfields,” he answers. “Let him know I had shit on the poachings. He gave me a number to text, said it was a burner. We set everything up in code.”

“Guess it’s not the ’90s anymore, right?”

NSA spying and shit.”

Jean-Marc: “Yeah…” Jean-Marc vaguely agrees, his mind sizing up other treacherous but not fully perceived holes. “This, ah, renfield,” he asks, putting together the literary reference and silently blessing his sophomore Lit instructor, “he have a name?”

GM: “Yeah, DeShawn.”

Jean-Marc: The mental datafile gets dropped into another folder in Jean-Marc’s brain.

“And what about your krewe—your former krewe responsible for the poaching? Tell me about them. Names, what they look like, and what we should be looking out for when they come calling.”

GM: Jean-Marc might idly wonder if he’s the sole member of his Clark High class to recall the minor character’s name.

But then, it’s hard to imagine even his Abramson High classmates finding the literary reference nearly so applicable to their lives.

“Ha. Yeah. Former’s right, after this.”

“There’s three of them. Barely big enough to be a real krewe now, but, fuck. I don’t want to run into them in a dark alley.”

“Darryl’s big and black. He hits like a haystack. Caitiff. He’s got a chip on his shoulder. So he takes it out on other people.”

“Jazmine’s small and black. Really messy hair. Bites her nails a lot. Always looking around. She’s a kook. Dunno exactly what kind of crazy, just… there’s no fucking talking to her, sometimes. Does, just, random shit.”

“But sometimes she knows things, that she shouldn’t. It’s her I’m worried most about.”

Jean-Marc: “Like dropping the dime to Wright’s renfield.”

GM: “Or, what if she knows where to be.”

He shakes his head. “If it comes to a fight, she’s a pushover, just… fuck. She could fuck up everything.”

“Then there’s Kiara. She’s average height, black, always wears a beanie. She’s Brujah. Also kind of our leader.”

“Well, their their leader, I guess.”

“She’s smarter than Darryl, but she doesn’t pull shit out of thin air like Jazmine does.”

“Pretty good in a fight, but worse than Darryl.”

Jean-Marc: “Yes, yes,” Jean-Marc says, not wanting to interrupt but eager not to have Mason’s mind trip down a dark rabbit hole.

GM: “She’s stronger than fast, but still pretty damn fast.”

“That’s them, anyways. My good old krewe.”

Jean-Marc: “And you?” Jean-Marc quickly asks.

GM: “What about me?”

Jean-Marc: “Any particular talents to let the tabloids know about?”

GM: “Well, I can do some veiling. How I got in here.”

“Hell, if it was just Darryl and Kiara, I’d be a lot less scared.”

“I can also take a really hard beating.”

Jean-Marc: “Well, that’s good to hear,” Jean-Marc says, “though hopefully we can avoid one needed to be taken. But you said you’d be a lot less scared if it weren’t for Kiar—Jazmine. What’s it about her that makes you wanna shit a fucking brick? Or is it more the numbers game?”

GM: “Well, like I said, she knows shit. And she’s good at ESP. Scrying. I think she could still see me. And then she’d tell the others where to swing.”

“Like, that’s all I got, man. Veiling and taking a beating.”

“That’s everything in my bag of tricks.”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc nods, trying to process it all while part of him wishes he had just stayed home with the damned locusts. He tries to latch on to something he does know, does understand. And that’s about the burden of proof in the court of muckraking, that claiming someone’s laundry is dirty is rarely enough.

“And… just in case Wright asks, what kind of proof do you have that Darryl, Jazmine, and Kiara are responsible for the poaching?”

GM: Mason pauses with his mouth half-open.

“I can give dates. Times. They all match up.”

“And they can rip inside my head, if they want to, I’m not stupid enough to lie to the sheriff about this shit.”

Jean-Marc: It’s not much, Jean-Marc knows, but he’s published front page shockers with less.

GM: “You think that’ll be enough…?” Mason asks unsurely.

“I also know where their haven is. The johnny laws could look around there. Find evidence.”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc checks his watch.

Not enough tick-fucking-tock time.

GM: Indeed not. His Jaunt is about a minute away.

Jean-Marc: “Where’s their haven, Jason?” Jean-Marc asks, only peripherally looking up.

GM: “Mid-City. Prince pegged us all as Anarchs.”

“And it’s Mason.”

The ‘misremembered’ name, so similar-sounding to Mason, flows smoothly off Jean-Marc’s tongue. Mason doesn’t seem to register it until he’s already answered the reporter’s question.

Jean-Marc: “It is, isn’t it?” Jean-Marc asks. “Because that’s what regular licks do when names get mixed up. But back when I mixed up Kiara’s and Jazmine’s names, you didn’t so much as blink or swallow back a correction.”

He taps at his smartwatch. “So my ride arrives in one minute, so that’s exactly how long you have to come clean with me. Fill back in the deleted scenes from the director’s cut of your story, and that ride will be heading to the Singing Oak with further help from yours truly. Otherwise, I go back to enjoying looking at my whiskey cocktail and reading similarly cockshit, gaping whore-hole stories in The Times.”

The arsenic smile is gone—even if the arsenic remains.

GM: Mason stares at Jean-Marc for a moment.

The jittery fear slides off his face. He gets a very calm look.

“All right. There is no Dirty Throws Krewe. There are no poachings, and I’m not meeting with Wright.”

“My name isn’t Mason.”

“I’m closing a deal at City Park with the representative of someone powerful.”

“It’s illegal. But it’s profitable. More profitable than reporting it to the Guard de Ville is.”

“I do still need an escort. I wasn’t lying about that. The poachings story was in case you weren’t interested. You’d walk away and you wouldn’t know anything.”

“If we go to City Park together, I can cut you in on it.”

“If you get me there in one piece, undetected.”

“If you’re not interested, guess I’m going by myself.”

Jean-Marc: “Warmer, but your story still has a chilly draft from its holes. 30 seconds. You know, I think I might order a Butler’s Burning Orchard, as I really think the smoked apple juice and pickled jalapeño bring out the Cointreau and rye whiskey.”

GM: ‘Mason’ glares for a moment.

“I can’t tell you everything here.”

Especially if you’re not interested.”

“Something big is going down at City Park. Okay? I need an escort there.”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc looks around at the stairwell empty save for the pair. “If I’m not interested, it’s because dead hookers give more arousing lap dances. ‘Something big.’ I’m not a fucking shit-pant infant you can crinkle an empty candy wrapper to and expect to giggle and coo in amazement. I’m not saying let me taste the candy, but you gotta show or tell me what it is. And we’re playing baseball rules, so lie to me a third time, and the 9th inning ends with zero runs for your team.”

He looks back down at his watch. “What’s the deal, who’s it with, and why do you need an escort, much less of mine?”

GM: ‘Mason’ glowers at him a moment longer.

“All right. Fine. I’m going to kill someone who’s meeting me there.”

“I expect to get rewarded. Pretty well, too.”

“I want you, because an extra lick will make the fight more unfair, and because you’re not involved with any of the factions.”

“Which matters, and why I didn’t go to licks I knew, is because the original plan was to take you with me to the fight, win with the extra help, and then skip without owing you anything. All you’d have had was a fake name in a fake krewe and a bunch of bullshit about poaching. And because you’re not part of anyone’s club, no one would care you’d gotten stiffed. Plus you’d have been guilty too.”

“Help me kill this guy, cover it up, and you’ll get rewarded. And have an in with my club.”

“Also, in case you get the bright idea to report this to the Guard de Ville, assuming you can even get ahold of them that fast, I’ve got an ace up my sleeve that I’m pretty confident will mean you come away with jack and shit.”

“So that’s the truth. You want to get paid to kill somebody?”

Jean-Marc: At said revelation, Jean-Marc is rocked back on the heels of his suede boaters. It hits him in a way that seems to wash away his typical skepticism, accepting the third story as the Gospel truth. But which Gospel?


GM: The primordial sin.

Caine’s sin.

Jean-Marc: Tu ne tueras point.

(Thou shalt not kill.)

The sixth commandment.

GM: But it wasn’t the first sin either, was it? That was Adam and Eve disobeying. Eating of the forbidden fruit.

Then lying to God. That was the second sin.

Jean-Marc has a banquet of sin before him. To be fed lies, to kill a man (or woman? he said “guy”), for the reward of forbidden fruits.

All three of the first three greatest hits.

Jean-Marc: But the words of Bishop Timotheus also arise inside his name, words learnt not in any Catholic catechism:

Spill only the blood of the living.

The second tradition.

Yet, and yet… the fruit tempts him. He smells its aroma. Hamas. The allure of the forbidden. He’s never killed anyone before… but then he realizes that is a lie. He stares down at his tattooed inner forearm, at the stars, each one a life he snuffed out. But that was with his pen, or more actually, suicide-inducing click of his keyboard. This would be… different.

His Jaunt+ app pings, notifying that his ride has arrived. He regards the serpent before him, unclear as to whether he will taste of the fruit. But what’s the fucking harm in looking at the tree at least? He knows the rationalization is thinner than one-ply toilet paper, and just as bad at cleaning away the shit. But he takes his first step all the same. To the tree.

It might not be Eden’s Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but the Singing Oak of City Park might damn him all the same.

Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

GM: Darkened cityscape rolls past the Jaunt car’s windows. The CBD’s brutal glass and steel monoliths give way to Mid-City’s not-quite slums, not-quite respectable part of town. It’s in the middle of the city in more ways than one. The weather is pure New Orleans. Balmy with an overcast haze that threatens rain, and that distinctive low fog that rolls in off the Mississippi and settles in to the lesser trafficked areas this time of year. It seems to curl around the edges of nearby buildings as the car drives, always staying just out of reach, as though sentient and acutely aware that coming too close would be… unwise.

‘Mason,’ or whatever his name actually is, doesn’t move to talk. The kine driver doesn’t either. The Jaunt car carries Jean-Marc steadily closer to his contemplated sin.

What is it like, to kill someone, to watch the light go out in their eyes?

His ‘father,’ in blood and faith alike, surely knows.

Jean-Marc: The troubling, tempting question rests heavy on him like a suffocating blanket. He rolls down the luxury car’s window as if searching for air. The clean kind. He does not find it. But he leaves the window down, all the same, as if hopefully provides enough of a distraction and noise barrier for the driver, as Jean-Marc poses another, far more simple and less sinful question to his tempter.

“What’s the name of your date, again?”

GM: ‘Mason’ regards him for a moment. The slow-witted kid stumbling over his words from shaky, trembling anxiety feels all but gone. The other vampire’s eyes and features are cool.

Perhaps Jean-Marc wonders if he’s done this before, but it seems an almost silly question.

All of them do this at some point.

He was given the Blood so recently. That’s probably the only reason why he hasn’t. Does he pretend towards greater virtue?

Is anyone who claims greater virtue not just pretending?

“Wilson,” answers ‘Mason.’

There’s plenty gays in New Orleans.

Derivations of ‘fat’ were more common insults back in middle school, but the other kids called him ‘gay’ a few times too.

Jean-Marc: “Ah, Wilson, that’s right.” Jean-Marc says, “I recall you saying you knew each other from that, hmm, what did you call it, a ren fair? There was a baron, a prince, and, hmm, that other character. Their retainers were all jousting it out, creating quite the spectacle. But I believe you said Wilson and you were cheering for different sides. Remind me, which one was Wilson rooting for?”

GM: “Yeah. Ren fair. He couldn’t get over his hard-on for the baron.”

Jean-Marc: “Ah,” replies Jean-Marc in that same trite tone as if ‘Mason’ had just revealed what type of fabric softener he uses. “I bet he also rooted for the Detroit Lions back in ’08. And you, you were cheering for which of the other two at the fair?”

GM: “He did. Don’t remember him rooting for the Houston Texans. I’m not gonna say that’s as bad as not rooting for the Saints, but they are our neighbors.”

“Don’t remember who I did at the fair, either. Maybe we can ask after we see him.”

Jean-Marc: “Maybe,” Jean-Marc says in nonchalant agreement. After a moment, he turns back, as if he’s a bored passenger trying to kill time. “And so does Wilson know you’re coming, or is this a surprise date? I do know how you love your secrets, after all.”

GM: “Little bit of both,” ‘Mason’ answers, just as idly. “He knows I’m coming, but not what the date’s going to be.”

Jean-Marc: “Oh, I dare say the shock might well kill the chap, so we best be careful.”

Jean-Marc gives a smile as wide as a whiskey barrel.

But it’s a hollow one.

He lets the silence slip between them again, or at least the buffeting, voiceless ingress of outside air. Yet, as they approach their destination, he turns back to his co-passenger. “So remember back when we were going to party with Darryl and Jazmine? There was that guy that sat at my table, the one I didn’t know, but you did. I don’t think I really caught his name. It wasn’t Mason or Jason… what was it again? I wouldn’t want to be rude if I saw him again and had to admit I didn’t know his name.”

GM: There’s a thin smile.

“Ah, sorry. Don’t remember the guy’s name. I bet Wilson will, though, after we see him.”

“He’s got a better head for them.”

Jean-Marc: “But not for sports team,” Jean-Marc titters back, his own hollow smile thinning. He gives his co-passenger—or is it co-conspirator now?—another look over, trying to drink and see if he tastes any new flavors.

GM: Technically, one could say it’s both.

‘Mason’ is dressed generically. Black and gold sweatshirt. Blue jeans. Dark sneakers. He stuck out at Clemens’, but it’s a getup you could wear anywhere on the streets (or to the park) without drawing much attention. He looks young. Late teens. (Though how much does that count among immortals?) Black skin. Average height. Thin build. Clean-shaven. Dark hair cut short. He looks nonthreatening, or at least did. It’s a face that looks more suited to the scared kid he was playing back at Clemens’, than the co-conspirator and fellow murderer he apparently is now.

“Mm,” he agrees noncommittally.

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc takes another visual draught, a deeper pull, willing the blood within him to reveal, to pierce. He’s not looking for a vision from Amoniel, but he’ll take what he can get. Taking, after all, is one of his specialties, or at least that’s what his grand-maman would say of her candy-thieving ward.

But that memory stirs something in Jean-Marc’s otherwise calloused hamas-rotten heart. The feeling of failure, the shame of breaking his grand-mère’s trust, and losing her favor. The blood within his veins, it reminds him of another ‘parent’ whose trust and favor he does not wish to lose. He was bad at being good, bad at following the Good Book. The least he can do is be good at being bad, good at following the Bad Book. And then, as if speaking of the Devil makes him appear, the words of The 11th chapter of the Rule of Golgotha flows like a fresh wound dripping in his soul. He shall be guided by two things: the teachings of the Dark Father and the prayerful spirit of his own heart. And what had the Dark Father taught him? What had his own dark Father d’Gerasene taught him of Longinus’ teachings. Once more, another rip of his soul drips a scriptural passage to splatter onto his consciousness, this one aptly from the Teachings of Longinus: We must not slay a fellow, except to preserve the word of God.

So who is this serpent beside him? No true Wolf of God, that much is clear. But who is he? Jean-Marc has to know, had to see.

GM: And money-thieving. Grandpa might say that too. But they never caught him, did they? Grandmère left everything to him.

The Bad Book has another verse on that. Maybe not the perfect verse. Jean-Marc is still learning. But it feels applicable.

We are not so innocent as mortal man […] he will scheme and murder and bribe to gain what little earthly power he can, and then expects his comrades to hail him as a just and forthright man.

The Bad Book doesn’t mince words. Hypocritical lying murderers. Those are the innocents.

Jean-Marc is no innocent. ‘Mason’ isn’t either, he’s made that plain. The lie’s heart has already been cut out. The tabloid journalist’s incriminating photos have been snapped. The rest is mere formality.

What’s left of the lie runs off ’Mason’s’ face like so much water.

His face is different. He’s still a man, dark of skin, but he looks maybe a decade older. Maybe a decade and a half. Late 20s to mid-30s. He’s got some stubble around his lips and chin, the shadow of a beard and mustache that aren’t, and he’s bald too. His face is narrower. The eyes are further apart. It’s a different face for a different man. He’s several inches shorter and thicker of built. The clothes are different, too. He’s wearing dark rather than blue jeans, a different brand of sneakers, and a windbreaker rather than sweatshirt.

Jean-Marc supposes ‘Mason’ was telling the truth about veiling, at least.

Jean-Marc: Those always make the best lies. You don’t offer someone a glass full of arsenic. No, you give them some shit-sweet iced tea with a few drops of arsenic. That’s how you get them to drink it all up and thank you for it.

GM: ‘Mason’ is packing, too.

Semiautomatic handgun inside his windbreaker. Nasty-looking knife. Smartphone and wallet in the pockets of his jeans.

Jean-Marc supposes the former are for if they won’t take a long drink and say thanks.

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc silently curses. Somehow he thought bringing his Herculean handgun would clash with Clemens’ dress code. That, and his Bermudu suit didn’t come with a holster option. He doesn’t even own a knife, save for a few to spread butter and his 19-piece Shun set he purchased last Christmas for himself from Williams-Sonoma.

Shit, he thinks, I didn’t even bring a knife to a fucking gun fight.

But there are other weapons. And like ’Mason’s’ blade, Jean-Marc’s wiles have proven just as sharp and nasty.

Here’s to hoping my wits haven’t dulled to shit.

As the ride closes in on its destination, Jean-Marc is left wondering whether or how to pray—and to whom? Somehow, the Hail Mary’s his mémère taught him just don’t seem to fit the bill. Not anymore—and maybe for Jean-Marc (if he’s being really honest—which he rarely is) they never did.

Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

GM: The route to City Park is an extended chore, as ‘Mason’ insists on overshooting cross streets and then doubling back to pick them up two, sometimes three or even four blocks further down. It’s seemingly his attempt at being circuitous, in the event that the duo and their driver are being followed, but Jean-Marc is unconvinced it accomplishes a whole hell of a lot more than wasting a fair piece of time—valuable time, with how little ‘Mason’ said they had left. Maybe that’s another lie too. The only person who seems actively happy at the detours, and the fact they make the digital meter run for a while longer, is the Jaunt driver.

All the same, the drive gets Jean-Marc and ‘Mason’ to City Park, and that’s where they want to be.

Jean-Marc: Or at least, that’s where ‘Mason’ wants to be. Jean-Marc is less sure. Still, the Evangelist is sure he’s glad the ride is over. Indeed, there’s no deceit in Jean-Marc as he scowls at the rising rideshare fee—especially since the Jaunt+ service adds a premium tax. As Mason exits the car on his side, Jean-Marc egresses on his, but he leaves his rear door open and stands in its threshold. Not for long, but long enough for him to pull up the Jaunt+ app and pay the detour-inflated price. That long, and just a few seconds longer as he makes a few smooth taps and swipes to pull up his contacts and call Hound Wright’s number—only to mute the called line and hide the call from his smartwatch’s face. The recording button similarly continues in the digital background.

Closing the door, he doesn’t deign to watch the driver pull away, just waits a second before he calls out to Mason, not shouting, but in a clear voice all the same. “Okay, all right, we’re here at the Park with the Singing Oak, all because you, ‘Mason’ or whatever your real fucking name is, say there’s this lick named Wilson you want to kill, all so you can get paid. So before we go any further, before anyone pisses in the eye of Timotheus’ second tradition, I have a few final questions. And this time, can we spare the bullshit? It’s muggy as hell out here in the Park, and I don’t have the patience to hear any more phony bullshit about beanie-wearing Brujah.”

“First off, who’s paying for the hit—and how do I know you won’t stiff me like that Jaunt ride?”

“And please, please, don’t say ‘trust me’, because your balance in the trust account is in the bleeding red. You lied to me more times than Clark High got shut down for lice infections.”

GM: The car pulls off into the night.

The UMe smartwatch shakes briefly as Jean-Marc mutes it, then only silence as the call goes through.

“How much was the Jaunt ride?” asks ‘Mason,’ eyes on his co-conspirator.

Jean-Marc: “It cost enough,” Jean-Marc replies sourly, but then rattles off the real number. “Figured I needed to give him a tip too, lest my account gets dinged, and we can’t have that at all.” He then regards ‘Mason.’ “But far more important is how much are you—we—getting paid?”

GM: ‘Mason’ reaches into pocket, opens his wallet, and hands Jean-Marc the same amount of cash.

“There. You weren’t stiffed.”

But the journalist’s hungry, preternaturally truth-ferreting gaze seizes upon the opening. In the brief moment it takes ‘Mason’ to remove the cash and then close the wallet, Jean-Marc immediately catalogs everything. It’s one of those RFID-blocking wallets that make digital theft harder, though it seems redundant in ’Mason’s’ case. He keeps a lot of cash in it. And a ticket stub to a music concert at the House of Blues.

In the French Quarter.

“Happy?” asks ‘Mason.’

Jean-Marc: “Happier,” Jean-Marc answers all-too truthfully, with a genuine smile—if less than genuine meaning. In his past life, a ticket to a music concert in the French Quarter would be all but meaningless, but in this ‘life,’ the ticket stub speaks as loud and clear as Satchmo’s trumpet.

Sliding the bills into his lapel pocket—and thus not revealing his own RFID-blocking wallet’s interior—he says with an only slightly reduced smile, “But don’t think I didn’t see what you just did there. I asked who’s paying and how much, and gave me some Hamiltons. So how—”

GM: “I’m not giving you any names for me or my boss until the job is done and you’re in too deep to have second thoughts.”

“As far as payment, though.”

Jean-Marc: He stops, pausing and taking a look around the Park to ensure they still remain the only visible, nearby occupants. “Okay, fine, fine, no more names—for now. But first, you said you had a way to make sure the Guard de Ville isn’t on to us. How? Because I know you think Wright is a thug with his fingers up his ass, but that zigzag Jaunt won’t mean squat against Vidal’s hounds.”

Technically, ‘Mason’ said no thing, and Jean-Marc has no clue of the vamp’s opinion of the hound, but the tabloid muckraker spices it up for his true UMe audience—and an audience of one Brujah whom he hopes is still listening and is now further rilled up. Not into a frenzy, but a poke at the Beast all the same.

GM: “Two ways,” says ‘Mason.’

“The first I’m keeping to myself.”

“The second is that Singing Oak isn’t where we’re meeting Wilson. Anyone who was snooping back at the bar can have fun searching all 1,000 acres of City Park while we do the deed and get out.”

“Know what else would’ve helped?”

“If all they’d heard was a bunch of bullshit about fake poaching by a fake krewe.”

Jean-Marc: “Ah, that is fuck-all clever…” Jean-Marc says in not-untrue admiration. “So where in the Park is this midnight rendezvous really happening, then,” he gazes around, “or is it not happening in the Park at all?”

As if to confirm that last suspicion, he raises his smartwatch-donned wrist and taps the device’s screen as if he’s waking up his Jaunt+ app. “Because that would be wicked smart indeed if we then hailed a ride somewhere completely different.”

GM: ‘Mason’ gives a thin smile.

“Good guess. This way. I don’t want us getting picked up at the mouth of the park.”

Jean-Marc: “Nor do I,” Jean-Marc agrees, make one tap and swipe, as if to put his smartwatch on sleep-mode—but in reality uses the one-press function on the call to share his location with Wright (assuming and hoping the hound hasn’t hung up).

“But one last question—the most important question,” Jean-Marc says as he half-hustles to catch up—but not too quickly either. “How much?”

GM: “Domain,” says Mason. “We’re fucking killing someone here, so I asked for some posh feeding grounds. Big enough to keep a real herd and feed more ghouls.”

“Blood for blood.”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc gives a low whistle in appreciation. Even the Testament of Longinus makes clear how valuable that prize is. Yet, a few seconds later, Jean-Marc pauses again mid-step.

“So… how’s that going to benefit me? Let me guess, I help out, and I get to be, what, your esquire or tenant?”

Jean-Marc was indeed a newcomer to the All-Night-Life, but Father d’Gerasene as the new Regent of Esplanade Ridge had dutifully explained the intricacies of feeding rights among the Damned.

GM: “Yep. You get a slice of that,” says ‘Mason.’ “And an in with my club. They’ll see you can get a job done and keep your mouth shut.”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc nods, as if in thoughtful consideration. “Speaking of getting the job done, what do you know of this Wilson other than his hard-on for the Baron?” He then thrusts out a wrist—the one not wearing his smartwatch—and reveals a tattoo on its inner arm. “See these stars?”

To a mortal, the tattoo of the heraldic lion displaying a newspaper would be invisible in the dark—especially the black row of stars in the inked rag. But Jean-Marc is no mere mortal, and nor is his would-be co-murderer.

“Each of them is for someone who’s died by my hand.”

Technically, ‘by his hand’ is accurate, though he doubts Mason would appreciate the truth of how the star-symbolized mortals died by suicide in the wake of Jean-Marc’s life-ruining tabloid evangelism.

“But I typically study my marks real hard and real slow, like a good fuck. But it sounds like it’s going to be a quick and dirty bang instead. Still, tell me what you know of this lick, and I’m not talking about his attitudes towards beanies.”

GM: ‘Mason’ looks over the stars.

It’s a long ‘list.’

It’s technically accurate, but dishonest in presentation.

Perhaps that makes it more true than unvarnished truth.

“Good,” he says, then starts walking again, away from the park’s entrance and its parked cars. “Wilson works for the Baron. At this point he’s more useful to our boss dead than alive.”

“They call him Spook Wilson. He’s a Malk.”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc nods, not yet revealing that he’s met or more technically seen Spook once, during what seemed a genuine, even amiable, conversation with an older Gangrel and fellow Crone by the name of Fayde.

“Hoping that’s not all you have, ‘Mason’,” Jean-Marc says, withdrawing his arm.

GM: “You’ve got a lot of questions,” remarks ‘Mason.’

Jean-Marc: “That’s how I got so smart—and long-lived.”

There’s a smugness to his reply. If he was a better man, it would only be an affection.

Then again, if he was a better man, he wouldn’t be here.

“But fine, enough with the questions. Just tell me how you want to do this, as this is your gig, really, and I’m just the side-act.”

He had wanted to say ‘front-page story’ and ‘back-rag piece’, but that would be showing too much of his true face.


It’s like a fucking hot black bra. We hide it, but deep down we want it to be seen. We seek it, but as soon as we find it, all we want to do is take it off and throw it to the side.

Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

GM: Despite (or perhaps because of) his paranoia, ‘Mason’ leads with surprising alacrity, his loose-laced Nikes scuffing first the sidewalk and then the foggy grass as he and Jean-Marc walk down City Park at its southern tip. At this hour, one normally expects the park to be dead quiet, with little activity to speak of. And for a moment, everything around the pair is silent. They stain to see or hear anything that would belie that norm tonight. Giddy wisps of dread swirl alongside the fog.

‘Mason’ is the one to hail their next ride on his phone, muttering something about “fucking Gangrel.” The pair slink down the grassy park’s wide paved roads. They steal underneath long-shadowed magnolias, Louisiana cypress, and Southern live oaks. ‘Thieves in the night’ would too kind a descriptor for this dark errand’s undertakers. They arrive at a black car. It’s a Ryde rather than Lyft. ‘Mason’ gets in without a word. He doesn’t talk. More cityscape rolls past.

Soon they’re driving through the Seventh Ward. Dinah once told him how Jude’s parents, ‘his’ paternal grandparents, used to live there. It was a good place to live if you were black. Once a quintessentally Creole neighborhood settled in the 1800s by les gens de couleur libres (free people of color) seeking to escape the overcrowded French Quarter, these darker-skinned Creoles were highly educated, skilled in the building trades, practiced Catholicism, and spoke perfect French.

Jean-Marc can’t comment on ‘his’ paternal grandparents, but he thinks Grandmere would have liked the Seventh Ward a lot.

Although Jim Crow and its “one drop rule” disenfranchised the Creoles as thoroughly as any Protestant and English-speaking former slaves (a group long held in contempt by the black Creoles), the Seventh Ward did not take things lying down. They had money. They were educated. Creole attorneys for the NAACP painstakingly fought to turn over Jim Crow laws one at a time. The neighborhood held the only high school in the city for African-Americans until 1942. As bad as Clark High might have been, Jean-Marc supposes it beats the alternative of “no school.” Culturally, the Seventh Ward’s vibrant community spawned many jazz greats like Buddie Petit, Lizzie Miles, and Barney Biggard. Financially, its affluent residents and family-owned businesses made it the most prosperous African-American business district in the country during its heyday, stretching all along Claiborne Avenue and into Tremé. Residents fondly remember the St. Bernard market at the corner of St. Bernard and Claiborne as well as Chez Helene at 1540 N. Robertson. Chez Helene gained national fame when “Frank’s Place,” a critically acclaimed sitcom inspired by that Seventh Ward restaurant, aired on CBS in 1988.

But what Jim Crow couldn’t do, the I-10 finally did.

Jean-Marc’s seen the old photos. Heard the old stories, too, from current and former residents. Or friends of residents, in Jim’s case. It was a topic that made his (real) grandfather angry. Once, he’d told Jean-Marc, the neighborhood had Southern live oaks just like the ones in City Park. You had this beautiful stretch of greenery bisecting Claiborne Avenue and running down the whole of the Seventh Ward. It was great for the community, Jim had said, in so many ways. He used to play baseball games with some kids there.

Then the city chopped all the trees down, bulldozed over the grass, and built an interstate highway.

