Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood and Bourbon

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Story Twelve, Emmett XIV

“Bring the pain, Gaspy. You were always the one who couldn’t handle it.”
Emmett Delacroix


Date ?

GM: Em falls and falls through an endless black void. Howling winds buffet him. Voices are audible through the storm.

“God, you’re such a fucking hot little bitch,” whispers Stines.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, Em, but you’re, well, an idiot,” says Villars.

“You’re bad seed,” wheezes Ron. “Everything you touch turns to shit.”

“What is your shirt and pant size?” asks the corrections officer.

“Heart’s desire,” smiles Abélia.

He lands in hell’s pretty little condo. A man who wishes for death laughs and throws up over a redbone cop, and a sea of vomit and broken, blood-smeared glass washes it all away. Poison eyes smile up at him from glass as the noxious wave carries him to the corridor of a prison’s death row wing. It’s a condemned man’s final walk before facing the needle. Vomit and squashed cockroaches, the kind that came in his meals, stain he walls, along with movie posters spelling out in blockbuster lettering:

This way to everything you’ve ever wanted

This way to fill the void that’s always gnawed at your heart

This way to meaning and purpose

This way to things no longer being shit

A figure stands in front of the door. He’s a king of two courts, with a crown made of teeth and a smile made of gold. He does not need to float, not when he stands over twelve feet tall. Over twenty feet tall. God, he’s tall. He’s wearing a suit, a hoodie, a polo and khakis, a poncho—it doesn’t matter. He’s wearing Em down.

He’s his own best friend.

And he’s in control.

Em.jpg
“Mini-me, huh?” smirks Em, staring down at Em.

Emmett: Like a greatest hits montage, only it’s just him smashing like a comet through each successive rock bottom until he lands here, in his freshest hell. Well, he’s here now. Time to see it through to the end.

“Huh,” Em says, and squinting up.

“I mean, I knew I had a big ego.”

He folds his arms. “So. Harrowing. Spooky. You have any demands before you start making me eat shit, or are we getting to it?”

Even here, even small, he’s not going to let the bastard think he’s won.

Even when the bastard is him.

GM: Em smirks down at him.

“I’m only this big ’cause you fed me so much. As in, literally fed me, with every stupid sap you sent Abélia to chow down on.”

“Thanks to you, I’ve grown up big and strong.”

He mockingly folds his own, much bigger arms.

“Two ways this can go, Em.”

“We walk down this corridor together, and that’s that. We claim the prize, and you spend the rest of existence with me.”

“Or, you can try to beat me. Because this prize sure is something special. Win, and you’re done with me forever.”

“Lose, and you go straight to Oblivion, and I get to enjoy it all to myself.”

“Because boy oh boy, Em. Is it great. Is it sure something. Abélia really came through on this one. You have no fucking idea how badly we’ve wanted this. You didn’t even ask for it. That stupid ‘adopt me into your family’ crap you were thinking. But we’ve wanted this for years. In any fair or just universe, there’s no way we should get to have it.”

“But hey, since when has the universe been fair or just?”

Emmett: He acknowledges the point with an incline of his head.

“Beat you how? Duel of wits? Brawl? Harrowing? What sort of contest are we talking about, before I take a step off the last cliff?”

GM: Em just smirks.

Emmett: Em looks up at himself.

And sighs.

“There’s a smart answer here, isn’t there.”

GM: “Since when did we do smart?”

Emmett: Em tosses his hands up. “Look. I’m feeling unusually zen right now. Maybe it’s because we’re separated.”

Which means…

Oi. Cunt. Midget. Dwarf-in-a-flask.

He awaits a response.

“You want me to challenge, I’m guessing. Because you think you can win, and that’s that for being the backseat driver.”

GM: Em only continues to smirk down at his smaller self.

Emmett: But this is all pussyfooting, a bit of foreplay before the violent round of fucking that’s coming.

Em already made up his mind. And Em knows it.

“You have grown up big, haven’t you? And nasty as a fucking gator. Congratu-fucking-lations, Gaspy. You ate your veggies.”

“But you know what? I still can’t bring myself to be all that scared of you. Because you’re me, right, and I’m you? And you’re the bit of me that got Sami raped, the bit that made sure Clarice went to Hell crying her eyes out, even the bit that drove away the people that loved us because you knew that they saw past you. And because you’re me, you’re a good liar. You had me fooled, most of the while.”

“You made me think I was the weak half. That all the parts of me that hurt were mine alone. You’re too big to cry, aren’t you, Gaspy?”

“Except you aren’t.”

“Every bad thing I’ve ever done I did to run from the pain. But I did them. I was the one who got Sami raped. I was the one who chose to let rip over Mouton’s shite fucking outfit. I was the one who kept digging my own grave, because to be honest, it looked a lot more comfy from the outside.”

“And you? You were the bit of me that took it personal. You know how much I’ve thought about Stines and Sami and all the rest who made me feel small since I’ve died, all on my own? Jack. That’s why I felt nothing when he died. That’s why you’re so hung up on seeing me get my vengeance, too.”

“You empty-headed, smiling cunt. You forget, I know how your mind works too, only I’m reflective enough to appreciate it. You aren’t big because you’re strong.”

“You’re just compensating for something.”

Em isn’t aware of when he started growing. It doesn’t really feel like that, in this not-place. Maybe the other guy’s shrinking. All he knows is he’s suddenly staring into his worse half’s eyes, and they’re not so high up anymore.

“Bring the pain, Gaspy. You were always the one who couldn’t handle it.”

GM: But he isn’t staring into Em’s eyes. He was.

Now he’s staring down at them.

Em looks like the scrawny misbehaving brat everyone always said he was. He’s fat, too, from a garbage diet of Nutella and Hot Pockets. His greasy skin is pasty and acne-ridden, bereft even of the good looks that were always so good at covering up the ugliness festering in his heart.

For a moment, he doesn’t say anything. Just stares up at Em—at himself—with a look of pure hate. Hate enough to hurt everybody and everything until his own pain is eclipsed in the resulting detonation of grief, agony and sorrow. He wants the whole world to suffer because he does, the entirety of existence to writhe with his tantrum and know that nothing, not a single moment of kindness or love or hope or resurrection will ever undo the crimes committed against him, the defendant: everybody else.

Em knows then, that whatever waits on the other side of that door, it will not make Gasper happy. Maybe for a little while. But he will find a way to sabotage it. He will take a good thing and he will turn it to shit, like he turns everything he touches to shit, exactly like Ron said he did. There is only one place that Gasper can be happy. It is the same place Em tried to reach after he realized Sami didn’t need him and he gave Roberts a call for lunch at Cafe Soulé.

Gasper is the first one to say it, the words seething with spite.

“I’m gonna drag us both to Oblivion.”

The corridor starts to collapse around the pair. Chunks of wall, floor, and ceiling spiral away into a void as black and empty as his worse half’s own heart.

Emmett: “Yeah. Maybe you will, fatty. But I’m bad at standing still, and your sorry ass doesn’t like going anywhere.”

So Em throws the handful of wriggling roaches he palmed while he was getting up into Gasper’s eyes, and then darts past him and to the door.

He’s going to lock the bastard into his own mess.

GM: The 12-year-old screams and flails like a girl as the roaches get over his face. Em takes off. Track pays off, like it always has. Em feels more agile than he ever did while he was alive. His corpus isn’t a fragile thing of meat and bone and ligaments like his old body was, but a mutable thing of ego and desire made solid, and his ego has always been so much more than his body.

Corridor blurs past him as as he runs and runs. The chunks falling away into the void seem to pass in slow motion.

He runs… and runs… and runs…

The door swims tantalizingly ahead.

His own voice laughs behind him.

“It’s not gonna be that easy… you fed me so much, Em…”

The floor splinters away beneath him. He falls through a howling void. It’s full of regrets and mistakes. Hospital corridors, where the doctors all rape you, places he hated for no reason until Doc Brown and his nurse gave him one. Stairs up the strip club, to a private lap dance room with Courtney, the latest in a string of bad decisions. The blood-soaked grass courtyard of Giacona Manse, where it all went wrong with Sami. It all jumbles and spills together like an ill-fitting jigsaw puzzle.

But it is not empty of inhabitants.

Em’s wriggling roaches fall through the void, mating like roaches do, facing away from each other. They exoskeletons fall away as they die. The egg they laid bursts open in a wash of foul-smelling blood. A presence stalks through the void on all fours, drawing steadily closer like an approaching comet. Em can’t make out exactly what it is. There are claws, he is sure, and horns, and teeth, but he cannot say how many. Everything about it is sharp and cruel. Nightmares enough to make Abélia sing praises swim across its rippling flesh. Hatred pours from it in nigh-tangible waves, even from so far away, and Em knows instinctively that it portends doom… but its burning gaze does not alight upon him.

“You IDIOT! LOOK WHAT YOU DID!” Gapser shouts from nowhere and everywhere, his voice shrill.

Emmett: “Don’t tell me you’re scared of a little bug, big man.”

It’s big talk. Em’s terrified. Still, the terror just makes him giddy. It always has.

“Come on, Gaspy. You hate me and I hate you, but this thing’s more dangerous than both of us. Work with me and we can take it down together. If you call out to it and rearrange the furniture around here, we can trap it in this place.”

Bullshit, but believable, especially with the all-too-real note of terror in his own voice.

GM: “You know, Em, I actually believe that,” sounds his nasally 12-year-old self. “I really do. It’s just your bad luck there’s an even better way to get rid of it…”

The ground gives out underneath Em. He lands in Orleans Parish Prison, on the other side of a plexiglas barrier, seated on a too-familiar stainless steel stool with a phone in his hand. Ron stares at him from across the glass. His uncle’s words are as blunt and heavy as a dropped anvil:

“What the fuck happened to my son?”

Emmett: Ron. The face, followed by the words that started the cruelest conversation in his life, might stop Em’s newly lightened heart.

If it hadn’t stopped a while back, anyways.

For a moment, he waits for the old panic. The defensiveness that always led him over one burning bridge and onto another, never figuring out why everything behind him kept catching fire.

But he’s done chasing his own shadow.

“I killed him, uncle Ron. I killed Jermaine. And nothing I can say will ever make that alright. I told myself it was because I needed to save somebody else, or that he deserved it, or that he wouldn’t have live longed anyways. But that’s all bullshit. I killed him because I was scared, and desperate, and I thought it would be easier to get away with than letting the girl die. I cut his throat and lied to him about not liking him much as I did it because I didn’t want him to know what a pathetic cousin I knew I was being. I killed him because I’m a bastard, and it’s a lifetime too late and a coffin too little, but uncle— I’m sorry I took your son from you. It hurt too much to say it then, but no matter what else I am—I love you, and I’m sorry for what I did that night.”

“And one way or another, I won’t rest ’til you know that. I owe you that much.”

GM: Ron is quiet at those words, at first.

Maybe Em isn’t sure what he expected his uncle to say. It’s hard to say what someone should say to those words, that come a lifetime and a coffin too late. The movie response would be to break down in tearful exclamations of forgiveness.

Ron’s tomato-red face loses some of its color. It doesn’t lose its edge so much as go still. It’s hard to say what’s moving in his eyes.

As Em looks into them, his surroundings shift again in his peripheral vision. They’re not in OPP anymore. They’re in a bayou. It’s hot and humid even late at night. There’s insects buzzing and bullfrogs ribbitting, but the most noticeable sound by far are the snapping jaws of the alligators.

Em’s on a rowboat. Gasper sits in front of him, twelve years old and smiling and fat.

“Well, that was touching. I’m sure it felt really cathartic. But the right thing was a little obvious, wasn’t it?”

He glances to his side. There’s two other rowboats. Bud’s in the one on the left. Cash Money’s in the one on the right.

Bud and several faceless goons are holding Lena, tied up and gagged. Cash Money and some equally faceless goons are holding Ron, in the same state. They’ve lifted both of their hostages over the sides of the boat, and the gators are snapping hungrily as they try to get closer to the succulent meals. Ron and Lena thrash and make terrified gagged noises as they’re slowly lowered closer to the water.

Gasper glances between them both. “Decide who you save, I guess.”

“We’re pretty done with Lena, aren’t we? There’s just no living her down. But good old Uncle Ron didn’t give us a Hollywood moment at that confession, either…”

Water splashes as the gators’ jaws snap steadily closer.

Emmett: Em looks, too. They aren’t all faceless. He sees Josh in there. Bobbi Jo, too, though she looks confused by what’s going on.

His expression is moving faster than the rest of him. It has to be like that, sometimes. If he thinks too hard he won’t be able to act.

His face, already pale with death, blanches. His eyes widen, his lips quiver, his hairs would stand up if they could, but he works with what he has. For a moment, Delacroix seems arrested, broken.

For a single cruel moment, he lets Gasper think he’s won.

It’s a good trap, as far as traps go. Whoever he tries to help, Gasper gets to drop the other, and swell in the shadow his choice will cast over him. Taken from a hundred spy flicks and superhero movies, but Em saw them all growing up, and unlike Gasper, he remembers the right answer.

The right answer is the unrealistic one.

The right answer is both of them.

Em’s face is a tableau of doubt that Gasper can’t look away from. That’s helpful because it keeps his adversary from noticing the phantasm he’s spinning until it’s been spun.

It pours from the sky in a trickle, then a tumble. Probably at first if anybody notices it they guess it’s rain, no uncommon sight in the bayou, but then some of it gets in their eyes, and they quickly realize the error.

Sand.

First a bucket’s worth, then a beach’s. Coming from everywhere and nowhere, dancing in the wind and spilling from the waters. It blinds the henchmen, buffets the bosses and gives the gators some very, very dry throats. Gasper gets a sandcastle up the nostril.

And everybody but Em’s flinching and swearing and fumbling as the hostages fall into the water and the gators dive in confused animal terror, and he dives in after them.

GM: Em’s seen movies where people try to swim through sand. There’s one he saw with a guy in an Amish… grain mill? You can drown in sand, but you can’t swim through it, even when you think you can. It’s too thick and too heavy. The guy in the movie tried and failed. Or maybe it was his girl. Bud and Cash Money and the goons all try to, but they can’t, and give muffled yells through mouths full of the stuff as they try to ‘swim’ through.

“It’s an illusion, you idiots! He can’t make sand out of thin air!” yells Gasper.

They either don’t hear, don’t understand, or can’t deny the illusion’s power. Maybe all three. Gasper grabs at Em’s pant leg as he dives off, but the tubby 12-year-old never took track and hits the water with a loud splash as Em dives under.

The gators are all trying to get away from the free-flowing sand. But another shape cuts through the waters, simultaneously black as midnight and red as blood. It’s much closer now than when it burst out of the cockroach egg. Em can’t even begin to count how many claws and teeth there are, or how many ways it has to kill. The sheer force of the thing’s hatred boils the water around it into smoke.

Gasper motions with his hands like a fussy director rearranging a movie set. Ron and Lena seem completely forgotten by the Shadow as he frantically sends wave after wave of subsurface water crashing into the monster, forcing it away.

Emmett: The glow of the victory is tempered by the encroaching doom. Out of the corner of his eye, he tries to make sense of its shape. He decides it’s something like a beetle, if only because it makes him incessantly think Deathwatch,with none of the associated coziness of the particular species.

It gives him the self-control he needs to keep his mouth shut and undo the bindings of his prisoners of conscience with quick and silent fingers under sand-logged waters. It helps that he’s had to get out from the other side of the ropes more than once. That’s the harder trick.

Then he starts to guide them to the nearest shore, taking what advantage of Gasper’s distraction that he can.

GM: The other two are struggling and drowning as Em alights upon them. They have some ways to swim after he gets out. It’s nothing but water and moss and trees for as far as they can see. Mosquitoes alight upon their flesh as the bullfrogs ribbit.

“Shit, kid… it’s all a movie, see?” gets out Ron.

“It’s all movie logic. But that still doesn’t explain… something’s wrong here.”

“Something’s really wrong.”

Emmett: “Wrong how?” Em asks as they bob and strain against the current.

GM: There isn’t much current. It’s a swamp.

Emmett: Oh. It just feels like that, because of his noodle-weak arms. One thing death hasn’t fixed for him. Yet.

GM: “All surgeries leave scars,” says Lena. “Anytime there is a cut through skin, there is a 100 percent chance of a scar. How big it is depends on how careful your surgeon is.”

“Nah, nah, that ain’t it,” says Ron.

“I mean, fuckin’ duh. I think this whole thing is actually-”

Suddenly, there is a current, fast-flowing and furious. There are alligators, too. The fake sand couldn’t last forever. They swim for the trio, jaws wide and snapping. Ron and Lena shout and swim furiously.

The current rises into a full-blown wave, carrying the gators with it. Then it’s a tsunami, swallowing the bayou into a giant wave that goes on forever. Gasper’s laughter sounds as it crashes forward. Ron and Lena both try to shout something.

He doesn’t hear it, not as the wave smashes into him like an avalanche. The gators burst through. Enormous fangs clamp over Em as the jaws close, rip, and tear. The water turns red with his blood as Gasper laughs over his screams. Cash Money’s laughing, too. Bud and Stines and Josh and Bobbi Jo and everyone else he’s ever hated or cheesed off, all laughing, except for Doc Brown, who’s just smiling, because not all of the pain in his body feels like it comes from gator teeth. The rushing waters carry him off a cliff, and he plummets through the void.

He lands with a crash on the carpeted floor, wet and bleeding and broken.

“Ah, just in time!”

His surroundings painfully swim into focus. He’s in Commander’s Palace. There’s lots of people seated at tables, all wearing suits and nice dresses, and looking towards a movie projection screen.

It’s a huge screen. Enormous. Taller than a house. The restaurant goes on for miles. Em can’t see the doors out. There’s a whole army of people in their nice evening clothes, sitting around an infinity of tables.

Gasper’s on a raised stage, standing behind a podium with a microphone. He looks good. He looms Em’s age, now, and devilishly handsome in his black tux and bowtie. A little old-fashioned, but he pulls it off. The Devil always knows how to dress well.

The lights dim as a white spotlight shines on him. Then on Em, in his bloody and tattered rags. People make faces and start murmuring amongst themselves. Gasper flashes the crowd a pearly white smile.

“I know what y’all are thinking.”

“It’s appropriate he should be here for the movie, though.”

He snaps his fingers. “Garcon, want to get our late guest a chair? I can’t imagine anyone wants to share a table with him.”

A smirking waiter appears behind Em with a rickety-looking chair. One of the legs is shorter than the others. The black paint is badly chipped. People start snickering.

