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Blood and Bourbon

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Story Twelve, Celia XXVIII

“Come play with us, Jade.”
The Wedding Cake House dolls


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Celia has some time before dawn to arrive at the Wedding Cake House. The text is from Dani, asking when she’s going to be back. She’s getting “a little stir crazy here.”

Celia: The meeting hadn’t gone as expected. She should have waited for another time, perhaps, to tell them about Hurst. After flipping Roderick. It could have been a night of celebrations rather than… that.

Celia fires off a text to Dani that she’s collecting her things tonight and will be back shortly to drop them off. She asks if there’s anything in particular the girl wants from her house.

GM: Dani replies, My laptop, textsbooks, some of my clothes and shoes, and my notebooks would be great!

Celia: Celia assures Dani that she will.

Then, smile in place, Jade slips into another mask.

GM: It’s a moderate drive to reach Elyse’s haven. She’s greeted at the door by Key. Honey and Butterfly are long since graduated (last Jade heard, Gabrielle was doing quite well), but there are new dolls in the house. There are always new dolls in the house. Key shows Jade to a sitting room, where Elyse is standing beside two dolls. The first must be of the second order, judging by its happy expression. The second doll must be of the first order, judging by its tears and the fact that it is writing onto a chalkboard,

Its name is Pink. Its name is Pink. Its name is Pink.

True to its name, the doll is dressed from head to toe in pink, including a pink bonnet to frame its long blonde curls.

Elyse turns to Jade as Key shows her in.

“Lucy has had much to say to me, Miss Jade. She says you are pregnant.”

Celia: Pregnant.

The word almost makes her choke, but Jade maintains her composure.

GM: “Pregnant with new siblings for her that we might deliver into the world.”

“She says also that her first mother weighs heavily upon your mind.”

Celia: She nods at the clarification, and then again at the second statement. Her eyes travel to the new doll, Pink.

“Yes to both, Lady Elyse.” How had Lucy known? She’d been with Elyse the whole time. The bond must be strong. “I had hoped that you might assist me with shedding some light on the topic.”

GM: “Tell me how I may, Miss Jade,” says Elyse, departing the room without a backward glance for the dolls.

“Key, retrieve Lucy and bring her to the birthing room.”

“Yes, mistress,” the ghoul bows.

Celia: It’s a difficult situation, the conversation with Elyse. She doesn’t know how much to share. She doesn’t know how much she’s willing to share. But she has a big mouth, doesn’t she? So she starts at the beginning.

“When I first met Lucy,” Jade says slowly, following after her hostess, “I was reminded of someone I knew. I believe I told you at the time, Lady Elyse. It might be why I felt such a strong connection for her, and she for me. I didn’t mean to pry, but the thought wouldn’t leave me alone.”

GM: “Lucy’s first mother also bears the same surname as Flawless’ kine owner,” Elyse observes as they make their way through the house.

Celia: “Indeed. I was struck by the similarity. Diana Flores was Lucy’s mother?”

GM: “Yes.”

Celia: “Her mother brought her in?”

GM: “Yes. With good cause. She was a rebellious and ill-tempered creature.”

Celia: “Your treatment has worked wonders on her. I could hardly believe anyone would say that of her now.”

GM: “Thank you, Miss Jade. I have checked in on her occasionally, as I do many of my former dolls, but especially those whose creation I took greatest pride in.”

Celia: “Are you familiar at all with the details that brought her in, Lady Elyse?”

GM: “Yes, Miss Jade. I familiarize myself with the backgrounds of all of my dolls. Grace assaulted its mother with a firearm, robbed her house, and attempted to run away with a stolen car. By all accounts, a poorly-considered plan. The police easily found and apprehended Grace. Rather than pursue criminal charges, its mother delivered it into my care with the expectation that I would reform its poor character.”

“I named it Grace for how it was a ballet dancer, and for the fact that its aptitude at dance was its sole saving grace.”

Celia: Grace. The name makes sense. Diana had always been graceful. Pity about the leg.

“If I may ask one more question, Lady Elyse. Were you ever given the impression that Grace could buck its lessons for a night? Or rather, was it ever brought back in to recondition shortly following its release?”

GM: “No. It was released prematurely.”

Celia: That gets a look of surprise.

Then her brow furrows.

GM: “Grace’s mother wished to visit it. I do not permit dolls to have contact with the outside world. She made an increasing nuisance of herself. I informed her that she could have the doll released immediately, or she could wait until the work was done. She elected for an immediate release.”

“Much of Grace’s work was already finished. All that remained were several coats of polish. In truth, I released Grace early because I was curious as to what effect this would have.”

Celia: “And how have you found it?”

GM: “I would require closer observation of Grace to say for certain, but the final coats of polish appeared nonessential.”

Celia: “You don’t believe it could have had an extramarital affair of its own volition, then?”

GM: “I find that unlikely but possible, Miss Jade,” Elyse answers thoughtfully. “Dolls are trained to be loyal to their husbands. However, like any porcelain doll, they are subject to wear and tear if poorly cared for.”

Celia: How had she possibly ended up with Ron?

GM: “Dolls are trained to be quiet, but press one’s hand to a stove and it will cry out.”

“So too do I believe the capacity for infidelity exists if a doll’s husband is a poor husband.”

Celia: “But it wouldn’t be likely to happen prior to its marriage or the poor treatment from its husband if it lacked any outside persuasion or coercion.”

GM: “An extramarital affair by definition cannot happen outside of marriage, Miss Jade, unless you were referring to an unmarried romantic partner of the doll’s. I generally do not advise that dolls be placed in such relationships, however. They benefit most from a single life partner whom they know they are permanently subordinate to.”

Celia: “Yes, Lady Elyse. I was asking after both.”

“I was curious if it was something the doll would do on its own, or if being involved in a sexual relationship prior to its marriage would be something unusual for it.”

GM: “That would be atypical, Miss Jade. Dolls are unable to experience sexual pleasure.”

Celia knows her mom wasn’t subject to female genital mutilation, at least. She watched her push out Lucy.

Celia: “And they don’t have the urge to imbibe alcohol?”

GM: “Dolls are taught not to pollute their bodies with alcohol and non-medically prescribed drugs, but the conditioning is typically not as deep as their sexual conditioning. A doll fed alcohol will still become drunk.”

Celia: “Thank you, Lady Elyse.”

So Ron is a rapist. Or someone had fed her shots. Or something else had happened.

GM: “I would consider it a blemish upon my work for any doll to attempt to imbibe alcohol under its own violation. Such a doll would be in clear need of a touch-up.”

Celia: “It was a long time ago,” Jade tells her, “and I do not believe that was the case. I had simply wanted to rule it out.”

GM: “Is Grace in need of a touch-up, Miss Jade?”

Celia: “No, Lady Elyse.”

GM: “I take great pride in the work I did on Grace. I believe it to be one of my finest creations.”

“The great challenge, and my greatest work, lay in breaking it. It was a stubborn and truculent doll. It refused to respond to its name no matter how many times I made it write upon the chalkboard. Or what corporal punishments I administered. I believe it inherited these qualities from its mother, who also struck me as a strong-willed woman.”

Celia: “What broke it, in the end?”

GM: “Do you wish to see a video, Miss Jade?”

Celia: No.

“Yes, please.”

GM: Elyse leads Jade to what looks like a storage or records room on the upper floor. There are a large number of file cabinets with folders organized by name (doll names) and year. Elyse goes through them until she procures Grace’s. She removes a VHS tape from the folder.

Celia: She mentally prepares herself while Elyse gets the video ready, killing everything inside of her before it has a chance to be affected by what she’s about to see. If her feelings are a garden she rips them out, root and stem. She will never be a block of ice like her sire, but tonight at least she is has frozen everything resembling emotion.

GM: Elyse leads Jade down to a sitting room with a large TV. She tells a doll along the way to retrieve Key and to tell him where to bring Lucy. The room is filled with dolls, like every room in the house. Elyse inserts the tape into a VHS player.

Celia: “Grace named its doll Lucy,” Jade says idly as they move. “Was there a reason for that?”

GM: “Yes, Miss Jade. You will see in the video.”

Key arrives and sets down Lucy on Jade’s lap. The doll is dressed in a new, lacy blue dress. She stares up at her mother with silently knowing eyes.

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Celia: “Hello, darling,” Jade says to her Lucy. “I missed you.”

GM: Lucy’s large, wide eyes rest endlessly on her mother’s.

She really does look so much like Diana.

“Grace would not break easily,” says Elyse. “I knew it would break, with time. All dolls break after sufficient time. Yet an infinitude of monkeys pounding on typewriters could also produce the works of Shakespeare after sufficient time. An artist does not rely on time alone.”

Celia: Jade inclines her head. “It takes great skill to do what you do.”

GM: Elyse hits play. The screen shows Diana in a classic ballerina costume. Pointe shoes, light pink tutu. She’s younger-looking and has longer hair, rather than the bob cut she gets once a month at Flawless. Manacles hang from her wrists, elbows, and ankles, along with a steel collar around her neck. Slender chains dangle down from the ceiling and attach to each one, like the strings on a puppet. Her face is made up with full ballet makeup. Lots of white, bright red lips, and sharp black and silver wings swooping out from her eyes.

Hate burns in Diana’s eyes. The same hate that burned in Butterfly’s, when Celia first transformed her.

Celia doesn’t think she’s ever seen a ballerina look hateful before. The look is unsettling.

Celia: She has never seen Diana look so hateful before. That is even more unsettling.

She has seen the woman’s attempt at a glare. Like an angry kitten, more adorable than it will ever be fierce. The difference is… startling.

GM: There’s nothing remotely adorable in the look on her face. It’s hate, slow-burning but furious, and renders terrible what should be beautiful.

The chains clink as they pull up and taut. Diana’s arms and legs move with them, a puppet to another’s strings.

“Grace’s passion was ballet,” says Elyse. “It had a very promising career ahead of it, potentially in the London Royal Ballet. It was necessary that Grace practice and maintain its skills.”

“But when it danced, it was free. This would not do.”

Celia: “You took dance away from it.”

Celia had always thought it was her fault that her mother didn’t dance. And perhaps if she hadn’t come along when she did Diana would have gone on to have a long career. But it hadn’t been her fault. It had never been her fault.

Her mother took her dream away when she sent her to become a doll.

And Celia can’t even hate her for it.

Jade watches the tape, transfixed.

GM: “I did more than that, Miss Jade.”

Key and another doll appear. They lift Diana’s tutu and remove her panties. She struggles against her chains and snarls a filthy name at them. The two fasten an adult diaper around her.

“There you go, baby Grace, this’ll keep it nice and clean…” murmurs the other doll.

The second order doll. It has to be.

“Fuck you,” Diana spits.

Celia: She has never heard the woman swear in her life.

GM: Only once. When she was lying broken-armed and bloody-assed over her mother’s lap in the car, after Maxen hurt her too badly to sit down.

“Okay, dolly Grace, this is gonna hurt lots, but I need you to be really brave for us, okay?” says the other doll as she takes a firm grip on Diana’s head and tilts it back. Key inserts a thin yellow tube up her nose. Diana gags, spits, and struggles as she scrunches her eyes. She makes mangled sounds half-cut off by the tube.

Key keeps going and going. The tube has to reach all the way down to Diana’s stomach. She looks sick.

Celia: “What’s in the tube?”

GM: “You will see imminently, Miss Jade,” Elyse replies. Approval is evident in the Malkavian’s china-like eyes.

Celia: Jade simply nods, her eyes on the TV.

GM: Key produces a wad of cloth and tries to insert it into Diana’s mouth. She clamps her mouth shut.

Key pinches his fingers over her nose, just like Jamal did.

Celia: If she had a stomach, she’d be sick.

GM: “Mghphm-mgph!” noises go up from Celia’s mother. She struggles against her chains, increasingly desperately. Her eyes roll up in her head as oxygen deprivation sets in.

She finally opens her mouth to take a great big gasp of air. Key shoves the cloth gag inside.

The other doll wraps a thick roll of tan masking tape around Diana’s mouth several times, keeping the gag secure. She applies some pale white makeup foundation over the tape until it matches Diana’s skin tone.

Then she draws a pair of bright red lips over the gag, set in a huge smile. It’s very realistic. The other doll is a good makeup artist.

She holds up a mirror for Diana to see her reflection.

“There we go, big smile for dolly Grace!” beams the other doll.

Diana’s eyes burn with the same hate, but now she has a huge, happy smile over her mouth. The effect looks even more discordant than before.

“The smile was not my idea,” says Elyse. “Glee showed excellent initiative.”

Celia: “It has a deft hand.”

GM: “Okay, Grace, we’re gonna be right behind the windows the whole time,” smiles Glee. “We can’t wait to see you dance!”

She and Key exit stage right from the camera. The tube going through Diana’s nostril hangs suspended with the other chains.

Then the music starts.

The chains around Diana’s limbs tug. She dances. She is truly a sight to behold on her feet. She glides and turns and spins and leaps like a hummingbird. Celia’s mom always told her that the “point” of dancing en pointe is for the dancer to look like a sylph, a fairy, unfettered by anything except her own joy for her craft. And yet, the dancer here is undeniably fettered. With every second she dances, the chains pull and clink, reminding her of her imprisonment through sound and touch alike. And sight. The room’s walls are mirrors. Diana sees herself the entire time, chained and smiling her huge painted-on smile.

But it’s the music that truly does it.

It sounds classical. It’s powerful. It’s grand. It’s riveting. It’s incredibly loud. With every booming note, the chains tug, forcing Diana to bow as the music crashes over her, making her as small as possible. There’s no soft or delicate or chiming sounds to the music. It’s hard and bass and relentless. It’s imperious and terrible, a wordless declaration as to human insignificance, but beautiful too.

Diana’s chains move as others direct. They must be puppeteered or remote-controlled from the ceiling, because sometimes she stumbles when they’re too fast, interrupting the beauty of her dance (which she watches, the whole time), subliminally driving in that she is too slow, too clumsy, not good enough, even when Celia knows her mother is. She dances, but she is not free.

The dance goes on and on and on. Elyse hits the fast forward button, but the music continues to play from the TV’s speakers. The chained dancer becomes a blur of motion as the time stamp skips ahead. One hour, two hours, three hours. Four. Five. Still she dances. Her eyes are exhausted.

The video plays faster. Six hours. Seven. Eight. Twelve.

The tube leading into Diana’s nostril darkens as substance finally passes through it.

A feeding tube.

The dance goes on. Diana eventually can’t hold it in. She soils the diaper. Her cheeks faintly flush, but she seems only half there. The terrible music endlessly crashes over her, grinding down her spirit as she endlessly dances.

The numbers in the time stamps blur past. Days pass. The chains move for her, when she can’t, dragging her along, making her that much more helpless. She is not allowed to sleep. She eats and drinks through the tube. The diaper turns increasingly brown, but no one changes it.

She’s finally permitted a break when they remove her used-up pointe shoes (Celia remembers her mother saying they’re only good for one performance, or two if you push it). Her bleeding feet are covered in sores and blisters. Elyse appears to inject Diana with a red-filled hypodermic needle, and time turns back for her feet. They’re pink again instead of black and red. Glee fixes new pointe shoes to her feet. Key slaps her every so often so she doesn’t fall asleep, and then she’s right back to dancing.

Two days pass. Three days. Four days.

Five days.

Six.

The changings and injections repeat every so often. Jade knows it takes only three or four days before hallucinations start. That might explain why Diana starts screaming and thrashing with renewed vigor. But it just makes everything worse, to interrupt the dance. All she can do is keep going.

Keep dancing.

Celia can’t make out what her mother is trying to say past the gag. Her sweat- and tear-rimmed eyes are mad and delirious. The hatred once burning so hot within them is all but guttered out.

All she wants is for the dance to finally end.

Finally, mercifully, it does. The terrible music dies. The chains release. Diana hits the floor in an unceremonious heap, a puppet with its strings cut. Her diaper spills, further soiling her sweat-, blood-, and feces-stained costume. Elyse, Key, and Glee all approach. The doll removes the gag around Diana’s mouth. Key pinches her nipples so she doesn’t fall asleep.

Elyse tugs the chain attached to the collar around Diana’s neck. She tilts up the ballerina’s chin with her other hand, making eye contact.

“What is its name?” asks Elyse.

Diana’s voice is a croaked, broken, barely audible thing. Jade only hears it because Elyse turns up the volume to max.

“Its… name… is… Grace.”

Celia: It is not beauty. It is not art. It is torture. The breaking of another artist. A mockery of ballet, her chosen craft, turned into nothing but a puppet show. Endless hours of it: spinning, twisting, leaping. Her toes burn to look at it. Her nails must have fallen out. How much blood coats the inside of those shoes? She can’t begin to imagine the feeling of dancing in a soiled diaper for days on end, the fabric getting heavier and heavier as her bowels release, the rash on her skin from foul moisture and semi-solids.

Chained, she is clumsy. Slow. Awkward. Robot dancer, like her daughter had once been. It hurts to watch.

And she had asked about it. Casually. Like she’d had any idea what her mother had been through.

How much love is in her heart for dance that she still does it after all this time? How much passion had she once had that Elyse had not been able to kill it, root and stem?

“You broke it.”

Her voice lacks any emotion.

GM: “Yes,” replies Elyse.

There is no emotion in the Malkavian’s voice either. Dolls don’t show feelings.

But Jade can see it in Elyse’s dolls.

Dolls show so much in their eyes.

Satisfaction.

Pride.

“Grace was truly born that day.”

Celia: “Its enjoyment for dance did not die.” A question. How could Diana dance again after this?

GM: “Yes. Curious. I had expected it would not dance again without inducement.”

Celia: It’s love.

Love that monsters like them will never understand.

Her wings might be clipped, but when she dances she can still soar.

GM: “I had expected further behavior modification to be necessary. But when I offered it the opportunity to dance again, wearing but no longer guided by its chains, it said yes.”

“Grace had learned its place.”

Celia: “It doesn’t dance like that anymore. Its husband broke it further.” Jade finds Elyse with her eyes.

GM: “A pity. But no art save ours lasts forever.”

Celia: She would have lasted longer if the hacksaw had not been taken to her leg.

GM: “I feel in a nostalgic mood.” Elyse presses an intercom button. “Key. Name reminder for Grace.”

Key enters the room shortly later with a phone he hands to Elyse.

The Malkavian taps it twice. Jade hears a ring.

More than several pass before they’re answered with a groggy-sounding,

“Hello…?”

“What is its name?” asks Elyse. The Malkavian’s voice is as cold, silent, and terrible as a knife to the throat in the middle of the night.

Diana makes a sound between a gasp, a heart attack, and someone attempting to remain deathly silent.

“Its… name is Grace.

Celia can all but hear the woman’s heart pounding in her chest over the phone, pumping distilled terror through her arteries.

“Grace will go back to sleep,” the Malkavian replies pleasantly. “It had a nightmare.”

“Grace will be a good doll.”

Elyse hangs up.

Celia: It’s too much.

She’d known that when she’d said yes to the tape. She should have said no.

And again when she’d heard Elyse call for the phone. She should have stopped it.

But she’d stood. And watched. And listened.

Like a child.

Like an eight year old watching her dad shake hands with the devil.

Or the fourteen year old watching her dad take the saw to her mother’s leg.

Or the nineteen-year-old, frozen forever, sitting pretty in stony silence while others berate and mock her for her artistic talent, medium, perversions, degrees.

Degenerate.

Useless.

Stupid.

Whore.

She had never been as strong as her mother. She had never told her tormentors to fuck off. She had been bred weak. Bred by those who meant to control her. Bred to cause strife, cause heartache, cause complications.

It taught you strength.

No. It taught her to bow.

And she is fucking sick of bowing.

She has enough of herself left to set Lucy aside.

Then rage overcomes her, an explosion of snarling, snapping, biting. Claws and fangs erupt from her skin. Her nail beds split. She bleeds.

And the Beast comes tearing out.

How dare she. How dare she break her mother. How dare she take the only thing she loved, her only saving grace, and turn it into savage mockery. How dare she clip that beautiful ballerina’s wings. How dare she call her in the middle of the night to remind her of her place, a place that she never wanted, that was thrust upon her by people too ignorant to the results of those sorts of environments to give a damn about their actions.

She sees red.

And she lunges.

GM: Jade has seen Elyse’s powers of the mind. Seen her invade her doll’s heads, break them in little ways inside, break them like she broke Diana. Force them to be people they are not. Haunt them all their lives. Butterfly is an obedient mother and trophy wife now, last Jade heard.

Jade has seen what the Malkavian can do. Seen the way she terrifies and tortures and breaks the victims in her dollhouse of horrors.

Yet, when the red haze recedes, it’s Elyse’s shredded, barbie doll body that lies broken and gore-spattered on the floor. Her dress is torn off, showing her nipple-less breasts and the smooth flesh between her legs where she used to have a vagina.

Elyse may be a mistress of horrors within her dolls’ minds.

But barbies evidently can’t fight worth a damn.

Celia: Well.

Fuck.


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Celia: Jade’s claws slowly recede. She stares down at the body. Her third time losing control this evening. A third victory for her Beast.

It rings hollow. She won this and lost a friend.

Stricken eyes search for Key among the dolls, as if she expects to simply find him there waiting.

GM: Jade does not see the ghoul.

Celia: Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

She can’t just leave Elyse here, she’s not an asshole.

“Key!”

GM: There is no response.

Celia: She searches for the intercom.

GM: It’s there on the wall.

Celia: She presses the button. Calls for him again.

GM: “Yes?” answers the ghoul’s voice after a few moments. He sounds positively… something. His voice is thick.

Celia: She doesn’t know what that emotion is.

“Key. I need your help. The lady interpreter needs your help.” A pause. Then, “please.”

GM: “Of… course, Miss Kalani. What can I… do for her?”

Celia: “I need someone to wake her. Her sire? The regent? Do you know who she can safely drink from? A change of clothes. I’ll get her cleaned up. She shouldn’t be seen like this.”

GM: “I do not… know, Miss Kalani. Either of them… perhaps…”

Celia: Helpful.

“Everything okay, Key?”

GM: “No, Miss Kalani,” Key says slowly. “No, there is nothing okay.”

Celia: Right. She’s aware.

Her eyes finally lift from Elyse’s corpse to survey the room.

GM: Many eyes stare back at her.

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Celia: Her vague “call her sire and ask him to wipe Elyse’s memory” plan falls to pieces. The dolls will tell.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers to the room. “I didn’t mean to.”

She presses the intercom again.

“Bring the dress, Key.”

GM: Silence is her only answer.

Celia: Jade grinds her teeth together. She bends, lifting Elyse into her arms. She’s been to the bathroom here enough times—breaking women like her mother, turning them into dolls—and knows exactly where she’s going. It’s the same place Elyse sat for her when she ripped out all of her internal organs and smoothed over her sex and chest. Jade sets the limp body down in the tub and runs the water.

She stares at the phone in her hand. She could call her sire. It’s his territory. She’d been hoping to avoid him pretty much forever, but if he can wake Elyse…

The masked harpy is another option.

Neither of them are particularly appealing choices. Sheriff will likely keep quiet about it. Just mad at her for starting shit in his territory. Again.

Cool. What a fun night. Absolutely nothing has gone right. Even the sex with Josua is now just a quickly fading memory.

She doesn’t have time to fall apart. She needs to make a decision.

Jade takes a breath she doesn’t need. She has to fix this. She will fix this. She isn’t going to let one night ruin her entire Requiem. It’s a setback, that’s all it is. Roderick will come over to her side. Savoy will forgive her for messing up his plans. Elyse will forgive her. She’ll explain, that’s all, just explain. Tell her a secret, maybe. Grace is my mom. Grace was raped and couldn’t defend herself because of this; the fire was snuffed out of her. Grace could have gone on to have a future in ballet if her mother hadn’t forced this on her. Grace is my property, and you’re stepping on my toes. I don’t even know if she’d love me if she were to wake up from what you did to her.

She pushes the negative thoughts of a ruined Requiem from her mind, watching them swirl down the drain with the pinkish water running free from Elyse. She’ll think of something. She always does.

She’ll find Key. Find out what the problem is. Fix Elyse. Make sure she’s presentable. Deal with the anger of one of their sires. The harpy is an unknown quantity; she can’t predict how he will react to finding his childe destroyed on the floor. She doesn’t know if he knows that Jade assists Elyse with her dolls. But Donovan does. He knows Jade comes into his territory. He knows that Elyse pays the toll, that they have some sort of working relationship.

She doesn’t want to see him. She has too much going on in her head right now to want to see him. He’ll berate her for losing her cool. He’ll berate her for causing problems. He’ll demand to know what else she has done, what information she has gathered since Wednesday, and what does she tell him? He’ll look and see and she’ll never know, he’ll mind-fuck her into forgetting, and then Savoy will think she’s causing problems on purpose. She’s not supposed to have any contact with Donovan. What if he keeps her again, like last time? She’ll miss the meeting, the dinner, won’t be able to provide for Dani.

What will she say? “I lost control of my Beast.” They all have a Beast. It’s not an excuse. She should have had a better handle on it. Three times tonight it has caused problems. She killed someone. Murdered her. Like it was nothing.

Was it nothing? Is that who she has become, someone to whom murder means nothing? Will she, too, turn into someone like Veronica who slaughters thin-bloods because they try to go to a party?

Stop it. The thoughts don’t help. She forces them away again.

Jade rises. Elyse isn’t quite clean yet, but she can finish cleaning her once she calls someone. She looks around the bathroom to see if there are any dolls in this room, or if it is one of the few in the house that offer any semblance of privacy.

Then she strides from the room to find Key. She can do it without him, but if there’s another problem, something that happened while her Beast had control, then she’d prefer to fix it now.

GM: Elyse’s body is extremely light. She was already a thin, near-anorexic thing before Jade removed her nonessential organs, and Elyse had the Toreador remove as many of those as she could.

The bathroom appears to be the sole room in the house without any dolls in it. It occurs to Jade that the room’s humidity would likely be bad for any dolls kept there. Even if they had no hair or clothes, the humidity still wouldn’t play well with its composite body. The only doll that could last in a bathroom would be more statue than true doll.

They’re there, though. More of them. Right outside the door.

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Jade can’t even begin to recollect how many dolls there are in the Wedding Cake House. But lying right there on the floor, seemingly dropped and abandoned, is an all-too familiar one.

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Celia: “Lucy,” Jade murmurs, stooping to pick up the doll. She brushes it off, removing the wrinkles from its new dress and any dirt or lint it has accumulated in its time on the floor. “I’m sorry, darling. Sit tight. I need to fix this.”

She sets the doll down with one of its many siblings, then moves through the house to find Key.

GM: Lucy stares into Jade’s eyes as her mother picks her up. The doll fits snugly in Jade’s arms, and today she feels like a babe desperately clinging to her mother’s breast. It’s uncanny how much she looks like Diana, all the way down to the woman’s present-day bob cut. Even their expressions feel like mirrors of one another’s. Lucy just smiles a little less.

Doll.jpg
But that isn’t a coincidence. Looking into Lucy’s glassy eyes and wide black pupils, Jade can see the young, angry ballerina who was turned into a doll even as she built her own doll. Every doll has a story inside of them. Every doll has a mouth. But no doll may speak.

Lucy’s porcelain lips do not move. But Jade hears the word, heavy as porcelain, screaming with urgency:

RUN

Celia: The doll is halfway down when the word strikes her. Jade swallows. She doesn’t want to leave Elyse. What kind of a monster leaves someone behind that they’ve hurt?

But the urgency does her in. Something had been off with Key. Something had been off with the dolls. She might not speak their language as fluently as Elyse, but even she knows something is off.

“Diana?” Jade whispers down to it. Wary, she tucks the doll against her side and steals through the house.

GM: There is no response from Lucy. There are countless other dolls in the house, and their glassy eyes all bore down on Jade, the Kindred who hurt their mother. There are so many of them. Jade always took it for granted, or perhaps she did not truly realize the depth of the Malkavian’s obsession, but they are everywhere. They’re sitting on the tables. Perched from the lamps. Leaning against the walls. Hanging from the banisters. Peaking out from the chandeliers. They’re like ants. They’re everywhere. They’re fire hazard, a tripping haz—and then Jade’s falling down the stairs, each step slamming into her flank, she must have tripped over a doll, because there are dolls all over the steps, and she’s crushing them, being crushed by them, their hands catching in her hair, stabbing her sides, and the doll with the wooden hands misses her heart by inches as it penetrates her wood-vulnerable Kindred flesh like butter—

She lands at the bottom of the stairs with a crash, aching everywhere as dozens of hateful china eyes bear down on her.

She. Hurt. Mother.

Celia: It was an accident.

She was going to fix it.

But she can’t, not with them all around her. She runs, Lucy tucked against her side.

GM: She.

Doll.jpg
She. Hurt. Mother.

Doll.jpg
She. Hurt. Mother.

Doll.jpg
She. Hurt. MOTHER!

Doll.jpg
GETT HHHHEEEERRRR!!!!!!

Celia: The hatred coming from the dolls batters against her as she runs through their tiny little bodies. She’d never been afraid of dolls. But their angry, vengeful faces stare at her, and she can’t—won’t—destroy them, too. She flees, feet moving as quickly as they can against the floor in her bid for freedom.

GM: She trips over another doll. How are they always under her feet—

Doll.jpg
come play with us jade

She scrambles to her feet, running, but there’s more, there’s so many more—

Doll.jpg
play with us jade

play with us

play with us

Doll.jpg
you’re just like us

just like us

just like us

Doll.jpg
She runs, she runs, but there’s more dolls, the living dolls, marching towards her like zombies, throwing themselves in her path with blank, glassy-eyed expressions—

Doll.jpg
you’re a doll too

doll too

who are you

who are you

one of us

one of us

Doll.jpg
play with us

one of us

play with us

one of us

play with us

one of us

Celia: No, no, nope, no, not even a little. She’s not a doll. She’s not. Maxen didn’t send her. Payton sent Diana. She did. He told her. He said he didn’t send her. Jade isn’t a doll. She’s not a doll. She’s a lick. A Kindred. A vampire. Childe of Donovan, grandchilde of Antoine Savoy, great-grandchilde of Maria Pascual. She’s a person. She was human once. She’s not now, but she used to be.

Jade. Her name is Jade.

She runs, the only doll who loves her tucked against her body, protecting it from the hateful, savage dolls in the rest of the house. It was an accident, she might scream. It was an accident. She’s sorry. She was going to fix it. She was. Dolls break sometimes. Elyse taught her how to fix them. She would have fixed Elyse.

She’s not a doll. She runs. Daddy didn’t send her to become a doll. She keeps running. She’s not a doll. She runs. She doesn’t want to play. Step by step she moves to the door. She’s Jade. Celia. She’s someone, but she’s not a doll.

She doesn’t want to play.

GM: It’s like running through quicksand. Through a jungle. Her environment fights her at every turn, and every footstep is treacherous. There are so many dolls. Dolls everywhere. They fall all around her like swarms of spiders. She can barely even see the walls and ceilings. Jade isn’t even sure where they’re coming from, there are so many, more than she ever saw—

Doll.jpg
Living dolls, unliving dolls, and half-living dolls, and Jade remembers now, how she pulled the bones out of those womens’ arms and legs and hands while Elyse watched, left them floppy useless boneless bits of flesh, cut out their tongues, plucked out their eyes and replaced them with shiny buttons—how are they even moving, without bones in their limbs, these half-human, half-dolls—

Doll.jpg
Doll.jpg
you did this to us

you did this to us

did this to us

stay with us

stay with us

one of us

one of us

leila3.png
“Stay with us, pretty please?” smiles Leilani.

“There’s so many dolls to play with…”

“So many dollies…”

“She understands you, Celia… all the pieces have a home here…”

Lani’s voice warbles, and it sounds like she said Jade, not Celia.

Jade. Celia. Jade. Celia.

“You don’t have to be confused anymore…”

Celia: Leilani needs to go back where she came from. She isn’t real. She’s just another mask, another lie, another part of her that Celia—Jade? Celia?—Jade ties on when she needs it.

“She’s not my mother,” Celia/Jade says to the figment of her psyche. One face of the dozens, hundreds, thousands in front of her, all around her. Each step is an effort, slogging through the sea of dolls. Her muscles don’t grow weary but she can feel them clinging to her, pulling at her, overwhelming her in their onslaught to keep her here. She’s slowing.

Her hands bat them away. She keeps Lucy next to her as if the doll will lead the way to safety, a shield against the horde. Boneless fingers reach for her, rubbery skin slipping off her frame, and she shrieks at what she has done, what she will become.

“Let go, let go, let go!”

She swims through porcelain.

“I’m not confused.”

Another step.

“You’re not real.”

More faces peer down at her.

“It’s just pretend!”

It was a game. Wasn’t it?

“I can’t stay.”

She’s cracking.

“It was an accident.”

Splintering.

“I didn’t mean to!”

She would have fixed it.

“Go away.”

Fracturing.

“Let me go!”

Fragmenting.

“You’re not real.”

Shattering.

“You’re not real.”

Disconnecting.

“You’re not real.”

Disassociating.

“You’re not real!”

Broken.

GM: “Why are you talking to me if I’m not real?” smiles Leila.

“Unless I am… or if you’re crazy…”

Craaaazy….”

I’m real or you’re crazy…

GET IT!” screams Key, thrusting a finger out at her. “Get that doll! Runaway doll!”

“Craaaazy…” goes Leila.

CCRRAAAAZZZYYY…!”

“HahaHaHahaHAHaHahAhaHAhAHahAhAhAHAhHaHAhAhaHhaHAHahAHHAhaHAHAHHaHAHAHaHhAHaHAhaHHA-
HAhahAHhaHaHahA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Laughter spills from a million throats as the porcelain sea swallows Jade. Her free hand only just brushes the front door when scores of rubbery and porcelain ones seize her from all sides and pull her back, drowning her under the weight of their numbers.

Too slow.

YES!”

Too weak.

“The mistress is avenged!”

Too stupid.

“You’ll play with us, Jade… you’ll play with us forever, now…”


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Story Twelve, Caroline XVI, Celia XXVII

“Most of us will excuse almost anything from someone we love, no matter how awful.”
Caroline Malveaux-Devillers


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Celia: The Giani Building isn’t far enough into the Central Business District that Celia is worried about being picked up as an interloper. It’s not even far enough away that she needs to drive, which further cuts down on the probability that she’ll be detected. Flanagan had proved the other night that the licks who patrol the borders pay attention to make and model of vehicles, but this evening Celia skips it all.

She walks. Just another girl alone at night, aura drawn in to prevent any of her kind from looking at her and simply knowing what she is. Masking her smell, she calls it. Hiding in plain sight. She wears her Celia face tonight, made up with spots of color on her cheeks, lips, and lids.

Quick steps take her across Canal Street to the building’s front door. The doorman asks who she is here to see and she gives him Caroline’s name, smiling sweetly all the while.

In the end, there had been no way for her to ascertain that this is not a trap. Trust does not come readily to her kind, but trust she does. Trusts herself to react accordingly. Trusts the Ventrue to offer her this visit on an act of goodwill. Trusts that she will not meet her final death if she steps into this building as soon as the clearance comes down.

Caroline: If the shapely young woman didn’t have the doorman’s full attention when she walked in, she certainly has it when she mentions Ms. Malveaux-Devillers. He inquires as to what name he should give when he calls up.

Celia: Celia tells herself she isn’t offended when the man doesn’t recognize her. How many middle-aged men really browse Instagram or MeVid, anyway, and how many of those who do meander on over to the makeup side of things? Soon, though, she’ll be recognized everywhere, not just by teens and tweens and young women. L.A. is calling her name. As soon as Rick comes through, she’s out of New Orleans and on her way to something better.

“Celia Flores,” she tells the doorman, her smile never slipping. “I believe Ms. Malveaux-Devillers is expecting me.”

She hopes so, anyway. The call from her ghoul had implied as much. Awkward, if not.

Caroline: The doorman buzzes up. Celia’s sharp hearing is enough to her her name clearly. He answers affirmatively several times then returns his attention Celia. “Someone will be right down for Ms. Malveaux-Devillers,” he informs her.

“You can wait in the lobby if you’d like.”

Celia: As if she has another choice. Still, she smiles at him and steps inside, thanking him for his time. Her eyes scan the lobby while she waits. She’s poised enough to not tap her heels on the ground no matter how nerve-wracked this waiting makes her.

Her grandsire’s missive weighs heavily on her mind. Coincidence, maybe, that the call from the ghoul had come shortly after she’d left the Evergreen. She hadn’t voiced her concerns to her grandsire, but they pace through her thoughts now like a caged tiger, back and forth, back and forth. Sire and grandsire. One wants to destroy the blonde, the other wants to offer her friendship and an alliance. Both of them want her assistance with the matter. What does she want to be? The knife in the dark, or the smiling friend?

She supposes this meeting will let her know.

Caroline: The lobby feels more spacious than it is. Marble floors and high ceilings give it an robust elegance, and the entire space is decorated in whites and golds. Several comfortable looking leather chairs sit to one side, a handful of magazines arrayed in the end table between them.

To one side Celia can make out a short hall that terminates in a mail room, complete with the array of numbered boxes. Branching off of it is another room with an opaque frosted glass door.

Several security cameras beat down from various angles. The small round black ones, rather than the more conspicuous ones of gas stations and resteraunts.

Two keycarded elevators sit on the north wall.

Celia doesn’t have long to wait before a serious-looking blonde in a black suit emerges from one of the elevators and makes her way to her.

“Ms. Flores?” she asks.

Celia can smell it before she gets close.

Ghoul.

widney_large.jpg
Celia: She hadn’t even had time to enjoy the magazine she’d picked up and begun to leaf through, one leg crossed over the other in that bank of leather chairs.

She doesn’t recognize the girl. Smells like vitae, though. Should she recognize her? Probably. She should pay better attention to people’s ghouls; apparently someone is paying enough attention to hers to start fucking with them.

She rises.

“That’s me,” she says to the ghoul, setting the magazine aside. “Lead the way, Miss…?”

Caroline: “Widney, ma’am,” the ghoul replies easily. “Ms. Malveaux-Devillers’ last appointment ran late, but she told me she would be along shortly, and instructed me to extend every courtesy in her absence. She’ll receive you in the penthouse.”

Celia: Irritation surges through her. Not the ghoul’s fault, she reminds herself, so she keeps her tongue in her mouth and her lips pressed together.

She couldn’t have called? Texted?

And this is, what, another game? From a fledgling? No matter who her sire is, the girl is a scant few months old.

How dare she.

“How unfortunate,” she says dryly. “This is why I make it a point to be the first one in the morning to visit the doctors, you know. But I’m happy to see the penthouse in the meantime.” She sounds chipper, at least.

Caroline: “It shouldn’t be long at all, ma’am. If you follow me, I’ll get you settled in. Can I offer you anything? Sparkling water? Cocktail?” The blonde leads her to one of the elevators and swipes a badge.

Celia: Sparkling blood. There’s a thought. She wonders if carbonation would improve the fare any. Either Widney doesn’t know what she is—which means Caroline is preserving the secret for her—or she’s pretending not to know because of the public locale. Maybe she should accept. Keep up the ruse.

No, no reason to waste the blood just to choke it down and throw it up later. She’s had enough of that.

“Oh I couldn’t,” she says, Southern accent coming through a little more thick than normal. She waves a hand, stifling a giggle. “I’m already jumpy as a rabbit in a teakettle as is, I doubt liquor would do me any good.”

Caroline: Widney nods, business-like. “If you should change your mind, don’t hesitate to ask. Ms. Malveaux-Devillers maintains a fully stocked bar.”

She swipes the badge across another scanner inside and the dim ‘th floor’ button illuminates. She presses it quickly. The trip to the rooftop is short.

Pic.jpg
“Would you prefer inside or outside, ma’am?” the ghoul inquires.

A pool and array of seating arrangements beckon on the patio.

Pic.jpg
Celia: “Outside.”

Always outside. She follows the ghoul onto the rooftop venue, scanning the area for any sort of… anything. Traps, maybe. More ghouls. People. Does she have this whole area to herself? Plant a few trees, she thinks, and Caroline will have her very own rooftop garden.

With a pool, though. Now that’s tempting. What would the Ventrue do if she showed up to find Celia naked in the pool? She’s often wondered that about her grandsire, too. If he came upstairs one evening to find her waiting for him.

Ah, well, the blonde has already seen everything she has to offer, anyway. Something something mystery of modesty and all that. It looks like Emily described, at least, which means that her memories weren’t altered. Maybe. Aren’t you supposed to make small changes, though? She’d sigh but she doesn’t need to.

Celia takes an offered seat and waits for her host.

Caroline: Widney pauses after the elevator arrives to send a brief message on her phone, before leading Celia out to a high round table with a black umbrella jutting from the center and two stool height chairs. A small portable electric heater sits off to the side, and the ghoul stops to turn it on as well.

There’s not a soul to trouble them, though the faint sounds of the street reaches them up here. The dull hum of cars going by and occasional peels of laughter from tourists.

There’s no dedicated lighting on the patio on other than those that ring the pool: it’s left to bathe in the faint lights of the city and cast in a modest gloom.

Celia doesn’t have long to wait, perhaps enough time to briefly check her Instagram.

From her seat facing the club house the Toreador can see the doors to the elevator open once more to discharge the Ventrue and two others.

The first she recognizes as the same ghoul that was with Caroline in the Garden District.

Autumn_Alt1.jpg
What was her name? Spring? Summer? Some kind of season name.

She says something that Celia can’t quite catch to Caroline as she exits the elevator that makes the Ventrue snap shut the leather portfolio she’s holding and all but shove it towards her, whatever words exchanged lost in the wind.

The second individual with Caroline is short, stocky, and bald. He wears black cargo pants with a gray shirt and a matching dark jacket that doesn’t fit him as well as it should. Everything about him almost screams military, not the least of which is the pistol on his hip and matching magazines on the opposite.

Autumn_Alt1.jpg
Then comes the Ventrue herself.

That Caroline doesn’t expend the same effort as Celia in her daily makeup routine is obvious. Just as obvious is how little she needs such a thing. Her blonde hair seems to fall in exactly the right way to frame her face, especially those piercing blue eyes.

She’s not quite dressed for Elysium in her black dress, but it’s far from casualwear, hugging her body in all the right places and standing out sharply against her so pale skin. Paler perhaps than the night before. Even more inhuman.

Her heels make her seemingly endless legs just go on further. They snap across the deck as the blonde makes her way out towards Celia with casual lack of effort.

Pic.jpg
Celia: She should, she reflects, get more ghouls like this. The useful sort that flank her when she visits other licks, instead of a boy who disobeys and a girl who can’t be bothered to protect the sanctity of the Masquerade. Christ, she’s still waiting on the blowout from that. An excuse to strip her of everything useful she’s accumulated over the past years. The heads of the ghouls she’s currently bemoaning, even.

No, no, she won’t let her mind go down that road. No one that knows who she is has any reason to want to mess with her. No reason to check Celia’s phone.

Except the reason in front of her.

The beautiful, deadly reason in front of her. Scion of two powerful houses, childe of the prince of the city, apparently bested Meadows in combat… power, beauty, what’s not to like?

The pull of her clan, thankfully, lies dormant this evening. She blames it for her actions in the Garden District.

Her eyes follow the assembled ghouls—Winter, she thinks, which is similar to Widney, which definitely makes sense if you’re too busy to learn their names—until Caroline starts towards her. Then it’s all she can do to avoid staring. Were she still alive the lick might take her breath away. As it is, only conscious effort reminds her to breathe and blink.

She rises as the Ventrue draws close, a smile tugging the corners of her lips upward. The corners of her eyes would never dare crinkle, but there’s warmth there all the same.

She’s less formally dressed than her counterpart, in any case. This must have come from the Celia side of her closet, and soon it’ll be too warm to pull it off, even at night. Still, she does so enjoy her sweater dresses, and this wide-necked tan (beige? who cares) one hugs her hips and waist before giving way around mid-thigh to dark gray boots. Even the heels don’t make her tall enough to look the Ventrue in the eye.

Pic.jpg
Not that she would. Celia studiously avoids doing so, looking at her lips instead.

No, wait, that’s dangerous too.

What a mess.

Caroline: Celia may not have heard the jokes at Elysium about Caroline, but Jade certainly has.

Not from the harpies (why would they spare their attention for some fledgling?) but from the would-be crowd. About how clearly the reason the Ventrue has so many ghouls is because no lick wants anything to do with her. How she has to lord over someone. How it’s a pathetic commentary on her existence. The lost fledgling surrounding herself with slaves and bodyguards in some pretentious imitation of the powerful and important. Unable to accept her irrelevance, not realizing how foolish it makes her look. Who would bother with her anyway?

On the other hand, Caroline doesn’t look very pathetic as she outpaces the bald ghoul on her way towards Celia.

She intentionally doesn’t bite her lip like she wants to as she approaches, as she takes in the Toreador. Caroline’s skin is too pale to pull off a dress like that, but it works on Celia. Works very well, especially paired with the boots.

She forces away the irritation Autumn’s last news left her with and puts a smile on. Smile’s are good, right? Not threatening? Celia’s smiling at her. Because she’s trying to be non-threatening as well? Or because she’s genuinely happy to see Caroline?

The Ventrue shoves that latter thought away along with her irritation. Why would Celia be happy to see her?

More to, why did she accept the invitation? How confident must she be, of either her rouse or her abilities to waltz into Caroline’s lion’s den here.

Well, she’s not the first.

And then she’s there, in front of the Toreador, and she realizes she doesn’t know what she’s going to say.

“Celia, I’m so glad you could come. I’m sorry to keep you waiting.”

Offer an excuse? The truth? No. That’d just look weak, wouldn’t it? She’s been on the receiving end of the ‘make people wait’ game other licks play often enough to know what it means, how irritating it is. What it looks like, no matter how good the reason.

On the other hand, does Celia? Caroline admits to herself she honestly don’t know. She’s never seen her at Elysium. Never heard of her. Is it possible that Celia’s been mostly isolated? Then there’s that ugly secret between them. How does that play in?

Celia: Could be the bond Caroline forced on her. Celia had tried so hard to prevent it from taking hold in the bedroom and Caroline had all but shoved it on her in the shower.

The smile seems genuine enough, in any case. Hard to imagine Celia without a smile, really. Maybe it’s her default expression. Maybe she hasn’t been a lick long enough to know she shouldn’t smile like this, like she hasn’t been around long enough to know she shouldn’t trespass in the Garden District. It’s not as if Caroline has heard anything about a Celia Flores among the Damned.

She’s glad they’re skipping the titles, in any case. Caroline’s nonchalant familiarity puts her more at ease than anything else probably would.

“It’s not a problem,” Celia tells her, “I’m sure you have plenty of things to keep you busy these nights.” It was only a moment, anyway. Not like when the elders do it.

Maybe she’s not used to those games, either. How much digging did Caroline do about the Toreador?

Caroline: “You have no idea,” Caroline answers with a light laugh.

Or does she?

She glances at Widney. “There shouldn’t be anything else tonight.”

“Yes, ma’am.” The ghoul nods and withdraws.

And just like that the two of them are standing out on the roof alone.

She’ll never get a better chance.

And yet Caroline can’t bring herself to fear. Perhaps she’s being foolish tonight, but nothing ventured is nothing gained, and she’s not so exposed here as others might believe.

Celia: She probably doesn’t. Still posting photos on Instagram, isn’t she?

Must be new. Hadn’t even tried to put off the ghoul for a night when she’d called for a meeting. Doesn’t seem bothered by waiting.

Very new.

She watches the ghoul depart. Now it’s just two monsters on the roof.

“Is all of this yours up here?”

An idle question. As if she hadn’t grilled Emily about it. Not that the girl would know, but even some information is better than none, isn’t it?

Caroline: “In practice. I don’t own the building, but I have some… influence over it. Officially, the roof closes at sundown. Most people’s cards won’t even let them select it as an option in the elevator.”

Her eyes meet Celia’s. “We won’t be disturbed.”

Celia: Is that a threat or an invitation?

“And for anyone who tries to take the stairs it’s a simple matter of telling them to leave, I imagine.”

Not that it would stop certain others in the city from appearing if they so chose. She turns to look out across the city, perhaps to keep the lick from doing the trick she’d just alluded to. Not wanting the girl in her head is what had gotten her into this mess. The building isn’t the tallest in the city, but the view across Canal Street to the lights and merriment of the Quarter is appealing all the same.

“It’s nice up here. I see why you invite people.”

Caroline: “Roof doors lock out too, at least from the inside. Building security is pretty extensive. Something about upgrades after an unfortunate incident a few months ago,” Caroline answers, turning her own gaze to the city.

It’s not quite the equal of her sire’s view, but it’s not bad.

“I worked hard to make something mine after my Embrace.” She bites her lip. “It wasn’t easy.”

An invitation.

Celia: “I should upgrade my security,” Celia admits. She’s seen what other people do now and hers is decidedly lacking. Not just at her haven, but the spa as well. One suite is well guarded, the rest…

“Hard to carve a niche in a city that seems like it’s been picked clean over by everyone at the top.”

No heat, just steady facts. What’s left for the little people in this game of giants?

“But it seems like it’s going well for you. Maybe I can pick your brain about it sometime. Borrow some tactics about developing things. "

Caroline: “I mean, it’s not all that different than our last lives. All about what parts of yourself you’re willing to sell or cut away to get ahead.”

She wishes she had a drink.

“Get in line behind someone. March to the beat of their drum. They’re no more accepting of individuals than either of our fathers.”

Celia: “Isn’t that the truth.”

What would they be like if their fathers hadn’t been the monsters they are? Would she chafe more at the rules of her Requiem, join the Anarchs to fight for equality? Maybe. That’s the way the world works, though. The strong rule at the top.

“Someone—” her sire “—once told me that growing up as I did taught me strength.”

Caroline: “There’s a reason a lot of us come from those kinds of backgrounds.” She runs her tongue over her fangs.

“Your sister, for instance.”

“A good Sanctified would also tell you that your sins in life are part of why you have this existence. I think we all had our own sins long before the Embrace.”

Celia: Turned away as she is, maybe Caroline doesn’t see the overlong blink at the mention of her sister. She has half a second to decide how to play this. Tell Caroline who she is, let her know she’s been Embraced far longer than her, that she knows about Roxanne.

Or feign ignorance. Play the innocent, wide-eyed childe, so new to all of this. Harder to explain how she fits into their society if she’s more than a handful of months old, isn’t it?

It had worked with the hunters.

And, in the end, it’s not her secret to tell. The noose makes her do what she does best: lie.

“My sister?” Celia furrows her brow. “I don’t think the scandal made either one of them strong. Sophia left for college, and Isabel… she’s been in Sudan since she graduated.”

Caroline: Does she really not know? How many masks are they wearing with each other tonight?

Still, if she really doesn’t know, she deserves to.

“Isabel has been one of us for years,” Caroline answers after a moment. “She leads her own krewe. Or, at least she did. They had a difficult year.”

Celia: What’s the appropriate response to this? She’d been furious when she found out initially, but her feelings since then have long cooled.

Dismay, maybe. Who would want this for their siblings? Wounded betrayal that Isabel hadn’t told her. Sadness. Regret. She reaches for the old wounds she has carried on her heart since the night she made Maxen rape his daughter. The story Roxanne had told her about her pregnancy moments before she’d ripped out her heart. Or what she should have felt, anyway, if she weren’t the monster that she is.

It’s a real mixing pot of emotions across her face, eyes widening, lips parting, fingers moving to cover her mouth while she takes a completely unnecessary breath.

“Isabel has… oh, oh no…” She turns away.

And the Oscar goes to…

Caroline: Celia’s either a fantastic actress (which Caroline knows is true) or she’s genuinely been kept in the dark about most of Kindred society.

She supposes, on reflection, both could be true, despite what she knows about her. Caroline certainly was.

She shrugs. “It’s not all bad. Someone observed to me once that this thing can be what breaks relationships, what destroys us with others, but it can also be an opportunity to reconnect with someone under different circumstances.”

Never mind that she murdered that person. Someone who trusted her, or at least cared for her. Cared enough to stick her neck out for Caroline.

“For what it’s worth, I think your sister would be happy to see a familiar face, and that she could use one.”

Celia: Huh. Too bad Celia killed her sister.

Not that she shares that tidbit.

She shoves the thought from her mind as quickly as it comes. It takes her a moment to put herself back together after that blow. Or at least that’s what she makes it look like she’s doing. She doesn’t dab at her eyes—Caroline won’t smell blood and would see through the ruse more easily than a mortal—but she hunches her shoulders slightly for a moment and gives a shake of her head.

“I didn’t know. I had no idea…” she trails off. “We weren’t close, you know, after our parents split… I just thought she… with everything that happened…”

Her face plastered all over the internet. Maxen between her legs. It’s a dark thought.

“I would have wanted to get out, too.”

Caroline: Not close? How are you ‘not close’ with a sister. The entire idea is alien to Caroline. She tries to imagine what it would take to split her from her sisters. Probably a hacksaw.

“She’s a clanmate. I could put you two in touch. Or at least pass along your number, if you wanted.”

What say you to that? How far does she take the game? If it even is a game.

Celia: Good luck.

“Y-yeah,” Celia finally says. “Thank you. I should speak to her. Maybe together we can…” she trails off again.

Bury the hatchet. She really had wanted to bury the hatched with Isabel. Only she’d become unhinged, either after her Embrace or had been all along, and Celia’s attempt at bridging that gap had ended disastrously.

Caroline: “Few enough reasons to trust someone, among the Damned. You could do worse than shared blood.”

Of course, Caroline did far more than destroy the only Kindred that shared her blood as a mortal, so maybe she’s not the best authority on that topic.

“Remind me to give you her number before you go, and I’ll pass on yours next time I see her.”

Celia: She should unburden herself of that guilt. They can swap stories about the terrible things they’ve done to their families.

Call it a bonding exercise.

“I don’t know if she’d want to see me,” Celia admits, “but… I guess she and Logan still talk. I messaged her, you know, recently. There’s this app he showed me, because I thought she was in Sudan… but she never got back to me. But… you know, dying, it made me think of all the things I should have fixed. And now I have the chance. And to hear that maybe we could fix it…”

She takes a breath she doesn’t need.

“Thank you, Caroline. I really appreciate that.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “She goes by Roxanne now. Apparently that’s a thing a lot of licks do: change their name after the Embrace.”

Not that Caroline will. The time for that is long past—if it ever existed for her.

Celia: “Oh. I should… probably do that too. Roxanne.” She tries it out, lets it roll off her tongue.

As if she doesn’t know.

What had Coco and Roderick told her? Truth comes out. Maybe she should stop spinning tales.

“I never understood how she could do it, you know. Take his side. I saw him. I watched it happen.”

This, at least, isn’t a lie.

Caroline: That makes Caroline pause. What would she have done, if she’d seen her father beating Claire? Would she have defended her now-stepmother against him? Have stood up against him? Would she have gone with Claire if they’d split, knowing she was right? Or would she have stayed with her father, who she loved?

She knows the answer.

“I could say that you were kids, and that to kids who’s right matters a lot less than who you love. I could say that he appeared strong and your mother appeared weak. Maybe your sister thought she was backing the side she had to because it was going to win anyway. I could blame the entire thing on who you were then… but that’s not really true, is it?”

“The truth is most of us will excuse almost anything from someone we love, no matter how awful. We’re myopic in our view. The only thing that matters is what we care about.”

She pauses. “Your sister made clear who she did.”

Celia: “Isabel—Roxanne—she had no reason to side with Dad. None. He used to… God, he was awful. The last nice thing I remember him doing was my birthday party when I was eight. And then we moved into Audubon and everything became shit. Just shit. He just… changed. Not overnight, it wasn’t that dramatic, but what kind of person takes a hacksaw to a ballerina’s leg? How can you do that to someone? And then everything after… what he did to her, to me… watching my mom live in literal squalor because of him…”

Celia shakes her head.

“I don’t even know what they were fighting about, why he suddenly went after her. He said she was cheating, but she… Christ, Caroline,” Celia looks up at her, and the truth is there in her eyes. “She’s still in love with him. He’s trying to get back into her life and she’s going to let him. Would it really be so bad, she keeps asking. It’s… it’s sick. It’s so messed up.”

As if she isn’t doing the same thing with her sire. Letting him use and abuse her to fulfill his own twisted ends and meekly accepting it because she hopes he’ll care enough about her one day to not.

Caroline: And he’s the puppet of your sire, Celia. What do you think that says about what his view was on what happened to you?

Does she really not know? Or is she just like Caroline? Too broken to care.

“And yet, making peace with that level of cognitive dissidence is a daily part of our Requiem. I sit in rooms across from other licks who literally tortured me, tried to enslave me, and humiliated me every week and have to do more than pretend to be nice,” she observes pointedly.

“As I said, there’s a reason people like us are attractive to our sires—and by ‘us’ I include your sister. Like a beaten dog, we’re not inclined to bite our masters, even if we show our teeth to everyone else.”

It’s an ugly thing to say, an ugly truth to put out in the open, but Caroline made her peace with it. What was it the seneschal had said? “Your background made you a compelling candidate for the prince’s Embrace.” She doubts he was talking only about her achievements.

Who else but the daughter of a man who spent most of his life ignoring her, expecting perfection of her, and using her for political purposes, would fight so hard to stand beside a sire who just wants to do the exact same thing.

It’s like poetry, how her Requiem echoes her life. Not that she’s ever much cared for poetry.

Celia: Celia blanches. The effect might be lost beneath the foundation, but the blood she sends spinning through her body drains from her face regardless. Beaten, humiliated, enslaved. She hasn’t had it that bad. She’s been relatively privileged, even.

“Sorry,” she says quietly. “I didn’t know. He just… I hate him. I thought he was out of my life and he’s back and…” she wrings her hands, finally shrugs. “It doesn’t matter. I shouldn’t be airing this to you, anyway, I don’t mean to dwell on my family drama. Breather drama.” She lifts her brows, as if unsure of the term.

Caroline is more right than she knows, anyway. Celia might show her teeth to anyone else, but not to him. Never him. Even denying him the night he’d have made her lick blood from the ground had stung. He’d tried to kill her mother and she’d stood by like some… pathetic, weak mortal while it happened. As if it were okay. What would she have done if she hadn’t managed to save her mom? Bow her head and politely accept her failure?

“Why are they all so awful?

Caroline: “How many people have you killed?” Caroline asks in turn.

“In your Requiem, I mean.” She remembers the loaded gun.

She waits a beat, then continues, “I’m sorry, that’s a rude question. But what I mean is, when life gets cheap, there’s only so many things left that can end up shocking you. Extend that out a hundred years, or two hundred years, or five hundred years.”

She shrugs. “I mean, it probably doesn’t help that they probably all started as fucked as we are. The ones that were normal, well, they don’t make it very long.”

Celia: Five, this week. Three of them were hunters, though, so she’s not sure that it counts. Plus her sister. One innocent, and even then who knows how innocent the bitch actually was. She’d goaded someone else into killing two more and wonders if they count.

“Maybe,” Celia admits. She doesn’t answer the question about death. “Maybe they don’t last long. But if they keep taking the beaten and the broken, they’re going to end up with a society of broken people. That just continues to the problem. Isn’t it better to grant someone the Embrace if you know they’re going to do good with it? If we have eternity, as they say we do, why not make it better?”

She sounds like Roderick. She remembers how Garcia sneered at him in Elysium, spitting the word “idealist” as if it were a curse. She glances away.

“We become jaded, you mean,” she continues, “inured to doing what we need to do. We become like them. If not, we die.”

And isn’t she worried about that very thing with Roderick? That he doesn’t know how to bend so he’ll break instead, rush off to do something heroic and die for it, let his temper get the best of him at the wrong time? He’d cried over killing hunters. That doesn’t bode well for his future.

Or maybe her lack of care for their lives speaks to what’s wrong with her.

Caroline: “Going to end up with a society of broken people? Have you met many of us?” There’s a brittle smile in her eyes.

Celia: Ah, whoops. Here’s the delicate part. The lie she needs to spin.

“There are different ways of being broken.”

Caroline: “Of course there. Elysium is like a case study in a mix of borderline personality traits. The sadists, the masochists, the control freaks, the lushes, the hedonists. But normal people can’t say normal people and be Kindred too.”

“Even the most wannabe moral lick with no ghouls they’ve addicted and enslaved to their will, who has never killed or frenzied by some miracle, is still a rapist that goes out every night to prey on and hurt people. We’re obligate predators by creation.”

“And even if they avoid the petty politics, even if they navigate the Masquerade perfectly, it’s only a matter of time. Eventually they’ll frenzy and hurt or kill someone. If you really want to be the good person, the best thing you can do for the world is get a tan. Otherwise you’re just another monster justifying your existence of hurting and killing with some bullshit excuse about the greater good.”

“Mind you, the kine can be little better—the greater good is the excuse of every tyrant for five thousand years.”

“I think it was Sophocles that said, ‘The soul that has conceived one wickedness can nurse no good thereafter.’ He wasn’t being subtle about the idea that you can’t fight evil while being evil. Fruit of the poisoned tree and all that.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t have much of a counter to that. Roderick probably would, but she’s not him, and she’s never pretended to not be the monster that Caroline speaks of.

Except for right this very minute.

“There are levels of crimes,” she finally says, “things you can do that are worse than the others. Hunting doesn’t need to end in death. You could even argue that we’re better than the mortals who slaughter cows and pigs for their meals.”

She sounds delusional.

Caroline: “Or you can just make peace with it.” Caroline shrugs, tilting her head to the side.

“How much do you really care about some random kine on the street?” She arches an eyebrow.

Celia: “I care more for my family. But I think anyone would say that.”

Part of her family, anyway.

“Are you suggesting,” she asks at length, “that we round up a few and kill them to stop caring?” She sounds intrigued rather than accusing, if that’s any consolation.

Caroline: “I mean, it would help most licks figure out pretty quickly if they could stomach the Requiem.”

Didn’t it help her? It wasn’t the killing that shattered her. As it turned out, blood wiped off porcelain easily enough. Like all china dolls, it was the fall that broke her.

Celia: “Is this what passes for a date when you’re dead?”

Caroline: “Is this a date?” Caroline asks, amused. “I’d have brought a bottle of kine.”

Celia: Celia giggles, delighted at the play on words.

“It can be.”

She honestly has no idea why she’d been invited over, but they’d been in the shower together last time they spoke of it. If she misjudged… well, awkward. Then again, she’s also in a relationship, so it’s awkward either way.

Caroline: A moment of weakness or a genuine temptation? The game wears at her patience—better not to pretend there are truly friends among the Damned. Better to slam the door than gaze into the abyss.

“And here I thought you were here to kill me.”

Celia: She falters. Her smile dips, stopped short by the bold accusation.

“I’m doing a poor job of it, if so.”

A brief pause. Then,

“You asked to see me again. After we were intimate. Or at least I thought that’s what you meant. If I was mistaken, then I apologize for the trouble.”

Caroline: “I meant everything I said,” Caroline answers too quickly.

She pauses for a moment, seemingly realizing the eagerness of her answer.

There’s a wistfulness to her tone when she speaks again. “They told me to be careful, you know. To be watchful. But God, I didn’t see you coming at all. Not even after you dropped the veil.”

There’s something in her gaze.

“Then… then I got a taste of you. I’ve tasted your sire’s blood often enough that I had no doubt who you were, and I knew it was coming. A blade. A poison. Something more subtle, maybe, but an end all the same.”

“I’d grown accustomed to looking for it. To expecting it. There were worse ways than in your arms.”

She stares at the sheriff’s childe. “Except it didn’t come. I couldn’t figure out why. But I had a sort of hope, about the reason.”

Celia: Tasted her sire’s blood enough times.

This is who he gives it to, the prince’s childe. Not Celia. Not his own childe. There’s another beast inside of her that surges at the words. Not the Beast, capital B, but the other one. The colder one, named for the green-eyed bitch. And a little girl who used to believe that monsters weren’t real, a teenager who had been whisked away from the horror of reality by too-cold hands. They fight for dominance inside of her: the Beast, the Beauty, and the Innocent.

You’ll never be good enough, one of them whispers. The Bitch.

Caroline might see the way her face turns to stone while it happens. A micro-expression where, for a blink, Celia becomes just as dead as the rest of them. It’s replaced almost as instantly with something like uncertainty. Apprehension. Nervous, maybe, at the mention of her sire… or Caroline’s confessed desire, the suggestion in her words.

She’s playing with fire. Walking the edge of the knife, where each step cuts into the soles of her feet. She has too many secrets. Too many people vying for her attention, too many people pulling her in different directions, too many people demanding her loyalty. Her sire. Her lover. Her grandsire. Caroline.

She doesn’t know if Caroline is bluffing. If she knows who Celia’s sire truly is. To lie here… one misstep and everything will come crumbling down around her. Will she tell? Celia will lose her head, she’s sure. She can spin it. She’s done it before. Make a bluff of her own. Mutually assured destruction if Caroline tells. But she can’t confess. The noose around her neck tightens at the very thought, his blood warning her to keep quiet. Play stupid, it says, you’re so good at that.

When had his voice replaced her father’s?

“I didn’t come to the Garden District for you,” Celia says. She wonders if her mouth is always this dry. If words are always so difficult to form. Even the truth she speaks rings hollow to her ears. “I didn’t know you’d be there. I came to see my mom, my daughter, your sister. It’s been too long since we…”

You give up friends when you die. That’s the sad truth of it. She’s managed to make it work with some of them, but there will always be those who slip through the cracks. She has held onto Cecilia for years, but now she wonders if that time is up. If Caroline will stake her claim on her family, like Celia would do for hers if another lick were getting too friendly.

“And then I saw you, and I just…”

Blame her clan. Easy, isn’t it. But it had been more than that. She and Caroline had never been close as mortals, but they’d known each other. They could have been friends. If Celia hadn’t died that night…

“I didn’t know who you were. Whose childe. I didn’t know. I wasn’t sent there.”

None of it is a lie. None of it even stretches the truth.

The pause is long enough to set her head to spinning. She looks away, licks her lips, and finally looks back.

“Is that why I’m here? Are you going to… to kill me? Hurt me?” Turn her in? Her weight shifts, as if she might flee. Laughable, really. She knows how fast Caroline is. The railing is close, though. She can jump. Preferable to being executed. To having her blood spill the truth of it. It will hurt less than watching them take his head.

Caroline: She’s such a good liar that Caroline wants to believe it. The naivete of believing in the serendipity of just happening to meet each other again. The night after the sheriff was let in on the secret. She wants to believe that. And she doesn’t want to believe it. Because she’d built up the idea in her head that if Celia, perhaps, could refuse an order from her sire, if she could make her own way, that maybe Caroline could as well. Stupid. There’s no room for sentiment or wishes in her Requiem, only what is.

And what is now? She came back. ’Didn’t know whose childe’ suggests she knows now. Few enough places she could have learned that. Did she go asking questions? Knows now, and still came back. What the hell does that mean?

And then there’s the fear. What does Celia have to fear from Caroline? Celia’s sire is arguably the most feared lick in the city. Certainly the one Caroline fears the most. Well, other than her own sire. Kill her? Hurt her? Who the hell does she think Caroline is?

She was the same way back at her mother’s house as well, though, wasn’t she? Almost skittish. How does that happen?

Except, Caroline suspects she knows exactly how that happens. How many times has she wanted to run? How many times has she been terrified? She pictures Donovan. Cold. Efficient. Demanding. Distant. He’s like a mirror image of her own. Is it really that simple?

“I think I already signed your death warrant once, in life. Once is enough for eternity.”

Celia: She doesn’t know what that means. The tape? That’s hardly a concern anymore. If Maxen had just stayed in Audubon where he belongs she doesn’t think she’d have given him a second thought. But her sire had offered him to her. Silver platter. All she has to do is deliver Caroline.

And she doesn’t want to, that’s the kicker. She doesn’t care about the bald boogey monster from her past anymore. She was finally happy. Finally free. For all that Lebeaux thinks this isn’t her sire finding another way to interfere in her life, Celia still has her doubts. And her grandsire had given her another out, another way forward. Still delivering Caroline, just in a less deadly way.

That’s all she is to them. A tool. A pawn. Someone else to use and manipulate into doing what they want.

Her Beast snarls at the thought. She’s more than that. She has to be.

“I don’t understand,” she admits, as if her inner debate had never happened. “Covering up the scandal hurt Isabel more than it did me.”

Easier, maybe, if she weren’t collared to someone else, if the bonds didn’t tug her half a hundred different directions. What is it like to have free will? She hasn’t known since she was nineteen.

Caroline: “You asked for help, for someone to help save you from the monster in your home, who tucked you in at night. And we threw you back to him.” She runs her tongue over her fangs.

“I told you, I meant everything I said. I regret that day.”

Celia: It takes her a moment to realize Caroline means Maxen and not Donovan. Her mind, as ever, is with the sire that stole her from her home. That kept her there. And he had tucked her in. Does Caroline know that? Know what happened when she was fourteen, when he’d carried her down the hall to her bedroom and told her that she was his special little girl?

“You’re hardly the only one to blame for that event.”

She’d been the one to sell out her family to her sire as soon as he asked.

Caroline: “Wouldn’t it be doing the exact same thing?” she asks.

Her expression softens, almost playful. “There’s nothing stylish about repeating yourself.”

Celia: “Why would you think that he sent me to do something to you?” She doesn’t say his name. She still isn’t sure if Caroline is bluffing. “He serves your sire, why would he want to hurt you?”

Fishing.

Caroline: Other than the fact that he probably arranged my death to lure the seneschal to his own?

“Does he? If so, he’s proven an incapable servant indeed over the last years.”

Celia: Celia wouldn’t know anything about that, though, if she’s as new as she pretends to be.

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“But he didn’t…” Celia falters. She’s as good as admitted that he’s her sire. What is he going to do if he finds out that Caroline knows? “He didn’t send me. When he found out I was there…”

She looks away again, closing her eyes briefly. The pain that flickers across her expression when she looks back to Caroline says it all: it was ugly.

Caroline: A flash of anger. She knows that expression intimately. She’s worn it plenty. She’s so tired of it.

How much of her hand to tip, though? Is this all just bait? A subtler knife?

The Toreador stares at her with those big eyes brown eyes, and they seem to pry secrets from her better than a crowbar.

“Then I imagine he was especially unhappy. I’m sorry.”

,An ally, perhaps? Can she turn the knife around?

“The night before I’d graduated from source of irritation to genuine problem. I think you know why.”

Celia: “I shouldn’t have been there,” Celia says quietly. Just like her mom: blaming herself. Her fault. Nothing would have come of it if she hadn’t let her libido get the best of her, either. She could have been in and out and Caroline wouldn’t have had any idea, and then when her sire came… well, no, she would have still be in trouble for going there.

Her fault.

She doesn’t know what to say to Caroline. The stories in her head become more muddled with every word she speaks.

“Nobody knows I exist. That I’m his.” The words pour out of her before she can stop them. Her eyes search the Ventrue’s face. “That’s why I’m not…” she gestures down at herself, the way she masks the Beast. “I’m just… hiding.”

A beat. Then,

“Are you going to tell?”

There it is. The heart of the matter: will Caroline turn her in for being the sheriff’s unknown childe, thereby sentencing them both to… well, she’s seen her sire’s sense of justice in that regard.

Caroline: “How little you must think of me,” Caroline answers.

She waits until the Toreador is about to speak again, before continuing, “That you think we need so many lies between us.”

Celia: That earns a smile from the Toreador, at least.

“Would you have me spill my soul to you, then?”

Caroline: “Maybe I would,” Caroline answers. “When you lie to everyone all the time, you either forget the truth or become the lie.”

Celia: “You wouldn’t need to turn me in, if I did.” There’s no sense of humor on her face. “He’d do it himself.”

Caroline: “So you spend your Requiem in fear of him, but also in thrall to him. You’re his pet. His tool. His slave.” Caroline’s voice is soft, almost gentle.

Celia: Her jaw tightens, but she doesn’t deny it. She jerks her chin down in an approximation of a nod.

Caroline: “Do you love him?”

Celia: “That’s… that’s… you can’t love someone like him.”

Caroline: The Ventrue arches a skeptical eyebrow.

Celia: “He doesn’t have feelings. Loving him would be… stupid.”

Caroline: A silent stare.

Celia: “He murdered me. He kept me in that house, knowing what my dad did. He was there the night he tried to kill my mom. With a hacksaw. He was there. He protected him.”

Caroline: The blonde nods, her attention entirely focused on Celia.

Celia: She breaks eye contact, dropping her gaze to the rooftop beneath her shoes. She finally nods. She blinks at her feet, red liquid threatening to spill out of her eyes.

“Yes,” she says.

“But it doesn’t matter. Because he doesn’t. He never will.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head in agreement.

“It’s just what they are.”

Celia: “Is it? They have to be that way? Or do they just choose to be?”

Caroline: “Would you love him if he wasn’t?” Caroline asks back.

Celia: “I suppose that depends on your view of Freud, and whether or not you think every girl grows up wanting to fuck her dad.”

Caroline: “A man just like him,” Caroline agrees.

Celia: “Is yours? Do you love him?”

Caroline: “We’re not even pawns on the board to them,” Caroline answers with more bitterness than she wants to admit.

After all, a pawn might someday become a queen.

Celia: There’s no prince on a chess board. She’s doing herself a disservice to forget that.

“Tools, like you said. Pets. Not even that.” Her voice is just as bitter. At least Savoy gives her affection. From her sire… nothing.

“He cares more about my father than he ever will me.”

“Why do it, then. Why create someone. If you’re just going to… throw them away.”

Caroline: Hadn’t she answered that already? They’re all broken in different ways. Even their sires.

She wishes she had a drink. Instead, she takes her eyes off the Toreador for a moment. She doesn’t want to look at her when she admits this.

“I’d hoped, when you didn’t strike me down at my mother’s home, that it was some act of rebellion. Defying his will. Showing that we were more than that, even if we weren’t to them.”

Stupid.

But then it has to start with someone, doesn’t it? She has every reason to bring this other fledgling forward. To stake her and deliver her as the irrefutable evidence of the sheriff’s treachery. The collar digs in tight around her throat. There’s a stake under the table. It wouldn’t be so difficult.

She tugs against it and her next words catch in her throat, like a dog at the end of her chain. Straining. Digging into her flesh as she tugs towards something she wants.

But she’s not just a fucking dog, is she? Isn’t she something more? Can’t she be something more?

Caroline Malveaux, her father’s dutiful daughter, is dead. She’s something more now, isn’t she? Caroline Malveaux-Devillers, and for all of her mother’s desire for her happiness, she knows too that she wants more for her daughter. Caroline didn’t even know the concessions she was making until she cataloged them, the list of everything he silently demanded of her. But she sees it now. And her mother is right.

The collar tugs, its chain tied to the far end of marble monolith, and she bleeds. But Caroline’s bled before. It chokes her, but she doesn’t need air. It makes her feel like she’s failing him, but she’s failed before. It makes her feel like she’s nothing, but he’s made her nothing before. The collar’s sharp edges do not bite into the tender flesh of her earliest nights, but calcified scars.

She doesn’t finish the thought to Celia. Doesn’t need to, because her next words give birth to it. She grips the table edge like she’s holding on for her life.

“Your secrets are safe with me.”

The words take something out of her, and just for a blink, Celia can see what’s behind the porcelain mask. The weariness. The exhaustion of dragging everything she’s supposed to be with her at all times. The cracks in the marble puttied over and faded paint haphazardly sprayed over in desecration of the beautiful thing once beneath.

It’s only a blink, though, and the moment is gone. Gone so quickly that it must make Celia wonder if it was only her imagination. The Ventrue stands there, tall, haughty, in control of everything around her. Poised and unbowed.

Celia: Celia remains blissfully unaware of the internal struggle that her very existence brings to Caroline. Blissfully unaware except for that single blink, gone in a flash. Not real. It can’t be. She’s the prince’s childe, why would she be anything less than the golden goddess Celia turned her into that evening at her mother’s house?

Roderick’s words come back to her, though. Powerful families. Sireless nobody. Bowing and scraping and trying to keep herself above it all. Arrogant. Her own words, too. Beaten, enslaved, humiliated.

Your secrets are safe with me.

It’s a risk. A big risk. But Caroline already knows the biggest one, doesn’t she: that Celia Flores is Donovan’s childe. Other people know Celia is dead, other people know Celia is Jade, but only a handful know about that. None of them part of the prince’s regime. None of them with any incentive to turn her in.

“He didn’t know,” she says again. She sounds surer this time, more secure in the truth that she speaks. “I wasn’t sent there. I went of my own volition. He didn’t send me there.”

There’s a pause. A brief pause, while she collects her thoughts.

“And I’m not interested in the rest of it. Hurting you. Killing you. Spying. Whatever you think this is, why I came. It was for you. Not for someone else.”

Caroline: For her.

What does that even mean? What the hell are they doing? Celia even admitted it, she’s in love with Donovan. Caroline knows better than anyone how impossible it is to break that kind of hold.

They’re both circling black holes, caught in the gravity, being drawn further and further in by their sires.

For you.

It’s a terrible idea, but maybe that’s why she likes it.

Celia has every reason to run away, and she didn’t. They both know there’s nowhere for this to go, both hopelessly enthralled to their sires. But here they are.

There’s no pathetic desperation like Jocleyn… or even like Caroline and her sire. Just… whatever this is. Whatever they are to each other.

“Would you like to step inside?”

Celia: It is a terrible idea. More than Caroline realizes. His demands weigh on her. His chain pulls at her. So easy, it would be so easy to use this, to find a way to twist this to her advantage, his advantage…

None of which keeps her from saying no.

She nods instead. Closes the distance between the pair of them, standing just in front of the Ventrue. Prince’s childe. Heiress. Daughter of a soul-eater. The biggest threat to her Requiem, but Celia holds out her hand.

“Yes.”

Caroline: Caroline is heedless of that danger. Maybe she assumes Celia is bound. Maybe she just doesn’t care.

The Ventrue takes the hand, but slides in close, slipping an arm around Celia’s hip.

She’s always like that.

The smile on her face as she leads Celia to the elevator is almost girlish.

Celia: Celia doesn’t complain. She’s probably the last lick in the city that will throw a fit over some casual touching. It’s easy to imagine getting used to this. Being on her arm, in her arms, whatever. Who else could she ever share this much of herself with? Celia falls into step beside her, tugged along by the hand on her hip—how did she know?—and the sheer presence of the Ventrue.

Into the lion’s den? God, she hopes not. Hopes this isn’t a mistake. A trap. Luring her inside to… well, she’s seen what their kind can do.

Caroline had said her secrets were safe. That means the rest of her is too, doesn’t it?

Caroline: The way to the elevator gives lie to the idea they were totally alone—there’s yet another ghoul waiting inside the clubhouse—but Caroline strolls without giving her a moment of attention. The doors to the elevator open and close behind them with the swipe of a keycard, but the moment they do Celia has Caroline’s undivided attention.

The prim Ventrue abandons her hold on the brunette’s hip and hand in favor of cupping Celia’s chin in both hands, turning her head up to meet Caroline’s demanding kiss, even as she all but body checks Celia into the wall her into the wall, the Ventrue grinding against her.

Celia: If she still had a need for such human frivolities, she might lose her breath at the assault. Back against the wall, Caroline pressing her into it, the forceful way she takes what she wants? Oh, yes, Celia is into it. It’s not the same as it was last time; there’s nothing shy about the way she responds. Mindful of cameras—don’t all elevators have cameras?—Celia keeps her fangs where they belong. But that’s it. The rest of her is eager, lips parting, hands sliding up the Ventrue’s body. One settles around her back, the other at the back of her head, pulling her further against Celia.

Caroline: Further against Celia, further into Celia, getting lost in her. There’s no need to break from the kiss, no need for such pretty kine things as breathing, and Caroline takes full advantage of it. Her fangs catch Celia’s tongue, and suddenly there’s the taste of blood in her mouth that Caroline can’t resist.

The elevator doors open. The elevator doors close. It takes a moment for Caroline to realize, for a hand to blindly snake back to mash buttons. The other snakes around Celia’s head to match the brunette’s own hold on her.

Celia: Caroline’s fangs pierce her tongue and a shudder runs down her entire body. Her dead flesh responds like a living person’s would: beneath her dress her nipples tighten, heat rises to her cheeks, and she makes a noise that is entirely human. She slides her hands down the Ventrue’s body, stroking and squeezing.

Caroline: Celia’s reaction electrifies Caroline, urges her on. It’s almost as though the other neonate is still alive. They don’t miss their stop this time, and Caroline practically drags Celia down the hall, still entwined with the Toreador, her feet nimbly dancing around obstacles with a deftness that seems more than human. That is more than human.