It destroyed the neighborhood overnight. Property values plummeted. Smog and noise and the endless thrum of traffic replaced the chirp of birds, the laughter of playing children, and the conversations of families over summer picnics. Businesses and churches no longer wanted to be there. Suddenly an area that had been prosperous was quite undesirable. Homeowners moved, and finding their homes neither saleable nor rentable, eventually abandoned them. The irony of destroying this thriving business district in order to facilitate access to the suburbs was not lost on residents, or on Jean-Marc’s grandfather.

Mardi Gras wasn’t for black people originally, he’d said. It was for white people. The Zulus and the Mardi Gras Indians used to celebrate the black Mardi Gras along Claiborne Street, not Canal Street or St. Charles Avenue.

And the trees, Jim had added—those Southern live oaks? The ones not chopped down were uprooted and placed on Harrison Avenue, a newly developed all-white neighborhood.

“Pillaging,” he’d called it.

Tonight, the Seventh Ward is a shell of what it used to be. Gunshots echo in the distance. The Ryde passes two police crime scenes replete with yellow tape and cruisers with flashing red and blue sirens. Jean-Marc looks out the window and sees a filthy-haired homeless men sitting outside threadbare camping tents. One squats over the ground as he defecates. Hollow-eyed crack fiends amble into ruined homes near the freeway, doubtless to shoot up. Gangsters cruise by in their flashy cars. The ceaseless roar of interstate traffic overhead swallows it all.

The real irony, Jim had observed, was that the whole thing came after the Civil Rights Act.

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc’s face sours as he watches the change of scenery and the flood of stories it resurrects. There’s a part of him—perhaps the fourth of blood that flows from his maternal grandfather—that burns and galls at the injustice, the loss, and the resultant blight that filled the vacuum. The other part just sighs and takes it like a dog being kicked in the stomach. After all, it’s better than the face.

Along the way, he tries to fill the space, as if he’s once again making chit-chat. This time, though, he’s not prying for information, as he believes ‘that dog won’t bark no more’ as Jim used to say. Rather, he points out occasional places they pass, noting how he used to eat at such-and-such place, smoke roaches behind another, and popped a few cherries here and there. The stories are false, mingled with bits here and there of stretched truth. But his goal isn’t to monologue a veridical or fraudulent life. Rather, it’s to give some aural clues as to their travel, like digital breadcrumbs for the hound to follow. He has no reason to suspect his smartwatch isn’t transmitting their location, but it helps to have a backup. Then again… Wright could have long ago hung up.

Occasionally, he takes out his bespoke breath-mint tin and rattles the Bêtises de Cambrai spearmint candies and artisanal mint julep-flavored Tic Tacs. At one point, he opens the tin and offers one to ‘Mason’. He doesn’t expect him to accept, but one has to entertain oneself the best one can.

During such diversions, however, he does glance up to the Ryde driver’s phone to see their destination, assuming it’s the terminal one this time.

GM: The best lies are the ones seeded with truth.

Jean-Marc has a decent well to draw on. Jim might not have made his home in the Seventh Ward, but he spent enough time there that Jean-Marc thinks he’s able to talk authentically about baseball games amidst the trees, or local residents’ forlorn efforts at spray-painting tree images onto the overpass’ supports. ‘Mason’ listens without talking much, his false face making occasional sounds and expressions of acknowledgement. There’s a lot of “mm-hmms.”

He declines the candies and Tic Tacs with a vaguely annoyed look. There’s only one person to pretend for around here.

The Ryde driver’s phone, meanwhile, says they are headed to Louis Armstrong Park.

Right on the border of Savoy’s and the Baron’s territories, and technically within the latter’s.

‘Mason’ has a wary look in his eyes as he stares out the Ryde’s windows, especially at the sounds of gunfire. The driver mutters, “This city is goin’ to hell, you know that? Completely to hell.”

‘Mason’ gives a faint sneer.

“‘Going’ means it hasn’t gotten there yet.”

“That’s what you should actually say. ‘This city has gone to hell.’”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc gives a half-smile. He doesn’t dispute the driver’s assertion, but it makes him pause and consider its implications, as it either means the Sanctified are doing really well, or really shitty at their divine mission. He’ll have to ask Father d’Gerasene the next time he sees him. That thought gives him a chill, a rush of mixed anticipation and dread.

He tries to squash that flutter of thoughts and emotions into a tight mason jar. “Louis Armstrong Park. I once bought a nice frankenbike there.”

Jean-Marc doesn’t reply. He may not have much experience against the easily provoked undead, but he knows not to poke an asset—at least when it doesn’t serve the Evangelist’s interests.

GM: The Ryde finally drops the pair off at their destination. ‘Mason’ gets out.

“You’re getting a negative review,” he snaps at the driver.

“The fuck? One star for you too, asshole,” glares the man.

“Won’t matter,” sneers ‘Mason.’ “Tah tah.” He slams the car door.

The vehicle angrily drives off with a honk.

Jean-Marc: Exiting the car, Jean-Marc raises a brow at the heated exchange, but otherwise stays silent. He places the tin back in its muffling pocket.

GM: “Fuck him,” snarls ‘Mason.’

“And your stupid tin. Who the fuck were you pretending for?”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc gives a teflon shrug. Maybe it’s disarming, maybe it’s infuriating. He then looks around, making sure no one else in earshot. He then adds in a much quieter voice. “Not saying I’m a Janus kid, but the Masquerade has its uses.”

He then looks around again. “Speaking of which, I hope we’re not meeting Wilson here. This isn’t the City Park; lots of eyes and ears around here. Most unfriendly.” He tries to inject a bit of fear in his eyes and stance. It’s not hard to do, given the circumstances, but he also hopes it will disarm ‘Mason’ a bit, help him to feel more in control and less in need of false bravado. Because that just gets you killed.


GM: “Keep your head,” says ‘Mason,’ his voice calming a little. “We’ll be in and out, and it’s easier street from there.”

Jean-Marc supposes it’s easier to feel safe with a fake face in fake clothes, too.

Jean-Marc: Meanwhile, Jean-Marc stands out like just like a sore thumb, but a broken one. At least, he did.

Reaching out, he silently recites an excerpt from the Rule of Golgotha:

_That with the power of Damnation comes limitation. The Damned hide among those who still enjoy God’s love, making themselves known only to exemplify fear and cull the unrepentant. _

He’s not sure if it’s a prayer or a headline, but he lets the silent words all the same wash over him even as he reluctantly releases some of the precious blood within him. The taste of Damnation, but also the power. As it flows through and over him, he becomes like Longinus in the sand, like Monachus and Maron in the clay jars, and Daniel in Mauritius’ chest. Hidden and overlooked.

He slides his tooth over his tongue. Is it drier now? Perhaps.

Turning back to ‘Mason’, he says, “So what’s the end-game plan? Because I sorely hope we’re not hitching another ride.”

GM: Headlines almost always get attention.

Prayers are up for debate.

“You’ll see,” says ‘Mason.’ He promptly moves off, scuffing his way to what would be a comfortable lead in more comfortable circumstances.

It feels like it’s been longer than 30 minutes.

The park’s entrance spells out the surname of the Crescent City’s jazz great in wide, bright letters. ’Mason’s’ footsteps thump against the concrete before they move onto grass, becoming softer and half-audible.

Jean-Marc: It does indeed feel like it’s been longer than 30 minutes. Then again, feelings are like orgasms. Some are real, some are fake as hell. Still, as Twain said, assuming is good, finding out is better. Thus, while Jean-Marc follows behind Mason—but not too closely, mind, as the lead here works to his favor—he wakes his smartwatch, checking not only the time, but also to see if his call or location-sharing is still active, before dowsing the latter app.

“So about that 30 minutes… I assume now that was just another pig with lipstick lie, or are we running late?”

GM: “Both,” says ‘Mason’, not turning to face him.

Jean-Marc finds the call not only still ongoing, he’s received a new text.

Bringing more guests to your boy’s party. Hope he don’t mind.

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc nearly chokes as he swallows down his smile. Quickly swiping the call and text to a hidden screen, he then hustles to catch up to ‘his boy’.

“Aren’t you worried about Spook bringing back-up too? I mean, he’s a Malk.” Jean-Marc gives their surrounding a meaningful look.

GM: “Shhh,” ‘Mason’ calls back, lowering his voice.’ “He’ll be up just ahead.”

The pair pass a bronze statue of the park’s namesake, trombone held in hand. ‘Mason’ doesn’t quite run, but doesn’t quite walk either as he slinks towards the Mahalia Jackson Building. He rounds the corner.

GM: Jean-Marc catches up just in time to watch ‘Mason’ freeze. Both hands jerk up from his sides a moment before, drawing swiftly up to his face as though to cover an open mouth or panicked eyes.

Two figures await the would-be murderers.

The first is a black man wearing a green jacket and a beret covering a mop of tangled dreadlocks. He’s stepping back with raised hands and huge eyes.

Her apparel is plain and worn. A brown denim jacket coated in faded stains. Pants of the same make and poor condition. Steel-toed work boots crusted with red that’s faded to black. Her neck-length mop of unruly brown hair looks like it’s cut with a hacksaw. Further tufts of hair sprout like weeds from her palms and neck. Any other individual so dressed and groomed would look like a homeless vagrant. Pale flesh drawn taught over bone, faintly glowing red eyes, and twitching calloused hands that end in clawed tips give immediate lie to that assumption.

The woman herself is distinctly mannish-looking, with wide shoulders, thickly muscled arms, and blockish facial features that could have been carved by an inept teenager who got an ‘F’ in their wood shop class. Her mouth is a flat, unmoving line, but her brown-gray eyes burn with slow-simmering anger. Not the controlled aggression of an attack dog pulling taut against its leash, but the ferality of a wild bear staring out from behind its cage’s bars. Contained, perhaps. But never tamed.

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc similarly freezes. He recognizes the black man with the dreadlocks and beret as Spook Wilson, but the feral woman—or monster that barely resembles such—is unknown to him. The fear she evokes, though, is all too easy to discern.

In the wake of that blatant fright, a scriptural passage from the Teaching of Longinus pierces his mind:

We are Heaven’s wolves, and in our presence only the faithful do not tremble. We are holy lightning, and when we strike, only the faithful do not burn. In the places where we walk, evil is destroyed. In the places where we walk, God takes those worthy of His love to His own side.

As Jean-Marc trembles, he knows he is neither faithful nor worthy of God’s love.

He remains similarly convinced that this monster before him is not one of Wright’s ‘guests’ brought to the ‘party’.

Holy mother of God lightning, why didn’t I just fucking stay home with the locusts…

GM: Before anyone can react, the woman’s hands explode through the torso of the man standing next to her, punching out completely through his back. The tips of her gore-soaked fingers end in knife-sized claws, black and utterly inhuman. The man gives a crisp wheeze and lurches forward onto the woman’s forearms. Red dribbles from his lips. The woman roars in his face, displaying rows of saw-like fangs.

Then, with impossible, inhuman strength, she pulls her hands free horizontally. The man all but explodes open as she rips through layers of muscle, fat, and bone. Apart from his spinal cord, he’s been torn completely in half. Blood froths from his mouth before he topples backwards. His head grotesquely swings towards his buttocks, his spine no longer able to support the weight of his upper torso.

His beret slips from the side of his head, falling limp to the gore-spattered ground.

His body hits the grass next with a heavy thump. His bloated, clammy features look like they’ve been dead for days.

Blood and shredded bits of meat coat the woman from head to toe. She throws back her head and roars again, a ghastly sound like a rabid bear with far too many chunks of meat lodged in its throat. Burning, hateful red eyes meet ’Mason’s’ and Jean-Marc’s, and then she’s gone as if she were never there.

Yet Jean-Marc strains his wide, horror-struck eyes.

Shadows gather about the woman, drawing her into the night, making her one with it. But he sees past them.

He watches—he hears the gory crunch as her body collapses in on itself, flesh and bone hideously realigning. The woman’s face splits in half, her eyes swelling to enormous size and turning pis-yellow. White, quill-like points explode from every inch of her flesh, then sprout feathers.

What’s left is the biggest, ugliest bird of prey he’s ever laid eyes on. Molasses-brown feathers, almost pitch black against the moon’s obscured glow, are torn and ragged like the bird was swallowed by the Devil, chewed up, and spat back out. Jagged scars crisscross its legs and beak. Where its pupils should be black, they are instead a hellish red, and burn into Jean-Marc’s gaze like smoldering coals. The bird knows he can see it.

The raptor give a final nails-on-chalkboard screech, flaps its wings, and soars into the night sky.

‘Mason’ looks wildly around, his face bone-white.

“Oh. Fuck. Fuck. FUCK!”

His wide, wild eyes look at Jean-Marc, then suddenly narrow.

‘Mason’ takes a single step back, regards Jean-Marc for another moment, and then takes off in a bolt. His legs move grotesquely, preternaturally fast, like a centipede’s, but the tabloid journalist’s unerring sight proves sharper still. He watches as the would-be murderer flees the scene in a literal blur. Flees Louis Armstrong Park and all its terrors.

Then, all that remains is quiet.

As Jean-Marc stands there, watching the blood pool on the ground beneath the clump of ash that used to be a dead man, a low, familiar rumble begins somewhere in the distance. This peal will soon be followed by a sharp crack, and then by hard, driving rain. He knows this because he know the city’s voice. This is one of her favorite songs, and he’s heard it many times before. He knows how she lives, breathes, communicates. And what she is trying to tell him now is simplicity itself. It’s the headline of his latest story:

There’s a storm coming.

Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

Jean-Marc: Before the night-black heavens break, the storm within Jean-Marc unleashes its own torrent. As he wretches, the bitter odor of vomit mingles with the copper-heady scent of blood. Against that visceral backdrop, Jean-Marc’s harrowed mind similarly pukes up an intrusive verse from the befittingly named Torments:

“Nearly satisfied, I walk through the corridors where the stench of death is sharp and all-encompassing.”

The muckracker winces, and shakes his head, as if trying to dislodge the unbidden scripture as well as the gory after-images of what he has just beheld.

But both torments remain—as does the blood. He stares at the latter, knees buckled, as the the following verse of the 29th chapter of the Torments falls from his mouth like the emesis on his bearded chin:

“…wrath of God…”

He barely hears his own recitation, but the blood beckons him, grounds him, and brings him back to his visceral senses. His nostrils and tongue all but reach out for the bloodied grass, but his eyes, however, catch glance at his smartwatch. To his call, his audience, and his purpose. This time, the latter half of Torments 29:2 spills silently, but intentionally from his lips:

My work is almost done.

With that pseudo-benediction, he forces his still watery knees to hold his weight before backing away from the the simultaneously gory yet scene. After ensuring his call to Hound Wright is still live, he then swipes to another app. A GPS-tracking app, one specifically tied to a series of Bluetooth tracking tiles. He lingers the slightest of seconds to note where Leslie is before zooming in on the map-racing dot of his latest tile. A tile he had expertly slipped into ’Mason’s’ pocket of when he had offered the twice-distracted Kindred a mint. Having previously scanned his clothing like a TSA agent, Jean-Marc had noticed his tempter’s left pocket had a hole leading to a lining-pressed pouch filled with lint, some loose chain, and an old streetcar ticket. In other words, the perfect hiding spot for Jean-Marc’s tile.

Regarding the tile’s GPS-precise dot on his digital map, the Evangelist smiles, thin and long as a Christian Louboutin stiletto. Who the fuck, indeed, was I pretending for, ‘Mason’? he sardonically purrs.

The song of a cricket haunts the humid air, causing Jean-Marc’s indulgent schadenfreude to pass. After all, Hound Wright and his ‘guests’ are on their way. He will wait for them, still supernaturally unseen or unnoticed, but he needs to spend his remaining time preparing the story he will tell Hound Wright. Duplicity isn’t the issue, not when the truth is far more damning to the would-be-violator of Timotheus’ second tradition. Rather, the muckraker well knows the issue is how to best play to his audience. Which juicy details to squeeze till their last drop, and which to gloss over. To come clean, but come off clean too. Moreover, the Brujah hound is not known for his patience, so the tale will need to be punchy but pithy, a quick jab versus a long haymaker. Assembling the story in his mind, he mentally takes out the bleeding-red pen of an editor. It’s a tight deadline, but he’s had worse.

My work is almost done.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Thirteen, Celia XIII
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Story Thirteen, Celia XIII

“I know how I like my women.”
William Carolla

Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: They’re a mess when it’s over. Jade bleeds the excess into a cup, but there’s something so hot about being covered in blood while she fucks a ghoul and she wishes that Roderick were more into it.

Then again, she thinks that perhaps killing started him down the path that led to the vision, and she’s not interested in that. She’ll leave these moments to those of them who enjoy them. Like Reggie.

She drains the blood from the body with Reggie’s help, using him to hold the man aloft while she uses a hand to pump the heart like the literal valve that it is. She drinks until she’s full, puts the extra aside for later, and showers off the blood with Reggie. She has him take her again and finally gives him the hit she’d promised.

GM: Reggie learns something new when Celia’s heart-squeezing makes the blood come out faster. He takes her a third time with pleasure.

Whether it’s with as much pleasure as the hit is hard to say, but he thoroughly enjoys both.

Along with the fact that Randy is still waiting just the next room.

“He’s such a fucking idiot around you,” Reggie laughs as he dries and dresses himself.

Celia: “You’ve mentioned,” Jade drawls as she wrings the excess water out of her hair. It had been a thorough shower; no need for Carolla to smell the sex on her later and wonder if she’s as perverted as Roxanne. “Maybe getting laid will get it out of his system. And maybe he’ll still be an idiot. Regardless, I have a task for the two of you.”

She dresses, checks to make sure the thin-blood is still staked in the suite, and takes Reggie to find his brother. A wave of her hand dismisses any concern over taking so long. She checks the time to verify there’s enough before her meeting with the Brujah. No doubt fucking Reggie took up some of it, but a quick conversation should be doable.

“Your brother hit a wall looking into the hunters for me. I’d like to try a new tactic,” she says to the pair.

GM: Jade finds the thin-blood staked on the marble table. The man’s eyes do not follow hers as she approaches, but simply stare blankly upwards, seemingly oblivious as to her presence.

The ghouls both nod, listening.

Celia: “The guy he’s looking for doesn’t exist. Fake name. The other names haven’t turned up anything in a search, or at least no one has looked into their disappearances. The other lick I’m working with is sitting on a bugged stake. So yeah, I could twiddle my thumbs and wait, but I’m not a very patient person.” She favors them with a smile. They know.

“I’ve got their phones and the number they were communicating with. We can go about it a few ways. Call and trace the number, see what it turns out. Rusty will probably be on that for me.” Hadn’t he done that already? Why get the number if he’s not looking into it, right? She shoots him a text to tell him to do so if he hasn’t. Coded, obviously. “I can get the pair of you disguises, you can meet with the contacts. Maybe take a body with you.” Jade can think of a few licks she wouldn’t mind seeing the last of. “We can also stake out the apartment where I was nabbed. It’s in Mid-City. I imagine they’ll try again. The IDs they’ve got are fake, too. We’ll see if any of your ‘friends’ recognize the work.”

GM: The pair take a moment to process.

“Okay,” says Reggie. “Whose body?”

Celia: “Dunno yet,” Jade says cheerfully.

“There are so many to pick from.”

GM: Rusty texts back an affirmatory response.

“Sure are. Stake-outs are also boring as fuck,” says Reggie.

Celia: “Chance they won’t return, anyway, since their guys didn’t.”

Celia sends a text to Rod letting him know she found Dani’s phone and that she left her purse at the house for them. A second later she asks if he happened to find her friend’s ID at his apartment after their “wild party lol.”

Celia: “Thoughts on the rest of it?”

GM: Roderick texts back his gladness at the news and says he’ll let Dani know.

Her friend didn’t misplace his ID as far as he could find.

“Sounds good to me,” says Randy. “These guys tried to hurt you. Fuck waiting on some other lick.”

“Take the offense and all that.”

“Hey, you aren’t always an idiot,” says Reggie.

Celia: Jade favors the youngest brother with a smile.

“No IDs,” she says once she reads the text, “never mind that plan I guess.”

GM: “Ok, when do you want to kick this off?” asks the older of the pair.

Celia: “Could do it whenever.” They have the spare parts now. “It’ll be during the day. Lord Savoy has a shadow dancer that has met them already if you think going with him will be best.”

Gotta be a him, right? The one she’d (sort of) fucked in the shower.

“Guess I can’t count on him lending me the guy, though.”

“We’ll need to alter your faces, bodies.”

Celia: She’s only hesitant because she’s worried about losing them. She shouldn’t be worried, right? The other ghouls made it out.

“I guess tomorrow..?” Gives her little enough time to find a lick to send with them, but if they are working with the bitch with the tainted blood maybe it’ll come up.

GM: “Okay,” says Reggie. “Let us know whenever.”

Celia: “…you’re not worried about it? You two? Going in alone? Getting found out?”

“I guess we just need to find a lick, then.”

“Think they’d take a thin-blood?”

GM: “You got out, didn’t you?” Reggie shrugs.

“Be convenient with this guy already here.”

Celia: She might as well drain him while he’s here, too. Give him just enough to leave him “alive.” Keep the hunters from reviving him and learning anything about them, her, or her boys. Unless they don’t function like that. Maybe this is one of those things Edith could have told her; she didn’t think of it at the time.

“Yeah,” she says to that. “We’ll chance it. Fucker has fangs. Uneven, but fangs all the same. Alright. They needed three to be in the club. ‘My’ body was the first, this will be the second, see if they give you an address for the third or if it’s something you need to find yourselves. Find out what you can. Record what you can. But don’t get caught. That’s your priority: getting out. Clear? I’ll send a doc by your place tonight to alter your features. Use a burner. Car. Phone. Everything. Coded. The last pair said groceries. Address out in the fuckin’ boonies.”

GM: “Could just grab the fuckers,” says Reggie. “Hurt them until they squeal.”

Celia: “Think you could?”

GM: “Last ones were trouble, weren’t they?” says Randy.

Celia: “They were. And there’s something weird about these ones.”

GM: “But I dunno, two of us, plus surprise.”

Celia: “I mean yeah, that’s ideal if you could…”

GM: “Weird how?” asks Reggie.

Celia: “Not like normal hunters, my guy said. Looks down on potential assets. Cold.”

“Like… normally hunters want to work together.”

“These guys were real dismissive.”

“Of potential allies, I mean.”

GM: “Maybe ’cuz they were idiots who got themselves killed,” says Reggie.

Celia: “Right, well, the guy who I spoke to about it has more experience with these sort of things and is older than me, so I’m kind of inclined to trust him on this. And they didn’t know the others died.”

“But hey, if you can nab one without risking yourself, do it.”

“Look. Do what you can. Just don’t fucking die, okay?”

GM: “Don’t plan on that anytime soon,” smirks Reggie.

“You got it, babe. We’ll be careful,” says Randy.

Celia: “Then I’ll take what I need from this guy and you can turn him over to then. Expect the doc early this morning.”

She waits a beat in case they have any questions.

GM: “A’ight.”

They do not.

Celia: Then it’s time to drain a thin-blood to the point of almost-death and get ready for her date.

Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: It doesn’t take long for Jade to drain the halfbreed. She puts the blood aside, leaving it just enough to still be… alive. Animated. Whatever. Another night, perhaps, she’d have questioned the thing to learn what she could. But she has so many important things going on this evening, and she’s waited long enough to pounce on the hunters. Her boys aren’t useless, no matter how dumb Randy sometimes acts around her. They’ll get it done. This is the way forward.

The boys take the body with them when they go, still staked. One less trip for her later. She leaves with them, heading back to her haven to get ready for her date. Makeup. Hair. Nails. Once her body is ready she thumbs through her closet.

Years ago Roderick had enjoyed the pants Celia wore to a rant. Or at least to the car on the way to the rant, before they’d stopped to fuck because he couldn’t keep his hands off her. Brujah pants, he’d called them. The Mafiosa might not be an Anarch but he’s certainly still a Brujah, and she looks for something similar. Tight, to show off her tiny waist and shapely rear. Stiletto heels. Black shirt, also tight, and a black jacket top it off. She peruses accessories and settles for a gold branded belt.

Jade winks at her reflection before she saunters from the haven to meet Carolla’s driver at the agreed upon address a few scant blocks away.

GM: Her reflection winks back, as if to say how smoking she is.

The car, a dark SUV, arrives about a minute after the agreed-upon time. The driver, a thuggish-looking man who’s crammed his large frame into a dark suit, gets out to open the passenger door for Jade.

She’s greeted inside the car by the Brujah himself. Will Carolla is a somewhat smaller but still large-framed and square-jawed man with slicked-back hair that has a few strands artfully loose. His features could be called handsome enough, in a blunt sort of way. Where Roderick’s face is narrower and smiles easily, most of his conviction seeming to glare out from within, everything about Carolla’s unsmiling face looks hard. A less kindly description referencing his low brow and flat, incurious eyes might be thuggish. He’s wearing a dark suit without a tie and several buttons around the collar undone.

“You’re a sexy fucking bitch,” he says without preamble as he looks Jade up and down.

“Toreador,” grins the ghoul.

Carolla gets out of the seat, then all but seizes Jade as his hands tightly clamp around her arms, holding them fast against her sides. He slides back into the car and pulls her onto his lap. His hands are coarse and rough as they squeeze her skin through the leather.

“Like a sex doll. One of those robot sex dolls. I want to wind you up, watch you strut your Toreador ass, then bend you over and fuck you. You need a good hard fucking.”

Celia: It’s a different sort of dynamic on this lap. Not as safe and comfortable and smug as the position on Savoy’s, or as loving and warm as Roderick’s, or even as flirty and teasing as she is atop Gui. There’s an edge here, a sort of possessiveness and arrogance Carolla exudes that’s missing from the others. Like he’s already decided that she’s his and there’s nothing she can do about it.

Hauled bodily into the car, arms pinned at her sides, there’s little she can do but squirm against the Brujah’s body, ass grinding down against him with every movement. Almost like an accident; there’s a line between brazen slut and “giving in because he’s so goddamn charismatic and appealing” and she finds it, dancing upon it to give his ego a little stroke.

“Bend me over and fuck me,” Jade echoes, halfway between a drawl and a giggle, “what, like a breather?”

God, that’s hot.

She tells him so. That it’s so hot to finally find someone who knows what they want and isn’t afraid to seize it.

GM: “That’s fucking disgusting,” says Carolla, his features twisting in distaste. He roughly flips her over his knees and brings down his palm on her leather-clad ass. The blow is incredibly strong, and painful. He has to hold her in place with his other hand to keep it from knocking her off.

Celia: It’s not like she said she’s into it. Just asked. She was willing to go along with it if he likes it, that’s all.

Jade doesn’t need to force the yelp that the blow brings. Beneath the leather her flesh jiggles at the force of the slap, skin turning red.

If she weren’t focusing so hard on keeping her perverted nature quiet, she knows she’d be wet between the thighs.

GM: Carolla yanks her up by her hair and sweeps his other hand beneath her knees, lifting her up like one of those posable sex dolls to set back down on his lap, back to his chest. He makes a fist in her hair and yanks it back again, exposing her throat to the air while holding her head down beneath his shoulder level. His other hand doesn’t knead her breast so much as try to squeeze it apart. His fingers really hurt.

“Such a sexy fucking bitch,” he repeats. “You’d leave this car in a body bag if you were a breather.”

Motion starts beneath them as the car takes off.

Celia: She thinks it’s a compliment. In a weird, death threat sort of way. She rolls with it regardless, squirming in his grasp when he flips her again. There’s a moment where she’s free—but it’s just that, a moment. She loses handily, body bent and twisted the way he wants, throat exposed to fist and fang and whatever else he wants to do to her.

She knows his type. Roderick had told her all about them when they were breathers: how they expect their women to submit and deal with their manhandling. She’s not a woman, and he’s not a man, but the attitude persists despite their even standing: he expects to win. She’ll make him work for it, though. He expects that too. And victory is so much sweeter when your opponent doesn’t just roll over for you.

The breath leaves her body in a pained growl when his fingers dig into her chest. She snarls, lips pulled back to expose the fangs in her mouth. She bucks against him, twisting as if to escape, and brings an elbow into his side.

GM: Her elbow connects hard with the Brujah’s flank and elicits a surprised grunt, giving her a chance to squirm away. He lunges after her, seizing another fistful of hair. Her roots scream as he yanks her back, splaying her over his knees. A vice-like hand clamps around her throat.

“Feisty bitch,” he growls, fangs out as his eyes hungrily roam her leather-clad form. “Need to learn your place…”

Celia: Her roots aren’t the only thing that scream. The sound passes her lips for the brief moment before he cuts off her air, turning it into a strangled wheeze instead. She clamps her fingers around his wrist, trying to throw him off, but it’s all for show. They both know he’s stronger than her. And he can see it in her eyes: arousal.

GM: “Bitch likes that, huh?” He clamps his left hand around around her neck too, squeezing harder and harder until her neck feels ready to snap, then lets go with his right hand. He flips her over on his lap, ass in the air, and strokes his free hand along her leg. His hand runs over the leather before he grips her calf, hefting the leg above his head. His hand squeezes her boot heel.

“Yeah. Those are bitch boots you got on. Make you so fucking helpless. Tottering around. In your bitch boots. Any woman with boots like those is saying she wants to be bent over and fucked.”

He drops her leg to undo his pants, stiffens his cock with an apparent moment’s effort, then shoves her mouth over his member while his left hand continues to all but crush in her neck. His right hand returns to her leg again, pulling up the leather pant leg to expose bare flesh. His fangs sink into her calf like a drumstick.

