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Blood and Bourbon

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Story Thirteen, Celia V

“You’ve got a future to remember. I can tell already.”
Yellow Sidra


Monday night, 14 March 2016, PM

GM: There’s a knock against Celia’s office door after she’s finished with her mother.

“You free, Celia?” comes Louise’s voice.

Celia: Celia takes a moment to check that there’s no blood on her shirt or face before she calls out for Louise to come in.

“Hey, Louise. What’s up?”

Casual, as if she hadn’t just spanked her mother.

GM: Or been spanked back by her mother to exorcise her increasingly split personality from their relationship.

Celia: She doesn’t have a split personality.

She is perfectly in control.

Right?

It’s just a mask.

GM: The first thing people notice about Louise is her hair. It’s big, it’s poofy, it’s curly. It’s piled on top of her head in a messy up-do with stray tendrils shooting out this way and that, some of them framing her face and some bouncing with every step that she takes. They’re wild curls, untamed by heat or spray or wax; they’re not the kind of curls that are ashamed of what they are, and she’s not the kind of woman that seems ashamed of them. Brown eyes peer out from underneath thick brows with a high arch, expertly applied pomade filling them in further with tiny little hair-strokes that are impossible to distinguish from the real thing. Winged linger, gold shadow, three coats of mascara, taupe in the waterline: it all serves to make her eyes look that much bigger. She’s got a wide mouth made for smiling and laughing, and her lips are lined the same color as the stain she wears across them, with a tiny little beauty mark over one side and a gold hoop in her nose. It’s the only ”non-professional” piece that she allows herself, and the rest of her is so dressed down that most people don’t even seem to notice it. She’s a looker for sure, with dewy skin, highlight and contour perfectly blended out, and a body that speaks of care and discipline. A gold necklace rests at her throat, a golden cuff on her left wrist, nails polished in a hue that’s somewhere between orange and tan. Professional colors for a professional woman, like the black slacks and black blouse she has on.

louise2.png
“Alana said it was your idea to have me manage the spa for the day,” smiles Louise as she steps in. “I just wanted to thank you for the chance.”

Celia: Alana strikes again. Another mark in her favor, Celia can’t help but think. She accepts the words of gratitude with a smile.

“I see how hard you work at everything, and I know you’re eager to take on more responsibility. I’m happy to give you the opportunity, Louise. How did it go?”

GM: “Pretty well. We had a busy day. Alana phoned me yesterday evening about it, so I got the call from the alarm company at 4 AM when they said the window sensor alarm got triggered.”

Celia: “The alarm triggered?” Why is this the first she’s hearing about it?

GM: “It turned out to be nothing.”

Celia: “Huh. Wind, maybe.”

She’ll check the tapes.

It’s not nothing.

It’s never nothing.

GM: “The police came by but didn’t find anything. They think it might have just been that or a faulty motion sensor.”

Celia: “Good to know. I’ll have to get that looked at; I doubt you appreciate being woken up at 4 AM for nothing.”

“So that was this morning?”

GM: “Yes. But it let me show you I was serious about managing, so I didn’t completely mind,” Louise smiles.

Celia: Who would it have been? Monday at 4 AM is after Elysium, which is after Elyse had agreed to meet with her to hear her out. Would she have sent someone anyway? Celia doesn’t think so, but maybe the Malkavian was still mad.

Hunters again? Why would they come during the night?

Roderick’s Churchmice? Again, though, why during the night? They’d been busy with Dani at that point, hadn’t they? But it’s the only spot that Jade is publicly affiliated with, so he might have sent them here to begin their search. He obviously knows that she’s not keeping Dani at her other haven. But he’d gone to meet her.

It doesn’t add up.

The rats, maybe? They certainly wouldn’t show up on a camera.

The mysterious enemy Roderick had hinted at that hate her because of Jade’s sire? Christ. That’s a headache.

Celia almost blanches at the thought of what someone might have overheard in her office.

“It did,” Celia agrees. “You can let me know about that sort of thing, even if it is a false alarm. Just send a text if it happens again; I’ll get it looked at and I don’t want to bother the police any more than I need to.”

She’ll have to sweep for bugs.

“One day it might not be a false alarm and then it’ll be like the boy who cried wolf.”

GM: Louise nods. “I’ll do that next time.”

“I did need to bribe the cops. They were annoyed about the false alarm and ‘hinted’ they’d make trouble for the girls if we didn’t pay them off.”

Celia: Celia openly scowls.

GM: It’s not the first time Celia’s heard of something like this happening. NOPD are thugs with badges.

Celia: Assholes.

“Did you get names or badge numbers?”

“Tell me how much and I’ll put it in your next check.”

GM: Louise rattles off numbers for both.

“It’s been a while since they last shook us down, so they might have been looking for an excuse.”

Celia: Maybe it’s time she shake some of them down.

“Maybe. Opportunity presented itself.”

GM: “Assholes, anyway. One of them kept saying ‘just a buncha girls here’ with this ugly leer.”

Celia: “Yeah? Which name was his? Maybe I’ll see if reporting him does anything.”

GM: Louise lists his badge number. “Doubt it, though.”

Celia: “Never know.”

GM: “Things were pretty calm after that, anyway. I figured I might as well start the day now that I was here. Mostly spent time on accounting reports and supply orders.”

Celia: “Long day,” Celia whistles. “I’m glad we found each other, if that’s what I can expect.”

GM: “Oh, there were fun moments too. ‘Anoushka’ said she got a Russian client who believed her accent was for real.”

“Emily also worked a later shift. People were happy to see her, it’d been a while since she was around.”

Celia: “Ha. Anoushka mentioned she’s learning Russian to really fool people. One of those phone apps, I guess it’s going well if she managed to fool someone. And yeah, it’s been great to have Emily open her schedule again. I know she’s been busy with school. Going to be sad when she’s gone.”

“Might have to put out a hiring ad for a new MT.”

GM: “Mary most of all. They talk a lot. Alana said something about you wanting to keep Emily on in some capacity?”

Celia: “If she has time after she graduates, yes. If not then it’s definitely understandable. She’ll be doing rotations. I think they pull something like 12 hour shifts on the regular. Wouldn’t blame her if she dipped.”

Celia gives that a sad smile.

“We knew it was temporary.”

GM: Louise returns it with a warmer one. “I know she appreciated it. Med school is hard. She got to work a good job with an understanding boss.”

“I know she didn’t want to feel like she was freeloading off your mom while she was going to school.”

Celia: “She brought us Mary so I suppose I can’t complain too much. Wouldn’t have that contract with the Saints without her.” Celia winks at Louise.

“But yeah, it’s been great to have her on. I’m excited for her to do what she’s wanted this whole time, though.”

GM: “Exactly. Some of the Saints can be assholes, but at least they pay us for it.”

“We actually had one of their wives today. She’d organized a bridal party ‘spa day.’”

Celia: More than can be said for the Saudi prince.

“Oh? That sounds like a lot of fun. Go well?”

GM: “In the end, yes. She was a total bridezilla and asked Natalie to speak to the manager over some scheduling issues.”

“But we finally ironed things out and reached a date she and her mom were happy with.”

Celia: “It’s always the moms,” Celia says with a heavy sigh and roll of her eyes. “You think it’s the brides, but half the time it’s the moms that drive them crazy.”

“Glad you were able to handle it, though.”

GM: “Yes, the mom was the one who asked to speak to the manager after telling Natalie how incompetent she was. She took it a little hard and cried in the bathroom. Piper cheered her up.”

Celia: Celia scowls again.

“I’ll have to talk to her and let her know she’s not. She’s been great.”

GM: “She also wasn’t incompetent, I didn’t do anything with them that she couldn’t have done.”

Celia: “I don’t know why people think asking for the manager is like asking for a genie. Like you can somehow click buttons better than a receptionist.”

GM: “I think it just makes them feel important.”

“But getting to say those magic words calmed her down a little, I guess.”

Celia: “Apparently. I hope you didn’t bend over backwards for them.”

GM: “Oh, I didn’t reschedule any of our other clients like they were asking us to. I mostly made noise about the available day being when our ‘best people’ would be available.”

Celia: “Perfect. You’re a natural.”

GM: “A.k.a., our same people, but they can be our best ones too.”

Celia: “We had a woman here before you started, Georgina. She was about to go into labor and one of her very needy clients was pissed about it. Asked if she could come in to do her lashes and that no one else could touch her. Literally in the hospital, having contractions, and this woman wanted her to stop what she was doing to work on her.”

“Alana told her she was at Tulane Medical if she wanted to pop by and lay on top of her while she pushed out her child.”

GM: “Wow. They really just see us as robots sometimes.”

Celia: “Sometimes, yeah. And sometimes they’re great.”

GM: “They are. I miss being able to work on them and gossip.”

Celia: “Being behind the desk isn’t the same. I can see if there are any strings to pull about it, if you’d like. Been a few years, hasn’t it?”

GM: Louise nods. “Managing has been a fun change of pace. I’m really happy to be here instead of Pangloss, don’t get me wrong! But if you could, I’d love to still take the occasional client like you and Alana do.”

Celia: “I’m sure I can figure something out. Even if it’s shaking down that guy’s wife.” Celia wiggles her brows.

GM: “I bet you’d have her on her knees in an instant,” smirks Louise. “I’ve seen you and Alana talk down angry clients like they’re little kids.”

Alana doesn’t use the Blood’s powers on every client. Just unreasonable ones.

Celia: “Just have to know what buttons to push.”

Celia is always amused by Alana’s stories about unreasonable clients. They don’t happen frequently in this industry—most people are happy to come in for service—but when they do they’re memorable.

GM: They mostly all end with Alana mindfucking them.

Celia: It’s convenient.

GM: “And let’s see, apart from that… did some supply orders, more accounting work. Landen was sick today, so Sandra did Lucy’s nails.”

Celia: “Uh oh,” Celia drawls, “I hope she won’t report it to the manager that her usual tech wasn’t in.”

GM: “I sure hope not, she is the boss’ daughter. Celia ain’t happy unless Lucy is.”

Celia: “That Celia is a real hardass, maybe she sent those cops.”

GM: “To shake down her own business, at that. She doesn’t screw around.”

Celia: “It’s a racket, I tell you.”

GM: “I think Landen is Lucy’s favorite tech, anyway, but she was still happy with Sandra.”

Celia: “I’m glad. I saw the result and they looked fab. Gonna have to paint mine the same.”

Celia smiles for a moment, then dismisses the frivolity with a shake of her head.

“In more serious news, there may be further opportunity for you if you’re interested. I’m working on a new project and it might eat up a lot of Alana’s time in the next few months. Does that sound like something you’d be into?”

GM: “Like white on rice,” smiles Louise. “I’d be covering more management shifts for her?”

Celia: “Yes, to start.”

GM: “I’d love to. When would I start?”

Celia: “Within the next few weeks. Things are still getting off the ground on this end, but I’ll give you a firmer date soon.”

GM: “I’ll plan for it. And thanks, Celia. I know I’ve said it a million times, but I’m really so glad to still get to work in the industry without a license.”

Celia: “I’m happy to have you, Louise.”

GM: “Good luck with the project. I’m sure it’s something big if you’re putting Alana on it.”

Celia: “Thank you. I think it’s going to be a big opportunity for us. I’m excited to see where it leads.”


Monday night, 14 March 2016, PM

Celia: If Louise has nothing else for her, Celia wishes her a good evening and pulls up the security camera footage on her computer. She doesn’t expect to find anything—she knows how shadow dancing works—but it’s worth a shot, at least.

GM: Louise adds that Piper and Landen, to whom she’s passed off a fair amount of social media curation, want to take some photos and record more videos with her semi-soon.

Celia: She schedules a time to do so, then sends a text to Randy:

omg are you nearby the spa there is a giant spider in my office pls come squish it

GM: IM COMInG BABE!!!!!!! comes the immediate reply.

Celia: Her hero. She sends him a heart-eyed emoji.

GM: She’s still looking through tapes when Randy bursts into her office. He’s sweating and panting heavily, as though he ran as hard as he could.

“Where’s the spider!?” he exclaims, looking wildly around.

Celia: “Over here,” Celia points, gesturing him closer with a finger pressed against her lips in the universal sound for silence. She’s written a note on her desk, just in case he didn’t understand: office / spa might be bugged, break in this morning at 4, can you check for them?

GM: Randy looks around, then picks up a pen and writes back on the note:

ok but is there a spider?? I’ll get it for you!

Celia: not this time, but you’re a hero

He knows she doesn’t like spiders.

They’re ugly.

She doesn’t like ugly things.

Even if she does wonder if she can put that many legs and arms on a person.

And even though she’s a vampire and can kill them herself it makes him feel needed, so she lets him kill them for her when she finds them.

GM: Randy looks a little crestfallen, but writes he’ll go check. He starts sweeping the room.

A text pops up from Dani.

hey I forgot all about this, but what’s the situation w/ school?

and the stuff at my apt?

Celia: Celia pulls her eyes away from the computer to respond to Dani.

Meet w/ my friend tonight to help w/ school. Will get your stuff.

GM: thanks Celia you’re the best :)

Celia: She thinks she can squeeze Dani in after Rod, or after the meeting with Elyse if it doesn’t take too long.

GM: After pulling away from the tapes to help Randy, the pair find an electronic listening device hidden behind the framed Best Esthi—Celia Flores, 2014 award.

Celia: Oh, good. Well now someone knows everything.

Rusty will probably know how to trace it back to wherever it’s going.

Celia hands it off to Randy to make sure his brother gets it. Written, of course. Why let them know she’s onto them.

She returns to the footage.

GM: Sure thing, babe, Randy writes back.

Upon returning to the tapes, and after a little more searching, Celia snags an image of the thin-blood she spoke to at Jackson Square.

Celia: Why the fuck.

Celia bites back her irritation. She points it out on the tape to Randy, lifting her brows at him.

Pick up tonight?

She will make the time, if he and Reggie can’t find the damn thing on their own.

Find it and gut it, maybe.

No one will miss a thin-blood.


Monday night, 14 March 2016, PM

GM: It’s close to 9 by the time Jade arrives in Jackson Square. At this hour, many of the daytime tourists, artists, and performers are gone, but there are still some. The ghost tours only begin after dark. Jade catches a large group of tourists listening to a guide dressed in an anachronistic top hat and tailed suit regaling them with lurid stories about the Quarter’s “romeo catchers”—spikes on those beautiful wrought-iron fences meant to deter young men from visiting young women’s bedrooms.

More than one romeo, driven from a girl’s window by her furious father, has been impaled on those hungry spikes. Some of their spirits may yet linger, pining for their unrequited loves.

Jade finds Sidra little ways off from Saint Louis, seated by a table advertising her services. She’s dressed tonight in a long, flowing skirt with lots of beads and bangles, though her ghouled monkey is still perched on her shoulder. The tiny simian makes a faint mewing sound as she finishes reading a tourist’s palm and sends off the bemused-looking man.

Celia: Jade makes one stop on her way to Jackson Square. The Evergreen is on the way, and the blood samples she’d taken from Roderick and Dani are needed before tonight’s meeting. She drops them off to Mel or Fabian, whoever she finds first, to give to the warden and continues on with her evening.

At Jackson Square it doesn’t take long to find Sidra, and this time there’s no need for the thin-blood to play intermediary. She keeps an eye out for him/her/them anyway; why bother the boys with searching for the thing if she can round it up herself? She even has a built-in excuse if she catches it: fulfilling her promise of paying it for the information it had given her.

As soon as Sidra’s chair clears, however, Jade slides right in and smiles at the fortune teller.

“Good evening.”

GM: Jade does not see the thin-blood. Or any thin-bloods around the Square, for that matter.

This is still a nice area.

“Evening,” the dusky-skinned vampire smiles back.

“Here for a reading?”

Celia: “Of a sort,” Jade replies. “Someone else’s, if you have a moment to spare from your clients.”

GM: “I’ll take anyone who wants their fortune told.”

“I can do tarot readings as well as palmistry, and a few other methods.”

Celia: Does that mean Jade needs to get her fortune told? She can’t say she’s thrilled by the prospect. But “anyone” means thin-bloods too, doesn’t it? Perhaps Dani is in luck.

“Anything with porcelain or ceramic?”

GM: “Well, no palm readings for them. I need a living or once-living hand.”

“But maybe the tarot.”

Celia: Jade asks about the price of such a service.

GM: A bag’s worth of vitae and $300, two bags, or $600—“If you want the real deal and not just the cold readings I give breathers.”

She looks at Jade thoughtfully.

“You’ve got a future to remember. I can tell already.”

Celia: She’s pleased by the thought of that. Perhaps she will let Sidra read her cards.

“What of our lesser-blooded cousins? Will you read for one?”

GM: Sidra makes a slight face. “I won’t take their blood, but I’ll take their money. Or someone else’s blood.”

The monkey makes a noise.

Celia: Jade follows the grimace with an understanding look, one that speaks to distasteful necessity and long-suffering patience for the lesser-blooded in question.

“I will send it by another night, then.” She pulls a freshly cleaned and washed Lucy from her bag and sets the doll on the table. “Can you speak with her?”

GM: Sidra tilts her head at the doll, then seems to roll with it and takes Lucy’s porcelain hand in hers.

“Hm. Strange,” she says after a moment.

“She’s a special doll, isn’t she?”

Celia: “She is,” Jade agrees. “I think she has something to say to me, but she was… injured recently and can’t speak.”

GM: The monkey hops off Sidra’s shoulder and approaches the doll, staring at it with wide simian eyes.

“So, I deal with ’later’s more than ’now’s,” Sidra says thoughtfully. “I think Lucy would respond best to sphereomancy. If you’d like, I can try to find out what she’s going to say, but she’ll need to actually say it in the future for my vision to come true. So I’d only be telling you something you’ll find out anyway.”

Celia: Jade doesn’t recall telling Sidra the doll’s name. Had Lucy done it herself?

“What she’s going to say as in what she would say if she hadn’t hurt herself earlier?”

GM: Sidra shakes her head. “I deal in certainties, and possibilities, but not what-ifs.”

Celia: “I think that should be okay, then.”

GM: “Okay. Same price.”

Celia: Jade nods. She’d expected as much. She checks her wallet to make sure there’s enough inside for two readings; if not, she’ll need to visit an ATM.

There’s plenty. Enough for her own reading, if she wants to have her future told as well.

She pulls the bills free and hands the first $600 to Sidra.

GM: Sidra picks up her crystal ball with both hands.

She cups it carefully in her hands and begins to rotate it slowly from right to left. Her motions are gentle, as though she’s rocking a small baby.

She gazes deeply into the ball. Celia doesn’t see anything except crystal, but Sidra’s features turn placid, still, and far away.

“I see… a dark place. Cold. Hard. Stone.”

“There’s a woman. In manacles. Chains. She sleeps on the ground. She’s filthy. Naked. Like an animal.”

“The door to her cell slams open. A man comes in. Tall. Dark. His face. Etched with hate. Contempt.”

“‘This is all you’re good for, you filthy slut,’ he says as he rapes her.”

“She tries to speak. He rips out her tongue. He takes her savagely, viciously, relishing her mangled cries.”

“There’s blood on his hands. There’s so much blood. He is a brutal tyrant, dressed all in black. He is a judge of life and death. He knows best. He knows what’s best for everyone.”

“His face is hard and cold. It has not smiled in a very long time. There are always more important matters, matters to which only his enlightened mind is fit to attend. He carves out his moments of pleasure where he can…”

“‘This is all you’re good for, you stupid, lying slut,’ he repeats when he’s finished, and he spits in your face. You cry out to him as he leaves, but without your tongue you cannot say his name. You can only lisp:”

“Stephen…”

“The slam of the iron door is your only answer.”

Sidra looks up from her crystal ball.

“I’m sorry,” she says slowly, “didn’t you want Lucy’s first?”

Celia: Silence greets her question.

That isn’t right.

That’s not who she thought it was.

That isn’t how it’s supposed to go.

That isn’t how it’s supposed to be.

He’s not like that. He’s not. He’s good. He’s a good person, a kind person, he would never…

Wouldn’t he, though? Hasn’t he shown what he’s capable of? Hasn’t he hurt her before? Hasn’t he confessed that he’d almost killed his family, destroyed their house, had to have his sire fix their thoughts?

He said he’d protect her.

He’d killed for her.

Is this why?

Is this what starts him down that spiraling path, because he’d killed for her? Protected her? Because she’s lying to him about who she is, what she is, how she is? Because she’s trying so hard to keep the darkness inside of herself so it doesn’t spill over to him, too?

Because she thinks she’s clever enough to keep him dangling on the end of a string?

Her lips move soundlessly, eyes in a far distant place.

It can’t be real.

It can’t be.

I deal in certainties.

“How long,” she rasps out, “how long before that comes to pass?”

GM: “I don’t know,” Sidra answers calmly. “Maybe weeks. Months. Years. Decades. Maybe never.”

“Sphereomancy gives visions. Some visions come to pass. Some don’t.”

Celia: “Why… why that vision?”

GM: “There was something significant to it. Probably. Maybe it’s about an important figure in your life. Maybe you or someone else will soon cause events that lead to it. Maybe it will shape your destiny in a major way. Maybe it’s relevant to something else you’ve just done or soon will do.”

Celia: She doesn’t know what to say to that.

It’s not possible. There’s no possible way that she does anything that leads to him becoming like… like that.

Except there is, isn’t there?

And she’s already put it into motion.

“And hers?” Jade asks, pushing the doll forward as if that will wipe away the events of the past few moments, as if she can run from the pain of the vision, escape the dark thoughts that threaten to drag her under.

She did that. Does that. Will do that.

She ruins him.

GM: Sidra picks up the ball again, slowly rotates it, and stares into its depths. Her face resumes its placid expression.

Unlike during the previous vision, she doesn’t say anything for a few moments. Her face is clear when she looks back up at Jade.

“All right, that was weird.”

Celia: Weirder than getting visions in the first place?

“What happened?”

GM: “I saw a lot of different things. It felt fragmentary. Maybe contradictory. I don’t know if all of what I saw can come true.”

“She was with a young black-haired woman, for a little, then that dissolved.”

“She was in a library, full of whispers. You can’t hear past them all, hear the one voice that is waiting…”

“She’s trembling. The Giovannini know how to make her talk, how to make her spill everything. All your questions are answered… but she will hurt… you will not like all the answers…”

“She’s with a blonde woman. Hugging her… but there’s two of them…”

“A black man, old and fat, slinging back a drink. He says they couldn’t bullshit an old bullshitter…”

“There’s lights… bright lights… people laughing, drinking, yelling… but stare too long, you’ll see them burning… burning…. screaming… he’s here, the one who knows the truth… a flash of silver…”

Sidra shakes her head.

“Lucy wasn’t even in some of those.”

Celia: Jade absorbs the information quietly, wondering at the images. Black-haired woman. Who? Isabel? But she’d been blonde and had only gone dark with her Embrace. As they all do. Diana hadn’t known about her, doesn’t know about her. Had she met Lucy?

But she’s dead. And this is the future, isn’t it?

The library… her other visit, if this doesn’t pan out.

But not the Giovannini. She doesn’t know what questions she has that that they could possibly answer. Don’t they deal with the dead, with ghosts?

Something like dread curls in her gut.

It’s not what she was looking for, she’s certain of it. She’d thought there would be a message, something straightforward, and instead she’s… she’s not sure what she has received. What role does Ron—it has to be Ron, doesn’t it?—play in any of this? And who is silver? Bullets? That’s just an old superstition, isn’t it? Who burns?

Who burns?

“How could she not be in what you saw if you looked into her future?”

GM: “The Sight leads where it wills,” Sidra answers. “Maybe the parts without her are still tied to her future.”

“But the whole thing felt… strange.”

Celia: “How so?”

GM: “Claustrophobic. Like I was being squeezed. Crushed.”

“I kept seeing the blonde woman, out of the corner of my eye.”

Celia: “Like Lucy, but alive?”

GM: “Yes. They had similar hair. But I don’t know if she was alive. Sometimes she seemed like she was. But I think she was dead, too. Or maybe she wasn’t. I was never sure. It hurt when I tried to see more clearly.”

“I think she was the same woman hugging Lucy, anyway.”

Celia: “Dead like us, or actually dead?”

GM: “Actually dead. But her body was screaming.”

Celia: Jade purses her lips.

Is this her fault, too?

Of course it is.

“Thank you,” she says to Sidra, because she doesn’t know what else there is to say about it.

Then, “Do you know of anyone who can speak with dolls besides the one who creates them?”

GM: “The things I saw in her future were the library, the Giovannini, and the blonde woman. Maybe one of them.”

“Beyond that, no idea.”

Celia: She can try the library first, she thinks, rather than force Diana into speaking with the doll. She’s afraid of the doll and not yet ready to be pushed that far. And the Giovannini… she thinks she knows one that might be able to help, if the librarian cannot.

Last resort, though. She doesn’t mind the clan, but the idea that they’ll hurt Lucy (or Diana?) to get answers does not sit well with her.

Some truths aren’t worth the pain.

“Wait.”

“You said those were future. The others… past?”

GM: Sidra shakes her head. “My Sight sees what will come. Or can come.”

Celia: “Perhaps I misunderstood, then. The black-haired woman and the black man and the burning are what, if not future?”

GM: “Yes. Future.”

Celia: “Ah.”

“You’ve already given me much to think about, but perhaps there is one more thing you can assist with.”

GM: “Sure. Tante Lescaut also gives genuine readings if you want to see more of your or Lucy’s futures.”

Celia: Jade will remember the name.

Originally, she hadn’t intended to ask Sidra about Lucy. Perhaps being distracted by Josua the other night had been a boon in and of itself; easy enough to find her again, and tonight at least she can kill multiple birds with the same stone.

Jade lets the silence linger for long moments while she considers her next request. Three fortunes she asked for this evening; $1800 or six bags of vitae, and whatever way she slices it that is more than she can pay at this time. Her resources have been stretched thin by the recent addition to her stable of ghouls, and her ordinarily tightly controlled finances have taken a hit with the need to provide round the clock security to her haven while she settles the score with Elyse.

Fortunate, then, that she has a score to settle here as well, and that Sidra had once turned to her to rescue Tyrell when he’d been picked up by the Snake Hunters for the crime of residing within the confines of the French Quarter.

As if everyone who lives here is a secret Setite posing as something else.

He’d been a wreck when she pulled him from the holding cell in Harrison’s haven, a night or two away from surely being put down. But she’d gotten in and gotten him out. She’d done it. For him, and for the lick who sits before her peddling her tarot cards and crystal balls.

It’s time to call it in.

“A few months ago another Toreador came to see you. Mr. Bourelle. I will consider our past business settled and the scales balanced should you disclose the details of that interaction.”

GM: “All right,” says Sidra. “He came to me asking for a palm reading. He seemed pretty shaken. We didn’t do it in Jackson Square, this deep in Savoy’s turf.”

“The lines on his palm were dark. Really dark. Literally, which means they’re danger points for sudden or accidental deaths.”

The chimp on Sidra’s shoulder screeches and scampers to her other shoulder.

“I could tell he wasn’t killed by another lick, though. And that a powerful force might or might not avenge his death. He broke off the reading at that point and ran off.”

The chimp gives a tiny hoot. Sidra scratches its head.

“Like I said to the last lick who asked me about Bourelle—and he’s been missing for months, too? You don’t need my gifts to know he’s ash.”

Celia: “No,” Jade says slowly, “I know he’s ash. Or at least assumed. I wanted to know who ashed him.”

GM: “All I can tell you there is that it wasn’t a lick. Maybe hunters. I’ve heard there’s been an uptick in encounters.”

“That wasn’t the only time he came to me for a reading, though,” Sidra says shrewdly. “I can tell you the details of his previous one. Same price as a reading for you.”

Celia: He wasn’t killed by Meadows, then.

Her rumor isn’t even a lie, is it? Part of it, at least.

“Yes,” Jade agrees.

GM: Sidra holds out her hand.

Celia: Jade pulls a leather wristlet from her purse and extracts the agreed upon amount, handing it over to Sidra.

GM: The money disappears somewhere among the fortune-teller’s scarves.

“He asked if Roxanne would ever love him the same again.”

Celia: For $600 and a debt, Jade expects more than that.

She waits.

GM: “I did a tarot reading for that, as it was a question about someone else. They said yes and no, but mostly no. She’d never love him the same way again.”

“But she’d always care about him. She’d get obsessed with him. And it would undo her. She’d lose everything by caring about him. Her heart was divided, and that’s what would tear them apart, and doom them both.”

“I didn’t tell him he was doomed, though. He only paid to know about Roxanne. There was a mountain between them they’d never overcome.”

“I’ll also throw in, as lagniappe, since you’re one of Savoy’s. There was a blonde Ventrue, the new one, who also asked me about Evan. She paid me to hear about the first reading. She didn’t take me up on the second.”

The monkey gives another tiny hoot.

Celia: Caroline.

Why wouldn’t Caroline have gotten here first?

Why would Celia do anything on her own without the bitch in her way? Is she, what, doomed to walk the same steps, tread the same ground?

Her teeth clench together.

“Do you know what prompted him to ask about Roxanne?”

GM: “I’d guess because there were problems in their relationship. Why else?”

“Something was coming between them.”

Celia: “Yes. I had hoped you’d be able to tell me what the mountain is.” She thinks she knows, but confirmation is always better than theories. “Regardless, thank you.”

GM: “Welcome. Come back anytime you want to know someone’s future.”


Monday night, 14 March 2016, PM

GM: Celia and Roderick drive to the Evergreen.

“Remind me where you got this thing?” he asks in the car.

Celia: Behind the wheel of the new car Alana and Randy had picked out for her (for what feels like the first time even though it isn’t), Celia glances over at Roderick. Or rather the man who she knows is Roderick but who, decidedly, does not look like Roderick right now.

It looks nothing like him.

That’s the point of a disguise, really. She’d thought for a moment to maybe create an aged version of him, the man he would be at thirty rather than the boy he died as, but explaining that would be too difficult for him and once you hit twenty your face doesn’t change as much as people think it does. Plenty of thirty and forty year olds look much younger than their faces portray. But the man next to her is decidedly older, mid-thirties at least, with brown facial hair that matches what’s on Roderick’s head.

The similarities end there. This man is rugged where Roderick is smooth, broad where he is lean, hard where he is soft.

She’d made the mask herself earlier this evening out of the spare parts she has at the spa. It had been an experiment that she is pleased to see work; she’d created a lie about needing blood to adhere it to his face when she’d put it on him, something about the power of the blood and flesh, and it had stuck right to his skin without him questioning how it worked. “Sorcery,” is all she’d said. Pete had told her once that many things Kindred don’t understand can be explained by sorcery, and she fell back on it when she’d shown him the mask to explain his disguise. She’d smoothed it across his face and jaw and blended it into his neck with the powder on the end of a makeup brush, then covered the rest with his shirt.

She’d had a suit for him too, tailored to his size but nothing he has been seen in before, and a pair of shoes that no one will trace back to Roderick Durant. It’s all about the details, she’d told him as she’d held them out.

She’d watched him change, eyes alight in appreciation at the body beneath the clothes, but kept her hands to herself. There’s no need to show up to a meeting with Savoy smelling like sex and blood.

She’d taken the opportunity to change as well, stripping from the casual clothing she’d worn to work and slipping on a dress that’s worthy of the Lord of the French Quarter: black, slinky, but somehow still shy of sexual. It suggests rather than reveals, hugging her assets before dropping into a gentle wave that trails in her wake.

“I think I told you a while ago,” Celia says at his question, “but I’m kind of tight with a night doc. I have one for Dani, too.” Or will, anyway, once she gets around to making it.

GM: “Smart,” Roderick said about the suit and shoes. He wasn’t quite smiling, given the occasion, but one still quirked his lips. “You really covered all your bases with this.”

Maybe he was saying ‘smart’ because of last night.

But maybe because it was a smart idea too.

Roderick appreciated the gown. A lot. It elicited a similar reaction to the mermaid one she wore to Elysium. That in itself seemed quite telling, given the disgust his face evinced when meeting Savoy came up. But when it didn’t, he had eyes only for her. Hands only for her. Murmuring how he wanted to fuck her in this later.

“I am going to fuck you in this later,” he’d murmured. “At dawn. You’re going to show up in it, I’m going to fuck you in it, and you’re going to fall asleep in it, coated in your blood and juices.”

Celia: If they’d had more time, Celia has no doubt that the two of them would have spent the night running through a dozen various positions to see how long the dress could stay on before he tore it off. They’d had to content themselves with chaste touches and lingering kisses on their way out the door, and Celia doesn’t know who anticipates it more: him or her.

She couldn’t help but smirk to herself at the thought of Preston or her grandsire dipping into her head this evening to see them both thinking about fucking.

“Of course you will,” she’d agreed, using his freshly tied tie to pull him in. “I’ll never get enough of you.”

GM: Stray thoughts about her sire betray her.

Stray glances her way betray him.

She does know who anticipates it more.

Celia: Her sire would never fuck her like Roderick does.

She tries to remember that.

Even if she wishes that he would.

Even if she prefers his cold, hard touch to Roderick’s.

Even if sometimes she pretends it’s him when she’s with other people, but no one has yet come close to his frosty severity.

The vision can’t come true. Her sire wouldn’t let it. He’d come for her like he has before, wouldn’t he? He wouldn’t let her be used like that, beaten and broken and raped.

Right?

GM: He’s saved her once, hasn’t he? Of course he will come again.

It’s cute, though, how Roderick tries to be as aggressive. Telling her how he’s “going” to fuck her in that dress.

Celia: What would Donovan say instead?

Nothing, just take her?

GM: When does he say anything he doesn’t need to?

Celia: He’d said nothing to her the other times he’d taken her. The night of her Embrace. The night on the roof.

He’d simply acted.

She had shivered at the memory, but her eyes had found Roderick’s and she’d passed it off as excitement.

GM: Absolute economy of action.

Absolute economy of speech.

“This is one of the weirdest things I’ve worn,” Roderick mutters once they’re in the car.

Would her sire make such a remark?

Celia: She wouldn’t hide her ability from her sire. She’d change his actual face if he ever requested it.

Nothing by half measures. Not for him.

He’d never even asked what the bracers had been made from. Perhaps he knows. She can’t imagine that he cares. But she’ll never tell Roderick what it is that he wears on his face, whose skin she had peeled from their body to create the mask.

“Female fashion can be weird,” Celia remarks to Roderick, “I’ve seen some crazy things. But… is it comfortable, at least? It’s supposed to be like you’re not in anything at all.”

GM: “It is. That’s what’s weird about it.”

“I barely notice it.”

Celia: “You thought that someone I accepted work from would be anything less than flawless?”

GM: “Ha. I suppose not.”

The pair arrive at the Evergreen soon enough. Roderick’s scowl deepens, but once they’re inside he holds it in check. Fabian greets them pleasantly. They take the elevator up.

Celia: “After this,” she tells him, “I need to tell you something. Remind me.”

GM: He nods. The elevator’s doors ding soon.

Celia: She straightens as the door opens, reaching out to smooth his tie and shirt and brush back the hair from her face.

“Ready?” she asks him quietly.

GM: Roderick doesn’t quite scowl.

But he turns and strides out to the garden with her.

“Mr. Durant. Welcome to the Evergreen,” smiles Savoy. He motions to the table. “Pull up a seat, if you’d care to.”

“I’d prefer to stand, Mr. Savoy,” Roderick answers coldly.

“You will address Lord Savoy by his proper title while you are a guest in his domain, Mr. Durant,” Preston sharply corrects him.

Celia: Celia comes to a halt at Roderick’s side. She starts to open her mouth to introduce the three of them, but Savoy beats her to it.

“Lord Savoy,” Celia says to her grandsire, “thank you for the invitation. I hope you are well this evening. Madam Preston, good evening.”

Celia inclines her head to the latter and curtsies to the former.

She hesitates only a second, then reaches for Roderick’s hand to give it a gentle squeeze. She’s here for him, that touch says. They’re a team.

GM: He gives her a slight squeeze back.

“I believe I just did, Madam Preston,” Roderick answers.

Celia: This is going swell.

“Roderick,” Celia murmurs, “will you sit with me?”

GM: Roderick eyes glare into Preston’s.

Then Celia’s request, so gentle, so innocuous, washes over him, and he can do naught but sit.

Celia: Perhaps she should have warned him about Preston. But he’d seemed to know enough about her to know that she serves as the thorn to Savoy’s rose.

Celia takes the chair beside him, smiling pleasantly at the two across the table.

GM: Savoy just smiles serenely at the whole scene.

“Thank you for coming, Mr. Durant.”

“You called in the boon I promised, Mr. Savoy.”

Preston stiffens.

“I did. But I still prefer to observe courtesies,” says the French Quarter lord. “They’re the grease in the Camarilla’s gears, and what makes our world go round.”

“Besides, you didn’t need to promise me a boon just to visit the Quarter.”

“I know all about your open borders policy, Mr. Savoy,” Roderick says stiffly. “How anyone is invited in. The boon is a guarantor of my safe passage.”

GM: “And a guarantor that I’ll actually be able to visit who I want to visit, since you already know,” he glares.

Celia: Celia squeezes his hand again, a gentle reminder to soften his tone. Savoy is an approachable elder, but he’s still an elder, and this is his territory.

She hesitates before she adds her voice to the conversation, unsure in which direction Savoy wants to take this or if he even wants her to intercede. She can’t imagine he appreciates the hostility, though.

“Roderick,” she finally murmurs, turning her face toward him, “please be civil. No one wants an argument this evening.”

GM: “I’m not arguing,” Roderick answers tersely. “I’m stating facts. There’s only an argument if someone contests their accuracy.”

Savoy just smiles for all the world like the on-edge Brujah is being perfectly civil to him.

“Then you must care a great deal for her, Mr. Durant, to offer a boon for passage to an elder you dislike as much as me. I’d offer my condolences as to her Embrace, but in the spirit of candor, we both know you’d find those worthless. It’s a regrettable pickle you’ve both found yourselves in.”

“What do you want, Mr. Savoy?” Roderick asks bluntly.

The French Quarter lord just smiles tranquilly.

“I’d like you to remove your sister from the French Quarter, Mr. Durant. Whether that’s to Mid-City, some other part of the city, or another city, I leave to your discretion.”

Celia: That… certainly hadn’t been something they’d discussed.

GM: Roderick’s eyes cut briefly to Celia’s.

“And why is that, Mr. Savoy? She’s your hostage if she stays here. We both know that was your plan. I turn into your Quisling, and in exchange Dani gets to live.”

Celia: She doesn’t give away her surprise, but she’s thinking the same thing.

Savoy loses his hostage if they get Dani out, not to mention the fact that Celia doesn’t think she’ll leave.

GM: “And what a terrible plan that would be. If I thought it had any chance of success, Mr. Durant, rest assured, I’d do it! Your sister’s life means nothing to me.”

“But you wouldn’t suffer to be a Quisling. Some people might, but I’m not too bad at reading people, and I don’t think you would. I think you’d turn to your sire, tell her the situation, and work with her to feed me false information. Buried amidst enough accurate information that I wouldn’t notice the most important lies.”

“As long as you hated me for holding your sister hostage, Mr. Durant, I don’t think I could ever trust you.”

“Fine. Supposing it’s a bad plan,” says Roderick. “Why allow…”

“…Dani to leave at all, when I could still hold her as leverage over a primogen’s childe, in case he decides to move against me?” asks Savoy.

“It’s quite simple, Mr. Durant. I don’t want your hatred. I’m not about to say I never believe in threats and blackmail, but I don’t believe they’d be effective tools in your case. And I do believe they are inferior tools next to genuine loyalty. I want you to come work for me, freely, because you believe in my cause—or simply see me as the least distasteful option through which to advance your own.”

Roderick seems to bite back his initial response, then says simply, “My loyalties are already spoken for, Mr. Savoy. They do not and will not lie with you.”

Savoy just grins at that. “And I never expected to hear otherwise, Mr. Durant.”

Celia: Until they break him of it.

Clever, really. Roderick never would have come over; he’d have gone right to Coco like Savoy just said. Was that the plan all along? Did Savoy expect her to confess to Roderick and she’d been playing right into it?

Or is this just an advantageous byproduct of her actions?

GM: Roderick’s eyes briefly meet Celia’s again, then return to the elder Toreador’s.

“Then why even allow me to know you know about my sister, Mr. Savoy? Why involve Miss Flores in this intrigue?”

“Quite simple, Mr. Durant. As a goodwill gesture, for if you ever decide to come work for me. To show you what kind of treatment you can expect. Or in so many words, to butter you up. You may remove your sister from the French Quarter with my blessing.”

Roderick looks at him with open suspicion. Savoy just chuckles.

“If you’re going to be paranoid, Mr. Durant, be smart about it! What am I going to do after we’ve had this talk? Order your sister killed? Have someone ambush your car? How does that benefit me, after we’ve had this talk?”

“Come work for me,” he continues, “and Danielle will know comfort and safety in Celia’s care, or wherever else in the Quarter you’d prefer to keep her. Come work for me, and I’ll be straight with you—and yes, I lie as often as any elder when it suits me. But I prefer to use truth, because it’s impossible to ever disprove. Truth is a more stable foundation to build my house upon. Truth always comes out, doesn’t it, Mr. Durant?”

“Yes, Mr. Savoy, it always comes out,” Roderick answers.

Celia: Celia can’t help but glance at Roderick at those words, then away, perhaps recalling the last time she had been honest with him.

None of this bodes well for that vision.

GM: “You talk a good game,” he continues. “But you work with the Mafia. The lowliest, most despicable, most poisonous and craven human slime in this city. You work with Kindred who count themselves members of the Mafia. As long as you do that, I will never work for you—even if my loyalty wasn’t already to my sire.”

“Then I’ll count myself fortunate, at least, that you won’t ever work directly for Prince Vidal!” Savoy chuckles. “The Mafia are tools to me, Mr. Durant, like anything else. If you can prove yourself a more useful asset, I’m happy to leave them to your mercies, given as I clearly can’t have both. I think, for all they might say in Elysium about your being an elder’s pet, that you have great potential and can go far in the Camarilla. I know as well as your sire that Kindred my age don’t choose our progeny lightly. We choose only the best. Woe to anyone who underestimates a Kindred because of their sire’s vitae!”

“Very flattering, Mr. Savoy,” answers Roderick. His tone is milder, though that’s about all that can be said for it. “Did you have further business you wished to discuss?”

“I don’t believe so, Mr. Durant. You are free to leave and may consider your boon repaid.” Savoy motions with a hand.

“Good night, then.” Roderick rises from his chair. “Come on, Celia.”

Celia: That’s it?

That can’t be it.

Was she supposed to step in? Do something else? Speak up about Harrah’s or Carolla?

She hesitates, looking to her grandsire. Why had he asked her here for this? Why call in a boon on… on that?

GM: :: Go on, my dear. It’s a better look if you go with him. ::

:: He’ll think you’re scheming with me if you stay. ::

Celia: She doesn’t do so much as blink.

Celia takes Roderick’s hand once more as she rises from her chair.

“Thank you for your hospitality, Lord Savoy. Madam Preston. Good evening.”

Another curtsy, another incline of her head, and she follows Roderick out.

GM: “Sorry to use your name,” Roderick mutters when they’re in the elevator, giving her hand a squeeze. “But he clearly already knew.”

Celia: “He does,” she says. She doesn’t tell him that Savoy was the one to wake her up after her sire had thrown her out with the trash, or that he had been the introduction to her Requiem.

“They both do. It’s fine. He knows who I am.”

GM: Roderick doesn’t talk until they’re in the car.

“So what’s your read on that?”

“He has an angle. All elders have angles.”

Celia: “I… I don’t know, honestly. It wasn’t what I thought it would be. I was more than surprised when he offered to help you relocate Dani. I…” she trails off, uncertain. “I thought, maybe, you might be right about him using her as a hostage, and that I was blinded by it, but that… I mean, he didn’t seem interested.”

GM: “His logic makes sense. I wouldn’t be a Quisling.”

“That’s the confounding part. What am I missing?”

“They always have an angle, Celia! I spend enough time with them to know!”

Celia: “Maybe there isn’t,” Celia hedges. “I spend more time around him than you do, and… I can’t think of what he’d gain with that, unless it’s literally what he said.”

GM: “He wants me on his side. He has to be plotting something.”

Celia: “He never plotted with me,” she says quietly. “I just couldn’t work for someone who let a monster like the sheriff have any semblance of power.”

GM: “Of course he wouldn’t plot with you. You have divided loyalties towards me.”

Celia: “No. I mean after my Embrace. Before I even knew you were still around.”

GM: “Maybe I’m not the one who thinks you’re stupid.”

Celia: Celia looks as if he slapped her.

She stares straight ahead at the road.

GM: “Oh my god, Celia! I was not saying you were! You’re not!”

“You had the idea with the shoes and coat. I’m saying maybe he doesn’t see and appreciate that side of you.”

Celia: “Yeah, fashion is so high intellect.”

GM: “It was here. There’s plenty of licks who’d overlook it.”

Celia: “Yeah, well, he’s right you know. About the Mob. Maybe you’re the one that’s stupid since your sire works for someone who supports them.”

GM: “Celia, you realize I wasn’t calling you stupid? That I think you’re smart?” He ignores the bit about his sire.

“I’m saying that maybe he does, because why else wouldn’t he take advantage of your smarts to plot with you?”

Celia: “Why would he? I’m Veronica’s slutty childe. I run a spa. I do makeup. Maybe I’m just a dumb slut and that’s all I’ll ever be good for.”

You stupid, lying, filthy whore.

GM: “Why do you think spas and makeup reflect badly on your intelligence?”

“And you’re not a slut, either. That’s a sexist double standard that doesn’t exist for men.”

Celia: “You’ve said both to me. Or started to, anyway. I guess.” She takes a breath and blows it out noisily.

“It doesn’t matter. I don’t care what they think.” The lie is obvious. She still hasn’t looked back at him. “What do you want to do with Dani, then?”

GM: “Spas and makeup don’t reflect badly on anyone’s intelligence.”

But he lets it drop when she brings up his sister.

“I’d… I’d still like to get her out. But how mad at me is she?”

“Maybe give her a few days to cool off.”

“I still need to work over what Savoy’s angle is. Maybe it’ll come to me then.”

“For now, do you want me with you when you see Benson? I’m already in disguise.”

Celia: “I can talk to Dani, if you want. I don’t know if she’ll leave, not before school, but… I dunno. I wanted you to meet my mom, anyway. Again. Since she’s in on all of this. I think she’d be happy to see you.”

“And… yeah, actually. I was going to ask. We’re meeting in Marigny.”

GM: “Good. Benson’s a Malk. You can never be completely sure with them.”

“That’d be great if you could talk with Dani. Just get her less angry at me, if she still is.”

“I’d be happy to see your mom, too.”

Celia: “You don’t think you’re going to get picked up as like an illegal or something with that face, do you?”

GM: “There’s lots of unknown licks in the city. Being with you also vouches for my presence.”

“Too bad we can’t hide I’m a lick. That’d be even better.”

Celia: “…we could.”

GM: “Oh, how?”

Celia: “Could ask the doc to mark you.”

GM: “Didn’t know they could do that. Do you think it’s worth a boon?”

Celia: “Usually. She already did the masks for you.”

GM: “Sure, it’s just a separate service. But if you think it’s worth it, okay.”

“Mainly worried if we can grab her on notice this short.”

Celia: “I can send her by, if you want. I have to meet with someone about erasing some memories, I can hit her up then.”

GM: “For your mom? Smart.”

“But okay, text me where and when to meet if you’re able to grab her.”

Celia: “No… my mom is… not for my mom.”

GM: “Oh, I presumed it was the erasures we talked about.”

Celia: "The ghouls. Did we?

GM: “Yeah, remember? Either way, it’s a good idea.”

Celia: “I thought you meant erasing my mom’s.”

GM: “We talked about the problems with that too.”

“Anyway. Hope this is someone you trust. Ghouls, at least, work for you.”

Celia: “I do. With my mom, I do.”

GM: “I’d still like to do dinner with my dad. You can ask Dani to reschedule it. It’s been years since I was in the same room as him.”

Celia: “Do you like the face? Or do you want me to have her change it?”

“You can wear it to dinner.”

GM: “It’s a good face. But it wouldn’t hurt to change. Plenty of eyes who saw us in the Evergreen.”

“Especially if I don’t register as a vampire in Marigny.”

“Yes, then definitely change it. Keep things consistent.”

Celia: “Okay.”

GM: “Face #1 is a vampire, face #2 isn’t.”

Celia: “I’ll see what she can do. She might ask what you want when she visits, then.”

GM: “Okay. Good luck with getting those memories erased.”

Celia: “Thanks.”

She pauses.

“Sorry I got mad. I know you don’t think I’m stupid.”

GM: “It’s okay. And we know both know you’re not.”

At least for now.

But the future draws steadily closer, one light rolling past the side mirror at a time.


Monday night, 14 March 2016, PM

GM: Pete is not present at the Evergreen when Jade stops by. Mélissaire says she will inform the warden that Jade wanted to see him.

“Lord Savoy will be available at 4 AM to speak with Miss Melton, too, if you’re already swinging back,” smiles the ghoul.

Celia: “Perfect. Thank you, Mélissaire. And thank you for the other night. I was able to figure things out with my new ghoul.”

GM: “Oh, very good,” smiles Savoy’s herald. “I’m sure it was hard, at first.”

Celia: More than she knows.

GM: “Feel free to send her by if you’d like me to show her the ropes.”

Celia: “What all would that entail with her?”

GM: “Oh, it could be similar to my time with you. Explaining things, but also more hands-on. It could also involve taking her to meet other ghouls, testing her behavior, and rewarding or punishing her responses to show that the system you’ve introduced her to exists across larger Kindred society.”

“Helping her to find her place and understand what it means to be a ghoul.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“I’ll let you know. Thank you.”

GM: “You’re very welcome, ma’am. See you soon,” the ghoul smiles.

Celia: Celia wishes her a good evening and heads out. She sends Roderick a text to meet her “friend” at Celia’s place, where he’d met Dani earlier, and helps herself to some supplies from the Red Room while she’s already there speaking with Mel.

GM: If she doesn’t take them, they’ll just go to the Boggs.

Truth may come out, but all evidence of darker deeds goes away sooner or later.


Tuesday night, 15 March 2016, AM

GM: The 2 AM meeting with Elyse is at Crescent Park. It’s a thin but long stretch of landscaping, bike paths, and multi-use pavillions that overlook the Mississippi River. The midnight black river stretches across to poverty-stricken Algiers, where so many fewer lights shine. Rain steadily patters against the homeless’ dirty tents.

Jade sees Elyse staring out over the waterfront, clad in a thick coat with fur trim. Key holds an umbrella over her head. He holds Princess in his other arm. A station wagon is parked nearby.

Jade doesn’t think she’s ever seen the Malkavian outdoors before. Her porcelain-pale, doll-like features are utterly still, and her unblinking eyes cool and hard like glass.

The same eyes that so coolly and methodically clipped a ballerina’s wings and extinguished her fire.

It looks strange to see her outside. One does not take dolls outside.

Celia: Jade knows that Roderick, now masked and veiled, is close enough to intervene should she need him to. It’s that thought that brings her comfort this evening; though she had beaten Elyse prior when it was just the two of them, she knows that the Malkavian have the same sort of veiling power that she does; there could be any number of them lying in wait for her and she’ll never know.

Perhaps Roderick isn’t enough.

But no, she can’t think that way. She has to trust that the pair of boons she offered her former friend is enough to see her through this evening, at least.

She dressed for the city’s eternal rain, a black overcoat keeping the worst of it from her face and hair and a pair of waterproof boots preventing her from sinking into the mud.

She approaches Elyse with her hands at her side, all the better to show that she is unarmed. As if their kind need weapons to do damage. She halts some feet away.

“Good evening, Lady Interpreter. Thank you for meeting with me.”

GM: “A doll asked, Miss Kalani, and for a doll I came,” answers the Malkavian.

Rain patters against Elyse’s umbrella.

“I had thought we shared the same vision. You are flawless in appearance, but I see now that you are flawless in appearance only.”

Celia: Jade accepts the rebuff silently. She bows her head, eyes dropping to the ground before lifting back to Elyse’s face.

“I would ask that you allow me an opportunity to apologize and speak to you as to what happened. Not as an excuse, but as an explanation for my actions that evening.”

“I lost control, Lady Interpreter. I had thought, many years ago, that I mastered by Beast and would not be caught by it unawares. Please know that I would never willingly hurt you or anyone you call yours. I was deeply, deeply pained by what I realized I had done to you, and I sought to rectify the situation as immediately as I could.”

GM: “Yet lose control you did, Miss Kalani, and what could have so provoked your Beast in my home I cannot fathom. I had hoped a film viewing of one of my finest dolls would be an occasion of joy and celebration between friends.”

“I had even thought to find another ballerina that we might mold into a doll together.”

Celia: “It would have been, Lady Interpreter, were it any other doll. The one you showed me hit… close to home.”

GM: The Malkavian’s glassy eyes regard her with the same placid, glassy stare of any doll’s.

Celia: “When I met Lucy,” she begins slowly, “I told you that I was reminded of someone I knew. That I knew another Lucy. It was more than the name, Lady Interpreter; the doll itself was familiar to me.”

Celia: “You are familiar with the pawn who manages my salon, Lady Interpreter, and you know that her mother is Grace. Diana Flores, formerly married to Maxen Flores, a current state senator. I mentioned that she no longer dances without pain. What I did not say was how I knew.”

“Their daughter and I are close. Were close, even when I still drew breath. I have spun a tale about being from another city, but I grew up in New Orleans. We attended the same school, though I changed my face and name when I became this.”

Jade pauses for one brief moment.

“I was there the night her husband tried to take her leg.”

“I heard her screams.”

“I heard her beg him to stop.”

“I heard the wet, ragged gasps and her hand striking the floor.”

“I heard her dreams die.”

“And I heard her fall silent.”

Jade, too, falls silent.

GM: The rain continues to fall.

Elyse’s doll-like face remains placid and still. Don’t show emotion. Don’t cry or get mad. Dolls just look pretty.

Its leg, Miss Kalani,” Elyse corrects.

Celia: “Its leg,” Jade echoes.

“It no longer dances like it once did. That evening put an end to such things. But it teaches.”

“My clan, as you know, pride ourselves as artists. But makeup has not won me any accolades among the guilds, and I cannot reveal the true nature of my craft; very few know of my abilities beyond that of a brush.”

Elyse is one of those few. One of the very few who know what Jade can do with the flesh.

“I have recently taken on a new ghoul. A dancer, one that has been training her whole life for an opportunity like this. Ballet is a respected art form; though not my own, I wanted to show off the dancer’s skill at an upcoming fete and be recognized vicariously. Grace is overseeing the training.”

Jade dips her head once more.

“While the video you showed me was moving, educational, transformation, while the process employed within was a true work of art, I saw something that I had been planning for a long while come crashing down if Grace were to be brought back to what it was rather than what it has become. You have allowed me to keep tabs on some of the dolls that have been released over the years; I believe that the early release has allowed Grace to find an elegance in dance that it might not otherwise possess, and I feared that it would be stripped of such.”

“It would no longer be useful. It would no longer serve its purpose.”

GM: Elyse receives this same news placidly.

“An old dancing doll is an estimable teacher for a new dancing doll.”

“Yet I do not share your final assessment, Miss Kalani, that Grace’s early release allowed it to better fulfill its purpose. Key ordered Grace to return to the Wedding Cake House. It has failed to do so. I believe now that insufficient polish was applied: it is in need of care and maintenance.”

Celia: “It failed to do so because I prevented it from doing so.”

GM: “It is not my Beast, Miss Kalani, that dolls need fear.”

Celia: “I have never thought so. I have often brought my dolls to you for maintenance as needed.”

GM: Rain continues to patter over the umbrella. Key blinks, but his mistress does not.

“Fear motivated your Beast to snap its leash, Miss Kalani. Very well.”

A low moan sounds from one of the homeless tents.

“What would you see become of our association now?”

Celia: “My Requiem has been improved for your presence within it. I will not speak for you, but I would like to think that my services provided to your business have been consequential in the uptick of clients you have taken with improved turnaround time due to the increased speed of physical modifications.”

Jade can do nothing now but ask.

“Prior to this slip, we worked very well together. I have offered you two boons. Further, I am willing to take precautions to see that nothing of the sort happens again should you desire it before you allow me back within your workshop unfettered. I am also willing to pay the full toll for my presence within the domain.”

“I cannot ask you to trust me, or to pick up where we were with no regard to what occurred. I understand that such a thing is a tall order and that words and explanations alone may not forgive past sins. But I am willing to do what it takes, Lady Interpreter, to fix my mistake and offer recompense.”

GM: The doll-like Malkavian evinces no apparent reaction to Jade’s words. She does not sniff or cry, like a bereaved friend might. Dolls don’t cry. She does not look angry. She does not look hopeful. Her porcelain face remains a mask of placid stillness.

Dolls don’t have feelings.

“Very well, Miss Kalani,” answers Elyse. “You are correct that past sins cannot be forgiven through words alone. Though your loss of control demonstrates you may be further from perfection than I had believed, perfection’s road is long and arduous. I am willing to walk it alongside you.”

Celia: “Thank you, Lady Interpreter. With your guidance I will move ever closer to that goal.”

GM: The rain continues to pitter-pat against the umbrella.

“I will not ask that you render me any boons for seeking perfection, but Regent Donovan’s toll for your presence is now yours to pay.”

Celia: “Yes, Lady Interpreter. I will see that it is done.”

GM: “You may also not, for your own safety, yet return to the Wedding Cake House.”

Celia: She gives a slight nod at the words.

“Yes, Lady Interpreter. I will wait until you send for me. Would… an apology to those within assist matters at all?”

“I have also heard that you are soon to be ordained. I would like to offer my congratulations.”

She knows better than to gush to Elyse; this is not the type of lick to squeal in joy or accept a hug.

GM: “Thank you, Miss Kalani,” Elyse answers tranquilly. “I am pleased that others within the city wish my assistance in achieving perfection.”

“An apology to those within my home will not assist. Dolls do not feel emotions. But when they do, their emotions are to ours as porcelain is to flesh. Hard and enduring.”

“I am not willing to enter the French Quarter. You had spoken earlier of opening a second location for Flawless.”

Celia: “Yes, Lady Interpreter. I have been looking into locations. The political climate makes it difficult, but there is a building near your home that might serve. I have not yet broached the topic with Regent Donovan.”

GM: “Though I do not speak for my regent, I do not believe he would be amenable to such an arrangement, Miss Kalani.”

“Faubourg Marigny, however, is open to those Kindred who do not wish to associate themselves with Mr. Savoy.”

Celia: “No. I don’t imagine that he would.”

He has no reason to say yes to her.

“Wise, Lady Interpreter. I had thought it too close to my current location, but I see the merit in such a locale.”

GM: “It would please me to work upon Grace and the new dancing doll in such a location.”

Celia: “I will speak to Regent Sundown to see what sort of accommodation can be made.”

GM: “Very good, Miss Kalani.” She turns to Key.

With no small inconvenience, the ghoul lifts his knee, carefully balances Princess upon it, and removes his coat with one hand while standing on one foot, straining to hold the umbrella above his mistress all the while.

Elyse makes no move to help him. There is a stillness and predatory cast to her features that reminds Jade of the one she wore while watching Grace put its clothes back on.

Watching for a mistake.

Waiting for a mistake.

Sweat beads Key’s brow as the ghoul strains to accomplish his tasks.

It’s too much. He wavers. Just like that, Princess slides off his raised knee.

Jade quickly catches the doll before she can land on the wet grass.

Key hurriedly removes his coat and offers it to wrap Princess in, as shelter from the rain.

But his domitor’s eyes are cold indeed.

Celia: Jade has no sympathy for Key. Not now.

But she accepts the coat to keep Princess dry, securing the doll within its folds.

GM: “Good night, Miss Kalani,” says Elyse.

Celia: “Good night, Lady Interpreter.”


Tuesday night, 15 March 2016, AM

GM: “She’s sick,” says Roderick after they’re back in her car.

Celia: Celia just nods.

“How much of that did you hear?”

GM: “I heard her call your mom an ‘it’ enough times.”

Celia: Nothing else, hopefully. It was a risk bringing him. But better to have him than not.

“Yeah,” Celia sighs. “I like her suggestion for Marigny but there’s no way in hell she’s getting her hands on my mom.”

GM: “Small comfort to the other women she gets her hands on.”

Celia: “I can’t save everyone.” The words are bitter. She doesn’t like the judgment from him.

GM: “Why associate with her?”

Celia: “Why associate with any lick? They’re all assholes. It’s our society now, and I’d rather know what they’re getting up to than be taken by surprise.”

GM: “They aren’t all assholes. Some are better than others.”

“I try to be. I still call breathers ‘he’ and ‘she.’”

Celia: Celia doesn’t bother explaining that to him. He’d just think it’s worse if he knew the truth of what Elyse does to her dolls.

“Malkavian,” is all she says.

GM: “Some are better than others too. Lestrange is all right. Ditto Larsen and McCandles.”

Celia: “They seem to be, yeah. Everyone keeps saying that the older we get the worse we’ll get. I hope they’re not right.”

“I thought of something you could do for Dani, by the way, if you want to help her out a bit.”

GM: “Lestrange is moderately old. And among the real elders… well, you already know what I think of my sire.”

Celia: The sun shines out of her ass.

GM: “Miss Opal cares a lot about her descendants. Less so mortals, but I guess that’s something.”

“Accou… can be pragmatic, and can hold a grudge, but could be worse.”

“Maldonato’s more than I want to get into here.”

“Steinhäuser, though, is a monster, and Pearl doesn’t seem to feel anything for anyone.”

“Some of them retain more of themselves as they age than others.”

Celia: “A monster?” Celia echoes.

GM: “My god, yes. You know she was a fan of Hitler’s?”

Celia: “I didn’t, no. Hasn’t come up at our weekly tea parties.”

GM: “She has enough sense not to bring it up in public. But she thinks he could have been a great leader if he’d been ‘less greedy,’ and that Germany would be a nation ‘worth being proud of’ if the Third Reich was still in charge.”

Celia: “I think Logan wrote a paper like that once. Something about comparing him to Jesus. Both charismatic leaders, et cetera. He explained it to me once but I kind of tuned it out.”

GM: “Yeah, I guess it’s no surprise there.” Roderick sounds disgusted.

“I have relatives who fought in World War II. If there was ever such a thing as a good war, that was it.”

Celia: “He was a kid,” Celia says quietly, “I’m trying to work with him so he’s not… like that anymore.”

GM: “I hope you succeed. But you were saying about Dani?”

Celia: “Since you’re disguised and smell mortal, maybe you can get her stuff for her from her apartment. I was going to go, but I’m kind of nervous about being picked up.”

GM: “Sure. You have her keys?”

Celia: “Yeah.” Celia fishes through her purse for the keyring Dani had given her the other night. She’s glad she asked in advance. She gives him the address.

“Maybe take a Ryde? So they don’t recognize your car.”

“She’s looking for her laptop, school books, some clothes…” Celia gives him the list of things Dani wanted.

GM: “Good idea.” He listens to the list. “All right. I’ll pick those up.”

“What do you think of me dropping them off with her tonight as a goodwill gesture?”

Celia: “I can ask if she’d like to see you.”

GM: “I had no idea she’d be so angry.”

“But I guess… maybe I should have.”

Celia: “She’s had a really rough time of it. Her Embrace… went poorly, from what she says.”

“And then finding out everything else… it’s a lot. Give her some time.”

GM: “I just wanted to help her. And to let her know I wasn’t dead.”

Celia: “I know. She’ll come around.”

“It’ll be okay, Roderick. We’ll figure out the best thing for her and for you and make sure she gets it.”

She doesn’t push to see if he’s decided on a course of action, but the look she gives him suggests curiosity.

GM: Roderick rubs his head. “I hope so. I’m still… figuring things out.”

“I feel like I don’t have to try to drag her out of the city immediately, after talking to Savoy. That’s a relief, with how mad she is. But I can’t get comfortable either. He’s working some kind of angle with this.”

“It’s so twisted how she actually feels safer in the Quarter than Mid-City right now.”

He effects a sigh.

“I’ll let you know when I’ve got her stuff, anyways. That’s at least one thing I can do that feels right.”


Tuesday night, 15 March 2016, AM

GM: After parting ways, Jade drives back to the brothers’ house. This late in the AM, Alana, Diana, and Lucy are all asleep. Dani is still up and watching TV.

The brothers, though, don’t need as much sleep. All of them are still awake.

As is their guest.

Jade finds the thin-blood trussed up in the bathroom tub, wrists cuffed to the faucets just like hers had previously been.

“In case things get messy,” says Reggie with a mean smile.

The thin-blood looks worse than last time. They have a broken nose caked with dried blood, and the bathroom’s lights harshly illuminate their scabbed-over, pasty skin. They smell bad up close in the confined area.

“Hey, lady lick,” swallows the thin-blood, “I gave you good info, din’t I, Sidra was in Marigny, I swear she was…”

Celia: “You did,” Jade allows. Her smile isn’t quite so mean as Reggie’s, but there’s a feral edge to it all the same. “Which I paid you for. And then I came back to give you the rest of the money, as I said I would, but couldn’t find you.”

She taps a finger against her chin.

“Why was that, again? Oh. You were busy breaking into my business.”

GM: “Eh heh, eh heh, hey, just tryin’ to survive, maybe I jus’ answer all your questions an’ we call it even…?”

The thin-blood offers a desperate smile.

Celia: “Oh.” Jade feigns surprise and relief. “Yeah, actually, that’d be great.”

GM: Reggie and Randy stay in the room or stand guard outside, as desired.

“Great! Ask, ask away, lady!” the thin-blood nods eagerly.

Celia: “Why did you break in?”

GM: “Ah, I got paid to, lady. Paid to plant the bug.”

Celia: “By whom?”

GM: “I don’t know, lady, sorry, they hid their face, bulky clothes, I couldn’ really tell… didn’ really care, they paid me to, tha’s all… just money, nothin’ personal…”

Celia: Jade effects a sigh. She glances at Reggie, then Randy, then finally back to the thin-blood.

“See, I need a better answer than that.”

GM: “I, ah, they was a vampire, lady, how’s that…?”

Celia: “There are a lot of vampires in the city.”

GM: “Right, right, but they wanted to spy, that was clear, real clear, they said to plant the bug in the boss’ office, where Jade would prob’ly be…”

Celia: “Male? Female?”

“Where and how did they contact you?”

GM: “Like I said, lady, bulky clothes, I couldn’ tell… but the voice was, maybe a low girl, average guy?”

Celia: “That’s not very helpful.”

GM: “Ah, I don’ think they trusted me, lady, this was just business… they came up to me, when I was feedin’, passed me the bug, said to break in, give me a lil’ money, said there’d be more when I came back, when the bug was in, an’ said they’d, ah, kill me if I tried to lie…”

“You probably would’ve,” says Reggie.

“You’d have done fuck-all with the bug, come back and said you planted it, get a nice payday.”

“Eh heh, eh heh, just tryin’ to survive… don’t want to cross nobody if I don’ have to… nothin’ personal…”

Celia: “It’s very personal, you see. You spied on my business and you won’t tell me who for.”

“And you’re giving me very little to go on.”

GM: “I wish I knew, lady, honest! They didn’ trust me!”

“Gosh, why wouldn’t they,” remarks Randy.

“Who knows, bro, fine upstanding… chap, like this,” smiles Reggie, clapping the thin-blood on the shoulder. They wince and then give a trembling smile at the contact.

Reggie sniffs his hand, then washes it in the sink.

“C’mon, lady, I know what I know, I’ll answer anythin’ you want, honest…”

Celia: “Specifics. Where. What time. Where did you meet afterward. How many bugs.”

GM: “Ah, Rampart Street, lady,” the thin-blood rattles off the nearest address, “woulda been… lesse, roun’ 4 AM, yesterday… jus’ that one bug…”

“Oh! I can tell you where to find ’em, where they wanna meet me next, how be that? I tell you where, you let me go? Swear?”

Celia: “When and where, and I swear I’ll let you go.”

Celia: “I’d also like to know why you’re meeting them again if you already planted the bug.”

GM: “Saturday, lady, 3 AM…” The thin-blood rattles off another Rampart Street address, close to the border with Treme.

Celia: “Why,” she prompts again.

GM: “They didn’ say, lady, but maybe if the bug’s good, they want me to do another job…?”

Celia: She has no desire to wait a week to figure out who now knows about her.

GM: “Ah, wait, wait, they could do sooner…!” the thin-blood exclaims.

Celia: “And how on earth are you to contact them if you don’t know who they are?”

GM: “Ah, well, there ways, lady, there ways… they, ah, they say I get paid less, if I do sooner… but I spray an ‘X’ on the door, earlier… they be there soon…”

“They want me to work for ‘em, see? They think I’ll find, some good shit?”

“You want, I can be your inside… you pay me, I’ll meet ‘em, I’ll tell ’em what you want me to tell…?”

“They didn’t want the bug traced to ‘em, lady, they thought you’d try that… so I heard what’s on, an’ I pass on to them what I heard, thas’ how it works… I can tell ‘em, anythin’ you want, anythin’ at all…”

“All they know goes through me, see? I can help you!”

Celia: “So the bug goes back to your haven,” Jade muses, “and you pass it on to our mysterious would-be friend.”

GM: “Ah, yeah, lady, I hear whas’ on it, I pass on to ’em,” the thin-blood nods.

“Like I say… I’ll tell ’em whatever you want, spin any story… how they gonna know!”

Celia: “Tell me where the other part of the device is.”

GM: “Ah, think can you untie me, lady…? My arms’re gettin’ all sore…”

Celia: “No.”

GM: The thin-blood looks across the three unfriendly faces.

“Ah, okay, lady, okay, the receiver… I don’t have a haven, an’ people steal shit off me, so I buried it… Woldenberg Park…”

They describe a tree where it’s buried.

Celia: Jade nods to the two boys.

“They’ll go get it. You’ll summon your friend. Everything checks out, I’ll let you go.”

GM: “Oh, eh heh, I forgot, that ain’ where I put it, thas’ where I buried some other shit…” The thin-blood offers a weak smile.

Celia: Jade only smiles.

GM: The thin-blood describes another hiding spot much closer to Flawless.

“Right,” says Reggie. “If this doesn’t pan out I’m breaking more bones.”

“Honest, man, it will! Swear!” exclaims the thin-blood.

Celia: “We’ll see soon enough.”

“While they’re getting that, why don’t you and I have a little chat about how you can make yourself useful to me.”

“And how I can be benevolent in return.”

GM: “See you soon, babe,” says Randy.

“Make sure you don’t breathe any closer to this thing,” advises Reggie. He gives her rear a squeeze when his brother can’t see.

The thin-blood nods eagerly. “Whatever you say, lady lick! Anythin’ you want!”

Celia: Jade winks at Reggie on his way out the door. She locks it behind them, then turns to the thin-blood.

“Let’s get you cleaned up a little, hm?”

Jade rises to find a wash cloth and a bar of soap. She looks at the rags the thing is wearing and tuts, then starts to remove the stained garments.

“I don’t normally offer sponge baths to duskborn,” she tells the thing, “but I can’t let you up just yet. Hope you understand.”

GM: “Ah, sure, lady lick, sure!” nods the thin-blood. “I know you’re benev’lent, an’ can be a real badass too! Ain’ nobody who mess with you!”

Celia: “You had a wound on your hands when I saw you last,” Jade says idly as the clothes come off. She disposes of them. “Are you getting enough to eat?”

“For the mending,” she clarifies.

GM: The thin-blood has no underwear on over their small breasts and penis. Their dark skin has darker splotches and more bruises, some fresher than others. They don’t look (or smell) like they’ve had a shower in weeks.