They arrive at the last door on the left, and Caroline brings them to a stop, Celia’s back against the door.

One hand snakes behind Celia, under her dress, rakes her back. The other frantically, almost frustratedly, works the door. She breaks the kiss, moves to Celia’s throat, and though fangs drag themselves across her skin, they draw no blood. Instead they settle for a far more human touch.

Celia: Celia totters after Caroline as best she can, her hands and lips busy upon the Ventrue’s body. The breath left in her lungs leaves her body in a woosh when Caroline slams her back against the door. Heedless of whatever audience lingers in the halls, Celia gives herself fully to the sensation of Caroline’s lips at her neck. Her head tilts to one side, throat exposed to the mouth and fang of the Ventrue that towers over her. Blood wells in the scratches down her back, dress hiked up over her hips to expose a pair of black panties.

Celia reaches a hand behind her back, searching for the doorknob. She wiggles it and it doesn’t move. Locked. A frustrated growl passes her lips; half a second later her hands are at Caroline’s shoulders and her entire body leaves the floor. She wraps her legs around the Ventrue’s waist and nips at her neck, her fangs leaving shallow cuts behind. She laps at the blood without even bothering to let it cool.

Caroline: Caroline arches her back in ecstasy as Celia’s fangs find her flesh. Seconds tick by as she continues to fight the door. Blood runs down the Toreador’s back, stains her dress. At last the door gives way and the two almost tumble in, Celia’s weight supported entirely by Caroline in a moment of weakness. For all her grace, she lacks the puissance of either of their sires.

She stumbles in, one hand slamming the door behind them, bouncing first off an empty counter, then off a pair of stools, and finally landing on top of Celia on the sprawling black leather sofa. The blonde pauses, looking down, long enough to slip either end of her dress off her shoulders, to slide her hands free of sleeves and let it fall around her belted hips.

Pale flesh and a strapless bra await Celia, as the Ventrue leans back in over her, arms free. She’s eager, demanding even, but not rough. That’s happened once before.

She knows the truth. Knows that neither of them is who the other really wants. She knows it somewhere deep down. Tonight, though, perhaps they’re enough. And if not, who’s to know? What’s the harm? They’re both slaves to their sires, enslaved by blood and their very beings the men who will never be what either wants or needs. And she needs something tonight.

Oscar Wilde said all sex was about power, but there’s nothing of it here. She neither wants power over Celia nor is willing to concede power to her. She needs something more fundamental than even her sex drive.

One hand traces up Celia’s leg, bunching her dress above her hips even as they slide under her panties as they slide across the Toreador’s perfect skin. The other hand buries itself in the girl’s dark hair, traces the pint of her chin. She’s like a reflection of Caroline through a darker mirror in so many ways.

Maybe that’s what draws her in, what consumes her in Celia. What drives her lips back to the Toreador tenderly, her hands to caress her, what makes so shy her fangs. What pulls her eyes to Celia’s own eyes. She wants to see something in Celia. Needs to see something in Celia. Something she can’t see in herself.

Celia: It might be a giggle, the high-pitched noise that comes out of her as Caroline stumbles through the door with Celia in her arms. Someone had told her once that laughing during sex isn’t funny, but someone else had said it’s one of the most intimate things people can do together: laugh during a time when two people are extremely vulnerable. She doesn’t see the path of destruction in their wake, the scattered items, the stool that crashes to the ground, but she pictures it clearly in her mind, and it brings a moment of levity to an otherwise frantic situation.

Frantic? No, that’s not right. Sprawled across the couch, her back covered in blood and scratches, her dress destined for the garbage bin, that may have been. But now? …slowing. Tender. Not ripping and tearing and snarling. Stroking, caressing, the Ventrue’s fingers soft against her. She leans into that touch, mimics it with her own.

Her fingers start at her shoulders and work lower, slide around the back of her, reach for the hooks that keep her contained. At her touch they pop free, and Celia drops the material to the side. Bare from the waist up. It’s a beautiful sight. She is a beautiful sight. Poised, strong, steady; she wants to know what it was that Caroline had to conquer, what earthquakes she weathered, what scars weave their tapestry across her back, because there is no star without the collapse of a nebula. But here she stands, shining as brightly as any sun.

Pervert, they call her, and Caroline learns the truth of it when she finds the Toreador wet. Her eyes rake the blonde’s form, taking it all in; a shiver runs down her spine. Anticipation. Need. More than that, though: want. Someone who knows the truth of her. The full truth, not the carefully concocted lies and half-truths she shares with everyone else, but the honest, raw, awful truth—that she’s in love with the monster who ruined her family and murdered her. That she’d give him everything, if only he opened his mouth to ask for it.

Two sires whose childer were accidents, that’s the truth of it. Two girls who grew up with dads that never loved them the way they needed to be loved. Two women who want more than the hand they’ve been dealt. One manipulated by a knife, the other a smile. A mirror, a coin, an echo; a flame and her shadow, perhaps. Dark and light: there is not one without the other.

Celia traces Caroline’s face with her hands, her thumb across the brow, the cheekbone, her lips. She lifts up off the couch to press her lips against the blonde’s, fangs hidden away inside her mouth.

Caroline: Gentle. Soft. Tender, even. So very different than sex with other vampires, than even their first coupling.

Does it help or hurt that they both wish it was someone else with them there? Someone so very different than each of their current partners. Ultimately, Caroline doesn’t care.

She loses herself in Celia’s lips, in the roam of her hands across the Toreador’s body. She finds the secret between her legs with a spike of curiosity, then a surge of satisfaction, and perhaps a bit of jealousy as she discovers its effect on Celia.

One hand finds its home there, even as she nips Celia’s writhing tongue with her fangs, thrilling as the taste of the Toreador’s vitae fills her mouth.

Celia: There’s a sound she makes that’s too close to human to fit in with the idea of normal vampire sex. A delicate inhale of breath as Caroline moves her hand between her legs, then a shudder that travels down her entire body. Even the foundation doesn’t do its job in keeping her cheeks from turning pink as Caroline discovers this last secret of hers.

Her back arches, mouth pulling away from the Ventrue for one long moment as the inhale turns into a shaky, needful sound. Not the hissing and spitting and growling that Caroline might have come to expect; no, Celia seems all too alive for that sort of reaction.

Fangs, though, like all the rest of their kind, and when she leans in again they find purchase on Caroline’s skin. She bites, drinks, and licks a series of cuts across her chest until her mouth fastens around the tip of one breast. She loses herself to the taste of thick, potent blood on her tongue.

Caroline: Caroline pulls her close, loses herself in the ecstasy of Celia’s kiss, even as the Beast rolls inside, growls as she takes from her. She bottles that up, bottles up the Beast so she can be ‘just’ the woman. So she can pretend this tenderness means something.

A moment where she can pretend that they’re not two undead monsters that thrive on pain and suffering, two killers without conscience and a trail of bodies, and two slaves without hope or future—all too happy to wear their chains.

It’s not rebellion if their sires don’t know. It’s not betrayal if their feelings don’t matter. It’s not monstrous if they keep the monsters locked in the cage of their souls.

Celia: Of course it means something.

It has to mean something.

They’re not ripping and snarling and tearing. They’re just… two girls on a couch, both of them trying to figure it out, to get around whatever ties bind them to their sires, to their families, to their respective factions. Two girls dancing to someone else’s tune, pulled along by someone else’s strings, because… because fuck being anything other than a pawn, maybe.

So their Beasts rattle their cages. And the women beat them back so that they can have this one moment together where it’s just about them. What they like. What they want. Soft and sweet.

Caroline: They don’t make it past the couch, but it’s just as well. It’s expensive. It’s comfortable. Her bed is both of those things as well, but it’s also large. Sprawling, even. The couch isn’t so large, and when they’ve exhausted each other there’s nowhere they can get away from each other.

Caroline ends up on her back eventually, Celia pulled tightly against her. An intimacy that makes the Beast uneven, but there’s nowhere else for Celia to go, not on the couch. They can’t get away from each other here.

One hand runs idly through Celia’s hair.

Celia: Celia snuggles contentedly against the golden-haired girl beneath her. Her Beast is quiet in its cage, sated on blood, and Caroline’s fingers bear the evidence of the other girl’s enjoyment as well. Celia moves her lips against her throat, lingering in the moment with whisper soft kisses on her skin.

Peace settles across her like a warm blanket on a cold night. Or is she the warm blanket to Caroline’s cold skin?

She’d always thought herself more as fire than ice.

She could say something. Should say something. But what does one say after something like this? How does she put it into words? ‘This was nice’ lacks her usual eloquence. But it is. Nice.

What a silly thought from the silly Toreador.

Caroline: Maybe that’s why Caroline is content to lay in silence, not even the sound of someone’s breathing to disturb them. What is there to say?

But silence cannot persist forever. Both have others that have laid claim to them. She would take the time they have left.

“They’re taking me away soon.”

Celia: Celia shifts, lifting her chin so that she can look upon Caroline’s face.

“Are you in trouble?”

She can get her out. She knows people. Knows plenty of people. Can change her face. Give her a new identity. She’s leaving for L.A. soon anyway, just… take Caroline with her.

Caroline: A smile. Is it a sad smile?

“The opposite, I think. I’ve done well. Done everything they asked and then some. Enough that I no longer have to wander the desert and hide who I am.”

Celia: “Oh.”

How is it possible that a single syllable, nothing more than the sound of a letter, carries so much emotion? Loss. Longing. And… yes, underneath it all, jealousy. She’ll be recognized as the prince’s childe. She’ll get whatever that means in terms of respect from others of their kind. And Celia will… stay in the shadows, where no one knows who she is, and watch it all happen from a comfortable distance.

“Like for training?”

Caroline: Training. Like for a dog. She supposes that isn’t entirely wrong.

“My sire, I’m told, has extremely high standards. Standards I am expected to meet before I can be introduced to polite society.”

She sounds… almost melancholic at the idea.

“This has been the worst year of my life. They killed me, ruined me in the eyes of the world, made me worse than a nobody. And the worst part wasn’t all the things they did to me, or that were done to me… it was knowing that it should be better. That there was another path.”

She looks at Celia. “I could live with being a failure, in its own way. But to be his failure?”

“You know?”

Celia: She does know. She knows the things they say about Caroline. The way Roderick speaks of her. The way the Anarchs see her. The mess she has made of her Requiem these past few months.

She knows, too, what it feels like to be a failure in her sire’s eyes.

“I do. I always…” she pauses. Maybe it’s the collar telling her it’s safe. Maybe it’s the body beneath her, what they just shared. Maybe she’s just so tired of lying and just wants someone she can talk to and just be her. Just be Celia.

“I always wondered what it would be like if I wasn’t… if I didn’t have to hide who I am. If he told people I belonged to him. If he taught me… anything.”

There’s another brief pause.

“I think it’s a good sign, though. That they’re taking you away. So you can be what they want, or need, or… better now than… than never, isn’t it?”

Caroline: “You could have that for yourself,” Caroline muses. “If you came forward, you elevate yourself in a single swoop.”

“But never as high as he might raise you… and the cost would be him. I had that choice. Your grandsire offered it to me, in so many words.”

She bites her lip. “I wanted to. To spit in his face, declare myself before everyone and scream, demand to know why he didn’t want me enough. Why it was better to abandon me.”

“But I couldn’t do that any more than you can.”

Silence. A knowing silence.

“And now I’m going away, and this nightmare ends. Faith rewarded, fidelity rewarded. He made me his.”

“There were times this year when I considered just ending it all, stepping into the sun.”

“And yet… though I hated it. Though I despised it and everything it made me—a groveling whore to half a hundred petty tyrants—I think in some ways I’ll miss it.”

“I wasn’t ever free—not really. They always stood over me, ready to snuff out my flame if even its direction changed in the wind, but I think flying around the locked room, even with the net armed man watching, even with the pain of bouncing off of things I didn’t understand, was the closest I’d ever been to being free, the farthest I’d ever been from the cage.”

Celia: The cost would be him.

It’s a price she’ll never pay. Not him. Anything else, but not him.

But that’s not true, is it? She’d spat in his face last time he’d come to her. Turned him down. And she’s doing it again, here and now, as she lies with Caroline on the couch. Maybe she isn’t as attached to him as she once thought. Maybe Caroline’s freedom can be her freedom, too.

“It’s a change from the mortal life. The Requiem. A difference in what is expected from us. Their rules… they chafe, sometimes, and it scares me—what someone could do with the right whisper in the wrong ear—but it’s… I can understand what you mean about the freedom. Part of it, but above it. You were living, in those moments, for you. Not him. Not them. Just you. Figuring it out on your own. Making your own mistakes. Winning your own victories.”

Jealousy again. Even though he had abandoned her, she had still always been his.

“Do you think they’ll put you back in the cage?”

Caroline: “For a while, for a brief while before I learned the truth,” Caroline agrees. “When I was free to be proud of what I carved out, rather than weighing it against what he would say of it. I could say to myself, ‘no one could do better.’ Now I know what he would say, ‘I expect better.’”

She gives a short, bitter little laugh. “Like a child proud of their macaroni picture right up until they see the disappointment in their parent’s eyes.”

Not that she knows anything about that. Or of trophies scoffed at. Or report cards ignored. Praise was faint and she contented herself with silence: it was better than the alternative.

“Do they ever have to put us in the cage?” Caroline answers. “Don’t we hop back in like eager birds able to return home?”

Celia: “When I was nineteen I stood up against my father. You saw the result of that. The tape that was leaked. And that might have been the worst of what he had done, but it wasn’t the only thing he had done. Nights prior, when he was arrested? He beat me bloody. He locked me my bedroom, took out the mattress so I had nothing to sleep on, and promised to do it again the next night if I didn’t admit… if I didn’t admit that I was stupid. My siblings sat and watched him do it. None of them said anything. No one ever stood up for me. And I broke my arm going out the second floor window so I could get out.”

She doesn’t need to shift or blink or clear her throat. She’s dead. But she does all three regardless.

“While I was waiting at the hospital… and later, when he took my mom and… and tortured her, and I saw what he did to her, I wondered if I could have prevented it. If I had just gone back like a good girl, and told him I was sorry, and that I am… that I was stupid. He won anyway, didn’t he? Got off.”

She makes a bitter sound. A laugh, maybe. Short and choked.

“I never went back. I looked at that life, at what he wanted from me, what he wanted me to be, all the… the monsters that kept him safe, and I walked away. How could I not? How could I submit myself to what he wanted after seeing what he truly is?”

“And then… and then he comes along, and he… snaps his fingers and tells me to jump, and I go on leaping, and I wonder… would he like me more if I didn’t? Would they like us more if we went on carving out a place for ourselves, or will they only ever see us as pawns and tools?”

“What if we didn’t go back in the cage? What if we stopped being the tamed birds and just… flew away?”

Caroline: “What if,” Caroline muses quietly.

But they’re not words of wishful thinking. The very idea makes her almost sick to her stomach. It tears at her thoughts—like the cornerstone of her carefully created home getting ripped out with all the rest to collapse on her.

Run away? Flee her sire, her responsibilities. Would it be to accept being something less than she could be or to seek something greater than she ever will be? She doesn’t know if she physically could, but she knows a deeper truth.

It’s there, half formed and obvious only by the crimson color. She sits in the silence and stillness only the damned can for a long moment.

Finally, she draws a breath. “Domesticated. It’s a sweet word for a bitter truth.” Her face contorts for a moment, an ugly grief threatening to tear a sob from her, but the sound never comes. Instead she forces it to stillness and continues.

“I never wanted to fly. I never learned.” Her voice cracks, almost choked. “And now I never will.”

Celia: Celia goes so far as to blink at the words. She shifts, lifting a hand to touch the side of Caroline’s face. Fingers against her cheek, the pads of them soft against her skin. Warm fingers, still so full of life; how bad can she really be if she’s still so… human?

Perhaps the frosty severity of her sire hasn’t rubbed off on her. Maybe there is something inside of her that rebels at imagined orders given by the dark one. Maybe his brutality has not crushed whatever spirit stays alive within her heart; maybe even his chill cannot quench her fire. Difficult to imagine a less fitting childe to the city’s sheriff.

Perhaps this is why he does not acknowledge her.

Or perhaps it’s for the reason Caroline guessed earlier, and Celia is just the pretty wrapping paper that hides the blade.

When was the last time the Ventrue left herself so vulnerable?

“They want us in the cage. To look pretty behind the bars. To eat what they tell us, when they tell us, how they tell us. To make pretty little songs for them. Happy noises, little toy. And on we go, chirp, chirp, chirping. Even the wild ones follow the leader. The Vs, you’ve seen them. Back and forth across the world. Same route, year after year.”

“So they beat us and threaten us and humiliate us until we fall in line.”

Celia locks her gaze upon the Ventrue.

“They broke our wings and forgot that we have claws.”

The knife never comes. Not for Caroline. It twists inside of Celia instead, buried up to the hilt where her heart should be. Phantom fingers squeeze her throat, threatening to choke her, warning her to stay silent, that she’s doing it wrong… but the words keep coming.

“You,” Celia whispers to the dead girl, “are Caroline Malveaux-Devillers. Daughter of two influential families, childe of the prince of New Orleans. If you want to learn how to fly there is absolutely nothing that will stand in your way.”

There’s no moment of hesitation. Nothing to suggest that she’s shy, uncertain, or faltering. Not now that the fire has been lit.

Celia finds her feet. Naked, bloody, she stands before Caroline with claw marks down her back and red stains on her skin. A mess. But a beautiful mess, for all that her wild mane of hair has pulled free from the confines of the tie to curl down her back and around her face.

“Come with me.”

Celia extends a hand.

Caroline: The choking near sob dries up as Celia speaks, replaced by an almost wistful, sad smile.

Caroline looks at the hand and Celia can almost see the old order trying to reassert itself. The Ventrue call to decorum. The Malveaux drive to dominion.

Why show vulnerability here, to this childe of her enemy? To her enemy?

But she knows why: Donovan already thinks so little of her there’s nothing to lose. She’s neither losing face nor burdening her family. Not her mother, not her sister, with the truth. There’s an honesty to not having to put on any masks between them: the lines are well-drawn.

“Don’t you see, though? That’s it: they didn’t have to break my wings or beat me, or even force me in the cage. I hopped in eagerly, bowed before him joyously. I just didn’t expect him to weld the cage closed.”

“It’s not like your sire’s. What he did was forever. Long after he is laid to rest I’ll still be in the cage, alone, singing for the memory of him.”

She brings Celia’s offered hand to her lips, kisses the top of it softly.

Not that she wouldn’t have been singing that song anyway.

Celia: Dead muscles don’t get tired. Celia doesn’t need to let the hand drop; it stays extended in the air between them even after Caroline’s lips brush against her skin.

Not like your sire’s. What does that mean? His cage? The… hold over her?

Realization dawns, though her body does not betray her thoughts. Not until she swallows, looks down, and finally makes a noise that might be a laugh. One corner of her lips quirk upward.

“How silly,” she says at length, “that they weld shut the cages and forget that there are keys and shovels and dynamite.”

Her fingers close around Caroline’s, but she doesn’t tug. She won’t drag the Ventrue out of her self-imposed captivity.

“Come with me,” she says again, “I want to show you something.”

Caroline: The Ventrue allows herself to be drawn from the sofa by the Toreador, her bare skin pale in the darkness.

“Where are we going?”

Celia: “Upstairs.”


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Celia: They have to dress first, and clean the worst of the blood off of them. Celia spends a minute mending the raw, jagged marks Caroline had left on her skin. Her dress, shredded, is unfortunately unsalvageable, but she borrows something from the taller girl to cover her nudity and the pair make it to the roof in mere moments. The hem of her borrowed pants drag the floor even after she has rolled them, and the shirt looks more like a tunic than a tee. Still, she makes it work, like a kid in her mother’s clothes.

Barefoot, Celia leads the way across the roof to where the railing keeps the kine contained within the confines of the safety zone. But Celia doesn’t stop. One leg and then the other slide across the metal railing, until she’s perched on the small strip of steel that keeps her from plummeting to the cement waiting stories below.

She stands with her back to the railing, staring out across the city. The people are not so far away to be like ants from up here—and there are few enough to be found this time of night—but the fall would shatter anyone. The moon lights her profile when she turns her face to one side, watching Caroline from the corner of her vision.

“I didn’t tell you what he did,” she remarks after a moment. Her eyes unfocus slightly, as if recalling the events of that night. “He knows where my mother lives. Where I live… where I stay. He heard that I had trespassed and wanted to teach me a lesson. What are the kine to those like us? Just lessons.”

She blinks. Her lips twist in bitter mockery of a smile.

“You gave me a gift that night. Without it, I wouldn’t have been fast enough to catch up when he threw her from the roof.”

Celia extends a hand to Caroline.

“I’d like to return the favor.”

Caroline: Celia’s words turn Caroline’s stomach. Taught her a lesson. Using her mother.

Caroline wonders if she’s lying to her, making it up, but it’s so very believable. Wasn’t the bishop willing to destroy Orson just to make a point with Caroline? And Orson is a far more useful pawn than the broken and forgotten dance teacher.

Just lessons. Or toys. Or pets.

She supposes in the eyes of her sire few kine are worth more than a properly trained childe. Whatever she thinks of Donovan’s loyalty, the two have always felt cut from the same cloth.

“Is she all right?”

Why does she care? Isn’t Celia her enemy?

Perhaps, but that doesn’t make her mother one. And she’s seen Donovan’s lessons firsthand.

Or maybe the idea of dead mothers just sits particularly poorly with her tonight. She’s slain one and seen another beheaded this week — both memories seared into her mind, still raw and throbbing.

Celia: “I kept her from splattering, if that’s what you mean. Got her home. Put her back to bed.”

The extended hand finally drops. Maybe this is stupid. Maybe there’s nothing here, maybe they’re not as similar as she thinks. Maybe their similarities ended when they died.

Maybe Caroline is just another lick who sees Celia as stupid but pretty, and she’s taken what pleasure she can from the girl.

“She got sick,” Celia hears herself say. “From the rain. The cold. The nightmare. I wasn’t… I wasn’t there for her.” A breath comes in. Shaky. Her fingers curl around the top of the railing.

“Daddy was, though.”

Caroline: Caroline knows better than most how real the animosity is between Celia and her father. Animosity that goes back years, to before their Embraces. She knows the truth about the tape — that it was oh so real. Knows the monster he is, and how far the mortal Celia was willing to go.

It would be a long way to go, make that trade in her life, just to get closer to Caroline.

No, it feels… real.

Callously threaten the kine she cares about, then wrap coils around them, slowly squeeze. It’s not just about punishment. It’s also about control. Yes, their sires are not so different.

“He’ll kill her eventually, you know. It’s only a matter of time.”

They can’t have anything else so important in their lives.

“You should get her out while you can. If you can.”

Celia: “Bleak.”

True though, isn’t it? There are a handful of people she cares about and he’s familiar with each and every one of them. The noise that she makes might be called a giggle if there weren’t a hysterical edge to it.

“Emily stabbed him. Maxen, I mean. When she saw him in bed with Mom.” Her face turns again, fixing her eyes on Caroline. There’s nothing insincere about the wariness that borders on fear. “I’ve been waiting for him to show up and do something about it. But it’s been…” she trails off. “Nights. And nothing.”

“They won’t leave.”

And I don’t want to be alone. Selfish. She could push harder.

“Is that what you’re doing, with yours? Getting them out? So yours can’t… turn them into lessons?”

Caroline: Caroline’s smile doesn’t reach her eyes, an empty thing. “Didn’t I? Cut away my father, my brothers, more. That ruin did not come from carelessness.”

Celia: “The girls, I meant. Your mom.”

The inhuman one. Who knows how much of a lie that had been; ghosts dancing through dreams with her hardly need to tell the truth.

Caroline: The Ventrue’s expression turns positively wolfish in every possible sense, eyes narrowed, cheeks pulled tight, her perfectly white teeth exposed in a way that leaves no doubt of their vicious potential.

“A good Sanctified can have no attachments to their kine family. It’s my blessing then that I have none.”

There’s a glimmer in her eyes, the mischievous savagery of a fox let loose in the chicken coop that’s almost a smile.

Celia: The look is enough to make her glance away.

“Right,” she finally says to the open air. Then, “Convenient that the catechisms so closely mirror the Traditions. Less for the laity to confuse.”

Except for how Caroline hovered over the child when Celia did her makeup that night. But she doesn’t bring it up.

She’d lie about her family, too. Does so now, even.

She waits a beat.

“You’re right, though.”

Caroline: The Ventrue shrugs, the tension leaving her shoulders. “There’s a great deal of wisdom shared by different belief systems. I may hold it originates from God, but whether you share that belief, I’d as soon you accept it for what it is.”

“You have to come to terms with it. Something is going to take her from you. Whether its your own actions, your sire’s, or time. As one of the kine there’s no future for the two of you.”

Caroline approaches the lip where Celia waits, effortlessly tiptoeing to it alongside her. After the fall from grace, a fall from the building doesn’t scare her.

She lays a hand on the Toreador’s shoulder. “That doesn’t make it easy to accept, and some ways of losing them are easier for them, and others easier for us.”

Celia: “Self-imposed isolation,” Celia muses. “It wreaks havoc on the psyche, you know, to be alone like they want us. No one to turn to. No one to trust. Cut your mortal ties, rely on the system, let them be the hands that guide you…”

It’s a cult.

Like any religion.

Make a list of the characteristics of each and you’ll get the same words. It keeps the people in charge powerful and the “others” disenfranchised and marginalized.

But it’s not what she came up here to talk about. Her fingers close around where the Ventrue’s rest on her shoulder.

“And one day… one day I’ll lose her. And my siblings. My daughter. I’d lose them anyway. Everyone dies. Can you blame me for holding onto it while I can?”

Caroline: A sympathetic smile greets her. “When I said you should get them out of you can, I didn’t just mean if you physically could.”

“Not everyone is as fortunate as I am, and whatever I might counsel, I could never judge another Kindred for their attachments. Some lessons you have to learn for yourself… and even then, some costs are worth paying. Something about those without sin throwing the first stone.”

She gives a short, sad laugh. “Most Kindred like to forget that part.”

Celia: She might afford the words more weight if she hadn’t managed the juggling act already for seven long years. What’s the worst that could happen?

Not that she can share. No one is supposed to know about Celia.

“One more thing to add to the long list of things to figure out,” she says instead. “Lying to them has been… both more difficult and easier than I anticipated.”

Celia finally turns. She shouldn’t, but she does. One hand stays on the railing, back to the open air and the long drop. The other stays steady on Caroline’s. Once, it might have scared her. Now, though, she’s more nervous about a different sort of leap.

“It would be nice to have someone with whom I don’t have to pretend.”

Caroline: “I think that’s what knights and generals of old waxed about poetically,” the blonde answers, her hair catching in the wind over the long drop.

“It’s easier to have no lies when there are no expectations.”

“You and your sire are the only ones that won’t think less of me for the truth.”

Celia: “I don’t know what you mean. Which truth is that?”

Caroline: “That I have doubts. Fears. Insecurities.” She smiles, looking out over the city.

“That neither my love for him nor the bond to him blinds me to what he’s done to me.”

“To him, to all the city, to all Ventrue, to all Sanctified, to all the world I must be the perfect childe. Flawless.” She turns to Celia, half her face cast in shadow.

And yet, Celia can still hear it. In the way Caroline says it. Him. The only ‘him’ in her life.

Celia: Flawless.

Her lips twist, bitterness crossing her features before they smooth once more. She knows well of what Caroline speaks. The same ideal she has pursued these long nights of her Requiem, though the closer she thinks she has come the further away it dances, always out of reach.

“It’s a heavy burden, I think, to be the childe of an elder, let alone a prince. The stiffs expect no less than perfection from their childer.” Her shoulders lift.

“And yet… and yet he chose you for a reason. Embraced you for a reason. I have not met him, I admit, but does anyone that age choose their progeny lightly? Accidents seldom spring from their blood. They are not kine that they make a mistake, forget a pill, and whoops, there’s a childe.”

“We’re young. We want their approval. The father figures we never had.” Her grip on the rail tightens, knuckles white. “I do. Insecurity, fear, doubt… I know it well.”

Caroline: Caroline’s faint laugh is like breaking glass when Celia speaks of chosen progeny, but she says nothing.

The wind catches her white dress, whipping it around her as she lets Celia’s admission hang in the air.

“Well, there’s your truth. As alone as our suffering makes us, we’re not alone in our suffering.”

Celia: She doesn’t know if that laughter is directed at her or with her. Heat rises to her cheeks, dead though they are. Her gaze drops.

“That hardly makes us less lonely. I still want what I’ll never have.”

Caroline: “It’s not Vidal,” Caroline says after a moment.

“Everyone assumes he’s bound to the prince, but he’s not. It’s someone else. Someone got to him first.”

Her eyes meet Celia’s. “I don’t know if you knew. I don’t know if it helps.”

Celia: There’s a fist around her heart. She’d never even considered it, that their shared blood hadn’t cast a hold over him. Just the once they’d shared, a second time the night the truth of Caroline came out… she remembers the blood on his lips when he’d finished kissing her.

What had he done instead?

“Who.”

What does that even mean? If he’s not bound to her, why come for her? Why protect her? Why kiss her?

Every time. Every time she has seen him he has kissed her. Just once they took it further, but even before that… she well recalls the feel of his lips on hers. The insistent, cold way he demands her attention, her affection, her… everything.

Is that all pretend? Or is her secret fantasy, her dawning realization at her father’s words, based more in reality than she dares hope?

Caroline: The Ventrue shakes her head, blonde hair streaming in the breeze.

“Someone playing a longer, deeper game.”

Does she tip her hand?

Celia: A name tugs at her memory. It never meant anything. She’d never looked into it. Not enough. She hadn’t known how to, not without betraying… everything. She still doesn’t know if he meant to show her, or if she had simply taken it.

“How do you know?”

Caroline: “He and I are tied together.”

“Quite unintentionally, and undesirably, he set me on this path.”

There’s a fluttering laugh. “Or at least he thinks he did.”

Celia: “You’re tied together,” she echoes. There’s a pang inside her chest. A desire to throw the girl from the roof. Jealousy, that ugly brute, comes snarling to the surface.

She beats it back. Pushes it down. Keeps her nails from shredding through the blonde’s face.

Of course there are others. But she knows—he’d told her, hadn’t he? She knows the truth. Part of the truth.

Why won’t anyone tell her the truth?

Her brow furrows at the final words.

“What do you mean?”

Caroline: "That I should have died a meaningless kine in every sense of the word. A means to an end for him. "

“But that end went unfulfilled, because he chose poorly his kine. Or another chose well where their to lay their feather’s weight upon the scale.”

Celia: “I’m not familiar with the story,” she admits. Her shoulders lift once more, almost a shrug, the apology in her eyes. She’s not even lying.

Caroline: “You should ask him, about the night I was made. The night he called in his marker with René. The night they carried me into the Dungeon.”

Celia: She doesn’t mean to huff, but the sound escapes her lips before she can stop it.

“He’s so very forthcoming.”

A pause, then her brows lift.

“Isn’t the Dungeon a sex club?”

Caroline: The Ventrue almost shivers, but shakes her head. “Only to the Masquerade.”

“The Dungeon is a place for Kindred and kine connoisseurs of agony, explorers of the furthest reaches of experience. The rapists finished with their mothers and daughters, the murderers jaded of strangling their victims with their own guts.”

“For sadists, it’s a paradise. An orgy of flesh in which they can subject victims to things beyond imagination, with each descent into a lower level a trip beyond the possible into a new realm of agony.”

“The further you go, the more divorced time and even reality become from what you see and experience, and the more divorced the lines between victim and victimizer become.”

“If you go far enough down, it’s a hell from which not even death can release you, in which time has no meaning, your suffering is without end, and in which all reality becomes subjective.”

“Are you the crying child being ripped from their mother’s womb or the mother screaming as she’s sawed open from twat to sternum? Are you the skin suit on the rack being pulled apart or the flayed mass of writhing flesh on the floor slow roasting over coals? Are you the teeth chewing on your raw flesh or raw flesh being devoured? It doesn’t matter, because you’ll be all those things, and it will not stop, ever.”

Celia: Everything clicks into place.

It’s Hell.

The Hell inside his mind.

She’s thought it was a different time, a different place, but as Caroline speaks the words wash over her, drowning her in visions of the past. High above the city. Safe, she’d once thought; but she had been there. Inside of him. Brought into his mind, into the horror within, the vile wretchedness that had made her sanity slowly slip away.

She had seen him. His truth. His… master.

It’s here.

This city.

Beneath her feet.

Blocks from her home.

“Please,” she whispers. She reaches, groping blindly for the girl in front of her, the girl he wants her to destroy. The girl with the answers. The enemy. His enemy. But her salvation. The desires of her sire and grandsire fade away when the answers dangle themselves in front of her, nothing but insignificant moves and countermoves that pale in comparison to what she desires.

Set him free. That’s what she wants, isn’t it? And if this Dungeon is not the sex club it professes to be, if what Caroline says is the truth, if he serves a different sort of monster…

She’d seen the truth that night, never realizing what it meant. The name dances across her heart. The marquis.

Demon. Monster. Master. It’s all tangled together, and she… where does she fit in?

He’s stuck. Captive. Like so many others who get caught up in a game of more powerful pieces.

She can free him.

That’s what she thinks, isn’t it? Why he’d chosen her. Embraced her. The sickness—the demon—had spread to her father, to his other childe, to the ghouls of his that have no souls. Paul, with his plastic smile. Jamal, with the anger in his eyes. And the mimic. The empty thing that pretends to be him.

But not her. She’s still… her. Half-alive, someone had once sneered, with a heart that beats and feels and loves. Even without the collar, even without his blood on her lips, she loves.

Coco had told her it was rare. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

It’s like every twisted fairy tale she’d ever seen growing up.

She reaches for Caroline. Reaches, because her knees threaten to give, and the ground is suddenly so far away, and right here—right here—these are the answers she needs.

He loves her. He had saved her. Had hunted for her. Killed for her.

Can she do any less for him?

“There’s a demon.” Urgent, whispered words. Stupid. She sounds stupid. The coppery, tangy scent of blood wafts from where the tiny droplets pool in the corners of her eyes, threatening to fall. Her mask slips.

“If he’s… if it has him…”

There’s no one else to talk to about it. How could there be? She’s been lying since before she died.

Caroline: Caroline stares at the crying girl latched onto her with a knowing expression.

She nods. “You know what he serves.” Her mother had called it a thing that God could not permit to desecrate the very earth it walked on.

“Bury that deep. It’s a secret he’d kill to keep. Has killed to keep.”

She considers, then continues, “It’s possible to break free. Not easy, but possible. But not so long as that thing is here to rule over him.”

Celia: Celia wipes at her eyes. Her hands come away bloody. She swallows, the motion useless. All it does is show the frayed edges of her nerves.

“He doesn’t know that I know. I don’t even…” she trails off, shakes her head. “He’s in there. He’s in there, I know he is.”

He cares about her. Has proven that he does. It’s not something she can say, not something she can share, that the city’s cold, scary sheriff has a weakness in his armor and its name is Celia. Even the thought makes her look away. Another stupid fairy tale.

She waits a beat. Another. Pushes the emotions down. Dries her bloody tears. And finally looks back to Caroline.

“Then I’ll find it.” She sets her jaw. “And I’ll kill it.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her tongue across her fangs.

“Vidal.” The word sends a shiver through her. “He defeated it twice before. There’s a reason it has used your sire to cut him down, that they’re trying so hard to drive him into torpor.”

Celia: The name almost makes her shiver, though for an altogether different reason than Caroline.

“Then why isn’t it dead? Why is it here?

Caroline: “An excellent question that perhaps your sire could answer.” Caroline replies.

Celia: “It would be the last thing I’d ever do, asking that.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly. “Something else we have in common.”

Celia: “Realistic expectations of my sire?”

“Not him,” Celia continues after a moment. She looks as if she wants to pace, but the edge of the roof is too narrow for her to try. Not that she’s afraid of falling. Not anymore. “The results of that would be disastrous. But maybe… maybe someone else. Someone who has been there. Who knows, even if they don’t know they know.”

Caroline: Caroline flashes a wry smile at Celia’s joke, balancing effortlessly on the edge beside her.

“That’s a path you’ll have to walk alone, but you can find them, can bring them forward, I can pull it out of their mind.” She flashes a fang-filled smile. “I’m very good at it.”

Celia: “I thought the stiffs were better at hiding things,” Celia says, amused. She can’t help but think back to their meeting in the Garden District, her mother’s addled memories. “I was going to say that I’m very familiar with ways of making them sing.”

She shares a conspiratorial smile, the tips of her fangs just barely visible behind her lips.

“You’d be amazed what comes out on the spa table… so I suppose that means between us no secret is safe.”

Her smile falters, dims just slightly.

“Your memory manipulation,” she says after a second, “have you ever known it to cause… visions? Of the future?”

Caroline: Caroline might be less shocked than Celia thinks: it’s amazing what she’s heard other girls talk about to hairdressers.

She frowns at Celia’s question, then shakes her head. “No. Maybe some obscure devotion might, but I’ve only ever been able to deal with the past and present, and even then I’m not as skilled as some are. I can only play with the memory itself, not the underlying feelings.”

“That’s where unsubtle licks screw it up, actually, trying to superimpose memories that don’t match the target’s emotional state. It’s why, for instance, I left your mother with the memory of me with Autumn instead of wiping the slate clean. If I’d papered it over, it would have left a mental scab she might have picked at. Honestly, she still might with what I left. She might ask herself why my being ‘homosexual’ set her off so badly.”

She flashes a strained smile. “Best case, she simply attaches it to mixed feelings about her bigotry.”

Celia: Celia nods at the explanation, though it does little to set her at ease.

“She… had a vision,” Celia says slowly, “after we left. In your driveway, she started crying about falling, and Maxen taking Lucy away from us.” A brief pause. “She did fall. My sire saw to that. I had just wondered if losing my daughter is something I need to be worried about, or if she was simply hysterical. He has recently re-entered my… orbit.”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. She knows who lays claim to her father. “It’s more likely that it set off previous trauma. Has your mother been subject to memory manipulation in the part?”

Celia: “I don’t have proof,” Celia sighs, “but I would say so. The incident with the hacksaw, at least.”

Caroline: Caroline winces. That’s gruesome even by Kindred standards. “Lots of mental scar tissue, lots of wounds that never properly healed. Your father had custody for a while, right? Might have been a return to past traumas.”

She bites her lower lip. “I didn’t think of how that might affect her, how that might interact. Small amounts of manipulation, carefully done, isn’t really much worse than minimally invasive surgeries, but if she’s been subjected to significantly more…”

“I’m sorry.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“It wasn’t my intention to make you feel bad about it, just simple curiosity. I haven’t developed the ability to manipulate memories like that, and… there are few enough Kindred I can discuss my mother with. You averted awkward family conversations, at the very least.”

A tilt of her head, eyeing the blonde sidelong.

“And forced me to reveal myself… though I am not unhappy with how that has turned out.”

Her brows lift, lips twisting into a satisfied smile.

Caroline: A whisper of a smile dances across Caroline’s face. It fades.

“You might have more luck than you expect digging into his past. He’s older than people think. Significantly so.”

Celia: The abrupt change in subject makes her pause.

“My… sire?”

Caroline: The Ventrue nods. “Unless you, he, and your broodmates are all diablerists.”

Celia: “I… what?”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “All of your blood is abnormally potent. Your broodmate’s is as thick as mine. Only two reasons for that.”

“I’m betting it’s the same reason mine is.” She casts a dark smile. “Unless you have something to confess.”

Celia: There’s other ways of pulling that off. And getting strong blood.

The warden’s words to her hadn’t made much sense at the time. Now, here, a key piece of information she’s missing.

“I’m… not familiar with that word,” she finally confesses. “Diablerist.”

The root, she knows, is Latin or Greek. Diabolos. Demon. Her brother had played a game with a similar name, and her ghouls as well enjoyed the series, though she had never been much for gaming.

It still doesn’t mean anything to her.

And even this hint about her sire’s past—his true age—doesn’t pique her interest quite the same way, though it’s certainly something she’s going to circle back to. After the chat with her father she has been searching for any sort of anything about demons.

Caroline: Caroline supposes not every vampire has a mother like hers. She can’t remember a time where other Kindred even mentioned the word ‘diablerie’ around her. Would she have gone her entire Requiem without knowing she could devour an older vampire’s strength, if not for Abélia’s dark gift during the car ride?

She can’t see many elders being displeased by her ignorance. Becky Lynne’s purchased lessons certainly never touched on the subject.

“I suppose it’s not the sort of thing good sires teach their childer about.”

“There’s references in Sanctified theology, though it’s taught in a more obsfucated way these days. About not hastening one’s own descent into torpor by seeking to unnaturally thicken your blood.”

Celia: Souls for power.

The ghost had told her that was the trade, that the inhuman thing in the Garden District eats them. Pete and her grandsire had told her about the soulthieves, how they had stolen souls as well as blood from their victims. The blackest sort of magic, he’d said. And they’d worshipped demons.

It doesn’t fit, though. She had certainly never done anything like that.

“I’ve done a lot of questionable things since my Embrace,” Celia tells Caroline, “but not… whatever it is you’re talking about.”

It’s confirmation, though, isn’t it? That her sire is older than he pretends to be. That the ghoul who’d said as much to her hadn’t been lying. But how would Caroline know?

Caroline: “I suppose you should know, since if his age and generation came out, you’d be a target just like me,” Caroline muses darkly.

“It’s simple, really, and that’s why the elders are so terrified of it. The Sabbat even makes a practice of it. When you drink a lick past the last drop, you can actually keep going. Keep taking. You can take so much that it’ll destroy them.”

“The stronger their blood, the closer their lineage to Caine, the more you take. The children of elders are thus prime targets. Too weak to defend themselves, with thick enough blood to promise a payoff. And the weaker your own blood is, the bigger the payoff.”

Celia: You are what you eat. Absorb the soul, absorb the power. Tale as old as time, isn’t it?

“All you have to do is take away the last chance someone has at an afterlife. Destroy any lingering sense of immortality.”

No wonder Pete had said it was a vile, black sort of magic. A nasty trick. Lucky Caroline that her mother is… whatever she is. Warned her about it.

There are so many things to consider. So many implications. She tries not to dwell; it’s not spoken of for a reason, she’s sure.

“And you think he either did that, or he’s older than he is.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “It’s punishable by final death if caught, and most of them get caught. They keep doing it over and over until they make a mistake. Not that it’ll make you feel any better when they’ve eaten your soul.”

“Diablerists are the serial killers of our kind. Not that it stops the Sabbat from actively encouraging it.”

Maldonato mentioned a great Anarch Revolt, hundreds of years ago. He didn’t mention what she says next, but it doesn’t take a genius to imagine what a bunch of furious Anarchs would have done to elders they were destroying anyway.

“Or even the Anarchs back in the day. I’m sure diablerizing elders was all the rage.”

The Ventrue laughs. “It’s funny, I’ve heard the whispers in Elysium. People aren’t whispering not to be heard. About how pathetic I am with all my ghouls. A neonate playing at something beyond their station. A rich girl that needs someone to boss around.”

“The truth is rather more nuanced, you see.” She nods back to the deckhouse where a rifle-armed woman stands casually alert.

“Anonymity is a poor shield given how widely my secret is known.”

Celia: She doesn’t contradict Caroline’s words. She’s right about what they say about her, how the Anarchs snicker behind their hands, how the harpies don’t bother lowering their voices. Jade has heard all sorts of things about Caroline Malveaux-Devillers.

But Celia isn’t Jade. And she’s not supposed to know.

She takes the warning for what it is.

“I hope, then, that mine stays buried a while longer yet.”

Caroline: Caroline nods knowingly, but her words hold a different message. “Don’t trust to hope. Be ready when it comes out.”

“Your sire’s secret won’t stay buried forever. His master is approaching the end game and pieces are trading off the board with alarming swiftness.” That’s the mark of a grandmaster—that willingness to race to an endgame, confident that they can execute flawlessly while others falter.

She turns her gaze back to the city again, drinking in the lights. “I have no love for Donovan. I never will, even if he did serve my sire in truth.”

“But he’s a valuable piece in the board. I should rather flip him from that hold than trade what would be required to remove him.” To say nothing of how she’s the most likely piece to trade him for. A final nail in her sire’s coffin, driving him into the earth with the dual blow of betrayal and loss.

Celia: She can’t even tell Caroline what worries her the most: that if the truth of her sire comes out she has more to fear than someone trying to steal her soul from her body. It’s worse than all of that. It’s her head rolling across the floor. It’s Veronica’s head joining hers for covering up the crime. It’s Preston and Lebeaux and Savoy and everyone else who knew and didn’t say. It’s seeing the revulsion in Roderick’s eyes as he realizes she’s the worst sort of monster, and no wonder she was always so fucked up. It’s her family dragged from their beds in the middle of the night. All of her renfields executed with her.

And it’s her sire. Him most of all. Would he care if they took her head? Would his position at the prince’s side prevent him from catching the worst of it? Would he be exiled rather than executed, decades of planning down the drain because his childe couldn’t keep it in her pants?

The old wound reopens. Stupid. Worthless. Whore. Only it’s not her father’s voice, it’s her sire’s. It’s Jade’s. It’s Roderick’s. It’s her own.

No. That’s not quite true, is it? She’d be the only one who paid for the crime. Not her choice, not her fault, but that is the sort of justice she’ll receive in the All Night Society.

It’s a cruel thing her sire has done, putting her in this position.

Sometimes she thinks that is all they know: cruelty. What are the fleeting lives of the kine and childer compared to such centuries? Her lover had pointed it out to her before and she hadn’t listened: life is cheap.

Theirs too?

She is afraid that she knows the answer to that question.

She doesn’t know what Caroline expects her to say. She will hardly confirm the girl’s thoughts as to her sire’s true motivations and master. She wishes she didn’t know. That he hadn’t told her. That he hadn’t shown her.

He kneels before a throne. All are blind in the dark.

Why her.

Why show her.

Why tell her.

Why trust her.

He hadn’t meant to. He doesn’t know she knows. That’s all it comes back to, that he doesn’t know he had shared it with her. He was so busy killing her that he doesn’t realize what she had ripped from his head.

…none of which explains their interlude atop the roof, the secrets shared, his demands of her.

He’s in there. He has to be. There’s a reason for it, no matter how much her rational self rolls her eyes at the idea. She can’t just be another pawn on the board. The old wounds threaten to tear her apart at the seams. The words hiss in her ear.

“I’ll find it,” she says again, drowning them out. She straightens her spine, hardens her heart, finds her resolve. “And I’ll kill it.”

What is she compared to a demon? A mere slip of a girl. A young nobody.

Souls for power. She’s made that trade before. She’ll do it again.


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Celia: Celia doesn’t let herself linger overlong on the thoughts that plague her. She had known since the first nights of her Requiem that her Embrace would eventually be used against her sire. She had only thought that she would have longer to enjoy immortality before they sent for her; she hopes that she has been useful enough to her grandsire that he will not discard her when he is done with her. Lebeaux had implied he isn’t that sort of lick, but Celia frets all the same.

And this girl in front of her. Malveaux-Devillers. Childe of the prince. Daughter of a soul-eater (if the ghost can be believed). Soon-to-be announced heir, possibly, for all that she is young yet. Enemy.

If it were only that, Celia would have no trouble throwing her from the roof. Watching her body splatter. Staking her, delivering her to her sire. Taking her place at his side.

To finally be acknowledged… the collar pulls. Her hands clench. She is not a dog.

There’s more between the pair of them than that. A fellow daughter of the perfect family tree. Expectations heaped upon her. Someone who had once helped, for all that she claims she assisted with the cover-up. How can Celia blame her when it was from her own lips that the plan spilled forth? Apologies, years late, but apologies all the same.

A fellow bird whose wings have been broken, who hops and chirps and sings for her sire and hopes only that it has been enough. She recognizes that. And she hates it. Hates them, for what could have been. For what isn’t.

That’s the true definition of evil, isn’t it? What could have been. What should be, but isn’t. Death may no longer threaten them, but their existences are fragile all the same.

Fragile, like the body she’d once had that he had dropped into the Gulf. Shattered. As her mother would have been. As Caroline might be.

“Earlier, you said that you will never fly.” Celia turns her back to the city, her eyes falling upon the golden-haired Ventrue. “You are lying to yourself if you believe that. Worse, you are letting them hobble you and tell you how far you may go.”

“I have a theory, you know, about why people become so complacent in the middle of the mountain. Not because they do not want to go higher, but because they are afraid to fall and lose everything that they have gained. Without risk there is no reward.”

Celia steps backwards into the night. The roof gives way beneath her feet…

And yet, she doesn’t fall. Her body remains suspended in the air. The rolled cuffs of her borrowed pants unfurl, wind tugging at loose hair and clothing. Curls dance across her face. Lit from behind by the light of the moon, she is every bit the ethereal goddess she had turned Simmone into that evening in the Garden District: Celia, reborn in the sky, come down to pass on a gift from the heavens themselves.

Celia extends a hand.

“Let me show you how to soar.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes light up at Celia steps into the night, into the emptiness. Her hand dives into the darkness for the Toreador’s like a striking serpent even before Celia’s own hand extends, catching it, holding it, a second pale hand locked in a death grip with the railing.

She looks down, then back at Celia almost incredulously.

Balanced on nothing. An elder’s words come back to her and she takes a shallow breath.

Without risk there’s no reward. Doesn’t she know it. But does she dare presume to flirt with the sky in this way?

It’s not just the fall that scares her.

Slowly, finger by finger, she loosens her grip on the rail, until only her fingertips test it.

A trap? A poor one if so. She isn’t afraid of the fall, not really. And she’d like to pretend there’s more than just their sires between them.

Celia: Celia has every reason to want her dead.

She knows the truth of her sire. She’d fucked with her mom. She’d covered up the scandal with her father.

But there she waits, eyes on Caroline, hand extended. A warm hand, so different than the sire from which she came. So different than the rest of their kind with their cool temperatures and their frigid temperaments.

She watches the play of emotions across her face and says nothing, waiting for the girl to come to her. She doesn’t rush. Doesn’t push. Just waits, until only the tips of her fingers remain on the rail.

“Let go,” she finally says.

Caroline: A leap of faith? Well, not exactly a leap. Just the gentlest kiss of her fingers leaving the rail.

Celia: Celia is not her sire. Not Roderick. She has never been that strong, and to look at her one might wonder how she can hold the weight of the other lick. But the moment Caroline’s hand leaves the railing Celia is beneath her, one arm behind her back and the other under her knees; the Ventrue hangs suspended in the air, held aloft bridal style by the levitating Toreador. For a long moment they simply float.

Then—

Rushing.

Wind whips past their faces.

It claws at Caroline’s dress, their hair, Celia’s borrowed garments.

It howls in their ears.

The ground is suddenly not so far away. Every second it looms closer and closer. It can’t kill them, and might not even torpor them, but it will certainly hurt to have their bodies splatter across the pavement, and—

They slow.

Celia’s giggles are all but breathless in Caroline’s ear as their movement halts. Still two stories above the ground, their bodies tucked so closely against the building that they appear as no more than shadows in the night, the wild descent becomes something much more manageable. She might not be able to make them invisible, but she can certainly make other things more interesting, and she directs any stray attention elsewhere as the girls slowly descend to the pavement.

Caroline: Caroline’s hold on Celia becomes a deathgrip as they plummet, holding her tighter and tighter, pulling her closer and closer until…

They slow, and Celia’s giggle replaces the rush of the wind.

If she were mortal she might be breathless, but death has robbed her of that. Finally, her eyes on Celia, she cracks a grin.

“That’s some ride,” she whispers.

Celia: “Falling is the first step toward flying.”

Amusement dances in her eyes. Her feet touch pavement and she lets the Ventrue down, once more the smaller unit in the party. She gazes up at Caroline, lips lifted in the corners to echo her grin.

“The first time I fell, no one caught me. I made sure that I would never shatter again.” Light tone for such a heavy topic.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “Fell.”

She lets the word hang. “I’m certain you just tripped off a building, right? Or did you fall down some stairs like your mom?”

She regrets the words as soon as they’re out of her mouth. But that’s how it goes, isn’t it? Mistakes are always easier to see after the fact.

Celia: “I said the same thing to my sister when we were younger. ‘Our ballerina mother just fell down the stairs, did she?’

Celia still remembers the fallout from that. Things were never the same; the little sister she had once tried to protect was turned into… whatever she became. She could lie here, but why bother? Caroline knows what sort of monster he is.

Her shoulders lift in an aborted shrug.

“Things he does to me… it’s not lasting. I can come back from it. He never took my leg.”

Just her life.

Caroline: It’s not lasting. But isn’t it? The physical wounds are the least they suffer. He never took my leg. No, only her wings, only her spirit, only her future.

And here Celia is, making excuses for him, hopelessly in his thrall. Hopelessly tied to a demon given flesh. Even though he hurts her, maims her, tortures her. Even though he threatened, nearly murdered her mother. Even though he serves a devil in the pit. Celia still loves him unconditionally.

If she could hate Donovan more she would.

And yet, for that, she recognizes the hypocrisy of it. Would she turn away from her sire if he beat her? If he threw her through a wall? If he ordered those close to her murdered?

She doesn’t pretend that she doesn’t know the answer. She wonders if Celia sees it the same way—each of them blind to themselves but wide-eyed.

Does Celia see in her the same Caroline sees in Celia? Reflected through a mirror darkly.

Words visibly catch in her throat.

She could offer sanctuary. Could offer help. Could offer shelter from him and aid. But Celia can no more take it than Caroline would in turn.

Her gaze settles solemnly on Celia’s own. “Thank you for the evening.”

Celia: There’s more she could say. Should say. Wants to say. To wipe away whatever look it is that Caroline gives her, pity or grief or… something. Something she doesn’t like.

He’s not a monster. Whatever you think he did to me, he has been good as well. Merciful. I loved him before he took me completely.

The words stay dormant within her. It doesn’t matter. It can’t matter.

He’s the only one who understands her. The only one who understands him.

Celia tucks a stray curl behind her ear, eyes once more finding the Ventrue’s.

“It was nice to… not pretend.”

Caroline: Caroline stares into her eyes. “It was.”

How many lies have we told each other tonight?

The more meaningful question among the damned: how many truths?

“We should do it again.”

Celia: Celia shouldn’t smile. The offer shouldn’t send butterflies rippling through her stomach. But it does. And she does. It lights up her face, lifts the corners of her eyes; there’s nothing insincere in that smile, or the words that follow.

“I’d like that.”

Caroline: “You don’t have to pretend when you’re with me.”

Wouldn’t ever have to pretend if you were with me.


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Story Twelve, Celia XXV, Emmett XVI

“Appearances usually are deceiving.”
Antoine Savoy


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Savoy, Preston, and Camille spend a little while filling in Em on the basics of his condition and the city’s politics. Prince Vidal bears little love indeed for the Snake Clan, and will likely order Em’s execution if he or his agents discover the fledgling’s true lineage.

“Most of us claim to be Toreador or Caitiff when we leave the Quarter, or do so in stealth,” explains Camille.

Em is technically an illegal Embrace too, but against the fact of his lineage, it’s largely moot. The prince will seek his destruction for that fact alone, should he ever learn.

He also learns what night it is (they don’t say day), as well as the fact that it has been multiple nights since he first arrived at the Evergreen. Rosa Bale was able to tell them around when to expect Em back—“in some form of other,” Savoy remarks amusedly.

Emmett: So time… passed differently where he was?

Whatever. He’s a vampire now.

His mind is still swimming with the new names and minutiae from the other three. “But won’t I be expected to have a legitimate sire to claim as my own if I ever want to appear in… Elysium, you called it?”

GM: “Lie,” says Camille. “Sami says you’re rather good at that. Claim to have been Embraced somewhere else.”

“Mr. Delacroix could also claim an established Kindred as his sire, which carries its own drawbacks and advantages,” states Preston.

Emmett: “Ah. Well enough, then. Being an immigrant seems simpler, as far as that goes.”

Em continues to be an attentive listener, particularly interested in the finer points of etiquette related to ghouls and human pawns.

He has a couple of ideas there. He asks Camille point-blank about her relation to Mouton, who he has designs on himself. He does not wish to ruin the cop’s usefulness to his sire, but would be interested in holding his leash, or purchasing him from whoever currently does.

GM: “Mouton is a considerable asset to myself and Lord Savoy,” says Camille. “Establish yourself somewhere and I’ll consider selling him.”

Emmett: “I have thoughts on that. Does Ron Landrenau belong to anybody?”

GM: “He’s a man in demand,” chuckles Savoy. “He’s one of mine, though I haven’t blooded him. Camille says something about you having an interest in movies, Mr. Delacroix?”

Emmett: “Indeed. I also have an interest in him specifically. To be frank, I am deeply interested in maintaining a relationship with my uncle beyond but including using him to realize creative projects. Lord Savoy, rather than attempting to purchase him from you, I would rather like to oversee his work on your behalf, and perhaps act as a sort of…creative consultant, overseeing projects that further your interests politically while bringing an understanding of the specifics of film to his oversight. Please, don’t spare my feelings; do you see value in such an arrangement? I would never want to involve myself with your pawn without benefiting you in the bargain. The same, of course, goes for Mouton.”

GM: “See? This one’s already wheeling and dealing,” Savoy grins towards Camille. “You could’ve found someone much worse for your second Embrace!”

Emmett: Em acknowledges the point with a smile.

GM: He turns back to Em. “Movies are mostly incidental to my interests, Mr. Delacroix. I think there’s value in your proposition. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t blooded your uncle.”

Emmett: “Well, that’s encouraging. I would try to make the most of his cultural influence, which I know to be considerable. It sounds like youth is a bit of a millstone on this side of the grave, but I think this is an area where my relative proximity to breathing days and my growing understanding of the Kindred world creates opportunities others might not be able to parse. Vampire media exists, despite the Masquerade you’ve described. I’m sure there’s risks playing with such material, but perhaps rewards as well—do Kindred not wish to see something of themselves on the screen, and attach meaning to stories that capture their hearts? And if course there are subtler games to play with entertainment, towards whatever other goals you might have that benefit from popular consumption of this or that idea. Stories do make us who we are, after all.”

GM: “Indeed they do, Mr. Delacroix. There’s a lot of power in stories, among the dead and living alike. We think they affect us less, because there’s no mass market for Kindred-exclusive books and films, but we’re wrong. We still tell stories.”

“And those Kindred-exclusive films that do exist… well, I’ll just say you need to see them to believe them,” the French Quarter lord winks.

“I remember when Dracula was published. You wouldn’t have believed the panic. Many kine had stopped thinking about vampires by then. We swore that book would shatter the Masquerade. And it did—but it reforged it, too, into something better and stronger. Successful vampire films can repeat that book’s feat, by telling the stories we want to tell. Films can make the kine view us more sympathetically and spread disinformation about our strengths and weaknesses.”

“All before the artistic value inherent to them.” Savoy chuckles. “That timeless advice to write what you know. Or film what you know.”

Emmett: “I was going to ask about Dracula,” Em admits. “But I believe you about all of it, especially the Kindred-exclusive movies. I’d be interested in seeing that kind of thing. You can learn a lot about people if you know the stories they know.”

GM: “One surely can. I’ll see what can be arranged as far as those movies. And I’ll offer you some further advice when it comes to kine besides your uncle, Mr. Delacroix.”

“The best pawns are the ones who owe what they are to you. I’ve seen my share of young Kindred who approached established and successful kine, turned them into ghouls, and relied on the Blood alone to secure their loyalty. Love and addiction tug at one half of them, but resentment and ingratitude at their other half. They ultimately don’t need their domitors, but their domitors need them. That isn’t a position you want to be in.”

“But, when you approach someone who doesn’t have what they want, as the smiling devil in a sharp suit, offering the opportunity of a lifetime… that’s another matter. That cultivates lasting loyalty and dependence, if you set up a gangster as head of his gang, help a first-time politician get elected, or take a chance producing a young director’s experimental films. Make someone who they are, and they’ll owe you what they are. They won’t soon forget.”

“It takes a little more time and trouble to arrange. But the dividends pay that back and then some.”

Emmett: “Sage advice, my lord,” Em says unironically. “I couldn’t have picked a better place to be reborn.”

GM: When the question of thanking Savoy for his hospitality and continuing to operate in the French Quarter arises, the Toreador chuckles.

“The more operators we have in the Quarter, the better, Mr. Delacroix. What questions do you have for me?”

Emmett: “The Quarter is prime real estate,” Em says directly, “even if I’m a quiet tenant. I’d like to know whose toes to avoid stepping on and how to walk around them. And, by the same token, where I can find friends to run with. I imagine this life is lonely without them, just like the one before.”

Well, before he got executed, anyways.

GM: Savoy chuckles again. “The other students will always give you better advice where to make friends than the principal, Mr. Delacroix. You might start by asking your sister-in-blood that.”

“Your sire will also steer you straight, as far as toes to avoid. You’ll have her and the rest of your clan backing you up. There are a lot more of them than just her.” Savoy offers a knowing wink, then drums his fingers. “But as some immediate advice, many of the border and poorer areas of the Quarter are pretty crowded. Full of… how might you describe them, Nat?”

“Weak-blooded vagabonds, castoffs, riffraff, outcasts, and scum other cities didn’t want,” notes Preston.

“That’s one way,” grins Savoy. “They’ve been pushed around a lot. They aren’t too dangerous by themselves, but in large numbers they can be.”

Emmett: “I’ve seen some of that crowd,” Em agrees amiably. “I know what you mean.”

He steers the conversation towards Abélia next. “I confess there’s still a lot of things I’m unsure of about her nature. If I’m right about her reasons for sending me here, she probably wants a contact in your camp. I might be better positioned towards how to navigate her if I knew more about her; and of course, that would go a long way if you wish to use me as an intermediary with her.”

GM: Em hears a voice echo in his head as he starts to broach the topic, but before he can say her name.

:: If you’ll oblige me, Mr. Delacroix, let’s speak of her more privately. ::

The French Quarter lord’s lips, though, continue to mouth other words.

“1020 Esplanade and the surrounding area is where the Giovannini make their domain. Watch your step around them, too, but they can be valuable allies to enterprising Kindred.”

:: I’m to understand she facilitated your Embrace as payment for services rendered, though using you as a contact may well have occurred to her—and also has to me! You’ve certainly dealt with her more intimately than any other intermediary I might send. There aren’t many Kindred who’ve entered her lair and emerged to tell of it. ::

Emmett: The thrill of the sudden telepathic subterfuge would set the stolen body’s pulse racing if it still had one, but as is Em feels every muscle (does this guy have more muscle than him? that’s a nice change) in his new cadaver twinge with rigor mortis at the shock. His response is stumbling, but electric

:: You’re in my head this is new sorry let me orient. Ahem. Yes, in the interest of utter honesty I’ve seen an awful lot of her and what she can do but still don’t know what she is, and knowledge that lets me respect her better is very precious to me right now, as, to be blunt, I’m sure direct experience with her is valuable to you. Lord Savoy. Sorry, it’s harder to be polite in your own head. ::

A mental pause. He can’t help himself with the honesty. It’s like talking to somebody when you’re naked. Pretense goes out the window.

:: You’re very dashing, by the way. Since you’re listening in. And I don’t use the word dashing often. I don’t even think the word dashing often. ::

“I’ll keep that in mind, too,” he replies a moment later to the spoken comment.

“Thank you, Lord Savoy.”

GM: There’s a mental chuckle as Savoy continues to talk about various spots in the Quarter.

The voice in Em’s head is more controlled. He ‘sounds’ like he’s done this before.

:: Practice makes perfect, Mr. Delacroix. It can help to visualize the words when you’re new. Like you’re writing a letter. ::

:: As to Madam Devillers, she is a predator, much like us. Perhaps you know something of her diet already? I think she only prefers the taste of incorporeal flesh, though. Anything with a soul can sate her hunger. ::

Emmett: :: And… her daughters? ::

Unbidden, Cécilia’s face swims to the front of his mind. Perhaps Savoy can see it, or feel the sudden longing to stand before her that consumes the fledgling.

:: What is their nature? ::

GM: Another mental chuckle.

:: They seem human in all the ways that count, though appearances usually are deceiving. I doubt they’re wholly so with parentage like theirs. I confess to having had more dealings with their mother. ::

:: You want her, don’t you, Mr. Delacroix? That can be achieved. ::

:: What is success without a beautiful woman to share it with? ::

Emmett: :: I don’t know what I want. Except… to know. If she’s a monster, too. ::

He manages to articulate a mental cough. :: Sorry. Bit maudlin, that. ::

GM: :: Perhaps you know the answer already. What makes a monster? A frightening appearance? Preternatural powers? A diet like ours? How one treats others? ::

Emmett: :: I suppose in her case, I’d say it’s what she’s willing to tolerate from those she loves. But I don’t know if that’s some kind of inhuman indifference — or real forgiveness. Real grace. ::

GM: :: That second quality is precious, isn’t it? I’m afraid I can’t give you an answer there, but perhaps you might ask her yourself. We can find reasons to send you to her mother’s on my behalf, I’m sure. ::

:: If I may also advise—a whiter face may make her easier to pursue, should you choose to. Even if she sees past skin, many of her friends and acquaintances likely don’t. ::

Emmett: :: Then I guess I should talk to your Dr. Dicentra about that, at least. ::

GM: :: I’m sure she’ll be happy to oblige. ::

:: White or black, you’ll find it all tastes the same. ::

Emmett: :: I’m new to vampirism, but not to predation. I was a bad man. A wicked ghost, too. I understand the value of secrets. So I understand if this one isn’t yours to give, or if it costs me more. Is there a word for the kind of predator Abélia is? ::

GM: :: The answer to that is both, Mr. Delacroix. It’s a costly secret, and not mine to share. ::

Emmett: He inclines his head, seemingly at some recommendation flowing from the vampiric lord’s lips. Neat bit of multitasking, that.

GM: :: Understand that most of our kind aren’t aware she exists, so I’d be cautious whom you share that secret with. We’re exploitative beings by nature and she doesn’t desire much company outside of her daughters. Kindred who disturb or seek to investigate her rarely survive to regret their mistake. ::

:: I’m impressed you’ve made it as far as you have with her. ::

Emmett: :: I’m lucky. It’s my best feature. Especially now. ::


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Em and his sire depart the Evergreen’s rooftop garden after Preston says Dr. Dicentra has been contacted. Camille spends further time explaining the basics of Kindred existence to him in a Louis XIV-style sitting room.

They’ve been in conversation for perhaps an hour when the night doctor arrives.

Celia: They look as if they’ve taken care to hide their identity. Red has long been the Kindred color of choice, but the night doctor has taken the night for their own in their garb: black on black on black. Black combat boots with a chunky heel laced to mid-shin, black leather pants that cling to every curve, a black shirt that shows off an ample chest and well-muscled arms, and black gloves with black nails that longer than any lick’s should be. They look sharp, those nails. Even her hair is black, and the eyes that peer out from truly ebon skin obscured by some sort of glamour are black as well.

The form is feminine enough to call it “her,” though perhaps that is yet another way to mask their true identity.

Pic.jpg
The night doctor halts in the room’s doorway.

“My services have been requested,” she says without preamble.

Emmett: “Which services were those again,” Em mutters, looking her over. “You’ve made me forget everything except how to ask for you name.”

Celia: The black-clad doctor might smile, but it’s hard to tell beneath the mask. She steps into the room.

“Your appearance. You wish it altered, I have been told.”

Emmett: “I think so,” Em says, “But I’m on the fence about what I need it altered to. You might be able to help me decide.”

“This face isn’t really mine to begin with, if you want to know the truth. I’m not sure if I should ask for a new one altogether, or try to make do with my old self.”

GM: “What advantages do your old face and a new face have?” Camille poses.

Emmett: “My old face is dead, at least to those who know me. If I show it to them, they’ll recognize me, which breaks the Masquerade. But I am easily disguised, and it might be useful to reveal my identity to certain people. For, ah, dramatic flourishes, if nothing else.”

“But a new face is a chance to start over, and this is a new beginning. Not many people ever get that chance, and besides, there’s a lot of baggage in that old face. A lot of hate, too. Maybe it’s better to wear a new one.”

Em considers the night doctor. “Whoever you are, you’ve done this before. What do you think?”

Celia: “Many Kindred seek my services for different reasons,” she answers. “They want to be stronger, bigger, more imposing. They want to erase old scars from their bodies. They tire of the nightly shave and a haircut routine.”

The doctor studies Emmett.

“If your former face is known to be dead, let it stay dead. Do not break the Masquerade. There are other ways to prove your identity than a face should you desire to seek out old acquaintances. But appearances are everything. A charming smile will get you far when you pair it with quick wit and a silver tongue.”

The doctor nods toward Camille, though she continues to speak to Emmett.

“Kindred and kine alike remember the eyes. Should you seek a face easily disguised, something plainer will do. Then you can become your own canvas. Alternatively, I can create an ideal version of the old you with enough changes that no one who was not intimately familiar with your face will recognize.”

“If you are still undecided… I am a sculptor. Sometimes the flesh speaks to me and tells me what it wants to be.”

Emmett: “Sculpt,” Em says. “I will talk with you as you do. Maybe I’ll look more like myself than I did before.

But… you said the eyes have something of the soul. If you saw a picture of me, could you give me my old eyes back?”

Celia: “Yes. I could. I will warn, however, that eye modifications are among the most painful bodily altercations I can perform.”

Emmett: Em smiles faintly.

“Well. Maybe you can give me a treat if I don’t cry, afterwards.”

He looks at Camille. “Do you happen to have an image of my old face in your phone, or something?”

GM: His sire only gives that question a thin smile.

Emmett: “Fine,” Em says. “I’ll get it.”

He holds out his hand. He does it without thinking about it, flexing that part of him that still hasn’t processed that he’s no longer a being of spirit rather than flesh.

A pair of eyes float inches above his palm, staring into the night doctor’s. They’re dark as a dark night and full of cruel mirth — but for all their cruelty, most people would kill to get the joke.

They’re Emmett Delacroix’s eyes, he realizes. The dream of his eyes, gathered and held for the good doctor to see. By the time the conjured gaze dissolves, he expects it’s left an impression.

GM: “Well done,” Camille purrs. “Veiling can also be used to resume your old face, should the need arise.”

“Or should I say, the rest of your old face.”

Celia: It’s difficult to tell whether the display leaves an impression on the doctor or not. The black mask gives nothing away.

“I can see,” she says mildly, “why you’d like them back.”

“Consider it done.”

Emmett: “Then let’s get started. Where do you want me?”

“Um. Also. Do I need to be naked for this?”

Celia: “Not yet.” A flash of fangs accompanies her amused tone.

Dicentra looks to Camille.

“I do not allow others to observe my process. I will take him to the Red Room and send for you when we are done.”

Emmett: Red Room. Sounds, dare he think it, erotic?

What else would red signify?

GM: “Of course, doctor,” answers Camille as she rises from her seat. A smile plays across her caramel features as she brushes past the masked Kindred. One of her hands strokes the night doctor’s breasts as lightly and idly as a serpent’s flicking tongue.

“What luscious thoughts swim underneath the mask, I wonder…” she murmurs into Dicentra’s ear, “that one with the power to alter flesh would wear so luscious a form, even disguised… I bet you’d be a lot of fun, with it off.”

She winks knowingly, then turns slightly to address Em as well.

“Sami will swing by in an hour or so. Think of a new name to go with your new face. It can be real-sounding, or something poetic like Harlequin or Sundown.”

Celia: The doctor looks as if she might follow in Camille’s wake at that touch; she reaches out, snagging the snake’s wrist in her hand before she can go too far.

“Perhaps,” the voice from beneath the mask purrs, “one night I shall seek you out and grant your wish to see beneath the leather.”

Dicentra only turns to Em once his sire has taken her leave and beckons for him to follow her. She leads him through the halls of the Evergreen with casual certainty, obviously familiar with the layout of the club. She makes no idle chatter as she walks, though the vibe that he gets from her is less “foreboding” than it is “contemplative.”

Eventually they reach the Red Room. She takes him inside and closes the door behind her, ensuring their privacy with the click of a lock. Looking around, Emmett can see the reason it is called the Red Room: though they have been drained of blood, bodies sit on metal shelves around the room. Some of the corpses have had their throats torn out. Others have been split from sternum to groin. Still others carry a multitude of marks upon their skin, holes from which they bled their last. Male, female, black, white, and in between, but all of them have been stripped of their clothing and their life.

It might be cold to the kine, but the freshly dead fledgling does not feel the chill upon his skin. A table has already been set up in the middle of the room.

“You can remove your clothing now.”

She gestures toward the table. Metal, like the shelves, reminiscent of the sort of gurney found in a coroner’s office. Holes have been drilled into it to allow for easy cleanup; beneath Emmett’s feet the tile floor slopes gently toward a drain set in the middle.

Emmett: He does so in efficient, experienced bursts, only somewhat belied by his relative inexperience in this passenger. He pulls stolen cloth from stolen flesh and then approaches the table. The whole thing is very Six Million Dollar Man.

“This seems uneven,” he says wryly, as he sits the stolen body on the table.

Celia: The doctor watches from behind her impassive mask. It’s hard to tell how she thinks or feels when her features are thus hidden.

“You must be new,” she says, though the words aren’t unkind. “You will get used to being naked in front of other Kindred.”

GM: He did it all the time as a whore.

Emmett: “Oh, I’ve been a whore. That’s not the hard part. It was more of an invitation by way of observation.”

Celia: “Clever,” she purrs, “I can see why your sire chose you. Shall I call her in and let you share me?”

Emmett: “Is it wrong that I don’t want to share my first time?”

Celia: Low, throaty laughter sounds from beneath the mask.

“Perhaps if you don’t scream that will be the aforementioned treat.”

Dicentra tells him to lie back and removes the gloves from her hands, reaching for his face. She stops just shy of touching him.

“May I?”

Emmett: “Please.”

Celia: Her fingers stroke his skin, their touch cool.

“Young,” she murmurs.

The pad of her thumb traces his lips. He can feel it shift beneath the gentle pressure; pain flares, but it is fleeting, banished by the light touch that follows. A moment later it dissipates.

“Made for smiles.”

Two fingers slide down the bridge of his nose, squeezing as they go. For a moment he’s blinded by the pain. Then it, too, flees before the words that come.

“Guilty.”

The doctor pauses.

“Dead.”

Cool fingertips brush against his skin from his hairline to his jaw. They trail down his cheek, a whisper-soft touch that reminds him of butterfly kisses and the wind on his face. They remind him of every girl he’s ever embraced, every longing thought, every moment of ecstasy.

“Close your eyes,” she whispers. “Go inside.”

Emmett: He does so. It’s easy to listen to her. She’s been right enough, so far.

And those fingers, besides. There was nothing like them in the Shadowlands.

Celia: The last thing he sees before closing his eyes is motion behind the mask the doctor wears, the slight suggestion of a smile.

Then she’s gone, and him with her. He’s transported; no longer lying on a metal table within the Red Room, he finds himself in a long hallway. Rich carpet gives beneath the soles of his shoes, burgundy tussore woven through with saffron and ivory. Cream walls hem him in to the left and right, their continuous lines broken only by the frames of doors that open onto empty tableau. Colorful lights shine from beneath the frames of the doors: crimson, coral, amber, viridian, azure, indigo. He recognizes the settings as he passes:

A sitting room in Madam Devillers’ house, devoid of life.

Cafe Soulé, where a smiling Madeline delivers a pair of hurricanes to a younger Emmett and a beautiful girl in a sling.

A hotel suite. He doesn’t linger long in this doorway. Hotels have never been kind to Emmett Delacroix.

The Giacona manse, where a woman with poison eyes asks him how much he’ll give to get what he wants.

Louisiana State Penitentiary, his final resting place.

The rooftop garden he just vacated, the place of his rebirth.

All of them speak of his past. It is the door in front of him, however, that speaks to his future. White wood inlaid with swirls and whorls of gold and silver that dance before his eyes, slithering across the frame. A golden handle waits for his touch.

Emmett: He touches it, hopes his fingers can do the same thing to it the night doctor’s touch does to him as he turns it—

Celia: It opens into a well-appointed suite. A king-sized bed sits in the center of the room, its ornate bedspread covered in rose petals that have spilled from the bed to the floor in a puddle of red. To one side another set of doors open onto what he imagines is a closet, beside it a mahogany armoire and floor length mirror. The windows look out over the city he has called home for most of his life, an idealized, colorful version of it that makes the Shadowlands’ grayscale a far distant memory. The yellow, green, and purple of the Quarter dominate the scene.

A champagne bottle rests on ice in the center of the bed, but when he pops the cork the heady scent of blood reaches him. Blood. The bread and butter of their kind now. The only thing he will ever taste again. A glass waits beside it should he choose to quench his thirst.

Emmett: He drinks. When has he not?

But there’s such a large bed, and plenty to drink, yet nobody to share it with.

Celia: Despite the ice the blood within the bottle is hot. It slides down his throat, viscous and warm; it tastes like a comforting embrace, like the mythological siren of Poseidon or Hades beckoning him down into the depths of the water to deprive him of his last breath; it tastes like unrequited love, like ruby red lips and kohl liner, like leather and lace. It sets a fire in his belly, unfurling outward to sing through his veins.

“Delicious, isn’t it?”

A black-clad woman reclines on the bed beside him. Black gauze obscures her face; there’s no movement beneath the fabric, no way to tell if she has a mouth or eyes or features beyond the flat mask. Different than Dicentra, but somehow Emmett knows: it’s her.

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“You’re like me,” she tells him, “a man without a face. But that’s okay. We’ll find you one.”

He looks into the mirror and sees that she’s right. He has no face.

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Her voice echoes through his mind and body.

“Who are you?”

Emmett: His voice answers hers in a murmur, one that tugs his lips in the waking world as surely as they responded to the taste of blood.

“A bad, bad man. I’m worried I might be too good at being a vampire. People have always been disposable to me.”

Celia: The mask over her face moves, suggesting a smile.

“You are in good company, then. Those whom you call friend and ally will tell you that to be good at one thing you must be bad at another. They will ask you to shed your human shackles.”

Emmett: “Do you believe something different?”

Celia: “Not in so many words, though as in all things I believe there is balance to be found within your Requiem.”

“Strong enough connections can keep you tethered to your humanity. You need not be a purveyor of wanton destruction to succeed, though many will say that is the swiftest path.”

“But this is your rebirth. Who do you want to be?”

Emmett: “I want to be free,” he says truly. “To love who I love and fuck over who I don’t. Free to watch movies and maybe make one when I get bored. Free so… mmh.”

Free so the souls I destroyed went for something other than Abélia’s larders, he’d been about to but just barely does not say, mindful of the French Quarter lord’s warning. He’s not normally this open, is he?

Damn her hands.

“I want to be on top,” he finishes without so much as stuttering.

And winks.

Top-shelf flirting for a dead man, really.

Celia: “Big dreams for the freshly dead,” the masked woman tells him, “but we all start where you are now. I’ll give you the advice that was given to me when I was still a greenfang: make yourself useful to someone. You’re at the bottom of the mountain now, but it is not insurmountable.”

There’s definitely a smile beneath the wrapping. The hands touching his body have moved from his face lower; beyond the scene in his mind he feels the tips of her fingers against his traps, unwinding muscle fiber.

“The great thing about hierarchies is that they change. As do people, Kindred included. Take your time to try on new masks as you will, but you need a face beneath that.”

Emmett: “Could I be of use to you?” He pushes on, lost in her touch.

Celia: “Aside from the favor you will owe me for this work?”

There’s a momentary pause, though the hands on his body do not cease their work.

“Perhaps I will see what you make of your Requiem and seek you out. Pick a pretty enough face and I know a former whore with whom you might compare notes.”

Emmett: “And what if I wish to find you?”

Celia: “I have a phone. Unlike the Anarchs, you won’t need to rely on tagging a random surface and hoping that I find you.”

Emmett: “Anarchs are which ones again? Vampire communists?”

Celia: “Rebels who think they have a cause.”

Emmett: “I didn’t even have to die to meet those.”

He lifts a hand to her obscured face. “Could I see yours? Since you’re the first ever to see mine.”

Celia: The doctor does not resist his touch. His fingertips brush against the gauze and it fades away like smoke, dissipating into the air.

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His own face stares back at him.

Emmett: He blinks.

Not the smartest cookie, but he can figure this one out.

“You know me.”

Celia: “We’re inside your head. You know yourself.”

Emmett: “How are you doing this? This dreaming thing.”