Emmett: His body’s racked with pain, so he welcomes the chair, even ka-klunking as it does with the short leg. There’s too much at stake, the parts of him that aren’t writhing in agony cry, but he he has no juice to heal with. It’s a grind from here on out.

But that’s okay. He’s seen Gasper with his pants down.

He’ll manage. He has to.

GM: “Would you care for a drink, sir?” asks the waiter with a thin, preening smile that doesn’t reach his eyes.

Emmett: He may as well. Seems like an open bar.

“A Café Brûlot, please,” Em requests, shifting in the uncomfortable chair.

GM: The waiter gives Em a shot of brandy with an orange peel stuck in it. It’s a rather less memorable performance than the last Brûlot Em ‘had.’

Emmett: He holds it up to his eye and squints, sloshing the liquid inside around.

“Cheap service,” he stage whispers. “Get on with your movie, then.”

GM: “Every guest here gets what they deserve, Em,” smiles Gasper.

The crowd variously smiles or titters. He’s got them in the palm of his hand.

Em’s Shadow flashes another pearly smile.

“Now that all y’all are finally here, I won’t bore anyone with a speech. Art speaks for itself. Hit it!”

The restaurant’s lights dim as the screen comes to life.

It starts with a close-up of Em. Really close up. There’s just his eyes, then it slowly pulls away.

He’s dressed in a prison jumpsuit, sitting in a wheelchair behind the glass. In prison. Because where else. He looks like a young man left aged and haggard before his time. He’s holding a phone to his mouth.

The camera follows his eyes. Cécilia’s on the other side of the glass. She looks on the verge of tears, but valiantly keeping it together. The beautiful love interest.

The camera follows Em’s eyes. Down to his legs. Back to up his face. Close up to his mouth.

He opens it. The audience doesn’t hear any words. The camera zooms all the way into Em’s mouth, into a black empty space. The camera fades out into a fishing boat on the bayou. It’s a hot-looking summer day. A young-looking Em is there on the boat, with his father, rods dangling over the sides.

A fish bites and tugs the line. Em gives an excited exclamation. His father’s eyes mirror the emotion. He tells Em to pull, pull, boy, pull-

Em pulls out the carp. It’s a big catch, for a boy his size. Phil whoops. The camera focuses on the carp. It’s wounded and cut from the way it chewed at the bait. The camera zooms closer. It flicks and tries with all of its living will to swim away, to escape, to be free—only to cut itself deeper, and deeper, denied the quiet dignity of death or joyous current of release.

The camera focuses on Em’s face. He’s not smiling. Just watching. Quietly hypnotized.

Phil’s yelling fills the audio. Quiet, then suddenly loud, like he’s been making noise this entire time and Em tuned him out. Phil yanks the rod out of his son’s hands, drops the carp to the boat floor, and stabs his hunting knife into fish’s brain, finally granting it a quick death.

Phil’s face is scarlet red as he shouts at his son. Em pulls away, as though afraid his dad will hit him. Phil never does. It’s inaudible what Phil is saying. Just yelling.

The camera pans away, focusing closer on Em’s face. Closer.

He mouths something, also inaudible. Perhaps that he’s sorry.

The camera zooms in closer. His mouth disappears. There’s just his eyes.

There’s nothing in them.

No sorry.

No regret.

Just… nothing.

A few audience members look away. Angry murmurs and ugly looks go up from most of them.

Emmett: He looks into his eyes through a camera’s stare. His eyes gazing out of a television the size of the moon, the way he always meant them to be. Eyes made gorgeous with the distance of a lens, buffed by the haunting sociopathy.

It’d be a dream come true if it wasn’t so damn honest.

He waits. Acting prematurely could mean the end of everything. He turns over the words he might need to say to free himself.

But for now, he waits.

Still as the carp with a knife through its brain.

GM: The movie plays on.

Teenage fights with his parents.

Detentions at school.

Doing weed in his bedroom, while homework sits undone.

Cruel remarks to other kids, wrapping the needful and insecure ones around his finger.

More fights with his parents, Phil’s face getting steadily redder, and then no fights at all, as they just stop talking.

Eating dinner in his bedroom, instead of at the table.

His sins catching up. Transferring to Brother Martin’s, his parents’ last (second to last) effort to set straight, just as he planned, just as he’d abuse.

Whispering things to Lee at the dance. Adeline’s exposed tits. Elliot’s first beautiful lies to Cécilia.

More beautiful lies. Talking to Ron. Plotting. Planning.

Sami’s smile. Blacking out. Wiping cum off the seat, with her paper note and its hotmail address.

His seething fury. The gangbang. The cigarette lighter flicking open, in front of her dead and empty eyes.

The knife, slitting Jermaine’s throat.

Josh. Screaming past Cash Money’s cock, as Em smiles. Screaming louder, as Maneater carves him open.

Laughing in the hospital bed to the two cops, Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

Ron’s tomato-red face, calling him bad seed, saying everything he touched turned to shit.

The heartbreak on his parents’, then the sad resolve, as they hang up the phone and walk out.

Shaking hands for the first time with Bert Villars, smiling his oily smile.

Laughing as Taylor sputters with anger and throws his shit in the broken toilet.

The savage satisfaction on his face, spite burning his blood, as he saws off Mark Stines’ penis.

Recruiting girls into porn in Los Angeles, promising the world and turning a blind eye to their screams. Ron always said not to ask about the ones who wind up with Death Mask Productions.

Robbing the girl he’d stayed with for three months, disappearing without a goodbye.

The sins back home, playing out like a hand of cards being dealt, one after another after another. There are so many to pick from. Maybe that Affel-something guy trying to kill himself, whatever his name was, and sleeping with his freaky wife.

The hole in his chest, when Sami said “I’m happy now,” and the realization of what he must do. The call to Roberts…

Himself in the hospital bed, croaking out, “Deal,” to Bud. The Dixie mobster’s good ol’ boy smile, dribbling through the receiver.

“Miss any payments an’ we’ll kill yer family.”

Lena’s furious face as she literally dumps him on the curb.

“I’m not a good person, Lena.”

Some of the final lip he showed after Underwood’s warning, just the last of so many warnings that never mattered, never slowed him down.

“…as part of your plea in mitigation, you have forfeited the right to appeal any and all aspects of this judgment and conviction.”

Cécilia’s tear-moist eyes as she talks into the phone, the words inaudible. The specific ones don’t matter. The director really gets that right. Lot of showing and not telling in this movie.

Elliot’s smile, and then his shadow.

Emmett strapped down to the execution gurney, the team having dotted their i’s and crossed their t’s.

The prison warden’s question, the last words anyone ever spoke to him alive:

“Do you wish to make a final statement?”

The camera pans in on Em’s face. Up close and personal, like in one of the movie’s earliest shots.

“I deserve to die. But I’m no judge of anything, so don’t take my word for it.”

Just like that, it cuts to black.

The credits roll.

The Many Sins of Emmett Delacroix.

The lights come back on.

Gasper smiles from the stage.

A gaping back pit yawns open. It’s a swirling vortex of absolute nothingness that chills Em to his soul.

A chunk of ceiling caves away, directly over the pit. In its place there’s a bright white light. It’s warm. It’s right. Part of him wants, with all of his being, just to float on up.

“There you have it,” Gasper smiles at the crowd.

“I won’t waste my breath on a speech.”

“You’ve seen his life and times.”

The room is utterly silent. People aren’t staring at Gasper, now. They’re staring at Em.

Their faces are very, very still.

Many of them.

Disgust boils in his others. Anger, too, indignant and righteous, and perhaps hypocritical, but there all the same.

“If you think he belongs in the pit… throw him in!” Gasper exhorts.

The crowd is silent for a moment.

Then, hundreds of legs rise from their seats.

Emmett: Em’s staggering up to the main stage, arms flailing, lungs heaving. He doesn’t look good. He doesn’t even look pitiful, as far as that goes. He looks like a dead man.

But he makes it, somehow.

“Hold up,” he gasps, defiant to his last. “Hold up, dammit.”

He grabs the mic from Gasper. His worse half lets him have it. Why? Maybe because he thinks he’s already won. Granted, Em thinks he probably has, too.

But he’s done it by lying. And just this once, Emmett Delacroix cannot let that stand.

“That was a good movie,” Em says as the mob presses closer. “But what if you saw the director’s cut?”

Restlessness in the crowd. Confused expressions. This is off-script, and this lot aren’t improvisers. All the free will of a bacteria between them.

“Come on!” Em yells at the back of the room, at the cosmic shadows that control the projector. “Come on, if this is going to be it, show them the whole thing!”

For a cold, still moment, nothing happens.

Then the lights dim, and the film starts anew.

GM: Gasper just smirks in his tux and gestures grandly towards the giant screen.

“Sit back down, y’all. It’ll be extra satisfying for us to chuck him in, after this.”

Emmett: Lights. Cameras.

Action.

It’s those eyes again, but not. So clean. So young. They stare down at the carp, who stares back but does not see.

Something pools in his eye. The boy (when was the last time he thought of himself that way, as just a boy?) looks away so Philémon does not see it. But this camera captures all, artifice and artistic license be damned.

The camera shows the tear, but cuts before it falls. Maybe it never does. Did. What’s time, in a movie? A matter of where, not when.

The movie keeps on playing. Em doesn’t watch it. It’s like he’s seen it before, only he knows he hasn’t, because he’s crying and he never does that with a movie except for the first time.

Anyways, he didn’t direct this movie or write it, and if he starred in it that was only because he hadn’t made room for anybody else in the spotlight. He only knows it because he was there. For all of it. When you’re dead, your life doesn’t flash before your eyes. But you do remember it. Not as a story, nor as regrets. You just remember it as a moment, all one glorious, cascading moment of change. That’s all anybody actually gets with the lifetime racket, Em supposes. Just a single, glorious cosmic moment in which to be.

Only now, his life is over, so movies about it feel a mite silly. He doesn’t really watch the movie, because he remembers the movie.

Em doesn’t need to watch his stammered apology to his dad. His bewildered, unsure excuses. He knows now what Phil did already, and he remembers Phil’s too-wrinkled face growing older in that moment as he replied:

“You’ll learn.”

The scenes with Clarice are tiring, and he does not watch those either, barely registers the sounds he makes onscreen. They simply don’t interest him anymore. His own suffering is banal, especially to this audience. It’s the part after that’s a mindfuck.

“Em, did anything happen while you were there?”

A moment, dark eyes wide and innocent, but hollowed out. “No.”

His first lie, and he supposes the most successful one. They never suspected a thing, after…

A quiet whispering in a mirror, each word quieter than the last:

Look how happy you can make people.

And Em wanted to make people happy. He might have forgotten a lot about who he was, but he remembers that part of him, and it lives in him, not in Gasper.

The world is the camera. It spins and takes the viewer with it because this is not good camerawork. This is kismet, like fate or something, because somehow from this angle on the far end of a movie screen he can see it all:

He’s not a good man. He’s not even properly a bad man. He’s a wicked ghost, a conniving wraith.

But he’s not properly evil, either. Just a mean, mean bastard who wished the world hadn’t taught him that to be mean is to be safe, to be cruel is commendable, and that his father perhaps should not have told him—

Ah. This is the core of it. This thing he never forgot but never precisely could recall until he sees it now, on the screen, the scene doubly enthralling because he knows, unlike so much in this place, it is true.

“So anybody? Anybody could be forgiven, if they were really sorry?”

They were outside the church in St. Charles Parish. The one Phil had grown up going to. It was night, but there are lights on inside.

“That’s the idea of the thing,” Phil answers, eyes sunk into the annotated pocket bible he always brought to the church, regardless of occasion. Em had nicked it once, when he was older, but he couldn’t read the handwriting.

“What about the really bad people? The ones who nobody can ever forgive, like Hitler? Or Marshall, I guess.”

The then-president.

This was, after all, 2004.

GM: Phil hadn’t taken very long to answer, even if his answer took a while.

“It is really an old question, Emmett, often asked to imply that if Jesus would forgive a person like Hitler, then the God of the Bible is unjust. The truth is, all of us fall short of the glory of God. If we had ‘forever’ to do our own thing, we would never create a world conducive to life, light, love, and liberty. Without the soul-changing power of the Holy Spirit and the unabridged and undeserved grace of God poured upon us, we would find ourselves standing before a throne of judgement one day with absolutely no credentials to present that would be worthy of admission into those great gates of pearl.”

“How many times a day do we sin? We’re not talking about just murder, stealing, and blaspheming. We’re talking about everything—the attitudes of your heart, your motives, the actions and failing to love God with your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, failing to love your neighbor as yourself. Those are moral requirements that we fail constantly. Even say you only commit one sin a day, and only from when you’re 18 to 70—that’s almost 20,000 sins. What judge would let you off with that kind of a rap sheet? And that is the best case scenario.”

“Was Hitler worse than that? Most likely. There’s a spectrum. A few relative lightweights like Charles Manson might be standing under the dictator’s shadow. Many world leaders throughout the ages, people like Caligula, Mao, many kings of England and other European states, some caliphs, some popes, and many, many others will make up the rank and file of those who had it made on earth but came up wanting when the scales were balanced in Heaven.”

“How sad it would be to find that we were ‘not quite as bad as they, but not good enough to avoid joining them.’ Justice? It was meted out at an old rugged cross. That bought the grace that makes it possible for a vile sinner to come to terms with the error of his ways. If Hitler ever had a chance, it would only have been evidenced by his renouncing his wicked ways and standing good before his death. The fact that, rather than face responsibility for his heinous acts, he escaped the judgement of man by taking his own life is evidence that he went from the frying pan directly into the fire.”

“Theoretically, could Hitler have gone to Heaven? Yes. But repentance is a process, not an event. The more time and effort you spend on it, like anything, the better it will turn out. This is why ‘deathbed repentance’ is frowned upon. Sure, anyone can say they believe, say that they repent, say they are changed moments before death, and trust God to know their hearts—but will those words have actually changed them? God can tell. Repentance is for you, as much as those who you wronged.”

“For Hitler to be forgiven, that’d require him to realize the depth and wrongness of his errors, and to shed his pride. That includes national pride, particularly the kind that treats others as ‘lesser than.’ It would be a very different Hitler coming out of this than the Hitler we’re familiar with. This new Hitler would have been incapable of leading Germany into war and ordering the killing of millions. He would be a completely different person. Change like that only takes a sudden about-face in Hollywood. In real life, change that big takes years and years of hard spiritual work.”

“So yes, it can happen. There’s no doubt in my mind that Hitler went straight to Hell, but he could have gone to Heaven. God’s capacity for forgiveness is infinite. It’s only our capacity for change that falls short.”

Emmett: Em takes a while to answer. His father is hopeful his recent silence is a delayed sign of precocity, and maybe it is, but mostly Em’s trying to make sure he doesn’t need big words to ask this next question.

“But how do you start to be better? How do you go from being, well, whoever it is that’s going to hell, and then turn around? How are people supposed to find their way back, if they’ve already walked so far away?”

GM: “Confession,” answers Phil, more succinctly. “Admitting the problem, any problem, is the first step to fixing it.”

Emmett: He might have confessed then, had he the words for his sin. But he did not have them, so he could not.

Instead, Emmett lives. That’s the rest of the movie. He doesn’t understand, thinking back on it later, what editing magic trick the director must have employed to make it so. But the movie tell the story of his life, all of it, the absolute essence of it, and it doesn’t seem boring or unnecessary or middle. It is not sparing, either. It still contains Em at his utter worst, and the truth is there’s simply no getting around the naked fact that Emmett Delacroix was a villainously awful person. His life was spent in the throes of great bouts of escalating mischief that often evolved into cruelty. He had brief moments of kindness and mild moments of self-awareness. But for the most part, he was a cruel, rapacious bastard, and then he died.

But there’s the thing.

The movie doesn’t end there. Em is dead, the first man to be killed for his crimes in more than ten years. That he did not commit the crimes in question owed more to the way of clerical error than to actual injustice.

But the dream of Em, the story of him, his role, his star, the part of his soul that would have become his celebrity had he ever passed through that celestial gate of makin’ it in Hollywood—had lived on, and mutated in the zeitgeist. His story was more, now, than that of a wicked man meeting wicked ends.

He was a ghost with a cause, a revenant on a quest for righteous vengeance, for justice, for redemption—and that means only one thing in this place that’s nine-tenths silver screen.

Em turns to Gasper, and the little shit’s not fat again but he’s shorter, and Em looks straight through him over the crowd.

“I’m too interesting to die.”

He holds out the mic, so naturally that Gasper’s hand actually starts to respond to it and reach out—

Only for Em to drop the mic to the floor, the thump of it going everywhere in the perfect acoustics of that room.

GM: Too good to die is probably a lost cause to sell the crowd on, after those back-to-back movies.

But too interesting to die is something altogether else, if the applause he’s receiving is any indication.

Hundreds of hands clap and clap and clap at the conclusion of the director’s cut. Cheers, whistles, and exclamations of “bravo!” go up from the crowd’s newly-adoring eyes.

Gasper scowls like when Phil told him to stop watching TV and take out the damn trash.

“Fine. Guess we’ll do this the other way.”

“Boys, KILL ’EM!”

Gunfire explodes through the crowd as Gasper’s goon squad opens fire. They’re all there. Cash Money. Bert Villars. Bud and Sue. Mark Stines. Doc Brown. Judge Underwood. Dino. Bobbi Jo. Sugarbelle. Yvette. They’re carrying old-fashioned tommy guns. Rat-a-tat-tat, they go. Dozens of people scream and die, gorily mowed down by the hail of lead. The survivors scream and stampede every which direction.

“Don’t worry, Em, I’m on your side! We can take ’em-aaaaAAAGH!” screams Mouse as bullets riddle his chest. He goes down twitching, soaked red, and stops moving.

“Don’t worry, Em, I got your back!” whoops Zyers, and then flees for the exits.

“Good luck,” says Hannah, and dives for cover. Taylor looks undecided for a moment, then follows suit. “Yeah, good luck,” echoes Ren. Jermaine dives without a word.

Turner, Westley, and Fizzy also abandon Em to his fate. The goons shoot at him too. Gunfire explodes the area around his feet as he falls off the stage. A few upturned tables offer some modicum of cover.

Courtney, though, shoots back with her own tommy gun. Dino goes down is a spray of lead. Ginger takes out Villars. Sami blows off Cash Money’s crotch and seems to take no small pleasure from it. Miranda kills Mark again, ranting conspiracy theories about the Malveauxes. Cécilia says, “I’m afraid I don’t really know how to use these things,” and tosses Em her own tommy gun.

“I’ll try to talk some sense into Yvette.”

Em’s family members are notably absent from the picture.