“Ah, not really, lady lick, it real hard, in the Quarter, real hard…” the thin-blood says.

“But it worse outside…”

Celia: Jade tuts again at the state of the body.

“Can I wash your hair?”

“Who gave those to you? The bruises.”

GM: “Ah, sure, lady, an’ a lotta places, lady, I don’ rem’ber all… other licks, other guys… get ’em everywhere…”

Celia: Jade makes a sound that might be sympathetic. She turns the water on in the tub, letting it begin to fill, and checks to make sure the temperature is okay for the thing. It’s sort of like bathing Lucy. She starts to wash it, her touch gentle enough: gliding, stroking, ridding it of accumulated filth and debris with her palms and fingertips. It’s relaxing, that touch, the sort of technique she uses at the spa with her clients in the Vichy shower. That’s all this is, really. A modified spa technique.

She reaches out with her gift, searching for the connection between the pair. Her voice, when she speaks again, suggests tranquility and understanding.

“How much did you hear from the bug?”

GM: The thin-blood tenses under Jade’s touch, like a repeatedly struck animal expecting to be struck again, even as her gentle touch and the warm water settle in.

Then, just like that, all of the tension dissipates.

“Heard you talkin’ with your mom…” murmurs the thin-blood.

“Jade and Celia, secret identities…”

“Mom’ gettin’ one too…”

“Heard you spankin’ each other…”

“That was, ah, kinda fucked…”

“You a split personality…?”

Celia: “It was fucked,” Jade agrees pleasantly. She uses one hand to rinse the dirty soap off the thing’s body while the other lathers and massages, keeping it light and sensual. The soap and water clear away the worst of the dirt and grime, and her touch helps alleviate the tension it might feel, both physical and mental.

“I am,” she confirms. “Not many people know. Did you tell anyone yet? Sell that information to someone?”

GM: “Oh, that… that real good…” murmurs the thin-blood tranquilly.

“But no, I didn’, I don’ really know anyone who’d want it…”

“I don’ know many licks… full licks, like you…”

“I bet the guy who gave me the bug wants it… but I tell ’em what you want…”

“I could tell ‘em you have a hundred personalities… or jus’ one…”

“Lesse… also heard you talkin’ about a Maxen, Dani, Lucy…”

Celia: “That’s really helpful,” Jade says to it. Her tone is light but encouraging, echoing the movement of her hands. “I know we got off on the wrong foot,” she continues, “and I’m sorry about that. My boys are a little over-protective. The personalities, you know, it’s hard to manage, and they just want to keep me safe.”

Her hands slide up the back of the thin-blood’s neck to begin the work on the scalp, first dipping it back into the accumulated water and then lathering shampoo to wash its hair. She uses the tips of her nails lightly on the scalp itself; the feeling, she knows from experience, is second to none. Sometimes she just asks Alana to wash her hair when she wants to unwind.

“The person who contacted you didn’t tell you anything about what they wanted with me?”

GM: The thin-blood gives a little gasp-sigh noise of pleasure, closes their eyes, and sinks back against the tub.

“Oh, that… that feel real good, lady… real lady…”

“They didn’… I don’ think they trusted me… ‘s hard, you know, I don’ got much… I never have… I been… I been shit on my whole life, you know? I ain’ tryin’ to hurt nobody… just tryin’ to make it another night…”

“I… ain’ felt this good in a long time, lady… long, long time…”

Some pinkish tears squeeze from the thin-blood’s eyes.

“They, they all look at me like trash, or… worse…”

“I… I had a guy, who fucked me, one time, and when he was… he spat on me, when he was done… spat in my eyes…”

Celia: Jade quietly listens to the thin-blood’s story. She rinses its hair when its time for her to do so, using a hand to prevent the water from running forward into its eyes. Gently, she wipes the tears away with the pad of her thumb, crooning softly at it as if it were a wounded animal and she its caretaker.

“I’m sorry,” she finally murmurs, reaching for the bottle of conditioner, “I knew it was rough, but not… not like that. How long have you been..?”

GM: “I… I don’ know… lady… I don’ know when I, when I turned… lotsa… lotsa days a blur… lotsa days, I jus’ feel sick, strung out, shit, can barely… I don’, I don’ know how long I been this… I don’ even fuckin’ know…”

The thin-blood melts under her touch. More pinkish tears trickle into the tub.

“I… I ain’ got nobody… nobody who care, if I live, die… nobody… who give a shit… "

“I jus’… I jus’ want someone, f’ once, who give a shit… that all…”

Celia: She rinses its hair again, the strands smoother than she imagines they have been in a long time. Silky, like the conditioner promises. Randy had been using one of those two-in-one deals when they’d first gotten together, but Celia had quickly put an end to that.

There’s a facial wash, too, and she applies a liberal amount into her hands that she then uses on its skin, making long, sweeping gestures up from the neck, across the jaw, circles around the cheek, the nose, the orbital bones. She’s careful not to get it in its eyes.

Despite herself, something tugs at her heart strings.

This is what Dani has to look forward to.

This is what she has to look forward to once her family dies. Isolation. No one giving a shit.

No one deserves this.

“What about before? Your life prior?”

GM: The thin-blood isn’t beautiful by any stretch. There’s a starved and desperate look to the facial features that Celia suspects will never go away. They look naked and vulnerable, far more so than from their actual nudity, with the grime and filth scrubbed off.

“’Is the same life…” mumbles the thin-blood. “Ain’ really diff’rent… stay in the Quarter now, don’ go here, don’ go there… same shit…”

“I didn’ have a life… I didn’ have nobody who cared… got kicked out…”

“Fuck ‘em… s’all they wanted to do, anyway…”

“Hell, you know, I thought… when you was beatin’ your mom… I’d love to be her… ’cuz… you cared…”

Celia: Jade is gentle with the rest of the thin-blood’s body. She keeps her touch soft across the breast tissue, though she’s thorough with the cleaning, and again between the legs. She murmurs a quiet apology for the invasion of privacy.

“It’s hard,” she agrees after a while, “this life. Unlife. The Requiem. More so for you, I imagine, for so many reasons. What did you do before? What would you want to do now? If I could offer you safety, security, food. What would you want to do?”

GM: “I… I don’ know, lady, I ain’ had that shit… all I done is try to s’vive…”

Celia: “You broke into my place pretty handily. Do you do that often?”

GM: “If I got… yeah… I gotta eat, I gotta get shit…”

Celia: “What about if you weren’t worried about your nightly survival?”

GM: “I already lost all the fuckin’ money you gave me…”

“I… I donno, lady, I always have…”

“Even back at the home… they was shitty there… you always on your own…”

Celia: “And you promise me,” Jade says to it as she finishes the final rinse with clean, warm water, “you promise me that no one else knows what you found out from the bug? That you haven’t spoken to anyone? Because I… I feel for you. I do. I have a friend like you. Duskborn. And a person who works for me, like you, between genders. So if you told someone already, that’s okay, I just need to know so I can fix it before my family gets hurt, and then maybe you and I can work something out.”

“For you. For your future.”

“So you don’t have to struggle night to night just to survive.”

“So you can get a leg up.”

GM: “I, I swear, lady!” exclaims the thin-blood. “I, I tried to get to the Evergreen, to sell it, but they wouldn’ let me in… ain’ nobody who knows but me… I won’ tell nobody else…”

Celia: Jade nods her head at that.

“Okay. I’m going to get you some clean clothes. Do you want to soak for a bit while I do?”

GM: “Ye… yes, please, lady…”

This is what she has to look forward to.

This is Dani’s future.

This is her future.

Well, not quite.

At last she won’t need someone else’s permission to soak.


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Story Thirteen, Celia IV

“People have done things to me. Used me. Hurt me. I couldn’t be Celia around them.”
Celia Flores


Monday night, 14 March 2016, AM

GM: It’s a short trip back to Randy’s house to drop off Dani, who mentions that her mother and other ghouls are asleep there. After that, it’s another trip back to her haven. Roderick’s left a note saying he’d go “stir crazy” staying there after talking with Dani, but says he’ll be back by dawn.

He gets back earlier. He doesn’t seem to want to talk much, just fuck.

He’s enraptured by her. He loses himself in her. They fuck each other silly, again and again, before falling sleep in another’s arms.

Evening comes. Celia awakens to texts from her ghouls and Emily. Alana says she’s at Flawless, along with her mother, and asks if Celia’s going to come by. It’s been a while since she saw any clients.

The ghoul also says she’s “been in touch with one of your friends.”

Celia: Celia lets Alana know that she’ll be by shortly. She checks the text from Emily as well, assuming it’s also about her mother.

GM: It is. She mentions that Diana took a “mental health day” together with Lucy, and asks if Celia thinks things are all right and whether it has anything to do with Maxen.

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GM: There’s also a phone message from Diana about dates for dinner with Maxen. She wants Celia’s opinion.

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Celia: They’re all there. That’s convenient.

GM: Dani’s also sent a text thanking Celia for being there for her last night, and asking if they talked about getting her laptop + textbooks + clothes. She forgot all about that.

She mentions Alana also brought her to the spa.

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Logan’s sent Celia a MeVid video of a talk show host taking down an angry liberal professor.

oh yeah you wanna do anything with those evenings still?

Celia: There’s a lot to get back to. Celia handles it all relatively quickly.

She lets Dani know that she’s on her way in and will be speaking to her mother shortly about it to set things right.

Thanks for the heads up. Appreciate you. And happy to help.

Celia watches part of the video and texts Logan back that, he sure showed that guy lol.

Before she answers his question she looks to Roderick.

GM: He looks back at her as he finishes dressing.

“I’ll bet you $10 these clothes will be off again before I leave the door,” he smiles.

Celia: “Probably,” she agrees.

“My brother has a rage problem. You think boxing is a good outlet?”

GM: “Hm. I’m not a boxer, but my clan has fights to get our rage out. They can help. We’d probably be worse without them.”

Celia: “I just don’t want him to get kicked out of school. Or the ROTC.”

GM: “If he’s angry, he needs an outlet. Rage doesn’t go away on its own.”

Celia: “Maybe you can smack him around.” Celia grins at him.

GM: He smiles at her remark.

“I probably could, if you want me to.”

Celia: “Would your Beast try to get out?”

GM: “Only if he’s able to hurt me. But unless he’s a hunter or world-class badass, that’s hard for ordinary breathers to do.”

Celia: “Just an angry college kid.”

Have some ideas. When do you want to hang to chat? she texts back to Logan.

“What’re you up to tonight, then?” Celia asks Roderick.

She hasn’t bothered getting dressed yet, so when she rises from the bed she’s still naked from their coupling the night before.

GM: How’s tomorrow or the day after? he shoots back.

“It’s a Monday. Law work to start off with,” says Roderick. “My day job.”

“Moving more things to the new temporary haven I’ve set up. It’s another apartment until I finalize things with a house.”

Celia: Wed prob good. Looking forward to it.

“Did you find a house or you’re still looking? Remember: closet space.”

GM: “I’ve found a couple I like. Still deciding. Closet space in them all, though.”

k cool

His smile from surveying her naked form dims a bit. “How did things go last night with Dani after I left?”

Celia: “It… went well, I think. She asked that I not try to spare her feelings anymore.”

GM: “That sounds like her. Does she want to see me again?”

Celia: “She didn’t say no. But I think she needs some time to come to terms with everything. We’ve talked about some ideas for her on how to handle things.”

GM: “I feel like I really blew things.”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment.

“D’you want honesty?”

GM: “Always.”

Celia: “It could have been worse. You could have lost control and hurt one of us. But… yeah. It didn’t go well.”

GM: “I didn’t expect her to be so angry.”

Celia: “She’s been in your shadow her whole life. She thought she finally had something of her own.”

“And I… I could have prepared her better. I just… I didn’t know how.”

She finds the floor with her eyes.

“Are you mad at me?”

GM: He lifts her face up to meet his. “Of course not. I could never be mad at you for taking care of her.”

Celia: “I just wanted her to be happy with the hand she was dealt.” She presses her face against his chest. “Everyone is so awful about them, and she was so sad, and she’s been through so much.”

“I’m going to find who did this to her.”

GM: He hugs her. “Me too. I’m glad you were there for her.”

“I can’t do much to help look around the Quarter. But once you find them.” He gets a dark look. “Leave them to me.”

Celia: “I will.”

Then, “Is it wrong that the thought of you beating the shit out of someone is kind of a turn on?”

GM: “I think it’s something all girls like, on some level.”

Celia: “Mm. We’re all damsels, et cetera. Spank me harder, Daddy.” Celia rolls her eyes at him.

GM: “I’ll point out you’re the one who wanted me to spank you, too,” he smirks.

Celia: “You offered. I just confirmed I’m into it.”

GM: “Was I kidding when I offered? Spanking doesn’t really do it for me.”

Celia: “Oh.”

GM: “But if you’re into it, I do still owe you.”

Celia: “No, it’s okay. Asking you to do something you’re not into will kill my boner.”

“I have a whole fantasy around it, anyway. It’s silly.”

Libido sufficiently smothered, Celia asks if he’d like to meet back here at 10:30 to get ready.

GM: “Sure.” He looks rather less than thrilled. “What’s the fantasy, though?”

Celia: “Things you already told me you’re not into. Schoolgirl stuff. Rulers.” She tries not to think of Paul. He had liked her in plaid skirts and white knee-highs. “But I’ve got a bunch of them. We can list ‘em all out one of these nights, find something we both vibe with. Wouldn’t mind doing it in public again, though not needing to breathe means the whole ‘be quiet’ thing isn’t as much of an issue…”

Celia smiles up at him.

“We’ve got eternity to try it all. And, really, as long as it’s with you I’m happy.”

“I love you, Rod. Even though your nickname is Rod.”

GM: He smiles back at her.

“I love you too, Celia. You’re the one lick who’s honest with me. The one lick not working some kind of angle.”

“Fantasy list sounds like a great idea. We’ll find some that click for us both.”

Celia: There’s only one lick she’s ever been fully honest with and it’s not him. Too much rides on keeping her mouth shut. But she isn’t out to hurt him, and none of what she’s keeping deep inside has any bearing on them.

“I’d do anything for you.”

One night, maybe, she can tell him everything.

Just not tonight.


Monday evening, 14 March 2016

Celia: Celia waits until Roderick leaves to finish getting ready for the night. She takes a quick rinse in the shower, selects an outfit, and spends a bit of time in front of the mirror fixing her face to make her look like herself again. Her aged self, anyway, which to some extent is just another mask, but it’s the one that they’ll expect at the spa.

It doesn’t take long before she’s out the door and on her way to Flawless in the standard spa uniform: black yoga pants and a fitted shirt that has her business name scrawled across the front. A pair of pink sneakers that match the lettering completes the look.

She stops by Alana’s office first.

GM: Her ghoul meets her there. Lucy sits on Alana’s desk.

“Deacon Benson got back to us, mistress. She’s willing to meet you in Marigny at 2 AM tonight.”

Celia: “Excellent. Thank you. Any word from Carolla or Cambridge?”

She’s a little disconcerted to see the doll on her desk. Hadn’t she put her in a bag to find someone to speak for her?

A plan she’d abandoned with Dani in tow.

Tonight, then, before she meets Elyse.

GM: “Carolla says he can meet tonight at 4 or Thursday at 1.”

Celia: “Thursday.” Something to look forward to. They can take their time.

GM: “All right, mistress. Cambridge said he was thinking 8 or 9 on Wednesday, so you have some time on the casino floor.”

Celia: “I can make that work. Let’s do 9.”

“When is your audition for the show? Did they reach out about that yet?”

GM: “Yes, mistress. That’s on Wednesday at 1 PM.”

“I tried to get a night audition, in case you wanted to do it, but those seem to mostly be for independent films.”

Celia: “I’m sure you’ll knock it out of the park,” Celia smiles at her. “But I appreciate the effort.” She leans in, nuzzling Alana’s neck with one hand on her hip and the other cradling the back of her head.

“You’ve been so very amazing these past few nights with everything going on. You really stepped up. I have a seduction job tomorrow evening; would you like to come with me and we can share him? And afterward,” she whispers in her ear, “you and I can spend some alone time together.”

GM: “Yes, mistress,” the ghoul purrs under Celia’s touch, leaning into it as her breath catches in her throat. “I’d love that, so much. That sounds wonderful.”

“Can we sleep together, too? I hate the thought of you lying anywhere by yourself, during the day.”

“Someone should always be around to admire your perfect body…”

Celia: “Certainly, ‘Lana. I hope you’ll wake me the next night with your mouth, or maybe that toy…”

GM: “I’ll give you a wakeup you’ll never forget, mistress,” beams Alana. “I’ve missed sleeping with you.”

Celia: “I know, darling.” Celia trails kisses up her throat to her mouth. “But I’m here for you.”

GM: The ghoul kisses her rapturously back. “I’d still love to suck your cock, if you want to include that in our alone time…”

“I love the thought of getting on my knees for you…”

Celia: Celia nudges her backwards until the ghoul’s backside touches the desk. Her hands roam the perfect body she’s created.

“I do,” she murmurs, squeezing one of those shapely breasts in her hand. Her thumb traces the nipple. “I want to turn myself into a boy for you and take you like a man takes a woman. With everything that entails.”

GM: The nipple quickly stiffens under her touch. Alana whimpers and closes her eyes, smiling as Celia enjoys the body she designed.

“Just the thought is making me wet… master,” the ghoul purrs.

“I’ve never seen you make yourself a man…”

Celia: Celia slides a hand down Alana’s front and under the waistband of her skirt to check for herself. Two fingers come away slick.

“I’ve never wanted to be a man for anyone but you.” Celia brings the fingers to Alana’s lips. “Taste yourself,” she murmurs.

GM: The ghoul takes Celia’s wrist in her hands, gets down on her knees, and starts slowly sucking. She moves her head back and forth as her tongue plays between Celia’s fingers. A preview of the oral pleasures to come.

Celia: Celia watches the ghoul sink to her knees. Her fangs grow long in her mouth at the sight; she itches to hoist the girl back up and bend her over the desk, but she has nothing to fuck her with. She’s jealous of all the men in the world who can just take what they want. Tomorrow, though. Tomorrow she’ll have a cock. Tomorrow she’ll show Alana how much she appreciates her.


Monday evening, 14 March 2016

Celia: Celia leaves her ghoul quivering in delight with a final lingering kiss and a promise to show her a good time tomorrow, when they can finally be alone. She makes her way back down the stairs to get the room ready for her client this evening. Death hasn’t made it impossible to work on clients, only slowed her down; rather than a full day of bookings she contents herself to an evening schedule, which is more convenient for the men and women who work long hours and want to unwind before their trip home. The excuse is that she’s busy running the place and looking for a second location, and once that opens and she (or rather Alana) starts shooting the TV show and then movie she’s sure that she’ll be under less scrutiny to fit people into her schedule.

She stops off at the front desk to pass Naomi’s information to Natalie and asks her to reach out to set up an appointment, then swings by the Tranquility Room to pick up her client: Charity Pierce. Celia—or rather one of her alters—knows her as one of Robert’s girls. They’ve worked a few johns together when her sister was busy with school (Violet can’t pass for her sister, but it’s still two girls at a time and there’s no scoffing at that). She’s also a delightful snack, but this evening at least she won’t be fed from. Celia’s Beast is quite full.

“Good evening, Charity,” Celia says to her with a warm smile. She brings the girl into the treatment room to get started.

Charity and her sister usually come in on Mondays together to get waxed, primped, and primed for their dates during the upcoming week. They had told her it’s the one luxury that they allows themselves: waxing every four weeks, vajacials a week after the Brazilians to keep everything fresh downstairs, the occasional facial and lash lift. It’s an investment in themselves, the girls had said when they’d splurged on a handful of products. Their bodies are their money makers so they need to take care of them.

Celia understands perfectly.

She checks on her products for the vajacial while Charity settles herself on the table, naked from the waist down.

“Anyone fun lined up this week?” Celia asks as she slides on a pair of blue nitrile gloves. Ordinarily she doesn’t chat much during the treatments unless the clients want to, but there’s something vulnerable about being spread open on a massage table with a girl staring at your pussy that’s usually a little uncomfortable, so Celia chats during treatments like this to put them at ease. Charity had been very open with her about what she does, and the two often gossip about the clients that they both see: Charity while she’s on her back and Celia while they’re on theirs. Some of them overlap.

Charity had been waxed last week, leaving the skin between her legs smooth and silky. Celia starts with the cleanser, lathering a small amount of it between her fingers and then applying it with small, circular movements across her mons. Vajacials only work on the visible surface; the vagina itself is very temperamental and doesn’t like these sorts of products being shoved inside of it, so while Celia is thorough she’s also careful to keep the cleanser off of and out of anything sensitive.

GM: Like draws to like. Flawless makes people beautiful, and so draws beautiful people. Charity is a lovely 20-something young woman with full lips, excellent proportions, and smooth chocolate skin. She’s also casually dressed as she shows up for her session. The evening dresses and heels wait for her clients (most often on weekends), or when she’s arriving to get her face and nails done.

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Some of Celia’s clients are squeamish about spreading their legs for her. Her mother perhaps surprisingly wasn’t: “You’ve seen just about all there is to see with me already, sweetie,” she’d said.

Charity seems to fall in that camp too, if for different reasons. She spreads her legs for enough strangers.

“This week’s been awful, honestly,” she answers.

“Christina just found out her niece died.”

“She’s doing her best to stay professional, but it casts a cloud over everything.”

Celia: Once you get used to the discomfort of a Brazilian and bond over the first session it’s pretty much all water under the bridge with your tech from there on out. A lot comes out on the table, especially when you’re naked or getting hairs ripped out of you. Not that this is a waxing service, but that’s how they’d met years ago; what lies between Charity’s legs is a familiar sight.

“Oh my goodness,” Celia murmurs as she rubs the cleanser onto her skin. “That’s awful. I can’t even imagine going through something like that. Is she okay?”

GM: “I don’t think so, to be honest,” Charity answers from her back.

“She’s been really angry about it too.”

Celia: “I can imagine,” Celia says. “Wasn’t she one of the girls caught up in that incident last August?”

GM: “Yeah, she was. She got some jail time for it. That’s where she died.”

Celia: “She died in jail?”

GM: “Yeah. Orleans Parish Prison is one of the worst jails in the country. It’s worse than a lot of federal prisons.”

Celia: “Isn’t that a men’s prison…?”

GM: Charity shakes her head. “I’ve been there. It’s the parish jail, not a prison, despite the name. It has separate areas for men and women. And it’s awful.”

“It’s comically easy to smuggle in contraband. There are inmates who go around with guns. The guards don’t care unless they actually shoot people.”

Celia: Celia makes a tsking sound with her tongue against the roof of her mouth.

“That’s awful. I’ll have to send her something. Nothing makes up for the death of family, but maybe I can… take her mind off of it for a while or something.” Celia pushes the air from her lungs in a sigh. “That’s heavy.”

GM: “It really is. Christina’s niece got stabbed to death.”

Celia: “Wow,” she breathes.

GM: “She also killed one of her attackers.”

Celia: “At least she went out swinging. Still. That’s terrible.”

GM: “I’ve seen lots of fights break out there. The infirmary is a joke. So people have to get sent to hospitals, but a lot of the time the guards just don’t care enough. So people just die there.”

“It also happened… something like a month ago, that Christina’s niece was murdered. The prison didn’t notify her until now.”

Celia: “What? How could they just not notify her?”

GM: “The place is a complete shit show. You have to see it to believe it. I’m honestly not surprised over something like that.”

Celia: “Is she having a service for her niece, do you know?”

GM: “I don’t think so. There isn’t a body left.”

Celia: “Christ.”

GM: “The jail already took care of it.”

Celia: Celia takes a moment to pull a warm towel out of the caddy and wrings it out, then wipes away the cleanser on Charity’s skin.

“And that’s normal for them? I just… I can’t even imagine how something like that slips through the cracks.”

GM: Charity smiles briefly at the feeling. “I don’t think it’s standard for them to wait a month, but there is a lot of stuff there that slips through the cracks.”

“Like I said. The place is a complete shit show.”

“Literally. A woman took a dump when I was in the holding cell, where you stay when you’re being processed.”

“She’d been there for most of the day, I think had diarrhea, and couldn’t hold it in anymore.”

“A bunch of the other inmates beat her half to death for it. The guards just didn’t care.”

Celia: “What, there’s no bathroom?”

Celia reaches for the mask. It’s the first of two and she applies it liberally, then pulls the steamer over to get the warm mist going across the area. She gets the extraction tools ready while the mask sits.

GM: “Nope,” says Charity. “Those are in the individual cells.”

Celia: “What were you picked up for?” Celia asks in wry amusement.

GM: “Oh I bet you can guess,” she smirks.

“It was a while ago, though. I was dumber. If I get sent to jail now I’ll deserve it for being that dumb again.”

“Christina is beyond livid, anyway. Her niece had been in the hospital before then. She had a head injury and fell into a coma. That was the better part of a year ago. She didn’t know Amelie had woken up from the coma, either.”

Celia: “So she woke up from the coma and was transferred to the jail and died and no one told her? What is wrong with people?”

GM: “Yep. She just got this call out of the blue that her niece was moved from the hospital to the parish jail after waking up, and also had died a month ago.”

Celia: “…wow.”

“What is she going to do?”

GM: “I don’t know, but she’s going to do something. She’s a former lawyer.”

“I’ve never heard her so angry. She’s going to find someone to blame.”

Celia: Celia just shakes her head.

“I hope she finds peace. It’s not easy, losing a family member like that. A friend of mine lost her brother and her dad was torn up about it for a long time. I wonder if there’s anything I can do.”

GM: “I don’t think there really is. ’I’m sorry for your loss’ only does so much.”

Celia: “Empty words,” Celia agrees.

GM: “It doesn’t bring them back.”

“But I guess life goes on. Still taking clients.”

Celia: “As awful as it is, the world doesn’t stop spinning for one person.”

“How are you holding up, though?

GM: “I’m okay. I mean, she wasn’t my niece. I didn’t lose anyone.”

Celia: “No, but it affects you. Work environment.”

GM: “I’m sad for Christina. She’s been a really good boss.”

“Like I said, she’s trying to keep things professional. I’m amazed she’s even still running the business. But I can tell how much it gets to her.”

“Her condo had a break-in before this, too. The burglar saw she was there and attacked her.”

Celia: “What?”

“Jesus,” she murmurs.

GM: “I know. She’s had a really awful past month.”

“She says she sleeps with a gun now.”

Celia: “I don’t blame her. I would too.”

GM: “And installed a whole bunch of new security around her place.”

“And get this, one of the girls in the building disappeared the same night.”

“Or, no, I think the burglar might have tried to get into her place too, and she moved away.”

“Something else happened.”

Celia: She can’t help but wonder who Defallier pissed off that someone is going after Roberts like this. Or if Roberts pissed someone off herself.

She’s quiet for a moment while she removes the mask, then warns Charity she’s starting the extractions. A metal tool presses against any closed comedones she finds to bring the sebaceous gunk to the surface, wiped away with a cotton round soaked in something similar to alcohol that sterilizes it when she’s done to prevent infection and kill anything left on her skin. She finds a handful of ingrown hairs that she pulls free as well.

“On top of all that, something else?”

GM: Charity nods and prepares herself, but doesn’t look too discomforted. Celia’s hands and well-practiced.

“No, something else just happened with the burglar in the building. And the other girl.”

“Isn’t my problem, though. I’m just glad Christina was okay.”

Celia: “Work still affects you, even if it’s not directly,” Celia says as she leans over to extract a particularly full pore. A spray of sebum comes out at her light touch. She wipes it away and keeps going. “The girls and Landen are affected when I’m not at my peak. Morale can sink. I hope she finds closure. Whatever that looks like.”

GM: “Probably making someone pay, knowing her.”

Celia: A second mask follows the first, this one focused on hydration. It’s a gelatinous texture that she spreads across Charity’s lower body with her fingers, making sure to cover every bit of exposed flesh.

“Good.”

GM: “I love how smooth this gets me.”

Celia: “Bet your clients love it too,” Celia says with a wink.

GM: “You bet they do.”

“This is my last semester at community college, I don’t think I mentioned. I’ll finally transfer to Loyola.”

Celia: “Oh, congratulations! What have you decided to major in?”

GM: “I still need to decide. I’ve just been so focused on work and Chastity, taking classes just became another regular thing rather than a long-term plan.”

Celia: “As long as you keep moving forward you’ve going in the right direction. It took me longer than usual to finish with everything I had going on. But I’m psyched for you. That’s awesome.”

Celia beams at her as she pulls another towel from the caddy to wipe away the second mask.

GM: “Agreed. And I can keep doing this until I get wrinkles if I need to. At least paying for things isn’t a problem.”

Celia: “You won’t get wrinkles if you keep coming to see me,” Celia assures her. “But I know what you mean. Feels like a slog after a while. But it’s a good feeling once you get your hands on that piece of paper.”

GM: “Ha. I bet. And I don’t mind doing it. It pays well. Christina’s a good boss. There just isn’t any future in it.”

Celia: “You’ve done it longer than most, haven’t you? Could take over for her if she’s ever looking to retire.”

GM: “That’s true,” Charity says thoughtfully. “I’ve been with her longer than any of the other girls.”

Celia: “It’s not something you do forever, right? Management is the next step.”

“You already know the business. And the clients. And the girls.”

GM: “Oh no. Once you get wrinkles, you’re out.”

“We’ll see, anyways. Christina’s only in her 40s. But who knows how she’s going to feel after all that’s happened.”

Celia: “I’m not telling you to take over,” Celia assures her, “just saying that if I were going to have someone manage the spa for me I’d choose one of the people already with me. They know the ins and outs.”

A brightening serum follows the second mask to lighten any dark spots, and she follows it with a general moisturizer once that has a moment to sink in.

GM: “I agree. Christina brings a lot of valuable experience to the business as a lawyer, but she hasn’t slept with clients herself.”

Celia: “Someone told me once that even during a recession escorts will always have work. It might be a luxury to some, but it’s a necessity to others. It doesn’t follow the same economic trends as the rest of the world, so it’s always a safe bet.”

GM: “I’d say it’s still affected, just less affected. The best clients are rich ones, but not everyone who sees an escort is rich.”

“One of my last clients was a not-rich guy turning 30 who wanted to lose his virginity. He’d probably saved up for it for a while.”

Celia: “If I’d waited that long I’d probably want something worth it, too. Sex kind of builds into this big thing in your mind if you don’t have it for a while, or ever, and it gets intimidating. I bet it was a good time for him.”

GM: “He said he was afraid of how he’d perform with other partners if he had no experience. But here he could be honest and get that.”

“I think it was, too. We did some pretty basic oral and missionary.”

Celia: “My first time was oral and missionary.” Celia grins at her. “It was still enjoyable. And now he gets to go into his next time with more confidence.”

“Guys have it hard sometimes, you know? They’re supposed to be these sex gods but they don’t even know what they’re doing any more than anyone else. And our stuff is all tucked up inside and everyone likes it differently.”

GM: “Yes. At least girls aren’t expected to be sex gods. You can get away with just lying there and taking it. You don’t have anything to prove.”

“I’m glad that guy saw a sex worker, anyways. He was awkward, because you don’t get to 30 and stay a virgin without something being wrong with you, but he tried to fix the problem.”

Celia: “I knew a guy like him once. Kind of a misogynist, to be honest. He was a client here for a while and kept talking about how women owed him for his friendship.”

GM: “Did he get off to how you did stuff around his junk?”

Celia: Celia snorts.

“Almost every guy pops a boner on the table. He never tried anything with me, though.”

“Well, that’s not true. He made some awkward happy ending jokes.”

GM: “There’s never sex in these places. Or at least there’s not supposed to be.”

Celia: “Mm, there is in some. But no, not worth the loss of my license. If I’m going to jack a guy off I’ll do it elsewhere and charge more.”

GM: “Smart.”

Celia: There’s not much left to do once the serums and moisturizers go on. The brightening spot treatment she’d applied earlier will rid Charity of any hyperpigmentation or unsightly dark spots—she only has very minor ones after coming to see Celia as often as she does—and the rest of her skin stays smooth and supple. Perfect for someone to bury their face in it.

Flawless.


Monday evening, 14 March 2016

Celia: Celia excuses herself from the room to let Charity dress and takes her up to the front desk to leave in Natalie’s capable hands.

Now there’s an idea.

She returns to the room to clean up for her next appointment, another long-time vessel and client that Celia does not drink from this evening: Evelyn Jameson. Technically her grandmother. Also technically not her grandmother. Also younger than her, which makes the whole thing feel very silly. But the two get on well enough despite most people’s assumptions that the woman is a vapid cow only after Jim’s money, such as it is, and they make idle chatter while Celia applies wax with wooden sticks and rips it off with linen cloth. If she’s bothered by the amount of sex that Jim still has at his age or his wife’s inclination to talk about it she doesn’t let it show.

Evelyn, too, is seen to the exit once she’s done with her, and after cleaning up the room Celia is done for the night. Mondays are often her busiest days, but with everything up in the air for her at the moment she’d asked Alana to keep her schedule lighter this week. Enough to feed, enough to gossip, but not so much that she gets bogged down by the kine world when things are moving so quickly in the Kindred one.

GM: Step-grandmother, in fact.

Evelyn is, annoyingly, pregnant, but Celia has experience with that, even if it’s a pain to have them on their sides and propped up by mounds of pillows.

Celia: Celia is less annoyed by the pregnancy and pillow forts now that she has new tables with an incline that she can set up for her pregnant clients. She’d gotten it after the Diana pregnancy to make it easier on herself and her clients. Solid investment. Evelyn’s hips needed a bit of realignment, but otherwise her pregnancy is going swimmningly and Celia is excited to spoil her… step-cousin? Step-mom? Step-aunt? She’s not quite sure what the little girl will be, only that they’re somehow related, even if not by blood.

She flips off the lights in her room and goes to find her mother and Emily, if the latter is still around.

GM: Celia finds Emily, their mother, and Lucy in one of the massage rooms. Diana’s lying down on the massage table as Emily works her back. Lucy’s sitting off the side and slowly reading aloud from one of several children’s books. Green Eggs and Ham.

“I do not like green eggs an’ ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-Am,” reads the six-year-old.

She looks like her nails have had a fresh coat of sparkly pink.

GM: “Hey, Celia,” smiles Emily as she walks in.

Her mom turns a little, though not enough to expose her breasts around the first grader. “Hi, sweetie.”

“Mommy, it’s been forever!” says Lucy, setting down the book to scamper up to her.

Celia: “Hello ladies,” Celia says to her mom and Emily. She doesn’t normally interrupt treatments, but Diana had never minded. “And hello little Goose,” she says to the girl, picking her up to put on her hip. “I like the new polish choice. You’re ahead of the trends with the sparkly pink, you know. I heard it’s going to be April’s color.”

GM: Lucy giggles. “Pink an’ sparkles should be all the months’ colors.”

“You wanna show your mommy what you have for her, Goose?” smiles Diana.

“Yeah, it’s in the book,” says Lucy, pointing at the Green Eggs copy.

Celia: “Oooh, what is it?” Celia carries the six-year-old over to where she left the book.

GM: “It’s this!” says Lucy, paging through it as she picks it up. She pulls out a crayon drawing held between its pages. It depicts a semi-stick figure Celia with red lipstick and sparkly nails, Emily in a doctor’s coat and stethoscope, and Diana in a ballerina’s tutu. A shorter Lucy stands in front of them. Their house is behind them. A bright yellow sun shines from above.

“I made it at school.”

Celia: Celia’s face brightens at the drawing.

“It’s beautiful, Luce! Good color choice on the lips. I love it.” She kisses her daughter on the cheek. “Where should we hang it?”

GM: Lucy beams at the praise. “How about… someplace here?”

Celia: “I’ll put it in my treatment room, how’s that? All my clients will be able to see it. Will you sign it for me? I want to be able to claim I have the first Lucy Flores original.”

GM: “Yeah!” nods Lucy. She looks around. “I need a pencil.”

“I’ll get one,” says Emily. She returns in a bit with a pen.

“Lucy told her teacher we were all her mommys, but that Mom was her grandma too, and that Celia and Emily were her mommy-mommys,” says Emily.

“I bet she had some interesting thoughts about us.”

“Yeah, ‘cuz you’re interesting!” says Lucy.

Celia: “I imagine so,” Celia says with a grin.

GM: “We sure are, Goose,” smirks Emily.

“Oh, I’d better explain things to her,” Diana says with a rueful chuckle.

Emily sets the drawing down on the table as Diana scoots to the side a little. Lucy signs with a flourish.

“Tah-daaah.”

Celia: “That is a beautiful signature, Luce. To go with the beautiful drawing. Thank you very much for it.”

GM: “Yes, what a stylish signature,” smiles Diana, tussling the child’s hair.

“You’re welcome!” says Lucy.

Celia: Celia smiles at the little girl and picks her back up, promising that once they’re done here they’ll hang the drawing in her own room.

“How’s the massage going, Mom? Leg okay?”

GM: Diana nods. “Emily’s a magician with her hands too. She’d been doin’ my back when you came in, as you can probably tell.”

“Can we get a frame?” asks Lucy.

“Sure thing, Goose. We’ll pick one up tomorrow,” smiles her mother.

Celia: “I mean in general,” Celia clarifies to her mom. “And of course we’ll get a frame for it, Goose.”

She sits to the side while Emily resumes her work. They’ve done four-handed massage on Diana before (and it’s one of their most frequently booked services), but tonight she lets Emily do her thing.

“I got your text, Mom. Did you want to talk about it now or later?”

GM: “Maybe now would be good,” says Diana. “Emily, can you watch Luce for a bit?”

“Sure thing. Why don’t you read to me some more?” Emily asks Lucy. She picks up the six-year-old from Celia, sits down on a chair, and sets Lucy on her lap.

“I do not like green eggs an’ ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-Am,” resumes Lucy.

“Can you hand me my clothes, please?” Diana asks, then turns away from the trio to re-dress. She follows Celia out to her office.

“Are you hungry, sweetie? I’d be happy to feed you,” she offers with a slightly nervous smile, clearly remembering the strained end to their last conversation.

Celia: Celia closes the door behind the pair of them and gestures toward a chair for her mother. She leans against her desk.

“I am not hungry, no. Thank you. I appreciate it, though.”

There’s a brief pause while she gathers her thoughts.

“First, I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry for how things ended. I didn’t get a chance to tell you about everything that is going on with me, but the past week or so has been… stressful. There’s been a lot going on. And I felt like I was drowning, and I took it out on you. I’m sorry.”

GM: Her mom immediately looks relieved and pulls her into a hug.

“Oh, it’s okay, sweetie! I’m sure it is, I can’t imagine how many more things you must have to worry about, from all that Dani’s said… all we want to do is help you, okay?”

“I’m sorry if I made things more stressful for you, too. I just feel so out of my depth. But I don’t want to do that, I want you to be happy and successful, same as always.”

Celia: “I know, Mom,” Celia says as she returns the hug. “That’s what I’d like to talk to you about. Helping. I wasn’t sure how this would work, but I think I figured it out. There’s a lot to cover and I’m sure you’ll have questions as we go, so feel free to jump in, okay?”

“But first, did you want to talk about Maxen?”

GM: Her mom nods. “Let’s talk about you, sweetie, at least first. You’re in my life more than he is.”

“I’d love to help you, just tell me how.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“So. I guess I kind of want to start at the beginning, if that’s okay. There’s some stuff I won’t share, and if I don’t it’s for a valid reason, okay? So if I tell you I can’t answer something, don’t press the issue. How much of the vampire society stuff did Dani tell you? She’s new to it as well and I just explained it to her on Friday.”

GM: Diana nods. “Okay, I won’t press. Dani gave me the gist, about the Carmilla, clans, churches, and what have you. I admit I wasn’t really sure what to make of most of it.”

“I mainly asked her about… vampires themselves, so I could understand you better.”

“She said she wasn’t hurt by the sun, isn’t that funny?”

Celia: “Okay. So Dani is a little different than me. She’s what we called duskborn, so her abilities and my abilities are different. I’m what some people call a true-blooded vampire, and she’s… kind of a half blood, if that makes sense.”

Briefly, Celia explains the differences, and tells her about the Toreador.

“But she does get some benefits. Like the sun thing.”

“Over the next few nights I can get into more of it with you, but I guess the main thing you need to know right now is that there are three factions in the city. I work for the guy who runs the Quarter. It’s why we live here, and why I run my business here. And it causes a problem because of where you work. The factions… think of them like gangs, right? Turf wars. They don’t want people outside of their faction on their turf. And you are going to smell like a ghoul, which vampires like me can pick up on immediately, so I’m going to teach you how to hide that.”

“Since the alternative is to, you know, quit your job and find something here, and that messes up Lucy’s education plan and your finances.”

“And I’d like to interrupt your life as little as possible.”

GM: “Yes, please!” nods Diana. “I don’t want to get attacked by a gang, but if I leave McGehee that changes just so much. There aren’t any schools in the Quarter, anyway.”

“So, all right, that sounds like a good idea for you to teach me how to hide how I’m a, ghoul is it?”

Celia: “Right. Ghoul.”

GM: “Ah, why do they call it that? It sounds pretty…” she chuckles, “ghoulish.”

Celia: Celia smiles in wry amusement.

“So, traditionally right, ghouls are kind… human-like creatures. And you’re now a human-like creature. You’re not quite human but rather the next evolution. Sort of. You’re still you, but you drink blood in addition to the food you eat. My blood. It’s what will keep you young and give you the powers I’ll teach you.”

“Sometimes people call them other things. Renfields.”

GM: “Okay. I’m just curious why ‘ghouls,’” Diana says with another chuckle. “Really seems like a funny name.”

“But… is it permanent, sweetie?” she asks, concern creasing her face.

“I’d like to die and hopefully go to Heaven eventually. I’d like Emily and Lucy and the others to outlive me. Parents shouldn’t bury their children, you know?”

Celia: “It’s permanent so long as you drink my blood. You won’t age. You’ll be able to shrug off and heal things that would down most people.”

GM: “Okay. But I’ll get to pass on eventually?”

Celia: “Yes. We can arrange that. When you’re ready to go you can stop drinking my blood.”

GM: “All right,” nods Diana. “Drinking your blood like this… do you think it’s a sin? Will I go to Hell for it?”

Celia: “I don’t think so, no. It’s all in what you do with it.”

GM: “I know the Bible has a few lines about drinking blood, but this seems just so far beyond what’s in there… anyway, all right. Is there a priest I can talk to, about these things?”

“I know you don’t want me runnin’ my mouth about all this. So I just want to ask you if there’s anyone it’d be okay with.”

Celia: “I can find you one.”

GM: “Okay. Thank you, sweetie,” her mom smiles.

“If the, ah, turf war ever changes… could we move to the Garden District? It’s just such a pretty neighborhood.”

Celia: “Ah… I don’t know that it will ever change that much. So probably not, to be honest.”

GM: Stephen thought the Quarter could turn into a bloodbath.

Celia: “But maybe. If it does.”

GM: “Okay. Long-term thing, then.”

“I guess this does explain why you wanted to live in the Quarter so much, back then.”

“Were you… when did you become a vampire, sweetie?” Diana asks curiously. “The last time I can remember seeing you during the day was… oh, gosh, that was a while ago…”

“Around the time I was getting your brothers and sisters back? I remember making breakfast for you.”

Celia: Celia gives a small nod.

“Yes. That was one of my last days before my Embrace. I met my sire that evening.”

She considers the merits of telling her mother, then finally does.

“I was going through a bad time, mentally. I was with Stephen, but Dad was… it was bad at home. I wanted more for you, for the others. I had a friend I thought could help, so I went to him. We drank. Smoked. Planned. I left and stopped at a bar, and I met a vampire. I didn’t know what he was, of course. Not then. But he took me home with him. And he fed from me. His cousin was there, a very, very beautiful woman. I woke up to them arguing. I tried to go out the window, but they… they’re fast. She caught me, brought me back in.”

Celia glosses over the rape, the long nails, the sex. It doesn’t matter. Not now.

“Eventually they got distracted and I ran. The next night, when Maxen came for you, I called the bar to see if he was there. He’d told me he was a thief and I wanted you back. I thought he could steal you.”

“But they wanted me to prove myself first, so she made me a deal and gave me her blood, her power. I was fast. Strong. Alluring. It’s like nothing I’ve ever felt, Mom. It was incredible.”

“I came for you. I got you out, took you to the hospital. I carried you in my arms. We were flying across the ground.”

This is where the story deviates. She doesn’t tell her mother Celia’s truth, just the events that she and Savoy and Veronica had decided on as Jade’s truth.

“She was pleased. She was amused by the tape that was leaked afterward. One of her sisters is politically active, Maxen was a client for a while. They don’t get along. It made their firm look bad. And she liked my skill with a makeup brush. She tested me that night, before she gave me her power. I don’t want to know what would have happen if I’d failed.” Celia shakes her head. “I don’t know if you saw the place after that, but it was destroyed. She did that.”

“So once she had permission she Embraced me. I’ve been dead since 2009.”

GM: Diana gasps and holds her hands to her mouth.

“You… you became this because of me, sweetie?”

She’s silent for a moment as she processes.

“Do you… do you regret it? Are you happier this way?”

Celia: “Sometimes it’s lonely. I didn’t like lying to you. A lot of people have petty reasons to hate each other. There’s not a lot of trust, and sometimes the people suck. But it’s… I mean, I get to do really amazing things. I have forever to learn new tricks, I meet really cool people, I’ve learned so many new things about the world and history and art. There’s a whole new culture to explore.”

“I don’t regret it. Not at all.”

“And I’m dating a pretty amazing guy, so that’s always a plus.”

“And, Mom… I don’t regret saving you. Not at all. I love you. I’d do it again.”

GM: Her mom hugs her again. “Okay. Good. You’re happy. That’s what matters to me, sweetie. That you’re happy.”

She smiles. “And at least you don’t have to lie to me anymore, now. That makes me happy too.”

“And… it might be seven years late… but thank you for saving my life.” She pulls away, but squeezes Celia’s hands. She looks a little misty-eyed. “These past seven years have been some of the happiest I’ve ever lived. Bringing Emily and Lucy into our family has just been such a blessing.”

“I already knew I owed them to you. So I guess this is another reason I do.”

Celia: “I love you, Mom. I’d do anything for you. I want you to know that. It’s why I lied, it wasn’t safe, but… I’m glad you know now.”

“You deserve to be happy.”

“And I was hesitant about Lucy, you know, but seeing how much joy she’s brought you… it’s been worth it.”

GM: Her mom nods. “I remember how Emily was too. But her name means born at dawn. I chose it for a reason. She was a new light at the end of a very dark time for us.”

Celia: “Was that why?”

GM: “Yes, sweetie. She was God’s way of showin’ us that good can come from bad. That bad doesn’t have to last forever.”

Celia: “You never named anyone Lucy before?”

GM: Diana falls silent.

Celia: “You don’t want to talk about it.”

GM: Celia’s mother mutely shakes her head.

Celia: “I will for a moment, then. I’ve had the other Lucy for years.”

GM: “Stop,” Diana whispers, holding her hands to her ears.

Celia: Celia looks like she might say something more, then just shakes her head.

“Okay.”

GM: Her mom removes her hands after a moment and plasters on a smile.

“You said you wanted to talk about me helping you, sweetie?”

Celia: “Yes. I spoke to a friend of mine. I have some ideas. And some other news, incidentally. I told you that Maxen wanted to take you to a place in Texas to fix your leg. And Emily was skeptical, remember?”

GM: Diana nods.

Celia: “It’s a real thing that exists. I know because I know of people who can do it. I took you to see someone shortly after my Embrace, after your toes came off. He reattached them. I don’t know that I can see him again, there’s a whole faction war going on and he’s on another side, but there are two others I can reach out to. I’ve held off because I didn’t know how I’d possibly explain it to you. But I’d like to do this for you.”

GM: “You… could fix my leg?” her mom asks. “Just… just like that?”

Celia: “Yes. Just like that.”

“I mean, it’s an involved process. But the blood can do pretty amazing things.”

GM: Her mom gives a little noise, not quite crying, and pulls her into another, even tighter embrace. “Oh, sweetie! That’d be… yes, oh please!”

“I thought you meant me helping you, when you brought up help… you just do so much for me… you’re such a good daughter…”

Celia: “You will be helping me,” Celia says into her shoulder. “But I’m helping you first. And I think what I’m going to ask you to do is something you’ll enjoy.”

GM: “Anything, sweetie,” her mom sniffs. “Anything.

Celia: “I told you that we’re a clan of artists. Dance is art. I’d like you to dance again. For me.”

GM: Her mom gives a little gasp, then starts crying again and squeezes her tighter.

But they sound like happy tears.

Celia: Celia holds her mother tightly in her embrace.

“I’d like to show you off to other people, too. And let them admire you. At parties. And shows. I want them to see how amazing you are.”

GM: “I’ll need a little time to practice, to get back in shape,” her mom smiles with another sniff. “It’s been so long, and all.”

Celia: “You’ll have plenty of time,” Celia assures her.

GM: “But I do still practice, every day, I just haven’t done any pirouettes or other moves that’d strain my leg.”

“But you didn’t even need to ask about that, sweetie.” Her mom sniffs again. “I’d love to dance for you. I’d love nothin’ more. What’s the point of dancing, if other people can’t watch?”

Celia: She smiles at that.

“There’s more, but I completely agree.”

GM: “Sometimes I dance a little by myself, when it’s just me in the bathroom, or my classroom’s empty and I’m in the mood, it’s a dance space and all, but you know what I mean…”

“It… might be a little tricky for me to rejoin a production company, though, they’ll probably think I don’t have many years left in me. I’m past 40 after all, so why bother…”

Celia: “Well, that’s the other thing. I’d like to get you a new identity. A new face. You’ll still be Diana Flores, but you’ll be someone else as a dancer. Around anyone like me you’ll wear a different face. It will keep people from looking too closely at you and wondering about our connection. It will keep Lucy and Emily safe as well.”

“So if you want to be a younger dancer, you can be a younger dancer.”

GM: “It’d keep them safe?” Diana asks. “How’s that?”

Celia: “Because no one will know that you’re a ghoul.”

“There was a guy a while ago. Executed. His ghouls were executed. His ghoul’s families were executed.”

GM: “Executed?” Diana blinks.

Celia: “He broke the Masquerade, so they put him down for it.”

GM: “By… by who? The vampire king?”

Celia: “The prince, actually. We don’t have kings.”

GM: “Ah, right, that’s what Dani said it was. Prince.”

“I admit that’s pretty hard for me to wrap my head around, but if you think it’s for the best, then okay.”

“Ballet isn’t something you do if you want to get a lot of individual recognition. We all look the same in our makeup and tutus, after all. Or at least mostly the same.”

“I mean, there are famous ballerinas, but it’s a lot harder to earn recognition than it is for, say, a musical band. You go to a local Swan Lake performance, there probably won’t be anyone in the audience who remembers the dancers’ names and faces.”

Celia: “This is one of those things I just need you to trust me on.”

GM: “I will, sweetie. I trust you. I don’t need to get credit or be famous, ballerinas don’t expect to anyway. I’m happy just to dance.”

“It might still be tricky to get me into a company, though. You’ve done a great job taking care of my body, a lot of people are surprised to hear I’m past 40, but I don’t look 20 either.”

Celia: "Ah, well, I don’t know about joining the company. I’d have to talk to my sire, she’s more into the live action performances than I am so she’d have a better idea about what that would look like. “Or if it’s just a solo thing.”

“But, again, you’ll have a new face. We can make you look younger. Alana is actually your age, did you know that?”

GM: “You’re pullin’ my leg,” her mom says slowly.

Celia: “Not at all.”

“Alana isn’t even her real name. But when she joined me we got her a new face and body and identity. And that’s who she is now.”

GM: “Oh. Why did she want a new… all that?” Diana asks curiously.

Celia: “Alana was… very unhappy when I met her. She was on the verge of, ah, ending her own life. She was obese, bad skin, wasn’t doing well at work. She was a hairdresser but no one wanted her to work with them. She’s mixed race, you know, so she was too dark for the white salons and too light for the black salons. I ran into her one night and she kind of just confessed everything to me and we fixed it for her.”

“And she’s been a great manager.”

GM: “Oh, no, that poor woman! But I’m happy you were able to give her that fresh start. It’s no wonder she’s so happy to work for you.”

Celia: “She gets perks. A lot of the people who keep ghouls can be pretty mean to them. I try not to be like that. She has some leeway with me. She’s working in the industry she already wanted, she has a hot new body, and we’re probably much closer than most people are with their ghouls.”

And sex.

Lots of sex.

GM: “I hope we’re pretty close too, for…” her mom chuckles, “I’m sorry, it just sounds so strange to call myself ‘a ghoul.’ I don’t think I’m too ghoulish.”

Celia: Celia smiles at her.

“We have multiple terms for a lot of things. Maybe you’ll find one you like more.”

GM: “We’ll shop around, then. But as far as ballet, sweetie, I’m definitely happy to give solo performances, but understand that’s a bit like goin’ to a restaurant and only ever ordering drinks. Ballet is a troupe-wide endeavor and that’s where it’s most beautiful. That’s one of the reasons ballerinas don’t get as famous as musicians, because we’re just one piece of a bigger whole.”

Celia: “Sure,” Celia agrees, “but you’ll also be doing more solo work. And sometimes people do go to restaurants just to drink. That’s why bars exist.”

GM: Diana nods. “Solo work is what climbin’ the ballet hierarchy is all about. Getting a more individual role as, literally, a soloist, instead of being in the corps de ballet. Literally, ‘body of the ballet.’”

“I’m just lettin’ you know the full, best experience is with a troupe. Or another dancer or few.”

Celia: “Actually, I was about to tell you. There’s a group that performs a lot at the events. The Monster Dolls. I think they were the Maidens at some point but then they had a few gentlemen join their numbers and the name didn’t fit anymore. But they’re very, very strong dancers. It started with Middle Eastern dance and then branched out from there when the performers began to try new things and they added new blood to the mix. They do group performances but have soloists as well. Everything from ballet to hip hop, which is… less admired by the older members of my clan, but a big hit with everyone else.”

GM: Diana’s lips purse a bit when ‘hip hop’ comes up.

Celia: She’ll fit right in.

“You don’t want to pop, lock, and drop it?”

GM: “I’m not goin’ to say it’s not dance, so I’ll just say it’s not my kind of dance.”

Celia: “They do all sorts of things. I can probably find a contact and see if we can get you a partner, at least.”

“They’re not really owned by any one person, since there’s so many of them, but I have some threads I can pull on for you, at least.”

GM: “Ah. Okay.” Diana sounds relieved. “I thought you were going to ask that I join.”

“I just… I’ll admit I can’t quite take them seriously, from that description.”

Celia: Celia arches one brow at her mother. “I never figured you for that much of an elitist about dance. Art comes in all forms. So does dance.”

“You’d also have to see them to understand, really.”

GM: “Maybe, sweetie, but ballet is not a thing you do casually, as part of a mix and match! It takes about a decade of practice, starting at a very young age, to dance on a professional level.”

Celia: Definitely Toreador material.

“Well, I can hardly ghoul a whole troupe for you. And there’s another lick who runs most of the theater production companies anyway.”

“Not interested in getting into a pissing contest over taking a dancer or two.”

GM: “I just take a little offense at someone saying they ‘do ballet,’ like they can do hip hop. It isn’t something you can just do, even if you have years of practice in other forms of dance. Ballet takes a lot of work!”

Celia: “No one said that. I was just explaining that they incorporate a lot of things in some of their work.”

GM: “I just took a little offense, I guess. Ballet isn’t really something you can just pair with hip hop. It is a very specific type of performance dance. Take inspiration from, maybe?”

Celia: “That’s probably a better way to phrase it.”

GM: “Ah, okay. That does sound much nicer. I don’t try to make a big deal about things like that. There are girls who wear ballet-inspired fashions, and some ballerinas say it’s appropriation, but I don’t see what the fuss is. They aren’t claiming to be ballerinas, they just like what they’ve seen and want to emulate it.”

Celia: “Right. Well, that’s settled. It reflects back on me that I chose to give you my blood. So we’ll find you a partner and do some performances and you’ll bring honor to your family.” Celia might be quoting a movie.

“And there’s one more thing. I’d like you to learn how to fight. Fencing, specifically.”

GM: Diana blinks. “I’m sorry?”

Celia: “You always told me it got its start in ballet.”

GM: Her mom nods. “The other way around, but yep. Ballet originated in 15th century Italy as a dance interpretation of fencing. Some people ask if that’s a myth or not, but it’s true. Catherine de Medici brought it to France and Louis XIV made it a big thing.”

“Though it was a very different thing, back then! Heeled shoes didn’t completely disappear from dancers’ costumes until the French Revolution.”

“But, why do you want me to learn fencing, sweetie?”

Celia: “Multiple reasons. The first is that it’s another form of art and I’d like you to master it. The second is that I need to know you can defend yourself and Lucy. The third… the third is that I’d like to utilize your skills to serve as physical protection in places that my other ghouls can’t go. More importantly,” Celia says slowly, “it will give you something to work toward. It will give you an outlet for what I imagine is going to be an influx of energy. It gives you a goal. A source of pride for me as well as yourself. And I think, given your background, you’ll be great at it.”

“I’d like you to start with Robby. Emily trains with him on Sundays, or she’s going to start. After church. I’d like you to join them. Call it family bonding.”

“When you’ve become adequate… I’d like you to meet another trainer. Someone who served as a bodyguard to a prince. Someone who was damn good at what she did.”

Celia tells her about Miriam.

“You should have seen the way she moved, Mom. I couldn’t keep up.”

“And I think it might be good for Logan, too.”

GM: “Oh. I just don’t know that I’d be very good at it,” her mom hems. “I’d like to help you, but I mean… I am a woman.”

Celia: “Did you not hear what I said about Miriam?”

GM: “Well, you know, she is a woman too.” Her mom gives a self-deprecating little laugh. “Obviously.”

Celia: “Obviously. Then why, if she can do it, can’t you?”

GM: “Oh, well, are you sure she can do it, sweetie?”

Celia: “Yes, Mother. I saw her with my own eyes.”

GM: “Well, you know, it’s one thing to be fast, and another to…”

She hems a bit. “Emily wouldn’t like me saying this, but women aren’t really cut out for fighting.”

“I mean, the military doesn’t let them serve on the front lines. In combat roles, Logan told me about that.”

Celia: “Then think of it like ballet with a sword.”

GM: “The area we live is very safe, you know. I’ve never been afraid for Lucy’s safety. Or yours! You avoid the worse parts of the Quarter, right, and you stay away from the gutter punks?”

Celia: “Mom, the city is in the middle of a cold war. It might turn into a civil war. I’d like to not have to worry about you dead in a ditch somewhere.”

GM: “Oh. But why would someone do that? I’m harmless, aren’t I? I’m just a mom.”

Celia: “Because you’re mine.”

GM: “You’re not in danger yourself, are you, sweetie? You’ve talked about this whole gang war, but you stay out of it, don’t you?”

Celia: Celia gives that a tight smile. “Everyone is in danger. Every vampire in the city is in danger. Even if I didn’t work for who I do, anyone could use it as an excuse to settle an old score. Maybe they’ll take me out because my sire pissed them off fifty years ago and they think it’s funny to take the only childe she’s on good terms with. Maybe I stepped on someone’s toes once without realizing. Maybe they don’t like that I’m pretty. There are plenty of reasons someone could come after me.”

“And the Quarter might see the worst of it. There are a lot of us here.”

“No one wants it to come to that, but it’s a possibility.”

“If I stay at your house during the day I need to know you can keep my body from harm.”

GM: “So you’re really worried? That somebody might try to hurt you?”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “Okay. I can learn with Robby, if you think that’s best. Though I really think you’d be better off relying on a man. I can be your, ah, backup option.”

Celia: “Do you think I’m less capable because I was born with two X chromosomes?”

GM: “I wouldn’t say that, just that the sexes are each good at different things.”

Celia: “Sure. I’d agree with you to some extent. Humans, specifically.”

“But we’re not human anymore. I can be just as strong as a man. I can be faster than the world’s fastest sprinter. I can throw a punch that will shatter your spine.”

GM: “Don’t be silly, of course we’re still human. You’re just better at some things now.”

Celia: “That’s… all right, I’ll let Alana tell you about that.”

“Being born a woman doesn’t mean I’m not as good at something that a man can do. I’m not a woman anymore. I’m a vampire. It’s a different species.”

“And if you really don’t believe me, I’ll give my sire a call and you can watch her strut around in an evening gown and sky-high heels while she fends off five men at once.”

GM: “Would you like me to meet her, sweetie?” her mom asks, seriously. “She sounds like an important person to you, if she… made you.”

Celia: “Maybe eventually.”

Not her real sire, though. Definitely not him.

GM: She’s already met him anyway.

“Okay. But we’ll agree to disagree there, so far as you being a different species.” Celia’s mom smiles and cups her cheeks in her hands. “You’re still my little baby who I dressed in a bunny costume.”

Celia: Celia was the cutest bunny.

GM: “You know we have pictures to prove it!”

Celia: “That doesn’t surprise me. You can show my boyfriend when you meet him; I’m sure he’ll be amused.”

GM: “Ah. I meant in the sense that… we left your baby album with your dad,” Diana admits, her smile dimming a little.

“But maybe he’ll give it to you, now?”

Celia: “I can ask.”

“What do you want to do about him?”

GM: “I’d like to have dinner with him and see where things go.”

Celia: “I don’t know if anything long term is viable, I’ll be honest. It was before you took my blood. Now, though…”

GM: “Oh, why wouldn’t it be?”

Celia: “The person he belongs to hates the people I work for, and me by extension. He’s not like you. He’s ignorant about all of this. But he still belongs to someone.”

GM: “He’s my husband, though.”

Celia: “He’s your ex-husband.”

GM: “Well, yes.”

Celia: “And the person he belongs to doesn’t care.”

GM: “Oh. Maybe we could… ask them? Write a letter?”

“It seems a bit silly, he’s his own person, anyway. He doesn’t need permission to have dinner with his wife.”

Celia: “No. He doesn’t. But the fact that he’s seen having dinner with someone who is connected to me is suspect, and he won’t hesitate to come after me.”

GM: “Oh.”

Diana sounds a little crestfallen.

“What can we do, then? I’d like to have dinner with him. I think he’s changed.”

Celia: “I… don’t know, honestly. He’s not omniscient, but I’m concerned something will happen to you because of it. I was worried when Emily stabbed him not because of him or jail time, but because of the person he belongs to.”

GM: “Oh! Speaking of that, Emily talked with Viv.”

Celia: “Oh?”

GM: “Viv said she’s not in any danger, legally. At all.”

Celia: “Good. That doesn’t stop this person from taking off her head, but good.”

“Speaking of which. You told me years ago that someone threatened you with a letter about my paternity?”

GM: Diana blinks. “Emily’s head?!

Celia: “Mom, we operate outside the laws. He’s hardly going to have her arrested. I mean, we don’t go around killing people left and right, but I wouldn’t put it past him.”

GM: “He can’t kill Emily! No! What can we do?!”

Celia: “If he hasn’t yet I doubt he’s going to.”

GM: “But are you sure? Positive?

Celia: “About 90%.”

GM: Diana’s face plummets.

“We have to do something, Celia! Right away!”

Celia: “Right. So. That’s why I’m asking you about the paternity thing.”

GM: “How does… that help?”

Celia: “It’s a mess for his pawn. I clean it up. He leaves Emily alone.”

GM: “It’s 13 years old, sweetie… nothing ever came of it.”

Celia: “Maxen never ran for higher office. Not like this, anyway.”

GM: “But he did become majority leader. He moved up in the ranks. He’s now the party chair.”

Celia: “Mom, can you just trust me on this?”

GM: “Yes, of course! Whatever’s best for Emily!”

Celia: “So who sent you the letter?”

GM: “I… I wish I knew, baby.” Diana’s eyes start to rim. “I’d honestly forgotten about it… for years… but I don’t remember it saying.”

“There was just the test result. I don’t know why they wouldn’t have leaked it, around the election…”

Celia: Because he already knows.

“That’s what started the fight that night, isn’t it?”

GM: “Your father… your father wouldn’t have kept you, Celia, if he knew. I’m dead certain.”

“He’d have… I don’t even know what he’d have done to you.”

Celia: “Drowned me in the tub and blamed you for it, probably.”

GM: Her mom’s shoulders sag.

“I’ll be lying to him, if we get back together.”

Celia: “If that didn’t start the fight, what did?”

GM: “It just happened on the victory party. We’d been drinking, well, more like he was getting me drinking, and things just… your father was very dangerous then, Celia, and with the drink in our systems…”

Celia: “He said you said something about a man at the party. A black man. Is that true?”

GM: Her mom shakes her head. “Nothing happened at that party, sweetie.”

“I’d have never cheated on your father. He’d have… killed me for it.”

Celia: “Then what happened?”

GM: “I think we just got drunk, and one thing led to another. He was… he was a loaded gun, at the best of times.”

“It was such a big night. It’d been a really tough campaign. I might have just said something and he lost it. He was already beating me very badly. He was already so angry. All sober.”

“But, sweetie… can we help Emily with this?”

Celia: “I don’t remember him drinking much. He had all that alcohol in the house and never touched it.”

“And yes. That’s why I’m asking.”

GM: “He didn’t, but he drank at the party.”

“I mean, I never drink either, you know that, but I did there.”

Celia: “But why?”

GM: “It was a victory party. People were insisting, your dad was insisting. I couldn’t really say no.”

“Honestly, it’s probably the only time in my adult life that I’ve ever touched alcohol. I’m just not a drinker.”

Celia: No, Elyse had seen to that.

“But neither was he. I guess it just doesn’t make sense to me.”

“You mentioned a woman at the party. Do you remember her?”

GM: “I did? When did I?”

Celia: “I don’t know,” Celia admits, “it was a long time ago and I’m kind of fuzzy on the details. But when I came to see you in the hospital you said… said something about everything being fine until you talked to a woman, or maybe he talked to a woman, or something.”

“I just think if you remember her then maybe she’s someone who set up you and dad to fail, and if she’s an enemy of his then it’s enough to buy a break for Emily.”

GM: “Oh. Maybe… you could lie about it, sweetie? Or would anything else buy a break?”

Celia: “He’s not the type of person you can lie to.”

GM: “All right. I could help pay for it, if it’s a question of money. I don’t care how much.”

Celia: “Money means nothing to him.”

GM: “Oh. Why not?”

Celia: “When you’re that old, you have money. Anything we could give him is a drop in the bucket.”

GM: “Ah. That makes sense. Would anything else buy a break?”

Celia: Nothing Celia cares enough to pursue with her mother. If Donovan cared that Emily had stabbed Maxen he’d have already done something about it. He was in her head. He saw everything.

“I don’t know,” she finally sighs. “I’ll work on it. I admit to some personal curiosity over who destroyed our family as well. And… I mean, I was there that night. It shaped my childhood. It would have been nice to know who was responsible.”

GM: “But is Emily still in danger, when you do?” Diana asks gravely.

“You said 10%, but that might as well be 100% when you’re a mom.”

Celia: “I won’t let anything happen to Emily.”

GM: “Okay. You’re sure she’s safe? Positive?”

Celia: “Yes.”

“I’ve protected you both for seven years. I’ve got this.”

GM: “All right. You said to trust you, sweetie, and I do.”

Celia: “If you are interested in pursuing that further, there’s something I can try with you to see if the memory has been tampered with. I don’t know if it will work if it’s just that you don’t remember, but… it might be worth a try.”

“But there are a few other things to discuss. And I’d like to do that now rather than later. Mostly it’s about how our relationship is going to change.”

GM: “Oh. How so, sweetie? I like our relationship. I love our relationship!”

Celia: “I do too. But there are some changes that are inevitable.”

“Politely put, the vampire is the adult and the ghoul is the child. It’s a shift in power dynamics.”

GM: “Child how?”

Celia: “Subservient. People like me see people like you as less than. Most of them treat ghouls poorly. Very poorly. Expendable.”

GM: “Oh. But you don’t see me that way, I know.”

Celia: “No, I don’t. Which is why we’re having this talk.”

GM: “Okay. You said our relationship was going to change?” Her mom looks worried.

Celia: “It’s like this.”

Celia explains the power dynamics between vampires and ghouls. How some see the ghouls as little more than slaves to be snapped at to get what they want, but how Celia—and some others—treat theirs better. She doesn’t want anyone who works for her to be unhappy.

She explains, too, the masks that her ghouls wear.

“Ghouls like mine, those I have around my mortal identity, they treat me differently in front of you versus when we’re alone versus when we’re around other Kindred. Alana is very submissive around other Kindred. She calls me ‘mistress’ and other vampires ’ma’am.’ It’s a respect thing. Alone, she still calls me ‘mistress,’ but only because she likes to. Randy calls me ‘babe’ when we’re alone and in front of humans. In front of other vampires, it’s ‘mistress.’ I don’t really bring Rusty or Reggie around the others like me. Do you kind of see where this is going?”

GM: “Oh. So you want me to call you ma’am in public?”

“I guess that’ll feel a little funny, but if it’s part of pretending we aren’t Celia and her mom when we’re together, then sure.”

Celia: “If you’re going to be around them with me, there’s a way to speak with me and to them. Alana will run you through what’s expected. She’s mastered the etiquette.”

“So… yes, basically. When I’m Jade and when you’re my ghoul, the dancer or the bodyguard, it will be mistress or ma’am. It’ll probably be weird for a little bit. But when we’re alone, or when we’re with family, we can be like how it is now.”

GM: “Okay. But I’ll look different when I’m your ghoul, right?”

“I don’t really mind that, anyway, sweetie, it’s just acting.”

Celia: “Oh. Good. And yes, you’ll look different. We’re just playing a role.”

“You’re still my mom. I still love you like my mom.”

GM: Her mom smiles and gives her a squeeze. “Good. I love being your mom too. I was a lil’ worried you were going to say things had to be different.”

Celia: Celia smiles at her.

“No, not so different. Just sometimes. There’s also… the blood. My blood, specifically. I’d like to be very clear with you on when you will get it, when you’ll get extra, and when you won’t.”

GM: “Oh, speaking of, sweetie… I’ve felt great, since yesterday. Just wonderful, like I’m made of air. I feel so light. Would you mind if I had another sip?”

Her mom smiles again as she makes the request, but her eyes are hungry.

Celia: “Right. This is what we’re clarifying.”

Celia explains what she expects from her mother. And what she expects her not to do, as well. Diana is to make Celia’s life easier. She is to make Celia and Jade look good. She is to get along with the other ghouls versus not. Essentially, she is to be useful versus being a burden.

Which includes begging for blood.

GM: “Oh, you don’t even need to ask, sweetie, of course I want to get along with the others!” Diana nods. “Of course I want to help you and make your life easier and be useful. I’d like nothing more.”

“I’d just really like another drink, if you can spare one. It tastes so good, like how your massages feel.” She gives her daughter another smile.

Mélissaire said Jade would need a clear system of rewards and punishments. “When you punish them, it can’t feel arbitrary. They need to know ahead of time that breaking the rules has consequences. And they will break the rules if there are no consequences.”

Celia: “Right,” Celia says after a moment, “this is what I mean about being useful versus a burden. When you ask for blood, you’re asking vampire Celia, not your daughter Celia. We’ll call her Jade. You’re asking Jade for blood. Jade isn’t your daughter. Jade is a blood-sucking monster from someone’s nightmare. Giving out excess blood takes a toll on Jade and she doesn’t like it.”

“If you ask for extra blood, you will be punished accordingly, because this is a vampire transaction and not a family transaction. Being given my blood is a privilege. It is a reward. I don’t give it out because you ask. I actually won’t give it out because you ask. You’ll get it when I tell you that you get it, not before.”