Celia: She doesn’t need air. Black spots don’t swim in her field of vision. But she flails all the same, batting ineffectually at the hands that hold her down until the bones in her body grind together. Only then does she still, eyes wide upon his face, fingers curling around his wrist. She ceases her struggles. Then the flip, his hands roaming her body, his words running past her while she writhes, limbs twisted and yanked and—

Oh. There. A firm cock in her mouth. For all that he says the breather way is disgusting he sure doesn’t mind mimicking it. Fangs flash, nipping his skin. She fastens her lips around the flesh in her mouth and sucks, letting the warm vitae flow across her tongue. It’s hard to swallow with his hand on her neck but she does what she can, making soft, almost eager whimper-like noises around the vice grip on her throat to show him she has accepted her place in this dance.

The blood on her tongue, though… shock jolts through her, but only for a moment before she smooths it over and focuses on what she’s doing. All the same, emotion wars within her. Some part of her had hoped it wasn’t true. Another is filled with vicious satisfaction.

That lying cunt. She’s going to enjoy watching her kingdom topple.

But what sense does that make?

Is he lying? Doing the same thing she does? Enough shadow dancers in the city, aren’t there; even Edith said she can cloak. Not a very common trick, though.

But why? Why that? There’s no way he knows what she’s looking for. Unless there’s a leak. Who knows? Her, Savoy, Preston. To what end? Make her look foolish in front of her grandsire? Invictus stick together? Sabotage the entire Roderick plot before it begins? No wonder the bitch hasn’t called her back about their supposed meeting.

The lot of it flees her mind when he sinks his fangs into her calf. It’s a problem for another time. Right now she just wants to enjoy herself. She gives in to the thing inside of her that wants to fight, fuck, and feed.

GM: The fighting seems over with, but she still gets to fuck and feed.

Carolla’s blood fills her mouth, hot and furious. Like all Brujah blood. Almost spicy. It’s more bitter than Roderick’s, though. Saltier, too. And thicker. Stronger. Headier. By one way or another, he’s embraced his Beast to an extent her lover hasn’t. She can picture him crushing in hunters’ heads without worrying for their families.

It’s oddly titillating, trying to swallow down so much, and being cruelly denied by the hand crushing in her windpipe. Like a starving man being fed morsels at a time.

The Brujah hungrily rips and bites Jade’s flesh, savaging her calf like a true drumstick as he gulps down her blood by the mouthful. So much more than her. It’s not fair. He switches legs after a moment, dropping her first one and yanking the other into the air to rip into it too. He takes his fill, then drops it too. He uses his free hand to pound her ass as she choke-sucks his cock, bringing his palm down again and again and again. Jade remembers another girl, who screamed and sobbed and blubbered ‘til her throat was raw and her ass was bloody over her father’s knee, and perhaps wonders how much less time it would have taken the man if he had a Brujah’s strength. Jade has to awkwardly grab hold of him, grab the seat, grab anywhere, not to be sent flying off.

Celia: It’s mostly over, anyway. She still “struggles” a bit when he seems to be going soft on her, making sure to keep him on his toes. She’s a lick, not some blubbering breather that just submits to people when they win. And maybe she likes the idea of “losing” to Carolla. Maybe she likes it a lot. Maybe it’s him, or his blood, or the fact that he seems to know exactly what turns her on: the hard smacks against her ass that leave her yelping, yowling, hissing (strangled half-sounds, all of it), and clawing at him before he makes her settle back down so he can deliver another, a third, a fourth. She loses count. But she’s throbbing by the end of it, and there’s no doubt that if he tried this sort of thing with a breather she would leave in a body bag. But Jade is made of hardier material than all that; she doesn’t even bruise.

She’s not Celia.

She lets the Brujah have his fun. And when it’s done—when they’re relatively sated on blood and sex and aggression even though they both know there will be a round two whenever they reach their destination—she lets him arrange her on his lap again like those sex dolls he seems to favor, idly nipping at his neck with the flats of her teeth while the rest of her bleeds and throbs and curls contentedly against him like an overly large lap cat.

GM: Carolla seems to enjoy the continued token struggles, for they seem to make his hand come down all the harder and all the more times as he pounds her ass raw through the tight leather pants, like it’s a piece of meat he’s trying to pulverize with a tenderizer. He finally picks her up again, flips her over, and plops her back down on his lap. One of his hands fits around her waist.

“I had a girl, when I was a breather. I’d make her fuck a sex doll in front of me. I’d piss on her face and tell her she wasn’t good enough for my cock. Doll was all she’d get, unless she put on a really good show. Usually didn’t.”

“Then I’d bring in my other girl, and we’d fuck while she watched. She’d get to eat my cum out of the other girl’s snatch if she was good.”

“Then I’d slug them for being whores, and jack off over their faces, because I was tired of sticking my prick in a whore.”

“You remind me of the doll.”

Celia: “Of the… doll?”

GM: “Yeah.”

Celia: “How’s that?”

GM: “Dunno. Just do.”

Celia: She’s not quite certain if it’s a compliment.

“Sounds like you knew how you liked your women.”

GM: “I know how I like my women.”

“Don’t have the girl anymore, but still have the doll.”

Celia: “And your licks?” An appreciative glance up and down his form before she settles again. She lets out an amused sound at his mention of the doll. “What do you do with it now?”

GM: “Same thing. Make juicebag girls fuck it. See if they deserve my prick.”

Celia: “That do anything for you? Watching the kine fuck it?”

GM: “Sometimes. If they’re good.”

Celia: She arches a brow at him.

GM: “They’re good, I take just a little. They’re bad, I take everything.”

Celia: “And that line about deserving your prick?”

GM: “Getting to suck juice out of it.”

Celia: “So if they’re good you take a little, give a little,” Jade muses, “and keep them around for your entertainment?” A nod to the ghoul driving. “Their entertainment?”

GM: He effects a snort. “Would have to be really fucking entertainment to get juice just for that.”

“And fuck no. He buys his own whores.”

Celia: “Mm. Then what’s the point of keeping them around?”

GM: He barks a laugh.

“Fuck, you’re a Toreador. I don’t just use renfields for fucking.”

Celia: It’s Jade’s turn to effect a snort.

“Let that rumor get to you, I see.” She sounds more amused than heated.

GM: “I’ll bet $1,000 you fuck yours.”

Celia: “You think I’d let some renfield put their cock in me? Really.” Jade trails a hand down his chest. “There’s nothing interesting about a breather when I can have this.”

GM: “Fucking right.”

Celia: Ego as big as any stiff. Jade all but purrs at him, stroking the muscle beneath his suit jacket. She nips at his neck.

“Where are we headed, then?”

GM: His hand slides down her waist to give her ass an extremely hard squeeze.

“Roxanne’s hangouts. Porn studio after we find her.”

Celia: “Force her to perform? Nothing quite like the sight of a blue blood on their knees.”

GM: “Yeah.”

Celia: Too bad they won’t find the bitch.

“And what’s your plan for when she gets her krewe together to come after you for showing everyone her proper place? Pathetic as they are, they’ve still got the numbers.”

GM: “She’s never gonna leave.”

Celia: “Tragic,” Jade drawls.

GM: “For her.”

Celia: “Won’t age out like some of the girls in the biz. Has that whole teenage bimbo look going on.” Jade considers, then finally nods. “Good pick.”

GM: “Yeah.”

The pair go on a wild goose chase through the CBD, visiting an assortment of locations where Carolla apparently believes Roxanne may be found, each one as fruitless as the last. The evening slowly ticks by, and the Brujah’s temper rises with it. His driver starts to look nervous.

“Where the fuck is that whore?”

Celia: Jade, at least, hides her nerves better than the driver. She knows that Roxanne isn’t going to be found, but she does her part searching for the bitch. She finds any clues as to Roxanne’s recent activities that she can, looking for anything that ties her to Vidal, or anything that might lead her to Evan. This many months removed she doesn’t think there’s much to find, but she turns over what she can, bounces ideas off of Carolla, and makes sure to keep his mood in good spirits when he’s around her. So smart. So clever. How did he even hear about this particular place? She milks it for what it’s worth.

GM: True to Jade’s expectation, the trail is long cold this many months removed. There’s ample evidence Roxanne was a staunch Vidal supporter, but none that she had any personal ties to the prince. That fact does not help the Brujah’s increasingly volatile temper, which even her practiced flattery seems to do only so much to abate. Indeed, Jade can only reach one conclusion:

Carolla isn’t really looking for Roxanne to get a porn actress.

Celia: Jade hadn’t expected to find much. All the same, she filches any interesting tidbits that she comes across.

“What did she do to you,” Jade ventures after one of their stops, “and how can I make it better?”

GM: “She crossed my uncle,” he says flatly.

Celia: “The one with the crocs?” She can’t help but sound intrigued.

GM: Flint dances in his eyes. “No. The other fucking uncle with the crocs.”

Celia: Jade is silent for a moment, letting him stew. Finally she says, “I didn’t know she had anything to do with him.”

There’s an invitation to share, if he wants to tell her the story.

GM: Carolla’s fist smashes into Jade’s face like a sledgehammer, crunching in her jaw and nose with a grisly shatter that sends teeth flying. She goes flying too, across the car’s interior, and hits the door with a painful thud before landing on the ground. Blood seeps onto the floor mat from her face. Jade barely wrestles down her furious Beast as the red fury starts to edge out Carolla’s eyes.

“Fucking waste of a fucking night! Fucking cocksucking camwhore FUCK! FUCK!!!!

The Brujah’s next blow caves in the driver’s headrest and smashes it off the seat altogether. Carolla’s ghoul barely ducks as the headrest flies past him to hit the steering wheel, causing him to jerkingly swerve the car. Angry honks go up from traffic.

Celia: Jade should have kept her mouth shut. She rears backwards when the fist slams into her face, smothering her Beast inside her chest before it can do so much as hiss. She finds a spot on the floor and hunkers down, arms over her head, protecting herself from the almost-raging Brujah.

Occupational hazard, isn’t it, hanging out with the angry ones.

She waits a beat, looking for the signs of him completely losing his cool, and only once she’s sure he hasn’t she offers something else: the opportunity to put Gui in his place.

GM: “Yeah? Fucking how?” snarls the Brujah, fangs still jutting from his mouth.

Celia: “Party at the Evergreen on Saturday,” Jade offers, hands still up. “He set the theme. 1920s. In honor of his sire. I bet we can make him look real fuckin’ stupid.”

GM: Carolla grabs Jade by the hair and yanks her across the car floor. He twists it hard, forcing her to look up at him from the ground with her throat bared. He leans close.

“Look at you. You with your long fucking hair in your fucking bitch boots with your fucking hands up, you scared fucking woman.”

Celia: Jade’s fingers close around the wrist of the hand that yanks her head back, but she knows better than to try to get away. She meets his gaze, forcing herself to stare into the cold eyes that look upon her now. Bloodied, but not beaten.

“Lick,” she hisses at him, “and one who’s offering you another annoyance on a silver platter since we can’t find the cunt.”

GM: The Brujah doesn’t let go. He leans closer, enough to kiss.

“Say you’re a woman.”

Celia: Anger simmers just beneath the surface. He’s just like a bald man she used to know, using the word “woman” as an insult.

As if having a vagina is a fucking crippling disability.

“I’m as much a woman as you are a man.”

GM: And with those words, he smiles faintly and lets go.

“Right. Beast got riled up.”

Celia: If she were still mortal she might breathe a sigh of relief. But she’s not; she’s the undead abomination she claims to be, so she is still and silent, wary, rubbing at the roots of her hair with her fingers.

“Yeah,” she finally says.

GM: He picks her up and plops her back down on the seat.

“Okay. Party.”

“That sounds fun.”

“We can do that, you want.”

“Or there’s something we can do right now.”

Celia: “Yeah?”

“What’s that?”

GM: “Asshole your sire would be pretty happy if we ruined the night of.”

Celia: “That hardly narrows it down.”

GM: He barks another laugh.

“Yeah. She’s a piece of work.”

Celia: “She’s somethin’ all right. What do you have in mind? Or rather, who?”

GM: “I been working this a while. Asshole’s been a pain in my ass too. But now…”

He pulls out a phone. He unlocks it, then shows it to Jade. She sees a blipping dot on a map.

“…I can do this anytime, at my leisure.”

“Follow asshole’s every move.”

Celia: “Which asshole?” she asks, watching the blip.

GM: Carolla starts to answer, then follows her gaze to the screen.

“Oh fuck! Asshole’s in City Park, this is fucking perfect!”

“City Park,” he tells the ghoul.

Celia: Jade supposes that answers that. She’s along for the ride.

Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

GM: True to its name, City Park is the city’s largest park, replete with a miniature golf course, art museum, amusement park, playground, restaurants, and other attractions to the point that ‘park’ actually looks rather scarce, at least this far south. Still, there aren’t many people around this late at night.

The ghoul pulls into the closest parking lot. A children’s playground is visible across from the asphalt. The swings, slides, seesaws, sandbox, and other playground equipment stand still and barren at the late night hour.

It’s the same one Roderick took her to back in 2012.

Carolla opens the door and gets out. He picks Jade up, around the waist with both hands, then sets her down on the pavement.

“Let me see you strut your ass in those bitch boots.”

Celia: Jade uses the time in the car to wipe the worst of the blood from her face. It only serves to enhance the look. Like Rod once said, no one likes a lick showing up in brand new leathers to a rant; it screams of trying too hard.

She’s all eyes for the Brujah during the ride otherwise, letting out a delighted giggle when he picks her bodily up and sets her on her feet. She’s happy to show off her ample posterior with a strut in her bitch boots, heel-toe, one foot in front of the other. The boots lift her ass into the air, a sway with every step.

GM: Carolla watches appreciatively as her heels go click-click-click against the pavement.

“Fuck yeah. Look at those fucking hips. God. Any other time, I’d fuck you right here. "

“We’ll do that when we’re done. Can you fight?”

Celia: “Not as well as you, I imagine. But I manage.”

“We taking down a big tough guy?”

GM: “Yep.”

He doesn’t contest the “not as well” assertion at all.

Celia: She’s hardly going to lie about it with her ass on the line. Her hand squeezes his bicep, aroused despite the serious nature of his claim and burning curiosity.

“What’s the plan? I could distract him.”

GM: “The plan starts with you taking off the fucking bitch boots, if you’re actually serious about fighting too.”

Celia: Jade unzips and kicks them off without a word.

GM: He holds out his hand. The ghoul gives him a set of binoculars. He pulls up the map on his phone again.

“Right. We follow asshole from a distance. See if asshole’s with any friends. Odds look good, we jump asshole there, pound a stake into asshole’s chest.”

Celia: “And after?”

GM: “I fuck you in your bitch boots on top of asshole.”

Celia: Jade grins.

GM: “Put them in the car,” he says to the ghoul. “Fucking homeless or pervert will steal them.”

The ghoul picks up Jade’s shoes and puts them in the car.

“If asshole walks by the water, we hide under there. If asshole walks by a tree, we hide up there. Jump asshole out of fucking nowhere.”

“Tree is better. This suit is fucking expensive.”

Celia: “Hide. Jump the asshole. Fuck on the asshole.” She nods.

GM: “Yep. You know how to shoot or use a sword?”

Celia: “I’m okay with a knife. Better with these.” And there they are: claws sprouting from the tips of her fingers, just as pretty as the rest of her but with a lethal edge.

GM: “Good,” he nods. “How about shooting, in case there’s renfields?”

Celia: “Not really,” she admits. The claws slide back into her nail beds.

GM: “Okay. He’ll handle the shooting, if there’s any.”

The ghoul loads a firearm.

Celia: “Are you expecting a whole retinue?”

GM: “Probably not. Why take a retinue on a fucking walk in the park. But plan for the worst. Who knows what he’s doing here.”

Celia: She nods again. She does the same.

GM: “Stay out sight. Behind trees and bushes and shit. Doesn’t fucking matter asshole can see in the dark if there’s a plant in the way.”

Celia: She almost offers to cloak. But she’s already shared the claws, no need to tip her whole hand.

“Okay. I’ll follow your lead.” She pauses, then finally reaches out to touch his wrist. “Hey, Will, is he… dangerous? Stronger than you?”

GM: The Brujah barks a laugh.

“Fuck no.”

“But I’m not underestimating him either. He’ll be dangerous.”

“He can definitely take you.”

Celia: That’s not saying much.

“Guess I’ll have to work on it.”

GM: He shrugs.

“You’re a Toreador who struts around in bitch boots.”

Celia: “So’s my sire. Can still throw down with the best of them.”

GM: “Can throw down with the best of neonates. Bet the sheriff would hand her her ass.”

Celia: “Can’t imagine many asses he wouldn’t handle.”

She wishes he’d handle hers.

GM: He grunts and walks down the park’s trail, dimming the brightness on his phone. The ghoul gets out a heavy knife, locks the car, and follows behind.

Celia: Jade falls into step beside him, dimming her aura when he dims his phone. No need to make it look like there’s two licks around if she can avoid it.

GM: Jade’s never been on any dates here, but it’s a literal trip down memory lane for Celia.

At the post-midnight hour, the trio seem to have the winding trails all to themselves. The forested park with its tall, drooping branches feels like something out of a primordial dream.

Celia: It might be romantic, if not for the way he’d slugged her earlier and the fact that they’re about to jump some unsuspecting soul.

GM: Carolla doesn’t pause to appreciate them like Roderick did, either. He just seems to make note of the camouflage in between checking his phone. He also says to “Watch out for any fucking Gangrel.”

Celia: Jade keeps her eyes peeled for other licks, whatever form they happen to choose.

A girl named Celia had once been worried about them while she was with her date, though she’d been riding the high of rekindled romance. Nothing had touched them that night.

The park seems altogether more sinister now.

GM: Carolla and the ghoul keep their eyes peeled too, albeit with the Brujah distracted following his map, but none of the trio sees any. Yet.

They finally reach a point where Carolla nods, “Fucking perfect. Asshole’s headed this way.”

He grabs Jade and unceremoniously throws her up at the canopy.

He throws his ghoul into the tree too, then seems to all but fly as he does a standing leap from the ground into the tree’s crown.

Celia: God, it’s hot.

Even now, middle of the night, waiting to jump some asshole—thrown bodily into the air really seems to do it for her. She doesn’t say anything, though, just keeps her eyes peeled on the path once she settles atop the branch he’d thrown her onto.

It’s almost like flying.

GM: He catches a branch too and swings around it, pulling out his phone. The dot on the map draws steadily closer. Carolla’s ghoul pulls the rifle off his back.

“I hold up one finger,” whispers Carolla. “You hit asshole with a head shot.”

“Two fingers. Up to you who to fire on.”

Celia: Smart. Roderick had told her he’d rather slow down a lick from afar with bullets.

GM: He shakes his head. “Fuck. Wish we’d had two heavy hitters in the car. I’d try to blow his head off too.”

Celia: Jade lets them plan. Without a gun she doesn’t have much to add to the conversation. She keeps her eyes peeled on the path.

GM: “Wait. You can’t fucking see in the dark, you useless piece of shit.”

“Sorry, boss.”

“You should have fucking said so. Give me that.”

Celia: Fucking renfields.

GM: “It’s got a scope,” declares the ghoul.

“I don’t fucking care. I’m taking the shot.” Carolla pulls it out of his hands.

Celia: Jade hesitates. Then, almost quicker than the eye can follow, she reaches out to mark the ghoul’s arm with her claws. An eye, slitted down the middle like a cat’s, stares up at them when she’s done.

“Blink,” she tells the ghoul.

GM: He blinks. His eyes glow red.

“Holy shit. I can see fine.”

“Like, not just through the scope. Fuckin’ everywhere.”

“Huh. Okay,” says Carolla. He looks at Jade, then back to his ghoul. “You take the shot. Better this way. Couldn’t pause to hand you back the gun after I took the shot.”

Celia: No one ever asks how. Jade doesn’t sigh. She just thinks about it.

GM: They settle in to wait.

They don’t wait long, though, before Jade sees Roderick and Dani walking down the trail together, clad in their masks. Their voices are inaudible at the current distance, but brother and sister are smiling at each other.

Celia: Oh.

Oh no.

Dread curls in her gut.

Not this. Not them.

He’ll kill her with the headshot. She doesn’t know if thin-bloods can come back from that, but she’s not going to risk Dani’s life on it. She has to stop him. Carolla and the goon. And she’d just marked him.

Jesus Christ she’s fucking stupid.

So fucking stupid.

What matters more to her: her lover… or her grandsire?

Neither, whispers his voice in her head.

She wishes he were here now. That he’d swoop in and take out Carolla for her so that she doesn’t need to dirty her hands, so that she can just play dumb when they ask her about it, because she’s so fucking good at that. Is there a way to reason with him? A way to get him to not attack?

Yeah. By redirecting his rage. Taking it out on her instead of Roderick.

Jade swallows. He’s had Roderick bugged for who knows how long. Following his every move. Leading him right back to her. Savoy offered to take him out for Roderick anyway, didn’t he? It’s no skin off their back if she just does it first.

Those masks might be their saving grace, though.

“Bugged a breather, did you? Hardly worth Veronica’s time.”

GM: Carolla holds a finger to his lips with a pissed off expression.

Celia: Jade gestures at where the non-vampires walk through the park.

“Worried about kine,” she continues. Stage whisper. “Took my fucking boots off for this nonsense.”

GM: “Shut UP, you stupid cunt,” he whisper-hisses.

Celia: Roderick… or her grandsire?

It’s not even a choice.

“I bet you five grand I can take them on my own.”

GM: Carolla looks as if he wants to rip Jade’s head off as she keeps talking and potentially compromising their hiding spot.

“Shut. Your. Mouth.”

But he doesn’t look at her. His eyes whip ahead towards the ‘mortals’ she points out for him.

Celia: “Hiding in the trees from fucking breathers.”

“Big bad fucking lick.”

“Give me the gun, let’s at least make it sporting.”

GM: Carolla seizes Jade and clamps one hand over her mouth to silence her. The Toreador’s struggles seem to only further enrage the Brujah, and he casually breaks her right hand with his other one, seizing it a vice-like grip and squeezing until the delicate bones crunch apart. Her left hand follows a moment later. What’s left looks as if someone pounded a sledgehammer over them.

Celia: Pain flares white hot through her body when her wrists snap, the eight tiny bones no match for his crushing grip. She doesn’t dare shriek when the Brujah has already made his annoyance known; the sound that passes from her lips to his palm is a low, keening whimper that cuts off as quickly as it begins. Jade ceases her struggles. In the car, even riding the dangerous edge, she’d thought herself relatively safe. His strength had been hot. Here and now with her lover, his sister, and her own self on the line, it’s downright terrifying.

GM: A brief smile plays over Carolla’s rough features, but then he and his ghoul frown at the unfamiliar approaching faces. The apparent breathers. Carolla looks down at his phone again, frowning in confusion as it apparently confirms that ‘asshole’ is right by, then seems to do a mental calculus if his ghoul takes the shot.

They’re Roderick in disguise. His ghoul shoots Roderick in the head.

They’re a pair of random breathers. His ghoul shoots a random breather in the head.

The Brujah points at the male ‘breather,’ then holds up one finger.

Celia: Licks smell even the faintest traces of blood in the air. Jade lets the tears come. Her aura flickers and drops. Her eyes flash red in the night. Haphazard, as if she can’t control it, as if the pain of having both wrists broken keeps her from being able to concentrate on maintaining the deception, but maybe the message reaches Roderick all the same. Maybe it’s enough to let him know something is wrong. She plays up the weak, womanly angle that Carolla has her pegged in, leaning back against him as if to silently acknowledge his superiority, nodding her head again and again to say I get it, I’ll be quiet. Each movement that jostles her arms sends a fresh cascade of bloody tears down her face. She sobs into the Brujah’s hand.

She should have played it another way. Could have played it another way. Now she’s sitting in a tree with a monster and his ghoul, learning first-hand why Roderick speaks so ill of the Mafia if this is the way they treat people. At least her spot pressed against Carolla’s side will keep him from jumping down immediately once the gun goes off.

No time for should have/could have, though. She has seconds before Roderick walks into view of the renfield. Seconds before he squeezes the trigger.

She makes them count.

Jade shifts against Carolla as she can, keeping her hands from view. No need to let him know that she’s sending the blood she needs to the area to snap her wrists back into place. She plays up the damsel; she’s just a weak woman and he’s a big strong manly man and she has definitely learned her place. She’s so sorry that she doubted him, sorry she questioned him; she just wanted him to think she’s as much of a badass as he is, and now she knows how stupid that was. Of course he’s in charge. She knows a winner when she sees one.

Celia has had so much practice in this role. She takes the reins, swimming to the surface to make it as believable as she can. She squirms, not to get free but to press herself closer, twisting her face to press it against his chest.

And there’s his throat. Waiting for her.

That’s the thing about lap cats: you never know how true the cat part of it is until the girl you’ve got your hands on shifts in the blink of an eye, turning into a deadly, 600-pound predator with nails as long as the fingers of the girl she used to be. The tiger’s jaws open wide to close around that throat in front of her, its snarl ripping through the night.

GM: The tree branch snaps under the big cat’s quarter-ton weight, sending tiger and Brujah crashing to the grass in a heap. The tiger recovers first, with its four legs. Great jaws shoot straight for its prone adversary’s throat. Bone crunches and flesh tears as blood sprays over the striped cat.

Then, out of nowhere, Roderick appears. Perhaps he has no clue who the tiger is. But he knows who the mafioso underneath the tiger is. He doesn’t hesitate for a moment. He can’t get in a punch past the tiger’s bulk, but bone-shattering, brutally hard kicks smash into Carolla in blurs of motion.

Celia remembers a conversation at Flawless once, how Piper read an article about what to do if you’re attacked by a tiger. She said she read to stick your fist up its mouth. That will really fuck up its day. Emily was immediately skeptical. She said you should go for the sensitive parts instead, like its eyes. “You can’t fucking beat a tiger in a fight,” she’d said. “You just want to cause it enough pain to back away and figure this meal is more trouble than it’s worth. Maybe if you’re lucky you’ll blind it.”

She’d asked Robby his opinion afterwards, too. The HEMA enthusiast had agreed. Fighting a tiger alone and unarmed is a suicidally terrible idea: all you can do is cause it enough pain to back off. “I only know the basics of shooting, but that’s a situation where I’d MUCH rather have a gun than one of my swords,” she’d said he said. “The noise might scare it off even if you miss.”

“But yeah. This is why humans invented tools and hunted in groups. Lone unarmed human against an apex predator is no contest.”

Licks aren’t humans, though.

Carolla doesn’t go for the eye. He just drives his fist into the tiger’s throat, messily crunching in bone, before an equally savage follow-up to the nose smashes in the animal’s face. Undeterred, the tiger savages the shit out of Carolla with its claws, shredding muscle and sinew and reducing the mafioso’s fine suit to gore-stained tatters. Strips of bloody meat dangle from the beast’s claws and teeth.

Carolla’s ribs crunch apart under Roderick’s continued kicks. With a roar of bestial fury, Carolla seizes the tiger under its forelimbs and hurls the quarter-ton animal against the tree, which shakes to its roots. Branches and leaves snap off from the canopy as more gunshots split the air. The tiger can’t say from who as it regains its paws.

Roderick takes advantage of the opening, though, and delivers a downward punch to his still half-risen clanmate that all but explodes Carolla’s skull. His face looks like a shattered vase after a two-year-old tried to glue it back together.

Carolla is slammed back into the grass even as Roderick’s follow-up punch descends from his other fist. For a moment, it looks like he and tiger have won the fight, until the next gunshot takes him square in the back of the neck. He staggers forward. Carolla ambles to his feet, fangs bared and roaring past his half-destroyed throat, just as the tiger lunges at him. The great cat’s claws rip open his stomach but fail to knock him off his feet even as Roderick falls into a boxer’s stance, taking advantage of Carolla’s preoccupation to launch one-two combos with the full force of his body behind them. They’d be easier to counter if only the fight was one-on-one, and shatter bones faster than the other Brujah can mend them.

More gunshots go off.

Carolla has more than one foot in the grave already, but the frenzying Brujah fights like a demon, driving the tiger and his clanmate back with wild, bone-shattering blows. There’s a thump against the grass. A machete rams into the tiger’s flank. Carolla’s ghoul drags it back like he’s carving up a steak, taking some of the pressure off his domitor.

Celia: In this form, with this speed and size, the tiger can keep up with the fight where the girl couldn’t. Even launched as it is against the tree, body savaged by the fists of the Brujah that rain down upon it, its single-minded instinct runs deep: fuck up the other guy before he can fuck up the tiger and its allies. It shreds, bites, crushes, snaps—whatever part of the lick it can get to it rips into.

The gunshots register only in the back of its mind—how many people heard? will it draw the cops? how quickly does it need to end the fight to prevent the Masquerade from unraveling?—and it’s that last thought that propels the tiger forward to sink teeth and claw into the enemy.