The floor explodes. Hell crawls out. The monster. Em sees it up close now. It’s huge, four-legged, and black as sin where it isn’t on fire. Ravenously crackling, hateful red flames wreathe its flesh like an unholy mantle. It almost looks like it’s bleeding into the air. Its claws and quills and talons are enormous and wickedly sharp, and there are so many of them. Its maw goes on for eternity. It has more teeth than Em’s criminal record has items. It has no eyes. Just more instruments of death.

TAKE IT OUT! TAKE IT OUT, YOU IDIOTS! TAKE IT THE FUCK OUT!!!!” Gasper screams, his voice shrill with panic.

They try. They rain down a hail of lead over the monster, but the bullets don’t so much as slow it. Bud, Underwood, and Bobbi Jo all go down faster than a preacher’s daughter. They look like they’ve been fed through a wood chipper when the monster is done with them, but it doesn’t slow. Just races for Gasper.

But the restaurant-turned-theater is so large, and there are still so many tables and corpses and bystanders between Shadow and monster. Gasper allows himself a smirk as the tommy guns scream lead, then pulls out a rocket launcher.

Emmett: During which point Em contents himself with getting to the ethereally lit exit. It’s been a fun day, but a long one, and it’s past time he quit the scene.

He does feel a pang for Mouse, though. Ah, well. At least this version of him had died nobly, in defense of somebody who cared about him sometimes.

GM: Cécilia looks horrified as Em runs away and leaves his friends to trade gunfire with Gasper’s goons. “Em! How ca-”

The rocket launcher explodes.

Em hits the ground in a heap, the blast ringing in his ears as shrapnel lances his legs. His abandoned allies are caught dead center. Their screams abruptly cut off as gory pieces of them rain down over the ground around Em.

Gasper’s goons, no linger pinned down by enemy fire, turn their tommy guns at the fleeing Delacroix. Lead belches after him as Gasper grins.

His Shadow looks taller than before.

Buffer.

Handsomer.

Emmett: One last miscalculation, and it’s cost him all the allies he’s accumulated. Is that it? The sorry state of his corpus tells him it might be. He’s out of strength, out of tricks, and when he reaches for the determination that’s carried him through this mad vision quest his fingers strike bottom.

Oh, he had a good run, Emmett Delacroix. But this is where it ends.

It is a bastard, though. Even he has to admit Gasper looks handsome.

Celia: He is handsome.

Very handsome.

And so is the girl that steps out of the shadows behind him, the girl with a wild mane of dark hair that curls around her face and has a smile that will break a thousand hearts. But right now she’s young, innocent, with wide eyes that look in adoration upon the Shadow who wears her cousin’s face.

“Hey baby,” nineteen-year-old Celia Flores says to Gasper as she slides up beside him. “Did we get him where we want him?”

GM: A sports car smashes through the movie screen. It’s black and sleek and sexy. It’s open-roof and got a badass entrance. The Poison-Eyed Lady is the driver.

“Oh, missed one,” smirks Gasper, then punches Celia in the throat. Cash Money smashes the butt of his tommy gun between her shoulder blades. She goes down in a heap as Em kicks her in the vagina for good measure. Bud and Sue tie her up, then throw her into the convertible’s back seat.

“Was gonna do that to Sami and Cécilia, but I guess one cunt’s as good as another,” Gasper sneers, then leaps into the car and takes the wheel.

“In this movie, Em, the bad guy wins,” he smirks, then hits the accelerator and plows through the movie screen again, leaving another car-sized hole.

On the other side, Em sees a highway in an American Southwest desert, perfectly flat, that stretches on for miles into the setting sun. The perfect ending locale for any movie.

And at the end of the highway.

At first, it looks like Château Devillers. Then it’s the glowing briefcase from Pulp Fiction, the macguffin that drove the whole movie. Then it’s the prison corridor a 20-foot Gasper tried to block Em from.

But he knows what it is, whatever it looks like.

The prize.

Home stretch.

Gasper’s car roars down the highway and into the setting sun, towards his happy ending.

Celia: She goes from almost-ally to damsel-in-distress in the blink of an eye. Gauzy white dress, ropes around her torso and legs, hands bound behind her back, a cloth gag in her mouth. Muffled screams rise up from the back seat as the car speeds away.

It’s a stereotype and a cliche, but a cute and effective one for all that: they’d had a discussion once about Detective Em coming to save her from the bad guys.

Now’s his chance.

Emmett: His chance. Isn’t that a chuckle? How many chances has he had, so far? He’s spent so long in this fever dream the real world is starting to swim away from him, and let’s face it, Em, you’ve always had a a pretty touch-and-go relationship to reality—that place the grown-ups live, where dreams never come true and the good guys and bad guys never quite figure out which they are.

In this child’s world, he’s supposed to be one or the other. When he fails to embody the archetype, the world convolutes itself around him, making the stage what it needs to be for his path to resemble choreography. Celia? The blossoming adult he had to die to become wants to howl. She’s his cousin, and a mess and a half herself, and also he’s pretty sure she’s lying to him still about something. He’s seen the real her, too, in glimpses and glances—she’s as bloody-minded as him, and more cunning by half. What a terrible damsel she would make in the real world.

And yet.

Even in the real world, she’d look damn good playing it. In this twisted funhouse of mirrors? She’s brighter than the sun.

Which gives him an idea.

Where’s he get the motorcycle from? Who knows, this movie isn’t big on continuity. It’s all explosions and somersaulting cars. Em has to slide under a collapsing truck, the leather on his back kissing the sparks from his Harley’s back wheel. He lets out a whoop and does a stuntman jump over a combusting petrol tank. His whole corpus aches like Satan’s bad back, but the stunts aren’t about him; they’re the magnetic forces of story marching to climax, or anti-climax. It’s almost like the rhythm of sex, but inverted. A decoupling, an unraveling of one being—into two.

CELIA!” he bellows. “CICI!” He swerves on the bike, almost kissing asphalt but righting just at the right moment to avoid a sputter of tommy gun fire. “CELIA, I need to ask you something, and I need you to answer! Do—you—trust me!?”

A cliché wrapped in a trope and smothered in romanticism.

In a dream, the question becomes a binding, a ritual. The flourish of a magic trick.

One that only works if she says the right thing back.

The blindfold slips from her mouth, the dramatic forces in play too vast for something as fragile as cloth to obstruct.

Does she trust him, this one last shred of his psyche that looks like love? This one tortured part of him that might live in somebody else?

Does she trust him?

Celia: The damsel wrapped in rope in the back seat of the car twists to see the (leather-clad?) motorcycle-riding stuntman cousin/friend. Whatever he is right now, he’s always been her cousin and her friend, and he’s coming to save her.

Does she trust him?

He’s the one she’d called when she was in trouble. When she needed help with her dad. When she found out that monsters were real. His was the number she punched into her phone to save her from the bad guys. And now here he is, riding in on the back of a Harley like he has every right to be.

She works the gag free—they never tie those things tight enough in movies like these—and screams back, yes.

GM: Gunfire sprays past Em. The rest of Gasper’s goons are on motorcycles too, riding two to a bike. One drives, the other belches lead death from their tommy gun.

They miss, of course. It’s a movie. They’ll miss no matter how many rounds they fire, or at best, maybe they’ll graze his shoulder or leg. But they up the tension.

Emmett: The camera pans in to capture her face. In a theater that resides in dimensions incomprehensible, the non-Euclidean gaze of every entity is on the red of her lips, the flush in her cheek, the glimmer of truth in her eye. For a moment, precious and timeless, the entire cosmos could fit behind her eye and nobody would notice the Big Bang.

Magic tricks, Ron had told him once, require misdirection. Maybe on some level, real magic does, too. Movies certainly do.

Gunfire sprays over Em’s leather-clad corpus. His luck, already strained well past the suspension of disbelief, snaps entirely. Two of Gasper’s goons cackle maniacally as they pull alongside him on either flank, death-belching machines that bear little resemblance to actual firearms ablaze. Lead turns Em into swiss cheese under his chin.

He looks confused. He also looks… different.

His cheeks are chubbier, for one thing. The blood that bubbles in the back of his throat is Nutella-colored. His eyes are smaller than they were a moment ago, as if contact lenses have shriveled and fallen away to render them greedy and hollow and mean.

The Em on the bike looks confused, and so do the goons on the bike, wondering how it is they’ve shot up their boss. For his part, Gasper finally earns his name. His lungs have been wiped away by lead.

The camera tilts along with everybody’s necks as they look again at the man behind the wheel.

If he had a mustache, now would be the time he tears it from his lip. As is, though, Em and Gasper look alike enough a change in lighting is enough to distinguish one from the other.

“Oldest trick in the book,” the Confidence Man quips as he helps Celia into the passenger seat. “It’s a switcheroo.”

The logic is lazy at best, the device just a few strings shy of a deus ex machina. But Em sells it. He has to, and not just because it’s his ass on the line but because it’s basic acting, and this role’s old hat to him.

It’s all about confidence, really.

GM: It is all about confidence.

The old switcharoo, when the mark’s distracted.

Em knows it well.

Both Ems.

That’s why Celia’s throat is slashed, her eyes staring blankly up into the sunset as blood gushes over her gauzy white dress. Just another disposable woman in grand cinematic tradition.

Just another switcharoo.

He looks up from his dead cousin, and a solid face of dessert rock meets the car’s headlights.

“Ha… ha…” wheezes Gasper as he crashes off his bike.

The car smashes into the rock at triple-digits-miles-per-hour. In equally grand cinematic tradition, the vehicle explodes in an enormous red-yellow-white fiery conflagration that lights up the highway like an atomic bomb.

Em rolls to a literally dead stop on the highway, charred and smoking and burning, his blackened flesh baked to a crisp as smoke billows around him. The door to Château Devillers, the briefcase, the prison corridor is only feet away at the highway’s end.

“I… win…” wheezes Gasper past the holes in his chest. He doesn’t look much better as he crawls along the asphalt by his palms and knees. He’s burned too, from the explosion, and bleeding from dozens of gunshot wounds.

He hauls himself tortuously towards the prize.

“You… lose… Em…”

“I… win…”

He spares enough effort to kick his other half’s corpus, despite the stab of pain that shoots up through his own bullet-riddled leg. He wheezes another laugh, blood frothing from his charred lips.

“I… win…”

Only this round.

The goons are all dead. Em can’t say for sure, but he feels safe presuming, given that all that’s left of them is shredded bits of bone, gore, and viscera on their smashed-apart and blood-spattered motorbikes. The monster paces patiently down the highway, blood dripping from its uncountable claws, fangs, and horns. It’s night now, and the only illumination comes from the moon, stars, and the sports car’s burning wreck, casting the monster’s already nightmarish visage in an even more hellish glow.

Gasper stares down the road at it, then gives a soul-deep, half-gurgled cry of boundless frustration and sheer terror.

He won the battle.

But he lost the war.

“Em…” he wheezes, “let’s make… a deal…”

The monster paces closer.

“I can… help you… see… won’t fight you any… more…”

The monster paces closer.

“Won’t… try to… seize control… I can… do a lot… for you…”

The monster paces closer.

“Partners… like we said… invisible friend in… your head…”

The monster paces closer.

“Just… call… it… off…”

Emmett: Em stares. Up close, the beetle is even more terrible to look upon. Even more merciless and inescapable and vast. God forgot to name this thing, when all the other beasts were labeled, the tidier monsters defined.

Forgot, or maybe did not dare to.

How long has he dreamed about this moment, or one like it? His enemy begging for his mercy, for forgiveness. How often has he considered the perfect quip, the last parting sting?

But now, in this dream that is more than real, Em has no final rejoinder. Maybe that’s the cruelest reply of all. Nothing.

He’s as silent as God, but at least Gasper knows he’s watching.

And he does watch.

GM: Up close, the thing doesn’t look like a beetle at all. It doesn’t look like any kind of animal. Just incarnate hate, hunger, and destruction.

“It’s not… on your side…” wheezes Gasper, still crying to crawl away. The monster draws ever closer.

“You’ll be… next…”

“The two of us ca…”

The thing pounces. Gasper’s feet are the first to disappear inside its mouth. There’s a grisly crunch and spray of blood. Gasper screams and writhes over the pavement, and the great jaws come down again with another crunch and wet tearing. Gasper’s screams grow higher, then higher still as the monster’s jaws descend again, as it gnaws off his legs bite by bite. There is no clean and quick devouring of either limb all at once.

The monster rips open Gasper’s chest next and tears out his entrails, bite by bite. Blood gets everywhere. Gasper writhes and flails his arms, until the monster’s teeth crunch down over his fingers. Then his palms, then his wrists, until it’s gnawed off his arms and left him a gore-spattered torso with four stumps and a head whose mouth gapes open in ceaseless scream.

The nose and ears come next, then chunks of his cheeks. After that come the chunks of flesh nearest to the stumps. The monster takes its time. It eats Gasper whole, piece by piece, bone by bone, organ by organ, until all that’s left is a head, a neck, and a heart. The stench is unspeakable. Red paints the highway asphalt. Em may wonder if it will ever come out. Gasper, either out of taunts and offers, never stops screaming.

Em’s reminded of the carp on the hook. Twisting, writhing, denied the peace and dignity of a swift death, suffering for his younger self’s idle amusement.

When the end finally comes, the monster’s jaws open wide to swallow what’s left of Gasper down its gullet. It doesn’t pause to chew. Em’s Shadow disappears into the literal belly of the beast, still clinging to life. Em can only imagine his darker twin will die a tortuously slow death being immersed in the monster’s stomach acids, if he doesn’t simply bleed out first. Either way, he will die in darkness and pain, and utterly alone. There’s a last, barely audible scream from the monster’s stomach, more like the whining of a dog than a proper scream. It goes on for several minutes.

Finally, silence reigns over the highway.

The fire from the burning car wreck has guttered out. Darkness reigns.

Up ahead, the prison corridor and the door at the end patiently await.

Emmett: It’s everything Gasper deserved and then some.

Em gets to his feet. It’s a little ridiculous to watch, like seeing a drunk man stumble into his pants, but then again, there’s nobody left to watch. Everybody’s dead.

Even him.

The door’s right there, only it’s not a door, it’s a briefcase, no, it’s an electric chair—whatever it is, this place won’t wait for him forever. It won’t do to idle.

Still, he looks back at the thing that’s apparently given up all interest in him as he approaches the door.

“What are you?” he croaks out, hand on the knob.

GM: The door opens.

All Em sees at first is pitch darkness.

But, swimming through that darkness, like a half-remembered nightmare.

Poison eyes.

Poison-green eyes.

“How badly do you want…" the woman’s voice warbles, "…to live, boy? How much will you… hurt for it?”

“Anything," wafts Em’s voice from the gloom. "I’ll do anything to undo this. Please.”

Suddenly, Em is on the ground. The monster is on top of him, and the Poison-Eyed Lady is holding him down, anthrax dripping from her awful eyes. The monster rips open Em’s chest with its claws, splitting him from throat to groin. The pain is indescribable.

The Poison-Eyed Lady grabs hold of the split flesh with both hands and pulls it wide open, splaying Em’s insides to the night sky like a dissection rat on a lab table. Impossibly, the monster dives inside.

Em wildly looks up into the sky. The moon looks like the pure white light that awaited him at the end of his harrowings. He remembers the sense of calmness and peace as he ascended into that light, as his Shadow was silent, as all his dark and spiteful and hateful thoughts and memories were finally still. All was quiet. All was warm. All was right. He knew peace such as he never had before.

Then, with a feeling of ineffable sadness, the light dies.

The moon and stars are gone. Agony surges through Em’s arteries as a fire roars within him. It’s a thirst, terrible and burning, it’s more thirsty than he’s ever felt, it’s an almost stabbing pain, like the monster is coiled inside his chest and madly clawing to get out, and it does get out, some small part of it, as he feels two fangs surge from his mouth as he screams, and screams, and screams—

He’s on a hard floor again, and he sees only red, tastes only red, smells only red, as the bliss hits him. It’s drinking the finest champagne from a movie premier, it’s making love to Cécilia and Sami together in the same bed, it’s the rush of snorted cocaine, the drag of his first cigarette, and that’s only some sense, some tiny, infinitesimal sense, of what it feels like to drink the liquid ecstasy coursing down his throat.

Emmett: After the night he’s had, the unbroken adventure of his execution?

He guzzles like a babe at the tit, and doesn’t stop until it’s dragged away.

Then, and only then, does he look for poison eyes.

GM: They’re right above him.

Staring down.

Smiling their anthrax smile.

“Ah, Mr. Delacroix!” exclaims Antoine Savoy’s voice. “Welcome back. And welcome to your Requiem.”

The other vampire sounds like he’s grinning.

“We have a lot to talk about.”


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Story Twelve, Celia XXI

“There are thousands of words I could say this with, but only two words they come down to.”
Maxen Flores


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM

GM: After the time Celia’s spent with Dani, 4 AM is soon approaching. She has time to change back into her dress for Roderick, if she wants to. Dani asks what she’s dressing up for and where she’s going, but doesn’t raise any objections. “Only one bed in here, anyways.”

She asks, again, where she can go in the Quarter and the larger city, and if she can go more places during the day, when other vampires won’t be around.

“I’m so glad I found you, Celia. I really, really am,” she exclaims, giving her brother’s girlfriend a last hug. “I’m sorry how things turned out with Stephen, but… I think he’d understand, if he knew. And be happy that he was able to help your family.”

Celia: Celia clarifies the rules about the Quarter and the territory for her. She says that she doesn’t think it’s a good idea to risk anything during the day, since ghouls are out and about. Not yet. Maybe once Celia finds out a few things for her. She gets Dani’s address and keys so she can visit the house in Riverbend and retrieve her belongings, though she doesn’t promise it’ll be soon. And she reminds Dani that it’s secret: Celia isn’t a vampire (even to other vampires, don’t tell even them, maybe especially them), vampires aren’t real, be careful not to be seen feeding. Take them into the bathroom rather than doing it in the middle of the club, that kind of thing. Also that she won’t be available during the day, but if she needs something to text and Celia will get back to her when she wakes up. She mentions that she’s free on Sunday or Monday for dinner if her dad wants to come to the Quarter. They can go out or Celia can host him here.

Celia hugs Dani close once her dress is back on, saying the same thing.

“I’m happy we found each other too, Dani. We’ll figure this all out together and make a plan. And… I think he’d understand too. Thanks for saying that. It means a lot.”

A few final goodbyes and Celia heads out to meet with Roderick. She has so much to tell him.

GM: Dani doesn’t look happy to limit her movements so much, but says she can do that for now as she passes off her keys and address. “I do still need to attend class, though… law school has attendance requirements.”