“We have a whole system set up for punishments and rewards that you are now in on. Do you understand?”

GM: “I’m—I’m sorry, what?” Diana looks confused, and hurt too.

“I… I’m not sure if I do, sweetie, can you maybe explain for me?”

Celia: “I am not your blood vending machine. You do not put a dollar in and get blood out. You do not ask me to feed you extra. Asking for an extra hit is the surest way to arouse my ire. And right now, Diana, I am not your sweetie. I am your master and you will address me accordingly until this conversation is through.”

GM: “What? You’re my baby, of course you are! And please don’t call me by my name like that, it’s… it’s not what children do!" Her mother looks hurt. “I’m sorry, sweetie. If you don’t want me to ask you for blood, I’ll stop. I won’t ask again. I didn’t realize it was a big deal to you.”

Celia: Jade smiles at the kine woman. It’s not a nice smile. A hint of fang peeks from beneath her lip.

“I don’t think you heard me, Diana. I am your master and you will address me accordingly until this conversation is through. What did we say was the proper way to address me?”

GM: Diana holds up her hands. “All right! I don’t want blood! I won’t ask again! I just want to talk to Celia, please!”

Celia: “Certainly. When the conversation is over you can speak to your daughter as her mother. We were speaking about the system of rewards and punishments.” Her lips pull back from her teeth. “I asked you a question, Diana. I expect an answer.”

GM: Her mother starts crying. “Celia, please don’t be like this! You’re reminding me of, of your father!”

“I’m sorry I asked you for blood, I didn’t realize I was wrong, I swear I won’t again!”

Celia: “We can move on once you’ve answered my question.”

GM: Mélissaire had even advised, “It may help if you visually distinguish Jade the domitor from Celia the daughter. Maybe some quick alterations to your face you can change back.”

“What, what questio—oh, sweetie, there’s no need for that! I’m your mom, you don’t need to punish me! Just tell me you don’t want me to do something, and I’ll stop!”

Celia: Celia can see that her mother needs a firm lesson in this. It isn’t enough to simply ask, and she will not be moved by tears and begging. Her hands move across her face. They don’t blur, not quite, but she makes a few minor alterations: sharper chin, higher cheekbones, a brow that was made for easy scowls. She had done it once to Veronica, had sharpened her features to turn her into a deadly goddess of war rather than beautiful goddess of love, and she does it now to herself. A fingertip against her eyes and a long blink changes the color from brown to a bright green that smolders with intensity as she looks at this almost-blubbering juicebag.

Green, for Jade.

“Cease the waterworks. I explained the rules to you. I explained that I want you to be useful. I explained what you are to call me and how you are to address me when we are vampire and servant. Answer my question, Diana: how do you address me?”

GM: Diana’s already seen Celia—Jade?—turn into a cat. She doesn’t scream at the changes, but she holds her hand to her mouth as she takes several steps away.

“You said it was just pretend, around other vampires! Stop, stop calling me that! Please, sweetie!”

Celia: “I am not your sweetie, Grace.”

GM: Diana’s face whitens.

Celia: “I am its domitor, not its daughter. I asked it a question. I expect an answer.”

GM: The woman swallows. Her eyes glisten, but her tears stop flowing. Her voice is quiet when she speaks again.

“Grace is sorry. It doesn’t remember. Jade said that Alana called her mistress, and also that she was Grace’s master. Grace isn’t sure which name it should use.”

Celia: “Grace will call Jade mistress.”

GM: “Yes, mistress. Grace will call Jade mistress.”

Grace’s voice is distant and numb.

Celia: “I will explain the rules to it again.”

“I am Jade. I am Grace’s domitor. I can be a benevolent domitor, and rewards can and will be plenty if Grace follows the rules. There are two sides to me. When Grace speaks of blood, it speaks to Jade. Jade does not enjoy being asked for extra blood. Jade does not enjoy tears. Jade does not enjoy explaining things twice.”

“I told Grace earlier that the polite way to view the relationship is as adult and child. I tried to spare its feelings, as Grace is precious to Jade. I see now that this is wrong and Grace came away without a clear understanding. I will correct this. I am the master. Grace is the slave.”

“Does it understand?”

GM: “Yes. Grace… understands,” Grace repeats hollowly.

“Grace… wants to know how to earn the rewards. Grace wants to be good.”

Celia: “Grace is expected to obey. Grace will not ask for blood. Grace will learn shadow dancing from Alana and Rusty to mask its half-breed taste. Grace will learn to fence with Robby. Grace will impress the guilds for its domitor. Grace will answer its domitor’s questions when asked without protest. Grace will treat its domitor with respect. Grace will do as its domitor says. Grace will keep its domitor’s secrets. Grace will meld seamlessly into its new role as slave to Jade.”

“When these things have been completed, Grace will be rewarded. Grace will be rewarded when Jade is happy. Grace will be rewarded when it has learned to mask its half-breed taste. Grace will be rewarded when its teacher says that it is ready for new things. Grace will be rewarded when it makes its domitor look good in front of other Kindred.”

“Does it understand?”

GM: “Yes.” Grace’s face is still, its voice hollow. “Grace understands.”

Celia: “Things run smoothly when all of the pieces work together. Grace has a place at Jade’s side if it can follow directions. Grace can be rewarded beyond belief if it pleases its domitor.”

“But it will be punished when it doesn’t.”

“Grace will accept its punishment when rendered. Grace will explain to its domitor what it did wrong when it is punished. Grace will know that it is punished to correct its behavior. It will not be punished arbitrarily. If Grace follows the rules, it will not be punished.”

“Does it understand?”

GM: “Yes. Grace understands,” Grace recites numbly.

Celia: “I am pleased that Grace understands. I am less pleased that it sought to avoid punishment and that it took two explanations to accept its place. Grace will choose between the following punishments: physical chastisement or an evening with the doll Grace created.”

GM: The response comes immediately.

“Grace chooses physical chastisement, mistress.”

“Thank you for letting it choose.”

Celia: “Very well. Grace will remove its skirt and panties and bend over the desk.”

GM: Grace unzips its skirt, drops it, steps out, then removes its panties. It bends over.

Celia: “Grace will count out each smack as follows: one, thank you mistress. Two, thank you mistress. Does it understand?”

GM: “Yes. Grace understands,” says Grace. It doesn’t look up.

Celia: Jade takes a step forward. She rests a hand on Grace’s back for a long second. Then the first blow comes across her left cheek with a resounding THWACK.

GM: Grace cries out.

“One… thank you, mistress.”

Celia: A second blow follows the first.

Then a third.

All the way to ten.

Jade waits for Grace to count out each one before she delivers the next. She does not hit hard enough to bruise. She does not leave marks behind, though Grace’s pale skin turns a bright red.

GM: Grace bites its lip and clenches its eyes. It cries a bit, but quietly.

But it counts out and says thank you after each one.

Celia: Jade keeps a hand on Grace’s back after it’s done. She does not let her up yet, leaving the doll bent over the desk with its bottom exposed.

“What has Grace learned?”

GM: “Grace… has learned not to avoid punishment. Grace… has learned not to make its mistress explain things twice.” A few more tears roll down Grace’s face, but it doesn’t sob.

Celia: “Jade understands that Grace is new to this life. Jade is certain that Grace will succeed with time and make her proud. Jade will not let the lines between their relationship blur further.”

“Grace is bright. Grace is strong. Grace is beautiful. Grace is everything that Jade could want in a servant.”

GM: “Yes, mistress. Grace understands,” Grace says meekly.

Celia: “Grace was good just now accepting its place. Good behavior is rewarded.” Jade touches a hand to Grace’s reddened cheeks. She feels the heat coming off the flesh and onto her palm. “Grace will get dressed. After it dresses, it may take the name Diana again. It will thank its mistress once more for the lesson and it will be given a reward as Diana. When that has been accepted, Celia will return. Does it understand?”

GM: “Yes. Mistress. Grace understands.” Grace takes a breath, but doesn’t move from its position. “Grace… would like to make a request.”

Celia: “Ask.”

GM: “Grace would like to thank its mistress for the lesson as Grace and be rewarded as Grace. If that pleases its mistress.”

Celia: “Very well.”

Jade removes her hand from Grace’s back.

GM: Grace rises, wincing, and pulls on its clothes.

Celia: Jade watches her movements, a cat with a mouse. There’s a stillness to her that isn’t present when she wears Celia’s face, a predatory cast to her features and expression altogether missing from Diana’s daughter.

She waits, expectant.

GM: “Thank you for the lesson, mistress,” Grace says slowly. “Thank you for the reward. Thank you for fulfilling Grace’s request. Grace will be good.”

Celia: Jade sinks her fangs into her wrist and lets the blood bead at the puncture wounds, little red droplets that every addict hungers for.

“There is one last directive,” Jade says at the blood cools. “Grace will unlearn its belief that women are inferior to men.”

GM: There’s a blank, noncomprehending look.

But Grace’s eyes fix on the blood.

Celia: It begins to drip down her arm.

Jade waits.

GM: “Grace… will unlearn,” Diana says thickly.

Celia: Jade offers Grace her arm. She is careful not to let it drink from the source. She has no wish to bind the doll further.

GM: Perhaps Celia wonders if that’s kinder than bringing out Grace.

Jade likely does not.

Grace sinks to its knees and drinks needfully, rapturously, shivering as it imbibes. Its tongue desperately runs along Jade’s wrist to get it all. As if the taste alone can make this worth it.

Celia: Nothing will make this worth it.

Diana is broken, no matter what Roderick said about people breaking. She’s a shell of a person. Maybe someone else would like this sort of broken toy, maybe they would think that Diana is subservient and broken in rather than simply broken, but Jade takes after her sire in that manner: she doesn’t like broken things.

There is no gluing her back together and hoping for the best. She has a shelf life. That’s all there is to it.

Celia surfaces as Diana’s tongue nears her wrist. She pulls away, disgusted by herself and what she has just done. Her Beast snarls inside her chest at the sudden shift in emotion, sensing weakness. It strikes while her guard is down. It takes like the greedy monster that it is, punishing her for her momentary weakness.

She fixes her face and licks the wound closed on her arm.

GM: Her mom doesn’t get up from the floor.

But she stares up at Celia with glistening eyes.

“I love you,” she whispers.

Celia: “I love you too, Mom.”

What’s another lie after all that?


Monday evening, 14 March 2016

GM: Moments pass.

Celia’s mother crawls up to her feet, like a whipped dog returning to its master’s side, and hugs her legs. Diana hugs the rest of her daughter, but only if she chooses to kneel down. It takes Celia’s mom a little while to say anything, but she smiles when Celia calls her ‘mom.’ She smiles like she has nothing else left.

“Is… is it pretend, sweetie,” she gets out. “In public. Around other vampires. You’re still… you’re still Celia, to me, just… pretending to be Jade, around them?”

Celia: Some time after Jade’s disappearance, Celia sinks to the ground with her mother and draws the woman into her arms. Warmth floods through her at the proximity to the so-willing vessel; she remembers the taste, the way it felt as if she were drinking bottled love, the way it filled her. Her heart beats beneath the surface of the skin.

thump-thump.

It calls to her.

What does mangled love taste like?

“The world I navigate is dark,” Celia tells her mother. “Anyone who isn’t strong enough to withstand that will be cut to pieces. When I was a child, you taught me how to bend. You taught me that there is good in the world despite the darkness if only you know where to look. You taught me how to survive.”

“There are people like me who do not know how to bend. They break beneath the pressures of our society. They lose. I do not lose. I will not lose. Maxen could have broken me, but you were always there to hold me together, and I have loved you for your quiet strength.”

“But I am also now your domitor. This is me now. This is us. There are things I will not bend on for you. There are things I will not tolerate, that I cannot tolerate, that show weakness. I can’t be weak or they will take everything I love away from me. They’ll take you, Mom. I’m not willing to lose you. Not again.”

Celia pulls back, cupping her mother’s face in her hands.

“You are my mother. I am your daughter. I will always be your daughter. I will fight for you. I will never let them hurt you. I will shelter you from the worst of it. And I will love you. Fiercely. Always.”

GM: Celia’s mother clings to her as though Celia is the parent and she the child.

She listens, gratefully, to her daughter’s words. So gratefully.

It’s as Celia learned with Paul. With Butterfly.

A little comfort makes all the difference.

She stares up into Celia’s eyes as her daughter cups her face.

“Celia… that hurt,” she whispers.

“I… I understand. I can’t ask you for blood. I won’t. I won’t, ever again.”

“But that… that hurt, sweetie…”

Celia: The lesson has sunk in. Celia relents.

“I know, Mom. I’m sorry.”

GM: “I’m… I’m scared.” She swallows. “I’m scared I’m going to mess up and… she’ll come back, and hurt me again…”

She’ll.

Not you’ll.

Her eyes squeeze shut for a moment, and when she speaks again, her voice trembles. “C-Celia, baby, I’m so scared…”

Celia: At least she understands.

“It’s an adjustment period. You’ll learn. She can be patient while you learn. I know you’ll find your stride in this, Mom. I believe in you.”

GM: “I don’t… I don’t ever want to see her again, Celia, she was…” Diana shudders. “She was horrible…”

“She was like your father, used to be…”

Celia: “We all have to face things we’re afraid of.”

GM: Her mother’s eyes are full of terror at the thought. “But I… I’ll… I can’t face her, I couldn’t face your father, I’m too weak…”

Celia: “There are different types of strength. Find yours.”

GM: Her mother’s shoulders hang. There is no strength in her posture, only submission.

“I’ll obey, Celia. I’ll be good, I’ll do whatever you want. Just don’t let her… don’t let her hurt me again…”

Celia: “She won’t, Mom.”

GM: “Will you, will you warn me if she’s about to come back? If I mess up again, so I can know to stop?”

Celia: “Yes. I can do that.”

GM: Her mom gives her a trembling, grateful smile. “And it’ll be… it’ll be pretend, in public? Even if I call you mistress there, I’m still your mom?”

Celia: I’m still your mom?

Inside her chest her heart cracks.

She stares at the woman that gave birth to her. The woman that raised her. The woman that has given and given and given of herself.

And she knows that she fucked up.

She’s already on her knees. She can’t sink any lower. But the hug that engulfs her mother changes. She clings to her like the liferaft that she is, that she had always been when Daddy got mad and came after her, one of the few solitary beacons of light in Celia’s world of darkness.

She doesn’t want a doormat.

She doesn’t want Grace.

She wants her mother.

Tears leak from her eyes. The red runs down her cheeks. It stains her mother’s shirt where Celia presses her face against the fabric. Her shoulders shake; it’s an effected movement, one she doesn’t need to make. Her body doesn’t move outside her will. But the gesture will be familiar to her mother. Human. Safe.

“I—I’m sorry, Mom, I’m so sorry.” Quiet, desperately whispered words to the woman in front of her. “You’re my mom, of course you’re my mom, I’m sorry I hit you, I shouldn’t have done that, it was wrong, so wrong of me.”

GM: Celia can feel her mother’s sudden stiffness of limbs, her elevated heart rate, and her increased perspiration at Celia’s equally sudden change in affect. There’s an instinctive wariness, like a struck dog shying away from the hand trying to pet it.

It only lasts, though, until the tears.

At the sight of those, at that maternal instinct to comfort and make them cease to flow, Diana cradles Celia’s head against her chest and runs her fingers across her daughter’s hair. Blood stains through her blouse as she murmurs assurances.

“It’s… it’s okay, sweetie,” she says, hoarsely at first, “Your new life is hard, and difficult, and scary… I hadn’t learned, I hadn’t understood, but I understand now…”

Celia: “It’s not okay,” Celia says back to her, voice cracking in the middle. “It’s not okay. I became another Maxen, another Elyse, another Payton. Another abuser. It’s not okay. You’re my mother. You’re a ghoul, my ghoul, but you’re my mom. I need my mom. I need you as my mom, not as a ghoul, not as a slave.”

Celia doesn’t want her on her knees like that, no matter what Mel had said about her being perfectly suited for it.

GM: “I’ll… I’ll always be your mom, sweetie, don’t worry, I’ll always be your mom…” Diana gets out her, voice breaking too. “It wasn’t really you, anyway, she wouldn’t cry, she wouldn’t want your mom…”

Celia: “She is me. She’s me. I’m her. They’re just two sides to me. We’re the same person.”

GM: Celia’s mom just hugs her head tighter. Her hands continue to stroke.

“Oh, baby, she wasn’t anything like you, anything at all, you’re so much better than that…”

Celia: “No,” Celia sniffs. She doesn’t need to sniff, but she does it anyway. Another wasted human gesture meant to comfort her mother, to put them on the same level. “She’s me. I’m not better than her. I’ve done awful things. Terrible things.”

GM: “But you’ve done wonderful things too, baby,” her mom assures her, dabbing at Celia’s eyes with a dryer corner of her blouse, “you saved me from your dad, you gave Emily a loving family, you hid Lucy… you haven’t been perfect, none of us are, but whatever else you’ve done, I know you’ve also done amazing good… what’s that Emily said, how you never stop trying to push people to be better…”

Celia: “It doesn’t balance out the negative. I just hit you. I turned you into her again.”

GM: Her mom falls quiet for a moment, as if trying to think of a way to excuse that.

Celia: There’s no excuse.

GM: “I forgive you, baby,” her mom finally says, giving her another squeeze.

Celia: “No.” Celia shakes her head. “No. Don’t. Not yet.”

“Don’t just accept an apology. Don’t forgive and forget. Don’t go back to being nothing. Don’t let me turn you into that.”

“It was unacceptable. Completely, utterly unacceptable. You are not a doormat. You are not nothing. You are my mother and I need you to be my mother. You are the only thing that kept me together, that kept me from turning into Maxen, and I need you to be that woman for me or I’ll turn into someone just as terrible as he was.”

GM: Celia’s mother sniffs and squeezes her tighter. “You won’t, sweetie, I won’t let you… I’ll always be your mom, and you’ll always be my baby… always… you’re so much better than him, you really are… Emily says all the girls at your salon say what a great boss you are, too, paying them well, havin’ them as real employees, not contractors, not askin’ them to show up to work if they don’t have clients…”

Celia: “That’s not the same. That’s not the same, Mom. That’s just work. This is us. I just hit you. I turned you into Grace again. I hurt you. I don’t want to be that person. I won’t be that person. I refuse to be that person. I don’t want you like that. I don’t want to do that to you. You don’t deserve that. You’re so much better than that.”

GM: “Okay… this is us…” her mom nods, several times, “maybe you have somethin’ for my bum, then? It still smarts a little, but this is a spa we’re in…”

Celia: It’s an absurd idea, but it seizes her anyway.

“Do it to me,” she says. “To Jade. To me. We’ll get rid of her, kick that part of me from our relationship so we can be Celia and her mother, not Jade and her ghoul.”

GM: “W… what?” Diana asks confusedly.

Celia: “We’ll get rid of her, right? This… this shadow that she’s casting over both of us. We’ll force her out. Show her that you’re not afraid of her. Tell her off. Fight her. Spank her.”

“We’ll tell her that she’s not welcome in this relationship. She has no place here.”

GM: “Well… I, ah, I guess that’s one way… but I don’t want to hurt you, sweetie!”

Celia: “You won’t. Or rather, I heal very quickly.”

GM: “But I don’t want you to go through that, too! It’s…” her mother’s cheeks turn faintly red, “it’s humiliating, too, there’s more than one kind of hurt…”

“I don’t want to humiliate you, baby…”

Celia: “It’s just us. We’re the only two here. You can see me like that. You can remind yourself that I’m still your little girl, no matter what else I might have become.”

GM: “But even just us… it still was…” her mother takes a moment to repeat the word, “humiliating, for me… are you sure, sweetie? I’m okay if we hurt Jade, if we tell her she’s not welcome, but I don’t want to hurt you, also!”

Celia: “We’re the same person,” Celia tells her again. “You need to understand that. She’s just a mask I wear, but we’re the same. I need you to do this so I don’t slip into her around you. That part of me has no place with you.”

“I know you want to help me. You said you would. You want to be in on this. I need this.”

And Diana needs this, too.

GM: “All… all right, if you really think it’ll help you, I’ll do my best…” her mom says with a slow nod.

Celia: Celia pulls back. She changes her face so that her mother can see the physical manifestation of the monster she might become if she’s allowed to continue down this path. She turns into Jade.

But it’s still Celia’s voice that comes out of her mouth, still Celia’s warmth when she tells her mother to do it.

GM: Her mother’s eyes widen with fear as Celia’s brown turn into Jade’s green. She takes several steps backwards and holds a hand to her mouth. Perhaps she thinks back to the words they shared.

I am its domitor, not its daughter.

I am the master. Grace is the slave.

I am also your domitor. This is me now. This is us.

She can hear the kine woman’s heart hammering in her chest as she flashes back to the memory. Her whitening face looks almost sick.

It really took so little time to break her in.

It’s only at Celia’s voice that Diana points and falteringly says,

“Ben… bend over the desk…”

Celia: Jade makes no move toward the kine. She holds perfectly still, waiting for instruction. When it comes, she does as asked. Two steps take her toward the desk and she leans across it, bending at the waist.

“Tell her why,” she says before Diana can strike her.

GM: “Your, ah, your leggings…”

Diana might be pointing.

Celia: Jade slides her thumbs into the waistband of her leggings and pulls them down. The panties follow. She steps out of them and waits, silently, for Diana to tell her why this is happening.

GM: “You…” Celia’s mother starts, “you hurt me. You made me scared… you made me scared of Celia… and…” she takes a breath, “I was scared you’d come back, just so scared. I thought I’d make more mistakes and I told Celia how scared I was. She said she had faith in me and loved me and would even warn me, if Jade was about to come back, but…” her mother swallows, “but she said Jade would still be there, that this was us now, and I felt… I felt like Celia was slipping through my fingers, and I was trying to hold onto her, but she was already gone, and that it was just… that she didn’t mean it anymore, when she said she loved me…”

Diana’s voice breaks towards at the end.

Celia: “You want me to go away,” Jade says once she’s done, “so you can have your daughter back.”

GM: Diana gives a shaking, uneven gasp when she hears Jade’s voice.

“Y… yes…”

Celia: Jade considers the kine for a moment. Celia, too, watches from behind the mask. She knows what Diana needs right now.

“Make me.”

GM: Several moments pass until she approaches and delivers a light swat to the vampire’s backside.

“Go… go away. Please.”

Celia: The blow is a whisper against her skin.

Diana will need to do more than that if she wants to be in control of her own future again.

“No.”

GM: Diana waits again, as if for a response, then delivers a firmer but still fairly mild spank.

“You aren’t, you aren’t welcome here.”

Celia: Better. But they’re not there yet.

“I go where I please.”

GM: There’s another pause, and then another smack. Slightly firmer.

“This is, this is Celia’s space, with me. Go somewhere else!”

Celia: Getting there. She pushes slightly further, choosing her words with care. You can’t make me will only set her back.

“No one can make me do what I don’t want.”

GM: Another smack, at the same intensity, but without the pause.

“F… fine, just do it someplace else! Celia needs me! She says she needs her mom!”

Celia: “Celia is mine.”

GM: There’s a much swifter, angrier smack.

“Excuse me! I gave birth to her!”

Celia: “She’s mine,” Jade repeats, “I own her. No one can protect her.”

GM: Another sharp smack.

“Celia’s strong! She owns herself, and she wants her mom! There, there isn’t room for a domitor!”

Smack.

“It’s, it’s perverted, a ‘rewards and punishments system!’ That’s not what children do with parents!”

Smack.

“And she is my sweetie, she’s my sweetie all the time! We, we cuddle on the couch and watch movies, with Lucy and Emily!”

Celia: “Help me, Momma,” Celia’s voice pleads, “make her go away.”

GM: There’s a much harder smack, one that might actually hurt to receive.

“Go away! Celia doesn’t want you! She says you’re turning her into, into her father!”

Diana’s hand strikes flesh.

“She says she’s done horrible things! That’s not the Celia I know, the Celia I know helps people!”

“Did you make her, did you make my daughter do bad things?”

Celia: A giggle floats up from the bent-over Kindred.

“I made her do terrible things,” she says with glee.

GM: A hard, angry smack.

“Well go on, let’s hear them! I’ll tell her how they were all your fault!”

Celia: “I made her lie to you,” Jade giggles, “for years.”

GM: Smack.

“I forgive her. She had to.”

Celia: “I made her hurt people.”

GM: “That’s your fault.”

But the smack is angrier, harder.

Celia: “I made her dig into your painful history to sate my own curiosity.”

GM: Diana raises her hand high and brings it down hard. Smack.

“That’s your fault?! You didn’t have that right! It’s none of your business!”

“That’s nobody’s business! I don’t want to talk about it! I don’t ever want to talk about it!”

Celia: “I made her hit you.”

“You’re kine,” she adds. They’re close. She can tell. She pushes further, giving her mother one last little nudge. “You couldn’t stop her. You can’t stop me.”

GM: Smack.

“You’re evil!” Diana exclaims angrily. “You made me afraid of her, of my own flesh and blood!”

Smack.

Celia: She is.

But she’s trying to be good. She’s trying to be better.

“What are you going to do about it?”

GM: “Go AWAY!” Celia’s mom yells, bringing her open palm down on the dead flesh, again and again.

“I’m not talking to Jade anymore! I’m not! You’re not my ‘domitor,’ master, whatever, I’m not her ghoul, that’s a silly name anyway! Celia’s my sweetie! You don’t, you don’t decide when I talk to my daughter! I’ll keep talking to her! ‘System I’m now in on,’ what a, what a load of crock! We will talk this out as a family! What to do about my, my… addic—why didn’t we just talk about this!? I can’t believe this all started over, that she hurt me, because of… I want my baby! How could you, how could she, let that come between us, make her hit me, make me scared of her, because of… blood!?!

Diana doesn’t have Maxen’s cruelty, his physical strength, his desire to inflict pain and humiliation with each blow. Or Jade’s. She strikes the dead and pale flesh, manically, like it will exorcise this awful thing that passed between them.

“GO AWAY! And take Grace with you!”

Celia: It’s not the same as being bent over her father’s knee.

It’s not the same as when Paul did the same, holding her down while she kicked and struggled and flailed.

It’s not like when her sire took the sword to her skin, or when he broke every bone in her body the other night to teach her a lesson.

There’s nothing humiliating about this, not in the way Diana thinks it might be, and when tears finally spring to Celia’s eyes it’s because she’s proud that Diana has finally come out of her shell, that she’s rising up to become her own woman and won’t let someone else kick her around anymore.

“Fine!” Jade finally snarls. “Then you protect her!”

Just like that, she’s gone.

Her hands shift. Her face rights itself. And it’s Celia bent over the desk, bare-bottomed, crying into her arms now that Jade is gone. Celia who asks for her mother.

GM: “I will, tha-”

Diana pulls Celia into her arms and sinks down to the floor with her, cradling her daughter against her breast and stroking her hair.

“Celia, baby, I’m sorry, did I hurt you?”

Celia: Celia clings to her mother, shaking her head back and forth, back and forth. Like a child. A half-naked, adult child.

“N-no,” she tells her mom, “you didn’t hurt me. You stood up to her. You got rid of her.”

GM: Celia’s mom just holds her close, and at least for now, has no eyes for her daughter’s nudity.

“I… I did? She isn’t ever going to come back, or come between us…?”

Celia: “No, Momma. She’s gone.”

GM: “I love you, baby,” her mom repeats, squeezing her.

Celia: “I love you too, Mom,” Celia says back to her. She even means it this time.

GM: “I’m, ah—I’m sorry, you’re undressed…” Her mother studiously averts her gaze.

Celia: She laughs at the mention of her nudity.

“Yes. I suppose I am.”

GM: “Would you like to, ah, rectify that?”

“I know you’ve seen me without my undies, but that isn’t the same.”

Celia: Celia finds her clothing and starts to dress.

“Nudity isn’t a big thing to most of my kind,” she says to her mother. “You might see a lot of bodily parts in the future.”

GM: Her mom politely turns her back as she dresses.

“Oh, why is that?”

“Ah, never mind. We’ll deal with it then. There’s something else to talk about, sweetie.”

Her mom clears her throat.

“I’m an… addict. Aren’t I?”

Celia: She starts to open her mouth to explain, but the second question cuts her off.

“Yes,” Celia tells her. “The blood is addictive. It feels good to give and receive. That’s why you asked for more. That’s why you crave it. It’s a drug. Worse than a drug.”

GM: Her mom is silent for a moment.

“Do we… is it the only way we can be together? I can’t just quit, and keep your secret?”

“Or maybe pretend that I’m your ghoul, somehow?”

Celia: “I don’t think you could quit even if you wanted to, Mom. It’s… it’s worse than heroin, they say.”

GM: “But, but could we, sweetie. Could we still be together, if I did.”

“Or is it really the only option?”

Celia: “If someone finds out that you know, that you’re not blooded, they’d come for us. I know it’s easy for me to say that and hard for you to understand because it’s just words, but… it’s a risk. A really, really big risk. And if someone finds out you know, if someone looks into your head and sees that, they won’t give me a slap on the wrist. It’s the first rule of being a vampire.”

GM: “Okay,” her mom says. “You’re right, sweetie, this is really all just words, but… I’ll trust you. If you really think me being a ghoul is the only way.”

Celia: “If there’s another way,” Celia promises her mother, “I’ll find it.”

GM: “Okay,” nods her mom. “You’re smart, I know there’s nothin’ you can’t do when you put your mind to it. We’ll just think of this as… temporary, until then.”

“But, ah, as far as how to manage things.”

Her mom clears her throat. “Celia, it’s there in the back of my head. Even after all that happened, there’s this voice I’m listening to, this needful lil’ voice, that already wants to beg for more.”

“That… that’s gotten louder, too, and already wants to beg more, because you won’t let Jade hurt me.”

Diana swallows.

“We can’t, we can’t let this define our relationship, sweetie. Or come between us.”

“Maybe you should just… only give me a fixed amount. Rain or shine. However much you think I need, no rewards, no punishments. On a… on a fixed schedule, maybe, so I’m not constantly wonderin’, when there’ll be more.”

“And… and if I get weak, if I beg, if I try to get more, you just won’t budge.”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment.

It’s similar to the system she has with Rusty. His brothers and Alana are all on the same system of rewards and punishments, but she had struck a different bargain with Rusty. He does more for her, unseen though it is, and she had leveraged that by giving him back his ability to walk without a cane or crutches, to move without pain. He needs more because he uses more, and he has never once begged beyond that. He’s learned to ration what he has. It’s a transaction between them, like everything else.

“Okay,” she says at length. “We can do that. I think that will work.”

GM: Her mom looks into her eyes closely as she’s silent, then nods in agreement.

“And maybe you can… I don’t know, mix it with prune juice or something? So it’s less addictive? Does that work?”

Celia: “Ah… I’m not sure, no one has ever asked me that. We could try it?”

“I don’t think it would be less addictive, but… we can try.”

GM: “I’m just spitballin’, sweetie. I don’t… I don’t want to be an addict.”

Celia: “There’s also maybe someone I could talk to about it, now that I think of it. He can do a lot with blood.”

GM: “Oh, yes, please!”

“I see those people in the Quarter, or at least hear about them, I only really see the worse parts from the car, they’re just… if this is worse than heroin, sweetie… I’m scared. How it could impact Lucy, if her mom’s an add…”

Celia: “I know, Mom.” Celia pulls her close again, as if a hug can scare the bad thoughts away. “I know. I’m sorry this happened to you. That’s why… that’s why I wanted to give you something to work toward, with the dancing and the fencing. An outlet for your need.”

GM: Her mom hugs her tight. “Maybe that’ll, maybe that’ll do it, sweetie. They recommend exercise programs for recovering addicts, you know, and the only real exercise I do now is my daily walks around the Garden District.”

Celia: “Everyone else like you is the same. An addict. We can talk to them. See how they manage. For most of them it’s… they need something to do. Something to keep their focus.”

GM: “That does make sense. I don’t need to say how much I’d love to dance again, that takes plenty focus and exertion. More than plenty. And I’ll learn to fence, too, if it’d be helpful to you.”

“Though, ah, learnin’ to shoot might actually be more helpful, when it comes to keepin’ you safe. Knife fight vs. gun fight, and all.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“You can learn to shoot, but it won’t stop someone like me. Bullets don’t do much to us.”

GM: “Oh. Well, I guess they never do use guns in the movies.”

“Anyway, sweetie, we’ve taken up enough time here, Lucy needs to go to bed soon. Do you have a spare shirt or dress…?” She gestures down at her blood-streaked blouse.

“Your, ah. Your tears are bloody.”

Celia: “I do, actually. That’s one of the first things I learned: blood is messy. I keep a spare change of clothes pretty much everywhere.”

Celia finally rises to her feet, moving behind the desk to pull out the bottom drawer. The shirt is less fancy than the one Diana is in now, a simple “Flawless” tee like the one she’s in, but it’s clean and will fit her mother.

GM: “Thanks, sweetie. Can we pick up some clothes from the house, by the way…?” she asks as she turns away, slips off the bloody blouse, and slips the tee on. “I forgot to pack much last morning, and these are actually the same clothes I wore yesterday, I did them in a laundry load with all of the boys’.”

Celia: “Yes. The situation with her should be resolved tonight.”

GM: “Okay. I’ll think up something to tell Emily, about why we’re not goin’ home.”

“And… if the only way to know, is to be an addict… maybe it’d be kinder not to tell her. About vampires, and all of that.”

Celia: “I’ve thought about telling you both multiple times,” Celia admits with a sigh, “and it always came back to that. Not wanting this life for you.”

GM: Her mom squeezes her shoulder. “You’ll find an answer, on what to do. I know you will.”

“But maybe it is for the best that one of us knows.”

“You said… you said Jade was you, too.” Her mother’s voice grows quiet.

Celia: “She… she is.”

GM: “What happened, Celia?” her mom whispers, giving her another squeeze.

“She was… she was as bad as your dad…”

Celia: “I…” Celia doesn’t know how to explain. “I’ve been through… a lot. A lot that you don’t know about. A lot that has made me… hard. Cold. Angry. People have done things to me. Used me. Hurt me. I couldn’t be Celia around them. I had to be someone else. Someone like her.”

“The nicest one among them once told me that they’re a society of raging dicks. He was right.”

GM: Her mom’s heart looks like it’s breaking for her.

Celia: “The guy I work for is kind of nice,” she adds, as if that helps.

GM: Diana just hugs her close again, as if a mother’s embrace could somehow lift away all those hurts and hates and coldness.

“I feel like this is maybe more than we can unpack here in your office, sweetie. We should… we need, to talk about it later.”

“But for now, just know that I’m here for you, okay? I love you. Even with… even with Jade. I don’t think you’re all gone, if you were able to come back from what she did.”

“What you did. You came back, that’s what matters.”

Celia: She doesn’t let herself cry again, but the pressure builds at the corners of her eyes. She nods mutely, lips pressed together to keep the flood of emotion from pouring out of her.

“Thanks, Momma. I needed to hear that.”

GM: “It was your strength, sweetie. You’re still Celia. I don’t even…” her mom shudders, “I don’t even want to imagine what would’ve happened, if you hadn’t come to your senses. What our relationship would’ve turned into.”

Celia: A domitor and a doormat.

Veronica and Micheal.

GM: “You pushed that part of yourself back. Maybe… maybe you can, further, now that you’ve done it once.”

Celia: “Maybe,” she hedges, uncertain that such a thing is possible. “I can try. I… I keep mentioning my boyfriend, you know, but he’s… he makes me want to be a better person, too, and I keep… I keep thinking… what if he finds out how awful I’ve been? I want to be better. For you. For him. For Lucy and Emily and the rest of our family.”

GM: “I saw how awful Jade… you could be, and we still love each other, don’t we?” smiles her mom, giving her a squeeze. “You fessed up, you made it right… so right, sweetie. If your boyfriend is the good guy you think he is, I think he’ll forgive you.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t share her mother’s optimism.

GM: “And you’ll feel better, to have been honest with him.”

Celia: Ah, yes, but last time she was honest with him he’d beaten her for it.

GM: “Do you feel better, knowing that I have some idea now, and I’m still here?”

Celia: “Yes,” she admits. But it’s not the same.

GM: Her mom smiles again. “Confession’s good for the soul, sweetie. It’s a lil’ trite, but it’s true.”

“Anyway… I really need to put Lucy to bed. I love you and I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

Celia: “Okay, Mom. Have a good night. I’ll let you know how it goes. And… thanks. For loving me. And for being my mom.”

GM: Her mother gives her a last squeeze. “Thanks for loving me, too. And for wanting me to stay your mom.”

Perhaps that love is a small candle in the dark of Jade’s and Celia’s conjoined souls.

But perhaps it’s bright enough to illuminate whose is whose.


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Story Thirteen, Celia III

“This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.”
Roderick Durant


Sunday evening, 13 March 2016

Celia: When the shower is over and Roderick is finally out the door and on his way (with the promise to fill her in on what she misses and keep an eye on Elyse), Celia pulls her phone from her pocket to call her favorite mobster. She wasn’t going to tell Roderick that she had him in mind, and she supposes he’ll see the cowboy soon enough if he’s down to deliver a message for her, but that’s altogether different than admitting she’s got the boy on speed dial.

She listens to it ring while she peruses her closet for an outfit for the evening.

GM: Being friendly with a mobster is a small deceit next to this latest one, anyway.

Gui picks up after a couple rings.

“Evening, lush.”

He’s probably getting ready for Elysium himself.

Celia: His voice always makes her smile. It takes the sting from what she’s just done.

“Hello, darling. Do you have a free minute? I was hoping to beg a favor from you, with reciprocity if you think it’s warranted.”

GM: “I’d say I hate to listen to a beautiful woman beg, but I’d be lying if I did.”

Celia: “I’d offer to get on my knees,” she purrs, “but I don’t think that does it for either one of us anymore.”

GM: “Only if you don’t take a nip too.”

Celia: “Well if you’re offering…”

GM: “We’ll let that be the reciprocity then, if I think it’s… warranted.”

Celia: Low, throaty laughter floats down the line. She sounds delighted

“I won’t be able to make it to the party tonight, but I thought that if you’re going anyway you might be willing to bring a gift from me.”

GM: “I’ll have one of my people swing by to pick it up. Who for?”

Celia: “The little Benson girl.”

It almost sounds like they’re talking about an actual birthday party for a child.

GM: “Let me guess. It’s a doll.”

Celia: “It is,” she admits. “Handle with care and all that, don’t need her getting upset.”

GM: “All right. Where should I tell my girl to pick it up from?”

Celia: Celia tells him where his girl can meet hers in about 30 minutes. Celia’s house, the one Dani had been staying at; it’s compromised anyway.

“Thanks, darling. I appreciate you.”

GM: “I’m sure you’ll show me just how much.”

Click.

Celia: She doesn’t have long to get ready if she’s to meet the messenger in thirty minutes.

Celia pulls the dolls from their assorted positions around her haven, running through a mental comparison on who she can send. Lucy and Lotus are out, obviously. Blossom is finally happy with her new beau, and the nameless one wouldn’t deign to be used in such a fashion even if she were to be so presumptuous as to ask.

Princess will make a good messenger. Princess isn’t as formidable as Lotus, but Princess is sweet in the way Elyse likes her dolls. She’ll be able to broker peace if anyone is. And all she has to do is deliver a message.

Celia disappears because Celia is a human and this is a message to dolls and their maker. Mother Elyse. The dolls’ father.

It makes sense somehow.

Lotus smiles across the bedspread at Princess and tells her about what she needs to say to Elyse: she’s sorry. She lost control and didn’t mean to. She wants to make it right and offers a boon for the inconvenience and insult, a second if Elyse will meet with her to speak of it and hear her out face to face. Perhaps in Marigny.

It’s flowery prose that Lotus tells to Princess to pass on, contrite and remorseful.

GM: Princess listens, sadly and silently, with her wide eyes and heart-shaped little face.

Can the doll pass a message on? Elyse seems to think so. Elyse says that all dolls talk to her.

Celia: Celia plans to send a letter as well. Nothing by half measures.

But Lotus waits to be sure that Princess knows what she’s to do.

GM: Princess stares back at Lotus with her wide, so-trusting eyes. She looks so sad. Surely if any of Jade’s dolls can, it’s Princess. Princess hates fighting.

Celia: Lotus tells Princess that she will see her again soon. She’s going on a trip. A big adventure back to Elyse. And then they’ll be back together.

It’s just for a little while.

And when Lotus is sure the message has been received she says goodbye to her sister.

Celia writes a letter with the same sentiments. She addresses it to the lady interpreter rather than Elyse; she thinks that Elyse might not want Jade to call her Elyse anymore, which is sad. But she powers through the letter, writing out the same message she’d given to Princess just in case Princess gets suddenly shy.

When it’s done she packs the two of them away in a little box for their trip through the city and goes to meet the messenger.

GM: The woman Gui sends smells like a breather and looks like a moll or higher-end prostitute. She’s pretty. “I’ll get this to the boss man,” she says as she takes the box.

Celia: She is pretty. But Celia is prettier, and she knows she’s Gui’s type. This breather has nothing on her. Celia thanks her with a smile and a few words before she’s on her way with the box.

Celia watches them go, hoping that this will pan out and that everything she’s done and offered and sacrificed is worth it. Two letters and a doll with a message ought to be enough to get the word to Elyse, and two boons should be enough to even the scales. More than even the scales; it puts power firmly in Elyse’s corner.

It’s enough, isn’t it?

It has to be.


Sunday evening, 13 March 2016

Celia: There’s a list of small errands to run tonight that she’d like to accomplish before she can meet with Roderick again, most of which she’ll need to be Jade for. It’s not ideal; she expects to be picked up at any given moment for something, but what other option does she have? Twiddle her thumbs until her boyfriend calls? Stay inside all night, afraid of leaving her own haven? Burn through blood with the constant face changing?

She’d done what she could to smooth things over. Time will tell if it’s enough.

In the mean time, she has shit to do.

She dresses for the night in a dress that’s the sort of thing Jade or Celia might wear, black and clingy, casual enough to be worn to a party or a club or even a decent dinner. Too risqué for a first date, but maybe it would be at home for a third date.

She heads to the Cat’s Meow to hunt; Dani had said she wasn’t hungry so Celia doesn’t feel too bad about leaving her behind. And, as someone with furry feet once said, there’s always second breakfast if the other girl later changes her mind.

Dress.jpg
GM: Jade thought it would be hard to find a flavor of blood that tops Celia’s mother’s. Perhaps it’s not so hard, though. The good-looking Toreador has no trouble at all finding an eager sexual partner, and in short order his car is bucking back and forth from their coital motions. He’s black, buff, handsome, and feels like he does this a lot, but doing it in his car (when Jade hears how far away he lives) really turns him on. There’s the thrill of transgression, getting caught, putting on a show for bystanders. When one man walks by and pulls out his phone to snap a picture, Jade’s partner just laughs and pumps harder. She’s reminded, too, of the time that Celia and Stephen did this, literally another life ago.

And possibly conceived a new life.

Perhaps the memory makes her feel alive. Perhaps it makes her sad for what she’s lost. Perhaps it’s bittersweet. But something of the moment feels as if it lives on in her. The way she fucked Stephen silly to silence the voices in her head, how flabbergasted he initially was, and then how into it he got, yelling for that bystander to “come get some.” Jade feels electric. She feels some of that same manic, irresistible energy in her skin, coursing through it with a low hum. All she has to do is touch someone to pass it on. To make them do something crazy too.

Celia: It would have been easy to take him into a bathroom to feed on him there. Easy but dirty, and it reminds her too much of picking up Dani and the sad, sorry tale she’d had to listen to afterward.

Jade isn’t the type of girl that fucks in public bathrooms. She deserves to be seen, to be admired, so when the boy mentions that his place is far Jade has no problem taking him right there in the car. He’s big but she’s small, and they make it work; her dress hikes up around her hips to let her move over him, and once he’s gotten close to that edge of climax she shoves him over with two points of fire in his neck.

Electricity floods her veins.

She’s on top of the world.

Flying.

Falling.

Spiraling.

In such a delicious, delicious way that she doesn’t want to stop. She wants to keep this big, buff black man as her pet. She wants to take him again, to bottle his essence, to make him hers so she can have him on tap and drink down this euphoria whenever she wants it. She takes enough to whet her appetite without being a glutton, still in control; even her Beast enjoys the fare.

When it’s done she nuzzles his neck, murmurs that she hopes it was as good for him as it was for her—he’d heard how much she enjoyed it when he found the right spot—and that maybe she’ll see him again sometime.

She leaves him with a long, lingering kiss before she’s gone, disappearing into the night with a swagger in her step.


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, PM

Celia: After her hunt, Celia calls Randy to let him know that Jade is on her way.

Dani will be there, she knows. It’s a risk to let the thin-blood know who she is, but she’s trusted Randy and Alana for years with the secret; what’s one more person? And if not, she can’t take Dani around to meet with anyone, which means they really will just be sitting at home waiting for Roderick to call. Sidra, after all, has no reason to speak to Celia Flores.

GM: Randy drives back to meet Jade at his house.

“Yeah, babe?” he asks. “Was helping Reggie find some guns to pick up.”

Celia: “Then who is watching Mom?”

GM: “Alana. She finished up at the spa.”

Celia: Alana isn’t much of a fighter, but it’s better than nothing.

“I’ll make it quick so you can get back with Reggie, then. You wanted a hit, and I need an introduction to Dani with this face so she doesn’t think I’m coming to kidnap her.”

GM: Randy’s face lights up at the offered hit.

“You gonna drop all this different face around different people stuff? I already had to tell Reggie and Rusty how you could change how you look.”

The Toreador recalls them not being surprised to see someone besides Jade.

Celia: She’d wondered about that.

“I don’t know,” Celia admits. “A few people like me know, but I thought it was safer for my family if it didn’t get out. Probably don’t tell them I can change my actual face though. I usually pretend it’s shadow dancing or that I see a night doc.”

GM: “You got it, babe. Secret’s safe.”

He introduces her to Dani, who’s still where Celia left her last on the borrowed laptop. The thin-blood is surprised by the new face, but accepts Randy’s explanation after asking Celia several questions only her brother’s girlfriend would know. (“What did you wear when we first met?”)

Celia: She even tells her about the dropped side dish and how Celia had offered to pretend she hadn’t seen.

“I have a friend who can do this kind of work,” she explains to Dani, but otherwise says she’s just borrowing Randy for a moment before they head out.

GM: “Can I learn to do that? It’s so… it could be so useful!” Dani exclaims.

Celia: Celia offers to teach Dani shadow dancing. She’s going to teach her mom, too, so she might as well do both. She says it’s similar, but that the night docs are pretty secretive and generally don’t teach it to others.

GM: “Great, I’d love to learn,” smiles Dani.

Celia: She takes Randy upstairs with her into his bedroom and asks if her mother is already asleep.

GM: His bedroom is a mess.

“Ah, she kinda has the munchies,” says the ghoul. “She’s been staying up hoping you’ll come back tonight. She’s been doing a lot of cleaning.”

Celia: Diana is cleaning everywhere but here, it seems, but Celia doesn’t seem to mind. She has eyes only for Randy.

“Can I ask you something?”

As if she wouldn’t ask anyway. But what she means is: can you be honest with me for a minute?

GM: Randy says that he asked her mom not to tidy his room.

“Anything, babe,” he nods at her question.

Celia: Even with Jade’s face, some of Celia shines through. She lets him see her vulnerability, her uncertainty, and the trust that she’s always placed in him. Even though she’s never slept with him, even though she’s never let him have her like that, he has the rest of her. He’s been around her family the most, has been her sounding board on more than one occasion; before Roderick re-entered the picture he was, and sometimes still is, her source of emotional support when the nights get too dark. She needs it from him now.

“D’you think I’m doing the right thing with my mom?”

GM: “Sure, babe,” he nods. “I mean, it was the right thing for my brothers and me, right?”

“We get stronger and faster and we get to live forever.”

Celia: “And Rusty gets to walk again.”

GM: “Yeah. I mean, it’s great.”

“It’s… it is kinda… I don’t think you need to punish Alana and me for stuff, though.” Randy’s eyes flicker. “Like you did that one time she lied.”

“And it’d be really weird if you… punished your mom.”

“Like, I can’t even picture doing that to my mom. Punishing is what parents do to kids, you know?”

“Hell, my mom still grabs us by the ear when she’s pissed. Actually still hurts.” He rubs his ear.

“So yeah, I’d just not do that with her. It’s just not the way things are supposed to be, kids punishing parents.”

Celia: “I know.” Celia never really had punished him for what he’d done in the sewers anyway; she hadn’t had it in her. She doesn’t like being that person. She doesn’t want to be that person.

She’s not even supposed to be having these conversations with them. Like they’re people. But they are people. And she’s still young enough to want them to remain people. Mel said it would fade eventually, but she’s seven years deep and she’d like to think she’s not a monster.

She can’t imagine her sire having a conversation with his ghouls about their feelings.

“I don’t like doing that to you,” she says finally. “It’s just how… how it’s supposed to be, in public. If I don’t, they see me as weak, and then they push me around, and then it’s bad for everyone.”

She tells him about Micheal.

GM: “…that’s so fucked up, babe,” says Randy.

“How does he just… why doesn’t he just make a run for it?”

Celia: “Honestly? I don’t know. I think he might be mindfucked.”

GM: “I guess.” Randy shakes his head. “That’s so fucked up, though.”

“Is he just gonna be their bitch forever?”

Celia: “I don’t know. I’ve never really spoken to him.”

GM: He wears a gag pretty often anyway.

Veronica says he has nothing of value to say.

“Well, long as you don’t do anything like that, I’d say you’re good.”

“I mean, you’re gonna live forever, why not keep around your mom?”

Celia: Because she’ll always be someone that people can use against her. Because it’s not natural. Because she’s going to turn her mother into an addict. Because if she’s not serving a purpose then she’s a waste of blood.

She doesn’t share any of this with Randy.

She doesn’t have an answer for him.

GM: “Can I have the hit?” he asks, smiling.

Celia: “Thanks,” is all she says. She goes to bite her wrist but thinks better of it; she pulls him in instead, slicing a fang across her tongue and pressing her lips against his in a desperate attempt to feel something human again.

It’s just another lie, though.

She’s a monster and he’s an addict, and that’s all they’ll ever be.


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, PM

GM: Celia looks around and finds her mother doing a load of laundry. She looks up at Jade with some surprise.

“Oh—are you a friend of Randy’s or his brothers?” she asks.

“Ah, this is Celia, Mrs. Flores,” says Randy.

He and Jade briefly explain why she looks different.

“Well, ah… I suppose if I’ve seen you turn into a cat, another person isn’t too big a stretch…” Diana says with a mildly forced chuckle. But she sets down the boxers she was folding and moves to hug her daughter.

Celia: Once again, Celia is thrown by her mother’s calm acceptance of what she is and what she can do. It’s not normal.

“Mom, you’re… awfully calm about all of this. Even Randy screamed when I showed him my fangs the first time.”

“This isn’t the first time you’ve experienced this sort of thing, is it?”

GM: “Is it?” Diana asks, her face flickering.

“I… think it is, sweetie?”

“I did scream,” Randy admits somewhat sheepishly.

“I’ll leave you two together, anyways. Thanks for doin’ the laundry.”

“You’re welcome, Randy. You three really need a lady in this house!”

Celia: Celia gives Randy a peck on the cheek.

“It’s a lot to take in. I’ll see you in a bit.”

GM: Randy kisses her back. “Heh, we’ll see,” he says to Celia’s mom, then takes his leave.

Diana looks back towards her daughter.

“This is about when I’d offer to fix you up some food, but, well… are you hungry, sweetie?”

Celia: “No,” Celia tells her, “I just fed. And you can’t keep giving like that without any regard to your own self. You’ll get hurt.”

GM: “I’ll be fine, sweetie,” her mom smiles. “I just want you to be full and happy.”

Celia: “No, Mom. You need to trust me on this. One person isn’t enough to sustain what I need. I’d drain you dry.”

GM: “Okay, if you say so,” her mom agrees. “I’ll wait until I’ve had some eggs or fish to offer again. You know, Vitamin D.”

Celia: “You’ve definitely done this before.”

GM: “Are you sure? I don’t think I have. I have donated blood at hospitals before, though they usually give a cookie and some juice.”

Celia: “I could dig into your memories, if you want.”

“Since we’re being honest with each other, how did you end up getting together with Ron that night?”

GM: Diana blinks. “I’m sorry, sweetie?”

“I’d had a lot to drink, like I said. Altogether… altogether too much.”

She doesn’t look happy to revisit the subject.

Celia: “You wouldn’t have, though. Not after what you’d been through.”

GM: Celia’s mother just closes her eyes.

“Please, sweetie, I don’t… want to talk about that.”

Celia: Her lips flatten into a thin line.

“No, you just want to learn everything about me and tell everyone else, but not tell me why I exist.”

GM: Her mom is quiet for another moment. “Look, I’ll… I’ll tell you about that night,” she says defeatedly. “Just… let’s talk about happier things too, when we’re done?”

Celia: “Of course.”

GM: Her mom makes a limp motion for her to proceed as she returns to folding clothes.

Celia: “You said you met him at a party. But it was after everything happened to you. And you were fighting with your mom.”

GM: Diana looks down at the shirt in her hands. “Yes, that’s right. We’d been fighting, so I went out drinking.”

Celia: “Why were you fighting?”

GM: “We just never got along, sweetie, not since your grandfather’s death. And how she didn’t approve of ballet, and how strict she was… the teenage years never are that happy, even under the best of times.”

Celia: “You were fighting even after she sent you to that school?”

“How, um. How did he die, anyway? You and Dad never really talked about it.”

GM: “Your grandpa died of heart failure,” Diana says, not without a note of sadness. “Ironic, I suppose, for the man who was a heart surgeon.”

“He worked at Charity Hospital, back when it was open before Katrina. I really wish he and Emily could’ve known each other. Two doctors in the family and all.”

“I really wish he and you could’ve known each other, too. He was a very sweet man. Kind and gentle. I like to think I take more after him than your grandmother. The two of us were so close when I was growin’ up.”

Celia: “I’d have liked to meet him. But you said after he died you and your mom started fighting?”

GM: “We were never really had all that much in common, to be honest. But after he died, things got so much worse. His death was very hard on the family.”

“Very hard on your grandmother, too. She used to smile more, when your grandfather was alive.”

Celia: That’s hard to imagine.

“So you two got into fights. You went out a lot at night. Your grades were slipping. She sent you to the dollhouse. You were released early. Then what?”

GM: Diana closes her eyes and covers her ears when Celia says ‘dollhouse.’

Celia: She’s going to be a terrible ghoul.

“So after that?” she prompts.

GM: “What after that, sweetie?” Diana mumbles, staring intently at the pants she’s folding.

“I went to school, I got together with your dad, he stopped your grandmother from murdering you in the womb… that was that.”

Celia: “Ron. The party. My conception.”

GM: “Right, yes, that was when your grandmother and I were fighting.”

Celia: “I need details, Mom.”

GM: “Sweetie, why does this matter to you so much?” her mom asks glumly.

“You’re here. God obviously wanted you to be here.”

Celia: “Because it’s literally the reason I exist. Because you never told me. Because now you know what I am and I want to know how I came to be. Because I think someone set the whole thing up and I’d like to know who and why.”

GM: “What? Why would… why would somewhat set that up, sweetie? How would they even do that?” Her mother looks at her confusedly.

Celia: “We have powers. We can make people do things.”

GM: “All right, but… but why? I was just a teenage ballerina.”

Celia: “That’s what I’d like to find out.”

“And I have zero leads to follow if you don’t talk to me about it.”

GM: “I don’t see why someone would do that, sweetie. I was just a ballerina.”

Celia: This whole thing was a mistake.

GM: “Your biological father was just a Hollywood writer or director or… whatever he then was, who hadn’t made it big. I just don’t see why…”

Celia: Big mistake.

She’ll just have to find someone to edit the memories for the past night. Her and the ghouls. Fuck it.

“And. Again. I’m trying find out. I’d appreciate it if you could work with me here instead of making it more difficult.”

GM: Her mom hangs her head again as she moves on to a pair of socks. “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to make things difficult for you. What… what do you want to know?”

“I just don’t know what you’re looking for, but I’ll answer what I can…”

Her mother looks up her, more plaintively. “Just tell me what to do, sweetie, I don’t want you to be mad. Just tell me what to do.”

Mel always said she’d be a great ghoul.

Celia: They can’t do this.

They can’t have this relationship.

She has turned her mother into a fucking addict. She’s not the same woman anymore. She’s just broken, a shell, soon she’ll do anything for a fix. Celia doesn’t trust her to keep her mouth shut. Randy has already proven he can’t keep his mouth shut. He’s not interested in the truth or being there for her, just the red stuff in her veins. Alana just wants to fuck. Reggie just wants to fuck. Rusty wants to walk again, and maybe he’s the only one with any genuine depth to him. And Roderick… she’s fucked so hard with his mind that she doesn’t even trust him anymore.

She’s alone.

Utterly, completely alone.

She can’t even fix what she’s done. Doesn’t have the ability to mind wipe someone like that and extract what she doesn’t want them to know.

Elyse could. Reynaldo could. Pete could.

But not her.

Useless.

“You went to the party,” she eventually says, “then what?”

GM: “Well, I had a lot to drink,” her mom falteringly starts. She folds some more socks. “I talked with some people, I danced with them… I remember complaining about my mother, about school, how much I didn’t care, I had more to drink… I met your biological father, he gave me more to drink… it’s very hazy, sweetie, I just remember waking up… waking up and feeling very, very dirty…”

Her mother hangs her head again, red coloring her cheeks, but she steals a glance at Celia’s wrist.

Celia: “Who did you talk to? Dance with? What did they look like? What part of town were you in?”

GM: “It… it was a house party, by some other girl at McGehee… her parents were gone for the weekend, it was a dodgy party, I can’t imagine they’d have…”

“I don’t really remember a lot, it was so long ago, I’d had so much to drink… they’d have been girls at McGehee, born around the same time as me, in a nice part of town…”

“I think… maybe St. Charles Avenue…?”

Celia: “Which part of St. Charles?”

Not that she expects Diana to remember.

But it’s worth a shot.

GM: “Like I said, sweetie, this was years ago… but I think the residential portion, outside the CBD?”

Celia: “And Ron was, what, some random adult that showed up to a high school party?”

Creep.

GM: “I think he was, maybe there were others, but it was a kids’ party.”

Celia: She asks if her mom happens to remember anyone else of note.

GM: Her mom squeezes her eyes. “Sweetie, this… this is hard… I felt so good when I had some of your blood, it made my leg feel better, maybe if I have a little of that…?”

Celia: “Sure,” she says, “after you tell me what I need to know.”

GM: “Sweetie, please, this is hard!” her mom exclaims again. “It’d really help me think better, it made me feel just so good…”

Celia: “No.”

GM: Her mom starts crying. “Celia, I’ve been thinking about it all day… it made me feel all better, no pain, just no pain, don’t you understand what that’s like…?”

Celia: “Do you know,” she all but snarls at the crying woman, “what people like me do to people like you that beg for blood? Shall I get Alana for you to tell you about what happened to Clem when she got uppity with her domitor? Do you want to see what they do to juicebags at the parties, how no one bats an eye if you rip out their throat, how they use ghouls as playthings and fucktoys and do whatever they want with them and no one cares?

“I have been patient. I have let you in on everything that has kept our family protected since I’ve died. I will not sit here and give you blood because it feels good. Of course it feels good. It’s a fucking drug. You’re an addict now. Congratu-fucking-lations.”

GM: Her mother sinks to her feet as she cries into her hands. “Sweetie, don’t call me that… please don’t call me that… I just want something, for the pain, that’s all…”

Celia: She doesn’t bother to hide the disgust that crosses her face.

This was a mistake.

This whole thing was a mistake.

GM: Her mother looks up at her face, then just cries more and looks away.

“Please… please don’t look at me like that, baby… please don’t… I’m sorry… I’m sorry…”

“Just tell me what to do…”

Celia: Celia just turns away.

“I’m leaving. Go to bed. You’ll feel better in the morning.”

GM: “Celia, wait!” her mother exclaims, hurrying after her daughter and wrapping her arms around her. “I’m sorry, baby, I’m sorry, just tell me what to do. I don’t want us to go to bed mad, just tell me what to do, okay?”

Celia: “I can’t do this, Mom. You can’t be like this. You need to be a mom, not an addict, not a servant, not a slave. I can’t do it. I can’t. I can’t watch you become like this.” At some point the tears start, red liquid that rolls down her cheeks. “You have other kids to take care of; you can’t spend all your time with me and ignore Emily or Lucy or any of the others. They need you, too.”

GM: Her mother sniffs along with her, though her stare lingers long on those heady-smelling tears. “I won’t, sweetie, I love them every bit as much as you, I always will, of course I’ll always be their mom.”

“I know this is hard, I know how scared you must have been, to tell me all these things. I want to be here for you. I don’t want you to look at me that way.”

“Just tell me what you need, okay? Just tell me how I can be a good mom for you, because I’ll always want to be that.”

Celia: No. She’ll just want blood. More blood. Constantly. She’ll beg for it. She’ll run her mouth. She’ll threaten Celia’s Requiem through her mere existence.

This is why they tell you not to keep a family.

GM: “I think…” Her mom closes her eyes and seems to desperately wrack her brain, “there was Fred Pavaghi, Warren Whitney, the junior one, and Lori Lancaster, Drouillard then, I think they were there, does that help you…?”

Celia: No. She’s grasping at straws anyway. None of it matters. She was just an accidental rape baby; there’s nothing poetic about how she came into the world. No one pulled strings. No one orchestrated this. The only person who gave a shit when she was still in the womb isn’t even her dad, and he’d hate her if he found out the truth. Accidental birth, accidental Embrace, useless fucking fuck-up.

Celia finds a cup. She sinks her teeth into her wrist and bleeds into it for her mom, thrusting it at her when she’s done.

GM: Her mother looks at it falteringly, then back up at Celia.

“Do… do you not want me to drink it, sweetie…?”

Celia: She doesn’t care anymore.

“Drink it.”

GM: Her mother gives her another faltering look, then obeys. She swallows, smiles, and closes her eyes.

“Oh… that really is better, sweetie…” she murmurs contently. Her smile spreads. “My leg doesn’t hurt at all…”

“Let’s dance!” she exclaims brightly, taking Celia’s hand.

Celia: Celia yanks away from her mom.

“Go to bed.”

GM: Her mom’s face sinks. “Please don’t shut me out, Celia. I just want you to be happy.”

“I dance with girls every day, every school day at least, I just thought that’d be fun.”

Celia: Okay, well, that’s not possible. You don’t fucking listen to me. You do whatever the fuck you want regardless of how it’s going to affect me. “Let’s tell Emily about your real dad.” “Let’s keep secrets you want to know but blab everything else.” “Let’s tell Emily you’re a fucking vampire too, get the whole family killed, that seems real fucking swell.” “Oh, you worked hard at keeping everything separate and now in one night four separate people found out because I wouldn’t just listen to you when you showed up to save me and now you’re expending all your resources to keep me safe? You know what would make you feel better? Giving me blood. Wasting more resources on me.”

She bites back the words she wants to spit at her mother. Her Beast, at least, approves of this subservient kine who wants to keep her happy; it hadn’t even stirred when she’d cut herself open to feed the bitch. Just another thing they disagree on.

“The fact that you don’t feel pain doesn’t mean that the injury isn’t there. You’re still hurting yourself when you dance. Yeah, the symptoms are gone, but the source remains. So take it easy. Go to bed. I’ll see you later.”

GM: “Oh. Okay.” Her mom looks a little crestfallen at the news her leg isn’t better, but nods and manages a little smile at Celia’s next words. “All right. I’ll trust the MD.”

“If you want to stop by later as a kitty, by the way, I bet Lucy would love to play with you.”

Celia: “Maybe,” is all she says to that.

She walks away before she can implode the relationship any further.

GM: “I love you,” her mother calls softly after her.


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, PM

GM: The Evergreen is quiet when Jade swings around. Perhaps the most so at any point during the week. Many of the Kindred are at Elysium, while it’s a week night for the kine. (Fridays see the place similarly empty of Kindred, but are obviously busy nights for the kine.) Mélissaire is around, though, and says Lebeaux can be expected back when church services are over. She’d be happy to convey a message if Jade doesn’t want to stick around.

“You seem a little tense, Miss Kalani. Anything up?” the ghoul asks sympathetically.

Celia: She supposes she hadn’t really expected to see him here. Everyone who doesn’t have fifteen fires to put out gets to go to Elysium, while she’s running around like… like this.

One night. How had everything turned to shit in one night?

Is she ever going to feel like she’s not drowning?

She’s being pulled in so many directions at all times that she can’t even think straight. She doesn’t know what’s next. She doesn’t know how to fix it. She doesn’t want to admit that the thought of killing her mom to get rid of the problem or giving her back to Elyse is really, really tempting.

She seizes the offer to talk to someone that isn’t obsessed with her.

“I made a mistake. I don’t know how to fix it.”

GM: “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” says Mélissaire. “Here, I have just the thing.”

She leads the Toreador to one of the Louis XIV-style sitting rooms, asks her to lie down on one of the couches, and starts massaging her back. “I admit I’m not a professional, like you, ma’am, so feel free to point out any errors in my technique,” the ghoul smiles as she begins.

Her touch isn’t professional, and speaks as to a lack of anatomical study. But it’s lights, sensuous, caring, and hits many of the right spots, likely gleaned from observing her partners’ reactions. Jade doubts any of the men she massages have complaints.

She leaves it to Jade whether she keeps her clothes on or off.

Celia: Celia stays silent while Mel works on her—clothes off, because who gets a massage with clothes on?—and listens to the ghoul speak.

GM: Her mom had actually wanted to keep her clothes on, the first time, until Celia explained how that was silly.

Another stupid thing the woman did.

“Most mistakes are fixable with a little creative thinking,” Mel remarks. “Sometimes they can even be turned into assets.”

“Lord Savoy thinks that’s the mark of a truly clever Kindred. Young licks see elders as all-knowing and able to anticipate everything through elaborate games of eight-dimensional chess, but it’s impossible to predict everything, or to never slip up. He believes what really counts is adaptability. Improvisation. Coming up with new plans on the spot when old ones fall apart.”

“It’s a sentiment we see in a lot of other places, too. I once watched a play where one actress ran into another actress and made her spill a full tea tray. She looked so angry as she picked all the broken china up. It was a good scene. I later found out the whole thing had happened by accident, the first actress was just clumsy. But the second one ran with it, incorporated it into the play, and the audience was none the wiser.”

The ghoul smiles as she works her way down Jade’s back.

“But I’m yammering. You made a mistake and you’re not sure how to turn it around.”

“Tell me about the mistake, ma’am. I’m sure there’s a way.”

Celia: She’d thought that she was adaptable. That she could turn mistakes into assets. She’s done it before, hasn’t she? She’s always so good at playing the room, knowing what to say, taking the best path before her even if it’s through shark infested waters. Hasn’t she shown she’s able to adapt? Hasn’t she thus far rolled with the punches and come out victorious on the other side? Isn’t that her whole deal, that she can change course, adapt as needed, be the chameleon?

Why, then, can’t she do it with her mom?

Maybe it’s too close to home.

Or maybe she’s not as clever as she thinks.

“I turned my mom into a ghoul.”

“I thought I was saving her life. Now she knows everything.”

Celia fills in the gaps of the story for her.

GM: Mélissaire listens attentively as she rubs the Toreador’s shoulders.

“I think you were under a lot of pressure, ma’am, and did the best thing you could have at the time,” the ghoul says thoughtfully. “After all, the sun was about to come up, and the woman wasn’t otherwise in any state to listen.”

“You’re very strong not to have frenzied at her, given all that stress.”

“But you’re concerned that she’s useless now—a vitae sink with no appreciable skills, a weak spot for your enemies, a blabbermouth, and an addict and slave instead of your loving mother.”

“Worse than useless. Does that just about sum it up?”

Celia: “Yes. Exactly.”

She hadn’t felt strong at the time. She’d felt desperate. But maybe that’s what she’d needed to be to beat back the thing inside of her. She appreciates the sentiment, anyway.

GM: “My, that’s frustrating,” the ghoul says as she continues to work. “There’s a lot of licks who might just decide she’s more trouble than she’s worth, and get rid of her.”

“But your grandsire likes to look for the potential in everyone. I think that’s what he’d do here.”

“Obviously, there’d need to be some changes. If things continue with you and your mother as they now are, it’s probably going to end in tragedy.”

“You aren’t the first lick I’ve seen to ghoul a close family member, ma’am,” Mélissaire adds ruefully. “It can be very hard to be objective about those people.”

Celia: “I didn’t want this for her. I just wanted her to not be put into an early grave because of me. I want her to be… normal. Human. Not a ghoul.”

“Fifty years from now I’m not supposed to still have a mom.”

GM: Mélissaire nods. “I know you want the best for her. I remember how much trouble you went to, seven years ago.”

Celia: She’d died for her.

Maybe she should have stayed dead.

GM: “At this point, though, I think it may be too late to come back from that. She’s tasted your blood, she’s seen a great deal, and she’s felt a great deal too. A mindwipe is likely to be very patchy.”

“All mesmerism can alter is her memories. She’ll still hunger for your blood, and she’ll still feel however she feels about the past 24-ish hours.”

“Lord Savoy, Warden Lebeaux, and a couple other Kindred can all give her a mindwipe, but I think there will be just too many opportunities for it to unravel, and there could be further damage to her sanity if that happens.”

Celia: She doesn’t think she can ask Lord Savoy anyway. Not with this. Not when she’d failed to deliver Roderick in a timely manner.

“So I’m stuck with her like this.”

GM: “Stuck with her as a ghoul, maybe. But that doesn’t have to mean stuck with her as she now is.”

“That, like I’ve said, will probably end badly. Because right now she’s a vitae sink with no appreciable skills, a weak spot for your enemies, a blabbermouth, and an addict and slave instead of your loving mother.”

The ghoul smiles. “So, I’d think about how we can change those things. Let’s start with skills, since that’s the whole reason any Kindred wants a ghoul. Because they can do something useful.”

“What does your mother do for a living, ma’am? What is she good at?”

Celia: “She’s a dancer. She used to be a ballerina, but my dad tried to take her leg off with a hacksaw and she never got to go further than where she was. She was good, though. She teaches dance now. At McGehee.”

Another problem: the Garden District.

GM: “Oh, that’s promising,” Mélissaire says thoughtfully. “You might laugh at this, but here’s one idea… bodyguard.”

Celia: “Fencing?”

GM: “I see someone knows her ballet history,” the ghoul smiles. “Lord Savoy knows a few things about ballet. Louis XIV adored it as an art form—he introduced it to France, I think from Italy. Where, yes, I believe it had its origins in fencing.”

“There was also another Kindred who came to the city a few years ago, for Mardi Gras. She was a dancer. But she was also a… I’m not sure quite what I’d call her. I wouldn’t use the term martial artist.”

“But she enjoyed the similarities between dance and unarmed combat. She turned murder into a dance form. She was riveting to watch. I hear she made nasty work of some Sabbat.”

“I think her name was Miriam. Miriam Caravaggio. She was the bodyguard to, who was it, I think the prince of Atlanta or San Francisco. A Toreador dancer like her, instead of some hulking Brujah or Gangrel.”

“Did you meet her, ma’am? She was really something.”

Celia: “I remember her.”

That was the Mardi Gras she’d met Kirsten, the lick from Bolivia (apparently not her real name, just what she uses in the US). She’d been enraptured by the Hispanic beauty and spent most of her time tangled up with her, but they’d both been present at the party and vied for Miriam’s attention there. Jade had won a dance with her.