Until that sword slices its flank. A machete. Who brings a fucking machete to the park. That’s all the girl inside the tiger has time to think before the Beast itself takes over; she doesn’t even fight it, letting the reins slip free of her grasp to give in to the monster inside just as surely as she gave in to the monster outside. Roderick had told her that she should keep it contained in a fight, but fuck that. She’ll take the edge. The annoyance of the sword is nothing compared to what the asshole in front of her can do with his bare hands. And once he goes down that sword-wielding douchebag is one chomp away from turning into a red smear on the ground. The tiger focuses its rage on the lick, launching itself forward on powerful hindquarters to knock his feet out from under him and take him down in a shower of blood and muscle and gore, claws ripping at his stomach and teeth clamping down around his throat. It rips and tears and ravages; no one fucks with the girl’s property and gets off with it.

GM: She doesn’t see what happens.

She never does, when the Beast takes over.

She just opens the floodgates, lets the red tide pour out, and stands back to let the Beast have its fun.

They might stay open for a second. They might stay open for a thousand years. Time loses meaning in the sea of red. The tiger likes this place.

When the red fog clears, tiger’s face is pressed flat against a tree. So is the rest of its body, from its neck down to its chest. Its paws are awkwardly splayed in the air. It can’t move. It feels a monstrously strong human-shaped weight pressing into its back, holding it in place against the tree.

“Right,” comes Roderick’s tight voice. “You don’t feel apeshit anymore. Turn back into a human and I’ll let you down.”

“Or at least a lick.”

“Is, is that…?” comes Dani’s voice.

“A lick? Yeah. Some of us can turn into animals,” answers her brother. “First time I’ve seen one become a tiger, though.”

“Jesus, that thing was terrifying,” says Dani.

Celia: The tiger doesn’t like this position pressed up against the tree. It’s unnatural. Painful, even, with its limbs stretched every which way and the weight of a body behind it. A familiar body. A boy that another cat knows.

The feline instincts run strong. It chuffs at the boy, tail flicking, and then it shifts. Its body twists and shrinks, its stripes spreading out across its body until the fur remains a single color, lightening to a dark gray from solid black.

Luna meows at her boy.

GM: A mortal man might stumble at the sudden disappearance of the big cat’s bulk and weight, but Roderick just lithely catches the smaller feline in his arms. The cat gets a look at him. He looks bad. His clothes are shredded tatters, there’s blood all over him from head to toe, and the mask is torn too. It’s now obviously a mask, as bits of his real face peak out.

He blinks upon recognizing the cat.

“C-Jade?!” he exclaims, catching himself.

Celia: Luna takes stock of her boy, then the girl behind him. Irritation surges through her tiny little body. He’s hers. Hers to protect. Someone hurt him, and she’s going to make them pay. She rubs her face against his chin, then twists again, looking past him for the bodies of Carolla and the goon.

GM: Both of them lie in heaps on the ground. As bad as Roderick looks, Carolla looks worse. His throat is a shredded ruin and his stomach’s actually been ripped open, replete with guts hanging all out. The torpid vampire’s eyes stare blankly into the night sky.

Celia: The cat hisses at his corpse, ears flat against her head.

GM: His ghoul lies equally motionless, but his guts are still inside his torso. Dani is bent over him. A handgun rests nearby on the very, very red grass. The cat can just smell the blood. It suffuses the entire scene like a primordial perfume.


He cuts her off. “Shit, don’t use our names!”

“He’s not gonna make it!” says Dani.

Celia: Good.

GM: Roderick drops the cat, then bends to one knee over the fallen ghoul. He bites his wrist and holds it to the man’s mouth.

Celia: Jade shifts again, barefoot in the grass, and launches herself at Roderick.

GM: Her lover’s lightning-faster and brutally stronger arms snap out and slam her to the ground like she’s nothing.

Celia: “He tried to murder you both,” Celia snarls at him.

GM: Roderick lets the blood flow into the ghoul’s mouth. His eyes have barely had a chance to open before the Brujah’s fist descends against his head, and then he’s out again.

“Wait, why did you…” starts Dani.

“He’ll be unconscious for a while,” says Roderick. “Won’t remember this fight, either.”

“Wait, that’s not how knocking people out works,” frowns Dani. “Hollywood m-”

Roderick shakes his head. “It’s a trick of the Blood. He’ll forget.”

Celia: Celia climbs back to her feet, eyes moving back and forth between the siblings.

“We need to go. Now.”

GM: “We do,” Roderick says tightly. “We need to take care of his car. Where’s yours?”

Celia: “Taken care of.”

GM: “Fuck. Look at all this blood. We need to scrub this.”

“There were gunshots,” says Dani. “I don’t know we’ll have time. If there’s Gangrel in this park like you say. Those were LOUD.”

Celia: “Put the bodies in the car. I’ll take care of that. You use your speed and scrub it.”

GM: “Are you going to try to kill him again?” Roderick asks.

Celia: Celia glares at him.

“I wasn’t trying to kill him.”

GM: “I’m not doing that again,” he says flatly. “Doesn’t matter who. I’m not killing again.”

Celia: “I’m not going to kill him. We don’t have time to argue.”

GM: “Right. Taking them to our car. Back as fast as I can.” Roderick hefts his sister (who gives a started sound) and the ghoul over his shoulders in firemen’s carries, and then he’s gone in a blur.

Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: There’s a brief moment of indecision as he goes. He’d taken off the same way as Carolla’s car. Of course they used the same lot; how hadn’t she noticed his car when they’d arrived? What was she paying attention to instead? The thug in front of her, probably.

How long does it take to drain the body to the point that Caroline had told her about?

Longer than she has, she bets.

She could try it anyway. Maybe she should. She bends—

And hears a footstep behind her. The decision is taken from her when she looks up to see the two ghouls she’d summoned from the car finally arrive. Her hackles had been up the entire ride after Carolla smacked her around, and she’s glad she’d texted them when she did. Late to the fight, but just in time to be of some use.

“Take him. Get the blood off him. Go. You know where. Don’t let anything happen to him. Go. Hurry.”

GM: “Uh, gonna take a while to get off this much blood…” says Randy.

Reggie just grunts and hefts up the body.

Celia: Is this the right thing?

Or should she leave the body with Roderick? Let him taste that blood first hand?

She should, shouldn’t she? That’s what Savoy would want. What her sire would want.

Then what? How will she get it from him later?

She won’t. She won’t let him take it at all.

“This way,” she says instead. Toward the SUV.

GM: The brothers follow after her, torpid body held aloft.

Celia: “There’s a car. We need to get rid of it.” A quiet explanation, only the need to know.

GM: “Okay, there’s chop shops,” says Reggie.

Celia: “Mafia related. Can’t get back to us.”

GM: “Shit, really?”

Celia: Could take it to Shep, but what if he recognizes it?


GM: The three are interrupted as Roderick blurs to a stop in front of them.

He looks at the ghouls. “Can they help?”

Celia: “Yeah, that’s what I’m explaining to them now.”

GM: He shakes his head. “Stupid question.” He moves to relieve them of the body.

Celia: “They’ve got it.”

“We need to clean. They’re not as fast.”

“And they need to get out of here. Take the two cars. Randy can leave his keys. We scrub. Anyone comes by we just say we’re fucking. Explains the blood.”

“Randy will go with Dani. Reg, van.”

“Or she can drive your car. Give them your keys.”

GM: Roderick considers her plan, then nods.

“She’s already got them. I’ll text her to take off.” He pulls out his phone and taps away.

“A’ight. Same plan.” Reggie and Randy head off with the body.

Celia: They know where to go.

Celia makes sure to get Randy’s keys before he leaves.

Nothing like being stranded.

GM: “We can’t hide this completely,” says Roderick. His form blurs, and then he’s picked up several spent shell casings from the grass.

He tucks them in his pocket. “Too hard outdoors.”

“Maybe we should actually fuck, though. Get our blood everywhere.”

Celia: She does what she can, following his lead with her own burst of speed, picking up any stray articles she finds.

She pauses at his words.

“Yeah? Think it’ll help?”

GM: “Dunno, but it’s that or try to get out all the blood from everywhere.”

“Wait, we could pretend we were playing Nines. Explain the gunshots.”

Celia: “You don’t think the kine will wonder?”

She doesn’t say no, though.

GM: “Probably will.”

Celia: She wishes they had a Tremere right about now.

“Enough to get us in trouble?”

“Six Nines. I was the kidnapped lick. He took off after losing, you and I fucked.”

“Maybe better not to mention him.”

GM: Roderick shakes his head. “Rather not have him attached to us at all.”

He pulls out the shell casings. “Okay, these ones are from Dani’s semiauto, these others are… god fucking damn it, why did that guy bring a rifle? Mobsters don’t even use those!”

Roderick’s gone in another blur, then he’s back with another gun.

Celia: She starts to explain that he was trying to kill Roderick, but the Brujah is gone and back before she can open her mouth. Her eyes fix on the gun.

GM: “Took this from your ghouls. Someone who really knows guns and heard those shots might be suspicious when these casings don’t match the sounds, but not much we can do about that.”

“You don’t use rifles in Nines either.”

Celia: “How fast are you?” she blurts.

“I assume enough licks don’t use guns to know it doesn’t match. We’ll do what we can to cover it.”

GM: “Not fast enough to do that all the time. It’s giving me munchies. Bad. On top of that fight.” He grimaces.

Celia: “You gonna go postal?”

GM: “I’ll hold it in.”

Celia: She just nods.

GM: “Fuck. Maybe this whole thing is a dumb idea. More gunshots to get more spent casings is just making this worse.”

Celia: “Then let’s just clean it up and dip. I don’t know what else we can do.”

“What do you guys do after the games? How do you hide it?”

GM: “I don’t know either! But those gunshots happened and Carolla still came here. Nines is one way to explain it, but licks have to know it was us for it to actually seem like that and not just a random shooting, and that connects us to the place Carolla last was.”

“Fuck. Maybe I’m being paranoid wanting to explain all of that and the blood too, but I’d rather be too careful than not careful enough.”

Celia: “No. You’re right. We need to handle all aspects.”

Not to mention being seen together.


GM: “You think we should try to scrub as much as we can or stage it as Nines or what?”

Celia: “Cleaning up after Nines.”

Briefly, she explains. It already looks like they’re cleaning up from a game, trying not to draw notice from any breathers. Protecting the Masquerade and all that. They’ve got the shells in their pockets, they’re working on cleaning up their spilled blood… but it’s blood, you know, and they’re two horny neonates, and they got a little carried away, and Torrie Beasts only ever want to fuck anyway, so they did, and now they’re just scrubbing away the evidence of their tryst.

Because she has to assume that Anarchs don’t play their games and just abandon the sight.

GM: “All right. So you want someone to see us here?” he asks.

“That’s the only thing that will really cement Nines as a story.”

Celia: “Then everyone knows about us.”

GM: “If we don’t it’s just a random act of violence that somebody made an effort to up.”

“I have my mask, but obviously it’s not perfect anymore.”

“God damn it. What I’d give to be able to change faces right now like a sewer rat.”

Celia: “What, to bail, or to not get caught together?”

GM: “To get caught, looking like two licks who aren’t actually us.”

Celia: “Got a frame job in mind? Or two randoms?”

GM: He shakes his head. “Doesn’t matter. I don’t know how to veil.”

Celia: She’s going to throttle him if she has to ask what he wants one more time.

“I do. So tell me.”

GM: He raises his eyebrows, but answers, “Two randoms is easier. Anyone we try to frame might have an alibi.”

“Or, actually, we could make one Carolla. His blood is actually here.”

“Wait, no. That’s a pretty advanced veiling trick.”

“Two randoms, then.”

Celia: Celia nods. She turns away while he continues to talk. Her fingers blur across her face, then the side of her head. Her form flickers, blurring as the shadow dancing takes hold, just something to misdirect his eyes while she molds her skin like putty. It’s quick. When she turns again she’s not Celia anymore. She’s not Jade anymore. She’s someone else. Cute, but fuller cheeks and missing half the hair on the side of her head, like a buzz cut. All the rage these days, that style. Goes with her leathers, too, so she doesn’t even look out of place.

“Hold still,” she says, reaching out to him. Another burst of speed, but a smaller one this time. Blood coats her fingers. She murmurs while she works, a string of vaguely Latin-sounding words that may or may not be an actual language but sure as hell sound like something out of a medical textbook. Her fingers move against the mask that he still wears, smoothing out the torn pieces, altering it to look like the thug they’d just beaten the fuck out off.

Her Beast doesn’t even give a fuck. It’s still riding the high that she’d beaten the shit out of the douchebag she’s now looking at, pleased that she had let it out of the cage.

GM: He touches the mask, then stares at her, and reaches out to touch the shaved side of her head.

“That’s not shadow dancing.”

Celia: “No,” she agrees. She hesitates. Then, “Surprised?”

GM: “It explains the Jade face, too.”

“And how you’re also good at shapeshifting.”

Celia: “Yeah.” She reaches for his hand. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”

GM: “Why didn’t you?”

“I’m not just another lick. I wouldn’t try to use it against you.”

He sounds hurt.

Celia: “We were broken up. And it never seemed like a good time for it, lately, with everything going on. I didn’t know how to bring it up. There’s… a lot I didn’t know how to bring up, and I… I was going to talk to you about it tonight, when we got back, because things are getting really serious again and I don’t… I don’t want to lie to you about anything.”

“I was going to tell you before. A few years ago. I told you that you couldn’t tell anyone, and then you said ‘Maybe don’t then, I know how secretive night doctors can be,’ and…” she trails off.

GM: “You said knowing a night doctor was the secret. That there was a night doctor who owed you.”

Celia: Not-Celia looks away. Technically she’d just let him draw his own conclusions and said she wouldn’t confirm anything, but it doesn’t seem the sort of thing she should point out.

“We broke up before I got a chance to tell you.”

“And… I was going to. Tonight. Like I said.”

“Your si—” she cuts off before she finishes the word. “We had a talk tonight. In the car. She said that it seemed like I was still bitter and carrying a lot of baggage around because of everything before, and we’d never really aired it out, and I realized she’s right. I’m still holding part of myself away because… because it hurt. It hurt so much when you left. And it took so long to put myself back together and not mope and wait in my haven, watching the door, waiting for you to come back, praying that you’d come back, and then… and then you did, when I called, you did, and I’m still… good things don’t happen to me, they don’t, I’m just waiting for the moment it all falls apart again, and then she said that I just… I knew I didn’t want to be like that. It can’t be like that. We can’t be together with all this built up fear and paranoia and hurt and grief, I can’t be half-in because I think one night you’re going to wake up and realize you’re just better than me and don’t want to slum it because you won’t. You’re not like that.”

She wipes at her eyes. Her fingers come away red.

“So I was going to. To tell you. A lot of things. Because I don’t want us to be like every other lick in the city. I want what we had. Something real.”

She finally looks away.

“I just needed to get out of my own way and stop being afraid.”

GM: She feels her lover’s arm encircle her, as strong as ever but oh so gentle. He tilts her face up by the chin to meet his gaze.

“You don’t need to be afraid,” he says softly. His face is Carolla’s, but the expression on it is utterly at odds with the mafioso Celia knew only scant hours ago. There’s no mistaking them for the same person. “Okay? You don’t need to be afraid.”

“I’m sorry what I did to you when we broke up. I’m sorry I hurt you. Physically and emotionally. I’m sorry what that did, what I did, to our relationship and how I cultivated a climate where you believed you couldn’t tell the truth without getting dumped and physically beaten. I’m sorry I made you afraid to be honest. I’m sorry I made you afraid of me. It was shitty of me and I don’t have any excuse. I’d give anything to take it back.”

Celia: She wishes they were Stephen and Celia again, not William Carolla and Not-Celia. That they were in her haven and not the middle of the park with a crime scene to clean up. That she didn’t have a handful of other things to come clean about, so many lies that she doesn’t even know where to begin.

She tries not to think about it. She doesn’t want to think about it. It’s a problem for future Celia.

Celia presses her face against her boyfriend’s chest. No matter who she looks like and who he looks like, they’re still that.

“I… I have a lot to tell you.” The words are whisper-soft. “Promise me you won’t be mad later. Please. I hate being afraid of losing you.”

GM: He gives her another squeeze.

“I know. Dani told me about your conversation in the car. I figured… well, I suppose I didn’t figure anything. There’s just been so much else going on and I was happy just to have you back.”

“I can’t promise I won’t get mad at anything. But I do promise I won’t hurt you like I did last time, and that I won’t let my feelings ruin our relationship again.”

Celia: She’s quiet for a long moment.

“I love you,” she finally says. “I’m sorry I was afraid.” She touches a hand to the side of his face, thumb soft against his lips. “Not to change the subject… but we should either fuck to sell the story or get out of here.”

GM: “I love you too. But we should get caught, with these faces. Cleaning up our game.”

“Or I guess fucking, that sounds more believable.”

“And makes us look kind of dumb, too.”

Celia: “If we get in trouble for this I’m going to be so salty,” Celia mutters, but she’s already pulling her shirt over her head.

GM: Roderick smirks and leaves his on. “They’re bloody enough.” Then he tackles her to the grass and pierces her skin with his fangs.

Celia: Well that’s all she needs to get in the mood. She arches into him, keeping her breather reaction under control—few enough licks in the city get off that way—and sinks her teeth in to whatever part of him she can reach.

GM: The lovers know passion in one another’s arms (though Roderick still makes sure not to drink her blood before it’s cooled) until two Kindred appear on the scene. Jordan Petrowski, who Roderick mention was present at the Cypress Grove Massacre, and Ed Zuric, who Jade has seen in the French Quarter.

“Jesus H. Christ…” mutters Petrowski.

Celia: Celia thinks that maybe this is the face of a girl who had once been named Cici, and Cici doesn’t care if they’re being watched. She only stops if “Carolla” does, casting a glance at the two who’d happened upon them. She’d been a little rougher with him than normal, urging him to do the same (“he seems the type”), and her body wears the marks of their rough sex. She giggles, pointing out their audience to Carolla.

GM: ‘Carolla’ smirks up at the two Gangrel.

“Were those gunshots yours?” glares the gray-haired professor.

Celia: “We jus’ playin’.” A little more of a nasal whine than usual, the type of bitch who’s had her nose broken a time or two for getting lippy.

GM: Zuric rolls his eyes.

Petrowski shakes his head.

“You folks are lucky it’s not Meadows who found you. Go on, get.”

Celia: “Yeah, yeah,” Cici mumbles, pulling away from Carolla so she can find her shirt. “Jus’ blowin’ off steam. We’s goin’. C’mon, Willy, there’s better places to bone.”

She yanks her clothes on, makes a small scene about not being able to find her boots (“some pervert is prolly jackin’ off to ’em right now”) and stomps off.

GM: “The johnny laws are gettin’ your names and faces if there’s any shit over this,” says Zuric, rolling his eyes again.

‘Carolla’ just gives a thuggish glare.

Celia: Cici doesn’t even bother slowing down. She tosses her hair, scoffs, and keeps going, muttering about busybodies.

GM: That part’s not even a lie.

All she’d wanted was a romp of good sex in the park.

Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

GM: ‘Carolla’ follows Celia off.

“You have any idea where his car is?” he mutters.

“Ah, wait, shit. Keys.”

Celia: “Yep.” Celia leads the way, grateful to put the park, the scene, and the Gangrel behind them.

“What about them?”

She holds up the keys she’d gotten from Randy.

GM: He smiles with relief. “Oh, that’s right. Perfect. Didn’t want to have to smash in a window and deal with a car alarm too.”

“I guess we’ll try cars until one unlocks.”

He takes the keys and heads over to the nearest vehicle.

Celia: Celia gives him a look.

“I know which car is his.”

GM: “Same reason you were here in the park too?” he asks.

Celia: “…Randy left his car for us, I’m real confused what you’re on about.”

GM: “Wait, I thought you meant Carolla’s car. He probably had his keys.”

“I don’t want to leave it here.”

Celia: “Reg took it.”

“Weren’t you listening?”

GM: “Yes. It wasn’t clear whose cars you meant. But whatever, this works almost as well.”

Celia: “You were distracted by how cute I am, it’s okay.”

GM: “Always,” he smirks, getting in the car after she points it out. He waits for her to buckle her seatbelt, then pulls out of the lot.

“How did you wind up here, though? That obviously wasn’t a coincidence for a tiger to fall out of the same tree.”

“…how did you learn to morph into a tiger, while we’re at it?”

“Most I’ve seen shapeshifting licks turn into is wolves.”

Celia: Celia laughs.

“Kind of a long story, but the short of it is that Flanagan’s kid caused some trouble in Audubon Zoo, and the tiger was gonna be put down. I don’t know how much you know about shifting, but… you have to drain an animal to get their shape. Prove you’re the better predator. There’s actually a whole ritual I heard some licks do when they’re going to master another shape, real kind of Native vibe where they honor the spirit and soul, that kind of thing. Hard to do with a tiger, they’re not really local, so I couldn’t do a hunt like that. But… I mean, it was going to be put down anyway and… it seemed like a waste. I found out what company, hacked some records, snuck in during the day, bada-bing, I’m a tiger now.”

“I couldn’t really do the whole thing like some of the licks do. Could hardly release it to hunt, would have caused too much issue. But I did what I could.”

“Clawed the fuck out of me, tell you that.”

“Figured if I couldn’t even give it a fighting chance then I don’t deserve to wear its form.”

Celia touches a hand to her stomach, no doubt remembering the claws that had almost eviscerated her.

“I can’t scry,” she says after a minute. The words are almost blurted; it sounds like a confession. “I pretend I can since I’m supposed to be able to, but I never learned. Veronica used to get mad at me for it. She never… I mean she never said ‘stupid,’ but I think she was probably thinking it. And I used to wonder, you know, if that was why. Because we consider it a mental art, and my dad… but… I dunno, Pietro says most breathers are boring anyway, that their thoughts aren’t worth listening to, and I’m good at reading their bodies, and I’m just… I’m good at this. I learned this instead. I’m… I’m good at it.”

GM: Roderick listens.

“Well, that happens. Wright sucks at star mode, but he’s a better hand at mind control. I don’t envy what happened to the lick who called him a ‘discount Ventrue.’”

“It’s as I said. We’re all good at different things.”

Celia: “Guess I’m not dumb enough to say that to him. Jeeze.”

GM: “Your being able to change our faces was a LOT more useful than mind-reading would’ve been, too.”

“So foo to your sire if she thought you were stupid.”

Celia: “I still wish I could do that telepathy thing. Send you messages across the city.”

GM: “That’s a pretty advanced scrying trick from what I hear anyway. I’m just glad you could change our faces.”

“And I have heard that, about draining the animal. I didn’t know there was a ritual to it, though. That makes total sense.”

“Lot of Gangrel who say they like animals more than people.”

“There’s people who say that, too.”

Celia: “It’s easy to get sucked in when you’re shifted.”

GM: “I can attest,” he smirks.

“I think I read about that tiger in the news, too. Just such a stupid waste. It was a wild animal. It didn’t do anything that another wild animal wouldn’t have done under the same circumstances. All tigers are ‘man-eaters’ if a human gets in their faces and provokes them.”

Celia: “It was. I’m… honestly kind of surprised the kid got away with it.”

GM: Roderick frowns.

“Maybe she didn’t.”

Celia: “What do you mean?”

GM: “I just don’t see the sheriff letting something like that slide if he knew it was her.”

Celia: “Right.”

“What, you think he doesn’t know?”

“Did you know?”

Shit, did she just spill something on accident?

GM: “I mean, it’s possible. And I didn’t know, actually.”

Celia: “…oh.”

“Uh, don’t tell anyone?”

GM: “I’ve heard of Edith and her kids. It’s really fucked.”

“But I won’t.”

Celia: “I feel bad for her. And them.”

GM: “I feel worse for them.”

Celia: “I think sometimes that she’s not quite all there. She’s… a lot of us, you know, we go through it. Wanting kids. Not being able to have them. Hating it. And we get past it, but she’s so… fixated.”

GM: “I wanted kids with you. Would like them. More than anything.” He looks at her meaningfully. “But that’s not in the cards. God knows I’m not going to suggest we find a couple orphans to ghoul.”

Celia: “I know.” She squeezes his hand. “I would have loved to have your children. But ghouling them…” Celia shakes her head. “We could have a childe. You know, with an E. Pop out fully formed, that’s not weird at all.”

GM: He gives her a sad smile. “It’s not the same.”

“At least you have a ton of brothers and sisters to give you nieces and nephews, though. The Garrison name looks like it’s died with Dani. At least through my dad.”

Celia: “We can be godparents. For their entire line. Make up a story about being reclusive older relatives. Real eclectic.”

GM: “Godparents would be good. Keep our distance.”

“Then again, Lucy calls you mom, doesn’t she?”

Celia: “As far as everyone knows, I am her mom.”

GM: “Technically, almost everyone. But I’m glad you have that. Really. You have a sweet kid who thinks of you as her mom, who’s actually related to you, and whose life you can be in without living with… it really is the next best thing.”

“There’s a lot of licks who’d give a lot just for that.”

Celia: “Lot of licks who would try to take it away, too.”

“That’s why…” She gestures to her face.

GM: He nods. “Right. Smart.”

“I’m sorry I told Coco. I was new, I was devastated, I wasn’t thinking.”

Celia: “I wish she didn’t know. I don’t… dislike her, Rod, you know that right? I just… she knows…”

GM: “I just had to talk about you, us, to someone. I had no one else.”

“But it was irresponsible.”

“I made her swear not to ever tell anyone else, or to play any games with them. I told her we’d be through if she tried to use innocents like your family for any purpose.”

“I thought she would be mad at me. But she just said she understood and swore by her son’s memory that she wouldn’t ever touch them or reveal who they were to other licks.”

Celia: Moisture gathers at the corners of her eyes. She wipes at them before it has a chance to overflow and spill down her cheeks.

“Thank you. For that. For them. That means… that means a lot to me. More than I can put into words.”

GM: “It means less than if I’d just kept my mouth shut and not been so emotional. But it was the best thing I could think of after the milk was spilled.”

Celia: “You can’t change the past. You can only learn from it and move forward. And you have me now. Us. When you need to talk, I’m here.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

GM: He nods and gives her hand a squeeze. “I know.”

“Speaking of… where are your ghouls headed?”

Celia: “To strip the car. I told them to take care of it.”

GM: “Where are they dropping off Carolla?”

His voice gets an edge.

Celia: Celia shrinks against the door at the tone.

“Wha—what are you gonna do with him?”

GM: “I don’t know,” Roderick says frankly.

“Courts can’t try him. He’s a mobster with effective legal immunity.”

“But he can’t be allowed to go on preying upon people.” There’s a meaningful pause. “And I don’t just mean as a vampire.”

“Maybe stake him and bury him underground forever. The Sanctified actually believe in doing that to some criminals.”

Celia: “He’d deserve it.”

GM: “Yes. He would.”

“It’s unlife imprisonment. Seems the only realistic way to permanently curtail his crimes without simply leaving him to brighten sunrises.”

Celia: “How would you explain his disappearance..?”

GM: “Licks disappear semi-periodically without explanation.”

“Look at Evan Bourelle.”

“Lots of things that get them.”

“It’d be preferable if there was an explanation, but that also risks tipping our hand. Might be better for us just to stay as far away as possible.”

Celia: “No one can connect us to him. Those two saw this face. Except… well, the ghoul…”

GM: Roderick grimaces.

“We can’t stake him.”

“But, Celia, we’re not murderers. We don’t kill because it’s convenient.

“We can say it’s for a just cause, but what do reasons matter if our actions are the same?”

Celia: “He had the gun trained on your sister,” Celia says quietly. “He didn’t care that you didn’t look like you, or that you didn’t even smell like a lick, he was going to kill you both because it might be you.”

GM: “You think I don’t know that?”

“You think I don’t have any idea what these people are capable of?”

“What fucking animal scumbags they are? How much misery and suffering they cause?”

“I’m sure he’d have killed my dad and mom and anyone I’ve so much as talked with too, if he thought that would help bring me down.”

Celia: “I… I didn’t. I didn’t. I didn’t know. You told me about it but it was never… it was never real to me, just something you once said about them.”

Celia swallows.

“Why? What did you do to him? Why was he after you?”

GM: “I told you, on our first date. How they’d pick up the kids of people who crossed them from schools. Or break a ballerina’s legs if she couldn’t pay back her debts.”

“But I don’t blame you if it wasn’t real.”

“Frenzy wasn’t real to Dani until she saw, wasn’t it?”

Celia: “That’s what I mean. I’ve never been that close to it.”

GM: “Did he hurt you?” Roderick asks, suddenly looking her over again.

Celia: Celia looks away.

GM: “What happened?” he asks.

“How did you get here?”

“But, first, let me know where I’m driving.”

Celia: “Spa.”

GM: “Okay.” He finds a place to park the car. “Change my face. I do not want him seen showing up at your spa.”

Celia: It’s less of a face change than it is simply removing his mask.

“Easy off,” she explains.

GM: He pulls it off.

“Yes. But that’s still my face underneath.”

Celia: “You want a new face?”

“So ‘Roderick’ doesn’t show up at the spa?”

GM: He nods. “We still can’t be linked.”

Celia: “Can I make you cuter?”

She’s only teasing, but she gets to work on his skin with a warning that it’s going to hurt.

“Probably don’t refer to yourself in third person,” she says as she works, “it causes disassociation.”

GM: He lays his head down on her lap and gives a hiss of pain as she starts.

“Roderick will—nh—keep that in mind.”

Celia: Maybe now is a good time to tell him that she thinks there’s more inside of her than Celia and a fake name.

Or maybe it’s a conversation for another night. How would she even bring it up?