Celia: “Shadow dancing,” she tells him. “Not dreaming. You can get out of it at any time. The lick I mentioned earlier taught it to me in exchange for some work. If this is truly your face, she has a pet that might be interested in knowing. She can tell you more.”

“But we’re here to pick a new face for you. The man you were is dead. Who are you now?”

Emmett: “Tired. Older. Wiser, maybe.”

But maybe not, of course.

Celia: Dicentra considers him for a moment. A wave of her hand opens the set of double doors to the side of the room, where a thousand faces hang from a thousand gilded hangers. A crook of her fingers summons one to them.

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“Tired and old,” she tells him, “and perhaps some wisdom in there somewhere. Is this the face you seek?”

Emmett: He laughs. “Some men age gracefully, don’t they? I want a face people trust, for all that. Thirties, more than forties.”

Celia: She laughs with him., dismissing the first face into smoke and shadow.

“Your own face, but better? Older?”

Another takes its place. Him. The two sides of him: young and old, light and dark, dead and alive. Wicked and innocent.

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Emmett: “Older,” he agrees. I always wanted to be grow up, some day. Now I suppose I have forever.”

He requests some cosmetic changes, too. A few roguish scars about the face. A bit of aging here, smoothing there. His hair can afford to be messier now than it once was, he expects.

His face lies. Makes him a new man.

But his eyes will tell the truth.

Celia: The face of the man floating in front of the two of them shifts as Emmett speaks. Dicentra controls the movements with a twitch of her fingers, and every word that comes out of Em’s mouth makes another alteration to the flesh in front of them. They build the ideal face together. Dicentra remains predominantly silent; she just sculpts. She is the paintbrush and he the hand that directs it, and only when he asks for input does she speak to offer a word of advice—“that scar will suit you better on this side,” or “the symmetry is off.” She offers guidance without judgement.

She asks if anyone has explained how their bodies work, and tells him that any changes she makes will be permanent, though any that he himself makes will only ever be temporary. He could shave his head one night and will find that the next it has regrown to its original length and color. Some Kindred find ritual in their daily grooming, while others despise the wasted time and curse the styles that were en vogue when they died.

Younger, he says, and she teases him with a boy.

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Messy hair, he says, and laughingly she gives him a mop of curls that will never be tamed.

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He wants a smile that can shatter hearts, and she smiles at him with his old face and gives him the smirk of someone who might have cut those same hearts out of their chests.

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Less like a serial killer, he asks, and it changes again.

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Distantly, Emmett feels the doctor’s hands across his body. His flesh shifts beneath her touch; there’s pain, dull and sharp by turns, and inside the suite of his mind the doctor tells him to keep going. She distracts him with this game of faces, preventing the pain from overwhelming him, teasing and coaxing him to make absurd changes to make him laugh. He feels it, but it’s muted, and all the while the new face comes together.

When they’ve decided on a face she asks about the body, and the pain that flares at her touch shifts to something less red hot while she reworks muscle and skin at his direction. Buff or willowy, hard or soft, big or little—yes, even there—she gives him what he wants.

He doesn’t know how much time has passed when the work finally ends. But the Dicentra in his head smiles at him and tells him it is done.

She withdraws from his mind, her black-clad form dispersing into smoke and shadow.

When he opens his eyes, she holds out a mirror.

Emmett: It’s not such a young face, really. Younger than his father, as far as that goes. Younger than his uncle, too.

But this face looks like maybe its been to prison. Like maybe its seen the ugliest parts of being human, from the inside looking out.

But for all the ugly inside him, Em thinks he comes out looking pretty good.

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Maybe a little soviet, at that.

Celia: As if Lord Savoy or his sire would give him some second-rate night doctor.

Behind the mask, Dicentra smiles down at him.

“There are showers to rinse yourself of blood,” she tells him. Her hands, he sees, are bloody up to the elbow, and his body is covered in it.

Emmett: “Oh,” he says. His new voice sounds strange, but also comforting to new ears.

“How do you feel about saving water?”

Celia: “I’d hate to waste such a renewable resource.”

Emmett: “So we should share a shower? That’s terribly unfortunate.” He rises, tests the feeling of his new, undead flesh.

Celia: “I hope you’re not looking to bump uglies,” the doctor drawls, eying his new form with blatant interest. “The breather way doesn’t do it for us anymore.”

Too bad, that thing between his legs looks rather nice.

“But it’s this way.”

The Red Room isn’t too far from the semi-public showers that Savoy has had installed for his guests. Dicentra tells him on the way that there’s a “lost and found” closet if he needs clothing for his new form, as well. She leaves the discarded parts behind.

The Boggs will eat well.

Emmett: “What uglies?” he says easily, following her like a satisfied puppy. “Your work is flawless.”

“I suppose I’ll have to find somebody to teach me how vampires fuck, then. Otherwise I’m going to be all awkward at parties.”

Celia: “Fangs, mostly.” But she smiles at the compliment. “Blood. Like everything. If you’re looking to lose your V-card, Lord Savoy hosts parties on Saturday evenings after court. There are plenty of horny licks around.”

Emmett: “V-card? Really? That’s a long lost cause, even if this is a new body. Anyways, what day is it?” He reaches for the knob that activates the shower, and a pink mist levitates off of his skin and spatters the both of them.

“Saturday seems like a long time to wait.”

Celia: “It’s Monday,” the doctor tells him, “but I’d be stunned if your sire doesn’t fuck you before then. She has quite a reputation.”

Blood from her hands rinses down the drain. She has yet to remove her leathers.

Emmett: “You’re letting me start off my Requiem with a rejection?” He pouts. “I was just trying to thank you.”

Celia: “You already owe me a boon, pretty boy. Didn’t anyone tell you how our economics work?”

It’s not a no, though.

Emmett: “I’ve worked very hard to become a man,” he protests, “with a few wrinkles and facial hair and everything. And besides. Economics is one thing. I’m talking about gratitude. Completely different phenomenon.”

He turns his back on her. Blood runs between his shoulder blades down the channel of his spine. “But if you prefer your privacy, I won’t look.”

Celia: “Don’t blame me if your sire is upset she didn’t have you first,” Dicentra says to that.

But she turns around and gestures at the zipper in the back of her suit, letting him have the fun of unveiling her.

Emmett: It takes him a minute to realize she has also turned around.

But he obliges her, running his new fangs against the nape of her neck as he sheds the layers between them.

He hasn’t had an actual fuck in a while.

Like, a long while.

He’s almost nervous.

Celia: He shouldn’t be. Dicentra seems more than happy to explain the rules to him and let him get his feet wet; she’s been patient enough so far. Em knows he doesn’t need to breathe anymore, but there’s a little gasp of pleasure and a shiver that runs down her spine at the touch of fang to neck. Her blood pools in the wound, waiting for him to lick it clean.

The leather slips free from her like a second skin, revealing the body beneath. Just as luscious as the leather implied.

It’s the face that might throw him off. Pale. Pierced. Thin brows, full lips. Pretty but… familiar.

Almost like the girl he’d met on the roof. The one who hadn’t smiled at all.

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Way prettier, though. He can’t imagine Preston ever wearing makeup, taking her glasses off, or letting her hair down.

Emmett: Indeed, the very comparison is one he feels immediately guilty for even making.

Nobody deserves to be compared to Nat.

“You’re sure I don’t know you? You’ve got one of those faces,” he deadpans, albeit with a note of sensuality since he’s talking quietly into her ear. She has a feeling the question is ceremonial more than earnest.

For one thing, he is not looking at her face when he says it.

Celia: The question makes her laugh.

“I think you’d remember me,” she purrs in his ear. But she seems to like the attention all the same; she stretches luxuriously, arms above her head to lift that beautiful rack even higher, as if now that her outfit has come out she can finally breathe again.

Then her fangs come out and his back is against the wall when she puts a hand on his chest to shove him back, the tile cool against his skin, her body cool against his, but the water is warm. So very, very warm. His blood flows where she nips at his neck and chest and shoulder, letting it sit for long, precious seconds before she comes back to drink.

Emmett: It’s been a long time. But he knows better than to keep talking.

It’s bizarre, this vampire fucking. Rougher than he was into, for sure. More about the nuances of pleasure that is ripped from your other’s pain, and learning that pain enjoyed the right way can breed enormous pleasure.

They hurt each other, and it is glorious, and the sordid details of the coupling are lost in blood and drainwater.

When they’re done, which is some time later, he lays with her below the raining showerhead, and does not know if he is soiled or clean.

Only that he is happy.

“Wait a while before dropping the other shoe, will you?” he mutters to her.

Celia: Despite the tile, neither one of them are uncomfortable. Dicentra seems content to rest next to him with her head on his shoulder while the water rinses away the evidence of their coupling. Her fingers trace idle circles across his chest and lower stomach.

“No other shoe to this, just fun. The Saturday parties I mentioned earlier almost always end up something like this.” He can hear the delight in her voice at the thought.

Emmett: “Maybe not to this. But you?” He squeezes her shoulder. “I’m in danger of actually liking you, Dr. Dicentra.”

“I suppose I’ll have to come back on Saturday, then. You mentioned a phone, earlier? It seems a shame to wait so long before we… talk.”

Celia: “You’re a shameless flirt,” the doctor laughs. “I don’t even know your name and already you’re asking for round two?”

“But yes. I’ll give you my number before we go. You have seventy-two hours to decide you want minor modifications before it costs you more. For your… gratitude.”

Emmett: “Finally. A woman who appreciates my nobler qualities.”

“The least of which is my name, really.”

Celia: “Shame the best part of you doesn’t work anymore. I heard it’s rather enjoyable to have it sucked if you give a little nip.”

Emmett: “That’s a strange way to talk about my eyes.”

Celia: Her eyes find his face.

“Mm,” she muses, “I stand corrected. Those are gorgeous. I’d say I good do work—and I do—but that was some great starting material.”

The doctor finally rolls off of him, rising to her feet to rinse off the results of their tryst beneath the spray of the shower.

“I’ll get you that number. And the one for my friend. I think she’ll like you if you make it a habit of showing gratitude with sex.”

Then she’s gone, plucking her outfit from where it had been left on the ground on her way out the door, and just a card with a hastily scrawled name and a pair of numbers is all the memento he has from his time with the night doc.


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Story Twelve, Celia XXIV

“You want this. You have this. I can tell.”
Antoine Savoy


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: The nightjar soars trough the Big Easy’s skies. Jade looked up how fast they travel once. 19.26 mph, on average. But never dealing with traffic or parking counts for something. The Evergreen Plantation soon approaches. Its rooftop garden sits empty to Jade’s sight.

Below, she sees what’s hopefully only the first wave of guests leaving.

Celia: She’s often thought about dropping onto the roof. How her grandsire would react to find her up there waiting for him. Maybe naked in the hot tub, maybe perched in a tree, maybe just curled up on his usual chair. It’s tempting. Always tempting. Especially tonight, when she’s riding a high from arguably the best sex she’s ever had (Pietro picking her up at the bar being a close second, though she’d been mortal then so she’s not sure if it counts).

In the end, though, she decides against it like she always does, and she drifts lower as she approaches, scanning the faces of those leaving.

Just to make sure it’s no one she needed to see. Otherwise she’ll find a place to land.

GM: Veronica is one of them, trailed after by Clementine. Justine Chaudrier and Arthur Duchamps make up two more faces.

Micheal opens the car door for Veronica and Shep. He’s dressed in normal clothes, but his walk is slow and stiff.

Celia: Jade knows better than to chase after Veronica once she’s done with a party. She lets the harpy go.

GM: Micheal opens the trunk, gets in, and closes it after himself. The harpy sneers from the front seat as Shep starts the engine. Their ghouls ride in the back.

Celia: She still can’t think of anyone who deserves to be treated like that.

The whole thing is impossibly cruel.

GM: She was volunteering to give him a vagina not too long ago.

Celia: To prevent the pain of having his dick ripped off every night.

Maybe literally emasculating him will make Ronnie give it a rest.

And maybe now she feels bad.

Dating his brother and all.

Trying to be a better person.

Something like that.

She ceases her musing and finds a place to change back into herself again, strolling toward the door.

GM: Fabian greets her cordially. Inside, the theme this week seems like it was undersea. Huge fish tanks filled with coral, seaweed, and colorful fish take up the walls. Blue lights pulsate over the dimly-lit floor in shifting patterns. The party feels like it’s progressed to an afterparty. Ghouls are shutting off the industrial bubble machines, and licks are changing out of maritime-themed costumes as they oggle one another’s nudity. Reynaldo Gui cuts a dashing figure in a blue-coated 18th century naval officer’s uniform as he supervises the clean-up.

A few naked or fish-costumed vessels writhe and moan underneath nets as still-hungry Kindred drink their fill.

Celia: Had someone told her there was a theme? She can’t recall. Pity, too, as she’d have given herself gills or a tail and swam through the tank all night. Or a seashell bra and red hair. Maybe some tentacles. She wonders if she can make tentacles; she’s never given it much thought before, but apparently there’s a big following for that…

She spares a nod and a smile for Fabian, already eying the available vessels, and asks if any of the side rooms are still free.

GM: “I believe so, madam. Their occupancy has gone down,” the smiling ghoul answers.

Pete is not present in the common area. Laura Melton, dressed as a mermaid, is toying with some ‘fish’ next to Emerson Newhouse Hearst. He’s shirtless and wearing a wide feathered hat that would’ve looked at home on Jean Lafitte.

Celia: “You’re a gem, Fabian.”

And there she is, the lick of the hour. Laura Melton. She’ll track down Pete later. And even Gui, delicious though he looks tonight, can be a phone call tomorrow night. Or a pitstop between Melton and Savoy. Finish what they started last night. She makes sure to wink at him when she catches his eyes drifting toward her.

Even without an appropriate costume Jade walks as if she owns the place, winding her way across the floor to join Melton and the biker.

Celia: “How’s your catch?”

GM: “Salty,” smiles the blonde, blood dribbling down her chin as she looks up from the now-weakly breathing vessel. She’s lost her bra and is clothed only in a scale-patterned skirt that clings tightly to her hips and flares out at the bottom.

Emerson, meanwhile, is lanky at a glance, but more toned close up. He doesn’t look like he worked on his body as religiously as Roderick did, during his last nights alive, but there’s gristle and muscle on top of his lean frame. His short brown hair looks eternally and artfully messy underneath his pirate hat.

“I think they fed them fish or something. You could taste it.”

“Mm, yeah,” says Melton. “Wanna fuck?”

Celia: Jade doesn’t know which of them she’s speaking to, but she’s not one to turn down an offer like that, and Emerson can always join them. She might as well go all the way if she’s going in at all.

She leans in without a further word, licking the blood from the blonde’s chest and chin.

GM: Laura pierces the skin along her neck, waits, and laps up the flowing blood. Emerson joins in from behind, peeling off Jade’s dress and sinking his fangs into the back on her neck. The pair might not be pleasuring her on both levels, like Josua did, but there are twice as many of them. The biker’s tongue, too, soon laps up the flowing blood.

But just like that, it all comes crashing down.

Celia: It’s the taste of the blood that does it. Hot on her tongue. Salty, like Melton said. Her Beast roars its approval. But it doesn’t want the blonde in front of her; it doesn’t want to fight for its meal. Night like this? No. It wants the easy thing, that already pliable, primed and ready vessel on the ground, and Jade lets it go. The only warning is a low growl in the back of her throat that builds into a snarl when she rips herself away from the two licks who want to share her, dropping heavily onto the fish-dressed girl to sink in and feast.

GM: Jade throws herself from the two licks and over the motionless vessel as the red haze descends. When it clears, a mangled corpse stares up at her. African-American girl, maybe mid-20s, her once-sleepy eyes livid with terror. Her throat is almost completely torn out, and hot blood freely runs across her and Jade’s chests.

“Impolite,” says Melton, licking her lips.

Celia: Covered in blood, none of it her own, Jade looks up from the carnage she’s wrought. A pang of guilt shoots through her at the needless death, though whether it’s for the girl or her grandsire’s cleanup crew is debatable. The practical part of her mind tucks it away, more spa materials, more ways to show off to the Ventrue Mafia man, more building blocks for Josua.

She rises, dripping blood, hands and face and chest covered in red. Her eyes find Melton, then sweep down her own body in a come and get it motion.

GM: Emerson, she notes, is no longer present. The Gangrel pounces on her and starts rapturously running her tongue and mouth along Jade’s breasts.

Celia: Whoops. She’d scared off the little Caitiff. That’s okay; this is the one she wants anyway. Jade sinks back down once Laura launches herself forward, back arching into the feel of tongue on her skin. She sinks her fangs into the Gangrel’s neck, lapping at the blood once it has had time to cool. Bloody hands hungrily roam her body.

GM: Laura’s hands roam hers equally hungrily as she tackles Jade to the floor, hungrily lapping at the red between her tits. She rolls to the side with Jade, putting the Toreador under her, then over her, then under her again, letting the blood spill over her body and then back over Jade’s.

“Little Caitiff didn’t like killing…” she growls between licks, half-smirking.

Celia: She’s had enough being on bottom tonight. She gives as good as she gets, biting and sucking and smearing the blood across the floor and their bodies and her mouth. Especially her mouth. She rolls with Laura until they’re in a secluded corner, each of them taking a turn on top, each of them pinned at some point.

“His loss,” she purrs back, “I’m not into virgins anyway.”

GM: “He wishes he was a virgin.”

The Gangrel bites deep along her upper breast, releasing another flow of blood. She doesn’t wait for it to cool, though, just laps up more of the girl’s blood from the base of Celia’s neck.

Celia: “Born agains,” she hisses between her teeth, caught by the ecstasy of the kiss. “Even worse.” Her fingers curl through Laura’s hair, holding her close while she laps at the blood on her neck. Jade slices her fangs against the girl’s cheek, drawing forth a thin trail of red.

“You’re who I wanted anyway; he’d have just been a bonus.”

GM: The Gangrel gives a wordless snarl of arousal. Claws extend from her fingertips as she slices open Jade’s belly. A few torturous seconds for her later, seconds that Jade spends at her cheeks, her tongue burrows laps over the bleeding wounds.

Celia: Another snarl rips from her throat when Melton’s claws sink into the soft skin of her belly. She yowls, head thrown back, and only quiets again when her tongue soothes the burning ache.

But she has claws too. They slide from the tips of her fingers when she flips the Gangrel onto her stomach, straddling her hips. Jade rakes them down her exposed back, following the lines her nails have left with her mouth.

GM: Melton growls in turn as the blood flows and Jade’s tongue waits those several torturous seconds to lap it up. She lies there for a moment, content to allow the Toreador to clean her wounds, then turns around and shoves Jade off and onto her back. She buries her face against the other lick’s inner thigh, ripping and tugging at the skin like a fat drumstick. Pain burns in the half-puncture, half-tear wounds, but soothes as the Gangrel’s tongue licks them clean and partly seals the injuries.

Celia: It’s a mess of blood after that. Growling, snapping, snarling while the two licks play on the floor, ripping and rending and puncturing with their teeth and claws. Each of them takes a turn on top before being dethroned by the waiting usurper. They cover each other in blood and scratches and half-healed bites, leaving shredded skin and tattered clothing behind. Somewhere in the distance she’s vaguely aware of a certain Ventrue cowboy claiming her discarded bra. Melton’s skirt comes off when Jade buries her face between the Gangrel’s thighs, inhaling the scent of her while she waits those long seconds for blood to cool. It’s a delicious and intoxicating heady onslaught of painful pleasure, so different from the gentle waves that Josua had put her through that crested again and again until she was spent. Different from the feather-light touch of Pietro, the red-hot burn of Veronica, the rapturous embrace of Roderick. Different, but thrilling; Jade and Laura, tonight at least, are evenly matched.

When she’s spent, when her Beast has been sated by the blood of the mortal and the Gangrel, when it purrs and curls at last in her chest, the pair of them end up sprawled across fallen netting on a stretch of warm sand. Heated floor? Lamps? Magic? She doesn’t know how Savoy does it, but he pulls out all the stops. It’s like lying on a beach. Fish swim nearby in one of the tanks. Jade curls against her equally spent lover, tongue still lapping lazily at the hole she’d torn near one nipple.

“You,” she purrs to the Gangrel, lifting her arms above her head in a languid stretch once she finally pulls her mouth away with a final lick, “are exquisite.”

Celia: “And filthy,” she adds as an afterthought, though the word is softened by the clearly satisfied way it drips from her tongue. Both Kindred are covered in sanguine sand, the granules adhered to the sticky substance that coats their body. Jade remembers now why she never liked the beach. What had that animated azure djinn said? Sand: it’s everywhere.

“Come on, I’ll sneak us into a room with a shower and give you the real underwater experience.”

She’s already imagining pinning the Gangrel against the tile wall beneath the spray of the shower. Warm water, warm blood, two beautiful ladies… Emerson really missed out.

GM: He’s less a cowboy tonight than a naval officer, but Jade doesn’t doubt the bloody bra winds up in someone’s appreciative hands.

“Mmm,” says Melton contently as she rises from the sand, casually licking off some of the red-smeared stuff from her arm. “Let’s go. I need to grab some clothes, too.”

There are semi-public showers upstairs, for Kindred to clean up after their revels. Savoy is even thoughtful enough to leave free clothes.

Many of them get taken off the Evergreen’s corpses, so he’s not even paying for them.

Celia: Jade found the cutest boots in one of those free closets once. She’d been happy to appropriate them for her own use.

She follows the Gangrel to her feet and plucks her dress (not shredded, Emerson was good for one thing at least) off the floor on her way to the stairs with Melton.

“I was going to ask if I missed anything exciting, but I can’t imagine much that would top this.”

GM: Melton picks up her mermaid skirt.

“There were some good runner-ups,” the Gangrel smirks, lazily hitting the elevator instead. “There isn’t much I’d miss a Saturday at the Evergreen for.”

Celia: Jade flicks her eyes down her companion’s body. “I got what I wanted,” she says with an appreciative grin.

GM: Her companion eyes her.

“I bet you did.”

Celia: “My cousin taught me to find the most valuable thing in the room.”

“He’d steal it, but, well… the sentiment stands. I suppose I could throw you over my shoulder if you want the full experience.”

GM: “Try me. I’m pretty light.”

Celia: Someone had told her once to lift with her knees, not her back. She supposes if she got Diana and that punk down the stairs—dead weight, the both of them—Laura might be an easier time. She steps forward, arms going around the Gangrel’s thighs, and rises, slinging her over her shoulder.

GM: True to Laura’s words, she is pretty light. She’s only dead weight in the literal sense, too. She wiggles her hips and gives Jade’s rear a good squeeze.

Celia: Jade giggles at the touch, pleased that she didn’t embarrass herself by sending them both sprawling to the ground.

“Cut everything out with those claws of yours?”

GM: The Gangrel continues to knead her rear.

“Only sexy things. Like your juice.”

A buzz goes up from one of the phones in Jade’s purse.

Celia: “I’ve heard there’s a trick where you can stuff things inside of you. Like a prison pocket. Imagine all sorts of fun things come out then.”

Awkward timing for the phone. Her hands are busy with the Gangrel. The door opens, though, and she lets Laura down so they can move through the hall to find the showers. She peeks into her purse at the caller ID.

GM: “I know someone with that trick. It’s pretty handy.”

It’s a text from Emily.

Celia: “Oooh. I’d love to learn.”

She’ll check the text in a minute.

GM: “I could get you started when we’re done here,” says Laura as she opens the door to the semi-public showers. There’s multiple rows of them. There’s usually quite a few Kindred who need to wash off after Savoy’s revels. Laura hangs her mermaid skirt on a clothing rack and turns on a faucet.

Celia: “I’d like that.”

Jade follows her in, eyes scanning the stalls to see if anyone else is present. She takes a moment to check the text from Emily while she hangs her dress and sets her purse down.

GM: They look empty. The text reads,

Ugh fell asleep studying and woke up… my schedule’s gonna be fucked

Celia: Is it late enough to safely ignore the text? Maybe. Emily knows she’s a night owl, though.

Nah girl you got this. Crack a soda and stay up all night & then tmr if you want to fix tho.

She puts her phone away to join her new friend in the shower.

GM: The Gangrel squirts some soap over her hands, then lathers it over Jade’s breasts.

Celia: Oh, it’s gonna be like that? Jade can play this game. She leans back against the tile wall, a lazy smile curling the corners of her lips upward at the attention to her breasts. It’s the third time Laura has gone right for them.

They must be nice.

Real nice.

GM: She did make them that way.

Celia: She’s very proud of them.

They’re perfect.

Like the rest of her.

GM: Laura’s hands squeeze the soft but perky flesh as she gets soap all over them, then topples over with a wet thud against the tile floor. A wooden stake protrudes from her back.

Celia: Playing her role, Jade shrieks and stumbles backwards.

The wet tile steals her footing from her. She goes down hard, scrambling away from… whatever it is that’s staking naked vampires in the shower. It’s like a slasher flick with sorority girls, only she and Laura are the sorority girls.

GM: Another stake pierces Jade’s chest. She goes down, stiff as a board.

Celia: There’s nothing to do but lay there, staring helplessly at the ceiling while the water pours down over her naked body.

GM: Water pools over her face and eyes. She can’t blink or even move her eyes. Laura’s staked body turns over in her peripheral vision. Blood slowly washes down the drain.

After a little while, a blindfold wraps around her eyes, and then she can’t see anything.

Celia: Rude.

There’s nothing for it, though. She can’t move, can’t speak, can’t blink, can’t use any of her powers. Her claws lie useless beneath her nail beds.

She listens. That’s all she has left.

GM: She hears water running, then stopping. She hears the door open and close.

Moments pass. Then the blindfold comes off and the stake comes out of her chest.

Celia: Jade sits up, moving across the floor until her back is at a wall. She rises slowly.

GM: She has the otherwise empty shower stalls to herself.

Celia: Does she, though? Or is the shadow dancer watching from across the way, staring at the naked lick?

GM: That’s always the question, isn’t it?

Melton’s mermaid skirt is still there on the clothes rack.

Celia: “Send for me when they’re ready,” Jade says to the empty air.

And then, just in case the ghoul is still watching, Jade gives him (her? it?) a show.

As a “thanks for playing” sort of thing.

And because she’s a completely vain creature who deserves to be admired.

But who’s counting?

It’s not that she’s aroused by danger, but… well, for a moment there she thought maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t her friend in the shadows, and with how easily he’d (she?) had dispatched two licks, one of whom she thinks is a great deal older than her…

Maybe she is aroused by danger.

She’s never even seen the shadow friend before, has never learned which of the ghouls it is, but she’s always appreciated their work, and they’re all alone here in the shower.

It’s easy to play vixen in a place like this. The water pours down on her from above. It beads on her skin, the little droplets trailing downward, drawing the eye toward the stiffened peaks of her breasts. Laura had been touching them, but her invisible friend can take over if they like. The soap is right there, ready to be lathered and spread. Jade spreads the suds across her fingers. Slick and slippery, they slide down her body, across her chest, thumbs flicking across the tips. Her hands slide lower, across her flat stomach, halting only at the tops of her thighs. A wistful sigh leaves her lips, barely audible above the sound of the water, and a single finger traces her lower lips. She’s alone, after all, or maybe her friend is there, and if they are… it’s an open invitation, should they choose to accept.

GM: Celia abruptly feels something phallic ram up her ass, furiously pumping back and forth. A hand-like sensation clamps over her throat, choking her, nails digging into flesh. More pressure pinches over her left nipple, squeezing and tugging like they’re trying to rip it off.

Celia: She’d giggle, but her air is decidedly cut off. Not that she needs it, beautiful corpse that she is. She doesn’t resist when her partner claims her. The shadow uses her body how it wants, and her only contribution once it has her in its grip is to slide a hand between her legs to find that sweet spot so she can get herself off while it hammers her from behind.

GM: The shadow slams her face-first into the tile and chokes her tighter, jackhammering her ass like a drill. Its other hand makes a clenched fist inside her cunt. It doesn’t enter slowly. It just punches right into her, shoving itself as far up as it can, as fast as it can. Her inner walls strain under the sudden pressure.

Celia: At least her nose doesn’t break, right? She’s got that going for her, that her nose doesn’t splatter and ruin her pretty face. Her cheek presses into the tile beneath the spray of water from overhead, head turned to the side to protect the delicate orbital and nasal bones. Each subsequent thrust pushes her further against the wall, an endless battering ram that lays her out and pins her helplessly before the shadow’s lust. She snarls despite the hand crushing her windpipe, though the sound that comes out isn’t nearly as forceful as normal. Like a kitten compared to a tiger. The fist in her cunt makes her whole body jerk, her free hand slamming into the wall at the unpleasant stretching. Claws sprout from her nails, sliding harmlessly off the slick tile. She hisses. That, too, is choked. But the fingers between her legs keep moving and her head drops back, lips parting silently while the onslaught continues.

GM: The fist in her cunt retracts. Something sharp stabs into her throat and rips across, cutting it open. Blood leaks down her chest as fingers penetrate the slit flesh, squeezing and tearing and digging. She hits the floor side ways with a hard, wet smack. Water trickles through the fingers. The pounding in her ass doesn’t slow.

Her Beast threatens to burst its chains at the apparent attack, to turn fang and claw on its invisible adversary, but Celia keeps it down. Some of the fingers withdraw from her throat. The remaining ones plunge deeper. Red, wet slashes suddenly appear over her belly and under her breasts. More fingers dig greedily into the cuts as a palm rubs against her nipple.

Celia: It’s not the sexual encounter she expected. Not from a ghoul. Unless it’s not a ghoul but a lick instead, someone like her who gets off on causing pain, which doesn’t explain the cock buried deep in her ass. Her snarl comes out as a wet gurgle, blood dripping freely down her body from the holes the shadow rips into her throat. Then more from her belly, threatening to stain her body and the floor both before the water washes it down drain. Her claws rake at the hands holding her to yank away their painful touch inside her abdominal cavity, clit forgotten in her quest for blood.

GM: The shadow seems only further aroused by her struggles. By her pain. It reminds her of someone Celia used to know. The fingers plunge deeper into her throat, gorily twisting and pushing upwards into her mouth, liker her head is a sock puppet. Another stabbing pain shoots up her cunt. Blood flows like the mother of all periods.

Celia: It reminds her of being fucked by Jamal. Only Jamal hadn’t tried to rip her apart with his hands, and he certainly hadn’t fisted her while he’d fucked her—though she vaguely recalls broken ribs after coming to, pinned beneath him with her knees near her ears and the monster buried deep inside of her.

It’s like that, almost. But with a smaller dick. There’s less chance of it tearing through her abdomen on its own, so the claws (are they claws or just nails? She can’t tell) do that part for it.

She bleeds. And she screams. And, again, it comes out as a wet, ragged rasp. Air hisses from her lungs and onto the shadow’s hand and fingers where it has torn her open, like a lifelong smoker who finally had an artificial larynx put in after theirs rotted out of their throats.

It’s not sexy. But this isn’t sex anymore. It’s a power struggle, and she’s losing. Losing because she keeps a firm handle on the thing inside of her that wants to tear the shadow’s throat out. Do shadows have throats? Beneath the shade he’s a man, certainly, or it’s a rather effective strapon.

She wheezes. It might be a laugh.

Her body can take the damage, though. His can’t. Her claws disappear, fingers moving back between her legs. She’ll get herself off since he won’t.

GM: Oscar Wilde said everything was about sex, except sex, which was about power.

She’s wrong about that firm handle, though. The monster bursts from her chest in an explosion of pure rage and hurt. Everything goes red. When she comes to, she’s coated in still more red that doesn’t smell like her own. The pouring shower head swiftly washes it away.

Celia: Whoops.

She looks for a body.

GM: She does not see one.

Celia: She flips off the water, feeling around the floor for a body. She follows the scent of the blood if she can. She’d thought that maybe the stealth fades if they die, but what does she know.

GM: She does not feel a body. The lingering coppery odor leads out of the room.

Celia: She sniffs, too, for the tangy, musky odor of human jizz.

GM: She does not smell any.

Celia: Shame. Her poor shadow friend didn’t even get off.

GM: They can’t all be Jamal.

Celia: She should call him. See what he’s up to these nights. Maybe he’ll give her the fuck she needs after… whatever this was.

Someone has blue balls.

Her body repairs itself, Beast so amused by the fact that it got to come out to play twice this evening that it doesn’t even fight her for the blood. It gives instead, sharing its resources with the girl that takes such good care of it. Her earlier transgressions must be forgiven, she thinks, and she stretches contentedly as muscles and skin and sinew wind back together. She clears her throat as her esophagus heals, pleased that everything is in working order, and finishes her shower.

She doesn’t show off this time.


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Ughh I usually fall asleep midway through the day if I do that, reads Emily’s answering text after Celia exits the shower.

Tomorrow’s Sunday so no school to keep me up

Celia: Still early enough to go to bed and wake up at normal time. Not a big deal. Take a sleep aid & call it a night.

GM: Eh true I’ll try not to wake Mom getting bills… see you tmrow

Celia: Who said having a sister had to be difficult?

GM: Jade has a moderate amount of time until her scheduled meeting with her grandsire.

Celia: She passes it at the Evergreen. There’s no reason to leave when she has to come back anyway, and there might be a handful of people hanging around. The cowboy, the warlock, or the Gangrel once she’s done being questioned. Friends wait for each other, right? It won’t look weird if Jade dresses, then helps herself to a seat downstairs, eyes peeled for any of the three aforementioned friends.

Otherwise, she spends some time on her phone looking into this Vinny fellow. If she’s whoring herself out to get what she wants anyway she might as well go all the way. She looks for a public social media page, pulls the best-looking photo from among the lot posted, and does a reverse search for it to see if she can find him on a dating site. Middle-aged, lonely cop? Probably on a dating site.

Where else would he meet someone? Taking a statement at a hospital?

Oh, wait.

GM: Gui is present, still directing the cleanup. Jade does not see the other two.

The Evergreen slowly returns to normal as Jade pulls up Vinny’s profile on Facebook. He looks younger than middle-aged, though he’s definitely on his way there. Older millennial. He has olive skin and spade-black hair. Slim like the toothpick between his teeth, but toned and taut as a racetrack greyhound. His facial hair looks somewhere in between stubble and a beard. His face might be called ruggedly handsome, if not for its diminutiveness and half-dozen moles. He wears a dark-ribboned trilby in all of his pictures, but his hair looks a little thin around the edges, as though he’s going prematurely bald.

VincenzoCardona.jpg
The page has a moderate amount of activity. There are no post or pictures that identify him as a police officer, and his work and education history is unlisted.

Jade does not find Vinny on any dating sites, though multiple pictures show him at the Fair Grounds Race Course, often known as New Orleans Fair Grounds, a thoroughbred racetrack and racino in Mid-City.

Celia: Jade waves at her favorite Ventrue as she takes a seat in clear view of both the elevator and the door, intending to catch Melton on her way out. If she leaves. What if she doesn’t leave? Uh oh. What if Jade had been about to make a friend and messed it up by opening her mouth?

Well, what else is new. She’s sure she’s done that sort of thing before. Spilling things she shouldn’t have. Whoops. But it’s for the safety of her grandsire, right? Making sure there’s not a spy hanging out in their midst.

Even if it means she won’t be able to learn that trick. And even if she doesn’t really think Melton was a spy, just someone who doesn’t want their real identity known.

She huffs, keeping an eye on the elevator while she scrolls through Vinny’s page. Maybe Gui could even introduce her. Though not if he hangs out at the tracks…

What sort of face would a guy like this be into? Someone attractive enough to be appealing, but not so attractive that he thinks it’s a trap. She can find a balance, she’s sure.

She pulls up the hours and the website for the track. Maybe there’s an upcoming event.

GM: It’s open from 9 AM to midnight every weekday, 10 AM to midnight on Sunday, and closed on Saturday. There’s also an on-site casino and dining options. Doesn’t seem like a bad place to take a date.

There’s a “3x multiplier madness” savings event on Tuesday. The horse races, though, all seem to be during the day.

Celia: She already has plans out the wazoo tomorrow night. Sometime this week, though, she’ll get that ball rolling. She doesn’t imagine it’ll be the sort of meet-cute that happens in rom-coms where she only has to run into him once. More of a slow burn.

Ah, inconvenient hours for racing. She navigates back to his page to see if his photos were mostly taken during the day or at night, or if he’s posted at all about horses or is more of a general gambler.

GM: Both, from the looks of things. Most photos are during the day, and show him in the stands for the races, but he seems to have come by the casino during some evenings too.

Celia: Perfect. She’ll go on Tuesday for the multiplier madness. If he’s a gambling addict—is he a gambling addict?—then he’ll probably be there. She’ll run into him, start up some small talk… She’s got plenty of cute outfits to choose from… And it beats asking Pete or Gui to introduce her, though she supposes those can be her plan B and C. Maybe C and B. Somehow her vision of “policeman’s ball” ends up with her sire and sister-in-blood also present, and she’d rather not have to deal with either one of them.

Is a policeman’s ball even a thing? Where had she gotten that idea?

Probably a movie.

Plan made, she pays less attention to her phone than she does her surroundings, though she keeps it out to look busy.

GM: Melton does not reemerge, though licks continue to come and go from the Evergreen, including Rosa Bale (who rarely attends the parties). The common lounge area is eventually restored to its former state.

“I think this is yours,” remarks Gui as he sits down next to her, holding up a bloody bra.

Celia: Jade finally slides the phone back into her purse, turning to face the smirking cowboy. Pirate? Naval officer? He’s something alright.

“Like a trail of breadcrumbs, it led you right to me.”

GM: He wraps an arm around her shoulder. “You’re too sexy to sit here with just a phone for company.”

Celia: “I was waiting for someone.” His hand finds no bra straps when it slides across her shoulders. She hadn’t lifted one from the free closets, though her chest doesn’t look any worse for wear at the lack of support. She tucks the bloodied garment into her purse.

GM: “Usually more effort than it’s worth to get dried blood out of clothes, but it can be a look.”

Celia: “Next week’s theme is ‘vampire.’”

GM: “Someone can tell the thin-bloods they still aren’t invited, then. One tried to get in.”

Celia: “Oh? How’d that go for them?”

GM: “Well, Veronica and Shep discovered they still leave behind ash.”

Celia: Good to know.

“What a waste of blood.”

GM: “Discovered for some guests here, at least. I don’t doubt they already knew that.”

Celia: “Wonder where they all keep coming from. They’re like an infestation.”

GM: “You and every elder in the Camarilla, lush. Even those pogroms in the ‘90s weren’t able to get rid of them.”

Celia: “I just ran into one in the square, actually. It tried to shake me down for money.”

GM: “Jackson Square’s a bad place at this hour. How’d that go for it?”

Celia: “How do you think it went?” She flashes a smile.

GM: Gui smirks and makes light banter with her until Fabian approaches and smiles to Jade that “Lord Savoy will see you now, madam.”

Celia: Ah. Well. She supposes she’ll talk to him about that bit of muscle sculpting business later then. And Harrah’s. And the Blackmatch. Better to do it privately, anyway, and he’d looked too cute in his little outfit for her to take him seriously. Plus she’d been busy pretending she’s a thin-blood killer, as if it’s something to be proud of to slaughter such helpless little things.

Christ, she really fucking hopes it wasn’t Dani. But she hadn’t told Dani about the Evergreen, so really there’s no reason for it to be…

She leaves Gui with a last lingering look—she’d ended up perched on his lap somehow, though their banter hadn’t led to anything beyond harmless flirting—and an invitation to give her a call in the next few nights if he thinks he has any use for… well, she holds up her hands and lifts a brow and expects him to know what she means. A final scrape of fang against his cheek sees her on her way, a spring in her step as she goes to greet her grandsire.

Celia can’t help but wonder if Fabian was her faceless attacker as she follows after him. He’s always smiling. It’s people like that you have to watch out for; they’ve usually got some sort of screw loose upstairs. All that smiling rots their brain. Pretending to be happy all the time. Yeah, she bets he wants to rip into a stray vampire if he gets a chance. She sniffs (discretely) at him as they get into the elevator.

GM: Gui says he expects he well may, and gives her bottom a pinch as she rises.

Jade smells no blood on Fabian.

But it’s possible the cheerful-faced ghoul is a very thorough cleaner.

Celia: He really is her favorite. Pity Roderick has that “no sharing with members of the Mafia” rule. She imagines they’d be fun together.

Bit awkward to ask, isn’t it? “Hey did we bang earlier? Sort of?”

“Sorry for losing my cool, I was kind of into it until you ripped my abdomen open. Wanna try again sometime?”

GM: Fabian takes her up to fourth floor, or technically, the third floor’s roof. Savoy and Preston are seated at their usual spots around the table. There’s also a ghoul cleaning up an ugly black substance off the ground, but the two make no comment of it as Savoy rises to kiss her hand.

“It feels like it’s been much too long, my dear, but a long absence only makes reunion all the sweeter.”

Celia: Jade eyes the black substance as she steps around it, though as soon as her grandsire rises to greet her he has her full attention. She dips into a curtsy, an easy smile finding its home on her lips at the words.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder, grandsire. Mine is fit to burst.” Her eyes move to Preston and she dips again, paying the steward her due respect. “Good evening, Madam Preston.”

GM: “Good evening, Miss Kalani,” the Malkavian returns.

Fabian pulls out Jade’s seat for her as Savoy resumes his own, then smiles at her. “My agents tell me you did masterfully in helping to apprehend Miss ‘Melton.’ She was eating out of the palm of your hand, by all accounts! Very well done, my dear.”

Celia: “Thank you,” Jade says to the ghoul. She crosses one ankle over the other beneath her chair. “And thank you, Lord Savoy. She was rather eager to make friends, it would seem.” Make friends. Fuck. Same difference. “Have you spoken to her yet?”

GM: “Not as of yet. It’s been a busy night.” He chuckles. “But she’s been gracious enough to wait.”

“She has little choice but to wait, sir,” states Preston.

Celia: “I was about to say the same, Madam Preston.” Jade smiles at the Malkavian.

GM: Preston doesn’t smile back, although Jade doesn’t think she’s ever seen Preston smile.

She wonders how many times men have told her she’d look nicer if she did.

Or let down her hair and removed her glasses. The esthetician can’t help but note the potential makeover.

Savoy chuckles again. “That’s true enough, you two. But I prefer to assume graciousness from others until they show us otherwise.”

Celia: Probably not many make that mistake twice regarding Preston and smiles.

“If it’s no trouble, will you let me know what you find? Only… we rather hit it off, and I was hoping to salvage that relationship if possible, as I think if she’s in the right camp she and I have a lot to offer each other.”

GM: “Of course, my dear. We could interrogate her here, if you care to change your face.”

Celia: Jade nods. “I’d be happy to.”

GM: “Very good. Have someone bring her up once we’re through other business, Nat.”

“Of course, sir.”

Savoy smiles at Jade. “Mr. Gui tells me Celia Flores picked up Miss Garrison from his club! I hope she’s proven an asset thus far?”

Celia: “Ah. I wasn’t aware that Mr. Gui knew who Celia was.” The lift of her brows suggests the question. She certainly hadn’t told Gui about her mortal identity.

GM: “Oh, I think quite a few people know who the famous Celia Flores is,” Savoy grins. “Certainly anyone with an eye for personal beauty.”

Celia: Jade smiles prettily for him at the compliment. She has Kindred followers? How amusing.

“But not her relation to me?”

GM: “I haven’t told him as much, my dear. I’d be surprised if he did.”

Celia: She nods.

“Thank you for clarifying. I was concerned that I had gotten sloppy with my mask. The recent incident with the hunters has set me on edge, I admit. Yes, I picked up Dani. Miss Garrison. I didn’t know if Mr. Gui was in on everything, and I didn’t want to take the chance that he discover her if not. We had been… well, he received a call while we were together that suggested trouble, and I thought it might have been her…” She trails off, wringing her hands.

“She was aware of what she had become, though none of the specifics. I gave her a bit of an overview so that she doesn’t wander into places less welcoming to those like her.”

There’s a brief pause. Her eyes widen slightly, gaze becoming more earnest.

“I hope that’s okay. I didn’t mean to step on your toes. I was just concerned for her safety, knowing the piece on the board she could offer you.”

GM: “The thin-blood was in his territory. There were few better agents to monitor her,” states Preston.

Savoy smiles in understanding. “I trust your judgment with Miss Garrison and her brother, my dear. I’m glad you did what you felt was best.”

The elder Toreador doesn’t repeat his earlier question, but they have clearly come back to it.

Celia: “My mistake for not asking about his hand in this. I apologize. She is being looked after and has been advised to stay within the Quarter.”

The words are stiff. Perhaps, she wants to say, if they had told her that Gui knew about it then she wouldn’t have been so pressed to move Dani to a safer location. She really had been concerned for the girl’s safety. But she should have assumed that Gui knew; Dani had been there for almost a week at that point. It would be a sloppy landlord indeed who didn’t pick up a thin-blood in his own territory.

GM: “The thin-blood’s fate is irrelevant save as leverage over her brother,” Preston replies, seemingly unconcerned.

She should have known Gui would know.

Stupid, whispers Maxen.

Celia: A Dani under her control is a Dani that makes Roderick play right into her hands.

Maybe that voice should check itself.

“Mr. Durant has been apprised of the situation regarding his sister. He chafes at the idea of keeping her here and seeks a way to liberate her to a more thin-blood friendly city. He thinks Houston will treat her better. I have disabused him of this notion. He has asked to be able to see her to hear her wishes on the subject before he agrees to anything permanent, but submits himself to a boon should you be amenable to allowing his reunion with her.”

She pauses to collect her thoughts.

“I have given Miss Garrison an unfavorable view of life outside the city as well as an idea of what to expect should she try to make a home for herself outside the confines of your territory. She is not interested in leaving. The thing about Mr. Durant…” She takes a breath, then lets it out slowly. “He will try to play hero. He will try to move her, possibly against her wishes, but he has no one to assist with getting her out of the city. He mentioned an attempt to retrieve her from the Quarter during the day with an independent shadow dancer.”

GM: “Oh? That’s curious he’d promise me a boon for a reunion with Miss Garrison,” muses Savoy. “From Mr. Durant’s perspective, that offer would likely make me very curious who this thin-blood is to him.”

Celia: Of course that’s what he’d focus on. Not any of the rest of it. Not any of the careful maneuvering she has done since she realized she botched the situation.

She could lie. She should lie, rather than admit that she fucked up. Rather than admit that she opened her mouth. Rather than add insult to injury by not only moving the thin-blood but spilling the beans as well.

She starts to. To say that that “perhaps he just meant move through your territory for an evening,” but even to her the reasoning is thin.

What happens next? He never trusts her again? Never asks her to do anything for him again? Strips her of her domain, rescinds his offer of support and guidance, tells her that he should have let her burn in the Gulf?

She falters. Her eyes find the floor for a long moment.

“I thought,” she says at length, “that in the interest of long term manipulation he would be more susceptible to the idea of someone in his corner, and thus become more pliable. I had wanted to convert him fully rather than ask him to play double agent to a sire to whom is he twice-bonded, as I doubt the integrity of such reports.”

GM: She feels a hand against her shoulder.

“It’s hard, isn’t it, given the history?” Savoy asks.

Celia: Her lip wants to tremble. She presses her teeth together rather than let it, nodding her head in answer to his question.

GM: The hand gives her shoulder a squeeze.

“Maybe this wasn’t fair of me to ask of you, my dear. I know how much you want to do well and impress. Maybe I should have asked someone else to bring over Roderick to my side, and then your two’s relationship could have rekindled under better terms, without any lies between you.”

Celia: “N-no,” she says, shaking her head, “I can do it. I shouldn’t have let our history get in the way. It was…” stupid “…it was wrong of me, and it would have been easier if I just… didn’t.”

Why are his gentle words so much worse than if he’d simply berated her?

“I can do it. I will do it. It’s just taking longer because I… thought that I had a better way.”

Thought she knew better than an elder who has been around for centuries, someone who could lie circles around her.

Maxen’s voice is back. She recognizes it this time. Two syllables.

GM: Stupid.

“You’re easily the stupidest of my children. I don’t have to do this with your sister. What’s wrong with you, Celia? Why have you turned out so intellectually stunted?”

“I don’t know, Daddy. I’m sorry. I’m trying.”

“You’re failing. You’re not trying hard enough. You aren’t just stupid, you’re lazy too.”

Stupid.

Stupid.

Stupid.

Celia: Yeah, that’s the one.

Maybe the floor will just… swallow her.

“I have this,” she says, pulling the paper from her pocket to thrust into his hands. As if that makes it better.

GM: Savoy tilts her chin up to meet his gaze.

“Shhh.”

C’est bon. It’s all right.”

“You want this. You have this. I can tell.”

He takes the paper, skims it, and smiles at her.

“You’ve brought me this. You’ve turned Miss Garrison against Houston. You’ve brought me Mr. Durant’s plan to get her out.”

“I don’t need to have faith in you, my dear. I have evidence. You do want this.”

“It’s not too late for us to fix this. You’ve got both Garrisons right where you want them, it sounds.”

Celia: Her eyes don’t leave his. Maybe he can see the emotion swimming behind them, the nerves and apprehension and half-shuttered expression that readies herself for a verbal backhand.

But it never comes.

He is not her sire. He is not her father. He is disappointed, surely, but he offers understanding and encouragement rather than beratement.

She does. She does want this. More than anything, she wants to impress him, to flip Roderick, to do something right for him. To make him proud of her. She will do it. She will.

She swallows, nodding her head at his last statement.

“He… he wants me to move in with him. In Mid-City. He spent this evening looking for a place for us. I thought… worst case scenario, you know, I could just borrow the notes when he’s not there. But that doesn’t… I mean, I’m sure you want to be able to ask him questions about what happens, so that’s not ideal, but it was my backup plan. There’s also…”

She steadies herself.

“There’s more. I have more.”

GM: “I do want to talk to him myself,” Savoy nods. “I’d suspect he’s going to be more careful with those if you’re living together.”

“If his sire finds out, she could arrange for the notes Miss Kalani finds to contain false information,” states Preston, looking up from her tablet. The Malkavian’s face is otherwise neutral.

“That’s possible too, Nat. But tell me what else you have, my dear,” Savoy says, turning back to Jade.

“In fact, I wanted to ask you some more about Mr. Durant too, now that you’ve spent some time together. What would you say he wants most? Regrets most? What would he change about his Requiem if he could, in your estimation?”

Celia: “He wants democracy. He’s an idealist. He wants Mid-City to be its own little city within a city. He wants to clean the city of the Mafia. He keeps saying that he wants to take them down but then he just ‘forgot’ because there’s more pressing matters to see to, and maybe that’s true but sometimes I think his sire just kept him busy so he couldn’t, and there’s that rumor that she sired Mr. Carolla, so I was going to meet up with him to find out, but… maybe that doesn’t matter, I was just thinking of ways to snap his collar to her.” She takes a breath. Collects herself.

“He’s twice-collared to her. He wants to believe that she’s good, but he knows that she was behind that massacre in 2011, that she sold them out to the prince, and she’s ‘just as ruthless as any other elder when it comes down to it.’ He implied that she was collared by him. The prince, I mean. That she made a mistake and she’s stuck now.”

“He wants to believe that Kindred can be good. He talks about Carthage a lot. He doesn’t think violence is a good answer to problems. He’s… loyal, once you get him on your side, but he… well, to be honest, he doesn’t like you because of your ties with the mob. He doesn’t trust you.” She looks down. “Sorry,” she murmurs, as if that makes it better.

“He regrets faking his death. He’s upset about his dad no longer having children. The Garrison line died with Dani. He wishes he’d stuck around for his dad. He’s concerned about me, to some extent, and my safety. He… um, his haven was attacked recently while I was there, and he lost control and killed them because he thought they might hurt me, and he’s never actually killed before that. He’s upset about it.”

Once she starts talking about him it gets easier. She tells her grandsire everything she thinks will help regarding his question about Roderick.

GM: “Very informative, my dear,” Savoy says thoughtfully, drumming his fingers. “I think there’s a few things we can use here. But you said you had something else?”

Celia: “A few more things. Unrelated, and related.”

“Has Warden Lebeaux spoken to you regarding the information I shared with him earlier this week? I don’t want to repeat anything you already know.”

GM: “He has, but why don’t you bring it up so we’re on the same page?”

Celia: “The prince has sired a childe.”

GM: “Ah, yes,” Savoy smiles. “It sounds as if she was quite taken by you.”

Celia: That, at least, earns a self-satisfied smirk.

“I believe so.”

GM: “Very good. You should continue seeing each other.”

Celia: “I had thought the same. My concern is that she knows me as Celia, and I don’t wish to connect Celia to Jade with more people than I need to. There’s also the possibility that she discovers the truth of my lineage, which… well, that could spell trouble.”

GM: “The secret of Celia’s identity is already out to her,” states Preston with a verbal shrug.

Celia: “That wasn’t my concern, Madam Preston.”

GM: “There are methods by which to mask the taste of one’s blood. It is not improbable she has tasted the sheriff’s already.”

Celia: “She and I have also already shared blood. That is the issue.”

GM: “You spoke ‘discovers’ in future tense, Miss Kalani. Save memory alteration or killing her, there is little to be done for the past.”

“Her relationship with your sire, however, is poor. All the more so now that both wish to be named the prince’s heir.”

Celia: There’s nothing to do about it except hope that Caroline keeps her mouth shut in the meantime. She doubts the girl has any reason to, given the situation, especially if what Preston says is accurate. And why wouldn’t it be?

Celia can simply die, she supposes. It’ll hurt her mother, but without proof… enough people can connect her to Jade though, which is a risk, but she can disappear for a bit. She plans to leave the city for a while anyway.

It’s not really her neck on the line if Donovan is caught with an illegal childe, is it? She’s not an abandoned fledgling. Not that it would stop them from taking away one of her grandsire’s pawns if they could, coming for her anyway. And Veronica for claiming her. And everyone else who helped cover it up. Guilty by association and all that.

She flattens her lips into a thin line.

Maybe they should just lock her in a basement somewhere to keep her from fucking things up.

“Mr. Durant mentioned that some of the primogen on the Calbido would appreciate your presence there as well,” Jade finally says to her grandsire. “You can see the vote, split as it is. I wasn’t sure if it was something you wanted, or if you’d prefer to just know what they were up to without the seat, and I discovered something that could tip the balance in your favor.”

“That being said… I think there is a greater use for it than a seat on the Calbido.”

“It is no longer a matter of if our prince will abdicate his throne. It is a matter of when. While the issue of his childe causes some concern, I believe that her history these past months has worked against her. She has made enemies of most she should have been able to call friend, and while her blood is potent, while she is physically strong, I do not believe that she would be anything more than a puppet to the seneschal, Cabildo, or anyone else that she allies herself with were she to claim power. The city needs a stronger prince, and I have little doubt that the city’s elders would be leery at best to throwing in for someone so young.”

It’s a rather polite way of saying that Caroline has absolutely no social skills.

“The fledgling aside, the others who stand in your way, with the exception of my sire, are all Invictus: Primogen Poincaré, Prince Guilbeau, and Lord Councilor McGinn. As discussed prior, we have begun the process of pulling Mr. Guilbeau to our side with the takeover of Harrah’s, and progress has begun on that front.” She’s already fucked one of the two people she needs to fuck, she means, and will be meeting with Marcel shortly now that she has his attention.

“I will be honest that I don’t know Regent McGinn as well as you or Madam Preston probably do, so perhaps my calculations are off base… but we have seen his climb to power these past few years, and we all know of the way he wishes to grind his ‘rival,’ Primogen Poincaré, into the dust. Not getting a seat on the Calbido surely rankled him. While it is not the title of prince, perhaps he would content himself with that were we to open the door for him.”

Finally, Celia allows herself a small smile.

“I have discovered interesting information about the current Ventrue primogen that would possibly vex the prince to the point of dismissing him from his position. Were that information to make it into the right ears, well, perhaps it would be enough to make Regent McGinn thankful enough to throw his weight behind you when the time comes.”

“There remains the issue of Primogen Poincaré. Some say that he has turned his sire into no more than a puppet, but I think, perhaps, the opposite may be true. I have no wish to speak ill of them, but… they stand in your way.”

They stand in his way, and she will remove them for him if he needs her to.

“Perhaps you have use for them. If not, I… may have further information that could be essential in dismantling their power base.”

“The first is what you’ve already read on the transcript. Primogen Chastain suggests to throw childer to the Inquisition. Just… like we’re nothing.” Celia finally looks back at him now, hands twisting in her lap. “I… I get it, I guess, get rid of the new to save the old, let at least some of them survive, make them think that they got all the Kindred in the city. You can always create new childer, right? What does it matter if a seven-year-old neonate dies compared to the loss of an elder? All that history. All that power. Life, even unlife, is cheap.”

Would he do that to her? Throw her to the hunters to kill like she’s nothing? She doesn’t want to think that he has it in him, she wants to think that he cares more for her than some random off the street, but what is she to him? His grandchilde. Not even of his blood, just his estranged childe’s blood, and no matter how useful she tries to make herself she doesn’t think she will ever be able to atone for spilling their plans to Donovan shortly after her Embrace or messing up with Roderick. If her own grandmother would have seen her aborted for the good of her child, what’s her life worth against the rest of her kind?

She swallows the thought.

“I don’t think that any of the young ones would agree. And maybe they’re not heavy hitters, but they are numerous. If we could get that word out, tell people how callously she views them all… perhaps it would turn public opinion. Which, admittedly, might not sway who takes the throne. As you pointed out to me before, this is not a democracy. But if the favored childer or pets of elders start disappearing… it might be enough to turn the tide against her, and her childe. For example… Mr. Durant was attacked in his haven by three hunters. He’d be ash, possibly worse, if I hadn’t been there to wake him. If his sire were to think that it was another primogen who sent them after him as the first sacrifice…”

Maybe Coco’s loyalty isn’t something that he needs.

“I mentioned before that she’s stuck. Collared. Not fully, maybe, but he said after the accident of Mr. Kelley she became stuck, and if she had to drink from him to avoid further punishment, and if she had to do it when she arrived because of their clan enmity…”

Celia shrugs. Maybe Coco is a non-factor here, but from what Roderick said Savoy has been courting her for some time to sway her to his side, and she had seen as much last night.

“She might throw in for Malveaux-Devillers regardless, depending on the bond or her desire to assert more independence to Mid-City. Mr. Durant has implied belief that the next prince will not be as strong or heavy-handed and will be unable to crack down on the Anarchs as much as our current prince does, which I believe is also a factor in her holdout.”

Finally, she shakes her head.

“I’ve gotten off topic. There is further yet to be used against Primogen Poincaré and the prince both.”

Celia sits back in her chair, crossing one leg over the other. She doesn’t otherwise fidget, though the words stick in her throat. After a moment she finds her voice.

“I have reason to believe that the prince is feeding on neonates. Specifically the Storyvilles. It was something that came up before Rox—Miss Gerlette died. I think that her lover, Evan, was killed for it. Drained by the prince, perhaps, and his childe covered it up by blaming the scourge. She’s an easy person to lay blame on, and I had thought to do the same with Miss Gerlette’s disappearance. Perhaps Evan was an accident, but when the Storyvilles started looking into it they started vanishing, and the coincidence of Malveaux-Devillers joining up with them and pointing fingers at others is… well, it’s a bad cover up, really, and it’s rather telling that the only one of them still alive is her lover, Miss Jocelyn Baker. I would not be surprised if the story she concocted about Meadows coming after Suarez was but another cover. She’s fast, certainly, and maybe she brought an army of ghouls like the Anarchs claim, but then why hasn’t retribution been taken against her? Why is Meadows content to leave her alone if she thrashed her so thoroughly? I think Malveaux-Devillers sought to curry favor with her sire and has been feeding him, made up the story about taking on Meadows because she was tired of looking like a bottom-feeder, and used it as a convenient excuse for his behavior.”

“Which brings us to Primogen Poincaré.”

“I have Evan’s former ghoul. I questioned her thoroughly about the situation, and she let slip that the Storyvilles were meeting covertly with the prince. She was mind-twisted into forgetting it, but I was able to get through that. It sounded like there was some sharing of blood, at the least.”

“She mentioned that shortly before his disappearance Evan was on edge. Scared, nervous, anxious. And that he met with Primogen Poincaré about it. Felt better when he came back. I think… I think he might have told Primogen Poincaré. I’m supposed to meet with him after Elysium next week to speak about it. I don’t expect he’ll sell out his prince regardless of my relationship to him. But if he did know, and if he didn’t do anything, and if he sat idly by when the prince excused that behavior from Mr. Matheson…”

What’s that saying? Guilty by association? Accessory after the fact? It’s circumstantial, but then when have Kindred politics ever played fair?

It’s enough, she thinks, to sink both of their reputations.

GM: “The Cabildo have wanted Lord Savoy to sit on their body for some time, as well as the Baron,” states Preston. “This is unlikely to come to pass even if they achieve a majority vote. The prince will simply overrule them.”

“But it is telling that it’s come up again, Nat,” Savoy replies consideringly. “So is the size of the vote, for that matter.”

Savoy smiles at Celia’s words concerning Vidal’s childe.

“Oh, she’s definitely something special, my dear. I should like to see what she’ll make of herself in a century or two! But no, she’ll never be prince this early in her Requiem. She’ll either be a figurehead for Maldonato or a bride for Donovan.”

“I find the latter unlikely, sir,” states Preston. “Anarchs might mistake her for the sheriff’s pet, but their poor relationship is not news to us.”

“She has made many enemies and few inroads, as Miss Kalani observes.”

Savoy just grins. “You should know better than anyone else not to underestimate her, Nat. We both know how fatal a mistake that can be.”

“I see very few of those enemies as lasting ones, given the names in her lineage. Except perhaps for Donovan. If she’s Maldonato’s figurehead, after all, he won’t be prince.” He winks at Jade. “Your sire’s the one I’d watch closest, my dear, out of all the claimants.”

“Potential inducements for Regent McgGinn have been considered,” states Preston. “Primogen would likely be an appealing position for him in the new order. What information have you discovered concerning Primogen Hurst, Miss Kalani?”

Savoy smiles at Celia’s talk concerning the primogen. “The last time elders threw their childer to the Inquisition’s pyres, my dear, the results nearly destroyed all of our kind. Feeding a fire only makes it burn larger and hotter.”

“But we are going to keep this to ourselves, concerning what the primogen have been saying. Right now it’d largely amount to rumors and hearsay, even if we came out publicly. That would just make us enemies among the Cabildo and alert them as to Mr. Durant’s leak.” Savoy chuckles. “Before we’ve even managed to make him a ‘real’ leak, at that!”

“Don’t ever forget, the Invictus, Tremere, and Anarchs aren’t the Sanctified. Their leaders only support our prince as long as they consider him the winning horse.”

“Feeding on neonates like Mr. Matheson could certainly well change that.” Savoy smiles. “That would rather neatly explain what become of the Storyvilles. How can we assist you in your meeting with the primogen, my dear?”

“He’s hardly going to blab ‘I know the truth’ to Miss Kalani, sir,” says Preston. “If he knows anything, he’ll just lie and send her on her way. Then send someone to silence her if he thinks she suspects.”

“Don’t underestimate this neonate either, Nat,” winks the French Quarter lord.

Celia: Celia waits while the two discuss her report amongst themselves, quietly absorbing their words. They make solid points considering many things she brought up that she hadn’t considered; she’s glad she waited to speak with them before acting.

Perhaps they should take this item by item.

Unfair, isn’t it, that Caroline can blunder her way through her Requiem and all is forgiven when she is announced as Vidal’s childe, while if Celia were to come forward as Donovan’s they would wonder what such a monster saw in her and ask themselves how thoroughly she takes after her sire. It is all well and good for the sheriff to have the personality of concrete, but his neonate childe is nothing but a chink in that armor and an extension of his severity. Her existence serves only to punish him should that truth get out. Already she can picture the responses of those close to her: immoral, cold-blooded, inflexible. Ruthless.

Isn’t she, though? Isn’t that why she thinks he turned her? Not because she has mastered his level of austerity, but because she will stop at nothing to achieve her goals. She is not some unstoppable force, no, not some battering ram that hits again and again and again and hopes this time her opposition shatters; she is not ice, unyielding with her jagged edges. She is liquid. She overcomes obstacles by rising above or swirling around them. She gives when someone puts their hand inside of her, nestles into the little nooks and crannies of the world around her, carves her niche out over time like the great rivers of the past. She can be as gentle as a trickle or as forceful as a tsunami. Even her form is malleable: she takes the shape of whatever container they put her in, hardens when the atmosphere calls for it, or floats on by as little vapors in the air, unseen.

The waves do not care if you cannot swim when they come for you.

“Fatal?” she asks after their words about Caroline. She looks between the pair, because the idea of a well-connected, powerful, beautiful blonde Ventrue coming after her is some cause for concern. Why wouldn’t she take out her rival’s childe?

GM: “From what Warden Lebeaux has informed us, Miss Kalani,” Preston answers, “had Miss Malveaux wished you ash, she had more convenient opportunity to render you such while you were in the Garden District. Slaying you gains her nothing, in any case. It is more probable, if she ascertains the blood relation between you and the sheriff, that she will seek to use your existence as leverage over him.”

“I can’t see him taking that well,” chuckles Savoy. “He’d then most likely attempt to kill her himself. Discretely.”

“A Prince Maldonato with Miss Malveaux as his figurehead is a greater threat to us than Prince Donovan. If the sheriff succeeded in killing her, so much the better for us!” smiles the French Quarter lord.

“Better still if the prince discovers his deed, too,” states Preston. “It will drive Prince Vidal to a fury like little else, and the seneschal will have no figurehead. The succession would become a truly open question.”

“Hmm,” muses Savoy. “I think there’s much that Miss Malveaux and I have in common, and many things we might do for one another. You know I hate to throw away any potential asset, Nat.”

“But she might not be salvageable, either. It has been some time since she last gave us a call.” The French Quarter lord gives a self-deprecating chuckle. “So we’ll go into this with open eyes, but we’ll give diplomacy a last go. Jade can see Miss Malveaux again to discuss the benefits of a continued association.”

He looks at Celia. “I think she already suspects that I know her real sire. You can play apparently straight with her, my dear, and confirm that I do—I don’t imagine she’s about to report your conversation to the prince. You can tell her that I’d like to discuss the things we can do for one another. Things ranging from her personal future to Richard Gettis to the future of the Sanctified. I’d like you to arrange a direct communications channel between us. Perhaps a meeting with Melissaire at the LaLaurie House or Giani Building—I can speak through her, and I imagine Miss Malveaux will feel safe at either of those locations.”

“And if she doesn’t seem interested in talking, well, I suppose we’ll just have to kill her. There’s several ways we might orchestrate that.” Savoy sounds for all the world like he’s discussing the weather.

Celia: Jade nods her head at the plan. Part of her fears are put to rest. She switches gears to the other thing weighing on her mind while they are on the topic of the Ventrue.

“If Miss Malveaux has already disseminated the fact that I am an illegal Embrace… I’m no longer an unreleased fledgling, so the prince’s rule concerning their treatment doesn’t quite apply to me. But I wouldn’t put it past someone to use it as an excuse to take away one of your subjects.”

Is there such a thing as statute of limitations in Kindred society? For all the friends that she has made, she can’t quite imagine any of them jumping in front of that blade for her.

GM: “There is not,” Preston answers. The punishment of such crimes depends entirely upon the inclinations of the prince and the clout of the illegal childe and their political allies.

Celia: Well.

That answers that question.

She supposes she’ll have to cross that bridge if it’s ever built.

She moves on. Or rather, moves back to a prior topic.

“Primogen Hurst has taken a thin-blood lover that resides within the Quarter.”

Saying it aloud now, she doesn’t know if it will be enough to displace him from his seat. It would be one thing for him to take one of those from Mid-City; his dalliance with someone from her grandsire’s camp, she imagines, is even less favorable.

GM: Preston makes no effort to hide her look of disgust.

“Rather damning,” chuckles Savoy. “Well done, my dear. Tell us more.”

Celia: She gives him the details of the thin-blood: Patricia Strickland, former adjunct professor at Tulane (she taught something with gender studies, Jade had found in her digging, and she relays this as well; she thinks that maybe Strickland and Preston would have gotten along if the former wasn’t a thin-blood).

“She has been around since at least 2011. She lived in Mid-City prior to her relocation to the Quarter. There was a…” Jade pauses, considering her words. “An extermination of the thin-blooded populous in December that year, set up by the two regents of the parish. They ducked out to hide their hand in it and save face.” As they’ve been told to again, according to that transcript.

“Strickland was one of the most vocal of the thin-blooded to attend. She pushed for equal rights. When the group came to kill them, she was one of two survivors. She has since been in the Quarter and has assisted with the transition of many from Mid-City to your territory, citing that Mid-City is unsafe and that you are a better, um, overlord is the word I’ve heard used.”

Jade pulls out her phone, showing them the former professor’s photo on a defunct Tulane faculty page.

“I had hoped we could use it to oust him from his seat.”

“Truthfully I’m not sure why she’d have taken up with him in the first place. Though he was a perfect gentleman to her while I was there.”

GM: Preston gives Jade an extremely flat look.

“Do you think we are idiots and do not know who Strickland is, Miss Kalani? Or what occurred at Cypress Grove Cemetery in 2011?”

Celia: “I… was just being thorough.”

GM: “Vidal is the city’s current prince. Lord Savoy rules the French Quarter. The Camarilla is an organization of vampires, who call themselves Kindred. Vampires drink blood and burn in sunlight. Is that also sufficiently thorough?”

Savoy raises a hand. “Now, now, Nat. There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain in thoroughness. Better we review some details we may already know than risk overlooking even one we may not.”

Jade’s phone silently vibrates in her purse.

Celia: “I don’t have anything further to add about Strickland.” She doesn’t know what else they’re looking for.

She ignores the phone; she’ll get back to them later.

GM: “Where and how did you discover this information, Miss Kalani?” Preston asks.

Celia: Oh. That. Why hadn’t they just asked to begin with?

She tells them: at his haven using an alternate identity that can pass as mortal.

GM: “Do you have photographs, audio recordings, or other inculpatory evidence, Miss Kalani?” Preston asks.

Celia: “Yes, Madam Preston.”

The phone makes another appearance. She pulls up the relevant files.

GM: Savoy smiles. “Cleverly done, my dear. The two of you can schedule an audience with Regent McGinn to discuss how best to release these pictures. We’ll do so publicly once he understands he owes his Cabildo seat to our support.”

“If he doesn’t find that arrangement palatable, there are other interested parties who likely will.”

Celia: Jade gives another nod and says she will make herself available as needed. She asks Preston if, considering their shared Invictus ties and her greater standing in general, she would prefer to be the one to reach out, or if Jade should take care of it.

GM: The Malkavian answers that she will do so, so as to secure a sooner audience.

Celia: That settled, Jade moves on to their final “targets,” Primogen Poincaré and his sire.

“I believe Madam Preston’s earlier assessment is correct in regards to how he would handle the situation. The meeting is already scheduled, but if you would prefer that I not make contact about it there are other avenues to pursue. We could handle them another way.”

GM: “How would you play things, my dear?” Savoy asks.

Celia: “I don’t know,” Jade admits at length. “I don’t think they should be allowed to freely stand in your way, but I agree that leaking the transcript with Primogen Chastain will lose us more than it gains. I haven’t had much contact with her. With him… he still has concern for his childe, estranged though she may be, and thinks well enough of me to send the archon my way for assistance with a surgical matter. Perhaps there is a way to use her for an in? His feud with Regent McGinn could be utilized, but if we’re promising him a seat on the Cabildo…” Play them both? She’s not sure that she has anything her pretend grandsire wants. Just the thing with Cloe, but even that she can’t do on her own. His hands, maybe. She’s long thought about fixing his hands. But she’s not a bone surgeon, she doesn’t know that she can right it. Unless he lets her remove everything, pull the phalanges from a cadaver. Then it’s not bone work itself, but flesh work around the bone, and that might work if he’s amenable to not having his own fingers…

Would he trade favors for the use of his hands again? She would.

Cartilage, maybe. Harden it. Use it as a stand-in.

Meet with him anyway and suss out the truth of the matter with the Storyvilles, find out if he knew. What’s the worst that happens, he gets suspicious and rips his way into her mind and she ends up lobotomized?

GM: “Use of his hands is a small thing to trade for information that could remove Prince Vidal’s legitimacy,” Savoy muses. “If this information is true, I suspect Poincaré is already considering how to use it to advance his position.”

Celia: That definitely answers that question.

GM: He chuckles. “I don’t see our prince responding especially well to direct threats.”

“However, whether it’s true or not matters less than whether there’s proof.”

“Talking to the primogen, by itself, wouldn’t get us that. We’d be no worse off than if we just started a rumor, without Jade ever talking to him.”

“We might even be better off, since her doing so is a potential danger.”

“Merely starting a rumor accomplishes little by itself, sir,” states Preston. “It must have apparent basis in fact for it to spread and take hold in minds.”

“You’re not wrong, Nat.” He looks back to Jade. “I’d continue to look into what’s become of the Storyvilles. The prince feeding on them would be a delicious scandal after Mr. Matheson. But I don’t know how fruitful an avenue the primogen is likely to be.”

Celia: She has further avenues to explore. The Baron’s girl. The fortune teller. It doesn’t solve the problem of the primogen standing in his way, but she’s not sure there’s anything she can do about that right now. She’ll keep looking into both.

She says as much.

It feels like less of an overall victory; she had hoped to take out all three of them for him.

GM: Savoy expresses his approval and says she has but to ask if there are any resources she desires to aid in her search.

“You originally scheduled this meeting, sir, to discuss Mr. Durant,” Preston states.

“Ah yes, so we did,” Savoy smiles. “Where did we leave off?”

Celia: “His plans to move his sister.” She shares her final thoughts on that, but that’s the last she has on Roderick directly after spilling her guts about him earlier. She had told him everything she could think of.

“The idea of serving you doesn’t appeal to him. His sire and the rest of the Cabildo has poisoned his mind against it. I thought maybe I could pull him away from his sire, but he’s twice-bonded. Short of overriding that with my own—” which has all sorts of potential complications but is something she’ll do if she needs to “—I had some thoughts on other ways to sever it. Tying his sire to the Mafia somehow, though that would need to happen independently of our relationship as I don’t think he’d trust that if it came from me or anyone on your side. He was pretty angry when we discussed that rumor about her also siring Mr. Carolla.” She’ll find out the truth of that when they get together, but if it is just a rumor then she needs a backup plan. Maybe one of them has an idea.

“He doesn’t want to betray her. She has been a good sire to him. But if he thought that she betrayed him first, or even if her entire purpose in Embracing him had been a ruse…” Jade trails off, leaving it open for discussion.

It feels too much like asking for help when she’d been the one to knock the plan astray. So much for riding the high over the Hurst thing; she’d imagined this meeting going very differently. Shame, hot and heavy, makes her drop her gaze.

“There’s also the matter of Miss Garrison herself,” she tells the table. “She doesn’t recall who Embraced her. Perhaps if we could offer Mr. Durant a name it might give him somewhere to focus his aggression regarding her state, and he might be grateful to us for turning them over to him.” Not that she expects a real name, just a likely patsy. She thinks both Savoy and Preston realize the implication, though. And if they did happen to have a hand in Dani’s Embrace she doesn’t want to know.

There’s more, but she waits a beat.

GM: “That’s a promising idea with his sire, my dear,” Savoy smiles. “Very promising. Wouldn’t you agree, Nat?”

“As long as he’s as loyal to his sire as Miss Kalani describes, sir, any intelligence from him is suspect,” Preston replies.

“That’s very true. All right, Jade. I want you to arrange a meeting between Mr. Durant and me,” says Savoy.

“Tell him that’s how he’s repaying his boon to me. He’s coming here to the Evergreen so the four of us can talk in privacy.”

“If he wants to enter in disguise, that’s fine with me. He doesn’t have to tell the world that he’s stopping by. I doubt he particularly does. So long as he’s sitting next to where you are now, I’ll consider the boon fulfilled.”

Preston looks through her tablet. “You have a Wednesday opening at 3 AM, sir, to meet with Mr. Durant.”

“Hmm,” answers Savoy. “When are you going to reunite him with his sister, my dear?” he asks Jade.

Celia: “I had planned on tomorrow evening.” She tells them briefly of her dinner plans. Her mother lives further into the Quarter than she thinks he will risk attempting a breakout from, and she doesn’t think that he’ll endanger the Masquerade to force Dani out in front of her mother or sister. She had also planned on applying some “special effects makeup” (they both know what she means, but Roderick doesn’t) to disguise him. At this point, Dani doesn’t know that her brother is still around.

“I’d thought that if she did she would demand to see him immediately, and I wanted to make sure I had her loyalty first. If any of what I’ve just said is unacceptable to you I will cancel tomorrow. Mr. Durant is unaware of the plans; I didn’t want to give him enough time to make his own.”

GM: “Prudent,” says Preston.

Celia: “I suspect he’ll want to speak with her privately as well. I had planned to use my public haven. Or the krewe’s.” Both are situated well into the Quarter, and Dani is staying at neither.

GM: “The location is immaterial,” says Preston.

“It’s best if we see Mr. Durant soon after he sees his father,” says Savoy. “When are the next openings in my schedule, Nat?”

“Monday at 11 PM is the soonest, sir,” answers the Malkavian.

Celia: “I can reschedule the dinner to Monday, if you’d prefer.”

GM: “Sunday still works splendidly, my dear. Just introduce him to his sister too before he stops by the Evergreen.”

“There is also the matter of Mr. Durant’s plan to abscond with the thin-blood, sir,” says Preston.

Celia: She had planned to introduce them after the dinner, when they’d have a moment to actually speak to each other privately. She could put it off until Monday, and Dani shouldn’t know it’s him if things go to plan. Which she can’t count on. And he’ll want to know why he can’t talk to her immediately. Then exchange numbers, she’ll want to know why she can’t go with him immediately or stay with them. Track her phone. Steal the phone? Guards. All she has to do is keep Dani safe until Monday evening, which is tomorrow and Monday during the day. Rotating guards. Maybe see if she can borrow Tantal, cash in the favor if Lebeaux doesn’t need him. The shadow dancer?

No, maybe not.

Tell Dani to call off school and work for the day to keep her out of Riverbend and Mid-City.

Stake her in a basement somewhere, no one will find her then.

Stake him in a basement somewhere.

He’ll know she spilled the plan. So much for trust.

Then again, if they just can’t find Dani, that doesn’t really come back on Jade.

GM: “So there is. What advantages do you see to introducing them on either day?” Savoy asks Jade.

Celia: “Sunday: he’ll expect it after dinner since one of them flows well into the other, he’ll trust me or at least that I’m doing right by his sister, she will likely be less angry at me when she discovers that I’ve kept her from her brother. It’s essentially just their opinion on me, sir. He’ll see me as on his side. Better for the longer game.”

Is Coco telling him the same thing, to get in good with Jade so he can manipulate her, too?

“Monday will cause tension, but gives him less opportunity to sway her to his side. It will allow me to warn her he’s around. Meeting her will be fresh in his mind when he meets you. I can show her what unlife is like for thin-bloods in other cities or even other parts of the city. And him. Show him the Square once the tourists are gone, maybe, or the rest of the unappealing parts of the Quarter. More time to get things in order, less chance he makes contact to abduct her. Better for the short game. Unless he sees me not letting him meet her privately as a, um, breach of trust and then doubles down on his plan without telling me about it.”

Then there’s no game.

“My concern in letting them meet on Sunday is that he’ll have more time to get to her and pull her away. She’s rather taken with me, but he’s family.” Sunday makes more sense from a flow perspective, but Monday is objectively better otherwise.

She’s also concerned about him putting his fists through her face again, then dragging her to Coco to wake up, and that’s… a problem.

Celia: Speaking of Coco…

“There’s also one other thing that occurrs to me regarding Mr. Durant and his sire. He mentioned that they have gotten into it a few times. Most recently he screamed at her following last night’s Elysium, but he has mentioned it happening a few times.” She can’t imagine screaming at her grandsire regardless of how vastly their opinions differ. “I don’t know if he’s the type to be able to quietly continue serving her if he thinks she violated his principles. Which makes him less useful to you if he’s on the outs with her and no longer the scribe.”

Which undoubtedly already occurred to both of them.

GM: “Tell you what, my dear. I trust your judgment. Introduce brother and sister to each other on whichever day you see fit,” smiles Savoy. “Just let us know where Dani is staying, so we can have someone keep an eye on her during the day.”

“If you can find out the shadow dancer’s name, all the better. Pass it along to Fabian and we’ll take care of them.”

Celia: “Yes, sir. I’ll find out.”