GM: Jade had thought she was fast, since dying. But it was impossible to keep up.

“Excellent,” smiles Mélissaire. “I bet she or someone like her would be the perfect teacher for your mother. Though anyone who’s good at fighting could probably also serve in a pinch.”

Celia: “My sister is dating a fencer.”

GM: “Perfect,” beams the ghoul. “That’s some quality time he could spend with his girlfriend’s mom.”

“It might take a little time to train your mother, in either fencing or unarmed combat, but I think there could be significant cross-transfer of skill. She already has years—decades?—of experience honing her body at a very physically demanding art.”

“And, it’s hard to think of a bodyguard who could be more devoted than one’s own mother.”

Celia: “I can fix her leg,” Celia adds after a moment of silence. “I didn’t before, because how would I explain it, but… I could now.”

GM: “There we go,” smiles the ghoul. “There’s obviously no Masquerade to worry about anymore.”

“This may also channel her energy in a positive direction. I’m sure she worries a lot. I’m sure she just wants to feel useful and like she’s helping you. People get depressed and do foolish things when they feel like they’re burdens.”

“So this would be for her as much as you. I think it would be good for her to develop her skills at something she can take pride in, and that she knows her domitor values.”

Celia: Maybe Lebeaux will finally take her out, too. No Masquerade to worry about.

She can already hear his sigh.

“Thank you, Mélissaire. I was really floundering for something to do with her. This is really helpful.”

GM: “Oh, I’m so happy to have helped, ma’am,” Mélissaire beams. “There’s a second thing you might be able to do with her, too.”

“You know how en vogue it is for your clan to ghoul artists and show them off. I know feelings among the elders are a little mixed, regarding makeup, but ballet is a very respected form of art.”

“I’m sure your mother could be a smash hit at parties and impress your clanmates with her skills. It would reflect well on you to have a talented artist under your wing.”

“I’m sure you don’t want them all to know she’s Celia Flores’ mother, of course, much less Jade’s too. You could bring her in disguise.”

Celia: Since Celia can’t impress them herself with her own chosen form of art, since she’s lying about that too.

“Good thing I have that skill, then.”

GM: “Indeed. You could even give your mother separate faces in her roles as your bodyguard and your dancer.”

“Who needs to know your pet artist can fight, after all?”

Celia: “Alana is going to be jealous that I’m taking my mom to the parties and not her,” Celia says with some wry amusement. “I suppose I’ll need to see what I can do with her. My mom almost had a heart attack when she saw her sitting on my lap.”

Not to mention her reaction to walking in on her kissing Caroline.

“She reacted well, though. My mom, I mean. To everything. So that’s good, right?”

GM: “Yes. I said your mother had a good temperament for a ghoul, too. Very submissive.”

“Being a prude is problematic, but the Blood tends to increase our libidos. You can probably train the prudishness out of her. Or at least inure her to Kindred society being what it is.”

Celia: Maybe see how well she can recondition her mom to enjoying sex after Elyse trained it out of her. Train it back into her.

That’s not weird at all.

But Mel has a point about it, anyway.

GM: It’s no weirder than ghouling her.

Celia: She bets Reggie would be up for the task.

She’s seen Elyse train women to like men.

It’ll be like that. Only with pleasure.

GM: “As for being a weak spot,” Mélissaire continues, “that’s easy. Disguise her when she’s around you as Jade. You’re very good at that, ma’am.”

Celia: “You don’t think that McGehee is going to cause too much of a problem?”

GM: “I don’t think so, as long as she keeps her head down. I doubt the prince stations any ghouls in a girls’ school, much less ones who are also capable of detecting other ghouls.”

“She shouldn’t have anyone capable of anima visus trying to taste her blood unless something has already gone very wrong.”

Celia: “And she’s going to know shadow dancing, too, in case of that.”

GM: “Even more safe,” Mélissaire smiles.

“I also wouldn’t overlook what her job could do for you. It’s one of the city’s best schools. She might be able to put you in touch with the families of her students, if she’s popular with them.”

Celia: “Everyone tells me she’s the favorite teacher.”

GM: “There you go. I guess that’s no surprise, either. Dance must be easy to get good grades in.”

Celia: “Plus the dress down days on Fridays. Big hit.”

“I always regretted not being able to take her class there.”

GM: “Oh, you weren’t? That’s very sad, I’m sure it would have been fun to learn dance from your mom.”

Celia: “She taught me privately, and when we were kids, but once they split my dad didn’t want me to see her. We didn’t really reconnect until I went to college.”

GM: “Ah, yes. I suppose that’s no surprise either.”

“You care about her a lot. I’m sure this past night must have left you on the verge of crazy.”

Celia: “It’s been a lot.” Celia finally releases a long exhale as Mel’s hands find a spot on her shoulders that want to make her melt into the couch. “I had a meeting with my grandsire last night that I was looking forward to and it didn’t go as planned. And then I lost a friend. And then my mom. It’s just… lonely sometimes. I know a lot of people but no one I can talk to about it, you know? Randy just wanted a hit, Alana is jealous, the other two aren’t really involved in all of this… everyone has an agenda.”

There’s a slight pause when Mel hits that spot again.

“Thank you for listening. And giving advice. I really, really needed it.”

GM: “It’s my pleasure, Miss Kalani,” the ghoul smiles, at both Jade’s words and reaction. Seeing the latter, she kneads away.

“It’s hard being Kindred. It’s hard being a ghoul. But there’s a lot to make it worth it.”

Celia: “Is there anything I can do for you?”

GM: With her face turned away, Jade can’t see the look on Mélissaire’s.

But she feels the ghoul absently brush her wrist, as though it’s part of the massage.

Celia: Celia can handle that much, at least.

She waits until the massage is over to rise, still naked, and cut into her flesh with her fangs to offer it to the ghoul that has been with her since the beginning of her Requiem.

Not hers, but part of her story all the same.

GM: Mélissaire receives the hit rapturously. She doesn’t moan and all but hump the wrist like Randy does. She closes her eyes and sips from it slowly, quietly, savoring the taste, letting it spread to every part of her.

She opens her eyes when Jade’s given enough and slowly licks her lips.

“Thank you.”

Celia: “No, Mélissaire. Thank you.

GM: The ghoul smiles back. “If I may… some further, perhaps timely advice.”

Celia: “Please do.”

GM: “Your mother is an addict now. I’m afraid there’s no way around that.”

“All of us, and all of you, are addicts.”

Celia: Celia nods.

She’s already experienced her mother begging for blood.

GM: “But we can at least be functioning addicts.”

“Lord Savoy is very clear with me about when and under what circumstances I receive his vitae. I know when and why I receive extra, and when and why I receive less.”

“Your mother would likely also benefit from clear expectations. She probably just expects to get blood whenever she wants, because she’s your mother, and then when you say no, she feels hurt.”

Celia: The rest of them, as well. She has been too soft with them, too willing to share blood that she needs for herself.

“That’s… very wise, yes. I’ll have that talk with her. Thank you.”

GM: “You’re welcome,” smiles the ghoul. “If she’s new to the Blood, she’s likely going through a lot of very conflicting feelings. She may be ashamed of them. She may take some time to come to terms with the fact she is an addict.”

Celia: “And I need to be more patient than I have been with her.”

GM: “This is where clear structure and expectations help. They’re for you as well as her.”

Celia: “You warned me about this. Those early evenings of my Requiem.”

GM: “Oh, did I? About handling ghouls?”

Celia: “About not getting too close. I asked you not to call me ma’am. And you told me that young Kindred always go through this.”

GM: “Ah, yes,” Mélissaire smiles. “Your mother can still be your mother. Ma’am. But when it comes to vitae, she is not and cannot be your mother.”

Celia: “Is there a good way to explain that? Shifting the dynamic after years?”

GM: “Is it such a shift? From what you tell me, this is a woman who’s been used to obeying other people for all her life. If she were more independent, more domineering, I’d say ghouling her is probably more trouble than it’s worth. Just because the notion of a child being in charge of their parent is likely to offend someone like that. But that isn’t her.”

“I think you should make clear to her what your relationship now is, and that it’s one where you are in charge and she must obey you. That also doesn’t have to be a bad thing. You can be a benevolent master. Obeying you can actually make her life better.”

“I don’t know what ways she likes to express being your mother, but I’d still let her do those if they don’t undermine your authority. I’d also perhaps carve out moments where a more traditional parent-child dynamic can still exist.”

Celia: Mel had told her years ago, and now as well, that Diana would make a good ghoul. Subservient. Already used to listening. Loves her fiercely. If Celia can direct that energy toward something useful, can turn her into a showpiece and a bodyguard, then this can work. It’s just going to be a difficult transition, maybe, but as long as Celia is clear on the rules…

“I think she’d like that. I can think of a few things. And… it’ll be easier, you know, now that she knows. She’ll stop trying to give me food or ask why I don’t come over during the day.”

She doesn’t have to be a useless waste of vitae. She doesn’t have to kill her own mother, or give her back to the dollmaker.

GM: “Exactly,” smiles the ghoul. “This can be a good thing for you both. I’d emphasize that. I’d make clear how much you love and accept her. You just want the best for both of you.”

“She’s probably very confused, ashamed, and uncertain right now, and looking for comfort and assurance. A good domitor provides that.”

“A firm hand, but a comfortable one. A guiding one.”

Celia: She can do that. Firm but comfortable. She’s done it with the others, right? Or has she been too weak there?

It’s something to think about, anyway. Maybe she’s gotten too comfortable with them.

But this doesn’t need to be the end of her relationship with her mother. It can be a good thing, like Mel said. And Celia can teach her mom shadow dancing. Can show her how it’s done so they can be completely safe. Maybe Alana will want to learn how to dance so she can be shown off at parties, too. It’ll be a bonding experience for them both. And if she can get ahold of Miriam…

It’ll work out.

It will all work out.


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, PM

Celia: After visiting the Evergreen, Celia heads back to Randy’s house to pick up Dani and Lucy (the doll, not the sleeping child). She’s not quite skipping, but she does have a spring in her step that wasn’t there when she’d left, and her heart feels lighter than it has in… well, not days, but a few nights now. Settling things with Diana has let her focus her attention elsewhere: Dani and Roderick.

Celia checks to see if Randy and Reggie have finished with their guns for the evening; Reggie is supposed to be with her tonight, and while she has no doubt that she can take a handful of thin-bloods or kine if it comes down to it, she’d rather not have to rely on that if she can help it. The point of muscle is to be muscle, right?

GM: The brothers have found two off-duty cops and one bounty hunter from LegalWings to come guard the house. Doubtless, if Rusty were here, he’d remind Celia that she is paying for them.

All three stare at Celia appreciatively, like all men do.

Celia: She’d assumed as much. Things will be less frivolous for a bit, but she doesn’t really need a new handbag or shoes or that dress she saw in the window the other night.

Then again, Roderick still offered to pay for destroying her haven, so if she really wants to be a mooch…

No, no, that’s wrong.

Pietro might just nick it for her, though, if she asks nicely.

GM: “You seem in a good mood,” Dani smiles as they set off.

Celia: “I am,” she says to Dani with a smile after winking at the boys Reggie and Rusty had gotten to watch the house. That frees up the ghouls to be with her, which is ideal.

“I had to speak to someone about some of the issues coming up around my mom, and it went well. So I feel better about the whole thing.”

“And, after we run a few errands, you get to meet someone special.”

GM: “Oh, that’s good. She seemed really down after you left,” Dani remarks next to Celia in the back seat as Reggie drives. “Who’s the special someone?”

“Was she? I could cheer her up,” smirks Reggie.

Celia: “It’s a shift in dynamic that I wasn’t prepared for. She and I just need to talk it out now.”

“Reggie, if you touch her without permission I’m going to geld you,” Jade says sweetly.

GM: “Ah, but then I couldn’t touch you anymore, at least not in the ways that make you flush and cream your panties.”

Celia: Jade, sitting behind him, leans forward to whisper in his ear. It’s the sort of threat that makes his blood run cold, but not the sort of thing she wants Dani to overhear: a graphic warning on what, exactly, she’ll do to him if he doesn’t knock it off in front of the kid and her mom.

She finishes it with “save it for the bedroom,” which lets him know she’s happy to let him touch her and talk to her like this—but not here, and not now.

She makes sure to let him see her fangs when she pulls back, smiling at him in the rear-view mirror. He knows what she can do with those fangs, the sort of pleasure or horror they can bring to him and people like him.

GM: His smile, and initial words about “doing you and your mom together, so you can be sure I’ll treat her right,” die under the vampire’s threat.

He clears his throat and stares ahead at the road.

Celia: It’s not that she minds the way Reggie talks. She really doesn’t; sometimes it even turns her on when she gets to be treated like another piece of meat. There’s a reason she’s kept him as a part-time lover for the past six years, and he definitely delivers. But not in front of Dani, and certainly not in front of her mother.

Jade—Celia?—returns to the conversation with Dani once the driver remembers who she is.

“The boy I was telling you about. But first we’re meeting some other people.”

“A fortune teller and some others like you. Maybe. If we can find them without getting too close to the border. People are looking for me, and I’d prefer not to make it easy on them.”

If Sidra is there, anyway. She might have gone to Elysium as well.

GM: Dani looks a little less enthusiastic over meeting Celia’s abuser, but asks, “Are fortune-tellers for real?”

Celia: “You believe in vampires but not fortune tellers?” Celia winks at her. “Some of them, anyway.”

“And listen. About the guy. If you don’t change your mind upon meeting him, I’ll end things.”

GM: “Really? Could we ask them to tell our futures?”

Dani looks surprised by Celia’s turnaround, but nods, “Okay. Good.”

Celia: “She might want something in exchange, but if you want to try then yes.”

GM: “I’m surprised more people don’t. She must be rich if she can actually predict the future.”

Celia: “Might be complicated by you being duskborn. We’ll see.”

GM: “Oh. She won’t because she hates duskborn?”

Celia: “I don’t know her personal views, but most of them do.”

“I think we could pass you off as a ghoul for a while if you keep your fangs away.”

GM: “I guess we better, yeah,” Dani says, not without some bitterness.

Celia: “Hey,” Celia says to her, “listen. I lie to everyone about everything. No one knows I’m Celia Flores. They think I’m Jade. I act completely different around everyone else depending on who I’m with. It’s just a way to keep safe. It’s masking. Ghouls pick up all sorts of things people don’t realize; we trust them with our secrets and our daily affairs. Some of them are really powerful. Just think of it like that. You’re just pretending to be someone else to get to do what you want.”

“You just pick a persona and play it. It’s kind of fun sometimes. And once we teach you shadow dancing you’ll be even better at it.”

“And if you want… once you’re done with school we can change your whole identity. Keep your dad safe.”

GM: “I guess you’re right that everyone pretends. It just feels bad that they’d hate and discriminate against the real me.”

“You think my dad would be in danger?” Dani asks worriedly.

Celia: “Maybe. That’s why I kept my mom in the dark for years. I only told you about me because, well, you’re you.”

“It’s usually a good idea to create a new name, at least. A lot of people fake their deaths. But… you can still be around during the day, with your dad and all, and if you don’t have a Beast then honestly it’s pretty safe. You don’t have to worry about losing control.”

“Actually…”

GM: “Yeah?”

Celia: “So. I’m thinking. We teach you shadow dancing and how to taste like a mortal. All of my boys know it except for Randy, and I’m going to be teaching my mom anyway, so you’ve got a lot of people to help you learn. We keep you as a duskborn on the down low. I can talk to my surgeon, see if she can make a mask for you that’s easily applicable to pretend to be my ghoul, that way if you are spotted and tasted by someone in Riverbend during school no one connects us. Guy who runs the place is, uh, real asshole. He’d kill you. Frankly. Then when you’re done with school we get you a new identity.”

“So you still get the pride of finishing school on your own, we can pad your resume if you want, and you basically get to have it all.”

GM: “Okay. That seems smart,” Dani nods. “Should I be meeting this fortune teller right now, though, if we don’t have a mask for me?”

Celia: “Nope. We can meet her tomorrow instead.”

GM: “Okay. Let’s do that, then.”

Celia: Celia checks the time.

“We have some free time. What’re you interested in?”

GM: “I’d like to meet some other licks, but if that needs to wait… is there anything you’d recommend?”

Celia: “You know who Andi Brooks is? Love & Liars?”

GM: “Yeah, I’ve heard of her. I listen to some of her stuff.”

Celia: “She and I are pretty tight. A few years ago she showed me this place that she likes to practice new material under her alias. Bad feeding so no one runs it, but they have poetry slams and open mic nights if you want to check it out.”

GM: “You know her?” Dani asks, impressed.

“Wow, though I guess you are kinda famous too.”

“I’ve actually been getting random followers and friend requests and since you friended and followed me.”

“But that sounds fun, anyways. It’d be nice just to do something… normal.”

Celia: “She’s part of my krewe,” Celia explains. “She might like you, actually. She’s Caitiff. No clan. Gets the same sort of second-class treatment as you do for it, and she’s very into raging against the machine and the status quo.”

“When she’s back in town I can bring you to meet her.”

“She’s pretty cool, to be honest. And way more famous than me. Surprised you got followers out of me following you, ha.”

Celia gives Reggie the new address.

GM: Reggie drives.

“You mentioned krewes,” says Dani. “They’re like cliques of friends, aren’t they?”

Celia: “Yeah, basically. We help each other out. Hang out.”

“Two of mine travel a lot. Andi and Tyrell. He deals in antiques and things like that, so he and Andi travel together when she’s on tour. Safer. He’s… a real sweetheart, honestly. You don’t usually expect it from someone that age. Or at all. He’s just got his way about him, you know?”

“Roxy is the fourth and the leader. She’s older. Been around longer. That kind of thing. When those two are in town we hang out more.”

“Roxy has some stuff going on with her sire she’s looking into. I was helping until, well, life blew up. So when all this calms down I’ll see where she’s at and how I can get back into it.”

GM: “Could I join your krewe?” Dani asks.

Celia: “Maybe! Roxy makes the decisions and we talk about it before we vote anyone in. I’ll put in a good word for you, though.”

GM: “Thanks. I’d like that. To have some friends who are licks.”

Celia: “Thing is about lick friends,” Celia says to her, “is that everyone has their own agenda. It’s not like human friends. So I’d be wary what you share with them when you do make some. Like, none of them know I’m Celia either.”

GM: “But I know you’re Celia and I’m a lick.”

Celia: “You’re different. I knew you before I was turned. I trust you. And I’m trusting you to keep it to yourself.”

GM: “I will,” Dani nods. “Lawyers have to be able to keep our mouths shut.”

“But that sounds like you don’t really trust them, and that’s too bad.”

Celia: “It’s not that. It’s just… everyone has an angle, you know?”

“And being a lick is very cutthroat.”

GM: “You haven’t seemed that way.”

Celia: “We don’t get into a lot of physical brawls, so reputation means a lot. I’m that way around them.”

“I wouldn’t sell out my krewe or my sire or my patron. But I’m happy to collect information on people in case they move against me.”

GM: “Maybe they’re only that way around others too, and they just need to be a little vulnerable.”

Celia: “Maybe. It’s hard to trust. It’s kind of isolating. We were humans once, and humans are pack animals. Cut them away from that and they get a little… crazy.”

“There was a study once about apes. Guy wanted to see what happened to them if you isolated them. So he did. And it was really fucked up. Moms killing their babies, loss of will to live.”

GM: “That’s worse than I thought, but not that much worse. Social isolation is linked to all sorts of negative health outcomes.”

Celia: “Everyone wants to be on top. So we fight and claw our way up there. And it’s a real long fall if you lose your footing; no one wants to start over.”

“So we just… don’t trust easily. One wrong word can be the end of you, you know?”

“You tell someone I’m Celia. They see me in their territory and suddenly my identity isn’t safe. I get picked up for trespassing. Can’t visit my grandma or my brother. Someone reports that I’m posting photos online and it’s against the Masquerade. Then they want to know who does my work for me.” She gestures at her face.

“I piss someone off and they go after my mom, Lucy, or Emily.”

GM: “That sounds like an awful way to live.”

“I’m glad we can be honest, at least.”

Celia: “It can be really, really lonely.”

GM: Dani wraps an arm around her shoulder in a half-hug.

“You’re not alone.”

Celia: Celia returns the embrace. For all that Dani is a pawn in this game, Celia is happy to have her.


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, PM

Celia: Open mic night turns out to be a pretty good time for the two of them. As Celia had told Dani, the feeding isn’t good, but it’s not for lack of people. Just lack of privacy. There’s only one room with a slightly elevated platform to serve as stage and a bar that serves coffee and liquor at all hours of the day, which Dani helps herself to while Celia snags them a table. When Celia orders a drink eventually she quietly explains that it’s better for the Masquerade to be seen at least pretending to eat and drink in public. Dani finishes most of the cappuccino for her, which Celia appreciates. She doesn’t want to spend the precious blood keeping it down.

There are a handful of acts at open mic: a blonde girl with a country twang and a guitar, a red haired bombshell that belts out blues and jazz and could give Veronica a new obsession if she were so inclined, and an older gentleman that brings a few of the crowd to tears with his spoken word.

The two girls are able to relax and enjoy the night, and when Celia’s phone eventually buzzes they’ve made tentative plans to come back and try their own hand it. Celia asks Dani if she has any artistic talents like that, or if she still writes.

Reggie watches with them. Celia thinks he appreciates it more than he lets on, but either way his presence puts her at ease.

Celia has him drop off Dani at Celia’s place, explaining to the girl that she needs to pick up her friend so she can get him into the Quarter. They work for opposite sides. She reminds her to keep an open mind about him, and says that she’s pretty sure Dani will end up liking him. She also asks, again, that Dani not tell him about the shared blood.

“Just in case.”

Outside, Celia tells Reggie to watch the place. Discreetly. To use his shadow dancing to make himself look human so that her friend doesn’t smell him, and that if he tries to get out with Dani to stake him.

She’s pretty sure Savoy has people around since he had said as much—she thinks they’ve been followed all night—but she wouldn’t put it past Roderick to try something because he thinks they’re alone.

Bases covered, Celia goes to pick up Roderick. She greets him with a kiss at the door, smuggles him into the car so he can sit in the trunk, and asks how Elysium went.

GM: Dani doesn’t mind the coffee at all, and thinks it’s too bad Celia can’t enjoy it.

Roderick’s eyes shine when he sees her. He tries to do with Celia right then and there upon her kiss.

“Dani can wait…”

Celia: Oh. Well then.

They can do this instead.

“Twenty minutes,” she tells him, then pulls him against her.

GM: The lovers’ coupling is swift and passionate. Roderick can’t get enough of her. He pulls her into a lap dance position, sitting down on his knees and pulling her onto his lap with her back against his chest, her legs spread over his knees, and her head thrown over his shoulder. His hands roam her body constantly, squeezing, caressing, feeling her everywhere as he thrusts into her and she grinds down on him. It’s an excellent position too for him to feed from her neck, though he needlessly refrains from drinking straight from the source.

He can’t get enough of her.

Celia: It’s a new position for the two of them, but one that Celia thoroughly enjoys if the way she moves and the sounds she makes and the multiple times she finds release (even in their brief time) is any indication. She likes being spread open like this on his lap; he can touch everything he needs to, and it’s perfect for his fangs to find a perch.

She returns the favor when he lets her shift to face him instead, and only once they’ve each satisfied themselves and each other does she ask, giggling, if he missed her.

GM: “My god, yes,” he murmurs, planting a kiss on her lips. “Elysium just seemed like such total bullshit tonight.”

Celia: Sunday services usually are.

“Nothing exciting, then?”

GM: “The bishop wasn’t there.”

Celia: “Oh. Weird. I wonder why.” She can’t recall a mass without the albino. “Who did the service?”

GM: “Maldonato. Rumors are spreading, though.”

“I heard it’s been a week since anyone saw him.”

Celia: “Huh. Maybe he left. Off to diddle little boys like his Catholic counterparts.”

“What’re the rumors?” She retrieves their clothing while they talk, handing him his pants and shirt. She slides close to help him with the buttons.

It’s really an excuse to kiss his neck.

GM: Roderick talks in between several of his own.

“That he’s been summoned by the cardinal in Corpus Christi, who wants him to replace Vidal when the prince enters torpor.”

“Though that seems off. He’s not thrown his hat into the ring.”

Celia: “Thought the sheriff was replacing Vidal.”

GM: “Vidal hasn’t said a word about who’s replacing him.”

Celia: “Hasn’t said much of anything in years.”

GM: “True. Though other talk says Malveaux’s going to be the sheriff’s seneschal.”

“Another one was that Malkavians kidnapped him. He’s supposed to be pretty friendly with them, but being friends with any Malkavian is a double-edged sword.”

Celia: “Because they’ll turn on you at any moment? Or because their crazy rubs off on you?” She brushes against him at the word “rub.”

GM: He pulls her close and starts to steadily kneed her breasts. “Because they’re crazy period.”

“You’re friends with one, how has it generally worked out?”

Celia: Her nipples stiffen at the touch.

“We’re crazy for each other,” Celia says with another kiss against his neck.

“Mm, aside from the fact that I hurt her? All right.”

“Oh, you mean Andi?”

GM: “Yeah. We are.” Another kiss.

“She’s Caitiff. I’ve heard. That was just a rumor.”

“Lucky for her, because I don’t think the Malkavians believed it. They know their own.”

Celia: “Ah. Yeah. Her sire was as crazy as they come, to hear her tell.”

GM: “Speaking of Benson, she’s getting ordained next week.”

Celia: “Oh?”

GM: “Yeah. Congratulations to her, I guess.”

Celia: “I’ll have to send flowers.”

GM: “You’re not attending?”

Celia: “I meant before then. I don’t know. If everything goes well then yes I’ll be there.”

GM: “Katherine Beaumont was talking shit about you. Two consecutive weeks is a lot of Elysia to miss. For someone who hangs out with the harpies, anyway.”

Celia: “I’d talk shit back, but she’s low-hanging fruit.” Celia shrugs. “She’s mad I’ve been tapped to help the archon. Whatever.”

Celia can’t even remember what she was doing last week to miss it. Hunters?

Or was that the night she got high?

It all blurs together.

GM: “I’d be careful. The other harpies weren’t really leaping to your defense.”

Celia: “Oh.”

Why?

GM: “Yeah. Are those rumors about you and the archon true?”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “Which ones?”

Celia: “Uh. Which rumors exist?”

“I guess I should have clarified before blindly agreeing.”

GM: Roderick gives a somewhat dry look. “He didn’t actually tap you, did he?”

Celia: Celia blinks at him, momentary hurt crossing her face that he thinks she wouldn’t be chosen for something like this.

“He reached out to me directly and asked me for assistance. We’re meeting when he gets back into town.”

GM: “It’s just… no offense, but you seemed pretty clueless about the city’s stability and the possibility of civil war until we talked. And if the archon was here for anything, it was that.”

Celia: “Mmm. Maybe he just wanted to fuck. I’m very pretty. I’ve heard it’s my only talent.”

GM: “It’s not your only talent. You’re plenty smart too.”

Celia: “Really? I seem to recall you almost calling me stupid the other night.”

GM: Remorse flashes across his face. “I didn’t mean it. I stuck my foot in my mouth.”

Celia: “You also just called me clueless.”

GM: “About the city’s political stability, yes. And you were. But the important thing is you aren’t now.”

Celia: “Or maybe I’m privy to things you aren’t.”

GM: “I find that unlikely, given how seriously the elders are all taking the possibility of civil war.”

Celia: “Or maybe you just expect me to be an idiot and me asking a follow up question during our discussion makes you think I’m just a dumb broad.”

“But hey, at least the sex is good, right?”

GM: “I don’t think you’re an idiot. This was just a topic you didn’t know much about. There are plenty of topics I’m ignorant of.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick, I don’t know anything about the politics in the city I live in. You’re right.”

GM: “I didn’t say all politics, I said stability and the possibility of civil war.”

Celia: Celia waves a hand. She stops pretending to help with his buttons. When she pulls away only two have actually been fastened.

GM: He doesn’t resume them. “I’m sorry if I made you feel like I was belittling your intelligence. I know how much your dad hurt you by doing that. I don’t want to hurt you.”

Celia: “You know Preston said that to me last night, too. That I’m stupid. When I pointed out my medical degree she scoffed because I had the misfortune to be Embraced before I could graduate and wasn’t about to beg a favor from the sheriff to finish up at Tulane, even if I could go during the day. I paint faces and that’s not real art, so my clan talks a bunch of shit too. I went to school online because that was my only option. I spent years being told I’m stupid by my dad to the point that I internalized it. And then I died.”

Celia gives him a flat look.

“You know what people do when they think you’re stupid?”

GM: “What?”

Celia: They underestimate you and share all sorts of juicy tidbits.

“Can’t remember, my brain doesn’t hold that much information.”

GM: “Your brain is amazing. I’ll challenge Preston to a duel if you want me to pay her back for saying those shitty things about you.”

“Online degrees are accredited. They’re just as valid as traditional ones.”

Celia: “And if you were talking to anyone else I bet you’d say differently.”

“So think what you want about whatever you want. The archon wanted me.”

GM: “Okay, I’ll take your word for it. The archon wanted you.”

“And I wouldn’t say differently. There are lots of licks who earn online degrees. They can’t attend day classes or classes at X location and still want to better themselves, like you did.”

“You aren’t stupid. I don’t have a medical degree. You know way more about anatomy, medicine, and the physical sciences than I do.”

Roderick’s unbuttoned shirt is still just hanging there.

He hasn’t yet brought up wanting to see his sister.

Celia: He still doesn’t believe her.

She’s not going to be the one to remind him about his sister. He can wait until tomorrow for all she cares.

GM: He lays his hands on her shoulders.

“Tell me how I can make this right. I don’t want you to feel like I think you’re stupid. I know how much that hurts you.”

Celia: Celia lifts her gaze to his face. He can see it in her eyes: the hurt, the wounded pride, the fear that he still thinks she’s stupid, that she’s not good enough, that she’ll never be good enough. That he doesn’t believe her. She swallows, dropping her eyes for a moment. She starts to shake her head.

“I don’t know.”

Then, a second later, she looks up again.

“No, I do know. Who’s your shadow dancer contact? I don’t have the patience to teach my mom and I want her to learn. Quickly.”

GM: She sees pain equally written in his face too, at first. Perhaps it’s real. Perhaps it’s the second drink. Perhaps it’s both. But it’s there.

“The Churchmice,” he answers. “They’re mutes, but they’re great at making themselves scarce.”

“I thought you wanted to keep her secret from other licks, though.”

Celia: Her mouth forms a little “o” as his words sink in, as she realizes what she asked.

She abruptly turns away, pressing a hand against her mouth as if that will stop the trail of red that leaks from her eyes.

“St-stupid,” she stutters out.

GM: “You’re not stupid!” Roderick exclaims, hugging his arms around her.

Celia: “Ev-everyone says so. They all think so. You think so. You-you don’t—you don’t even trust me to-to take care of Dani because you think I’m… you think I’m dumb.”

GM: “I’ve trusted you to do that for nights,” Roderick insists. “There’s no one else I would. No one. Not my krewe, not Coco, no one.”

“You’re the only one smart enough and trustworthy enough.”

Celia: Celia thinks she might have taken this train as far as she can ride it.

She lets the arms around her pull her back against his chest, lets him calm her like he thinks he’s doing. She settles against him, the tears slowing to a trickle, and finally she wipes at them with her hands.

“O-okay,” she says in a small voice.

GM: He holds her close and runs his hands up and down her.

“You aren’t stupid,” he repeats. “Only your dad is for not recognizing what an amazing mind he had in front of him.”

Celia: “He… he said he was sorry. Last night. At dinner.”

Like Roderick is doing now, but she doesn’t point it out.

GM: “I don’t buy that. ‘Sorry’ does a fat lot of nothing to make up for the abuse he put you and your family through, anyway.”

Celia: “There was more to it than that.” Celia shakes her head. “It doesn’t matter, I guess.”

GM: “Just so long as you told him where to stick it.”

Roderick smiles. “Did you give him a kiss, by the way, with those lips that had just sucked my dick?”

Celia: “No,” she admits, “I didn’t want to kiss him.”

GM: “I’m sorry. I completely forgot to ask how that dinner went. There’s just been so much else on my mind.”

“At least I still got a blowjob.”

Celia: “Two.”

GM: “I owe you still.”

Celia: “You do,” Celia agrees.

“Later tonight, maybe. Or tomorrow.”

GM: “Right.” He shakes his head. “Dani is waiting.”

Celia: She’d rather go see her now and let him return the favor tomorrow. Or after. So she doesn’t need to think about his sister while he’s going down on her.

GM: Roderick finishes with his clothes.

He hoists her up in his arms once she’s dressed.

“I still mean that. You’re too pretty to have to walk.”

Celia: “You can carry me down the aisle after we get married,” Celia promises him.

GM: “I’ll carry you a lot further than that,” he says as he carries out to the car. “You fit so perfectly in my arms. You were custom-made for them.”

Celia: They really do fit together nicely.

She distracts him with her mouth on his lips and neck while he carries her, and only once they reach the car does she desist.

GM: He sets her down reluctantly, but still enjoys opening the car door, setting her down onto her seat, and closing the door for her.

Celia: At least she got to keep her panties this time.

GM: Roderick gets in the trunk and pulls it closed. He has reasons. Staying hidden.

But it’s hard not to think back to another Brujah doing that around Celia’s pretend sire.

Another probably mindfucked Brujah.

Celia: It’s different.

Celia is doing it out of love.

Veronica is doing it to be a cunt.

GM: They drive until they reach Celia’s apartment. Roderick gets out and follows her upstairs.

Celia: On the way, though, Celia sends a text to Mel, letting her know about the Churchmice. Coded. Obviously.

GM: The ghoul thanks her for the notice and says they’ll alter plans accordingly.

“Hair and coat aren’t too mussed?” he asks.

Celia: Celia checks over Roderick before they head upstairs. She fixes a stray hair for him and straightens his tie, then gives a nod.

“Look good.”

GM: He knocks on the apartment door when they’re there. “I’m not sure how you re-introduce someone to the brother they thought was dead.”

Celia: “I didn’t tell her,” Celia warns him. “She… thought this was the only thing she had done that you hadn’t.”

GM: “Ah. Crap.”

Celia: “I didn’t want to break her heart without being able to also introduce you.”

GM: “All right. Let’s do this.”

Celia: Celia takes his hand and gives it a squeeze. They’ve got this.

GM: “Is that you?” calls Dani from behind the peephole.

Celia: “It’s Celia,” she confirms.

GM: She opens the door.

She looks at Roderick.

Her hands fly to her mouth as she gasps.

“Hi, sis,” he smiles.

“St… ephen?!” Dani gets out.

She stares at him for a while, then finally looks between him and Celia.

Celia: Celia gives Dani a gentle smile.

GM: “It’s me,” he nods. “I’m here.”

He notably doesn’t say ’I’m alive.’

He steps forward into the apartment and hugs her.

Celia: Celia follows him in, closing the door behind her.

GM: “I’ve missed you.”

“H… how?!” Dani exclaims, though she returns the embrace.

Celia: “I told you,” Celia says quietly, “a lot of us fake our deaths.”

GM: “He’s… he’s a vampire?”

Celia: “He’s a vampire.”

GM: Dani looks back towards her brother, who’s still holding her.

He opens his mouth and shows his fangs.

“We… we thought you were dead!” Dani exclaims.

“I know,” Roderick replies. “I can’t imagine how hard that was on you b-”

“It destroyed Dad!” Dani interrupts.

“You just… you let us think you were dead?!”

Celia: “Dani,” Celia interrupts, “let him explain.”

“It’s hard. I told you. Mostly people leave their families behind.”

“They have to. It isn’t safe. You saw what happened with mine.”

“And Rod—Stephen is…” she’d explained it. “Brujah.”

GM: Dani looks at Celia, then back at her brother.

“I’m sorry,” Roderick answers. “I hated doing it. It tore me apart to do it. You have no idea how many times I’ve cried.”

“Well, actually,” he adds more quietly, “you probably do.”

“I did it to keep you and Dad safe.”

“I don’t s…” Dani starts.

“You remember that argument? Where I tore up the house?” Roderick asks.

“That’s when I knew. It wasn’t safe for you and Dad to be around me.”

Celia: Celia gives Dani a private look over her brother’s shoulder. Remember what I said he did to me? that look says. Not safe.

GM: “My sire… erased some of your and Dad’s memories. You don’t remember the worst of it.”

Celia: Celia looks sharply at Roderick. He’d never told her that.

GM: He looks at her apologetically, then back to Dani. “I wanted to stay with you, as long as I could. My sire kept telling me it was a bad idea. I didn’t listen.”

“I only listened once I’d come within a hair’s breadth of killing you both.”

Dani doesn’t say anything for a few moments. Just silently processes.

“You hit Celia,” she says. “She says you beat her.”

Celia: Whoops.

GM: “What?!” Roderick exclaims.

Celia: “I was trying to explain the Brujah thing,” Celia says.

GM: “What, is she lying? Have you ever hit her?”

“I… yes, I have-” Roderick starts.

“Oh my god!” Dani exclaims.

“It wasn’t me!” Roderick protests.

“You said you hit her! How many times!?”

“We’re all that way!” Roderick starts to explain. “All my clan! Think of it as… a genetic disorder, it afflicts us all, no matter who we were.”

“A genetic disorder that makes you hit your girlfriend?!”

“Yes! That makes us do a lot worse than hit everyone! All Kindred have a Beast, but ours is worse, so much wo-”

“I don’t have a Beast!”

“All right, all tru-nightborn Kindred, we have Beasts, but you don’t!”

“Why?!”

“I don’t know! I’m not going to deny responsibility for what I’ve done to her, but it has a mind of its own and it does things that horrify and sicken me, things that I’d never countenance. Celia understands. That’s why she didn’t leave me, because she has one in her too.”

Celia: “It—it’s okay, Dani. He doesn’t mean it.”

Exactly like Diana used to say.

“He can’t help it. I told you. It’s the Beast.”

GM:I’ve never seen the Beast,” says Dani.

“You don’t want to,” says Roderick.

Celia: Celia shakes her head at Dani, as if to confirm his words. And remind her: be careful.

GM: “Should I be scared of you?” Dani asks her brother.

“I don’t want you to be,” he answers.

“That doesn’t answer the question.”

“Under these circumstances? A little, yes. I was… expecting this to go differently.”

“My dead brother is actually alive, but made us all think he was dead because he was scared of, what, hitting us like he hits his girlfriend?”

“Dani, calm down-”

“It destroyed him, Stephen! He’s got this… this permanent shadow over him, that you can see in his eyes, even when he smiles!”

“I know.” Roderick’s voice breaks. “I know, I can onl-”

“You haven’t lived with us these past four years! You haven’t been part of our family! How could you do that to us!?”

“I was trying to keep you safe!”

“I went into law! Because I thought you were dead!”

“You’ll be a great lawyer, you’ll be grad-”

“No! I’ll be a terrible lawyer, next to Stephen! Stephen, captain of the debate team, when I lost all my cases! Stephen who’s top of his class, who’s better at everything, who Dad wishes was alive instead of me!”

Roderick tries to respond to that, but can’t.

“It’s true! Tell me, it is, isn’t it?! You’re better at everything, Dad loves you more!” Dani accuses.

Celia: Celia doesn’t try. She lets Dani go. Girl has to get it out.

GM: “It’s… it’s true,” Roderick says quietly.

Celia: Celia gapes at him.

She can’t believe he just said that.

It’s one thing to admit to her, but to say to Dani?

GM: “I’m not going to lie to her, Celia,” he says in that same quiet voice.

He turns to Dani. “For what it’s worth, I know Mom loves you more too.”

Celia: “Your dad thinks you’re dead,” Celia says to him, “he shouldn’t still have you on a pedestal.”

GM: Dani just looks at her brother for a moment.

Then she starts crying.

Celia: Celia glares at him.

She brings the crying girl into her arms, offering what comfort she can.

GM: They’re pinkish, partly-coppery and partly-watery-smelling tears.

Dani hugs Celia and cries into her shoulder for several moments.

Celia: “It’s okay,” Celia murmurs to her. “It’s okay.”

GM: Roderick stands there haplessly.

Celia: She rubs her hand up and down Dani’s back in soothing gestures.

GM: Dani pulls away after a little while and glares at her brother.

“I’m glad you said it, finally. We all knew it was true. But it’s nice, not to be lying about it anymore. Dad loves me less. I’m the second-place child. You know, the backup, the spare. And I guess not even a very good one, what with how he never got over your death.”

“That’s just by one criteria,” Roderick starts. “Dani, you can be good at other th-”

“Like what!? Dad always said that! ‘Good at other things.’ What fucking things, growing up in a house where law might as well be the Bible?!”

“Well, what else do you like to do, besides law school?”

“No! I don’t do anything else! I never have!”

“Dani, you have not done nothing el-”

“Stop telling me I’m not cut out for law!”

“You just said you weren’t hap-”

“I didn’t say that!”

“What? You’re not even making sense-”

“Stop fucking saying to just toddle off and do other things! Everyone does it!”

Celia: Celia doesn’t quite wince, but she wants to. She’d done the same. She thought it would help. Obviously, it hadn’t.

GM: “So, what, you think you suck at law, and you still want to do it?”

“Oh that’s nice to hear, I suck! I can’t just be second-best, I have to suck too!”

“I didn’t say you suck!”

“Yes you did!”

“You don’t suck!”

“Then why am I middle of my class, whe-”

“That’s a false equivalency, I never even said-”

“So I suck! You think so!”

Roderick throws up his hands. “What do you even want from me?”

“I don’t know, maybe to not be fucking second place for once, maybe to feel like Dad loves me, maybe to just fucking be someone outside of Stephen’s shadow!”

“You are someone!”

“Don’t start with that!”

“You just said you wanted-”

“Well I’m not!”

“Yes you are! Go ahead, name something! Right now, name something you can do that I can’t!”

“I-”

“Seriously, just try!”

Dani glares, but pauses.

“I can walk in the sun.”

Celia: It’s a pretty big thing, too. Celia has occasionally missed the sun.

GM: “Oh, yeah, there’s that,” says Roderick.

“What, you don’t think it counts?”

“It is something you can do that I can’t,” Roderick says. “Congratulations.”

“You don’t think it counts, does it? I can tell.”

“What do you mean, I think it doesn’t count?”

“Just the way you looked! You think it’s bullshit, why?”

Celia: He thinks she shouldn’t exist. That she’s an abortion. Better off actually dead, hadn’t he said that?

Celia doesn’t say it, though. She looks away.

“Some of the other duskborn still burn in the sun,” she supplies. “Maybe that’s just what he was thinking?”

GM: “Was it, Stephen? You think walking in the sun doesn’t count, because other duskborn burn instead?”

He might clear his throat if he were alive. “That isn’t it, no.”

“Tell me what you really think, then. We are honest in this family.”

“I think it’s a consolation prize,” Roderick answers quietly.

Celia: Oh boy.

Celia’s eyes widen.

GM: “What, because being duskborn sucks? That’s what Celia tells me all the other licks think.”

“It… yes.”

“Oh, okay. What clan are you?”

“I’m sorry?”

“What clan are you? Celia’s told me about them, a bit, and how she’s one of the Toreadors.” Celia knows the word does not have a plural form. “Which one are you?”

Celia: Now isn’t the time to correct her, though.

GM: “I’m a Brujah,” Roderick answers.

“So tell me about them.”

“I’m sorry?”

“You’re a Brujah, tell me about Brujah.”

“We’re… a clan of philosopher-kings and warrior-poets. Passion burns in our blood. Passion keeps us warm through endless night. There’s a fire kindled inside us that’s kindled in few other Kindred, though that fire burns dangerously hot. Some call us the Learned Clan, for scholarship and study are also our deathrights. We trace our heritage to the first beacons of Western civilization in Greece and the great utopian experiment that was Carthage. All of us argue what Carthage was and what it means, but we each seek to recreate it in our own way. To build anew that shining city upon a hill. Each of us is a Prometheus, seeking to steal fire and wisdom from the gods and deliver it to mankind. In our own way, all of us want to see mankind achieve its full potential, and each of us believes we know the best way. Revolution is our anthem, struggle our battle cry. We are warriors and visionaries each set upon our own crusade to change the world. Though we have fallen far from our heritage in the eyes of many Kindred, I am proud that Troile’s blood runs true in my veins.”

Roderick’s voice lifts as he describes his clan. The frustration in his features gives way to the same look he gets when he speaks about law and justice.

Celia: And he’s right, but it’s certainly a rose-tinted way to look at his clan. Celia’s lips twitch. Most of the Brujah she’s met aren’t like that.

It’s certainly not “all of us.”

GM: Dani listens quietly to Roderick’s speech, then says, “Okay.” She also looks a little less angry.

“From everything Celia tells me, no one wants to be a duskborn. So, I want to join your clan. I want to be a Brujah instead. I like what you’ve described, I like what Celia described.”

“…I’m sorry, Dani,” says Roderick. “You can’t.”

“What, you don’t think I’m good enough, middle of my class law student like me?”

“It isn’t a question of qualifications. You simply can’t. Clans are like families, and-”

“You can join families. You can get adopted in. Celia’s family adopted Emily. So, adopt me as a Brujah.”

“I’m sorry, Dani, that’s not possible.”

“Why not? You don’t recognize adoptions?”

“In a word, no-”

“Fine.” She turns to Celia. “Make me a Toreador, then. Adopt me in.”

“She can’t adopt you either,” says Roderick. “I’m sorry, but none of the clans will.”

Celia: “There are others,” Celia tells her, “the clanless. I told you about Andi, you remember? You’re not the only one like that. And Andi is a badass. Famous rock star.”

“What we can do,” she says after a brief pause, “is find out who your sire is and see what clan they are, maybe. And bring them to justice for what they did to you. or all of it, Dani.”

GM: “I’ll be glad to see that,” says Dani. “But I don’t’ want to be a second-class citizen all my unlife, either-”

“It’s more like third-class, honestly,” says Roderick. He glances at Celia. “Andi might be Caitiff, but she’s still a true-blood.”

“A true-blood? So what does that make me?” Dani asks.

“…a thin-blood,” answers Roderick. “Though the acceptable name these days is, as you’ve heard, duskbor-”

“Why do they call us thin-bloods?” asks Dani.

“Because your blood is thin and weak,” Roderick answers. “You can’t do many of the things that true-blooded vampires can do.”

“Excuse me, my blood is weak?”

“Through no fault of your own, but yes.”

Celia: “It’s the generation thing,” Celia reminds her, “the distance from the first vampire.”

GM: “Right. The further removed you are, the weaker your blood gets-” Roderick starts.

“Why don’t you explain this generation thing to me again,” says Dani.

“Okay,” says Roderick. “So, it’s like if you have a cup full of water, you’re pouring it into a smaller second cup, and then pouring from that cup into an even smaller third cup. The more times you pour, the more water gets lost.”

“The first vampire, Caine according to the myths, was all but a god. His childer and grandchilder, the second and third generations, are only spoken of in legends. They weren’t far behind him. The fourth and fifth generations, too, are like unto demigods and all but gone in the modern era. The sixth and seventh generations are the most potent-blooded Kindred that anyone is realistically likely to meet. You’re still only really likely to encounter the sixth generation in Europe and the Middle East, but there are seventh-generation Kindred in this city who I’ve talked to, pretty much all of them elders. The eighth generation isn’t too far behind them. Most of the city’s other elders are of the eighth generation, and I don’t think there are any neonates here with blood that close to Caine’s. Maybe Becky Lynne, but I’m not sure—it’s rude to ask someone’s generation. There’s also a moderate number of eighth-generation ancillae.”

“The Blood gets steadily weaker after that. For a neonate, being nine steps removed from Caine is something to be fairly proud of—like I said, I can’t name any really young neonates with stronger blood. There’s also a lot of ancillae at the ninth generation. At the tenth, you’re nothing to write home about around elders, though you’re a little above average around other young licks. There’s probably as many neonates as there are ancillae at that generation. The eleventh generation is nothing to write home about to anyone. It’s not bad around other young licks, but for an ancilla it’s a mark against you—I think the only one in the city with blood that weak is Sundown. Opportunities start to get a lot scarcer at ‘neonate generations.’ At the twelfth generation, even other neonates will tell you that your blood is below average, but whatever, you’re still a vampire. The thirteenth generation, finally, is the thinnest blood any vampire can have and still be called a proper vampire. But there’s some stigma attached to being so far removed from Caine, because you can never sire a ‘real’ childe. You’re the end of the road for vampiric evolution, and elders aren’t likely to forget it. The thirteenth generation is just a step above worms in their eyes.”

“Then, finally… you have the fourteenth and beyond. Thin-bloods. ‘Vampires’ who are caught between worlds and are as much mortal as Kindred. Some of us call them half-bloods for that reason, alongside ghouls. The usual laws and limits of our race don’t seem to apply to thin-bloods—for instance, how you can walk in the sun, though I’ve heard of plenty of thin-bloods who couldn’t do that. The Curse of Caine becomes an almost border condition for them. But the price for that is their blood is too weak and diluted for them to do many of the things vampires can do. I’m hazy on how it works, but I don’t think you can learn disciplines in the same way we can—those are Kindred powers like superhuman strength, turning into animals, or mind control. I don’t think you can create ghouls, or create other vampires with any certainty—I’ve heard some thin-bloods claim that trying to make a childe only leaves behind a corpse. The fourteenth and higher generations are an almost distinct species from stronger-blooded vampires. It’s like comparing dogs to wolves. There’s a lot of social stigma against them. They’re not seen as real vampires and they aren’t legally considered people under our laws, the Six Traditions. It isn’t a crime to kill thin-bloods like it is a crime to kill true-bloods.”

Roderick pauses for a moment. “I could go into more depth there. But I just want to emphasize that all of what I’ve said is the ‘standard’ Camarilla view, the one pushed by highly prejudiced elders who are centuries behind us in their ways of thinking. These are the same elders who might have believed in the divine right of kings when they were alive.”

“Younger vampires are less likely to care about generation. In so many words, it’s vampire eugenics. It’s literally blood purity. Elders believe that it defines who you are, but I’ve known plenty of low-generation shitheads. It’s purely a privilege of birth, or death in our case. The society-wide prejudice against the higher generations blinds the Camarilla to their qualities as individuals. Kindred are so much more than just their blood.”

“Celia’s told me about what a racist her father is. How he called her adopted sister a ‘subhuman mongrel’ for being multiracial. But she’s attending medical school and will be a doctor soon.”

“That’s essentially the same as what elders do when they fixate over generation. There are some actual, physiological differences and advantages associated with thicker blood, but so much of it still comes down to social-”

“What generation are you?” Dani asks, having listened to her brother’s explanation with a patient but very quiet look.

“I’m ninth.”

He doesn’t repeat that it’s rude to ask.

“Okay, so you have the purest blood that a new vampire can have,” Dani says.

She just gives a little nod and turns to Celia.

“Remind me what generation you are again? I think I asked earlier, but the numbers didn’t mean anything to me without context.”

Celia: Even though she had explained all of this to Dani before, it’s interesting to hear how Roderick puts it for his sister. She’d tried to go over everything that she could, but she had dumped a lot of information on the girl in short order the other night. No wonder she needs a refresher.

“Ninth,” she tells Dani. She doesn’t appear offended at the question.

GM: “I see,” says Dani.

“Who’s your sire?” she asks Roderick. “Since she’s eighth generation and an elder, right?”

“Her name’s Coco Duquette. She’s on the primogen. You might think of that as the city council, or a king’s privy council,” her brother answers.

“Oh, lucky you,” says Dani.

Her tone is light.

Celia: Her lips don’t do so much as twitch.

GM: “Who’s your sire?” she asks Celia.

Celia: “Veronica isn’t an elder,” Celia supplies.

GM: “But she is eighth generation. Pretty well-off?”

Celia: “In a vampire sense? Yes. Sort of. She’s not a primogen or anything.”

GM: “So what does she do, if she’s not on the king’s privy council? I guess they can’t all be.”

Celia: “A lot of us get up to our own things on our own time and don’t really have a position like that. But she’s a harpy. Like a clique.”

“Like, ah, you’ve seen Mean Girls?

GM: “Yeah,” says Dani.

“So she’s part of the coolest kids club.”

Celia: “Sort of.”

“It’s… I mean, honestly, the movie does a good example with their behavior. You’re there because you take it, not because you’re handed it or appointed. They keep track of social things. Boons, faux pas, things like that. Tear you down with a look if you’re late to a party or if you skip because you have other things to do.”

They’re basically bitches with social power.

GM: “Sounds pretty important,” says Dani. “Or at least seen that way.”

“But eighth generation, I guess that’s no surprise she’s someone important.”

Celia: “A lot of it has to do with age,” Celia says. “The longer you’ve been around the more opportunities you get.”

“Like there are some who haven’t done much with their Requiems, but if you want to do things then there are chances.”

“Like, ah, there’s a guy on Greek Row who’s been around for like fifty years and all he’s ever done is a keg stand.”

GM: “I think he’s an ’80s Embrace,” says Roderick. “But, yeah. Three decades and he’s done squat.”

“He’s one of my clan, to boot.”

Celia: “Roderick likes to think they’re all philosophers, but a lot of them are rebels without a cause.”

GM: “You should tell that line to that Roderick guy,” says Dani, before looking back to her brother.

“How do you and your sire get along? Tell me about that.”

Her tone is still light and calm.

“We’re very close,” Roderick answers. “She’s… she’s a lot like Dad, in some ways. She has one of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever known. I respect the hell out of her, even when… we don’t always agree on issues. But she pushes and challenges me to be better in a way no one else has. She’s taught me everything I know about the Requiem, and so much else too. I want to make her proud. I love just talking with her and spending time with her. She’s everything I wanted Mom to be.”

“Do you love her more than Mom?” Dani asks.

“Honestly? Yes,” says Roderick.

“Sounds like you’ve really lucked out as a vampire, then. Pure blood. Awesome sire. Important sire.”

“I have, yes.”

Dani looks between her brother and his girlfriend for a moment, then balls her fists and screams at the top of her lungs,

“NO!!!”

“Dani-” Roderick starts, raising a hand.

“NO! Not! Again! I am—NOT—being this—agai—NOO!!!" Suddenly, Dani’s in her brother’s face, shrieking and slapping at him.

“Dani, stop it!” Roderick shouts back, easily fending off the uncoordinated slaps.

His sister just sputters and flails, crying pinkish tears as she starts throwing punches.

“I—woke—up—in—a—DUMPSTER! I—got—r—”

“Stop this! You don’t want to make me angry!” Roderick growls, catching her fists and holding them in place.

“Let GO OF ME!” Dani shrieks.

“Stop trying to hit me! You have any idea what I might do if you actually succeeded!?” Roderick growls, and Celia can see the flash of fang in his mouth. “I’m Brujah! This hasn’t been easy, keeping my Beast in check, and you are NOT helping! We’re lucky you don’t have any training!”

THIS IS BULLSHIT!” Dani cries back, tugging at her caught hands. “It’s all BULLSHIT! That’s what I think! You just want, you just made this all up! You’re lying! You just want me to be, fucking second best, your little pet-!”

“What!? You think Celia and I are lying about generation, about thin-bloods, as part of some convoluted scheme to give you an inferiority complex forever?! That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!”

PROVE IT! You haven’t proved it! You’ve just said I’m worthless, I’m useless, I’m second-class, but I’ve never seen it! You’re making it up! Let go of me!

“Do you have any idea how idiotic that sounds!?”

PROVE IT! LET—ME—GO!”

FINE! HERE!”

Roderick grabs his sister by the hips and hurls her across the room like she weighs nothing. She shrieks, and then Roderick suddenly blurs across space. Dani lands with a hard thump on a chair that wasn’t there a moment ago. Roderick lifts it, and her, above his head without visible strain.

“Put me down!” Dani exclaims, her eyes wide as she clutches the armrests.

Roderick shifts his grip and throws his sister off the chair. She lands on the couch face-first with an oomph. She twists and around sees her brother advancing towards her, chair still in his hand. He snaps it apart like it’s made of balsa wood.

“Celia!!!” Dani cries, shrinking against the couch.

“Do you believe me now, Dani!?” shouts Roderick. “Do you think we’re just making this up to put you in your place?! We’re not! This is why thin-bloods get treated like dirt, why they get no respect! Because we’re predators and they’re weak!” He throws the chair’s pieces aside with a clatter.

Celia: Celia’s attempts at interjection are drowned out by the two siblings yelling in each other’s faces. It’s when Dani says the word “pet” that she sees what’s about to happen.

Roderick loses control. He kills his sister. No one knows if the thin-bloods can be torped (or at least Celia doesn’t), so simply beating her into unconsciousness might not be an option.

And if Celia weren’t worried about her dying then maybe she’d just let him.

But she’s not a monster. No one deserves to be beaten by a Brujah. Celia launches herself into their midst as the chaos unfolds and Dani goes flying. She steps between them with her back to Dani like a tiger protecting her cub, staring down her brother with a look that could stop a train. Her eyes smolder. Fangs distend from her mouth.

“Get a grip,” she hisses at him, reaching out with the power of her clan, her Beast, and the electricity thrumming through her veins. A hand on his chest sends it sparking through him, too.

GM: Roderick’s fangs retract as his angry features slowly calm.

He looks between his lover and his sister, then his shoulders slump.

He sits down heavily on an intact chair.

“This wasn’t how it was supposed to go,” he says in a deflated voice.

Dani just looks at him fearfully.

Celia’s fortunate to have headed it off before the Brujah reached a full frenzy.

Celia: Celia hovers between them, ready to interject again if needed, though she tries not to be obvious about it.

GM: Neither sibling says anything.

Celia: “I’m sorry,” she says to Dani.

GM: Dani steals another apprehensive glance at her brother.

Celia: Her fangs disappear. She straightens her shoulders, and turns to face the girl.

“I’m sorry,” she says again, “I should have given you more of a warning. After what you said I thought… I thought it would be best if he explained himself. I didn’t think it would go like this.”

GM: “What… what happens to me?” Dani asks in a small voice.

Celia: “We proceed as discussed. You’ll finish school. We’ll get you a new identity afterward. You don’t have a Beast so there’s no lapse of control for you. If you want to change your face we can do that once you’re done to keep your dad safe.”

GM: “You’re not safe here,” Roderick says.

Celia: “She’s not safe in Mid-City,” Celia shoots back. “She’s safe here.”

GM: “Dani…” Roderick starts gently. He gets up, but when she flinches he sits back down.

“They kill thin-bloods here. Massacre them, just for being what they are. I’ve seen it. They can survive in the Quarter, but they’re penned in, and treated like garbage.”

“Houston is safer for you. They’re still looked down on, but attitudes are more tolerant. Much more tolerant. There’s no policy of genocide like there is here.”

Dani just looks at him for a few moments, as though afraid of how he might respond.

“I want to stay with Celia.”

Celia: Celia, too, looks at him at that.

She tenses, ready for another fight.

GM: Roderick looks about to say something, then just looks down at his hands.

“Yeah. I guess you do.”

“I’m sorry,” he continues. “I wasn’t… I just wanted you to see the truth. Because it was safer if you saw it here, from us.”

Celia: “I’ve called in some favors,” Celia says quietly. “I have things in motion to keep her safe. I know you’re worried. I know you love her. I’m doing everything I can to protect her.”

Like she’d just done.

From him.

GM: “You’re going to be a political hostage, Dani,” says Roderick. “The elder who rules the Quarter isn’t friendly with my sire. He’ll use you to get to me. If he treats you well, it’s only so he can keep you as leverage over me.”

Celia: “That’s literally what every elder does. We’re all pawns to them.”

GM: “Some are…”

He starts to say ‘better,’ looks at his sister, then just trails off.

“I’m sorry,” he repeats. “Wherever you go, whoever you stay with… you won’t have a future. As Kindred.”

“I don’t know what to do about it. I didn’t want this for you. You didn’t deserve this.”

Celia: Celia makes a choked sound. She presses a fist against her lips.

GM: He looks up at her, some apprehension in his eyes.

But not regret.

Celia: “I said the same thing to him,” Celia tells Dani. “When I broke up with him I thought that I was doing the right thing. That it would keep him safe. We fought and I… I was new. I lost control and started to feed from him. And I was scared I’d do it again. I wanted him to do something better. To do something good. And it just… leaving like that just left him open for…”

She blinks back tears.

GM: Roderick gets up and wraps his arms around her.

“It’s okay.”

“My sire had her eye on me before you did.”

Celia: “She wouldn’t have taken you if we’d been together. She told me that.”

GM: “Maybe. But that’d have only happened if you never got Embraced.”

“Blame your sire, if we have to blame anyone.”

Celia: She doesn’t blame him for anything.

“Or Pietro. Or my dad. Or any number of people.”

GM: “These things are usually bigger than just one person. Complex chains of events usually are.”

“It wasn’t your fault. Okay?” He rubs her shoulder.

Celia: Celia shakes her head at him. Now isn’t the time.

“Sorry,” she murmurs, wiping at her eyes.

“I really liked your family,” she says to Dani, including her in the conversation. “I wanted to be part of it. But not… not like this.”

GM: “You are part of it,” says Roderick, squeezing her shoulder again. “We’re going to get married, still. Only difference is we won’t have kids. But there’s plenty of couples who don’t do that.”

“Oh. Congratulations,” says Dani.

She still sounds a little muted.

“I’d like some space. With Celia.”

“Oh. Sure,” says Roderick. He doesn’t sound mad as he gets up.

“I’m sorry how this went. I just want… the best for you, sis. I just want you to be safe and happy.”

“Right. Thanks,” says Dani.

It isn’t coolly. Just a little quiet.

“I’ll get a cab,” he says. “And pay for the chair too.”

Celia: Celia rises with him. She hesitates for only a moment.

“Are you going to be able to make it back on your own?”

GM: “Yeah. I’ll wait out of sight until it arrives.”

“One drive isn’t… too big a risk. Especially if they already know I’m here.”

Celia: “Just… stay at my place? That way you’re not seen leaving?”

GM: “All right.” He gives her a kiss. “I love you.”

He looks back at his sister. “I love you too, sis.”

“Yeah,” says Dani.

Celia: Celia’s hand lingers in his.

“Tomorrow,” she tells him, “eleven. If I’m not there today I’ll be there in time to bring you. I love you.”

GM: “Right,” he says at ‘bring you.’ He gives the pair a wan smile, then closes the door behind him.

He knows better than to try to hug her.


Monday night, 14 March 2016, AM

GM: “I don’t even know what say,” Dani says numbly.

Celia: Celia takes a seat beside her on the couch. She’s there if the girl wants a hug, but she doesn’t force herself on her.

“It’s a lot to take in,” she says quietly.

GM: Dani doesn’t seem to right now.

“He’s honest. He’s always been that.”

“When he isn’t lying about being dead.”

Celia: “I didn’t know he’d gone after your family like that. I’ve never… I’ve never done that with mine. It wasn’t until last night that my mom finally found out. It’s… part of it is control, you know, but a part of it… what he didn’t tell you about the Brujah is their anger is very, very intense.”

“It’s not safe to be around. You… well, you saw.”

GM: Dani looks after the door.

“You’re still with him.”

Celia: “There are a lot of really terrible licks. He’s not one of them.”

GM: “He was in the Boy Scouts, you know. He made Eagle Scout. Dad was really proud. I was in the Girl Scouts, and he liked that, but he wasn’t as proud.”

Diana signed up Lucy for the Girl Scouts, Celia’s pretty sure.

“I mean, Eagle Scout is a big deal. Looks really good to colleges. If you join the military I think they give you a higher rank or extra pay.”

Celia: “I didn’t know that.”

GM: “One president, I think Gerald Ford, said being made Eagle Scout was the proudest moment of his life.”

Celia: “On Friday he was made fun of for it at Elysium.”

GM: “What, being a Boy Scout?”

Celia: “Yeah. An idealist.”

GM: “This is… Eagle Scout vs. Girl Scout. Just all over again,” Dani says numbly.

“He does a major community project. I sell cookies.”

“I never earned the Gold Award. The Eagle Scout equivalent.”

Celia: “It’s not your fault. Society treats girls differently. When we were dating, Stephen told me that a female lawyer would never be as respected as a male. It’s just how people look at girls. Like we’re less than. I mean, look at any insult people throw at men, right? Bitch. Pussy. Cunt. Man up. Sack up. Nut up. It’s sexist and supports the idea that men are somehow inherently better because they were born with a dick. And the people in charge like it that way because they’re all men.”

GM: “I mean, he’s right. Female lawyers aren’t as respected. In the courtroom, at least. They just aren’t.”

Celia: “God forbid you have a set of tits,” Celia mutters.

GM: “I’d still be Stephen’s #2 even if I didn’t.”

“I clung to that for a while, that it was because I was a girl, but I was really just objectively inferior.”

“Eagle Scout vs. no Gold Award. It’s even more common for girls to earn the latter. Five-point-something percent vs. 4%.”

Celia: “I was never a Girl Scout,” she admits. “My dad thought it was a waste of time.”

“They had this thing when I was younger. Indian Princesses, I think. Where you got to go away for a weekend with your dad and do fun things together, like canoeing and horse rides and archery and building campfires. I begged him to go. All my friends were going. He told me that I didn’t need to know how to do any of that, that my place was in the house.”

“I caught him in the garage once showing David how to change the oil on the car. And the tires. You know, basic maintenance. When I asked if I could learn, too, he told me I didn’t need to know that either, that I’d always have a man to do it for me.”

Celia gives a little shrug.

“I don’t think you’re lesser because you didn’t get the Gold Award.”

“I don’t think you’re lesser because you’re duskborn.”

“I think we all have different skillsets.”

“And I think that makes us valuable.”

“And I think sometimes society doesn’t know what to do with people who fall outside their little lines.”

GM: “Your dad sounds like an ass.”

“Stephen already told me how he was, but. Y’know.”

Dani looks at the floor.

“I’d really like to believe all of that. But it’s hard.”

Celia: “We’re working it out.” Celia puts a hand on Dani’s shoulder. “You’ll work it out, too.”

GM: “He’s back and I don’t have the Gold Award all over again.”

“And I should be happier he isn’t dead. What’s wrong with me.”

Celia: “He is dead, if it helps.”

“But, Dani… it’s a lot to take in. You’re allowed to feel your feelings. Whatever they may be. Don’t beat yourself up about it.”

GM: “He’s better than me. Again.”

“I guess that’s just my destiny.”

Celia: “He’s not better than you. He’s blinded by his sire’s faults and believes every word that comes out of her mouth. He has plenty of shortcomings.”

GM: “Still has a city council member sire he loves and respects instead of waking up raped in a dumpster. I’d trade.”

Celia: “I know a girl,” she says after a moment, “whose sire abandoned her too. She was really torn up about it for a long time. Thought she wasn’t good enough. But she is good enough. She’s always been good enough. Her sire is an asshole. And how other people treat you is a reflection of them, not you.”

GM: “I know. I’m just… tired of being treated badly when he’s not. Him having everything when I have nothing.”

“I never got that whole generation concept, until he explained it. It makes complete sense now. It’s another metric by which Stephen is better than me.”

Celia: “Sorry,” Celia says again, “I guess I didn’t explain it very well the first time. There was a lot to tell you about.”

“But… it doesn’t mean he’s better than you. There’s more to life and unlife than who Embraces you.”

GM: “It was a lot to take in. I couldn’t get it all.”

Celia: “Stephen got lucky.”

GM: “He gets lucky a lot.”

“I’m not even a real vampire.”

Celia: “He was born white and male in a privileged family. He pretty much hit the lottery.”

“You drink blood. You have fangs. That’s real enough for me.”

GM: “He threw me around like I was nothing.”

Celia: “If it helps, he can do that to me too. His clan is strong and fast, but that’s kind of all they can do.”

“Don’t tell him I said that, but he has a very rose-tinted view on them. Most of them are angry, moronic thugs.”

GM: “Oh. I guess that’s something.”

Celia: “Mine are elitist art snobs. If you’re not an artist you’re a poseur, and they hate you for it.”

“And they only like certain forms of art. Anything new doesn’t count. Photography is laughed at. Digital art is laughed at. There are bad spots to all of us.”

GM: “Yeah. I guess no one has it all.”

Dani looks down at her feet. She’s pulled them up onto the couch.

“I’m just… so tired of getting the short end.”

Celia: “Well, what do you want to do about it? How do you want to move forward?”

GM: “I wish I knew.”

Celia: “You’ve got time. All the time in the world. And anything you need from me, I’ll help.”

“You’ve read that book about the wizard kid, right? The series?”

GM: Dani doesn’t say anything to Celia’s first words, but finally leans against her.

“Yeah. Who hasn’t?”

Celia: Celia puts an arm around her shoulders.

“Well, my mom for one. And Lucy. She thinks it’s satanic. Regardless.”

GM: “Wait… really?”

Celia: “Yeah.”

“But listen. You’re like his friend, right? You’re muggleborn. People think that they’re better than you because you aren’t a pureblood like the blond asshole. But she was the top of the class every year. She got the best marks. She was always the first one to master the spells. Brightest witch of the generation, they called her.”

“She wasn’t naturally gifted. But she was smart. And she worked her ass off.”

GM: “Do you think I can do that too, as a thin-blood?”

Celia: “Work your ass off and be just as good? Yeah. I do. I think you’re going to face a lot of stigma about it. I think it’s going to be hard. I think you’ll work three times as hard for half the credit. And I think that there are ways that you can make it work for you.”

“You just have to learn to bend so you don’t break.”

“One of Stephen’s shortcomings is his inability to bend. He’s very rigid. Very moral. And there’s nothing wrong with being moral. But if he weren’t lucky, like he is, then he’d make all sorts of enemies. There was another girl who tried to be like that. Very rigid in her beliefs. Wouldn’t bend on anything. And she’s been eating shit since her Embrace.”

“And having his sire doesn’t mean that she’ll do jack shit for him if he really fucks up. His elder brother-in-blood is basically a bitch now.”

GM: “I wonder how long Stephen would last if that was him eating shit.”

Celia: “He wouldn’t. He’d let his pride get in the way.”

“I had to deal with some sewer rats the other night. Surrounded by them.”

GM: “The ugly ones?”

Celia: “Yeah. They like hazing people like me. Pretty people. Toreador.”

Celia tells her about it.

About what she’d had to do to get out of there alive.

GM: “Oh my god, that’s… disgusting,” Dani says, appalled.

Celia: “Wasn’t worth a fight. I know my strengths. Combat isn’t one of them. And they were… well, they were all around me. Their turf.”

“So I bent. And I got out. And now I can take my time getting even.”

“Stephen would have gone down swinging. And he’d have lost.”

GM: “Okay. I guess you’re right, and that going forward that way is the only thing to do,” Dani nods. “I’d just ask… be fully honest with me, okay? You’ve told me so much and been so helpful, and you didn’t lie about anything. But I feel like you were trying to spare my feelings, next to Stephen, and maybe painting things as less grim than they are.”

“Some of the stuff he said hurt, but I’d rather have the whole truth. Even if it hurts.”

Celia: “Okay,” Celia says. “You’re right. I did want to spare your feelings. It’s… hard waking up as a vampire and not having someone be there for you. My sire isn’t known for being gentle.” She squeezes Dani. “I’ll be more up front.”

GM: “Thanks.” Dani rubs against her.

“Whatever else, both of us want truth.”

Celia: That’s what she’s worried about.


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Story Thirteen, Genevieve II, Sterling II

“You make a good Conscience, Gen."
The Man With The Silver Smile


February—March 2013

Sterling: He gives her what she wants.

And gives, and gives, and gives.