She says she’ll be careful hunting. She’ll call her dad and see what works for the D.A.

A drizzle starts outside outside. Dani looks around for an umbrella, so as not to ruin Celia’s pretty dress. The Toreador finds her haven much as it was when she returns at 4 AM.

Roderick arrives soon thereafter. Her lover looks glum and tired, but smiles when he sees her.

“You’re a sight for sore eyes.”

He hangs up his coat, then scoops her up in his arms.

“What I said earlier. You’re not allowed to walk, in here. You’re too pretty to.”

Celia: She wants to know what it is that has him looking so glum, but she doesn’t want to ruin the mood. She’d almost expected him to fail to show, or to show up angry and berate her for letting someone else touch her, or say something rude about being able to fight his own battles. But there’s none of that, and the fight she’d been prepping for, the tightness in her shoulders, it all disappears as soon as he pulls her into his arms.

Her lips find his immediately, settling into his embrace with a little giggle.

“Is it silly that I missed you all night?”

GM: “No. It isn’t silly at all.” His answering kiss isn’t passionate, but it’s definitely… needful. He gives her a tired smile.

“Let’s get you onto the counter, it’s hard to molest my present when she’s in my arms like this.”

Celia: She can agree to that.

GM: Roderick carries her to the kitchen counter and sets her down, even placing her feet in the sink. His lips trace her cheek, her neck, and then her breasts as his hands appreciatively trace her her hips and rump. He finally lays his head against her chest for a long moment.

“Tonight sucked.”

Celia: Celia pulls him close, stroking her hands across his chest and shoulders, then around the back of his neck and head. She cradles his face against her chest.

“Talk to me. What happened?”

GM: “Just a lot of… bullshit in Elysium.”

Celia: “Oh, did I miss something after I left?”

GM: He lays his head contently against her.

“The story. With the hunters.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t wince, but she wants to.

“I’m sorry.”

GM: “They wanted the details. All the details. Everything I could remember.”

“Guess the topic was a real hit.”

Celia: “Bet it made you look like a badass, though.”

GM: “I’m not proud of what I did there. I felt sick, boasting about it.”

Celia: She should have realized. Should have used something else. Anything else.

GM: “Chris congratulated me for losing my virginity.”

“That was a real hoot.”

Celia: Maybe the floor will swallow her.

GM: “Veronica and Adelais had a real time with it.”

Celia: “Were they cruel to you?” Sharpness in her voice that hadn’t been there a moment ago.

GM: “They’re cruel to everyone.”

“I guess this was mild, for them.”

Celia: “Cunts.”

GM: “Backhand barbs in all the compliments. I swear that only the harpies can make compliments still feel like put-downs, but like there’s nothing you can do except nod dumbly along.”

Celia: “You could dig back. Or divert their attention. They’re like dogs that see a squirrel. Chase after it.”

GM: “I guess,” he says heavily. “They just really liked the story with the hunters. I guess fuck hunters.”

“Coco… god. She drew it out.”

“The story. Brought everyone back to it, when other things started to come up.”

“So I had to just nod along, because, well, she’s my sire.”

Celia: Her lips purse.

“Why would she do that? She knows how you feel about it.”

GM: “Yeah. She still did. Asked a bunch of questions. Said a bunch of things. Just wouldn’t let the topic drop.”

Celia: “I thought she was better than the others, but the more you tell me about her the less I think that.”

“At least Veronica is upfront about being a bitch.”

GM: “She is better,” Roderick says defensively. “I’d rather have her than Veronica, I know that.”

Celia: Celia sighs.

“Right. Sorry.”

GM: “She didn’t put me down or try to make me look stupid. Just… wouldn’t let it drop.”

Celia: “Was she fishing for details? To find out if you’d really been alone?”

GM: “I already told her all the details, before tonight.”

Celia: “Then why?”

GM: “That’s what I asked her, afterwards.”

“Well, ‘asked.’ More like yelled. We got into it.”

“She said she was looking out for me, that it raised my standing for Elysium to hear I’d killed those hunters. That it did, indeed, make me look like a badass, and other Kindred would respect me more. Killing hunters is a socially contributive thing for good Camarilla licks to do.”

Celia: Gee, Celia should show off her kill count then.

GM: “I told her how I wasn’t proud of it. That the whole thing made me sick.”

Celia: Tell them all how she made them kill themselves while she’d been cuffed.

Doesn’t sound like Coco cares much about what her childe wants. But Celia knows better than to say that.

GM: “There’s a quote from Foundation that I like. Sci-fi book I read a while ago, if you haven’t. ‘Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.’”

He shared it with her once as a mortal, too. Back in college.

Celia: “Did you say that to her, too?”

GM: “Yeah.”

Celia: “How did that go over?”

GM: “She took it pretty calmly. Said she agreed, herself, but that Elysium doesn’t see it that way. That they hadn’t mastered their instincts and just liked to hear stories about how blood flowed, beyond the hunter aspect.”

“She said how violence is essentially entertainment. That it’s technically only an incompetent’s refuge if they’re trying to achieve an end that doesn’t need to involve violence. So the quote doesn’t actually apply.”

Celia: “Mmm.” A noncommittal sound at that.

GM: “You don’t agree?”

Celia: “I know better than to debate with you and Coco.”

“I just think that she could have let the talk fade. Bringing it back up looks… well. Like she’s reaching.”

Desperate.

It looks bad.

GM: “Without debate, the mind stagnates. It’s a fitness regimen for your brain.”

“Her words.”

Celia: Of course they are.

Celia smiles politely.

GM: “She didn’t look reaching. She was… subtle. Just a word here or there, giving me extra spotlight. She let it drop after enough, but it would’ve dropped sooner without her.”

“Perks of having a primogen sire, I guess. More time in the limelight.”

Celia: Elder’s pet.

He’d be hunter chow if not for her.

GM: “I still yelled at her over how I wasn’t proud of that and didn’t want credit for it.”

Celia: And Coco didn’t care, she bets.

GM: “She said I needed standing and respect if I wanted to make a difference in Kindred society, and this was another stepping stone. She said they were already dead, so it’s not like I was hurting anyone.”

Celia: “…you don’t… you don’t think she…”

GM: “Think she what?”

Celia: “Nothing,” Celia murmurs. “I don’t even want to suggest it.”

GM: He looks up from her chest. “What?”

Celia: “How many people know about your haven?”

GM: “Her. My krewe. You, i…”

His mouth drops. “You are NOT saying…!”

Celia: Celia hadn’t said anything.

She’d just asked a question.

GM: “No! She wouldn’t do that! How can you even say that!?”

“She’s not just another elder like you keep making her out!”

Celia: “Roderick. Stop. I didn’t say that. I asked a question. I didn’t mean to imply anything. I’m trying to figure out who has it out for you because you could have died. I love you. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

Makes sense though, doesn’t it? Knows her childe can fend for himself. That his ghouls will help.

GM: “Why would my sire have it out for me,” he grumbles. “She wanted to ash me, she could do that with her own hands, easy.”

Celia: “Do you want to have a calm discussion about this?”

GM: “I am calm.”

Celia: “It’s not to get rid of you. It’s to use the fact that you killed them to your and her advantage. You look good. She looks good.”

GM: “She’s the one who taught me to fight. There’s no way I could take her i…”

Celia: “She knew you could handle it.”

GM: Roderick doesn’t say anything to that for a moment.

“She knew I was a virgin. That I didn’t want to kill.”

Celia: Celia stays quiet with him, her fingers moving slowly across the back of his neck.

What had he said about Coco? That when push comes to shove she’s still another elder. Life is cheap.

Maybe she’d been embarrassed by her virgin childe. Or maybe she’s playing a different game. Maybe he’s just the first childe to be thrown to the Inquisition.

“Maybe she didn’t expect you to kill them,” Celia finally offers. “And maybe if you hadn’t been worried about me you wouldn’t have.”

GM: “Don’t blame yourself for this,” Roderick says, shaking his head. “They attacked me, in my home, with lethal force. I’d have tried to take them alive, but I could’ve easily lost control. You know how I do that. How all my clan does that. Provoking a Brujah is not a smart thing to do if you don’t want someone getting seriously hurt.”

Celia: She’s been on the receiving end of those fists. She knows how true that is.

She shivers at the memory, but holds her tongue.

Doesn’t remind him what he did to her.

GM: Roderick effects a sigh and pulls her close again, rubbing his head against hers.

“I’m just glad I can come back to you, at the end of the night. My sweet and kind and dolled up present who’s too pretty to walk.”

Celia: Is that all she is?

She doesn’t put the thought into words.

“I like coming home to you. Knowing that you’ll be here.” Celia touches the side of his face. Her thumb traces across his lower lip. “I’m happy with you. Safe.”

GM: He smiles back.

“I am too. I feel safe with you.”

Celia: “Because I’m so tough?”

Celia flexes.

GM: He laughs. “Tough comes in a lot of flavors. But also safe because I can be who I really am, around you.”

Celia: Wouldn’t that be nice. To have someone she can be herself with.

Who is she with Roderick? She doesn’t even know anymore.

“I’ll always be here for you. I don’t care what happens in the rest of the world or city. This, here?” Celia touches his chest. “This is home.”

GM: “This is home,” he murmurs, nuzzling her neck.

“Now, I promised I’d clean your shoes, didn’t I?”

Celia: “I recall you mentioning you’d worship me. With your mouth.”

GM: “Mmm, so I did. Do you still want me to clean your temple, or do you want to be worshiped, right away?”

Celia: “That depends. Am I allowed to tell everyone that I made you clean the soles of my shoes for me?”

“I’ll say we arm wrestled. And I won.”

GM: “Never. They’d all beg for the privilege too, once they realized that was allowed.”

“I’d have to fight them all, to keep them from your shoes.”

Celia: “I didn’t realize you had a thing for ladies’ shoes.”

Celia squints at him. “Do you still have my panties in your pocket?”

GM: He smirks and fishes them out.

“Put them back in just for this occasion.”

Celia: “A souvenir from your conquest. Worship away, loyal follower. I shall not dictate the terms of your service.”

GM: “All right then.” He picks her off the counter and slings her over his shoulder, ass in the air.

“I guess I’ll enjoy my conquest…”


Saturday evening, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: Enjoy it he does. Celia doesn’t feel his seed fill her womanhood, when she can tell how he hits his climax from the way he pumps faster. He goes limp, after that, but the lack of cum seems to have its advantages (beyond the diminished mess), because he’s hard again in no time at all. The lovers know pleasure in one another’s arms until the sun rises, and Roderick pulls Celia against his chest in familiar spooning position. They wake up after eight hours that pass in a second to their clothes still on. It’s not like the two corpses sweat or fart or smell or move in their sleep.

“Mmm,” he murmurs into her ear when she stirs. His arms still encircle her waist. “Someone’s up earlier.”

Celia: Good thing, too, because she’d meant to talk to him about a handful of things earlier and he’d distracted her with the promise of sex.

Her Beast yowls in her ear as soon as she wakes, making sure she knows that it, too, is hungry. That it doesn’t appreciate being ignored and not having its needs met while she fucks her lover. Where’s the blood, it demands.

Celia snuggles back against Roderick’s chest, ignoring it for a moment.

“I couldn’t let you shave my head,” she says seriously. “I have an important meeting today. Can’t look silly.”

She checks the time. Early. She doesn’t even need to rush to get ready to meet her father.

“What are you doing tonight?”

GM: “Haven-hunting, first. That meeting anything I can help with?”

Celia: “Just stay with me forever.”

GM: “That’s tempting. But it’s tempting fate to come into the Quarter every night, even this close to the border.”

Celia: “We’ll dig a tunnel.”

GM: “Mmm. Bad idea, in this city. Same reason we don’t have basements.” He gives her a squeeze. “You can come stay at my place, though. You’ll always be welcome there.”

Celia: “Probably shouldn’t be seen visiting you that much. Don’t need people talking.”

GM: “Turn into a cat. I’ll give you belly rubs inside my haven.”

Celia: “Sold.”

“What would you want to be? If you could change.”

GM: “Oh, change what?”

Celia: “Your form. If you learned how to shift.”

GM: “Hmm. Interesting question.”

“Wolf is a classic. I’ve always liked dogs.”

Celia: “I could see that.”

GM: “There’s a lot to admire in wolves, too.”

Celia: “You’d be a corgi. Maybe a pomeranian.”

GM: “A corgi?”

Celia: “A little fluffy thing. I could put you in my purse.”

GM: “Ha. Haven’t heard of any licks turning into toy dogs.”

Celia: “That’s because they’re embarrassed.”

GM: “There’s worse places to spend your Requiem.”

“Much worse.”

“Though if I’m going to be something small, I’d rather be something small enough for you to stick between your bra…”

Celia: “Like a spider?” Celia makes a face.

GM: “Ew. I’ll pass.”

Celia: “Same. Don’t think I’d let one in my bra anyway.”

“They can’t hurt you, yada yada. Still gross.”

GM: “They are. Anyways, this meeting anything I could help with?”

Celia: “I don’t think so,” Celia says after a moment of consideration. “It’s with… um. It’s with my dad.”

GM: “Your dad,” he says slowly.

Celia: “When I called him the other day. We set it up. About Emily stabbing him. You fell asleep before I could tell you.”

“Which is a shame because I told Emily how good you were in bed. You missed it.”

GM: He gives a slight smile, subdued by obvious thoughts over Celia’s meeting with her father.

Celia: “I’m nervous,” she admits. “I don’t know what he wants.”

“I haven’t seen him since… you know. "

GM: “Yeah. So what do you want to get out of it?”

Celia: “I want him to leave my mom alone. I want to know what he did to Lucy when he drove her to school. I want to make sure he isn’t going to go running to his master about Emily stabbing him.”

GM: “Okay. Those are all good goals.”

“Do you think you can get him to?”

Celia: “I’m not sure,” she admits. “I don’t know why he’s suddenly acting nice. If the sheriff pulled his talons out of his head or what.”

“People don’t just change.”

GM: “I’d assume the worst with him. He made your and your mom’s lives living hells. He’s a scumbag rapist child abuser.”

Celia: “I know. It just doesn’t make sense. Why now. Why come after her now. I mean, Logan is the one who brought him over, but… it just… Logan told me that he misses us, that he’s proud of me, that he never remarried or anything. And my mom…” Celia shifts in his arms, looking up at him.

“She had a nightmare about falling. And Maxen taking Lucy away. And she did fall. And now I wonder if Maxen is going to come after Lucy.”

GM: “He thinks she’s your daughter, right? You’re positive?”

Celia: “Yes. But he was alone in the car with her. What if he took a hair or something?”

GM: “Hm. I was about to ask why he’d want to do a paternity test, but… you’ve not said who the father is. Maybe he somehow thinks it’s his business to know.”

Celia: “He could ask. And it’s no one’s business anyway. Lucy doesn’t need a dad. She has three moms.”

GM: “A male role model might not be bad. But I agree. Her needs seem like they’re being more than met.”

“And I know. He could, and it’s not his business, but he’s a sick and twisted fuck who doesn’t respect other people or their boundaries.”

Celia: “What do I do if he knows?”

GM: “Prepare for a custody fight.”

Celia: “My mom wants to get back with him. I don’t know if I told you. There’s been a lot going on.”

“But the other night she was talking about it. How she misses him. As if he didn’t take her leg off with a hacksaw. Or rape her. Or hurt the rest of us.”

“Jesus apparently wants her to forgive.”

GM: “Your mom’s a little nuts.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “I’m not sure what to do about that. But I guess meeting with him… well, I’m not about to say it can’t hurt, but the rewards sound worth having to let him back into your life, even a little. Just to find out what he’s after.”

Roderick squeezes her again. “You’re a badass lick now, though. He can’t hurt you.”

Celia: His friend in the shadows can, though. And probably will if he finds out about this.

“Right. Badass lick. I’ll beat him up.”

“I lied. I thought of something you can do to help.”

GM: “Anything.”

Celia: She doesn’t want to ask. It’s lazy of her. She could hurry and get ready and find a willing mortal somewhere along the way. But he’s right here.

Celia bites her lip. She glances away.

GM: He hugs her close again, shifting her position so his mouth is by her ear.

“I’m here. Name it.”

Celia: The breath on her ear sends shivers running down her spine.

“I don’t want to lose control around him. I mean. I do. But I can’t. And I’d rather spend what time I can with you instead of tracking down a vessel before I have to go choke down food.”

GM: He nods. “Okay. Let’s get a cup or something so I don’t collar you any tighter.”

Celia: “Smart.” Celia pulls away to find one. Luckily she’s got all those pots and pans she’d knocked over the other night; it takes a few seconds to find a cup.

GM: Roderick bites his wrist and bleeds into it.

“Just say when.”

Celia: She says when. The thing inside of her wants more, it always does. It’s a greedy little monster. But Celia doesn’t want to put him out any more than she needs to. He’s already doing her a favor; no need to drain him dry.

She watches the glass fill, can feel her fangs distend in her mouth. She’s patient enough to wait a moment longer before she reaches for the glass to drink down his offering.

GM: His blood is hot and filling and ferocious, like all Brujah blood, but sharpens and clarifies her thoughts too. It feels like a good libation before she sees her father.

Celia: She drains it. Licks the rim. Doesn’t let a bit of it go to waste. And when it’s gone she curls herself around his body, tucking her head against his chest, and thanks him for what he’s done for her.

“Do you really want us to get a place together?”

GM: He holds her close and runs his hand along the back of her head.

“Why not? We’d be safer, and I love spending time with you.”

Celia: “It’ll need a big closet. Really big. Whatever you’re thinking, triple it.”

GM: He laughs. “Okay. Walk-ins, got it.”

“Actually never had one of those.”

Celia: “You still won’t.” Her brows lift. Celia shares many things. Closet space is not one of them.

“What’s your krewe going to say when they find all those beautiful dresses in your place? Could tell them you’re exploring your feminine side.”

GM: He smirks. “Could also just tell them they’re my renfield’s. But I doubt they’ll see your closet.”

Celia: “Do you spoil Bess with clothes?”

GM: “Bess isn’t my renfield.”

Celia: “…did I get her name wrong?”

GM: “She’s the property manager at my old haven.”

Celia: “Oh. So the boy with the messy place is yours.”

Messy place. Her eyes dart around her still-destroyed haven.

Whoops.

GM: “Yeah, he’s one of them.”

“All right. We should get ready for our nights. I’m also going to reach out to Ayame, I still haven’t heard back from her.”

“Dani can’t stay in the Quarter.”