She passes along the address where Dani is staying and says she’ll let them know if it changes.

GM: “Very good,” says Savoy. “We’re going to acquire a vitae sample from Mr. Carolla for Warden Lebeaux. That’ll be someone else’s mission than yours. If you can acquire a vitae sample from Mr. Durant, that’ll let us find out whether there’s any truth to the rumor of them being broodmates. We’ll proceed based on what we find.”

Celia: Does that mean she doesn’t need to go on a date with him?

“Yes, sir. I’ll get one. I have one from his sister. If you want it to find out who did this to her.” If they don’t already know.

GM: “Her sire is irrelevant for our purposes,” states Preston.

“Doesn’t hurt us to have, though,” answers Savoy. “You can turn both of those over to Mélissaire or Fabian once you have them. Before our Monday meeting would be best.”

Celia: “Yes, Madam Preston. I assumed as much. I just wanted to cover my bases. It will be done as you say, sir.”

There’s a brief pause.

“Her usefulness to us is only as leverage over her brother. She’s pretty adamant about finishing school. She goes to Tulane and clerks in Mid-City. If she’s picked up in either area we lose our leverage. I thought that if I could secure her safe passage into Riverbend her brother would have less to complain about. Or rather, it would put him further into our pocket. I don’t think she should be allowed into Mid-City at all. Chance of being picked up is too high if they’re looking for her there.”

Another pause. Nothing to lose in asking, even if she doesn’t think he’ll go out of his way for a thin-blood.

“I was wondering if there was any way to put her in at the Supreme Court instead. I was planning on marking her to make her smell human, so no one would know. The shadow dancing trick.”

GM: “The thin-blood’s job occupation is hardly meaningful to us. Have her give haircuts at your salon if you wish her to be gainfully employed,” Preston answers disdainfully.

Celia: Right.

“Okay.”

“Except that every trip outside the Quarter is going to be a risk she’s picked up by someone else. So while she doesn’t matter, if we don’t have her then we don’t have him.”

GM: “We can also secure her employment as a waitress. Or perhaps a strip club,” the Malkavian continues, faintly sneering. “Or a janitor, if she would prefer slower-paced work. That seems like a good idea, Miss Kalani. She might as well earn her keep if she’s staying with you.”

Celia: Jade purses her lips.

“I’m aware that you look down on her kind. Until her brother is securely in our pocket I had wanted to at least pretend to care. I already can’t adequately explain why everyone hates her, or why she can’t come to the cool kids parties, or why she’s suddenly a second class citizen. She’s a female version of her brother; she hardly sits idly by while something she perceives as injustice is thrown in her face. It would be the same if you were barred from something on account of formerly being female.”

“I’m not asking to parade her around as a pet. I’m asking to give her a reason to not run into his arms the moment he shows.”

“And I’m not interested in stepping on your toes to do so,” she says to Savoy. “So if it’s no then it’s no.”

GM: Savoy chuckles. “I’m inclined to agree with you, my dear. That sort of work is only likely to make Mr. Garrison and his sister both resentful.”

“There’s an immigration court here in the Quarter. We’ll get her a place there.”

Celia: “Thank you.”

GM: “Courts conduct their business during the day, sir. The entire point may be moot,” says Preston.

Celia: “She doesn’t burn.”

GM: “Abominations,” says Preston, shaking her head.

Savoy smiles vaguely. “I suppose that addresses that.”

Celia: “I don’t understand,” Jade finally says. “What’s the prophecy about them? Why are they supposed to doom us all?”

GM: “Oh, that’s really just old superstitions,” answers Savoy. “But they do provide some extra oomph to the secular reasons, don’t they, Nat?”

“Yes, sir. Thin-bloods reproduce at an extraordinary rate. Almost every one of them is a violation of the Third and Fourth Traditions, and many of them wind up violating the First and Second, down the line. They represent a breakdown in the Camarilla’s civil order. A mass breakdown.”

Celia: She’s curious about that, whether they reproduce so much because no one bothered to explain the rules to them or if it’s something worse. Like a contagion. Maybe they can’t help it, it just spreads. And Dani can’t even use powers half the time, not unless she has vitae in her system it seems like.

“Primogen Chastain seems convinced they’re going to be the cause of our destruction. Even Mr. Durant’s sire wouldn’t tell him about it.”

Must be bad, secular reasons aside.

GM: Preston shrugs. “The chances of Mr. Garrison’s sister being apprehended in Riverbend during the day are minimal. But the risk is not nonexistent, and there is no gain to us in a thin-blood’s continued school attendance.”

Celia: Jade lets the topic drop. If they don’t think it’s a concern then she won’t let it bother her.

“I had planned to mark her. With the shadow dancing mark, to hide what she is.”

GM: “Then the risk is close to nonexistent, but there is still no gain,” states the Malkavian.

Celia: “It just comes back to us presenting a friendly front to both of them until we get what we want. And if it looks like I pulled strings there then he’ll feel indebted to me.”

Durant, she means.

GM: “I’m inclined to agree,” says Savoy. “Mr. Durant would understand the reasons for his sister not to attend law school, but I doubt he’d be happy, and his sister even less. That just makes us the villains to tell them ‘no.’ I think the risk posed by Miss Garrison’s continued attendance is acceptably low, especially if Jade marks her.”

“A thin-blood with a law degree. What a milestone for Kindred civil rights,” Preston sneers. “Perhaps they will hand them out to monkeys next.”

Celia: “Did they say similar to you when you went to school? The first of many who were born female to take that path. Why is this any different?”

GM: “How forward-thinking of you, Miss Kalani,” replies Preston, her lip curling.

Celia: “She’ll be an expendable pawn. A law degree only makes her more useful before she’s inevitably destroyed.”

GM: “Respected professions have standards to maintain, Miss Kalani, even if your own profession lacks both qualities.”

It’s there on her face. The same look as when Roderick asked if she wanted to paint the scourge’s nails.

Celia: “I have a medical degree,” Jade snaps at her. “Just because I let my clan think I paint faces all day doesn’t mean I don’t have any skills. It’s an easy, passive source of income while I pursue other interests.”

GM: “An online degree if I am not mistaken, Miss Kalani?”

“Enough, Nat,” says Savoy.

The Malkavian says nothing further.

Jade’s grandsire degree smiles at her. “I lack any degree, my dear. So does the prince. It’s easy enough for younger Kindred to get attached to credentials and lose sight of the bigger picture.”

Celia: There’s no other option than an online degree when you’re murdered at 19.

She doesn’t bother thinking it, even knowing that they’re in her head. She just nods her head at her grandsire’s words. No one calls him stupid, she bets.

GM: “If Miss Garrison wants to earn a degree, there’s little harm in it. If she wants to work a legal job without one, credentials are easy enough to forge.” The French Quarter lord chuckles. “What are scraps of paper to one with power to defy life and death? We can take pride in our achievements among kine society if we choose to. But we must never forget that such achievements are as water in a world ruled by blood.”

“‘We are given dominion over the line of Seth, third son of Adam, as he is our youngest brother. We will watch over his children as if they were our own, we will show them the right way, and in return, they will serve us all of their days.’”

Celia: “Yes, grandsire.” Jade bows her head in deference. “As you say.”

GM: “We’ll re-acquaint you with Miss Melton after you’ve brought Mr. Durant to the Evergreen. Would you say that seems fair, for us to make new friends at the same time as one another?” Savoy smiles.

Celia: It feels like punishment.

Deserved, maybe, but punishment all the same.

“Yes, sir.”

GM: Savoy rests a hand on her shoulder.

“I have every confidence in you, my dear. I’ll wish you good luck over these next few nights, but we’ll see how much you even need it!”

Celia: As long as she keeps her mouth shut everything should go fine.

“Thank you.” Her eyes find the table for a moment before she rises, dipping into a curtsy. She doesn’t want to know what happened when they’d put her under earlier. What sort of disparaging remarks had been made about her, how disappointed he had been. There will be no lap for her this evening.

“While I’m here, I found something else that might be of passing interest to you concerning your rival’s mayoral candidate. Drouillard gave the order for Gettis to be put down following the shooting rather than subject his victims to a public trial. It might throw a wrench into his plans if it gets out.”

“The shooter, Jeremy May, has been holed up with the Devillers in the Garden District as private security since his dismissal from the force.”

GM: “Oh, now that’s rather useful for us to know,” smiles Savoy.

He pats his lap.

Celia: She shouldn’t want it as much as she does. But the offer means she did something right, doesn’t it? Even if it’s trivial. Even if it doesn’t mean anything to him, even if it’s a silly gesture. It moves her. She takes a step forward, then another, and soon she’s sliding onto his lap as if it’s the most perfect place in the world. Like this is exactly where she belongs. He’s not large, but she can make herself even smaller; she tucks and curls and fits herself snugly against him, her face hidden in the hollow of his neck. How easy it would be to just… bite. To forcibly take another collar, and then a third, and then there’s no more fuckups, no more questions of loyalty, no more risk that someone else will try to force it on her.

The thought is fleeting.

“Grandsire?” She turns the word into a question, her breath a whisper on his skin.

“I… I wanted to say that I’m sorry for deviating from your plan. I thought there was a flaw in it that I could fix, but that was arrogant of me. Of course there wasn’t. You’ve had centuries to learn and I…” She swallows. “Regardless of my history with him I should have trusted that you had accounted for it. I’m sorry I made it messy and risked everything.”

“It won’t happen again, sir.”

GM: Savoy rubs his hand up and down Jade’s backside. He isn’t a large man. But she can make herself smaller, and his lap is very comfortable. He smells very nice (he’d asked Jade for cologne recommendations, once, as “the beauty professional in our midst”), and his touch is soft and lingering. A hug with one hand.

“I know it won’t, my dear. I can tell how much you want our mission to succeed. So I’m trusting it to you. It’ll be quite a win for us both, if we can get Mr. Durant to come over.”

“But I want you to look for flaws in my plans, too. I want you to tell me every possible flaw you see. I want to hear your ideas. Two minds are smarter than one.”

“It’s very common for the other clans to think our heads are empty because our faces are comely. Sometimes, we hear it often enough that we start to believe it.”

Celia: She blinks back something that might be emotion, snuffing it out like a candle before the wick can do so much as catch. She just wants to prove that she’s not broken, that Paul wasn’t right, that the Nosferatu aren’t right, that she has more value than what she can do on her knees or her back. Even Roderick had—

Celia—not Jade, not right now—closes her eyes against the thoughts because she doesn’t want to think them and she certainly doesn’t want him to hear them. She’ll do better.

She has to.


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Story Twelve, Ayame III

“I’ll figure something out.”
Roderick Durant


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: Ayame’s phone gives a ring. The caller ID is Roderick.

Ayame: She answers on the fourth ring.

“Hello, Roderick.”

GM: “Hi, Ayame. I was calling to ask about your friends. Some things have come up on my end.”

Ayame: “Oh?”

GM: “Sooner would be better than later now, if they can swing it.”

Ayame: “I see. Is everything okay?”

GM: “For now, yes. But you know how these things can get.”

He clearly doesn’t want to go into specifics over the phone.

“If extra payment can move up their schedules, that can be arranged.”

Ayame: “I will reach out. If you are free this evening I can make time to meet with you to discuss.”

GM: “All right. What time?”

Ayame: Ayame glances at the time on her phone.

“An hour?”

GM: “Okay. Same place as last time?”

Ayame: “That will suffice.”

GM: “All right. See you then.”

Ayame: “See you then.”

Ayame hangs up.


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

Ayame: An hour later Ayame arrives at Cypress Grove.

She hates this place. She reminds herself how much she hates it as she strolls through the gates in black combat boots, their waterproofed leather exterior keeping the worst of the mud at bay from the dark jeans tucked inside. Gravel crunches beneath her feet with every step that she takes through the grounds, otherwise silent save for the footfalls that herald her approach.

She hates this place. She reminds herself how much she hates it when she shoves her gloved fingers into the pockets of her over-sized black hoodie, its cowl drawn up to turn her into just another shadow-clad wraith in the night.

She hates this place. He could have chosen any other, but he chose here. He’d done it last time as well. Hundreds of other places to meet in the city, but he chose here. A message? A game? To remind her? To prove what’s at stake?

As if she does not know.

Every time they have a rant here she wants to ask why they can’t find another place. Why they have to be here, where everyone died, and she wonders if she’s the only one who still gives a fuck. And with just the two of them they don’t need nearly this much space. They can talk anywhere. She can only assume he doesn’t trust her enough to take her somewhere more personal. Or that he has eyes in the fog, watching to make sure she… what? Doesn’t betray him? As if she’d want to take on a Brujah.

She searches for him among the headstones.

GM: It’s Ayame’s guess why they still do. There were a few other calls not to meet here anymore, from similarly uncomfortable licks, but not much seemed to come of them. Rants have remained a regular thing as Cypress Grove for years.

In the end, most Anarchs just tried to forget.

She finds Roderick there, dressed in an overcoat and carrying an umbrella against the steadily falling rain. It’s cold and wet, but that doesn’t matter to either of them.

“Thanks for making it on short notice.”

Ayame: Hadn’t he said the last time? It seems to be a recurring theme.

Ayame inclines her head.

“Your call implied it was urgent.”

She had said that last time, too.

GM: “I think the duskborn I want to get out has been found out.”

“So, it’s that simple. If you can arrange passage out of the city by tomorrow night, I’ll owe you a boon for the rush order.”

Ayame: A grimace passes over her face at the news that his duskborn friend has been found out. There’s pity in her eyes, followed by something a little more… devastated at his request. She glances away.

“Houston has not come to fruition.”

Ayame: “The situation there is…” she trails off, her eyes finding his once again. “It is not good, Roderick. The few I know who could take your friend will not. They do not want more mouths to feed and do not have the blood to spare for half-breeds.” Bitterness colors her voice; she sounds as if she is quoting someone directly.

“Are you positive that your duskborn has been found out?”

GM: Roderick receives that news with a stony expression from under his umbrella.

“Upwards of 90%.”

“Houston is huge! They can’t be out of juice to go around.”

“You’d be hearing about Masquerade breaches and territorial fights between licks if that was the real problem.”

Ayame: “No, I would assume not. But their attitudes there are no less than ours here.”

GM: “I guess some Anarchs will always be more equal than other Anarchs.”

Ayame: “I am sorry.” Ayame bows her head. “I am sorry that I could not come through for you.”

GM: “Maybe you still can. Can you arrange simple passage to the city?”

Ayame: “Drop a duskborn in their midst without anyone to watch their back?” Skepticism colors her voice.

GM: “I’d still be going with you. I’ll do that at first.”

“I might have to stay in the city a little longer, but, fine, it’s that or someone’s life.”

“Half-life. Whatever it is with them.”

Ayame: Ayame shakes her head. Her hair spills in front of her face, hiding her shame that she cannot even do that much. Without a contact in Houston to meet them… they’ll be targeted by anyone watching the border, staked or slain before they ever set foot in the city proper.

GM: “Can’t, or won’t?” Roderick asks. He sounds like he’s trying to keep the sharpness out of his voice.

Ayame: Her head lifts, eyes flashing.

“Do not,” she snaps at him, “insinuate that I would willingly keep someone here who wishes to flee. If it were as simple as that it would be done. There are countless factors at play that—”

She cuts herself off.

She sees why they call him elder’s pet now, if this is how he acts upon hearing bad news.

GM: His grip tightens around his umbrella. “Excuse me for making sure. If it was won’t, then—”

“Never mind. It’s can’t.”

Ayame: Ayame is silent for a long moment.

“I know that it is not what you want to hear,” she finally says. “And I am sorry that I could not provide for you. But there is… for licks in Houston, it can seem nice. For someone like you or me. But those who are less-than are treated as less-than.”

She looks down at her hands, covered by their leather gloves.

“It can be a nightmare to be a less-than.” Her fingers curl into fists. A spasm of something like pain crosses her face. “I was a renfield for some time there. The duskborn are considered less than even them. It is not an experience I would wish on anyone.”

She holds up a hand to him to forestall a response.

Her gaze lowers to her gloved hands. It is no easy thing for her to do, and she takes a moment to steady herself before she pulls at the wrap around her wrist that holds them in place. Another grimace of pain crosses her features, though whether it’s physical pain, shame, or the sight of what greets her is anyone’s guess. She pulls her glove off.

Ayame offers her hand for his perusal.

It is a nightmare. A field of angry red scars have cut deep into her flesh. One part looks as if it goes beyond all the layers of her skin. Scar tissue has built into waves of uneven lines across her palm, fingers, and the back of her hands. Her movements, without the gloves to conceal them, are stiff. The burns and scars go all the way to her wrist, with swollen knuckles and loose, ragged edges that constantly catches on any surface that isn’t 100% smooth. It is easy to imagine her tearing skin off again and again as the nights pass, leaving her wounds open. They look waxen, half melted, shiny in their hairlessness.

“This,” she says quietly, “is what happens in Houston when you are less-than.”

GM: Roderick stares at the hand. His eyes don’t widen so much as flare. There’s surprise, yes, and horror, but there’s anger too.

“Jesus Christ,” he mutters.

He looks back up at Ayame after a moment.

“There are night doctors,” he says. “I know one. Being an Anarch has some privileges. They could fix your hand.”

Ayame: She doesn’t quite flush—she’s dead, her body doesn’t do that—but something in her eyes shutters at his reaction. It flattens a moment later, face once more becoming nothing more than the austere marble it so often resembles.

“Who?” she asks, as if to distract him from the way she fumbles with the leather to tuck her hand back away.

GM: “Dr. E,” he says. Many night doctors, Ayame knows, adopt pseudonyms and only sell their services while masked.

Ayame: The “name” means little to her.

GM: “I don’t know if they’re a man or a woman, but they do good work.”

Ayame: “Where would I find them?” At last the glove goes back on. She yanks it into place; a piece of skin flakes off at the rough treatment, aging years in the blink of an eye as it falls to the ground. She keeps her eyes on her hands as she re-wraps the strap around her wrist to avoid whatever expression crosses his face. Only when she has secured the glove once more does she look up.

GM: “Graffiti. Paint your tag somewhere public with two snakes twisting around it, like the Caduceus symbol. They’ll come by your territory once they see.”

Ayame: Ayame gives that a nod and tucks it away for the future. She would like to have her hands back.

“I see someone for it now, but… the going is slow. We had to rebuild much of the nerve endings. I could not feel before. When it happened…” Her mouth turns down at the corners. “The nerves died. Prolonged exposure. You know what it is like to receive a burn and then you get it warm on accident? Like in the shower, with hot water? It was all I felt. All over my hands.”

Agony. Every time she touched something it was hell all over again, like she’d just stuck her hand back into that fire.

GM: “That’s horrific. I can understand why you choose not to take ghouls.”

“I don’t need to say that it’s an incredibly easy relationship to abuse.”

“I hope your domitor faced some measure of justice.”

Ayame: “For this?” She can’t help but laugh. It’s a cold sound, though its mockery is not directed at him; rather just the idea that a lick would be punished for how they treat their ghouls.

GM: Roderick doesn’t look surprised. Though he does look faintly angry.

“I tried to get that to extend here, you know. Before you came to the city. I tried to pass a law that would’ve made abuse of ghouls in Mid-City a punishable crime, and required they be surrendered to new domitors.”

“Obviously imperfect, but still better than the total lack of protection they have now.”

Ayame: “Noble, though I can see why they would not. No doubt they think it better to put them down than hand them off and let someone else ransack their minds for information.”

GM: “That was one of the arguments. I argued those fears were overblown. There are plenty Anarchs who don’t know how to do that, and the lesser forms of mind-reading can only find out so much.”

“The law actually got some supporters. Just not enough.”

Ayame: “Perhaps, in time, you pitch it again.”

GM: “Maybe you’d be interested in pitching it with me. It’s a different Anarch population now than it was in 2010.”

Ayame: “I would stand beside you in that, though given my lack of slaves some might say I have nothing to lose to add my voice.”

GM: “They’d also be right, but that’s immaterial next to the experiences you could tell them about.”

“I think your voice would add a lot to the debate.”

Ayame: “Consider it done.”

GM: “I’ll be in touch.” He gives a wan smile.

Ayame: “What are you going to do? With your duskborn?”

GM: Roderick’s face has as much cheer as the rain-spattered tombstones.

“I’ll figure something out.”

Ayame: Ayame nods her head at his statement and wishes him luck, a final apology for her inability to assist the last sentiment she utters before turning to leave. The night swallows her as the rain pours from above; the heavens convey her distress this evening. She has nothing else to offer him.


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Story Twelve, Celia XXIII

“You are a woman."
Josua Cambridge


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Celia: Jackson Square covers a decent amount of land. Jade has been here before many times, both with her Jade face and her Celia face, and with other faces besides. Ordinarily she’s content to people watch, to listen in on snippets of conversation and enjoy a leisurely stroll through the square.

Tonight, though, tonight she hunts. Not for blood. No, not that. Not for her next meal. But for information. For the Ravnos fortune teller that haunts these parts, another piece of the puzzle that she gets to put together.

She keeps her gait slow, just another tourist on a stroll, her eyes peeled for the lick known as Yellow Sidra.

GM: Jackson Square is relatively safe until 10 or 11 PM (or at least, the police presence tries to make it feel safe), and it’s past that hour now. The ghost tours are over and even the crowds of visitors that gather around the back fence of St. Anthony’s Garden to take pictures of the giant shadow cast by the “Touchdown Jesus” statue are all gone. The square’s iron gate is closed and locked so that homeless people don’t sleep inside. Instead they sleep outside, with all of their dogs. Or they don’t sleep. They piss, shit, vomit, fuck, and shoot up. Jade is immediately accosted by several disheveled and foul-smelling men who get extremely close to her face as they scream for money. A few others just lick their lips, eyeing her like she’s a piece of meat as their fellows surround her. One wrinkled-faced man pulls down his pants and starts furiously masturbating in front of her.

Celia: Charming.

This is why she pays the boys, though, for nights like tonight when she has to put in an appearance in an otherwise unsavory part of the Quarter. They’ll need to have a chat about meeting her at her car rather than in the middle of… this. Screaming, dirty, masturbatory kine. The kind of juice bags she’d maybe feed on as a last resort. And this is what Dani has to look forward to if Roderick succeeds in sending her to Houston, without even the gifts of a clan to back her up.

Or a renfield. Two of them, actually, just beyond the men that gather around the not-so-helpless not-woman in their midst. What a sight for sore eyes.

She can help, at least. Can call on her deity-of-choice-given abilities to pull her out of this before things get ugly. Uglier, anyway. She’s pretty sure that guy in front of her won’t win any pageants anytime soon. She sends it out from her in a cresting wave, the impression that she isn’t some doe-eyed bambi that needs rescued. Celia, maybe. But Jade? Oh no. Jade is the heinous bitch with claws and fangs and a smile that’ll persist while she shreds right through a body with a quick swipe of those nails.

GM: The brothers yell and shove and get aggressive, like primates in a dominance contest. Somehow that feels like all this amounts to. The panhandlers grouse and spit obscenities, decreasing in volume as Jade’s presence washes over them, as they back off.

“Fucking homeless…” swears Randy.

Celia: It’s a contest they win, though, and handily.

That’s why she pays them the big bucks.

Well, one of many reasons.

She’s happy to see them in any case, despite the fact that they made her wait longer than normal, and she moves into the circle of their protection quickly enough. And isn’t that a thought, a vampire being protected by a pair of ghouls. Maybe if somebody stopped throwing her around to fuck and focused on the fighting she wouldn’t get jumpy about being surrounded by a bunch of kine. What had he said to her? “You’re a badass vampire now.”

Right.

She’s got a pair of badasses with her now, anyway.

GM: A thin, dirty figure makes their way up to Jade, or at least as close as the brothers let them. They’re small and slight, dressed in an oversized dirty hoodie with a raggedy-edged blanket wrapped around their frail shoulders. Their facial structure looks male, but they have breasts and long hair, matted and unkempt. Their dark skin is worn and splotchy, dotted with acne scarring. Jade thinks they’re a ghoul at first, from the smell, but when they lick their lip Jade sees a chipped fang.

Just one fang.

“Hey, hey lady, lady lick, what you doin’ here…?”

Celia: She’s glad Dani avoided that fate, at least. One fang. How to they manage? She imagines it’s like drinking through a pinched straw. Or maybe they bite twice.

Curiosity overpowers her disgust. She doesn’t recognize this one. She puts a hand on Randy’s arm to prevent him from doing anything like shoving it away, letting the ragged half-breed through. Close enough to smell the stink of its body rather than its blood. Close enough to see that chipped fang. She smiles politely all the same, just like she would for a real vampire.

Maybe she’ll bring Roderick down here so he can get a glimpse of what fate awaits Dani if he sends her out of the city to a place where she doesn’t have friendly backers willing to share their very lush domain with the best feeding in the city.

“Evenin’,” Jade says back to it, gesturing it forward. Boy or girl? She can’t tell. Neither, technically. “I’m looking for someone who hangs out around here. Think you can point me in the right direction?”

GM: Randy and Reggie both regard the thin-blood warily. Or at least disgustedly. They remain protectively close to Jade. Close enough to block their arms between her and the sorry creature.

The thin-blood nods up and down.

“Oh, you bet, lady, they here, I know… who you lookin’ for?”

Celia: Lucky boys to get such a good-looking, true-blooded domitor, aren’t they?

“The fortune teller,” she tells the thin-blood.

GM: "There lotta fortune tellers, lady, lotta fortune tellers… " says the thin-blood. “But you mean that one… yeah… I know… I know… need some green, first… help me rem’ber…”

A thin, scabbed-over hand materializes from the hoodie.

Celia: Jade slides a bill into the outstretched hand. Where it came from is anyone’s guess; she’s not so silly as to carry a purse or wallet with her this late at night.

GM: Reggie removes the bill from Celia’s hand and drops it to the ground. The thin-blood bends to pick it up, seemingly unconcerned.

Celia: Rude.

GM: “Oh, that good… that good… yeah, my mem’ry’s comin’ back…” nods the thin-blood. The bill disappears into the hoodie. “She ain’ here, this hour… she leaves, when the tourists do… mmm… lil’ more green, maybe I rem’ber where she be…”

Celia: Jade pulls free another bill, giving Reggie a look.

GM: “Hey, you might catch something,” he says, moving to pluck the bill from her hands.

Celia: “You don’t need to be rude.”

GM: “Unless it’s from sticking my dick somewhere, I’m not going to catch something either.”

Celia: He better not catch something from that, either, or he won’t get to stick it in her ever again.

GM: He’ll be just like his brother then.

“Maybe just place it on a bench,” Randy offers helpfully.

Celia: She gives the hands another look, though, in case there’s something to be done about it. She hasn’t seen this many scabs since… the monkey’s master.

The ugly one.

Not that that narrows it down.

GM: The hands are small like a woman’s and look dirty and unwashed. Some of the partly-healed scabs are a yellowish brown.

“Hey, leave the money where you like, I don’ give a shit… s’long as I get it…” says the thin-blood.

Celia: Wherever Reggie ends up putting it, then.

She really should bring Roderick down here, show him how the thin-bloods exist. Easy to imagine Dani’s unwashed face and hands, cuts oozing from lack of treatment, being pushed around by ghouls and licks and kine, even.

“The location?” she prompts the thin-blood.

GM: Reggie drops it on the ground.

The half-vampire picks it up.

Celia: She’ll reprimand him later for it. Maybe with a paddle.

GM: “Okay… she be at… seein’ a customer, guy who wants his fortune… mm…. can’t rem’ber who, just yet….”

The hand stays outstretched.

Celia: Another two bills to speed the process along.

GM: Reggie’s fingers brush against his concealed carry, as if asking whether Jade is tired of throwing away money.

Celia: She gives a small shake of her head. She’s happy to pay for information so long as it pans out.

GM: Reggie drops those bills on the ground too.

They both disappear into the hoodie.

“Okay… okay… it comin’ back, now…”

Celia: Her smile tightens, but she waits, expectant.

GM: “Marigny… that be where…”

“I can’t rem’ber where in Marigny… maybe if…”

Celia: “Marigny is a large place.”

GM: “You already got two bills,” Reggie says flatly.

“Oh… guess I did… heh heh…”

Celia: She’s starting to doubt that the thin-blood even has the information.

She will be very unhappy if she has to come back.

GM: “The Midnight Bayou… that be where…”

“Hey… say… can I have some money, lady…?”

“You just got eighty fuckin’ dollars,” says Randy.

The thin-blood shrugs.

Celia: “If she’s where you say she is,” Jade tells it. She turns to go.

GM: “Always fun hitting up low-lifes,” Randy mutters as the trio leave.

Celia: “I should have expected it. No reason to peddle her trade once the gates close.” She’d spent more time with her family than she’d realized.

GM: “So that’s one of those other scary vampires,” says Reggie.

Celia: She glances at Reggie.

“No. That’s a half-breed. Diluted blood.”

GM: “Pretty sad,” answers Reggie.

Celia: “It is. They’re stuck between worlds.”

GM: “You guys all gonna turn into that someday?”

Celia: “No. It’s like breeding dogs, though. The problems get worse the further the line goes.”

GM: “Kinder just to put ’em down, maybe.”

Celia: “A lot of people agree with you.”

“The gifts that you have because of my blood? They don’t.”

GM: “So, what, they’re just… blood drinkers? Ordinary people with a special diet?”

Celia: “Sort of. They have some gifts, but they follow different rules. Sun doesn’t hurt them. No Beast.” Both of them have been warned about that, at least. “They can learn the tricks, but it’s different.”

“They’ll never be as strong. Their distance from the original prevents it.”

“If I were to turn you right now, as a day old, you’d be stronger than someone like that who has been around for years.”

GM: “So why make them?” asks Reggie.

“Why does anyone do dumb shit?” shrugs Randy.

Celia: Randy has a point.

“The man on the bottom will always look to put someone else beneath him.”

“Control. Power. Loneliness. Accident.”

GM: “I just wonder who the fuck took a look at that and decided, ‘Hey, let’s make a discount vampire,’” says Reggie.

“Maybe an accident,” says Randy.

Celia: “They only recently started popping up,” Jade tells him. “Most of the powers-that-be exterminate them when they’re found. Not a lot is known about them.”

GM: “Seems like the right idea,” says Reggie.

Celia: “There are some benefits,” Jade says with a shrug. “The sun and Beast thing. They can eat. Fuck.”

“Nothing worth the drawbacks, though.”

GM: Sucks to be Dani.

Celia: It really does.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: Clubbers shoot jealous looks as bouncers usher Jade into the Midnight Bayou ahead of the line. The club is much the same as Beach on Bourbon was: a dimly-lit space where dozens of tightly-packed sweating bodies writhe and undulate to ear-rupturingly loud music. Flickering red lights bathe the shouting, dancing, crowd in a blood-like sheen. There’s barely enough room to move one’s arms at times. The admixed smells of sweat, cigarette smoke, alcohol, perfumes, and cologne clings to everything. The music is omnipresent, thumping and pounding in one’s ears louder than any beating heart. It’s enough to make the dead feel alive, if ever so briefly. Jade doesn’t hear any Love & Liars in the DJs’ mix, this time, but the lyrics are much the same, and speak to the same disaffected youth. They scream what shit the world is and the pointlessness of living by the book.

Jade spots a number of Kindred eyeing or dancing alongside the club-goers, then luring them off to private bathroom trysts. It’s not unlike lions watching herd animals at the watering hole, then going after ones foolish enough to separate themselves from safety in numbers.

The Toreador is swiftly shown upstairs past sliding glass doors to the VIP lounge. It’s a more subdued than downstairs, though it’s done in the same dark color scheme. Better-dressed patrons lounge about on comfortable leather chairs and sofas, quietly conversing and sipping expensive drinks. A large glass window stares down on the club’s first floor, so that patrons might watch the revelry from a quiet distance and perhaps even decide which revelers catch their fancy. Revealingly-clad smiling waitresses glide across the floor, relaying orders between customers and the bartender expertly mixing drinks in the back.

Celia: She still doesn’t know how Sundown does it: how he determines who is who and tells his bouncers to let them in accordingly. She can’t imagine that it’s something as mundane as making them memorize photos. Still, it’s the sort of treatment she has come to expect from the clubs in Marigny, and the jealous looks and whispers from the line of juicebags only makes her smile.

Music assaults her once she passes the threshold. It thrums through her body, urging her to dance. She wants to find a partner and let them twirl her around the floor. To lose herself among the press of bodies. For far too many years now she has had her weekend evenings taken up by Elysia; and whose idea was that to schedule it the same night the kine come out in droves? Easiest feeding of the week. Just grab a vessel, sink in, and pull.

Jade resists the temptation, sweet though it is.

She moves up the stairs to the VIP lounge, content to let her eyes sweep the space for a brief moment.

GM: Jade instinctively senses that a number of the patrons are like she is. She can make out Esther Sue Parker, Abraham Garcia, Camilla Doriocourt, Harlequin, Lidia Kendall, Joshua Pacuad, and Emerson Newhouse Hearst, as well as the club’s proprietor himself, who is currently engaged with Harlequin. The gathered Kindred converse among themselves, murmur sweet nothings to vessels in their arms, watch the dancing crowds below, or watch one another. Whatever cause and elder one may pledge support to, Marigny is neutral ground.

Celia: Neutral it may be, but she calls none of those assembled “friend.” Loose, occasional ally. Partner. Guildmate. But none of Savoy’s partisans. None of the friendly faces she knows from his court.

And not the lick she has come to see. Perhaps the thin-blood had lied to her. Perhaps it will learn what happens when her time is wasted.

Far be it from her to waste this opportunity to mingle. Pacuad, Hearst, and Garcia all catch a smile from the pretty Toreador in their midst, the latter a wink. She can’t help the way her attention strays to Doriocourt, though. Not an enemy. Not a friend. Just a contender for her sire’s attention.

GM: Most of Savoy’s people are likely there at the French Quarter lord’s court tonight.

But such is the balancing act which Marigny’s regent must maintain, to court all factions and show favor to none.

Pacuad doesn’t smile back, though Hearst and Garcia both do. Doriocourt, who’s speaking to Garcia, pays Jade barely more than a glance.

Their sire’s attention.

The pretty Toreador is swiftly approached by Sundown’s smiling herald Kaia, a beautiful and slim-figured Vietnamese-American ghoul with smooth pale skin, rich black hair, and beckoning dark eyes. She asks if there’s anything the regent might do tonight to make her stay more pleasant.

Pic.jpg
Celia: Her. Her sire. He’s hers.

Jade checks the time. She’s due at Savoy’s court soon enough herself, though she’s not late. She has time.

Perhaps everyone else just takes longer to make themselves half so pretty as Jade.

Jade shakes her head at Kaia’s approach, murmuring only that she was looking for someone who doesn’t appear to be here.

GM: “Perhaps they are, ma’am. We can’t always see everything in plain sight,” offers the ghoul.

Celia: Jade accepts the point with a dip of her head. As much as she’d like to stay and chat—really, she would—she does have other business in the city this evening.

So she asks, hoping the ghoul can point her toward the fortune teller.

GM: The ghoul replies that she and Josua finished upstairs just a little while ago, but are down hunting on the first floor. If they’ve snagged a vessel, Jade can probably find them in the bathrooms.

Celia: Cambridge?

Convenient.

She could stay. Mingle. Chat.

Maybe she should. Finish that conversation with Garcia. Speak with Hearst about transport to LA; she can’t imagine she’d be too put out on the back of his bike for an evening or two. Planes are faster, but what a rush that would be. Find out how Pacuad’s project is coming, charm him into giving her one of the smiles he flashes when he thinks she can’t see. Hasn’t been the same since the split, really. At least prior he’d tolerated her. Politics, ugh.

Maybe she would, if Doriocourt weren’t here. Sisters have never been anything but trouble for her. Even Emily is getting uppity, interfering in things that have nothing to do with her.

Ah, that’s unkind. Diana is her mom too.

Still, two licks at once is a better deal than she’d hoped for. And she doesn’t quite trust her mouth to not run away with her this evening. Not with everything she’s recently learned.

Jade thanks Kaia with a smile and a polite word, asking her to pass her greetings along to her domitor and citing an excuse about not wanting to interrupt the two regents. She’s sure she’ll be back with Andi soon, no doubt the rock star will be pleased to see the club’s proprietor again.

She casts a long, lingering look at Garcia as she goes. Flirting with trouble, as usual.

GM: There’s at least Dani, her should-have-been sister.

Then again, the thin-blood is her own brand of trouble too.

Celia: Doesn’t she know it.

Big fucking headache on that end, too.

Why can’t I come to the cool parties, Celia?

Well Dani, do you like being half-alive?

Even if she wanted to be friendly with Doriocourt she couldn’t. It would draw too much attention.

GM: Maybe not, when she really learns what that entails.

Garcia doesn’t look away from Camilla, but makes a suggestive gesture behind his back.

Kaia replies she’ll be more than happy to pass along Jade’s greetings.

“And can I say you look Flawless as always, ma’am,” the ghoul smiles.

Celia: The motion she makes following that gesture might even be a nod.

Jade beams at the ghoul.

“You are very sweet, thank you.”

Then it’s back down the stairs for her, through the crush of bodies, and into the bathroom.

GM: The bathrooms are spacious and relatively clean, at least by a nightclub’s usual filthy standards. Sounds of fornication go up from the stalls. Jade can’t tell at a glance which one might have two licks in it.

But the coppery smell emanating from one is unmistakable to the vampire’s so-sensitive nose.

Celia: Seems rude to interrupt a meal. Jade busies herself by fixing her makeup in the mirror. Not that there’s much to fix. Mostly she just admires her own reflection.

GM: There’s a lot to admire.

She abruptly feels something small, furry, and squirming press against her vagina and try to crawl inside.

Celia: How the fuck had it gotten inside her panties? What the fuck is crawling on her?

Jade doesn’t have a problem with things inside of her vagina. It’s when they’re small and furry and squirm that she takes umbrage.

She bolts into an open stall, slams the door, and gets it out.

GM: She spots a hairless tail wriggling back and forth out of her womanhood like a tampon string. Cat-quick, she plucks it out and produces a squeaking, flailing mouse.

Celia: Jade scowls down at the mouse clutched in her grip. She sniffs at it, looking for a trace of the blood.

GM: She smells none, but phlegmy laughter rings in her ears.

“What’s the matter, barbie, don’t like your new vibrator?” leers Gerald Abellard as he fades into view.

He’s still a walking, one-man freak show. His face is a blasted wasteland of every type of acne in Jade’s not-inconsiderable vocabulary. Every inch of the dark, leathery skin is ravaged by pustules, papules, whiteheads, blackheads, nodules, cysts, and residual scars. Some are big, some are little. Some are whole, some look freshly popped. Rancid-smelling white pus freely dribbles down flabby cheeks and a squashed nose like water from someone who’s just stepped out of the shower.

Celia: Disgusting.

“Easier ways to get in my panties, you know.”

GM: “Oh I don’t doubt, but I was all out of dollar bills.”

The mouse squeaks and struggles in Jade’s grip.

Celia: “For you, I’d have done it for a smile.”

Jade considers the mouse, then the rat to whom it belongs. She holds it out to him.

GM: The Nosferatu cackles, then holds out Jade’s panties for her to deposit the rodent in.

Celia: “Souvenir?” She puts the mouse into the scraps of cloth provided.

GM: The shrieking mouse finally calms as it leaves the vampire’s grip. Gerald stretches out the panties over his hands and lets the mouse crawl over them.

“Maybe nest material for this little guy. There’s probably enough diseases he’ll feel right at home.”

Celia: “Mmm,” Jade says absently, “would you believe me if I told you that I died a virgin and am sadly lacking in diseases?”

“But if you need more nesting material for him…” She trails off with a shrug.

“Happy to supply.”

GM: Gerald hacks with laughter at her question, making the pus from his face seem to ooze faster.

“No.”

Celia: She flashes him a smile.

“I didn’t think so.”

There’s a brief moment of hesitation before Jade reaches out, touching a hand to his cloth-covered arm. Her face softens, voice dropping to a low murmur.

“How’s Malo?”

GM: That cloth is better than touching the sewer rat’s greasy skin, but not by much. The long-sleeved t-shirt doesn’t look (or smell) like it’s been washed in years. Jade can’t even begin to guess where some of those stains might be from.

Gerald twirls the panties in his wart-dotted fingers as the mouse climbs across them.

“Oh he really misses you. Think he can get a blowjob, next time you meet?”

Celia: “Was hoping a handjob, actually.” Jade arches one brow at him.

GM: “It’s a date,” the sewer rat leers. “Expect him sometime soon, monkey dick primed and ready for your so-practiced hand.”

“He’s pretty greedy, though. He might make you give him a blowjob too.”

Celia: “Saving my lips for you, sweetheart.”

GM: “When it comes to your assorted holes, barbie, I think the thing you’re best at is ‘filling’ more than ‘saving,’” the sewer rat says with another leer.

“Well, this was fun. Mwah.”

He blows her a literally wet kiss, dripping with puss freshly wiped from his lips, then vanishes into the air with the mouse and panties. A squelching sound half like a huge fart, half like someone throwing up, heralds the Nosferatu’s departure. A stench not unlike ripe shit fills Jade’s nostrils.

Celia: “…oh, bye,” she says to the empty air.

She misses him already.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Celia: She’s glad that she doesn’t need to breathe and takes a moment to wipe away anything that had gotten on her outfit or face. Should have expected a Nosferatu at Sundown’s place, really.

Now pantyless—the second time in two nights, what’re the odds?—Jade exits the stall, hoping that her mark is still around.

GM: The smell on Jade’s palms lingers and requires thorough washing. The coppery smell from the other stall has reduced, but hasn’t completely faded.

Two other women touching up their makeup remark to one another on a technique one of them picked up from Celia Flores’ MeVid channel.

Celia: Jade scrubs until the stink fades. She chimes in that Celia just released a new video and it’s ultra fab, have they seen it? Upload went live, like, two hours ago.

GM: “Oh no, I hadn’t!” says one of the girls, pulling out her phone. Celia’s tiny voice floats up from the device.

Celia: “Best one yet,” Jade tells the pair. She glances at the stall door. How long does feeding really take?

Maybe it had only seemed like ages she’d been wrapped up with Gerald because of the way he makes her heart go pitter-patter.

…nah.

GM: The pair nod and comment on the video, but it’s not overlong before the stall door opens and three people come out.

The first one draws immediate attention.

He’s beautiful. There aren’t many men who are beautiful, but he is, and handsome too. He has a boyishly winsome face, tousled ‘I woke up like this’ brown hair that has to be deliberate from how perfect it is. A bit of stubble gives his face some extra definition, but just light enough not to seem unkempt. Soulful green eyes frame his firm nose and invitingly kissable lips. He’s dressed in a white button-up with the top several buttons undone, giving a peek at his chest, a tan blazer, dark jeans, and brown leather dress shoes. His shirt and jeans are tight, amply showing off his smooth chest, trim but not too buff arms, and firm posterior. This Kindred’s body is a temple and it’s evident he worships it reverently. The other women in the bathroom immediately start staring and making comments, and he just flashes them a pearly white smile.

Josua.jpg
The female Kindred is dusky of skin and could be either Latina, Roma, or some typically New Orleans mix of races. She looks in her early or mid 20s and dressed in somewhat out of place fashions for a nightclub: purple gypsy skirt, a low-cut black and white-striped shirt, and a top hat threaded with red and purple scarves in place of a band. Gold glints from her ears and fingers. Her inky black hair is a wild and untamed forest that plays home to a ghouled monkey wearing a purple vest and miniature top hat of its own. The tiny animal scampers across her shoulders and uses her hoop earrings as swings while remarkably shuffling a tiny deck of tarot cards.

The women don’t spare her a glance. Or the droopy-eyed girl in club attire the two vampires are half-carrying between them.

The male newcomer spares the women a few laughing remarks, but he has eyes only for the fairest face among them.

“It’s Jade, isn’t it?”

He places his hands on her shoulders like they’ve known one another for years. His gaze drinks in the Toreador’s form like chocolate wine as he purrs softly,

“You are a woman.

It sounds almost sacred how he pronounces the word.

Celia: Oh.

Oh my.

This is Josua. She has seen him before, she’s sure, around. But not this close. Not this in her space. Not this… this.

Her eyes drink him in. Some distant part of her mind registers the lick she’s been looking for came out of the stall with him, that she has business with her, but for the (un?)life of her she can’t remember why she’d want to talk to her when this is in front of her, looking at her, touching her. He’s the golden prize at the end of the quest. The reward for getting through the thin-blood, the VIP lounge, the rat and his mouse. Sidra who?

He knows her name.

It’s a giddy sort of lightness that bubbles from the center of her chest outward. He knows who she is. Her Beast brushes against the inside of her ribs, purring; even it wants a piece.

Is he prettier than her?

Her lips part just slightly, gazing up at him from beneath long lashes. Slowly, she blinks, and finally she gives a tiny nod. She is a woman. And never before has that sounded so sweet. She finds her voice.

“Josua.”

GM: She knows what it sounds like when it’s not. She remembers one time her parents were ‘fighting’ (insofar as there can be a fight with just one person dishing it out) when they thought she couldn’t overhear, because Maxen never swore around his children. “You stupid fucking woman,” he’d snarled at her mother, as though the last of those words was somehow the most insulting.

Celia: And the way their kind reacts, too, to the very idea that they had once been gendered beings.

GM: “Jade,” repeats Josua. His smile spreads across his face. “Our names even start with the same letter. That’s so pretty.”

His hands start to massage her shoulders, the motion at once intimate and reverent.

“I’d like to paint you,” he says. “Your beauty should be immortalized on a canvas. Your beauty should be copied and replicated in as many places as possible. The more places there are for people to admire your beauty, the better. The world will be a better place, if it has more Jade in it.”

Celia: It’s been years since someone has touched her like that. Since someone has offered her a massage and just gotten right to it, brushing the stresses of her Requiem away with the simple press of his fingers. She melts.

Paint her. He wants to paint her. She wants to be painted. She wants to be immortalized on canvas. She’ll hang it above her bed so it can be the first thing she sees in the evening when she wakes, the last thing she sees before daysleep claims her. Everyone should get a copy. The entire city. They should all see how beautiful she is, how hard she’s worked on her body, her face, sculpting it to be the epitome of perfection, the prettiest lick in the city—the world, even. To be flawless.

Her eyes shine at the words.

“Yes,” she agrees. She’d wanted photos from Garcia, but what are photos compared to an artist’s rendering? What is a headshot compared to her soul on canvas? She’ll sit for him, pose for him, model for him.

She deserves it.

The world deserves it.

“Paint me,” she says, with another nod of her head, hanging onto the images that he evokes with word and touch. She blinks again, trying to summon additional words to convey her sentiments. She’s normally so much more eloquent than this.

GM: Josua just nods, his eyes seemingly all-too understanding at her brevity. He takes her by the hand, and soon the two Toreador are leaving the club, Sidra quite forgotten. Josua hails a Ryde from his phone. His massages work their way up and down Jade’s shoulders as they wait. His touch isn’t a masseur’s, but what it lacks in training it makes up for in reverence and sheer ardor. Josua’s eyes shine as though he’s running his hands along a statue made from solid gold.

“You’ve put so much work into your beauty. I can tell. It isn’t easy, to be as beautiful as you are. It takes so much work. So much time. So much pain. You’re so dedicated. I want you to know that I don’t just see your beauty, I see the work and dedication behind it, and that makes you even more beautiful.”

Celia: Oh. He means now. She’s supposed to be doing something now, isn’t she? Talking to someone. Multiple someones. Wasn’t there a monkey…?

The thoughts fade away. It doesn’t matter. He’s going to paint her. He understands her. He knows what it’s like, the work she puts into it; she bets he wouldn’t laugh at her closet space or her piles of makeup or discredit her occupation for being frivolous because it isn’t intellectual. It’s art. It’s all art. She, herself, she’s art, and she’ll be immortalized, and that…

That is beautiful. Just like her. Like him. Like them.

They could be a them. They should be a them.

Does he want to be a them?

Shining, golden statues. How the heads would turn. How they’d whisper.

Outside the club, Jade presses against him. She lets the words he whispers in her ear travel through her, just like his hands move up and down her body. He’s good at that, the touch. But she’s better, and she wants to share too, to tell him with her hands what she struggles to put into words. She shows him how good she is at it, arms sliding around his body, untucking his shirt, palms pressing flat against his back once she moves the material out of her way. Up, higher, across the lats, the obliques, the fascia around his lower spine.

Like this, that touch says.

GM: Josua’s skin is smooth and firm, free of any fat and blemishes. He doesn’t even have any back hairs. Jade could rub his back forever, especially with the way he melts under her touch. He gasps and exhales with pleasure, his rapture evident with every second under his clanmate’s practiced ministrations. He doesn’t try to massage her back, as if realizing his efforts would be wholly inadequate before hers. But his hands still trace and travel the contours of her body, wordlessly praising the Toreador’s perfect form.

At some point they wind up in the cab. Jade isn’t sure when. All she notices is that the position of their bodies change.

Celia: She ends up on his lap. She always ends up on their laps. And this is a lap that deserves someone as beautiful as her on it. She’s happy to oblige.

GM: He presses his face to her breasts and nuzzles against them as though he’s an infant returned to his own mother’s. His hands explore her rear, too. There’s lust in them, but there’s more than lust, too. There’s appreciation for what she is, for the perfection she represents.

“You’re so good at this… oh, Jade, you make me feel so good… you’re a feast for the eyes… a feast for the mind… a feast on my skin… you touch me on every level…”

“You make everything better… you make everything beautiful… that’s why you need a painting, so you never leave, so you make things beautiful forever…”

Celia: It’s different when he does it, the way he touches her; others want to use, to claim. He wants to admire. She lets him. She basks in it, revels in it. She is perfect. She’s always been perfect. Flawless. Her work. All her work, all her time, energy, devotion, it has always gone into this.

Her fingers move across his back. Touching, stroking, teasing. His body is her playground.

Beautiful forever. She is. She will be. She won’t leave. She nods along, murmuring the same thing to him, that she won’t leave, of course she’ll never leave; where will he put her when he’s done? Where will he hang the painting?

GM: “Heaven,” he whispers, rapturously. “I’ll send it to Heaven. So the angels can admire it, and be jealous, too, of how they’ll never be as beautiful as you…”

At some point their ride steps. Josua pulls Jade out, by the hand, then hugs her close against his side, as if he can’t bear to be parted from her. He wraps both his arms around her as they walk, keeping her as close as possible as he nuzzles his face against her hair. He says how he’ll die if has to leave her, if he has to stop touching her. He has seen perfection.

He has felt perfection.

He has basked in perfection.

Celia: Heaven. With angels. Not the demons here on earth. No darkness will touch her there. No shadows will mark her days. She will be… ascendant. Transcendent.

Is that possible? She asks how it’s possible as he pulls her from the cab, tucking herself against his side. She wants to hang in Heaven. Tell me, she pleads, tell me how it’s possible.

Her eyes, full of him, only briefly turn away to take in her surroundings.

GM: They’re outside a riverboat. Then they’re walking inside.

Josua.jpg
Celia: She falters for the first time.

She’s not supposed to be here. She doesn’t have permission to be here.

GM: “By being so beautiful they have no choice but to lift you up…. that they’d be committing sacrilege, if they didn’t…” Josua whispers. His voice is ecstatic as he drinks her in, his every glance and touch brimming with worship for her body and the perfection she represents.

“My cabin’s just inside… I’ll paint you, and we can do anything else we want… I’ll worship you, Jade, worship you like you deserve to be…”

Celia: Twice in one week. She’ll be caught twice in one week where she shouldn’t be. And it’s only luck that kept Riverbend’s people from finding her.

But she’s already here. And his cabin is close, he said.

He’s unreleased. It isn’t his territory. It’s Marcel’s. She’s supposed to be courting him, not his toy, not…

Worship. The word sends shivers down her spine. She takes a step, then falters again. It’s wrong. Someone had beaten that into her.

“Ask,” she tells him, “ask him, if I can…” Jade gestures to the boat, the proverbial line in the sand that marks his personal territory. She takes his hand, pleading with her eyes. “I shouldn’t have to hide.” Perfection shouldn’t hide. Everyone should see. Call, ask, and they all can. The two of them.

GM: Josua presses a finger to Jade’s lips, then hugs her close against his chest as he strokes her hair, as though comforting a frightened child.

“Don’t worry… he’s fine with me bringing guests… just so long as we don’t do it in his bed…”

Celia: Oh. Oh. She likes this. Being held like a child, small and dainty and fragile. Jade presses her face against his chest, her arms moving around him. She really likes this. She nods her head while he strokes her hair.

GM: He plants a tender kiss on her head.

“Come…”


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: The walk to Josua’s cabin passes in a blur. There’s sounds and people, but none of the matter with his arms wrapped around her. The interior sumptuous-looking space with an amply large ovular-shaped shaped bed with silky red sheet. A TV hangs from one of the walls. There’s a phone and tablet on the bedside table. The rest of the space is taken up by a painter’s easel, canvases, and assorted brushes, paint tubes, and other artist’s supplies. It’s a relatively cramped room.

Josua falls into bed with her. Literally. He hugs her close against his chest, her back to his head with his arms encircling her waist, then simply falls backwards. They land with a soft oomph. He rolls to the side with her, then turns her around. His tongue hungrily and expertly explores the contours of her mouth as they kiss. His hands start to remove her clothing.

“I have a question…” he murmurs.

Celia: The lights, sounds, and smells of the casino disappear. It doesn’t matter. They don’t matter, the people around them, nothing but the sensation of arms around her, his body against her. She thinks they fall, but that doesn’t matter either, not when his lips press against hers, when the clothing starts to come off. Less than there would have been if she’s run into him first, before the other, but even that doesn’t matter.

She almost doesn’t hear his words. She’s doesn’t even cease the progress of her fingers down the buttons of his shirt, continuing to remove them one by one.

“Hm?”

GM: “Who you want on top.”

He throws her down suddenly, interrupting her progress on his shirt. One hand presses over her heart, keeping her down, while the other encircles the back of her head, as if to say he’s got this, and she can let go with him in charge.

“It could be me… I’ll use you, maybe roughly, maybe gently, but you’ll be mine to use as I see fit, and you’ll be my little girl, surrendered and helpless….”

Then he slides down, off the bed and onto the floor. His hands reverently stroke the smooth skin of her legs, then work their way down to a shoe-less foot. He cradles it in his hands as though handling a holy relic, and places it upon his face. He bows underneath the foot, prostate and submissive. He kisses it too, reverently, like he’s receiving the greatest privilege on earth.

“Or it could be you… your body is a temple and I am your acolyte, hoping only for the privilege of pleasing the goddess, however she sees fit…”

He smiles and pokes his head up.

“I don’t mind being top or bottom… I want to experience you, Jade… I want to experience the very best you, whichever you you feel like being…”

Celia: Little girl.

Her eyes close. The words send shivers down her spine, unconscious tiny little movements that betray her thoughts on the matter. Her body reacts like the girl she had once been; she doesn’t hide it from him, the stiffening of her nipples, the liquid heat that pools between her thighs.

Surrendered and helpless.

That one. That one, she wants that one. She wants to let go, to let someone else take control, to stop worrying about everything and just experience. Gently, roughly, it doesn’t matter. She wants to submit.

She half-rises onto her elbows as he works his way to the floor, watching with half-lidded eyes the attention he pays her body, the way he offers to worship. Only when he looks up again does she crook a finger at him, pulling him toward her by the shirt still half-buttoned on his frame.

“You,” she gets out, “you top.” That’s her best self. When they make her bend.

GM: Just like that, he’s gone from the floor. His hand clamps down over her throat, holding her down and cutting off her speech as he dextrously pulls off what’s left of her clothes. When she tries to take off his shirt, he slaps her hands down.

“You don’t get that privilege, yet. You haven’t earned it. You haven’t shown me you’re a good girl.”

His hands move from her throat to her wrists, pinning her down as he inspects her naked body, ascertaining whether it is good enough.

“What’s this?” he asks critically, staring down at her womanhood. He touches a finger to it and sniffs.

“How dirty. How perverted. You’re such a bad girl. Bad girls get punished until they can be good girls.”

He flips her naked body over his lap, still clothed in his dark jeans, and delivers a sharp smack to her buttocks.

“Say you’re sorry, you bad girl.”

His hand comes down on her rear again with another sharp smack. It doesn’t hurt as much as Maxen’s spanks did, and Jade’s body doesn’t bruise as easily. But her Beast does. Its pride bruises. It instinctively rebels against this rough treatment, snarls its protest. A sense of debasement surges through her blood, for she is a predator and chooses now to submit like prey.

Celia: Shame, hot and heavy, floods her cheeks. She could have hidden it. Should have hidden it. She’d thought, slut that he is, he’d understand. Instead he bends her over his knee and—

Oh.

It hasn’t faded. Not one bit.

Each smack sends tingles through the rest of her body. It stings but doesn’t hurt, doesn’t bruise, doesn’t leave behind handprints; it’s just the sharp smack of flesh on flesh, the humiliation of being bent over, the inherent shift in dynamic with him clothed and her not. Each smack summons forth a sound from her—a snarl first, until she tells the Beast to fuck off because right now she just wants to be a girl, not an undead abomination, then a whimper, a stifled yelp, and finally a broken, breathy moan. Even the thing inside her chest understands that.

She’s not a good girl. Good girls don’t get wet. They don’t become aroused when someone bends them over their knee. They don’t get off on the humiliation, the feeling of being exposed. They don’t fuck anything and everything they want to fuck for the sheer joy of it.

She’s not a good girl.

And she has nothing to apologize for.

GM: “Oh? Can’t get that out?” he asks. Smack, goes the open hand against her ass. Smack, smack, smack, like she’s a naked toddler over her daddy’s knee.

“I guess we’ll have to try something else, you bad, dirty girl. Such a disappointment to your daddy. You have so much to be sorry for.”

He yanks her off by her hair and throws her back down on the bed. There’s a blur of motion, and then there’s handcuffs around her wrists. He snaps each one around a corner of the bed, leaving her spread-eagled and exposed. He makes do with sheets to tie down her legs, then retrieves a paintbrush.

He runs it along her belly. The hairs are rough and ticklish. It descends steadily, steadily lower.

“I bet you want that over your clit, don’t you, you dirty pervert, for me to paint your clit until you’re wet as a sponge?”

Celia: She’s already wet. Soaked, even. The spanking had seen to that. Legs spread as they are, he can see it too.

Jade tugs at the cuffs around her wrists, testing their hold, then does the same to the sheets around her legs. Both hold firm. Surrendered and helpless, just like he’d said. She squirms as the brush trails down her skin, back arching, teeth sinking into her lip to keep herself silent, watching the movement of the brush with wide eyes.

Finally, she nods.

GM: The paintbrush descends teasingly close, stroking the folds of her outer lips.

“Such a dirty pervert. Beg for it, you dirty pervert. Beg me for it.”

Celia: She doesn’t need to breathe. She knows that. He knows that. But it hitches anyway when he draws the brush closer to where she wants it.

“Please,” she whispers, starting small.

GM: The brush snakes its way closer to her inner lips, then retreats back.

“I can’t hear you.”

Celia: Her hips lift, attempting to make him touch her where she wants.

“Please,” she tries again, and this time her voice is colored by clear desperation, “please, there, don’t tease…”

GM: The brush ‘paints’ over her inner lips for a second, then passes over her clitoris… and over it, without once touching.

“You don’t sound desperate enough. You don’t sound like you’re really begging. Swallow your pride.”

Celia: Her eyes close to shut out the beautiful, smirking face. Her eyes close because he’s right, she’s not desperate enough, she still has too much pride. She’s Jade, and Jade is never not in control. So her eyes close, and her tongue flicks across her lips, and Jade retreats to make room for the girl inside, the eighteen-year-old who has never been touched, the delicate flower that can’t even think the word ‘sex’ without turning red. Not Jade, not Star or Neveah or Violet. Not even Celia. Leilani. No physical change takes place but her face softens, her lips part, and her eyes… her eyes lock onto his when she opens them again, uncertainty and shyness shining out at him.

She becomes what he wants her to be. Surrendered.

“Please.” Whisper-soft, hesitant… but trusting. Helpless. “Please, touch me, show me, let me c…” Her cheeks burn. She can’t even say the word. She looks away, then back at him. Little girl. “Please, Daddy.”

GM: Josua pats her head like a child who’s done well.

“That’s better.”

The brush starts to ‘paint’ her clit. It’s not like a tongue feels. It’s dry and light, and ticklish, too. It reminds her of Pietro’s touch. It dances back and forth in Josua’s nimble hands, sometimes stroking other parts of her, but always finding its way back to her sweet little nub.

“There’s something my little girl still has to do, though. Does she remember what?”

Celia: She turns her face to press a cheek against the hand that pats her, seeking comfort in the touch. Her breath comes in quick, short puffs of air, chest rising and falling with the effort. Extraneous, all of it, but it sucks her into the role.

Something left. What’s left? She can’t think with the brush on her body, and every time she opens her mouth to answer he takes it back to that spot between her legs that makes her see stars. Her body trembles beneath his touch.

Apologize. It hits her all at once when he takes the brush away again, teasing her by denying what she wants. Only good girls get rewarded. She takes a breath she doesn’t need.

“I’m—I’m sorry I was bad.” A short pause, eyes closing, back arching off the bed when those bristles touch and flit away again. “I’ll be a good girl.”

GM: The hand finds her face again. It pats her head and remains nearby for her to nuzzle her face against it, then pats her cheek too. Josua smiles down at her.

“That’s a good girl. That’s a very good girl.”

The paintbrush doesn’t return, but another one does. It’s a smaller brush, lighter, and definitely softer. It tickles a lot more, too. Josua ‘paints’ it in steady clockwise patterns around her clit, bringing her closer and closer to release.

“My little girl is still a pervert, though. It’s one thing to be sorry, but you need to make up for what you’ve done, too.”

“So. If you’re enjoying this, then we’re just going to have to take it to its full conclusion. Are you prepared to do that?”

Celia: Jade—Leilani—strains against her bindings, pulling at them with every jerk and quiver that thrums through her. Make up for it. Full conclusion. She doesn’t know what he plans to do to her, how she’ll have to make up for being a pervert when she’s tied to the bed, but she doesn’t care. She wants it. Needs it. She nods over and over again, voice cutting her response to a quick and quiet yes, please.

GM: Josua nods, withdraws the brush, then leaves the room. He closes and locks the door behind him.

Celia: Oh.

That wasn’t…

“Um.”

Unsatisfied, still too close to the edge to think straight, still caught by the blessing of her clan, she stares at the door. She waits, nerves starting to get the best of her.

GM: Her nerves have enough time to do more than start before the door opens again. Josua walks back in, along with three men in suits, ties, and security badges. The first one, who smells like a ghoul, unbuckles his pants and forces his penis into Jade’s mouth without so much as a hello. The second man, a breather, unbuckles his pants and takes her in her womanhood. The third man, another breather, patiently waits his turn, hands clasped in front of him in a security professional’s stance. There’s no room for him to simultaneously take her third hole when she’s tied down, after all.

Celia: Betrayal stings, a sharp slap across the face. Trusted him. She had trusted him, had let him bring her here, had let him talk her into this, tie her down, had shown him secret parts of herself that no one else gets to see. She yanks at the cuffs, the ties around her legs, but they’re on her in seconds, filling her, holding her down. She bucks, arching off the bed, but the bodies over her are heavy. Wide, fearful eyes seek him out.

GM: He sits down on the bed and rubs a palm over her naked belly.

“This is how my little girl wants it. We both know it is.”

The ghoul slaps her face when she doesn’t start sucking. His erect member presses against her tongue. The other man’s balls smack against her thighs as he humps back and forth.

Celia: The slap across the face turns her head to the side, cheek smarting where the ghoul struck her. Her Beast snarls in response, demanding to be let out, to tear the hand from the mortal that had dare slap it. Pain, humiliation, degradation—she is not some kine to simply lie back and take it like this. She is not Celia, brought to her knees by stronger, more powerful people, helpless to do anything but scream the way they want her to and cry bitter tears while they take from her. She thrashes against her bindings.

But then he’s beside her, stroking a hand against her belly, reminding her that it’s just a game, reminding her that she had asked for this when she’d told him to take top. His touch keeps her claws from coming out, keeps the fangs tucked away, soothes the ragged, frayed nerves of the Beast who only sees the insult. Little girl, he calls her, summoning her forth. She’s not Celia, the survivor. She’s something… else. Different. More pure, more willing to submit, more… innocent. She’s Leilani again. His little girl. He knows best. He’s in charge. He coaxes her forward with the gentle stroking across her belly, telling her that it will be okay, that he has her, that he’ll be there the whole time. Watching. Guiding. Like daddies should for their little girls.

She craves his touch. Needs it to keep the rest of them at bay, to focus on the soft and gentle. This is her gift. Her reward and punishment both. Because she’s a good girl and she apologized for being bad, but she still has to make amends and this is how he has decided she will do it. Her lips finally close around the cock in her mouth. She sucks.

She pulls again at the cuffs, then at the sheets. Not trying to get free, but to shift, to give the third man the space that he needs so he, too, can fill her. Now, not later. Now, while Josua holds her and tells her that this is what she wants, while he touches and strokes and takes control so she can submit.

GM: Jade’s Beast rages and tries to break free at this latest humiliation. It would burst its bonds, rip out the men’s throats, and paint the bedroom in gore. But Jade’s—Leila’s—Celia’s—who even is she?—submissive instinct runs strong, and what is there to be angry about when there’s a fat cock in her mouth? That’s what she is made for. To suck fat cocks. “Yeah, you’ve done this a lot, you little cocksucker,” leers the ghoul, making a fist in her hair and yanking it forward to push his penis even deeper. It takes some effort for the third man to position himself, but he’s able to slip underneath Jade and fill her ass with his cock. He holds her shoulders as he thrusts back and forth. All three men vigorously pump her holes. Josua is there the whole time, to rub her belly, plant it with delicate kisses, and murmur sweet words. He rubs her belly a lot, and scratches it too, like she’s a pet who should take just as much pleasure in that as the actual intercourse. The men take turns alternating between Jade’s holes, giving her a taste of them in each part of her, but they all finish in her mouth. Or at least from her mouth. The first man pulls out and blows his load over Jade’s face. The second man pulls out and blows his load over her tits. The third man cums inside her mouth and tells her to swallow. “Swallow like the dirty little cocksucker you are.”

Her Beast instinctively rebels at this last demand. Cum tastes better than Diana’s cooking, but only because there’s less of it. She can let the cum sit there in her mouth, until whenever Josua lets her off the bed (only a very bad girl would spit it out), or she can expend precious blood purely to swallow this breather’s seed.

“Go on, little girl,” Josua nods encouragingly. “Swallow for Daddy. I’ll be very nice to my little girl, if she can just swallow for Daddy.”

“I know she can do it. I’ll be very proud of her.”

Celia: It washes over her: pleasure. Pleasure like she has never known, to have all of her holes filled at the same time, to have another whispering sweet, tender words of encouragement in her ear, his hands stroking her body. It’s that touch that keeps her grounded, that touch that prevents her from spiraling downward, that touch that tells her everything is okay. She can enjoy it. Lay back and let herself simply feel. She has never been taken like this before, submitting so fully to someone else, letting their whims dictate the terms of play. This is how she wants it, he’d said, and he’s right. They don’t hurt her. They don’t smack or spank or hit her. They just fill, and touch, and taste—one of them kisses her neck while he fucks her from behind, another flicks his thumbs across her nipples, and the last cradles her head while he thrusts inside her mouth. And Josua. Holding her. Touching her. Whispering to her how she’s such a good little girl to take it like this.

It’s overwhelming, an onslaught from all fronts, and were it not for daddy’s hands on her she might feel used; but he’s there for her and that makes it sweet instead of ugly, and when she wants to lose control he’s right there to bring her back. Punishment and humiliation, but exactly what she wants. It’s not mean or cruel, not meant to ruin her. It’s just what she wants and he’s making sure she gets it. She surrenders, losing herself to the movements, sucking, licking, trembling when they find those spots that make her toes curl and her breath catch and her whole body tighten. But they never send her over. He knows, or they know, or someone knows, and no matter how she pleads around the flesh in her mouth they keep her riding that edge until she’s a panting, quivering mess.

One by one they finish, denying her further when they don’t immediately start to fuck again, and she mourns the loss with a quiet whimper, a whispered plea, until another takes her mouth to silence her.

Now this. The finale. All she has to do is swallow. Good girls swallow, don’t they? And he said he’d be proud. She can make him proud of his little girl. There’s no hesitation when he puts it like that. When this final man blows his load in her mouth she swallows what’s left of her pride along with the cum.

She wants him to be proud.

Fitting, that the Beast finally rebels at her treatment of it. She had fucked last night without feeding. Fucked again this evening without even biting. Swallowed human swill and it had not complained, sated by thick, warm Brujah blood. But this? This takes it too far. This humiliation goes beyond what it will endure. The girl retains control, but the Beast takes from her, raking its claws inside her chest and stealing the blood that it wants to slake its hunger. It snarls inside her chest, leaving her with precious little.

But she swallows. And she keeps it down. And finally, finally, she turns to Josua, eyes wide in expectation.

GM: Josua smiles at her and pats her head approvingly.

“Thank the man for his cum, too.”

“Good girls say please and thanks.”

Celia: It’s an effort to look away from Josua, but tears her gaze away to find the man’s eyes.

“Thank you for letting me swallow your cum.” Jade’s voice, but… softer. No hesitation, though. No sign of insincerity. She looks at the other two, thanking them as well for their contribution. Good girls are polite, and she’s a good girl.

GM: “You’re welcome, cum dumpster,” grins the first man as he re-buckles his pants. The others do too. They walk out of the room without a glance back, except to close the door.

Josua moves over on the bed. He doesn’t untie her arms or legs, but he sits cross-legged and places her head upon his lap. Her smiles down at her as he strokes her hair.

“I’m so proud of my little girl.”

“She knows her place. She knows how to submit. She’s happy to submit to her daddy. That makes Daddy very, very happy.”

One hand steadily pets her hair as he tilts her head against his lap to stare up at his smile.

“I’m so proud of you. My pretty little girl. My happy little girl. My good little girl. Such a good girl.”

Celia: Cum dumpster.

Someone that might be Jade snarls at the words. She’s quickly beaten down when her head winds up on his lap, fingers in her hair. She basks in the attention and adoration he lavishes upon her, smiling up at him. Happy, pretty, good. She’s all those things. And she’s pleased. Pleased that he’s happy with her, that he’s proud of her, that he’d do this for her. Her head turns, cheek rubbing against his lap, his hands, whatever she can reach to stay in contact, to make him continue saying such sweet things.

It reminds her… no, those aren’t her memories…

GM: His hands tenderly stroke the sides of her face as Josua leans down to nuzzle her nose.

“Give me a big smile, little girl. Give Daddy the biggest, happiest smile you can. I want to see your soul shining through that smile.”

Celia: She smiles for him. A happy smile, a proud smile, a pleased, sated, satisfied smile. And no matter what face she wears or who controls the reins, it’s never anything less than a beautiful smile.

GM: Josua strokes her hair.

“Try harder, baby girl. Make it an earnest smile. It’s not a desperate smile, but you aren’t satisfied just yet, because you haven’t pleased Daddy yet. You want to please Daddy, because he wants a smile. He wants a big smile. He wants the biggest, happiest, eagerest smile his little girl has in her. She isn’t really tied down. Her smile is how she’ll hug Daddy, because it’ll be so big and happy and eager that he’ll feel it from here, and he’ll hug her back, and hold her close, and she’ll be safe in his arms as they snuggle. That’s what she’ll get, if she can smile for Daddy. All the snuggle times in the world.”

He pats her cheek.

“Smile for me, baby girl. Smile as big and wide as you can. You don’t need to talk. Daddy will do all the talking. Daddy will take care of the hard things. All you need to do is smile.”

“I know my little girl can do it. She’s such a good girl.”

Celia: The smile fades from her lips at his words.

It’s not enough. It’s never enough. She is never enough.

Her eyes close. She inhales air she doesn’t need, lungs expanding to lift her chest, all of it a waste of movement. A waste of energy. A waste of space.

Cum dumpster. Whore. Stupid.

They twist together in her head, dancing before her closed eyes, their voices taunting, cold and cruel. Snippets of conversation press against her, demanding to be let in, demanding that she remember, that she feel. She’s not Leilani. She’s not Jade. She’s not even Celia anymore.

She’s lost.

But Daddy’s there for her. He has always been there for her. He calls to her, coaxing her toward the safety of his arms. He’ll protect her. Take her away from the accident at the end of the hall. Dry her tears after her neighbor forces her to her knees. Hold her hand through the ordeal of being fucked, then tell her how proud he is, how happy she makes him. He’ll tell her how proud he is. How she’s special. His little girl. She is his little girl. His special baby girl. She tries so hard. And he’s proud of her.

Her eyes open, uncertain, as if expecting him to disappear in the seconds they had been closed. But there he is, waiting for her. Like he’s always waiting for her. Because he’ll always be there for her.

Her lips move without a command from her, lifting at the corners, curling upwards to give him the smile that he wants. It’s her. All of her. Broken, bent, raw. But shining. Like the flawless diamond that she is.

GM: He’s there. Waiting. So very patiently.

Leilani. Jade. Celia. They’re just names.

She doesn’t need to be anyone. Just so long as she has Daddy.

Daddy starts to smile, then holds up a finger.

“Hold that, baby girl. Freeze that smile on your face.”

An easy thing, without face muscles that get tired.

Celia: She doesn’t question him. The smile freezes.

GM: “Good girl.”

“I’ll have an extra special treat for you, if you can hold that smile long enough.”

Josua sits down by his painter’s easel. In a blur of motion, it’s turned around, paint tubes are out, and Josua’s brush is racing around the canvas like a fast forwarding video.

Celia: She doesn’t get tired. She doesn’t need to breathe or blink or shift positions. She doesn’t move, doesn’t stir from the spot where he placed her. None of her muscles twitch. She stays, frozen, exactly how he left her. The smile never dims.

GM: The paintbrush continues to blur across the canvas. Time passes. The brush eventually stops moving.

“There. All done. Does my little girl think she’s been really patient? Should she get a treat?”

He smiles at her.

“No talking or moving her head. I haven’t said she can stop smiling yet.”

Celia: Her eyes flick toward the clock on his wall. Her head stays in place, smile never slipping.

GM: “Mmm, what’s that? Is my little girl trying to say something?”

“If only she could stop smiling, that would make things do much easier.”

Celia: She doesn’t want to stop smiling. But she does want to know how long she has been here, tied to the bed, waiting so very patiently for her reward.

She’s not the only one in her mind. Hers aren’t the only thoughts that swirl, and with each passing moment the other one gets stronger, chipping away at her control. She has to be somewhere. She has to be somewhere that she’s not, somewhere that isn’t here. But here is important too. If only she could check to make sure that the other one will still make it. She needs to know. She has to know, or it all comes crumbling down around her, and something like the Beast but less hostile paces in her chest, spiraling outward toward her limbs. She doesn’t move, but it swells beneath the surface of her skin, a bubble of anxiety that she can’t stifle because she needs to know.

GM: Josua walks over to the bed and sits down. He tilts Jade’s face up towards his and runs his hands along er cheeks.

“My silent beauty. Such a pretty little girl.”

“It’s okay, pretty girl. You don’t need to talk.”

“All you need to do is smile. It makes Daddy so happy to see his little girl smile.”

Celia: But she is smiling. She has been smiling. Even now, tied to the bed, anxious that she’s supposed to be somewhere else, she smiles for him.

Finally, she blinks. It’s as clear as she can make it, that blink. No muscles but those controlling her lids move, a quick flip down then up. Her smile stays in place. Her head doesn’t do so much as twitch. None of the rest of her body dares move either; like someone’s doll, she lays where he had put her, and only the eyes give the answer he’s looking for from his earlier question: yes.

GM: Josua gives a velvety laugh.

“I think my little girl is trying to say something. I think she does think she’s been patient. Well, okay, baby girl. I think you’ve earned it, with that pretty smile. So Daddy’s going to give you a very special treat.”

He unbuckles his pants and pricks his penis with an ornamental penknife from the bedside table. The heady smell of Kindred vitae suffuses the air. He daintily opens her mouth, as though he needs to do it for her, and guides his bleeding member inside.

It’s a small prick, at the head of his penis. Jade will need to suck really hard to get more than a trickle of vitae out.

Josua seems to concentrate for a moment, then his member grows firm and stiff in her mouth.

Celia: She’d thought that maybe, given his reputation, they were the same. That he, too, still got off the breather way.

But it’s just her. The pervert. Alone in her deviance.

The blood touches her tongue, though, and she doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter that he has to force it, or that he’d had to have someone else fuck her because he couldn’t. He’d done it for her. She knows that. He’d done it for her, and now he’s doing this for her, because it’s what she wants. Her lips close around him, sucking at the tiny knife wound to bring that precious vitae forth even as he stiffens in her mouth. The smell and taste grow her fangs but she keeps them tucked away, taking what he gives, how he gives. Submitting even now like the little girl she is to what her daddy wants.

GM: “Such a good girl…” he whispers, cupping the back of her head with his hands. He thrusts his hips back and forth, pressing his crotch against her face.

Josua’s vitae is sweet like candy. There’s almost no other flavor, it’s so sweet, but there’s the faintest undercurrent of sour underneath, like a few grains of salt at the bottom of a sugar-coated gummy.

“There’s nowhere on earth that my little girl is happier than with a cock in her mouth, is there?

Celia: Even with his cock in her mouth she manages a tiny shake of her head. No, there’s nowhere else she’d rather be. She belongs on her back or her knees or bent over a lap; wherever he wants her, that’s where he can put her, and she’ll be pleased all the same.

The flavor is so sweet it’s almost cloying, but she swallows it down obediently, even eagerly, happy to have it. And even though it doesn’t do anything for him, even though he doesn’t get off the same way, she gives him the same treatment she’d given his friends earlier just to show him how much she appreciates it.

GM: Josua’s sweetness, for all its strength, is a good kind of sweetness, like the natural sugar found in a succulent fruit. It isn’t the cheap kind instilled by star mode, that tastes so much like sugar dumped over already prepared food. Pietro always did say it’s “worth getting them in the mood.” Jade can taste her clanmate’s lust for her, but it’s a curious sort of lust. It’s more than lust. There’s enrapturement with her beauty on an aesthetic and intellectual level, beyond merely sexual attraction, although there’s a great deal of that too. She feels as if he worships her with the totality of his being. His sweetness fills and speaks to her on every level. But there’s a sour and salty undercurrent to it, too, the more she drinks. Anger and melancholy. All is not well in paradise.

It’s easy to see why Alana wants to do this with her, though. Jade is hard-pressed to think of many blowjobs that actively pleasure her like sucking blood straight from a cock does.

Celia: Her hands, bound as they are, hang uselessly from the cuffs. She wants to touch him. To let her fingers find the source of his trouble and fix it for him. That’s what she’s good at. Fixing. Making people feel better on a physical level. And if she can do that for him why wouldn’t she? She strains against the cuffs but they hold her fast. She can only drink what he offers. And drink she does, swallowing mouthful after mouthful of the sweet, hot red stuff. It wipes the cum from her palate, rids her tongue of the salty taste of kine. This is what she wants, what she has wanted the whole time. He rewards her for being a good girl and she can’t get enough of it.

GM: “Such a good girl… she doesn’t need to move her hands… she’s right where she needs to be, Dady’s cock in her mouth…. my little girl’s so good at sucking cock, and Daddy is so, so proud of her…” Josua whispers, stroking Jade’s cheeks as she rapturously sucks.

“Such a good girl…”

Celia: Is she? Does he like it, when she moves her lips like this, when she draws her tongue along the bottom like that? Does it turn him on the way it would for someone who could still feel pleasure like that? She stops pulling at the bonds, lets her hands hang limp, content to let him retain control. He’s Daddy and he’s in charge, and his little girl will take what he offers.

GM: Josua presses his groin up against her face. Her cups his hands around the back of her head, pushing her closer. She doesn’t need to breathe. She doesn’t need to see. All there is his cock in her mouth and his blood running down her throat. The moment could last forever, until he says, “All right, baby girl, I’m going to pull out soon… get in some good last sucks…”

Eventually, he does. He undoes the sheets around her feet, then the cuffs around her wrists. He sits down at the edge of the bed and pulls her onto his lap. He’s fully clothed, with his jacket on and his shirt buttoned up, and she’s still naked as the day she was born. He adjusts her legs, keeping them on the bed and folded against his body, making her as small as possible. He hugs her close and cradles her head low against his chest, such that she can hide underneath his arms. It’s like the way he held her earlier, like someone would hold a child, but it feels more like he’s holding an infant now. She feels so small and vulnerable and exposed. But Daddy is there, his arms around her. He strokes her hair and slowly rocks her back and forth against his chest.