Maybe she asks for more ridiculous things, more absurd privileges. The yacht? Easy. He wins it in a craps game with a capo. A pony? He’ll make sure to buy her a range to ride around. That rocket ship? It’ll be hard, but he knows a Kindred with ties to NASA. It’ll take a few years to get him in his pocket, naturally, but if she’s willing to wait…

Vacations, even. When she asks about what would happen if she ran away, he laughs.

And she never does. Not when she’s across the world with enough money to make a go of things, not when she’s out of his reach entirely, not when he all but gives her permission to abandon him.

Why doesn’t she leave?

Genevieve: That first time she’d boarded the plane she’d still thought it was a joke. That he’d somehow be waiting for her on the other side of the world, that he’d sent a tail, that her very body was lit up with some sort of tracking device that would call her back at any moment. She’d expected to be dragged back, kicking and screaming, and thrown into a dank basement somewhere.

But that didn’t happen. She’d had a marvelous vacation. Her thoughts were still with him, of course, even while she laid out on the beach, even while she ate chocolate croissants, even while she saw plays she didn’t understand the words to because they were in foreign languages. She found herself calling him from the phone he’d given her on day three, checking in to make sure that everything was okay. Two days later she was on a flight back, and he’d sent a car to pick her up from the Louis Armstrong International Airport. He’d asked how it went when she got home.

She told him the truth. That she’d missed him. She worried about him. She thought about what had happened to her before, the stories she had heard the other ghouls tell each other, and she’d realized that she had it good. There was no world in which her normal, boring, human life let her enjoy the comforts like this, with the amenities she asked for, the yacht, the parties, the money, the vacations. He never touched her, not like that, never bit off her finger and spat it at her, never gave her to his new packmates to practice reigning in the Beast. Really, he doesn’t ask for much.

She tells herself that if she leaves she’ll always be in hiding. She’ll be on the run, afraid, never sure of who she can trust, where she can sleep. She tells herself she stays to fix him, because she can make him a good person, show him what he’s doing is wrong.

She lies to herself.

Some deep part of her knows the truth: she enjoys it. The privilege. The admiration. She likes being looked at without disgust.

Sterling: The longer the leash, the more eagerly she comes back to her owner.

He’s endlessly amused by her attempts to fix him. Her tight, curt condemnations when they’re alone. He doesn’t punish her for them.

Occasionally, he even seems to listen.

There’s a lot to fix, too, as she comes to learn. He’s a mobster, or so tightly entwined with them as to make it hard to tell the difference. She accompanies him on his hunts a few times. It turns out he stalks gambling addicts at their support groups, isolates them, gives them lucky numbers—and when he gives somebody lucky numbers, they work. He says its about punishing hubris, about teaching them to be thankful for what they have. The few times they don’t give in to temptation, he leaves them be.

But that’s very, very rare.

He’s a moneylender, too. No, that’s the wrong word. A loan shark, more like. People come to him in his seedy gambling den, and they ask in quavering tones for ridiculous sums. They call him the Wizard, Mr. Oz, Mr. Goldilocks, because he always has a fix, always knows the numbers that are just right.

The other mobsters, the real ones high up, call him Smiles.

She sees him turn down pleading men desperate to start a business. When asked why, he’ll say their ideas were boring. The same night he’ll give a thug seed money for a drug buy, in return for points on the package, as long as he expands his territory somewhere interesting.

He runs a numbers racket. It’s his steadiest source of income, next to his frequent high-stakes gambling. He milks desperate people for their petty cash and brings in ten times what he pays out. Hope is a powerful drug, he says.

When people can’t pay him back, he does things to them. Rarely does he maim them. That’s too easy. Instead, he makes them sell their homes, their businesses. He entraps them further in a web of obligations. Occasionally, he adds them to his herd. Or he ghouls them. He goes through most of those ghouls quickly. He offers them as stakes in games with other vampires. Occasionally, he kills one himself.

He’s a monster, like he told her. But he likes that she tells him what she thinks of him, when they’re alone.

“You make a good Conscience, Gen,” he tells her. “I suppose I’ll have to start calling you Connie.”

And that is that.

He makes her responsible for his soul.

Genevieve: On the list of “terrible things my domitor has done,” calling her Connie doesn’t even make top fifty.

Still, she hates it. She’s pretty sure he only does it because he knows she hates it, too, and enjoys the way she flinches, purses her lips, or otherwise makes some tiny annoyed sign with her face. It’s usually all the reaction people get out of her these days, especially when she’s around anyone but him. With him the mask comes down. Sometimes she even smiles.

She’s not smiling the day he killed the man. She’d been there. Watching. Told him not to, even, not that he had listened. She doesn’t even remember why he did that first time. Something about defaulting on a loan, no collateral, not even fun to ruin. Does it matter? She’d watched. It was… awful.

Like being back with the wild bunch of mongrels all over again. She’d told him that, too, when they were alone. That he’s no better than the dogs in the Sabbat if that’s what he’s going to do.

It hadn’t landed well.

Sterling: No. Normally he laughs, or affects a wounded stare at her criticisms. But when she compares him to his cousin, to her old tormentor, she sees it for a moment, in his eyes.

The hurt.

Genevieve: There’s a moment where she thinks she should back down. Where she should apologize, tell him that isn’t what she meant, of course he’s not that bad, she’s sorry.

But she doesn’t. She hears the screams in her head and she knows that she’s right. He’s a monster. She tells him so.

Sterling: It’s a few nights before he calls upon her again, his expression blank. Since she’s so over him, he says, he’s loaning her to a friend of his. If she likes him better, maybe he’ll let him have her.

His friend is one of the ugly ones. The really ugly ones. His mouth looks like he has some kind of cancerous, industrial-strength herpes. His eyes are a sickly green that glitter with cruel amusements. She’s seen him before. He’s in Sterling’s coterie. Normally, he wears a different face. But not tonight. Not for a mere, freakish ghoul. He’s noticed her, too.

He plays with her, that night.

He makes her do things. Crawl through things. The smells alone make her want to cry.

He makes her do things, with… with…

Sterling’s waiting at her apartment, when she’s finally allowed back to it. Dripping with filth and reeking of her punishments.

“So,” he says. “What have we learned?”

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Genevieve: The ugly one told her that he was going to fix her. He didn’t understand why she was crying, why she kept screaming. He told her it was annoying.

So he took her tongue.

When she wouldn’t smile for him he carved one into her face. It’s almost as wide as Sterling’s. It’s like the guy in the movie, the one with the clown makeup.

There was worse, but that’s what’s visible on her face when she comes back to Sterling. The thin scar spreading outward from the corners of her mouth. He’d broken her, but he’d put her back together too, and then he’d handed her back to her domitor as if he hadn’t scarred the rest of her more than he had her face.

She doesn’t look at Sterling when she gets back to the apartment. She can’t. She makes to move past him, but his words stop her.

Eyes on the ground, she tells him that she’s sorry, that she didn’t mean it. Her voice is thick, choked with tears.

Sterling: “Oh, Connie,” she hears him say, in his real voice, his cigarette-burned drawl, “I’m sorry, too.”

He feeds her well that night, more than she needs to heal, and stays with her in the hour or so before the sun rises. Soothes her, hugs her. She drinks straight from his veins. Her bond tightens, though there’s still some room left for it to tighten further. A noose half-tied.

He even offers to take some of the memories, if she likes.

He knows she’ll remember the lesson.

Genevieve: There’s no more pretending she’s something other than she is. She is scum. Less than. Nothing. It was drilled into her with the ugly one, and now he does it again: she’s only comfortable because he lets her be.

She doesn’t want the memories, she tells him. She doesn’t want to know what was done to her. What she had to do. The things—

She tucks her face against him. It’s the only time she’s touched him when she wasn’t being fed.

“Please take them.”

But if he takes them, how will she avoid it in the future?

Sterling: He explains, stroking her face, that she’ll remember this. How she felt, when she apologized. How resolved she was.

How much he loves his little Conscience, and never, ever wants to let another monster hold her again.

She does remember that, when she wakes up. She remembers going to the club, too. The horror, he can’t take. The disgust. The trauma. The mental scars are still there.

But when the sun rises that morning, she’s able to forget the wounds that left them.

The lesson remains.

In more ways than one.

He doesn’t kill people for neglecting their debts, anymore.

Genevieve: She doesn’t do it again. She never does it again. She’ll be better.

That’s what she tells herself.

She’s the lucky one.

And maybe his debtors are, too, when he stops killing them. But she doesn’t like the way his coterie looks at her anymore, and sometimes, when the one draws near, she’s pretty sure he’s leering at her. She starts begging off rather than be around him. When that doesn’t work she plasters herself to his side instead. No one can touch her when she’s right next to him.

Maybe that was the lesson, too. Only he can keep her safe.

Sterling: He does keep her safe.

She’s his Conscience, after all. Where would he be without her?

He lets her take a long vacation, after that. He even has somebody deliver a puppy to her front door when she gets back. It’s entirely white, from head to tail.

Just like her.

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Genevieve: Its eyes match hers, too. A blue so light they’re almost white. “Glass eyes,” someone at the pet shop told her when she went to get it a collar. Blue, to match its eyes. They asked if she was getting it fixed.

“He’s not broken,” is her response. She lets herself love it.

Maybe she’s happy, for a time. Maybe she stops dreaming about a man lying on a table and a knife in her hand. Maybe she stops sleeping with a nightlight.

Maybe she’s still afraid of Sterling, because her puppy growls at him when he’s around.

Sterling: He takes it all in stride. He feeds the pup a drop of his vitae and it’s content to be around him.

But it’s different now. Her old bond has long faded, and now she dreams of Sterling sometimes. Finds her thoughts dwelling on him, constantly. How she can get him to notice her. Anxiety, over if he’ll find another Conscience.

And gratitude. Of course, the gratitude.

Genevieve: She asks him, one night, what’ll happen to her if he does. If he’ll trade her in a card game to another one of his friends, or if he’ll just… ignore her. Forever.

Somehow, that sounds worse.

She isn’t whole when she’s alone. She’s part of him. His Conscience. Without her, he’d be the monster she thinks he is. She can’t let him get to that point. She makes herself invaluable. Learns how to play the games he plays. Learns the numbers, the percentages, the loans. Trips over herself to find a reason to stay with him.

Maybe it’s enough. She doesn’t have the advantage of being able to read his mind, though.

Sterling: He simply smiles at her and takes her chin in his hand, and whispers in her ear from a foot away without moving his lips at all:

“I could never ignore my Conscience completely, Gen.” It’s been a long time since he’s called her by her real name.

There’s a lot of games. A lot to learn. He says it’s very sweet of her to want to learn. He’s happy to help. He plays with her a lot, too. He always wants a game to play. He often tells her about his night, asks what she thinks of his choices. Is he too cruel? What should he do, to be kinder?

Sometimes he listens. Sometimes he doesn’t. But he rather likes playing with her. Sometimes she even wins, though maybe only because he lets her.

Genevieve: Sometimes, she thinks, it’s embarrassing how easily he can read her thoughts. She doesn’t want him to know how often he is the center of them. Or how hearing her name—her real name, not the nickname he’s given her—sends a thrill through her.

She’s determined to find a game that she can win at. Something new. Something novel. She goes through all the classics with him, chess and checkers, poker, blackjack, and he shows her that the house always wins. She finds novel games to play, too, things from other countries, from joke shops, word games and dice games and card games. The key, she thinks, is to find something where the action is too quick for him to read her mind, or something where his ability to get inside her head won’t matter.

A game of chance. Something that is one hundred percent luck. She’s the luckiest girl in New Orleans, surely she’s got the luck to beat him in a game.

But that’s not very satisfying, is it?

She learns to cheat instead.

Sterling: The first time he catches her, he laughs delightedly, and tells her to cheat better.

The second time, he tsks and tsks, and makes her perform a forfeit. He knows she hates to be looked at. So he makes her take off her clothes. She plays the rest of the night naked, until she can win her clothes back.

His eyes dare her to try and cheat for a third time.

Genevieve: Even with her legs crossed and her shoulders hunched, arms stretched across her torso to cover herself, she can feel his eyes. She doesn’t like it. She doesn’t try to play with him for a while after that. But she finds marks for him, people who do try to cheat, people who need more than they have. Maybe that makes up for trying to deceive him.

Maybe it’ll make up for the third time she tries to cheat him, weeks later, after the humiliation from the second has faded from her mind. She palms a card. It’s smooth. She’s been practicing.

Sterling: “Good,” he says, “very good. I don’t know whether you need a punishment or a reward.”

“Hmm. Maybe a little of both?”

Genevieve: She doesn’t like the sound of that.

“How can something be both?”

Sterling: He just smiles.

He feeds her that night by spilling his vitae along the floor. There’s a lot of it, but she has to crawl and lick it up.

After that, she’s suddenly in his lap. Just like the first night.

“No sex,” he whispers in her ear. “But how long has it been since you’ve been touched?”

His hand wanders slowly up her thigh.

Genevieve: Oh.

She’s very, very still. Her heart might have stopped. In fact, she’s sure that it did, or that it’s about to, because she can’t tell him the answer to that question.

Years. She doesn’t have to tell him. She thinks it and he knows, and her cheeks flare red at the thought, bright spots of color on her otherwise alabaster face.

Sterling: “Too long,” he croons. “Poor, lonely Gen. Faithful Gen. Even a conscience needs to be caressed, every once in a while.”

“You’re beautiful, you know. I wouldn’t have noticed you otherwise. Wouldn’t have rescued you.”

His hand crawls under her skirt, brushes the obstacles his fingers find out of the way easily. Her underwear he pulls and slides down her legs, and he bounces her so that those spread.

He doesn’t touch her though. Not yet.

“Would you like me to help you, Genevieve? Would you like to be touched?”

His other hand crawls up her stomach. Fiddles with her brassiere and cups what he finds underneath.

“Tell me, Gen. You’re so good at speaking your mind.”

Genevieve: Her body arches beneath his touch. She’s pliant, moving as he needs her to, thighs spreading open beneath her skirt. Her back rests easily against his chest, her own rising and falling in short little breaths that do nothing to slow the thrum of her heart.

She should tell him no. That’s the safe play. But she wouldn’t be here if she played it safe. She nods instead, a tiny jerk of her head up and down. Always so vocal, now she’s at a loss for words.

Sterling: “Say it.”

Genevieve: She can’t. She bites her lip, eyes closed, and shakes her head.

Sterling: “Gen,” he says, disappointed. “Say. It.”

Genevieve: “Pleasetouchme.”

Sterling: He does.

He plays her like a violin, like some kind of fine instrument. It helps that he moves so fast, but there’s care and intention there, too.

He winds her tighter and tighter.

He’s feeding on her as he does, and she can feel the pleasure melting her like so much sun on an ice cube.

And then, just when she’s about to shatter, like he said—his fingers stop.

Genevieve: She’s quiet. Restrained. She doesn’t know how to cut loose, even when his fingers dance across her, even when he drinks from her. It’s hard to tell when she’s close. Her breathing is irregular, but the shuddering gasp might be his only clue.

Still, he knows. He stops. And that’s the first sound she really makes, the whimper. It’s torn from her as soon as he ceases.

“No.” Her hips shift, pressing against his hand where she wants it. “Please?”

Sterling: “Ah, ah,” he chastises in that garrulous, higher voice. His hands slide teasingly away, the one below her waist pinching her rear before disappearing from her dress. “Unfair, isn’t it?”

He turns her head to stare into her eyes. “If you cum tonight,” he says, “you won’t see me again.”

And just like that, she knows in her bones that he’s telling the truth.

He taps a finger, still slick, against her face. “Cheating isn’t very satisfying. But you still did a good job of it.”

Genevieve: It’s not fair. It’s downright humiliating when she thinks about it later, after he leaves. Even the cold shower hadn’t done anything to cool her off, and she stares at the ceiling in her bedroom, fingers digging into the blankets beneath her hands.

He wouldn’t know. That’s what she tells herself, the lie she wants to make herself believe, that he wouldn’t know. Except he would. And she’d never see him again. And she wants to see him again. Maybe. Probably. Once she gets over the fact that he—that she was… she can’t even think it. Even alone her cheeks are hot, and she flips over onto her side, body curling beneath the blankets of her bed. She pulls them over her head for good measure. No one can see your shame when you’re under the covers.

But she doesn’t risk it. She doesn’t touch herself, doesn’t dip her fingers beneath the waistline of her panties, doesn’t slide them inside or against or—

“Agh.” She can’t stop thinking about it. Maybe if she’d been more vocal. Maybe if she was prettier. Maybe if she had more chest to grab.

Alone, dissatisfied, she finally falls asleep, and a man with silver in his smile dances through her dreams, laughing at her from behind his hand.

It isn’t fair.


March 2013

Sterling: He doesn’t mention it, if that helps. But there’s a knowing gleam in his eye now. Or maybe it was there before. Or maybe she’s just imagining it.

He seems pleased with her, though. He likes having her by his side. Likes hearing her opinions.

He seems proud of her.

Genevieve: She wouldn’t know about the gleam. She doesn’t make eye contact with him anymore. She avoids looking at him, really, because every time she does she thinks about being spread open on his lap, and she gets a little flustered, and that’s… well, that’s humiliating. She’s gone right back to avoiding touch, too, as if that will do anything, and she dreads the next time he’s hungry and wants to bite into her.

She’s always a step behind, now. Pants instead of skirts. Bras that close at the side instead of the front or back. Shirts that don’t do anything for whatever figure she’s hiding beneath it. She doesn’t think it’ll help if he really wants to mess with her, but it makes her feel better. For a time.

She doesn’t talk much when he’s around, either. It’s the sort of humiliation a person doesn’t really bounce back from. But she does what he asks, otherwise. Runs the number. Finds new gambling addicts for him. Stands behind him rather than beside him, like she used to.

She downloads a dating app on her phone, too. Maybe that’ll take her mind off it.

Three terrible first dates later, she has decided it will not.

Sterling: He doesn’t say anything at first, but she starts to detect a faint frustration in his interactions with her.

Finally, he shows up at her apartment one night with a deck of cards.

“Enough of this,” he says, and waves his hand at her. “You feel despoiled, hmm? Perhaps, violated?”

His can thumps against the floor and punctuates his exclamations. “Perhaps you wish to forget your punishment?”

Her pup—did she ever bother to name it?—sniffs at his shoe. He picks it up by the scruff of its neck and tosses it onto the couch, where it sniffles and cowers.

Genevieve: Of course she named it. His name is Ash, which he would know if he ever bothered to ask her about it, but he doesn’t because he’s too busy finding new ways to punish her for perceived slights. She scowls at Sterling and scoops the terrified pup into her arms, scratching his ears.

“I’m fine. Everything’s fine.” She doesn’t have to look at him when she’s holding the puppy.

Sterling: “Fine,” he squeaks in a falsetto that sounds like it ought to shatter glass.

“Fine,” he says in a simpering whine, but his lips don’t move, and the voice comes from behind her.

“FINE,” snarls a deep, cruel voice from somewhere above.

He advances on her, cane gesticulating wildly. “You would lie to me even now, Gen? My own conscience, afraid to speak her mind?”

The voices around her howl in discordant rage.

Ash squirms and buries his little snout into her neck.

Genevieve: Oh. Oh no.

She clutches the puppy to her chest as if he’s going to save her from this wrath coming her way, one hand on his back, the other beneath his soft belly. She takes a step backward for every step that Sterling takes toward her, shaking her head.

No, no, no.

“Stop it, stop. You’re scaring—” me “—him.”

Sterling: He stops, sniffs her fear. “You still think I’m him,” he says, and he doesn’t bother to disguise his voice, or the sadness in it. “You still think nothing more of me than a monster. You who I rescued. You who I saved.”

The silence that follows his words is pierced only by Ash’s soft whines.

Genevieve: "You used me. You humiliated me. You did—did that, and then you just—you stopped, and you walked away, and you… "

She can’t even get the words out. So unlike her with her cool head, normally so eloquent, without trailing sentences. Now she trips over her words.

“Did you have any idea what that would do to me? What it would—God, it had nothing to do with him, it was everything before him, when I was just a—a freak. Something to laugh at.”

Sterling: “Used you? I punished you, exactly as I promised I would if I caught you cheating again. Are you bitter over a little loneliness?” He tilts his head, eyes narrowed. “Tell me, little conscience Gen, how I might kiss it better? Would you like me to bend you over my knee and diddle you more thoroughly? If you’re so tired of me, tell me, did you finish the job that night? Or did you choose to see me again?”

Genevieve: Something flares inside of her at the offer. She looks away from him.

“N-no. Don’t. Don’t touch me, don’t, just don’t.” She clutches the dog closer to her, his whines drowning out the hammering of her heart.

Sterling: “Answer the question.”

Genevieve: “Of course I didn’t.”

Sterling: “Ah, how flattering. So you do prize my company more than a little burst of your ovaries.”

He doesn’t touch her. But he stands close.

Genevieve: She says nothing. She barely breathes. Her fingers are only still because they’re buried in the fur of the dog.

Sterling: “You think you’re a freak, is that it? That my neglect of you was somehow influenced by repulsion, instead of principle?”

Genevieve: Of course. Of course that’s what it was. She nods.

Sterling: “Then why,” he sighs, “am I so proud of you?”

Genevieve: She has no idea what he’s talking about.

“I don’t know.”

Sterling: “Gen, I called you beautiful. I played a game with you and was so impressed with your attempt to cheat that the punishment was pleasure. I could not have asked for a better conscience. I all but said as much. The only person in this room who seems to think less of you for that night is you.”

Genevieve: “It ended in rejection.”

Like it always did.

Sterling: “It ended in denial, my sweet little conscience. A tease to make you regret your own overeager fingers. If I thought you repulsive, would I keep you by my side? Would I pamper you so? Did you need to finish to understand that you are mine?”

Genevieve: "You made me beg for it. And you saw me. You touched me, you… "

She shakes her head. She can’t explain. He won’t get it. He doesn’t get it now. He explains and she thinks it makes sense, until she pictures herself on his lap like that with his fingers… no. The dog whines again and Gen loosens her grip.

Sterling: “Yes, I touched you,” he says. “You are mine to touch. Mine to expose, mine to display, mine to do with as I wish. Ah, but I see. You feel shame, that I treated you so. Feel mocked, perhaps. Do you think I found it funny, sweet Gen?”

Genevieve: “I wouldn’t know,” she snaps, “I don’t posses the same affinity for trawling through brains that you do. Did you find it funny? Did you enjoy laughing at me afterward with your friends? That Connie was panting like a bitch in heat.” Her voice is a close approximation of his.

Sterling: “Should I have? I thought it was a rather sweet moment between the two of us.”

Genevieve: His answer flusters her all over again.

Sterling: “Oh, Gen,” he says. “So shy. So unsure of yourself. Perhaps I should make you dance nude in Jackson Square. You might see your own beauty in the gasps of your admirers.”

It’s an idle threat, but he likes her when she’s flustered.

“Or perhaps you can tell me how to make it better. My sweet, sweet conscience. Little voice of reason.”

Genevieve: “That’s not—that’s not funny.”

He wouldn’t make her do that. Would he make her do that? He can’t make her do that.

Sterling: Except he can. He might have already, and made her forget it.

Genevieve: Oh. That’s… oh. She’s only realizing that now. Does he see the blood drain from her face, or is she already so white that he can’t tell the difference?

She turns away from him. Ash whines. She shushes him.

“I have to take the dog out.” Anything to get away.

Sterling: He laughs, softly. “Would you be rid of me, then? All your gratitude, your loyalty, gone for a little shame?”

Genevieve: No. No, and that’s the worst part, isn’t it? Not that she feels shame, but that she wanted it, that she couldn’t even finish herself off later because that meant giving up him, too. It’s not shame she’s feeling, it’s rejection. He knows she wants him, and that’s… that’s too much for her. She doesn’t even want him to take away the sting because it means giving up the good part, too.

Sterling: “What would you like, Gen? What treat? What salve? I have no use for a conscience too shamed to speak.”

Genevieve: "I don’t know. I don’t know what will make it better. I… "

She trails off, shaking her head. Takes a breath to compose herself. When she speaks again it’s in the cool, detached tone he’s used to.

“Conflict of interest, I can’t advise you on myself.”

Sterling: “Hmm. I suppose you can’t.”

He pauses.

“Ah, but if there’s no moral way… what was the name of the girl you despised in school? Brittney something or other?”

Genevieve: She considers lying. Instead she tells him yes. “Brittney Mitchell.”

Sterling: “Mitchell, yes. All right. Give me a week. Perhaps then you’ll be… cooler.”

He walks away from her, his conscience.

Perhaps he leaves feeling lighter.


Previous, by Narrative: Story Thirteen, Celia II
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Story Thirteen, Celia II

“Shit’s hit the fan, huh?”
Roderick Durant


Sunday evening, 13 March 2016

Celia: After a quick shower and a change of clothes (she literally has clothes all over the city—it’s no wonder she’d told Roderick they need walk-in closets), Celia sits cross-legged on Randy’s bed. Lucy sits in front of her. She had joined Celia in the shower to get rid of the blood and other viscera pulled from inside her body, and Celia looks down at the doll with Jade’s face. She hadn’t done a full transformation; just her face since the rest of her is covered.

“Hello, darling,” Celia murmurs to the doll. “I’m hoping that you don’t mind delivering a message for me.”

GM: The doll sits naked now, if Celia hasn’t clothed it in anything else. Its tiny dress was soaked in vitae and viscera.

It silently stares up at her with a doll’s wide glassy eyes.

One of its hands was pressed against its throat when she pulled it out of her stomach in a gory parody of childbirth.

Celia: “You saved me, you know. Last night. I was trying to find a way to revive Lady Elyse. I would have lingered too long and been turned into one of her dolls.” Celia gives the doll a sad smile. “I like dolls. But I don’t know that I would want to be a doll, not like that, not yet. Maybe someday.”

GM: A Kindred doll.

What a special doll that would be.

The prize of Elyse’s collection.

Especially one as beautiful as her.

Lucy only holds her hand to her throat.

Celia: “Can you… can you tell her something for me? If I send you to her, will you deliver a message?”

GM: The doll’s hand continues to rest against its throat.

Its eyes are so wide and glassy.

Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment. She looks inside herself for her own doll form and brings it to the surface. She thinks Lucy might be injured, but maybe Lotus knows what to do.

Pic.jpg
GM: The Lucy doll stares at the Lotus doll. Silently and prettily, like all dolls do.

There’s nothing in their heads. Maxen said that too once, about Celia. That there was “absolutely nothing in your head.”

He’d tapped her forehead in emphasis.

“There’s nothing in here,” he’d said mockingly. “It’s a completely empty space.”

Celia: He’d called her brilliant last night at dinner.

GM: People call dolls empty-headed, too. Say they have nothing in their heads.

Celia: Lotus’ dad is Lady Elyse, though. Not Maxen.

GM: Call them, implicitly, stupid but pretty, like Paul once called Celia.

Celia: Lotus doesn’t know who Paul is.

But she knows who Lucy is.

And she hopes that Lucy can help her with a problem.

GM: Lotus is a doll.

Lotus knows.

Lotus reads Lucy like a book.

Lucy wants… to talk.

Lucy cannot talk.

Lucy needs help.

Lucy has something to say.

It was very, very, very hard for Lucy to say as much as she did, to Jade.

Just one word.

It was so, so hard.

Celia: Lotus wants to help.

How can Lotus help? The mother showed Jade how to repair dolls. She isn’t as good at it as the Lady Elyse, but maybe that’s a start?

GM: Jade can’t help Lucy to talk.

Celia: Who can help?

GM: Elyse. But she may not help. She may not like what Lucy has to say.

Elyse knows what Lucy has to say.

Celia: Is it… bad?

GM: Jade needs to find someone. Someone else who can talk to dolls like her.

It’s okay if they can’t talk to all dolls. Only Elyse can do that.

Just dolls like her.

Celia: Grace?

GM: Grace is scared of Lucy.

Grace hates Lucy.

Celia: Lotus doesn’t know anyone else who can talk to dolls, though. Lotus will find someone, but Lotus also wants to help Jade fix the relationship with Elyse.

GM: Lucy needs to talk.

Lucy needs help.

Jade has to find someone.

Find someone.

Find someone.

Celia: Lotus will help Lucy. Jade will find someone. She will.

GM: Lotus is gone. Jade’s sitting on the bed again, looking down at the Lucy doll.

Celia: “I’m sorry,” Jade whispers to Lucy. “I’m sorry you’re hurt. I’ll find someone. I will.”

“Thank you. Thank you for helping me. Now it’s my turn.”


Sunday evening, 13 March 2016

Celia: The conversation with Lucy took less time than Celia planned for. She’s dressed and back in her own skin moments later, a freshly written note in her hand and Lucy tucked away into a bag for the evening. She rejoins her mother on the couch to wait for the rest of her team so they can debrief before she heads out.

GM: “When can we go home, sweetie?” she asks. “Emily is only spending the weekend with Robby.”

Celia: “Another day or two. Hopefully tomorrow if I can get this straightened out.”

GM: “Missed me?” smirks Reggie’s voice, one of his hands cupping her breast.

Diana looks scandalized. “Please—there’s a child here!” she whispers.

“Sleeping child,” notes Reggie.

“Don’t worry, though. Haven’t forgotten you.” He gives her a quick peck on the lips.

He chuckles when Celia’s mom gives a startle, then gives his domitor a longer kiss on the lips.

He winks at her as if to say, Pork rind. Fillet mignon.

He then gives a quick lick of his lips, as if to say he’d still be happy to eat both.

Celia: Maybe she’d never realized the extent of his deviance, but watching him kiss her mother makes Celia bare her teeth at him in a silent snarl.

“She’s not interested. Neither is Dani.”

GM: “Oh, I think she is.” Reggie plops down between them on the couch, wrapping an arm around both women’s shoulders. Celia’s breasts get another squeeze after a moment, to her mother’s obvious consternation. “She talks like an old lady, but she’s got a young bod…” Celia worked on it recently, after all. “I can remind her what it’s like to be young… relax, hot momma…”

He cups Diana’s head up with his hands, then hungrily french kisses her mouth. She freezes up and doesn’t try to push him away. Reggie’s eyes, though, watch Celia’s the whole time, like she’s the real show. All he’s doing here is getting warmed up.

Celia: He doesn’t get to enjoy that kiss for long. Celia curls her fingers through his hair and yanks him backwards, off of her mother.

GM: Diana looks mortified as Celia pulls the ghoul away.

Reggie smirks at Celia. “The effect would be better if you both had the same hair color… but you know…”

He makes several clicking sounds with his tongue and glances salaciously between mother and daughter.

Celia: “You’re a pig,” Celia snarls at him. She flips him, pins him beneath her body, and sinks her teeth into his neck.

GM: “Whoa-!” Reggie starts, but he doesn’t try to fend her off. He gasps with pleasure under her kiss and lets the vampire have her way with him.

Diana swiftly rises with Lucy, clutching the child to her breast, and dashes off towards the bedrooms.

“Oh, my, what’s this about…?” starts Alana’s voice with a purr.

Dani looks at the man being feasted on, then sinks her teeth into the other side of his neck.

Celia: For a moment there’s a twitch of jealousy. Reggie is hers. How dare the little thin-blood bitch. But Alan’s voice cuts through her fugue, and Celia reaches out a hand to the other girl to pull her close. When she’s taken a sip from Reggie she stays seated on his lap, yanking Alana down to sink her teeth into that hot treat as well.

Distantly, she’s aware of her mother in the other room, but right now she wants this feast presented to her.

GM: Alana moans wantfully, throatily, and arches her back. Her fingers fly to the zipper of Celia’s pants. They make slow progress, but progress all the same.

Dani continues to thirstily drain Reggie. Unaccustomed to the vampires’ kiss, he just lies there and makes happy noises.

“Oh,” says Randy, a little lamely.

Celia: Celia doesn’t let it go further than that. She squirms free from Alana and reaches out to pull Dani off of Reggie.

“Enough.”

GM: Dani licks her lips.

Reggie pants heavily.

Alana is flushed.

Randy just sort of stands there.

“You turn into such an idiot around her,” Rusty says to him shortly.

Celia: “You and I can share someone else tonight,” Celia says to Dani. “How much did you take from him?”

GM: “I wasn’t trying to kill him. Just give him a taste of what it’s like,” she glares at Reggie.

Celia: Celia smirks.

GM: “Don’t mind…” grins a paler-faced Reggie.

Celia: “Give him a hit. I need him coherent tonight.”

GM: Dani bites her wrist and holds it out to him.

Reggie raises it to drink, then spits and throws it aside.

“Fuck, that tastes awful!”

Celia: Celia purses her lips.

“I was afraid of that.”

GM: Dani glares at him.

Celia: “It’s not his fault, Dani. It’s the blood.”

GM: “Oh, so my blood’s not good enough?”

Celia: “It’s good enough for me.”

“It’s a good thing. We know more about you than we did.”

GM: “Didn’t think you’d care how I thought you tasted, girlie,” says Reggie, making some lapping effects with his tongue.

Dani makes a sound of disgust.

“You’re a pig.”

Celia: Celia presses her teeth into her wrist and shoves it into Reggie’s mouth.

Maybe that will shut him up.

GM: He drinks rapturously.

“Ah, that’s it…!”

Celia: He only gets a small hit before she pulls away.

GM: “Are we here on business?” Rusty asks shortly.

Alana contently settles down on Celia’s lap.

Celia: “Yes,” Celia finally says. She looks over to Rusty, giving him a small nod as if to thank him for the interruption.

“We have things to discuss. These next few days and nights might be challenging, and I wanted to give all of you a heads up.”

GM: “Should I get your mom?” asks Dani.

Celia: “Yes. Thank you.”

GM: “Yes, thank you,” Reggie smiles too.

Celia: “If I murder you,” she says idly, “they’ll never find the body.”

GM: Dani glares at him and heads down the hall.

“In that case, I better do something really ballsy,” says Reggie.

Celia: “Knock it off.”

“This is… actually serious.” Her tone changes.

GM: “Was kinda hot with the kid around… she got so skittish…”

“Bro, you sound like a pedophile,” says Randy.

“The kid isn’t hot. Just how skittish the kid made her. Difference,” elucidates Reggie.

Celia: “No, she’s always like that. Don’t touch her again.”

“Or Dani.”

GM: “She wouldn’t be like that if someone showed her a good time.”

“Either of ’em.”

Celia: “Reggie,” Celia turns to him, “knock it the fuck off.”

GM: Reggie just smirks, but says nothing further.

“You’re not making the mistress happy,” Alana says airily.

Celia: “Enough. All of you.”

“No petty bullshit, not tonight.”

“Not for the next few nights.”

“There’s some serious shit going on that we need to coordinate on.”

GM: “I didn’t do anything…” Randy protests.

Celia: “You and Rusty didn’t do anything, I’m aware.”

GM: “I just told him to stop displeasing you, mistress,” pouts Alana.

Celia: “Right, I’ve got like ten minutes before I need to leave, so let’s get into this.”

GM: Dani arrives back with Diana.

The two of them sit together away from Reggie.

“I put Lucy to bed,” adds Celia’s mom.

“This is… sweetie, this is not a child-appropriate environment.”

Celia: “Good,” Celia says to Diana, “thank you. And yes, I’m aware.”

“So here’s the situation. For those of you who haven’t officially met her, this is my mother. Diana. She knows about me.”

GM: “Hi, everyone!” smiles Diana, holding up her hand in a little wave.

Reggie grins and waves back, wriggling his fingers.

Celia: “For the foreseeable future, she needs one of you with her at all times. Rotating guard until I handle something that went down last night. One of you will be with me. Yes,” she says to Rusty before he can ask, “you’ll all be compensated for the additional work.”

GM: “It shouldn’t be Reggie,” says Dani.

He clasps his heart in mock hurt.

Celia: “No,” Celia agrees, “it won’t be Reggie.”

GM: He clasps it with both hands.

Celia: “Randy, Rusty, Alana, you’ll take turns with Diana. It won’t be long. Tonight, tomorrow, maybe tomorrow night. But it’s very, very important that nobody get to her.”

“There’s also somebody who may be coming after all of us.”

GM: “Got it, babe,” says Randy.

Rusty nods.

“Of course,” says Alana.

“Oh, who?” asks Dani.

Celia: “So… I know we don’t always want to hang out under the same roof, but until this is solved, I need it to happen. I can’t lose any of you. You’re all very important to me.”

“Her name is Elyse. Her sire is Harlequin. Krewe of Janus leader.”

They all know about the Krewe of Janus; she’d told them about the Masquerade and those who enforce it.

“She’s hunting Diana. She wants to get her back because I beat the shit out of her last night, and she thinks that getting to Diana will hurt me. She’s right. So we’re not going to let it happen. I’m going to smooth things over, but until I do I need you to just work with me here. We haven’t had to deal with much enmity from others like me before, but this is why I’ve brought you all on. No credit cards. Don’t leave the Quarter if you can help it. Don’t go off with anyone you don’t know. Don’t accept candy from a stranger, you know the drill.”

“Reggie, those thin-bloods you met last night, those aren’t the kind of people they’ll send after you. They’ll send ghouls like you. Licks like me. People trained in combat. Call off work, or do what you can from home. The Quarter is safer, but the Krewe can go anywhere if there’s a violation. Since Diana knows, she’s joining our numbers. I’ll blood her later tonight once I’ve had a chance to properly feed. We’ll double rations for all of you until the threat has passed, keep you topped up. I’ll bring what bagged stuff I can here. Check in with each other frequently. If I blow up your phone, get back to me. It’s not because I’m being an asshole, it’s because I care about all of you and I’m not losing you over a petty grudge. Elyse is tight with an assassin, too, so… just be aware.”

“This, by the way, is Dani.” Celia gestures to her. “She’s also joining us until the threat has passed, and unofficially she’s my tenant now.”

Her first tenant. Celia had always thought it would be something grander than this. Contracts and pomp and stuff.

“She’s duskborn, but there’s a pretty high possibility that I’m going to pass her off as a renfield for a time, so get used to her being around. Once this is over she’ll have her own place, but right now it’s safer for everyone to be together. Strength in numbers, you know.”

“There’s also a chance I bring in more muscle until everything is settled. If you can vouch for any breathers, great. If not, I’ll see what I can do.”

“It’s not war. I’m hoping a boon will suffice to balance the scales. But I’m not taking chances with any of your lives.”

GM: Celia’s assorted ghouls (and near-ghouls) receive their domitor’s address somberly.

Alana nods and murmurs assent at all of Celia’s words. She adds how dangerous and well-trained the Krewe’s ghouls are. There’s a flash of jealousy in her eyes, though, when Celia announces she’s ghouling her mom.

Rusty gives a few brief nods, but has no questions.

Celia: Celia gives the girl on her lap a reassuring squeeze.

GM: Randy gives longer nods and declares how he’ll do right by his “babe.”

Dani looks worried by Celia’s words, if somewhat out of her depth, but nods along too.

Diana bears a similar expression. She gets very still every time Celia says Elyse’s name.

Reggie takes it all like a breeze.

“If you want to feed, mistress… it’s a little late for the spa, but we could pick up something for you…” brings up Alana, rubbing her bottom against Celia.

Diana looks uncomfortable at Alana’s present location.

“Courier’s gonna be here in a bit, too,” says Randy.

Celia: “No, thank you,” Celia says to Alana, “I have two errands to run and then I’m taking Dani hunting.”

GM: “Can we help, mistress?” she asks.

Dani perks up at that declaration. “I’m not too thirsty, actually, if you had other things you wanted to do tonight.”

Celia: “Help with the errands? Not these, unfortunately. Two meetings.” Celia smiles at Dani. “I’ll need to feed if I’m doubling everything for everyone else.”

GM: “You can say thanks with a BJ,” Reggie replies breezily.

Dani looks disgusted. Diana covers her ears.

Celia: Celia casually reaches over to smack Reggie in the chest.

“If you don’t stop I’m going to remove your favorite part.”

GM: “You’d lose your favorite part too,” he smirks at her.

Celia: “I’ll keep it as a trophy; you’ll never get it back.”

GM: He laughs. “I can think of worse places for it to end up.”

Celia: “Does anyone have any relevant questions, then?”

GM: “Any instructions for the spa, mistress?” asks Alana.

Celia: “Still thinking. They know I own it. Might be safer to close for a day or two. After tonight I’ll have a better idea.”

GM: “We could also give Louise a trial day as manager. If you want me away from it.”

Celia: “We can do that.”

GM: “Okay, mistress. Where do you want me during the day, when I’m not with your mother?”

Celia: “Buddy system. Here.”

GM: “Can we, ah… blood Emily too, if she wants to do that?” asks Diana.

“I feel like she’s being left out from so many important things, right now.”

Celia: “We already talked about this. No.”

GM: “Oh. I’m sorry, sweetie, I guess I wasn’t clear,” her mother apologizes.

Celia: “If and when I decide to bring Emily into this, it will be on my terms. I also just… don’t have the resources to sustain that many people, and there are too many complications with her school and work.”

“I’ve had to jump through a mountain of hoops to make sure that Dani isn’t going to get nabbed off the streets, and I’m about to do the same for you.”

GM: “I’m sorry, sweetie. I don’t want to cause you trouble.”

Celia: “It’s fine. I’d rather do this than watch you go back to her.”

GM: Diana pointedly says nothing about that.

“Is there anything more I can do, while you’re out?”

Celia: “Get some sleep. Call off work tomorrow. Let one of them tell you about the society you’ve just joined.”

GM: “Okay. Lucy has school, I guess I’ll say we both came down with something.”

“I can get together some muscle,” says Reggie. “How much do you want, where do you want them, and by when?”

Celia: “Here. Soon. Two or three guys. I’d like to free up someone to be able to be with me when you need to sleep.”

GM: “What should I tell Emily?” Diana asks. “For why Lucy and I aren’t home, that is.”

Celia: “Mental health day? Needed to get out of the house? Nightmares?”

GM: “Lucy, too?”

Celia: “I mean, she’s coming with you.”

GM: “Okay, I’ll… I’ll tell her something.”

Celia: “Let me think about it.”

GM: Rusty and Randy also ask if Celia has any specific instructions for them, besides guarding her mother.

Celia: “Keep looking into those other issues we discussed, Rusty. And I have something for you to scrub from the internet, but I’ll give you the details later. Were you able to find the Lee guy?”

GM: “No luck, sorry.”

Celia: “The phones didn’t help?”

“See if you can find out what the heck a glinko is, then. It’s somehow related.”

“Randy, you’re on defenses. It’s something I’ve let go for too long. I’ve been banking on the fact that no one knew where I stayed during the day, but that’s not enough. Find me a better system. Watching the hunters get through the other day is not something I want repeated.”

GM: “They likely will,” says Rusty. “Give me a bit longer.”

“I do have another job.”

Celia: “I know, Rusty.”

“They’re just after me, and I’d prefer not to wind up dead.”

GM: “Okay, babe, I’ll see what I can come up with,” says Randy.

Celia: “Perfect. Just a few days, guys. We’ll get through this.”


Sunday evening, 13 March 2016

Celia: Celia leaves the note with Randy to give to the courier. She’d expected to be able to give Lucy to him too, send more of a message, but she needs to fix the doll first.

It’s a well-worded apology to Elyse that asks for a chance to explain what happened. She promises a favor for the trouble, and another if she’ll hear her out in neutral territory. It’s coded, but she thinks the Malkavian will understand. They’d worked together for years, after all.

Celia leaves her mother with a kiss on the cheek. She tells Reggie to rest up, that after her meeting he’s shadowing her tonight, and to leave the girls alone.

If none of them have anything for her, Celia carefully makes her way across the Quarter to meet with Roderick.

GM: Her lover’s right on time, like usual, dressed in the suit he’s probably wearing to Elysium. He hugs her close when she steps inside.

“Hey.”

She thinks of Donovan.

“Shit’s hit the fan, huh?”

Celia: She can’t remember a single time her sire ever wasted the breath or thoughts on a greeting.

Still, when Roderick opens his arms for her she steps in close, burying her face against his chest. She breathes him in.

“Real bad.”

GM: He holds her against him and runs a hand along her back.

“Tell me about it.”

Celia: “I messed up. I messed up so badly. I don’t know what to do. And I missed you all night. All day. I just kept thinking I wanted you with me, that everything would be better if I could just talk to you. I hate being away from you. I couldn’t even come back last night and talk to you, and I almost got caught by the sun, and then I did get caught by the sun, and I just kept… kept thinking that everything is about to implode.”

GM: She misses Donovan more.

Hates being away from him more.

Celia: He wouldn’t hold her while she cries.

But she wouldn’t cry around him, either.

GM: Roderick guides her to a couch where they sit down. He still holds her against his chest.

“It’s all right. I’m here. Everything’s going to be okay.”

Celia: He wasn’t there last night when she needed him.

Donovan was, though.

GM: Because he can fly.

He can be anywhere.

There’s nothing that can stop him.

“Whatever this is, we’ll fix it,” says Roderick.

“So, why don’t you start from the beginning?”

Celia: Maybe one night her wings will carry her across the sky as quickly as his do. Or maybe he’ll be her wings and she won’t need to resort to feathers and shape shifting.

She hasn’t told anyone, but she’d picked that second form because of him.

“I had a friend,” Celia says slowly, choosing her words with care while she curls on Roderick’s lap. He’s as dead as the rest of them, but warmer than her sire. Softer. She can’t help but notice the differences.

“I had a friend who… who I learned hurt my mom in a really, really bad way. Years ago. Completely altered who she was on a fundamental level. She showed me on a tape and it was… it was awful. I’d suspected, I guess, but never confirmed. She broke my mom. Broke her, Roderick. Tortured her. And I went apeshit on her. And I beat the shit out of her. I guess I don’t need to know how to throw a punch when I’ve got claws, right?”

Her attempt at humor is bleak.

“And I know how it is. Strike someone, they strike back. So I went to my mom, because I thought, well, they’re going to go after her. And they did.”

“I got to her first. Barely.”

“She was on her way to… I don’t know, turn herself over to them or something. Like twenty minutes before dawn. And I was starving. And she wouldn’t stop trying to fucking touch me.”

GM: “Jesus,” Roderick murmurs in response to all of that, but otherwise listens quietly until she’s done.

Celia: “She wouldn’t listen to me,” Celia says quietly. She tells him how it was: trying to convince her mom to come with her, to get out of the house, to stop dawdling. How her Beast kept trying to get out, first at her mom, then at the stupid cat, and then finally when the sun came through the window. And how Celia had finally revealed what she was.

It doesn’t help, she realizes.

Running to Roderick to talk about it doesn’t help.

She’s not a damsel that needs saving. She doesn’t need him to tell her that it’s okay. It is okay. She has always made sure it was okay. And yeah, things have gone off the rails for her now, and her mom knows, but… she’d accepted her. She’d accepted who Celia is, what she is, with no more than a long blink of her eyes.

“And now she knows. Everything.”

Her voice, as she speaks, gains strength and surety. She’d been unsure. Thought she was doing the wrong thing, thought that the voice in her head had been right, but it’s not right. She is right. She knows what’s right for her, for her family.

Celia tells him how she’d let her mother see her as a cat, how she had smuggled Celia into the car in Lucy’s pink unicorn backpack to hide from the sun, taken her to a safe place (though she doesn’t say where).

“She reacted well,” Celia continues. “Once she understood what was going on. She just accepted it like it was no big deal.”

GM: “Oh my god,” Roderick says when she’s done. “Celia, there’s… I think you know what three options there are for her at this point.”

“Okay. Do you need help finding someone who can fix her memories?”

Celia: “I don’t think I want to fix her memories.”

GM: “You can’t want to kill her. That leaves…”

Celia: “Ghouling. Yeah.”

GM: “Celia, that’s… that’s kind of messed up. Your mom?”

Celia: “It doesn’t have to be weird.”

GM: “You’re bringing her into this. Into this world of darkness and horror as a slave and drug addict.”

“She has a kid!

Celia: “She doesn’t have to be a slave. She can just… be my mom.”

“Plenty of them live kind of normal lives.”

GM: “What kind of a mom is she going to be to Lucy when she’s collared to the one kid she’ll now love more than she’ll ever love her others?”

Celia: “You said your sire kept you as a renfield without collaring you. Why can’t I?”

GM: “Okay, that’s something. But, Celia, can’t you see what you’re dragging her into?”

Celia: “She’s already involved. Her kid is a vampire. What am I supposed to do, mind-wipe her and kill myself? Never talk to her again? Watch her die? I can fix her leg. I know someone who can fix her, she’ll never be in pain again, she can dance again. I can stop lying about everything, I won’t have to make excuses about dinner or why I can’t babysit or why I can’t come to Lucy’s recitals or why Emily has to get married at night instead of during the day like a normal person.”

“How long until the rest of the city finds out who I really am and goes after her anyway for whatever bullshit perceived slight they can think of?”

“You know what the first thing she asked me was? ‘When can I meet your real boyfriend?’ It was just so… normal. It was so normal. Like I could actually talk to her as a person again and not a liar.”

GM: “That’s… that’s strange,” Roderick frowns. “Has she seen behind the Masquerade before?”

Celia: “…honestly, I think so. She was really, really calm about everything.”

GM: “Where do you think she did?”

Celia: “Before my friend got to her. Before she gave birth.”

GM: “Your friend seems like a pretty logical explanation. If she tortured your mom.”

“You said she altered who your mom was on a fundamental level?”

Celia: “Yeah. She… does things to people. Students at her school. Finishing school, she calls it.”

GM: “It’s disgusting. We have so much power and so little regard for normal humans’ lives.”

“I guess it would make sense if your mom saw past the Masquerade there.”

“But you think she did earlier?”

Celia: “That was before she had me.”

“But I don’t know. I assumed some things.”

GM: “I obviously don’t know as much about your mom’s history, but that seems like the logical explanation to me. Occam’s razor.”

Celia: “So then it’s… not really my fault, technically.”

GM: Roderick looks reluctant. “I don’t think you can erase memories going back that many years. I mean, maybe a lick like Vidal could.”

Celia: “Ah yeah, we should ask him.”

GM: “Good idea. We’ll just ask Maldonato to slip us into his schedule sometime.”

Celia: “I knew we’d think of something.”

GM: “Damn it, though. This is… this is fucked.

“You’re going to keep her away from as much of this as you can?”

Celia: “Sure, once I figure out how she’s going to continue working at McGehee.”

GM: Roderick thinks. “I doubt many licks would expect her there. She’s going during the day, first of all. And how many other ghouls can there be at a girl’s school, who could also find her out?”

Celia: “That’s kind of what I’m banking on.”

GM: “We don’t really bother cultivating influence over high schools, much less elementary or middle schools. Universities are where it’s at. And even if there are other ghouls at McGehee, well, how will they know she’s a ghoul too? They have to be able to scry, and they’d have to taste her blood. They’d already need to be suspicious.”

Celia: “I was going to teach her some shadow dancing, just in case.”

GM: “That seems like a good idea. I doubt many licks or scrying ghouls will be taking drinks from her, but an extra layer of security doesn’t hurt.”

Celia: “So you don’t think it’s crazy?”

GM: Roderick grimaces. “I think it’s bad. But I don’t see an alternative.”

“Can’t fix her memories. So ghoul her or kill her.”

“And I’d hope to God that second option never crossed your mind.”

Celia: “Of course it didn’t,” Celia scowls at him.

“I thought about sending her away to another city where no one would look twice at her, but not killing her.”

GM: “She’s still a Masquerade breach there. Though she might be able to just get lost in the crowd.”

“I don’t know, though. You can’t just leave loose ends and trust them not to unravel further.”

Celia: “I know. She doesn’t want to leave, anyway. Her whole life is here. Emily, Lucy, McGehee is a really good school, most of the rest of us. Her family.”

GM: “I guess you can’t force her to leave against her will, either.”

Celia: “I’ve tried before, trust me. It didn’t end well.”

GM: “Well, you could, but you’d probably have to do some pretty awful things. And Emily would be a complication. All before how she still knows too much.”

“So yeah. I wouldn’t consider that a viable option.”

Celia: “I know. Just wishful thinking. Pack her off somewhere and forget she’s a problem.”

“I think ghouling her might be the best solution.”

GM: “It’s a bad solution. But it’s the lesser evil. Like so much else.”

Celia: “Threw off my plans for the night, though.” Celia sighs, pinching the bridge of her nose as if to stave off of a nonexistent headache. Little gestures like these are what let her pass as human.

GM: “I’m sure it did. Having to explain everything to her.”

“Are you still going to Elysium tonight?”

Celia: “No, I meant more that I had to cancel dinner with your dad.”

“And… probably not. My friend and her friends are probably looking for me. Going to Elysium would be a good time to grab me.”

GM: “Who’s the friend?”

Celia: “Ah… you can’t tell anyone, no one is supposed to know.”

GM: “Lips are zipped. But you don’t have to tell me. I was only asking in case there was advice I could give or something I might be able to do.”

Celia: “Benson.”

GM: “Shit. She’s tight with the sheriff.”

Celia: Yeah, she’s already had her lashes for that.

GM: “You might be in a lot of trouble if you go outside the Quarter now.”

“On the other hand, it’s a bad look for Benson if she runs tattling that a neonate beat the shit out of her. She’ll probably try to deal with this herself.”

Celia: “Or with her sire. Which is my concern. I can obviously handle Elyse.” Celia flexes at him.

There’s no muscle.

GM: Roderick smiles anyway.

“I’m glad you did. But this underscores how much I need to actually teach you instead fucking you. The next lick you get in trouble with might not be an anorexic dollmaker.”

Celia: “But we can still fuck.”

GM: “Yes. We’ll just do other things too. As novel a notion as that seems.”

He laughs faintly. “God, we’re like a pair of horny teenagers.”

Celia: “I can’t help it that every time I see you I want to pin you down and have my way with you.”

GM: “Usually you’re asking me to have my way with you, actually.”

Donovan’s better.

Celia: “Details.” Celia waves a hand.

God, he is.

What she wouldn’t do for him to pin her against a wall sometime.

Can’t imagine he’d actually fuck her, though.

Not like that.

Shame, too. She bets he’d be good at it.

GM: He’s good at everything.

“Okay, though. I think it’s reasonable to assume Elyse has either gone to her sire or one or more younger licks who are better at fighting.” He pauses. “Or, alternatively, she might try to get at you socially. Attacks in Elysium or attacks on your mortal holdings.”

“Which, for Jade, is just Flawless.”

Celia: “I sent her a note. I don’t know if she’ll read it. An apology, offer of a boon to make up for it. I don’t want this to get ugly. Like, just… the thought of being in a shadow war or something with someone on top of everything else is… ugh.”

A second boon if she’ll meet with Jade to discuss, but she doesn’t need to tell Roderick that she’d like to preserve the friendship.

“I couldn’t send a ghoul since they might come back without a head.”

GM: “Or turned into one of those dolls of hers.”

Celia: “That too.”

GM: “I’ve seen them at Elysium. They’re pretty freaky things.”

“An apology with a boon attached seems like a fair shot at defusing things, anyway.”

“Even if it galls me to think of you owing an anorexic sociopath who tortured your mom.”

Celia: “Alternative is to let it fester and have her come after my mom again.”

GM: “Does she know about your relation? Or did you just go apeshit when you saw the tape?”

Celia: “No. She doesn’t know it’s my mom. She doesn’t know I’m Jade. And I managed to hold it in during the tape. It was after, when she called her.”

GM: “Called her?”

Celia: “Yeah. Called her in the middle of the night to remind her what she did. That’s why I lost it.”

GM: “Oh my god. What a fucking sociopath.”

“Your mom’s one of the nicest people I know, though. I don’t think Elyse managed to completely break her.”

Celia: “Apparently she used to be a real spitfire.”

GM: “That’s pretty hard to imagine.”

Celia: “Yeah, I said the same thing.”

“I keep wondering who she’d be if she hadn’t gone through that. If she’d have had kids. If she’d still love me.”

“You know, stupid shit.”

GM: “I don’t think Elyse has the capacity to imbue someone with more love.”

Celia: “Turn her into the perfect mother and wife, though. Curb her attitude.”

GM: “Sure. There’s a lot of ways you can brainwash people, and even more with the Blood. You can make someone have kids and be an obedient wife and mother if they don’t normally want to.”

“But you can’t make someone love something they secretly hate or resent deep down. You just can’t.”

Celia: “You can make them think they do, though.”

GM: “Maybe. But I think that shows. I think if you torture someone into obedience it’s inevitably going to poison everything they do. Maybe it won’t be obvious, but it’ll be there.”

Celia: “What about conditioning. That’s different.”

GM: “It’s the same thing.”

“Truth comes out. Truth always comes out.”

“She’s been your mother for almost 30 years now. Have you ever felt like she might secretly hate or resent you? Has she ever tried to sabotage things with you in little coincidental-seeming ways?”

Celia: Has she?

Celia can’t think of a time.

“No. Never.”

GM: Roderick looks satisfied. “There you have it.”

Celia: He hasn’t seen what Elyse can do, though.

GM: “I like to think that if someone, and by ‘someone’ I mean the Mafia, tortured me or my dad past all endurance, past all sanity, there’d still be a part of ourselves they could never get to.”

Celia: “But it’s more than torture. At some point you’ll do anything to make the pain stop, and then what if you’re given something good because you behaved? Then you’ll keep trying to do that to get that good thing.”

GM: “Sure. Torture can compel you to say things and do things. Torture, in the end, breaks everyone.”

“It’s not like in the movies where the hero can hold out forever. When the CIA tortured al-Qaeda terrorists with waterboarding, some of the most fanatical and hateful zealots on earth, they took less than a day to break those people.”

“And they were really impressed by how long some of those terrorists held out. For less than a day.”

“But, and this is a little of the philosophy major who loved Wittgenstein speaking, we need to consider what definitions we’re using when we say ‘break.’”

“If you dash a vase into a thousand pieces over the floor, it’s no longer the object that it once was. It can’t hold water. You can’t store flowers in it. It’s broken and no longer able to fulfill its intended purpose. You might, painstakingly, be able to glue it back together, and it’s probably going to be uglier and less functional than the original vase.”

“But you still have all of the pieces in your hands. You haven’t actually destroyed the vase, you’ve just changed its form from a single object into a thousand tiny splinters. It’s still the same amount of physical matter. The only thing you’ve destroyed is the vase’s capacity to serve its intended purpose. All of the vase itself is still there.”

“And maybe that distinction seems academic, because what good is a broken vase to anyone.”

“But there was an artist I saw at Frenchmen once who made mosaics and cobblestones from broken glass and china. They were really pretty. Bits of a broken vase would’ve been right at home on one of them.”

“My point isn’t that every broken vase can be repurposed. Sometimes all you wanted was a vase, and if it’s broken now, there is no good outcome or happy ending.”

“But, the vase still leaves behind a thousand shards, and you can see in them what it once was. You can try to repurpose the shards for other uses, but it won’t be seamless. You’ll always see that they were once a vase.”

“Breaking something isn’t the same as obliterating it, in which case there’d be no shards left at all. There’d just be empty space. You obviously can’t repurpose empty space to fulfill a function you’d intended for a broken vase.”

“It’s the same thing with torture. If you tortured me enough, I’d say or do anything to make the pain stop. If you rewarded me for doing what you wanted, I’d break even faster.”

“But I’m still the same ‘vase.’ If you command me to do actions I loathe to the core of my being, no matter how much you torture and brainwash me, the change is only surface deep—a new coat of paint over the same vase.”

Celia: “And if that is all you knew for months? Years? Decades?”

“At some point it becomes your new normal.”

GM: “If you want a vase to be a shirt, will you be able to turn china into cotton after enough decades?”

Celia: “People aren’t vases. We change all the time.”

“That’s the beauty of people. We’re capable of change.”

GM: “Vases change too. All physical matter changes. You can paint a vase new colors. You can add and remove parts if you know what you’re doing.”

“Though I think it’s also fair to observe that people usually only change so much. Just like there’s really only so far you can change the same vase.”

“If you go to a herculean enough effort, and you wanted a base to be a shirt, you could grind it into sand-sized particles and weave them into a shirt’s fibers. Which I think is a comparable analogy to torturing and brainwashing someone for years. It’s a stupendous effort that shatters their original form and turns it into something superficially unrecognizable.”

“But if you examined the shirt under a microscope you’re still going to be able to tell the truth. Torturing someone into being something they’re not, in the end, is just a lie. A lie that the torturer and the victim are both in on.”

“And truth always comes out.”

“You could torture and brainwash me into joining the Mafia and following their orders, and maybe I’d spend the rest of my life as good, by which I mean awful, wiseguy.”

“But I don’t think the process would go perfectly. Maybe someone could turn me back. Maybe I’d sabotage things in little unconscious ways. Maybe I’d just be miserable deep down and be a worse mobster than I’d otherwise be capable of.”

“There are just so many ways that could go wrong and bits of the original Roderick could peek out.”

“If anything, it seems pretty hard to believe that the torture/brainwash process could go 100% perfectly. It’s like trying to pick every last hair off the floor of a barber shop. Things go wrong in minor ways a lot more often than they go 100% right.”

Celia: “But all of your examples don’t include what the blood can do. We’re not humans. We’re licks. Kindred. Above that. We have other ways. If you remove someone’s memories are they the same person anymore? Not really, since our consciousness and personality is the sum of our experiences. And sure, sure, the argument of nature versus nurture, but most people agree that it’s not 100% one way or another. It’s a split. And it’s not… it’s not like breaking someone, not completely. It’s about changing their mindset.”

“Villains don’t do evil things because they’re angsty teenagers. I mean, some poorly written ones do. But they think what they’re doing is right. Or necessary. Or good. If I could convince you that joining the Mafia was the best possible thing you could do to get what you want, you’d probably do it. I mean sure it’s likely impossible to convince you.”

GM: “As far as the Blood, at least, all that does is increase the extent of what we can do. It has limits. I’m pretty strong, and stronger than I ever was alive, but I can’t lift an aircraft carrier.”

“There are innumerable things that are still impossible to us. It doesn’t make us God.”

“But even in your example, though, you’re not suborning my original nature. You’re just playing to it. You want me to join the Mafia because that’s the best thing for me.”

Celia: “It still gets the result that I want in the end.”

“And you do something because you think it’s right or good or whatever the case may be.”

GM: “Sure. But what is the result you want? Do you just want a vase that looks like a shirt, smells like a shirt, feels like a shirt, and can be used like a shirt, or do you actually want that vase to become a shirt on a molecular level, and not betray its original nature under a microscope?”

“Most of the time, you probably just want a shirt you can use. There is a point of diminishing returns, where investing further effort doesn’t pay practical dividends.”

“But at some point, in some way, the truth will come out and you or someone else will be reminded that your shirt was originally a vase.”

“So I think your mom’s love for you is genuine, even if she isn’t the spitfire she used to be. All before how I don’t think Elyse has the capacity to create what she doesn’t understand.”

Celia: It makes her feel a little bit better, at least.

“I think you’re probably right. I can’t imagine that she’d love Emily as fiercely as she does if that was something that was just given to her. She’s really part of the family.”

GM: “There you have it. Elyse couldn’t have planned on Emily.”

“If you want to brainwash someone into being a perfect wife and mother, adopting 20-ish-year-old college students in your late 30s probably doesn’t enter into it.”

Celia: “Neither does loving your daughter when she comes out of the coffin.”

GM: “Probably not. So what do you want to do next? I’d planned on going to Elysium and could keep an eye on Elyse there. Or I could say fuck it and stick around to protect you.”

Celia: “I’m starting to wonder if it’s just better to let her pick me up so we can have it out. Which is a terrible idea. But I’m not super interested in hiding out or having my shit destroyed.”

GM: “What do you hope will come of your message, and what do you want to do if you don’t get what you want?”

Celia: “I hope she accepts and calls in a favor from me and that’s the end of it. I’m concerned she’s going to want to know why seeing Diana like that set me off. And… I don’t know. I don’t want people coming after me. I’ve made it this long without any real enemies, and then to have someone that I used to call friend…” Celia blinks a few times. “My mom will never be safe if Elyse decides to come after her. We don’t generally take things like this laying down. You saw what happened to your brother when he didn’t retaliate.”

GM: “You do have enemies,” Roderick says quietly. “Just being Embraced by whoever we were buys us a host of them.”

“But I can agree it’s better not to make even more.”

Celia: “I don’t have anyone that’s coming after me, personally.”

“Unless you know something I don’t.”

GM: He shakes his head. “Might be she doesn’t care, but I’d plan for the worst. What are you going to tell her if she asks?”

“And yes, Micheal was a paper tiger. If you don’t stop the bully from taking your lunch money, he’ll just keep doing it.”

Celia: “I don’t know. Lie. That Diana is my ghoul. That the Flores girls are mine. That Celia is my pawn and she was stepping on my toes.”

GM: “Diana being your ghoul is true, but… I’d share that with as few people as possible.”

“Just us would probably be best, if you want to maximize her odds of a normal life.”

Celia: “Ah… Dani knows. And my other ghouls. I had to explain why they’d be around.”

GM: “Oh. That’s not ideal.”

Celia: “I’m aware.”

“I regretted it pretty much instantly. I was kind of just trying to minimize damage, and I thought maybe she’d come after one of them too, so I… yeah.”

“It was stupid. Could have done it without telling them what she is.”

GM: “How long ago did you break the news? We could still get someone to erase their memories.” He frowns. “Of course, that person would also know what they erased. That’s one of the disadvantages to not being able to do it ourselves.”

Stupid.

She even said it herself.

Celia: “Like an hour ago.”

Stupid.

She agrees. It was. She wasn’t thinking.

Or rather, she was thinking, and she was thinking of how to keep everyone alive and working together rather than preserving their secrets.

GM: “Well, there’s some licks I know who could do it, if you don’t also know any.”

“What would be ideal is a lick who already knows of the connection between you and your mother.”

Celia: “I know someone.”

GM: “Okay. Then it’s your call.”

“You said dinner was off, with my dad?”

Celia: “I was going to surprise you, bring you over tonight for dinner with your dad and Dani. My mom was going to cook. But because of the stuff with Elyse I had to call it off. Dani said your dad was mad at her about it.”

GM: “I’m not surprised. He gets very annoyed by people who don’t respect his time, and by extension, the work he does.”

Celia: “It’s not her fault, though. It’s mine.”

GM: “I presume he doesn’t know that, because he wouldn’t get angry at Dani unless he thought it was her fault.”

“But, okay, it’s done.”

“I still need to see her.”

Celia: “I know. I was trying to arrange that for tonight. Hence the dinner.”

“She really… really thinks he doesn’t like her, Roderick.”

GM: “‘Loves’ is usually the word we use with parents. But of course he loves her.”

Celia: “No. I mean like. She keeps saying that he wishes she were dead. That she’s not as good as you. That he’d trade you out in a heartbeat.”

GM: Roderick clears his throat unnecessarily.

“All right. You know what? She’s right. She is honestly probably right. Dad… probably would pick me over her.”

Celia: “Oh.”

GM: “We talked once about how parents have favorites. How your mom probably would pick you over any of her other kids. Except maybe Lucy.”

“Well, my dad has favorites too. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t love her. He loves her very much. It’s just… like everything, it comes in degrees.”

“On the other hand, I’m pretty sure our mom loves Dani more than me. I’m fine with that. I’ve made my peace with it. I love my dad more than my mom too, if I’m being honest. Probably by a way larger margin than my dad loves me over Dani. But we can’t let what’s going on in someone else’s head define us.”

Celia: “She hasn’t.”

GM: “Am I being an asshole?”

Celia: “For admitting that your dad loves you more than her? No. You’re being honest.”

“You can be an asshole, though.”

GM: “Okay. I can live with that too.” He gives a faint smile.

“I’d like to help Dani, obviously. But I’m not sure what to do about it.”

“Though, honestly, her self-esteem and family issues are somewhat less pressing right now than her being duskborn in a city that puts them to death.”

“I still need to see her tonight. When can you arrange that?”

Celia: “So you can get her out?”

GM: “And because I’d like to talk to the sister who’s thought I’m dead for years, yes.”

Celia: Celia winces.

GM: “I’ve waited, Celia. I’ve been patient.”

Celia: “I know. I’m sorry. Shit blew up in my Requiem. I’m not trying to put you off.”

GM: “I don’t think you are. But tonight.”

Celia: “After Elysium, then, I guess.”

GM: “Would you feel safer if I skipped it for you? I had some things to do there, but nothing that can’t wait until Friday.”

Celia: “More duels?” Celia wiggles her brows at him.

GM: “I’ll just say they’re a good way to burn off aggression and get kudos for it,” he smirks.

Celia: “Mm, plus it gets me all hot and bothered thinking about you fighting for me.” She smirks. “But if I do ask you to stay, am I pulling you away from anything exciting?”

GM: Less hot than him.

Celia: He’s cold.

Very cold.

It’s a different way to burn.

God, what she’d give to know he’d fight for her.

Didn’t he do that last night?

Doesn’t that count?

GM: He severed some fingers. It was a brief fight. But still, technically, a fight.

“Get into a fight with someone, then, and you can name me as your champion in a duel. Or I can challenge them for trash-talking you. Happy to defend your honor anytime.”

“But like I said. There’s nothing I’m not happy to postpone until next week if you’d feel safer.”

Celia: “You don’t trust me,” she says quietly, pushing the thoughts of him (and him) fighting against some giant monster to come to her rescue from her mind.

GM: “What?” he frowns. “Why do you say that? Of course I trust you.”

“I’ve trusted you for nights with my newly-Embraced duskborn sister.”

Celia: “You didn’t have much of a choice,” Celia points out. “I already knew about her. I’m the one who told you about her. I’m the one willing to watch over her and make sure she’s fed and safe and call in favors for her.”

She forces the air from her lungs in a long exhale that’s almost a sigh.

“I know who you were, Roderick. But I don’t know who you are. It’s been years and I feel like you’re a stranger. I love you, but I don’t know anything about you. I don’t know how you spend your time or who your friends are or what you even do for work. I ask and you play coy about it, and I just… want to share things with you. I’m over here blabbing about… about everything, and when you don’t share it… it feels like you don’t trust me, like I’m just another lick to you, and that hurts. I want you to be with me. Not to half be with me.”

GM: “I do trust you,” he answers in a half-defensive and half-hurt voice. “I’ve told you stuff that would get me in an insane amount of trouble with Coco, with all of the primogen. I could find Dani, if I wanted to. But I trust you to look after her, I trusted you to be maybe the first vampire she ever met, to basically be her sire, despite how much I’ve wanted to see her! Do you have any idea how badly I have? To see she’s okay with my own eyes, to finally drop the lie that I’m dead, to actually talk to someone who cared about me when I was Stephen? That’s how much I trust you!”

“I brought you back to my haven. I killed someone for you, when I swore I’d never do that! I actually made a promise. I’d ask if you knew that, but of course you don’t. I didn’t tell anyone except Coco, because they’d laugh at me. But the first time I saw a lick leave a dead body, the first time I really understood this is what we were, I went to my grandfather’s grave and I swore before it that I would never kill. That I would continue to abide by the law, and subordinate my Beast to the institution that my family so cherishes, that we’ve spent our lives in the service of. Killing was my line in the sand, and I broke it, for you. I cut apart corpses and dumped them off the side of a boat like a mobster. I let you see how I feel about that. I let you see how much I hated being celebrated for it at Elysium. I’ve told you about my fights with my sire, I’ve told you about the things she’s done, I’ve told you how I don’t trust her with Dani. All of this, despite you working for an elder who’s only one step better than a mobster. That’s how much I trust you.”

His voice is a little stiff. “I’m sorry if you don’t feel like I share anything important with you.”

Celia: It would be easy for her to play the victim here. Easy to dig into something deeper than where he’s gone, to accuse him of deflecting, to cry into his shoulder that he thinks she’s stupid, that he’d even said as much the other night. That Dani isn’t the only one who had cared about him as Stephen.

That maybe he should have left her for the hunters if he feels so bad about it because at least then she wouldn’t fuck up everything in the rest of her Requiem.