Celia: “She’s not safe anywhere else in the city. You think the sheriff is going to let her go back to her place in Riverbend?”

GM: “That’s why I’m getting her out.”

Celia: “She doesn’t want to leave, Roderick. She… your death broke your dad. That’s what she said to me last night. That he’s just a shell. That she’s a poor replacement for you, but she’s all he has.”

GM: “Wait, what? You spoke with her?” Roderick’s eyes widen.

Celia: “I told you I’d find her.”

GM: He frowns. “Why didn’t you tell me last night?”

Celia: “You were upset about Coco. And then we got distracted.”

GM: “All right. Tell me about her! Is she safe? Is she all right?”

Celia: “She’s safe. She’s all right. She was turned a week ago but she doesn’t remember by who. She thought she was the only one in the world, and she’s been looking for answers, but so far she hasn’t gotten anywhere. She’s…” Celia runs her hand through her hair. “She’s a thin-blood. Like for real. Didn’t have any idea about anything. I had to explain it all to her. She’s in law school, you know.”

“And she said your dad wishes she had died instead of you. That she’s… how did she put it, the O’Tolleys playground after being promised Disneyland. It was… bleak.”

GM: “Oh my… god…” Roderick whispers, taking all of that in.

“That’s not true, he loves her just as much as me!”

Celia: “That’s what I told her. We talked for a while about it.”

GM: Celia may think back to their own discussion about her mother’s favorite children in 2012.

How Roderick said all parents have favorites.

Celia: Parents are supposed to love the one that’s left, though.

“When we were dating, all those years ago, she said similar things to me.”

“It sounds like she’s always felt as if she were in your shadow.”

GM: “I’m the older sibling, by six years. And the one who was going to carry on the family legacy. I guess that was inevitable.”

Celia: “She wants to now. You should have seen her, Roderick, she scared off some guy who tried to rape a teenager. Talked about wanting to do good, change the world. It was like talking to you.”

“Just… a you with no confidence.”

GM: Roderick smiles at first, then stops.

“I’ll be honest… she’s a vampire now. And a thin-blood. That really closes a lot of doors.”

Celia: “She won’t do any better in Houston than she will here. Those doors will still be closed.”

GM: “Houston doesn’t have a policy of active genocide. It’s not going to be a good unlife for her, but I saw that massacre, Celia! She isn’t safe here!”

Celia: “I can keep her safe. I will keep her safe. She’s already learned the basics. She’s a bright kid. And I have some ideas for her.”

GM: “Except for how she’ll be Savoy’s hostage.”

Celia: “I promise you, Roderick, I will keep her from being harmed. Even by Savoy.”

“You know she doesn’t have a Beast? It’s safe for her to be around your dad. She won’t have to fake her death, not for a long time.”

GM: “Celia, you can’t keep her safe from Savoy. He knows who she is to me.”

Celia: “She doesn’t have powers, Roderick. None of them do. What do you think is going to happen if she goes to Houston? She’ll be a punching bag. Worse than a ghoul. They might not have an active genocide, but they aren’t going to give a fuck if some random thin-blood ends up dead.”

“You can see her here. Your dad can see her here. He won’t have to bury another kid.”

“She wants to go into business with you. Legal stuff. You could be a team.”

GM: “And all I’ll have to do is kiss Savoy’s ring, betray Coco, and work for him.”

Celia: Celia takes his hand in hers. She’s quiet for a moment, searching his face with her gaze.

The moment stretches between them. She doesn’t let the silence get awkward; how can it be, with two people who love each other? It’s a comfortable silence, the sort of silence that neither one of them need to fill. An understanding silence.

Celia moves her hands down his chest, working at the buttons on his shirt as she goes. Once they’re free she slides her hands back around him, fingers moving against the muscles on his back. She doesn’t dig, just lets her skin slide against his, feeling for the little spots of tightness that speak of tension and pain and past trauma.

She knows his body well. She knows where to touch, where it hurts, where her hands will find the answers she’s looking for.

And she’s well practiced at this technique by now. It stretches between them, that little band of energy that pulls her along for the ride. She doesn’t become him. It’s different with licks. Their Beasts are more wary than the kine. But she can surround him with herself. She cans see the spinning orbs and set them into motion, can free the ones she needs freed, the little blue light at his throat that might ordinarily keep him silent.

“I’d like to ask you something, if you don’t mind.” she murmurs after a moment. Her voice stays quiet. Steady. She’s nothing but a concerned girlfriend giving the boy she loves what comfort she can. “A personal question.”

GM: Roderick sighs with relief and doesn’t fight his girlfriend’s massage. He used to eat her out in return for this, after all.

It’s even easier to invade his mind than Diana’s was. He just lets her right in, equally oblivious to the supernal influence washing over this thoughts.

“You can ask me anything,” he murmurs.

Celia: “We talked before,” she continues quietly, moving her hands up and down his lats and making tiny circles across the paraspinals, “about getting married. And taking that third step with each other. Making it special. And I keep coming back to that thought. Sometimes it’s the only thing that gets me through the night, the thought that… that you’re waiting for me, that I get to come home to you.” Her cheek presses against his chest while her fingers work their magic. “And I was just wondering… if you’ve done that with anyone before. If you’re already fully bound to someone.”

Like Coco.

GM: “No, I’m only two steps collared to her,” Roderick answers calmly.

Celia: “And to me?” The words come out as barely more than a whisper.

GM: “Once, I’m pretty confident.”

“I’d like to save the second drink for sometime special.”

Celia: So it had snapped that night. Broken face, broken heart, broken collar. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Celia silently nods her head. Something paces back and forth inside her chest. Not the Beast, but something similar. Something worse, maybe, that tells her… that tells her she’ll never be good enough for him. That if she doesn’t make him drink he’ll never choose her over her Coco. He’ll never think she’s smart enough. He’ll never think she’s strong enough. He’ll never think she’s capable. He thinks she’s pretty, but so does everyone. That’s all she has. She’s pretty.

She doesn’t realize when the tears begin to leak from her eyes. She wipes her cheek on her shoulder but only succeeds in smearing the blood across her face.

She’s a monster. And now it’s written across that oh-so-pretty face of hers.

Celia finds the tether between them, the little beam of white energy. She pulls it back into her body, withdrawing from her boyfriend’s mind. Her hands don’t stop, though. They continue for another beat before traveling upward and around his shoulders and the neck, rising to the tips of her toes so she can whisper, “me too,” right before she presses her lips against his.

GM: Roderick returns her kiss and wraps his strong arms around her, holding her close and tight.

“You’re crying,” he says after a moment, pulling away enough for her to see the concern writ across his face. “What’s wrong?”

Celia: Everything.

Nothing.

She doesn’t know anymore. She’s forgotten why she’s upset. She’s forgotten what she’s supposed to be doing. She’s forgotten her purpose.

She wants him. She wants him to want her. She wants to get his sire’s talons out of his head. She wants to break that bond so Roderick can see, clearly, the problems that she’s causing with her blind obedience and loyalty. She wants him to see that he’s on the wrong side. That his sire is just as bad as every other elder, and the fact that she hides it behind intellect and charm doesn’t mean she’s not. She wants him to realize that Coco set him up, that she sent the hunters after him, that she’s keeping him busy with scribe duties and note taking and won’t lift a finger to help him with his actual dreams because she doesn’t want him to succeed, because she doesn’t care about him. He’s a pawn. A tool. Like her.

But she can’t tell him, can she? Because his mind has been twisted by the blood. And maybe hers has too. Maybe the thing in her chest, the green monster, maybe that’s controlling her thoughts.

Maybe it’s the sheer amount of collars on her and leashes that tug her in so many different directions that causes this loss of control, that makes it spill down her cheeks. Or the thought of failure. She’s failing. Again.

But she can’t answer his question. Because she doesn’t even know where to start.

GM: “Shhh. It’s okay,” Roderick says softly, drying her tears with his hands. Celia can see the fangs in his mouth at the heady scent, but he hugs her close again, running his hand up and down the small of her back. “I’ve got you. I’m right here.”

“I love you. You’re safe.”

Celia: Twice in two nights.

She’s a wreck.

“Are you coming back tonight?”

GM: He rubs up towards her head.

“You bet.”

Celia: Celia nods. The smile she tries to send his way falters before it makes a complete journey across her face.

“Savoy summoned me tonight. I expect it’s for an update.”

GM: “Oh, what on?”

Celia: He knows what on.

GM: His face downturns into a scowl.

Celia: She doesn’t quite flinch. But there’s a wariness to her that wasn’t there a moment ago, like she’s ready to bolt if he decides to take it out on her.

Again.

GM: “Christ. I’m not about to go apeshit. You don’t need to do that every time I frown.”

Celia: “You keep getting distracted with other parts of my body when you’re supposed to show me how to throw a punch.”

GM: “I’ll show you. We’ll make time specifically to fuck first, then to get in some practice.”

Celia: “We did that last night. And we still ended up fucking. Again.”

GM: “Okay. We’ll make time to fuck twice.”

Celia: “Is that going to be enough?”

“I don’t know about you but the entire time Elgin was droning on I kept thinking about all the things I wanted you to do to me, and we’d just fucked.”

“And then I had to call you Mr. Durant and I had this schoolgirl fantasy…”

GM: “And what a naughty schoolgirl you’d be, not paying attention to the teacher’s lecture. Should I put you over my knee and spank you?”

“Ah, wait. Crap. That probably isn’t a turn-on for you.”

Celia: “Er… actually…”

GM: He raises his eyebrows. “It still is?”

Celia: She gives a sort of helpless shrug, eyes dropping to the middle of the chest rather than meet his gaze. She can’t quite keep the smile—two parts bashful, one part wicked—from her lips.

GM: “Well, if you want to now… when do you have to be out the door by?”

Celia: “I’m torn between arousal and horror at the thought of showing up to dinner with my dad after you spank me.”

GM: “Yeah, I kinda had the same thought…”

Celia: “Bet we have time to fuck, though. In the shower. Two birds.”

“And then later tonight I can find a plaid skirt and some mary janes.”

“Maybe get you a tie.”

GM: “Eh, the schoolgirl skirt and shoes don’t really turn me on. I love you in this dress, though. Happy to spank you in it. It’s so tight and sexy, the way it clings to your hips…” He runs his hands up and down her sides again.

Celia: Celia leans into his touch. Her breath hitches as his hands move down her sides, whatever she had been about to say lost to the moment.

“I suppose,” she murmurs, “that it’s a good thing I have dozens just like this. Why don’t you help me out of it and tonight I’ll let you pick something else you can bend me over your lap in…” She tugs him toward the shower.

Conscious of the time, Celia and Roderick make it quick. Their clothing comes off without any prolonged foreplay, and when he takes her in the shower with her legs around his waist and her back pressed to the tile wall it’s frantic and needy. No fangs come out to play, just skin and lips and hands that bring them both to completion.

She loves him for it. For his willingness to play human and take her like a man takes a woman. For not judging that she still revels in the closeness of their bodies, or that she cries out the same way she used to, or that sometimes she just wants to kiss him without the taste of blood. She loves him for many reasons, but that’s one of them.

She tells him that after he lets her down, when his hands, lathered with soap, run down her body. She tells him that she loves him, that she’ll always love him, and that she can’t wait to spend the rest of her Requiem with him. She’s looking forward to more evenings like this: waking up in his arms, discussing their plans, going their separate ways, coming back home to each other.

She only wishes they didn’t have to hide it.

“Let me know what the Asian says so I can figure how to play this tonight, yeah?”

GM: The shower sex is brief but passionate. Roderick is so strong now and can lift her up like she’s nothing as he penetrates her. It probably doesn’t hurt how she’s removed many of her internal organs either. Or how his ass is now tighter. The pair emerge wet and dripping from the shower, and Roderick enjoys himself setting Celia on the counter and toweling her off in manner that feels more like being molested through the towel.

“God, I can’t keep my hands off you,” he murmurs.

He says he loves her too, so much, and can’t wait to get married as breathers. The way they were meant to.

He does so much to pleasure her body, to show the depth of his affection through touch. He touches her in ways Pietro never will with his feather-light fingers. He touches her like a woman, not just a lick. His libido is up to fuck whenever hers is.

And yet, her thoughts have strayed to other licks and ghouls and men, as assuredly as Evan strayed from Roxanne.

Perhaps they do now, or perhaps they don’t. But it’s as Mabel said.

Enough love to go around.

“Her name’s Ayame. I think she probably gets enough of ‘the Asian’ from other Anarchs.”

“And the sad thing is we’re still the most progressive club. Pretty sure the Invictus still calls them ‘orientals.’”

Celia: Her mind doesn’t wander when Roderick is inside of her. Or when he lays her out on the counter to “dry her off.” Or when he touches her. Right now her attention is fully on him, despite the overabundance of love in her… heart.

“Sorry,” Celia murmurs. “You’re right, of course. I know her name.” She lets out a long, forced sigh.

GM: “I also don’t like hearing how Savoy expects progress reports on manipulating me.”

Celia: “…you’re the one who brought it up nights ago, that he probably will expect them.”

“I don’t know if that’s what this is about. It could be any number of things.”

GM: “Let’s just not talk about him while we’re here.” He lifts up her chin to dab some moisture around her upper neck.

Celia: “Politics free zone?”

Celia lifts her chin for him, giving him easy access to the spot he needs.

GM: “That’s right.” She wonders if there was even anything to towel away there, because he kisses her instead.

Celia: There wasn’t. They both know there wasn’t. But Celia is happy to play along.

She lets out a breathy giggle at the touch.

“You’re insatiable.”

GM: He steals another kiss.

“Only because you’re irresistible.”

Celia: “I heard,” she whispers slyly, “that I’m the cutest lick in the city.”

GM: “You heard wrong. I heard you were the cutest lick in the world.”

“Although I suppose ‘in the city’ is still technically accurate.”

“We should schedule an entire night, sometime. To do nothing besides fuck in every way we can think up. I wonder if that would get it out of our systems.”

Celia: “Doubt it. But we can certainly try.”

GM: “We’ll do it for research purposes.”

Celia: “Of course.”

“Has it gotten better for you?” She nods toward what’s hiding behind the towel around his hips.

GM: There’s already a bulge.

“Think that answers your question,” he smirks, glancing down.

Celia: “But are you doing that?” She reaches for him anyway, loosening the towel to let it fall to the ground.

GM: His penis is there and hard.

“Not consciously. It’s funny.”

“I thought we couldn’t enjoy sex, so for a while I just didn’t try to.”

Celia: “It’s because I’m so pretty, to be honest.” She takes him into her hand.

…what if it is her?

GM: He’s stiff and pulsing under her touch.

“Must be it. It’s not like I’ve ever seen a girl who compares.”

He smiles and glances down.

“You know, I bet your dad will expect a kiss on the cheek, and if those were the same lips that had just sucked a dick…”

Celia: “Scandalous.”

But she’s on her knees a moment later.

GM: He lays out the towel underneath and folds it twice before she does. It seems less scandalous when he doesn’t cum in her mouth, but her lover still looks as if he (greatly) enjoys himself, and she can indeed kiss her father with lips that just sucked a dick.

Celia: What else can any girl possibly want?

It’s when he pulls her up after he finishes and kisses her throughly (that lack of cum is good for many reasons, it turns out) that she finally asks the question she’s been wondering since they’d gotten back together:

“Are we exclusive?”

GM: Roderick picks her up and carries her to her closet so she can pick out clothes.

“I’d like us to be, yeah.”

Celia: She had expected as much.

Celia opens the closet door, revealing a veritable treasure trove of clothing and accessories. It’s no wonder she demanded her own closet earlier: there’s literally no room for anything but her in here. It must have served some other function and been turned into a walk-in, because the space itself measures half the size of the front room. Clothes, shoes, bags, and other assorted accessories cover every square inch of it, neatly arranged by… well, by some sort of system that only she seems to understand. Dresses hang from the bars that have been installed on every wall, with racks of shoes beneath them. Countless pairs of heels, flats, and boots wait for her to step into them. Above the dresses shelves have been built into the walls to hold her collection of handbags and hats, and the scarves that dangle from hooks look more like decor than fashion. Soft, shimmery, glittery. A custom-built “island” has drawers that pull out to reveal undergarments ranging from barely-there strappy little numbers to a more conservative cheeky panty. Thigh-highs, fishnets, stockings, and socks sit pretty in another. The last reveals a tray of various pieces of jewelry nestled in velvet, half of which were gifted to her by Pietro; the thief had once said that she looks her best when he drapes her in diamonds, pearls, and emeralds. “Just jewels and skin.”

She directs him toward a section in the back corner where a smaller selection of more modest clothing hangs, separated from the rest by a large white garment bag.

A pair of eyes peer out at Celia from behind a handbag on the top shelf as Roderick sets her down. Blossom has always loved spending time in here. Celia gives the doll a fond smile, arching a delicate eyebrow at her as if to ask if she’s getting up to something she shouldn’t be. She’s been quite taken with a certain somebody since their introduction… and, yes, there, a flash of brown hair. Delighted, Celia winks at the doll.

“Are you going to start fights with everyone who looks at me sideways?” she asks idly of Roderick, thumbing through the hangers.

GM: “Jesus, this is a lot of clothes. And you have even more at your other haven?” he remarks as he carries her over.

Blossom smiles back at her mother.

“He didn’t just look. He touched you.”

Celia: “I like clothes,” Celia says with a shrug. She turns her eyes away from the doll, letting her keep her secrets for now.

“And yes, I’m aware he touched me. You were going to come to blows over it.” There’s no question there; she knows exactly what his plan was.

GM: “I like how good you look in them, too. Just surprised you have so many.”

“And yeah. I was gonna challenge him to a duel.”

Celia: “I assumed. I’m flattered. But you know that’s what they do, right?” She turns to face him, clothing forgotten for the moment. “They touch me. That’s how they see me, as a pretty, vapid slut they get to touch.”

GM: “You’re not vapid or a slut, and I’ll punch out anyone who treats you like you are.”

Celia: He’d almost called her stupid the other night. But she doesn’t point it out.

“It’s just a mask, Roderick.”

GM: “You don’t need to wear that mask.”

Celia: “Are you planning on declaring your love for me to the whole city?”

GM: “If you wanted to join the Anarchs, we could. Some licks would try to take advantage, but would it be so bad?”

Celia: “I will not support Vidal. Ever.”

GM: “I didn’t say Vidal. I said the Anarchs.”

Celia: “The Anarchs support Vidal. Coco and Opal support Vidal.”

GM: “They might, but plenty Anarchs have about as much to do with the prince as you do.”

Celia: “I will not even nominally throw in with someone who would support the massacre of people like your sister, or let monsters like the sheriff roam the streets and mete out his version of ‘justice.’”