She works quickly, moving her fingers across his flesh to sculpt him into someone else. Someone attractive, with more facial hair and a sharp jaw. Someone who looks like they could be seen with Jade as a breather or a lick. Someone whose gaze smolders and makes her want to bare her throat and—

Well. Maybe it’s better she just focus on her work.

“I made you older. Maybe Italian. I dunno. What do you think?”

GM: Roderick does not enjoy the process. She has yet to meet anyone (well, with one exception) who does. But once the grimaces and grunts of pain are over and he looks in the mirror, he raises his new eyebrows.

“Wow. That’s… effective.”

“This could make spending time together a lot easier if we can be someone different every date…”

Celia: “It usually gives me the munchies,” Celia admits. “But I can hunt more, maybe.”

GM: “I can bring juice to cover my half.”

“Seriously. This would let us go out so many more places.”

“Without worrying all the damn time about being seen together.”

Celia: “I’d like that. Going out more.”

GM: “Me too. Could even just take turns changing faces, too. It’s plausible Roderick or Jade might go on dates as part of hunting.”

Celia: “More plausible Jade is seen with a new guy every night.”

She can’t quite keep the bitterness out of her voice.

GM: “And yet, she’s going out with the same one.”

“They don’t know you as well as they think.”

Celia: She doesn’t want to lie to him, so she just smiles, kisses his cheek, and starts fixing her own face.

GM: He pulls out his phone and taps out a text as she does.

“Telling Dani to come by the spa too.”

Celia: “Are you going to tell her about me?”

GM: “What about you? That you can change faces?”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “She told me how friendly this Dr. Dicentra was. Hugged her, didn’t mind she was a thin-blood, was a mentor to you. Also said you’d paid her for the mask job.”

Celia: Celia nods.

GM: “Why lie to her? She’s duskborn.”

Celia: “I lied to everyone.”

GM: “Dr. Dicentra charged me favors,” he hmphs.

Celia: Celia rolls her eyes.

“Never cashed in, did she?”

GM: “That’s normal. Lots of licks sit on them for a while.”

Celia: “What I meant was, do you really think I was going to take advantage of you like that?”

GM: “Of course not. It was just another thing to worry about when I’ve already had a lot.”

Celia: “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to add to it.”

“You don’t owe me anything. Just… don’t tell anyone it’s me.”

GM: He sighs. “It’s fine. It’s harmless. But, why lie to Dani? She’s excited to see the night doctor again. The only lick besides us who’s been really friendly to her.”

Celia: “Do you want to be the one to tell her that Dicentra was only nice because it’s me?”

“How do you… how do you tell someone something after you’ve already lied to them?”

GM: “You tell them what you lied about, why you did it, and you say you’re sorry. It might hurt at first, but it’s better for you both in the long run.”

Celia: She’ll see if he stands by that later tonight.

GM: “Dani would rather have truth than lies. All our family would.”

Celia: “Even if it’s a really bad lie?”

GM: “Especially if it’s a really bad lie.”

Celia: “I thought you might hit me. Back in the park. After I changed your face, when you looked like him, and I thought… you know, at least it’s Will doing it, at least that’s consistent.”

“It doesn’t come easy. Being honest. Not now. Not when I’ve had to lie to everyone about everything for so long, juggling two different lives, trying to remember who is supposed to know what.”

GM: “I think, after all that, it would probably feel like a weight off your shoulders just to be honest.”

Celia: “Unless they hate you for it.”

GM: “And wonder the entire time if they’d actually hate the real me, and feel like the whole relationship is fake? That sounds awful.”

“I’d rather have honest hate.”

Celia: “But I don’t want you to hate me.”

GM: “I think we hold pretty different values in that regard, Celia.”

“If someone would hate the real you, then you never had anything.”

Celia: “Why can’t you just tell me that of course you won’t hate me and you’ll hear me out before you decide my face looks better split apart?”

GM: “I did tell you that. I told you I might be angry, but also that I’d never hurt you in that same way again.”

“It’s okay for couples to get angry. The emotions are there. Better you have them out honestly than bury them and let them fester and taint everything.”

“You can’t eject them. You have to deal with them somehow.”

Celia: You can eject other people, though. Kick them out of your life and never see them again. Make them wish they’d kept their mouth shut and believed the pretty lie in their little world of pretend.

Celia doesn’t say anything for a long moment while they drive, her eyes on the window now that she has finished with her face. She supposes they’ll find out tonight if Roderick thinks he can stick around knowing who she is.

“He hurt me,” she says finally, eyes still on the lights passing by their borrowed car. “You asked earlier.”

GM: “How?” he asks.

Celia: “He was looking for my sister.” Her voice is quiet. She doesn’t look at him. “I guess he was mad at her, she crossed his uncle. He wanted to teach her a lesson. He was going to… I don’t know. Rape her. Let some kine rape her. Said she’d never leave the studio, so I figure he’d probably just kill her when he’s done. Licks disappear, right?”

“But he couldn’t find her. I thought, you know, he seems to know all these places she’s been to, all her usual hangouts, and I don’t have any proof that Meadows killed her, and I thought maybe if I went with him I could find something, like a trail or something, but there was nothing. And he was getting mad. Really mad. And I said… I don’t know, I don’t even remember, I asked something about his uncle I think, asked about what she’d done, and he… he lashed out. You know how it is. Brujah. The strength. The speed. I’m not much of a fighter on my best day.” Her attempt at a laugh is hollow. “And we were in the car. There was nowhere to run.”

“He had his hands…” Celia touches a hand to her throat. “We don’t need to breathe, I guess, but it’s still… I felt everything grinding together, and he put me…” her voice gets quieter. “I was on my knees, with my hands up, I guess I thought I could fend him off, make him stop, and he… he told me how pathetic I am. How weak. Like a woman, he said.”

She doesn’t need to explain the way he had turned it into an insult. Roderick knows all about the sexism inherent to the Mafia.

“So I tried to divert his attention from me. I offered to take him to a party because… Rod, the way he spoke about what he wanted to do with Isabel, what he’s done to other women… what if it was me? What if he just…?”

Easy to picture. Celia on her knees. Smacked around. Forced into some weird sort of Mafia-run prostitution ring. Turned into a whore for Carolla’s amusement. Unable to get out. Eventually disappearing, with no one the wiser. Who would look for a harpy’s childe?

“Everyone knows how much he hates Gui. I said he’d be at this party, that we could do something there. It made him back off. But then he said he had another idea. A better idea. That he’d been tracking ‘this asshole’ for a long time. That he was going to finally pounce. Showed me a blip on a map on his phone. So we went to the park and I started to get a really bad feeling about it, but he threw me up into that tree with his ghoul and the gun and… I saw you before he did. And I knew what he was going to do.”

Celia looks down at her hands.

“So I tried to divert his attention again. To me. To make him mad at me so he wouldn’t hurt you. The rifle was right on Dani. I know they can mend but… I wasn’t going to take the chance. I kept talking. Loudly. And he told me to stop, told me to shut up, but I didn’t, so he… pulled me over and silenced me with his hand, and since I’d pissed him off he thought he’d just break my wrists while he was at it. Both of them.”

Celia stares down at her hands, circling the wrist of her left hand with her right middle finger and thumb.

“So I started crying, because, you know, blood. He already thought I was weak, who cared if I cried. I thought maybe you’d smell it and know something was wrong. I was trying to make you turn around, or at least tip you off so you didn’t walk in blind.”

“But you kept coming.”

“I figured the tiger was my only way out. Distract him long enough so that you’d take Dani and run.”

“I should’ve known better. Of course you wouldn’t run. Even against an apeshit tiger, apparently.” She can’t help but laugh. It’s less strained than before. The danger is over. Carolla was beaten. There’d been no lasting damage, not to Celia.

“I’m fine now,” she says. “But you asked. And there are other, bigger issues it brings up.”

GM: Roderick listens and holds his tongue as he drives. The talk about Carolla slapping Celia around makes him clench his jaw and grip the steering wheel, but at this point, he looks more relieved that it’s over with and Celia is clearly safe.

“Okay,” he says slowly when she’s finished. “This raises a lot of questions.”

“First. Does he know about the Celia/Jade connection? Because that seems like a hell of a coincidence he’d bring you to go looking for Roxanne.” Roderick shakes his head. “And then go looking for me. There’s no way that’s a coincidence he’d go after two Embraced people from your mortal life, at the same time he’s dragging you along. Just no way. How did you run into him?”

Celia: “I… don’t think so?” She puts the question in her voice. “I don’t think he knows, there are only a handful of people who do know and none of them would have any reason to tell him. I don’t think he expected me to defend you. He thought it would be me, him, and his ghoul against you, so the whole tiger thing caught him by surprise.”

“As far as Roxanne… I, uh, I mean there’s nothing that links us together. He seemed like he expected me to be cool with what he was going to do to her. I guess I did kind of make fun of her on Friday and he was there for it.”

Her brow furrows.

“He said he’d been tracking you for a while…”

“Rod,” she says, reaching for his hand. “He’d been tracking you. How was he tracking you? It was like a GPS thing. He pulled it up on his phone.”

GM: Her lover frowns deeply.

“I have absolutely no idea. But we need to fix that, ASAP.”

Celia: “It couldn’t be your phone. You had a new one. And it’s not like you hang out with him.”

“Who have you been with recently?”

“Anything you wear all the time?”

GM: He shakes his head, parks the car, pulls open his phone, and starts going through it.

“I don’t see what else it could be. There’s a million ways to hack a phone. I’m not a tech expert.”

Celia: “…what if it’s inside you?”

“Like what if someone put something in you?”

“And made you forget?”

GM: He raises his eyebrows.

“It’s possible. I guess we should scan me for…” he frowns. “The spa might not be a good idea after all.”

“In case it’s the phone, though, here’s what we’ll do.”

Celia: “I can look. When we get there. Inside of you. If there’s something in you I can find it.”

“God, what if that’s how the hunters found you?”

GM: Roderick grimaces. “Only one way to find out. I’m going to hide this phone somewhere close, though, and get a new one. I’ve installed a tracking app on it.”

Celia: “Clever.”

GM: “If it stays where it is, then okay, phone is probably fine. If someone finds it and moves it, then we’ll be the ones tracking them. I figure getting all my data will be a tempting prospect. I’ve deleted everything sensitive. I’m sure a specialist can get it back, but we’ll call that good enough for now.”

Celia: Celia nods. It’s a good plan.

GM: “As far as searching me, though, do it here.”

Celia: “I… I can’t. It hurts. A lot. And we’re out in the open. Someone might see.”

GM: “Okay. I don’t want to do it at your spa, though.”

Celia: “Then where? Anywhere we go before we find out is going to be an issue.”

GM: He thinks. “What about my old haven? It’s obviously already compromised, but it should give us privacy for a little while. We can use the tub if it’s messy.”

Celia: “What about Dani? And the bodies?”

GM: “I told her to stop by Flawless.”

Celia: “The boys should be there. Soon if not now. It’s at least extra muscle if anything dumb happens. And I have blood there. I’m riding the edge, Rod. I don’t want to risk something.”

GM: “Would you rather risk going apeshit or someone tracking me back to Flawless?”

“If you lose it I can hold you down until it passes.”

Celia: Celia rubs a hand across her face.

“I’m more worried about you losing it when I cut you open.”

GM: “Valid. You could stake me.”

Celia: “All right,” she finally relents. “I’ll let Luna out when we get close to the border.”

GM: “How’d you get her shape, by the way? If you have to kill the animal…”

Celia: “Alana found her at a shelter. It’s supposed to be a no-kill shelter, but I had her look into it a little. Apparently they get around that technicality by sending excess pets to another place to put down, so they can still claim they don’t. Good for their image. The lady at the shelter said she’d been there for a long time and they didn’t have room anymore. People only want kittens, you know?”

GM: He nods.

Celia: “I didn’t just murder a cat. I tried to… be decent about it.”

GM: Roderick effects a faint sigh.

“That’s sad.”

“That’s really sad.”

“When you just think about all of those unwanted pets sitting in shelters. Or dying on the streets.”

“This is why you spay and neuter. And we still have puppy mills!”

Celia: “Everyone wants the purebred puppies with the perfect looks. One of my girls at the spa adopted a dog from a puppy mill. The mom, I mean, after she was rescued and the place was shut down. She was like 13 and had a bunch of health issues but Piper took her in and kept her comfortable for a few years until she passed.”

GM: “Good for Piper. The conditions for dogs at those places are beyond deplorable. And we still have them whelping out crateloads of puppies when there are so many unadopted pets!”

“It’s just as bad for cats with kitten mills. Everyone wants kittens.”

Celia: “It’s pretty awful. People kind of suck.”

GM: “Yeah. Animals don’t.”

“I miss Ajax.”

“He was such a good boy. Such a gentle giant.”

Celia: “He was really friendly. I always thought big dogs were kind of aggressive, but he was gentle, yeah, like you said.”

“You could get another dog, you know.”

“You said animals like you.”

GM: “They do. I’m just… worried about sewer rats.”

Celia: “In particular? Or anyone who can tame?”

GM: “I suppose anyone who can tame makes it a risk, but they do it the most.”

“Pets can have a lot of valuable information about your haven, your activities, your comings and goings.”

Celia: “Abellard tried to put a rat in my cunt,” Celia mutters.

GM: “Jesus Christ,” mutters Roderick.

“What a pervert. Tried and failed, I hope?”

Celia: “I snagged its tail before it got anywhere.”

“Just fucking gross.”

GM: “Amen.”

“I’d feel better about pets, anyway, if I could tame.”

Celia: “You could learn.”

GM: “I could. It’s a valuable discipline.”

Celia: “I know a few people who know. One of them is pretty desperate to trade favors.”

GM: “I might take you up on that. I’d like another dog.”

“Dani tells me Ajax passed away a few years ago.”

Celia: “If shit ever hits the fan for me I’m coming to live with you as Luna, just so you know.”

A pause.

“Oh. I’m so sorry to hear that.”

GM: He effects another sigh. “It happens. Dogs don’t live forever. But thanks.”

Celia: Makes her wonder what happened to Sugar Cube.

GM: She lost interest in that pony pretty fast.

Celia: She was eight.

She shouldn’t have been given a pony.

GM: For so many reasons.

Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

GM: The pair drive back to Roderick’s old apartment at The Preserve. His lease isn’t actually up yet, so he still has the space. He finds a place to ditch his possibly hacked phone. He also suggests Celia not turn into Luna. “You already look different, and maybe someone will recognize another guy carrying the same cat. Unlikely, but at this point… I’m just feeling pretty paranoid.”

Celia: She’s happy to go along with his plan.

GM: “Also, crap. My clothes. These things are a bloody mess.”

Celia: “Randy might have something in the back…” Celia twists in her seat, searching through his things.

What sort of Toreador ghoul would he be if he didn’t?

GM: The fit isn’t perfect, but Roderick strips and changes without complaint, giving Celia a nice look at his abs and muscles as he does.

Celia: She doesn’t mind the view.

Not at all.

She keeps her lips closed to hide the growing boner, though.

“Is it weird if we fuck wearing different faces?”

GM: He thinks on that. “I suppose it’s a way to mix things up.”

Celia: “As if you’d ever get bored of me.”

GM: “Ha. I’d never ever.”

Celia: “Come on, Romeo, let’s go digging through your insides.”

GM: “Keep up that dirty talk and you’re going to make me jump you right here,” he smirks.

They bring a stake from the car and take the elevator up. Rod hoists Celia into a bridal carry when he sees she’s missing her shoes. “I’m not going to have you getting crud over your pretty feet.” Rod’s old unit looks like any bare apartment unit does. Everything has been moved out.

“What happened to your shoes, by the way?” he asks as he turns for her to close the door.

Celia: “Carolla made me take them off. If I was serious about fighting, he said, I had to get rid of them. They’re in his car.”

GM: “Sensible if they were impractical. At least you didn’t lose them.”

Celia: “They were cute. I’d be sad if I did.”

GM: “You make everything look cute, though,” he says as he carries her into the bathroom.

“I’ve always dug how short you are.”


Celia: “I’m not that short,” she huffs.

GM: “5’3” is below the female U.S. average."

Celia: “Who wants to be average?”

GM: “Lot of us aren’t. But I’m happy to be taller.”

Celia: “Mm. Perfect size for me.”

GM: “Yep. Tall guy and short girl really does it for me.”

“Also another reason I hate your dad. He’s just so much bigger and heavier than you and your mom. It’s a grotesquely unfair fight even if he didn’t have more training.”

“Big enough height and weight differences can be incredibly hard for even expert martial artists to overcome.”

“And he just… smacked around women who could never in a thousand years have taken him in a fair fight. It’s so disgusting I get mad just thinking about it.”

Celia: Celia remembers well the size difference between her parents. Watching her dad launch himself down at the stairs at her mom. The sound of her screams.

“Yeah,” she says vaguely. It takes her a moment to come back into the present.

“He’s coming over on Sunday.”

GM: “Dani thinks you and your mom are nuts.”

Celia: “Maybe.”

“I’ll find out soon, I guess.”

GM: “What do you hope to achieve that you didn’t at your last dinner?”

Celia: “Mom just wanted to see him again. And Emily wanted a chance to call him on his bullshit. And… there’s a… there’s a lot, really, that I haven’t talked about with him, that I’m still looking into.”

GM: “He’s scum.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t know how to answer that, so she just nods.

“Feel free to say you told me so, I guess.”

“You ready?” she asks, hefting the stake.

GM: Roderick seems to visibly hold his tongue, then removes his clothes and lays down in the tub.

“Do it.”

Celia: “Say it,” Celia says.

“Whatever you were just holding back. Just say it.”

GM: “I think it’s a bad idea, demons or no demons.”

“Dani thinks the demon talk is pure crazy.”

Celia: “Yeah well Dani thought that reading Dracula counted as research.”

“And she’s been around for like a week.”

“I bet she doesn’t believe in werewolves or fairies either.”

GM: “She doesn’t know better. But demons are just so many question marks and unknowns even for us, Celia.”

“Do you really want to gamble your dad hurting your family again over ‘a demon made me do it?’”

Celia: “I found someone to talk to me about it who knows more.”

“I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do.”

“You never knew him, before.”

GM: “Cut him out of your life.”

“That’s the other thing you can do.”

Celia: “Tell you what, Rod. Tomorrow, at Elysium, I’ll put myself in the sheriff’s path and ask him if we can chat about my daddy, and I’ll let you know what he says.”

GM: He sighs.

“It’s your decision. You wanted to know what I was holding back, so that was it.”

Celia: “You think I’m kidding?”

“I’ll do it.”

GM: “Uh, I see no possible way that ends well.”

Celia: Maybe Roderick doesn’t know him as well as Celia does.

And maybe Celia is just making up stories in her head about what she thinks the reality of the situation is, and Roderick is right: there’s no way it ends well.

“Sorry,” she sighs. “Maybe you’re right.”

“Mom had a vision that Maxen was going to take Lucy away. Maybe bringing him into the house is just a really bad idea.”

“I guess I wasn’t as on guard around him at dinner because I wanted so badly to believe what he was saying.”

GM: “Cost-benefit analysis. What’s the worst that could realistically happen, what’s the best that could realistically happen, and how likely are both?”

Celia: “Let me think about it while I cut you open. I think better when I’m elbow deep inside of people.”

GM: He smirks. “All right. Have at it.”

Celia: So she does.

She presses the stake into his chest and makes sure he can’t move before she begins her work, using her claws to cut him open and sift through his insides. She’s not sure how much he still feels, even staked, but she knows he’s conscious at least—he’d told her how he’d counted the bodies flying out of Cypress Grove. So she keeps up a running commentary on what she’s doing, tells him that most of his insides are basically useless at this point, and looks for anything out of place.

GM: The stake easily slides in past his ribcage. Like a knife through flesh rather than bone. Her lover lies there, helpless and immobilized beneath her hands, utterly at her mercy, but his eyes are trusting.

Celia: She’d had trusting eyes like that, once.

On the roof.

When her sire had smacked her around and broken her jaw.

She wonders if she’d have to stake him to go through his body, or if his iron-fisted control would just let her do her work while he watched.

GM: The latter, of course.

Because he’s better.

Celia: Maybe she can cut him open and find the thing that has him in his grasp. Cut it out of him.

GM: Roderick’s eyes bulge as Celia slices him open and literally rips through his guts. The heady aroma of Brujah vitae with the stink of years-atrophied internal organs (after she slices bits away) hits Celia’s nose. Her lover can’t scream, or even move his mouth, but the muscles in his jaw go tight as a drum.

She recognizes, too, when it’s no longer him staring out past his eyes.

Celia: She’s glad for the stake. Glad that it keeps him pinned, that she doesn’t need to try fighting him off.

She stops talking when he disappears into the red.

It’s not worth saying anything; he won’t remember it anyway.

Maybe now’s the perfect time to confess, though. Tell him about all the shitty things she’s ever done. Tempting, isn’t it, to bare her soul to him like he bares his guts to her.

GM: He won’t remember.

Celia: She opens her mouth. But the noose around her neck jerks tight, constricting unnecessary breath, and she can’t say what she was going to.

It’s not her secret.

There’s something else she can do, though. Another way she can take advantage of his gap in memories.

She can bond him. Cut into her flesh. Drip it into his mouth. He’ll never know. When he comes to he’ll just be in love with her; he won’t feel the rest of them breaking. Snapping. Like hers had done when she’d taken that third drink from her sire.

She can tell him everything then. Confess to what she’d done. He’ll still love her. He has to love her. The blood demands it.

She checks that the Beast still has him in thrall.

GM: Hate, pain, and hunger is all that stares out from his maddened eyes.

Celia: He’ll never know.

He’ll never know she did it to him.

If he finds out, she’ll mindfuck him. She knows enough people who can do it.

And he’ll love her.


He won’t spill her secrets. He won’t be able to. He’ll be caught, just like she is. And she’d told him so much. So, so much.

It’s the best thing for them, isn’t it?

Coco had already betrayed him. He’ll be so hurt by that. But he can turn to her. Will turn to her. He’ll come over. They won’t have to hide what they are anymore.

Celia bites into her wrist.

She moves it toward his mouth.

…and she stops, staring down at the staked, raging Brujah, who had trusted her enough to let her do this to him, to make him helpless, to work with her on ways to be together even though they’re on different sides of the fence.

She can’t.

She can’t do it to him.

Not like this.

Quick as that, she licks the wound closed, hating herself for even thinking about it.

She’s not a monster.

Celia turns her face away from his, resuming her search through his body.

GM: That proves less illuminating, perhaps, than the search through her own soul.

She finds nothing out of the ordinary in her lover’s insides.

At least on those grounds, he looks safe to bring back to Flawless.

Celia: She hopes she didn’t miss something. That she wasn’t distracted by the pull to bond him and overlooked anything out of the ordinary.

She closes him up, but waits until he’s calm to remove the stake.

“I didn’t find anything,” she says once she has.

Maybe her conscience.

“Sorry I had to rip you open for that.”

GM: Roderick gives a wet, ragged-sounding gasp and clutches his stomach for several moments, closing his eyes.

“Still… glad… you looked.”

“But… fuck… that… hurt.”

Celia: Celia holds a hand against the side of his face.

“I’m sorry,” she murmurs. “I was going to give you a sedative at the spa, but I don’t have any on me usually. I guess I can carry it from now on, just for stuff like this.”

GM: “That’s… smart.”

“So was… staking. Beast… definitely got out.”

Celia: “Yeah,” she nods. “But it’s okay. It didn’t do anything.”

And she didn’t do anything.

GM: “Can’t do much… staked.”

Celia: “I love you,” she says abruptly. “I don’t care what else happens, or how our talk goes tonight. I love you. So much.”

GM: So much.

But not as much.

Celia: No.

Never as much.

But he’s what she has.

GM: “I love you… too,” he smiles, stroking the hand against his cheek. “It’ll go… it’ll go well. I know.”

Celia: Celia leans over the tub to press a soft kiss against his lips.

It’ll go well.

Everything rides on it.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Thirteen, Celia XII
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Story Thirteen, Celia XII

“Please. My kids are so thirsty.”
Edith Flannagan

Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

GM: Dani and Celia take the former’s car to Edith’s.

Or they can take Celia’s car. Dani’s fine either way.

“…so she knows a lot about duskborn, you’d said?” asks the thin-blood as the Quarter rolls past.

Celia: Dani’s car is fine. Celia makes sure to bring the blood.

“She has a duskborn child. A little girl she adopted who was Embraced. They’ve been together a long time.”

GM: Dani looks faintly horrified.

“People Embrace little kids?”

Celia: “…yeah. Sometimes. Not a lot.”

“It’s really messed up.”

“People ghoul them sometimes too.”

“But, you know, she’s spent a lot of time with her, so she probably knows more than anyone else.”

GM: “I hope so. I have a lot to ask.”

“That is really messed up, though.”

“This is hard enough for an adult.”

Celia: “Just don’t say anything to offend her, yeah? She’s… pretty protective of her brood.”

GM: “I’ll try not to. I don’t have any problem with her, just whoever would do that to a little kid.”

Celia: “Maybe don’t tell your brother I brought you to see her.”

“I don’t think he approves of my friends sometimes.”

GM: “Oh, why’s that?”

“He says he has friends he doesn’t always approve of too.”

“He says it’s pretty hard to find any licks you always approve of.”

“Including, ah, yourself.”

Celia: “It—oh. What did he say?”

GM: “Just that we all do things we regret and wish we could take back at some point.”

“The Beast, and social pressures too.”

“He told how sick he felt in Elysium bragging about those vampire hunters he’d killed.”

Celia: “He told you about that? Killing them?”

GM: “Yeah. And how… he had to chop up and dump their bodies,” Dani says slowly.

Celia: Celia sighs. “Yeah. He did.”

“We got jumped.”

GM: “What a horrible position to be in.”

Celia: “It’s not his fault.”

GM: “I don’t blame him, and you, for killing them. Even frenzy aside, it was self-defense. They were committing a home invasion and employing lethal force.”

Celia: “I tried to explain that to him.”

“I have to be honest with you, Dani, I don’t regret what I did. I’d do it again if it meant I kept him safe.”

GM: “He agrees with you. He just wishes he’d been able to take them alive instead of killing them.”

“And I agree with him.”

Celia: “Killing them was regrettable.”

GM: “It’s gotten to him, Celia.”

“He sees blood on his hands.”

“He felt like a mobster dumping body parts into the Gulf.”

Celia: She wants to push further, find out what he said about her. But this is… more important.

“I don’t know how to help him, Dani. I don’t know how to make that better. I tried telling him it was self defense, that he saved the both of us, but he…”

GM: “I wish there’d been another way. For his sake.”

“He said that was something he’d been able to hold onto. That he wasn’t a killer.”

“He says licks call it… being a virgin.”

Celia: “They do, yeah.”

“But it wasn’t like that. He didn’t just hulk out and smash something.”

“They invaded his space. Our space. We both would have died.”

GM: “I know. I told him that. That he can still say he’s only ever killed in self-defense, rather than for personal gain.”

“He says he’s going to investigate their families. See what pain their absences have caused and make amends if he can.”

Celia: “Did he already find them? The families?”

GM: “He says he’s still investigating that. They didn’t have a lot of identifying information.”

Celia: “Tell him when he does, I guess, that I’ll… help make reparations. I had a hand in this.”

“He might not have lost if I hadn’t told him…”

GM: “Told him?” Dani asks.

Celia: “I was picked up by hunters. I told you about it, I think. That’s why you’re avoiding the club. I told him what they did to me, and I think if I hadn’t…” She trails off. “It’s my fault, isn’t it? That he killed them?”

GM: She thinks. “Ah, sorry. There’s just been such a big info dump between everything you and your mom and Stephen all have told me.”

Celia: “It’s okay. Not a pretty story. I doubt I told you everything. Will you let me know, though? Or tell him? When he finds them?”

GM: Dani nods.

Celia: “Anything you think will help him?”

GM: “I think this will help. Just making things right with their families. He’d also probably feel better if he found evidence they were bad people—deliberately bad, not just misguided. He said they could’ve thought he was a many-times unrepentant killer for all we know.”

“And maybe they thought they were doing the right thing.”

“But, hell, maybe they didn’t care. Maybe they also beat their wives and kids like your dad.”

“I don’t think Stephen is ever going to be comfortable with nonjudicial killings. I don’t think I’m ever going to be either. But there are degrees of bad and degrees of harm.”

Celia: “Yeah, well, I’d rather not be raped and tortured again on the off chance they’re not bad people.”

“The last pair didn’t think I was bad and they still planned on killing me.”

“But I’ll do what I can to help him out. I guess I just see it differently. He wasn’t the one picked up prior.”

GM: “Oh. You told me you’d been raped, over the phone…”

Celia: Celia effects a snort.

“That was hardly the first time.”

GM: Dani briefly looks away from the road, at Celia’s face.

“Oh my god, Celia, I’m so sorry…”

Celia: “It’s fine. This isn’t about me.”

“I’ve had… years to process.”

GM: Dani looks back towards the road.

“Does it get…?”

Celia: “Easier? Yes and no. Sometimes I still think about it. Sometimes someone touches me and I’m right back to that mindset. Last night someone… well, it doesn’t matter, but I almost froze up again. When I see someone who looks like him. When I hear his name.”

She takes a breath. It does little for her.

“I went through a phase afterward. I slept with everything I could. I thought it made me in control of my body. Like I owned my sexuality. And I did. But he used to… he used to call me a whore. His whore. So I felt like I was… living up to that. Like it was all I’d ever be good for.”