“That’s my little girl…”

“I know it’s hard for her, losing Daddy’s cock… but she did very well tonight, and Daddy is so, so, proud of her… she’s the most special little girl in the whole wide world…”

Celia: She makes a sound when he pulls back. A quiet whimper of mourning that he has taken the source of such enjoyment away from her. She doesn’t mean to; it just comes out, followed by a soft sigh. The disappointment fades as soon as he draws her onto his lap. She snuggles against him, cheek against his chest. Naked, vulnerable in her nudity, but safe in the cocoon of his arms around her. She nods her head as he speaks, a gentle smile pulling at her lips. He’s proud of her. She made him proud. She’s pleased with herself, with him, with their time together this evening. A feeling like bliss settles over her. She’s a good girl.

GM: “Such a good girl…” he whispers, and then his fangs pierce her neck. Physical bliss washes over her, comingling with the mental bliss.

She’s doing Daddy proud. She’s making him feel good. She’s making him feel so, so good, giving of her life to sustain his. There’s no truer expression of intimacy, than feeding. To give of yourself, to sustain another. To trust them that intimately, that profoundly, to take as much as they choose.

In those moments of feeding, two lives become as one.

Celia: Her lips part in a silent sigh when his fangs pierce her neck. Her eyes close as it washes over her, entire body caught by the shiver of desire and need and something softer, something that might be trust or affection. Something sweet that flavors her blood, deeper than lust, stronger than the charm their clan so often employs.

Something beautiful, like her, the little girl on Daddy’s lap.

GM: The moment of bliss and beauty feels like it could last forever, but like all things, it must come to an end. Josua finally pulls out and affectionately rubs her cheek with his hand.

“All right, baby girl… Daddy’s going to step outside for a bit, okay? That’ll be so she can get changed into being Jade the badass bitch again.”

“Tonight was very special. Daddy loves his little girl very, very much.”

Celia: She gives a slow nod at his words. She doesn’t want it to end, but the mention of Jade… there’s something there, something she’s forgetting. She clings to him a moment longer, nuzzling at his neck with her lips. Shyly, before he goes, she tells him that tonight was special for her too, and that she loves her daddy. There’s a moment of hesitation where she wants to tell him who she is, but she’s worried that once he’s had her he won’t want to see her again. She finally looks up at him.

GM: He smiles down at her, eyes full of warmth and understanding. He runs his hands up and down her cheeks and the sides of her head in petting-like motions, then finally tilts her head up so she meets his gaze. She doesn’t need to do that herself. Daddy will do it for her.

“My little girl can tell her daddy anything.”

Celia: “Leilani,” she tells him, voice as soft as the silken sheets beneath them. It’s the first time she’s ever admitted aloud that she exists. For a brief moment she’s afraid he won’t understand. But he’s her daddy, and she’s his little girl, and he has to understand. She says it again, quiet but sure, that she’s Leilani and she wants him to know.

GM: “Leilani. What a pretty name for what a pretty girl,” Josua smiles, hugging Leila against his chest again. His rubs his hands up and down her back, stroking her hair.

“I’m very pleased to have met you, Lani.”

“You’re a very special little girl. You’re very lucky to have a tough big sister like Jade keeping you safe.”

Celia: She is lucky. She nods her head in agreement. Jade takes care of all the mean people so she can be soft and sweet and nice and let daddy spoil her with friends and blood and pon—

No. Leilani has never had one of those.

“And a daddy,” she tells him, snuggled against him once more. “To be happy.” There’s the briefest of pauses. A moment of hesitation. She remembers the taste of his blood on her tongue, the salty, sour emotions beneath the sweet. Good girls care about their daddies, don’t they? They should. She does.

She asks if he’s happy, too.

GM: Josua’s smile dims a bit.

“Daddy’s Requiem isn’t perfect, baby girl. Nobody’s is.”

He squeezes her shoulder. “Except Lani’s.”

Celia: “Jade can beat someone up for you,” Leilani offers with all the assurance of a little girl who thinks her “big sister” hung the moon.

GM: Josua laughs. “Maybe I’ll ask her. But that’s grown-up talk, little Lani, for the grown-ups to worry about. You don’t need to worry about anything when you’re with Daddy.”

Celia: And just like that, she’s forgotten it. The grown-ups can handle it, and she’ll be safe and warm and happy on his lap. She nods her head in agreement.

GM: He hugs her close for a while longer. Little Lani is right where she belongs in Daddy’s arms, without so much as a worrisome thought to worry her pretty little head.

“All right, Lani,” he finally says. “After I leave, it’s going to be time for Jade to come back out, okay?”

Celia: “Okay,” she agrees with another nod. Jade can come out and play again, and Leila can go back inside. Leilani says a final goodbye to him, a chaste kiss on his cheek before he goes.

GM: He plants a kiss on her brow, gives her hair a last tousle, then places Jade’s clothes on the bed before closing the door behind him.

Celia: There’s no physical change. Nothing to signify that one mask comes off and another takes its place, nothing to tell the world that Leilani has gone to bed and Jade is once more in control. One moment she is daddy’s little girl, the next she’s the childe of a harpy, cold and cruel and conniving.

Her stomach rebels as soon as the the swap occurs, and Jade comes to with her face inches away from a trashcan while she hurls up the jizz she had been made to swallow earlier. At least no one is present to witness the undignified way it slides back up her throat and splatters in the bottom of the wastebasket. Rancid, foul, but over quickly enough. She wipes at her mouth, tongue slicing against her own long fangs as if that will chase away the taste.

Her eyes sweep the room. Cramped, but a door to one side opens into a bathroom and Jade helps herself to his shower. A quick rinse to rid herself of the smell of kine: sweat and cum and other rank odors. Three minutes, in and out, scraping the gunk from her skin with a soapy rag, focused on her face, chest, and between her legs. Perhaps she should have asked him to join her. Leilani would no doubt appreciate bath time. Extra bubbles for daddy’s little princess, and they can play at being mermaids and she can paint his face with beard-bubbles and show him her dolls. Jade smiles at the thought; next time, she tells the little girl, next time she’ll ask. She does not bother to wash her hair, and when she steps out to look in the mirror she see is pleased to see that no traces of the kine remain. Her fingers blur across her skin in routine sweeps, touching up her makeup in half the amount of usual time. She dries with a towel and finds her clothing waiting on the bed. Quick movements put it all back where it belongs, sans stolen panties. It takes less than ten minutes before she is truly Jade again, once more ready to be seen in polite society.

She glances at her phone to check the time, then reaches for the door.

GM: It’s been about 2.5 hours since she ran into Josua at the nightclub. She’s likely missed the ‘court’ part of Savoy’s weekly court, and a decent chunk of the party, though it probably still has some time before it wraps up.

She finds Josua outside, playing on his phone. He smiles and tucks it away at her appearance.

“Would you like to see your portrait?”

Celia: Awkward. Now she’ll never know if opening her mouth last night did anything or if it had all been wasted breath. At least her meeting with him is after the party. Small blessings and all that.

“I would,” she tells him. “I assumed you didn’t want me peeking, so I refrained.”

GM: “Very thoughtful. You looked radiant with your clothes off, by the way, but you look radiant with them back on.”

Celia: “Careful, there, I might think you’re trying to get me out of them again.”

GM: He smiles again. “I think we were ‘under the influence’ most of these past few hours. Clan blessing and all. It’s nice to meet you.”

Celia: Clan blessing indeed. She’s glad she’s dead, that no flush gives her away.

“You too.” She can’t help but laugh. “We’ve done it all backwards.”

“I suppose I should introduce myself now that we’ve already gotten to know each other. Miss Jade Kalani,” she offers with a wry smile.

GM: “Josua Cambridge. I find introductions are usually less awkward this way. Or at least more fun.”

“You were every bit as amazing in bed as I thought you’d be.”

Celia: One brow lifts.

“Do you think about me in bed often?”

GM: “When we met, definitely, though I think about what everyone would be like in bed.”

Celia: “I suppose we have that in common.”

GM: “I wonder what Vidal would be like.”

Celia: “Rigid.”

GM: “I can say from experience, Ventrue can be really hot.”

Celia: “Perhaps we should ask his lover, then, and see if we can take a turn with him.”

“Hard to refuse two gorgeous licks like us.”

GM: Josua laughs. “If you’re serious, I wouldn’t mind screwing the seneschal either. I really wouldn’t. I’m curious what a real elder would be like.”

Celia: “Yours doesn’t do it for you anymore?”

GM: “Oh no, Marcel’s great in bed. But why have one when you could have two?”

He looks her over appraisingly. “Marcel would definitely like to bang you, though he prefers them less submissive than Lani was.”

Celia: Jade laughs. “I’ve no doubt. Get me a date with him, then, and I’ll show you both the other side.”

GM: “Now that I’d be very interested to see. I figured you’d be more like your sire.”

Celia: “Mm, truth be told Leila hasn’t come out like that before.”

GM: “Really? I feel special.”

Celia: “You should. She’d like to see you again, but I’ll let her down easy if you’re not interested.”

GM: “Mmm, maybe later. I’d like to see this other side to Jade, first. I’m not usually that dominant.”

Celia: “No?” Jade eyes him up and down. “I wouldn’t have guessed that.”

GM: “Oh, no. The lick I fuck the most these days is Marcel, and I’m never on top with him. He likes me as a boytoy.” Josua grins. “Sucking blood from a cock was something he showed me.”

Celia: “Now that,” she says with a matching grin, “was wickedly delicious.”

“But the breather way doesn’t do it for you.” A question more than a statement; she assumes the answer already.

Celia: “If you want another elder,” Jade offers after a moment, “you could come to the Evergreen with me sometime.”

GM: Josua shakes his head at her question.

“That’s really tempting. I bet he’s great in bed. I don’t think Marcel would be happy to share me with him, though.”

Celia: She doesn’t seem terribly upset. It’s the answer she expected.

A quick step closes the distance between them; one hand flattens against his chest to push him against the wall, lips at his neck, while the other hand drifts upwards so that her fingers curl through his hair.

“Disappointing,” she purrs. “I imagine you’d be quite a hit at the party next week, and I’d have loved to show you off even if we didn’t end up in Antoine’s hot tub…” She nips at his neck. “I suppose I’ll content myself with flipping the script from tonight and letting you present me to Marcel.”

GM: Josua grins at the aggressive motion, showing his now-protruding fangs. His hands encircle Jade’s body, lovingly caressing her back as they slowly work down to knead her rear. It’s not unlike how Roderick would do it, but there’s a feeling of reverence in his Josua’s hands distinct from the affection (and lust) in her Brujah lover’s. It’s a feeling of profound regard, like he’s getting to handle a holy relic, and getting a huge boner from doing so. His fangs brush against her cheek, letting her feel their sharpness and the softness of his lips, but stopping just short of drawing blood.

“Maybe we could sneak me in as a girl… Marcel likes to have me dress as one, sometimes… we prefer me as a man, but I make a very pretty girl, too…”

Celia: No wonder his count is as high as it is if this is how he treats all his lovers. She’d positively swoon if she were physically capable of doing so.

“I’m a magician with a makeup brush,” she tells him, “though if you ever really want to be a girl…” She trails off, her eyes raking his body. “I’m sure I could make it happen for a night. Ask nicely and I might even let you raid my closet.”

GM: “Oh, yes please, mistress,” he purrs, pulling Jade close and pressing her breasts against his chest. He closes his eyes for a moment, seeming to bask in the sensation of their physical proximity. He breathes his next words in to Jade’s ear like he’s sharing an intimate secret, his tongue lapping against her earlobe. “But I would never raid your closet. I would supplicate myself before you. I would pray that I was worthy of the honor and privilege of wearing clothes that had once touched the godhead, the divine feminine. I would tell you I felt as if I was carrying part of you with me, when I wore your clothes. I would tell you I felt safe and comforted to have some piece of you, not adorning me, but exalting me. I would approach your closet as though it were a temple and pray to receive of its blessings.”

Celia: Oh yes. She can definitely get used to this.

A shiver travels down her spine at the words, eyes widening when she lifts her head to look up at him once more. The very tips of her fangs peek out from behind her lips, though she keeps them to herself for now.

“Careful, pet,” she warns him, voice thick, “or I’ll steal you away from him and keep you for myself, and you’ll never get up off your knees again.”

GM: “But what if I don’t want to get off my knees,” he murmurs, sinking down to them. He presses his face against Jade’s crotch, like a child at its mother’s breasts, and hugs his arms around her legs.

“There’s no place I’d rather be than a woman’s knees. Than your knees. I love a woman’s knees. I love everything about women. There’s so much to love about women. I love the richness and fullness to their hair, how I can just run my hands through it forever. I love women with long hair. I love the softness and curvaceousness to their faces. I love how puberty doesn’t make them hard, how every woman still has a little girl’s face, how every woman is still a child at heart. I love the firmness and softness to their breasts, and how they nourish innocent young life with those perky, milky orbs. I love to suck on women’s breasts, but I didn’t with Lani, you know, because she didn’t feel aware she had breasts, innocent child that she was. I love the supple curves to women’s bodies, how symmetrical they are. I love how just the outline of a woman’s form is a work of art in of itself. I love the delicate, mincing steps women take in heeled shoes, how it makes their hips delightfully sway back and forth. I love the softness to their smooth, hairless legs. I could run my hands along a woman’s legs forever. I love the rosiness to their cheeks and lips. I love the wide, trusting nature of their eyes. I love the dainty smallness of their hands.”

Josua isn’t still as he talks. His hands lovingly caress up and down her legs the entire time. He plants tender kisses along her thighs, then her knees, working steadily downwards to her feet.

“I love women. I love fucking women, and I love admiring women. I love everything about women. That’s why what you do is so important, Jade. Because women aren’t beautiful on their own. Being a woman, really being a woman, is an art. It takes work and pain and dedication. Women must suffer to be women. They must bleed. They must know pain.”

“Art demands no less.”

He plants a loving kiss on Jade’s right foot. A blissful shudder runs through his body as he closes his eyes, then rubs his cheek against her foot as though to ‘seal in’ the kiss.

“And you… are an artist.”

Celia: It’s the sort of speech that makes a woman lose herself. The sort of thing that makes her eyes shine, her breath catch, her toes curl. His words do more for her than the clumsy, fumbling movements of so many men who try and fail to replicate what he says without thinking, and the touch on her legs, the kiss on her foot, the pure adoration that he lavishes upon her…

She breathes it in. Breathes it in with long, shaking breaths that she doesn’t need, but she doesn’t care because that, too, is art; looking human is art, breathing and forcing her heart to beat and letting her body react the way it wants to is art, art that she created through blood and time and tears because being a woman is art and she is its master.

Jade uses the foot he’d kissed to nudge him aside, putting him onto his back with his belly and throat exposed like the submissive toy that he is. She traces the tips of her fangs with her tongue, then drops. Her thighs spread to either side of his waist, dress hiked up around her hips to give her the freedom of movement. Her knees hit the floor hard, hands flashing out to catch his wrists and pin them above his head.

“Trouble,” she tells him, nipping once more at his throat, “you’re trouble, with a tongue like that.” She aches to break his skin, to sink her teeth in, but she holds off.

GM: “Oh, yes… I’m in so much trouble with you, mistress…” Josua purrs, his eyes lighting up as she spreads her thighs around him. He doesn’t fight her grip, but he wriggles his hips, grinding his crotch against hers. He pushes up and down from the floor as though trying to reach heaven. He mouths her breasts through the fabric of her dress, running his tongue across them in clockwise motions even as he contently suckles at the covered nipples. It’s a curious sensation, to receive such pleasure through a cloth barrier, but it’s far from unpleasant.

“You’re….” Josua murmurs, “a calamity, if I’m trouble… an apocalypse… I’m in completely over my head… what have I gotten myself into… once Jade is on the scene, all bets are off… all will be as the goddess wills, and mere man can never know her will…”

Celia: Less curious than he might think; she’s always been a sucker for teasing over the clothes before finally tearing them off, and her Embrace had only heightened those senses. She makes a sound deep in her throat, eyes closing when his hips move upward to rub against her. She presses down, not evening pretending anymore that this hasn’t turned into round two, that she isn’t slick and ready to go again. Even her Beast is ready to pounce and tear into this delectable young thing beneath her.

“Insatiable,” she murmurs, shifting to hold his wrists with one hand—it’s a loose grip at best—so she can drag her nails down his chest. “But you’re right,” she breathes into his ear, “that you don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into; I’m going to leave you wanting and begging and panting for more, and all you’re going to think about these next few nights is how badly you want me to come back and finish what I started.”

Her lips press against the underside of his jaw, just over the pulse point on a mortal, and the tips of her fangs drag against his skin. Then she’s gone, pulling up and off of him, rising to her feet in a fluid motion and peering down at him with eyes that smolder in their intensity.

GM: “Oh, yes… I don’t know, mistress… I thought I saw you, with Lani, but you’re her wicked twin sister…” Josua murmurs. He rises, but not to his feet. He wraps his arm around Jade’s leg and presses his cheek against the skin, rapturously, like a freezing man clinging to a vertical space heater, or an ecstatic Indian to a sacred totem.

“There are so many sides to you… just when I think I have you figured out, you show me I don’t know anything… you’re an eternal mystery, try though I might to understand you… man cannot understand the goddess, only try to please her…”

Josua smoothly slides down from her thigh to her foot in a bowing-look motion. His hands to start to caress the sides of her shoe as he kisses its front, then licks the underside to polish it clean.

“You do torture me, mistress, and it hurts so bad, to be deprived of your touch… but it’s a privilege to be tortured by you… to know that my pain pleases the goddess, and that she sees fit to listen to my begging… it’s enough to help me through my pain, but to leave me on the brink of madness, wanting more, wanting so much more… but my wants don’t matter, only her pleasure…”

He fits the heel of Jade’s shoe into his mouth and begins to rapturously suck it, like he would a man’s cock. His lips move up and down the heel as his tongue laps across each side. He makes the same noises he would with a cock, too. Slowly savored “mmm… mmm…” ones in between each suck and inhalation. His eyes close contently.

Celia: She leaves him to it for a moment, amused by the sight of him on his knees in front of her, aroused by the way he clearly worships the entirety of her being. Were it any other night she might even keep him there; her mind runs wild with the fantasy of putting him on a leash, making him crawl after her, turning him into her very own pet.

But it isn’t any other night, and she does, unfortunately, have places to be and people decidedly less attractive to speak to, and despite his assurance that Marcel doesn’t mind sharing or guests she still doesn’t want to be caught where she shouldn’t be. Nothing like being forced to explain why she got caught trespassing to kill her boner. They’re not even in his room, she can’t help but note, but still outside of it where anyone could walk by.

She moves her foot, removing it from his mouth and settling the sole of it against his chest. Another nudge lays him out once more, denying him the satisfaction of touching her.

“Enough.”

GM: He quavers underneath her foot, but simultaneously presses his chest against the shoe, as though it’s his last and only chance to get as close to her as possible. He loves the sensation of her sole, that much is plain.

“Yes, mistress,” he whimpers.

Celia: “Show me what you created. Your painting. The art. Show me me.” She turns, pulling her foot off of him, and strides toward the door. A snap of her fingers summons him after her.

GM: He swiftly rises behind her. “Yes, mistress. Right away.”

They walk back into the cabin. Josua turns the easel so that she can see.

It’s her.

The painting depicts her lying back-down on the bed, her arms spread. Josua hasn’t painted the handcuffs, but it’s a vulnerable and exposed-feeling position. She’s lying right there for the viewer to claim, everything from head to her belly. She’s a helpless prize to be won. There’s a rosy hue to her cheeks and the tips of her breasts that feels simultaneously innocent and suggestive. Indeed, the whole piece feels that way. One could appreciate it for its aesthetic merits or masturbate to it as pornography. An appreciative enough viewer might even be able to do both. Jade feels like Josua could do both.

But the crown jewel is the smile.

Everything shines through in that smile. Part of her looks happy. Her eyes glow with happiness. She looks eager to please, too. Her expression makes Jade think of all those times people told Celia to smile, and how Emily says it’s sexist. But the girl in the portrait smiles anyway. Part of it does feel a little sexist, the weight of patriarchy bearing down on her slim shoulders, and she can’t do other than go along. But she also feels like she’s smiling because it’s her. Really and truly her. It’s an innocent smile, fragile and broken. It lights up the world and shows all of its cracks. Jade can see the pain in the girl’s eyes. It’s a soft pain, long accustomed, that she meekly accepts as part of herself, yet perhaps yearns to break of and knows she can’t, because it’s not her place. She shares it all with the viewer. She’s smiling directly at them, sharing something innocent and fragile and trusting. She trusts you with her true self, in all its innocent fragility. The smile is just for you.

Trust. That’s a big part of what shines through. Jade may think back to Josua saying she couldn’t talk. She didn’t need to talk. She could place her trust entirely in another person’s hands. It makes her think of subspace, that state of mind Alana sometimes gets into. The ghoul becomes completely pliant and willing, aglow with pleasure at letting someone else totally control her and make all the decisions, because that person loves her enough to make all the right ones. It’s a position of total trust. The girl in the portrait doesn’t look fully in subspace; there’s no lust in the smile. But she looks like she’s familiar with what subspace is.

It looks like the kind of smile a girl would show her daddy. Or her lover. It’s the kind of smile that doesn’t exist between sisters, or between mothers and daughters. It makes Celia think about her family. Emily, who always will be her equal and peer. Diana, who’s brimming with affection, but who’s never been the one to protect and keep her safe. This smile is the look a girl reserves for her daddy. A dominant man who can make her his little princess. The pictures makes Jade wonder what life would have been like with Maxen as her loving father. In that smile, she sees a mirrored longing. A girl who’s close enough to see the daddy she’s always wanted, but too far away to touch. He’s missing from the picture. There’s just her.

A beautiful girl with a beautiful smile.

Celia: She takes a breath.

And then another.

Useless, those breaths. They do nothing to stem the tide of emotion that threatens to take her in its grasp and strangle her. The corners of her eyes burn as she stares, silently, upon what Josua has created.

Her.

It’s her.

Every empty, aching, twisted part of her resides within that smile. Every word that has ever been flung her way, every negative thought, every everything that makes her her. Not Jade, not Leilani, not Star or Lily or Violet, not the whore or the sinner or the bitch, not the harpy’s slut or the sheriff’s childe or Savoy’s pet neonate or Roderick’s girlfriend or Alana’s mistress.

Just her. Just Celia.

The girl without a dad who desperately wants one. The girl with four paternal figures who are too busy or too distant or too important to want to have anything to do with her.

It’s beautiful. And it’s devastating. And for long moments she can only stare at herself, at this fractured, fragile thing in front of her, at her complete and utter willingness to trust in someone else to take care of everything, and wonder where it all went wrong.

Canvas is not her medium. She can’t speak to brush strokes and dimension and proportions, can’t judge the color or the composition. She doesn’t try. She only stares, and wonders, and feels.

She doesn’t know when she took his hand, only that she reached for something to anchor her and there he was, and her fingers feel small in his grip and maybe that’s okay, maybe that’s what she needs right now, maybe just for tonight the mask slips and she’s not Jade anymore, she’s not Leilani, she’s just Celia.

A beautiful girl with a beautiful smile.

At last, she finds her voice.

“It’s me.” Quiet words, hardly louder than a breath of air. Her tongue flicks across her lips.

“It’s me,” she says again. She turns to face him, cheeks stained red. She points, as if she needs to, as if there is anything else she could speak of.

“It’s me.”

It’s truth. It’s beauty. It’s both. There’s no need to decide between the pair with each at home on the canvas.

GM: Josua squeezes her hand and guides her to a seat on the bed, pulling her up against him, back to his chest as they sit and look at the painting’s smiling sibject. His hands slowly work and caress her shoulders.

“It’s you,” he echoes.

“Art doesn’t lie.”

Celia: It can lie. Makeup lies. It makes the ugly look beautiful, the old look young, the barely adequate divine. It can change the shape of the face or hide deformities, smooth uneven complexions and whittle away too-broad surfaces.

But this doesn’t lie. This portrait, her, it doesn’t lie.

She nestles against him, eyes drawn back to the work of art. She can’t look away, even as his fingers work her flesh, even as her muscles tense, hold, and finally release beneath the pressure.

GM: “Where are you going to keep it?” he asks, continuing to attentively knead her shoulders. He’s no professional like she is, but the sentiment is there.

Celia: Her haven, she thinks, but she doesn’t know how she’ll explain it to her partner, or what his reaction will be if she tells him that she sat for it. Even without the sex, posing nude is… well, he’s not an artist, he doesn’t understand.

“I don’t know,” she admits.

With the dolls, maybe, the other little pieces of her soul, but this… this deserves a prominent location. Private, but prominent.

GM: “You could give it to someone else, too. But it’s a very intimate look at you.”

Celia: She can only think of one person she’d let see her like this. Even so, if he were ever to lose control of his rage and destroy it… well, she thinks she’d have to destroy him, then. She shakes her head.

“I don’t want to share it. I want to keep it. To… remind me.”

GM: “Hmm. Maybe there’s a lot to remind yourself about. Lani is so submissive. Not at all like Jade.”

Celia: “No,” she agrees. “But that isn’t Lani. Or Jade.”

GM: “You’re right. She is different. It all comes out on the canvas.”

“It’s interesting how we take new names.”

“I almost wish I had, before everyone knew who I was.”

“Everyone loves having a mystery. Being a mystery.”

Celia: “There’s beauty in honesty. In not losing sight of who you were, who you are.”

“That’s more important than we like to give credit.”

GM: “True. But we’re not who we once were, either. New names reflect that.”

“Maybe they’re more honest, in their own way.”

“Or maybe there’s a lie either way.”

Celia: “There’s a line about names and roses from Shakespeare.” Jade lifts a shoulder. “Sometimes the masks get heavy, too.”

GM: “We can take off masks.” He looks thoughtful. “Maybe. There is that quote, too, about masks ceasing to be masks.”

Celia: “Can you take off the mask? I haven’t been honest with anyone since the night I died.” She nods toward the painting. “That’s the most real thing I’ve seen in a long time.”

GM: “I think you can. It’s just a question of how much it’ll hurt, isn’t it?”

“There is hurt in her eyes.”

“Hurt and a lot of other things.”

“Either way, if you’re going to disguise me as a girl, I should take a new name anyway. There’s something fun about slipping on new masks. It’s why we played dress-up as kids. Getting to decide who we are.”

Celia: She accepts the change of subject with something that might be a sad smile. Turned away from him like she is, she doesn’t think he sees, and her shot at raw honesty fades into the night.

“What name would you pick for your feminine self?”

GM: “I think we should wait until we see how she looks.”

Celia: “She’ll be beautiful,” Jade tells him, “like you are. But we can wait and see.”

GM: “I know she will, in your hands. There’s something pure in that, in beauty. It can hide things, but beauty is always honest about itself.”

“I think you’ve probably been more honest than you give yourself credit for.”

“Jade and Lani are both honest. They’re both beautiful.”

Celia: What does that make Celia?

GM: “The world is worse if there’s just one of them. Instead of me sucking your heels, and you sucking my dick, there’d have to be just one of those.”

Celia: “Perish the thought. I wouldn’t deprive the world that way.”

GM: “Which one would you take? Are you a top or a bottom, or does the truth depend on the mask?”

Celia: “I’m a switch. I change to be what’s needed.”

GM: “I think I’m a bottom at heart. But I can switch.”

Celia: “Sometimes it’s nice to give up control.”

GM: “It’s an expression of trust. If someone can hurt you and they don’t.”

Celia: Jade twists in his arms, lifting her face to look up at him.

“Does he?”

GM: Josua grins. “Only in fun ways. So I guess not really.”

“Everyone says Ventrue have sticks up their asses, but he’s very laid back.”

“He’s helping me when he doesn’t have to.”

Celia: “Everyone has a reason they do things, even if they’re not readily apparent.” She pauses just long enough. “Personally I think it’s because you’re adorable.”

GM: He gives a velvety laugh. “Of course. My good looks.”

“They got me almost everywhere in life, I guess the Requiem shouldn’t be any different.”

Celia: “You don’t sound very enthused about that idea.”

GM: He pauses. “I wonder, sometimes, if they’re why my sire turned me.”

“Maybe I’d be happier if I’d been just a little less handsome.”

He smiles. “But not too much less. Only a little.”

Celia: “One of those famous writers once said that the most important days of our lives are the day we were born and the day we find out why. I think the same can be said of anyone who was turned without a choice.”

GM: “She turned me and just… disappeared. I still have no idea why.”

Celia: “You could let it consume you, let that question turn you into a bitter shrew. Obsess over it. Wonder why you were abandoned, why she didn’t stick around, wonder if it’s because you somehow didn’t measure up, like you weren’t good enough, like it’s acceptable to just pull someone from their life and ruin it and ditch them, like maybe you were a mistake all along, or a moment of passion that turned into regret.”

“And that’s fine. Plenty of licks do that. Plenty of people, too.”

“Or…” She turns fully, perched on his lap once more, knees bent with her arms around his neck. “You can accept that sometimes… sometimes there isn’t a grand plan. Sometimes things don’t happen for a reason. Sometimes you get a shitty sire and someone else cares enough about you to take you in.”

GM: “You are right there,” he grants. “I could’ve been Embraced as a thin-blood. Or been found by a thin-blood.”

Celia: “My breather family,” she says at length. “My sister was adopted. Her bio mom didn’t care enough about her to lay off the bottle, and she had a rough go of it. Bounced around foster care. We met and hit it off, and my mom brought her into the family, and they’ve been happy. No blood binds them, but they’ve got a better relationship than most people I knew.”

GM: “That’s a happy ending for them both.”

“Is she hot?”

“Your sister and all.”

Celia: “Oooh, yeah, not gonna happen.”

GM: “Ah, well. You’re hotter anyways, I bet.”

Celia: “I am.”

GM: “She must be happy, though. My dad was a douchebag too. For a long time, all I wanted was to fill that hole. Not many people get to.”

Celia: Jade makes a sound that might be choked laughter.

“Yeah,” she says, “I know that feeling.”

GM: “Douche dad too?”

Celia: “Abusive.”

GM: “That’s just a travesty. Like defacing the Sistine Chapel.”

Celia: It almost comes out then. The whole story about dinner, the apology, wanting to make amends.

But that’s a truth she isn’t ready to talk about, and it’s not just her unlife on the line.

“Yours too, sounds like.”

GM: “He wasn’t abusive. He just walked out and never paid child support.”

“One of my sisters still has some serious self-esteem and abandonment issues from it.”

Celia: “Sometimes it’s easier to cut someone out when you realize they’re toxic than coping with their absence.”

GM: “Easier said than done for a lot of people.”

“But this is getting glum.”

Celia: “What, you’re not turned on by emotional pain?”

She tsks at him.

GM: He laughs. “I’ve seen some weird fetishes, but never that one.”

“But you have a beautiful man with his arms around you. I have a beautiful woman on my lap.” He plants a kiss against her neck.

Celia: “Oh, no, no,” she murmurs, shaking her head. “I know how this goes. You tell me how pretty I am, I let you seduce me, we fuck again, I miss the rest of the party I’m supposed to be at…” She makes no move to get off his lap despite her protests.

GM: His hands start to massage her breasts as he plants kisses along her cheek.

“The party is wherever you are.”

Celia: Oh.

Well.

That’s certainly true.

GM: “It’s their fault if they didn’t get the memo where it was at.”

Celia: “How selfish of me to deny them my presence.”

“But logistically,” she murmurs, arching her back to lean into his touch, “they wouldn’t all fit in your room, and even if I were inclined to skip it and take you again, there’s the issue that I’d lose all control and rip your pretty throat out, and then you’d never let me turn you into a girl so we can tag-team Marcel.”

“And that, Josua, would be a travesty.”

GM: “I suppose you’re right,” he says wistfully. “When do you want to do that?”

Celia: “Mmm… sometime this week? I can make myself available.” She offers Tuesday or Wednesday.

GM: “Hmm, Wednesday’s better,” says Josua. “I’ll check things with Marcel.”

Celia: “Let me know. In the meantime, I don’t suppose I could talk you into smuggling me out of here and giving me a lift back to the Quarter?”

GM: Josua laughs. “You wouldn’t rather stay for round two? Are you sure?”

Celia: “I’d like to. I’d really, really like to.”

GM: “I know you would. You’re a switch. You’ve only seen half of all I can be…”

Celia: “Hard to say no when you put things like that…” Her fingers slide through his, halting the movement of the hands on her body before the rest of her self-control can slip away. Even if she didn’t have to go she couldn’t stay, not when it means poaching to avoid a bigger mess. Another twist and her lips find the corner of his mouth. “But I need to go. We’ll save it for next time when I turn you into my pretty little girl. Come, though, be a good boy and I might even let you worship me on the way back.”

GM: Josua sinks rapturously into the kiss, his tongue hungrily seeking out hers.

“Oh, but it’ll be a whole new way for us to fuck once I’m a girl… a whole new way of worshiping you… there are so many ways you can be worshiped, mistress, and so many you deserve to be worshiped… none of them enough… but mere men must try…”

He doesn’t try to remove his hands from Celia’s, but lowers them and casually hikes up the hem of her dress.

“Tonight we can still do it without protection… there’s only two nights we can do that… let me show you something, mistress, I think you’ll like it…”

Still holding Celia’s hands, as though because she hasn’t given him permission to let go, Josua bows his head and nimbly snakes it under her dress. He starts to lick her in her sweetest spot, just like Roderick does. But Roderick never did it with such an air of pure pleasure, pure joy, from pleasuring her.

Then, also unlike Roderick, Josua sinks his fangs into the flesh just above her clit. Celia feels the ecstasy of the kiss take immediate hold, shuddering up her loins like an electric current as her clanmate sucks her blood. His tongue simultaneously laps around her little nub in long, soft, counterlockwise circles. Pleasing the Man (the Woman) and the Beast at once.

He finally lets go of her hands. His fingers slowly and softly find their way towards her g-spot, then stroke it in steady rhythmic motions.

Celia: Words themselves lose all meaning. Thoughts dissolve into fragmented snippets of sensation: falling, drowning, and an overwhelming ember that starts a fire in her core. It burns. She burns. “Stah—” she thinks she might say, but without the pop of her lips to form the P it’s just more noise percolating through the atmosphere. Currents of electricity buzz through her body. Her back arches, the girl made marionette through tongue and teeth and fingertip.

Her protest dies before it has a chance to live. She succumbs.

GM: Josua brings her over the edge. She’s not even sure how many times he does so; it all blurs together under the ceaseless ecstasy of the kiss, gasm after gasm that turn her thighs to jelly. At some point he switches positions, 69ing with her so that she can suck the blood he’s taken back out of his (erect) cock. The fire in her core burns and burns and consumes him too, until they’re both guttered out and smoldering in one another’s arms.

“Bet they wouldn’t have worshiped you at that silly party,” Josua purrs, his tongue idly tracing a path across her labia.

The clock, however, tells another story. If she doesn’t hurry, the party may be almost over.

Celia: The mention of the party is enough to clear the fog from her mind. She sits up suddenly, breath hissing from between her teeth. Josua finds himself quickly displaced when she rises to her feet.

“Shit,” she says, pulling her dress down.

“Shit, shit, shit,” she says, reaching for her purse.

“Shit,” she says, glaring at the door where beyond waits guards and licks and ghouls and who knows what else that will try to keep her from making it back in time to do… anything.

“Come on,” she says to him, reaching for his hand. “Show me the way out.”

GM: There’s also the window, if she cares to take a swim.

Celia: She has wings, she doesn’t need to swim.

GM: “That’s not usually what a partner likes to hear after sex,” Josua replies amusedly, but pulls on his pants. “All right, though. Follow me.”

Celia: Unless he’s going to take her all the way to the border… maybe the window is the better bet. She eyes it. Then asks.

GM: “We don’t really keep any cars on board here, but I can hail a Ryde to take you to your party.”

Celia: “No,” she says finally, “we’ll pretend we’re in high school, only the roles are reversed.” Jade crosses to the window and shoves it open. “Keep my painting safe for me. I’ll be back to collect it.”

She takes a step back, then launches herself through the open window. Her body twists and she disappears with a flap of wings.


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Story Twelve, Caroline XVI

“What makes a traitor so reviled, effective, and dangerous is that you do not suspect them.”
Caroline Malveaux-Devillers


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t begin to know how to frame this one: it’s going to take more resources then she typically works with to explain the use of highly controlled military weapons in such numbers—at least in the face of any substantial scrutiny.

For the moment, she settles for working to get the cars near each other—to a passerby it might simply look like a horrific three car accident at high speed. Ferris sets to work policing the spent brass, gathering the automatic weapons and rocket launchers, and the like and hiding them at the edge of the woods.

She and Gisèlle work to mange any cars that pull up, that stop in the night. Altering memories, sending them on their way as though they’d seen just an accident, or a dead animal in the road.

GM: Midway through the group’s labors, the invisible staked figure suddenly becomes plain to Caroline’s sight. He’s a black-haired and tan-skinned man with Middle Eastern features in seemingly his late 20s. He’s lean-framed, shorter than her, and dressed in the same camo garb as his men.

Caroline: Caroline takes the opportunity to badly break both of his arms, his wrists, and fingers, stomping on them.

She’s taken enough chances tonight. He had his shot.

GM: “Shame we can’t just cut them off,” remarks Ferris.

Caroline: He’s right, unfortunately. Removing limbs is a prolonged and messy business for someone without supernatural strength, much less without sawing implements.

“Left my sword at home,” Caroline grins.

GM: “I’d be surprised if none of these people had bladed weapons. They were clearly targeting Kindred.”

Caroline: She takes the opportunity to check him for any ID, or clearly identifying marks.

GM: His ID card says Rajab al-Beydoun was born on June 4th, 1987 and is an organ donor. He also has a multitude of further weapons on his person, including a long combat knife.

Caroline: Caroline relieves the assassin of his weapons while they wait.

GM: The helicopter eventually lands. Hurst gets out with three ghouls who Caroline doesn’t recognize. He immediately rushes to Becky Lynne’s side, embraces her, and asks if she is all right. She answers in the affirmative, though sadly states that Peggy is dead, along with several others. Hurst shakes his head at the whole scene.

“Well, Eiren, it looks like a lucky thing you were here first,” says the aedile, nodding towards Caroline.

Caroline: “Lucky,” Caroline agrees.

As though the assassin hadn’t sought her out.

“Sometimes things just come together that way.”

GM: “So they do.” Hurst looks around the scene. “We got room for three, besides the pilot. Who’s coming back besides my sister?”

“Of course you’d say me,” smiles Becky Lynne. “The seneschal wants Eiren Malveaux-Devillers, myself, and our friend with the wood in his heart.”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

“I have additional ghouls enroute,” she offers. “Including my cleaner. She’ll do what she can here. They’re manpower if nothing else. They left via car shortly after our first conversation, Aedile Hurst.”

GM: “Good news,” says Hurst. He hefts the staked vampire over his shoulder, waving off any of the women who attempt to help. He seats the assassin down into the helicopter and secures the seatbelt straps around his body.

Becky Lynne takes the seat next to her brother. Caroline is left to sit beside her would-be killer.

Caroline: She takes a seat next to him, wearing his knife, with her stake shoved in his chest. She tries not to look smug about it.

GM: The frozen-faced assassin doesn’t look like much of anything.

Hurst pilots the helicopter back to New Orleans, chatting with Becky Lynne along the way about how events down, and finally lands on Perdido House’s helipad. They are greeted on the roof by Robert Congo, who offers to take the assassin’s body, but Hurst says he’ll manage it.

The ghoul escorts them to Maldonato’s office, where the seneschal patiently awaits the group from behind his desk. Becky Lynne dips into a curtsy. Hurst bows and sets down the assassin on one of the room’s chairs.

Caroline: Caroline mirrors the older Ventrue.

She can’t deny there is relief to be back in the city—it washed over her when the city’s lights appeared over the horizon.

It’s a greater relief to be back in Perdido House, before the seneschal. That the two might turn on her at any moment during the flight was a possibility she had considered. The assassins’ knife had laid heavy against her thigh, loose in its sheath.

If it had come down to it she’d have let the Beast off its chains. Let it and the crash sort things out. Better than going quietly.

She’s glad it didn’t.

GM: “I am pleased your mission tonight has been successful,” Maldonato states as he surveys the three. “Risk has been ventured. Reward is now our due.”

He turns to the assassin. The stake removes itself from the vampire’s chest.

“Identify yourself.”

The broken-limbed man offers a bow from the chair.

“I am Raaid ibn Badr bint Khalil bint Nazeeha bint Fatima bint Thetmes ibn Sha’hiri ibn Haqim, Your Grace.”

Caroline: The information is less valuable than the identity of his employer, or confirmation of his target, but she allows the seneschal to play his cards as he will. He’s been at the game for far longer than she has.

GM: “I am sorry that we must meet under these circumstances. Your name is not unknown in Alamut.”

“Nor, evidently, is mine the only such name,” answers the seneschal. “Who was your contract upon, son of Haqim?”

“The childe of Prince Augusto Vidal, Caroline Malveaux-Devillers,” answers Raaid.

Hurst’s eyebrows raise.

Becky Lynne’s don’t.

Caroline: Caroline bites back a hiss.

So much for the longevity of that secret.

An assassin, brought from around the world for her, within days of her presentation.

GM: “From whom did Alamut receive her contract?” inquires Maldonato.

“I do not know,” answers Raaid.

The seneschal stares at him for several moments.

“You speak truly, son of Haqim, though I would have been surprised had you spoken falsely in this matter.”

Raaid inclines his head.

Caroline: There are plenty that would see her dead. There are fewer that might confidently name her the prince’s childe.

GM: “The contract upon Miss Malveaux-Devillers has failed,” states Maldonato. “Do traditions remain as they once did in Alamut? Are further contracts upon your target closed?”

“That is as things long were,” says Raaid. “Jamal no longer sits upon the Black Throne. Alamut may consider it a point of honor to avenge my death and complete the outstanding contract.”

“That is unfortunate for us all,” replies the seneschal. “I would be inclined to release you as a gesture of goodwill to Alamut, if I knew for certain that further contracts upon Miss Malveaux-Devillers were closed. Yet I do not believe her sire shall be so forgiving.”

Raaid inclines his head again.

“This, too, is known to us.”

“If there are questions you would ask of our guest, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, you may do so now,” bids Maldonato.

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I have several, Seneschal, thank you.”

She turns on the crippled vampire, eyeing him warily.

“You fought well. Very well.”

GM: Raaid offers another inclination of his head at Caroline’s words.

Caroline: “Were you given a time and location I would be at to conduct your strike, or did you arrange circumstances that would pull me from the city?”

GM: “I was given a time and location.”

Caroline: There are painfully few that might have arranged such a thing.

She nods. “I know little of Alamut, so please forgive my ignorance. It seems that in your, or my, victory or defeat, this contract could have provided no peace. I am months in the blood, expendable, but no matter the victor between us, hatred seems now destined to continue between our masters. Is it the way of Alamut to become more than the blade between two foes, to become a foe itself?”

“I would speak plainly with you. It is not my desire to become leverage used to place my sire in conflict with others by his enemies. By your hire, this appears unavoidable.”

GM: “So long as the defeated perish honorably, that is not Alamut’s way,” answers Raaid. “We have rendered judgment upon the Get of Khayvin since time immemorial. Many rafiq have met final death in pursuit of Haqim’s will. If Alamut sought vengeance for every fallen son and daughter, we would have enemies beyond count—though individual sires may find it harder to forget the death of a childe than the rafiq as a whole.”

“Alamut does not forget foes whose treatment of our defeated sons and daughters profanes Haqim’s name. One of the rafiq during the wars along the Eastern Seaboard was captured by a foul Tzimisce, given the body of a woman, bound by chains of blood, and mentally conditioned to believe himself a ghoul and plaything for his captor’s pleasure. His foul use and prostitution was a stain upon the honor of our clan. For this offense, Alamut took out contracts upon him and his captor. I shall hope for all our sakes to meet a cleaner death.”

Caroline: “If released, what message would you carry back to your masters?” Caroline asks.

GM: “That I have failed to complete the contract and Caroline Malveaux-Devillers yet walks the night.”

Caroline: “That is all?” Caroline probes.

GM: “There is nothing else of concern to them.”

“A contract was taken out. The contract was not completed.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Then we must all do as our masters bid. One final question: how long ago was the contract taken out upon me?”

GM: “I do not know,” answers Raaid. “I was ordered to fulfill your contract but recently. Whomever wishes you dead might have contacted Alamut anywhere from nights to years before then—though in your case, likely no earlier than six months.”

“You too fought well, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. All the more so for one so young. Your enemy is wise to contract your final death before you have time to grow more formidable in the Blood.”

Caroline: Caroline inclines her head in respect, then turns once more to the seneschal.

“I have asked my questions, Seneschal.”

“For what it may matter, I hold no ill will, and would see him banished, or if he must be slain, that it be done cleanly.”

GM: “What of the fact Miss Malveaux-Devillers asked for your release, sir?” asks Becky Lynne. “Will that go a ways towards smoothing over any ruffled feathers with Alamut?”

“I will be held no worse or higher in the rafiq’s esteem,” says Raaid. “Either way, I will have failed to complete my contract. Miss Malveaux-Devillers may be viewed more favorably.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue.

There’s little more to add now. If the assassin has been honest it is in God’s hands, and her sire’s.

The use of her ancestry in the attack tells her something, but little more than how the attack was arranged. How carefully it played to not only her own weaknesses, but those of the seneschal.

She supposes this is what her Requiem will be.

Her remaining questions, for Adler, are not the business of the assassin.

GM: Maldonato steeples his fingers as he regards the Assamite.

“Traditions in Alamut are not as they once were, son of Haqim. Would you make a second attempt upon Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ unlife if released?”

“If commanded to,” answers Raaiad.

“A debt too would you owe her, son of Haqim, if she contrived to spare your unlife.”

“That is so,” grants Raaid. “If Alamut commanded me to end her unlife, I would be able to fulfill but one obligation. But I do not believe my superiors would still entrust me to complete Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ contract after having failed once already.”

Caroline: Caroline tilts her head, “If released under those circumstances would you see fit to convey warning to me if further attempts were forthcoming? Not of their details, that might betray your covenants, but of their intent?”

GM: “Surprise is an assassin’s greatest weapon. Is not such a warning still betrayal?”

Caroline: “Is not a departure from the old ways without such a warning dishonorable?”

GM: “The Shepherd now sits upon the Black Throne. If it is his will to abandon tradition, the rafiq will obey.”

Caroline: “I would not presume otherwise,” Caroline agrees. “We must all be loyal servants to our masters.”

“I seek only a way you might honor your oaths while repaying any debt.”

She bites her tongue. “Might you delay your reporting of this?” She asks.

GM: “I would not,” replies Raaid. “But if you wished to hold me here, I could not stop you.”

Caroline: She bites her lip.

“That is an option,” Caroline muses.

“My murder will mean far less in a year than tonight, for many interested parties.”

And hopefully be rather more difficult.

GM: “Our guest gives utterance to a thought he knows has already occurred to us,” states Maldonato. “If a second assassination attempt may follow the first, we shall endeavor to delay it by all means available. When are you expected to report back to your superiors, son of Haqim?”

“I am to return to Alamut when the contract is fulfilled, or I believe it may no longer be fulfilled,” states Raaiad. “My superiors informed me the contract was time-sensitive.”

“How time-sensitive?”

“That every further passing night was undesirable.”

Caroline: Caroline’s face says everything at that admission.

GM: “If you had fulfilled your contract, how long would your journey back to the Mountain take you?”

The assassin inclines his head. “I cannot stop Your Grace if you wish to view my thoughts, but I will not divulge that information freely.”

“We seek not the Mountain’s secrets, son of Haqim,” states Maldonato. “Nor do I believe we might divine Alamut’s location through the contents of your mind alone.”

“Nevertheless, we shall not compel you to divulge that information, and we will err on the side of caution. You shall remain staked in Perdido House for one month.”

“One month’s time lost is preferable to an Istirja lost, Your Grace,” answers the Assamite. “I have no complaints.”

Caroline: She bets he doesn’t. Attempt to murder the prince’s childe and suffer a month staked.

She’s suffered worse for less. She distinctly remembers a night in which Donovan leaped across a table and unceremoniously staked her before leaving her for a weekend in a basement beside other undesirables.

GM: :: Your sire’s knowledge of this Kindred’s actions will result his final death. If you are sincere in your desire to see Raaid ibn Badr’s unlife spared, I would not bid you lie to your sire, but nor would I counsel you to reveal more than is asked for. ::

Caroline: That thought immediately turns her stomach, snatches the euphoria from this victory away.

It also demands she push back, against the very idea

:: I would not withhold information from him for Raaid ibn Badr’s sake. ::

:: I would spare him a battle on my behalf. ::

GM: :: The choice is yours, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. ::

Caroline: :: I will not lie to him, :: Caroline clarifies.

:: _But you know better than any his wrath, how he would treat this attack. What he seeks he will find, but I will not lead him there. Not unless the circumstances surrounding this require it. _::

A pause.

:: You know she isn’t entirely innocent in this matter. ::

GM: The stake rises aloft and plunges back into the Assamite’s breast.

“Primogen Hurst, please move Raaid ibn Badr to one of the holding cells.”

“I shall also trust that your clan’s elders will not discover you were made aware of Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ lineage before they.”

“Lips are zipped ‘til they’re the ones to tell me, Your Grace,” nods Hurst as he hefts up the assassin’s body.

“Gabe, you can get a ghoul to do that for you,” smiles Becky Lynne.

Hurst chuckles. “You know I don’t mind gettin’ my hands, sis. Good night, Your Grace, Miss Malveaux-Devillers.” The primogen nods to Maldonato and Caroline.

“Good night, Primogen Hurst.”

“I’ll see you soon, Gabe.”

Caroline: Caroline watches the exchange silently.

An act? Difficult to tell. They certainly appear to have affection for one another. How that arose from Matheson’s cruelty is a question for the ages.

The sight dredges up suppressed desires. The image of Cécilia, immortal alongside her, potent like so few neonates in the blood. Fully brought into this world, an ally she can rely upon like no other. She knows well she’ll never share another sister in blood as Hurst does, but she could share something different, almost entirely unique. Cécilia, not the observer and adviser, but the active participant in the All Night Society. Cécilia, never growing old. Never dying.

She buries the urge as Hurst turns to leave. A few nights ago she’d never dreamed she would even have Cécilia as a part of this life at all. She’d feared her connection to her family would die with the bishop’s demands. Now she wants to see her murdered, see the life drained from her body so she can prey on mortals in the night alongside her. Selfish

GM: Cécilia said she’d do it. That she would accept this burden. There’s less need for a Malveaux marriage with Caroline brought into the family.

Hurst, meanwhile, takes his leave of the office and closes its door behind him.

:: If you would question Miss Adler, you may do so now, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. But take heed that she may yet prove a potent ally. ::

Caroline: She rolls that idea over. Adler might indeed. But not if she knew. Not if she was a part of this.

She rounds on the other girl. “Ms. Adler. I regret that you were drawn into this, used as the bait to this trap, and that you suffered as a result.” She buries the Ventrue honorifics around the Lasombra elder.

She also buries the ‘but’, instead pausing for a moment before taking a breath and continuing.

“You heard what the assassin said. This attack required careful coordination and timing. It required knowledge of how both I, and the seneschal would react. If there is something you believe might be disclosed which would help identify the contract holder, I would request you do so now.”

Because when I find them, I am going to rip their treacherous heart from their chest.

GM: “Thank you, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” says Becky Lynne. “Though I’d say poor Peggy suffered worse than me. I’m still unliving, at least.”

“I’m afraid I can’t think of anything that would help identify whoever’s behind this. This entire thing came as a surprise.”

Caroline: The gentle smile fades.

“Ms. Adler, who knew of our planned meeting tonight?” Caroline probes.

“That matter could not have been widely circulated.”

GM: “No one I’d suspect of having a part in tonight’s events, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” Becky Lynne answers frankly. “I might ask you the same question, and whether any prying ears have access to your haven.”

Caroline: “Ms. Adler, until Peggy’s arrival, I’d expected to meet you in person. No one on my staff, including myself, knew you were in Gulfport. This leak did not come from my side. Not because we are above suspicion, but because we were incapable of executing it.”

“Someone knew where you would be. They knew we would be speaking and when. They pulled massive levers to create a circumstance that would entice me to respond, and in addition they knew the seneschal’s own likely response.”

“They were able to provide all the way down to a date and time, predicting reactions accurately, with enough notice to have an assassin travel from across the world to execute.”

“An assassin hired with extremely sensitive, privileged, information.”

“That you do not suspect those parties knowledgeable of this does not relieve them of suspicion. We have a traitor in our midst.”

“What makes a traitor so reviled, effective, and dangerous is that you do not suspect them. That they are above suspicion. That you trust them.”

“This traitor is perfectly willing and able to use you as leverage. To threaten your Requiem and exploit the seneschal’s affection for you to entice him into taking risks he otherwise would not.”

She saves her trump card for now. The missing bodyguard. The suspicion that she’d poisoned him. There’s no need to make allegations yet.

Better to bait the trap, to see how Adler responds.

There are circumstances in which she could imagine Adler blameless. Though not innocent. She knows something.

“Ms. Adler, it worked. They know they have a lever. And because it worked they will target you again, as acceptable collateral damage if required, to get to not only me, but the seneschal.”

GM: “Foreknowledge of your activities does not imply knowing or willful participation in this evening’s events, Miss Adler,” Maldonato states calmly. “Individuals with such knowledge may have been ignorant or unwilling accessories. Nothing is yet established. It is for the sakes of those close to you as well our own sakes that I would know whom was aware of your meeting tonight with Miss Malveaux-Devillers.”

Becky Lynne listens between Caroline and the seneschal.

“Outside of Peggy, only my sire and Primogen Hurst were aware of my itinerary,” the other Ventrue answers. “It’s certainly also possible that other Kindred could have stolen that information from them or me, through a variety of means.”

“Because it doesn’t make sense to me that it would have been one of them. Not, as Miss Malveaux-Devillers says, because they are above suspicion, but because they were incapable of executing tonight’s events. My sire knows, if I may be frank, very little about the contemporary workings of Whitney Hancock, federal law enforcement, and legal institutions. My brother-in-blood doesn’t have enough pull in those groups to have arranged tonight’s events. Very few Kindred could have done so.”

“My sire could have hired the Banu Haqim assassin, but I wouldn’t be inclined to suspect Mr. Ibn Badr of arranging these events either. I’m to understand his clan favors more direct means of moving against their targets than influence games.”

Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue across her fangs. “A boon perhaps, called in?”

She doesn’t comment on how inconvenient it is that ‘Peggy’ is not available to be questioned.

GM: “Am I to understand you’re hypothesizing my sire called in such a boon, Miss Malveaux-Devillers?” Becky Lynne asks.

The Ventrue’s voice is mild enough, but certainly cooler.

Caroline: “I’m speculating someone might have called in a boon from your sire or brother Ms. Adler,” Caroline clarifies quickly.

“I think it less likely they would so overtly risk you in this way—to say nothing of the appalling Masquerade breaches associated with this attack, and the damage it may do to your own personal Masquerade.”

“Such information may have appeared less sensitive than it proved to be.”

GM: “You think they could have disclosed my itinerary for a boon called in,” Becky Lynne clarifies. “That’s certainly one way someone might have found out, but to me it’d seem suspicious to spend a boon over it—why not simply ask and claim an innocuous reason, like wanting to meet with me over something?”

“For that matter, why ask either Kindred about their childe’s or sibling minor’s availability. Much easier to ask Peggy.”

Caroline: Because you were also compelled to dispatch your bodyguard and travel alone this night.

GM: “I don’t advertise my trips to Gulfport, and Peggy knows—knew, not to do the same, but there are many ways to make a ghoul talk.”

Caroline: Caroline is trying to offer her an out, trying to find an explanation that doesn’t make the seneschal’s favorite neonate into a knowing conspirator, but Adler is playing her role too well.

She’s well aware of how easy it was to make Peggy talk.

GM: “It is regrettable that we cannot question her, Miss Adler,” states Maldonato. “Yet more regrettable to you, I am certain, is the loss of a faithful servant. I am sorry that Miss Sweet’s life was claimed by tonight’s events.”

Becky Lynne bows her head.

“Thank you, Seneschal. She was faithful. She will be mourned.”

Caroline: Caroline gives that thought a moment to cool before continuing, not wanting to interrupt.

“There was nothing else unusual about tonight Ms. Adler, prior to your apprehension?”

GM: Becky Lynne seems to think.

“No, nothing especially so. I wish I could say more. As you observe, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, I’ve been targeted by these events as well. Directly and indirectly. I can’t even imagine the headache that’s going to await at the bank tomorrow—and it’s going to be all the more inconvenient to respond to, given the state of things with my mortal identity.”

She gives a faint smile.

“I suppose we’ll be in need of legal counsel that’s more sensitive to our needs than a kine law firm.”

She inclines her head again towards Maldonato.

“But you’ll forgive me, Your Grace. Your time is valuable and these neonates’ nightly dealings and concerns are not yours.”

Caroline: “Ms. Adler,” Caroline interrupts more gently.

“Almost half of the city’s Ventrue have been destroyed in the last year. Another has had his reputation so badly mauled he may never return to the city. Two more by all rights should have been destroyed tonight.”

She pauses.

“We’re losing. To everyone, and everywhere. Being dismantled. Picked off one by one and two by two.”

GM: Becky Lynne nods somberly.

“So we are, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. It’s my hope your sire may see fit to bring new blood into the clan, or perhaps invite older blood to relocate itself to the city.”

“Something needs to make up for these losses.”

Caroline: “Until then, I would fewer secrets between us, and greater alignment of purpose.”

She runs a tongue across her fangs, “When I sought to speak with you tonight in the first place it was to disclose something I believed might be of interest to you.”

“Richard Gettis is alive.”

GM: :: This conversation is best held on your and Miss Adler’s own time than mine, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, if it is not immediately germane to the events of tonight. ::

Becky Lynne raises her eyebrows.

“Oh, my goodness. That is something to hear. Is he one of us?”

Caroline: She’d hoped to off-balance the other Ventrue, to set her up for a push on the topic of her missing bodyguard, but she can all but feel the seneschal’s lack of patience. His frustration that his favorite neonate, his chosen heir to the throne, his dirty secret, isn’t interested in playing ball.

Speaking to her with the seneschal was a mistake.

He cannot be objective where she is concerned.

“I’m certain you have many things to see to Ms. Adler. When you’re interested in that story, the full story so far as I know, my door is always open.”

GM: “I should very much be, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” offers Becky Lynne. “I imagine we’ll have a great many things to discuss together.”

She turns to regard the seneschal, only for him to preempt her.

“I require access to your thoughts, Miss Adler,” Maldonato states without preamble. “Will you consent to allow me ingress?”

“I am our prince’s obedient subject,” Becky Lynne answers demurely. “May I inquire as to what Your Grace hopes to find?”

“I hope to find explanation for your alleged poisoning of your bodyguard, Miss Adler.”

Caroline: Caroline falls silent.

She’s too accustomed to working within the limits of her own abilities, of her own influence. Simply invading Adler’s mind had not occurred to her.

GM: Becky Lynne’s eyebrows raise again.

“I have nothing to hide, Your Grace.”

The seneschal holds her gaze for several moments.

“You do not,” he declares summarily, “but another does. You poisoned your ghoul at the subliminal command of another, Miss Adler, and were thereafter compelled to forget the deed.”

“Miss Sweet has rendered us all a further service since her death, for it was she who raised this matter to others’ attentions.”

Caroline: She’ll render a second if Caroline has any say in it. Sweet’s death, unfortunate though it may be, is a convenient writeout for Adler’s identity, and using the corpse on scene vice killing another to stand in her place is not only efficient but moral.

All the same, she bows her head for a moment.

She’s lost more ghouls than the average lick. She rarely handled it as well as Adler has.

“A well-conceived use,” she observes after a moment. “If Miss Sweet, Miss Adler, and I had all perished as intended, this secret would have been neatly buried.”

“I don’t imagine many had both opportunity and capability to do so.”

GM: “Even had not one of you perished tonight, this deed might have escaped our notice without Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ and Miss Sweet’s vigilant attentions,” answers Maldonato.

“Great thanks do I owe Peggy indeed,” Becky Lynne offers, bowing her head again.

“May I inquire by whose urging I was made to harm another of my servants, Seneschal?”

“You may not, Miss Alder,” Maldonato answers without elaboration. “Yet I do not believe you have immediate cause to fear further invasion of your mind.”

Caroline: That catches her attention as the list of suspects for this attack grows short.

GM: He withdraws his pocketwatch from his coat to examine its face.

“These events have claimed much of my time this evening. I may spare none further and have heard all I need hear. The Masquerade still must needs be observed. You and Miss Malveaux-Devillers will return to the battle site and ensure all evidence of our kind’s hand is erased. I do not believe your Requiems will be at further risk by doing so. Robert Congo awaits outside the door and will make available whatever resources you require.”

Caroline: “By your will, Seneschal,” Caroline acknowledges.

GM: “By Your Grace’s will,” Becky Lynne repeats. “Thank you, on my and my kin’s behalf, for the aid you have rendered us tonight.”

She rises, dips into another curtsy, then departs the office with Caroline.

The assassin’s attack may have been foiled, but the night’s work does not yet seem done.


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Robert Congo awaits attentively outside his domitor’s office.

“Another pilot for the helicopter has already been arranged,” states Congo. “Is there aught else madams require?”

Caroline: Other than disclosure on who pulled the strings on tonight?

“Not for me, Mr. Congo,” Caroline replies. “Most of my people are already en route. They should arrive around the same time we will via helicopter.”

GM: “I’d offer to bring some more of my own, but between Miss Malveaux-Devillers’, my brother’s, and the seneschal’s, I think we’ll have enough ghouls to go around,” volunteers Adler.

“Very good, madams. You may then return without delay,” states Congo. “The pilot is not a ghoul. His memory may require alteration if he sees anything amiss.”

“Landing where we do may be amiss enough,” considers Becky Lynne. “But thank you, Mr. Congo. We’ll see the First Tradition is observed around him as well.”

“Hm, actually, there is no need for that,” the Ventrue seemingly reconsiders. “I’d rather not add more work to what’s ahead tonight.”

“I don’t have an actual pilot’s certificate, but my brother has shown me how to fly this specific model of helicopter.”

Caroline: Caroline tilts her head.

GM: “Very good, then, madam,” states Congo.

“Perhaps better you make the flight yourselves.”

He shows the two back up to Perdido House’s roof and informs the waiting pilot, a still-handsome 40- or 50-something man whom he addresses as Mr. Barber, that his services will no longer be required. He will still be compensated for his time.

MicahBarber.jpg
Caroline: Caroline gives the man a second glance, but not a third, as she and Adler climb into the helicopter.

She has to admit that it makes for much smoother ride than the seneschal’s powers.

GM: Barber seems happy not to make a flight out at this late hour if he’s still getting paid and takes his leave, though not before giving Caroline and Becky Lynne second glances too.

“I wouldn’t mind flying you lovely ladies at a saner hour,” he smiles.

Becky Lynne chuckles goodnaturedly at that. “Perhaps you’ll get to someday, Mr. Barber.”

Caroline’s clanmate takes somewhat longer than Hurst did in getting everything ready and double-checking things, but soon has the helicopter aloft again. The whir of the chopper’s wings makes the cockpit a less than quiet space, but there’s enough insulation for the two to speak.

“Well, I suppose there’s no time like the present now on the matter of Richard Gettis,” says Becky Lynne.

Caroline: Caroline isn’t certain that there’s no better time—a frenzying vampire flying a helicopter seems like a recipe for disaster—but doesn’t argue the point.

“He’s a ghoul,” she begins.

“A very, very old ghoul. Blurs the line between independent ghoul and hunter, but of late he’s leaned towards the former.”

GM: The other Ventrue frowns in thought.

“What makes you say so in that regard, Miss Malveaux-Devillers?”

“I’d think hunters would have more reason to target the Whitneys than independent ghouls.”

Caroline: “Because the last time I saw him directly he was working with agents of Mr. Savoy, and I have a credible report that he has longstanding ties to him. Mind you, he’s hardly the first hunter to take up with him. His stance is significantly more agreeable than that of my sire towards them.”

GM: “Ah, yes. I’d heard much the same,” says Becky Lynne. “I suppose it’s no surprise. He always has been more willing to seek friends in low places.”

Caroline: “I don’t know what the plan was, shooting my sister and your niece, but I doubt it was a spur of the moment decision.”

GM: “My niece, Miss Malveaux-Devillers?”

The other Ventrue sounds only mildly surprised, as if Caroline is simply mistaken.

Caroline: “It took me a while,” Caroline admits. “Longer than it should have, but I trust you’ll grant that I had admittedly pressing concerns early on.”

“But few things escape my notice these nights.”

GM: “The seneschal is a good friend to have,” Becky Lynne concurs.

“I trust you’ll further understand my and my sire’s reservations as to any Kindred’s involvement with the Whitney family.”

Caroline: “I’ve found him so, these last few nights. We seem to have found our accord,” Caroline agrees.

“And of course. I would have had stronger feelings and less kind words than you expressed at the prospect of another Kindred associating with my sisters. Your restraint was admirable, Questor Adler.”

GM: “It was for Sarah’s and the others’ benefits, as much as anything else. No reason for any neonate to get especially antsy over another Kindred’s interest in her sire’s domain, beyond looking out for his interests.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I can see many benefits to starting over, after the Embrace. Developing a new identity. It helps protect them. Keeps them out of things, as much as possible. Lets you start again, fully immerse yourself in this world, as painful as it might be to cut ties.”

GM: “Protects them, and the simple necessity of the Masquerade. I’ll turn 31, in not too many weeks. Sarah was six when I died. Now she looks about as old as I do. My father looks like he could be my grandfather. My brother looks like he could be my father. Cosmetics can only disguise the years for so long.”

Caroline: Easier for Caroline than Rebecca. Dying even a few years older means, if so inclined, she could disguise her age for decades. But it’s hard to hide a teenager’s features.

“It might have been easier, early on, if that option had been available. It might have mitigated some of the worst of my transgressions before Gerousiastis Malveaux. I don’t know that I would have had the wisdom to take it though. Abandoning who you were is a leap of faith.”

“And without an education into the clan, or even the Camarilla, missteps would have still been all but certain.”

She runs her tongue across her fangs. “I am grateful for that, as an aside. I know I was not an easy student.”

GM: It doesn’t help that the seeming 18-year-old’s small frame only further emphasizes her youthfulness.

“I’ve had no other students to compare you against, Eiren Malveux-Devillers, so for all I know you might have been,” Becky Lynne declares with a hint of a smile. “And it will be worth more dignitas now than it was before, I think.”

Caroline: “Only if I succeed,” Caroline observes.

GM: “That much was true in any case.”

“As to wisdom, time and experience is usually the only thing that teaches it.”

Caroline: “Not my strongest subject,” Caroline muses.

“But that brings us back to Gettis. I don’t know what his intentions were that night, but if I have an opportunity—and I intend on manufacturing one—I’m going to make him pay for it.”

GM: “That’s a worthy enough cause. I don’t imagine you’d care to chance a repeat of that night’s events. I wouldn’t either.”

Caroline: “I don’t know if you’d be interested, Questor, in being a part of that when the time comes, but it seemed right to extend the opportunity.”

GM: “Perhaps not personally, Eiren, depending on the final lay of things. But certainly in a background role.”

“I’d have no bone to pick with Richard Gettis, if I were confident he would never target another Whitney—my mama always said to keep your eye on the ball, and a feud by itself gains my family and I nothing. But without understanding Mr. Gettis’ motivations, I don’t feel able to confidently say the Whitneys might never again be in his crosshairs.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. It’s a prudent view, and one she might have taken if Gettis had targeted her. He chose her sister though, and that she neither forgets nor forgives.

“I’ll keep in touch on the matter, then.”

GM: “Splendid,” says Becky Lynne.

“You’ll have to do it eventually, you know, Eiren,” she remarks a moment later.

“Disappear from their lives.”

“I suppose your sire considers another Malveaux death too much strain on the Masquerade, this soon. But in not so many years, staying will be the bigger strain.”

Caroline: “You’re more of an optimist than I’d believed, Questor,” Caroline observes lightly.

GM: Becky Lynne only gives that a faint, knowingly rueful smile as she stares out of the cockpit.

Caroline: Caroline’s mind dances back to all the negative, hostile thoughts she’s had about Adler, going back to their earliest meetings. The comment in the bathroom of Elysium, when she was trying to clean herself off. She’d thought then the older Ventrue was just another petty ‘mean girl’—a type Caroline knew well. Hell, a type she was.

She reflects on her doubts even tonight. How she’d suspected Adler of plotting this, of arranging this. How ready she’d been for the stake in the back. And yet… it hadn’t come, and by all available evidence Adler was as much a victim as she was—and in some ways more.

And the seneschal loves her. That thought burns bright and jealously, but the beacon makes it harder to ignore. She generally trusts his judgement.

She may yet prove a potent ally. Those words echo through her mind. Perhaps enough for a leap of faith. A sharing of secrets.

“It was all arranged, actually. I was to die quite soon. I’d burned the bridges with my father’s family almost to the ground. Destroyed my name, at the behest of Gerousiastis Malveaux. I was trying to bury as many sources of conflict between us as I could, to re-frame our relationship. It seemed to be working.”

“A painful, wasted effort it seems,” she continues.

“He was assassinated nights ago. And all of our plans have turned to ash.”

“With the final death of Gerousiastis Malveaux, someone needs to be there to pick up the Malveaux pieces. Someone loyal. Elsewise someone else will.”

“It’s funny, a year ago I might have fought him to the death for the family, for what I considered my family, but I suppose the effort wasn’t entirely wasted. His efforts weren’t entirely wasted. I don’t feel excited at he prospect of claiming them as a domain. I feel… burdened.”

“I guess, though Caroline Malveaux-Devillers will live a while longer, the Malveaux part of me is truly dead. He accomplished what he set out to—much as he did with the rest of his Requiem.”

GM: Becky Lynne raises her eyebrows at the reference to the gerousiastis’ final death.

“My goodness. His loss is a great one—to the Structure, the archdiocese, and certainly to our prince.”

“I don’t know that anyone will be able to fill his pair of shoes.”

Caroline: “Every Kindred I get close to, Questor, seems to get destroyed. Every bridge I build I find leads only to ashes.”

She bites her lip.

GM: “I don’t know the good bishop was ever much of a bridge with you, Eiren, if I’m being honest. But oh, no. This really is terrible for the clan. I suppose Praetor Bindusara won’t be visiting after all.”

Caroline: “It took me too long to kiss the ring,” Caroline admits without further elaboration as the conversation moves on.

“I don’t know that his destruction will alter the Praetor’s plans. In fact, in some ways it makes his visit all the more important.”

She runs her tongue across her teeth, “Questor Polk died with him. There are painfully few that have near to their experience with the clan’s records, but too few things that I believe might drive others to take up that mantle in earnest like the forthcoming arrival of Praetor Bindusara.”

GM: “Lord almighty, Questor Polk as well?”

Becky Lynne shakes her head.

“We can just about forget that, then. No one else is qualified to take up the mantle—I don’t think there will be any opportunities for dignitas here. The Gerousia won’t risk the local clan’s embarrassment. No, I suspect the honor will simply go to another city, now, one with more qualified archivists and genealogists.”

Caroline: “You know their minds better than I, Questor, and had they been destroyed in some terrible accident I would agree. Their murder however casts quite a different pallor on it.”

“To wave off now would be to admit defeat, to show how badly we have been wounded. And no matter how much I believe we have—the death of two members of the Gerousia within months of each other, to say nothing of the less noteworthy deaths, cannot be denied—I do not believe my sire will show what he believes is weakness.”

“If you wish to be the king of the jungle, it’s not enough to act like a king. You must be the king. There can be no doubt. Because doubt causes chaos and one’s own demise. He knows that better than anyone.”

“Now is the time for strength.”

GM: Becky Lynne smiles ruefully.

“It’s less a question of victories and defeats, Eiren, than doing what best preserves the regional clan’s history. Not many Kindred outside the Structure know about our archives or the praetor’s visit, so lookin’ weak to outsiders isn’t an issue here. Just the simple fact New Orleans no longer has the region’s most qualified historian, so that mantle will pass to another city. Your sire is strategos of all the Southeast, not just our city. He sees the big picture.”

Caroline: But there are plenty of Kindred within the clan that will look to such a move, alongside the presentation of his first childe in centuries and presumptive heir, and see weakness.

She doesn’t buy it, but doesn’t argue the point with the Ventrue a decade in the blood.

“I’ve been wrong before,” she concedes.

GM: “But, really, I suppose it’s not our concern any longer, unlike the gerousiastis’ final death. Such a terrible tragedy. He’d been a peer to the old gerousiastes even as an aedile, but my brother hasn’t seen near as many years in the Blood. And none of the remaining questors and eirens have seen near as many as him, with Polk gone too.”

“It truly feels as if we’re diminished now, not simply letting clanmates who’ve long earned their dues finally claim them.”

“I’ll admit his personality could be rather prickly, but I found him unfailingly helpful when approached politely. Smart as a whip, too, with so much to learn from. I think he knew something about everything, to say nothing of our clan’s history—it’s so sad to think how all of that knowledge is gone forever. All of that loyalty, too. He worshiped our prince, would have done anything for him. And I suppose the Structure will no longer have a master sorcerer on call, either. Or, really, any sorcerer without Questor Polk either.”

She shakes her head.

“This and the last year have been comparable to Katrina, at least for us blue bloods.”

Caroline: Of course he was unfailingly helpful to you, Caroline doesn’t exasperatedly declare. The childe of the second-oldest Ventrue associated with the city, who never had to fight for anything, who had a krewe from her earliest nights and the unwavering patronage of the seneschal, who was educated into the ways of Clan Ventrue before a messy public reveal. Who wasn’t competing with him for his domain, stomping all over it just to maintain her Masquerade.

It’s almost too convenient, when she thinks about it. Adler Embraced against the seneschal’s wishes, by a group that included a psychotic and cruel Brujah nomad and… Gerousiastis Matheson? It strains credulity, but she can’t tell in the moment if that’s because she still wants to think the worst of Adler, wants to have something to blame her for. Some imperfection.

“His assassination was well timed,” Caroline agrees. “Six months ago it would have hurt, but not been nearly so backbreaking. The loss of a loyal priest and aedile is one thing. The murder of the bishop and member of the Gerousia is quite another.”

“And as you say, Questor, there is no one to take his place in any of his myriad roles. Perhaps the prince will invite others to the city, and certainly we will all shoulder more responsibilities, but he can only be succeeded, not replaced.”

“I wish we had met under other circumstances.”

GM: “Even six months later might have made all the difference,” Becky Lynne nods.

“But I suppose these thoughts are better saved for his remembrance, and all the clan can do now is soldier on.”

“Perhaps we’ll see other Ventrue invited to the city. Perhaps there’ll be new Embraces.”

“Perhaps some of both.”

Caroline: “Did you know, Questor?” Caroline asks.

“About me?”

GM: “No, not specifically. Though I did know that Questor Baristheaut’s childe shouldn’t have been able to revive Miss Baker from torpor with her own vitae.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles. “The worst kept secret in the city, I think, some nights.”

GM: Becky Lynne smiles back. “In hindsight, perhaps wiser to have brought her to another Kindred, but spilled milk.”

Caroline: “I didn’t lie to her that night.” Caroline answers. “I knew some things then, but not all of it.”

GM: “I don’t think she’d begrudge you either way. We all have things we can’t talk about.”

Caroline: “Depends on what you lie about. More to point I suppose, I wasn’t trying to manipulate her. I know she’s your friend, or at least was, Questor.”

“Lies are no way to build a relationship.”

GM: “True enough, Eiren. Honesty may be a luxury in the masked city, but it’s few Kindred—or people—who don’t enjoy luxury.”

“Miss Baker and I are on good enough terms, though we don’t spend as much time together as we used to. Our Requiems have taken us in different directions.”

Caroline: “No different than life in that way, I imagine. You drift away from your high school friends, your college friends, your young adult friends,” Caroline muses. “You don’t hate them, you just don’t see them.”

GM: “So I’ve found it,” Becky Lynne nods.

Granted, she died before even making any college or young adult friends.

“The Baron is willing to let us investigate Louis Armstrong Park, by the way, so long as some of his people are there.”

“Though I’m not sure that may hold the interest or value it once did.”

Caroline: “It’s one of the few pieces I don’t have my thumb completely on,” Caroline admits.

“Such a distinctive location.”

“And such a distinctive sequence.”

GM: “I’m certain your sire or the seneschal know why you awoke there, Eiren.”

Caroline: “Verily,” Caroline agrees.

Not that they’re generally in the habit of doing so for her benefit.

“Likely not worth your time, Questor.”

GM: “I’ll simply thank the Baron’s people for their accommodation, in that case.”

“So what’s next for you, Eiren, with things as they now are?”

Caroline: It’s a good question.

“Recent events have seemingly pleased my sire. At least enough so that he has expressed willingness to acknowledge my existence and lift my head from the block. I’ve been told to expect sooner, rather than later, that I will be required to take some time away from this life to prepare for the one as his first childe in centuries.”

“I have a few house keeping matters to see too before that happens,” Caroline replies. Like exposing and destroying the sheriff.

“Things I cannot leave half-finished. Establishing and securing my hold on various pieces of my Requiem—Masquerade and otherwise. Leaving fewer loose ends. And there are several matters I intend on putting into motion.”

She runs her tongue across her fangs. “Some of which may be of interest to you.”

GM: “You should expect that time with him to last potentially years,” Becky Lynne nods. “But you’ll be glad for it, whatever the inconvenience. You’ll learn and receive more things than you can imagine.”

“Perhaps we might reach an arrangement over some of those unfinished matters. Which spring to mind?”

Caroline: She runs her tongue across her fangs. “I have a thin-blood ward.”

A pause. “She’s pregnant, pretty far along, but I don’t think I’ll be here long enough for her to come all the way to term. I promised I’d shelter her at least until her child was born.”

GM: “Oh, my,” says Becky Lynne. “They really can be more like kine than us.”

“I could arrange for her shelter.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, though the gesture is lost on the flying Ventrue.

“She was Embraced, if you can call it that, pretty far along.”

GM: “That’s unfortunate for her. I’m sure all she wanted was a normal life for her child.”

Caroline: “It’s all she still wants.”

She bites her lip. “It didn’t stop me from bringing her and her ‘sire’ to the hounds, but it did convince the seneschal to offer at least a temporary stay of execution.”

“As long as one of us—or specifically I—was willing to take responsibility for her.”

“I don’t think my sire would take it very well, but letting a pregnant teenager, a good Catholic girl, get executed was more than I could stomach.”

“I don’t know if the baby will survive, or what it will be, or if she’ll be spared afterwards, but it was what I could do. The least I could do.”

GM: “I don’t know if she’ll be able to get what she wants,” Becky Lynne answers frankly, “but I’d say you did all that you reasonably could, Eiren.”

“And more than some Kindred would have done.”

“You are right that your sire wouldn’t approve of you spending time and trouble on her, too. Neither would mine, for that matter.”

Caroline: “It’s easy to see why they may feel that way,” Caroline admits. “My circumstances of my Embrace and necessities of my Requiem have torn away more of my humanity than I’d like to admit. Sometimes she makes my skin crawl, just being in the same room. I look at her and I see something unnatural. We are not supposed to exist that way. The monster in me sees taint, sees perversion, an existence in a quasi-state that spits in the face of god.”

“It challenges everything we are. She can walk in the sun, she can eat and drink, she can pretend to be mortal better than we ever can—she can almost be mortal. Almost. And I hate it.”

“But I’m not all monster, not yet, and I also see a teenage girl, excited to be a mother, thrown into this hellish purgatory. Suffering. If she’d simply been murdered it would have been evil, but swift. To Embrace her would have been cruel, but decisive. This is worse than both. Because it gives her hope.”

“It’s the hope that kills you.”

GM: “Clean breaks are better,” Becky Lynne nods. “As painful as separating from my own family was, I think it spared us all more heartache in the end.”

“In so many things, you can’t have it both ways, and trying to have your cake and eat it too just makes a better mess.”