GM: Roderick effects a sigh. “I have an answer to that, but maybe it’s better we just not get into politics.”

Celia: “Frankly I’d be surprised if whoever takes over for him even lets the Anarchs keep what they have.”

Celia closes her mouth.

GM: “Their mistake. Whoever takes over is going to be a weaker prince, and even Vidal wouldn’t want to deal with the fallout of that.”

“But I’m already breaking my word.”

“Speaking of Dani. I want to see her.”

“Could you bring her here? I know you’re concerned about this place’s security, so you could just leave her phone behind, take her in the trunk, and blindfold her on the way in and out.”

Celia: “They’re watching her. I told you that.”

GM: Roderick effects another sigh. “You did. And you’re right. They’d just watch you do it.”

“Wishful thinking.”

Celia: “I’m sorry. I know you want to see her.”

“Maybe I can… ask him.”

GM: Roderick’s arms tense under Celia.

Celia: “I’ll just offer a favor or… or something.”

GM: He shakes his head. “You don’t need to do that. Get in any deeper with him. I’ll get to see Dani.”

Celia: “I’d do it for you. To make you happy. I’d do that.”

GM: “I’ll get to see her,” he repeats. “We do need an extract plan, to get her out of the city. I’ve already been working on that. Part of what I’m going to take care of tonight.”

Celia: “With Ayame?”

GM: “This is on my end. She promised transport out of the city, not moving a thin-blood out of the Quarter unseen.”

Celia: “…are you going to break into the Quarter to get her out?”

GM: He presses his lips together. “It’s a bigger security risk if you know the details.”

“But I trust you, if you want to know.”

Celia: She looks as if he’d slapped her. Just for a moment, until the rest of it follows.

GM: “…I just said I trust you.”

Celia: “Considering I’m the one that’s going to take the heat for this, yeah, Roderick, I’d like to know.”

GM: “Okay. I’m going to get her out during the day.”

“I’ve talked to some duskborn. They still burn in the sun, but not as bad as us.”

Celia: “Dani said she doesn’t burn. She said she just gets tired.”

GM: He blinks. “What?”

Celia: “I asked. She said she tested it.”

GM: “You’re positive? How comprehensively did she test it?”

Celia: “She said she read about it in Dracula. That he doesn’t burn, just loses his powers.”

GM: “Sure. But that’s fiction.”

Celia: “Right, which is what I told her.”

“Are you going to let her finish the semester, at least? So she has a chance to transfer?”

“I had to drop everything. It… sucked.”

GM: He shakes his head. “It’ll suck less than the alternative. She has forever. She can take as long as she wants to finish school, if she still wants to.”

Celia: “But you still burn in the sun, so I don’t imagine that you’ll be the one retrieving her. You trust your ghouls with this?”

GM: “Almost. Mine, and an independent I’m hiring who’s good at shadow dancing. To hide them on their way in and out.”

“You’re positive Dani can’t burn in the sun? That would make things easier.”

Celia: “I’ll double check. The whole thin-blood thing is… weird? Fascinating?”

“Both.”

GM: Roderick shakes his head. “Who even knows what the rules are with them.”

Celia: “She wants to know why people don’t like her kind. I didn’t know what to say.”

GM: “Hatred of the other. Fear. Jealousy. Disgust. Scripture. Lot of reasons.”

Celia: “That’s kind of what we discussed. It just felt thin.”

GM: “All reasons for genocide are thin. Everything about unreasoning hatred is thin.”

Roderick effects another sigh.

“I really wish I could’ve been there for her, last night.”

“But I know she was in good hands with you.”

Celia: “It was fine. She was… happy to see me, actually.”

“She wants me to talk to your dad.”

GM: He smiles. “Good. I’d been worried she’d be angry at you, over…”

“Oh?”

Celia: “Yeah. About how you helped my family. About how you’re a good person.”

GM: Roderick’s face grows still, and a moment passes before he replies, “I think… I think he’d really like that.”

Celia: “Does he know… what happened with us?”

“It’s one thing to explain to Dani, but your dad…”

GM: “Yeah. He knew.” Roderick’s words are slow. “I couldn’t… I couldn’t just keep it to myself.”

Celia: Celia rubs a hand across her face.

GM: “I wish he didn’t think I was dead,” her lover says heavily.

“I think that was the worst decision I made in my Requiem, in a lot of ways.”

Celia: “I had this thought to invite him to dinner at my mom’s house. Introduce them. Let him see how you helped my family. Bring Dani. Sneak you in, somehow.”

GM: He gives a sad smile. “That’s really sweet. You should.”

“I’d like to see him again, even if… even if he can’t know it’s me.”

Celia: “Hello Mr. Garrison, this is my boyfriend Roderick that I definitely didn’t cheat on your son with.”

GM: Roderick starts crying. Celia’s fangs lengthen in her mouth at the coppery tang.

“He was just… the best dad, Celia… I did this to him… so I could… throw body parts off boats… like a mobster…”

Celia: Her heart breaks for him. She pulls him into her arms, holding him tight while he lets it out.

GM: “I haven’t even gotten around… to the Mafia…”

“I wish I could… take it back… I shouldn’t have, have let him think I was…”

Celia: “I sent flowers. To your funeral. I didn’t show up as me because… I didn’t want to hurt them, seeing me, with you gone, I didn’t think you’d want that, but… when Dani goes, I can… I can be there, maybe, do you think..?”

Otherwise he’ll be all alone.

Burying another child.

No more little Garrisons to carry on the family line.

No more Mafia behind bars.

GM: “I… I guess it couldn’t hurt…” Roderick wipes his eyes. “He doesn’t have to think Dani’s dead, just moving away…”

Celia: “She can never come back, Roderick. Once she’s gone.”

“She’ll never see him. No holidays, no birthdays…”

GM: “He doesn’t have to think she’s dead.

“He could… come see her, maybe…?”

Celia: “She was crying last night. Like you are. At the thought of leaving him behind. About how she’d wanted to… to do so much to make him proud, and how now she can’t even have kids to carry on, and…”

GM: “Yeah,” he says bleakly. “It sucks.”

“I… I accepted this, but it was for a reason. A chance to do more good.”

Celia: But he hasn’t.

GM: “Dani was just… there wasn’t even any reason.”

“She shouldn’t exist, like this. The thin-blooded shouldn’t exist.”

Celia: “I thought you were an ally.”

How can he say that?

About his own sister?

And if he thinks that, what about the strangers in Houston?

Surely he’s considered that.

GM: “I am. Genocide is wrong in any form. But if the thin-blooded just weren’t a thing, and all thin-bloods were still breathers? They’d be better off.”

“Dani sure would be.”

“Our dad sure would be.”

Celia: Maybe Coco knew exactly what she was doing when she’d taken him.

Kept him busy with all those projects of hers.

Maybe that rumor about Carolla is more correct than he knows.

Maybe she’d arranged for Dani’s Embrace.

Half-Embrace? What do you call the partial transformation of a half-vampire?

“Don’t take her away from him, Roderick.” The words come out as a whisper. She touches a hand to his cheek, lifting his gaze towards her. “Everything she told me last night… they need each other.” She wipes at his tears with her fingers. “Losing you almost killed him. He shouldn’t have to bury another child, and that’s exactly what he’ll be doing. He’s busy. He won’t make the trip out to Houston. And how will Dani feel then? She already thinks he doesn’t love her.”

Her voice catches, threatening to break. She’d seen the pain in his sister last night.

“You can’t undo what happened to her, but you don’t have to take her away from everything she knows, everyone she knows and loves. She should have been my sister, too.”

GM: Roderick sighs wearily.

Still 22 years old, but he looks every bit past 30.

He looks down.

He’s silent for a moment.

“Let… let me see them, Celia. Dani, here. Her, my dad, at dinner.”

“I should talk to my sister. She’s the one who’s… who’s been in my dad’s life. I should hear what she wants to do. How she even feels, about Hoston.”

“But… you don’t have to stick yourself on a cross, for me. I’ll owe him. Not you. Tell him that. He’ll have his marker, to call in.”

The words sound like he’s had to pry them out of his mouth.

But above all, they sound tired.

Celia: Celia pulls him in. She rests her cheek against his chest, offering him what comfort she can with her physical body. She loves him. And she wants him to be on the right side. And that’s how she justifies what she’s doing to herself: that it’s for him. For the greater good. For Dani and all the licks like her who shouldn’t be put down for what they are. Because Vidal is a tyrant and Savoy should be in charge and when the prince takes his dirt nap Roderick will be safe.

“I’ll make it happen,” she tells him, “and I’ll keep her safe. I promise.”

GM: He holds her back for a while. He doesn’t say anything. Just holds her close against his body, face in her hair as he breathes in her familiar scent.

“Okay,” he says at length.

“Okay.”

Celia: She loves him. She tells him that, after a long moment, that she loves him.

And she repeats it to herself. That she loves him. That she’s doing the right thing. That it’s for his good. Dani’s good. Henry’s good. The city’s good.

Still, she feels like the monster everyone says she is.


Saturday evening, 12 March 2016, PM

Celia: It’s not quite the same after that, getting ready with him. Roderick is quieter after his concession and Celia gives him his space. She selects her clothing with little fanfare, packs a bag with the extra outfits she plans for Savoy’s Elysia and the rest of her meetings, and throws her makeup kit into the bag atop the gently placed dress. She has a lot to do tonight and doesn’t want to waste time coming back here to change. It doesn’t take long to do her face: natural makeup with just a hint of color on her lips and cheeks, mascara, brows filled in. Any man looking at her would assume she isn’t wearing anything at all.

She gives Roderick a final kiss goodbye at the door, long and lingering, and tells him that she’ll see him soon. Then it’s a quick drive to GW Fins to meet her dad.

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She’d made the reservation under his name—she had wanted to make sure they’d get a good table without a wait—and gives that name to the maitre’d.

The dress she’d chosen for the event is sure to please her dad. It’s the same sort of thing she’d wear with Elyse: a long, flowing skirt that almost reaches her ankles and a sleeveless blouse. Even in March New Orleans can get warm, but she has a white sweater just in case the weather changes. Not that she’ll notice, dead as she is. A golden belt adorns her waist. It matches her golden shoes with little flowers on the toes. Dark pink skirt, lighter pink top. Cute, feminine, but modest enough to not cause any sort of insult to the state senator. Not even a man like Maxen.

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She tells herself that she’s not nervous. That meeting her dad isn’t any worse than meeting anyone else in her unlife. That her sire is loads scarier than her dad.

But maybe that’s what she’s worried about. That her sire will find out about this meeting and demand to know what she’s doing with his toy. His words from years ago play through her mind now: I won’t be lenient a second time.

Maybe that’s what she’s counting on. That he’ll come to her and demand answers. Negative attention is still attention, isn’t it?

Pathetic, some part of her whispers. The Maxen part, she’s sure. She’s been hearing his voice a lot lately. Seven years of silence thrown away by one dinner, one meeting.

She follows the man to the reserved table to wait for her father.

Even with the sex, the blowjob, and the talk Celia, has arrived in plenty of time to not be late. In fact, she notices, she’s a few minutes early.

She uses that time to send out a series of texts:

To Rusty, to confirm the time of their appointment.

To Alana, to tell her to meet her at the spa at the same time.

To Dani, asking her the same thing. She gives the address of the spa and the approximate time.

Briefly, she checks her Insta page to like and respond to comments from her most recent posting. Someone from Pat McGrath’s team had seen her prior work and sent her a whole PR kit for their new release. Not just the little samples everyone else got, either, but whopping full sized products, foundation in every shade, and a collection of lip and lid colors that would put a Lisa Frank fan into a happy color coma. She’s been experimenting with the products these last few nights and finally added the photos to her update queue. The first of them had gone out earlier today while she slept.

GM: The maitre’d recognizes the reserved Flores name and smiles how “my daughter follows your MeVid channel, ma’am,” as he shows Celia to her table.

Rusty responds promptly to confirm the time.

Alana does the same.

Celia also has some texts from her ghoul that arrived while she was driving. They’re to say that Clementine got back about a time her domitor could see Celia. Which turns out to be at the Evergreen, anyways.

Dani also replies immediately that she’ll be there.

The promptness is a refreshing change of pace from dealing with elders.

Celia’s Instagram page is full of responses as ever:

Love you Celia!!!

Four hearts faces.

So pretty

Heart.

Gorgeous. Two hearts.

:) :) :) :)

You are stunning… Heart.

Babe

CELIA! You this look plus your HAIR!

So pretty!!! That lip!

Beautiful & great tune

Celia: It’s the sort of pick-me-up that she needs before a meeting with her father: running into someone whose daughter watches her videos, prompt responses from both of her ghouls plus Dani, and the influx of love and admiration from her online followers. She lets the maitre’d know that she’s happy his daughter his a fan and tells her to send her love to his girl, hearts a bunch of the comments and responds to a few others, and otherwise uses the time to mentally prepare for this dinner.

She’s glad that the new software is working out, anyway. She’d had Alana do the updates by hand during the day for a long time, but since she found it she’s been able to do a months worth of content in one night—thank you, super speed—and schedule the posts to normal “daytime” hours, which further cements the ruse that she’s nothing but human and frees up the rest of her month to pursue other things. Alana isn’t much of an editor, but Landen knows their way around a computer and has been happy to work on the MeVid videos for extra pay, so that’s worked out quite nicely for her.

All she has to do is smile and look pretty.

And do the makeup, of course.

The surprising bit is how well Madison knows her way around social media; she’s been a godsend in hashtags and marketing trends for all that she’s pushing seventy.

GM: Emily had remarked on that once. “Older people aren’t fossils. Some of them get really into social media. Some just never pick it up, but I think more because it’s outside what they’re used to and they just don’t have the interest, more than that they actually can’t.”

Case in point, Celia’s mother hasn’t touched Instagram, but she’s all over Facemash.

One of the comments on Celia’s Instagram (Gorgeous! :)) is from Dani. There’s also a Facemash friend request from her.

Celia: Unlike her Instagram, her Facemash page itself is mostly private. Friends, family, people in the industry. She’s got a public page for herself as well, but she has no problem accepting Dani’s friend request once it comes in on her personal page instead of relegating her to following the more public fan profile.

GM: Dani is following that too. As well as Celia’s Twitter.

Celia: That’s normal, right?

They’re friends.

Maybe Dani can work at the spa until they figure things out.

That’s not weird. Especially if the ideas rolling around in her head pan out.

Not that she can imagine Dani being happy at the spa, or expects the younger girl to want to “settle” for something like that. She doesn’t have the passion for it. It’s different with Celia. She’s loved that sort of work since she was a child. And she has skills to enhance her trade. Regardless of what her clan may think, she doesn’t just play with face paint all day. She sculpts bodies, too; she just doesn’t tell them that because then there’d be no end to the requests:

Remember that time I was nice to you in Elysium, Jade?

Remember when I told you that choice bit of gossip first?

Remember how we hunted together that one time and then we fucked and that definitely makes us best friends even though you haven’t had much to do with me since?

And still they’d find a reason to scorn her for something.

There’d been a few veiled comments once about her place in the Guild of Hephaestus, as if it’s somehow lesser than live performance like dance or song to turn something functional into something beautiful. Pearl hadn’t chimed in, and Adelais had just given Jade a haughty look, which she supposes she should be thankful for since they both knew what it meant. At least no one calls her a poseur.

Pity she’d given that gift to Donovan before she’d had a chance to show it off. She supposes his comment of “satisfactory” had been enough. Then again, she doubts that anyone else would have appreciated the lethal, utilitarian purpose of them. They’d have asked where the ornamentation was: the roses or scales or marbling or ridges or something that sets them apart from any other pair of black bracers. But he knows, and she knows: they suit him just fine. They’re exactly what he needs.

Maybe, she thinks, for her Journeyman’s piece she can restore Pearl to her formerly vibrant self instead of the dusty relic she’s become.

Though perhaps that’s more Master level.

No, no. Taking all the excess body off of Beaumont is Master level.

She’ll have to tell that to Veronica later.

Maybe not. Fat jokes are just low hanging fruit with Beaumont.

…like her tits.

GM: It feels normal enough. She follows her other friends’ social media.

Not that she has many breather friends anymore.

So maybe it feels more like it should be normal than is normal.

Veronica had said she should be thankful to be in Hephaestus, anyway. Makeup was an atypical art form for their clan. She’d seemed disappointed her childe hadn’t pushed harder for Aphrodite, though.

Well, more like faintly sneering.

But she could’ve done worse than to wind up with Pietro.

Celia: Hephaestus has cooler parties, but Jade never told her that.

They’re a guild secret.

GM: “You know what they say about millennials and their phones,” chuckles a male voice.

Celia: Celia ceases her ruminations about the infighting and backstabbing of her clan and presses the side button on her phone. Her own reflection winks up at her from the suddenly black surface. She lifts her gaze.

GM: It’s her dad.

He looks good, after the better part of a decade. There’s a few more wrinkles on his face, but not too many. He’s taken good care of his skin, the esthetician notes. His physique is as thick and tapered as over. He doesn’t look like he’s given up the martial arts. His head, perhaps unsurprisingly, is still bald. It makes him look well-preserved. There can’t be more gray in his hair when he has no hair. He’s dressed down from his usual politician’s uniform in a gray blazer, black pants, and light blue button-up with no tie, though he still has an American flag pin on the jacket lapel.

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“You beat me here,” he smiles. “I’d thought I was going to be the early one.”

He holds out his arms for a hug.

Celia: For half a second all she can do is stare at the man that used to be her father.

Seven years. Almost seven years. Except that one night, but she doesn’t count that. She hadn’t been herself. Here he stands like… like the years had never passed.

She’s a little kid again getting off the bus from school with her Barbie backpack slung over her shoulders and there he stands, arms open for a hug.

Celia clears the thoughts with a blink. She rises, phone sliding neatly into her purse in a smooth, practiced motion, and steps toward him. Even in heels he’s taller, bigger.

She’s a little kid again and he’s the giant that used to tuck her in and read Goodnight, Moon.

She steps into his embrace and it all comes flooding back.

“Hi, Daddy.”

GM: His arms encircle her and hold her close. Maybe Stephen is stronger, but her dad is bigger, and definitely has more muscle. Celia breathes in the scent of his aftershave. It’s a new one, which the spa owner thinks she recognizes. Invictus, which debuted in 2013. (The name was a hoot.) It opens with fresh grapefruit and a marine accord that lead to the heart of aromatic bay leaf and Hedione jasmine and a woody base of guaiac wood, patchouli, oak moss and ambergris.