But she’s tired of that mask, and it’s never been that effective with him anyway.

Her arms go around him at his words. She hugs him fiercely, putting every single bit of her that has ever loved him into it. She’s here, it says. She’s got him.

She never wanted this life for him. She’d thought that he’d be safe from it if she kept him away.

“I’m sorry,” she says at last, words muffled by the way she tucks her face against him. “I didn’t mean it like that. I’m… exhausted. Overwhelmed. I wanted to bring you in to see them both and give you something to be happy about after all this shit and then everything got ruined. I hate disappointing you.”

GM: Celia closes her eyes and sees her sire’s face.

He doesn’t make her deal with all of this bullshit.

He fixes her problems, not causes them.

He doesn’t imply she’s stupid.

He isn’t afraid to kill when he has to.

He doesn’t need her to wear any masks or tell any lies.

He’s not in love with the memory of a girl who’s been dead for seven years.

Roderick sighs and holds her close against him, running one hand through her hair.

“It’s okay. I never had any expectation I was going to see my dad again, Celia.”

“The whole thing probably would’ve been bittersweet anyway. ’d have still been dead in his eyes.”

“And I can get how it doesn’t feel like we’ve talked about a lot of normal stuff, either. Interests, friends, mundane jobs.”

“Because honestly, we haven’t. Too many crises going on.”

Celia: Well. That’s not entirely true.

He’d called her stupid the night he’d thrown her mom off the roof.

And foolish last night.

But he’d corrected her behavior and course corrected so that it never happens again, so she forgives him.

She’ll always forgive him.

“I still thought you might have enjoyed it. Wanted to do something nice for you.” Doesn’t matter, though, since it all blew up in her face following one bad interaction. There’s a bitter taste in her mouth.

“And… yeah. Exactly. I’d, like, love to have one normal night where fifteen things don’t demand my attention and we can just go out and be normal.”

GM: “You’re right, I would’ve. But we can still reschedule dinner.”

Celia: “Is it weird with my mom being a ghoul now? He’ll be the only one not in the know.”

GM: “Emily and Lucy don’t count?” he asks with some amusement, but then it dies. “I hope you aren’t ghouling them too.”

Celia: “God, no.”

GM: “Especially Lucy, I don’t need to say what that’d do.”

Celia: “That’s… a really gross thought. I’d never do that to her.”

GM: “It is, yeah. But some licks actually do it.”

Celia: Flannagan does it.

GM: “Chastain’s herald used to look even younger than she does now.”

Celia: “Mm, I know.” She’s supposed to help fix that.

GM: “She was supposed to be only six or so. That’s just so fucked up.”

He shakes his head. “But whatever. Dinner with us, our parents, Dani, and two normals is still a nearly 1:1 ratio of breathers to night-folk.”

Celia: “The good news, y’know, is that when your dad isn’t there and it’s just my mom and I or my mom and us we don’t have to force down food anymore. Silver linings.”

GM: “Ah. Actually… don’t tell anyone this, but it doesn’t taste that bad for me.”

Celia: “Oh. Well. I’m jealous.”

GM: “I still have to throw it up. I can’t actually digest it. Which kind of takes away from the experience.”

Celia: “But it’s not a complete waste.”

GM: “Speaking of, I suppose your mom knows to stop cooking for you now, at least.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “That’s something. It had to have made dinners pretty annoying.”

Celia: “I’ve been on so many ‘fad diets’ over the years and she still managed to guilt me into it. Emily tore into me the other night about it.”

GM: “Your bad luck to have a doctor in the family. Though I actually don’t think they learn very much about nutrition in med school.”

Celia: “It’s like two classes, but yeah. She thinks she pretty much knows everything about the body because she’s almost done with school.”

As if she’s ever really torn into one to see what it’s all about.

GM: “I’d doubt that, honestly. I was only able to appreciate just how much I didn’t know about the law when I finished law school. Medicine is just as vast a field.”

“Anyway, though. I can plan a date for us, once things are settled. Something fun and normal-feeling to celebrate getting back together.”

Celia: “I’d like that.”

GM: “Me too. Tonight, I’m ready to see my sister.”

Celia: “After Elysium.”

GM: “Okay, you can text me where and when.” His voice gets abruptly bitter. “How’d Savoy take my boon?”

Celia: “Oh. Do you not want me to smuggle you in? I thought we’d meet here and I could take you.”

GM: “I’m paying to walk in, aren’t I?”

“Though I suppose hiding that I’m here is still a good idea.”

Celia: “That’s what I meant. Not from him. From… your side. And everyone else.”

GM: Roderick doesn’t look happy.

“Yeah.”

He sighs. “Anyway. You still want me to keep an eye on Benson for you at Elysium?”

Celia: “I was going to ask if you’d give her something for me, but then I thought about them coming after you instead.” Celia sighs. “I hate this.”

GM: “Me too. Maybe find another go-between. She’s in the Invictus. You tight with any of them?”

Celia: No one she’s going to mention to Roderick.

GM: “Or any Malkavians.”

Celia: “Preston and I braid each other’s hair on the regular.”

GM: “Color me surprised. I think I’ve only ever seen her with the same ponytail.”

Celia: “…I was kidding.”

GM: “I was too. I couldn’t ever see her doing that. It’d mean removing the stick from her ass.”

Celia: “Oh, no, she cemented it up there.”

GM: “We actually probably could do that,” he says with a faint chuckle. “Anyway. We both have a lot to do. Text me if you need anything, all right, or if there’s any news with Benson? I don’t want you or any of your people getting hurt in a feud with her.”

Celia: “Oh.” Celia checks the time. “I thought we could kill another twenty minutes together against that wall over there.” She nods toward the spot in question.

GM: He gives another faint laugh. “You’re insatiable.”

But then his hands are over her body, appreciatively roaming her curves and squeezing her breasts as his lips meet hers.

Celia: Insatiable or treacherous. But this, at least, she knows how to do.

How do you fuck up fucking, right?

It’s not the same as kissing her sire. Roderick is too warm, too soft, too… not what she wants. Not what she really wants. But he’s what she has, and she’s always been so good at pretending; her clothes come off and spill to the floor in a pool of fabric, then her hands are at his shirt, fingers making quick work of the buttons that keep him contained, sliding the material down his arms to reveal the broad shoulders and flat chest.

She can’t help but wonder what he looks like without clothes on. She’s only ever seen his bare arms. More muscular than this, she remembers that much.

She distracts herself with his belt, then the buttons on his pants, and finally she’s sliding down onto her knees in front of him to take him into her mouth.

GM: He’s definitely buffer than he was alive. Say what Celia may about Coco, the elder Brujah made sure her childe entered the Requiem in peak condition.

“Already owe you one…” he smiles, but he doesn’t stop her as he sinks back onto the couch.

Celia: She prefers not to think about Coco when she has Roderick laid out in front of her. Or ever, really. She might have been able to like the bitch if he’d ever shut the fuck up about her. Now that the collar has snapped, though, she feels nothing but contempt.

She’s not half as obsessed with her sire as Roderick is.

Celia has done this for him enough times that it doesn’t take long to get him where she wants him, and soon enough he stiffens under hand and mouth. It’s not quite the same as normal; or at least, everything until the end is just the same as he likes it, and only when she hears that intake of breath—he doesn’t need to breathe but they both get like this when they fuck—she finally brings her fangs to bear. They sink into his flesh, a quick nip that lets her bring his blood into her mouth. She isn’t concerned about protection anymore, but she hesitates just long enough to make him think she might be before she swallows it.

GM: It’s a comforting thought that she isn’t.

Roderick gives a sharper intake of breath as her fangs piece his manhood, but soon enough a velvety bliss superior to any cum floods Celia’s mouth. Rod say something about “taking way longer than 20 minutes if we need to shower off…” but appears all-too aroused by the thought of his lover swallowing something out of his cock, still. She’d wanted to spit it out the first time she pleased him with her mouth.

Roderick kisses her vitae-stained lips when she’s finished, then lifts her up onto the couch, hands gripping her under her elbows like she’s nothing, then busies his head between her legs. He alternates between licking, inserting fingers, nipping her pubic mound, and more licking there after the blood has time to cool. For all that Celia might prefer her sire to please her there, 20 minutes still pass all-too quickly. Roderick carefully gets her clean and sneaks in a few extra minutes enjoying that.

Celia: She gives him the chance to do it on his own. To slip up when he bites, to drink before it has a chance to cool. But whatever he does with his fingers and tongue isn’t nearly as toe-curling as it had been prior when they hadn’t needed to worry about the bond, and while she gets there—he always makes sure she gets there—it isn’t what she really wants. So in the shower she takes him again, bringing him into her body with her legs around his waist and her back pressed against the tile.

The way the shadow could have taken her if it hadn’t been busy tearing her throat and belly open. Maybe she’ll give him a second chance to get it right now that she knows what sort of kinky shit he’s into.

And while he’s buried in her, while he thrusts hard enough to make her forget her own name, she traces the points of her fangs against his skin and then finally into him, using the sensual bliss it creates to mask the way she leaks the blood from down below the way Veronica had taught her to covertly bind someone.

GM: Roderick initially protests the shower, saying the whole point of not doing too much “blood sex” was to keep clean-up simple, but he folds quickly and soon his cock is buried to the hilt inside her as the glass fogs. They both love this position. Roderck tells her to put her arms around him too, and wraps his around hers, holding her aloft and half-pressed against the tile as he pumps back and forth. Maybe he’s not Donovan, but he’s so strong, and she’s so light in his arms with her extraneous organs removed. He doesn’t notice the way her presence settles over him like a blanketing haze. He doesn’t notice the way he breathes her in through very his pores. He’s so close to her. So enraptured by her. So turned on by her. If only he knew how Veronica taught her that connection is a backdoor in. How there’s no need to shove your blood down someone’s throat if they’re hot enough for you. Everyone says Toreador are such vapid sluts, but let them laugh, Veronica had sneered. Emotions are their own pathways, she’d explained, their own veins and capillaries. The blood drains from Celia’s veins and her lover doesn’t even see it pass invisibly into this. Doesn’t see how her Beast purrs in satisfaction and doesn’t punish her for what she’s done. It likes this. It approves.

It’s what her sire would have done.

It’s what Veronica would have done. (And almost certainly has done, many times.)

It’s what so many licks she knows would have done.

Except Roderick.

Even beaming down at her, his eyes shining with affection brighter than ever before.

She’s pretty sure this is something he’d never have done.

“I really love you…” he whispers, pressing his lips to hers.

Celia: The words break her heart.

What she has done breaks her heart.

She shouldn’t have needed to do this. They’d had a special night planned, for when they took the second drink from each other without protection, and now that second drink will be tonight while he is unawares; she’ll never tell him what she’s done, how she’s slipped the noose around his neck without him knowing, but she’ll know that she allowed politics to ruin what should have been a special, intimate moment between them.

She shouldn’t need to trick him into loving her. She just wants him to love her without it. She wants someone, anyone, to love her for her.

He had. Before. When he hadn’t been bonded to her, when they were human, when they had rekindled their relationship only nights ago, he’d loved her for her.

He wouldn’t love her if he knew the truth, and her heart breaks for it. The water washes away the bloody tears on her cheeks, so easy to explain as overwhelming happiness at his declaration. She kisses him soundly, moving with him, losing herself to the rapture of their intertwined bodies to ignore the cracking of her heart.

“I love you too,” she whispers back.

She tastes the lie on her tongue.

Blueberry.


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Story Thirteen, Genevieve I, Sterling I

“I’m going to make you the luckiest ghoul in New Orleans. If you’ll let me.”
The Man With The Silver Smile


Wednesday, 13 February 2013, AM

Sterling: It’s a nice place.

It’s nicer, than anywhere her last owner could have stayed. Would have stayed? Doesn’t matter. That monster liked to squat, didn’t see much use for finer things.

This monster has finer things to give away. The apartment in Marigny doesn’t look heavily lived in. It has all the trappings of modern life, all the nice things an apartment is supposed to have; a big, expensive-looking television, what looks like a painting on the far side, sleek hardwood floors, stairs leading to an upstairs loft in the corner, and even one of those sculptures in the corner; the ones that exist contorted into an untenable, unending state.

Just like her.

“Welcome to your new home,” the monster says after giving her a moment to take it in.

Pic.jpg
“I just bought it. Don’t recall how much it cost. Actually, I don’t think I asked. People make such a fuss about the price, but I saw it and had a feeling I would have a use for it soon. So I said, ‘I want it.’ And then I saw your face, and I knew why. You can decorate it however you like, of course. You’ll be the one staying her, most of the time. And it’s right near my other place, or one of them, so we’ll never be too far.”

He strolls in, brandishing the silver-headed cane he carries about the place. He talks with his hands, vividly, almost ceaselessly, his movements flowing like molten steel that’s been poured into the checker-patterned suit he wears, a contiguous, ceaseless ripple of motion that might spill at any moment and scald. Every once in a while, the foot of his cane strikes the hardwood floors softly, a dull thump that punctuates his more emotive exclamations.

When he reaches the center of the room, he pivots to face her, and smiles the smile that she wasn’t sure she had seen right the first time. It’s a smile too crooked to stay on a face, a smile that glints with cursed silver but hides the teeth she knows his kind keep in their mouths.

The smile is all she knows of him. The man with the silver smile has not given her a name yet, but he knows hers. He asked her owner.

“What do you think, Genevieve? Will it suit you?”

Genevieve: She is more akin to the statue in the corner than she will ever be to this… thing, all smiles and grand motions, incessant movement, ceaseless chatter. She is still. Her movements are minimal. She does not gawk at this new place, all wide eyed and craning necks, but looks instead with a flicker of her eyes.

They’re the only thing that give her away, those eyes, the only color in a field of white. Blue, gray, who can tell. Something soft or stormy. They dart around the room, taking it in, categorizing things into little columns to keep them straight. Her brain does it all without her noticing.

Its attention, though, is on the monster in the middle of the room. The tap, tap, tapping of his cane. Trouble, it says. Danger. Every alarm bell inside her head goes off at that smile.

It’s survival strategy, that stillness, brought on by years of experience. Not just with their kind but the ordinary people as well, the people with color in their skin and hair, the people who point, laugh, stare. It keeps her safe, lets her size them up, figure them out. Who can be mad at a marble carving?

A home. He’s giving her a home. A nicer apartment than she could have afforded before, even with two salaries. This has to be a trick. A joke. Any moment now he’ll laugh at her for thinking this is real.

“Yes.” Sir? Master? Lord on High? What sort of obsequious title does this creature demand?

It’s a yes that tells him to get it over with, to finish laughing, to ask how she could be so foolish as to think she deserved anything so nice as her own abode. Perhaps he’ll put her in a closet somewhere. Or throw a pillow over the softest spot of the hardwood floor.

Sterling: He clucks. “Good, good. If you decide it isn’t, we can always get you another.”

He is very quickly close to her—not blurring like quicksilver but simply too quick to step away from gracefully. Up close, she can look him in the eyes, eyes the color of dollar bills and snakeskins. He doesn’t look so cold as her last. His skin might be greyish, but he breathes in rushed little puffs, and blinks regularly.

He snaps his fingers in front of her eyes, breaking-glass loud and heart-attack quick.

Genevieve: She doesn’t do anything so mundane as stumble. She is too nimble for that, though not so immune to their—his—tricks that she does not react. She flinches. The heels of her feet leave the floor, weight shifting forward. Her shoulders lift a fraction of an inch, though her hands remain at her sides.

She tells herself she was just blinking, but her heart hammers away at her ribcage. Thump-thump. He can see the spot on her neck bounce, racing. It gives her away.

Sterling: “Oh, lovely,” he says simply, that smile returning. He’s positively giddy. “Brilliant. You’re strong. I suppose you must be, if you’ve survived a brute like him for so long.”

He whirls about and before she can regain her breath he’s reclining on the couch, fingers laced behind his head and the cane leaning against his leg.

“Hope it’s okay if I sit,” he says jovially. “You can, of course, join me. It’s your place, after all.”

Genevieve: If it’s her place, can she ask him to leave?

There’s a moment where she considers running. The door is right there. The thought is dismissed as soon as it occurs. She hesitates, eyeing the couch, considering his placement. Sit too close and it’s an open invitation, too far away and it’s a snub. Maybe the couch itself is a test and he’ll want to know what scum like her thinks she’s doing sitting on the furniture. It’s a game.

She hates games. The rules haven’t been explained; she’s off balance and she doesn’t like it.

Five short steps take her across the room to the couch and she sinks onto it as if she hadn’t just been debating the merits of where to place herself. Her feet stay flat on the ground, hands on her knees, back straight. She doesn’t want to look at him so her eyes stare straight ahead instead. She can’t help but think about the changes she would make if this were her place. Swap out the art. Find the support beams to add a hook, then a bar or rings. Pad the floor beneath it…

Dreaming is dangerous. She stops.

She should, she reflects, ask what he wants. What to call him. She opens her mouth to do so.

Sterling: “You could run,” the man with the silver smile says as she opens her mouth. “It would force me to do things I don’t want to do, and which you would enjoy even less. Please don’t. And I think padding the floor is a great idea. And maybe a rug, too. If you need encouragement.”

His voice is different. Before it was garrulous and gay, the voice of a socialite. Now it’s dryer, raspier, the voice of a smoker who started young and kept on smoking as he got older. There’s warmth in that voice, but also amusement.

Genevieve: He’s in her head.

The realization slams into her. She shouldn’t be surprised. He had done it too. Watched her dreams. Found out what would make her break, who he could threaten—her thoughts spin away from her before she can think his name or picture his face.

Her pulse jumps up. She swallows, the sound audible in the otherwise silent room.

“I wasn’t going to run.” She moves on, drowning out the lie with a question. “What do you want with me?”

Sterling: “There’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” he says in that same wizened voice. “I’d think about running, too, if I were you. But then, I’ve always had an appetite for risk.” Those money-colored eyes twinkle. “As for you—I daresay I’ve already done what I want to you. I’ve rescued you.”

Genevieve: Rescued. As if he hadn’t just stuck her into another cage.

“A gilded cage is still a cage. ‘Rescued’ implies freedom.” She looks pointedly at the door.

Sterling: The giggle that greets her words is several octaves too high, and it ricochets about her ears impossibly. The man raises an eyebrow. “And what do you think freedom means for you now, in this city? Tell me, doesn’t a part of you long to seek out your abuser, even now? Long to be fed, even if that feeding is followed by a beating? I can smell sin, Gen—shall I call you Gen? I think I shall— and pain, and you have the reek of an addict. I could no more set you free than I could save a dope fiend from themselves.There is no such thing as freedom for a ghoul in New Orleans, or anywhere else my kind hunt. Not really.”

The dry, scraped voice turns somber. “Your boldness does you credit, though. You really were a prize worth winning.”

Genevieve: A prize. A rescue. That’s what she is now. Something to be won, bartered, traded. Bought and sold to the highest bidder, and she has no say in it.

Slave. That’s all the word ghoul means. A pretty way to say slave, another term for punching bag.

Fetch my meal. Carve it up. There’s a sweetheart.

She wants to deny his addict accusation, but his words ring true. How often had she debased herself for a drop of it? Even now she’s thinking about it. Running back to him. His eyes float in front of her, mocking.

She turns her head to finally look directly at this new one, sizing him up. He’s fast, but is he strong? Cane implies weakness. Assisted walking. Had he used it to walk, or is it just a prop?

“That’s what rehab is for.”

Sterling: He didn’t seem to be leaning on it, earlier. “Do you think you can find a rehab for the wayward slaves of vampires? Besides, I am a monster myself, and I have duties to my kind, tedious as I might find them. My old man would have a fit if he learned I had turned a renfield loose so cavalierly. No, Gen, I would much rather employ you generously myself. I think if you really took the time to think about it, you’d prefer that too.”

Genevieve: Her lips curl. “Employ?”

“Is that what you’re calling it these days?”

Sterling: “Such moxie,” the vampire sighs. “Such honesty. Yes, I am another domitor. But I am a gentler and more generous one. Cruelty for cruelty’s sake bores me terribly. I would much rather pamper you and reward you for loyal, faithful service. And though I am a beast, I am also a man. Better a servant rescued from a cruel master than one enslaved for no good but my own whims, hmm? It wears rather lighter on my conscience, inasmuch as I bother to carry one.”

Genevieve: He’d rescued her to feel good about himself. Her nose twitches in withheld amusement. She stays silent, considering. Then, “you meant it about this being my place. That wasn’t a game?” How far does generous go? Actual meals? Days off? Familial—no.

Sterling: “Oh, it’s all a game,” he croons. "But it’s one you’re meant to have fun in. This is your home, now, for as long as you serve me or grow tired of it. And how far generous goes… " he smiles slightly. “If you ask, many things might be given. I’ll tell you what. If you come sit on my lap, I’ll pretend to be Santa and we’ll call it Christmas. I like saying yes. It’s rather a thrill.”

“Or you could stay where you are. There’s no game without choice, after all.”

Genevieve: Any warmth in her eyes dies at the thought of touching him. She turns her face away, chin jerking toward the door.

“If it’s my home, I’d like you to leave.”

Say yes to that, deadman.

Sterling: He laughs. “Cute. So cute. How about we play a game, instead?”

There’s a blur of checkers, and then there’s a glass in his hand. A glass filled with red, syrupy, coppery sweetness. The smell is intoxicating.

The man who is no mere man smiles knowingly at her as he daintily licks his wrist clean. "I bet that you can’t walk me to the door without trying to take a sip. If you win, I’ll go. If you lose… " he tilts his head. “Well. If you lose, let’s just say there’s more where that came from, hmm?”

Genevieve: She’s not listening. Her eyes are on the glass in his hand. Her mouth is dry, so dry, and that will quench it. That will make everything better. That will fix the dull ache inside her chest, the one that started when she’d been told she belonged to someone else now.

If he goes, will he leave the glass? The door can’t be that far. She tears her eyes away from him to find it. When had the room gotten so big? It’s zooming away from her, like something out of a horror movie.

She thinks he moved, too. Gotten closer. Because she can smell it, can almost taste it. That’s not fair. That’s not fair, he cheated—but, no, it’s just her who’s leaning forward, reaching.

She rights herself. Shakes her head. If she’s on his lap she can pin him down. Drink until she’s full. Is the gamble worth it? Is touching him worth it?

She stands.

“Door,” she says tightly, pointing.

Sterling: He smiles, silver teeth flashing, and rises too, proffering his arm—the same arm that holds the glass. “If you’ll walk me.”

Genevieve: She can touch his arm. Arms are fine. Arms aren’t laps. Right? She takes his arm in her hands. So close to the cup, to that sweet red. A sip wouldn’t hurt. Just a taste. He’s quick, though. Is he going to snatch it away? No, he wants her to reach for it.

She tells her feet to move but they won’t. They’re stuck. Heavy. Her eyes close and that makes it worse, because now she’s picturing it, can see herself lifting the glass to her lips. It’s heavy in her hand, warmed by the blood. It will slide so smoothly down her throat…

She doesn’t know when she moved, when her hands closed around the glass, but now she isn’t imagining it in her hands, now her fingers are curling around it and she’s tugging to get it away from him.

Sterling: He lets her take it. A part of him feels bad for her, but better she find out this way than another.

She cannot be free from herself.

The taste is phenomenal, and distinct from her usual “drinks.” His blood makes her hear dice rolling, tastes like all the icons in a slot machine aligning. It tastes like victory, like a kiss from lady luck, like everything is going to be alright.

She lost the bet. But she feels like a winner.

He regards her patiently when the last sip is gone, her lips streaked with his vitae. “Well, now. It seems I’ll be staying a while longer.”

He takes her hands in his and leads her to the couch.

“I’m going to make you the luckiest ghoul in New Orleans,” he clucks softly. “If you’ll let me.”

Genevieve: It’s like that first sip of water after being lost in a desert for months. Divine. It doesn’t linger long on her lips once the glass is empty; she licks them clean, following along with him to the couch. She hadn’t gotten far. One step? Two? She doesn’t pull away, sits when and where he tells her to.

“You said more,” she reminds him.

Sterling: “More?” he asks teasingly, pulling her over his lap, bouncing his knee under her. He taps a finger against her nose, like he might a beloved dog. “What more? Is Gen suddenly thirsty, even in her gilded cage?”

His voice grows deeper, warmer, more rumbling.

Like a belly full of jelly.

“What would you like for Christmas, little Gen?” asks Santa’s voice.

Genevieve: It’s not fair. She wants more. Will her teeth break his skin?

“401k, paid vacation, no holidays, dental and vision included?” Her tone is dry. She arches one white-blonde eyebrow at him. “Should I ask for a pony instead?”

Maybe she can try it. Just bite down. She’s already on his lap. She leans in.

Sterling: He laughs.

“HO HO HO!”

He bounces her closer as she leans in, so that she’s right next to his cold neck. She can even feel an uneven, but definite pulse there. “Hard to give a 401k to an immortal, little Gen. And that’s what you’ll be. Paid vacation, sure. Pony, what breed? Ask me for something real, Gen. Something precious.”

He runs his fingers through her hair fondly.

Genevieve: “Diamonds, gold, a yacht. A rocket ship.” Nothing she wants. Just a distraction, something to keep him busy. His neck is right there. Isn’t that the place to bite? Her flat teeth touch down on his cold flesh. Only she doesn’t have anything to break the skin. She doesn’t have fangs. She’s just a ghoul on the lap of a vampire who can read her mind.

Her mouth closes.

She wants to forget the past few years ever happened. She wants to be happy and healthy. She wants her husband, and she wants him to be left alone. She wants the child she had promised him seven years ago. She wants a lock on her bedroom door that this one can’t get through.

She doesn’t say any of that. She doesn’t know how.

She nips at his neck instead.

Sterling: She nips. She can feel his laughter, a low rumble, but it fades quickly. His fingers don’t stop, but they start to caress her cheeks, her forehead. “You want to see your husband? Want him provided for and safe?”

He slips a finger to her lips, almost hushing her. “The neck has tougher flesh than a finger, you know.”

Genevieve: She’s brought back to that time, months ago, it was her finger against his lips. She’d had a dream he didn’t like. He’d heard her crying, hadn’t liked it. He’d—

She yanks away. There’s nothing graceful about it.

Sterling: He lets her, regards her sadly. “Oh, Gen. I’m not going to hurt you.”

Genevieve: Her laugh is nothing more than a disbelieving rasp. “You will. Of course you will. That’s what I’m here for. That’s all I am.” She backpedals. The ground is hard beneath her. Her shoulder hits the coffee table and she winces, rising, edging around it. The door is close. She can get outside. Scream. He was fond of telling her she had a nice set of lungs.

Sterling: “Oh, bother.” He’s past her quickly, between her and the door. “Remain still and silent,” He tells her, and she finds that she does.

“Bother, bother,” the man hums. “Don’t overexert yourself. You’ve had enough for one night, and I have other places to be anyways. I won’t chase you from your new home.”

He carries her. He’s a bit of a scrawny man—more than a bit, a stiff wind ought to bruise him—but he isn’t weak, and he carries her up the stairs to a nicer bedroom than she’s been in in years. He tucks her in, saying soothing things, and then he leans over her. She feels the bite, two pinpricks on her neck, and then the pleasure of his steady, soft pulling from her veins.

When he stops, she’s exhausted, and her eyes are fighting to remain open. “The command will desist with the sun,” she heats him say from a great distance. “I’ll be back tomorrow night, and we’ll play something innocent. I’ll give you time. You’ll adjust. I promise.”

He bends over her again, his lips brushing her forehead. “Try to sleep, Genevieve. And here’s a little apology.”

She can’t see what he does, but when he presses his wrist to her lips, she can drink of the same heady brew he shared earlier.

But this time, when it’s over, his smile swims before her eyes, and it seems rather more charming, marginally less sinister.

“Sleep, little pet. Little Gen. There are a great many clouds in your life, I know.” His voice retreats to the far side of the room. “But I hope in time, you’ll see me as what I am; the silver lining.”

The door shuts behind him. She’s left alone, in the dark, with a comfortable bed.

She’s left alone, in the gilded cage.


Wednesday, 13 February 2013, PM

Genevieve: She’s waiting for him the next evening.

She’s seated on the couch, her eyes on the door, waiting. It’s locked, but there’s no part of it that doesn’t think that he doesn’t have a key or another way in. So she sits, and she waits, and she doesn’t dread his arrival.

She has changed since last night. Her hair is still wet from her shower, her skin still pink from the heat of it. That’s the excuse she’ll use for her red eyes, too, if he asks, though she doesn’t think that he will. The clothes are the right size for her; she’d found them upstairs in the closet, and she wondered how he knew. They’re comfortable. Let her put her bare feet on the couch. The TV is black, but music plays from the radio in the corner, nothing she’s familiar with. She keeps hearing songs she doesn’t recognize.

There’s a piece of paper and a pen in front of her, words scribbled across the page in handwriting that can only be described as “rough.” It’s the list he asked for yesterday, the things she wants. She doesn’t know if the offer is still on the table.

Maybe he’ll know that she tried to run. Maybe he’ll look into her mind and see Michael with the other woman, the beautiful woman, with her tan skin and her dark hair and her eyes that aren’t too far apart, her shoulders that aren’t too broad. Maybe he’ll see the child they share, the one she couldn’t give him.

Maybe she won’t have to explain her broken heart.

Sterling: She’s right that he has a key. He blinks when he walks in.

“And here I was expecting you’d have run. Glad I checked.”

He strolls in, but doesn’t make himself comfortable. He regards her, maybe reading her mind or maybe just watching.

“You seem calmer,” he says finally. “How have you found this place? Will it suit you?”

Genevieve: She gestures vaguely toward the couch. He might as well have a seat; it’s silly to pretend that he doesn’t own this place, that he couldn’t just take it back from her on a whim. She knows what she is.

“I had a home in the city once. It wasn’t this nice.” Her eyes dart toward the statue, the art on the walls. None of it is to her taste. “Is redecorating still on the table?”

Sterling: “Of course.” He rummages in a pocket and suddenly holds a sleek, silver card between his fingers, which he offers to her. “I took the liberty of setting you up with an expenses account. I expect two hundred ought to do for the year, but let me know if you need more.”

Genevieve: Two hundred might replace her wardrobe. If she’s thrifty. There’s a secondhand store down the street she can visit. She takes the card from him, setting it on the table next to her list. A second later she crosses spending money off her list.

“Do I have a job to do? Fetching dinner?”

Sterling: He snorts. “What, hunting? Only if I’m particularly lazy. No, I see you in more of an… assistant capacity. You’ll manage some of the things I’m too bored to, help clean up when things get messy, and perhaps carry the occasional message. More than that… what are your skills? Talents?” He waves a hand that glitters with rings. “I could delve through your mind, of course, but I rather prefer to have a conversation.”

He comes closer and eyes the list. “Why’d you cross that off? Does two hundred grand go a shorter way than it used to?”

Genevieve: “…you said two hundred.”

Sterling: He looks offended. “What am I, a coal miner?”

Genevieve: “You’re giving me a card. With a limit of two hundred thousand?”

He’s insane.

Sterling: "Like I said, if you need more… " He shrugs. “Like I was saying last night, you people get so worked up about price. It all comes around, in the end. That’s just a week or two’s winnings, honestly. Besides, you’ll probably be in charge of managing my finances soon enough if you’re adept at that sort of thing. I’d rather pay you the money than encourage you to embezzle it.”

Genevieve: He has to be kidding. This is a joke. There’s no way that he’s just handing over that much money, that much responsibility. He doesn’t even know her. She could clear out the account, buy a plane ticket, be halfway around the country before he even knows.

“Winnings.” He’d won her, too. “You gamble?”

Sterling: He smiles at her roguishly. There’s some charm in it, now that she’s tasted him. “I play, yes. And I’ve made quite a career out of it.”

The man takes a seat next to her, leaning forward on his cane. “I don’t need to poke my fingers in your mind to know what you’re thinking. But money itself means next to nothing to me. And besides, if you were going to run, you would have already. I’m confident that you’ll stick around long enough to appreciate your new situation.”

Genevieve: Her eyes close. She takes a breath. It’s deep, in through the nose, out through the mouth. She has to tell him. Be honest. Otherwise he’ll find out, then it’ll be worse. She opens her eyes again but doesn’t look at him. She’s staring down at her list. How silly it seems now.

“I did run.”

Sterling: “Oh? Where to?”

Genevieve: “I can’t tell you.”

Sterling: He rolls his eyes. “Won’t, you mean.”

Genevieve: Her lips press together. She nods.

Sterling: “Look, Gen, I don’t know how much you know about my kind. Especially living among the Sabbat. But I’m sure I don’t have to point out that I’ve been exceedingly genteel with you. Yes?”

Genevieve: “Yes.” Her voice is tight. Her muscles are already tensing in anticipation.

Sterling: “And there you go. There’s no other shoe that you haven’t seen waiting to drop. No chopper coming to chop off your head. You might think I rescued you from my less cultured cousin for my own moral vanity, and you’d be right. I’m a monster, and I’m not pretending not to be. But what you don’t seem to appreciate is how I have absolutely no desire to threaten you into obedience. There are a thousand and one ways I could have done so already. Tell me, if you think I was interested in tormenting you, there is anything at all you could reasonably do to stop me?”

Genevieve: “No.” That’s the truth. He’s a vampire. She’s a human. Ghoul. Slave, whatever. He’s in charge. Stronger, faster, smarter. Immortal. She’s breakable, frail. He can read her mind. She can… do a back bend. She bets he can’t do a back bend. But that isn’t the purpose of this.

“I spent years with them. Everything I did was wrong. Every word was wrong, every action was wrong, every apology was wrong. I was—am—dirt. Less than. A literal punching bag. You bring me here. Expect me to accept that you’re not going to think of a new, creative way to break me.”

Sterling: “Oh, darling Gen. Why should I break you? You’ve been broken.”

Genevieve: “And you’re the superglue to his hammer?”

Sterling: “So much more fun to put you back together, isn’t it? I enjoy a challenge.”

Genevieve: “And what about when you get bored of that? Dissemble again? I’m not real to you people.”

Sterling: “Oh, who knows what the future holds? Well, some licks, probably, but I’m not one. I rather enjoy not knowing. Yes, there is a chance I will, for reasons inexplicable to myself now, decide to shatter you like an old toy. But now you are new, and shiny, and oh-so-fascinating. Live in the present, Gen. That’s all you have when you live forever.”

Genevieve: She doesn’t appreciate his cavalier attitude about shattering her. But that’s rule number one, then. Don’t let him get bored.

“I don’t live forever,” she points out. She’d seen enough of her kind come and go to know there is a very, very brief life expectancy.

Sterling: “You can,” he replies.

“If you don’t die, of course. But I’m rather invested in ensuring that you don’t.”

Genevieve: “I was married. Before this. I went to see him.”

“He moved on.”

“That’s where I went.”

Sterling: He stares into the middle distance for a moment.

“I’m sorry,” he says, in his real voice, the smoker’s rasp. “Sometimes our loved ones forget us. It hurts. I know.”

Genevieve: “I kept thinking if I got out he’d be waiting. We could go somewhere.” Her face doesn’t change, her voice doesn’t crack. There’s nothing to give away what she’s feeling inside. “But it doesn’t matter. He’s not.”

“I don’t want to run. I don’t have anywhere to go. It won’t happen again.”

Sterling: “I’m glad,” he says. “We’ll have more fun without you trying to make a break for it, anyways.”

Genevieve: “Who did you lose?” It’s none of her business. She asks anyway.

Sterling: “My wife. She didn’t handle what happened to me very well.”

“She’s in an institution, now.”

Genevieve: “Oh.” She hadn’t expected that. “I thought you weren’t supposed to tell people.”

Sterling: “We’re not,” he says quietly.

He grips his cane. “How much do you know of the Camarilla?”

Genevieve: “Stuck up. Better than everyone. Rules, rules, rules. Prince Yahoo and the Endless Titles.”

Sterling: “That is the big picture, yes,” he agrees. “I’ll take some time over the next few nights to teach you some of the finer points. If you embarrass me in public, I’m afraid I’ll have to punish you. So don’t.”

Genevieve: Rule number two, then. Her chin jerks downward in a nod.

“I don’t know your name.”

Sterling: The ghost of a smile haunts his face. “I have many, many names.”

“Among those I trust more than not, I go by Sterling.”

Genevieve: “Sterling.” She taps a finger against her lips. There’s no metal in her mouth, but she’d seen his. “Mister Sterling?”

Sterling: “If you like. Now, then. Tell me about that list of yours.”


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Story Thirteen, Celia I

“I want us to stay a family, okay?”
Diana Flores


Sunday morning, 13 March 2016

GM: The Beetle drives for a while. Lucy stops talking, perhaps having fallen asleep. Eventually, it pulls over.

“Oh, silly me, I don’t know where Randy lives,” laughs Diana. “I’ll text him now.”

She taps away into her phone.

When the ghoul doesn’t respond, they have to resort to ‘guesswork.’

“Lucy’s asleep,” Diana whispers as the car starts driving again. “I’m going to list off streets, give me one quiet mew to keep going, or two if that’s the one, okay?”

Celia: A tired meow sounds from the bag.

GM: “Okay, Esplanade… Baracks… Gov. Nichols… Ursuline…”

It takes some mewing, and some streets, until they narrow down which one Randy’s at, and then finally his address. Diana parks the car when the text arrives back from Randy.

“Oh, good, he knows we’re here, he can let us in…”

There’s movement. That cat feels itself being lifted into the air again as Diana shoulders the backpack. It’s even hotter inside now, like the car’s had its doors and windows shut for another few hours.

“Okay, Luce, let’s get on your shoes…” Diana says, bending to help the girl into them.

The trio walk towards the house, luggage rolling along with them. There’s more sounds, a door opening, and a, “Hey, Randy!” “Hey, Diana,” followed by what feels like a hug.

“Thanks for having us over on such notice.”

“Oh, well, whatever Celia wants. And hey to you too, Goose.”

“Hi, Randy,” Lucy says tiredly.

They make small talk until they make their way up to the house Randy and his brothers share. Celia helped them buy it. Rusty prefers to stay elsewhere, but they can all use the property when they need to.

“It’s, uh, a bit of a mess…”

“Oh, well, I guess that’s typical for young men,” Diana chuckles. “Can you look after Lucy for a bit? I need to unpack something.”

“Sure. You wanna watch TV a bit, Lucy?”

“This place is stinky,” says Lucy.

Celia: Inside the bag, the cat has to press its face into its paw to prevent a sound that might be a laugh.

Maybe Celia will keep Mabel on as a maid.

GM: “Oh, Luce, that’s…” Diana starts to gently chide.

“She’s, uh, right,” says Randy. “Sorry. It’s a bachelor pad.”

“What’s a bachelor pad?” asks Lucy.

“It’s where guys who aren’t married live,” answers Randy.

“Are you an’ Mommy gonna get married?” asks Lucy.

“Uh, don’t think your mom wants to marry me, kiddo,” chuckles Randy.

“I mean, Mommy Celia, duh. Are you an’ Mommy gonna get married?”

There’s a slightly too long and all-too uncomfortable pause at the child’s question.

“We’ll see,” Randy deflects. “So, you wanna watch some cartoons with me?”

“Okay.”

“Great. What’s your favorite channel?”

“Nothing with any violence, please,” requests Diana. Maybe she tussles Lucy’s hair here. “Okay, I’ll see y’all in a bit…”

There’s more movement, then a pause. “Okay, there’s a window here…” murmurs Diana, then more movement.

“Okay, safe.”

She turns, closes a door, and then there’s the click of a lock. The cat feels itself get set down on on a hard, tub-like surface, and then the backpack unzips.

“Hey, kitty-coo,” a kneeling Diana says with a faint smile, reaching to scratch the cat’s ears.

Celia: The cat crawls out of the bag once it’s unzipped, moving to dart away from the woman who reaches for it. Her fingers still catch the tufts of her ears, and the cat flicks its tail at her as it passes. Any other day, she thinks, she’d curl up on this lap and snooze. But not today. She’s injured, she’s hungry, she’s tired. She doesn’t want to risk anything.

Her form blurs and shifts and a second later the cat is gone, Celia in its place. Her eyelids don’t droop so much as hang over her eyes, and she wears the same wet clothing she’d vanished when she’d changed forms. She gives her mother a tired smile.

“Thanks, Mom. I’m sorry about today.” Her words come slowly, slurred. “M’tired. Need sleep. R’mind Randy. Cuffs. ’Kay? Tell him, hungry.”

There’s a cabinet under the sink she can shove herself in, she thinks.

GM: The bathroom, fortunately, has no windows. Less fortunately, it’s filthy. There’s hairs, stains, and crud everywhere, and a rime of something orange in the tub. Randy does not seem to practice very much bathroom hygiene.

Celia: Oh well. One day can’t kill what’s already dead.

GM: “It’s no problem, sweetie,” her mom says, a little lamely.

It’s obviously been a problem.

“Okay, cuffs, got it. I’ll tell him you’re hungry, too.”

“Do you need… blood?”

“If… you’re really hungry… if that’s how you eat… I could…”

She opens her mouth as if to say something, can’t seem to decide what, and then just motions at her neck.

Celia: Her lips lift at the corners, wry amusement clear on her face.

She almost says no.

She should say no. She can’t feed from her mother like that. But she’s hungry. And she needs to heal herself. And if she wakes up hungry and loses it again…

“Hangry,” she says to her mom, “y’know the term? Lose control. Like a… monster.”

It’s too far into the day to explain it all, but she tries. If her mom wants to feed her she’s not going to say no; Lord knows the woman would develop a complex about it if she did. Why isn’t my blood good enough for my baby? It’s like something out of a vampire soap opera.

The thought makes her giggle. Maybe she and Ron will make that some day.

She tells her mom if she’s serious, if she does want to help, to get Randy to contain her, then she can get a cup and fill it. Her and Randy and Reggie if he’s awake, just a little bit from each of them, and they can’t bring it into the bathroom or even bleed themselves until she’s been securely contained. Cuffs. Maybe one of them pinning her down; Reggie always liked being on top (not that she shares this with her mom).

She says, too, that she can explain the details of it when she wakes up tonight to forestall any questions.

GM: “Okay,” her mom nods at the explanation, though she doesn’t know the term ‘hangry.’ “If that’s what you need, sweetie, I am here for you. I don’t want you to go hungry.”

“I’ll go to tell Randy to get things ready… I’ll go watch Lucy, then I’ll… get things ready too.”

Celia: “Thanks, Mom. I know it’s… weird.”

GM: “Well, it’s…”

Her mother starts as if to assure her otherwise, then just offers with a hapless smile,

“…it’s what it is, I guess.”

Celia: It shouldn’t hurt, the thought that her mother might not accept her. But it does. Celia forces a smile and tries not to think about the fact that it’s too late to do anything about it now.

GM: “I’ll get you some blankies and pillows too, and some PJs… this is not a good place for you to sleep,” she says, eyeing the dirty bathtub critically.

“Okay, hang tight,” she says, rising. “I’ll be back in just a bit.”

Celia: One night she’ll explain that she’s technically dead during the day and won’t even feel it. She’s just too tired to do it right now.

She settles down to wait.

GM: Her mom walks out and closes the door behind her. Randy comes in after a moment with some handcuffs.

“Sorry it’s… dirty,” he apologizes lamely, taking one of Celia’s wrists and snapping the cuff around.

Celia: “Hey, Randy,” she says to him, voice soft. She holds out her hands so he can easily affix her with the restraints. “S’okay. Won’t even notice in a minute.”

GM: “Well, sorry anyway. Woulda cleaned it up if I knew you were gonna be spending the day here,” he says, snapping the other cuff around one of the bathtub’s faucets.

He gets out a second pair and snaps the first cuff around her other wrist.

Celia: Holding still for him now, watching him pull out the cuffs to keep her from losing her shit and ripping out someone’s throat, listening to him apologize for the state of his bathroom, as if she cares, as if any of it matters compared to the rest of what’s going on… if she had a heart left it might break. He sounds like her when she deals with her sire, apologizing for the fact that a Brujah had torn through her apartment, self-conscious about what he thinks about the state of her haven.

Is that how they all see her? Like she’s going to flip her shit over some muck in the bathroom? She appreciates cleanliness as much as the next non-Nosferatu, but she’s hardly offended or pissed off that his bathroom isn’t spotless.

“We should go out this week. Dancing. Racing. Something fun.”

GM: The second cuff goes around the bathroom’s other faucet.

“Yeah, that’d be fun,” smiles Randy. “I’ve taken you racing a bunch before, but not really clubbing. There’s a ton of clubs here in the Quarter. I mean, you know that, but there are.”

He produces a third pair and snaps its first cuff around an ankle.

Celia: “We’ll make it a wild night,” Celia agrees. There’s a pause, then, “take care of them, okay? All of them. Your brothers. ’Lana. Dani. My mom and Goose. I… I messed up last night, Randy, so just keep ’em safe.”

GM: “You bet, babe. They’re safe with me,” Randy nods, emphatically.

“Kay, this might be a bit uncomfy… I could tie your legs to the railing, or just cuff your ankles together.”

“Also, uh… someone fucked up your face, babe… lemme know who, I’ll beat the shit out of them for you?” he offers with a grin.

Celia: Celia smiles at the offer to beat someone up for her. She’s touched by it, though she doesn’t think Randy would fare very well against the person who did this to her.

“You’re a gem, Randy. Ankles together; Mom will have a cow if she sees me splayed open.”

“Gonna have you show me how to throw a better punch so this doesn’t happen.” She wiggles her fingers at her face, though cuffed as they are off to the side the effect is rather lost. Not that she thinks any number of lessons will ever keep her face intact if her sire wants to ruin it.

GM: “You bet,” Randy smiles again at the request. “You got good form. We just need to get in more practice. All it is.”

He cuffs her ankles together. Celia can still thrash and kick, but she can’t do it with separate legs.

“So, your mom knows…?”

Celia: “She, uh, she found out tonight. She’s in danger and I didn’t know how else to get her to listen to me. I… kind of panicked. I was going to give her blood so at least she’s not a breach, but I don’t… have any to spare right now. Tonight, later though.”

Until she figures something else out.

GM: “Oh,” says Randy. “Doesn’t that seem a little weird, your mom as a ghoul…?”

Celia: “Yeah. Yeah, it does.”

GM: “Well, it’s pretty…” He trails off.

“Am I still gonna be your boyfriend, if your family all knows…?”

Celia: “It’s not all my family. It’s just my mom. And… I don’t know. Do you want to be?”

GM: “Oh, yeah, I’d love to, babe!” he exclaims, eagerly. “I mean, I’d really… yeah. I’d love to be.”

He gives a wide, slightly buffoonish grin.

Celia: “Then we’ll figure it out and make it work.”

GM: He grins wider. “Great! We’ll make it work, babe.”

“We’ll, uh… we’ll have sex too, at some point?” he asks. Trying to sound casual.

Celia: If she weren’t burned, bleeding, and lying in a dirty tub she’d offer to fuck him now.

“Yes,” she says instead. “We’ll go out this week and have a real date. And sex.”

GM: “Oh, I… you’re the best, babe, just the best!” replies Randy, grinning from ear to ear.

“I’ll plan something, I’ll make it really really special.”

Celia: “I’d really like that.”

GM: “Me too! It’ll be great, you won’t forget it!” he exclaims, nodding eagerly.

Celia: “I’m looking forward to it.”

A nice human date is exactly the sort of thing she needs right now.

GM: Randy kisses her full on her bloody lips. He looks like he could stay there forever and only reluctantly takes his leave.

A little while passes. Celia feels her head drooping as the sun rises over the sky. It’d be so easy to just konk on, until her mom comes through the door.

She isn’t carrying a cup. She’s carrying a milk jug.

Red sloshes around inside. She hasn’t completely filled it, but she’s obviously bled herself far more deeply than just a cup. Her face is pale and her movements are sluggish.

“Here you go, sweetie… I have it here, instead of a cup… harder to spill…”

She sinks to her knees by the tub.

“Wish I’d brought one of… Lucy’s old sippy cups… harder to spill, too…”

Celia: “Mom…” the word is torn from her, half a groan, exasperated but also… also hungry. Very hungry. Eyeing the feast provided. “How much did you…?”

GM: “I’m gonna feed my baby…” Diana whispers, leaning heavily against the tub. Her eyes droop a little as she lifts up the jug. “Open up… sweetie…”

Celia: Her mouth opens without further protest, the greedy thing inside of her eager to slurp down the offering.

GM: Celia smells it first, when her mom unscrews the jug. That telltale coppery odor. Her fangs are out before she even registers them. Her mom lifts the jug to her lips. The taste hits her tongue. Oh, that taste. Pietro always say it’s worth getting them in the mood.

He’s so right.

The taste is warm and soft and brimming with love, the secret ingredient all licks want their vessels to have but none of them do. It fills her up like her mom’s chicken soup on a cold winter night. It makes her warm and whole. It nourishes her like all of the meals Diana’s wanted to cook for her baby. It lifts her up and takes her away from this dirty bathroom and all the stress and exhaustion and fear of the past night. It rolls over her tongue, and she’s whole.

In an instant, her Beast is loose, and she sees red.

An instant later, the red haze is gone. Celia still thirsts, tortuously. It burns her up inside. Her mom’s lying on the ground with the milk jug. Some of it has spilled. Her Beast seethes at the very thought. That stupid fucking woman. An apt descriptor from her dad.

It takes Celia a moment longer to recognize that her mom’s face is white with fear.

Celia: She tasted something like this once before. The night she ended things with Roderick—Stephen then—she’d tasted his love and concern for her. But even that had paled in comparison to the fare that hits her tongue. Even that hadn’t come close to this, hadn’t begun to blossom across her tongue like this. Everything else she’s ever tasted, every morsel of it, every red drop—none of it comes close. No Alana’s lusts, not Roderick’s peppery Brujah strength, not Randy’s slavish devotion, not her sire’s ice cold control.

This is love.

This is what love tastes like.

This is what people search for all their lives and never find, and here she has it in a milk jug in a dirty bathroom being poured into her mouth by a woman who would do anything for her, who she would do anything for in turn.

Randy watches those shows sometimes, the cooking ones. They talk about the subtle nuance of flavor, how certain spices elevate and enhance dishes. Salt opens up whatever other flavors already exist. Cayenne adds heat but not a lot of flavor. Chili powder adds depth but no bite. She’s listened to them wax poetic about cleaning their palates between courses, about which vintage of wines pair well with what meats, about how a splash of citric acid can brighten up any dish.

She’d never really understood what they meant. She doesn’t eat food anymore; it all tastes like shit to her.

But this.

Oh, this.

This is heady. This is intoxicating. This is divine.

This is every luscious bite of ice cream she has ever had. This is every reverse seared medium rare steak with a dash of salt and pepper. This is the perfectly balanced chocolate cake with chocolate fudge filling and whipped chocolate frosting and none of it is too sweet, too bitter, or too much.

This is what it’s all about.

Celia drinks.

She drinks and drinks and drinks, and her Beast comes roaring to the surface so it, too, can drink down the delicious fare presented to it on a silver platter.

Beast and girl swallow the love.

But it’s a greedy thing. It wants more. It always wants more. Its claws come out and it thrashes, snarls, wrenches at the bonds that hold it to get to the source. Because this is second-hand love, and that bitch has more in her veins she knows it, she knows it, she knows—

Celia wrests back control of her Beast to view the scene before her. Spilled. She’d spilled it. That’s her dinner and she had spilled it, that stupid fucking bitch.

Just as quickly as they come the thoughts dissolve. The sight of her mother’s pale face—fright and blood loss—are enough to still her thoughts. Horror washes over her. She retracts her claws and fangs and licks her lips, worry in her eyes.

“M-mom?”

GM: She’s pressed flat against the bathroom wall as her chest anxiously heaves up and down.

“S… sweetie…?” she gets out in a whimper.

Celia: “Mom,” Celia whispers, “Mom, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I didn’t want you to see that, that’s why the cuffs—”

But also can she get the rest of that blood…?

GM: It’s there.

In the jug. Celia can tell there’s more. She can smell how much there still is.

Diana curls up against herself and makes a whimpering noise.

Truly, terrified creatures like her are what the word ‘kine’ refers to.

Celia: Celia reaches out with the gifts of her clan to take the fear from her mother. She whispers calm, soothing words to her mom, things that the woman has said to her many times over in their years: it’s okay, it’s all okay, everything is okay.

GM: Her mother’s terrified features slowly calm.

“Oh… you must still be hungry, sweetie… sorry about that…”

She picks up the jug and brings it once more to Celia’s lips.

It’s getting cooler. It’s losing taste, like all blood does when it’s not straight from the vein. Chicken soup left on the counter to cool for too long. But she can still taste the flavor. Taste the secret sauce all other Kindred want their vessels to have and never do. You can’t fake this. You can’t fake some things. You just can’t. It’s like melted butter with the fat, warm and luscious and rich, and it’s just for her. She could let that liquid love fill her mouth forever. Celia can taste it, how this woman has no loved ones in her life besides her children, and how Celia has always been her favorite one (except perhaps for Lucy). This blood is just for her. Everything this kine woman does is for her. She can taste her mother’s submissiveness and desire to please and provide.

To provide. To feed. To feed her baby.

She always said how much she wanted to do that. Celia just took seven years to specify her real diet.

Celia: It’s love.

That’s what it is.

Like when she’d fallen from the sky after being pulled out of bed and had seen to her daughter first.

Like when Donovan had taken the time to teach her a lesson this evening despite the fact that his time is worth so much more than hers.

Is this what she would taste like to him?

She tries not to think about it.

And as soon as the red stuff touches her tongue again it’s gone from her mind, and she opens her mouth wide to let it in, to swallow it down, and she tries to keep her Beast contained, mentally prodding it and telling it that if it rebels there will be more spilled, so play nice.

GM: Her mother holds the jug to her lips until finally, inevitably, but no less tortuously, it runs empty.

The jug hits the tub with a plastic clatter as her mom slumps against the tub’s rim.

“Was that enough… baby…?”

Celia: It’s gone too soon, but the hunger finally recedes.

“Mom,” Celia whispers urgently. She can’t even reach her, arms bound as they are. “Mom, are you okay? How much of that was yours? You can’t give that much, Mom.”

GM: With her head slumped forward as it is, Diana’s eyes only meet her daughter’s chest, and she looks like she’s having trouble keeping them open anyway. Celia also notices a hastily bandaged and very deep-looking cut down her forearm. The smell of blood from it is unmistakable.

“All of it… baby… was it… enough…?”

“Do you need… more…?”

Celia: Goddamnit.

“Mom.” Celia grits her teeth. “You can’t lose that much.”

GM: “I can… give you… more… if you need it…” she blearily repeats, closing her eyes.

Celia:RANDY!”

GM: Celia’s mom slumps off the tub and onto the floor.

Her ghoul comes running after the shout. “Yeah, babe—oh,” he says, looking down at her mom.

“Oh.”

There’s pause. Randy’s voice is quiet.

“Is she, uh… dead?”

Celia: “Let me up, she needs blood.”

“Let me up. Now.”

GM: “O-okay, babe,” he says, unlocking her cuffs.

“I, uh, didn’t think she’d donate that much.”

“Mine wouldn’t have.”

Celia: Celia is out of the tub in an instant.

“You were supposed to share the bloodletting,” is all Celia says. She doesn’t sound like she’s blaming him.

Fangs flash. She bites into her wrist, then presses the wound to her mother’s lips.

GM: Her mom’s eyes flare open as the blood flows, then dreamily half-close. She clutches the wrist with newfound strength and sucks, rapturously, from her daughter’s wrist. Her breathing gets heavier amidst savored exclamations of, “Mmm… mmm…”

Being ghouled on a dirty bathroom floor at least beats waking up from the Embrace in a dumpster.

Celia: It’s still not what she wanted for the woman.

But she waits for the color to appear in her cheeks.

And only then does she pull away.

GM: Payton said people rarely get the things they wish for.

Color slowly fills out Diana’s once-pale cheeks as she reflexively burns through the vitae in her system. Burns through it all. Celia can’t smell any left, and Diana still looks a bit pale, but she’s raised herself off the floor.

“Oh… oh… Celia, what was…?” her mother whispers reverentially.

Her eyes are fixed to her daughter’s wrist.

She licks her lips, searching for any last trace of the miracle draught, and gives a little shudder.

“Can I have some more…?”

“We still need a little in our systems, to keep the powers…” Randy adds, wholly unnecessarily.

Diana might not technically be a ghoul, with all of the vitae formerly in her system burned through.

But the same hunger in Randy’s and Alana’s eyes peers out from hers.

Celia: “She needed to not die,” Celia says to Randy, “not be suped up on blood.”

“It’s a drug, Mom.”

GM: “Can I have a little more, sweetie, please? My leg feels… oh, I don’t feel ANY pain!” she exclaims.

Celia: “That’s not possible,” Celia says flatly. “Your leg isn’t fixed. That’s not how it works. The injury is years old.”

GM: “Oh, but it feels so much better still! It’s been really bothering me, today, and now it isn’t!”

Celia: Celia shoots a look at Randy. Suddenly, she doesn’t feel safe in this house. Suddenly, she’s worried about not waking up tomorrow because they’ve decided to drain her in her sleep.

GM: “You want to go to sleep in my bed, babe?” he asks. “We could cover you in lots of blankets, make a vampire burrito.” He chuckles at the joke.

Celia: “Mom, can you excuse us please?”

GM: “Ah, of course, sweetie. I should go sit with Lucy… she shouldn’t be left alone.”

She looks at her daughter’s wrist for a moment longer, then gets up and exits the room.

Celia: “Keep her away from me today,” Celia says to Randy. “Don’t let her out of your sight.”

GM: “Huh?” asks Randy.

Celia: “Keep. Her. Away. From. Me.”

GM: “Uh, why, babe? Your mom, isn’t she?”

“I mean, I will if you want. Just, why?”

Celia: “Because I’m not interested in waking up to find out that she has gorged herself to death.”

GM: “Oh. She wouldn’t do that, I don’t think. Your mom and all.”

Celia: “Addicts are addicts.”

GM: “I’m not an addict.”

Celia: “She might be.”

GM: “But say, uh, it’s been a little while since last time…”

He eyes her wrist.

Celia: It’s been less than a week.

GM: “I think it… burns up in me, you know?”

Celia: “Find me a vessel for this evening and I’m happy to share.”

GM: “Okay, babe. I will. Just… a little bit now would calm it down, help me focus, you know…”

Celia: “Don’t make me repeat myself. I said tonight. I have nothing else to share. I have wounds to heal. I had to pick her up off the ground. I’ve had the shit kicked out of me three times tonight. I have broken bones to fix. Where, exactly, do you want me to get any extra from?”

GM: Randy’s eyes look desperate as she turns him down. Desperate and hungry.

“Oh, well, there’s Lucy…”

“She can be pretty hyper, lot of energy at that age…”

Celia: “I’m not feeding on Lucy.”

GM: He trails off.

“Ah, right. It’s wrong, yeah. Kid and all.”

He has enough sense to look ashamed of himself.

“Can I just… can I just have a really little taste, babe, to help me focus…?”

Celia: Celia reaches for him. She takes a step backward so that her backside hits the sink counter, pulling him into her. She brushes her lips against his neck.

“Randy,” she murmurs against his skin. “You know I hate it when you beg. Alana begs. Don’t be like Alana.”

GM: Randy gives a breathy sigh. He looks unsure what to do with his hands, like she once was.

“Alana has tons of sex with you, though…” he half-protests.

Celia: “She does,” Celia agrees, “and you will soon, too. If we weren’t in a dirty bathroom I’d ask you to fuck me now, but I really wanted our first time to be special.”

GM: “Ah, right, babe. Really special,” Randy nods, though he looks as if he still finds a bathroom fuck sorely tempting.

Celia: He’d turned her down last time in the bathroom.

Didn’t find it so tempting then.

And she’d come onto him even harder.

She’d given him a handjob before they arrived, even.

Had rubbed up against him, like she does now.

Had asked him to fuck her, all they had to do was be quiet.

GM: He probably regrets it now.

Really regrets it.

“I’ll keep your mom away from you. I mean, I bet she’s not an addict. She’s a nice lady.”

“But if she tries, she won’t get past me. Babe’s safe with the Randmeister,” Randy says, pointing his thumbs at his chest.

Celia: Celia lifts her eyes to his face. It’s a big gap; he’s a tall man, and she’s a little lady. She’s always enjoyed the height difference, the broad spread of his shoulders, the flat stomach.

“The Randmeister,” Celia agrees, “will always keep me safe. You’ll protect me, I know.”

GM: “Beat away all the addict ghoul moms in the world,” he grins, then adds more darkly, “And whoever messed with you.”

Celia: “I know, baby. I know. I’ve got you here. I’m never afraid when I’m with you.” She presses a kiss against his neck, then the underside of his jaw. Her hands travel up his chest to the back of his head, pulling him down toward her so she can capture his lips.

For a long moment she’s content to kiss him. Then she moves her mouth to his cheek, his neck, and nips at his flesh. Her fangs drag against his skin. She bites.

She drinks.

And after a moment, enough to get a brief taste, she licks it closed. Her lips return to his, blood hot on her tongue. Not her blood, but blood all the same.

GM: It all comes back to red with their kind. Red is the foundation of their society. It is payment, barter, sustenance. It is love and life and family ties. Red is blood. It is what binds them together.

Randy savors that binding tie. He gasps under her kiss. Kisses her hungrily back. It’s not sex. The sex he so craves. But it’s something more vital, even if he doesn’t realize it.

It is the foundation of their society. It is what everything always comes back to.

Pick a door. Pick any door. It doesn’t matter. They all lead the same place in this funhouse of horrors.

Randy hungrily kisses and embraces his domitor as the sun shines overhead, and just like that, she blacks out in his arms.


Sunday evening, 13 March 2016

GM: Celia awakens in someone’s bed, cocooned in blankets. Randy’s? The room looks suspiciously clean, to be his. A dresser and bookcase have been moved in front of the windows, blocking off the sun.

Celia: The bookshelves make her think Rusty to be honest; he seems like the kind of guy who keeps books in his room.

It’s a better waking than she had expected. She’s pleased that they had moved her after all, despite her earlier words.

Celia sits up slowly, casting her eyes around the room to see if she’s alone.

GM: She appears to be.

Her phone is on the bedside table.

Celia: She reaches for it to check her messages.

GM: The first one’s from Emily.

Hey you still down to play WoS with me and Robby sometime?

Btw asked him to take me to his HEMA events. Would like to know how to stab someone properly if I have to do it again._

Celia: Would love to play. Also lol, me too.

We can learn together, seems fun

GM: Oh cool, I’ll let him know you wanna go too. He said I might be the only girl there.

Celia: Don’t let them know you have a vagina, they might hit on you.

GM: Yeah he said there’s a lot of sweaty geeks. But also older guys who’ve actually had sex and dgaf

Celia: No see that’s how they get you, act like they don’t care.

GM: Ohhh drat

I guess I could pull a Mulan

Celia: There you go

GM: He did say the crowd is better in some ways than with TTRPGs though. These aren’t sedentary geeks if they’re sweaty

Celia: Hot.

Get it?

GM: Ha. Yeah actually, he said it’s incredibly incredibly hot

Because of the weather

And working up a sweat in all that equipment

He said to bring a lot of water, the sun + humidity can be just murder

Celia: oh, when is it?

GM: 3 PM Sunday

I couldn’t go to the one today, I’ve put off enough school stuff

Celia: Oh, lame. I’ve been picking up Sundays for a few clients.

GM: oh. That’s too bad

Celia: Maybe we can 1v1

GM: ah but I’ll kick your ass after Robby gives me lessons

Celia: oh bb ;)

GM: kick your ass not spank it :p

Celia: loser gets spanked

Speaking of spankings… Celia flips through her phone to see if Roderick has contacted her.

GM: that feels like what the winner should get

loser gets theirs kicked, winner spanked

something happens to all involved asses

There’s a text from him too, much more recently than Emily’s first.

How’d things go?

Celia: Well, at least he’s alive. Ish.

Celia doesn’t respond immediately; she doesn’t have an answer for him yet. She gets out of bed to find out what has been going on in the rest of the house.

GM: It looks a lot cleaner, first of all. It’s been vacuumed. There’s no longer random crap littering the floors. The old pizza boxes, beer cans, and assorted garbage is all gone. It smells like someone has sprayed a lot of air freshener in the air. It looks like someone’s wiped down a lot of the bleach-friendly surfaces. She finds Lucy and her mom in the newly-clean living room watching a Disney movie and eating ice cream, the girl on her mother’s lap. Both look half-asleep already.

Celia: Celia holds off on saying anything to her mother yet. She waves, then holds up a finger to indicate she needs a minute. She moves past the couch to find the boys, Alana, and Dani.

GM: Her mom notices her after a moment, smiles, then silently nods as the movie plays.

She finds Dani in the dining room where it’s quieter, also clean, and working on a laptop.

Celia: Thank God.

“Dani,” Celia greets her. “Thank you for coming over.”

GM: “Oh, Celia!” she exclaims, rising to hug the true-blood. “Yeah, no problem. It was really nice to meet your other… renfields.”

“And Lucy and your mom. She made a really nice dinner for everyone.”

“Well, except Alana.”

Celia: “Except Alana?” Celia asks as she returns the hug.

“Did she not eat or is she not here?”

GM: “Yeah. She wasn’t hungry, but I thought it was kinda rude not to at least sit down with us.”

Celia: “She’s… really, uh, into her body. She was overweight for a long time, pretty sure she’s nervous about getting back to that. What did your dad say about the change of date?”

GM: “Ah, I asked him to. And said I’d already asked you guys. He… kinda chewed me out, for ‘not honoring commitments.’”

Celia: Celia purses her lips.

“I’m sorry about that. It’s… there was an incident in Riverbend. Which is why everyone is here and I asked you to move and couldn’t meet with you last night.”

GM: “I think he’d been really looking forward to this, and he’s just so busy on weekdays. His job is pretty important, so.” Dani gives a hapless little shrug.

“Enough about my dad. What happened in Riverbend? I heard bits, just not what felt like everything.”

Celia: “Ask him if he can do tomorrow.”

GM: Dani almost winces at the request. “Uh, I can try. I think he might be pretty grumpy, though.”

Celia: “Ah. What did you hear?”

GM: “I heard that your mom’s a… renfield. So I told her I was a vampire.”

Celia: “Ah. How’d she take that? I hadn’t told her about you.”

GM: “She was surprised to see me, at first. And I think a little scared. I told her I was really new to this, and… what’d happened to me.”

“She hugged me and said a lot of really… really nice things.” Dani looks a little misty-eyed. “It felt good, to talk about it with more people.”

“She said she was really proud of you too, for helping me. And that she also missed Stephen.”

“She told me about that dinner you guys had together, where he tried so hard to help her. And how much he did, after she went to see his lawyer.”

“She said Stephen made a huge difference in all of your lives. That also felt really good to hear.”

Celia: “He did a lot for us. I don’t think that I would be the same person without him. And things would be much uglier for my mom. After my Embrace…” Celia trails off for a minute, lost in thought. “After everything happened, I couldn’t be there for them. But he was. He continued to get things moving, made sure everyone was taken care of, even though he hadn’t heard from me. He didn’t deserve to be hurt like he was by me.”

Like he continues to be hurt by her.

“I have a friend who knew him. Someone like us. I’ve spoken to him about you and he’d like to meet you. Tonight, or maybe early tomorrow evening after dinner.”

“Things kind of fell off the rails for me last night,” Celia admits after another brief pause, “so I’m trying to figure out how to juggle everything. I’m pretty close with someone who can assist with getting you into school unseen, so at some point tonight I’ll have you two meet up to get that in order. You can’t linger after dark. And you can’t feed there at all. Ever. I also spoke to the guy who runs the Quarter on your behalf, and he said he’d be happy to find you employment at a court here so that you don’t need to risk Mid-City.”

“Happy” isn’t exactly what she’d call Savoy and Preston when she brought it up, and it’s the immigration court rather than the Supreme Court (which would have given Dani and Roderick nothing to complain about as it would have been a step up), but it’s something at least.

GM: “Ah, I don’t know that my dad can do dinner tomorrow,” says Dani uncomfortably. “I can ask, but… he’s basically on duty 24/7, that’s just sort of the nature of his job.”

Celia: She’d been afraid that would be the response about moving dinner. She wonders how Savoy is going to take it. “Sorry we didn’t have dinner yet, I was busy trying to keep my family from splintering and Henry is a busy man.”

She should start charging the Maxen in her head rent.

Roderick will just have to deal with meeting Dani and then he can meet his dad. Reward for good behavior.

“Ask anyway, I guess. No harm in trying. I could charm him into accepting, I guess, but not over the phone. We could both go see him in person, if you think he’d be up for that.”

She’ll just have to dodge the fuck out of Harlequin’s friends in the meantime.

That’s not an impossible, suicidal mission or anything.

GM: “I think he might be pretty mad at me, honestly, if we didn’t have a reason this couldn’t just wait until he’s free,” says Dani. “I mean… do we?”

Celia: “Not one we can share with him. It’s fine.”

GM: “Okay. But, as far as that other stuff. I’d love to meet someone who knew Stephen, and who’s like us!”

“Are they another vampire, or a renfield?”

Celia: “Vampire.”

“My, uh, my boyfriend actually.”

GM: “Oh, congratulations! I’d love to meet him! He’s okay with duskborn?”

Celia: “He… sort of. He says he is. And he knew your brother, so he’s okay with you.”

“But he had a bad reaction when he found out. So, you remember what I told you about the clans?”

GM: “I think so. I actually explained a lot of that to your mom. Teaching is one of the best ways to make a lesson sink in, and all.”

“She thought it was silly anyone would hate me just because I can walk in the sun.”

Celia: “Kindred hate each other for all sorts of dumb reasons. I was mocked last night for having an online degree, as if being Embraced after finishing college was something the bitch who said it planned. People make fun of me for still being able to have sex. It’s… pretty dumb.”

Speaking of sex, though.

“So, uh, this boyfriend of mine. He’s a Brujah. Rage problems. He’s lost control on me a handful of times. You can’t kill us, not like that, but if you could avoid telling him we shared blood…”

“It’s kind of what passes for sex among our kind. We didn’t mean it like that, but I’d rather not be knocked around for a misunderstanding.”

GM: Dani frowns. “He should be able to understand that, if it’s not a big deal.”

“Also, he sounds like an abuser.”

Celia: “He’s… he can’t control it.”

GM: “That’s an excuse.”

“He can control his emotions. That’s part of being an adult.”

Celia: “I lost control last night. The Beast took over. I saw what they did to my mom and I lost it.”

GM: “What they did to your mom?” Dani frowns.

“But, okay, if someone hurt your mom, that’s okay to get mad over! It’s okay to be angry over injustice, that gives us fire and helps us make it right.”

“But it’s not okay to get mad at your girlfriend over something that isn’t actually a big deal. Much less hit her.”

Celia: “He’s done it a few times,” Celia says with sort of a helpless shrug. “But it’s… I just try not to set him off. He saw what happened to you and lost it.”

“But he didn’t get his hands on me that time, so it’s fine. I just don’t want to risk anything.”

GM: “Celia…” Dani holds her shoulders. “You’ve gotten into a relationship exactly like your dad.

“Do you hear what you’re saying, trying not to set him off, not take risks? He’s abusing you.”

Celia: “You’ll understand when you meet him.”

“He’s not like my dad. He’s a good person.”

GM: “Good people don’t hit their girlfriends. Or make them scared about setting them off.”

“He could be working on the cure to cancer and I’d still say that. I’d probably question, in fact, why he’s working on it if that’s how he acts in his private life.”

Celia: “He’s all I have left of your brother.”

GM: “He’s not my brother.”

“My brother would never hit you.”