“That’s how it seems with the last generations—being simultaneously like Kindred and kine. And what do they have to show for it? Most of them lead brief and miserable existences, and even groups that claim to advance ‘duskborn rights’ like the Ashfinders just seem to cause more pain and tragedy. For thin-bloods and full-bloods. There’s a compelling argument that it would have been kinder for them never to exist.”

Caroline: Caroline nods again. “I’ve heard talk of, and experienced first hand, the unforgiving stance of my sire on the subject of unsanctioned Embraces. At first I thought it harsh, cruel even. My first introduction to Kindred society was being dragged before a crowd of Kindred, watching the execution of half a dozen others, and having my own head laid upon the block.”

“Only time, and experience, showed me his wisdom. We’re predators, we can take what we want, are inclined to even. Only the threat of unflinching, unhesitating, swift judgement can steer us from doing so. For every unfortunate killed, I think on how many his justice has saved.”

“It would be better if the thin-bloods didn’t exist, but we can’t change the past. All we can do is influence the future.”

GM: “His justice has saved many, without doubt,” Becky Lynne agrees. “It’s all-too few of us that remain virgins.”

“But even beyond the matter of temporal justice, there’s also the question of spiritual purpose. I’ll always be a First Estate girl through and through,” the other Venture declares with a faint smile, “but there’s real comfort in the Second’s faith. Knowing that God has a constructive purpose in mind for us. So from a theological standpoint, what purpose do the thin-blooded serve? They’re neither wolves nor sheep. Or I suppose toothless wolves, you could argue. Either way, I can’t reckon any explanation for why God allows them to be.”

Caroline: “A warning against the excesses of Kindred?” Caroline postulates. “A method of ensuring the continued fate of all Kindred remains tied to our eldest, closest to the original sin, vice the kine who may be fruitful? Another test upon us, and our discipline, that we remain divorced from the kine.”

She bites her lip. “A sign of the approach of the end of times, that the line of Caine draws to a close?”

Her mind races ahead, takes the thread of canon and the needle her mother’s words provided.

“Our immortality is a lie only the most cynical elder or naïve neonate would believe. The End of Days will come, and we will all be judged. The kine are given many signs to watch for, in Timothy specifically.”

She pauses, then quotes, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good.

“More simply put, when the kine turn from the face of god in mass, when they abandon the covenant with him.”

She bites her lip, “What then are the thin-blooded but Kindred torn from our own covenant? Sired in sin, without permission, and multiplying like rats in the same, degenerate in each generation. Broken from the line of Caine, from clan and bloodline, damaging to the Masquerade by their nature, still wed to the kine, and unable to fulfill their holy purpose. There is no holy law they can uphold, and only one Tradition they do not violate.”

GM: “If it’s a test of discipline, I’d say it’s one we Kindred are rather badly failing,” Becky Lynne says, frankly. “As you note, Eiren, there’s no express commandment for us to be fruitful and multiply. If anything, there’s the opposite. Scripture has a lot to say about how solemn and purposeful an event the Embrace should be, and even how worthy of punishment the sire is for it.”

“I suppose God does have a lot to be angry over, with how heedless—and simply ignorant the thirteenth generation is, in spreadin’ around their vitae. And I suppose that everything has to come to an end eventually, even us. But how soon? My brother says millennialist fears were steadily building over the 20th century, and hit a peak in the ‘90s when the thin-blooded appeared. I can remember talk about the end being nigh back in ’04, but there was a sense it was getting stale. Then after Katrina, everyone in the city plum forgot about it. We’d had our apocalypse.”

Caroline: “That’s interesting,” Caroline observes. “I didn’t get that part of the history lesson, but I suspect it’s impossible to really appreciate it without having lived through it. I’d be interested in hearing from Aedile Hurst’s about it directly some time.”

“You’re right though, we’re no better than the kine when it comes to discipline or fidelity,” Caroline agrees. “Religious participation has been declining for decades as people have fallen in love with themselves, rejected tradition, and increasingly embraced deviancy and any ideology that will allow it. If anything we’ve matched them step for step. What I don’t understand, can’t wrap my head around, is how other Kindred do it so blithely.”

“The Sanctified dogma is harsh, painful, even callous, especially as a neonate. When Gerousiastis Malveaux first exposed me to it I recoiled in horror. It’s also rooted in Christianity, and I can academically understand why those with different religious traditions and backgrounds might not leap into our arms. But we are visible evidence every night that the secular reality so many of the kine are obsessed with, one that allows them to declare there is no morality and no god, and thus that every perversion is justified, is an outright lie.”

“How licks can see that, then decide they’ll continue as though nothing has changed, as though they don’t need any religion, don’t need god in some form, is beyond me.” She bites her lip. “But perhaps its as much a sign that they are truly lost as anything else, that they deserved their damnation as much as the rest of us.”

GM: “I suspect, like a lot of things, it’s easiest to just not think about,” says Becky Lynne. “To get accustomed to, and take for granted, once the initial shock wears off. People, and Kindred, can get used to anything. God isn’t knockin’ on their doors tellin’ them to observe the faith, or that they’ll be judged for not doing so upon the Second Coming. Even among Kindred, some things take simply faith. Or at least, zeal.”

“But I think that’s also the way God wants it. Kindred have free will, just as kine do, to decide their actions. Some of us, like your sire or my brother, actively choose to spread the gospel. Some of us, like me, merely try to observe it. Some of us, like my sire, pay mind to other faiths. And some of us don’t pay much mind to faith at all. It’s what we decide to do when we have the power to decide, I think, that most shows who we are.”

“As to my brother, I expected he’d be happy to share his memories of the period with you, Eiren. He’s no elder, but sometimes I still have to remind myself that he’s old enough to be my grandpa.”

Caroline: Caroline is polite enough not to observe that failing to spread the gospel means you aren’t exactly a faithful member of the Sanctified. The Fifth Canon is quite clear on this point.

The other Ventrue is right though, about how deceptive ages can be: it’s easy too to forget that Adler is hardly the teenager she masquerades as.

“I’d like that, Questor,” Caroline answers.

“To point, I agree choice is essential in the meaning of any fidelity,” Caroline agrees. “I just think to the growing number of kine that declare their lack of faith for the absence of evidence—among the damned evidence of the supernatural is inherent to each night you awaken.” She tilts her head, “On the other hand, perhaps that call to evidence is more excuse than explanation.”

“We all seek to justify who we are by some means.”

GM: And even beyond politeness, it’s hard not to think what her sire would think of her own track record at spreading Longinus’ word.

Her thoughts so easily turn back to him, now. In this and all things.

“I think that’s what it comes down to,” says Becky Lynne. “Lots of us will spin facts to justify the opinions we have, instead of vice versa, if given choice and free will. Evidence takes a back seat, next to that.”

She chuckles faintly.

“But there’s probably even less to be done about that than thin-bloods.”

GM: “In any case, Eiren, you’d had other matters of interest you wanted to bring up?”

Caroline: “Not in the immediate, Questor,” Caroline answers. “A fair number of my own matters are still very much in the air, and more pressing in the moment, I would speak to how you would prefer we handle the challenge ahead of us, at the scene of the attack.”

GM: “Ah, then one matter first, Eiren. Prestation-wise, I’m not rightly sure what I owe you for tonight. On one hand, your presence saved me from the assassin’s attack. On the other hand, from what he said, he was only there for you.”

“You also saved me from winding up in the hands of hunters, from what you and my brother said. I’m not sure to what extent their presence was due to the assassin—that is, whether the Kindred who took out your contract with the Assamites orchestrated the FBI raid, or whether that Kindred and the assassin simply took advantage of the FBI aid.”

“So we could say that taking in your pregnant thin-blood puts us even. My sire, much like yours, wouldn’t approve of my spending time and trouble on her if he knew.”

Caroline: Caroline muses for a moment.

“In principle I don’t object Questor Adler,” Caroline answers. “I didn’t come to your aid tonight seeking to earn a boon, and any additional benefit is, for me, incidental.” She smiles, “I think your mother might have described them as like the sprinkles on a sundae.”

“There is the matter of Eiren Packard, but if you and your sire are content to see that her own actions this night are repaid, I’m happy leave things as they lie, Questor.”

GM: “I don’t doubt she would have, Eiren,” Becky Lynne smiles back.

“As to Eiren Packard and Aedile Landau, they ‘work’ for my sire, so to speak. He’s their sire too by a few more generations, and coming to my aid was part of their obligations to him. But he’ll ensure they are duly rewarded for fulfilling those obligations.”

Caroline: “Then we are in agreement, Questor,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Splendid,” the other Ventrue declares with another smile.

“As to the aftermath of this mess, I suppose Peggy’s left me with a body.” Becky Lynne’s smile fades at those words. “And my brother, I suppose it’s no surprise, wants to do what keeps me safest.”

On the helicopter ride back to Perdido House, he questioned Caroline and Becky Lynne extensively about the FBI raid. He concurred that it sounded like hunters. He was in favor of Becky Lynne staging her current pseudonym’s death to throw them off her trail.

Caroline: Caroline can imagine some of what she feels—she’s buried a lot of ghouls.

“How long had she been with you?” Caroline probes.

GM: “Yes, for around ten years,” Becky Lynne answers.

Caroline: “Since almost the beginning,” Caroline observes as quietly as she can while being heard. Helicopters are loud places.

GM: The other Ventrue nods.

“She was always faithful. Kind. Attentive. Thoughtful. Modest. Trustworthy. Never greedy. Never asked for more. Wanted to, of course, what ghoul doesn’t, but never did. She understood we weren’t equals, and she didn’t ever try to be more than she was. But what she was, she was to the fullest. She saw a great deal of me. I couldn’t have asked for a better confidant or employee.”

“I wish it had been possible to save her.”

Caroline: “How did she come into your service?” Caroline asks, steering the topic away from death, and towards life.

There’s been plenty of death already tonight, and they will have to deal with it in the hours to come.

GM: “She worked at the bank, as a PA to someone who I didn’t think fully appreciated her. I invited her to come work for me.”

Caroline: Coming from another Kindred ‘invited’ might have a more sinister undertone, but Caroline can’t imagine it from the seneschal’s favorite neonate.

“What did she think, when you told her?”

GM: “She was taken aback and a little frightened. I did my best to set her at ease.”

“She liked the thought of working for a nicer boss and being part of something greater.”

Caroline: “And she did. You were able to invite her into a world she didn’t even know existed.” Caroline observes.

“I’m certain her life was far different than she’d ever expected, that serving you gave her opportunities she never imagined.”

GM: “It certainly did, Eiren. Though I’m not sure she’d believe those opportunities were worth the cost of her life.”

Caroline: “Respectfully, Questor, she seemed to think it was worth enough to risk her life trying to save you.”

“I don’t think any of us expected rocket launchers to be part of the equation, but she knew this was dangerous.”

GM: Becky Lynne gives a sad smile.

“That’s a domitor’s eternal question, Eiren. How much of their actions are their own?”

Caroline: "Questor, you are my senior in many things, but please take this for what it’s worth. I have been directly responsible for the deaths of ghouls in my service. I’ve been made to kill them to satisfy others, I’ve killed them because they became monsters, and I’ve had them killed in front of me to make a point to me. I’ve also seen them die trying to protect me. In six months I’ve buried seven ghouls, and every one of their names I’ll remember for the rest of my Requiem.

“Many of them were soldiers, all of them were fighters, and none of them leaped so eagerly to their fates as Ms. Sweet. She cared for you, Questor, beyond just the bond.”

“You were in no way responsible for her death. Others contrived to do evil to you. They invaded your mind and plotted to do it. They compacted with or knowingly used witch-hunters against you—and against me. Ms. Sweet stood against that. She stood against them.”

“Don’t take that from her. As much as you might mourn her death, as much as you may feel guilty, don’t rob from a slain faithful servant the last, most impactful choices, of their life.”

GM: “Wise words, Eiren, and ones that sound learned through bitter experience. This might be one area where I’m not your senior,” replies Becky Lynne.

“I’d hoped Peggy cared for me beyond the bond, but we can delude ourselves. It’s of some comfort to hear from a second party that Peggy’s feelings and choices were real.”

“You’re right, too, about honoring and making the most of her sacrifice. I think it’d please her, to know we were able to use her body to help keep me safe, even after she’d given her life to do that. She can have a proper funeral and internment of her own later.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t know if the words truly move the other Ventrue—their stoicism cuts both ways among them—but she hopes they do.

“To that end, car accident remains, I think, the best of poor explanations. Head-on collision at high speed, joyrider in one vehicle, with the third vehicle caught up in the wreckage. I expect, barring interference from someone else, Mr. Ferris will have already begun to stage it in that way. Much of our work, I expect, tonight will be helping paper over memories of first and follow on responders. The follow on—ensuring that forensic evidence matches or is falsified—will take days to weeks.”

“I don’t have those contacts this far out, and it’ll also prove both dangerous and lucrative to continue that effort. If, as I believe, hunters were at hand in this, they’ll attempt to dig into what happened tonight, and that investigation may open holes in their shroud.”

It’s possible they’ll simply abandon this endeavor and retreat into secrecy, but Caroline doubts it. Hunters are like bloodhounds: once they have a scent getting them to leave it well enough alone was more trouble than it was worth—at least at the bottom.

GM: “That sounds like how I’d want to stage things, Eiren,” Becky Lynne nods. “A car crash is nice and simple.”

“The only issue I see is the missile launchers and the burned state of the cars and bodies. I’m no weapons or automotive expert, but I know cars don’t really explode like they do in the movies.”

Caroline: “No,” Caroline agrees. “But they do burn, and all it would take is one ruptured tank to start it. Roger or Autumn will have identified the most likely candidate variable by damage, make, and model. The difficulty will be staging so the explosive damage appears to a casual observer like it’s plausibly a result of the crash. That, and making sure there’s no other obvious evidence of what happened—wreckage blown too far away or bullet casings amid the debris.”

Fortunately they should have enough bodies to comb the site, between her own arriving ghouls, the two elders, those they left on the scene, and the Hurst’s own ghouls left behind after the flight.

“Needless to say, this isn’t going to go away in a night though. We can lay the groundwork, but it’s going to require regular follow-ups over the next year as cases are opened, investigators assigned, claim agents review damage, and, obviously, the hunters.”

GM: “Ruptured fuel tank sounds good in the short term,” agrees Becky Lynne. “But my lord, Eiren, are you right about this not going away in a night.”

“I think Mr. Campbell will be of a mind to sue the Bureau, and possibly the sheriff’s department and other parties too, for the death of his niece.”

“God knows they’ve caused the bank enough trouble they can at least pay a decent chunk of change for it.”

Caroline: “Is Mr. Campbell your sire’s most recent identity, Questor, or simply a useful mortal proxy?”

GM: “He’s the former, Eiren.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. She’d been afraid of that.

“I don’t know that there’s any good way to tell him this Questor, but he’ll likely take it better from you than any other: that identity is also well known to our enemies. So much so that they had no difficulty convincing mortal authorities that it was both a valid and desirable target.”

GM: Becky Lynne frowns.

“His name came up among them, as well as his niece’s?”

“No matter. Retiring the identity won’t be much trouble, he’s hardly met anyone with it. Whitney Hancock, I think, will still be inclined to sue.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, “They expressed interest in using his niece—who had an unsavory reputation of her own—to lure him out. The kine seemed to believe he was the real target.”

She muses, “Which leads me to suspect you were not simply intended as bait this evening for me. It took knowledge, and months, maybe years of planning and investigation to dig far enough into each of your holdings, to identify identities and poison them with law enforcement, to make the ordered raid tonight possible. I suspect this was an alignment of purposes—laying one existing plan or contingency atop another. They could have pulled the trigger on this raid any number of nights. They chose tonight.”

“If they’d succeeded they’d have destroyed the childer of the two most powerful Ventrue in the city in a single night.”

She bites her lip. “And the timing, alongside Gerousiastis Malveaux and Questor Polk’s assassination seems… more than coincidental. And convenient.”

And it really is. She couldn’t think of a better cover for her assassination of Malveaux if she tried, not that she expects they thought this would serve this purpose.

As for this attack, there are only really two suspects when it comes right down to it: two foes with cunning, resources, power, motivation, and knowledge. To have mapped out Adler’s routine. To have invaded her mind. To have identified the seneschal’s blind spot. To have called an assassin across the world. To have named her to the assassin, to ensure one of appropriate skill was dispatched.

She supposes its possible that Savoy is responsible, rebuffed as he must be by her decision. But she suspects another, one much closer to home. The same one she suspects orchestrated René’s return, her abduction into the Dungeon, and the seneschal’s descent into that hell to save her. The same one that knew how much Adler’s Embrace had affected the seneschal—that likely arranged it in the first place. The one standing in the room, who her identity was definitively declared before only nights ago.

It’s just as she said before the seneschal. A traitor.

Not that anyone will believe her. Not without proof.

“Questor, may I lay my cards on the table between us?” she probes.

GM: “Long investigations is how it usually is, with the Feds,” agrees Becky Lynne. “I certainly don’t see this raid having happened on the spur of the movement, though the magistrate judge you mentioned signing off on the warrant is interesting. One explanation is that their pretext for the raid was less than rock solid and a magistrate was easier to coerce. Or that they simply don’t have friends among any district judges. But if this was an alignment of purposes, there could have been a time crunch that only made the magistrate immediately viable. I’ll be very interested to find out the full story from him or her.”

“But please do, Eiren, as far as laid cards.”

Caroline: “The seneschal would not share the name of the Kindred that invaded your mind, in the lead up to this evening,” she observes.

She runs her tongue across her fangs.

“I have a suspect. The hand in this evenings events and others. One that I cannot prove—yet—but that I will. I would not ask you, your brother, or your sire, Questor, to rush into anything, to take the word of an eiren on such a weighty matter. But when I can prove it there are painfully few Kindred I would trust, and when that night comes I will need some I can call.”

GM: Becky Lynne seemingly takes that in stride.

“In what capacity would you desire to call on us, Eiren?”

Caroline: Caroline muses, “That would depend on your appetite, Questor.”

“I am inclined to take the fight to this foe with steel in hand.”

“Another sword, or two, by my side would be of great value when they meet the fate they so richly deserve. But that is asking for a great commitment. Down the spectrum somewhere from that would be logistical support in the lead up and moment. Down further than that would be support in the immediate aftermath. Whether it’s who I suspect or not, I don’t expect anyone capable of arranging tonight’s events to roll over, and I expect to be uncomfortably vulnerable thereafter.”

GM: Becky Lynne looks as if she might tap a chin in her thought, but both of her hands are occupied steering the helicopter.

“I’d be most inclined to suspect Mr. Savoy or any of Prince Vidal’s would-be successors of being behind this affair,” says Becky Lynne, “seein’ as they have the most to gain by eliminating the prince’s childe. The Baron has equally much to gain, but I don’t see his agents moving in FBI circles.”

“Yet if it were Mr. Savoy or the Baron, I don’t rightly see why the seneschal would decide to keep that from us.”

“Seneschal Maldonato told my brother that our clan elders were unaware of your lineage, which would seemingly rule out Gerousiastis McGinn and Gerousiastis Guilbeau.”

“No motive, if you’re not the prince’s childe to them.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue for a moment. “The number of Kindred privy to that secret, before this night, should have been counted on one hand. Perhaps two, if you were to include those who had reason to suspect.”

GM: “The author being Primogen Steinhäuser, Primogen Poincaré, or Primogen Duquette would certainly be a delicate situation, and I could understand the seneschal keepin’ mum over any of them. But if this attack required highly privileged information to execute, I don’t rightly see why they’d have it when the Gerousia don’t. They’re bound to our prince by neither blood nor faith.”

“As you say, Eiren, the remaining suspects on the list are rather few.”

“Though I’d say they can better be counted on one or two fingers than one or two hands.”

Caroline: Caroline lets the other Ventrue work through it. “I confess too, Questor, I have some knowledge of this matter you do not. My suspect has high level connections to the sort of hunter groups that might have arranged your imprisonment, and that I fear were used to assassinate Gerousiastis Malveaux.”

GM: “I’d need hard proof before I was willing to move against the remaining suspect,” Becky Lynne answers, frankly. “My analysis could still potentially be wrong—what if the other gerousiastes have already have been informed of your lineage, and the seneschal simply doesn’t want them and my brother talking, or for us to know the extent that one or both gerousiastes might be in the seneschal’s counsels.”

“My kin and I would be willing to provide direct or logistical support with the seneschal’s blessing.”

“In lieu of that, we’d be willing to provide support in the aftermath of whatever might take place, with the understanding that we will inform the seneschal of our actions.”

Caroline: It’s more than she had any right to expect, honestly. But then, this attack tonight was brazen. It felt almost… desperate. Killing Adler might smash two birds with one stone, but the consequences of the failure have the potential to be profound if they can deliver her allies. Especially from within Clan Ventrue. To say nothing of how much easier it makes framing him for Malveaux’s death—perhaps the only hostile act she doesn’t lay at his feet.

Caroline nods. “That’s fair, Questor,” she answers. “I think hard proof will be hard to come by—all I have right now is circumstantial. A tremendous amount of circumstantial, as much of it very sensitive, but circumstantial all the same. The seneschal’s blessing all the more difficult for many reasons, including the danger of such an attempt. But any assistance is more than I might have hoped.”

GM: “I don’t much care for someone murdering my servants, violating my mind, or attacking my and my sire’s domain. Whatever else may come, my kin and I will investigate what occurred here and not stop until we have conclusively established who was responsible. Tonight’s events will not pass without consequence.”

Caroline: Caroline grins.

“Then we have that much more in common, Questor.”


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Caroline: By the time they land, the scene is rapidly falling—falling apart and falling into place.

Ferris meets the two of them at the helicopter with a pair of dark blue windbreakers with ‘POLICE’ across them in big yellow letters. Their owners seem to have misplaced them tonight.

True to Caroline’s expectations, Ferris and the elder ghouls have moved the vehicles already—they’re nearly slag by the time Caroline and Adler arrive, the bodies within charred beyond all recognition: dental records will be required to identify them, and in the cases of some of the worse victims of the ‘crash’ even that may not suffice. A body has been moved into the drivers seat that Kâmil vacated—but who’s body Caroline isn’t certain—and Sweet’s into the van, though Caroline can only tell because the deceased ghoul is smaller than the rest of the bodies. Fire does horrible things to Kindred and kine alike.

It’s fortunate the rest of her ghouls left when they did—their arrival beat most of the emergency responders and helped wrangle gawkers, sheriffs, local police, firefighters, and paramedics. It’s similarly fortunate that Hurst’s ghouls are older in the blood than hers—they wield a broader range and depth of potency in the blood that has mostly worked to keep things contained.

It’s also fortunate that the emergency responders beat Caroline and Adler back: they’ve had time to put out the fires set by the ghouls that would have hell for the vampires’ Beasts.

Despite the ghouls successes, the limitations of ghouls in the scene had begun to become clear by the time the two vampires arrive: there just isn’t enough blood, and not enough ghouls gifted with the proper disciplines to handle the number of and increasingly pointed questions that coming from first responders. Not even with Packard.

That is where Caroline and Adler slot neatly in, to pick up the pieces falling apart, to fill in holes in memories and handwave explanations away. The gulf between the childer of elders and those of more humble bloodlines is on full display as the matching blondes move through the ever expanding crowd.

Identities spring out of whole cloth for the ghouls in response to side ‘conversations’, complete with provided credentials. Eyewitnesses emerge to the crash from among the lookie-loos after ‘interviews’. They fill in the police reports about what happened, the reckless driver, the crash, the terrible fire that engulfed all three vehicles.

They also stoke tensions, build recriminations: between the deputies and officers, between city and county, introducing distrust and a lack of cooperation that makes it all the easier for her people to blend into the effort, that will make putting things together afterwards harder. Professional relationships fray. There’s a punch thrown that gets swept under the rug. Offending officers and deputies are told to leave.

Amid the scuffle several people take their own initiative. Bodies are removed before the scene is fully documented—an overly zealous coroner. Then a wrecker shows up and manages to get hooked up to the ‘vehicles’ before someone realizes they haven’t finished initial investigations. It takes leads time to get the scene under control. Precious evidence is destroyed and tainted by mishandling—not that anyone is terribly shocked: it isn’t often the thin blue line buries four of their own. Everyone’s nerves are frayed, for too many here this is a personal tragedy, and screw ups only make it worse as all sides point the finger at each other.

Some of the chaos is Caroline’s doing, others Autumn’s suggestions, with a sprinkling of advice from Ms. Green given her own experiences on the force, but at the heart of it is Ferris—the eight fingered ghoul turning his devious mind to the problem: sowing dissent, hatred, and anger.

As the scene stabilizes the ghouls begin to withdraw. Adler has to leave before Caroline—the helicopter being the last thing on scene will attract too much attention—but she’s not the first to depart. Ghouls vanish into the night with the lookie-loos as they begin to disperse, stolen police jackets returning to their owners.

Last out are the elder ghouls, Caroline, and Ferris as the feds begin to arrive. It’s not their scene, not their business, and the call went out late. Shame about that.

It’s been a daunting evening, and they have a long drive back.

Caroline doesn’t waste it. As Kâmil takes the wheel she turns her mind to the next task. “Kâmil, can you tell me of the Banu Haqim?”

GM: Having help has its perks.

Staging the scene is an altogether different experience for Caroline than her early nights, by herself or just with Autumn, scrubbing bloodstains, spraying bleach, and disposing of corpses single- or two-handedly. Supervising a team of ghouls and Kindred with a panoply of Cainite gifts to draw upon is an experience all of its own. It feels less like trying to preserve the Masquerade, and more like deciding how she’s going to preserve the Masquerade. It feels like perhaps the sheriff feels when he goes about his duties. There are so many people to order about and after this thing or that. Caroline takes a more supervisory than front-line role, mainly stepping in to rewrite memories that the ghouls can’t as readily. The casquette girl assists greatly by facilitating silent telepathic communication among the many actors, keeping Caroline apprised of their activities, and relaying orders. No one notices her as she moves among the responders, taking and planting items or simply spying as requested. Becky Lynne helps Packard and Caroline rewrite memories, but most helps by playing responders’ feelings like a cheap harmonica, inciting surges of jealousy, irritation, impatience, anger. Ferris provides mundane pretext to justify and further stoke their feelings. The wrecker is his idea. All Caroline has to do is sit back and watch the fireworks.

“Your stupid fucking people let the wrecker through!”

“Yeah? Well who the fuck let the coroner move the bodies? We hadn’t even finished the fucking photographs of the scene.”

“Because your goddamn people told us they had pictures!”

“Oh, did they? Which one of my people was that?”

“I don’t know, Jon? Johnny?”

“You don’t even have a name? Jesus. You city boys are fucking lost.”

“Eat shit, you pig-fucking country bumpkin!”

“The fuck did you say?”

A punch gets thrown.

“Goddamn, Ricky!”

“I’m going to fucking kill you! Get off me! Get the fuck off me! He’s a dead man!”

There are scuffing sounds of someone being pulled away.

“Yeah, yeah, pick up your teeth and get the fuck out of here, city,” the punch-thrower grins smugly.

Ferris doesn’t smile, but Autumn can’t refrain from doing so.

Wrapping things up takes some time, but Caroline can’t even begin to imagine how much more it would have on her own, or if such a task would be even possible. She’s come a long ways from her first nights causing these breaches: now she supervises their repair. Indeed, it’s not lost on her that the seneschal didn’t go himself or dispatch the Guard de Ville to handle things: he trusted her to. The Masquerade is the foremost law of the Camarilla’s and the foremost responsibility of Clan Ventrue.

And hers, now, as well.

To wear a crown is to assume many duties. How many other neonates could do tonight what she has done?

Ghouls and Kindred return back to their cars in increments, rather than all at once, to make their departures less conspicuous. Becky Lynne remarks that she’s “most impressed indeed, Eiren; you’ve come a ways,” before returning to her helicopter.

“This felt like working for the Krewe again,” remarks Autumn. “In a good way. Just in terms of… all of the resources and experience to draw upon. Everyone knowing what they’re doing. I don’t think the Krewe could’ve done a better job, here.”

On the drive back, Kâmil answers Caroline,

“They are a rarely seen clan in New Orleans, but they are more common in the lands of my birth. I knew nothing of them before I came to the archdiocese, for it was here that I received the Blood. My domitor has had dealings with the clan, however. What would you know of them, bayan?”

Caroline: There’s a contented feeling as the car leaves.

“I’d like to start with…”


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Caroline’s convoy returns to Perdido House. Gisèlle and Kâmil ride with her. At the Ventrue’s request to see Raaid, Kâmil states that the Assamite is likely in the holding cells. He parks inside the underground garage, then proceeds to the elevator, where Caroline swipes the keycard she received from Robert Congo to allow access to the restricted basement floors. The doors ding open, revealing another steel door where the Ventrue presses her hand against a biometric scanner. Congo added her print earlier as well. Kâmil leads Caroline down a hallway to another locked steel door. Inside are several bodies wearing dark hoods with stakes protruding from their chests, unceremoniously laid out over the floor like kindling. Kâmil shoulders Raaid’s and carries it into a nearby interrogation room.

It’s a cheerless place. Unlit, though the vampire’s eyes penetrate the dark without issue, and neither ghoul requests a light. Rows of alternately sleek- and brutal-looking steel instruments whose only function can be the causation of pain sit nearby. Kâmil lays Raaid on a heavy steel table with leg and arm restraints.

“Do you wish him fettered, bayan?”

Caroline: Caroline eyes the assassin. He’s still crippled from their last encounter and unarmed.

“I don’t believe it necessary at this time, thank you, Kâmil,” she answers.

He had also declared his mission a failure. She doubts he will try again.

She removes first the hood, then slides the stake from his chest.

GM: The dusky-skinned vampire lies still upon the table.

“This is sooner than a month,” he observes.

Caroline: “It is,” Caroline agrees.

“I apologize if you had desired that long rest, but there are further matters I would discuss with you, Raaid ibn Badr,” she begins. “They were not suitable for our previous company.”

GM: The Assamite’s eyebrows faintly raise.

“Very well, Caroline Malveaux-Devillers. Please proceed.”

Caroline: “There are some topics beyond the attack, but I had one more follow up about it.” She begins.

“Were you and your agents given any direction at all, in so far as the presence of and intended outcome of Ms. Adler, in your attack?”

GM: “Miss Adler was to be spared.”

Caroline: The Ventrue mulls that one over.

“Very well.”

She takes a breath.

“You are the first of your clan I have met, so please forgive this question if it is disrespectful. Is your word your bond, Raaid ibn Badr?” Caroline asks.

GM: “It is, Caroline Malveaux-Devillers, save only when to fulfill it would hinder the will of Haqim,” answers Raaid.

Caroline: “And I presume you would not give it of you believed it would do so,” she clarifies.

GM: “That is so.”

Caroline: “I do not believe you will survive the 30 days helpless here.” She states starkly.

“Your Requiem and return to your master are of no value to the enemies of mine, while your death could benefit them greatly.”

“Whether by direct hand, accident, or the intentional sharing of your actions and whereabouts, I believe they will arrange for your destruction.” She lets that thought hang in the air for a moment.

“I do not wish it so.”

GM: “So be it,” answers Raaid calmly. “Your seneschal has seen fit to place me here. The world is not always as we wish it so.”

Caroline: “I am his servant, but I am foremost the servant of my prince, who is his master too.”

“For both of them, I may intercede, if an alternative may be found.”

GM: Raaid inclines his head.

“What alternative would you offer?”

Caroline: “If I see your Requiem spared, would you be willing to do a service for me, Raaid?” She asks.

GM: “That would depend upon the service, Caroline.”

“But in principle, my Istirja for a service rendered seems a fair bargain.”

Caroline: She nods. “There is a battle to come. I know not exactly when, but it will be soon—before your month long sentence has passed. My sire would slay you for raising your blade against me—I would see you spared if you would raise it beside me when that conflict comes.”

She tilts her head. “It would seem a thing of balance.”

GM: “As are all conflicts. You say you do not know when this battle will come, and also that I will die if I remain here. How, then, is there any surety I may participate in this battle at all?”

Caroline: “I would present two options, the more palatable before you.”

“I can take you into my own custody, or I may release you on your own recognizance until the time comes—or two weeks have passed.”

GM: “The latter of these would likely be more palatable to us both, if you did not wish me torpid or starving when the time comes.”

Caroline: Caroline inclines her head. “As long as your honor permitted it.”

GM: “It would, so long as this battle is not against the Banu Haqim or friends and allies to the Banu Haqim.”

Caroline: She thinks on that, then continues, “I do not believe that to be case, but confess I am not privy to the inner workings of the Banu Haqim. If there are those you would count among either group in the city, that you might wish to name, I would put you at peace regarding them. Otherwise, you have my afore offered word that such a conflict is not my intention.”

GM: “Your seneschal’s name is held in some esteem among our clan. Beyond him, I was briefed on none in the city, though nor is their temporary presence impossible in a major port.”

Caroline: She nods. “Then I foresee no troubles. I would not raise a hand to him.”

GM: “Very well. Then upon the Ancestor, the Shepherd, the Blood of my sires, and my honor as a childe of Haqim, I swear to assist you in your battle, and to not leave this city until either I have done so or two weeks have passed.”

Yet even as he speaks, another voice echoes within the Ventrue’s mind.

:: Gisèlle has informed me of your present intentions, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. To seek permission before overturning my judgment in this matter would be a matter of courtesy. ::

Caroline: She bites back a scowl at the Casquette Girl as the seneschal’s mind brushes against her own, but her response to the seneschal is demure. Not false, nor apologetic, but humble.

:: Seneschal, I’m certain you know my intention was not, and has never been, discourtesy or disrespect to you or your office. ::

GM: :: Chain of command must needs be observed, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. If you would reverse the judgments and decisions of your superiors, you will ask them if you are not compelled by dire and immediate need. ::

Caroline: She could argue that this falls under that. That she doesn’t believe that Raaid will survive a day and a night in these chambers, but she knows it isn’t what the seneschal is getting at. She’s done more than skirt his authority on this matter. Her provisions, though not at cross purposes to the seneschal’s, significantly exceed them.

Silence.

:: I understand, Seneschal. ::

A beat.

:: Do you disapprove of my purposes in this matter, and might any disapproval be moderated if I acceded to requiring your approval to call upon Raaid’s promised service? ::

GM: :: You may take Raaid into your custody. He is to remain staked until such time as you deem his service necessary. His freedom incurs graver risks than you understand. ::

Caroline: Perhaps it is so. There are many secrets the seneschal has kept from her, that give weight to his decisions. So too does the weight of centuries of experience among the Damned give gravity and wisdom to his judgements.

Caroline isn’t going to argue either way.

:: It will be as you have said, :: she answers.

A pause. :: Thank you for your patience. ::

GM: :: You are welcome, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. Responsibility for Raaid’s actions shall lie with you. ::

The Assamite, meanwhile, patiently waits across from Caroline.

Caroline: :: I understand. Is there anything further I may do for you, Seneschal? :: she asks, her gaze leveling back on the assassin.

GM: :: There is not at present. ::

Caroline: “Your early release and remission into my custody is acceptable to the seneschal, but he wishes that you remain in my custody until the appointed moment.”

She meets his gaze.

“I will ensure vessels are available, as required, to ensure you are capable when the moment comes. This remains acceptable to you?”

GM: “That is acceptable,” answers Raaid.

Caroline: “Excellent.”

She doesn’t smile.

This isn’t a victory, and it is possible she has misjudged the older Banu Haqim. He could still betray her in some way, to say nothing of how driving around the seneschal on this matter might provoke his own wrath.

But it is a start, and she has to start somewhere.

She’s crossed blades with Raaid, and she likes to believe that gives her some insight into his character. She believes the assassin will be true to his word, and that is something vanishingly rare.

Traitor. The word slides across her mind like a curse, but there is a face attached to this name.

Like Adler there is only one suspect in her mind for this attack.

He’s tried to kill her twice. It’s well past time she returns the favor.


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Story Twelve, Emmett XV

“Have you ever felt as if you could not be all that you were?”
Camille Richelieu


Date ?

GM: It’s in color.

Caramel-brown skin. Darker, almost black, but brown-tinted hair. Red lips. Gold earrings. Green eyes. Even poisonous as they are, even for all the awful memories they conjure up, they’re in color.

It’s all in color.

There’s a low breeze against his skin. There’s birds chirping in his ears, and pleasantly muted sounds of traffic, cars with living people behind the wheel, thrumming along towards their destinations.

He can smell again. Oh, he could smell in the Shadowlands, but the only smells there were of death and rot. They were all bed smells. Here he smells recently-cut grass and sweet floral scents.

And, above all, a coppery red that he knows is the most luscious scent he will ever take in, from now ’til eternity.

He feels no heartbeat in his chest. Some things haven’t changed since dying.

But he does feel the monster. He feels it in the fangs in his mouth. He feels it clawing and pacing inside his chest, sated only by blood, and only, he knows, temporarily. Monsters must feed. Monsters must kill.

“It’s not on your side…” Gasper had said, before it devoured him.

He’s lying on the ground. The Poison-Eyed Lady pulls back from him, licks closed a bloody gash along her wrist, and offers him a hand up.

It’d feel like clasping the Devil’s hand to make a pact, if he hadn’t already done that.

Emmett: Em blinks. Squeezes his eyes shut. And opens them slowly.

Color. All the colors in the world. Even the ones that make him nervous, like that poisonous shade of green.

The colors are still there the second time he opens his eyes. And, Em realizes, they’ll be there the third, too.

They’ll be there forever.

And when you’ve got forever, what’s a few seconds to take in the view?

It doesn’t take him very long to take her hand, though. Some things don’t take much thinking.

Nor does he break the silence. He simply gazes, at her, at the surroundings, at everything that isn’t rot.

Gorgeous, mute, and with something new Emmett’s never had before. Not in the flesh.

Patience.

He waits for her to speak.

GM: Em’s hand is a black man’s. It’s a bit thicker than his old one.

Emmett: Okay, that’s strange.

Bit ironic to start complaining about color now, though.

GM: He looks around and takes in his surroundings.

They’re a bit different from last time.

GM: They’re outdoors, on the same rooftop, open-air garden that affords a spectacular view of the New Orleans skyline. Statues of fallen angels, some brooding by themselves, others locked in passionate embraces with their fellow elohim, are nestled among the garden’s trees, rose bushes, magnolias, and other fragrant-smelling flora. Blue-, orange-, and red-winged butterflies fly past gold cages containing chirping songbirds with exotic plumages displaying every color in the rainbow. A short ways off from them, a French marble jacuzzi patterned to resemble the ocean floor sits invitingly. Soft fluorescent blue lights cast hazy patterns over the bubbling water.

The stacks of corpses are gone. The blood and gore is gone. The rot and rust is gone. Everything is polished and fresh and bright with color. It’s night out, and Em feels like it’s going to night out for some time, but next to the Shadowlands’ endless gloom he might as well be attending a gay pride on a Miami beach at noon.

“I told you I’d have my eye on you,” winks the Poison-Eyed Lady .

It feels almost friendly.

Emmett: Almost.

“Both of them, even,” Em manages. “I’m a little confused. I think I was having a dream. I was dead, you see.”

Are they alone?

GM: Savoy is there. So is Preston. Both are seated by the table. Bale stares at him appraisingly with her glass eye. A dark-skinned woman in a cotton gown, who somehow feels… less than them, is packing away some unlit candles, chalk, bottles, an animal carcass, and assorted other Vodoun trappings. She’s also removing a veve inscribed on the floor round Em. He can hear a heartbeat thumping inside her chest.

All of the others’ cavities are still.

Savoy motions towards the iron table. The chairs around it have cushions. Intact, red cushions, not the hole-ridden and slimy bits of shredded gray cloth they did in the Shadowlands.

“Have a seat, Mr. Delacroix. I’m sure you’ve got questions.”

The Poison-Eyed Lady assumes a place by the table.

GM: The woman in the cotton dress finishes cleaning up. Bale looks away and back towards the French Quarter lord, though her gaze seems to only half rest upon him.

“I am called elsewhere,” she says.

Savoy inclines his head.

“Of course, Madam Bale. Thank you as ever for your services.”

Emmett: He sits down next to her, if such a space is available. “Many,” he says. “But I’m sure you know better where to start than I do.”

His gaze flickers to Bale at her statement.

“A pleasure to meet you, Madam Bale.”

GM: Such a space is available.

“Is his memory intact?” Preston inquires of Bale.

The glass-eyed woman does not look at or respond to either of them. She stares out over the city, offers a deep inclination her head, then slowly walks backwards with lesser-feeling woman.

She only looks away when she reaches the elevator, gives a murmured, “Lord Savoy,” and then takes it down.

Savoy offers Em an indulgent smile.

“Madam Bale can seem a little strange to Kindred who meet her for the first time, but she’s that way to everyone. It’s the price for the powers she commands, I think.”

“At least she is more coherent than Curry,” replies Preston.

“She is that,” grants Savoy.

“But as to Mr. Delacroix’s questions….”

He smiles towards the Poison-Eyed Lady.

“You were dead, and you are still dead,” she says to Emmett.

Emmett: “Not all afterlives are equal.”

GM: “They are not,” she agrees. “My name is Camille Richelieu. Madam Bale and I brought you from that afterlife to this one.”

“You are Kindred now. What mortals call a vampire.”

“For as long as you drink the blood of the living, you are immortal.”

Emmett: He nods, still patient. “That sounds better than my dream. In that one, I was a ghost, and I couldn’t drink anything.”

GM: “You were not dreaming.”

Emmett: “May I see a mirror, please?”

GM: “Nat?” asks Savoy.

Preston taps the tablet in her hands, then turns it around. It reflects the rest of his surrounding’s, though Em’s features are indistinct. The lighting is terrible.

“We’re what you might call camera-shy by nature,” smiles the French Quarter lord.

“Focus,” says Camille.

“Will yourself to appear. Look for your features. They’re there.”

Em concentrates. His face slowly swims into view. The lighting isn’t that bad after all.

It’s also not his face. He sees a moderately handsome, goateed African-American man with short hair in maybe his late 20s.

“I’m afraid your original body is buried over 100 miles away, Mr. Delacroix, so we had to get you a new one,” says Savoy. “If you’d prefer your old face back, we have an associate who can alter your appearance.”

Emmett: “I’ve seen worse,” En replies gamely, and lifts a hand to his goatee. “Whose body is this, and how did I wind up in it? And why?”

He glances over his shoulder. “I must seem terribly rude, having my existential transition right at the beginning of our acquaintance, Lord Savoy.”

GM: Preston sets down her tablet.

The French Quarter lord chuckles. “I think we’re both entering new territory here, Mr. Delacroix. There certainly aren’t many Kindred who enter their Requiems as you have!”

Emmett: “Not many,” Em echoes, “But more than one?”

GM: “If there are others, I can’t profess to have heard of them. As far as I’m aware, Mr. Delacroix, you are one of a kind.”

“If it can happen here, it could have happened elsewhere,” Camille says contemplatively.

“As to your body, I can’t say I know who it belonged to either. We wind up with a lot of bodies at the Evergreen, let’s just say,” Savoy winks.

“Though Nat can have someone look into it if you’re curious.”

Emmett: “That seems like it might end up being relevant. What was that about a…surgeon, you said? Somebody who could make me look like my old dead self?”

GM: “It unlikely to be relevant if your face changes,” states Preston. She looks towards Savoy. “Nevertheless, sir, I will see it done.”

“Very good, Nat,” he smiles, then turns back towards Em.

“Oh yes, her name’s Dr. Dicentra. She’s quite talented. She can make you look like your old self down to your nose hairs.”

Emmett: “…how?”

GM: “How do dead souls live on as ghosts?” asks Camille.

Emmett: “Fair enough,” Em agrees amiably. “I suppose I would like to know the name of this body anyhow, just in case somebody comes looking for it.”

GM: “It will be looked into,” Preston states.

“It’s a trade secret exactly how she does it,” Savoy winks at Em’s earlier question. “I don’t know the exact process either, only the results. But the Blood carries many gifts.”

Emmett: “Gifts,” Em echoes. “I suppose I’m confused as to how you come into this,” he directs to Camille. “Did you know I was a ghost?”

GM: “Yes,” she answers. “Madam Bale helped your spirit cross over into our world and was your midwife into the Requiem. She informed Lord Savoy that a Kindred’s vitae would be necessary to complete your transformation. In so many words, a sire.”

“He thought about who to call and asked around.”

Emmett: “And your name arose?”

GM: “He asked Sami first.”

Emmett: “Ah.”

GM: “She thought she would be a better sister than sire to Emmett Delacroix. She knew I’d had my eye on you, after all.”

The woman’s poisonous eyes simmer as she smiles.

Emmett: “So you turned her as well.”

GM: “She received her first taste of my vitae after you asked me to bring her back.”

“She received the full thing after she struck it rich and proved what an asset she was to our clan.”

Em remembers that. When she told him she was ‘happy,’ and he concluded she no longer needed him to survive.

Emmett: But there’s a more interesting word in that sentence.

“Our clan?”

No ‘K’ in front of that one, he’s pretty sure.

GM: “In the time before time, there was Gran Maître, the supreme god, alone and apart.”

“Gran Maître created Damballah, the great white serpent and primordial creator of all further life. Damballah created the cosmos by using his 7,000 coils to form the stars and the planets in the heavens and to shape the hills and valleys on earth.”

“Damballah created many further gods; his wife Aïda-Wedo, goddess of the rainbow; Ogoun, god of war and metal; Zarabanda, the messenger-god; Cristo Negro, the king of the dead; and all the saints and mystéres and loa and whatever you want to call them.”

“Long ago, a mortal king stole divine power by cutting out and eating Damballah’s heart. This was not actually fatal to the god, but it made him and his consort terribly angry. Aïda’s curse banished the king from life and the day, while Damballah’s curse banished him from the peace of the grave, but the two gods could not take back the stolen power. The king, however, could share it with others who accepted the curse as its price.”

“The king’s brothers and sisters persuaded him to share his stolen power, and in turn passed it on to others.”

“For all its curses, this power was a great blessing. After death, the worthy may become gods; but those who inherit the king’s stolen power may do so in the flesh rather than as spirits. They may live forever and command fantastic powers as living gods.”

“But the king’s brothers and sisters became greedy and wished to be the only gods. They used their powers to oppress and subjugate mankind, to destroy their spirits and prevent them from achieving their potential, denying them the chance to become gods upon their deaths. The king’s brothers and sisters would only allow further gods to exist by their permission: whomever they chose to pass on the king’s stolen power to.”

“The king’s son also received the stolen power from his father, but he did not grow jealous and greedy. He did not seek to oppress and command mortals, but to liberate them from their self-imposed chains and to see them all become gods upon their deaths. He passed on his stolen power to his own children, whom he considered worthy to aid him in this goal. They passed on the stolen power to their own children, who passed it eventually to me, and I to you and Samantha.”

Camille smiles at him knowingly. It’s almost comforting, if he can look past the glimmer of that awful night in her simmering eyes.

“Samantha believes none of this. She said you would believe none of it either.”

“Your belief is not necessary.”

“I would instead ask: Have you ever felt as if you could not be all that you were? Have you ever felt as if the world was stacked against you, and full of rules and power structures that benefited a small group of people who didn’t want to let you in to their club? Have you ever felt as if idiots enjoyed nice things they didn’t want you to enjoy too? Have you ever felt as if the only way to get what you wanted was to lie and steal? Have you ever felt as if the world would grind you down to a banal existence of 9 to 5 mediocrity if you didn’t cheat to get ahead? Have you ever felt as if you had an extraordinary vision, potential, or destiny that the world wanted to destroy before you could achieve it?”

Emmett: Em says nothing to her question. But he does not need to. The distance in his eyes is a soliloquy. Even the staring statues of the garden know what he knows.

Some stories are truer than the myths they’re made of.

“And what do you ask of me, in exchange for this blessing?”

GM: The poison-eyed woman’s smile turns content at the look in his eyes.

“That depends, partly, how you want to spend eternity.”

“Sami says you ran confidence schemes and wanted to make movies.”

“Do that. Do something else. It doesn’t matter what. Only that you fulfill your purpose.”

Emmett: “What purpose?”

GM: “What you felt everyone in your old life tried to stop you from achieving. The greatness that you knew lay within you.”

“What was that?”

Emmett: Em is silent for a time. But now the look in his eyes is less certain.

“I’m still trying to figure that out,” he says finally. “But you said I have eternity. Do you need an answer now?”

GM: “What is ‘now’ to one who has forever?” smiles Camille.

“You asked who we were. Our clan goes by many names. We call ourselves the Timoun nan Damballah, the Children of Damballah, we in whose veins runs the blood of gods, we whose forefather alone sought to uplift mankind to its full potential.”

“Ignorant Kindred call us the Followers of Set, but you will find no clanmate in the city who worships a jackal-headed god of Egypt.”

“Ignorant Kindred call us tempters and corruptors. They call us fixers, dealers, and purveyors of vices, and believe we ‘corrupt’ others simply to gain power over them.”

“But we seek only to do as our forefather has done, to break the chains imposed on humanity by the Aeons—our name for the forces that kept you from achieving greatness in your old life. Vice only holds what power one allows it. Sin is only sin because the Aeons say it is sin. One must transgress against taboos to overcome them.”

“Only the small-minded are ‘corrupted’ by us and enslaved by us. They are only trapped within our coils if they cannot see past them.”

Camille pauses briefly.

“You asked what we would ask of you.”

“We would ask to help you prosper, and that you help us to prosper.”

“We would ask you to help lead others to truth, and to use those who cannot find it—those you ‘corrupt’—as you see fit.”

“We would ask you to enjoy immortality’s pleasures alongside us.”

“We would ask that you allow us to help you achieve purpose and greatness.”

“We would ask to protect you from our enemies, and that you help us against our enemies, Kindred who hate us for the crime of our blood.”

“We would ask you to defy the Aeons, and that you help us to defy the Aeons.”

“We would ask that you do these things and accept these things only willingly.”

Emmett: “Only willingly? What would happen if I refused?” His tone indicates he has no intention of doing so.

GM: “Then we would part ways here. You could remain in the city, or establish a new unlife somewhere else. We don’t have any use for unwilling converts, and trying to harm you is effort expended for no gain.”

The woman extends a slender hand for him to shake. She smiles more fully, and Emmett notices that her eyes have vertically slit pupils. Like a snake’s.

Preston continues to work on her tablet.

Savoy, seemingly content to let Emmett’s sire handle things with him, grins with the pleasure that comes from watching a sealed deal.

“So what do you say, Emmett Delacroix?” asks Camille. “Are you one of us?”

Emmett: It’s a good sell. One of the best he’s ever heard. Here he is, naked and helpless and young, and all she has to do is make vague promises with vaguer obligations. It’s a winning formula for a scam: all carrot, and the only stick is how obviously ill-footed he’ll be without them. Em’s disoriented, but he’s not so out of it that “vampire snake cult” sounds like a winning proposition for eternity.

And yet. At least with a cult, you know where you stand.

“I’m one of you,” he says, as truthfully as that goes.

Just one more sucker trying to be a snake.

His hand is cold against hers, but so much more real than a wraith’s.


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Story Twelve, Celia XXII

“This is a risk. A risk that will have terrible, terrible consequences for our family if you are wrong."
Emily Rosure


Saturday evening, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: It’s a short drive back to Flawless, and perhaps too short for the thoughts swirling in Celia’s head. Alana tells her that a girl named Danielle Garrison has come by, saying that Celia wanted to meet her here. She’s in the Tranquility Room.

Celia: The brief drive leaves her no time to dissect the thoughts racing through her mind. She barely has a plan in how to deal with them, though she knows some meditation will be in order later this evening with Princess, Blossom, and Lucy if she gets a free moment…

Ah, but Lucy is with Elyse, she recalls. Ready, or soon to be ready, to be picked up. Perhaps just the other two, then? Three minds are better than one, aren’t they, and Princess might have some valuable insight to share. This area is her specialty.

Celia stops on her way to the Tranquility Room to briefly discuss things with Alana.

“What I’m about to tell you goes no further than us, you understand?”

GM: At this hour, the spa is mostly closed down for the night. Piper has already left to hit up the bars. Landen doesn’t have any six-year-olds to do the nails of, this time, so they’re off too, as are most of the other girls. Perhaps Celia can ask Madison about Reagan’s makeup later.

Alana nods. “Of course, mistress. You decide what I get to tell people.”

Celia: Saturday evenings are not so busy as their mornings and afternoons. She’s usually the only one here after six, though sometimes she runs into Natalia or Louise working on inventory or counting down the drawer. Less so the former than the latter; Natalia still has school to keep her busy, and she’s that age where Saturday nights mean parties and boys.

“There is a longer conversation you and I will have once things settle. Privately. I have plans and dreams for you, Alana, but I would not sandwich what I think will ultimately be a very enjoyable evening telling you about them between what I must do tonight.” Celia reaches out, tucking a strand of hair behind Alana’s ear.

GM: “I can’t wait, mistress,” the ghoul beams under Celia’s touch.

Celia: “The girl who said she’s meeting with me. Did you notice anything different about her?”

GM: She shakes her head. “She seemed like she had something on her mind, though.”

Celia: “She does. She is newly Embraced. I hope to find out more about the nuances of what she has become this evening, and I would like you to assist me.”

GM: “She’s already good at blending in. She’s been drinking the tea.”

“But of course, mistress. Whatever you’d like me to do.”

Celia: So she does eat food. Interesting.

Celia takes Alana’s hand in hers.

“She doesn’t know about Jade. That remains between us. As does what I do with my clients, the sculpting. But there are other things…”

There’s no delicate way to put this. She already trusts Alana with the flesh work, the dual identities, knowing about her mortal family.

“Are you familiar with the duskborn?”

GM: The ghoul nods at Celia’s first instruction, then shakes her head. “Not really, mistress. Just that the Quarter has a lot of them, in the worse areas, and they’re pathetic half-vampires.”

Celia: She had expected as much. Not even true vampires know much about them.

“Miss Garrison is duskborn.”

GM: Alana makes an expression of distaste.

Celia: “I knew her in life, before my Embrace.”

GM: “Should Randy throw her out, mistress?”

Celia: Celia’s lips twitch in an aborted smile.

“No, ‘Lana. I’ve taken her in for now.”

“Her brother once did me a great kindness. I plan to return the favor to his sister.”

GM: “All right, mistress. But they’re supposed to be nothing but trouble. That’s what the ghouls I talk to say, who have domitors in worse territories.”

Celia: “They’re products of their environment. Treated poorly by the powers that be. Like any marginalized group, they chafe at this treatment. But becoming a Kindred doesn’t change who you are inside, and Miss Garrison, I believe, will bring a certain light to this world that many desperately need.” Just like her brother.

There’s a brief pause.

“She’s also important to someone I care deeply for, as well as myself, and her safety is the utmost concern. I don’t expect you to wait on her, but I do expect civility.”

GM: Alana inclines her head. “Okay, mistress. Whatever you want her to have, she’ll have.”

Celia: “I knew I could count on you, ’Lana.” Celia gives the ghoul a smile. “Come, let’s get you two introduced.”

She keeps a hold of Alana’s hand on the way into the room to find Dani.

GM: She finds the thin-blood in the Tranquility Room wearing a robe and sipping tea as she scrolls through her phone.

Celia: She doesn’t stare at the tea. But she looks at it, wondering at the answer to her questions.

“Hey, Dani,” she says finally, “thanks for coming over. I have someone I’d like you to meet. This is Alana. Alana, this is Miss Garrison.”

GM: Dani looks up and smiles at Celia’s voice. “Oh, it’s no big! I was glad just to get out. And we met when I came in, actually.”

Celia: “Perfect.” Celia takes a seat beside her, gesturing for Alana to do the same. “How was your day?”

GM: The ghoul sits down.

“It was good. Pretty uneventful. I spent a lot of time on my phone or watching movies. Also studying for school. I have classes and work on Monday.”

Celia: “Where do you work? And what times are your classes and work?”

GM: “I’m a clerk for Judge Boner, at the Criminal District Court. It’s mainly thanks to my dad that I have it, ha.”

She provides her school and work schedule. It’s during the day, unsurprisingly.

Celia: “And you don’t burn. At all. Even with prolonged exposure?”

GM: Dani glances at Alana.

“She knows…?”

Celia: Celia nods in approval.

“Yes. Alana is my ghoul. Renfield.” They’d discussed them last night, but Celia is pleased that Dani had at least wanted to make sure that Alana was in on the secret before answering.

GM: “Okay. It’s nice to meet you for real.”

“Oh, it’s my pleasure, Miss Garrison,” says the ghoul.

“I don’t, anyways. I tested it for a while. I don’t like how it feels, but it’s not like I can reschedule school and work to after dark.”

Celia: “No,” Celia says with a small smile, “of course not. The job with Judge Boner; do you meet him at the courts or elsewhere? I need an exact part of the city.”

GM: “I meet him at the courthouse. It’s at 2700 Tulane Avenue.” That’s in Mid-City.

Celia: Celia pinches the bridge of her nose in a gesture that is decidedly human.

“Mid-City was the sight of a slaughter a number of years ago. The people in charge of it rounded up everyone like you, brought them together under false pretenses, and sicced the sheriff, his hounds, and a dozen other licks on them.”

GM: “Oh.”

Celia: “They still make runs through there regularly. And kill everyone they find.”

GM: “But during the day…?”

Celia: “I’ll see what I can do. Problem is you smell like a ghoul. If you run into anyone who can pick up on that they’ll bring you in to find out whose you are. If they find out you’re Duskborn, you’re as good as dead.”

“And, frankly, I don’t trust them enough to keep their word if they grant safe passage.”

GM: “But will I run into anyone who can smell me during the day? I can’t just drop my job.”

Celia: “It’s a risk, honestly. I’d feel safer about it if you got another job.”

GM: “Well, why is it a risk? There’s… renfields during the day, but not the sheriff or vampires. I really need this job! My grades and resume aren’t as good as Stephen’s…”

Celia: “Because if their renfields are looking out for you then they’ll bring you in, too. People patrol the borders.”

GM: “I could sneak in. They can’t just keep everyone out.”

Celia: “It’s like shoplifting, Dani. You might get away with it once. But keep doing it and the chances of getting caught go up.”

“Let me think about this. We’ll figure it out, okay?”

“I have some ideas, but I need some time to figure them out, and I need to talk to a few people. Being able to walk around during the day is safer, but it’s not foolproof.”

GM: “Okay, please, let’s figure it out. I really can’t lose this job! My dad’s the only reason I have it. I can’t just stop going in to work, either, I’d need to give notice.”

“And I have to keep going to school, too. Law school has attendance requirements thanks to that fratire author.”

Celia: “I know, Dani. But I can get you another job. I can’t get you another life.”

GM: “I know. But in law, though?”

Celia: “I know some people.”

“There are a few other things I need to know about what you can do. It’ll help us figure out how to get around this for now.” Celia nods toward the tea. “Do you have any trouble swallowing that or keeping it down?”

GM: “Okay. But I think we need to figure this out pretty soon. School and work are on Monday, like I said. I can miss some class and take sick time at work, but I can’t do that forever.”

“And no, it’s good tea.”

Celia: “Good to hear that. Do you still need to use the bathroom?”

GM: “Uh, sort of? I don’t need to as often, and my poop looks like whatever I was eating.”

“It’s not even really poop. It looks like something between chewed-up food and vomit. It doesn’t even smell.”

Celia: “Huh. Sorry for the weird question. We don’t actually eat. Anything I eat I need to throw back up afterward.”

GM: “That must suck. Like permanent bulimia.”

Celia: “Worse. Food doesn’t even taste good.”

“That’s good for you, though. Easier to blend in.”

GM: “Oh, how does it taste?”

Celia: “Like, ah, ash and shit and garbage sludge.”

GM: “Seriously? You can’t eat?”

Dani looks taken aback.

“That’s awful. I’m so sorry. Food and blood are basically the only things I’ve enjoyed this past week.”

Celia: “Yeah. I miss my mom’s cooking, to be honest.” Sometimes. “What about sex?”

GM: “I haven’t really been thinking about sex lately,” Dani says slowly.

Celia: “Right,” Celia says with a wince. “Most of us can’t enjoy that either. I’m trying to figure out where you fall on the spectrum. We can fake it pretty good, but actual sex is kind of pointless to most.”

“That being said, I brought Alana in so we can try a few things.”

“Not sex,” she adds after a second.

GM: Dani tenses at first, then relaxes.

“All of that sounds so awful. It’s no wonder other vampires are jealous of duskborn. All the benefits and none of the drawbacks, besides racism.”

Celia: Celia gives that a nod, even though she doesn’t quite agree. Unless her theory turns out to be wrong.

“They hate anything different,” is all she says.

“So normally when we feed it feels really, really good to the vessel. It kind of fogs their memories a little bit too, which helps preserve the Masquerade. What I’m about to ask you to do is normally… uh, honestly just don’t do it outside of this situation. But I’d like to see what happens when you feed on Alana.”

GM: “Okay. If you’d be comfortable with that?” she asks Alana.

The ghoul smiles winsomely. “Of course. Like the mistress says, it feels very, very good.”

Dani gives the word ‘mistress’ a bit of a look, but doesn’t comment. “All right. Wrist or neck?”

“Wrist, please.” She extends her arm.

Dani sinks her fangs into it and drinks. Alana gives a little ‘happy noise’ and closes her eyes as color rises to her cheeks.

It’s a less enthusiastic noise than Celia usually gets, though.

Dani stops after a little while and looks at the ghoul. Alana has a glazed but not unhappy look to her eyes.

Celia: Celia watches, both to make sure that Dani doesn’t take too much or hurt Alana and to see the effect it has on her ghoul. Once Dani pulls away she tells her to lick the wound if she hasn’t and sees if it closes.

She sees the visible effect it has on Alana and remembers what it felt like when Dani fed on her, but she asks about the rest of it. The glazed memories, mostly.

GM: The puncture marks close under Dani’s tongue.

Celia: Perfect.

GM: Alana says that she “remembers thinking this was a good idea,” but can only recall the pair’s precise words after being pressed.

Celia: Celia beams at Dani.

“This is excellent. I was worried there’d be gaping holes and no fugue state.”

GM: “Okay, so that’s good news?” Dani smiles back.

Celia: “You still shouldn’t be feeding publicly because you could be seen, but it’s better than the alternative. Some of us have a painful bite, I’ve heard, which makes everything more difficult. I’d still try to disguise it as something else to be very careful, but this is good.”

“Now. The thing you did the other night. The fear. Try it again.”

GM: Dani pulls back her lips, showing her small fangs, and growls.

Alana doesn’t look terribly perturbed.

Celia: Celia nods again.

“Can you make her think she’s your best friend?”

GM: “How do I do that?”

Celia: “It’s an emotional pull. Like how you made the man afraid. You kind of just… will it to happen. Like you think about what you want to happen, ball it up inside of you, and then gently ease it around her. The emotional tools are things that are more subtle than other powers, so you don’t want to force it on her, but you want to kind of crook a finger at her and bring her to you. Like a skittish bunny that you really want to pick up.”

Celia gestures for her to look at Alana.

“Look at her. See how pretty she is? She runs a spa, she’s brilliant, she’s really good with makeup, she tastes great. You want her to want to be your friend, though. Close your eyes if it helps and picture it. Hold the thought in your mind: you want her to want you. Not sexually, but like the best girlfriend in the world. You want to drink mimosas and watch rom coms with her.”

“Feel for her. Mentally. Pretend there’s a line that connects the two of you and send those feelings across it. Picture it like a bubble enveloping her. A big friendship bubble.”

“Or a soft, warm blanket. Put it around her shoulders.”

GM: Alana fairly basks under the praise.

“Okay,” Dani nods at the description. “A bubble, a blanket. That’s a good way to visualize it. You’re a pretty good teacher.”

Celia: Celia smiles at the both of them.

“Thank you.”

GM: The thin-blood closes her eyes a moment, then stares at the ghoul with an invitingly familiar expression, the sort she’d flash to a girlfriend she shares mimosas and rom coms with.

Alana just smiles pleasantly back.

Celia: “Ask her something,” Celia tells Dani, “something personal that she wouldn’t share with a stranger.”

GM: “What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done?” Dani asks.

“Sorry,” says Alana.

Celia: Celia nods again. She lifts her wrist to her mouth and sinks her fangs into her own flesh, holding out the fare to Dani.

“Drink, and we’ll try again.”

GM: Dani leans to imbibe.

She drinks hungrily and doesn’t stop.

Celia: Celia pulls her wrist away.

GM: Dani watches it longingly for a moment.

“…sorry. You taste really good.”

Celia: Her smile is fainter than normal.

“I’ll manage,” she says to the apology. “I have a theory that you take on the abilities of those you feed from. Like Rogue from X-Men. I don’t know if it’s the predominant abilities or any ability, so… I think we’ll test both.”

Claws sprout from the tips of her fingers, long and sharp and beautiful. She holds them up to Dani.

“Try this. Imagine your nails are claws. Like a cat. Or Wolverine.”

“You’ve seen X-Men, right? Stephen introduced me. I assume you’ve seen it.”

GM: “Oh, wooow! Yes, I have. Those are so cool, and pretty!” Dani exclaims.

“Everything about the mistress is cool and pretty,” Alana remarks contently.

Celia: Celia can’t help but laugh.

“Thanks, ‘Lana. You try, Dani. See if you can make them happen. Like Wolverine. Just pretend you’re about to fight some bad guys and you left your knife in your other pants.”

GM: Dani holds up her fingers and concentrates. Nothing happens.

“Why can’t I?” she asks, frustrated.

Celia: “Not every lick learns every ability. The claws aren’t something most people in my clan know. It’s not rare, but it’s unusual. That’s also why we’re practicing, to find out what you can do, which might let us find out who did this to you. Each clan has their own gifts. Problem is not a lot is known about duskborn, but finding out what you can do will help others.”

GM: “Okay. That makes sense. But why isn’t there much known about duskborn?” Dani asks.

Celia: “Because of the policy of open genocide. Vampires can’t generally kill each other without getting into trouble. But in most cities they’re not considered vampires, so they just die by the dozen. It’s like… being an illegal immigrant. You kind of don’t exist. Or a slave before the Civil War.”

“Also I think they’re kind of a recent appearance. So a combination of things. Sorry to be blunt.”

GM: Dani doesn’t say anything for a moment. Just processes Celia’s words.

“I didn’t ask for this.”

Celia: “I know, Dani. I know. We’re going to make the best of it. I have some favors to call in to get some things done for you. And the Quarter is the best place for you while we get it settled. At least here you’ve got someone sharing domain with you, you know?”

GM: “I do. And I’m really thankful for that,” she says, sincerely. “What sorts of things and favors are you thinking? I don’t want to put you out…”

Celia: “A lot of them are pushed to the edges. The ghetto. And once you finish this semester there’s more flexibility in what we can do, I think. How much longer do you have left for school?”

“Don’t worry about the favors. I’ve got it covered. But if I need help with something I’ll let you know if you want.”

GM: “I still have this year, and next year,” Dani answers. “I’m in the 3+3 program that lets you start law school during your senior year in undergrad.”

“And, please, let me know. You’ve already done so much.”

Celia: “Your brother meant the world to me, and to my family. He was exactly what I needed exactly when I needed him, and he pulled me out of a hole so deep and dark I never thought I’d be free. And you, Dani, you should have been my sister. I can’t change the world, but I can make this little piece of it more bearable.”

“Family means a lot to me. My ghouls, they mean a lot to me too. You can ask Alana how others like her are treated. Just because I’m dead doesn’t mean I need to be a monster. And it might take a while for you. I know my adjustment was difficult and I didn’t have the stigma of being duskborn. Their world moves slowly because they’re immortal. Progress and change take time. But I promise, Dani, we’ll get you to a place where you’re comfortable with who and what you are.”

“And hey,” she adds, “some of them look down on me because I still enjoy sex, so fuck ’em, you know?”

GM: Dani stares at Celia with shining eyes upon her declaration. Some of it has to be the bond, but no doubt much of it is real too, and the bond has but amplified those emotions.

“I’m sorry that didn’t get to happen, you marrying my brother,” she gets out. “But I’m really glad you found me, Celia. Just so glad. I don’t know where else I would’ve turned. I trust that you’re going to make things turn out as well as you can. And I know you don’t want me to repay you, but… I’d still like to do something for you back, now or in the future. Just name it.”

Celia: Celia takes her hand. She feels bad about the bond. She really does. But it’s for Dani’s own good, just like pushing her brother to let her stay was for his good. It has to be. She’s not a monster. She’d said that. That means it’s true, that she’s not a monster. She’s doing the best thing she can for their family.

“I’ve got you, Dani. You’re safe with me. Always.”

“Now, let’s try that bubble again.”


Saturday evening, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: It takes a few tries, and some patient tutoring, but the bubble meets with some success. Dani manages to inflame Alana with adoration for Celia, prompting her to start hungrily kissing and fondling her domitor.

Celia: It’s an unusual reaction for the fact that it’s usual for Alana, less so that it came from Dani’s attempt to manipulate her. After she gently cools Alana’s ardor with a stray thought she returns her attention to Dani. She lets Alana stay on her lap, though, so long as she keeps her hands to herself.

She asks Dani what she did, what she was focusing on, so that she can better understand the ability that she had shown.

GM: Alana makes herself at home on that lap like there’s no place she’d rather be.

Dani says she “felt for what was there” and tried to give it a push. A blanket, like Celia said, but one Dani was picking up from the ghoul’s lap to drape around her shoulders.

Celia: Celia nods her head. It’s a good explanation of what she had just done as well, though she’d taken the blanket back off Alana and settled it on the ghoul’s lap instead. It’s a step in the right direction, and it tells her at least a little bit about Dani’s capabilities.

She tells her that the ability she’s using is called “star mode,” though Celia has always just referred to it as “charm,” and there are some who have more traditional names for it as well. Unfortunately Celia doesn’t know a lot of the other skills, so she might need to bring in someone else if Dani wants to find out what her capabilities are.

Celia, of course, has no idea how she’s going to explain this to anyone. “I’m running some experiments on thin-bloods, can I borrow your vitae?”

She offers to take a blood sample to her warlock friend, if Dani wants, to see if he can find anything out for her. Not that she thinks Pete will be much inclined to help a duskborn. She also kind of feels like she already owes him. But maybe.

GM: Dani is pleased to hear she’s making progress and asks what other things she could learn to do. Can she fly?

Dani thinks that Celia’s offer sounds like a good idea and draws a blood sample for her.

She also asks if she could be there. She’d like to meet some other vampires.

Celia: Flying, Celia tells her, is a very advanced skill. The only lick she knows who is capable of it has been around for over a hundred years. If Celia ever manages to learn it she promises Dani that she’ll bring her along for a ride.

Celia watches Dani draw the blood sample, wanting to know if she’s able to mend her flesh as easily as true-blooded vampires can.

There’s a pause while she considers the request. Generally duskborn only mingle with other duskborn. But if anyone would be open to meeting her it probably would be Pete, so Celia says she can ask him. She also wants Dani to meet a friend of hers, but she’s still working on a way to sneak him in. Bit of a Romeo and Juliet kind of thing, she jokes. The good news is they’re both already dead.

“By the way,” she asks, “did you get a hold of your father for dinner?”

GM: Dani’s eyebrows raise when Celia tells her that flying real. She’d love to come along for that ride.

Dani draws the blood by biting her wrist and licks it closed when she’s done.

Dani would very much like to meet Celia’s friend.

“I did,” she nods. “I told him there was a friend I really wanted him to meet, who knew Stephen, and who wanted to talk to him about Stephen. I didn’t say it was you. I wasn’t really sure how we’d explain how you, uh, only broke his heart because you were a vampire.”

Celia: “Probably for the best,” Celia admits. “I’m still working on a cover story for him.”

Celia: Celia nods. She asks Dani to excuse her rudeness for a minute and digs out her phone to call her mom.

GM: Her mother picks up promptly.

“Hi, sweetie! How was… your dinner?”

Celia: “It went well,” Celia tells her. “I’d like to tell you all about it. Are you going to be up for a bit? I have a client in…” Celia glances at the time, “soon, but it should only take an hour or so.”

GM: “Oh yes, definitely! It isn’t all that late, anyways.”

Celia: “Do you mind if I swing by after?”

GM: “Oh, that’d just make my night, sweetie! Please do!”

Her mother’s enthusiasm sounds as sincere as always. She loves having her daughter over. But it’s plain she wants to hear about that dinner with her ex, too.

Celia: Celia doesn’t blame her. All girls want to hear about their exes.

“Perfect. Hey, Mom… you remember Stephen, right? From college? I just ran into his little sister. And we got to talking about Stephen, and one thing led to another and… well, do you want to have dinner with her and her dad? With you and Emily and I?”

GM: “Oh, I definitely remember Stephen,” her mother says quietly. “That poor, poor family. I can’t even imagine what they must have gone through.”

“Yes, I’d love to have dinner with them. Over at our place?”

Celia: “If it’s not too much trouble. Maybe tomorrow or Monday?”

GM: “It isn’t, sweetie. Stephen did just so much for us. We wouldn’t even be in this house to have guests over for dinner, if he hadn’t put us in touch with Viv…”

“I’ll cook something extra special. But please let me know soon whether it’s going to be tomorrow or Monday, so I can know when to start cooking.”

“And so Emily can make plans.”

Celia: Celia considers her schedule. She doesn’t think she has anything pressing either night. And why not just go for it? The biggest hurdle is going to be clearing it with her grandsire, which she plans on taking care of tonight.

“Let’s do tomorrow, if that’s okay.”

GM: “Okay, tomorrow it is. You didn’t mention her with dinner, but Lucy’s obviously still going to be home.”

Celia: “What? How dare she. Send her to the movies, Ma.”

“Just kidding, that’ll be fine. I’ll see you in a bit, alright? Love you.”

GM: “Okay, we’ll talk soon. I love you too!”

Celia: Celia hangs up and looks back to Dani.

“Tomorrow it is.”

GM: Dani looks up from her own phone.

“Awesome. I heard something about someone not going to the movies?”

Celia: “My daughter.”

GM: Dani pauses. “Oh. That must be tough, to be a vampire and a mom.”

Celia: “My mother raises her.”

GM: “That makes sense.” She pauses again. “If vampires can’t have kids… you’d have gotten pregnant nine months before you broke up with Stephen…”

“Is he the father?”

Celia: Celia hesitates.

Lucy isn’t her secret. But it’s a good explanation, isn’t it? She’d told Stephen as much. That they could just tell Henry she’s Stephen’s child. And why not? What’s the harm? If Henry is as broken as Dani says he is, maybe he could use something beautiful in his life—

GM: Dani frowns. “Wait, no. He never said anything about you being pregnant.”

Celia: Her ruminations are cut off by Dani’s words.

“No,” Celia says.

“Lucy is not my child. Her mother was raped by a terrible person and didn’t want to abort her. I agreed to take her in, but… I died.”

“But to protect her mother, I’ve lied and said she’s mine.”

GM: “Oh,” says Dani. “I’m sorry. But that was really, really kind of you.”

It’s just as well. Diana and Emily would probably look askance if Dani showed up full of excitement to meet her niece.

Celia: “A lot of people who knew me assume that Stephen is the father. We had a scare, once, but… well, I mean, I was Embraced shortly thereafter, so even if something had happened it died with me.”

“After Stephen died… I thought about… continuing the lie, you know, and introducing her to your father, but Stephen told me once that he’d rather have an ugly truth than a beautiful lie, and it wasn’t my place.”

GM: “Oh, I’m so sorry, Celia…” Dani repeats at Celia’s first words, squeezing her hand.

“And Stephen is right. Dad wouldn’t want to believe a beautiful lie.”

“I wouldn’t either. The law exists to maintain justice, and justice can’t exist without truth.”

Celia: “You sound just like him.”

GM: Dani gives a faint smile. “Same dad. Same family.”

Celia: “You’re good people, Dani. You and him and your dad.”

GM: “Thanks. My dad can seem stern or distant to a lot of people, especially since Stephen died, but he’s good underneath.”

Celia: “He warned me about that same thing, you know. Before I met you guys for dinner. I was so nervous I was going to say something stu—silly.”

GM: “I don’t think you did. He didn’t say anything later, either.”

“He has gotten harder and less outgoing since Stephen died, though. Like I said, part of him did too, after that. His son was just his everything.”

Celia: “I can’t imagine how hard losing a child is. There’s…” Celia forces the air from her lungs in a sigh. “A friend of mine asked if you’d be happier in another city, so you don’t have to hide what you are from him. And… ordinarily, you know, I’d have said yes. But I know how losing Stephen hurt your dad, and, Dani…” Celia reaches out, “I keep thinking about… what I’d say to him, you know, if you disappeared too, if you died…”

GM: Dani emphatically shakes her head. “Oh, no, I don’t want to leave!”

“I mean, he might rather have Stephen than me, but I’m still all he has left.”

“And all of my friends and people I know are in the city. I’d planned to go into law here.”

Celia: “That’s why I’m so uptight about everything with the territories. I know it’s awful of me, I’m sorry, I’m really not trying to fence you in.”

GM: “Could we… negotiate?”

Celia: “I’m going to try.”

“I can manage your school, I think. The person who runs the territory is a hardass, but I have something he wants, and I’m happy to trade it to him for you. It’s the Anarchs that run Mid-City that make me nervous.”

GM: “Could we just pay a toll? Because that’s what the Mafia and other organized crime groups do, sometimes. They let outsiders do business in their territory in return for a cut of the money.”

Celia: “Usually, yes. That’s what I’d do. It’s the fact that they’re the ones who claim they’re for equality and then sell everyone out the minute they get a better deal that keeps me wary.”

GM: “They sound like scumbags.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“It’s not even that their ideals are flawed, it’s just… they’re so two-faced about it, you know? Like. A lot of the elders, they can be awful. Play games. Put you down. Make up stupid rules. But you know what to expect from them. And yeah they’re old school and racist and I sometimes wish they’d all meet the sun, but you know what to expect. How to act. The rules chafe, but you learn them like it’s a game and you succeed.”

GM: “But the Anarchs say they’re on your side.”

Celia: “And then they call the sheriff on you. And watch you die.”

“There was a girl… the massacre, right? This one girl was real vocal about it, sticking up for the Duskborn, but the minute the sheriff showed up she was the first to bail.”

“If she hadn’t who knows what might have happened. Maybe the Anarchs would have stood with everyone else. And sure she feels bad, but those people are dead.”

GM: “Well, you see stuff like that in the law and organized crime, too. People who maybe don’t mean bad, but who get caught up in bad situations, don’t put actions to words, and make things worse.”

Celia: “Maybe,” Celia agrees, “maybe that’s what it was. I can buy that. Bad situation all the way around. And I don’t blame her because it wasn’t all her fault, you know? But the people who are supposed to lead the cause? They knew it was coming. They set it up. I like their push for equality. But as long as those two are still around? There’s no way.”

GM: “Boot them out, then. Maybe better leaders will turn up.”

Celia: “They’re both super old and powerful. But I’d like to.”

GM: “Find other people who feel the same way. If there’s any hope for the movement, there’ll be people do.”

“And if there aren’t any, then maybe it doesn’t have a future anyway.”

Celia: “Maybe you can help. We can do it together.”

GM: “I think I’d like to do that with you.”

“I know I haven’t actually seen very much yet, but none of this society seems at all fair or just from what you’ve described, especially towards vampires like me.”

Celia: “Societies are built to keep the people on top happy. That’s what cultures do with anything, and they shove everyone else to the side. Keep them down. Powerless. They do it with words just as much as they do it with deed. You see it in religions a lot, it’s really obvious there, but in politics and… everything, really. They have terms for duskborn that are unflattering, spewed out like any other racist, bigoted term to marginalize them.”

“And the problem is that the people on top of our society have been there for a long time. You get more powerful as you age. So you hold onto it better.”

“And if you live forever and keep amassing power as you age?” Celia gives a half-shrug. “I’m pretty sure some places used to worship them like gods.”

GM: “How old are the oldest vampires here?”

Celia: “Well… one of the Toreador’s primogen is… centuries old. I don’t think she’s ever spoken publicly about her date of Embrace. The Brujah primogen was Embraced during the French Revolution. The lord of the French Quarter was part of the Sun King’s court. The prince… god, seven hundred? Eight? There are a lot like us, you know, newer blood. Late twentieth or early twenty-first century. But enough that were born hundreds of years ago.”

“Two of the people I regularly hang with were Embraced in the early 1900s.”

GM: “Wow,” says Dani. “They must have so many things to talk about. But that’s also… tragic, if they’re what’s keeping vampire society as unjust as it is. If they have all that power and experience but don’t use it for good.”