“Hi, sweetie. It’s good to see you,” he murmurs.

Celia: Almost thirty years old, seven of them spent as a member of the Damned, and something as simple as her father saying it’s good to see her threatens to buckle her knees.

She breathes him in. She doesn’t mean to. It’s the esthetician in her. She recognizes the scent, just not on him. What had he used to wear? Something with anise. She’s hated it since. She even avoids the kine who drink jager because of it.

“You too, Dad.”

How long is too long to hug her estranged father? How short is too short? Why are there no etiquette guides to this sort of thing? She lets him pull back first, and when he does she smiles up at him.

“How have you been? How’s… everything?”

GM: Her dad takes care of it. Like he took care of everything. It’s a long embrace, appropriate for a father who hasn’t seen his daughter in many years, but appropriate for a public space too.

“That’s a long answer,” her dad smiles. “But if you’ll humor your old man and let him be a gentleman first?”

Her chair is mostly pulled out already. But he scoots it out a little more.

Celia: “Of course.” She answers his smile with one of her own, taking the offered seat and letting him push the chair in for her. She tucks her legs beneath the seat, one ankle crossed over the other. Like a lady. “Thank you.”

GM: “It’s my pleasure, Celia. It truly is.”

He takes his own seat. The waitress is already there for them with menus.

Maxen thanks her as she pours their waters, but sets down the menu after she leaves.

“You look lovely this evening. I like how the shoes match our name.”

Celia: Celia barely glances at the menu before she follows his lead, setting it down on the table in front of her to gaze across at him. She laughs at the comment on her shoes.

“Thanks, Dad. Florals are big this year.” Her eyes scan his frame, his face, the outfit. “You look good. Still doing Crossfit?”

GM: “Oh, yes. I’d like to participate in some larger events, but work doesn’t leave me with much time. Especially now.”

He smiles again. “I think flowers will always be big, though. There’s a flower shop in the Quarter run by a girl who shares our name. Bloom Couture. Have you ever been?”

Celia: “Dahlia Rose?” Her eyes light up at the mention of the store. “I have. I love her work. First time I went in she told me that I was the second Flores to visit that week; apparently someone from your office hired her for an event? The atmosphere is just… amazing in there. The whole feel of the place, like walking through a rain forest or a beautiful, vibrant garden.”

She wants to take Roderick there on a date.

“Election keeping you busy?”

GM: “Oh, yes. We’ve hired her for several. You can’t ever go wrong with flowers, especially with a last name like Flores.”

“And it certainly is. But it’s not polite of me to talk politics over dinner, even if politics are work. Let’s talk about you. You’d said you were opening a second location for Flawless?”

Celia: She’s happy to let the matter of politics rest. She doesn’t want anyone to think she’s meddling where she shouldn’t be.

“I am, yes. We’re still in the process of scouting locations and speaking with contractors and landlords, getting through all the red tape. There’s a beautiful place in Riverbend that just went up for lease, but I’m not sure if I can make it work with the man who owns the property, so that might not take off.”

She hasn’t even bothered to ask him. She’s pretty sure the answer will be “no.” Same with what she’d found in Uptown and Lakeview. The dream of a second location might die before it ever gets off the ground.

GM: Her dad smiles knowingly. “I’m still in real estate. That red tape is familiar.”

Celia: “How do you find the time?” she laughs.

GM: “Oh, mostly, I don’t. Our state’s technically a hybrid legislature, but at least for me, this is still a full-time job. Other people run most of the business’ day-to-day things. But I still carve out time to check in and make the bigger decisions.”

“A PA can be very valuable, there. Do you have one?”

Celia: “I’m in the process of moving my staff around to accommodate for one. I’m speaking with her about it tonight, actually.”

GM: “Smart. With two locations you’ll increasingly need to delegate and schedule your time. Though I’m sure that idea isn’t news to you.”

“What’s the issue with the man who owns the property you want?”

Celia: He killed me.

“He seems inflexible about making a few modifications that I’d need to make the most of the location. And the rent. It’s manageable, especially considering the locale and the additional revenue I’d bring in, but I’ve dealt with his kind before and it might be more of a hassle than it’s worth to get into a long term contract with someone like him.”

It isn’t lost on her that this is the first time her father has said “smart” in reference to her since… well, too long ago. Or had he ever?

“I’m sure I’ll find something suitable, though.”

GM: “If you don’t, or if your heart’s set on this location, let me know. A few phone calls to the right people can change a lot of minds.”

Celia: “I’ll keep that in mind, Dad. Thanks.” She smiles at him, though she doesn’t think it’s the sort of offer she can ever cash in on. Still, she’s surprisingly touched by the gesture. “How’s your arm?”

GM: He smiles back. “It’d be my pleasure. One business owner to another.”

“The arm is good, thank you for asking. I’m already back to lifting weights with it.”

Celia: “Oh, good. I’m glad there weren’t any lasting issues. Just a scratch then?”

GM: “Deeper than a scratch. But we’ve got good genes. We heal up fast.”

Celia: Is that all it is?

“We definitely bounce back.”

GM: “That’s what resilience is. Everyone gets knocked down at some point. It’s bouncing back that counts.”

“Are you two ready to order, or could you use a little more time, still?” smiles the pair’s waitress.

They’ve had menus available for a little while.

Celia: “Oh! Hm…” Celia glances down at the menu, then her father. “I’m ready, if you are?”

GM: “I’ll take the Lobster Dumplings to start off, and the Scottish Salmon for the entrée, please,” says Celia’s father.

Celia: “Mmm, lobster dumplings sound good. Just the Yellowfin Tuna for me, please.” Celia smiles up at the waitress, handing over the menu. “Thank you.”

Celia declines the offered wine pairing—no reason to force that down as well, not when bringing it back up makes it twice as vile—and looks back to her father as the waitress moves away.

“Lucy was quite taken with you. She said you have good taste in toys.” She can’t help the half-laugh that accompanies the words.

GM: Celia’s father declines anything to drink as well. “Just water, please.”

He smiles at the mention of Lucy. “She’s a hard child not to be taken with. You’ve done splendidly with her, Celia.”

Celia: “Ah, well,” color rises to her cheeks at the compliment, “Mom helped a lot.”

“Especially those early years while I was getting the business off the ground. She’s been a blessing.”

She watches his face, searching for any sign of… anything. Guilt. Regret. Anger.

She doesn’t know what she’s looking for after all these years. If he even remembers what he did to his ex-wife. Or if that, too, was wiped from his mind.

She’s never been able to get the screaming out of her head.

GM: Maxen smiles back. “I’m sure she has. That’s what grandmothers are there to do. I’m sure it’s made her very happy.”

Celia: “It has.”

“We were all pretty surprised to see you.”

There’s a question there, a lifting of her brows.

GM: “We all have Logan to thank for that. He’s been pushing me to reconnect.”

“You and your mom too, by the sound of things.”

Celia: “Is that… something you want?”

GM: “I think what I want may be the less important factor here.”

Celia: A wry smile meets his words. “That doesn’t sound like the Senator Flores I know.”

GM: “I’m glad it doesn’t.”

Celia: “Is it, though?”

GM: The appetizer arrives. The lobsters are completely encased in their doughy gyoza covering, which is lathered in a mousseline consisting of cream, olive oil, egg, mustard, and lobster roe (eggs). Some diced green onions add a touch of color to the affair.

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Maxen thanks the waitress as she refills his water, but pauses to answer Celia’s question until she’s left.

“Celia, there are three very important things I want to tell you tonight.”

“I said it was rude of me to talk about politics over the dinner table, so I’ll preemptively apologize for this.”

“I’m going to be governor.”

“I don’t know how closely you follow politics these days, but the GOP established a trifecta government back in 2010. That means we control the governor’s mansion and have majorities in both legislative chambers. We’ve retained our hold over the state legislature. But Pavaghi, thanks to his corruption, lost us the governor’s mansion in 2012 to Bill Roberts.”

“We plan to take it back next year. I’m going to run, and I’m going to beat him. I’ve beat him in an election once already, and the thinking among the party is that I’ll beat him again.”

“Kelly and Malveaux are both behind me. There’s already behind the scenes work going on to keep other candidates out of the primary. We want to deliver a knockout blow, without the need for a general election, if we can help it.” He smiles. “If you aren’t familiar, Louisiana elections have a jungle primary system, where any number of candidates from any party can compete. Any candidate who wins more than 50% of the vote becomes governor. Otherwise, the top two candidates proceed to a general election.”

“This fact isn’t widely remembered, but governors don’t have term limits.”

“It isn’t, thanks to public outcry over Pavaghi’s corruption, government mishandling of Katrina, and the decades-long realignment of our state from Democratic to Republican. All of those factors have sent governors from both parties prematurely out of office.”

“It’s been a while since we had a ‘for life’ governor. Who served until he died.”

“Louisiana’s political realignment was effectively completed in 2010. The state is now solid red. It’s only thanks to Pavaghi’s naked corruption that the party lost the governor’s mansion, and we don’t intend to bungle things twice.”

“I intend to be the GOP governor of a GOP state, and I intend to serve for life, unless I should seek and obtain higher office.”

“I also intend to pass the governor’s mansion, and a U.S. Senate seat—not a state senate seat—to David and Logan. We will establish a political dynasty to match the Kellys and Malveauxes.”

“There are many opportunities available to ‘for life’ governors. Exponentially more than there are to single- or duo-term ones. I expect our family to become very wealthy.”

“I intend to rule as king of this state, and to make princes of my sons. We will shepherd Louisiana into a new and brighter age, free of the corruption and mismanagement and failures of its past.”

He pauses, seemingly to give Celia a chance to process and reply.

Celia: Times like these remind Celia why the kine so often have working lunches or dinner meetings. It allows them to stuff their face with food or drink while they process what the other person says, negating any awkward silences. It gives them something to do other than twiddle their thumbs while their estranged father lays out his political plans.

Seven years as a lick and her adept ability to pass herself off as one of them has given her other means to convey her interest and attention: little gestures here, fond smiles there, and a whole host of eye movements impart her introspection. Another mask, just the human kind this time.

Governor. For life. And higher yet, if his plan bears any fruit. Moving up in the political sphere. Donovan must be pleased.

Already the wheels turn.

“That’s wonderful, Daddy.” She reaches for his hand across the table. “I’m so proud of you. Is that silly, a daughter being proud of her daddy? But I am.”

“Say, if Logan and David are going to be princes, does that make me a princess?” She flashes a teasing smile his way.

GM: “You’ve always been my princess, Celia,” her dad smiles as he squeezes her hand. “But this will make you princess to a lot more people.”

Celia: Has she? She seems to recall things getting pretty bad after he’d started dancing to Donovan’s tune.

“I’ll have a tiara made,” she says with a laugh, “maybe a flower crown from Dahlia Rose.”

GM: “Princess Flores could do a lot worse than a floral crown,” he chuckles back.

Celia: “But that’s one, I assume? You said three.” Her brows lift.

GM: “Yes, and the least important. But give me a moment to finish these dumplings, first. Feel free to help yourself.”

He takes a bite from one. “That isn’t silly for a child to be proud of their parents, either. That’s how things should be.”

Celia: How is becoming governor the least important? She doesn’t ask. He’ll tell her in time. There isn’t really a polite way to lean all the way across the table to try his lobster—and it would be wasted on her, anyway—so Celia lifts the glass of water to her lips but sets it down when he addresses her without taking a sip.

“You’re right, of course. Pride can go both ways. I admit I was a little young when you were first getting started, but there’ve been some people who ask, ‘are you related to the senator?’ and it tickles me pink every time they talk about how you won your seat so young and the things you’ve done for the state.”

GM: Her father moves the dish across the table.

“I’m pretty sure I get asked if I’m related to ‘the’ Celia more often than you get asked if you’re related to ‘the’ senator, these days,” her fathers chuckles. “State senators aren’t well-known figures to the public at large, usually, and party leadership positions are even more obscure. Even most casual political junkies can’t name the leadership in their state senate. But I’d be hard-pressed to name any of my female staffers who don’t also know your name.”

Celia: Ah, well, if he’s going to push it at her. She thanks him with a smile and helps herself to one of his dumplings, giving her Beast a mental nudge to let it know what’s about to slide down her gullet.

She keeps thinking about building a second esophagus for herself that leads into a pouch she can empty out, kind of like changing a vacuum cleaner bag, but she hasn’t done it yet. Tonight, maybe. She still has materials at the spa she can work with. And she’d wanted to experiment with her eyes as well…

“I went to see Logan the other day and I was mobbed by his classmates,” Celia confesses with a grin. “I had to borrow one of his hoodies to sneak out. And… not to count my chickens before they’re hatched or anything, but you might be hearin’ a bit more of that in a year or two.”

She bites into the dumpling.

It’s like eating raw sewage all over again.

GM: The texture is different from the slop her mom served her, but that’s it. It all tastes equally like shit.

Her mom will probably be thrilled, though, if she can eat more.

“That will make me very pleased to hear, Celia. I hope my name being more known will also help spread yours.”

Celia: She wants to tell him. About L.A., getting into acting, maybe breaking into the movie industry. She wants to tell him so they can share this moment together, because she can’t tell her mom. Diana will be upset that Celia has been in contact with Ron.

But she remembers what he told her once, that he would never let her go to a cesspool like Hollywood.

She swallows the dumpling.

She wants a dad. The thought hits her as she sits across from him, that she was robbed of having a father in her life. Maxen isn’t her father. Literally. And Ron doesn’t want to be her father. Donovan certainly hasn’t been very paternal. She has her grandsire, sure, but that’s different. As much as she wants him to like her for her, as much as she wants him to be proud of Pher, she still thinks he just sees her as a pawn. And that’s his right, old as he is, but it still… rankles. She wants him to be pleased with her. And maybe he will be tonight, after she tells him everything she’s done, but even then… isn’t that just another form of making herself useful to him? What about her?

She’d rolled her eyes when Roderick had said that Lucy could use a paternal figure, but maybe… maybe he’s right. Maybe girls need their dads.

She wants what Roderick had. What he still has, with his sire.

The food sits in her stomach like a piece of lead.

Her Beast, thoroughly warned, doesn’t even protest.

Maybe Roderick’s blood had sated it enough that this paltry mortal fare doesn’t even bother it.

Small blessings and all that.

“I imagine it will. Like how the Malveauxs have all sorts of doors opened for them because of their name. Maybe you could put in an appearance on my channel. ‘The governor does my makeup.’”

She’s only teasing, though. She can’t imagine her father would say yes to that.

GM: Her father smiles back. “It’s funny you should say that, Celia, if you’ll humor your old man with a story.”

“The 1960 Kennedy vs. Nixon debates is one of the most famous presidential debates of all time, because it heralded the transition of old media to new media. It was the first televised presidential debate. If you asked most people who was going to win, they’d have probably said Nixon. He had experience in TV debates, and had used a 1952 televised address to debunk slush fund allegations, and to secure his spot as Ike’s running mate by talking about his pet dog, Checkers. Nixon had also bested Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in the famous Kitchen Debate, also televised. But he still lost to Kennedy, and that might have decided the election. The 1960 election was an extremely close thing.”

“And you know why Nixon lost? Makeup.”

Celia: “He lost because of makeup?”

GM: “He definitely lost the debate because of makeup. In the aftermath of that debate, Nixon’s running mate, Henry Cabot Lodge, had a few choice words for the GOP presidential candidate. ‘That son-of-a-bitch just lost us the election.’”

“Here’s why he lost.”

“When Nixon arrived for the debate, he looked ill, having been recently hospitalized because of a knee injury. The vice president then re-injured his knee as he entered the TV station, and refused to call off the debate.”

“Nixon also refused to wear stage makeup, even when people at the studio offered it. Kennedy also turned down their offer. But only because he had spent weeks tanning on the campaign trail, and had his own team do his makeup just before the cameras went live. The result was that Kennedy looked and sounded good on television, while Nixon looked pale and tired, with a five o’clock shadow beard. He was thin, sweaty, and beady-eyed next to his dashing young opponent. It’s a well-cited fact that listeners who heard the debate over radio thought that Nixon won. But viewers who watched the debate over TV thought that Kennedy won.”

Celia: Celia nods at the explanation.

“Appearances are pretty important to the world, even in politics. Something as simple as how someone smiles can influence our perception of them. We like to think that we’ve moved beyond that, and there are plenty of people who try to say it doesn’t matter, but the truth is that if you’re fit and attractive you have an easier time of things and people are more likely to listen to you, take you seriously, and even just hand things to you.”

GM: “I might even go so far as to say appearances are especially important in politics, which for good or ill, come significantly down to a candidate’s cultivated image. Their personal brand. That probably isn’t anything new to you at all.”

“It’s still debated by political scientists how decisive those debates were. Some people think it was other factors, like the last great gasp of Chicago’s political machine, that were chiefly responsible for Kennedy’s victory. There are obviously lots of factors that can swing an election. But Nixon apparently believed the debates were decisive. He refused to participate in any televised debates when he ran for president in 1968 and again in 1972. Debates only became an uninterrupted feature of presidential campaigns after Gerald Ford revived them in 1976.”

“Then in 1980, of course, one of the candidates was a former movie star. And makeup artists haven’t lacked for work with presidential candidates ever since.”

Celia: “One of my employees worked with Reagan.”

GM: “I bet she has a lot of stories. His campaign was a groundbreaker in so many ways.”

Celia: “Actually… I think she came out with him, because prior to that she’d done work in L.A.”

Had Madison changed politics somehow?

GM: “I’d be honored if she, and you, wanted to work with my campaign. Someone has to do my makeup for the TV debates, after all,” her father smiles.

Celia: “I’d really like that, Dad. That really means a lot to me.”

GM: “It means just as much to me. I’ll have someone contact your business before the debates start. The governor would probably do a bad job at doing your makeup, if he appeared on your channel, but someone good will need to do his. Perhaps you could put that up on your channel.”

Celia: “Well, the trend right now is having someone unusual do your makeup—a lot of girls use their boyfriends—and it’s supposed to come out pretty silly. But you don’t get anywhere by following the crowd.”

Which isn’t exactly true in the MeVid game, but she’ll live.

GM: “Silly makes sense as the objective. I can’t imagine the boyfriends would otherwise do very good jobs.”

Celia: “Mmm, no, there was one who ended up with eye shadow all across her forehead.”

GM: Maxen chuckles as the waitress arrives with the pair’s food.

Celia’s Yellowfin Tuna is seared rare with sticky rice, stir-fried vegetables, and sweet soy butter.

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Celia: It certainly looks appealing, even though she won’t be able to taste anything.