Celia: Well…

GM: “Stephen wasn’t perfect. But he wasn’t an abuser. He loathed your dad for what he did to your family, and for getting away with it.”

“I’m pretty sure he’d see red if he knew this other guy was abusing you. He’d want you to break up and find someone who treated you better.”

Celia: Celia’s laugh is hollow. “Options are limited when you’re a lick.”

GM: “Well, they say no relationship is better than a bad relationship.”

Celia: “Yeah, well, I don’t know if things will work out long-term anyway.”

GM: “I don’t really want to meet this guy, to be honest, unless you want to break up and want me there as support.”

“You deserve so much better than him.”

Celia: “It’s something for me to consider, anyway. But that’s a problem for another night. I have some things to fix tonight. The renfields are all here?”

GM: “Ah, maybe? They’ve been sort of in and out. I’ve mostly been here trying to study.”

Dani doesn’t look happy, but lets the matter drop.

“It’ll be okay for me to go back to my apartment if I’m going to school, right? My laptop, notes, and textbooks are all there.”

Celia: “Safer if you stay in the Quarter. We’ll get you a place here. But we’ll get your stuff.”

GM: “Oh. Rents can be pretty expensive here, I don’t make a lot.”

Celia: Celia waves a hand.

“I’ll help.”

GM: Dani looks relieved. “Okay. Thanks. Dad doesn’t pay for everything with me. Didn’t with Stephen, either.”

“Also, ah, about my job.”

“I know there’s two courts here in the Quarter, immigration and the Supreme Court, and I’m… not really Supreme Court material.”

Perhaps Celia wonders if Dani considered her brother ‘Supreme Court material.’

“I want to work for the DA’s office after I graduate. My clerkship at the criminal court is really useful there. Immigration law isn’t my area.”

“That’s really nice of your friend to get me another job, but I can’t really work in the Quarter. Could the person you know help me get to my job… unseen, too?”

“I’ll pay for it,” she adds quickly. “Owe them a ‘boon’ like you mentioned, whatever. I don’t have any problem not feeding there and leaving before dark, either.”

Celia: “The issue there isn’t that you smell like a vampire. It’s that you look like you. In Mid-City, they’ll be looking for Danielle Garrison. In Riverbend, they’re not.”

GM: “Sorry, looking for me?”

Celia: “My boyfriend thinks you’re better off in Houston or another city. He runs with people in Mid-City who might be looking for you and might try to take you out by force.”

“After you graduate, if you want to work for the DA’s office, we can get you a new identity. A lot of licks do it, and my friend can help there too. We just have to get you through school first.”

GM: “What? Why would someone want to… take me out?! Is it because of my family?”

Celia: “I meant take you out of the city by force.”

GM: “What?” Dani repeats. “Why would your boyfriend and his friends want to kidnap me?”

Celia: “He’d be doing it for Stephen, basically. Thinks that you’re less likely to run into trouble in another city with a different power structure. But I’ve seen how the duskborn live. It’s not pretty, even here. I’m doing everything I can for you so you don’t have to live like that.”

GM: “But… why does he even care about me? Why go to that much effort? I’m not his problem, right?”

Celia: “He’ll probably explain why when you meet him.”

GM: “I don’t want to meet someone who abuses you!”

Celia: “Loyalty to your brother. Guilt over the massacre. His sire was the one who set it up, and he’s the only one who would have made it out alive if the Anarchs hadn’t surrendered.”

GM: “Oh my god, Stephen is still making my life worse!”

Dani halts herself.

“Uh. I didn’t mean it like that.”

Celia: “We’ll just make it very clear that you aren’t interested in leaving. I don’t even know if he would kidnap you, he just… mentioned it. Which is why I had you come here today. That and other reasons.”

“I just want you to be safe, Dani. I know there’s a lot of… bullshit.”

Celia gives her a look almost as flat as one of Pete’s.

“You did mean it like that, and that’s okay.”

“He was always… golden child, wasn’t he?”

GM: “Yeah. He was,” Dani sighs.

“But I already told you. Dad loved him more. And wishes I was dead instead.”

Celia: Celia reaches for Dani, pulling her into a tight embrace.

“No, he doesn’t. He mourns your brother, but he doesn’t wish you were dead.”

GM: Dani sniffs and leans against Celia’s shoulder. “He doesn’t, he’d just… swap Stephen being dead for me in a heartbeat… and he’d be right.

“Stephen’s Supreme Court material. He could’ve clerked there.”

Celia: “He’s not right, Dani. He’s not. You’ve got so much to offer. Stephen was raised to be his little clone. You’re a different person and you’re going to forge your own path.”

GM: Dani sniffs again. “Like what? I’m still being a lawyer, just a worse one. Dad was so proud how… Stephen got his clerkship, all by himself. Dad had to call in a favor, told me it was nepotism, that my grades needed to rise above this…”

Celia: “Then why go into law? Is it really what you want to do, if it stresses you out so much, if you feel like you’ve already lost before you sat down to play the game? Pick something else. Do something else.”

“I didn’t follow my father’s footsteps into politics. My little brother, Logan, he feels like he’s in David’s shadow because he went into law to get into politics. He feels like he doesn’t measure up.”

“You can’t compare like that. I had to do my own thing. Maybe you do your own thing, too.”

GM: “But it is what I want to do! I want to bring the bad guys to justice, I want to carry on the family legacy, if it can’t be Stephen doing it. It’s just a simple fact I’m inferior to Stephen.” Dani dabs her eye as she breaks off the hug. “I shouldn’t be unloading onto you, I’ve made my peace with it. It’s just a fact, there’s nothing to do about it.”

Celia: “Dani,” Celia says gently, taking the girl’s hands in hers. “We’re friends, right? Friends can unload on each other.”

GM: Dani nods as she squeezes Celia’s back.

Celia: “When I met Emily in college she was a mess. She had the same sort of problems. And I pushed her through so that she could be happy. She’s about to realize her dreams of becoming a doctor.”

“Now it’s your turn. Whatever you want to do, we’ll get you there. We’ll make it happen.”

“And hey, you’re immortal now. If you want to be a lawyer now and a doctor in fifty years and a singer after that, you get to do it.”

GM: “That’s… that’s true.” Dani takes a breath. “I am a vampire, that’s the one thing I did, that he didn’t.”

“But right now it just seems like it causes more problems, I can’t lose that clerkship, I’ll be a worse ADA if I don’t complete it!”

Celia: “Once you finish school you’re going to have plenty of time to practice. I know some people in law and we can have you shadow a Kindred lawyer if you want. There are options. I know you can walk in the sun and you want to keep practicing, but it might not happen and it’s… it’s really dangerous, Dani, and if you’re dead because they came to get you…”

Celia trails off. Finally, she forces a sigh.

“Listen, why don’t you come with me tonight? I have some errands to run and I can bring you with me for some of them.”

GM: Dani nods. “Yes, please! Where I’ll meet other vampires?”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “I know how much you’ve said duskborn are discriminated against. Should I expect them to be pretty bad?”

Celia: Celia just nods.

GM: Dani looks grim, but nods back. “As long as you think we can handle it.”

Celia: “Finish what you’re working on. I need to talk to my mom and the boys. I’ll collect you before I leave.”

GM: “Okay. There’s only so much I can do on someone else’s laptop without my stuff, anyway.”

“But your mom told me I should spend my time on school if I don’t have anything else to do.”

Celia: “Sounds like Mom,” Celia says with a faint smile.

GM: “Well, she is a teacher,” Dani smiles back.

“It was really nice to have her here. The guys just… kept hitting on me.”

Celia: Celia snorts.

“Yeah, that, uh… doesn’t surprise me.”

GM: “I’m just not interested right now,” Dani says, a little numbly.

Celia: “Just tell them to fuck off.”

GM: “I did.”

Celia: “Good.”

GM: “I just had to do it a million times.”

“Reggie kept saying I was playing hard to get.”

Celia: “Sometimes if you bare your fangs and snarl at them they get the message more clearly.”

GM: “I’ll try that, next time.”

Celia: “Just not to normal humans.”

GM: “Yeah. Just, ugh. Guys.”

Celia: Celia gives her a sympathetic smile and pat on the shoulder before moving off to find the guys in question.

GM: Reggie is not home, but she finds Randy on his back in the exercise room lifting weights. He gives an exclaimed, “Babe!” and drops them with a crash when he sees her, then quickly sits up.

“We moved you to a real bed, you sleep all right?”

Celia: Celia finally sends a text back to Roderick as she moves through the house.

Not really. Shit hit the fan. Trying to figure it out.

Worry flits through her at Reggie’s absence. She thought she had told them to stay here for the day until they could debrief.

“I did. Thank you. Where are your brothers?”

GM: Roderick responds immediately.

Where are you and what can I bring to help?

“Oh. They, uh, said they had other stuff to do. But I wanted to be here when you woke up.”

Celia: God, she loves him. Even without the collar she loves him. Even in love with her sire there’s enough room in her heart for Roderick, too.

With Randy. I don’t know. Feels like drowning. Meet soon?

Her eyes move back to Randy.

“Ah. And Alana?”

GM: Just less room than her sire.

He wouldn’t just ask how to help. He’d fly right there, destroy whatever threatened her, and make sweet (or at least chill) love to his childe upon the ashes of the fallen.

Celia: That’s hot.

GM: Okay. Usual place in an hour?

“Oh, I think she also thought she had more important shit to do.”

Randy’s always been a terrible liar.

Celia: Yes.

“Randy.” Celia gives him another Pete-esque look.

GM: K. See you.

“Ah, she’s closing up at the spa and said she’d be here soon.”

Celia: “Get your brothers here. Now.”

GM: “Ah, they don’t really come running for me, babe, but I can try.”

Celia: “Tell them it’s for me.”

GM: “Kay, babe, I’ll try,” says Randy, firing off some texts.

Celia: Celia closes out of the text with Roderick and dials Alana.

GM: The ghoul picks up on the first ring.

“Hello, Celia,” she says in a dreamy tone that sounds like she’s trying to say ‘mistress’ instead.

Celia: “Hello, darling. Can you come back to Randy’s, please? I need you.”

GM: Alana seems to glow at the words. “I’m already on my way, m-Celia. I’ll be there very soon.”

“They haven’t responded yet,” Randy adds helpfully.

Celia: Celia tells Alana that she will see her soon and ends the call, already worried about her.

“Get me someone here who can deliver a message. One of those courier types,” she says to Randy.

She dials Reggie.

GM: He picks up.

“Hey, sexy.”

“Your mom and friend were hot, but it was still pork rinds next to fillet mignon.”

Celia: “Reggie, I woke up and you were gone.” Celia puts a pout into her voice. “Come back, please, I need to speak with you.”

She’s terribly amused by the comparison.

GM: “I’m at work… but work’s a lot less sexy than you are. Take back all the words between ‘need’ and ‘you,’ and I’m on my way.”

Celia: “I need you,” Celia purrs into the phone.

“Bring your brother.”

GM: “I’ll drag him there in a headlock if he says no.”

Reggie hangs up.

Celia: Celia smiles at Randy, sliding her phone back into her pocket. She reaches for him despite the sweat that glistens on his skin.

“It’s all in how you phrase things.”

GM: “You’re great at phrasing things, babe,” he beams.

“You’re great at a lot of things.”

Celia: “I am,” she agrees. “I was going to ask you to join me in the shower but my mother is here. Why don’t you get cleaned up after you find a courier for me and meet me in the living room so we can all chat.”

GM: “Oh. Well, she’s watching a movie right now, and it’s not her house…” Randy says suggestively.

Celia: Tempting. Except she’s meeting Roderick soon, and Dani is around, and she has limited time.

“I want our first time to be special,” she sighs, pressing a kiss against his cheek.

GM: “Ah. Right,” Randy nods, glowing under the kiss.

“I, uh. Didn’t have much luck finding you a vessel anyway.”

Celia: “Mmm, I assumed. I didn’t see any strangers lounging around. Maybe you can find me another girl rolling on E again next time and we can make a night of it.”

GM: “Oh, you bet, babe. You were just… something else…” Randy grins.

He’s quiet for a moment, then adds, “Reggie was laying it on pretty thick with your friend and your mom.”

Celia: “He hit on my mom?

GM: “Yeah. I mean, she’s not as hot as you, but she’s still hot.”

Celia has worked so diligently to keep her that way.

Celia: “I suppose I’ll take that as a compliment.”

GM: “Oh, it’s—you’re super hot, babe! There’s no one in the world as hot as you!”

Celia: “I just meant because I work on her face, Randy.”

GM: “Ah, yeah. You’re really great at that too. She’s a MILF.”

Celia: “Thanks for watching over them today. I really needed you and you came through.”

GM: “You bet,” says Randy, his chest puffing a little. “They didn’t like the attention, but I told him to knock it out, they didn’t need that.”

“Grabbed his hand a couple times when he tried to cop some feels.”

Celia: A scowl greets those words.

“Get cleaned up. We’ll talk in a minute.”

GM: “He only touched them a couple times,” Randy adds helpfully as he gets up. “I cockblocked most of it.”

Celia: “Good to know.” Celia leaves him to shower on his own, moving back into the living room to find her mother.

GM: She finds her mother in the same place, watching a movie with a now fully sleeping Lucy on her lap.

“Hi, sweetie,” she whispers, her face lighting up as she sees Celia.

Celia: “Hey, Mom.” Celia smiles at the pair, though Lucy certainly can’t see it with her eyes closed. She keeps her distance, sitting on the edge of the couch rather than right next to her mother.

“You doing okay?”

GM: Diana nods and strokes Lucy’s hair for a moment.

“I met Dani,” she whispers. “It was so nice to see her here.”

“She told me all about what had happened to her, that poor thing…”

“We caught up a bit, and we talked about Stephen. I think she was really happy to hear he’d made such a difference in our lives.”

Celia: “She had a rough time of it,” Celia says with a grimace. “I don’t envy her position. I’m doing what I can for her.”

GM: “She also told me how she was, ah, a… vampire. But she was still able to eat my cooking, I thought you said you couldn’t?”

Celia: “She’s… different.”

GM: “I think you’re doing a very good thing from what she’s said, sweetie,” Diana nods.

“I felt so bad for her. I made her a lot of food.”

Celia: “I’m sure she appreciated that.”

GM: “I hope she did. She told me about all of those… vampire things you told her.”

Celia: “Oh. Good. That’ll save us some time.”

GM: “I’m… not really sure what to make of it, sweetie.”

Celia: “I’m sure you still have some questions. About me. And this life. And what it means. And what’s going on with you and Lucy.”

“Yeah, it’s a lot to take in. I tried to keep you from the worst of it.”

GM: “With Lucy?” Diana asks, concern creasing her face as she looks down at her daughter.

Celia: “Because of the phone call you received.”

“The boys and Alana are coming over so we can discuss things. Basically, I pissed off the girl who… did what she did to you.”

GM: Diana’s face turns very still again.

Celia: “So until that’s fixed, I need you to work with me on laying low. Nothing is going to happen to you. It’s me they want.”

“I was going to put you up in a hotel for a few days. Or maybe a trip out of town if you’d prefer. Tell work you’ve got the flu or something.”

GM: Diana looks down at Lucy.

“Okay,” she says meekly. “Whatever you want.”

Celia: “I’m sorry to drag you into this.”

“The other issue…” Celia pauses. “Did she, uh, explain the rules?”

GM: “I just want to be there for you, sweetie. I just want to be your mom,” she says, looking back up at her other daughter.

Celia: How much of it is that first stage of the bond, she wonders, and how much of it is Diana?

GM: “I’m glad… I’m glad we don’t have this between us, anymore.”

Celia: “Normal people, people like you, they can’t know. So there are some options there, but… maybe not ones you’ll like.”

GM: “Oh. What… sort of options, sweetie?”

Celia: “We can permanently relocate you to another city. No one will look at you because you’re not connected to me. Still risky, but less risky than you staying here. We can alter your memories so you don’t remember.”

GM: “My whole life’s here,” Diana protests, but weakly. “So’s Emily’s.”

Celia: “Or I can… do to you what I did to Randy and Alana. But there are a lot of complications that come with that.”

GM: “I love our house, I love my job, I love having most of my kids nearby, I love my friends, I love all the good things here that we have for Lucy… remember, sweetie, she goes to McGehee for free! That’s a very, very good school I’d normally have to pay $20,000 a year for.”

“And Emily’s arranged things to do her residency here, at TMC. Logan’s probably going to ship overseas, after he commissions, but David’s here, and Sophia wants to come back… everything’s all here.”

Celia: “What if Dad becomes governor? Would you move to Baton Rouge with him?”

GM: She’s silent for a moment at that question.

She looks back down at Lucy.

“Sweetie, getting that call…”

She closes her eyes.

“I was so scared for her. So scared for Lucy.”

“I want… I want to take things slow, with your father. I want to be sure he’ll be good to Lucy.”

Celia: “Okay,” Celia says, nodding. “I respect that. I don’t want you to rush into anything with him.”

GM: “If I was… yes. I suppose I would move with him. But that’s thinking very far ahead.”

“Even if that is where I’d like us to end up. I want my man back. I want him to be good to us again. I want Lucy to have a dad in her life.”

She strokes the sleeping child’s hair again.

“I just want her to have a good life, the best life.”

Celia: “Then I’ll work things out with the girl I pissed off. Until then, I need you to lay low.”

GM: Diana’s face grows still again at Elyse’s mention. But she nods.

Celia: “I… I saw what she did to you, Mom. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry you had to go through that.”

GM: Diana just hangs her head.

Celia: “You’re stronger than me, you know. I don’t know if I could ever dance again. Or love as fiercely as you do.”

GM: “I’m weak,” she whispers, gently pressing her face against Lucy’s head. Her eyes are closed. “You’re strong.”

Celia: “No, Mom. You are strong. You are the strongest woman I know. You’ve been through Hell and back and you’re still capable of being an amazing person. You didn’t let it turn you into a bitter shrew or withdraw into a shell. You’re a wonderful mother. You only want the best for people.”

“It’s beautiful. I wish I had that much kindness in me.”

GM: Her mom looks up. “Oh, you do, sweetie… with Dani here, with Emily…”

Celia: “It’s different. I haven’t been… I haven’t been through anything like that. And I had you to show me how.”

GM: Diana looks at Celia curiously for a moment.

“Sweetie, can you…?”

She motions at the spot next to her.

Celia: Celia rises and moves to the spot next to her mom.

“I didn’t know if you’d want me close, after…”

GM: Her mom touches her belly.

She tilts her head, her eyes distant, then slowly shakes it.

“I’m sorry, I don’t…”

Celia: “You… what?”

GM: “I don’t… I don’t know… I’m sorry.”

She removes her hand.

Celia: “Oh… oh.”

Lucy.

“You can feel her?”

GM: “You’re… oh sweetie, you’re pregnant?” Diana exclaims in a furious whisper, a smile lighting up her face.

Celia: “Er… not exactly…”

GM: “Oh. Ah, well… it’s a bit of a yes or a no question…”

Celia: “There’s a… there’s a doll inside of me.”

GM: Diana’s face goes still again.

Celia: “She, um. She said you were her mom once. So I… took her.”

GM: Diana gives a hiss-like inhalation of breath and presses her head against Lucy’s again.

The other Lucy’s.

Celia: “Sorry. I told you I wouldn’t talk about it. I’m sorry. I just… wondered if that’s what you were feeling.”

GM: Diana doesn’t answer Celia’s statement.

Celia: “I’m not pregnant. I can’t get pregnant. I’ll never be able to give you grandkids.”

GM: It’s a little while before she looks up again.

Celia: Celia stays quiet while her mother works through her emotions, unsure of what to say.

GM: Her eyes cut to Celia’s belly again, but she swallows and pulls her daughter close into a half-hug (the most she can with Lucy on her lap), and mussels a hand through her dark hair.

“Celia, I will always, always, love you. I don’t know what God thinks of you, or how He’s going to judge you. That’s up to Him, not me. All that’s up to me is being your mom. And I’ll… I’ll always be your mom, baby… okay? I don’t want to leave you, I don’t want to forget this part of you, I want us to stay a family, okay?”

Celia: Her lip trembles at the declaration. She doesn’t know how much of it is Diana and how much of it is the blood she hadn’t mean to give her straight from the wrist earlier, but the acceptance of her—even knowing what she is—deeply touches her. Red appears in the corners of her eyes, leaking slowly down her cheeks while she hugs her mother tight.

“I love you, Mom. I love you so much.”

GM: “I love you too, sweetie… with all my heart…” Diana murmurs back, holding her daughter close and stroking her hair.

“We’ll do… we’ll do a night wedding for Emily, and I’ve got six other kids who can give me grandbabies, anyway…”

Celia: “That’s a lot of grandbabies,” Celia says with a watery (bloody?) laugh into her mother’s shoulder.

“I’ll just have to spoil them all.”

GM: Five.

Diana’s still counting Isabel.

Celia: Celia doesn’t correct her.

Six, anyway, for Ethan.

Technically a grandkid already.

GM: “Yes. It is plenty…” Diana laughs. “You can be their cool aunt.”

She looks back down at Lucy.

“And there’s already someone who calls you mommy, anyway…”

Celia: “That’s very true,” Celia says, pulling back. She wipes at her face and smiles down at the goose. “If you and Maxen get back together, what are you going to tell him?”

GM: “Well, at that point… the truth, I think,” Diana answers. “If we are getting back together. I don’t want to rush into it, like I said…”

“Oh. Speaking of the truth, sweetie… there’s Emily.”

Celia: “She can’t know. No one can know, Mom.”

GM: Diana looks at her curiously. “But I know.”

Celia: “And that’s what we need to discuss. Because humans who know break the rules, and if I break the rules I die. Die again. For real this time.”

GM: Diana gives a faint chuckle. “That’s nonsense, we’re not hurting anyone.”

Celia: “This isn’t like human society. If anyone finds out that you know, they kill you. They kill your family. They kill me. There’s no police officers for vampires, there’s no lawyers, there are no second chances.”

“There are people out there who hunt people like me, who kill people like me. Humans like you. The night I came over for dinner and I told you about the break-in? I lied. There was a break-in, but they weren’t after money. They kidnapped me. They tortured me. They cut up Alana. They raped me.”

“That’s what they do to us. That’s why people can’t know. That’s why when someone like you finds out, you die.”

GM: Diana’s mouth falls open.

“They did what to you?!”

Celia: “They… they raped me. I was handcuffed to a bed, and they stabbed me with a knife, and they… he… he kept calling me his vampire slut, and he…”

GM: Diana hugs her close again and starts crying. “Oh, my baby… my poor baby… you’re safe here… you’re safe… I love you…”

Celia: “And that’s… that’s why, Mom, no one can know.”

GM: “My poor baby…” Diana repeats, hugging Celia tight. “It’s not your fault… it’s not your fault… I love you… you’re strong, you’ll get past this…”

Celia: “I’m past it, Mom. It’s fine.”

“But do you see?”

GM: “It’s not fine, sweetie, someone hurt you! Have you been… seeing someone, for help?”

Celia: “Yeah. I have someone that I can talk to.”

GM: Celia has to spend several minutes assuring her mother she’s fine before Diana reluctantly drops the topic.

“Okay, sweetie… we’ll keep this secret, absolutely secret… I won’t tell anyone you’re a vampire, ever…”

“We have practice at that, don’t we, with your dad and Lucy’s dad… what’s another secret.”

Celia: “It’s not like anyone is going to ask about this one,” Celia says with a wry smile.

GM: “That’s right,” Diana smiles just as wryly back.

“But I want to tell Emily, sweetie. She’s kept both of those secrets. We can trust her.”

Celia: “Mom, this isn’t like who my dad is. This is a matter of life and death. This is people coming for you in the middle of the night and killing you. I need you to understand that.”

GM: Diana is quiet for a moment.

“I have always believed your father is a matter of and death, Celia,” she answers slowly.

Celia: “You think he’d kill you for that?”

GM: “I… I don’t think, I pray not now… but that is what I always have believed,” she answers in the same slow tone.

Celia: “Why?”

GM: Her mom looks at her confusedly.

“Celia, baby, I know it’s been a while, but I told you… when you were 14, remember, in the hospital… that you couldn’t tell anyone, anyone, or he’d kill me…”

Celia: “And I never told,” Celia says, “so why are you trying to tell Emily?”

GM: “I did tell that to Emily, sweetie,” her mom says quietly.

“For seven years, I’ve trusted her with that matter of life and death. She hasn’t let us down. She’s your sister. A burden shared is a burden halved.”

Celia: “Not this burden.”

GM: “Yes, this burden! All burdens, sweetie. Just havin’ someone else next to you, who shoulders the load… that doesn’t just make it lighter, it draws you closer. Binds you together.”

“Secrets hurt.”

“I mean, you said it was hurting you, to have to eat all the food I made. Because I thought you… well, ate the same way as… the way you used to.”

Celia: “People like me can read minds. It’s not just not telling. It’s not thinking.”

GM: “Oh. You can read my mind?” Diana asks.

Celia: “No. I can’t. It’s a fairly advanced talent. But others like me can. We all do different things.”

GM: “Oh. Well, I was going to say. You saw when I delivered Lucy, so you’ve seen just about all there is to see with me,” her mom chuckles.

Celia: “Right, but you don’t understand. If someone knows you know they’ll take you and rip through your memories and find out everything about you, about me, about Lucy, about Emily.”

“And then they’ll lock me in an iron box and burn me alive. And I’d like to avoid that. You know?”

GM: Diana holds her hands to her mouth. “Okay, so… we just don’t ever talk about it, outside the house…”

Celia: “You can’t even think about it. That’s the problem. That’s what I’m saying.”

GM: “But… I am going to think about it, sweetie,” her mom says slowly.

“I can’t not think about it…”

Celia: “Right. Which is why we have one of two options. I can erase your memories. Or I can… turn you into a ghoul.”

GM: “Can you… go over what that involves for me, sweetie?”

“Dani did, a bit, but she said she was so new to this. I’d just like to get it straight from the horse’s mouth, you know?”

Celia: “You drink my blood. You stop aging. You develop powers, things sort of like what I can do. But anyone like me who tastes your blood can pick up my blood in you. They can use you against me. You’re subject to the same laws as I am, the same territory disputes. If you want to work at McGehee I’ll need to talk to a night doctor so they can mark you so you don’t taste like a ghoul, so no one can ever know what you are.”

GM: Diana looks unsure of all that.

“Do you think it’s a good idea? If they can… use me against you?”

Celia: “The other option is erasing your memories. Or you leave the city.”

GM: “But I can’t leave, my life is here. My children’s lives.”

“And I don’t want to forget this about you. This is who you are.”

Celia: “Then this is what we do.”

GM: “Plus I’d keep cooking for you, wouldn’t I?” her mom says with a chuckle. “Or trying to.”

Celia: “You would,” Celia says wryly, “and I’d invent new diets to avoid eating.”

GM: “It really does explain so much, how I almost never saw you eat…”

“That felt so bad, though. I thought you were angry at me.”

Celia: “I wasn’t. It just sits in my stomach and I have to throw it back up. And it tastes… uh, not good.”

GM: “Oh. You can’t taste it?” Diana asks.

Celia: “Dani can. It tastes like, um, garbage mostly. Ash.”

Shit.

GM: “It does? All of it?” her mom asks disbelievingly.

“Oh, sweetie, I am so sorry!”

Celia: “You couldn’t have known. There’s nothing to be sorry about.”

“I always felt bad turning you down because I knew you were trying to be nice. Randy ate a lot of it.”

GM: “Ah. That explains where it all went.”

“I’m glad someone still got to.”

Celia: “My boyfriend asked the same thing. If you’d be upset if I brought him over for dinner and he threw it up.”

GM: “Randy, you mean? Well, so long as he enjoys it, but it doesn’t sound like he did.”

Celia: “No. My real boyfriend. He’s like me. Randy is a ghoul.”

GM: Diana looks confused.

“But I thought he was…?”

Celia: “He plays my boyfriend for my mortal cover.”

GM: “We’ve had him over for dinner and everything. We talked about how long it was taking him to slip a ring on your finger!”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: Diana blinks.

“Sweetie, that’s… that’s very strange.”

Celia: “…yeah.”

“To be fair, so is having a mortal family. Most of us don’t.”

GM: “I don’t see what’s strange about having a family. It seems strange not to. Very, very strange!”

Celia: “You saw me this morning. What I did. It’s dangerous.”

“I’ve always made sure I wasn’t hungry around you, but… I was last night.”

“If I lose control, there’s nothing to stop me.”

GM: Diana looks fearful. “Okay, so… so that won’t happen again?”

Celia: “It’s something I take every precaution I can to avoid.”

GM: “That was very scary, Celia… I don’t want to be scared of you…” she says slowly.

Celia: “I know, Mom. I don’t want you to be scared of me, either.”

GM: “But… I got over it, I guess. The fear just… I don’t know, maybe it was just a mom’s impulse to feed her baby, but poof, it was gone.”

Celia: “Maybe.”

It wasn’t.

But Celia doesn’t tell her that.

“You can’t give that much, by the way. You need some for you.”

GM: “But you were hungry.”

Celia: “But you’ll kill yourself.”

GM: “You drank it all.”

Celia: “I was hungry. I was very hungry.”

GM: “Well, there you go. I needed to feed you.”

Celia: “You can’t give that much, though. If you die, you can’t feed me. See?”

GM: “Well, I didn’t die. It wasn’t a walk in the park, but here I still am.”

Celia: “Because I had to give you my blood. If I hadn’t, you’d have died.”

GM: Her mom’s eyes glow at the subject. “Your blood tasted wonderful, Celia. Just… just wonderful.”

Celia: “Yeah? Like, ah, like what?”

GM: “Well, ah, it was very sweet. It made me think of all those racy jokes you and Emily like to make, on our girl’s nights. And tucking you in to sleep as a child. Sweet like strawberry shortcake. With makeup icing, but less gross than it sounds.”

Celia: “Yours, too. I could… it was like drinking pure love, Mom. I’ve never had anything like it. It made me warm and fuzzy inside.”

GM: “Oh, was it?” Her mom looks a little misty-eyed. “That’s all I wanted to do, sweetie, when I cooked for you, when I gave you food. I wanted to feed my baby. I wanted you to feel good. Feel loved.”

Celia: “I felt it. I really did.”

GM: “If this is how you eat now… I still want to feed you.”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment.

She shouldn’t.

But the woman is offering.

And it was really, really good.

“Okay,” she says at length. “We can… we can do that. Not all the time. Just sometimes. Never when I’m hungry. Don’t spring blood on me, don’t just cut yourself to feed me and thrust it at me. But… if that’s what you want to do… I, I think I’d like that.”

“Can I see your arm?”

Celia nods toward where she saw the cut this morning.

GM: Her mom nods and holds it out. There’s still a bandage. It’s a long and deep cut.

“Okay. Then I’d like to do that too.”

Celia: Gently, Celia takes the offered arm in her hand. She winces at the cut once she peels the bandage back.

“You don’t need to cut yourself, either. I’ll show you once you’re recovered, but for now…” Celia leans in very slowly, and runs her tongue along the cut to seal it.

GM: Her mom raises her eyebrows. “Oh, sweetie, what are y…”

For a moment, there’s the tantalizing taste of her mother’s vitae, so full of that warm and fuzzy love. Celia’s tongue seals shut what’s left. Her vitae closed most of it already. She notes, however, that there’s still some faint scarring… the wound has had all day to heal naturally.

“Oh, my,” her mom murmurs.

“That’s some band-aid,” she chuckles.

Celia: “Well, otherwise you’d see people running around with holes in their bodies. Bit of a giveaway.”

GM: “That’s a relief I don’t need to cut myself, too… that wasn’t much fun.”

Celia: “No,” Celia agrees, “I imagine it wasn’t. I can work on the scar tissue for you before you go back to work. Not tonight, though. I still need to actually feed and I have… some things to take care of.”

Celia touches a hand to her stomach.

“If you want in on this, then I’m happy to have you. I’ll give you my blood and we’ll finalize it. But not until after I eat.”

“The boys should be here soon. I need to shower and get ready for the night. Are you going to be okay by yourself for a few? Or do you have any more questions..?”

GM: “Who’s your boyfriend?” Diana asks with a sly look.

Celia: “Ha. His name is Roderick. I’d like you to meet him.”

GM: “Good, because when I’d get to was my next question!”

Celia: Celia can’t help but laugh.

At least some things aren’t going to change.


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Story Twelve, Emmett Epilogue

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Emmett: And now it’s the end, again, only it takes Em a minute to realize it’s also a beginning, which maybe happy endings should be. Are supposed to be. But the truth of the story is always more complicated. The truth of people even more so, especially when those people are also monsters.

It’s a happy ending for Emmett Delacroix, and the beginning of the end for everybody else.


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Emmett: Bertram Villars arrives to find his office broken into one morning. Nothing much is taken, and even the vandalism is minimal. One piece of vicious graffiti catches his eye, though, spray painted in blood red as it is over the law degree on his wall:

I O U
—M


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Emmett: Cash Money’s having a good night. It’s like all his other good nights. He’s in his club surrounded by his whores and thugs and pathetic petitioners. Even better, he’s surrounded by people. People he doesn’t know but who all know him, because he’s a mean lean Cajun rapin’ machine, and he’s a cop, too, so there’s nobody in this whole world of monsters that can touch him.

Only tonight, he sees something in the crowd that makes him curse and stutter through his debauched carousing. Tonight, among all the jealous gazes that tickle him at his table, one tugs at his attention, holds him in its grip.

They’re terribly familiar, is the thing, though damned if he can place them. He’s damned anyway, though, and he has the unmistakable impression of looking into eyes he had somehow acclimated to never seeing again. None of these are what shake Ricky Mouton to his redbone soul, though.

No, it’s that once when he was a boy he made eye contact with a cottonmouth in the bayou, and that was the last time he saw eyes that shape.

Only snakes don’t have eyelids, so they can’t wink.

But this one does, and after the officer of the law blinks, the eyes are gone.


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: The nurses tell the sweet and handsome visitor who swings by that Mrs. Merinelli in the hospital there anymore. She’s no longer under arrest, either. She was discharged a little back. They mention the name “Malveaux.” Apparently some people get happy endings after all.

Except not really. Lena’s still half-awake in the living room, at god knows what hour in the AM, staring at some movie on the TV with glazed eyes and a half-eaten tub of ice cream. She’s already getting fat again.

She eventually slumps forward into a sugar- and depression-fueled stupor. Maybe she doesn’t register the words said by the handsome visitor, stolen into the room like a sandman into that border state between dream and waking. Maybe tomorrow will bring no further news about her missing husband and kids.

But a smile still touches the corners of the sleeping woman’s face.

Eveline Merinelli will have good dreams tonight.


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Emmett: The dogs are barking again. Phil can’t get them calm, can’t even make them whine in response to his stern commands. Something in the house is just driving them mad. Some scent, maybe. He turns his attention to the thing he found in his office at work, the anonymous gift from some student or other. He wouldn’t normally keep such a thing, but he really has no idea who sent it to him, and besides, it reminds him of better days. Much better days. He’ll keep it, he decides suddenly. Hell, maybe he’ll dig out some tackle and bait to go with his new rod.

It’s been so long since he’s gone fishing.

In the same room, perfectly still and perfectly invisible, somebody smiles.


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: A movie director might say a fishing boat and a dying carp on a hook is where it all began. It is where a movie director had it all begin, after the in media res opening scene. But there’s a sense of closure and everything coming full circle as a visitor walks up the now-familiar steps to 1415 Third Street.

The first time, he was a living boy, looking for affections to toy with and lusts to satisfy. Desperately fleeing the emptiness inside of him.

The second time, he was a dead man, striking a devil’s bargain to avoid a fate worse than death. Desperately fleeing the emptiness inside of him.

The third time, he’s… the others like him all say they’re dead, but the Sandman has died, really died. Whatever he now is, it feels more alive than he used to be.

But this time he doesn’t want anything from the house of nightmares. This time he’s just here to say his goodbyes, and perhaps offer thanks for this third lease on life.

The house’s matriarch is not present to receive him, though some part of her feels like it will always be here. But he isn’t really here for her, anyway.

Cécilia looks good. Really good, even in a sleeping robe and slippers, without her hair or face done up, and another man’s ring on her finger. It might just be because he can see the blonde of her hair, and the rest of her, all in color. Or maybe it’s the heartfelt smile that lights up her eyes, after he says who she is, and the feel of her skin and warm body against his as she hugs him. It’s her first, he realizes, not to Elliot, but to the real him.

He feels his new fangs lengthening in his mouth, too, at her embrace, at the sound of the heart beating in her chest, pumping hot blood through her veins. Some part of him wonders how she would taste. If the flavor of her lifeblood over his tongue would answer whether she is a monster too.

It’s probably for the best, when she pulls away.

For her. For him. He doubts that would make Maman very happy.

She’s happy for him, though. She really is.

“I hope you can find peace here, Em,” she says.

Maybe he will. Maybe he won’t. It’d be nice if he did.

“You have forever,” she says simply. “And now that you’re longer burdened by your dark side… I think this second chance is just what you need. You’ve been through life and death, made mistakes, and come out the other side. I think you’ve gained wisdom from your experiences. I don’t think you’re the same man I met at a McGehee school dance. I think you’re right that you need time and distance to process everything you’ve experienced.”

She smiles.

“And there’s no rush. You have forever.”

She plants a chaste kiss upon his cheek. She wishes him luck. She wishes him well. She tells him to be careful out there. She tells him to stop by if he’s ever in town again.

Is she a monster?

Is this, as he asked another monster, inhuman indifference? Or real forgiveness, real grace?

Perhaps, in the end, it doesn’t matter.

Either way, she’s less of a monster than he is.


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Finding shelter from the dawn is tricky, that first night. Camille tells him not to crash at Chakras. He’ll have to get used to finding shelter, if he wants to survive on his own. If he can’t do that in the city he grew up, he can’t do that anywhere.

But he does. It might be inaccurate to say that a man who’s died (twice?) is good at surviving, but Emmett Delacroix always got by on his own, and the Sandman will too.

He did tonight. He will tomorrow. He will for a lot of tomorrows.

This time he isn’t chasing his own death. He caught it, like a dog with a car, but it’s not true that he had no idea what to do with it. It tasted awful and he spat it back out.

So that leaves this.

The I-10 cuts through sun-baked Texas and Southwest desert before coming to a stop in L.A. Hollywood. The Dream Factory. The movie capital of America. It seems a fitting place for the Sandman to go first, maybe followed by a detour to Vegas and San Francisco, if he doesn’t change his mind. There’s also the Big Apple. Or maybe he’ll head south into Mexico, practice his Spanish. They say Mexico is dangerous because of the Sabbat. They say the Great Plains are dangerous because of werewolves. Frankly, everywhere sounds dangerous.

But the Sandman intends to go everywhere, because Emmett Delacroix was never one to listen to warnings. He’ll either survive or he won’t.

This time, at least, he’ll have help.

Eileen’s arms fit snugly around his chest as he revs up the motorcycle, clad in a leather jacket, no helmet, and a belief in his own invincibility’s entirely justified this time, at least from road accidents. The moon shines brightly in the sky, its silvery outline promising an eternity of nights ahead.

Eternity. It’s more than he honestly knows what to do with. Emmett Delacroix was always good at the chasing, never what came after. Maybe that’s why Sami struck it rich before he did. What would he have even done with all that money? What does someone who’s felt so empty for so long do when he gets everything he’s supposed to want? What comes next?

He didn’t know then. He doesn’t know now.

But Cécilia was right about one thing.

He has time.

He’ll survive or he won’t. He’ll figure it out or he won’t.

He’s seduced the devil’s own daughter. Orchestrated a revenge to make the most jaded elders of his kind proud. Burned down a mob boss’ house and spun his giant cannibal hitman into a friend. Killed a man everyone said was untouchable by the likes of him. Twice. Spat the arrogant and the powerful in their faces, when he wasn’t vomiting into their laps. Done things everyone warned would be the death of him, and were, and bounced right back from the consequences like a kid off a trampoline. Led an army of duped souls into the devil’s hungry maw. Fed his literal dark side to a monster. Outlasted nightmares, danced with demons, woven dreams into bedazzling tapestries.

He absently spins a new dream in the palm of his hand, and listens to Eileen clap and exclaim at the pretty show.

It is a pretty show. It’s a remarkable show. Whatever else might be said of him, Emmett Delacroix’s whole existence has been a remarkable show.

He’s been a man, been a ghost, been a vampire, and been as many things as tales he’s told and dreams he’s spun.

It’s time, now, for him to be something else. Perhaps many things else. He may be a literal bloodsucker, but the cancerous emptiness gnawing at his soul is finally gone. What he decides to fill it with is his choice. An infinity of vistas and an eternity of years stretch before him like the open highway.

He grips the motorcycle’s handlebars and roars off into the night.

Pic.jpg
Emmett: And what better way could he end his story, by beginning another one?

For a moment, everything is perfect.

Then his new, perfect face wrinkles in consternation. He swears, and his profanity is swallowed by the wind.

He yells at Eileen to hold on as he guns the bike into a wild, reckless turn that would set a man who had something to lose’s teeth on edge.

He’s just realized he’s forgotten something…


Wednesday night, 16 March 2016, AM

GM: The Sandman drives back to the Quarter. He drives back to the place it all began: the pretty little condo in hell.

Technically, it was never a condo. It was an apartment. But ‘condo in hell’ sounded better than ‘apartment in hell’, and that’s what matters. How it all sounds. How it all looks. How the story and all its pretty illusions come together.

He thinks back to the question he asked Cécilia during their goodbye.

“Do vampires become ghosts?”

“I don’t think so,” she’d said, shaking her head. “You, they, go on to whatever final fate awaits you.”

“What do you think that is?”

“The Lancea et Sanctum believe Kindred go to Hell, with the possibility of resurrection and redemption upon Christ’s Second Coming for Kindred who’ve been faithful to the teachings of Longinus. Many Invictus Kindred share that belief. Many Kindred raised in Western cultures without strong religious convictions still seem to accept the belief they go to Hell. Others just don’t think about it. Many Kindred who are atheists believe they simply cease to exist. Kindred who follow non-Christian faiths all have their own explanations. Caroline tells me one of her ghouls is Jewish and believes the same thing her faith teaches: mortals and Kindred who’ve done bad things spend time in Sheol having their souls purified, but even Hitler’s will be clean by the time the Messiah comes. Kindred who’ve made serious study of the occult can believe much stranger and darker things. Maman’s told me about one theory which holds that the Strix, demonic owls made of smoke and hate, are the specters of deceased Kindred.”

“So it’s like the mortal afterlife, in that regard,” she’d answered. “The only people who know for sure are the people who are there.”

“Ah, but I asked you,” he’d said. “Just like the last time we talked about this. What do you think happens to us?"

“I believe in a merciful and all-loving God, Emmett. But I also believe our blood defines us. I believe our blood is perhaps the strongest force in existence. Kindred have inherited the blood of Caine, and with it, his sins. I believe that Kindred go to Hell as a result of the covenant they’ve made with their forefather, even if they made it involuntarily. But," she’d then emphasized, “I also believe in Christ’s grace and mercy. I believe the Kindreds’ suffering doesn’t have to last forever, and that upon the Second Coming, those whose actions were more than their blood can enjoy a final reward not determined by their blood.”

“Maman just laughs whenever we talk about that,” she’d continued with a faint grimace. “I don’t think she shares my belief in that regard. She hasn’t told me exactly what she believes happens to Kindred after they die, but… I have the feeling her answer is much, much grimmer. And she knows so much more than I do. The implications of that can be very dispiriting to think about. I want to believe that something better can await you and Caroline.” She’d paused. “But that’s what it means to have faith: to believe in something better not because you have evidence, but because you trust in God.”

So he goes to Hell. Maybe not permanently, which is a nice thought, but even she acknowledges that he goes to a place of suffering and torment. It’s a refreshingly direct answer.

The truth is, it does’t much bother him. If there is a Hell, then by any reasonable metric, Emmett Delacroix deserves to go there. He’s made his peace with that.

“But ashed licks don’t become ghosts,” he’d repeated, just to be sure.

‘Ashed.’ He’d liked that word when it came up in the car with Sami.

“Ashed licks don’t become ghosts,” Cécilia nodded. “Maman tells me that most rules have exceptions—you’re a fairly obvious one, as I hadn’t thought ghosts could become Kindred—but she was very clear with me, when I asked, that destroyed Kindred don’t become ghosts. Whatever happens to you is final… outside of God’s hands, if you believe in that.”

Well, that’s good enough for him.

The Sandman drives and drives, and the night rolls past. He drives until it’s just the right time when he arrives back at his old place, just one story up from Café Soulé and the chocolate crepes he can no longer enjoy. He exercises a little of his new glamour, and one of the apartment residents happily lets him past the locked door. He walks up to the balcony where he used to take his smokes.

Pic.jpg
He waits.

He waits.

Then he starts to smoke.

There’s no lighter.

Or cigarette.

No, the smoke is wafting from his blistering, blackening skin. His Beast screams with pain, with rage, with panic. It’s the newest incarnation of pure evil to rent a room in the dilapidated house that is his soul, and it’s just as pissed at him as the last tenant. It wants to get away. It wants anything besides this. The Sandman grips the railing and stares ahead into the rising sun. He’s glad he told Eileen what he was doing, and that he told her to go back to Chakras, or wherever else she wanted to go. She doesn’t need to get burned trying to save him from the flames crackling up his flesh, even if burning other people through his self-destructive behaviors is what he’s best at. Who says he can’t learn?

He smiles, and he feels a smoldering ligament in his jaw tear. He looks down at his hands and he sees something the color and texture of burning charcoal. His Beast is an all but physical force trying to throw him out of harm’s way, and its soul-deep terror rocks through him like a hit of the strongest, longest line of coke he ever snorted (was he trying to kill himself then too, by ODing?), but he grips the railing like a lifeline. A deathline. He grips it and he watches the sun rise over rosy dawn sky.

The truth is, there’s no happy ending for people like Emmett Delacroix. A fresh start was a nice thought. Ending his story by beginning a new one was an even nicer thought. But he’s a walking disaster who’ll always be on the run from his past, no matter how many new names and faces he hides behind.

There’s no happily ever for any of the Kindred, either, he thinks. They just have to enjoy the smaller parts of a very sad song.

That’s the real Requiem. The Swan Song. They might as well skip to the end.

He spent all his life chasing his end.

Gasper spent all his death chasing their end.

His Shadow even offered him Oblivion. Why didn’t he just take it?

Well, the truth was that Gasper pissed him off, and he wasn’t about to let that childish brat get one over on him. The surest way to get Emmett Delacroix to do something is to tell him not to do it, even if that means cutting off the nose to spite the face. This, he thinks savagely as he burns and blisters and blackens, is spiting someone else. His Beast doesn’t want him to do this. As far as he’s concerned, that makes it the right decision. He’d have been too good at being a vampire. It’s better for everyone this way.

And no coming back as a ghost, this time. Abélia’s reward was good for that.

Emmett Miloud Delacroix closes his eyes and lets the sun burn him to a crisp. For all the lies he told, and for all that could be said about his life, death, and undeath, there’s one thing people can now say for sure:

There’s one less monster in the world.

A smile touches the dead man’s face, as it ends where it began, and then he’s ash upon a morning wind.


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Story Twelve, Celia XXIX

“Anyone else would have broken.”
Celia Flores


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Celia: The dolls pull her under, bit by bit. Wave after wave of them, surrounding her, tripping her, pulling at her with their grabby little hands and glaring at her with their hateful little eyes. She isn’t fast enough. She’d hesitated for too long, tried too hard to bring Key to her side, thought too hard on how to fix it. She’s going under, drowning in a sea of porcelain and chiffon.

But the doll in her arms: Lucy. Grace. Diana. One of them had given everything to tell her to flee. She’ll be punished as a traitor. But Jade won’t let that happen. The dolls might get her Kindred body, but they won’t get Lucy’s. She drags sharp claws down her front from sternum to pelvis and stuffs the doll inside. A pinch of her fingers seals the wound. It’s her last action before the enemies catch her, overwhelming her in sheer numbers. Her fingers brush against the door; she’d been so close. Then they’re on her. Around her. Under her. In her.

In her.

She’s there. Then she’s not. Something shatters inside of her, a tinkling chime of porcelain and glass. It tears at her skin, her eyes, her mind.

It breaks.

She breaks.

Leilani’s gentle smile is her smile. Jade’s sneer is her sneer. Celia’s face is her face. The Beast skulks nearby, half-shrouded in shadows, red eyes smoldering in hatred. And more, the others, the dolls: Princess, with the ballet slippers and the daddy who had always loved her. Blossom, whose father had never taken a hacksaw to her mother. Lucy, with the kind eyes and patient smile, a larger part of herself than she will ever admit. And the new ones, the ones she and Elyse would have made together had things not gone so poorly, had she not learned Diana’s truth: Lacey, Daisy, Bambi, Angel, Belle, Bonita, Bellamy. Dolls that don’t exist and never will. They surround her. They pull at her. Out there, in here.

Play with us.

One of us.

Stay forever.

Who are you?

What is its name?

And Lotus. The first, maybe the favored. Lotus watches. Lotus, with her curling black hair and her pretty face and her dress made of memories: her first kiss, first date, first time, first “I love you,” the dress she wore on the eve of her release into Kindred society, the dress she wore when she spoke to her sire for the first time during their rooftop interlude, when he had made love to her and told her that what they had was something special, the dress she wore the evening of her Embrace, when he plucked her from her childhood home and carried her into the sky and she was cold, so cold, and he trailed wintry kisses down her face and neck and sank two points of ice into her veins and drew forth the fire and blood and life from her body and her breath came out in ragged, throaty gasps and she knew without any shadow of doubt that he would drop her, kill her—

Frigid arms embrace her, cradle her against a hard chest. She looks but doesn’t see, eyes blinded by buttons. It’s not him. He’s not real. He’s a figment, imaginary like the rest of them. The nameless one.

Blood assails her senses.

NEVERAGAIN!”

Someone screams.

“You’re killing her!”

Wind whips across her face.

“I’ll tuck you in.”

Is this how it ends? An echo of how it began?

GM: Yes.

This is how it ends.

Him tucking her in.

Because Key’s screaming and there’s blood flying from his severed fingers.

Jade doesn’t see what happens next, doesn’t see if any of the dolls lose their hands too, because she’s soaring through the night air at breakneck speed, scores of feet above the ground and climbing still higher—

Donovan_Large.jpg
Celia: The air, the cold, the movement tug at her. The buttons fall from her eyes. The nameless one beats them back with the saber at his side, cutting through the horde in unchallenged efficiency. He doesn’t need anything, she and Elyse had long ago decided, but maybe he wants something.

Maybe he wants her.

The taste of freedom dances across her tongue as the nameless one slaughters the last of them. He turns to her and extends a hand. He pulls her out.

Only it’s not the nameless one. It’s the dark one. The cold one. And he’s not a doll: he’s real. There. With her. For her.

She’s not in her mind anymore. She’s not in the house anymore. She’s soaring through the sky. In his arms. Safe.

Safe.

Safe.

Safe.

Despite the cold, the altitude, the dread in her belly at his ire, she finds comfort in his embrace. Nothing can touch her when he has her. Nothing but him. Her sire. Cold, merciless, meticulous; his is the composure that she strives for, the the mask she had sought to don this evening.

Now, seeing it in front of her, she knows she had not come close.

Reality comes back to her in little snippets. She touches him, fingers but a whisper against his cheek, and remembers who she is.

Celia. The name. Her name. Not Jade. Not Leilani. Not Star, Neveah, Jasmine, Princess, Blossom, Lotus, Lily, Lucy, Dahlia Rose, Em, Emil, Emily, Caroline, Veronica, Antoine, the Beast, the Beauty, the Bitch, the Madonna or the Whore.

She’s Celia. Just Celia.

Celia.

Celia, of the heavens. Celia, reborn from the sea. Celia, childe of Donovan, chosen for… something.

CrAaazZYyy… someone giggles.

Celia finds the anchor that she needs in front of her. Uncertainty and the remnants of humanity slip away into the night, falling like the sanguine teardrops from so long ago to splatter against the ground. She touches him and the tips of her fingers freeze. She freezes.

“Celia,” she whispers. Frozen in time. Frozen forever. This is who she is. Everything else is a mask, a lie, a part she plays like a puppet on a string, like the dancer in her chains, each move choreographed in advance by him, for him. For him.

“Donovan.” His name leaves her lips, soft as a sigh, no longer a question but an answer. She curls her fingers in his clothing and tucks her face against his chest. She comes back.

She’s home.

GM: Flight with her sire could last forever. Celia, more than any of her other masks, has perhaps no place she’d rather be than held aloft in his arms. They’re cold, like the rest of him, but strong and unyielding. Like the rest of him.

She can be certain here. She can know who she is here. She can know what role she is supposed to play. The good childe. The obedient childe, working always to please her sire.

She can ignore Leila’s words.

She isn’t crazy. She’s not. She’s not. He won’t allow her to be. He’ll just cut it out of her, like he cuts down anything that would threaten her.

Rain pelts against the pair as they fly. It always rains in this city. Celia’s sire is dressed in the same black, double-breasted trench in which she saw him last. Water runs does down his expressionless, marble-like face.

Their flight feels as if it ends too soon when a familiar rooftop approaches. They land atop Celia’s haven. The one close to Vidal’s border. Donovan sets her down.

Home, in more than one sense now.

Celia sees the blade extending from one of her bracers. Any blood on the edge is long since washed off by the rain. Her sire runs the flat against his palm, wiping off the excess moisture, and retracts the blade back into its sheath.

She doubts he would care if he knew what the leather was made from.

His voice seeps into her thoughts like a chill night mist.

:: Explain. ::

Celia: It ends too quickly. Here, in his arms, she could enjoy the rest of her Requiem and never want for anything else. Petty worries and troubles fade away: there’s just her, him, them, the sky, his arms, the frigid temperature. She doesn’t need to breathe but she does it anyway, taking in long, deep, shuddering gulps of air as they move through the night. She breathes him into her lungs, lets his scent fill her.

The relief at her rescue ends as soon as her feet touch the ground. She has to come back down eventually. He’s not a hero. Her hero, maybe, but not a hero.

All the same, she doesn’t step away. She doesn’t give him the space that she should. The blade he wipes clean could gut her before she has a chance to start the movement. The thought shouldn’t make her shiver as it does. But despite her apprehension she’s glad to see it put to use.

How can she explain? She lost control. She’d let him get away with hurting her mother because it’s him. No one else will be afforded that luxury. A dozen lies flit through her mind, dismissed as quickly as they occur.

She’s in trouble. She’s in so much trouble.

:: We were friends. Then she sought to destroy something that belongs to me. ::

Her eyes don’t leave his face. She refuses to drop her gaze. She will not hide from him. He can see it anyway, watch it play through her mind: her Beast slipping its leash and attacking Elyse.

She’d lost control.

She has never seen him lose control. She’d thought it had been beaten out of her, but tonight just proved that she’s no closer to mastering her Beast now than she had been years ago.

It would have been easy to say that she needed to see him anyway and orchestrated a way to do so with none the wiser. Cause problems in his parish and he’ll be sent to deal with it; who would suspect that there was anything more to it than that?

She had even told Key she was going to call the regent or Elyse’s sire. Now the ghoul will just think that she had done so while he was busy orchestrating the defense and the sheriff had whisked Jade away to mete out his own sort of justice. No one has to know it was a rescue.

GM: His icy eyes linger on hers.

Perhaps he is watching what happened.

Perhaps he is angry at her. Perhaps he is disappointed.

His face gives away nothing.

Like the nameless doll.

She could be in so much trouble, and she cannot even tell.

:: Describe how you have been of use to me since our last meeting. ::

Celia: Of course.

Coming for her had nothing to do with her. He just can’t lose his little spy. His pawn. Not even a toy; at least you play with toys.

Her Beast simmers just beneath the surface, already on edge from the multiple times it had been set free this evening. Maybe if she rakes her claws down his face he’ll finally show something resembling emotion. Had it really only been hours ago that she’d thought he’d chosen her to save him? What a laugh.

What if she says she hasn’t? What if she tells him she’s done absolutely nothing but play house with her boyfriend and fix the mortal family he ripped apart when he decided to get involved?

Finally, she looks away. She stuffs it down deep where it won’t bother her. She turns away to hide the hurt; it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t care.

:: Making allies. Gathering intel. Putting plans into motion. ::

Rain slicks down her face, flattening her hair against her scalp and cheeks. She swallows the rejection. It doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter. It can’t matter.

Be patient. Be patient so he can get what he wants from her and—

She stops the thought in its tracks.

:: You told me not to trust him. But you put me with him. Told me to help him. Weaken the prince, you said, so you could take the city. He says you are the frontrunner for the spot. If I continue down this path with him, will it harm your interests? ::

GM: :: No. ::

Celia: She’s silent for a beat. She sends another thought. A question phrased as a statement. Here, privately, where no one else can listen in, she requests the truth.

GM: The mental answer is the same.

:: No. ::

Celia: It’s not the answer she expected. She hadn’t even expected an answer. The picture begins to fall into place, but it’s a puzzle to which she’s missing pieces. No matter how firm a grasp she thinks she has on things there are parts that continue to elude her.

Until it clicks.

Another piece finds its home. But it brings up more questions, more uncertainty on how she should proceed, on what it means for her, for him, for them.

Celia reminds herself there is no them. Her “them” is down below waiting for her to come home, unaware that she stands twenty feet above his head, so close to the city’s sheriff that she can count the lashes on his eyes. Celia turns back to Donovan, lifting her gaze once more so she can see those same eyes that have long starred in her dreams.

One step separates them. She closes the distance and her eyes search his face, though she expects to find nothing.

Finally, she sends another message. Softer words. For all that she tries to be Celia the childe around him, not too many moments ago she was Celia the broken.

:: I have information. Plans. But I hesitate to take action without a complete picture. I will not be the reason that your goals stall. ::

There’s no one else she can talk to. For all that people say he’s a monster, he is at least the monster that she knows.

He doesn’t stand much taller than her. But this close he’s a giant. This close, when she thinks she’s finally unlocked some of the truth, when the request lingers in the back of her mind, he towers over her. He rises above mere Kindred as something other.

Nameless one. Donovan. It’s hard to keep them straight.

She reaches for him. Not because she does not respect him or the sanctity of his boundaries but because she does; because he is what she holds sacred; because she knows the power that lurks inside his mind and body; because when her fingertips brush his coat, his shoulders, his cheek it creates the tether that she needs to anchor her to reality. She knows exactly who she is.

She is his childe. She trusts him. Loves him. Needs him.

And for all that, she doesn’t know how to ask for what she wants.

GM: He’s there.

He’s not tall, as far as men go, but he’s always felt as though he is.

The rain is cold, but he is colder.

He does not touch her back with his hands. She feels his mind inside of hers, his presence chilling her thoughts like she’s stepped into a freezer. It’s as cold and dark as the rest of him. Others would recoil, but Celia does not. In her sire’s presence, she is secure. Safe. Destined for greatness.

So long as she is worthy of him.

So long as she does what he asks.

So long as she is a good childe.

He wants her to be useful because one can only be useful if they are strong. Only a childe who is strong is worthy to carry his blood. That is why he asks how she has been useful. She wants to be strong for him. She wants to be worthy of him. He wants her to be strong and worthy.

Storm clouds on the horizon. A darkening of his thoughts.

Tonight she showed she was weak.

Ruled by her emotions.

Ruled by her Beast.

Ruled by Elyse’s children, had he not saved her.

He gives her a chance still, to show she is useful. To show she is strong.

Yet bitterness and resentment still welled within her thoughts? For the mercy he now shows her? After his rescue of her?

Celia: The dark clouds of his thoughts gather, but her lightning strikes first.

There was another night where she had stared into his eyes too long. Then, he had pulled her in and showed her his Hell. Tonight she opens the door for him, throws it wide, and invites him into hers.

He fills her. Even here inside her mindscape where she rules his presence looms. But he is no king here. This watery terrain is hers, and while he gets caught up by the roiling storm on the surface—the anger, bitterness, and resentment he thinks he sees—she takes his hand and pulls him under.

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Water closes over their heads. Others might think they’re drowning. Perhaps they’re meant to drown rather than swim. A strong current surges against them, half-formed monsters…

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…with fins and rows of jagged teeth…

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…and luminous little eyes meant to lure you in…

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…made of shadow and stray thoughts surround them.

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But this is her mind, her domain, and he her welcome guest. The monsters watch, wary of intruders, but keep their distance.

They go deeper.

Light disappears the deeper they go, but they are creatures of the night; when the trench looms before them, silent and dark, she does not hesitate to lead him toward it.

Here, too, the current runs strong. This time she lets it catch her and he comes along for the ride. It yanks them toward a whirlpool…

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…chaos waters swirling, swirling, swirling…

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…dragging them around, around, around…

…closer and closer toward the point of black in the center.

She dives.

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They fall.

The rules of reality don’t apply here. Light bends around them. Space and time distort. He sees things whiz by in their mad descent toward the bottom of her mindscape’s ocean:

a girl in a pink dress, the hum of a ventilator, a green statue, jagged edges, rage in its eyes, a stuffed bear, the long teeth of monsters, eight candles on a chocolate cake, a bullwhip cracking through the air, perfectly painted nails, claws and fang and simmering anger, beautiful lies and ugly truths, ugly lies and beautiful truths, blueberry pancakes, questions asked a thousand times, words spoken by sealed lips, broken bones and severed tendons, mermaids, bubbles, porcelain dolls, a tiger in a gilded cage, a name carved into flesh, a bird with broken wings, the whispered words of long ago…

“I think there’s a monster under my bed”

“it’s all in your head, sweetie”

“Cici was just pretending”

“stay”

“it’s okay”

“please”

“it’s all okay”

“help me”

“you’ll feel better in the morning”

“who are you”

“I love you, Celia”

They plummet.

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He wants truth?

She’ll give him truth.

He wants to know what she has done with her time?

She shows him.

A thousand fractured fragments splinter past them, some so quickly he can’t see them all. Everything she has ever done for him. Every lie she has ever told for him. Every mask she has ever worn for him. Every word, every action, every thought, all of it wrapped up in him, him, him, every waking moment, every agonized decision, every betrayal, every hurt, every scar, every drop of blood—his, it’s his, his.

His.

Seven years of his. Seven years of serving without knowing why. Seven years of no questions, no demands, no second-guessing. He had handed her to his enemies and she had made herself a place. She had carved a niche. She had made friends, collected allies, sought the favor or mentors to further his goals, his plans, his schemes, and she has not once ever resented him for it, has not been bitter for it, and her only reason for questioning him now, the only reason she asks anything now is to avoid destroying what he has so carefully wrought these long years because now, finally, everything starts to come together.

She doesn’t want to know his secrets, but she shows him hers. She doesn’t want to see his plans, but she shows him hers. She doesn’t need the answers to her questions, but she shows him hers.

All of it.

Strong? She shows him strength. Obedient? She shows him her devotion. Good childe? She shows him the line she has walked, the masks she has worn, the ways she has bent but never broken. Every night she finds the jagged edges of herself and smooths them over. She paints in her cracks. She fills the holes that this work leaves behind.

Anyone else would have broken.

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The vortex batters them from all sides. It pulls them under. It pulls them deeper. It spins them around, over, under, backwards, sideways. It thrashes them, throttles them, pummels them.

Anyone else would have broken.

Night by night, she stitches herself back together.

Anyone else would have broken.

Anyone else would have broken.

Finally, it spits them out into a small cave, the one secret piece of her that no one has ever touched, the thing that the monsters, the lies, the claws and fang all protect. Calm waters lap at their feet, and even his ice isn’t enough to chill it.

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The bare rocks hold no further answers for him. There are no words etched across their surfaces that he can peruse, no pictures painted in clay or mud or blood. It’s just them, him and her, the monster and his maiden.

Celia Flores, nineteen years old, in flowing chiffon and silk that match the storm in his eyes stands before him. Waiting for him all this time. Knowing that one night he would come back for her. The girl he had dropped into the ocean has made it her home. And like the rest of the world’s waters, very little has ever been discovered about its depths.

Until now.

The thing about secrets…

… is that the greatest of them are hidden in the most unlikely places…

… and to keep one, you must hide it from yourself.

It starts as a ripple in the water at their feet. No moon controls the tides here, no earth quakes beneath them, but all the same the water ebbs and flows in gentle waves against their shins. Warm, tropical, like the long ago summer sun against their skin. It stirs at her command.

He’d thought she was tapped? That these bare rocks hold no more secrets?

Oh no. She’s just beginning.

The answers aren’t written on the rocks because they reside within the water, hidden away like her cave. She wouldn’t leave them out in the open where anyone could steal them; she’s tied them to her core, to the real her hidden beneath the tons of ocean above, the guardians, the obstacles. Even the empty room is but another trap; were she not with him he would be caught here in this little cave, a prisoner inside her head, crushed beneath the weight of the water that would rush in. Intruders are drowned.

But he is no intruder. She has invited him in, and now she shows him what he has asked for.

She summons the soul.

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Drops of water bead together at her urging. They coalesce, lifting, seething higher, disconnecting from the larger body around them. In vaporous rivulets they snake upward like smoke from a fire.

How could he doubt her?

Water takes so many forms.

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The molecules bind. They separate, divide, amass. Hues emerge, particles of light glinting off their surfaces. He may be an achromatic creature, but she is made of color.

Wispy tendrils converge on one another, swirling together to form coherency. Translucent bubbles take shape.

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Something moves in their midst.

White, it flashes through the orbs like lightning through the sky. Energy. Her energy. Little pieces of her that dance and twist and cavort. It bubbles and froths inside the spheres. Fluid, flexible, mercurial.

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Seven orbs form from the waters that separate. One by one they take their place in front of her, between them. Seven orbs for seven chakras, seven memories, seven thoughts, seven plans, seven secrets.

Seven orbs for seven years.

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A wave of her fingers sets them to spinning in circular orbits through the air. All he has to do is touch them to learn what’s inside.

Worthy?

She will show him worthy.

Every building and painted face begins with foundation. Everything has a base. So too does her vision for the future, and so too do her goals. She has spent long years building her repertoire, honing her skills, and practicing her craft. Now, she unveils it for him.

She starts with red.

The globule pulses above her hand: crimson, claret, and carnelian, currant, cherry, and carmine. A hundred shades of red reside within the confines of the rondure, bubbling and gurgling in effervescent glee.

It all comes back to red with their kind. Red is the foundation of their society. It is payment, barter, sustenance. It is love and life and family ties. Red is blood. It is what binds them together.

Red is the base. The root chakra. It ties to the physical identity of every being and oversees their base needs: security, survival, stability. Without the root there is nothing; a building without a solid foundation will crumble into pieces. Red allows her to stand on her own two feet and withstand whatever challenges come her way, but even the strongest king doesn’t rule alone.

Fitting, isn’t it, that the gemstone most associated with the root chakra is onyx.

He is her foundation. Connecting to him, touching him, it centers her. It reminds her who she is, what she is, what their goals are. She can wear a thousand masks and be a thousand things to a thousand different people, but when she is with him she knows the truth: she is Celia Adelaide Flores, childe of Donovan. Nothing else matters.

He had told her once that she has a place with him in his new order. Then, she had not understood what he meant. How could she possibly serve a god? How could she offer anything that he could not take for himself? In time it had come to her: the role he has cast her into, how she can make herself useful. And she has made herself very, very useful.

She shows him her vision: the darkened throne room, and he on the stone chair. He does not want it for himself—(he kneels, he waits, his time will come… they place a crown upon his brow… he assumes the throne, then casts the crown aside… he kneels once more)—but she puts him there on the pedestal in her mind. And beside him, with eyes that burn like green fire, she waits in leather and lace. The door opens, admitting a petitioner that bows before him and says his piece. The Donovan on the throne is silent. He does not do so much as turn to her, but when he speaks the word she knows her orders.

The Chameleon vanishes before her steps have finished carrying her from the room.

That is the place she wants in his new order. So she has set herself up to take it.

Starting with the roots.

Like the rose of her clan, she spreads her roots through the city, an interlocking system of connections that she has forged across all manner of borders. In New Orleans that tangle is the thickest; here is what matters, but their city is not an island cast adrift in the middle of the ocean. The roots reach out to other cities where she has planted seeds, each of them blossoming into little gardens of their own that she has tended over time: allies, mentors, favors, secrets, debts, and safety. Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, Miami, DC, Seattle, Las Vegas.

All of them ripe for plucking whenever she needs a hand.

She moves on. The garden grows.

Her name has not been connected to the woman who owns the company, but she has had more than a hand in it all the same.

The thing about insects is that you don’t notice them beneath your feet until they start to bite. They scurry, scurry, scurry through your house and learn your patterns; they catch you with your mistress, watch you do lines of coke before your big meeting, know exactly where and how deep the bodies are buried.

Kindred and kine alike, she has been inside their havens and theirs homes. She has seen their dirty laundry and the skeletons in their closets. Silently, she observes it all.

Bugs catch everything.

She moves on. The garden grows.

In nature, many plants and animals form symbiotic relationships. Some of them are parasitic, where one organism benefits and the other is actively harmed. Some are commensalism, where one organism benefits and the other is neither harmed nor helped.

And some are mutualism, where both organisms benefit.

Star and Stanley both benefit from their arrangement: he gets a hot Latina lover on the side, and she gets to see every single bit of paperwork that passes his desk and overhear every single conversation that takes place in his office. She sees their faces. She hears their stories. She learns their secrets.

And when she wants something looked into she uses him as her intermediary so that her hands stay clean.

She moves on. The garden grows.

Dolls are funny things, aren’t they? Cute. Feminine. They wear what you put them in, stand how you arrange their limbs, smile contentedly even when they witness horrible atrocities.

They see everything. They hear everything. And when they’re living, breathing, things and can move of their own volition they get into even more. They travel in their little boxes, far and wide across the country, but some of them find homes right here in the city.

The little girl shows him her dolls.

“This one is Sunshine. Her father didn’t think she was very bright, so we gave her a name to make her shine. Now she’s married to a political consultant and takes notes at all the meetings.”

“This one is Jewel. She cheated on her husband, so he sent her to us for refining. One of her sons works in media, and the other is a real estate attorney.

“This one is Chastity.” The little girl giggles. “She’s a secret from the mother. Her aunt wanted her to join the family business, and now she makes bank on her back.”

“And this one is Bree. She’s not like the others. She inherited an arms dealership and her daddy just wanted to make sure that she wouldn’t blow up the world in a fit of feminine rage. Girls can be silly like that.”

She moves on. The garden grows.

The foundation has been set. The roots have taken hold. Now that the web has been spun by the spider, she shows him the flies that she has caught.

Once upon a time, the story goes, a singer loved a sculptor and asked him to be hers for eternity. The sculptor was taken by the singer and agreed to her request. But the singer was a fickle sort, and soon her interest waned. The sculptor spent long years vying for her attention before he finally gave up and walked into the sun.

But everyone knows that the Beast won’t let their kind take that sort of easy out.

Wounded, the sculptor left the city. His abandoned clan thought he had been destroyed. But he was only waiting, biding his time to avenge himself upon the singer who so callously threw him aside. One night he met another sculptor, one who deals with flesh instead of marble, and the two sculptors devised a way that they could help each other.

She moves on.

“The thing about kine politics,” Celia explains to a girl whose face is in the process of being transformed, “is that every Kindred wants a piece. They know that ruling the kine can make for a better Requiem. And while Marcel and Marguerite may have years of experience on me, while they can sit back in their plush offices and consult to their heart’s content, I have one thing that they don’t: I can get in on the ground level.”

“To charm them, mistress?”

“No, ‘Lana, not the way you’re thinking. I don’t need the gifts of my clan to wrap someone around my finger.” She adds the finishing touches to the look and steps back, admiring her work. “And the mental and emotional tricks are too heavy-handed to use like that. Start blasting everyone with it and rivals or hunters are sure to come knocking.”