Celia: “It’s like this all over is the problem. There’s like… I guess there’s people above them that keep them in line, too. And they have these people that kind of travel around like detectives making sure everyone follows all the rules that they put down.”

“So it isn’t even just here. It’s everywhere.”

GM: “So there’s a government, beyond the city here? Who’s ultimately in charge?”

Celia: “I guess you could call it that, yeah.”

GM: “Is there a king, or a president, or…?”

Celia: “I think it’s a council.”

GM: Dani looks curious. “You think?”

Celia: “So… each territory is usually kind of self-governing, and as long as there aren’t any problems they usually just let us do our thing, you know? Travel can be pretty dangerous because of hunters and loops and stuff, so we don’t jet all over the place. And a lot of the old ones don’t like technology.”

“A lot of information is kind of like… not need to know, but just not readily available.”

GM: “That sounds like it would benefit the people at the top.”

Celia: “Exactly. Which is why they do it.”

GM: “So we don’t even know how our own government works, beyond the local level?”

Celia: “People do. My friend probably knows more. I bet he’d be happy to explain it to you.”

“Just, uh, don’t tell him it’s because I couldn’t. His sire is just more connected and into learning and history than mine.”

GM: “Secret’s safe,” Dani smiles.

Celia: “Appreciate it.”

“All right. Go ahead and give your dad a call. My client is supposed to be here in a few and I need to get the table ready. Take Alana’s number in case you run into any trouble during the day and can’t reach me. I’ll talk to some people about what we’re going to do with your school and work and everything else, and we’ll meet up tomorrow.”

Celia pulls Dani in for a hug before she goes.

“We’re gonna change everything, Dani. I can feel it.”


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Celia: Jade waits for Rusty to arrive.

This late at night she walks the halls of her spa alone. Once she might have been bothered by this fact, but these days she knows that she can handle most of the things that go bump in the night. She had sent Alana home for the night after Dani’s exit to sleep off the effects of the feeding and emotional manipulation after asking about what Accou had said about their meeting, and promised that she and Alana would have a ladies night one evening this week to talk and unwind after a decidedly eventful week.

Now, though, her focus and attention moves to the man who will be coming through the door at any moment, already planning the treatment in her mind. She doesn’t keep notes for Rusty. She had, once, but years of working with him to reduce the pain from his disease have led her to conclude that the problem sticks to its usual haunts, and he sees her frequently enough that she no longer needs to consult the medical textbooks.

The thought of medical anything makes her think of her father’s promise to fix Diana. She can’t help but wonder which of the licks in Houston he’d get to do the treatment for him, but his mortal daughter, of course, doesn’t know anything about that. She’d been thinking of taking Diana there herself if her teacher or the archon fail to make a timely appearance, but if Maxen can take care of it…

And when, she wonders, had she decided that she trusts him with her mother?

The whole thing could be a ruse.

But it nags at her, the thought that what he’d said is true. A demon inside of him. A metaphor for the blood? He hadn’t smelled like a ghoul, but if he’d gotten rid of it… Or did he mean, truly, a demon? It’s too bad the priest who’d done the exorcism had died or she could simply swing by and find out.

But if there was a demon inside her father, what does that make her sire?

She has no time to figure it out. Not tonight. Tonight she has more worldly concerns, things that don’t involve demons and devils and soul-stealing, ghost-eating monsters. Things like muscles and blood and nerves that send constant pain signals to the brain of her ghoul, that no amount of muscle work will ever completely fix because the entire body itself needs realigned and reworked.

But she can help. Like she does with her mother, she can help until she finds a permanent solution to his problem.

Veronica had once told her that she doesn’t like broken things, but Jade seems to collect them.

She waits for Rusty, and when he walks through the door—slower than normal, she can’t help but notice, and she could kick herself for letting him go so long without her—she smiles at him and takes him back into the treatment room.

GM: Alana reports back that Accou’s herald said it was not necessary to set up a meeting between them over the matter of Cloe. “She said the primogen was willing to wait until North was back in the city, even if that took years. I guess being an elder makes you patient.”

“She also said to convey the primogen’s thanks for your offer of assistance, and that he will avail himself of it when the archon returns.”

“She also said that he would be available in seven nights to discuss Evan Bourelle.”

Celia: Elders and their pretend plans.

But she agrees, because she doesn’t have another choice.

GM: Jade is aware that many elders have real plans, commitments, and obligations, just as surely as any mortal mayor or CEO is likely to have a packed schedule.

Celia: Excuses, excuses.

When she’s an elder she’s going to make people wait months to see her.

Provided she makes it that long.

GM: Rusty, in any case, arrives at the spa and greets his domitor with a wordless nod. The ghoul looks somewhat stiff as he strides inside, and from more than just the time since their last session. He’s always looked a little stiff.

Needing someone else doesn’t come naturally to Regina’s son.

Or to someone whose family makes their own living off the needy.

Celia: Which is why Jade never offers to help, or makes a big deal out of their arrangement. She simply has the table lower for him to get onto without her assistance and a stool nearby in case he needs it. She understands pride. His pride, especially, after all these years.

She doesn’t ask him about the work she’d given him, either. This is his time, and when he’s on her table he is just another client. Everything else can wait.

Face up is the only instruction she gives him.

Once he’s settled she begins her work.

GM: “Still looking into Summer,” he says he lies down, bringing up a topic where Jade needs him. “We hit a new lead. She used to live at a shithole apartment in the Quarter for a little while.”

Celia: Jade nods her head, letting him speak while she works.

She starts with the neck. No face, no scalp. Those were the curt words he had said to her that first session when Reggie brought him in to see if she could help, and those are the rules she abides with Rusty. He doesn’t want the relaxation from the face and scalp. He wants the real work, the problem solving.

Her hands begin at the base of his neck, gliding upward in one long, smooth motion on either side of the cervical vertebrae. No pressure on the bones themselves, but close enough on either side to find the spots she needs. One hand and then the other, she repeats the motion.

GM: The ghoul pauses to sigh.

“Interviewed some neighbors who recognized her description. She had a roommate.”

Celia: Her fingers press upward into his muscles. She makes a sound that might be a “hm?” to show she’s listening.

Jade tilts his head to one side, cradling his cheek with one hand while the other strips the scalenes. Thumb anchored against his traps, the rest of that hand dips beneath his back to pull upward on the muscle fibers.

GM: Rusty falls silent again for a moment as Jade works her magic. He might not call it that like others do, but the silence says enough.

“Bad roommate too, seems like.”

“Pained noises from their unit. Sounds of throwing up.”

Celia: Perhaps if she had not just come from dinner with her father, if her mind was not already replaying the memories of her childhood, the words would mean nothing to her. Pained sounds. Throwing up. Anyone can throw up. She throws up every time she forces herself to eat.

But she is thinking about it. How her mother used to make those same noises when she was a child. How she’d thought it was stress, or pushing herself too hard at ballet, or maybe morning sickness with another surprise baby.

But no, none of that. A man with a demon inside of him had beaten her.

Maybe it’s a leap. Maybe she’s seeing connections where there are none. Maybe she has spent too much time with Elyse and the moon clan’s “enlightenment” has rubbed off on her.

Still, she digs.

With both her hand and mouth she digs for more. Information from his search: who is the roommate? Was she making the sounds, or was Summer? Has it continued since Summer’s disappearance? Information from his body: her fingers tap the message across his skin, stroking, gliding, kneading, until she finds what she looks for and presses down to release the bundle of tightly coiled muscle fibers that is so often responsible for the pain reverberating down his back.

GM: “Summer only lived here after she disappeared,” Rusty says thinly.

Stupid.

Celia: She chips away at it a little at a time, holding and releasing, holding and releasing, and beneath her touch the muscles melt like butter, releasing him from the aches that so frequently plague his body.

She pauses at the tone.

“I assume,” she says, and here her voice takes on the icy tones of her sire, “that if she were still there it would be a simple pick up. Ergo, another disappearance.”

GM: Rusty pauses again too as Jade’s hands do their work.

“It’s a disappearance if someone was expecting her to remain where she was, and she didn’t. This place was a shithole. There’s lots of turnover in tenants.”

Celia: Her eyes roll so far back into her head that they threaten to disappear. She leaves the topic of the roommate alone. If she were worth looking into Rusty would have already done it.

The nodule in his back finally disappears. Jade gives it a final stroke to ease the discomfort from the pressure she had applied and turns his head to work the other side.

GM: Rusty has not been able to verify who the roommate was. The lease was in Summer’s name, and she neglected to mention to the property manager there would be a roommate. The other tenants only think there was, because they sometimes heard voices from the unit.

Summer is gone again, in any case. There was an altercation in the building around when she left. Gunshots fired, though no one (known) dead. Violence is not uncommon around the property.

Celia: Jade thanks him for the update, her frosty tone since thawed. She tells him that she appreciates his work while her left thumb strips the left scalene twice before moving to the shoulders. This side of his body holds different tension: rather than work the lats she unrolls the traps to find the origin of his discomfort.

GM: As to the other two matters, Rusty has mixed news.

He thinks the name “Lee Andrin” that Jade got was a fake. There’s only a bare handful of people by that name, who live in Montana and Connecticut. One’s a retired rancher and the other’s a chiropractor.

Rusty hasn’t found any evidence they’ve ever set foot in Louisiana.

He has, however, had more success with Roxanne. He’s now in her Suncloud account. He passes its information to Jade.

Celia: Disappointing. But she’d gotten the name through a blood ritual… is it possible it had failed? She could ask Pete, she supposes. Maybe she’d heard wrong. The “glinko” thing hadn’t made any sense to her either.

She doesn’t sigh, but she nods her head and asks if he and Reggie can look into anyone with a fake ID (they know plenty of people, Reggie had told her once), or any other Andrins. She tells Rusty that she’d had to divine the name and it’s possible the “reception” was bad. She also mentions she has his friends’ phones, and asks if it’s possible they’ll help.

She supposes she shouldn’t be surprised about the name, in any case. The other hunters had used fake names as well.

GM: He says they can try, and that the phones likely will.

Celia: She’ll get them to him once they’re done here and showers him with compliments for getting into Roxanne’s account.

If he has nothing more for her in those regards, Jade continues the treatment. She waits until he’s done with his report to flip him onto his stomach—once he’s face down it’s more difficult to talk—and coaxes him into relaxing by phrasing it that she needs to feel for a few certain things on his back, and it would be very helpful if he could simply let his body be heavy and allow her to do the motions.

Celia: Only to herself does Jade admit to a certain amount of disappointment that Lee Andrin had not been so easy to find. She’d hoped that she could bring him to the Evergreen tonight, question him, and find out where the leak in security had come from in regards to Roderick. She doesn’t really want to think that it’s Coco, but if only a handful of them had known about his haven…

It worries her that her boyfriend isn’t safe. It worries her that she hasn’t been able to solve this problem for him, that she can’t balance the guilt in her heart with the knowledge that she had been able to eliminate a threat to his person, at least. It isn’t Rusty’s fault, she tells herself, it’s her own. She hadn’t heard right. She’d asked the wrong questions when Pete had used the ritual. She’d wasted the blood and now she doesn’t get another chance because the bodies are deep in the Gulf by now and while she doubts that Roderick or his krewe hadn’t drained their bodies no doubt that’s long gone too.

Stupid.

She is, isn’t she? If she can’t fuck her way out of a problem then she doesn’t know how to solve it. No wonder Savoy and her sire keep her at arm’s length. No wonder her “grandsire” won’t see her for a week, and Veronica lost interest in her, and the only reason Garcia wanted to speak with her was to make a pass and Gui had only wanted to fuck even after she’d showed him that cool thing and Pete… Pete just thinks she’s stupid, she knows it. Pretty but stupid. Someone had said that to her once, hadn’t they? While she was on her knees, someone had told her she was pretty but stupid. Someone who was supposed to help but didn’t, who just made it worse.

Celia’s memories won’t leave Jade alone. They drag her under and batter her from all sides, every nasty thing anyone has ever said about her, and even her father’s “you’re brilliant” isn’t enough to keep them at bay.

No wonder Nico left her.

Maybe her dad should have sent her to the dollhouse.

Maybe the wrong daughter died.

And that’s the worst part, isn’t it, that she can’t take it back, that she can’t fix her family, that she caused all of these problems and she can’t fix them. Every time she tries she gets it wrong.

It’s like a dam bursting. She’s glad Rusty stays silent on the table, that she doesn’t need to keep up appearances around him at least, because she can’t stop the flood of emotions, and only her hands on his body keep her centered.

Fix it.

Fix it.

Fix it.

Every beat of his heart thrums through her, reminding her who she is, where she is, what she is.

She can fix this, at least. She can do that much. She can fix the aches and pains that plague his body, can give him back his ability to walk, can take the tight lines from his face and the whiteness from his knuckles. She’s a physical creature. This is a physical thing. Like a Brujah who only knows how to smash, she’s the Toreador that only knows how to make bodies better.

So she works. She fixes. She glides and strokes and kneads her way down his back, working at the muscles, making them pliable, releasing the tension that she finds from the traps to the glutes. All along the spine she taps and vibrates her fingers to take away his pain because this, at least, this she understands. Bodies she understands. They don’t ask her to know about politics or hidden motives or hunters. They just lay there and let her work upon them and make them better.

Someone had told her that once, too. That she makes things better.

So she does that with Rusty know. She makes his body better because sometimes that’s all she can do.

And maybe that’s enough.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: However low a girl might feel, there’s always one place she can go to feel loved and accepted.

Or at least that Celia can go.

“Hi, sweetie! It’s so good to see you!” her mother exclaims, smiling as she pulls her daughter close for a hug. Like it’s a treat that Celia came by again so soon.

Celia: Seeing her mother again makes her feel lighter than she has all night. She holds Diana close when her mom brings her in for a hug, content for long moments to just soak in the love this woman holds for her.

Even the dark thoughts that threaten to surface stay dormant in the wake of such shining affection.

“Hi, Momma. It’s good to see you too. Thanks for having me over.”

GM: “Thanks for coming over,” she smiles, rubbing a hand along Celia’s back. “I love having you over all the time, like this. It just makes me so thankful we still live in the same city, there are so many families that don’t.”

“I know you just went out to eat, but if you’re still hungry, just say the word. We have leftover casserole and cake, still. And some other things in the fridge.”

Celia: “How did I know you were going to offer me food,” Celia says with a laugh, following Diana into the kitchen. “I’ll let you know if I get hungry, but I think I’m okay for now.”

GM: “Because I’m your mother, that’s why,” Diana smiles back. “But okay. Let’s go get Emily, she’s in her room studying.”

Celia: “Actually, Mom,” Celia interrupts, “it might be better if just you hear this first. And then you can decide how much you want to share with her.”

“Emily has really strong opinions on Dad, and I… want you to be able to hear this without them.”

GM: “All right, that’s fair,” her mom nods. “Though I’ll tell her everything when we’re done, of course.”

Celia: “Of course. I just want to give you time to process first.”

GM: Her mom nods and heads over to the couch to sit down. She pulls up her knees and wraps her arms around her ankles as she looks up at Celia with an expression that’s simultaneously nervous and excited. Almost like a schoolgirl’s.

Celia: “There’s some good and some bad and some ugly,” Celia tells her as she takes a seat in the chair across the room. “As with all things, I think. Do you have a preference on where I start?”

GM: Diana pats a spot on the couch for Celia to sit down next to her. “Oh, wherever you think best, sweetie. But maybe get the bad over with first, like a shot, if you’re not sure.”

Celia: “I don’t want to upset you,” Celia says gently, abandoning her chair to sit beside her mother instead. “And if you don’t want to talk about something I won’t force you, okay? But a lot of stuff came up at dinner tonight. And some of it you might not have wanted me to know, and some of it… answers a lot of lingering questions about… about things that have happened to the family.”

She pauses to take a breath she doesn’t really need, mentally preparing herself.

“We talked about Grandma, a little bit. And why you don’t get along. About the school. And… I just… I wanted to say, Mom, I’m really sorry that I tried to force that relationship on you with her.”

GM: Her mother’s expression turns very still at the word ‘school.’

She doesn’t say anything.

Celia: “I didn’t know. I didn’t realize how painful it was, having a relationship with her. He told me that you talked him out of sending me there, and I’ve heard… I’ve heard things, I know some of what they do there, and… I’m sorry, Mom, I’m sorry I doubted you about her, I never thought that she’d do that to her own daughter.”

“So I just… wanted to say I won’t bring her up again around you.”

GM: Celia’s mother still doesn’t say anything. She presses her head against her raised knees, as if to keep her daughter from looking at her face.

Finally, she just nods.

Celia: “I love you, Mom. Even knowing that. Not because I pity you, I don’t look down on you for it, I don’t think less of you. You didn’t have a choice. I love who you are. And I would have loved who you were, I bet, and if you ever want to talk about it…” She doesn’t force her presence on her mother, but she touches the hand that’s wrapped around her legs. “I’ve seen really ugly things in the past few years, Mom, and if you ever want to talk about it, anything about it, I’m here. I’m listening. I believe you.”

“He didn’t tell me to hurt me. If it helps. He didn’t tell me to hurt our relationship, or to hurt you. And he didn’t say anything bad about you, ever. I asked once, about the divorce, about what happened, and he told me that he didn’t want to insult your virtue by speaking of it.”

GM: Celia’s mother doesn’t look up for a few moments, though neither does she shy from Celia’s touch. When she finally does, she looks as if she’s blinking back tears before she pulls her daughter in for another hug. It’s desperate and tight, not warm like the embrace the two exchanged only minutes earlier.

Celia: Celia holds her close. She knows how painful it must be for her mother to speak openly about the things she’d gone through at the Dollhouse. And Celia can’t even tell her that she knows. She can’t ever tell her that she knows, or that she’s been there, that she’s helped. That makes her the worst sort of person: complicit.

She’s glad she had never made a doll for Lucy. Glad that she had never brought over any of the dolls she had made, that she hadn’t brought Lucy-Doll over to the house to show her mother.

GM: Their stares always seemed to linger for so long when she would get ready to visit her mother’s house.

“I’m… I’m sorry…” Diana finally gets out in a small voice. She doesn’t let go.

Celia: “Why? Why are you sorry? You didn’t do anything to be sorry for.”

GM: Celia’s mother just gives a half-sniff, half-sob and holds on to her.

Celia: “You’re safe now, Momma. You’re safe. She can’t hurt you anymore.”

GM: Another lie. Elyse has said she brings in dolls for ‘touch-ups’ before. Dolls require maintenance and repair, sometimes more advanced than their owners can provide. Just like Lucy does.

Diana clings to her daughter like she would a husband. Minutes silently pass with the pair’s arms around one another.

“Is that… all the bad news,” Celia’s mother finally says.

Celia: But Payton can’t hurt her, and Celia won’t let Elyse get her hands on her mother again.

She holds her mother for long moments, letting her cry as she needs. She doesn’t press for details. She wants to know, of course she does, but Diana isn’t ready to speak about it, and Celia will not force her to unburden herself.

“I think so. Aside from that… dinner went well. Really well.”

GM: Diana pulls away at last to dab at her eyes.

“Tell me about it,” she sniffs. “Tell me something good and happy.”

Celia: “He’s… different, Mom. Really different. Like he was before he became… you know, who he was when we were growing up. It was like seeing a completely new person, one that I thought had died a long time ago. He remembers what he did, he knows he hurt you, and he said he’s been working on a way to make amends. Because ‘a man doesn’t just waltz back into someone’s life with apologies,’ that’s what he said.”

“But he did start there. With an apology for everything he’d done. How he should have sheltered and protected us and he abused us instead, kind of… a lot of stuff like that. How he messed up. He said Logan has been pushing him to reconnect but he wasn’t ready yet, because he wanted to do something instead of just saying words.”

GM: Celia’s mother looks like she’s about to start crying again. “Oh, he’s such a good man. I told you, Celia, he was so gentle…”

Celia: “And he told me that we’d succeeded despite him. That even though he’d tried to break us we were stronger and better than that, and he… I said something ki—kind of dumb, I misunderstood, and I thought he was going to call me stupid again, and then I said it, later, and he… he said I wasn’t, that I never had been, and I shouldn’t care, you know, I shouldn’t care, but I do.”

Celia’s mother isn’t the only one that looks like she wants to cry.

“And I hated him for so long, and now I just… I just kept thinking, he’s not even my dad. Why does it matter. He’s not my dad. And if he knew that, would he have been nice to me tonight? And I can’t tell him. And I just feel like a big liar.”

GM: Diana cups her daughter’s cheek with one hand. “Oh, Celia, you aren’t stupid, you’ve never been, not ever…”

The reminder of the lie, though, makes the happier expression on her face die again.

“It’s my fault there, baby, not yours…”

Celia: Celia shakes her head. “I know. I know it’s not my fault, but it still affects me, and you said… years ago, you said that the Roberts people knew somehow, and Dad is running against him next year, and what if it comes out?”

GM: Diana blinks. “He’s running…?”

Celia: “He’s running for governor.”

GM: “Oh my… oh my goodness! That’s wonderful! He told you this? Even the buildup to the election’s still some time away…”

Celia: “Yeah. I wondered… you know, a little bit if some of this was because he needed to fix his image to run for higher office.”

“But I… don’t think that’s true. I mean, it is, but I don’t think that’s his motivation.”

“We had a… it’s kind of…” Celia trails off. She clears her throat. “It’s kind of weird, what he said, and I don’t… really know how to explain it…”

GM: Her mother takes her hands. “Go on, sweetie, I know you can, you’re so smart.”

Celia: She tells her mother about Isabel reaching out to their father. About the arguments they’d get into on the phone, and how Maxen had struggled to listen to her because he couldn’t beat her via call, and how if he’d tried she would have just disappeared again. She tells her how they’d talked a lot about faith, and how she’d pushed Maxen to confess his sins and let Jesus into his heart, and how he finally had.

She tells her mother what he said about the priest. And the demon. And the exorcism.

And when it’s done she lets the words hang, because none of it… none of it sounds plausible. Demons and priests and exorcisms. It’s a horror movie, not real life, but Celia doesn’t say any of this to her mother. She doesn’t tell her mother that she thinks it’s true, or that she knows it’s true, or that demons are the least of their problems, or that the same demon that had gotten to Maxen had taken her, too, had sunk his claws so deeply into her that she thinks she’ll never be free again.

She keeps that part to herself.

And she doesn’t say, either, that this is why she’d left Emily to her studies.

Because Emily would never believe it.

GM: Celia’s mother slowly takes in the tale. She doesn’t interrupt, just listens, and though her eyes might be surprised they aren’t judging.

“Celia… do you think he’s changed?” she finally asks. “Do you think… that he might hurt you, us, again?”

Celia: “I don’t know,” Celia admits. “I think right now he’s changed. I think he wants to make things right. And I’m scared that if it got him once it will get him again.”

Because what else will her sire do when he realizes that Maxen is free?

Let him go?

Hardly.

GM: “But you think he’s better now. That he was like how… how things used to be.”

Celia: “I do.”

GM: Her mother makes another tearful sound.

“Oh, Celia, I miss my husband. I miss married life. I miss my children having a father. I miss having someone else make the hard decisions and take care of things, I don’t want to do that anymore. If he’s back, I don’t care why. I just want my man back.”

Celia: Celia had expected this. She doesn’t point out that technically her children still have a father, they’re just separated.

“I think,” she says slowly, “that this might be a wait and see situation. That if you want to get your toes wet… you’re an adult. I won’t stop you. But I don’t think jumping in is wise, given the history.”

“But he would like to speak with you and apologize for himself. And he gave me something for you. It’s in the car. Just… give me a second, I’ll go get it.”

Celia takes a moment longer than she strictly needs to retrieving the things from the car. The box of memories. The adoption paper. She looks down at the treasures in her hands and asks herself if she’s doing the right thing.

A year ago, she’d have said no. No way. There’s no way that she would have ever let her mother come near Maxen again.

A week ago she’d have killed him for showing up. She’d have pulled a knife like Emily, only unlike her (official?) sister, Celia would have finished the job.

Even last night. Celia would have gutted him. Would have told her mom no. Would have mind-fucked her so hard that she couldn’t remember her own name, let alone Maxen’s.

But that apology. The offer to fix Diana, when Celia hasn’t been able to. And maybe, if it had just been those things, Celia would have spat in his face and told him where to shove it. But the confession. The demon. It’s real. It has to be real because she’s seen it. She was inside his head. She knows there are ghosts and vampires and werewolves, why wouldn’t there be demons too? And maybe it’s not even him. Maybe it’s inside of him too, and maybe she has to pull it out of him. Maybe he’s been trapped for a hundred years with a thing inside of him and no one has even bothered to look and see because they don’t know him, they don’t care about him.

They don’t love him.

Not like she does. They’re connected, they have to be, because nothing else makes sense. Evil doesn’t get to win. Things don’t just happen for no reason. Life is cheap, sure, but maybe hers is supposed to mean something.

She’d asked him once. If he had known what her father had done to her family. And he’d told her it had made her strong. She hadn’t understood. Not then. But maybe now. Maybe this is what he meant, that she’s strong enough to handle the truth. Maybe he put her there, knowing it would be a loveless household, knowing that she would care about him anyway, so that she could save him.

Don’t you save people you love?

And that explains so much, doesn’t it.

Her father.

Paul.

Camilla.

The mimic.

All of them just as icy, just as frosty and aloof and awful as he is. Because whatever is inside of him spreads. And it spread to them through him, and it might have spread to her. Maybe it tried that night. Maybe when she’d been inside his mind it had tried to pull her in and keep her forever, and maybe he had known that she is the one that can handle it because…

Because she’s special?

“You’re my special little girl.”

Because she’s special.

And that’s why he’d Embraced her.

Because she’s strong. And smart. And capable. And special. And loves him despite the fact that he’s awful to everyone else, awful to her. No one else would have survived being his childe if they hadn’t grown up in that household. They fear him. She doesn’t. Not truly. She was taught to see the world through fire and nothing looks safe.

It was the perfect blend of everything she needed to become exactly who she is now.

So she’s going to find it. The source. The thing that has him.

And she’s going to kill it.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Celia: Celia makes her way back inside with the box of things her father had given her. She keeps the manilla folder to herself for now—she thinks Emily might want to be here for the big reveal—but she sits down on the couch with her mother and moves it toward her.

“Dad asked me to give you this.”

GM: Celia finds her mother massaging her leg with her eyes closed when she gets back, but when Celia does, Diana unwraps the box and pulls off the lid with a curious expression. She lets out a gasp at what she sees inside. All those trophies showing gold ballerina figures, a few of pointe shows, some with the name ‘Diana Flores’ and others ‘Diana Underwood,’ depending on the year.

Celia’s mother takes out one of the albums and opens it to a page showing a crowd of girls in black leotards and white leggings, the first row kneeling in front of the second as they smile towards the camera.

“Celia, how…?”

Celia: “He said he’s been collecting them for a while for you. He couldn’t give you the originals, but he tracked down people at your old studio, and your friends, and he was able to convince them to share with him. Because he said he was awful to you, that he stole what you loved most in the world, and that you hadn’t deserved it.”

“And he thought maybe it would help at least a little bit.”

“He also said…”

“He said there’s a medical center in Texas. And he spoke to them about you, and… and that your condition is going to get worse. But they have a new, experimental treatment available.”

“And he said that you might be able to dance again.”

GM: Celia’s mother starts crying again as she pulls her daughter into another hug.

“Oh, Celia… I don’t even know what, what to say…”

“This is like a dream…”

Celia: It is. It’s like the sweet dream after waking up from a terrible nightmare. Or the sweet dream before a terrible nightmare. Or something. She’s wary. She’s cautious. But she’s happy. For herself, for her mother.

“I know a little about the treatment,” Celia says quietly, voice choked with emotion, “I told you last month about my colleague, how he might be able to do something similar. I thought he could show me, that I could do it, but… he was called away, and I don’t know if or when he’ll be back, and I wanted… I wanted it to be me who helped, but I don’t have that medical training, and if he can make it happen…”

“If he can make it happen then you should do it, Mom.”

GM: “Oh, sweetie, it’s okay…” her mom murmurs, running a hand along her back. “You are making it happen, here… you’re such a blessing to have in my life, I don’t even know how many times I’ve thanked God for you in my prayers…”

Celia: She’s glad to hear that. That at least her mother loves her, even though she lies about… everything.

For long moments she’s content to stay in her mom’s arms, not speaking, just feeling. Letting the woman’s love wash over her. Letting it soak into her. Because so what if she doesn’t have a dad, right? Her mom loves her enough for two people.

“There’s one more thing,” she says finally, pulling away, “but it involves Emily.”

GM: Celia’s mom hugs her close and murmurs how much she loves her, equally content to let the seconds pass by and by. If there are moments that feel as if they last forever, there are worse ones that could.

“All right, sweetie, do you want to go get her now?”

“Or, actually, maybe I should, Victor and Shadow are in her room… we keep them there, usually, when you come over.”

Celia: Stupid cats.

GM: Smart cats.

She doesn’t fool them.

Celia: “Probably, then. I think… it’s going to be hard to explain Dad to her. She didn’t know him before.”

GM: “I don’t know why those kitties never liked you,” Diana remarks, shaking her head. “I think you’re right, though… I don’t think she’s going to take this well…”

Celia: “I don’t want to alienate her. She’s family. And I don’t want to make it sound like she doesn’t understand, or that she’s not part of this. Because she is.”

“And if I were her I’d see it the same way she probably does. Like we’re crazy.”

GM: “Oh, absolutely, I don’t want to alienate her either!” Diana nods resolutely. “I feel like God placed her in our lives, Celia, right when Isabel… left. You can’t replace one daughter with another, but… she was just the thing in our lives, when we needed her most. I don’t know how I’d have raised Lucy without her.”

“I want her to be okay with this. But I think you’re right she’ll probably think we’re crazier than soup sandwiches…”

Celia: Celia effects a sigh.

“I don’t want him to tear the family apart again.”

GM: “What do you think we can do, sweetie?”

Celia: “I’m thinking. I don’t want to lie to her. And I don’t think she’d believe us about, you know, the thing inside of him. Even though she does play all those Shadow games with Robby, it’s just a game, you know? Saying that maybe Dad really did have a demon inside of him… who would believe that? And maybe it wasn’t a real demon, but…”

Celia trails off.

“Mom, what about… the school?”

“What if we told her about that? And just make it sound like Dad… did it in reverse? Had it undone?”

GM: Celia’s mother falls silent.

Celia: “That’s your secret. I won’t talk about it if you don’t want me to.”

GM: She gives a slow nod.

Celia: “Okay. I’m sorry I brought it up again. It was a dumb idea anyway.”

GM: “Would you like some cake, sweetie? Us and Emily?” her mom asks.

Celia: “No, thank you. I don’t think I can keep anything down right now.”

GM: “Oh. Okay.”

Celia: “But I’ll take some to go, if that’s okay.”

GM: “Oh, yes, more than!” Celia’s mom smiles. "I’ll pack something up after we’ve talked to Emily. But I still really don’t know what we’re going to say to her. "

Celia: “I think Emily is going to bring up some valid points about taking things slow with him if she comes around at all. And I agree with that. And maybe we all get together for a family dinner sometime this week. Let her meet him. I mean, meet him again.”

GM: “That might be something,” her mother nods. “There’s no better way to calm the waters than breaking bread together, I’ve always thought.”

Celia: “He never liked being challenged, you know. I remember that. Didn’t like repeating himself. Maybe we just let Emily do her worst, and if he makes it through that it tells us what we need to know, too.”

“And if it is all fake, it’ll come out sooner rather than later.”

GM: “That’s an idea! Maybe frame it like that, us needing her help.”

Celia: “Perfect.”

GM: “You’re so smart, sweetie,” her mom smiles. “You’re my little smarty pants. But okay, I’ll go get her.”

Celia: Celia smiles at her mom, watching her walk away.

Times like these she’d love to just tell the whole truth.

GM: There are licks who do it. There are ones who get caught. But they always seem like such stupidly sentimental licks, unsuited for this life, not like Jade is.

What if there are smarter ones who tell and get away with it?

Celia: It’s not worth her mother’s life. Not worth Emily’s life.

All it takes is one wrong word and they’d both be dead.

And her, too.

For real dead.

Not animated body dead.

Unless she bloods them…

Emily would be a terrible ghoul.

GM: They’ll die eventually, if she doesn’t.

There won’t be anyone else who loves her like they do. You can find other lovers, but you only get one mom.

Celia: Emily got a second mom.

GM: Only because her first one was crap.

New sisters don’t happen on a lark either.

Celia: Not worth it, though. McGehee is in different territory. She’d have to explain that. Plus Riverbend for Emily at med school, and she’s already trying to juggle Dani’s situation.

GM: Maybe she’ll feel differently some night, after Diana is old and gray and retired.

Celia: Maybe the best thing she can do for them is let them live their lives.

GM: It’s not overlong before Diana comes back. Emily’s dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt. She smiles as she hugs Celia.

“Hey. How bad did it go?”

Celia: “Hey, Emmy.” Celia rises to her feet to hug her adopted sister. “It, uh, it went pretty well actually. I was kind of surprised.”

GM: “So ‘well’ means ‘you pulverized him into goo with a glance and he’ll never bother us again?’”

Celia: “I wish I could pulverize people into goo with a glance.”

“Is that a World of Shadow power? ’Cause listen, I want to play that guy.”

GM: “Sort of? It’s one of the things you can do with wizard characters, if you take the right abilities.”

“There’s a lot about that game I really like, but it’s not Black Dog’s most popular one.”

Celia: “You’ll have to show me sometime.”

“But, uh, but dinner… dinner went well, though. Maxen was… nice. We talked about a lot of what happened. And he apologized, which kind of blew my mind.”

GM: “Eh. I could see it, actually. Abusers can turn on the charm and do a sympathetic act.”

Celia: “Actually… It’s funny you bring that up.”

“I was going to save this for the end, but since you’ve provided the opening…”

GM: “Apologies are worth shit, anyway.”

Celia: “That’s what he said too, actually.”

GM: “Sounds like he’s a good actor.”

“I hadn’t thought he had that in him, after he called me a mongrel to my face. And said in the good old days, ‘human abortions’ like me were sterilized.”

Celia: “Then you know what to look for when he comes to dinner.”

GM: Emily looks between her and Diana.

“What.”

“Maybe we should sit down,” their mom suggests.

“I’m fine standing, thanks,” Emily answers. “Since I’m presuming there’s not a lot to talk about, beyond ‘cut that piece of shit out of our lives, again.’”

Celia: Celia sits. This is going to be a long conversation.

GM: Emily sighs, then follows her to the couch.

Diana sits down on Emily’s other side.

Celia: “I’m honestly not really sure where to begin. I would just like for you to listen, though, and hold your skepticism ’til the end.”

GM: “Okay. But I’ll say this first.”

“We don’t owe him dinner. We don’t owe him a chance. We don’t owe him jack shit.”

Celia: “We don’t. We don’t owe him anything. I made that very clear to him at dinner tonight.”

GM: “I talked with Payton, by the way, and scheduled some time with Viv.”

Celia: “With Viv for what?”

GM: “Uh, legal advice, because I did something illegal.”

Celia: Celia makes a stabbing motion with her hand.

GM: “Yeah. Or might not have. Stand your ground laws and the restraining order. But that’s why I’m talking to the professional.”

Celia: “Makes sense.”

Which reminds her… “Did you tell her about tomorrow yet, Mom?”

GM: Diana nods. “I did, sweetie.”

“Yeah. Dinner with Stephen’s family. Sounds good,” says Emily. “I know how much he did for you.”

“Which having dinner with Maxen kind of spits in the face of, but I digress.”

Celia: “Oh, good. Before we talk about Maxen, I wanted to talk about Lucy. And let you know that—”

She’s right.

It does.

GM: “Yeah. You also told me all about that dinner Stephen had with him, that was so shitty and horrendous it opened his eyes and made him do all the things he did.”

“But, I digress. What about Lucy?”

Celia: “Just… just a sensitive topic, considering the timing could have made her Stephen’s.”

GM: “Well, we know she’s not. I distinctly remember watching Mom pop her out.”

Diana makes a mildly chiding throat-clearing sound.

“The timing, though… you’re right,” she frowns. “We can’t tell them Mom popped her out, obviously.”

Celia: “I was just going to talk to him about it privately before he came in.”

GM: “I’d just tell them the father isn’t Stephen and leave it at that.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “It isn’t their business beyond that.”

Celia: “Making sure we’re all on the same page.”

“But anyway, Maxen.”

GM: “I think we are,” Diana nods. “Just say she’s yours and not also Stephen’s. That’s nice and simple.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t need to rehash her entire history with Maxen to Emily. Between she and Diana, the girl already has a pretty good idea what he was like, and she’s seen firsthand the results of his abuse. Years ago she and Emily had spoken about what he was like before that fateful birthday party, so she knows that the entire history is… messy.

She doesn’t tell Emily about the demon, or about the school. Those aren’t things she thinks that Emily will understand, and how can she explain them anyway? But she does run down what happened at dinner. She describes his exorcism as “soul-searching” and “atoning for his sins” and “realizing his mistakes.” How he didn’t want to waltz in with apologies and nothing else. How he’s been searching for a way to make it up to them.

And how he’s started to, beginning with the box of memories. She lets Diana show it to her.

GM: Emily is true to her word and holds her tongue. But her face is flat as a pancake all throughout.

Diana wrings her hands at Emily’s expression, but all-too happily picks up the box and removes one of the earliest trophies, with the pointe shoes in pink as if for young girls. “So for this one I wasn’t even dancing professionally, yet, since I was only 13. I got it…”

“Give them back,” says Emily.

“What?”

“This is what narcissists and abusers do, Mom. They give gifts. And yes, conventional wisdom goes that it’s as a means of control and getting close to victims, so they can hold ‘I gave you this’ over their heads.”

“But there was an interesting paper I read a little while ago that said gifts from narcissists are actually gifts to themselves.”

“Because gifts cause cause feelings of gratitude and admiration, which are what the narcissist craves. Gifts are how they purchase affection and control. They don’t actually care if the gift makes someone happy.”

“I think he does want me to be happy, sweetie,” Diana says quietly.

“I don’t,” says Emily. “I think it’s just an act, and a way to draw you back into his life.”

“And it’s working. He gave you gifts, now you want to invite him over for dinner.”

“So give them back.”

“Let me show you some of these old photos, sweetie,” Diana says, reaching into the box. “You never got to see me dance, like the others-”

“I don’t want to see them,” Emily replies flatly.

Diana looks hurt.

“You told me about those days, Mom,” Emily amends. “That’s enough.”

“You were a beautiful ballerina. I know that. I’m happy you had that. I’m mad that he took it away.”

Diana glances at Celia.

“These are just things, Mom,” says Emily. “Objects. Bits of plastic and whatever they make trophies from.”

Celia: “That’s why we need your help,” Celia finally cuts in.

“Mom and I are too close to it. I think I’m pretty good at reading people, but it’s entirely possible that he was lying to my face and had ulterior motives. Mom wants to have dinner with him. Obviously I’m not letting her go alone. And I thought if anyone could see through his act, it’s you.”

GM: “Okay. So if I say it smells like bullshit, that’s it? You’ll return the gifts and cut him out?”

Celia: “Well. He did give me something I can’t return.”

Celia finally hands over the folder.

GM: Emily opens it up.

Diana gasps.

“How…?!”

Emily frowns.

“This has to be illegal.”

“Oh, you’re my daughter, sweetie! It even says so, right here!” Diana exclaims, overjoyed as she pulls Emily into a hug. “Don’t tell me this doesn’t make you happy, too!”

“I don’t want his gifts,” says Emily. She returns the hug, though with rather less vigor.

“I’m already your daughter. A piece of paper doesn’t change that.”

Celia: Celia nods. She’d expected as much.

“One dinner. If you smell bullshit I’ll walk.”

GM: “That’s all he’s giving, Mom. It’s just… confetti. It’s pretty, but it’s nothing of substance, nothing we need.”

“So he can have this back. I’m not taking it.”

“In fact, I’ll talk with Viv about this, too. He didn’t even get my signature.”

Celia: “That’s probably a good idea. Find out sooner rather than later.”

GM: “Sweetie… if there were ever a hospital emergency, or if one us were to die without a will…” starts Diana.

“We have wills,” says Emily. “And yeah. It’d suck, if something came up, and the fact I wasn’t legally your daughter shut me out.”

“But I’d rather not be legally recognized as your daughter than let this piece of scum back into our lives so he can hurt you again. Hurt us again.”

Celia: “So it’s settled. You look into it. And if he doesn’t pass your bullshit detection test then we’re done.”

GM: She looks at Celia. “Couple things.”

“First, I expected this from Mom. Did not expect it from you.”

Celia: “Mm. Never mind that I just had dinner with him to make sure he wasn’t going to report you. And am playing peacemaker until his arm is fully healed.”

GM: Emily sighs. “Yes. I fucked up there. I know. Mea culpa. I’ll talk to Viv and see what our options are, because I am not relying on his goodwill.”

“Second, dinner is playing into his hands. He’s going to be on his best behavior. Because he knows that’s how he’ll ‘win’ and get close to you again, and hell, maybe he’ll try to look so nice and sweet that I’ll look like the crazy and unreasonable one for being cold and rude, probably helped by how I have a vagina and he doesn’t. Hell, maybe that’s how he hopes to drive a wedge between us. It’s all just fucking mind games with narcissists. You can’t win against them. You can’t out-mind game them. All you can do is refuse to play.”

“Third. Why take the chance?”

“Okay. Let’s say there’s a possibility he’s somehow turned around. It’s incredibly remote, and like something out of fucking Disney, but I’ll grant it’s at least theoretically possible.”

“But from your perspectives, it should also be possible that he’s not. That this all just an act, exactly what I described, and a way to get close to us again.”

“Why. Take. That. Chance?”

“There are other men. If you want a man, Mom, we’ll help you find one. There are more men in the world than Maxen Fucking Flores!”

Celia: “Mom, can you give us a sec?”

GM: “I should know that, I’m currently fucking a pretty good one.”

Their mother clears her throat. “Ah, of course, sweetie. Just give a holler!”

“Or just knock on my door, I’d rather we not yell with Lucy asleep. Or yell anyways.”

“Okay, we’ll do that,” says Emily.

Diana gets up and leaves.

Emily looks back at Celia.

“Seriously. I expected this from her. But not you.”

“Why the fuck do you want to take this chance?”

“If the dice come up short, Mom could lose her leg or get raped or killed or who the fuck knows what.”

Celia: “Because he dangled something in front of me I can’t look away from. And because I think you’ll agree with me.”

“And because if and when this does turn to shit I’m going to be in the position to ruin him.”

“None of which I’m going to say in front of Mom.”

GM: “So what did he dangle that’s worth gambling Mom’s life?”

Celia: “Her leg.”

GM: “Her leg?”

Celia: “There’s a procedure that can fix it. He has access.”

GM: “There isn’t a procedure. She got shit care when she needed quality care, and it fucked up her leg permanently. All we can do now is treat symptoms.”

Celia: “Those toes grew back by magic, did they?”

GM: “No, by science. Toe reattachments are possible. They can go wrong, but they can go right. We lucked out that hers went right.”

Celia: “Luck had nothing to do with it. What do you remember about that night, Emily?”

GM: Emily frowns. “What does that matter?”

“What if Maxen is lying? What procedure is this? Dd he actually show any proof?”

“Because while neither of us may be actual doctors, I’m a lot closer to being one than he is.”

“Not that you need to be a doctor to sell someone a load of bullshit.”

Celia: “Maxen didn’t need to show me proof. I’ve heard of the procedure he mentioned. I brought it up to you a while ago and you said it wasn’t possible so I didn’t push. But it is. And if he can get it for her and I just have to swallow shit for a year then that’s what I’ll do for her.”

“And, again, perfectly placed to ruin his career. He’s not the only one capable of lying.”

GM: “Okay. Let’s assume this procedure is possible,” says Emily. “Couple things.”

“First, Mom is past 40. Her best friend just retired from ballet.”

“Her ballerina days are over. Have been for years. She can still dance. She dances at her classes. She just can’t do it on stage, at a professional level.”

“But could she do that anyway, with her leg back? There’s probably another principal dancer at her old production company now, someone who’s also been working years to get there.”

Celia: “She won’t be in pain anymore, Em.”

GM: “More pain than Maxen might put her through? There are meds she can take for her pain.”

Celia: “I’m not saying for her to date him again. I’m not saying that she’s going to live with him. I’m not saying they’ll be a family.”

“Those meds don’t treat the problem. You don’t slap a bandaid on a bullet hole.”

GM: “Sometimes there is no cure, just treatment. And sometimes a cure can be worse than the disease.”

“If he fixes her leg, Mom is going to fall head over heels for him. What if she does something stupid, like say he’s Lucy’s father?”

Celia: “Then I’ll kill him.”

GM: “…okaaay, leaving out the ‘how,’ that’s another cure worse than the disease.”

Celia: “Emily, I’m the last person that wants to believe he’s suddenly a good person. But if he can fix her leg? If she can stop taking pain medication and grimacing? I’ll swallow my hatred for that. And I’ll make sure that he doesn’t hurt her.”

GM: “How? Let’s say the procedure is real, and that he’s not changed. Mom falls for him, and he hurts her, again. Then what?”

“Because unless you live with them 24/7, you can’t guarantee that. He will have an infinity of chances to hurt her.”

Celia: “Then I’ll get her out. Like I did last time. And I was a kid then. I didn’t have you. I’m better prepared. And she’s not moving in with him. No. Ever. Never. She’s not going back to Audubon.”

GM: “What if he hurts her and she doesn’t want to leave?”

Celia: Celia doesn’t say that she’ll kill him again.

But she will.

GM: “What if she blabs about Lucy? What if both? What if she wants to move in?”

Celia: “She won’t blab about Lucy. She doesn’t get to.”

GM: “What if she does? Can you guarantee she won’t?”

Celia: “Then I’ll fight that custody battle. And Maxen will be known as the guy who raped both his teenage daughters.”

GM: “All she has to do is come out that you aren’t Lucy’s mom, and there is no custody battle.”

Celia: “You think I can’t fake a paternity test?”

GM: “Uh, why would you have anything to do with it? He’d do his own test. Mail in the sample to a genetics lab. And if it comes to a court dispute, guess who wins?”

“He’s a fucking rich white male politician, they always win there.”

Celia: “You think she’s not just going to sneak off to see him if you put your foot down? Like a rebellious teenager? We control it this way.”

GM: “What, we’ll just tell Mom she can’t see Maxen? We’ll keep her under guard, restrict her phone use, so she can’t ever talk to him?”

“If he fixes her leg, you think she’ll be able to stay away? Gifts are how narcissists establish control, and if she accepts a gift that big, he will have control. She’s gaga enough for him already.”

“She’s an adult. We can’t physically stop her from seeing another adult if she wants to.”

Celia: “And she’s going to do it with or without our approval. We can at least be there with her to show her if it’s wrong.”

GM: “Or we can try to nuke this entire thing, right now.”

“Before it gets any worse. Any more out of our control.”

“Give back the trophies. Give back the birth certificate. Call off dinner.”

“Fucking hell. Lie about Maxen hitting you when you return them, fake some bruises, if you think there’s no other way.”

Celia: “I get it. I do. Trust me, I understand. I lived through it. I’m asking for one dinner. And then, if you don’t like it, we walk.”

GM: Emily sighs.

“Fine.”

Celia: Celia reaches for her.

“I’m not going to let anything bad happen. I love her.”

GM: “Lucy won’t be there.”

Celia: “Of course not.”

GM: “Be a good moment to give back the birth certificate.”

Celia: “I’m looking forward to seeing you riling him up.”

GM: “I’ll say something else, too. Mom has bounced back from some horrendous shit, and for all I give her about being a doormat, you were right when you said she’s come out from hell, twice, as a source of light and love and life, rather than someone mean and broken and bitter. If she goes through hell a third time, I don’t know if she’ll come out the same. Or come out at all.”

“And Lucy. Mom and us have raised her right. She’s happy. She’s safe. But it would be so fucking easy for Maxen to ruin that.”

“I believe you are strong and capable, but these ’I’ll just ruin him’ and ’I’ll just kill him’ ideas sound like something out of a fiction novel. I see ten thousand ways they could go wrong and fuck up our lives. Ultimately, you can’t predict or account for everything, and there are no guarantees. You are playing with fire inviting Maxen back into our lives, because however you slice it it, this is a risk. A risk that will have terrible, terrible consequences for our family if you are wrong.”

“I’ll risk one dinner, to get you on my side. Not because I think this is a good idea. I think it’s a terrible idea. But because I don’t know how I’m going to keep Mom away from Maxen if you’re not also on my side.”

Celia: “I suppose I was a little dramatic,” Celia allows. “And you’re right. And when he shows his true colors in front of Mom, where we can see it happen, where we can stop it from escalating, I won’t even be mad when you say ‘I told you so.’”

GM: “I’m more scared if he doesn’t show his colors, Celia, than if he tries to hit her.”

“I’m more scared if he just hides them deep and Mom doesn’t believe me.”

Celia: “This is where I twirl my mustache and say ‘I have ways of making them talk’ in a bad Russian accent.”

GM: “Like I said. You can’t out-mind game a narcissist. All you can do is refuse to play.”

Celia: Sure you can. Especially when you’re a vampire.

GM: Emily sighs. “Let’s get Mom.”

They make their way down the hall. Emily and knocks and then opens the door anyway. The bedroom has floral-patterned white and pink wallpaper with a large bed heaped high with pillows and colorful quilts. There’s pictures of all the Flores children at various ages, Emily included, and two paintings of dancing ballerinas, and a pink ‘tutu lamp’ on the bedside table that Diana thought was the cutest thing. She’s on the bed, cradling her leg and making low noises with a pained expression.

“Damn it, Mom, you need to take your meds,” Emily sighs as she sits down and starts massaging the leg.

Celia: “Or stop overdoing it.”

“Maybe you give the extra lessons a rest for a while.”

GM: “The… sorry, sweetie?” she asks with a wince. Emily shifts her hands.

Celia: “The extra lessons. With the Devillers.”

GM: “Oh. Well I think they could use me, their youngest is just so scared of strangers, and it’s a crime for her not to dance…”

“That’s their problem, not ours,” says Emily.

Celia: “It’s not worth your leg.”

“And I spoke to your friend last night, actually.”

GM: “Oh, that’s wonderful, sweetie! I’m glad you did! I’ve wanted you to meet a few times, but just haven’t been able to make the schedules work out.”

Because Celia is a vampire.

Celia: “Bit of an accident, didn’t even realize who I was calling. Naomi and Mom are close on the phone list. But we got to talking. And I remember you saying she was looking for a job. So… I mean, two birds, really.”

GM: “Well, she needs to get a job at a dance studio. The Devillers don’t pay enough to make a living off of. It’s side money.”

Celia: “Which will help while she looks.”

GM: “Oh, I have an interview lined up for her, though. It’s pretty soon. And she’s staying on at the company, for a little longer.”

Celia: “Mom. This allows you to bow out gracefully. Your health is worth more to me than their daughter dancing.”

GM: “I think more meds will be a better treatment than less lessons, though,” says Emily. “Even if they can be combined.”

Diana shakes her head. “I can’t take those, they make me say crazy things.”

“They don’t make you, Mom.”

“I’m sorry, sweetie, but I think they do.”

Celia: “I mean, when you said the crazy things, you’d just left their house. Maybe it’s stress of all that extra? The whole evening was kind of… crazy.”

“And if it’s just side money anyway you don’t need it. You have a comfortable salary.”

“Even if you did, your health is, again, more important.”

“I knew a massage therapist who messed up her hands forever trying to keep up with too much work. Younger than you and she had tendinitis and carpal tunnel in both arms. Can’t even hold a phone properly now.”

“Take a break from that. When you stop feeling the constant pain you can try again.”

GM: “…all right, sweetie. Maybe until the pain gets better,” Diana relents. “That poor friend of yours…”

“The pain won’t get better if you don’t take your meds,” says Emily as she works.

Celia: Celia squeezes her mom’s hand.

“It’s not forever. Just have to take care of you first. Then you take care of everyone else. Like on an airplane with the oxygen masks.”

“And Emily is right, Mom. Take your meds.”

GM: “They make me say crazy things,” she repeats.

Celia: “Maybe we can get a different prescription? Try something new.”

GM: “Oh. I hadn’t thought of that.”

Celia: “That’s what you’ve got us for.”

GM: Her mother smiles. “Would you mind giving me the rest of this massage, sweetie? You’re both amazingly talented, but I can get them on-call from Emily, since she lives here and all. They’re rarer from you!”

Celia: “Of course not, Mom. Happy to help.”

Celia switches places with Emily.

GM: Their mother sighs with relief as Celia eases into her familiar routine. She asks if Emily would mind packing Celia some cake “and other food, too!” since she’d rather not get back up. Emily answers it’s a sure thing and leaves to do so. Diana sighs again and closes her eyes as her daughters take care of things.

It’s as Celia said.

That’s what she’s got them for.

Even if she won’t always let them.


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Story Twelve, Caroline XV

FREEZE! FEDERAL AGENTS!”
Unknown FBI Agents


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Caroline: Caroline makes preparations to receive Adler atop the Giani Building, as has become her habit. The more professional setting has always felt more appropriate for the just too polite, just a bit distant, elder’s childe. She suspects some of the awkwardness has to do with differences in social status – the near universally well regarded shorter blonde avoiding undue familiarity with the unproven bastard childe of Clan Ventrue. She idly wonders if that will change in the future.

It’s chilly tonight, and Caroline is still warm from feeding earlier, so the Ventrue has the doors to the rooftop patio closed and the heat running.

She sends Widney down to meet the older Ventrue while she waits, filling the spare minutes reviewing the social media feeds of her family, swiping perhaps more aggressively through any photos of food. She’s almost forgotten what it’s like to be alive.

GM: Caroline is met, perhaps unexpectantly, by a ghoul in her older clanmate’s place. She’s a plump-faced but still pretty blonde with her hair pulled back in a ponytail. Caroline has seen her hovering beside her mistress before.

“Don’t worry, ma’am, Questor Adler will still be with you this evening,” the ghoul smiles. “She’s just out of town right at the moment. That’s what we’ve got this for.”

The ghoul takes the offered seat, removes a Sunpad from her purse, and sets up the video call app.

Becky Lynne’s face and shoulders appear on the screen. The Ventrue has on a white business jacket rather than her usual knee-length dresses, and her blonde hair is styled into a bun. Her face is made up too, with highlights and dark foundation that make the edges of her face more prominent, giving her a more mature look. The heart-shaped locket she usually wears isn’t visible, though its gold chain still is. The overall effect makes her look older than her 18 years. She looks like she’s in a corporate office. The skyline past the window is unfamiliar.

“Why hello there, Eiren Malveaux-Devilers,” she smiles. “I guess the drink would be doubly wasted on me, but your sofa there looks awful invitin’. Makes me sorry I’m not here in person!”

The ghoul sits down on the sofa and holds up the tablet to just over her chest, giving Caroline a good view of the screen.

Caroline: Caroline greets the ghoul unexpectedly and very unhappily, either unwilling or unable to conceal her disappointment. None of the matters Caroline would have shared with her clan mate are those she’s willing to share with a ghoul.

More than that, it’s a slap in the face. It would be one thing to offer to send the ghoul in her place, but to send her like this under the banner of a meeting between the two of them makes clear exactly how little Adler thinks of her, and how absolutely furiously exhausted she is with being looked down upon by everyone.

For a moment she contemplates simply throwing the ghoul out, but when she breaks out the tablet it’s even worse.

It isn’t just that Adler didn’t consider Caroline worth her time, or even worth sending word that she couldn’t make it, or worth sending a ghoul in place of. It’s the assumption that nothing Caroline might have to say is even worth the aegis of the Masquerade.

For a moment she sees red, but the bubbling fury is drowned under more shame. It reminds her too much of not even getting a phone call from her father on her birthday. This is what she’s allowed herself to be reduced to in the eyes of others. She might hate that Adler sent a Zoom call in place of even a trusted servant, but too much of that hate is devoted internally.

She’d often wondered how the old, atrophied, dying families that used to have money and power lived with their fall into obscurity. She supposes now she knows, and now she knows as well just how difficult it must have been for some of those proud old men and women to swallow their pride and come hat in hand to her own family, how much it must have eaten at them when she arrived in place of her father or mother. It gives her better context on why some had been unable to do it—and how strong those that had were.

She buries the anger, buries it deep. It doesn’t serve anything other than her vanity here. It could have been worse: Adler could have completely ignored her.

The Ventrue first makes an effort to plaster over fake smile across her face as Becky Lynn’s own appears. It’s not the first fake, hollow, smile she’s worn. She’s grateful for the Beast’s hatred of any attempt to capture it as only once the smile is in place does sooth it, allowing herself to shift into focus.

“Oh, Questor Adler, not nearly as sorry as I am. I had the most interesting tale I wanted to share, but you know how it looks when you can’t even wait to do it over the water cooler—and it’s definitely better shared over the kind of drink we both might appreciate.”

GM: She’s hard-pressed to remember the last time her father made a birthday phone call.

Maybe her sire will remember her deathnight. Becky Lynne had said they celebrate those.

She has had so much practice with fake smiles, either way.

In life and death.

“Oh, don’t we both, I’m sure,” the blonde laughs politely back, covering a hand to her mouth as she does. “I suppose a Zoom call can’t substitute for everythin’. People keep saying the medium is the future, but I don’t rightly see what could make it, can you?”

Caroline: “I’m certain there are some people that might more readily adapt to it,” Caroline answers. “But I somehow doubt anyone like you or I will, Questor Adler.”

“There are certain things you just can’t say over the internet.”

GM: “I somehow doubt so too, Eiren,” Becky Lynne nods. “Would you care to come over to my and my brother’s place to chat in person?”

“I don’t expect to be out of town for too much longer, thank goodness. Home is where the heart is and all that.”

Caroline: Caroline is fairly certain, based on fairly extensive experience with her own and those of others, that the heart is actually located slightly to the left of the sternum, but she doesn’t argue the point.

Harder to explain showing up with her new entourage without raising questions she’s confident Becky Lynne can find answers to.

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to trouble your brother with our talk. I’m certain he’d be polite enough to smile through it just like anyone with a proper upbringing might, but some things fit better just between girls, don’t you agree, Questor?”

She wonders if the older Ventrue reads through the lines there.

GM: “I certainly do,” smiles Becky Lynne. “So don’t you worry, Eiren, my brother’s practically only there to sleep or entertain company of his own. We’ll have the place to ourselves. Peggy, can you tell us when a good opening in my schedule might be?”

The chubby ghoul lists several dates and times in the near future.

Caroline: Caroline passingly wonders if she should introduce the chubby ghoul to Meg. The two might be good for each other.

Caroline laughs lightly, belying her buried irritation. “Sooner is better, Questor, you know how gossip can age like milk in the sun, but I’d hate to crowd your schedule. I know how many people are clamoring for your attention, and I’d hate for them to be disappointed if this consumed more of your time than you might expect. It’s particularly…. juicy.”

GM: “Is that so? I’ll look forward to hearin’ it, then, and we’ll try to aim sooner without steppin’ on any toes,” smiles Becky Lynne.

“How is the day after tomorrow at 3, ma’am?” asks the ghoul, mirroring her domitor’s expression.

Caroline: Two more nights? Who’s to say at the rate things are going. She hadn’t expected tonight.

She bites her lower lip.

“We can put a cork in this and call that a date, Questor—it won’t be the first time.” Worst case scenario, if she is recalled by her sire, it serves her right for pushing Caroline off.

“We’ve survived this long, and I don’t have any reason to think that the wine is going to go off over a couple days if its kept this long.”

GM: It beats McGinn having her wait a week.

“Splendid,” beams the older Ventrue. “I’ll see you at my place then, Eiren.”

Caroline: “Until then, Questor,” Caroline answers, the fake smile pulled all the tighter.

GM: Becky Lynne smiles back, then suddenly frowns and whips her head away.

Caroline hears a door slamming against a wall, then multiple pounding footsteps.

FREEZE! FEDERAL AGENTS!” bellows a heavy voice.

Becky Lynne immediately puts up her hands and shoots up from her seat.

Caroline: Caroline’s form blurs as the Beast reasserts itself even more quickly than her hand blurs to kill the outgoing feed on the tablet.

She briefly considers killing the entire connection, but the damage is done if they are able to track the call.

She digs out her phone and hits send. “Roger, I need you now.”

Her gaze settles on Adler’s ghoul. “Where is your domitor?”

GM: “En route,” responds the ex-CIA agent before hanging up.

The ghoul’s mouth falls open as she stares down at the tablet in her lap. “G-Gulfport! Mississippi! 2510 14th street, the Whitney Hancock headquarters!”

Caroline: Caroline flips her phone on the side and starts to videotape the exchange as it continues.

“You have Primogen Hurst’s number?” she asks.

GM: “Puh-puh, p-please, don-don’t h-hurt me, I’m j-j-just an in-t-tern!” Becky Lynne’s voice sobs from the tablet.

The white-faced ghoul nods and rattles it off.

Caroline: Caroline’s hand blurs as she writes it down with her right hand, attention divided between filming the exchange and continuing damage control.

She’ll wait for Roger to actually make the call—she knows he’ll have a burner.

Caroline waits for the federal agent to approach.

She can’t help but wonder how the hell Adler ended up with no one to give her even a moment’s warning before they arrived. Clumsy.

They can mock her parade of ghouls all they want, but she’d never be caught in that particular circumstance.

GM: “Step away from the computer!” orders a second voice.

There’s more sounds through the room. Drawers opening. Papers rifling. Footsteps approaching. Becky Lynne sobs some more.

“Zoom call on this,” says a third voice. Caroline sees a grim-faced Caucasian man in his early middle years wearing a white shirt, tie, and blue jacket with yellow FBI letters.

The connection abruptly dies.

Caroline: Gotcha. Caroline videotapes the man as he kills the connection. A face will have a name attached.

GM: “Oh my god!” exclaims Becky Lynne’s ghoul, staring at the blank tablet in her lap.

She looks up at Caroline. “Ma’am, we have to call the primogen!”

Caroline: “We will call the primogen,” Caroline answers more calmly, “just not from any device that is linked to you or Questor Adler.”

Roger will be here shortly, she knows.

The call ending though gives her the opportunity to get ahead. She rises and moves to the door dividing the clubhouse, sliding it open to unleash the elder ghouls.

“Ms. Adler was just seized in her office at the headquarters of Whitney Hancock in Gulfport by federal agents.”

“I will arrange communication with Primogen Hurst, but I presume there are many potentially sensitive matters for others tied to Ms. Adler, and that the prince or seneschal may have more immediate contacts available extra locally than he.”

GM: Becky Lynne’s ghoul covers her mouth as she sees the casquette girl.

Kâmil wordlessly looks towards Gisèlle. The casquette girl closes her eyes.

The seneschal’s face appears in Caroline’s mind.

:: Miss Malveaux-Devillers will retrieve her. Inform her she is to return to Perdido House. Transportation to Gulfport will await atop the helipad. ::

Caroline: Eighty miles to Gulfport, Caroline knows. Half an hour by helicopter.

She meets the casquette girl’s eyes.

“I understand.”

She bites her lip.

“Let’s go.”


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Caroline: “Come along,” Caroline gestures to the shellshocked ghoul, “you will have the drive to Perdido House to bring me up to speed on your domitor’s activities in Gulfport and any other matters of interest.”

She opens the door before Roger can. “We’re going to Perdido House,” she offers by way of explanation, not pausing but extending a hand as she makes for the elevator. “Burner.”

GM: Ferris hands it over without comment as he follows behind, along with the three other ghouls.

“She’s there on business for Whitney Hancock,” Becky Lynne’s ghoul starts.

“This was supposed to be a routine trip.”

Caroline: “That’s how they get you… when it becomes routine,” Caroline muses.

She plugs in the number provided by Adler’s ghoul, trusting that Ferris will pick up on the details as she offers them to the primogen.

GM: The phone picks up after several rings.

“Gabriel Hurst speakin’,” sounds the Ventrue’s lazy Southern drawl.

Caroline: “Gabriel,” she keeps the tone light, informal. They’ve spewed enough information over electronic circuits today. “It’s Caroline. I just heard the news about your sister. You all must be so worried.”

GM: “The news?” he asks slowly.

Caroline: “I’m sure it must be a misunderstanding,” she continues. “I don’t know what could have possible brought authorities to the bank, but I’m certain it has nothing to do with her and she’ll be released soon.”

“I just wanted to make certain your father and the rest of the family knew.”

She slides her own phone into Ferris’ hand as she enters the elevator. It’s open to the most recent recording.

GM: The ghouls troop in after her. Ferris silently takes in the FBI agent’s face.

“We did not know,” Hurst answers gravely. “Well. There will be a few calls to make. How recently was this?”

Caroline: “Very,” Comes Caroline’s blunt response.

“I know for a fact there are already things at work to ensure her welfare, but it’s been a rather rough year for the whole family… I just wanted to ensure everyone else was taking it well.”

She’s already inventorying possibilities in her mind. The timing might simply be a coincidence… or it might not. She hasn’t heard of many FBI raids conducted in the evening, vice the early morning or daylight hours.

GM: “There’s nothing here to take well, Caroline,” the primogen answers in the same grave tone. “I’ll let our father know about this and get started springin’ her out. Thanks for letting us know.”

Ferris continues to look at the phone image, though his eyes are moving across the device’s surface, away from the man’s features.

Caroline: Caroline scowls.

She always figured Becky Lynne was the brains of the operation anyway.

“Happy to have been of help, then. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do.” She keeps the pitch of her voice sympathetic.

GM: “We’ll be sure to. You stay safe yourself.”

The line dies.

Caroline: Caroline hands the phone back to Ferris. “How many FBI raids have you seen in the evening vice daylight or dawn?” she asks skeptically.

Her professors always said if the feds come for you, they don’t need to hide and prefer a sledgehammer approach.

Mind you, different kinds of coming for someone.

GM: “More often at homes than offices, but still atypical,” Ferris answers. “You raid when people are most likely to be there. Groggy or asleep in the case of homes.”

“Obvious answer is they suspect someone keeps nocturnal hours.”

Caroline: “Our friends?” Caroline speculates.

The doors open to the parking garage and she makes her way to one of the two black SUVs, stopping at the back to briefly rifle through a set of hanging garnet bags before distastefully settling on one.

“We’re flying to Gulfport to get her either way.”

GM: Kâmil wordlessly takes the driver’s seat.

Ferris does a head count as everyone climbs in.

“We could have room for more, depending on passenger capacity.”

Caroline: The Ventrue shakes her head. “If we need more than four, we’re biting off more than we can chew anyway, and anyone else identified leads back too readily to everyone else.”

GM: “Five,” Ferris corrects, but otherwise doesn’t disagree.

Kâmil drives them out of the garage.

Caroline: Caroline grins. “She’ll need to prove she has something valuable to offer if she wants to come along.”

She turns her gaze to the plump ghoul.

GM: “I’m basically her personal assistant, ma’am, in so many words,” the ghoul answers.

“As I said, this was supposed to be a very brief, routine trip. She had other business for me to take care of in the city.”

“I imagine the most I can provide here to be of help is information and familiarity with Gulfport.”

Caroline: “How frequent and regular are these trips?” Caroline asks.

GM: “They’ve been more frequent lately, ma’am, with the bank relocating its corporate headquarters in New Orleans—my domitor does so appreciate your service there.” A brief smile. “That’s affected some things in Gulfport, too. Usually once a week.”

Caroline: The Ventrue shimmies out of her dress, tossing it in a pile on the floorboards as she pulls out a business suit from the garment bag.

GM: Gisèlle wordlessly reaches into the bag to see if there are more.

Caroline: There’s an entire set—one for Caroline, Widney, Green, and Autumn.

Whether any fit the ghoul may be another matter, but Widney is probably close.

GM: The casquette girl strips and changes without embarrassment or complaint. The rest of her body is as pale and milky smooth as the rest of her.

Everyone else is already wearing business-appropriate attire.

“If there’s no objection, ma’am, I’m going to let the primogen know y’all are flying to Gulfport,” says the ghoul. “He’s probably acquiring another helicopter right now.”

“My domitor’s already taken the regular one.”

Caroline: “I object,” Caroline answers.

“You should sharply limit your electronic communications along predicable lines until you have an opportunity to verifying the source of this event, and I am not eager to announce my activities and arrival to anyone.”

GM: “He’ll want to come along, ma’am, as it’ll probably take more time than whatever’s arranged at Perdido House,” answers the ghoul. “I don’t need to say he could be of quite a bit of help.”

Caroline: No doubt he might, but Caroline is waiting for no one.

“Phone. Tablet. Any other electronic devices.” She extends a hand to the plump ghoul.

GM: She extends a tablet and smartphone.

Caroline: She powers them off then extends them to the casquette girl. “Please hand them off to someone at Perdido to be taken elsewhere.”

GM: The casquette girl accepts the devices.

Caroline: She meets Adler’s ghoul’s gaze. “My direction was to recover your domitor, and I intend on executing that direction in the most expeditious manner possible, with the lowest probably of blowing this into another, larger, matter.”

GM: “Then we’re on the same page, ma’am,” says the ghoul. “Anythin’ I can do to help, I will.”

Caroline: “Delaying for her brother presents another avenue for complications to arrive, and informing him of our plans puts them in the wind.”

“As the esteemed Mr. Ferris taught me as a child, the best plans are those with the fewest moving pieces.”

And the fewest egos. She doesn’t need to get into a pissing match with Matheson’s older childe.

GM: If the primogen would even presume one could exist between them.

“The more intricate the machine, the more ways something can go wrong,” Ferris concurs.

Caroline: She also meant what she said to Ferris. If two elder ghouls and she are insufficient, they shouldn’t engage at all.

That bringing him along would create the opportunity for him to seize anything they discover or accomplish for himself is also not lost on her. She doesn’t doubt her sire has other servants he could send. The decision to send her is calculated. Far be it for her to rebalance those scales.

GM: The casquette girl’s visage shimmers into that of an older woman with different hair and facial features.

“All right, ma’am. What else can I do to help?” asks Becky Lynne’s ghoul.

Caroline: “Talk to me about your domitor’s activities, answer Mr. Ferris’ questions.” She lets him take the lead, letting the ghoul’s answers fade into the background as she dresses.

Ferris digs around as to typical pattern of life for the Gulfport visits. Did she travel the same route regularly? Meet with the same people? Meet with the same Kindred? Did she carry her phone?

Anything to get a bite on what might have pointed either federal agents or hunters (or worse, both) at Adler.

It’s fishing.

GM: The ghoul answers that Adler took a similar route every time. She would arrive by means of helicopter at the helipad on the roof of the bank’s headquarters. She did not expect to run into trouble. The city’s Kindred are friendly.

Her visits always included a good deal of time at the bank’s headquarters, where she met with its chief executives. She also sometimes met with them at their homes.

Among Kindred, she met semi-regularly with Robert Landau, who is Gulfport’s prince and one of Gerousiastis Matheson’s more distant descendants. Adler met with Landau on perhaps 50% of her visits. Less frequently, she would meet with Alan Parker, Landau’s childe. Their meeting locations would vary. Sometimes she would attend Elysium, “such as it is” in the small city. There are very few Kindred actually in Gulfport. (Landau is ranked merely an aedile, not a praetor.)

Adler did carry her phone.

Gulfport is friendly territory. Gerousiastis Matheson considers the small city to be his possession. Adler expected less trouble there than she does in New Orleans.

Caroline: “Who else knew her itinerary? Who knew when she was here?” Caroline asked pointedly.

GM: “Gerousiastis Matheson and Primogen Hurst always knew, ma’am. Prince Landau and other Kindred knew when she visited them, but they usually didn’t know if they didn’t.”

“She’d occasionally tell other Kindred she was out of town, but she wouldn’t say she was going to Gulfport, or advertise her sire’s connections there.”

Caroline: The Ventrue listens in silence, drawing her own conclusions. Few enough sources suggests an outside activity. Matheson has plenty enough enemies.

“Any thoughts from the footage?” Caroline asks Ferris.

She slips on some more plausible, professional heels with the more professional wardrobe while she talks.

GM: “Miss Adler had better hope her claim to be just an intern checks out,” says the ex-CIA agent.

“It does,” nods the ghoul. “She is, ostensibly, just an intern.”

“Can’t rightly pose as an executive at the age she was Embraced.”

Caroline: “Interns stuck working late.” She tilts her head. “Plausible.”

They’ll see if it’s plausible enough.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Caroline: It’s not a long drive from the Giani Building to Perdido House. By design.

GM: The group is not stopped on their way up the building. Gisèlle hands off the tablet and phone to another ghoul. Kâmil leads them to Maldonato’s office. The seneschal is occupied at his desk. He offers no greeting as he rises and takes its private elevator to the building’s roof with them. Wind whips at Caroline’s clothes. The night sky stretches endlessly above them. Glittering lights stretch out far below.

There is no waiting helicopter.

“You wish these four to accompany you, Miss Malveaux-Devillers?” Maldonato asks without preamble.

Caroline: “I believe them to be the most efficacious companions for this task, Seneschal,” Caroline replies.

Did we simply arrive more swiftly than he expected? Is the helicopter still en route?

GM: The seneschal closes his eyes. He, Caroline, and the four ghouls rise aloft into the air, then abruptly hurtle through the night sky at incredible speed. Wind blasts across Caroline’s face. Her hair is all but destroyed. Anything not tightly secured to her body flies off. Darkened cityscape rushes past, then wilderness. The ghouls’ rippling cheeks are all but peeling off their faces. Their eyes are tightly, furiously closed despite the incredible view, and their arms are tightly wrapped about their bodies. The experience does not look pleasant for them. Adler’s ghoul is missing her shoes.

Caroline: It’s more akin to being fired from a gun than the flying experience she’d had as an incorporeal being. Completely out of her control and at the mercy of the wind and sky. Only Caroline’s lightning-fast reflexes save her own shoes—and only then because they are significantly more ‘functional’ than her typical footwear.

How quickly are they moving? It’s impossible for her to say as the landscape whips past. Forcing her eyes open is a painful, unpleasant experience, and at this speed it’s impossible to properly orient on any landmark other than the presence and absence of lights in the dark.

A grin spreads across her face, though. They will arrive far swifter than she suspects any might expect, and with considerably less warning than the arrival of a helicopter in the small city might foretell. And certainly far more swiftly than the ‘primogen’ can arrange his own transportation.

It’s also significantly safer and less predictable, part of her notes. Some dark, suspicious part of her mind had floated the idea that in a commercial helicopter, hurtling across the open night far from the city, would be a rather vulnerable position if, say, one had the means to acquire a man-portable surface the air missile.

GM: The fall might easily be enough to torpor her, too, if the explosion didn’t (or destroy her outright). And even if she survived both without succumbing to torpor, there’s do doubt she’d be hurt enough to be much easier pickings.

Jocelyn had once mentioned a trick of the blood, for bolting, that allowed licks to survive great falls unscathed. Even novitiates to the discipline can learn it, as a precursor to powers of levitation and true flight. The Toreador’s sire had offered to teach her, but she’d wanted to learn others instead.

“Falling. Since when does that ever happen to you?” she’d scoffed to Caroline.

Caroline: Only socially.

Caroline sympathized, though: there were plenty of more readily useful devotions in one’s Requiem. If the helicopter took a rocket, odds are she’d have more problems than the fall. Escaping the blazing wreck as it spun would be difficult enough that it might not even matter.

GM: The sound of the shrieking wind is interrupted by thoughts that are not her thoughts.

:: You will arrive at your destination in approximately 5.6 minutes, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. I suggest you use the time to further plan with your subordinates. Envision their faces within your mind and you may communicate with them. ::

Physical words would doubtless be torn from their mouths.

Caroline: :: Thank you, Seneschal ::

And she means it. The elder facilitating this entire series of events for her, giving her another opportunity to succeed before her sire and her clan at large.

She pictures each of the ghouls in turn, forming a gallery and sends to them group, laying out her plan, such as it is.

:: It is my intention to arrive at the headquarters and, as soon as presentable, enter in the alternating guise as bank employees or federal agents, as most applicable. In the latter, Mr. Ferris or I will take the lead, using his knowledge or my abilities to bluff our way through en route to Ms. Adler. In the former, I expect Ms. Sweet to take the lead cutting through any barriers. ::

:: The first priority is protection of the Masquerade. If these are federal agents, we cannot simply slay them and are best served slipping through them with as few interactions as possible. The second priority is the retrieval and exfiltration of Ms. Adler. The final priority is gathering as much information as available on the cause of the raid, and information on any associated agents we discover, especially if they prove to be motivated by more than simply their civic duties. In that way, identification including names, faces, fingerprints and DNA so far as possible are higher priority than information they might volunteer. ::

:: The first goal then, in any agents we uncover, is identifying to the extent to which their actions are driven by knowledge of Ms. Adler or Mr. Matheson’s ties to the bank. Towards that end, Gisèlle, your abilities are invaluable. Should they become a strain upon you, inform me and I will subsidize you as needed. ::

She doesn’t expect her blood to be as appealing as the elder fair the ghoul typically enjoys, but she does expect it’ll take the edge off.

:: As we do so, Mr. Ferris, it is also vital we identify or arrange our means of departure from the city—likely by car convoy, but possibly via helicopter of the timing if Ms. Adler’s brother-in-blood proves fortuitous. ::

:: Questions. ::

GM: The responses back are not immediate. Caroline can feel the ghouls straining to concentrate on her ‘words’ past the stomach-churning vertigo and hellishly fast air basting across their faces.

But it’s not as if they can use the time for much else.

:: Where… is drop point… going to… be… :: sends Ferris.

:: We’re… going to look… out of sorts… when we arrive… :: sends Sweet.

:: What… is… ETA :: sends Ferris.

There is a fragmented sense of acknowledgment from the casquette girl. She is capable of reading their thoughts.

There is agreement from all ghouls at minimizing interactions with the federal agents to the greatest extent possible.

:: Prince… Landau… can help… convoy… :: sends Sweet.

Caroline: Caroline sends on Ferris’ question about arrival location to the seneschal, picturing the ancient Moor’s stern face before moving onto the others.

GM: :: That location is your purview to determine, Miss Maveaux-Devillers. ::

Caroline: :: We will land on the roof, :: Caroline sends, encompassing the rest within her thoughts.

There’s no guarantee what might away them on the ground level around the building, though she hopes to get a look before they land.

She counts the time from their initial call—something like thirty minutes total perhaps, to arrival. Odds are the feds will have finished sweeping the building. And if they’re hunters, as she suspects, they’ll be expecting far more from the outside than in at this point.

:: Arrival in less than six minutes.: :

Landing on the roof will also let them sort their appearance, in theory, before interaction with the employees or government agents. Unless they’re lucky enough to have someone on the roof…

:: No outside entities until we determine situation. ::

GM: :: Missing… shoes… will look… strange… :: sends Sweet.

:: Find… employee… to… mesmerize… :: Ferris.

:: Please describe the building’s layout. :: Kâmil’s mental voice sounds steadier, though the ghoul’s eyes are just as tightly closed against the winds.

Sweet does so, including any sites and features Caroline wants to know about.

Caroline: Caroline is grateful to the ghoul for taking the lead.

She listens carefully as Sweet explains the layout of the building and the number of employees within, getting a lay of the land as best she can.

She passes to Sweet that they will ‘liberate’ new shoes for her promptly.

To Ferris that an employee—or agent—in their grasp early is deal.

And all the while the thought flits around: did she bring this down on Adler? Is this the Barrett Commission? What exactly are they walking into?

Time will tell.

GM: Almost as abruptly as the group’s flight began, it immediately ceases.

They’re on the roof of a multi-story office building, not quite tall enough to be a true skyscraper. A smaller city’s skyline stretches out before them. The buildings aren’t nearly so tall or numerous as the Big Easy’s. The draft from high up is weaker.

Sweet doubles over and vomits over the ground.

Ferris follows suit a second later, spewing the contents of his stomach a few feet away.

Gisèlle looks green in the face and clutches her stomach, but holds it in.

Kâmil alone seems unaffected beyond a brief grimace.

Caroline: The speed of the transition is dizzying, but fortunately Caroline doesn’t suffer from the same nausea that the rest do.

Kine.

They aren’t quite kine, but they’re close enough. Still beset by the weaknesses endemic to their kind.

That the bodyguard is unaffected further ticks up her respect for the Turk.

Caroline surveys the roof while she waits for the ghouls to recover, looking for any ‘guests.’