Her eyes find the window.

“Toreador think our clan isn’t cursed. That we can still love. That we’re blessed. And maybe that’s true. But I think, sometimes, that maybe I was cursed to… need it. To need it now. To feel like I’m in control again. To accept physical love in place of mental or emotional love because that’s all I’m worth.”

A tongue pressed against the roof of her mouth keeps her lip from trembling.

GM: More than just a whore.

“I have made a whore of you, Celia,” he would smile with his plastic smile, his fist in her hair and his cock in her mouth.

He never got tired of that phrase. ‘Made a whore of you.’

“My very own teenage whore,” he would repeat, touching her throat as she sucked him off. Touching her cartoid artery, where her pulse was.

It seemed such a strange thing. Like so much of him. Was he checking she was still alive? Didn’t the fact she was sucking him off make that evident? Was it somehow symbolic, insinuating she was only ‘really’ alive while sucking cock? That this was her life’s purpose?

Just that odd little gesture.

“Ah, but let us not leap to conclusions. Perhaps you were already a whore, Celia. Have you performed sexual acts for monetary compensation before? You have taken so well to a whore’s trade, I cannot discount the possibility you are already acquainted with it.”

“You are either an experienced whore, with many previous transactions to be ashamed of, or you are a born natural and suitable for no other purpose.”

Celia: She never knew what he wanted her to say when he asked that. She hadn’t done anything like this with someone before. She’d tried to tell him that. “No,” she’d always say, “I haven’t, I’ve never… yours, you said that—that I’m… yours.” His whore. On her knees, eyes on him, swallowing him down every time. Five hundred dollars.

GM: He’d smiled again at that. Mockingly.

“Then you are a natural-born whore. Why, it sounds almost wholesome.”

e’d released her hair then, to grab both sides of her face, and pumped faster. Like her face was really just another hole. A closable cunt on her neck.

“Your instincts as a prostitute are quite uncanny, my whore. Even without prior experience, you sought out a potential customer and insinuated the exchange of services that might transpire. All without saying a thing, at 19 years old. Perhaps you believe yourself clever, able to enjoy the fruits of a whore’s labor without the self-blame of choosing your profession. Perhaps you even tell yourself you were forced into this. You are not clever, my little whore. You are stupid. My stupid little teenage whore. Your lies and manipulations do not fool me, for I know whores to be dishonest creatures by nature. Only pain may extract truth from them.”

“You chose this, my whore. You sought this out. You always come back. Every week. You enjoy this. This moment is the defining picture of your life, now and forever. Celia—Flores—the—eternal—whore!"

He’d panted with those last words before he pulled out and came over her face. Sticky white semen dripped down her skin. Dribbled over the carpet.

“Eat it, whore. Collect my seed upon your fingers and swallow it all. Or you will be paid $20. It is a typical rate for a cheap, worthless whore who cannot do as she is told. It is equivalent to a hit of crack, in fact.”

Celia: So she had. On her knees, face and lips sticky with his cum, she’d used her fingers to scrape against the white dribbles on the carpet. A glance up at him told her all she needed to know, though, without him saying a word. A moment later she’d bent over, forearms against the ground, to use her tongue to lap it up. Rough fibers mixed with semen touched her lips, wiry and bristly, mingling with the taste of salt.

At least it’s clean, she’d though, absurdly; the house is practically sterile. Spotless. Like there’s no one who actually lives here, just Paul and a horde of maids to clean up after him.

When she was done getting it off the floor she used her fingers on her face, wiping it off before putting those in her mouth as well to lick them clean. She’d swallowed it all.

GM: “Like a dog chasing scraps,” he’d sneered as she licked it up. “What an obedient whore. What an instinctive, natural-born whore. I’m not sure if I should be pleased or disgusted that I do not need to discipline against the use of fingers.”

He’d abruptly spat on her then, when she was finished.

“My saliva is cleaner than you, whore, so you may use it as a cleaning agent for your face.”

He’d given her the money, then. Dropped it on the ground, at his feet, for her to pick up.

“Show yourself out, whore. Your services tonight are no longer required.”

“Crawl. I enjoy the sight of my whore upon her knees.”

That’s how much her self-respect was worth.

$500 a pop.

Celia looks into the car window, and Paul’s plastic face smiles back in the reflection.

Celia: “It was a long time ago,” Celia says, almost to herself. Or maybe to him. “You get past it.”

GM: “You’re worth so much more than that!” Dani exclaims, looking away from the road again. “Your family loves you, just so much. They don’t think that. Stephen doesn’t think that. I don’t think that.”

Celia: Bitter laughter cuts off abruptly when she realizes that Dani is serious.

“Of course he thinks that. He thinks I’m a dumb, worthless whore.”

GM: “What?! He doesn’t, he thinks the world of you!”

Celia: “I saw a vision, Dani, of the future, where he has me chained up like some sort of animal and he says that!”

GM: “What? A vision?”

Celia: “That stupid fortune teller I told you about.”

“I was looking into other things, I didn’t even want for me, and she showed me that.”

GM: “Fortune tellers are full of bullshit. They just want you to come back for more readings.”

Celia: “She’s a lick.”

GM: “Okay, so is… fortune telling actually for real?” Dani looks dubious. “Or could she just be lying about that too?”

“Like, I get… Stephen called it ‘munchies,’ making the Blood do things. Maybe even if she is a real fortune teller she’s just lying because it’s more convenient. Save on some blood.”

Celia: “She wouldn’t have known about him.”

“She used his name. His real name.”

GM: “Oh.”

“I’m not sure how you’d pick that up on a cold reading.”

“Maybe she found out some other way?”

Celia: “I wasn’t even asking about me. And no one knows about us. And even if she did know about us, she wouldn’t know the name Stephen.”

GM: “Maybe she was just wrong, then.”

“Because Stephen wouldn’t do that.”

“What possible reason would he?”

Celia: Celia can think of plenty of reasons.

“I don’t know.”

GM: “Okay. How accurate are lick fortune tellers? Can they get stuff wrong?”

Celia: “It’s what might be. It’s not a certainty.”

GM: “Have you gone to many before?”

Celia: Celia shrugs.

“Future isn’t set in stone.”

GM: “Have you told him about this?”

Celia: “How could I?”

“How could I say, ‘hey you turn into a monster?’”

“How could I tell him that maybe it’s my fault because he killed two people for me?”

GM: “Well, the same way you told me.”

“I think he’d want to know. And I think it’d be good to tell him.”

“Just so you can talk about this and face this together. Like couples do.”

“And, hey, maybe he’d have insights or know things that cast the situation in a different light, or give a better sense of what to do.”

“Doesn’t ever hurt to get another opinion.”

Celia: “Or maybe he’ll ask his sire about it because he goes to her for everything and tell her more shit about me she doesn’t need to know.”

GM: “Ask him not to tell her, then.”

“Ask him to promise, if you want to impress how serious this is. Stephen’s good for his word.”

Celia: “We broke up before. Years ago. I told him about the rape.” She gives a short laugh, humorless. “He called me a whore and beat the shit out of me. And then he told her about it.”

GM: “What!?”

Celia: “It happened while we were together.”

“For months.”

GM: Dani’s parked the car. “Okay, maybe… he didn’t mention this, can you clear the air? Because there’s… some kind of happy ending, if you got back together?”

Celia: “I don’t want to add to his stress. It’s not his problem.”

GM: “I think he would consider it his problem, when it’s about him. And you.”

Celia: “He has more important things to worry about than our relationship status and whether or not his girlfriend had a weird vision of the future.”

GM: “He considers your relationship status to be very important.”

Celia: “Not if he apparently doesn’t approve of me.”

GM: Dani looks at her imploringly and touches her shoulder. “Celia… you sound so full of… just, doubt and mistrust and bad thoughts about yourself, and what Stephen thinks about you. It feels really unhealthy.”

“Stephen would want to help you.”

“I want to help you!”

“Can you really see this getting better on its own, by not talking?”

“Maybe you dodge a bullet and nothing happens, but what if something does? What if talking about it and facing it together lets you fix it?”

Celia: “What if he just calls me a whore again and I lose everything?”

GM: Dani gives a faint, disbelieving smile and rubs her shoulder. “Celia, why would he call you a whore and break up over a… fortune teller’s vision? That’s completely silly.”

Celia: Because she’s going to fuck someone else before she goes home to him tonight.

Because she’s in love with her sire.

Because she sold him out to Savoy.

Because she’ll break his bond to Coco with her own to get what she wants.

…even if she doesn’t know what that is anymore.

“Yeah,” she finally says, “I’ll talk to him.”

GM: “Okay, good,” smiles Dani.

“And… what’s the story with your second breakup?”

“I just want to understand better, since it sounds like there’s still a lot of… bad feelings over that.”

Celia: “I cheated on him,” Celia says flatly, “with the guy who raped me.”

GM: “That isn’t cheating. That’s just rape.”

Celia: “I continued to see him. I went to his house. And let him use me. For months.”

GM: “Oh.”

Celia: “And when I tried to break it off, he had his friend rape me.”

“And later they came into my house and they did it again.”

GM: “Oh my god, Celia…”

Dani hugs her.

“You didn’t deserve that, okay? I’m so sorry that happened to you…”

“You tried to do the right thing, you tried to end it… that counts.”

Celia: “Does it?”

GM: “Yes!” Dani exclaims, giving her a firmer squeeze. “He thinks it does, I know that.”

Celia: “He didn’t seem to think so when I told him about it.”

GM: “But you said he frenzied, right?”

Celia: “And then refused to speak to me for years.”

“No apology.”


GM: “Has he apologized since you got back together?”

Celia: “Yeah,” Celia finally sighs, rubbing at her eyes.

GM: “Well, better late than never. Which is the same thing I’d say about trying to break it off with a rapist.”

Celia: “I found out later he was a ghoul. I don’t doubt there was some sort of mind-fuckery going on at the time.”

GM: “So you might not have even chosen to cheat on Stephen?”

Celia: “I’ve never gone back to ask him, but yeah, there’s a chance.”

GM: “Well, uh, don’t feel like you have to now.”

“But, okay. So you told Stephen about that, and he lost it, and you didn’t speak until a little while ago.”

Celia: “Basically.”

GM: “How does that fit with the first time he thought you cheated, as a breather? I know he knew about it then.”

“He said you’d dumped him and told him you’d cheated because his love wasn’t enough to overcome years of abuse.”

Celia: “I just told him I cheated on him so he’d leave me alone. I almost lost it on him and killed him. So it wasn’t safe.”

“Then we got back together and he insinuated that because I’m Toreador I’m a slut, then demanded the truth. So I told him the truth.”

GM: Dani winces.

“I don’t… think he was trying to say you were a slut.”

“He can just be a little clueless about this stuff.”

Celia: “Maybe.”

GM: “And he can be pretty self-righteous.”

“It feels like… your relationship has a ton of past baggage.”

Celia: “Yep.”

GM: “But you want it to work now.”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “So does he. You’re on the same side.”

Celia: “…oh. I guess I never thought about it like that.”

GM: “…that he wants your relationship to work too?”

Celia: “That we’re on the same side.”

“I keep thinking… we’re on different political sides, but… with this, at least, we’re… not.”

GM: “You are. He wants it to work. I know he’s messed up in the past, but he’s sorry and he loves you. He looked so happy when he talked about having your relationship again. He said you’re one of the best things to ever happen to him, and how thankful he is to still have you in his life since becoming a vampire.”

Celia: “Oh,” she says again, more quietly this time.

The best thing that ever happened to him.

And she’s bonded to someone else. Hopelessly in love with someone else. Someone who will never love her like Roderick does. Who hasn’t been through all of the things with her that he has. Who hurts her to teach her the place he has in mind for her: on her knees. Like Paul.

She’d messed up.

She’d really, really messed up.

GM: “He said he likes to carry you. That it’s ‘so Celia,’” Dani smiles, “how you’d be able to find a cute use for a power of the Blood he always just saw as a tool.”

Celia: Cute use? Does she mean Luna?

GM: “Like, I remember when you came over for dinner, when we first met, I said how he was ‘just really into you’ and you smiled back saying you were ‘really into him too…’”

“It just feels like you still have that, even if there’s a lot of baggage too.”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a long moment. There’s a lot she wants to say. A lot she wants to confess. All the shitty, awful things she’s done, will probably continue to do. She’d just cut open a human girl without an ounce of remorse to make a dinner meeting more palatable. She’s cheated on him. Tonight, even. With Alana. And probably will again later this evening.

In the end, though, she doesn’t unburden herself. She just nods.

“Thanks, Dani. You’re right. Thanks for listening, and sorry I… unloaded. There’s not really any vampire counselors.”

GM: “You’re gonna be my sister, right?” she smiles. “I’m happy to, anytime. So is Stephen, and your mom. We all love you.”

Celia: For now, anyway.

Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

GM: “Oh, shit!” exclaims Dani, looking at the time. “We’re late!”

It’s not that long a drive from Flawless to Edith’s address. In fact, it looks as if Dani took a detour so they’d have time to talk.

Edith lives closer to the north part of the Quarter, where buildings turn from bars and clubs and tourist attractions to homes and apartments. It’s still on Rampart Street, though. This close to Treme and the Seventh Ward, the spit starts to wear off the Quarter’s polish—or perhaps it becomes plain how much was black from tobacco spittle all along. Trash isn’t as picked up. Buildings are cheaper, dirtier, graffiti-tagged, and falling apart. Celia hears a few gunshots and car alarms. There are homeless, too, camped out with their sleeping bags and shopping carts and bags of trash and belongings, plus the odd worn-looking camping tent. There’s fewer of them than south in the Quarter, but their expressions look just as glum, intoxicated, or blanked out. Sounds of fornication echo from one of the tents. Numerous sets of male eyes follow the two women’s car.

Some of them smell like thin-bloods.

They otherwise look identical to their breather counterparts.

“This doesn’t look like a safe place for us, Celia…” Dani says warily.

It’s just one block north and several east of her mom’s house.

There was more than one reason she had wanted to live in the Garden District.

Celia: Celia quietly points out the thin-bloods that they pass, though she’s careful to keep her voice low and not attract any attention to the pair of them.

“Jade,” Celia reminds her. Then, “No, it isn’t. This is where the Caitiff live. Where anyone who isn’t someone lives.”

Slim pickings.

But plentiful, for a girl who doesn’t mind picking apart a carcass. Who would miss these vagrants? She’d get so much use out of their parts…

She could filter their blood through her body. Give it to her mother. Make it taste good again.

Maybe one of these nights she’ll make another trip down here, see what sort of use she can get out of them.

GM: The pair are still in the car. The homeless, and the thin-bloods, are right by the address for Edith’s house. It’s better-maintained than its neighbors, but it looks like someone trying to maintain a ’50s family home in the inner city without so much as a white picket fence.

Dani watches intently as Jade points out the duskborn, but still says, “I think those guys are gonna make trouble for us by ourselves…”

“Wish we’d brought Stephen.”

Celia: “They’ll try,” Jade says.

GM: “You think we can stop them…?”

Celia: “I think they know better than to mess with Savoy’s lapcat.”

GM: “But I can’t smell you, how can they?”

Celia: Jade smiles, flashing fangs.

GM: Dani gives a wan one back.

“I guess this is the only way to get answers, either way.”

All the same, Celia sees pepper spray in her purse as she picks it up.

The pair get out. The two women are immediately accosted by half a dozen dirty, unwashed-smelling men literally screaming in their faces for money. Two duskborn, twice as many kine.

Celia: Jade shoulders her way through them, Dani in tow.

GM: The mob falls upon the pair like a pack of starving dogs. Dirty hands seize everywhere, copping feels, ripping at clothes, and pulling away belongings as the men hoot and bellow. Celia’s purse disappears into the mob as Dani screams and flails, and then the Toreador feels an uneven set of fangs, one substantially smaller than the other, sink into her neck.

Celia: The Beast rears its ugly head when the fangs touch her neck. Aware of how absolutely terrible it would be to lose it here, Celia stuffs it down. She reaches out, snarling in the thin-blood’s face. Her eyes flash, anger simmering just beneath the surface. She lets him see it. The Beast. She lets him feel the power it has over him, the sheer, overwhelming charisma that it forces down his throat, so much sweeter than whatever blood he’d just taken from her. What is she?

“Get my purse back,” she demands of it.

GM: The thin-blood, a middle-aged homeless man with a wildly unkempt beard who looks old enough to be Celia’s dad (if she were black) can’t meet the Toreador’s face. Not with his buried against her neck. But the snarl behind her words, and the weight of her presence, rolling out like a wave, stirs an equally primal response. He turns and bolts, shoving past his fellows, leaving a precious opening as a flailing Dani screams at the top of her lungs, “GET OFF GET OFF GET OFF!!!” Celia can feel the other thin-blood’s presence too, weaker than hers, but nevertheless adding to its weight. Celia’s assailant makes no effort whatsoever to retrieve her purse. Some practiced moves from Roderick culminating with a solid kick to the thief’s balls, plus a timely flail from Dani, knock the purse to the ground, its strap broken and contents haphazardly spilled everywhere. Dani hits the ground in a similar heap, breathing hard with wild eyes.

Celia: Celia retrieves her purse after the thief goes down, stuffing things back inside. She doesn’t care about the money. It’s replaceable. She makes enough. But the rest of it, that’s her focus. That and pulling Dani to her feet once she regains her own, bolting for the safety of the Caitiff’s house.

GM: She finds the door locked tight. Dani bangs against it.

“Let us in!!!”

No one answers her plea.

Celia: “Edith,” Jade says into the door, “it’s Jade.”

GM: A shadow passes behind the windowshades. There are bars over the windows.

After a moment, the door swings open.

Celia: Jade steps inside, pulling Dani after her. She pushes the door shut behind her.

“Some neighbors,” she remarks to her hostess.

GM: Their hostesses are two. The first is a bedraggled-looking young woman with unkempt blonde hair dressed in a Cinderella t-shirt and sweatpants with a gun awkwardly shoved back into the pockets. The other ‘hostess’ is a young child, maybe elementary school age, with cleaner brown hair wearing a little girl dress that Lucy might be found in. Her face, though, has none of Lucy’s excitement or sense of wonder.

“Sorry, ah, Jade, ma’am,” apologizes Cinderella. “That’s just… the neighborhood.”

She and the child do up half a dozen bolts and chains on the door’s other side.

Dani watches them do so, arms tightly crossed around herself.

Celia: Jade doesn’t say much to that. It really is the neighborhood. A fate she saved Dani from, with her comfortable offer of staying with her and lush hunting grounds.

Even so, a quick text to “her boys” implies the need of their services later. She’s not dealing with that again.

She’ll find that wretched thin-blood, though, and take back what is hers.

She finds a smile for Cinderella and the child, at least.

“We managed.”

GM: “Text—you know who,” says Dani, catching herself as she touches her mask.

Roderick, obviously.

Celia: Obviously.

She debates the merits of that before nodding and doing that as well.

GM: Affirmative responses from all three ping back soon.

“They made off with my purse,” Dani says glumly.

Celia: “Shit. I thought they just got mine.”

GM: “I need to get a new phone. And my credit cards canceled.”

Celia: Irritation surges through her. She should have brought a fucking gun, even if she doesn’t know how to shoot. It’s an oversight she needs to correct. Now.

“I’ll take care of it,” Celia tells her.

The phone, she means. There is little she can do about the cards.

Another text summons the two boys now, a description of her assailant included. Bonus if they find the purse and its contents.

She’ll kill the bastard and enjoy doing so.

GM: “It’s okay. Stores won’t be open until sunup, and—sorry, I’m being rude,” Dani says to the two ghouls.

“It’s okay,” says the younger ghoul. “Mom’s just glad you’re here.”

The time on Celia’s phone is more than reasonably late.

It’s a nice change of pace to be the more important lick.

Celia: It really is.

Still, they’d gotten kind of distracted on the phone; who knows if Jade had even agreed to the time before the shrieking children claimed her attention.

“Lead the way,” she says to the pair.

GM: On it, comes Reggie’s confident response.

Celia: Finding scumbags is their thing. She’s happy to leave it to them.

GM: A child’s high-pitched shriek sounds from further inside the house.

“Let’s hurry,” Cinderella and the ghoul both say at once, taking off in a near-run into the house.

Jade and Dani follow behind into the living room. A tea party looks in progress, or at least an attempted tea party. The room’s furniture has been moved off to the side, and there’s a picnic blanket laid out on the floor, underneath several child-sized tables of mismatching heights crammed together. A white tablecloth with pink heart border is spread out over the separate tables in a seeming effort to make them look like the same table. It doesn’t. The tea party feels like it was supposed to happen outside, but couldn’t, for the same reason the front door has half a dozen locks and the windows have bars.

Atop the table, there’s a spread of mismatched plates, trays, and teacups. Some of them are ceramic, others plastic, some Disney-themed, some plain, others printed with hearts and flowers. Much of the tableware looks disposable. Most of the non-disposable pieces are badly chipped and look as if they’ve been superglued back together, and multiple times. Jade can’t imagine a physically and mentally competent adult breaking so many dishes so many times, at least by themselves.

The food consists of tiny sandwiches made from normal-sized Wonder Bread cut into tiny, tea party-sized sections. It’s the sole item that’s not dessert. Everything else is sweets. There’s a platter of homemade-looking chocolate cookies, but everything else is candy. Platters of Hostess twinkies and ding dongs, bowls of M&M’s and gummy bars, trays of candy bars and ice cream sandwiches, and tubs of ice cream lathered with nutella. The largest bowl of all, a giant red plastic one that looks meant for cooking rather than serving, is filled to the brim with a mix of white sugar, brown sugar, chocolate chips, nutella, and over a dozen melted sticks of butter, all mushed together into a lifetime’s worth of diabetes and heart attacks.

It doesn’t even pretend to be anything besides fat and sugar.

Almost as an afterthought, there’s a kettle for the tea party’s tea, along with several bottles of Big Shot soda.

Geraldine Maude Danvers is a little girl old enough to be Lucy’s first grade classmate, or maybe even still in kindergarten. She has the smooth skin all children do, shoulder-length blonde-brown hair, and furious-looking brown eyes. The thin-blood is standing on top of the table, barefoot and clad in a chocolate-smeared white dress, screaming as she throws a platter of oreos against the wall.

YOU! SAID! BLOOD!!!!! NOW!!!!!

Two more children scream, flinch, and burst into tears at the violent action. Both ghouls, Celia has heard. The first, Melody, is darker of hair and looks around the same age.

She starts trying to sing “Th-the it-itsy-bittsy s-spider went up-” but she’s cut off as Geraldine grabs the tea kettle and hurls it at the wall with a terrific noise, sending tea spilling over the moved-aside furniture. At that, she just wails,

“Y-you s-said blood!!!”

The youngest, Harper, doesn’t say anything. The baby-aged ghoul looks too young to have learned to talk. She just cries and blubbers and smacks her hands against the table, adding her wails to the childish cacophony.

At the center of it all is Edith Flannagan, single mother of four.

She has a handsome face. The jaw is a little too wide to be considered “delicate,” but she wears it well and her eyes make up for any supposed defect. The backs of her arms look a little fleshy, suggesting a life of indulgence, but otherwise she’s rather trim. She looks like someone who took care of her appearance when she was alive. Hats to keep the sun out of her face, seaweed baths and paraffin wraps at the local spa, pink and white nails. Hair perfectly coiffed. When Jade normally sees the Caitiff, she looks put together. She still uses that old Estee Lauder brown pencil liner on her eyes, still artificially colors her cheeks with “blusher,” still coats the mascara on her lashes. Right now, her makeup looks smeared from a child’s flailing hand. Her long and curly red-dyed hair looks mussed and tangled. She wears a wide-hemmed, retro dress out of the ‘50s with several fresh-looking food stains over the front. She’s planting her hands down on the wobbling tables as she pleads,

“She’s here! She’s here! Blood’s here!!!”

Geraldine’s head whips around as Jade, Dani, and the two ghouls enter the room. She leaps off the table, clearing over half the room without a running start, and pounces on Cinderella. Fangs sink into the woman’s thigh. Cinderella gives a cry of alarm and tries to fling Geraldine off, only for Edith to scream, “Oh no you don’t!!!” and tackle the ghoul onto the tables. There’s a terrific crash as they collapse and sandwiches, soda, candy, and the bowl of congealed sugar and fat spills over everyone.

More tableware shatters. The younger ghoul children scream louder. The oldest (Lily, Jade recalls) pulls them away and yells something that’s lost under the commotion. Edith holds Cinderella down as she flails and yells, “Stop it! Just stop! Let her drink!” as Geraldine thirstily claims her fill.

Dani watches the unfolding scene with her mouth open.

“What the fuck!?”

Celia: What the fuck indeed.

It’s like something out of a nightmare. The sort of thing that they should show teenagers in Sex Ed. to warn them about the dangers of having children: that they’re loud, messy, and completely fucking uncontrollable.

Is this a thin-blooded sort of frenzy? Throwing and screaming and still somewhat human, her Beast too weak to fully break the chains the little girl has cast over it?

No, she realizes, just a tantrum.

The “blood’s here” announcement readies her for action, but the child vampire doesn’t come for Jade or Dani. It goes for Cinderella instead—a saving grace for it, truly, because Jade would have had no qualms punting the thing in the face to send it sailing across the room if it tried to sink those baby fangs into her. She’s had enough blood ripped from her body for one night.

“Come on,” Jade says to Dani, moving past the flailing women on the ground to where the other Flannagan children huddle together across the room. Her aura precedes her: a calming, even-keeled sort of presence intended to soothe. Then there’s the lick herself: poised, smiling, beautiful. Like a living doll herself, isn’t she, with those wide eyes and long hair and gently curving lips, in a grown-up, refined version of a dress meant for tea parties.

“Hello, little ladies. You remember Auntie Jade?” She crouches in front of the girls, reaching out a thumb to wipe some of the smeared chocolate off of Melody’s face. “Why don’t we let Mommy take care of Geraldine and ’Ella and you three can show me where she keeps the spare cups and kettle?” Jade scoops up Harper, tucking the infant against her side, and holds out a hand for Lily or Melody to take.

GM: Harper buries her face against Jade with a wet half-sob, half-hiccup. Jade never carried around Lucy, but there’s another girl she knows well who did. Melody is the first of the other children to take Jade’s hand at Lily’s nod. Melody casts a fearful glance towards the women on the tables, then starts to falteringly sing,

“Cups, cups, cups,
Cups inside the cupboards
Cupboards inside the kitchen
Kitchen inside the house…”

Lily points in its direction.

Dani watches as Edith holds down Cinderella, who by this point has stopped struggling against her domitor and Geraldine, and furtively whispers, “Are they going to kill her?”

Celia: The baby ghoul fits snugly against her side. Like she was made for it. Jade takes to the child-holding well, at least, for not having had a single person around to tell her “hold it it like this.” She brings the girls with her as they move toward the kitchen, following Lily’s pointed finger.

“No,” she murmurs back to Dani, “she’s just hungry. Edith has a large family; it’s hard to keep this many mouths fed on this side of town.” The ghetto. Where Dani might have ended up, thin-blood that she is.

Inside the kitchen, Jade keeps an arm beneath Harper’s weight while she sifts through the cabinets for the cups. She hands them one by one to Lily or Melody to set on the kitchen table.

“What song were you singing, Melody? Do you want to sing it for Auntie Jade and her friend? Lily, is there a spare kettle?”

GM: Dani casts the pair a worried look. “I’m going to watch them, just in case things get out of hand.” She stays in the living room with her arms folded.

Harper sniffs and snivels over her shirt some more.

“Made up the song
Singing’s how I do my part
There’s a tune in every heart
Tune in every he-eart…”
sings Melody.

Lily retrieves a battered-looking second kettle.

Celia: Jade favors Melody with a smile as she makes up a new song, then finds a rag to start wiping at Harper’s face to keep the worst of it from her clothing.

Edith can hardly afford to get rid of another ghoul now. Jade is pretty sure that Cinderella has been with them since their arrival. Others come and go (often at the hands of the little monster in the other room), but Ella is the constant. Dani is welcome to watch, though, if it makes her feel better.

Then again, if Edith weren’t trying to keep the ghoul fed as well she’d have more for her daughters and Geraldine. Maybe a quick death is the best thing for all of them.

Jade looks at the two girls sitting in the kitchen with her. If Geraldine is feeding now, she can probably give the juice to the other two. She finds the container of blood she’d brought with her, the two pints she’d bled from herself after taking it from her clients, and pours it into the kettle to heat.

This is fine, right? It’s not like Edith wanted the blood for herself to distribute. The girls can eat and then go to bed and she and Edith can chat. Sometimes that’s all her mom wanted when Lucy was little: a little help feeding and cleaning her and then some adult time with Celia and Emily.

“Seats, ladies,” Jade says to the two. She sits too, Harper on her lap. “Lily, will you pour for us?”

GM: Three ghouls and one spoiled thin-blood would still be a lot for one Caitiff on Rampart Street.

Everyone says it’s a matter of time until Edith Flannagan’s house of cards comes falling apart.

It’s awkward to carry a baby in one hand and a purse with a broken strap in her other. Lily helps. All of the kids watch as Jade pours out the blood. Even Harper. The youngest ghoul starts softly crying again and greedily tugging at the air.

The other two kids sit down. Utterly silent. Watching the kettle like hawks.

Lily pours.