“And tonight, mistress?”

“Tonight,” Celia says as she begins the work on her own face, “we are two pretty co-eds who are oh-so-interested in what Mr. Coxx has to say, and pretty please won’t he take us back to his room and show us a good time.”

Back in the cave, Celia stands in front of him. A single sphere remains unviewed; it pulses and throbs in hues of green, a veritable forest teeming with life and plants.

Green, for the heart. It’s the middle chakra but she saved it for last, and she sends it to him now with a flick of her fingers.

“They say that this one bridges the distance between above and below, spiritual and physical.” Her voice is liquid, it ebbs and wanes as the tide, at once both ancient and innocent. “It’s the ability to connect to others, to give and receive love, to show empathy.”

She will be his bridge. She will touch the people he cannot touch, break them with compassion just as easily as he breaks them with cruelty. She has done it before. She knows how the game is played.

She presents this final creation.

She shows him the bridge that she has already built and the plants that teem along it: the lilies, the crocuses, the violets on their lines of ivy that wind and stretch around every baluster and blanket the space between in floral fragrance. Small things yet, still being tended by the girl who planted the garden and built the bridge with her own two hands; many of them have begun to bear the fruits of her labor, but she would not yet call them “finished.” Some are still just empty stalks, waiting for the right conditions with which to flourish.

Except for two.

There are two here that she wants to show him. Two that have grown larger than all the rest. Two that have flourished under her careful cultivation and can now be harvested as desired. One has heart-shaped blossoms that dangle from slender, arching stems, interspersed with delicate and fernlike foliage that creates the perfect backdrop to the flowers. The other is taller, willowy, with six lobes that fan outward from the center stalk. A common garden plant, no one notices what hides within the petals.

The iris and the bleeding heart have bloomed.

The heartstone is Jade.

The colorful orbs fade. The bubbles pop. Surface tension that had once held the warbling globules together dissipates; teardrops rain from the seven spheres to splash into the water at their feet. It ripples outward in ever-expanding concentric circles before crashing into the edges of the pool.

Tonight she was weak. She doesn’t deny that. Tonight she lost control. Tonight she needed him like she has not before, and the resentment and bitterness he felt coming off of her was not for him; it was for her own failings. For seven long years she has not needed him to hold her hand and guide her through her Requiem. She has been content to make her own way, forge her own alliances, collect her own friends. But tonight, yes, tonight she needed him.

And he came.

How her heart had rejoiced when she emerged from the prison in her mind to find herself in his arms. How could she say that, though? How could she tell him the words etched across her heart and soul, how could she explain that he means everything to her and that letting him see her like this is just another punch in the gut after an evening of abysmal disappointments?

She has only ever wanted to be worthy.

Even now the the events of the night spin through her mind. How she can explain what happened to Elyse. How he can secure the position of cold-hearted, merciless sheriff and prevent anyone from ever knowing that he had saved her. How they can twist a setback into a victory.

She sees it so clearly in her mind: he wakes Elyse, binding her to him, and tells her that Jade Kalani has been apprehended and punished. He tells her that already he has taken a dive inside her mind to see the events of the evening, and that Miss Kalani’s consciousness had unraveled to reveal the truth: she had been given a deeply submerged directive by an enemy of Elyse, the Invictus, the Sanctified, Donovan, or the prince himself. Torpor Elyse so that the enemy can take her place. Torpor Elyse so that it looks like the first shots fired from the lord of the Quarter. Torpor Elyse for personal reasons. It could have been Sabbat. It could have been Tremere. It could have been a Ventrue, and the blue-eyed blonde flashes through her mind; Elyse was a target because of where she lives. The four-toed, raven-haired zealot flashes through her mind; Elyse was a target because of what she had done to Diana, for all she hates the woman. Or it could have been another: A new night doctor who has heard of Jade’s abilities and sought to sour their relations and remove the competition. A Nosferatu who has picked up tricks outside their clan and thought it would be hilarious to watch the two beauty-obsessed Kindred in the city tear each other apart; after all, she made such a decidedly easy target when she wandered so willingly into their sewers and night club. Jade will smooth over the relationship from there and retain her position with Elyse to keep her network secure.

She has only ever wanted his attention.

But not like this. Not this cold fury. Not this dissection of her person and purpose. She wants what Roderick has: she wants to learn. She wants him to show her. Centuries; he has had centuries to hone his skills, and she just wants a small portion of what he can offer. An hour of his time without demands for answers and information and plots and plans and schemes. Just him. Her. Together.

She has only ever wanted him.

Barefoot in the water, Celia Flores lifts her gaze to her sire’s. Darkness swims in the depths of her brown eyes; his storm gathers within her.

GM: Celia dives, and her sire follows under.

He is well at home among the monsters. She’s seen the inside of his mind, after all. He follows the current. He does not need to fight it or to confront its monsters. He has nothing to prove.

He waits, patiently, at her demonstrations of filial loyalty.

He does not reply aloud. There is no need to speak in this place.

But Celia knows.

He told her that she had a place at his side. She did. As a mole and agent by his own sire’s side. If she desired a greater place than that, it was incumbent upon her to envision and incumbent upon her to seize. Competence cannot be bequeathed. Initiative cannot be bequeathed. Vision cannot be bequeathed. Even his own sire, for all his charming veneer, has not declared that he wishes Celia to be his spymaster: others cannot realize one’s ambitions for them. Some Kindred have ambitions and some do not. Some Kindred aspire only to exist from night to night, used by their elders purely as tools, and others aspire to be more.

He believes, now, that she aspires to be more.

Is he pleased?

Even here, so deep within her mind, he shows so little of himself. No warmth radiates from his thoughts. No smile creases his features. But he would not be the same Kindred if he did. Perhaps Celia would not have brought him here if she thought he was capable of such. He is who he is.

Yet.

There is a place for one who plants gardens and plucks their fruits.

There is a place for one who can become as an insect.

There is a place for a mutualist organism.

There is a place for a dollmaker.

There is a place for a sculptor of flesh.

There is a place for the pretty co-ed.

There is a place for the chakra opener.

There is a place for one who would be his bridge.

There is a place for one who would wear all of these faces and many more.

There is a place for one who would be his spymaster.

There is a place for one whose identity is what she needs it to be.

There is a place for one who would be more than simply a mole.

There is a place for the Chameleon.

He had but waited for her to claim that place. He could not do it for her.

His storm gathers within her, then about her, and she knows its frigid kiss.

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Celia: The storm crashes against her. It does not rage for he does not rage; it consumes. It consumes everything in its path and would sweep her along with it, but the mental projection inside her mindscape is a maiden in the monster’s arms; it has long been her safe harbor.

She welcomes the frigid touch of ice and wind and rain against her skin.

She welcomes what it means for her. For them. And for their city.

She gives herself to the storm.

GM: She gives herself to him. His wintry and all-consumptive kiss freezes out all lesser sensations, but is all-too brief.

He is pleased she would be more than a mole.

He is pleased she harbors ambitions for greater things.

But her lapse of control was a weakness.

Weakness must be punished.

Weakness must be purged.

He punishes so that she may improve.

He purges so that she may be all she aspires to be.

She will accept her punishment if she loves him.

He offers her a choice: physical chastisement or a third draught of his blood.

Celia: It’s always too brief with him. Every moment that she has with him ends too quickly, and tonight she will not push for more. Tonight, despite what she has shown him, despite his pleasure with her shared ambition, she knows that she made a mistake and that she must pay for it.

The choice he presents isn’t a difficult one.

She will not shy from her sire’s lessons. She will fix this. She will show him that she will not make the mistake again, that she accepts his judgment and her place. The physical chastisement will correct her behavior and the blood will make sure it never happens again.

Both, she tells him. She will take both.

GM: Reality dissolves around the pair as Celia’s sire withdraws his tendrils from her mind. They’re back on the roof of her haven, rain pouring down around them. Celia is soaked to the bone under her wet clothes. She’s not sure how long they were in there for.

Then, her sire hits her.

The attack comes without warning. His rain-slick fist smashes into her mouth, splitting her lip, crunching her jawbone, sending teeth flying. Celia’s knocked off her feet from the force of the blow. Her ears ring. Her Beast, furious, howls to counterattack.

This is love.

Her sire’s booted foot stomps down on her hand, noisily crunching delicate finger bones, cracking apart her perfect nails.

He lifts it, then stomps down again. Her wrist audibly snaps against the roof.

He yanks her up by her hair. For all the struggles of her Beast, its instinctive urge to flee or fight when confronted with pain, Celia forces it down.

This is love.

His pale fingers reach inside her mouth. Squeeze. Wrench. There’s a burst of pain as her jaw breaks from the force. It dangles almost limply from her head. She can’t close her mouth right. He must have snapped her mandible. Jaw’s weakest point.

This is love.

He takes hold of her lower jaw with his other hand. Shifts position, so they’re at opposite points. Squeezes. Celia feels her lower teeth press against his palms as he squeezes, squeezes, squeezes. She can all but hear the cracks running through her jaw before the bone crunchily fractures again, at two equidistant points under his palms. The pain is horrific. There’s blood, red and coppery, but not a lot. He isn’t cutting her. Her lower face is a ruin.

This is love.

It goes on for a while. Celia thinks he draws it out. He isn’t trying to kill her, just inflict pain. There are so many nonessential bones one can break. So many more that are nonessential to the undead.

This is love.

She hurts, everywhere, as the blows rain down, as his merciless pale hands squeeze, crush, and crack. Maybe he’s going to break every bone in her body. That would take a while, but he could do it, she’s sure. Who knows how much time remains in the night. He could do it faster. Leave her a Kindred slug, like one of Elyse’s fifth-order dolls, helpless to move under its own power, just a useless lump of bruised and bleeding and broken flesh. At least the dolls get their bones removed so they can remain in some way whole. He could just leave her broken everywhere.

This is love.

He seizes her head between his palms. Perhaps to squeeze. To just push his hands together, a horizontal nutcracker with her head as the nut. Squeeze and squeeze until she cracks. He hasn’t spent as much time destroying her face as Roderick did. Perhaps he should. That’s part of her she values most, if one asked her paramour.

This is love.

Yet through it all, Celia smothers her howling Beast, throws herself upon it like a soldier diving onto a grenade to save their unit. She can’t let it get out again. Can’t disappoint him again. Can’t fail him again.

This is love.

And perhaps it is. Her broken body screams with a hundred inflicted pains, but no new ones are visited upon it. Instead, she feels her sire’s pale wrist press against her fangs. Press until they puncture, and heady vitae wells forth. Ice-cool vitae, cold as any corpse’s.

Colder than any corpse’s.

He’s proud of her, for holding the monster in. That has to be it. He’s proud of her.

This is love.

She lies broken and bleeding on the cold, wet, hard ground like a wounded animal left to die, and he kneels to feed her.

This is love.

Celia: It’s love.

He loves her.

He has to love her.

If he didn’t love her, he wouldn’t take the time to correct her behavior. If he didn’t love her, he wouldn’t care what she got up to or how she spends her time. If he didn’t love her, he wouldn’t care that she is weak.

He loves her.

He does.

And he shows it to her with every blow that he rains down upon her. Over two hundred bones in the body, and she will let him break them all if he thinks it necessary for the lesson to sink in.

Let him. As if she could stop him. As if she would stop him.

The first strike sends her reeling. She stumbles, staggers, and finally drops to the rain slicked roof. His boot upon her hand shatters phalanges and metacarpals, delicate little bones that cannot stand against the weight of his blow. Her nails chip and splinter. Her wrist fractures. Her claws come out—but just as quickly they slide away when she beats her Beast back with her own white-knuckled rage. It has ruined so much for her this evening and she will not let it take this from her, too. She will not hide in the red haze and let someone else—something else—take her punishment.

She deserves this.

She is weak.

He will make her stronger.

Pain blossoms through her body, but she does not shy away from what he does to her. She does not run. She does not beg him to stop. She does not cry, not in front of him, never in front of him. She refuses to, even when her Beast claws at her insides, even when it howls in her ears, even when it demands justice for what he does to her. She fights that internal struggle and stuffs it in, stuffs it down, stuffs it so far within herself that it becomes a backdrop to what he does to her.

With a broken jaw she can’t clench her teeth. There’s nothing to stop the noise from escaping her throat and mouth. Shame burns in her eyes the first time it happens; what must he think of her that she can’t contain the song of pain? More weakness. More failure to be purged.

Fractured fingers try to curl to stop it, but another broken bone draws it out of her, an agonized, formless whimper that drowns out the crack and grind of bone.

He wouldn’t scream if someone hurt him. He wouldn’t grunt with each blow, each punch, each splinter of bone. He would silently bear it. She searches for the ice inside of her, willing herself to become as cold as he is, to halt the noises in their tracks. Maybe it works, or maybe at some point the pain hits diminishing returns, but eventually she falls silent.

He shatters her jaw, mandible, clavicles, ribs, sternum. Her chest caves, but her heart doesn’t cease its useless beating. It swells. Through the pain, it swells. Through the agony, it flutters. Through the excruciating torture, it loves.

She loves.

He loves.

They love.

Do strong enough words exist to describe what he does to her? Pain. Agony. Torture. Burning, wrenching, aching. Sharp, gnawing, throbbing. She’s lost in it, drowning in it, and only his hands on her body keep her from disappearing into the red haze. Only his hands on her body keep her grounded. Only the repetition of her name reminds her who she is, who he is, who they are.

Blood drips from her useless jaw when he’s done with her. When he finally lets her fall back onto the roof she sprawls in a dirty puddle, every bit of her broken. She follows him with her eyes and he can see the apprehension, the nerves, that he isn’t done, that he will do more, and she readies herself for another kick, another wallop, another explosion of brutality against her person.

And the trust. He can see that too. It swims in the depths of her eyes, trust and gratitude and steely pride, and something softer, something like affection. But deep. So very, very deep. An endless, bottomless pool of aching, yearning, devotion.

This is love.

The final strike never comes. Wounded and helpless, Celia can only hold still when he presses his arm against her mouth; she can’t even move her jaw to bite, can’t sink the points of her fangs into his flesh, so he does it for her, cradling her like a newborn while she suckles at his wrist. The first drops don’t even make it into her mouth; it’s not until he tilts her head back that she tastes him upon her tongue, her broken jaw hanging uselessly inside its fleshy prison.

Cold. So cold. Had she expected any differently?

She sucks eagerly at what he offers her, replenishing what the Beast had stolen from her earlier. She drinks deeply, savoring the taste of him, ardor curling in her belly and spreading outward in a living ember that engulfs her. While she drinks she sends the blood to the areas of her that have been hurt the most: her fingers snap back into place, her wrist straightens, her jaw clicks. She becomes an active participant in the feeding rather than a passive doll, though she knows better than to grab at him or take more than he is willing to give.

She drinks.

It’s love.

Her fingers brush against his coat.

It’s love.

Her Beast is finally silent, tamed by her sire.

It’s love.

And perhaps even more importantly, it’s acceptance.

GM: It is love.

All she knows is death and cruelty and paranoia. But cold though his vitae is, something within it warms her to her core. It’s comfy and enveloping and makes her feel safe and whole. There’s no more doubt. There’s no more pain. There’s no more fear. There’s no more being alone. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel, and that light ends with her sire’s face. She is warm and safe and loved here, deep in her cozy place. The cozy place will be with her always. He will be with her always. She need only close her eyes, and she will be back in the cozy place, the mother’s womb, her sire’s arms snugly around her. And if there are thoughts for Roderick or Diana or Lucy or Emily, they are as bugs spattering against a windshield. They don’t understand her like he does. They are not father and lover and sire and protector like he is. That is what it is to be someone’s everything. To be everything they could ever need. Right there in the cozy place.

She can’t imagine why anyone doesn’t want this.

Celia: One by one, the collars that have been thrown on her by other people snap. The bonds break. Her grandsire, Coco, Veronica, Josua, Pietro, Reynaldo, Caroline, and Roderick.

Roderick.

She sees his face as it snaps. The dead girl inside of her wails at the loss; they were meant to marry, to bond each other, to be happy. Tiny fists beat at the inside of her rib cage, venting ineffectual frustration and heartbreak. How could she do this to Roderick, that dead girl cries, how could you? She had one good thing and now it, too, slips away.

Her heart cracks.

His blood binds it back together. It fills in the gaps and chasms that Roderick leaves behind. He fixes it, enveloping her in warmth.

She chose this.

She wants this.

Roderick will never understand her like her sire does. She has to lie to him constantly, hide the core tenants of herself, deceive him about who and what she is. Donovan demands no explanations when she carves someone apart or ends their life; he just wants her to be strong, to be better, to be great. He chose her.

He chose her.

It means everything.

His blood courses through her. It kills everything else in its path, destroys every part of her that had ever belonged to anyone else. She’ll wear the masks, she’ll pretend, but nothing will ever come close to what it feels like to be wrapped within the comfort and security of his arms. No one will ever be able to pry her away from him. They can’t force her to betray him. They can’t make her work against him. The bond is a punishment, but it’s no prison.

It’s protection.

Celia rises, body returned to its pristine condition. He broke her, rebuilt her, saved her. Gratitude thrums through her in the wake of his blood. Her mind opens to him again, one final thought she would share this evening if he’s listening.

GM: He is the only one who truly listens.

Celia: :: The Malkavian. ::

Elyse’s face swims in her vision: pale and porcelain with painted on freckles, a living doll. Essential to Jade’s operation, or at least a portion of it.

She asks if he will wake her. If he will lie to conceal the truth. If he will use his position as regent and sheriff to plant the falsehood Celia had sent him earlier, the lie that turns setback to scheme and protects the nature of their relationship. It explains away his presence. No one will ever know that they are more than sheriff and harlot. He binds someone further to him. It benefits them both, this small thing.

GM: A single, cool word echoes through Celia’s mind.

:: Foolish. ::

A supporter of the French Quarter lord’s who attempted to slay one of his vassals would never leave the parish.

Not if he caught them.

Jade knew this and fled with her rescuer, whose face the Malkavian’s creations did not see. It is too coincidental that the sheriff and his agents would have noticed Jade’s flight, apprehended her, extracted the story, spared her unlife, and done it all in the remaining hours before dawn.

He will wake Benson. When and if others bring her torpid body to him, and explain to him what has transpired.

Celia can hear it in her ear. A too-familiar voice that tries to pull her out of the cozy place.

Stupid.

Celia: Just like that, her hope of an easy reparation vanishes.

She had told Key she was going to call someone to help, someone to wake her. She had been in the bathroom with Elyse, no dolls in sight, no one to report that she had never used her phone. It had been in her hand when she had left the room to find Lucy on the ground before the dolls attacked. She remembers tucking it back into her pocket so she could use her hands for the doll. She could have made the call.

But if he thinks it has no merit then it has no merit.

The familiar voice knocks at the entrance to her bubble. She closes her eyes against it, keeps it from taking root. Not here. It will not bother her here.

She doesn’t know what to do with Elyse now. If it’s better to stay away or push to fix it immediately. How could she just leave her friend lying naked in the tub like that?

She tells him that she understands.

GM: Were he nearly slain by an adversary lost to their Beast, he would slay any underling pathetic enough to entrust that same adversary to awaken him.

Key will not care what calls she has made or not made.

The ghoul will exercise his own best judgment on how to revive his mistress, if her sire has not already sensed her near-destruction and arrived to investigate.

The too-familiar voice whispers in her ear again.

Stupid.

Celia: Another knock on the door. It’s harder to ignore this time.

A tutor had once told her that it’s okay to be wrong in front of the person who is meant to teach her. That they’re guides and will correct her if she takes the wrong path. She thinks he might have never met the sort of monster to whom failure is not an option; she thinks he might have never had a figure like Donovan in his life, who expects her to be her best at all times. His admonition almost makes her flinch.

All the same, she’s grateful for the correction and explanation.

GM: :: You have struck her. ::

Then, Celia tastes blood in her mouth as her nose gorily crunches in, re-shattering the just-healed bone. Her vitae drips from her sire’s fist.

:: She will strike back. ::

What would she do if she were Benson, and the Kindred who struck her elected to ‘stay away?’

The companion who mauled her nearly to death for showing a tape of a favorite doll?

Celia: Pain explodes across her face. Her head snaps backwards; blood drips from her freshly broken nose to stain her skin and lips. She makes no move to wipe it away or reset it. The lesson needs to sink in.

Strike back, as he said. Find out what made Jade react that way to that doll when she has never had any trouble breaking women to turn them into dolls before, when she has shown such talent for it. Find out and use it.

Her family.

Maxen, Logan, and David are safe behind the walls of Audubon. But Diana, Emily, Lucy, even Sophia… and Celia herself.

They make such pretty little targets. Fragile, defenseless, one of them already trained.

Her mother is once more cast as the damsel, caught up in her daughter’s world. Maybe another city is the best thing for her.

GM: She seems happy enough to get back together with Maxen. Who seems just as happy to make Baton Rouge his new home.

Celia: She had been avoiding the thought. She does not want her sire to see the dinner she had with her father, does not want him to think that she interferes in his plans.

But it’s there in her head.

GM: :: Key will take his mistress to me, as her regent. Her sire’s choice, should he recover her, will depend upon his inclinations. ::

The Krewe of Janus’ leader carefully tries to avoid favoring either bloc of the Sanctified.

But most Kindred believe his personal temperament is far more in line with Savoy’s.

Dawn, however, is fast approaching. Celia will have to act soon if she wishes to avoid Sol’s burning eye.

Celia: If Elyse’s sire sensed the attack and has already arrived on scene there isn’t much she can do. She wouldn’t trust the lick that attacked her childe; most wouldn’t listen to what they had to say before sticking a stake in their heart to let someone else sort them out. And why would Harlequin take his childe to Savoy when one of Savoy’s was the person to attack?

Had she just inadvertently driven a wedge between the pair?

The thought pops whatever is left of the cozy feeling she had enjoyed only moments ago. Maxen’s whispers win.

She doesn’t want him in her head anymore. She doesn’t want him to hear the voice that won’t leave her alone. She doesn’t want him to see the desperation in the half-baked plans that flick through her mind to fix this before she loses Elyse forever. She doesn’t want him to know that she’s lost on how to salvage this, or that she’s afraid to go back into the house again because what if all of those things catch her. She doesn’t want him to see that the thought of being stuck in the sun paralyzes her, that she can’t spend the night elsewhere because she needs to talk to Roderick, needs to go to this dinner, needs to meet with her grandsire on Monday, and if Diana is picked up then she won’t make it to dinner and then Celia will have to explain who she is on their terms instead of hers and what if her family is just a loose end now, what if he expects her to get rid of them, what if he gets rid of them?

He can’t.

He could.

He knows what they mean to her. Knows they’re a weak spot, an easy target of enemies. But he uses them, too, to keep her in line. It’s not something she can afford to think about right now. She has to trust him. She does trust him.

She’ll set a guard, she’ll—

None of it will matter if Harlequin or Elyse really want to get to her. The parish lines don’t matter to the Regent of the Masquerade.

She has to move them. Move them, send a message to Elyse, beg for a chance to explain, balance the social scales. She already knows how she’ll do it.

It will be okay.

It has to be okay.

Her eyes find her sire’s, the storm inside of them finally settling into an icy chill as her panic subsides when she settles on a course of action.

:: Thank you, sire. For tonight. The lessons. And for… for saving me. Thank you. ::

There’s more. There’s always more she wants to tell him, ask him, discuss: the trick with the blood, Savoy, Maxen, the future, their future. But the night draws to a close and she has taken enough of his time this evening.

She doesn’t know when she’ll see him again. The thought shouldn’t hurt as much as it does. If he were anyone else she would reach for him, tell him that she loves him, kiss him goodbye. But he’s not someone else. He’s him.

GM: He’s him.

Just like that, he streaks into the night sky, a darker spot against so much black.

Then he’s gone, and the only answer to Celia’s thanks is falling rain.


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Celia: There’s no time to dither on what to do. No time to run downstairs to tell Roderick the problem. No time to even gather any supplies. Her hands blur across her face to set her features into the right visage—it’s painful, made worse by the broken bones that she can’t even set properly because she doesn’t have the blood to spare, her greedy Beast had stolen it from her after her sire had fed her as a petty act of revenge for standing there and letting him hit her—but within a moment the process is over. Her entire body twists and shifts after that, and the nighthawk she has become sweeps off into the night on silent, feathered wings. She flies for her mother’s house, everything else a distant concern to the thought of protecting the woman who has already known so much pain in her life.

GM: The nightjar’s flight takes tortuously long until Celia swoops down over her family’s home. She sees Diana outside, bundled up in a raincoat and leaving the house with a miserable but resigned expression.

She locks the front door, winces, then trudges through the rain on foot, heavily favoring her good leg.

Celia: That’s not what she expected. Where the hell is Diana going this time of night?

Celia tucks her wings into her body and dives, slowing her descent only when she’s leveled off a handful of feet above the ground. A fence provides the cover she needs to change back; she hurries forward after the woman.

“Mom!”

GM: Diana almost jumps out of her skin at the exclamation.

“Oh, h-hi, sweetie.”

“What are you doing here, so early…?”

Celia: “Where are you going?”

GM: “Oh, I’m just out for a walk… I was already up, and to give myself a little time to rest before church.”

“Sweetie, what are you doing here so early? You’re soaked to the bone!” she exclaims, looking over Celia’s clothes.

Celia: She’s also bleeding from her face with a broken nose, but bless Diana for being worried about her daughter catching a cold with wet clothes.

“You’re lying to me,” Celia says baldly. “You were going somewhere. Where?”

GM: “Why don’t I get, get you in and make some hot cocoa, you can borrow some of my clothes… you can stay for breakfast, too, it’s been forever since we had breakfast…”

Celia: “Is Emily inside?”

GM: Celia’s mother shakes her head. “She’s with Robby, she spends a lot of her weekends with him,” she says, wincing as she limps closer.

Celia: Diana was going to leave Lucy by herself while she went to do… something?

Celia purses her lips.

GM: “Oh my god, sweetie, you’re bleeding!” she exclaims, her face a mask of shock.

Celia: That makes it easier, though.

“Yes.”

GM: Diana takes off her hooded pink raincoat and fastens it around her daughter. She’s wearing a nice, semiformal dress underneath. Church clothes. “Oh my god, my poor baby… let’s get you inside, we’ll call Emily to come take a look…”

Celia: “No,” Celia shakes her head, “leave Emily, don’t bother her, I’ll get it looked at later. We need to talk. Get Lucy. We need to go. Now.”

GM: “My poor baby… you’ll catch cold…” sniffs Diana, only half-seeming to register Celia’s words. It’s as the kine woman gets close to her, fussing over the coat’s buttons, that Celia really breathes in her scent. She’s so warm. So loving. So weak. Exactly what her kind mean when they use the word kine.

And her Beast is so, so hungry…

Celia: It’s her mom, Celia all but snarls at her Beast. She beats it down, stuffing it deep inside of herself where it can’t cause any damage, where it can’t get out to ruin yet another thing for her. It’s the Beast’s fault she’s in this fucking mess; she’s not going to let the damn thing make it worse.

Celia yanks away from her mother. She’d rather be rude than a murderer.

“Stop,” she hisses through her teeth. “Listen. To. Me. I just beat the shit out of the girl who turned you into a doll and she is going to send someone for you so go get your daughter and let’s fucking move.

GM: Diana stares at her for a moment, then starts crying.

“It’s… it’s okay… that won’t happen…”

“Lucy’s safe… she’s going to be safe…”

“Your coat’s not on… let me finish… you’ll catch cold…” she fumbles for the buttons with trembling fingers.

Celia: Celia, once more, yanks away. She takes a handful of steps away.

“Mom. Fucking. Listen. Okay? I literally do not have time to argue with you. Either stop the half sentences or get a move on and get Lucy. And don’t come near me.

GM: “B-but baby, your coat… you’ll catch cold… let me finish your coat, let me get you inside… oh, sweetie, I love you so much, you’ll look after her, you and Emily…” She advances forward and tries to embrace her daughter.

Celia: There’s no time for this. Maybe if she was just hungry and didn’t have the sun about to burn her to a crisp. Or maybe if she was just running out of time. But not both. She can’t fight both.

She dips around her mother’s arms once again and finally does it.

She snarls at her mother.

She pulls her lips back from her teeth to expose long, sharp fangs in her mouth.

GM: Diana’s face blanches. Her eyes go wide.

Oh, the fangs might be enough.

But the snarl emanating from Celia’s throat sounds like nothing out of a human throat. It sounds like nothing out of most vampire’s throats, not with Celia as ravenous and on edge as she is. There is no mistaking that hellish sound for anything even remotely human.

Diana stops trying to hug her daughter.

“C-Celia…?” she gets out. “What…”

For a moment, she just dumbly trails off.

Then she just points.

Celia: Once the woman has finally stopped trying to fucking touch her, Celia lets the fangs fade away.

“Yes. There’s a lot we need to talk about. And we have very, very little time to do it.” Not enough time to get to a hotel to talk. Not enough time to book a room, check in, put the card on file, not before the sun rises. She’ll send her mother with Lucy by themselves once they’ve had this talk.

And she’ll… risk being here today when and if Elyse or Harlequin send someone.

She’s dead. She’s dead, that’s pretty much all there is to it. She’s dead as fuck. All sorts of dead. Really dead this time, not just fake dead, not animated corpse dead, not vampire dead. Truly dead.

“Inside,” Celia says, pointing at the door. “Inside, Mom, so I can explain. Please. And stay… back. Ten feet. At least.”

GM: Her mother’s mouth hangs open for a bit.

Then, falteringly, she nods.

She limps forward and unlocks the door.

She walks in first, looks uncertainly back at her daughter, then leaves the door open and strides backwards.

Celia: Celia swallows the lump in her throat. She doesn’t know how everything had unraveled in one night, or what she’s going to do now. But she’ll figure it out. She always does.

She follows her mother into the house and closes the door behind her.

“We need a room without windows,” she says to Diana.

GM: A furious hiss immediately goes up. It’s Shadow. The calico, so named for her dark markings. Her tail is bushed as thick as a beaver’s as she bares her teeth and slowly backs away from the superior predator.

But Celia barely hears the sound. Barely sees the cat. All she feels is the torturous thirst. All she smells is blood. Poor blood, tofu-like blood, but still blood. Coursing through the feline’s tiny body with every pump of its heart.

“Shadow! Shhh!” her mom exclaims, scooping up the cat. Shadow yowls and claws Diana’s arms.

Celia: Celia can’t even be bothered to hide her contempt for the cat. She starts to snarl at it, too. The Beast starts to appear, rearing its ugly head again. Again. Again. It won’t leave her alone. It’s supposed to be gone. It’s supposed to be tamed.

Is this what she gets for even thinking that? Is this what she gets for sleeping around on Roderick, for killing that girl, for letting Josua fuck her, for letting down her grandsire, for beating the shit out of Elyse?

That a cat, a fucking cat, is going to make her lose her shit in front of her mom and kill the bitch?

Celia clamps down on the thought. She doesn’t move. She summons every single bit of herself that she can, forcing the Beast back into the cage in the middle of her chest where it can’t cause more problems for her. Its nails rake at her insides, snarling, itching to get out. There’s blood inside of it. Weak, shitty blood, but blood all the same. The stupid cat hissed at her, they should destroy it. Drink it.

But Celia wins.

Celia has to win.

Because if Celia doesn’t win then she’s going to destroy her mother, and everything she has ever sacrificed for her will have been in vain.

Tight-lipped, she orders the woman to get rid of the cat, to contain the other one, and to lock the door to Lucy’s room so there are no more surprises.

GM: Diana quickly hurries away with the still-scratching cat. Celia hears several pained “ows!” before it hits the floor unceremoniously and bolts off down the hall. Diana’s mother turns around and rubs her leg, but doesn’t come any closer. Her face is pale and she’s looking straight at Celia’s.

“Ah… her door doesn’t have a lock, sweetie, I’m sorry…”

Celia: Celia uses the time to send a text to Alana. SOS. 911. Mom’s house Now. She sends a similar text to Randy.

Of course Lucy doesn’t have a lock on her door. Diana wouldn’t do that to her; she’d seen Celia, Isabel, and the others locked away often enough after annoying Maxen to not want to do it to Lucy.

“I don’t have a lot of time to explain,” she says to her mom once the woman turns again. “If you hear Lucy get up you need to keep her away from me.”

Her eyes study Diana’s face.

“You don’t seem surprised. Surprised it’s me, but not that people like me exist.”

GM: There is a buzz from Celia’s phone, but not from any of her ghouls. It’s from Roderick.

Getting late. We still on?

Celia: Fucking. Fuck.

No. Thing with fam. Let yourself in. Will explain later. Love you.

GM: K. Love you too.

Diana nods slowly at Celia’s first statement.

“The cats… they’re so sweet, normally… but never around you…”

Celia: “No. And I don’t eat. And you don’t see me during the day.”

GM: “I… I do see you eat, though…” her mom says.

“Do you want some… hot cocoa, sweetie?”

She gives a pale smile.

Celia: “It hurts to eat,” Celia says by way of explanation. “I can force it, but… Mom, I’m happy to explain all of that later. I really am. But we need to talk. I’m going to be a corpse in about twenty minutes.”

GM: “Wh… a corpse…?” she asks, concern clouding her eyes.

“Oh. The… the sun. The sun hurts?”

Celia: “The sun hurts,” Celia confirms. “I lose my… animation, or whatever it is that keeps me walking around.”

She doesn’t take a breath. They never do anything for her anyway. But she wants to. She wants to just be normal.

GM: Her mother swallows. “I’m… afraid the rooms all have windows, this isn’t a big house… but there’s my bedroom closet, or I could wrap you up in a lot of blankies, and cover the windows too…”

“You know, pull the shades, maybe duct tape some blankets or clothes over the windows…”

Celia: At her mother’s offer of protection her composure cracks. She blinks back bloody tears.

“How d’you… how d’you know about..?”

GM: “Oh… is that wrong?” her mom asks, her face flickering. “Would that not be enough…?”

“That’s just how it is in the movies, you know, when Peter Cushing pulls away the curtains, and Christopher Lee starts to burn up…”

Celia: “You just… you’re just… casually accepting that I’m a vampire.”

GM: “I… there’s just… there’s just a lot of things in the world, baby… strange things, that… I don’t know, you said with Max and a demon…. and… well… ah… your…”

She points at Celia’s mouth again.

Celia: “Oh.”

There’s a pause.

“I thought maybe you might have had experience with us. You were named for the goddess of the hunt, and all. It wasn’t very subtle on Payton’s end.”

GM: “S… sorry…?” her mom asks confusedly.

“I think she just liked the name, sweetie…”

Celia: “Right. Okay. We’ll talk about that later. But… listen. The girl who did what she did to you. She’s like me. And she and her friends are very, very angry at me because I kicked the shit out of her. They’ve already tried to kill me.” Celia doesn’t gesture at her broken nose, but the evidence that she’d been in a fight resides on her face.

“I need you to book a room somewhere, or get out of town, or something. Just for a day or two. Call off work on Monday, tell them you’re still not feeling well.”

GM: Diana’s lip quavers.

“They… they called here, Celia… I have to go back… they said they’d take my granddaughter, take Lucy, if I didn’t come back…”

Celia: “They called you again?”

GM: A frown briefly downturns her mother’s face, as if wondering how Celia knew, but it barely has a chance to form before a renewed look of abject hopelessness washes it away.

She nods.

Celia: “I was there when she called you,” Celia says quietly, “that’s why I kicked the shit out of her.”

And it had felt great.

She might feel bad for it, but Elyse had certainly deserved it.

GM: “I… I have to go back…”

“You’ll look after Lucy, please, you and Emily…”

Celia: “You don’t. If you go back, they’ll kill you, and Lucy, and me.”

“That’s what this is. They’re mad at me. I need you to not give in to this. I will keep you safe. I promise you that. I have done it for years. Please, Mom, please trust me.”

GM: Celia’s mom hangs her head, sniffs, and wipes at her eyes.

“I’m such a bad mother… I’ve never, never kept you safe… that’s supposed to be me…”

Celia: “You just offered to wrap your vampire daughter in blankets to keep her safe from the sun.”

“That’s a great mom.”

GM: In spite of herself, Diana gives a low laugh. It’s half-sobbed, and more than a little desperate, but the laugh is there.

Celia: Celia answers that with a weak smile of her own.

“I’m sorry that I don’t have time to tell you everything. I will. Once this day is over, I’ll tell you what I can. Okay? Tonight. I promise.”

GM: “Okay… just… tell me what to do, sweetie.” Her mother closes her eyes for a moment and slumps her shoulders.

“Just tell me what to do.”

Her voice is calmer at those words. They’re comforting words.

Celia: So she does.


Sunday morning, 13 March 2016

Celia: There isn’t much to explain, in the end.

Despite Celia’s penchant for overly-complicated plans, and despite the fact that she really, really wants to see Roderick today, her family has to come first.

She tells her mom, very casually, that she is going to smuggle Celia in a blanket-covered cat carrier to Randy’s house. She explains that Randy knows what she is, but that she can’t let them know that she also knows, and Lucy definitely can’t find out because there are rules and they will all be killed for it. Lucy can watch TV today and hang out with Rusty and Reggie and Randy while Celia sleeps the day away in one of their beds (or closet, literally whatever), cuffed.

She sends another text to Alana to tell her to meet with Randy today, to avoid the usual hangouts, that it’s urgent. She cancels the call to go to her mom’s place. And then a text to Dani with the new address (Randy’s house) and that shit hit the fan and she needs to get there now. And a final text to Mel to alert her that Dani is moving locations, and the new place.

Coded, of course.

She thinks she has all of her bases covered.

Emily, she tells her mom, needs to stay with Robby today.

GM: “All right, so… you want me to stay with Lucy, Randy, and his brothers?” Celia’s mom asks.

Celia: “Yes. They will protect you.”

“They’re uh… they’re kind of like… you read Dracula, right?”

GM: “Ah… sorry, sweetie, only seen the movies. Should I, now?”

Celia: “Some of it is wrong. I’ll explain. But basically Randy and his brothers work for me. Like, uh, butlers.”

That’s a really nice way of putting it.

GM: “Oh, I thought they worked for the bail bond company…?”

Celia: “Yeah. But me on the side. I’ll explain tonight.”

GM: “Okay. When can we come back here, sweetie? I need a while to make dinner for the Garrisons.”

Celia: “Right. So. We’re going to reschedule.” She lets Dani know to tell her dad, too. “Because I don’t think it’s going to be safe tonight, and I’m not putting you in danger.”

“Unless you want to do it at their house.”

“Honestly, Mom, if you want something to do today, I’m pretty sure that Reggie and Randy would love you to cook for them.”

GM: Diana looks apprehensive. “Stephen’s dad is an important man, Celia! We should give at least a couple days’ notice, for something like that.”

“I don’t know that Randy would be a good guest, to be honest. He didn’t know Stephen, I don’t think, and this is probably better if it’s an intimate affair…”

“And, well… he’s a nice young man… but I feel like he might, I guess we could say, care about housekeeping a mite less than I do…”

Celia: “So. Dani is going to come meet us there. Why don’t you discuss it with her? See if her dad can move the date. I just really don’t want to risk them finding you.”

GM: “Oh. What’s she doing there, sweetie?” Diana asks.

Celia: This is very quickly spiraling out of control. She’s not sure she has enough fingers to plug all of these holes.

“Long story. Tell you later.”

GM: “Okay. She’s a sweet girl, by the way, I taught her in my dance classes.” Diana gives a brief smile at the normal-sounding topic.

Celia: “She really liked you,” Celia says with a smile.

GM: “Oh, that makes me happy. I’m sure we’ll be able to have a wonderful dinner together. Maybe she can ask her dad to reschedule, for us, and he’ll take it better from her.”

Celia: “That was my thought, too.”

GM: “How am I, ah, going to get you to Randy’s place in a cat carrier, sweetie?”

Celia: “So, uh, fun fact: I can turn into a cat.”

GM: Her mother blinks.

Celia: “Yep.”

“Please don’t freak out. And please don’t let Lucy pet me. Not right now. Later, she can. But… not tonight.”

GM: It’s so easy to spend time just talking with her mother.

It’s so easy to just be honest.

To finally drop all the lies.

It’s so, so easy. It’s such a relief. A balm upon her ravenous Beast. A cool cloth against the terrible thirst burning her up inside.

But time and tide wait for no man.

Nor does the sun.

The curtains around the house’s windows are un-drawn. Faint rays of early dawn light kiss Celia’s skin, leaving it blackened and sizzling.

Celia: For two seconds, Celia lets herself get distracted.

For two seconds, Celia thinks of a future where she doesn’t have to lie to her mother, where she doesn’t have to force down dinner, where she can say things like, “Stephen is like me and we’re back together and I want to marry him,” and “my sire finally accepts me,” and “Mom can you rub my belly?” She can tell her mom everything she’s been through. She can fix her leg without lying about it. She can tell her why she thinks Maxen might be telling the truth about the demon. She imagines a future where her mom says, “Have you had enough to eat, sweetie?” and means blood instead of casserole.

And then reality rears its ugly head. Her flesh sizzles as soon as the morning sun streams through the windows. Immediately her skin turns black, epidermis seared beneath the hateful rays of dawn’s touch. Celia snarls, Beast rising to the surface, and for a moment girl and Beast are in alignment. For a moment they work together, diving out of the path of the light to sprawl, huddled, beneath the kitchen sink. She knocks aside cleaning supplies, rags and buckets and bottles, and curls her body tightly under the space. It’s a snug fit, but she’s a small girl, and here at least the sun cannot touch her.

The fantasy of the future fades away.

She’s a monster and she has brought trouble to her family.

“Mom,” she calls out from her hiding spot, voice pained, “we need to go. Now. No more questions.” She doesn’t have much longer before the daysleep of her kind claims her. Already she’s fading. “Get the carrier. Get me into the trunk. Pull into Randy’s garage to get me out. Make sure they cuff me before they wake me. Tell Dani to reschedule dinner. Go. Now. Go.”

GM: Diana gasps, “Sweetie! Are you okay!?” and drops to her knees in front of Celia’s hiding spot. She tries to reach inside until her daughter grits out instructions.

“Ah—would a suitcase or picnic basket be better? Something the sun can’t shine through? They’re a tighter fit, for a cat, but the carrier has holes in it…”

“I could get a blanket over it, it just seems a little less secure, since it’s a pretty big carrier, and we use one meant for dogs, since most kitties don’t actually like the normal carriers…”

Celia: “Anything without gaps. Suitcase is fine.”

Go, she urges the woman. Go. Now.

GM: “Okay! Sit tight!” Her mother scrambles off.

She returns with a pink backpack that has stars and a unicorn on it. “Ah, this is Lucy’s, I wasn’t sure where I’d left the suitcase, but this doesn’t have any gaps, so long as we keep it zipped up…”

Celia: It’ll do. Celia gives her mom a grateful smile and a word of warning before it happens—she changes. Her body twists, muscles and bones and organs reworking themselves within her to make her smaller, more compact, feline. She grows fur, a tail, ears that sit at the top of her head. She scoots into the backpack and settles uneasily amongst the pencil shavings and cough drop wrappers at the bottom of the bag.

GM: Diana still gives a start and little gasp of alarm. Actually, more like a big gasp. She drops the backpack at first, then picks it up and holds it open. She zips it up once the cat’s inside.

“Ah—are you okay, sweetie?” she gets out.

Celia: A meow comes from inside the bag.

GM: “Okay, I’ll—take that as a yes,” Diana says with a weak chuckle.

“But… you really are? One meow for yes, two for no, you are okay?”

Celia: Celia the cat meows once to let her mother know that she’s okay.

She’s been through worse. Way worse.

GM: “Okay, that’s… good. I’ll pack some clothes to bring with us, yours are… ah, they sort of…” Transformed with her. “…well, they were soaked anyway.”

“Should I still really hurry, now that you’re safe from the sun? One meow for yes, two for no?”

Celia: A single meow comes up from the bag.

GM: “Okay, I’ll just, just grab what we really need. Sit tight, I’m going to lift you up.”

Celia feels herself getting lifted into the air, then her mother’s back pressing against her.

There’s movement as the woman starts off through the house. Uneven, with her still favoring one leg. Celia hears a door opening, then a closet, and the sound of her mom going through clothes and picking some out.

“I just love how we’re about the same size, you know, sharin’ clothes is something every girl and her mother should get to do.”

Celia: Within the confines of the bag, the cat—does the cat have a name? Cats should have names—curls in on herself, head beneath her paws. Her tail flicks. There’s not much for her to do but wait while her mother gathers what she needs. She doesn’t breathe if she can help it; like all kids, Lucy just tends to stuff things into the bottom of her backpack and forget about them.

Silently, she tells her mother to hurry the fuck up like they’d literally just talked about.

GM: “Oh, here’s the suitcase, silly me.” Celia hears her mother gathering up assorted things, tossing them inside, then making her way to Lucy’s room. Celia hears her opening the girl’s dresser and throwing clothes in.

“Hey, little Goose. We need to go,” her mom says.

The cat feels its position shift.

“Mmmf… Mommy…?”

“Come on, sweetie, let’s get you in your shoes. Your glasses, too. I’ll tell you more in the car, okay? We’re taking a little trip.”

“Mmm… I’m sleepy…”

“Okay, I’ll carry you.” Celia feels Diana bend again, then a sudden weight fill her mother’s arms. “We’re gonna spend the day at Randy’s, won’t that be fun?” she says as they walk out.

Lucy yawns.

They make their way down the hall, the luggage case rolling along behind them. Diana bends again, then tells Lucy, “Hold on to your shoes for me, okay Goose?” as she opens the door. Celia doesn’t feel the dawn’s burning rays from within the backpack, but it’s still like getting into a car that’s had its doors and windows closed for hours on a hot summer day.

The car door opens, followed by the sounds of Diana helping Lucy into her booster seat. The backpack comes off next. Diana gently places it on one of the car’s seats. More doors open and close, then Celia hears the engine’s ignition, followed by movement underneath her.

“Why’re we goin’ to Randy’s…” mumbles Lucy. “I wanna go back to bed…”

“We’re a lil’ sleepyhead, huh?” smiles Diana. “Okay, sweetie, you can sleep when we’re there. That’ll be fun, won’t it, to sleep someplace new?”

“I wonder, how many places have you gone to sleep outside our house? Isn’t that an interesting lil’ question? Can you count how many?”

“Uh… not a lot…” yawns Lucy. “We sleep at home…”

“Oh, that makes this an adventure then, Lucy Goose!” exclaims Diana. “Lucy the explorer, fallin’ asleep someplace brand new!”

The six-year-old yawns again. She’s far from the only one to feel tired. The sun can’t be fully up, because the cat isn’t a corpse yet. Its eyelids just feel heavy.

“Brand new adventure for us all…” their mom murmurs.

Celia: Almost halfway up is enough to keep the cat in the bag. Any other day, if she weren’t hungry and maybe if the windows were tinted, the cat would loose a string of meows to alert the little girl in the front seat to its position in the bag and let the six-year-old cuddle with her. They could fall asleep together, child and cat, and wake up in a new place.

But her hunger and the sun keep her alone in the dark.

Her daydreams will have to wait.


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Story Twelve, Emmett XVII

“To sell desire, one must know one’s own desires.”
Camille Richlelieu


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Fabian shows Em back to the sitting room in his new face.

“And may I say, sir, what a handsome one it is,” the ghoul smiles.

Emmett: “Thanks, Fabian. I’m sure the guests make their share of passes at you, eh? At least the ones who don’t want to drink you. Which I suppose is its own kind of compliment.”

Em wants to drink him, for example.

GM: “Many do, sir,” Fabian beams. “If the help isn’t attractive enough to drink, after all, how much help can they truly be?”

Emmett: Parrying predatory implications with obsequious good humor. Say what you like about Savoy, his servants know their manners.

He has the vague sense that kind of thing is going to matter a lot in this kind of life.

But then, it always has.

GM: And probably always will.

Fabian sets up another movie for Em, but he doesn’t have long to wait.

Emmett: Good thing, too. It’s Gone with the Wind.

GM: Sami walks through the door. She’s dressed differently in a LBD and red pumps. She looks him over.

“Welcome to the snake cult.”

Emmett: He laughs. “Right? She made it sound like you had the same reaction I did, for the most part. How good’s the inside track, once they have you in their coils?”

He’s wearing a different dead man’s coat, long and warm and with more pockets than it looks like.

“It’s nice to see you again, Sami.” His voice has more roughness to it than it did before his death, but it’s still his voice. Odd, how Dicentra was able to pull that off. “In the flesh, and all that.”

GM: “I bet. Ghost didn’t seem like it suited you.”

“We were always vampires anyway.”

She turns. “C’mon. We’ll talk and drive.”

Emmett: “You driving, I hope. I’m in the mood to ride shotgun.”

Doubtless she’d prefer it, too.

She never was a fan of him behind the wheel, after that night.

GM: “Lucky us.”

Still, it’s hard to picture that happening again.

Or maybe not. Maybe vampires just have their own ways of fucking each other.

Either way, they make their way to Sami’s flashy sports car and get in.

“They’re basically a crime syndicate with a religious mythos,” she answers as they get in.

Emmett: “Doesn’t sound so bad.”

GM: “Or syndicate slash cult, I guess.”

She revs up the engine. “There’s a lot of lying and hoops to jump through to hide it from other licks.”

“There’s risks, if they find out.”

Emmett: “Your girlfriend the medium know the truth?”

GM: “Yep. She’s one of us.”

Emmett: “Does Astride?”

GM: “He’s one of us too.”

“He’s a fuckhead. But he’s good at killing people.”

Emmett: He nods, quiet suspicion rewarded. “I learned where he sleeps, for what that’s worth.”

GM: “Could be worth something. We might have to put him down if he lets his Beast get any more out of control.”

The Quarter rolls past.

“But you asked me how the inside track is.”

“Well, I’m fucking rich.”

“Most things I want, I get.”

“The parties are fun.”

“And Camille… understands.”

“The snake religion bit. Whatever. I never believed in God.”

“But people have been trying to keep me from what I deserved ever since McGehee.”

Emmett: Deserved, huh. But he doesn’t say that. For one thing, he can’t say he hasn’t thought the same thing.

“What does she call them? The Aeons?”

GM: “The Aeons. The people born inside the club.”

“I don’t buy that the snake cult wants to bring everyone inside.”

“But if they bring me inside, what fucking ever.”

Emmett: “It’s hard to argue with that,” Em says, placid. “I’m just wondering about the entrance free. And who pays it. What kinds of things do they ask from us?”

GM: “‘Corrupt’ other licks. Find what they need. Supply them. Get them dependent on us. Or breathers. You’ll probably be good at it.”

“That’s the entrance fee and monthly membership dues. And how we get ahead. It’s basically a pyramid scheme.”

Emmett: “Well, those are old hat, at least. Where are you driving us?”

GM: “Mm, depends. Who’s your first renfield gonna be?”

Emmett: There’s a moment of somewhat surprised silence.

Then a moment of deeper consideration.

“You ever meet Bert Villars?”

GM: “I’ve heard of him. Haven’t had the pleasure.”

‘Pleasure.’

Emmett: “Well, let’s fix that.” Em gives her directions to the poisonous bastard’s office. “Bit of a toss-up to see if he’s already taken. If he isn’t, he’ll be a good get for us. And besides.”

“I had plans for him already. Better not to ghoul people you actually like, eh?”

“We’ll have to toss his place to find out where he lives, though.”

GM: Sami shrugs. “I don’t mind some B&E, but he might also just be around tomorrow.”

Emmett: “Since we have forever. Okay, then.” He thinks a little bit harder.

Then he asks for a phone.

He hopes Miranda’s number is the same.

GM: The phones rings for a bit.

“Leave a message,” comes an annoyed-sounding nasally voice.

Em wonders how many people bother to after that.

Emmett: Not him, apparently. He hangs up.

“Forget renfields,” Em says. “I just want to find a place to call home, for tonight at least.”

GM: Sami drives.

“What’s your name now? Camille said you’d have a new one.”

“Some of us do. Some of us don’t.”

“I kept mine. Obviously. If someone wants to go after my stupid family I don’t give a rat’s ass.”

Emmett: He thinks of Lena, handcuffed and anemic in her hospital bed. God knows if she’s still there.

God, and a Malveaux.

“I’ll take a new name,” he says. “Something flashy, probably. Dramatic. You know the sort. This seems like the kind of society that appreciates enigma.”

GM: “Pretty sure at least half the elders all use fake names.”

“So what’s yours?”

Emmett: It’s a few moment of consideration before he chuckles. He doesn’t answer her, not out loud anyways.

But as she drives off, a song flitters to life through her car, haunting but enchanting at the same time. Maybe Sami looks at the radio in surprise, but it’s not on. The sound is ambient, all-encompassing.

Stuck in her head, courtesy of his.

Maybe, but Em isn’t looking at her. He’s only got eyes for the road, the night, the city.

The colors.



Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Sami and the Sandman drive until they reach a dark building in the Quarter named “Chakras.” The Sandman’s heard of it. Invite-only BDSM club.

“She explain havens yet?” asks Sami.

Emmett: “I think it’s a weird word for a home.”

GM: “They’re where we sleep during the day. We’re weak and vulnerable then. So a haven has to be exactly that. Secure against intruders and the sun.”

Emmett: “And this place is a haven?”

GM: “Anywhere can be a haven in a pinch. We don’t need to eat, shower, or shit. We won’t wake up sore if we sleep on the ground. All we really need is someplace sunproof where breathers won’t disturb us.”

“But some havens, like here, are more secure than others.”

“And comfy.”

Emmett: “Whose is it, then?” The Sandman follows her from the car.

GM: “Camille’s. She owns this club, and a few others.”

Emmett: He whistles. “Fancy. And she’s, what, the matriarch?”

GM: “Matriarch?”

Emmett: “Mama snake. Cult leader. Whatever. She’s in charge?”

GM: “Nah. She’s middle management.”

“She and Elianna.”

Emmett: “Who’s above them, then?”

GM: “That’s complicated,” says Sami. “I’ll let you make up your own mind, when you see it.”

Emmett: It, she says. Interesting.

GM: They walk up to the club’s door.

“This is the Sandman,” Sami says to the bouncer. “He wants in, he gets in.”

The large and cruel-eyed man offers a mute nod.

The inside of the club resembles a lounge and art gallery. Everything is in black and dark red. There’s modern abstract art and iron sculptures along the walls, and a fully-stocked bar. Comfortable leather seats over places to sit down and discuss the art over drinks.

The sculptures nag at Em, though, the longer he stares at them. There’s a looming, grasping quality to their distinctly alien shapes. They seem humanoid, at first, but there’s a distinctly serpentine cast to their posture and anatomy, like they might silently coil around the room’s patrons as they drink their fine drinks and discuss the meanings behind abstract art.

There aren’t many people around this late. Or this early. There’s a handsome man dressed in strategically placed black leather who looks like he’s cleaning. His too-wide smile doesn’t quite meet his eyes. He’s still smiling, even when he’s not looking at Em and Sami.

He holds up a shot glass to the light, polishes it, smiles at Em, then stares away from him, back into the glass.

“Welcome, master…” he whispers.

He touches his teeth with his fingers and gives a little giggle.

Emmett: The ‘master’ glances at his escort. “Who’s the gimp? I remember Camille had another one, way back when we met.”

He trust he doesn’t have to clarify the night he’s talking about.

GM: “She has a lot of them. Their names don’t really matter.”

“There’s always more.”

Emmett: “I figured. Are all renfields kinksters? Or does she just like them that way?”

GM: “The Blood tends to twist them all, to some degree. Some of them eat rats. Some of them get stutters or hair-trigger tempers.”

“I’m not sure if she naturally draws kinksters or just twists them into that.”

“Probably some of both.”

Emmett: “How’d she find you?” he asks this one.

GM: “I heard about her club, master,” answers the smiling man, inclining his head. “I heard about the things that went on here, but it was by invitation only. I tried so hard to get in. Some of the members told stories about me. She decided to let me in, to see how far I would go.”

His grin widens, to the point it looks like his face is half-paralyzed.

“I have not disappointed her.”

Emmett: Well, this is turning out to be as wholesome as I thought it would be.

“Yeah? What kind of things do go on here, beyond getting tugged off with your hands behind your neck and a gag in your mouth?”

GM: “Revelation, master. The loss of illusion. The shattering of the old self. We experience ecstasy, terror, desire, satiety, despair, ignorance, and chaos, all to unwrap our true souls beneath layers of self-deception and social conditioning.”

Emmett: “And you feel wiser, now? Revealed to? Enlightened?”

GM: “I do, master, though I still have far to go.”

Emmett: “And what have you learned? Since I’m just starting.”

Ah, high school again. Telling Ren to explain why there were suddenly letters to deal with in math.

GM: The ghoul smiles.

“We are a visceral religion, master. Damaballah’s revelations must be experienced to be understood. But if you are here as you are, you have experienced some of them already.”

Emmett: Em eyes the leather-clad cultist. “What do I call you?”

GM: “Bitch or toy, if you like,” he grins.

“Also pet, gimp, slave, ghoul…”

Emmett: “…please tell me they’re not all like this,” he directs to Sami.

GM: “The ones here mostly are,” says Sami. “I guess your own will depend.”

Emmett: “Nothing personal, ah, bitch,” the Sandman says to the ghoul.

GM: The man just grins at him. “Let me know if I can ever be of service, master.”

Emmett: “Who else did you want me to meet?” the Sandman asks Sami.

GM: “Right now there’s no licks here but us and Camille. There’s a bigger cult meeting tomorrow.”

Emmett: “What does the cult believe, exactly?”

GM: “She didn’t give you the shpheel?”

Emmett: “It was loose on details. What do the ones who aren’t bloodsuckers believe, is the point.”

GM: “That varies. It’s a mystery religion. Which means, the more you pay in and do things for the cult, the more about its beliefs you actually get to learn.”

“Like Scientology. Except we don’t directly bill people.”

“The initiates think we’re just a Vodouisant cult. Worship some loa and get things in return.”

“Here, they’re people who come to Camille’s clubs for a good time and get promised an even better one if they’ll participate in some rituals. Or they’re just outright looking to be bondage slaves, because it’s a bondage club. Or to do things to slaves if they’re tops.”

“She shows them a better time than they’ll find anywhere else. Sex, drugs, kinks, whatever. The people who succumb and can’t live without her she just uses. There are a lot of well-connected people who show up for her sex parties. To a lot of them she isn’t a vampire.”

“The ones who impress her she brings into the next ring of the cult. They get to know more about what she is, the Aeons, and our origins. They get tested harder. They undergo more of the revelations. Which are like bitch over there describes. They’re expected to do more for the cult, and Camille does more for them. The more revelations they undergo, the more they learn about us, and the deeper in they get.”

“A lot of us have our own self-contained little mystery cults like this. We trade favors and contacts and whatevers with each other. To get cultists and prospective cultists the things that hook them.”

Emmett: “What about you? Keep some believers on the side?”

GM: “Yep.”

“I figure you will too. They’re pretty useful.”

Emmett: There are people in this city who would kill for a break from their nightmares, the Sandman thinks but does not say.

“Might be,” he agrees. “What do you tell yours? And how many of ‘us’ are there?”

GM: “I mostly don’t bother with the religion angle.”

“You have to at least partly believe it to really sell it.”

“Like anything.”

Emmett: Especially snake oil.

GM: “There’s a lot of us. More than the Camarilla realizes.”

“Savoy’s happy for us to make ourselves at home.”

Emmett: “I like the sound of that. When do we get together? If we do.”

GM: “I just said. Tomorrow.”

Emmett: “Oh. The entire clan?”

GM: “Probably not all of us, but a lot of us. Wholesome family get-together.”

Emmett: “Wholesome,” he repeats, looking at “bitch” and pacing amongst the serpentine statuary. Not how he’d decorate, but that’s okay.

It has… potential.

“Okay, sure. I’m excited to meet the cousins. Did you bring me here just to meet the help, or was there something else we’re here for?”

GM: “Remember that talk we had about havens?”

Emmett: “Ah, so this is where you’re sticking me for the day? I thought we might come to another arrangement. Like maybe you could take me back to yours.”

GM: “Camille thought we’d all sleep together today. More wholesome family time.”

Emmett: “Oh. Well, you should have said. Lead the way.”

GM: The pair head through another door. The room resembles nothing so much as a medieval torture chamber, replete with stone walls and floors, an iron maiden with a screaming metallic face, racks, wheels, and several other metallic devices whose function Em cannot identify. Some of them look almost like the abstract sculptures in the previous room. Whips, chains, scourges, and assorted leather and metallic implements hang from the walls, along with several gagged and blindfolded men and women bent into extreme positions, naked but for leather gloves and boots. The scent of blood hangs heavy in the air. Em cannot say where it is from, but his fangs lengthen in his mouth. At the sound of Em’s and Sami’s footsteps, some of them start screaming and shaking their restraints. The gagged sounds are raw, desperate, and filled with terror. Others shiver with rapture, the men growing noticeably firm and the women wet.

Most do some amount of both.

“You can practice on them,” mentions Sami. “Any disciplines you’re trying to learn.”

Emmett: “Disciplines… those are the superpowers, right?”

GM: “Yep.”

Emmett: Em does so. His squeamishness over using human beings as things is made much easier to bear by the opportunity to test out his cool new vampire powers. He asks Sami for suggestions of things to try.

He cannot, it turns out, turn into a snake. Nor can he turn invisible, no matter how unmoving and boring he tries to be. He’s just too remarkable.

He can, however, use the same special effects he’s become accustomed to. At a whim, strange noises and sensations dance among the assembled kine. Lights flicker in otherworldly arrays.

One of the women whimpers in confusion at the unreality.

“You’ve got nothing to be afraid of,” Em tells her, instinctively, and for a moment, the air is charged.

Somehow, when her eyes meet his, there’s trust in them. Faith. Belief.

All completely unearned, and like most lies, it’ll make the truth hurt more.

But for the moment, her faith belongs to him.

GM: He feels another woman’s hands upon his shoulders. They’re cold hands, and something seems to almost shudder beneath the palms.

Shudder, or slither.

“Sami said you’d be good at this,” Camille’s voice purrs into his ear. Her cold smile meets his.

He could swear she wasn’t there a moment ago.

“Don’t think of it as hiding. Think of it as telling them who you are. You’re reaching into their heads and telling them what to see, what to believe.”

The woman’s eyes meet his. Sami’s already removed her blindfold. They’re manic eyes, wide and sleep-deprived, hovering on that knife’s edge between suffering and pleasure.

Support: And for all that, there’s something familiar in the shade of blue that stares up at him. Cerulean, he recalls, like the tropical seas he had once told her that he’d take her to, the whispered promises of a new life together away from the desperately degenerate city. He remembers the way those eyes had sparkled at the vision he created for her, the trembling fingers that had finally fumbled at the buttons of her blouse, her nervous stutters that she had “never done this type of thing before.”

Eileen Afflerbach.

The name rings in his mind. He remembers the way she had tasted like strawberries and cream, the delicate floral scent of her perfume, how she had called fifteen times the night her husband disappeared and left increasingly frantic voice-mails. But before all that she had looked at him the way she looks at him now, transfixed by the illusions he creates.

Suffering and pleasure. He’d brought her both.

Emmett: “Eileen,” he murmurs. “Your name is Eileen.” He blinks and looks at Camille, somehow less startled at her sudden appearance than he might expect. “She’s… do you know who she is?”

He’s more surprised, anyways, by the realization that he does.

Not like him to remember a pretty face. They come and go. Or at least, he does.

GM: “I know every slave here,” Camille smiles, stroking the woman’s face. Tenderly.

Emmett: Em nods, satisfied. He reaches for the woman, fingers stopping inches from her flesh. Hesitant.

He’s already touched her, of course. But he was just a human monster then.

GM: “Hesitance is a limit to overcome. A chain placed on you by the Aeons. There are no limits and no chains here.”

Camille turns the woman by her chin to face the Sandman.

“Be all that you would be, Sandman.”

The Sandman doesn’t recall telling her his name.

Emmett: She’s been listening. Natural enough.

But all that he would be? That’s an easy enough prompt.

After all, what does a vampire actually do?

Drink.

And Em is very thirsty. He doesn’t will his fangs to come out, or so much as remember that he has them. They lead him. Seek her jugular like a freshwater well in the sweltering swamp.

Once, she tasted of strawberries. But now?

Now her taste is more than it ever could have been, before.

Support: A delicate shudder travels down the slave’s spine at her mistress’ touch. She leans into the hand on her cheek, but her eyes don’t leave the Sandman’s.

Even when he leans in.

Even when his fangs grow long in his mouth.

Even when he bites.

Her eyes finally close, cerulean hue disappearing beneath the flutter of her lids. Her lips part and she sighs softly, the same sort of sound he used to get her to make.

GM: Strawberry bliss floods the Sandman’s tongue. It’s not like it was, the first time. The hunger was an inferno within his chest during his dark rebirth. His every vein sang with unholy bliss. This isn’t that. But it’s familiar. It’s the high of cocaine, the orgasm between a girl’s legs, the bite of something delicious and Nutella-lathered. It runs down his throat like red velvet, cooling the heat within his breast, assuaging the monster.

It’s a better hit than any coke he ever did.

He didn’t, he realize as he pulls away, think how to do it. It just comes naturally. As naturally as breathing. As eating. He looks down at her, rolling over the last droplets of coppery bliss in his tongue, and sees there’s a flush to her paler cheeks. A needful shudder running down her body. She looks like she’s enjoyed this almost as much as him.

That’s like last time.

And also not.

But compared to last time, it’s almost refreshingly honest.

“Lick her neck,” says Camille, “and you’ll seal up the fang marks.”

“Always lick a vessel after you feed. Or everyone will know that you did.”

Emmett: The Sandman licks her neck. Feels her hair in his fingers. Tastes the last notes of her vitae on his tongue.

Hears the noises his drinking coaxes from her. Her pains. Her pleasures.

Where do they end? And where do they start?

“Can I keep her?” The questions comes unbidden. He isn’t thinking. He isn’t even being sarcastic. It just seems like the right thing to say, the correct way to word it.

He almost promises to feed her and take her out for walks while he’s at it.

GM: Camille laughs.

“Go on, then. Feed her some of your blood.”

Apparently, ‘feed her’ is part of it.

Emmett: He almost asks for a knife before he remembers the equipment he’s got in his mouth. A flash of fang, the strange flavor of his own vitae—what is that flavor? Hot milk? Chocolate? It’s gone— and his wrist is pressed to Eileen’s lips, his slashed vein an unholy nipple for a blasphemous feeding.

Support: Eileen falls upon his wrist without prompting, her lips closing around the offered flesh to bring the blood into her mouth. She sucks eagerly, like a child at a teat, and he hears the same sort of pleased noises from her that he had given her a moment ago. Her body shudders in want as his blood flows through her.

Emmett: Later, he’ll wonder what it was about her that made him choose that moment, that instant before his marriage to the snakes was consummated. Maybe it was that when he saw the woman whose life he had destroyed, something like regret flashed through the Sandman’s unbeating heart. Something like trepidation. What could she be but a bad men? No matter where he goes, Emmett will be damned to look into the eyes of the people he’s destroyed, and maybe destroy them a little bit harder.

Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe seeing her is like feeling somebody walk on the grave of his conscience, dead and buried and haunting him since that night he threw somebody who had hurt him to monsters, and become a monster himself. Maybe that ghost of a thing that might never have lived in the first place whispers to him, haunting the gaps between Eileen’s gasps:

It is not too late to make this right.

Maybe. But really, who knows why the vampire previously known as Emmett Delacroix did anything? Certainly most of the people who sentenced him to death must have been perplexed. When he was alive, he chased his death like he was allergic to life, only to find death so wanting he clawed his way back to… well, to this.

And now that he’s neither, perhaps because now that he is neither, he finds himself inclined to think of third options.

His eyes find Camille’s. For a moment, just a moment, they seem a tad vertical.

“We need to talk.”

GM: The Setite strokes Eileen’s face. Smiles. Motions for him to proceed.

The eyes are the same shade of poison as nine years ago.

But they’re a familiar devil, now.

Emmett: The short of it is he’s still processing this. That’s his main sell, anyways. It’s not a malicious deception, but one of convenience. Come to think of it, he’s not actually sure it’s a lie. He’s stopped differentiating between reality and illusion recently.

Between dying, being a ghost, confronting his worse half, committing mass ectocide, and becoming a vampire, he’s gotten a little lost. He needs time, you see.

Time, and space.

He’s very apologetic about the whole thing. He won’t be able to stay away forever, he knows, but still. If high schoolers are entitled to a gap year, reincarnated monsters sure as shit are, too.

That said, he explains he doesn’t know when he might be back, either. There’s a bunch of places he wants to see, cities he hasn’t been to in years.

“You said things were interesting in L.A. these days, right?” he asks.

He doesn’t want Camille to feel like he’s taking advantage of her generosity.

“The truth is I don’t know yet what this existence is like, and my curiosity and natural distrust of authority would taint my usefulness to you. And besides, if I’m not smart enough to survive on my own, I doubt you’d get much value out of me anyways.”

He wouldn’t even need much to be on his way. A little money, a good vehicle, maybe some drugs to make more money, and company.

“She’ll do,” he says, gesturing to Eileen.

GM: Camille listens patiently. Sami glances her way, once or twice. But their mutual sire just smiles.

“I asked what greatness lay within you, Sandman. What purpose you believed yourself intended for.”

“Some call our clan tempters. Corruptors. Pushers. Whatever one calls us, we provide people with what they want.”

Her hand slowly pets the new ghoul.

“Including ourselves.”

“You aren’t sure what you want. Are you?”

Emmett: “No,” he says. “I’m not.”

GM: “To sell desire, one must know one’s own desires. To master others, one must first master oneself. I told you the truth, Sandman. If you want to walk away, walk away. We only desire willing believers.”

“That’s how they get you,” says Sami.

She might or might not be joking.

“Eternity is a long time. Find your purpose,” says Camille. “We will be here when and if you return.”

“Think a motorbike feels more your style than a car, though,” remarks Sami. “You can be that asshole who doesn’t wear a helmet.”

Emmett: “Covering this face would be the biggest accident,” Em agrees, deadpan.

GM: And he doesn’t need to, does he? He can get into a fatal crash and bounce right back up. And if he actually gets hurt, that’s nothing a little blood can’t fix. He can eat someone else to make them eat the bill.

Emmett Delacroix was always good at making other people pay for his mistakes.

And hey. Maybe after feeding his worse half to a monster, he’ll make fewer this time around.

“You don’t need our money,” says Camille. “Our needs are few. Use your new gifts, and kine will open their wallets to you without hesitation. Their trust and admiration is already yours.”

“You have no idea how easy it is for us to get money,” Sami agrees. “You’d have killed for star mode when we were alive.”

“You’ll learn from experience, too, how far you can push them. Warnings never did a lot for you.”

Camille snaps her fingers. ‘Bitch’ appears, then at a glance, starts unfastening Eileen’s restraints.

“It’s funny,” says Sami as the other ghoul goes about his work. “I always knew this was what I wanted.”

“Thought it’d be what you wanted, too. We were already vampires when we were alive.”

She tilts her head.

“But I guess you’ve never really done things any way but your own way, have you?”

“Get her some clothes,” says Camille. ‘Bitch’ disappears again and comes back with something dark and leather.

“He is your master now,” she tells the new ghoul. “You will follow him and obey him.”

“Yes, mistress,” Eileen answers, bowing her head.

“See you around, Sandman,” says Sami as the ghoul dresses. “Watch your back. It’s dangerous out there.”

Is that concern in her voice?

“So is existing, my childe,” smiles Camille. “So is existing.”


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