GM: :: Alas, such flight is rarely agreeable to the living’s constitutions, but better you arrive sick and early than late and hale. God be with you in your efforts, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. ::

As abruptly as the group arrived, Maldonato is gone. His tall form is briefly visible as a gray blot streaking into the night sky.

Caroline and the ghouls appear alone.

Everyone looks awful, Caroline included. Their hair and clothing are completely disheveled, the long-haired Gisèlle’s most of all. Ferris is missing his wristwatch, Sweet her jewelry in addition to her shoes. The ghouls’ faces are reddened and perspired, and they smell of sweat. The stink of puke hangs heavy in the air, though Gisèlle does not further add to it, and removes her hand from her stomach after a moment’s wait.

The Ventrue, at least, feels fine. Her stomach is as dead as the rest of her.

Caroline: Caroline watches the seneschal depart with mild trepidation. Out from under the umbrella here, at least.

She moves to the edge of the building, looking down into the night around the building for flashing lights, government vehicles, or a perimeter while she lets the others collect themselves.

They need to hit a bathroom, and preferably several offices for fresh changes of clothing, but she has a vague memory of how debilitating nausea was.

GM: The building they’re on looks like one of the tallest in the city, though that’s not saying much next to New Orleans. Gulfport looks like a pretty small city.

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True to Caroline’s expectation, she sees a number of black and white vans (some marked with the FBI’s blue letters) assembled around the building’s entrance, replete with flashing lights, a do not cross perimeter, and assorted lawmen maintaining watch. Bystanders look at the building and gossip among themselves from a distance.

Caroline: An actual raid, then? Or a convenient camouflage?

It doesn’t matter, really—either way they need a light touch here.

She does a rough count of the number of vans and vehicles and probable agents on site and pulls back from the edge, looking back to the ghouls.

“We we ready to move?” Caroline asks.

GM: She’s answered by nods.

Caroline: She leads the way to the roof access, proceeding down into the next floor.

It’s advantageous that most CEOs and executives are vane enough to put their offices on the top floor—it provides them the most immediate access to replacement clothing and washrooms.

She slips slow, light feet down the stairs, senses on edge.

GM: Voices and heavy footsteps are audible further in.

Caroline: She slows, holding up a hand to forestall the others, and listens, trying to get a count on the number of voices and what they’re saying.

After a moment she points to Gisèlle, and gestures with one hand in front of her face, as though lowering a veil.

Can the casquette girl continue on undetected?

GM: A nod.

Caroline: Caroline gestures for her to do so, pausing to listen while the centuries old ghoul investigates.

GM: There’s a questioning look, as if to ask her objective. She feels the ghoul’s mind touch hers so she may give silent voice to her thoughts.

Caroline: The ghoul’s touch, as always, is like a feather compared to the seneschal’s anvil.

:: I need to know how many on this floor, if we can easily elude or overcome them, and what their immediate goals are. Are they hunters or simply FBI agents? And, if possible, whether Ms. Adler is still on this floor or if she’s been elsewhere. ::

GM: Without further word, the casquette girl winks out of sight like a snuffed-out candle.

Caroline: Caroline creeps down the stairs to wait near the bottom for her return—and to do some eavesdropping of her own.

GM: Caroline slowly makes her way down the carpeted hallway. Footsteps and voices are audible from nearby offices. They have doors rather than a common area with cubicles. It sounds like the one nearest to her, and at least several others, are still being searched. Drawers are opening and closing and papers being rifled through. She hears several presumed FBI agents inside amiably chatting about how, depending on how things go here, they may be getting “help from the boys at CI.”

“We’re just spread out over so many statutes, especially when counterterror and counterintelligence got big after 9/11,” says a Bureau agent. “CI’s always my first choice for financial crimes.”

“You will love working with those people,” says another man. “When CI brings a case to a U.S. Attorney, it is done. It is wrapped up with a ribbon and a bow. It is a genuinely impressive thing to watch.”

“Even Al Capone was no match for the IRS,” laughs a younger-sounding man.

“Yeah. Don’t fuck with the tax man,” says the first.

Caroline: Interesting that they’re not all familiar with Bureau procedure. New agents or cross agencies? The plot thickens, despite the mundane topic at hand for the agents. It would be easy to rampage through the building dominating everyone in her path, but she’s content to wait for a moment, to let the elder ghoul do her work and continue to listen in until she gets a better count on the number of nearby agents.

GM: She overhears that “a girl” matching Adler’s description has been arrested and is currently sitting comfy in one of the FBI vans.

Caroline: That is very interesting news for her. Her professors had been pretty clear, the Feds only arrest when they’ve got you dead to rights or they have no other option. Working late is hardly something she believes would drive then to arrest a young white intern with no criminal record. And even if they did, why not hand over to locals?

She withdraws back into the ladderwell to confer with her team while she waits for her spy to report. Sneaking in and out with none the wiser seems increasingly unlikely, so as much as anything this becomes a matter of what kind of footprint she wants to leave.

She relays, quietly, what she’s learned to Ferris, confirming with Adler’s ghoul the Ventrue’s identity here and how well it will stand up to scrutiny.

GM: Sweet says the identity is as real as any identity can be. It has everything from dental records to credit card food purchases. Gerousiastis Matheson arranged only the best for his childe.

Caroline: Caroline wouldn’t know anything about that. Yet.

GM: Ferris thinks that no identity will stand up to sustained scrutiny if you have a team of determined feds actively pouring over it. “If they already think it’s bull they’ll eventually find a string to yank.”

Caroline: The Ventrue agrees. She proposes posing as another agency angry over the feds stomping in and disrupting their investigation. Perhaps pitching Adler’s identify as a fake one in their employ. Treasury seems like a fair bet. Stomp in as a Treasury agent screaming about the mess they made and demanding to see their boss or whoever the hell authorized this shit show.

GM: Caroline’s ghouls raise no objection to the plan. Kâmil and Ferris both consider it wise to have a mundane cover story that Kindred powers can supplement over relying on those alone.

“One thing, ma’am, my domitor’s identity… she’s the niece of Edward Campbell,” says Sweet. “That’s the man with a controlling interest in the bank. And her sire’s identity.”

“That’s why people here listen to her and take her seriously, despite being ‘just’ an intern.”

Caroline: She’d have preferred to slip in and out to pick up Adler and leave none the wiser, but some footprint seems unavoidable. As an additional benefit, if they vanish with Adler into federal bureaucratic minefields attempts to figure out who is responsible among the agencies will leave fingerprints they can follow backwards.

Adler as such a high-profile identify though may create problems. She chews her lower lip.

GM: “He has no children and it’s believed she’s going to inherit everything from him.”

Caroline: Caroline wouldn’t mind making that a reality, truth be told, but this is hardly the audience for that topic.

“I see,” she answers. Is there an answer here that leaves that identity in place? She eyes Sweet. Probably not, but some answers may leave fewer questions than others.

GM: The ghoul smiles back. “Just seems tricky, that way, but maybe she is cooperating with the Treasury? The bank gets up to as many, ah, questionable enterprises as any Kindred-run business.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. And when she doesn’t show up again? Or can’t come in during the day? They’d blow that identity wide open, and with it a great deal more.

“I wonder if any of Mr. Campbell’s other assets were raided,” she muses while they wait.

She needs to get more of her wealth off the grid, make it harder to trace. She has an idea for that. Perhaps Miss Adler will have a similar interest.

GM: “I hope not,” frowns the ghoul, “but they won’t be able to leave him penniless, even if they seize everything attached to the name.”

Caroline: One hell of a stroke of luck to land on Adler in their first raid if she’s only here a few times a month.

GM: Without announcement, Gisèlle reappears.

Sounds and images fill the Ventrue’s head. She sees at least a score of different lawmen methodically searching the office building in teams, tearing through documents and arresting everyone they find. Some wear blue and yellow FBI jackets, but others appear to be local law enforcement. She hears voices talking about financial crimes and political corruption—one of the Bureau’s foremost areas of interest since 9/11. She sees handcuffed bank employees and Miss Adler being moved into the police vans outside.

She sees a middle-named man with a grimly set, all-business expression and receding brown hair being addressed by the others as “sir.” A name floats through her mind. Supervisory Special Agent Ruben Gates.

Mr. Gates and the other lawmen talk about a great deal of things, but Caroline hears nothing about vampires from any of them. Just a specific arrest warrant for Mr. Campbell’s niece.

They’ve got the warrant in hand, too, when Adler asks to see it. It’s signed by Magistrate Judge Samuel Chambers of the Southern District of Mississippi.

Caroline: A patsy. No way any magistrate with a brain in his head would sign off on something this large and sweeping. Caroline glowers. Catspaws at work here. The feds, the justice system. Using a system she has found power in.

Well, two can play at that game. Can they make it to a washroom to freshen up? Did she have an opportunity to snag a spare pair of shoes in her travels for Adler’s ghoul? She imagines that Adler keeps a closet here. Most executives do.

GM: Caroline sees no shoes in the ghoul’s hand. She does see, in her mind’s eye, that same image of lawmen busily searching the offices on the floor. They look busy, but they are there. It likely depends how stealthy the group is.

Caroline: No time like the present. She, Ferris, and Gisèlle will take the lead. Caroline will draw attention if required. She pulls her hair back into a simple ponytail and quickly smooths her appearance. Not perfect, but enough to stand up when layered on top of her powers. She gets concurrence from the others and creeps back down the hall.

GM: There are several hair-rising close calls from the busy federal agents, but the group makes it to the washroom without apparent detection.

Caroline: Caroline takes advantage of the mirror to finish smoothing her own appearance as best she can. There’s limits on what she can, but it looks better than nothing. More attention is directed to the others. They’re not going to be fooling anyone anytime soon under normal circumstances, especially the ghoul without shoes, but Caroline doesn’t intend on this being normal conditions.

GM: The others follow suit in cleaning up as best they can. Ferris and Sweet gargle water to get rid of the vomit on their breath.

Caroline: She looks at herself one more time in the mirror, then smiles.

“Time to make a scene.”

GM: “I look pretty out of sorts without shoes,” admits Sweet, but they follow her lead.

Caroline: “It would have been much better if you hadn’t lost them,” Caroline agrees pointedly. “If you have an opportunity to raid Miss Adler’s closet for a pair, do so.”

She leads them back to the hall, turns on the mojo, and sticks her head into the first room full of agents.

“Where the fuck is Gates?” she demands of the startled federal agents, channeling her best Claire.

GM: The blue-jacketed feds pause in their ransacking of the office and its contents. Four pairs of eyes sweep Caroline with taken aback expressions.

“Excuse me?” one man asks coolly.

Caroline: “Like hell I will,” she snarls. “You clowns just shit on three years of investigations stomping in here like you owned the place and there’s going to be hell to pay before I’m done.”

“Do you have any idea how much time and effort you destroyed? How many scumbags are going to walk free because of your FBI hard-on for jumping in the shit?”

GM: “And just who the hell are you people?” asks another fed in a milder-sounding tone than Caroline wonders if he might muster.

Sweet stays out of sight in the corridor.

Caroline: She turns her wrath on him. “Agent Bueller, Treasury. And who are you, so I can add your name next to your boss’ on the ‘audit every year until you die’ list?”

She looks around at the scattered papers and riffled through drawers and shakes her head.

“Goddamn, no wonder you guys have the same fuckers on your most wanted list for twenty years if this is what you do for investigations.”

GM: The agent gives her a flat look at the ‘audit’ threat. The all-too real-sounding audit threat.

“We’re just doing our jobs. I didn’t order this raid.”

Caroline: It’s not life-shattering moments of fear that strikes terror into people, it’s lifelong tedious life-eating bureaucratic hell.

Her gaze sweeps across the other agents. “Then where the fuck is your boss? Someone’s ass is going to get roasted over this, and I don’t much care whose.”

GM: “He’s on the next floor down,” glares another fed.

Caroline: “You assholes actually here for something or is this someone flexing their dick on a goose chase?” she asks the more talkative one.

GM: “If you’re this pissy about the raid, I guess you’d know what’s here as well as us,” says the first fed.

Caroline: She rolls her eyes. “Got it, prick waving.” She settles on the fed that she threatened with the audit. “Bring me to him so I can stop having this same conversation with every one of you in sequence.”

GM: The man glowers at her, but moves off.

Caroline: Caroline shows her first smile, a sharp and cruel thing. “Hope you boys have good accountants.” She follows the unhappy agent, confident the others will no longer be so shortly.

GM: He exits the room, then stops and looks down at Sweet’s bare feet.

Caroline: When his gaze comes back up Caroline meets it. The monster inside her runs roughshod over his mind as she unleashes it.

“Forget about her feet and keep leading me as though you never saw them.”

GM: The man gets a glassy look in his eyes, then frowns again as he sees Sweet’s feet still in front of him. He touches his temple, but wordlessly leads Caroline downstairs.

“He cannot long forget what is plain to his sight, bayan,” Kâmil murmurs low in her ear.

“Maybe I should stay out of sight?” floats Sweet.

Caroline: “Can you?” Caroline asks.

GM: She shakes her head. “I’m no good at veiling, but I could wait on the roof?” she whispers.

Caroline: She looks at Gisèlle. “Can you veil yourself and let her ‘borrow’ yours?”

GM: The casquette girl silently hands over her shoes. A new ‘pair’ reappears.

Sweet murmurs her thanks and fits them on.

The FBI man leads Caroline and the ghouls downstairs. She sees a scene unfolding much like the one upstairs, but there are more lawmen. Many of them are carrying out computers and other seized pieces of evidence while others methodically tear through the contents of offices. It’s supervised by the figure Gisèlle showed her in her mind’s eye. A middle-named man with a grimly set, all-business expression and receding brown hair. Supervisory Special Agent Ruben Gates. He wears the same dress shirt and tie under a blue FBI jacket as the other on-scene feds.

“And who the hell are you people?” he growls as Caroline and the ghouls show up.

Caroline: “Treasury. What the hell are you people doing here?” Caroline snaps right back.

GM: “Our jobs,” answers Gates in that same low growl.

His eyes suspiciously survey the Ventrue and her ghouls.

“Let’s see some badges.”

Caroline: Irritating. She’d planned on more subtle powers holding out against less marginal scrutiny inside the perimeter. There’s not much to be done for it. Her gaze bores into man’s.

“I already showed my identification,” she doesn’t quite snarl. She releases the Beast to make it truth in his mind.

“How about you show me your warrant for this…” She bites her tongue off short of tearing him down in front of everyone else, glances around, then continues in a lower voice, “How about we step into an office to continue this conversation.”

GM: The man’s agitated expression slackens. “Okay. This way.”

“Sir?” asks one of the other feds.

Gates waves him off and takes Caroline aside into one of the already searched-looking offices.

Caroline: She shuts the door firmly behind them, leaving her ghouls with the rest of the Feds and rounding on him.

“What the devil is going on here? Raiding Whitney Hancock in the middle of night? Not conferring with anyone else?”

GM:I wasn’t told the Treasury Department had any skin in this,” Gates answers stiffly.

Caroline: “And we had no idea you had an investigation going into them literally at all, much less that you were planning to raid one of our most cooperative ‘partners’ in illicit funds and asset revelation in the region.”

She heaves a sigh and continues in a less aggressive, more business-like tone, at the same time shifting her influence upon him to something gentler, more invasive. She doesn’t lay it on too thick, just… a bit. To take the edge off his irritation and the inherent distrust between feds.

" So why don’t we start the fuck over and then we can find out how we’re going to un-fuck this one. I’m Jessica, you’re Ruben. This is obviously not entirely on the up and up or you’d have done it during the day and with a signature on the warrant from a district judge vice a magistrate one."

GM: Ruben sighs. “Jessica. Well, you’re right. I didn’t like this either. This was a bad time to do this. This was a bad warrant to do this with. Hearing this steps on someone else’s toes too honestly doesn’t surprise me.”

“But orders are orders.”

Caroline: “Then which idiot gave the order?” she asks, not quite exasperatedly. “Let me point this shit storm at them before it lands on you, you and that poor magistrate you all hoodwinked into signing off on this that’ll be lucky to hold office as local dog catcher when people are done with him. Why the sudden rush to come here and execute this raid?”

“Do you have any idea how many professional relationships have probably been ruined tonight? How many investigations are going back into the garbage? Years of work all gone in an instant… for what?”

GM: “Take it up with my bosses,” answers Ruben. “I got my orders from my ASAC. He got his orders from the DSAC. He mentioned nothing about a Treasury investigation. I was barely in on any of this before the raid. Boss just told me to make it happen.”

“I told him we should get a warrant from a real federal judge, and that we should do this during normal business hours. He said if I didn’t want to lead the raid, someone else would instead, and that I could hand over my badge while I was at it.”

Caroline: ‘Jessica’ purses her lips, then her expression softens.

“That’s fucking ridiculous. And these clowns wonder why we have so many problems keeping talented and motivated people.”

“The shitty government salary and red tape is at least supposed to come with job security and feeling like you aren’t the crook.”

GM: “My wife keeps reminding me how much more I could make in the private sector. I’ve gotten offers.”

Caroline: “Drop an IG complaint and take one,” she offers, but it’s a lifeless joke. Anyone with enough time in the bureaucracy of the government knows the IG only really sticks for fraud waste and abuse and allegations of racism. And you don’t rise to Ruben’s level without the ability to put your frustrations in a box, to take them out in ways that let you keep working for the Bureau like alcoholism or beating your wife.

DSAC, though, that’s interesting piece of information. It takes some real teeth to pull strings at the director level.

GM: Wife-beating and alcoholism work in plenty more jobs than the Bureau, too.

Ruben smiles humorlessly.

“My men are just doing their jobs. So am I. I’m not sure how much we can un-fuck things for the Treasury at this point.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles with more mirth, and some teeth.

“How precise are your orders?”

Career bureaucrats can find plenty of ways to un-fuck—or fuck things up within the letter of the law and their instructions.

GM: There’s another tired smile.

“Un-precise enough, if someone were to need it. The only part of this my boss left no room for error on was arresting the intern.”

“‘The’ intern.”

“I’m sure you people know who she is.”

Caroline: “Campbell’s niece?” Caroline asks skeptically.

“Little blonde, looks like she stepped out of a cheer squad recruiting video?”

GM: “That’s her.”

Caroline: Caroline gives an incredulous look. “That’s what this is all about? What, did she launder her Girl Scout Cookie profits to Hamas or something?”

GM: Ruben gives Jessica an equally dubious look.

“If your people have been at this for years, you know she’s no Girl Scout.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a guilty grin.

“Can’t blame me for trying. Campbell is going to blow his stack over her in custody.”

GM: “He sure is.”

Caroline: “You don’t sound especially broken up over that.”

GM: “I’ve not been investigating this bank for years, but I’ve been briefed.”

Caroline: On what? Caroline wonders.

Adler’s ghoul hadn’t exactly been forthcoming with what might convince a hardened agent that cute as a button Becky Lynne deserved a trip to prison.

“You figure your boss is trying to provoke him into action?” she asks. “See what comes out of the tree?”

GM: “He didn’t say outright, but that wouldn’t surprise me,” says Ruben. “She’s his hand. You probably know better than I do how hard he is to reach.”

Caroline: “What’s the charge attached to her, or is this a catch and release?”

They both know they can hold her for a while without charging her. It’ll be a headache of the lawyers show up, but with rich girls a trip to the station can be bad enough.

Caroline should know.

That Adler was targeted by name introduces some extra complications. Caroline had hoped to snatch her away amid the confusion associated with the raid, just another intern not worth recording. At worst she’d planned on leaving behind the ghoul in her place—another blonde that looked close enough to her domitor to pass uncareful scrutiny.

Adler vanishing into thin air, though… that’s harder to explain. And they’re not going to accept a vaguely passable double if they had a specific target.

GM: Caroline knows almost as well as another rich girl connected to Matheson.

“Contingent catch and release. Campbell is the real target. But if he doesn’t show his hand, there’s enough here to tie them up in court and make their lives miserable.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, then curses.

“Fuck.”

“Not much to do for it then. I’ve got to go call my boss, let him know this place is about to dry up like the Sahara Desert. Expect a nasty letter from him through official channels, but I’ll try to paint your ASAC. He have a name?”

GM: “Thanks,” grunts Ruben. “Everyone here is just doing their job.”

“His name’s Anthony Dotson.”

Caroline: “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that story before,” Caroline agrees, holding up a hand. “No bad actors, just shitty scripts we’re all given.”

She meets his gaze, then bites her lip before continuing, her gaze boring into his own as she unleashes the Beast within his mind.

“Tell me, are we off the record here, no wires or recordings?”

GM: Ruben stares into the Ventrue’s eyes with a sleepy expression.

“No,” he answers tranquilly.

Caroline: A chill runs down her spine.

Someone’s fishing for bigger fish than just an executive.

She looks away, breaking the connection. “Fair enough. I’ll keep my opinions to myself and play the role I was given.”

“Wish I could say I’ll enjoy the fireworks, but they’re more fun when they aren’t going off beside you.”

She smooths over the transition with a flare of the Beast, lowering his inhibitions. Making her just a little easier to trust. To give the benefit of the doubt.

GM: The FBI man blinks slowly as the spell subsides.

The initial spell.

“Hold a moment,” he says. “You keep my guys and me out of your boss’ line of fire, I’ll owe you one.”

Caroline: “I’ll do what I can,” she agrees after a moment.

“If you feel like I’ve done right by you when it’s all said and done, reach out. Maybe I’ll even let you buy me a drink while we bitch about our bosses.”

GM: He gives ‘Jessica’ a long-suffering smile.

“You got a card?”

Caroline: She pats her pocket-less sides, then her pocket-less blouse wryly. “Not enough damn pockets. The failures of gender equality.”

She snags a sticky-note off the desk and dutifully prints her fake name with a pin from beside it.

“Look up me. Shoot me an email if you want to talk.”

GM: Ruben sticks the sticky inside his jacket pocket, then hands ‘Jessica’ a white business card with the FBI’s logo located to the upper left of the text:

U.S. Department of Justice
Federal Bureau of Investigation


Ruben F. Gates
Supervisory Special Agent


Below is his office address, office phone number, cell number, and email (ruben.f.gates@usdoj.gov).

“Likewise to you.”

Caroline: She whistles. “Fancy,” and palms the card.

“Good luck, Ruben.”

GM: “Damn should be. $115 for a batch of 300 and they say ‘what an honor’ it is to serve us.”

Caroline: “The dinosaur at the officer says civil servants only got respect right after 9/11. Before my time.”

GM: Ruben grunts. “Not mine. Your people sticking around?”

Caroline: She shakes her head. “No meaningful jurisdiction here, just creates possible headaches down the line. We’ll get out of your hair.”

“I was really hoping you were going to be some Podunk sheriff we could run over.”

GM: Ruben glances around the empty office, then reaches inside his jacket again, but doesn’t pull anything out.

“This whole thing stinks, Jessica.”

Caroline: She glances at his jacket, then bites her lip. “What am I missing, Ruben? Even as a short squeeze on Campbell, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. There are better ways to go about that.”

“Am I about to step in it on this one?”

GM: “I don’t know. The fixation on the intern is bizarre. My boss told me specifically how to arrest her.”

Caroline: “What do you mean, how?” she asks skeptically. “He afraid you were going to forget to mirandize her, or want her roughed up?”

GM: Ruben snorts. “Just bizarre instructions. Like to transport her to the county jail up along the I-10, instead of Gulfport PD’s here in the city. No explanation for the longer drive.”

“But, everyone else we arrest, fine if Gulfport PD holds them.”

Caroline: Caroline’s expression turns grim. She bites her lip nervously.

“I need to go.” She swallows, then looks back at him. “Get away from this one, Ruben. Call in a favor if you have to.”

GM: The Bureau agent glances around the ransacked office again. Muffled sounds of lawmens’ footfalls are audible past the doors.

“Little late for that now.”

Caroline: “Then keep your name off of whatever you can. Turn over early.” She bites her lip again.

GM: He regards her for a thoughtful moment.

“I’ll take that advice.”

Caroline: She starts towards the door, then stops. “And don’t dig on this shit when it gets weirder, because it will.”

GM: Ruben shakes his head as he follows her out.

“I’ll take that too.”

Caroline: He sounds like he will. That’s something.

She hopes for his sake that it’s enough.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Caroline: The Ventrue leaves the FBI agent to his business, leaving office first and heading out to gather the ghouls with a gruff, “We’re leaving.”

They have one stop before they go at the buildings security office downstairs.

GM: The four follow after her without a word.

No one stops them along the way to their destination. It’s a typical enough security office, with rows of screens and monitors and several swivel chairs to sit in. Caroline finds, to her good fortune, that it’s completely empty of security personnel and law enforcement agents alike.

Caroline: The Ventrue sends her agents into action—and joins them—seeking to pry any security tapes of the raid and subsequent events (including their arrival and exploration of the building) from the system.

Given the option she copies them and deletes the originals, making it look like mishandling. Without the option to copy, she simply deletes.

GM: Unsurprisingly, the terminals are password-protected.

Gisèlle meets Caroline’s gaze. In her mind’s eye, the Ventrue sees blood flowing from her wrist, then a bypassed login screen.

Caroline: The heiress nods, turns her wrist over, and brings it to her fangs to draw blood.

GM: The casquette girl sits down, touches the keyboard, then types in a password. She rises for Caroline and Ferris to systematically delete the footage. Sweet has the fortune to find a spare USB stick available for copying.

Caroline: Caroline supposes it’s fortunate the ghoul is good for something. She save her questions until they’re on the road.

The Ventrue works quickly, and they’re careful to wipe their fingerprints when they’re done.

They head out into the night and rolling chaos that is the perimeter, picking through the mess to determine who has been shipped out and who remains. It’s fortunate that those inside a perimeter attract far less attention than those without. They’re much more concerned with those attempting to gain entry.

She has Ferris and Sweet make whatever calls are necessary to arrange their vehicles for immediate pickup as she tries to locate Adler.

GM: Caroline finds that she and her ghouls are not alone with the law enforcement officers in the perimeter.

A short and vaguely bookish-looking man with tan skin and dark hair is also there, talking to one of the Bureau agents. He’s dressed in a tailored black business suit with a blue necktie patterned in white longhorns. He’s trailed by two more men in suits and a woman in similarly professional attire. The larger of the men carries himself like a bodyguard. But Caroline can sense all the subtle predatory cues, from the slowness of the short man’s blinks to the distinct lack of heartbeat.

He is Kindred.

He looks at Caroline and gives a faint smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes.

“Let’s talk.”

“Excuse us,” he says to the Bureau agent.

Caroline: “Let’s,” Caroline agrees. She nods to Ferris and Sweet to continue on their business and breaks away with the two elder ghouls.

GM: They walk away from the perimeter.

“What are you doing in my city?” the vampire asks without preamble.

Caroline: The heiress bites back her initial reaction: venom and spite.

“Prince Landau, I presume,” she answers more mildly, deferentially. Her pride isn’t worth starting a conflict with a neighbor.

“My apologies for not presenting myself more presently, we arrived only minutes ago. I had hoped that Prince Vidal might have had the opportunity to send word ahead.”

“We received word that Questor Adler had been taken into FBI custody, and I was able to arrive much more swiftly than any other.”

GM: “I’ve been made aware,” the small-town prince answers perfunctorily.

“You may present yourself to me now.”

Caroline: “Begging your pardon, my prince, but to show you the respect you are due within your dominion would invite undue scrutiny in this moment: this raid specifically targeted Kindred, down to special handling instructions for the specific target.”

She doesn’t dally before continuing.

“That not withstanding, I am Eiren Caroline Malveaux-Devillers, childe of René Baristheaut, childe of Robert Bastien, childe of Lothar Constantine, childe of Dominic de Valois-Burgundy, childe of Gaius Pedius Marcellus, childe of Alexander, childe of Ventrue, and I humbly request both your forgiveness for my trespass, and permission to continue in my duties as ordered by my prince, Strategos Augusto Vidal, within your domain through this night.”

She wonders if even that humble pedigree shames the small-town tyrant.

GM: It’s an estimable enough list of names, at least from Bastien on upwards.

“I’ll give you better than my permission, Eiren,” says Landau.

“You can do it under my supervision. Bring me up to speed on what you’ve found.”

Caroline: She gives a faint bow of gratitude—limited by their publicity. “Very magnanimous, my prince.”

“Questor Adler was taken into custody a little less than an hour ago. This raid was specifically directed by someone with ties to the Domestic Security Alliance Council—presumably a highly placed hunter—with the intention of capturing her. Most of those here are catspaws, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have agents seeded into the group. Given time I’d comb through them, but we lack that.”

“Questor Adler is supposed to be taken not to the local Gulfport PD holding, but to the county jail down I-10. The guidance was specific to the route. I have not ascertained if she has been transported yet, but I do not expect we will see her again if that convoy is not intercepted in a timely manner.”

“It was my intention to locate her, if here, and if not to procure vehicles to intercept the convoy, by force if necessary.”

GM: Landau seems to consider that. He frowns slightly at the mention of procuring vehicles, but answers,

“You can borrow some of mine, then. Eiren Packard will help you. She’s a fair hand behind the wheel.”

Caroline: “As directed, my prince,” Caroline acquiesces without argument.

A ‘fair hand.’

“Is she nearby?”

It’s not lost on her that associating himself here allows him to take credit for this publicly… but nor is it lost on her that an eiren of modest breeding handling such a sensitive matter must raise some concerns for even the pauper prince.

GM: Landau removes a flip phone from his jacket pocket.

“Take two cars to the public library. Lickety-split.”

He ends the call and looks back to Caroline.

“Block and a half down 25th Ave.”

Caroline: “Thank you, Prince Landau,” she replies.

Then, “Was it possible to ascertain whether Questor Adler had been taken away yet?”

GM: “Sure was, Eiren. She’s gone. You and Packard had better be fast.”

Caroline: She refrains from offering a curse at the time wasted with formalities.

“By your leave, then.”

GM: The prince motions, dismissing her, and walks back towards the bank with his people.

Like in so many other things, it looks like it falls to the neonates to do the heavy lifting.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Caroline: The Ventrue heiress withdraws with Landau’s assent, gathering her ghouls around her as she heads down 25th Ave.

She gives them the bare minimum as they walk. “Ms. Adler is being taken to the country prison. We will intercept the vehicles transporting her with the aid of Prince Landau’s childe, who is graciously providing two vehicles.”

GM: 25th Avenue is Gulfport’s largest thoroughfare and drives home what a small city it is. Only a few buildings are more than several stories tall. Gaps between them feel more spacious. Palm trees line the avenue, swaying in the balmy seaside air.

Ferris and Sweet are gone, having been dismissed to procure vehicles, but meet Caroline outside the public library after being called over Ferris’ phone. It’s closed at this hour of the night and located next to a sleepy O’Tolley’s still seeing some traffic at the drive-thru.

“Which one, ma’am, if I might ask?” asks Sweet.

Caroline: She bites back a more biting response, and not for the first time this evening.

“Eiren Packard.”

GM: “Ah, good,” smiles the ghoul. “She’ll want to get Questor Adler recovered safe and sound.”

Caroline: “They knew about your domitor,” Caroline snaps. “Apparently she had quite the unsavory reputation.”

GM: Sweet’s eyes widen at Caroline’s first words.

At the latter ones, she just offers a sad smile.

“So do all ghouls and Kindred, ma’am, to people who know our dirty laundry.”

Caroline: “Typically the FBI isn’t on the list of people I’d expect to be read in on that.”

She continues to walk. “Questor Adler was the sole target tonight. They had special apprehension and transportation instructions for her.”

GM: “Oh, no,” the ghoul murmurs. “They knew she was Kindred, then?”

Caroline: “I suspect someone did,” Caroline answers.

Which only further reinforces what she’s come to suspect: that someone is targeting the city’s Ventrue quite aggressively.

GM: “Gisèlle identified no individuals among the Bureau agents who were more than they appeared, bayan,” states Kâmil. “But as you told Prince Landau, it is entirely possible such individuals evaded our limited scrutiny.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I expect they will have their agents waiting to take Questor Adler into custody—either on the road or at the jail.”

GM: “Is our primary objective to extract Adler or capture their agents?” asks Ferris.

Caroline: She glances at Sweet. “The former.”

GM: The ghoul looks relieved.

Caroline: “Anything else we get is simply an added benefit.”

GM: “Pros and cons to taking her into custody on the road or at the jail,” considers Ferris. “On the road, fewer witnesses, easier operation. At the jail, more possible coverups. Podunk cops make good patsies.”

Caroline: “May not get a choice. If you were a black team would you take her on the road, knowing her connections, if you wanted to shuffle her off to a site?”

GM: “Road for sure if I wanted to capture her and didn’t mind a more suspicious disappearance. She wouldn’t be in any jail cell for long.”

Caroline: “Have to catch her either way,” Caroline muses.

GM: “I find it remiss that an elder’s favored childe would be caught so easily, bayan,” observes Kâmil.

Caroline: “In what way?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Could you see this same sequence of events happening to you, bayan?”

Caroline: Caroline thinks on that one. “Odd that she was alone, that she was taken so unawares.”

GM: The Turk dips his head in concurrence.

Caroline: “Convenient that I was watching when it happened.”

Caroline turns to Sweet.

GM: “I’m certainly glad you were, ma’am, for it to get this level of response,” nods the ghoul.

Caroline: “How frequently does she do Zoom calls for Kindred business, Ms. Sweet?”

GM: “It depends on the nature of the business, ma’am. Usually Zoom calls are just to set up somethin’ else in person.”

“Though for business that can be discussed in veiled enough terms, she prefers to do over video calls than voice calls.”

“She likes to look people in the face—and let them see hers, too.”

Caroline: “And does she frequently travel to foreign cities alone?” Caroline presses.

GM: “Questor Adler doesn’t consider Gulfport to be foreign, ma’am. Gerousiastis Matheson considers the city his possession, in so many words. She feels, or I suppose felt, safe comin’ here.”

“But ever since the bank’s been relocatin’ its headquarters, she’s usually popped by here once a week.”

“Before then it was once every few weeks or so.”

Caroline: “Routines make us complacent,” the Ventrue observes to the Turk.

“But hurry makes us blind.”

Out on the interstate far from the city with only a fraction of her typical ghouls and with unknown foreign Kindred makes her awfully vulnerable.

“You think it’s a trap.”

GM: “It would be a convenient moment for one,” observes Ferris.

Caroline: She has always trusted her vision, her perspective, but how much of this could be someone playing off her own expectations?

GM: “I am uncertain, bayan,” answers Kâmil.

“It is, as Bay Ferris notes, a convenient moment for a trap.”

“Yet few are the prizes that may be won without struggle or risk.”

Caroline: Dread rolls in the pit of her stomach, and as her gaze settles again on Sweet anger blossoms. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

She rounds on the petite ghoul, her features taking on a darkly wrath.

“You know something,” she snarls.

GM: Sweat beads along the ghoul’s brow as she raises her hands placatingly.

“I-I haven’t told you everything ab-bout Questor Adler’s activities , ma’am, but it’s nothing, nothing harmful.”

Caroline: The aura of palpable menace rolls off Caroline like a dark suffocating cloud.

“Tell. Me. Now.”

GM: Ferris silently falls behind Sweet, his own face dark. He doesn’t say anything about blacksites and CIA interrogation techniques. Sometimes more words dilute the impact of your first ones. He just gets behind the ghoul and lets her feel surrounded, back exposed and vulnerable to a second and very unfriendly-looking face.

Kâmil and Gisèlle watch impassively.

“She has a bodyguard!” spills Sweet, trembling a helpless piece of debris in that darkest tempest.

“He, he was down with poisoning tonight, food poisoning.”

“He couldn’t be, be here with her.”

“I thought, okay, that, that happens, sometimes, I just…”

“Just what?” Ferris breathes behind her.

“I think she did it!” blurts the ghoul. “Poi, poisoned him!”

Caroline: Caroline glowers.

“You maintain her schedule. When did she schedule this trip? Was it after I tried to arrange a meeting?”

She glances as the casquette girl. “Can you reach the seneschal from this far away?”

GM: Gisèlle shakes her head.

Caroline: She looks back to Sweet.

She already knows the answer.

GM: “After, ma’am,” the ghoul answers quietly.

“This, this wasn’t a setup. I know her. She wasn’t acting. She is in trouble.”

Caroline: “I’m sure,” Caroline all but sneers in Sweet’s face.

But it’s not impossible. Adler already holds leverage over her, but her departure and arrival here is something that would have been difficult to predict. There’s another hand at work.

A pause.

“Who did she meet with between my request and the scheduling of this trip?”

GM: “It doesn’t matter to her either way,” observes Ferris. “If Adler’s not in trouble, and Sweet sends us after her, as planned, she’s being a good ghoul. If Adler is in trouble, maybe we save her, and if we die, oh well.”

“Good ghoul either way.”

Caroline: Caroline nods in agreement. “And she’s inclined to see the best even if she is genuine in her concern.”

“The list, Ms. Sweet. My patience runs exceptionally thin.”

“And if you lie or misrepresent something to me again I will leave you in a ditch and your domitor wherever she has found herself.”

GM: An image flits through Caroline’s mind’s eye.

Two cars have arrived.

The ghoul, meanwhile, pales at Caroline’s all-too genuine-seeming threat.

“She, I’m sorry, she saw… Primogen Hurst, Gerousiastis Matheson, Lady Speaker Defallier, Hound Doriocourt, Lady Commissioner Preston, Questor Brodowski, and Seneschal Maldonato.”

Caroline: “Wonderful, a who’s who of people that want me dead,” Caroline snaps.

She bores her eyes into the ghoul’s. “Forget this conversation,” she demands before tearing her gaze away.

“-e need to hurry,” she picks up mid sentence. “If she’s already been handed off to a second group we’ll never find her.”

GM: The still-pale ghoul blinks and nods shakily. Dread continues to roll off the Ventrue in a dark yet unseen tide.

Caroline: She brushes a hand on the the casquette girl’s as she advances towards the vehicles and sends feeling through it. Tension. Violent readiness.

“Gisèlle, can you link us across cars if they are in close proximity?”

GM: The casquette girl inclines her head.

Caroline: “Do so, I will have additional instructions once we are on the way. Mr. Ferris, please join Ms. Sweet and Gisèlle in the second vehicle.”

GM: “As you say, ma’am.”

Caroline: Her foul mood has not abated, but she buries it as best she can.

Perhaps it is her temper guiding her. The smarter move tonight is to turn around, to drive these cars back to New Orleans and report to the seneschal.

But she’s been manipulated. She’s been lied to. Deceived.

And by god, someone is going to pay for it.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: The group proceeds to the cars. They’re a pair of SUVs parked within 10 or so feet of where the conversation took place. The driver inside each is watching them. One, female, smells like Kindred even past the windshield. The other, male, smells human. Kâmil follows at Caroline’s flank.

Caroline: Caroline approaches the Kindred driver, appraising her and sliding around the car to the passenger side door before climbing inside.

GM: Most Kindred, from what Caroline’s seen, are Embraced young. Twenty-somethings, like she is. Sometimes younger, like Becky Lynne and Roxanne. The Kindred behind the wheel doesn’t look young. There are lines across a hard and determined face that looks like it’s seen more scowls than smiles over the years. She’s in her mid-late 30s, maybe, with fair skin and dirty blonde hair cut short. She wears a button-up and gray pants without any makeup or jewelry.

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She waits for Caroline, seemingly, to break the silence first.

Caroline: “They tell you what’s going on?” Caroline asks, breaking the silence.

GM: “No,” the woman answers frankly.

Caroline: “Questor Adler was picked up by federal authorities, likely being handed off for transport to a black site. We’re supposed to go get her. Somewhere down I-10 Eastbound.”

Except it’s far from that simple.

She arches an eyebrow. “Sounds like fun, eh?”

GM: “Not one bit,” answers the other vampire, then twists the ignition.

Kâmil sits in the back behind the two.

The car moves. 25th Ave rolls past. It’s not a long drive to the city’s outskirts. The whole city feels like somewhere else’s outskirts.

Caroline: Caroline lets them get into the darkness before she looks over. It’s not complicated, a simple ‘hey, what’s this?’ to get the other vampire, the older woman to look at her for a moment, and she sets to work on her mind, even as one hand snakes out lightning quick to catch the wheel and keep it steady.

“Drive as I tell you and when I next say ‘alpha’ freeze and do not move for the rest of the evening..” she demands.

GM: “Fuck y…” growls the woman, eyes hard as they bore back Caroline’s. She feels the other vampire’s will like steel beneath her. The Ventrue’s mouth opens, as if to issue some counter-command.

Caroline: “In your dreams,” she snarls.

GM: A moment passes.

No sound emerges.

The woman’s features gradually still.

She looks back towards the road and calmly resumes driving.

Kâmil is sitting forward, a large hand resting inside his jacket pocket. Upon seeing the woman’s acquiescence, he releases it and sits back.

Caroline: Caroline sighs, then slides out her phone.

“Continue onto I-10 eastbound,” she directs as she dials her sister, letting it ring.

GM: The car drives.

Cécilia picks up promptly.

“Caroline?”

Caroline: “Cécilia,” Caroline greets her. “I’m sorry, I know it’s late.”

The sound of her sister’s voice is reassuring. Calming. It pats down the anger burning under the surface.

“I’ve found myself in something of a bind. Is Maman available?”

GM: “For us? Of course.”

“And it’s fine. Do you need help?”

Caroline: “Advice at least,” she admits.

GM: “All right. I’ll go find her. What’s the situation?”

Caroline: She’s mindful of how unsecure the line is.

“I thought I was coming to help a ‘friend’ in Gulfport, but now that I’m here the entire thing seems… questionable, and I’m beginning to wonder why they called me at all.”

GM: “Oh, that is difficult,” frowns Cécilia. “Do you feel like you can’t just come home?”

Caroline: “That’s probably the smart move… but you know how I feel about people jerking me around. How much I’d prefer to confront them face to face.”

“This just seems a little… calculated. I was hoping Maman had some ideas to change the odds a bit.”

GM: “I can do that. What do you want me to pass along?”

“You know how phones really don’t agree with her.”

Caroline: “Please,” Caroline indicates. “For what it’s worth, I think that distant relative of mine, the one that lives out in the country, may be involved.”

GM: “Oh no, personally?”

Caroline: “Hard to say, but… starting to think so. I brought a couple old friends out, and there aren’t many other people I can think of that would want to get into it with them if it gets ugly.”

GM: There’s a pause.

“She thinks that’s unlikely.”

“That he’d rather ask someone else to get involved for him.”

Caroline: “Awkward. You know how much I hate backing down from a confrontation.”

GM: “Oh? No, she doesn’t think he’s there himself.”

“Probably one of his friends, children, or employees, if it’s him.”

Caroline: “Funnily enough, the friend I came out to help was one of his daughter. Seemed like if someone wanted to cause trouble they wouldn’t just send her though.”

“Especially since, you know, he knows me.”

GM: “Is there any benefit to sticking around? She says she’d be inclined to leave, do some digging, and confront whoever’s involved on her terms, rather than on someone else’s.”

Caroline: “I involved a couple of other people getting out here. Bummed a ride… and if I’m wrong and his daughter is in trouble she’d be in a pretty bad spot.”

“And I hate backing down.”

GM: “Maman says that’s your pride talking,” Cécilia says in a lightly chiding tone.

“Do you think helping out his daughter is worth the risk of getting burned?”

“Nothing good without effort, and all that, it’s mainly a question of how important this is to you.”

Caroline: “It is. Pride talking,” she admits.

“But you know how it is. If you let people push you around, they’ll just keep pushing.”

GM: “Maman says you should always push back. Just on a battlefield of your choosing, and not someone else’s.”

“What about the daughter, though? Is this a now or never thing?”

Caroline: “Seems likely,” Caroline answers.

“I’m also concerned that if I walk away without making the attempt it’ll disappoint dad.”

GM: “That is tricky, then. What can we do to help?”

Caroline: “Well, if it’s not him, the only thing I’d be concerned about is unfavorable numbers. You know how brave people get when they think they have the advantage.”

“I don’t suppose she could do anything about that?”

GM: “Numbers?”

A pause.

“She says your father or his husband might be better able to help you, there.”

Caroline: She gives a faint smile. “I understand, I’d met a friend who could always seem to conjure up friends from out of nowhere, I’d hoped she might do the same.”

GM: Another pause.

“Maman says your friend probably knows nicer friends than she does.”

Caroline: Caroline smirks and pauses to give direction to her dominated driver again.

“Understandable. Does she have any recommendations on not getting psyched out, beyond the norm? I’m a little concerned about them getting in my head.”

GM: “I’m afraid not. That’s something you want to avoid all of the time.”

Caroline: “Well, I feel better having at least talked about it.”

GM: “She thinks maybe using some patsies to feel things out from a distance? That’s very easy for you to set up.”

“Anything that balks their plans and makes things not turn out the way they expect.”

Caroline: “Not going how they expect? Cécilia, that’s my specialty.”

GM: Cécilia laughs.

“That’s too true.”

“Are you going to get help from your dad or stepdad?”

Caroline: “You know how hard they can be to reach. Never picking up their phones.” Caroline observes.

GM: “Oh, their PAs, too?”

Caroline: “No harm in trying I suppose.” Caroline agrees.

“We’re getting close. Should make that call now. Give Maman my love?”

GM: “She says she loves you too. So do I.”

Caroline: “I’ll see you when I get back,” Caroline answers, ending the call.

GM: Ahead, the highway steadily rolls past the windshield.

Caroline: Caroline picks out Congo’s contact information and hits call.

GM: “Hello, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” the ghoul greets.

Caroline: “Good evening Mr. Congo,” Caroline replies.

She wastes little time in explaining the situation to the ancient ghoul as opaquely as she can over the phone without losing context, pausing to answer question as required.

She relays that the circumstances appear suspicious, as does the timing, and that she is increasingly concerned this may be a setup of some kind. The fact that Adler was alone. The damning suspicion she forced from the terrified ghoul that Adler had poisoned her bodyguard. The scheduling of the trip and their video call. The waiting prince with his brood and readily available cars.

She also touches on how few might know that she could get out here this quickly. She intend on proceeding, barring an order to divert, but is far from comfortable with the situation.

GM: Congo receives Caroline’s news gravely. He states that he does not believe his domitor would condone Caroline proceeding into what appears to be a trap—nor does he endorse the same. The seneschal’s ghoul quotes Sun Tzu on avoiding battles fought on the enemy’s terms: “Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him.”

Congo concurs that he finds suspicion in Adler being alone, her bodyguard potentially being poisoned, and the scheduling of the trip.

Congo does not find Prince Landau’s waiting cars to be suspicious, however. He states that Primogen Hurst called ahead to notify his kin in Gulfport about Adler’s situation (no doubt reasoning they could reach her faster than he), and is in fact en route to Gulfport himself, with such allies as he could muster on short notice.

Caroline: “You would have us turn away, then?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Let me consult my employer, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. He shall be available very soon. In the interim, I can provide Mr. Hurst’s contact information if you lack it, so that you might coordinate activities. I do not believe it productive for him to make the trip out to Gulfport if his sister is no longer there.”

Caroline: Caroline takes down the contact info, but caveats, “Better to avoid reaching out to Mr. Hurst until we have confirmed your employer wishes us to proceed. I expect he will take it poorly if we decide not to. I’ll await your call Mr. Congo.”

She rolls over scenarios in her mind, the least likely possibilities receding with time.

Does Matheson know that the seneschal can catapult a group a hundred miles away in minutes? Perhaps. Does he know he could do so for Caroline? That she would immediately reach out to the seneschal, that she is within his grace? Perhaps less likely.

So how would this trap work, if it is a trap? The next quickest transport from the city would likely be… with Hurst. With whatever ghouls Hurst might assemble. Perhaps without her own, due to loading requirements on a helicopter.

Is that the play? Hurst and Adler overpowering her with their ghouls, alone out here?

If so, the proper reaction is to move quickly. Take Adler before Hurst can arrive and bring the matter before her sire. Let him discover the truth of it back in New Orleans, where her allies are.

GM: “Mr. Hurst is already en route to Gulfport, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” Congo continues. “The sooner he is notified, the sooner he might join you. I do not believe my employer would object to this, especially when the situation has proven more dire than initially believed.”

“And whatever else has come to pass with Miss Adler, Mr. Hurst is loyal to your father above all other men.”

Caroline: She mulls that thought. “Has the truth of that been disclosed to Mr. Hurst?”

It’s one matter to move against the prince’s childe. It’s another against the troublesome Ms. Malveaux, sireless neonate who has given offense to his own.

GM: “It has not been, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. Yet the company you presently travel in is most unusual for one of your presumed parentage.”

Caroline: “I’ll reach out,” she agrees. “And I’ll await your call, Mr. Congo.”

GM: “Very good, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. We shall speak again soon.”

Caroline: Caroline has ridden in enough helicopters to know that a phone call is a losing proposition. She shifts to text.

_Just stopped by to visit your sister but she wasn’t home. I think she headed east with some friends. _

GM: The response back is immediate.

Where to?

Caroline: She drops and sends a pin, not directly on top of the jail but close to it.

Not sure if she’s arrived yet.

GM: Good to know. Who’s she driving with?

Caroline: Not sure, your cousin in Gulfport might know. He told me she’d left.

GM: I’ll get in touch. Where you headed?

Caroline: Was going to try and meet her there. I’m a little ahead of you.

GM: You up for it?

Caroline: Goading her, or doubting her?

Of course.

GM: Good luck. I’ll try to catch up .

Caroline: She’s left wondering if that’s a good or a bad thing.

GM: “I can confirm Primogen Hurst’s loyalty to our prince, bayan,” states Kâmil. “My domitor believes him trustworthy. One of the most trustworthy Kindred remaining among the Sanctified.”

“I would not refuse his help against adversaries of unknown strength and numbers.”

Caroline: Her sire(s) also believes Donovan to be a loyal servant, and she knows well how folly that belief is.

“I did not decline it, but this matter will be much easier if concluded before the jail.”

GM: “I have little doubt as to that fact, bayan. Yet your continued safety is my foremost duty, above Miss Adler’s retrieval.”

Caroline: “I cannot be made of porcelain,” Caroline answers.

GM: “Perhaps not, bayan. Such matters are above my concern.”

Caroline’s phone rings. The caller ID is Congo’s.

Caroline: She answers.

GM: “I have consulted my employer, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. He is ill-inclined to abandon Miss Adler in her hour of need, if that need is genuine, yet he is also ill-inclined to fight any battle upon so unfavorable a field. He is attempting to gather further intelligence as to your battlefield’s nature.”

“For now, he wishes you to maintain your present course. I will call you again when there is new information.”

Caroline: Caroline isn’t surprised.

She knows better than most that the seneschal is anything but objective where Adler is concerned. That he blames himself for her Embrace. Not the for the first time, she wonders how it came to pass. Regardless, his vision is clouded.

As clouded as her own is at the prospect of a challenge. At the idea that someone has underestimated her, the idea that they believe they can best her.

She wonders when she became this way. When she stopped running from fights and started running to them. It’s reckless. Foolish. And yet… she can’t help herself.

Maybe it’s her bloodline, the arrogance of her deathright overwhelming her sensibilities. Perhaps it’s the predatory nature of all Kindred.

Regardless, she doesn’t argue. Unwise though it is, she agrees with the seneschal in this matter: let them come.

“I understand. Thank you, Mr. Congo.”

When she’s concluded the call she informs Kâmil of their orders: press on.

GM: Maybe it’s two of her bloodlines.

Her father is no warrior. He was not Embraced into this life. But would he have run from a similar challenge?

Arrogance did not come from her deathright alone.

“Very well, bayan,” concurs Kâmil.

If the Turkish bodyguard believes this course of action unwise, he holds his tongue, and stares motionlessly ahead into the onrushing night.

“Then we commit ourselves wholly to victory.”


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: The two cars drive and drive. There is little enough traffic on the remote highway at this late hour. Yellow-stripped asphalt rushes endlessly past under endless night sky.

GM: The hard-faced vampire silently steers the wheel. Kâmil looks at her at one point and remarks, “This one despises subservience,” but says nothing further.

Eventually, Caroline gets another call from Congo.

The seneschal’s ghoul informs her in so many words that Adler is handcuffed in the back of a police van still en route to the county jail. She has enspelled the minds of several police officers on board. They are not breaking their orders, but they view her with great sympathy and arresting her is breaking their hearts. They were engaged in conversation with her. Maldonato believes Adler is counting on being broken out procedurally, rather than attempting to escape through her own powers, but has subverted the officers’ minds as a ‘just in case’.

Caroline: Caroline can’t say much about that, looking at their unwilling driver. She did much the same.

It raises more uncomfortable questions though, about what game Adler is playing at, and why. Why draw Caroline out, if that was even the intention?

GM: “My employer will continue his investigations. Is there aught else you desire to know, Miss Malveaux-Devillers?” inquires Congo.

Caroline: “How far are we from them? Can we overtake them? If so, where? Their numbers as well.”

GM: “I shall ask, Miss Malveax-Devillers. Is there further else?”

Caroline: “Does she appear distressed?”

It feels disrespectful using the seneschal as her spy, but it is the position they’re in.

GM: Perhaps he would consider the cause a worthy one, if it has already clouded his judgment.

A pause.

“You will be able to overtake them in several minutes at your current speed. You will still be on the highway. There are four officers inside the vehicle.”

“Miss Adler is engaging the officers in conversation about their interests and families. She does not appear unduly distressed, but grace during times of trial is a virtue of your family’s.”

Caroline: “Then we’ll see her shortly, and we’ll see what is to come. Thank you for your aid, Mr. Congo.”

GM: “You are welcome, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. Yet if you believe matters here are more than they appear, my employer remains skeptical that four police officers is the totality of the opposition you may face.”

“The circumstances of Miss Adler’s bodyguard’s ‘illness’ remain deeply troubling to him.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “The die is cast, Mr. Congo. Our strength will be sufficient or it will not. If not, there are painfully few that could have anticipated this course of action, and I trust your employer and my father’s wrath will do honor to my memory.”

“Now is the time for action. The analysis may follow.”

She says her goodbyes to the elder ghoul and turns to the plan of action, teaching out mentally to Gisèlle as well to pass the plan to the trusted agents in the other vehicle as she explains to Kâmil.

The intent is for the vehicle Caroline is in to accelerate past the police van, then flip around and accelerate towards it at high speed, leaving Kâmil on the side of the road if necessary prior to doing so. Caroline will bail out just before the collision, trusting her speed to carry her and the other vampire free from the vehicle. She can see no other reason the vehicle carrying a prisoner could be convinced to stop. The collision will likely injure the police inside, and allow them to quickly overpower any remaining resistance and release Ms. Adler.

She is inclined to leave behind Sweet in Adler’s place, warping the memory of applicable police as required… or leaving behind Sweet’s corpse if required. A mangled blonde recovered from the crash site.

She’s also inclined to leave the follow-on cleanup to Hurst. The trap, such as this is, is better avoided by speed.

GM: Kâmil considers Caroline’s proposal.

“I may survive a car crash without undue injury, bayan. A steered vehicle is more likely to hit its mark than an out of control one in any case. If we are to execute this plan, I believe I should remain behind the wheel.”

“I, too, see little we could say to convince the lawmen aboard to stop their vehicle. Perhaps an inconvenience or obstacle placed on the road ahead could do so.”

The Turk gives a sad smile.

“I believe my domitor would seek an alternative to the deaths of these men and woman. But he is not here and your plan is efficacious. Your command is mine.”

Caroline: “A vehicle steered by her,” she gestures to their dominated vampire companion, “is even more likely, and risks not your life. At worst, I can revive her.”

She pauses.

“For what it’s worth, I find it unlikely even a high speed collision with this vehicle will kill any onboard the van. The mass advantage on the van means the collision will be far worse on this vehicle. Casualties are possible, but seem more likely the product of fortune’s cruel hand than foregone,” she offers, trying to assuage the Turk’s conscience.

She doesn’t especially want to murder police officers either. And a drunk driver colliding with the vehicle while suspicious is not impossible, or even implausible.

She hopes Landau has properly insulated his assets from himself. And that he has good insurance.

GM: “I do not believe Primogen Hurst, Prince Landau, or Miss Alder are likely to think well of you for using one of their kin in such a manner, bayan,” Kâmil offers mildly, glancing once more at their driver. “Nor Miss Packard herself.”

Caroline: “Better then that she remember this as her own daring idea, and her the eager participant,” Caroline offers.

She can’t make everyone happy.

GM: “I believe I could serve in the role you intend, bayan, without worsening your clanmates’ esteem of you. My domitor is gravely concerned that too many Kindred view the name of Miss Malveaux-Devillers with indifference or hostility.”

“But if it is your will to use Miss Packard in this manner, I remain yours to command.”

Caroline: “I am disinclined to risk the lives or well-being of those that serve me, even for a brief time, to further nebulous ends,” Caroline answers the elder ghoul starkly.

She sighs.

“But as ill at ease as it would leave me to do so, wisdom would seem as much listening to elder counsel as following your own better inclinations. If you wish it, if you believe it wise…. I will defer to your experience in this matter.”

GM: The large man inclines his head.

“My domitor has tasked me with your protection, bayan. He did not specify whether this protection was to extend beyond ensuring your immediate physical safety, but I believe this course of action is within the spirit of his orders.”

Caroline: “Then we’ll do it your way, Kâmil.”

Caroline confirms that Gisèlle is tracking the plan as well—their second car will be the ‘getaway’ as it were, arriving on the scene immediately after the crash.

GM: Some of the disadvantages of telepathic communication become apparent when Caroline realizes she cannot initiate communication with the casquette girl.

Eventually, though, she feels Gisèlle’s mind touch hers. There is a sense of acknowledgement and images of the other ghouls’ faces as the plan is conveyed to them.

Well, all but Sweet.

Ferris approves of killing the blonde. Good way to throw people off Adler’s trail. She likely won’t get a better time to stage her death.

Caroline: Caroline is hardly shocked by Ferris’ approval. But that’s why he’s there: to provide the ruthless perspective.

The plan comes together neatly: Caroline and the other vampire will bail out when they turn around after passing the van, allowing Kâmil to steer the car into the police van. Ferris and Gisèlle will arrive to follow in the second vehicle and with Caroline subdue the injured police officers and release Adler, staging the scene to look like a drunk driver or joyriding thief struck the vehicle, intending to hand over or further facilitate that stage through the follow on arrival of Hurst.

GM: The casquette girl relays that Ferris and Sweet approve of this plan (or at least, the latter does of what portions she knows). Kâmil repeats that he believes it to be an efficacious one. He takes over the wheel.

The highway continues to roll past the cars as they accelerate to catch up. It’s not long before the police van appears in the headlights of Caroline’s vehicle. There’s little to see that’s out of the ordinary in it. It’s a white van with sirens (not currently wailing red and blue into the night) and a sheriff’s badge on the striped sides.

Kâmil puts his foot on the accelerator as he changes lanes, swerving into the left, then back to the right after he clears the police van. Its sirens start to angrily flash from behind.

Maybe he’ll get a ticket.

Caroline: She expects given the option he’d get worse than that for what’s to come.

GM: Kâmil speeds ahead of the police van, then swerves around back into its lane and drives straight towards it.

Caroline: Caroline, having since given their ‘driver’ her safety word, bails out with her, trusting unholy speed and toughness to soften the blow.

GM: They hit the asphalt as the car roars past them. The motionless woman stares up at Caroline with undisguised hate.

It’s gone as swiftly as it appeared, though, returning to the telltale placidity of the mesmerized.

The police van tries to swerve aside when they see Kâmil’s car is headed straight at them. Sirens scream red and blue.

The ghoul’s vehicle collides into the front of the van with a tremendous crash. Tires screech against tarmac. Glass shatters. Steel and aluminum crumples.

Caroline: She winces.

She can’t help it. She could claim its a result of her heightened, near-superhuman senses, but that would be a lie.

She winces at the violence. At the destruction. At the knowledge that once again she’s ordered others to conduct violence on her behalf, that lives have been damaged if not destroyed in an instance.

It’s ridiculous. Arbitrary. She’s watched her mother snuff out lives by the score. She’s taken so many lives herself that she can barely remember all the faces, much less the names.

But she does nonetheless.

There’s little time to gawk though. They have to take the vehicle and escape. She rises, leaving the frozen vampire where she lies nearby, and blurs towards the van.

GM: The van hasn’t toppled over. Her own car, much as she said, has too little mass. But the police van has careened to the side and come to a final-looking stop. The front of the vehicle is smashed in and one of the headlights has gone out, and the two police in the front seats aren’t moving. The air bag has exploded in the face of the one in the driver’s seat. Caroline can’t make out much of him beyond arms and shoulders. The second man looks in worse shape: he’s smashed his head directly into the dashboard. Neither man moves. She’d need to be up close to see more, but the vampire smells an unmistakable scent:

Blood.

Her former car looks in worse shape than the van. It’s been totalled. The horn blares ceaselessly, joining the cacophony of the ceaselessly wailing sirens. Caroline sees movement behind the air bag before Kâmil extracts himself from the bent-looking doors. The ghoul’s formerly crisp suit looks rumpled, and there’s glass over his head and shoulders, but he looks little worse for the experience as he brushes it off.

Thoughts then well in Caroline’s head. Ferris’ voice and the image of Sweet.

:: Say when you want her dead. ::

Sounds of movement, meanwhile, are audible from inside the rear of the van.

Caroline: “Check them,” Caroline instructs Kâmil, gesturing to the two officers in the front seats. She moves to the rear of the van.

::Not yet. Let’s see what card Ms. Adler has to play::

GM: Kâmil finds the door locked, then punches in what remains of the crack-lined glass and fiddles with the lock. Moans sound from the front seat.

The second car edges closer, headlights bathing Caroline under their harsh glare.

The van’s rear door opens a few moments later. Becky Lynne climbs out. Her hair is a mess and her once-neat clothes are rumpled, but her dead flesh doesn’t look worse than scuffs and bruises.

The same cannot be said for the two police officers lying in heaps on the floor. Neither was wearing a seatbelt. A pair of handcuffs lies on the ground.

“Why, Eiren Malveaux-Devillers, what a surprise to see you here,” the other Ventrue smiles.

Caroline: I bet, Caroline doesn’t observe.

“Happy to be of any service, Questor Adler. I trust your time in their custody was not excessively unpleasant,” Caroline answers, looking at the two crumpled police officers.

“Our vehicle is arriving in a moment, and your brother is on his way via helicopter to help clean this matter up.”

“There’s an outstanding question I will pass to your discretion before we depart.”

GM: “Much less unpleasant for me than it’s turned out for them, but thank you for askin’,” Becky Lynne replies.

“I’d counted on bein’ released by lawyers,” she says with a growing frown. “My gettin’ out this way could cause more headaches than it ends. But if my brother’s on the way, then okay, I’ll trust you’re followin’ whatever plan he thought best.”

She turns back and kneels by one of the fallen officers, feeling his neck.

“He’s got a pulse, but I’m afraid I don’t have your first aid know-how. Will these gentlemen make it without vitae?”

Caroline: Caroline approaches them to find out, speaking at she does. “After speaking with the agents at the scene it felt unwise to trust to an early release in that manner: they’d been cued very irregularly, very swiftly, to specifically pick up the identity you use for these dealings, Questor Adler. This was not simply a random raid.”

She doesn’t mention they wanted her transported separately. Or that Adler sent her guard away. Or that this whole thing appears to have been staged by her.

She doesn’t turn her back on Adler.

“I might propose that it might be best for Mr. Campbell’s niece to have died in this tragic accident.”

GM: The two fallen officers remain motionless on the van’s floor as Caroline approaches them.

“That’s a big decision to make,” says Becky Lynne. “I’ll want to consult with my sire and brother first, and find out what exactly what’s happened at the bank. Somewhat moot anyways without a body.”

“Though I do suppose there’ll need to be an explanation for what’s become of Miss Campbell if I’m not stickin’ around. This is a Masquerade pickle. Who else is here with you, Eiren?”

Caroline: “Ms. Sweet jumps most readily to mind,” Caroline answers. “She’s in the second vehicle.”

GM: “I’m not quite that cold-blooded, Eiren Malveaux-Devillers,” Becky Lynne smiles. “Who else is on-scene?”

Caroline: “Eiren Packard, one of her ghouls, and several of mine,” Caroline answers.

It’s even technically true.

And the seneschal watching.

She tries not to allow the tension that fills her at that admission to show.

If this is a trap for her this is the moment it will spring. Her mind runs through the possibilities. Obfuscated individuals in the van? The two ‘police officers’ in the back as ghouls? Just Adler herself, believing she can slip a stake into the lightning-fast Ventrue?

GM: Caroline knows better than to risk further injury to the cops by moving them. Even a layman could tell, though, that the fact they’re unresponsive is probably not good. Caroline recalls a statistic from her pre-med days that a shocking number of police officers don’t wear seatbelts. They believe it will prevent them from getting to their firearm or or being able to quickly exit their vehicle to address a violent threat. Law enforcement has a lot of people who view themselves as 10 feet tall, bulletproof, and somehow exempt from the laws of physics.

Here, at least, the statistic has proven true. Physical bruises are in abundance. One cop directly smashed his head into the side of the van. He’s unconscious. It looks bad. He’s probably looking at a TBI. Internal injuries might be in the cards. He should be able to make it, though, if he gets to a hospital in time.

The other cop slowly starts to stir and clutches his side. He flew off his seat and crashed into the opposite steel bench at an bad angle. The protruding section slammed right into his stomach. He might as well have gotten hit by a medieval mace. Blood wells from his mouth, definitely indicating internal injuries and uncertain survival (how long before an ambulance can arrive?), as he moans,

“Uuuhhgghhh…”

Becky Lynne’s eyes sharply cut towards him. “I don’t fancy giving either of these gentlemen a vitae habit, but it beats dying. Are they goin’ to make it?”

Caroline: She gestures. “The first could die, but its not likely. Traumatic brain injury is touchy.”

“He’s in worse shape.” She gestures to the second as he coughs up blood. “Internal injuries. Something’s ruptured, maybe multiple somethings. He could bleed out, and depending on the surgeon on duty, even the hospital could be a question mark.”

“Idiots not wearing their seatbelts.”

GM: “I told them they should,” says Becky Lynne, shaking her head.

She kneels, bites her wrist, and extends it to the wounded lawman’s mouth. He drinks desperately once the taste hits his tongue, but the other Ventrue doesn’t let him do so for long.

“You were knocked out durin’ the crash. You never woke up. Go back to sleep.”

Caroline: Caroline watches but offers no commentary until she’s finished. “I doubt they were inclined to listen to the advice of their charge—especially since you were the specific target of this raid, Questor Adler.”

GM: Becky Lynne frowns.

“We can use these gentlemens’ radios to call for help, though there needs to be an explanation for what happened to Miss Campbell. Bother if this isn’t a Masquerade pickle. I can’t well stay on the lamb.”

Caroline: “Forgive me for observing so bluntly, Ms. Adler, but you do not appear especially surprised or concerned that this identity was compromised.”

GM: “Questor Adler, Eiren Malveaux-Devillers,” she corrects, though not unkindly. “Surprise and concern is well and good if it leads to action, but right now there’s not much to be done for it.”

Caroline: “If this identity is compromised, presumably by hunters, the action I would advise is burying it here and now.”

GM: “Perhaps I will, Eiren, but not here and now at Peggy’s expense,” says Becky Lynne.

“We’d best be off. One of your people can call an ambulance for these gentlemen.”

Caroline: “As you wish, Questor.” Caroline isn’t going to argue with the older Ventrue about how to handle their own Masquerade.

She moves around to the front of the van and finds the siren under the slumped over man in the driver seat, turning it off, then raises her voice. “You can come out now.”

On the drive over they’d accounted for several contingencies with Packard, including things going off without a hitch. Better if the secret of her domination was restricted to Kâmil and Caroline, and that they raised as few questions as possible with Adler. That particular command phrase replaced her memories of the drive with the planning for this exact course of action, with Packard hanging back to provide backup in case things went wrong.

GM: The word stabs through Caroline’s mind like a stake to the heart. Her mother’s voice, urgent with warning. To act. Now.

No questions. No time.

RUN

Caroline: There are few things Caroline can imagine would set her mother to place fear in her heart.

She doesn’t want to imagine what those things are.

Caroline blurs in the night: back down I-5. Towards New Orleans. Towards the second car. Towards her mother.

She gropes in the night for the casquette girl’s mental touch. We’re going, NOW!

Her rational mind is already working. She’s faster than the car, but blurring down the road makes her a very obvious target. A vehicle can blend with the kine.

She could vanish off-road, but she knows, at least in principle, the monsters that wait out in the wilderness. Out there is no safety there for one of her kind.

No, the best chance is to get back into the car, beside her casquette girl bodyguard, and hurtling through the night at a hundred miles an hour in a cage of steel that works both ways.

GM: Caroline’s hyper-alert and razor-sharp eyes notice it.

A patch of night air, where rain does not fall through.

Then the police van explodes as it’s blasted off the road, as though flung by an unseen hand.

Fire lights up the sky. Caroline’s Beast shrieks in instinctive alarm as her ears ring and shrapnel rains everywhere, though between her inhumanly fast reflexes, her mother’s forewarning, and the vehicle’s sudden dislocation, the Ventrue escapes unscathed. A wooden stake flies into Caroline’s hands as a second voice echoes through her mind.

:: Your foe is accelerating towards you from directly ahead and is armed with a stake. He does not believe you can perceive him. His heart is approximately 70 inches off the ground. ::

Caroline: The fire is a distraction—but not an effective one. Not tonight. There’s only a single moment that matters, a single moment to strike. A moment in which this contest will be decided one way or the other.

The second balances on the edge of a knife, and so she plays her part, obvious to her attacker, confused, torn by her terrified Beast.

She plays it until she’s close enough to strike, luring in her attacker closer and closer, and then the moment slows. She turns slightly, presenting her right side to him. With a heart 70 inches off the ground she knows the attacker has a substantial reach advantage—she needs to buy back distance. Force him to extend further, come in closer. She’d prefer to strike with her left, but space and distance matter much more in this moment than precision.

The second turns into a minute, then an hour, time slowing.

It’s not that different than when she was fencing—the moment you commit, in which a fraction of a second decides winner and loser. Except in this contest its a fraction of a fraction.

And god does she feel alive in this moment.

She wanted this, didn’t she? To spring the trap? To see if she was stronger, was faster, was smarter? To test herself against this enemy here to destroy her, and cast them into the dirt at her feet.

How many times could she have walked away, have broken off, have turned around?

No, she wanted this fight. Because Caroline Malveaux-Devillers will be no princess of spun glass hiding in her sire’s castle. She cannot be. Not just because the moment demands it, but because that is not who she is.

Her stake comes up. She thrusts, her whole body extended, arm held perfectly straight, angled upwards, in line with her shoulder even as she drops her center of gravity, moves her heart from where it was a moment ago, makes her attacker reach down.

The stake drives towards the nothingness she know hides him like a bolt of lightning.

GM: She said it once, not a lifetime ago, but near the end of her lifetime:

“Dirty men in dirtier times killing each other in bloody and brutal ways. What’s not to romanticize? For me it was about that moment when you lined up across from the other person, when you knew that the only thing that mattered was which of you was better, and the only thing that mattered was that.”

Something hard and unyielding painfully stabs into Caroline’s chest.

She collapses forward.

Then the stake becomes visible as the pressure behind it abruptly releases.

It lightly clatters to the asphalt, just as something heavier crashes after it.

Rain falls over the road.

Rain falls, but stops short over a body-shaped patch from which a second stake protrudes.

Caroline: A grim smile forces its way over bloodless, tight stretched lips.

Close.

So close.

It’s the best way to win. She can almost feel her heart beating in her chest, the feeling of being alive. Even if it does hurt like a son of a bitch.

She cups the protruding shaft from her chest with a hand, ripping it from her breast with a snarl as she reorients on the rest of the world. On the police van, burning, destroyed. On the approaching car. On Kâmil, wherever he may lie. And on the source of this little excursion.

Adler.

She grips the stake intended for her heart with kill in her eyes.

They gambled. They believed they could take her. They lost.

It’s her turn.

She plants a foot on the chest of her attacker, her defeated foe, driving the stake further in.

Surrounded by death, destruction, and violence, she is in this moment content. Controlled. Commanding.

GM: As Caroline turns to regard Kâmil, she sees that he is exchanging gunfire with two camo-garbed men. No sound is audible as the muzzles of their firearms flash. The ghoul looks badly scored by shrapnel and fire alike, but also seems to be more than holding his own as his .44 magnum drops both attackers to the ground. Becky Lynne, who looks at least as bad, crosses the distance in the blur and orders one man, “Freeze,” as she yanks his gun from his hands.

Gunshots suddenly split the night. Some come from the trees. Others come from the nearby parked car, where Packard is shooting from behind a door’s cover.

Abruptly, the car explodes in a conflagration of fire and shrapnel. The nearby Ventrue howls as she burns, then races across the asphalt to sink her fangs into the man not yet disarmed by Becky Lynne.

Caroline: She gropes in the darkness of her mind for the voice that pointed her at the first Kindred.

:: Where is the second, the sorcerer? ::

She overcame her initial attacker, but the battle is turning into a muddy brawl where anything that can go wrong will, and they still do not have identities on their attackers—or knowledge of their strength.

They need to make their escape, but with the destruction of the second vehicle leaping into a third at the moment, without addressing the source of the explosions, feels like suicide.

GM: Footsteps thump against asphalt. Gisèlle blurs down the highway, half-dragging Ferris after her. The parked car with the other ghouls explodes behind them. The casquette girl and ex-CIA agent drop to the ground.

Two simultaneous images fill Caroline’s mind. Two more camo-garbed men armed with rocket launchers.

Her body is directly in the target scopes.

Caroline: There’s a moment of intellectual fear—she can conceptualize what a weapon like that will do to her body—that she shoves down. She’s grateful that the Beast does not understand things like rockets and explosives. It’s just as well, this is a task for Caroline, not a Beast.

It’s trivial to extrapolate their position—relatively—based on how her profile fills their scope, and then she’s off.

Fortunately for her, large tube-launched rockets are designed to kill vehicles—especially large bulky ones. Not lightning fast human sized targets in the night at relatively close range. Maybe from a mile off they might have had a chance—the field of view wide enough. But they’re not a mile off.

They’re humans, and they’re in the dark with a nearly bulletproof vampire that moves faster than they can think.

It’s almost criminal, especially as she moves away from the light cast by the burning vehicles.

She zips into the night. A stake isn’t an ideal weapon against a human, but humans are so fragile.

GM: Two more explosions rock the night as the spot where Caroline stood erupts in flame. The Ventrue blurs out of the incendiary missiles’ pathways, fast enough to only suffer moderate burns instead of complete immolation, but she cannot outrun the Beast within. Rational thought burns away as the red haze descends.

When Caroline comes to, she’s standing over a dead man with his throat ripped out. The stake formerly in her hands is gruesomely buried into his chest with its once-all-too alive and beating heart. Adrenaline-spiked blood lingers on her tongue as it runs down her chin. Not piss-tasting, like so much other mortal vitae.

Her lucky night. The man must have been attending college.

Caroline: If she feels any remorse for the murder, it doesn’t show. Even were she human, even were her conscience not a whimpering, simpering voice locked deep in her mind, even if she knew him as anything more than a fool that came out here with a weapon—he was literally trying to murder her.

It was him or her, and she’s satisfied that it was him.

She wipes the worst of the blood from her face with the back of her hand, resisting the temptation to lick it up like the sweet nectar it is. Charred flesh flakes away, replaced by first pink, then pale flesh beneath.

GM: :: The others have dispatched your remaining assailant. I can account for no other foes in your immediate area. Rendezvous with Primogen Hurst and return to Perdido House with Miss Adler and the assassin. ::

Caroline: She nods, “By your will, Seneschal,” not trusting to the coming and going of his telepathic touch.

She turns and heads back out to the street and the Masquerade nightmare.

GM: She finds the other ghouls and vampires regrouping near the totaled police van. Everyone looks burned and hurt, except for the disarmed man, who stares ahead with a sleepy look on his face.

Caroline’s invisible foe has been dragged up along with the others, if the stake seemingly hovering in the air is any indication.

Caroline: Brazen doesn’t begin to describe the attack. Automatic weapons. mortals and ghouls. Explosives. Rocket launchers. And an obfuscated assassin.

She almost admires their gall.

There are four dead police officers to explain, three torched vehicles hit with rocket launchers. Two dead ghouls and multiple dead attackers.

On the bright side, they have a charred corpse to replace Adler in the van.

She looks over the injured faces of her ghouls, and of the other two vampires. “We’re leaving as soon as Primogen Hurst arrives. Who needs blood before that?”

GM: “Gisèlle and I shall recover, bayan,” says Kâmil. As he speaks, the two’s charred and perforated skin begins to return to their normal hues, though the ghouls’ clothes remain in shreds.

Ferris similarly waves her off as his wounds start to heal.

“My brother should be here soon to help with the Masquerade cleanup,” says Becky Lynne. “We need to get these cars off the road, to start with. It’s anyone’s guess how long before another motorist will come along.”

Packard scowls.

Caroline: “I’m sorry for your losses tonight,” Caroline tells the ill-tempered woman.

“Rockets. Fucking madness,” she spits.

“They paid.” She gestures to the woods. “And he,” she kicks the staked vampire, “will answer for it all.”

The Ventrue digs out the burner she’s been using and tosses it to Adler. “Your brother is the most recent call. It’s not a secure line, but it isn’t linked to me.”

“Kâmil, do what you can to help stage the scene, move the worst off the road. Ferris, help him.”

She kneels before the staked vampire.

“While we wait I’m curious as to what’s behind door number one.” She digs a finger around the stake, wetting it with the vampire’s blood, and brings it to her lips. “Who thought they could kill me.”

Her expression twists, then vanishes behind the Ventrue mask.

Someone has gone through a great deal of trouble to arrange this. She’ll be fascinated to discover who and what parts the players tonight played. The late breaking meeting. The missing bodyguard. The suspiciously well-timed attack.

Her gaze sweeps over Packard, Adler, and her prisoner.

Fortunately most of the players are here. She doesn’t play her hand just yet. Not until they’re back in the city. But she doesn’t forget, and she doesn’t forgive.

She’s much like her sire in that way.

GM: Kâmil and Ferris incline their heads and move off towards the nearest ruined car.

Becky Lynne presses a delicate finger to the same spot around the stake, then dabs it against her tongue.

“The helicopter has room for a pilot and three passengers,” she then says. “So that’s me, Eiren Malveaux-Devillers, and our guest, though my brother knows how to fly it—I expect he’ll want to see me back himself. I expect he’s brought some more ghouls he can leave to help with things.”

She taps into the phone.

“Fucking wonderful way to spend a night,” snaps Packard. “I lose a ghoul, get chewed out by my sire for losing his ghoul, plus the cars, and get stranded here cleaning up someone else’s Masquerade breach. You big city licks are all the same.”

“Peggy is dead,” Becky Lynne responds quietly. “I don’t think there’s anyone who’s happy with tonight’s events, Eiren Packard.”

Caroline: “I’m certain too Questor Adler’s sire will be rather pleased to hear of the part you played in her rescue,” Caroline observes.

“Your actions will be recognized.”

The prospect of crawling into a helicopter with Hurst and Adler turns Caroline’s stomach, but she says nothing for now of it.

GM: “Yes, I’m mighty obliged to you and Eiren Malveaux-Devillers both,” says Becky Lynne, inclining her head towards both clanmates. “I thought staying put was the right call, but that looks as if it would have gotten me incinerated.”

All actions tonight will be recognized.”

“I suppose that’ll be something,” says Packard.

Caroline: Caroline can hear the doubt in her voice. She doesn’t blame the other Ventrue. She’s seen firsthand the nepotism inherent in even the Clan of Kings.

“Remember me, Eiren Packard.” Caroline fixes the other woman with a stare. “Remember my name. I’ll remember yours when this matter stands before Prince Vidal. You have my word.”

GM: There’s less doubt in the Ventrue’s voice than bitterness. Familiar bitterness.

The hard-featured woman actually looks surprised by Caroline’s words, of all things. Her promise does not seem a familiar one. Then Packard simply grunts, “Guess we’d better get to work either way. Though I don’t know what the fuck explanation there is for a police van getting attacked with rocket launchers.” She looks at Becky Lynne. “Who the hell wants you dead this badly, sunshine?”

Becky Lynne gives a faint, joyless smile and glances at the adjacent casquette girl.

“There’s a lot to untangle here, to be certain. But I’ve no doubt that interested parties will soon get to the bottom of this.”

Caroline: Of that she can be certain.


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