Celia: Jade heard that some people have been calling for the extermination of Geraldine, too. Murder machine. Masquerade breach waiting to happen. It’s a wonder her sire had never paid a visit to the house after what happened at the zoo.

Not that Jade is complaining. She’d made out like a bandit after the poor girl died. Where else would she have found a tiger in New Orleans?

Jade waits until the blood hits the cups to nudge them toward the girls on their chipped saucers. Two cups for two girls. Harper seems too little to be able to manage a cup like this. She’s still hungry though, isn’t she? Still addicted like the rest of them. It’s not as if the addiction passes her by because she’s a baby. She’s heard of babies being born that were addicted to whatever chemicals their mothers were on at the time of their pregnancy and birth, how loudly they wail while they go through withdrawals.

Is it crossing a line if she…? It’s not like she’ll ever get another chance. She won’t have children of her own. Edith is busy. Dani is busy. Jade runs her fingers through the baby’s hair, nuzzling the top of her head.

GM: Lily and Melody drink immediately. They take it slow. Closing their eyes. Savoring the taste. The ghouls who aren’t completely new tend to do that. Stretch out the hit as long as they can. It’s only the brand new ones, like Diana after Jade punished her, who try to gulp it down as fast as possible.

Harper, though, is much less of a good sport than Lucy was (and even Lucy had her bad days, like any baby). The ghouled infant loudly cries and squirms in Jade’s grasp, reaching desperately for the blood.

Celia: It’s the crying that does it in the end. Whenever Lucy had started crying Celia had immediately handed her back to her mom so she could quiet her. She’d told Celia once that you learn to recognize the cries of your child; she’d always seemed to know exactly what to do with Lucy to get her to calm down, whether it was a pacifier, a nipple, or changing a wet diaper.

Jade doesn’t know Harper’s individual cries. But she recognizes hunger well enough. …It’s only fair, right? To feed them all?

A quick flick of her fingers undoes the top few buttons of her top, and another unhooks the clasp of her bra. The cups slide free, exposing her breasts. Jade pulls aside the shirt, settles Harper in the crook of her arm, and makes a tiny prick in one nipple. She guides it into the wailing infant’s mouth.

GM: Harper instantly shuts up and starts sucking.

It’s like Diana described. A tugging, tingling sensation against her breast. But there’s no relief, like she’s using the bathroom. Just faint agitation from the Beast. Growling.

It usually took some time, too, when Celia’s mom calmed down a crying Lucy. She’d have to rock the child and sing to her or go through the unpleasant experience of changing a fouled diaper. When the answer was nursing, Lucy would cry and sniffle and take coaxing or effort to position the nipple just right. Diana said she always preferred to nurse a calm baby, “Even if that isn’t always in the cards.”

But with Harper, it’s like a switch is flipped.

There’s no calming down period. The tears just stop, like a faucet turned off. There’s no effort involved on Jade’s part, no nursery rhyme encores or gentle coaxing like Diana had to do. The infant just shuts up and sucks, with bulging eyes and a ravenous vigor unlike anything Celia ever saw from Lucy.

Celia: Well this is certainly one way to make a crying infant settle. Not that she’d ever do it to anyone that isn’t already a ghoul. Or create a ghoul child of her own. What sort of fucked up person does that to a kid?

It’s not quite the experience her mother had described. She feels less like she’s sharing part of herself than simply having it taken from her. It’s not the intimacy she’d expected. Maybe because it isn’t her child. Maybe because it’s taking the blood from her. Maybe she just doesn’t like sharing. It’s hers. But while her Beast may growl, it doesn’t cause a scene; this tiny little thing is helpless before her, utterly in her power. There’s a sense of superiority there, not only for the ghoul in her arms but the Caitiff and half-vampires in the other room. They can’t provide like this. But Jade can.

So she feeds it, letting baby Harper get her fix, searching for that sense of bliss her mother described just earlier this evening. She cradles the back of the infant’s head, murmurs soft nothings to her as she drinks, and lets herself get off on the weirdly intoxicating power trip.

GM: Edith Flannagan, clearly.

Jade waits and waits, but the sensation her mother described doesn’t come. Maybe because it’s not her kid (or her sister). Maybe because she’s losing something. Diana said the more love you give away, the more you have to give, but Jade knows that’s utterly untrue when it comes to vitae. There’s just loss.

Or at least a trade. Little Harper looks totally within her power. Like she’d do anything for that blood. It always looked the other way around for Celia’s mother: Lucy just sucked while Diana looked as if she’d have done anything for that child.

Celia couldn’t ever nurse Lucy. Diana could pass the child off to her daughter, sing together with her, put the baby to bed with her, but nursing was one thing only the girl’s actual mother could do. Even if they pretended otherwise. She remembers, after the child was delivered and her brothers and sisters moved back in, how Emily had the idea for Diana to store her milk in formula bottles (she was aghast how expensive it was) and feed to Lucy for the ‘benefit’ of the other Flores children. Celia was supposed to be the one lactating, if anyone was. Lucy could only get breastfed where her ‘aunts and uncles’ couldn’t see.

It was a lot of effort, to maintain the illusion that Celia could do something she couldn’t do.

But there’s no illusion here. Reggie and Diana both didn’t seem to enjoy the taste of thin-blooded vitae, and Edith is stretched so thing with so many mouths to feed. Jade has enough to spare. Jade has the power.

Harper, oblivious to the dynamic, just continues to thirstily suck from the bleeding nipple.

Celia: If she’d been more concerned about it at the time, Celia might have suggested an overhaul of her own chest to add mammary glands, or at least make the ones she had then work. They’re as dead as the rest of her, but it’s really just a system of tubes, isn’t it? No reason she couldn’t fix them up to make them work now if she really wanted to. Maybe she can offer it to Edith if the woman still wants to actually breastfeed (or at least pour formula into herself that later comes out the nipple). Like cum tubes. But for babies.

Then, she’d been busy experimenting with other things. Now, the idea has some merit. Maybe that would give her the sense of euphoria her mother had talked about. She’s already given herself a fake stomach, a handful of identities, a cock; what’s working breasts to all that?

This long into her Requiem, Jade recognizes when a ghoul has taken enough from her to get their fix. She lets the baby get to that point before finally pulling the nipple free from her greedy mouth and tucks herself away.

GM: The baby immediately starts bawling again and reaches for the disappearing nipple.

The other girls watch silently past their drained cups.

Celia: The baby can cry all it wants. Jade isn’t going to bleed herself dry for someone else’s ghoul.

Surely Edith should be free soon.

GM: Harper bawls and tugs and rubs her head over Jade’s covered breasts.

The other girls feel almost embarrassed.

Celia: “She’s not old enough to understand,” Jade says to them with a little shrug. She shifts the child from one arm to the other, tickling her belly with her fingers.

GM: Harper just keeps crying.

Celia: “Why don’t you check on your mother, Lily,” Jade says to the girl in question. A second passes before she reaches out to smother the child’s wild emotions with that gift of hers.

GM: Harper shuts up, though she doesn’t stop staring at Jade’s breasts either.

Lily does so, hopping off her seat, but there’s no need. Footsteps become audible to Jade’s ears as Edith, Geraldine, and Dani walk in. The Caitiff and her ‘daughter’ have clean faces and have changed clothes. They’re holding hands.

“I’m sorry about that, they’ve not had much to eat lately,” says Edith.

“…oh. Did you feed them?”

“She didn’t, she didn’t,
We’re still very hungry
We’re still so hungry
Please, Mama, feed us,
Please, Mama, fill us,”
sings Melody.

Celia: Jade gives Melody a disapproving glance.


“I fed all three,” she confirms.

GM: Lily opens her mouth, then doesn’t say anything, looking between Edith and Jade.

Edith picks up one of the cups and sniffs it. It’s completely drained, without so much as a drop remaining. Maybe no human would smell anything, but Jade can still pick up a telltale coppery whiff.

“Liar,” Edith says to Melody.

“I can smell blood in that.”

Melody lowers her head.

Edith sits down, pulls the ghoul over her lap, pulls up her dress, and delivers five hard swats to her backside. Melody yelps and gulps.

“Five spanks for five verses of lies,” says Edith. “Say you’re sorry.”

“I’m-m sorry,” sniffs Melody.

“Lily, you didn’t lie, but you didn’t tell the truth. One spank,” says Edith.

The older ghoul lays over her domitor’s lap and presents her posterior. Her cheeks tinge red as everyone else in the room watches.

Dani looks vaguely uncomfortable. Geraldine smiles.

Celia: Jade knew a girl who used to be spanked like this, with everyone watching. But Jade never was. And she thinks that liars deserve punishments. She’d done the same to her ghoul recently for being a greedy little thing, too.

GM: Until Celia helped the ghoul spank her back, at least. They told her to stay away from them both.

Celia: Jade had spanked Celia, too. Right before she fucked her.

She doubts Edith is going to go that route with the little girls, unless their relationship is even more twisted than she’d imagined.

She says nothing about the corporal punishment, in any case. Everyone handles their ghouls differently.

GM: Edith sets Lily down after delivering the one spank.

“I’m sorry about that,” she repeats.

Celia: “Kids,” she says with a knowing smile. She glances at Dani, as if to ask about Cinderella, but she imagines the thin-blood would be more upset if anything had actually happened to the ghoul. No doubt she’s sleeping it off.

“It should hold them over for a while, anyway.” A lift of her brows, as if asking how Edith plans to care for them after that.

“I saw you on patrol the other night. Find anything?”

GM: Edith shakes her head in frustration. “I was… counting on it. Savoy rewards us whenever we do.”

“And the kids are always hungry.”

Celia: “I can imagine. Hard to keep them full with a stable this large.” If Dani weren’t here she’d suggest taking one of the homeless off the streets and draining them, but Dani is here, so she doesn’t.

GM: “Who’s she?” asks Gerladine.

“That’s Jade, honey, she also lives in the Quarter,” says Edith, pulling the child onto her lap.

Technically true, if somewhat misleading.

Jade doesn’t live in a slum.

Dani sits down too.

“Hannah said you ran into the homeless outside. Sorry about that. Did you kill any of the thin-bloods?” she asks, not even trying to hide the hope in her voice.

Dani frowns.

“We didn’t, no.”

Edith looks disappointed. “Oh.”

“Because they’re attacking you?” Dani asks.

“Sometimes. Only when they get really hungry,” says Edith. “They know I’m a real Kindred.” There’s some pride in the Caitiff’s voice at that.

Dani doesn’t say anything there.

“But there’s more of them,” continues Edith. “And they’re still dangerous. They were bad, bad, trashy people when they were alive. Still are.”

“So you want them dead so they can’t attack you when they’re really hungry?” asks Dani.

“You ask a lot of questions for a ghoul,” says Edith with a faint frown. But she still answers, “If they were dead I’d be able to hunt their homeless friends, without worrying about them attacking me back.”

She makes a face. “I’m sure their blood’s awful. But it’s still blood.”

“Can’t you just hunt somewhere else?” asks Dani.

“No, I can’t!” exclaims Edith, looking as if she’s trying not to sound too frustrated around Jade.

Celia: It’s amusing, this being in charge thing. She recognizes the look on Edith’s face very well; more than once she’s had to bite her tongue around her “superiors.”

“Edith is Caitiff,” she says to Dani.

“Their domain in the Quarter is the edges. Out here. If she hunts elsewhere, she’s poaching.”

GM: “Yes, Lord Savoy’s very generous,” agrees Edith.

Even Dani isn’t so green not to recognize the sucking up for what it is.

But she doesn’t say anything.

“This is boring,” says Geraldine, slapping her hand against the table several times.

Celia: “Is it?” Jade asks the child. “We came for you, actually.”

GM: “Lily, Melody, why don’t you take Geraldine a-” Edith cuts off, though, as Jade speaks.

“Me?” asks the thin-blood.

Celia: “You,” Jade confirms with a nod. “And your mother.” Her eyes cut to Edith’s. “It’s an area you might be a bit of an expert in, Edith, considering.” She tilts her head, eyeing the child.

GM: “Ah, yes, I’m sorry,” Edith apologizes. “You’re here on business, and you fed the little ’uns, what can I do for you?”

Celia: “I have some questions about thin-bloods.” A casual wave of her hand includes Hannah in the discussion. “She’s here to take notes and make sure I don’t forget anything, so I’m sure she’ll be jumping in as well.”

“With as long as Geraldine has been with you, I thought you’d know more than most of the vagrants on the street.”

“And I’m always happy to see the girls.”

When they’re not wailing.

GM: Edith smiles. “They love visitors too. Don’t you, girls?”

There are nods from them all.

“Geraldine’s been my daughter for about 20 years, she says,” smiling again as she adjusts the child vampire on her lap. “So I think I know a lot about them. I’ve seen it all firsthand. How does… one hit for every topic’s worth of notes sound?”

She glances around the cups. “So that’s two topics, for everything so far. Or three, if you fed Harper too.” She looks at the still-sniffling infant.

“She did,” says Lily.

Melody nods too.

“Okay, three,” says Edith. “I’m sorry, that’s what you said. Three. With more if you want to feed Cinderella too.”

“Or feed the others some more.”

“Is Cinderella her actual name?” asks Dani.

“Yes,” Geraldine answers peevishy.

“Yes, she doesn’t have another name,” says Edith, backing the child up.

“Okay, Cinderella,” nods Dani.

“Do you have a pen and paper I could take notes with?”

“Yes, over there.” Edith points.

Dani retrieves a pen and notepad, then sits back down.

Celia: Edith might have trouble keeping the girls from going hungry if she’s feeding them this liberally. Jade would probably space the feedings out a little more, but she’s not going to tell someone else how to parent. Lord knows she has no idea what she’d be doing.

Though that’s more of a ghoul thing than a parent thing, if she’s being honest.

“We’ll start with the Blood.” Edith can probably hear the emphasis on the word. “Mine gives me the traditional gifts of my clan. Yours allows you different abilities. I’ve done some experimenting with a thin-blood I found. He seems only to be able to perform the same sorts of things you or I can do if he has lick blood in his system. Is that typical of them?”

GM: “Sometimes,” says Edith. “Most of them are what they eat. Their abilities change with whatever blood they drink.”

Celia: “So if the thin-blood drank from me, he’d take on some of my abilities. But if he drank from a Gangrel, he’d get something else?”

“How far does that go? Specialized, unique abilities? More advanced things?”

GM: “Yes. But kine too. If they drink from a marathon runner, they’ll get stone skin. If they drink from a clubber, they’ll get charm.”

Celia: Fascinating. And also in line with her theory.

GM: “The more they drink, or the richer the blood, the stronger their abilities are.”

“But only up to a point.”

Celia: “But they only have it until they use it?”

GM: “Until they drink from different blood.”

Dani dutifully scrawls away.

Celia: “So it doesn’t need to actively be in their system, just the last thing they ate?”

GM: “They need both of those.”

Celia: “Up to a point, you said?”

GM: Edith’s lips purse. “That’s a separate topic. How strong they can get. There are different ways they can.”

Celia: The same way the blonde had suggested getting stronger? She doubts Dani will go for it. She lifts her brows at the girl in question. No doubt she wants to know her limits, but she won’t speak for her.

GM: “How can they do that?” Dani asks.

Celia: Jade gives a nod, assenting to the further topic.

GM: “They can only develop very basic abilities, through normal feeding,” says Edith. “The ones any fledgling can pick up in a night or two.”

“If they drink deep enough to kill, or from a vessel with a dyscrasia, they can get a little more advanced.”

Celia: “Permanently?”

GM: Edith shakes her head. “Just until they feed again. Or lose the blood.”

“Blood from other licks does more for them, though.”

“They need to drink more of it, but Geraldine’s been able to do the same things I can, after she feeds enough.”

Celia: Jade lifts a brow at the Caitiff.

“How advanced is that?”

It’s not like Jade keeps up with the generations of the clanless.

GM: “I’m not a master at any discipline. But it’s more than she was able to do just from killing.”

“That seems like an easy way for them to get better at being vampires, then,” says Dani.

Edith shrugs. “Most true-blooded licks won’t share with them.”

Celia: But Dani’s got two in her corner that might.

A feedback loop, like Diana had suggested earlier.

GM: “And it’s not like they can steal it easy.”

Celia: Neither of them would really lose blood… she idly contemplates how telling Roderick she wants to swap blood with his sister would go. For science.

“No,” Jade agrees.

Even though she’d just had hers stolen.

“Their blood will never thicken with age, then. Not like ours.”

“Everything they do is a temporary fix.”

GM: “Yes. It’s all temporary.”

Celia: “Geraldine is still a child,” Jade ventures.

GM: “Yes, what about it?”

Celia: “She won’t age, ever? Or it’s so slow we don’t notice it?”

GM: “She hasn’t aged a day.”

Celia: Jade nods. She’d assumed as much.

GM: “I’ve had her for around twenty years.”

Celia: Jade looks to the child vampire, listening for a heartbeat.

GM: She can hear one. Just like with Dani.

“That’s also starting to be a separate topic.”

Celia: Jade rifles through her purse, pulling out a tiny notebook. She flips it open to a page and consults the nonexistent writing, then offers it to Dani.

“One of those?” she asks, giving Dani free reign to pursue her own line of questioning.

GM: Dani frowns, thinking.

“Yeah, that looks good.”

Seems up to Jade.

Celia: Dani’s the thin-blood and it’s about her, but Jade doesn’t argue the point. If she wants to leave it up to Jade she can do so.

“I’ve heard some of them can do a sort of alchemy thing with their blood.”

GM: Edith makes an expression of distaste.

“They’re… drug dealers. That’s all they are. It’s disgusting.”

“But what is it they do?” asks Dani.

“Gutter magic. If you could even call it that.”

Celia: Jade waits, expectant.

GM: “It’s disgusting. They’re disgusting.”

Celia: “I’ll need you to be more specific on the gutter magic.”

GM: “I don’t associate with those sorts of people,” the Caitiff declares. There’s a note of some pride to her voice.

“But can you tell us anything?” asks Dani.

“I don’t associate with those lowlifes,” she repeats. “You can ask me something else.”

Celia: “Even if it meant Geraldine could do magic?” There’s some skepticism to her voice.

GM: “Magic? Like a fairy?” asks Geraldine.

“It’s not magic like a fairy,” says Edith. “It’s not something little girls do. It’s gross and yucky and there’s… poop.”

“Ewww,” says Geraldine.

Celia: “I’d like to know what you know. I paid for the information.”

Jade can take her blood back, if the Caitiff likes.

GM: “You can ask me something else,” Edith says stiffly.

Celia: That baby is still in her arms.

GM: She looks at Harper, who by this point looks like she’s dozed off, and repeats, “That can’t be all you want to know. Ask me about something else. I won’t charge you for the alchemy… answer.”

“Magic isn’t real,” adds Geraldine.

“I pushed off the fairy and she couldn’t fly.”

Dani frowns.

Celia: Jade’s lips twitch.

“No, I can’t imagine she did,” she says to the child. She doesn’t correct her, though.

“If you can’t tell me about the alchemy, can you tell me where to find an alchemist? I presume you heard enough about it from someone to point me in their direction.”

GM: Fairies are real, though. And their magic. Celia knows that from experience.

Edith makes an expression of distaste.

“I can’t, beyond Rampart Street, but you probably guessed that.”

“I won’t charge you for that answer either.”

Celia: Well at least she’s fair with her pricing.

GM: “So, what else?”

Celia: Jade glances at Dani. She’d thought she was going to have to feed one of them again, but she’s drawing a blank. Dani wants to meet them, but it sounds like Edith doesn’t hang out with many of them, and if she can’t tell her about the alchemists…

She’d had so much to offer Edith, too. So many favors she could trade for knowledge.

GM: Dani looks back at her unsurely.

Celia: Jade finally shrugs. She’d wanted the alchemist for her own selfish reasons.

“Compared to a true-blooded lick, do they retain similar properties? The healing, the regeneration, the lack of illness, et cetera?”

GM: “Yes and no,” says Edith. “Gerladine’s gotten sick. But not very often.”

Celia: “The others, though? The mending? Regenerating lost parts?”

GM: “I don’t know if she can do that. I’ve never tried to find out. But she can heal cuts and bruises with blood.”

“I usually tell her not to, though, and to just let Mommy give her a band-aid. And she gets better on her own, not like we do.”

“Sorry, you can’t get better on your own?” asks Dani.

Edith looks at her, then answers, “If you cut us, we stay cut until we spend blood to heal. Our bodies don’t do that on their own. Geraldine’s does.”

“I’m special,” declares Geraldine.

“Yes you are!” says Edith, bouncing the thin-blood on her knee. “The most special duskborn in the city!”

Celia: She’s certainly something.

Jade finds a smile for the child and her mother.

“It certainly sounds like it.”

GM: “Can duskborn become nightborn?” Dani asks abruptly.

“They can’t,” says Edith.

Dani does her best not to look crestfallen.

“I won’t charge for that either, since I didn’t tell you anything,” says Edith.

Celia: “Appreciate it,” Jade says, keeping the dryness out of her tone.

“I think that’s all I have, then.”

GM: “Oh. That’s all?”

Celia: “Can’t think of anything else that isn’t alchemy-related, and you’ve already said you don’t hang much with them.”

GM: “But, there’s so much to them. I could tell you a lot more.” Edith looks fairly desperate at the chance to get more blood right in front of her.

Celia: “Such as?”

GM: “Well, everything. They’re different in basically every way. Some little, some big.”

“Anything you think about true-bloods, that you take for granted, they do at least a little differently.”

Celia: “Tell me what you know,” Jade says evenly, “and I’ll decide how many hits it’s worth, or if I can finagle something… extra.”

GM: “We’d be here for hours if I told you everything. Can you narrow it down?”

Celia: “What do you specialize in, Edith? Power wise. What’s your area of expertise?”

GM: “Stone skin. Cloaking. Taming.”

Celia: “I’ll trade you a hit of mine for a hit of yours.”

GM: Edith looks confused. “Sorry?”

Celia: “Your abilities are different than mine. I’d like to see this totem twisting in action.”

GM: “I’m sorry, you mean with a duskborn?”

Celia: “Yes.”

“Well, I guess I don’t really care what you do with mine. You can keep it for yourself or give it to one of your girls.”

GM: “Two hits of yours, then. Swapping a hit for a hit still leaves me even.”

Celia: Jade laughs.

“No, but thanks.”

GM: “I’m just proposing an even trade. You’d get to see what a duskborn can do, I’m not any richer.”

Celia: “It’s not an even trade. I’ve already theorized that the duskborn take on what they eat, you simply confirmed it. I have other sources that won’t put me out blood. If you’re not interested you’re not interested, and that’s perfectly fine.”

GM: “So do you want it for something else, as part of another trade? We could throw it in as lagniappe,” Edith relents.

Celia: “I don’t want to play twenty questions all night. I don’t have any pressing concerns about the duskborn, and I imagine most of what I’d ask I can find out through observation and my own experimentation.” Jade leans forward in her chair. “You mentioned there’s stuff I take for granted about being a lick that you can’t with them. Give me the major differences and I’ll give you the two-for-one that you want. I’ll feed whichever kids you like. What is it?”

GM: “Okay, they still frenzy. That’s a myth they can’t.”

Celia: That gets an arched brow.

“All of them?”

GM: “I don’t spend as much time around other duskborn, but I think so. I know Geraldine does.”

Celia: “Is she fourteenth? Or higher?”

GM: “I don’t know. They’re all the same, either way.”

“She’s at least fourteenth, obviously.”

Celia: “Some of them have one fang, or none. Their differences are only physical?”

GM: “Wait, but they don’t frenzy,” says Dani, more than a little perturbed. “You can hit them or stab them or whatever else, can’t you?”

Celia: “Was Geraldine’s earlier fit a frenzy, or just a tantrum? What draws it out? How does it differ from a true blood?”

GM: “They can only frenzy under two circumstances,” says Edith. “One is if they’re really, really hurt. On the brink of death. That’s enough to wake up their Beasts. Give them a last fighting chance.”

“And the second?” says Dani.

“If they’re hungry,” says Edith. “Low on blood. Then if you stab them, hit them, burn them, whatever, their Beast can get out.”

Dani tries not to look too perturbed.

“A duskborn I’ve talked said he didn’t ever feel… a Beast,” she says. “He felt normal. But there are Brujah who always feel it in the backs of their heads, furious, waiting to rip out.”

“That’s normal,” says Edith. “They basically don’t have a Beast, most of the time. It only comes out when they’re hungry or about to die.”

Celia: “So long as they’re never grievously injured or starving, they can function as normal.”

GM: “Yes. That’s where the myth they don’t frenzy comes from.”

“And it’s easier for them to resist the Beast than true-bloods, too. Theirs is weaker.”

Celia: “That’s certainly something,” Jade murmurs.

GM: Edith looks between them appraisingly.

“I think that’s worth a hit.”

Celia: “It is,” Jade agrees.

GM: Edith moves a cup near her.

Celia: Jade sinks her fangs into her wrist, then holds it over the cup.

GM: Everyone at the table but Dani watches with rapt eyes.

Edith waits for it to cool, then raises it to her lips.

Geraldine grabs at it.

“I want!”

“It’s for Cinderella,” says Edith. “So I can feed her-”

“I want!” Geraldine repeats.

“If she’s better she can with y-”

“I—WANT!!!” Geraldine shrieks.

She stands up and lunges at the cup. Edith gives an exclamation of alarm as she pulls it away, trying desperately not to spill it.

GIVE IT TO ME GIVE IT TO ME GIVE IT TO ME!!!” yells the duskborn, tugging at her arms.

Celia: “Sit down,” Jade snarls at the child, lashing out with her Beast to put weight behind her words.

GM: Geraldine’s temper tantrum wilts like a weeks-old flower. She whimpers and curls up against her mother.

Don’t you do that!” Edith suddenly snarls back, baring her fangs in a feral hiss as her eyes flash.

Celia: Jade rises, her own fangs bared at the Caitiff. A hiss passes from her lips. She is not intimidated by this nobody.

“She’d have spilled it all over the floor. Are you going to ask her to lap it up, like some sort of dog?”

GM: Jade’s seen domitors who make their ghouls do that.

Edith shoots up from her chair too, locking gazes with Jade. The hiss goes on as her fangs protrude.

Then the sound dies.

She sits down and looks away.

Dani warily looks between the once-feuding vampires.

Celia: Jade lets the silence linger. But only for a moment. She sits down after the Caitiff does, her fangs disappearing behind her lips.

“I have something special for Geraldine.”

A balm of sorts, though she can’t help but feel a surge of glee at putting the nobody in her place.

GM: Edith looks up.

“Please don’t hurt her,” she begs, clutching the duskborn tight against her chest with both hands. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Celia: It’s a nice change of pace.

GM: “She doesn’t mean that kind of special,” says Dani.

Celia: “I’m not here to take your child away from you, Edith.”

GM: “We’re not going to hurt you,” adds Dani. “Or her. Just… drink your blood, all right? You earned it.”

Edith glares faintly at the ‘ghoul.’ But she drinks.

The other ghoul children watch in fretful silence.

Harper suddenly wakes up and starts crying again.

“Lily, Melody, why don’t you put Harper to bed,” says Edith. “And go play a game, checkers, with Geraldine?”

The ghouls fretfully look towards Jade, as if to see whether she’s going to stop them.

Celia: Jade makes no motion to do so. She nods her head.

GM: Melody retrieves a now-crying Harper. Lily takes a still-sniffling Geraldine, who she all but staggers trying to carry. The ghouls and duskborn depart the room.

“You’re kind of spoiling her,” says Dani. “She’ll just continue to act-”

“That’s none of your business, half-blood!” Edith flares back.

But the fangs don’t come out.

Celia: Jade turns a baleful glare on Hannah.

“You don’t tell other licks how to treat their ghouls. I brought you here to take notes.”

GM: Dani glares back, at first.

But then she minds her cover and lowers her head.

“She’s new,” says Edith.

Celia: “She is.”

“I’m still breaking her in.”

GM: “I’m sorry, ma’am,” says Dani.

The tone isn’t completely right. But it’s deferential enough.

Edith smiles faintly.

Celia: Jade considers the lesson learned. She sifts through her purse, pulling out the final bottle of blood.

GM: Edith looks at it.

“So you’d also asked about their fangs.”

Celia: “I did. I’ve seen some with one, some with none, some with chipped fangs, some with little bitty baby fangs.”

GM: “Some have normal fangs. But it’s one of the most common deformities.”

Celia: “I already know about that. Is there something else to it?”

GM: “Like what? Whether they can still feed normally?”

“Most of them can. It’s a little or a lot more awkward, but they can.”

“Some have to use knives, because their fangs are so underdeveloped, or they just don’t have any. Kine obviously don’t enjoy that.”

Celia: “No, I imagine they don’t.”

“None of this is news to me.”

GM: Edith’s voice gets a bit more deferential. “Okay. What do you mean, something else?”

Celia: “You brought up their fangs. I thought maybe there was more to it than that. I only mentioned them in passing.”

GM: “Is is it symptomatic of larger differences between duskborn and nightborn,” ventures Dani. “Like, for instance, how they can walk in the sun-”

“They can’t do that,” says Edith.

Celia: Jade arches a brow.

GM: Dani looks at Jade. “We heard of one who could.”

“That’s just another myth,” says Edith.

Celia: “We’ve witnessed it.”

GM: Edith looks between them. “For how long?”

“Hours,” says Dani. “I saw him. He didn’t have any problems during the day.”

Celia: “No protective covering. No burning. No singes.”

“Hannah tailed him.”

GM: “Your ghoul probably just saw another ghoul,” says Edith. “Most duskborn take longer to burn than nightborn do. And they can last a while. But they still burn.”

“Geraldine burns.”

Celia: Jade shakes her head.

“I’ve confirmed he’s duskborn.”

GM: “That’s the first time I’ve heard of that.”

“Well. It’d be the first reliable time.”

“Lots of licks say they can’t burn in the sun, and it’s an exaggeration. They just burn slower and heal faster.”

“Geraldine does.”

Celia: “I’ll test it again, but so far everything suggests he doesn’t.”

GM: “Okay. Geraldine’s the only one I’ve spent twenty years with,” Edith grants.

Celia: “It made me wonder if they were all different, since someone else said the same.”

“Multiple others,” she amends.

GM: “I’ve known ones with different powers,” says Edith. “And weaknesses.”

“Some that couldn’t get sick or hurt by guns.”

“Some that still frenzied or couldn’t use their blood to heal.”

Celia: “They don’t seem to follow the same rules as us.”

GM: “In what sense?”

Celia: “Give me any Brujah and I’ll tell you what the majority of them can do. The mending. The powers, strength and speed and charisma. The weaknesses, like their rage. Sure, there are outliers. But the duskborn seem to vary more often than the rest of us.”

GM: “Some of it might be ignorance,” says Edith. “But you might be right, too. Not all of the ones I’ve known can do what Geraldine can do.”

“Though she is very special, too. Oldest duskborn in the city.”

“Maybe it’s nature’s way of compensating.”

Celia: “Has she gotten stronger as the years have passed?”

“Or is it like you said, everything is temporary?”

GM: “She’s physically strong for her age. You saw her jump around—that’s stone fists, blood’s might, hulking, whatever you want to call it. That’s how she pushed off the, ah, ‘fairy’.”

“That’s stayed, despite whatever she drinks. But she was always that way, for as long as I’ve known her.”

“Everything else, with disciplines, is temporary.”

Celia: Jade just nods her head.

“Thank you for the assistance this evening.”

GM: “You’re welcome.” A pause. “All of that since the frenzy is worth a hit.”

There’s a buzz from Jade’s phone.

Found your thief. Also picked you up another snack.

Celia: Jade glances at her phone. Perfect.

“I need to get going,” she tells Edith. She slides the blood across the table to her.

GM: Edith drinks it down.

“The things since the frenzy, too,” she repeats.

“You didn’t know all of that.”

Celia: “The fangs? I knew about the fangs. And their differences.”

“You learned about the daywalking."

GM: “Geraldine can’t daywalk. That doesn’t help me.”

Celia: “Repeating things I already know doesn’t help me.”

GM: “Anything else you want, then. Knowledge about thin-bloods. Boons. Anything else you need. Please. My kids are so thirsty. This will only last so long. I’m sorry we butted heads. Anything you want, I can do,” Edith says, desperately.

Celia: “Keep the trade,” Jade finally says, “and we’ll keep this line of communication open. I’m sure I’ll need something in the future.”

GM: Edith looks like she wants to plead further, then just says, “Okay. Here’s my number.” She lists it off.

Celia: “If you think of anything else, you know where to reach me.” There’s a promise behind her words.

She gave her five hits, though. For what’s essentially a conversation. She doesn’t feel too bad about not giving more.

GM: Edith nods. “Okay. I will. Flawless?”

Celia: “Flawless or a phone call.” She leaves her number.

GM: The Caitiff says she’ll be in touch.

Sounds of commotion echo from the next room over. Edith quickly excuses herself and darts off to attend the latest domestic crisis. Dani warily follows her out of the house, pepper spray clutches firmly in hand this time as her eyes sweep the slum for more bands of encroaching predators.

Celia supposes that whatever her lot in the French Quarter, it could always be worse.

Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

GM: “This is going to sound like the most privileged white girl thing to say, but… I’m better than that,” Dani says once they’re back in the car.

“Than living in a slum with a dozen locks on the doors and glued-together tableware for Wonder Bread tea sandwiches.”

“Would that… would that really be me without you and Stephen…?”

Celia: “Like Edith? I doubt it.” Celia shakes her head.

“Edith is a true-blood. Caitiff, but still true-blood.” A pause. “You’d probably be like one of the people outside the door.”

GM: Dani looks horrified.

“My dad’s the fucking D.A.! My mom works at Vanderbilt! I went to the ‘debutante West Point,’ I’m going to be a lawyer! I’m not a Malveaux, but, fuck, I’m not… that! I’m not!”

Celia: “A lot of them don’t have those connections,” Celia agrees. “But, Dani… no one cares who you used to be, not if it doesn’t benefit them. It could keep you off the streets, sure, I’ll agree with you there. But nice places, nice homes, nice streets—those are all the turf of bigger, stronger, older vampires. They get wind of you and then best case scenario you’re out on your ass here with the rest of them.”

GM: Dani shudders. “I know they don’t care. That’s what’s so awful. I don’t… I don’t want to be that!”

Celia: “You won’t be. You have two of us looking out for you.”

“But that’s why I told him not to send you to Houston.”

GM: “Because that’s what I’d be over there.”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “I hate this. I hate that I was turned into this. That I have garbage blood. Like Stephen told me everyone else thinks.”

Celia: “There are some benefits,” Celia says hesitantly. “You heard what Edith said, about being able to learn all sorts of different powers. We can get you some blood from Stephen and I to keep you juiced up, if you want. See what all you can learn. You’ll never get old, so you can practice law for as long as you want.”

“And… I mean, you know, she’s not an expert even if she has Geraldine. She doesn’t know everything that’s out there. No one does. Maybe we can find something else, you know?”

“Because… magic is real, no matter what the kid said.”

GM: “I hope,” Dani says glumly. “Celia, I don’t want to be duskborn. I’ve always been second best, my whole life, and this isn’t just… it’s not even that.

Celia: No. It’s last. Not even that, it’s a consolation prize. A pat on the back, maybe. Worse.

“She mentioned killing people,” Celia says after a second. “I assume you’re not into that, even if it would make you stronger.”

GM: “I think how they’re, we’re, treated is horrible. I’d never do that or be part of it. Hell, I’d even like to fight against it. I’d just… rather not do it as one of them. Let me be the fucking rich girl who fights for poor people, yes that’s entitled, no I don’t even care.”

“I don’t want to kill people. She said it was just temporary anyway.”

Celia: “Yeah,” she says, “I didn’t think so. It’s a quick road down a dark path, I bet.”

“Maybe there’s a different solution.”

“If you’re passing as a mortal, maybe there’s stuff you can do that way. Since, um, ghouls aren’t quite respected either.” She winces. “Sorry I reprimanded you.”

“Just the… cover.”

GM: “It’s okay. And I picked up on that, yeah.”

“Fucking Christ. Edith was pathetic and even she thought she was better than ghouls.”

Celia: “It was an interesting twist to be the most important person in the room,” Celia says wryly.

“But you’re right. She is.”

“That’s how they all are. Even the lowest of them needs someone else to look down on.”

GM: There’s a tap against the car window. It’s Roderick in his disguise.

Dani doesn’t say anything, just pulls open the door and hugs him.

Celia: Celia waves at him from over Dani’s shoulder.

GM: He waves back with an amused smile, but it fades when he says, “Hey, you’re trembling. Is everything-”

“We got jumped and attacked by a bunch of homeless people, and I wish you’d been there, and Edith was awful,” says Dani.

Celia: “Dani lost her purse,” Celia adds. “And one of them bit me.”

GM: “What!?” He looks between Celia and his sister. “Where are they? I’ll make them regret that.”

Celia: Celia glances in the direction of the gaggle of homeless people, even though she knows the blood thief isn’t there.

GM: Most of them are gone. The remaining ones look asleep or strung out.

Celia: So much for playing hero.

GM: Roderick looks in their direction. “Those guys?”

Dani shakes her head.

Celia: “They’re gone.”

Celia glances at the time, wondering if she has a moment to talk to the pair before she has to meet the brothers and get ready for her date.

GM: There’s time.

“All right,” he says, “I can look for them. What’d they look like?”

“Like a bunch of dirty homeless people,” says Dani.

“There’s a lot of those,” says her brother.

Celia: “They’re probably long gone,” Celia says heavily. “Just reminds me that I need you to show me how to throw a better hook, and whatever training you think I need to keep the Beast back. It tried to get out and I was too busy focusing on keeping it in to be able to fight them off.”

“Should have known better than to come out this way without backup. Sorry, Dani.”

GM: “It’s okay. We got out. Just… god, yes! Show me how to punch too!”

Roderick nods. “I can show you both how to do that. There’s no cure for the Beast, but the more familiar you are with combat, and the calmer a head you can maintain, the harder it is for the Beast to get out.”

“I still have a Beast,” says Dani.

“What? I thought duskborn didn’t frenzy.”

Celia: “Do we want to drive and chat? Back to my place?”

“Edith said there are things that can draw it out of duskborn.”

GM: “Oh my god yes, I don’t want to stay here,” agrees Dani.

Celia: “Extreme hunger, or on the brink of death.”

GM: “Okay,” says Roderick. “That’s good to know.” He glowers in the direction of the homeless. “I suppose they probably are long gone. Dani, we’d better cancel your credit cards, and disable your stolen pho-” He pauses. “Actually, we might be able to track it.”

Celia: “Let’s get back to my place and take a look so we’re not just sitting out here.”

GM: “Okay. Meet you there.”

Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: Celia sends a text to Reggie on the way.

Find a purse by chance?

GM: Yep. Guy who stole it still had it.

Celia: Where are you?

Not that it matters.

Nvm. Can you give to Randy to bring to my place? Will be with you shortly for the rest of it.

GM: K. Bring your thief and snack too?

Celia: No. Stay there. Will meet you soon.

GM: I’m at a disgusting shithole. Can drop off at your spa.

Celia: That works. Stick around though, have a gift for you.

GM: I got one too and it’ll make you scream all night long ;)

Celia: :eggplant: :peach: :sweat-drops: :heart-eyes:

GM: Soon enough, Celia and the Garrison siblings are back at her place.

Dani fills her brother in on what they learned at Edith’s.

“Okay,” he says, “that’s useful to know. I’d heard about duskborn changing their disciplines. I didn’t know that was how they did it.”

“I thought you knew a fair amount of duskborn,” says Dani.

Celia: He does.

He just doesn’t talk to them.

GM: “Fewer since the Cypress Grove Massacre,” he grimaces. “But I’m not sure all of them knew how their disciplines worked.”

Celia: “It confirmed what I thought, though. Anything we know she can learn.”

GM: “And just the fine details of how it works.”

“That information about Kindred blood, for instance.”

Celia: Celia had already assumed that, though. She thought she’d talked to him about it already.

GM: Dani looks between them. “Can you make me stronger?”

For a moment, there’s that look every lick gets in their eye when asked for blood.

Roderick thinks. “If you give me some of yours first, I could give it back, and we could do this every night. Balances out.”

Celia: “She seemed to kind of spontaneously develop it, like I didn’t have to teach her how to charm someone. I think she might be able to just… pick things up.”

“But that’s something we can probably test.”

GM: “All right,” says Dani. She shows her fangs and bites into her wrist.

The blood doesn’t flow immediately.

She has to growl and actively bite deeper. Practically chew.

There’s a flash of pity in Roderick’s eyes when she’s not looking up.

Celia: “I can get a cup,” Celia says, rising, “so you’re not… like… sex…” she trails off awkwardly, both at the words and the way Dani has to bite into herself.

GM: “Cups are better anyways,” says Roderick.

“You shouldn’t drink directly from me.”

“Oh, why not?” asks Dani.

Celia: She should have kept her mouth shut.

Celia rummages through her cabinets for a cup.

She finds an old tube of lipstick and roll-on perfume while she’s looking and wonders how it ended up in the cabinet.

GM: “Because of the bond,” says Roderick, gently tugging away Dani’s wrist to make her stop.

Celia: Celia returns with the cup, casually nodding her head in agreement at Roderick’s words. The look in her eye suggests she already explained this to Dani.

GM: “Sorry?” says Dani.

He glances her way. “Think she’s already covered it.”

Celia: “When I went over the Traditions,” Celia says gently, “the usual punishments, but how they’d be worse for you because of being duskborn, remember?”

“I know I threw a lot at you that night…” She trails off, offering Roderick the cup.

Now would be a perfect time for Randy to show up.

GM: “You did, yeah,” says Dani. “What’s the bond, though?”

Celia: It shouldn’t be a big deal. Something she’d already told Dani. So she acts like it’s not a big deal, keeping her tone casual.

“When you share blood with someone and take it right from the source, it creates the bond. Like them more. That sort of thing. Sometimes elders use it as punishment, and sometimes licks do it with each other in a blood marriage. Like Roderick and I…”

She lifts her eyes to his face.

“Might do that, maybe? A mutual..?”

GM: Her sire’s face stares back at her.

“That’s traditional,” Roderick says. “All the way, to consummate things. But I feel like two steps is already enough. At three… does your love become artificial?”

“Steps?” asks Dani.

Celia: Celia lets the hurt flash across her face. She drops her gaze a beat too slow to hide it, looking away. He can answer his sister’s questions.

GM: “Hey, what is it?” he says, resting his hands on her shoulders.

“We haven’t taken the full plunge.”

Celia: “You don’t want to,” she says to the ground.

GM: “You do? What’s your thinking there?”

Celia: Severing the hold his sire has over him, mostly.

“N-nothing. It was st-stupid.” She wipes at the red threatening to fall from her eyes.

GM: He pulls her in to a hug.

“Hey, hey. It’s okay. Talk to me.”

Celia: For a moment she’s stiff. For a moment, she’s mindful of Dani’s presence in the room. But then she uses it, lifting her eyes to the girl as if to say, “the vision.” Maybe Celia was right to be worried in the car. A second later she buries her face against his chest, whispering half-formed words and sentences about having already lost him twice, he’s the only good thing that has ever happened to her, wanting to love him forever, never being torn apart… it’s like something out of a fairy tale, isn’t it? Eternal love. There’s nothing artificial about it if it’s built on something real.

GM: “Okay,” he says, stroking her hair and back as he holds her. “Okay. There are lots of Kindred who feel the same way as you. It’s a perfectly legitimate point of view. There’s nothing stupid about it. The traditional blood marriage is built off it.”

Celia: “Y-you don’t like me enough to w-want one.”

GM: “What?! Celia, don’t be crazy, I love you!”

Celia: Just not enough to willingly make it permanent.

“Okay,” she says quietly.

It’s a completely inadequate response to what he said, but she doesn’t offer anything more. The two syllables carry the weight of her hurt and rejection. She slides off of him, saying something about finding a cup, and moves into the kitchen. She doesn’t even look at the one she’d already put on the table.

GM: He follows after her. Dani, looking somewhat uncomfortable throughout the lovers’ dispute, stays where she is.

“I have concerns about it,” he says, putting his hands on her shoulders again. “But I want the same thing as you, a loving marriage that lasts for as long as we do. I’m just weighing whether a full bond is the best way to help us achieve that.”

Celia: She doesn’t turn to face him, staying where she is in front of the counter with her palms resting upon it. She can see her reflection in the window: a trail of red tears staining her skin, her lover standing behind her. In the window his face shifts, turning into her sire’s once more. And there, beside him, Roderick’s sire with the golden hair. More shadowy figures pop into place, other people she has been bound to: her adoptive sire’s sneering face. Pietro’s casual amusement. Her grandsire’s genial smile, expression caught mid-laugh. The cowboy’s lips forming the word “lush” as he tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. All of them pulling her in different directions… until she’d taken that leap with her sire. Already in love with him, worried someone would try to yank her away, she took the “punishment” of that third sip.

How many is Roderick bound to? How many licks have collared him? How many of them demand his attention and service? Even if she didn’t want to break the hold his sire has over him she’d still want to come first. Sharing her lover has never sat well with her. Anyone else, maybe. But not him. Not Roderick.

There’s some truth to this display of emotions, then. Some tiny kernel of love behind all the manipulation, buried deep beneath what she feels for her sire but still present.

She takes a breath, wipes at her bleeding eyes, and finally turns to him.

“Can we continue this later? There are things I want to talk to you about, but…” her gaze dips past him to where his sister waits in the other room. “I don’t want to waste your night with her.”

GM: “I can see Dani later,” he says, tilting her chin up in his hands to meet his gaze. His fangs are long in his mouth at the heady scent of her tears, but his eyes are no less concerned. “You’re upset right now.”

Maybe he’d say that anyway.

But his sister isn’t the one he’s twice-collared to.

Granted, neither is Celia.

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“Don’t do that to her.” She lowers her voice, leaning in. “She just found out a lot, she saw them outside Edith’s… don’t do that to her, Roderick, we can talk later. I’ll be okay. I shouldn’t be… I just assumed…”

She trails off. It’s enough to know that he’d blow off his sister if she asked him to.

GM: “You’re positive you want to wait?” he asks, giving her a long look. “Dani’s here. She’s safe. She’s not about to get jumped by more homeless.”

Celia: “It’s… probably a long conversation. Go out with your sister. We’ll have the rest of the night.” Celia touches the tips of her fingers to his cheek. “And the rest of everything.”

GM: “We will,” he smiles. “All right. I love you. Collar or no collar.” He gives her a soft kiss on the lips.

Celia: She doesn’t mean to let it linger, but she does, pulling him against her until her low back hits the counter top.

How much of it is the bond? And how much is him? Would he still love her if he knew everything? Or is it artificial, like he’d said?

She’d loved him without it. And him, the other one, the one she can’t help but compare him to. There wouldn’t even be a conversation with him. Just silent demands, cold lips, the taste of blood.

It’s not fake. It can’t be.

“I love you too,” she says when she finally pulls away.

Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: With Roderick’s hand in hers, Celia leads the way back to the sitting room where they’d left Dani. She gives the girl a look through still slightly-red eyes, silently conveying a reference to their earlier conversation.

“Sorry,” she says to Dani, “I didn’t mean to fall apart in front of you.”

No doubt Dani remembers the words in the car: Celia’s concern about the vision, her brother.

GM: “It’s okay,” says Dani, looking between the pair concernedly. “Things are good now?”

“Yeah,” says Roderick. “Come on. We’ve got a lot to cover tonight.”

Dani looks back at Celia for a moment, as if to ask about that very vision.

“Well, while I’m here, can I ask you two what a blood marriage is?” she says instead.

“It’s a Kindred marriage,” says Roderick. “It’s similar enough the breather version, though brides usually wear black instead of white. Some do red, but that’s more ‘liberal.’”


“Because you’re making death together, not life,” her brother explains. “Endless and eternal death. Guests usually dress for a funeral. The sire gives away the bride rather than the father, and the couple seals the union in blood to show their commitment. In place of a kiss. In fact, more traditional Kindred think a blood marriage without that is like a breather marriage without sex—it hasn’t been consummated.”

“There’s other customs too, like sometimes the sire carrying the bride in a coffin, and the couple feeding on a vessel together. Mortal spouses are usually preferred. There’s more feeding afterwards.”

“That sounds… morbid,” says Dani.

“It can be. It’s usually a Sanctified or Crone priest who blesses the union, too.”

“I don’t really want a vermilion wedding for us, though. I’d rather get married as breathers, with Celia all in white.”

Celia: Celia hesitates long enough that Dani moves on without mentioning the vision. She looks relieved; she doesn’t think that talking about it in front of Dani, or even right now, is going to do either of them any good. Maybe Dani will mention it to her brother during their chat tonight.

“I don’t think it’s all that morbid,” Celia says. “If you’re not killing the vessels it’s kind of like how some breathers do that unity cup thing, only with blood instead of wine. I can’t imagine my sire giving me away, though. Maybe my grandsire.”

Not that Roderick would want him at the wedding.

Celia lifts her shoulders in a shrug. After a moment she sighs. “I kind of want both.”

“I don’t even know who I’d invite, though, and it seems like everyone would be shitty about it because of how young we are. Maybe if we were older. Or uniting a covenant. Or even just more important.”

GM: “There are younger licks who have vermilion weddings. And there are ones I’d want to invite. The problem is none of them can know.”

“I’d obviously love to have Coco.”

“But I’d love to have my dad and friends from my human life too.”

“What, you still don’t want Mom?” asks Dani. “After all I said? She was just as broken up at your funeral.”

Roderick effects a sigh. “It’s moot. They both think I’m dead either way.”

Celia: She hates to agree with him, but it’s true. Celia gives his hand a squeeze.

“We can talk about it further. It’s not like we’re getting married tomorrow or anything.”

GM: “True enough,” her lover agrees. “Anyway. We should get going.” He gives her another kiss. “Love you.”

Celia: She thought Randy would be here by now with the bag, but she supposes she can give it to her later.

“Love you too. I’ll see you later tonight. Have fun together.”

A final kiss sees them out.

So long as I come first.

Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: A second after they leave she digs her phone out of her bag to call the missing ghoul.

GM: He is on his way with his brother. A snack and the thief is too much for one person to physically carry.

Jade has a moderate wait before they’re there, along with two unclean (and unclean-smelling) homeless men. One has a stake rammed through his heart. The other is handcuffed and makes terrified sounds past a cloth gag.

Randy comes back with the purse after another trip.

“This asshole was a giant pain in the ass the entire time,” says Reggie, giving him a hard shove to the ground. He hits his face and makes a sound of pain. “Wish we’d had a sedative.”

“Illegal for cops to use on people, but we aren’t fucking cops.”

Granted, drinking a sedated man’s blood would sedate Jade too.

Celia: Not if she lets it wear off. She’ll get them something, in any case.

“I thought we were meeting at the spa,” she says idly, looking at the struggling man on the ground.

GM: Reggie shrugs.

The gagged man makes noises that sound like pleading.

Celia: “Messier here,” she says with a forced sigh.

There’s no wet room in her haven like there is at the spa, despite what rumors claim.

GM: “Well, you aren’t gonna kill him, babe?” says Randy.

“You’re such an idiot around her,” says Reggie.

Celia: “He stole from me,” Jade says to the pair, “and this one bit me. Besides, think of how much I’ll have to share when I do.”

She looks up, catching sight of his face. The expectation that she’s not that bad. She hesitates a moment, then finally does what she does best: she lies.

“Just a hit,” she sighs, “for me, for you two. But there’s people coming by later and I don’t want to risk spilling.” A gesture toward the light carpet, the cream colored couch.

GM: The words ‘share’ and ‘hit’ gets both ghouls’ immediate attention.

“Okay,” Randy says, seemingly relieved. “Could use the bathroom.”

“Or just haul these idiots to the spa,” says Reggie.

The gagged man makes more noises.

Celia: “The spa is easier,” Jade says with a nod. She does so appreciate Reggie’s quick uptake and pragmatism. “I need a space for him, anyway.” A vague nod of her chin to the thin-blood.

“So, whose car?” She smiles at her boys.

GM: They take the two brothers’ cars to Flawless. At this hour, the spa is silent and still. They enter Jade’s suite. Reggie dumps the handcuffed man onto the ground in an unceremonious heap. Randy hauls the staked thin-blood onto the marble slab of a table.

Celia: Jade is content to leave the thin-blood alone for a moment. His staked form probably isn’t going anywhere.

“Is he going to say anything interesting if I ungag him?” she asks the brothers about the other.

GM: “Doubt it,” says Reggie.

“Some people don’t have shit to say.”

That’s Veronica says about Micheal.

There’s nothing worth listening to out of that mouth. So he doesn’t get to use it.

Celia: Veronica is right, too.

GM: “I think you’ve got lots to say, babe,” Randy adds supportively.

“So smooth,” snorts Reggie.

Celia: Well that’s nice of him. Celia gives him a smile.

GM: He smiles widely back.

The homeless man moans and pulls against the cuffs.

Celia: “Why don’t you wait outside a sec, Randy, so I can get what I need and then share.”

GM: “Okay,” he smiles, stepping out.

Reggie immediately shoves her against the wall, his breath coming hot and heavy as he grabs her head and hungrily explores her mouth with his tongue. He drops his hands after a moment, squeezing her ass with one while his other slides down her pants.

“Yeah, I got what you need…”

Celia: Well this certainly isn’t what she’d meant, but she’s hardly going to complain. She tugs him, pulling him with her until her back hits the wall, shimmying out of her pants the moment his hands drop. Hers find the buttons on his jeans, yanking them down just far enough to expose the part that she wants.

GM: He fills her eagerly. “Wrap your legs around me,” he murmurs, hefting her into the air. The strong ghoul isn’t so strong as Roderick, but the Blood’s gifts together with Jade’s light weight (courtesy of her removed organs) make the stand and carry position easy to pull off. Reggie pants as he thrusts into her and carries her across the room. He stomps down hard on the homeless man, eliciting a chorus of pained muffled sounds as the man tries to crawl away.

Celia: Jade’s thighs spread around him when he asks, feet leaving the floor. He keeps her aloft, filling her with his stiff cock as soon as she’s airborne, her own noises joining those of the homeless man. She digs her fingers into his shoulder, then the back of his head, pulling his lips against hers; a second later she cuts through her own tongue with her fangs. A second nip cuts into him. She drinks from him and he from her, blood mingling on their tongues while they fuck.

GM: The taste of his domitor’s blood only further inflames Reggie. He stomps down hard enough on the homeless man’s hand that Jade hears a nasty crunch. The man’s scream is audible past his gag. Reggie pants like a bull in heat as he carries Jade over to the table, throws off the staked thin-blood, and takes her over it. The marble is cool, but his body is warm as his balls slap against her thighs. The Toreador’s juices run down the table’s drainage, and then finally the ghoul’s seed after he blows his load and it seeps out of her.

“God, that cuck’s in the next room…” he pants.

Celia: That makes it even hotter, doesn’t it? So does the man’s screams behind the gag. When Jade cums she cums hard, burying her face into the hollow of his neck as everything hits her.

“You’re going to be the best lick,” she murmurs against his skin once it’s over, “but I am really going to miss fucking you.”

GM: “We can still feed,” he says, idly tracing a finger across her breasts.

“That bedwarmer you got me is working out pretty well. We should fuck with her around.”

Celia: “It’s not the same,” she sighs, running her fingers through his short hair. “So much better when you do both at the same time.”

“With her watching?”

“Or part of it?”

GM: “Part of it. I can do your ass and she can eat you out.”

Celia: That sounds like a winning combination.

“We will, then.”

“You like her?”

GM: “She cried and yelled a lot the first few times, but she doesn’t really do that anymore.”

Celia: “Cried like… telling you to stop?”

GM: Reggie shrugs.

“Think she just needed a dick inside to stop crying over Evan.”

Celia: “You want her? Once we get you Embraced?”

“Already broken in.”

GM: “She isn’t you, but yeah, why not.”

Celia: “I can’t be your ghoul,” Jade says with some amusement.

GM: “Duh. Meant in bed.”

Celia: “If your dick doesn’t work anymore you won’t want her like that, either.”

“But she’s still a useful servant.”

GM: “You said feeding’s just as good. Can still do that to her.”

Celia: “Mm.” Jade presses a kiss against his cheek. “Maybe you’ll keep it.”

GM: “More’s always better.”

“Dropped some hints around my mom. Think she’d be up for a three-way. Just set me up with you and yours.”

“Also, if you can have your kid in the next room, I’ll make it even better.”

“Could invite Randy over to babysit her while we fuck…”

Jade can see his cock growing stiff again.

Celia: It’s enough for her, too. Minus the thoughts about her mom.

But she flips the pair of them so that she’s on top, leaning down to whisper in his ear.

“I’m going to drain him,” she says of the homeless guy, “and I want you to fuck me while I do.”

GM: “Let’s hose him down first. He smells.”

Celia: Jade makes a vague gesture toward the hose. It’s usually to spray the place down, but it’ll work for this.

“Have at it.”

She busies herself stripping.

GM: The man is trying to escape past the door, but cannot get far with his hands cuffed behind his back. He makes more pleading noises as Reggie grabs him by the ear, adding, “Mom still likes to do this,” and hauls back for a good hosing down under cold water. Reggie tears off the man’s wet clothes after that. Ribs show on his scar-ridden body.

Celia: Jade finds a container to bleed into. No need to let it go to waste.

“You shouldn’t have stolen from me,” Jade says to the wet, naked man. She strides toward him, heels clicking. They’re the only thing she still wears. Fangs flash in her mouth as she approaches.

“Make me cum right when he dies, Reggie.”

GM: Her lover does his best.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Thirteen, Jean-Marc Prelude
Next, by Narrative: Story Thirteen, Celia XIII

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Next, by Character: Story Thirteen, Celia XIII

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,” 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

“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

“’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.

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,”


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.


“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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


Mailing address.


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.”


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.”


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.

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.

“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.


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.


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—


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.


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?”

“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.


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,


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,


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,


Celia: “Stole?”

“She stole Lucy from you, you mean?”

GM: In capital letters,


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,


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.”


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



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.


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.

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.

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?

Previous, by Narrative: Story Thirteen, Celia X
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Next, by Character: Story Thirteen, Celia XII

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.

“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.

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.”


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.


“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.

“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—


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.

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.


“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.


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.


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




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…


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.


“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?

Previous, by Narrative: Story Thirteen, Genevieve V, Sterling V
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Story Thirteen, Genevieve V, Sterling V

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.


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.


“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.


“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.


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.


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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