GM: Her father’s order is wood grilled Scottish Salmon with butter bean succotash, sweet corn spoonbread, and roasted corn butter.

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Maxen thanks the waitress as she sets down their food, refills their waters, and clears the empty appetizer dish.

Celia: Celia echoes his words, giving the girl a small smile before turning her eyes to her plate.

“This looks amazing.”

GM: The waitress smiles back at the pair and repeats to let them know if they need anything. She also follows Celia over social media.

“It does. I’d never have thought to try this place without you,” her dad remarks. “I’ve been to those other ones I brought up with you a thousand times.”

Celia: “I’m glad you humored me. I’ve heard so much about it but haven’t been yet. I hope it measures up.” She reaches for her fork. “Do you still have steak every Saturday? Well, except tonight.”

GM: “Oh yes. Get in that protein, which I’m still doing tonight.”

Celia: “Maybe next time we can meet at a steak house so you don’t have to eat two meals. Fish does have a lot of protein, though.”

GM: “Oh, I wasn’t clear, sweetie. This is my protein intake.” He smiles down at the food between a bite. “Fish is still meat, and let’s not forget the nuts too.”

Celia: She can’t help but laugh.

“I thought you meant you were going to go home and grill up a ribeye or something.”

GM: “Maybe if I were Logan,” he chuckles back.

“I’m pretty in shape for my age, but I definitely don’t have his appetite.”

Celia: Seven years ago he would have insulted her intelligence for the misunderstanding.

She smiles with him and takes a bite of the tuna.

Early on in her Requiem she’d thought that maybe she could get away with eating solid food like this as long as it was rare. Undercooked. Bloody. But it isn’t blood that touches her tongue now, and she’d been quickly disabused of that notion.

GM: It tastes like shit.

Celia: Yum.

Sometimes she wants to tell her mom the truth just so she doesn’t need to do this to herself anymore.

It wouldn’t help here, no, but at least part of her family would stop hounding her to stuff herself when she visits.

There’s nothing glamorous about bending over a porcelain bowl to heave the contents of her stomach back up later.

And regurgitated food tastes just as bad as it had when she’d forced herself to chew and swallow in the first place.

The gummy texture of masticated cuisine and sludge sliding back up her throat makes for the worst part for her Requiem.

She’s going to have to ask Dani later if she still enjoys food.

And if she throws it up later or if the rest of her body works.

Imagine being a vampire and still needing to take a shit, though.

“I think Mom got sticker shock the first time she went grocery shopping when Logan hit his growth spurt.”

“Emily and I used to have to hide the chocolate so he wouldn’t get into it.”

GM: As Roderick says, who even knows what the rules are with them.

Celia: Celia will.

She plans to find out.

GM: “That was good of you. Big boy like him should have plenty to eat, but chocolate’s an occasional treat.”

“I’ve heard about a man who runs a fitness gym, Fouled Anchor Fitness, who eats the same thing every day. Same meals. A balance of lean proteins, grains, vegetables, and fruits. Doesn’t ever consume sweets or alcohol or deviate from his meal plan, even on Thanksgiving.”

“That’s discipline. I think he’s a military vet.”

Celia: “That’s admirable. I think a lot of people see food as a reward, sometimes. Culturally a lot of our celebrations are based around it, which certainly doesn’t help.”

GM: “It doesn’t. It takes a lot of dedication to resist eating a Thanksgiving meal.”

“It’s further than I go. Or that I think Logan needs to go. But I respect that man for doing so.”

Celia: Celia asks her dad if he’d like to try the tuna since they’re not dedicated to eating the same thing every day.

GM: He would, and offers her some salmon.

Celia: Only so long as it doesn’t throw off his macros.

It’s a strange feeling, sharing food with her father.

Maxen, she reminds herself. Not her father. Not in a long time.

After some moments of enjoying (or at least pretending to enjoy) their food, Celia eases the conversation back around to him and his news.

GM: “Celia,” he says slowly, “there are thousands of words I could say this with, but only two words they come down to. They feel utterly inadequate. But they seem like the only place to start.”

“I’m sorry.”

Celia: Celia stares across the table at her father. This hadn’t been what she’d expected. Not at all. Not an apology, thrown out so openly.

I’m sorry.

It threatens to drown her.

How long since her last breath?

She takes one now. Deep. In through her nose. She can almost smell it then, the threat of the coppery tang that the words bring. She blinks down at her plate and snuffs the blossoming emotion before it can do more than knock at her heart. The smoky tendrils of it drift down into her gut to join the rest of the garbage she had just imbibed, filling her stomach with the same sort of poison.

She kills it before it has a chance to live.

“You’re sorry?” she finally repeats, voice soft.

GM: Celia’s father takes her hand and stares into her eyes like they’re the only objects left in all existence.

“I am sorry for the pain and hurt I have caused you, your mother, and all of our family. Emily included. Instead of nourishing you with love, I traumatized you with abuse. Instead of pampering my princess in her castle, I imprisoned her in a fortress. Instead of protecting you from the world’s dangers, I was the danger you needed protecting from. Instead of showing you tenderness and affection, I beat and humiliated you. Instead of recognizing your brilliance, I belittled you and said you were stupid. Instead of supporting you in your dreams, I said you were not good enough to achieve them. You are the success you now are not because of me, but despite me. I failed in my essential function as a man to provide for my family, on innumerable levels, but perhaps the greatest thing I failed to provide them with was my love. Instead of my love being a foundation to help you, your siblings, and your mother thrive and succeed, my abuse was a nemesis to overcome. That I did not ruin your lives completely is a testament to your own strength of character, and my actions are a shame I will carry with me for as long as I will ever live. I don’t know that it’s even possible to make right a wrong on the scale that I’ve committed towards you. But I pray to God that it’s possible to make some manner of restitution, however small.”

“Starting with the fact that I, am, sorry.”

Celia: Silence greets his words. Sharp, stunned silence. He has hold of her gaze just as solidly as the hand in his; she can’t look away.

For a moment, she can’t breathe. For a moment, her heart stops. For a moment, her thoughts still.

Aren’t they always? His voice in her head. Is it, though? Is it his voice, or is it her own? Is it the Bitch inside of her, the Beast’s steadfast companion?

“You’re sorry,” she says again, and it bubbles up inside of her, threatening to spill over into the air between them. Her tongue flicks across her lips.

“What changed? Why now?”

GM: “It wasn’t now, Celia. Change doesn’t happen overnight. But I’d waited to approach you, because a man does not just apologize for his mistakes. He fixes them, or at least tries to. I’ve been trying to for some time now, because I was resolved not to re-enter your lives bearing only apologies.”

“This still happened earlier than I’d planned. Logan had been pushing all of us to reconnect, as I said. He forwarded me the texts from your mother, and it seemed like there was something I could do for her immediately.”

“I’ll tell you what’s changed, and what’s brought me to this point. But I wanted to start with some of the ways I’d like to make restitution to you and your mother.”

Celia: She doesn’t trust herself to speak yet. She nods mutely.

GM: “First, I’ve been talking to some doctors in Houston about your mother’s condition. They have the world’s largest medical center there. Tulane doesn’t compare at all. The doctors told me your mother’s condition is likely to deteriorate with age, and that she may eventually need a wheelchair, in addition to suffering worse pain.”

Celia: He did that to her. Does he remember that night, taking a hacksaw to her mother’s leg?

“She’s getting worse,” Celia finally says, confirming their words.

“But that’s not a solution.”

GM: Maxen nods, as if unsurprised. “But there are some experimental treatments available in Houston. Ones that might not only be able to stop what I’ve described from happening, but which might also be able to fix your mother’s leg, too. Full mobility and no more pain.”

“She could dance again.”

“These treatments are very new, very expensive, and access to them is a question of more than simply money. You won’t hear about them just by asking a doctor. It’s taken me a lot of effort to hear what I have, mere state senator that I am.”

Celia: “How did you come across them?”

GM: “I’ve been laying the groundwork to run for governor for a while now. This was part of it. There are doors that open to governors, and even more to for-life governors, but candidates can get glimpses at those doors. Especially if they push.”

“When I’m governor, I will have the clout and resources necessary to obtain access for your mother. If she would like Texas Medical Center’s doctors to fix her leg, I will make it happen.”

“It doesn’t make up for the years she was not able to dance, or for the pain and trauma she has suffered. I can’t magic that away.”

Celia: Or everything he took from her when he threw away all of her belongings. The tangible evidence of her memories.

The years of hardship she endured when he sent her into medical debt.

She says none of this, just nods again, waiting for him to go on.

GM: “I owe your mother a separate apology. More than an apology. I had wanted to wait until I was governor to break this news, so that it could happen immediately and be more than just a promise. But there are some other things I’ve brought tonight that I hope will be of greater restitution than promises.”

Celia: “Why did you do it?”

“That night.”

“Why?”

GM: Celia’s dad flags down the waitress, but pauses at her question.

“I believed your mother had been intimate with another man, Celia, under circumstances I disapproved. I can’t even begin to muster the words to describe how wrong I was. I destroyed her greatest joy in life, ended her career, and caused her mental, physical, and financial hardship that she suffers to this day.”

Celia: “Under circumstances you disapproved.”

Her tone lacks any confrontational quality. She simply sounds incredulous, as if wondering if there are circumstances he would have approved.

Your mom’s a sex slave.

She dismisses the stray thought as soon as it occurs.

GM: “I’m sorry. That was an extraneous choice of words. I doubt there are any circumstances under which your mother believes I would have approved, or have felt herself safe under my disapproval.”

Celia: She doesn’t understand. “You thought she was having an affair, or you thought she had been with someone else at some point in her life?”

GM: Maxen clears his throat. “I feel that it impugns your mother’s virtue, Celia, to discuss these things about her, even in the context of mistaken beliefs.”

Celia: Her lips flatten into a line thin enough that even Payton would be proud of.

GM: He offers a wan smile. “You look like your grandmother.”

Celia: Not him, though. Never him.

“We spend a lot of time together,” is all she says.

His master had killed his parents, after all.

GM: “I’m glad you’re able to have that relationship. I don’t think she was ever able to forgive your grandmother.”

Celia: “For telling her to abort me?”

GM: Maxen looks surprised, but answers, “For the measures she took, after your grandfather’s death.”

Celia: “They won’t tell me,” Celia admits. “Can you?”

GM: Maxen presses his lips together, but answers, “There is a… you might call it a finishing school, Celia.”

“A private school that’s only known by word of mouth. Mostly among wealthy families, or old families. For young women whose families are displeased with their behavior.”

“Your grandmother sent your mother there.”

Celia: Payton did it?

The dolls.

Payton had sent Diana to become a doll.

GM: “Their methods are… extreme.”

Celia: “When? After me? After I came out? Or before?”

GM: “Before you.”

“Your mother did not enjoy her time there.”

Celia: No, she doesn’t imagine her mother did.

“I’ve heard of it,” she says faintly, still reeling from the knowledge that Payton had sent her mother there.

GM: “I’d thought, several times, about sending you there. Your mother begged me not to.”

“I’m glad I didn’t. Your mother says she was never the same after that place.”

Celia: “But I wasn’t… they don’t send them there for being stupid.”

GM: “Celia,” her father says harshly. “You weren’t stupid. You aren’t stupid. You’re brilliant.”

“But I’m to understand the headmistress doesn’t ask very many questions about the girls who get sent there, so long as their families are willing to pay.”

Celia: Celia isn’t supposed to know about a place like this where girls become dolls. So she doesn’t confirm what he says.

Or maybe she’s too busy reeling from the fact that he’d wanted to send her there.

Or maybe… maybe it’s what he said about her not being stupid. Maybe, if they weren’t in public, if she didn’t have such a tight lid on her emotions right now, she’d have let them show on her face. Maybe her cheeks would be red with blood.

But she stuffs that down, too. Buries it in the pit of her stomach so she can throw it up later and let herself feel.

GM: “As I said, their measures are very extreme. The students aren’t even allowed to use their own names. The headmistress gives them new ones.”

Celia: Lucy.

Why would she name her daughter after her doll?

“Why did Grandma send her there? What was so wrong with her?”

GM: “From what your mother has told me, your grandfather’s death tore your family apart. Or at least tore a rift between your mother and your grandmother. She never thought your aunt Prudence or uncle Stan were as rebellious as your mother was.”

“They fought, all of the time. Your mother would disappear for nights. Her grades were suffering. Your mother told me she attacked your grandmother once.”

Celia: “It’s hard to imagine Mom being rebellious. Or doing anything like that.”

A rebellious doormat, maybe, curling in at the corners.

“Did you know her? Before she went?”

GM: “I found it hard to imagine too. Your mother told me the turning point came when she attacked your grandmother, with the gun, and said she was leaving home for good. She ran off with your grandmother’s car and all of the house’s cash and jewelry.”

Celia: “…with a gun?”

GM: He nods. “Last I heard, your grandmother still keeps a number of firearms in the house.”

Celia: “Is that why you wanted to send me? Because I came after you?”

But, no, she’d done that the night everything blew up. The timing doesn’t work.

GM: “I thought about it then. I thought about it other times. Celia, I can’t even imagine how you might have turned out if I’d sent you there.”

“Your mother was a shell when I first met her. Really met her. She was the shyest, most docile, most timid girl you’d ever laid eyes on.”

“I didn’t believe her at first, when she told me the story. I thought it was some kind of joke. A tall tale.”

Celia: “When did you realize it wasn’t?”

GM: “When she started to cry.”

Celia: If the timing he claims is accurate, she would have met Ron after she’d become a doll. But it doesn’t make any sense why she’d have been at that party.

Dolls don’t go to parties. They don’t have sex.

They do, but…

Celia sets her head in her hands.

GM: Her father rests a hand on her shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Celia. Maybe it was wrong of me to tell you this.”

Celia: “No. It wasn’t. I’m just trying to figure out the rest.”

GM: “I don’t know that your mother will want to talk about it. The memories there are very painful for her.”

Celia: “I know. I know someone who… who went through it, too.”

She’d been there.

Breaking her.

Breaking countless hers.

For years.

GM: Her father nods slowly. “It’s not widely talked about. But move in the right circles, pay attention, and you’ll hear things.”

Celia: “Thank you for telling me. And for not doing that to me.”

GM: “Thanks are what you give someone for favors and kindnesses. That was just the absence of more abuse.”

Celia: He’s right, so she just nods her head.

GM: “Here. I have something for your mother.”

He motions to a server, who approaches their table with a large wrapped box.

“These are your mother’s ballet things,” he says. “They aren’t the originals. Those are long gone thanks to me.”

“I’ve had people go to the places where she’s danced. Look up records. Who won what trophies. Make some calls to the production company owners, or the companies that make the trophies. They’re all there.”

“There’s also some scrapbooks and photo albums. I got those from the other dancers. Some of them simply let me make copies. Others were willing to sell the originals.”

“After this long, I don’t know if your mother still misses these things. But maybe Lucy would like to see them.”

Celia: Celia swallows the lump in her throat as she listens to his explanation. The gift she’d only just started to think about: how to get those memories back. She’s had years and only last night did she think to talk to Mom’s friends and fellow dancers to get copies of photos. Because of him, yes, because of him. But because of her, too. She hadn’t saved the things from the garbage. Luana had told her to, and she’d been too busy worried about her appearance to grab anything more than the makeup.

Despite her best attempts to keep it down the emotions bubble up again. She needs to purge. To let it out, somewhere no one can see her cry, can’t wonder at the blood that spills from her eyes, and to expel the poison in her body.

“Excuse me,” she murmurs, rising, unable to look at him or the box, “I just… I need a moment.”

GM: “Of course,” he says quietly.

Celia: She moves quickly through the restaurant to find the bathroom, taking the first open stall and locking herself into the small, cramped space.

She’s not alive. She doesn’t need to breathe. Her shoulders don’t shake and she doesn’t shudder or gasp or wail. The tears simply fall. She presses a hand to her mouth as if that helps, as if it will keep anything inside of her, but still they come.

Mom is a doll.

Dad said she isn’t stupid.

Why? Why does it mean so much to her after all this time? She knows she isn’t stupid. She’s never been stupid. She’s been hurt and desperate and afraid and frivolous but she has never been stupid. She shouldn’t care. It shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Too little too late, right? One dinner, one box of memories, it doesn’t make up for the years of living under his rule, it doesn’t make up for everything that he had done to them. To her, to her mom, to her siblings.

It can’t.

It can’t matter.

She’s supposed to hate him. She’s supposed to hate him more than she hates anyone. He’s the villain. The bad guy. The monster that tucked her in at night. Not… not this. Not whatever it is he’s trying to be out there. It’s not him. It’s a trick. It has to be a trick because it can’t be real, none of it is real.

She’s dead, she’s dead, she’s dead, and he isn’t her dad anyway. He’s not her father. He just raised her. And he doesn’t even know. Does he know? Is that why he’d gone after Mom? But why meet her? Why not just let her do her own thing, live her own life, when it doesn’t matter?

He’s not her dad.

And she desperately, desperately wants him to be.

It comes out of her suddenly, a violent heaving that has her doubled over atop the toilet as her stomach empties its contents into the bowl. Salmon and tuna and lobster, half-chewed, pulverized by her teeth pours from her mouth. The water splashes as it hits.

Again. Again. Again. It comes out of her. Her body purges, emptying itself of the rotten seafood stuffed inside. She gags at the taste, gags as it slides across her tongue, no better the second time around than it had been on the way down. And it sits in the bowl, staring up at her, the water turned murky by the little chunks of vomit.

She stares back.

She’d sink to her knees if she weren’t in a public bathroom. But she can’t do that, not here. She gives herself a moment to let it out, let it all out, before she pulls herself together. A wad of toilet paper wipes away the worst of the blood from her face, and a makeup wipe from her purse gets the rest of it. She tosses both into the toilet and flushes it all away, letting the swirling water take everything resembling emotions along with it.

Celia touches up her foundation with the tip of her finger in the small compact she keeps in her purse. None of the rest of her makeup had smeared. She washes her hands at the sink and stares at her face in the mirror, wondering if her eyes have always looked so hollow or if it’s just that she’s finally dead inside, shut down to avoid feeling anything unpleasant.

She returns to the table.

GM: Less vomit than mushed-up food, but it’s all just waste either way. Poison festering in her guts, that she’s forcing there when her Beast doesn’t want it there.

If only her unwanted feelings could be expelled so easily.

Celia: She can kill those too. There’s a spot in the brain that she can simply rip out.

Maybe she will.

GM: Just like Elyse does for her dolls. She can be just like Mom.

Mom the doll.

Celia: And Payton.

Sending her daughter to become a doll.

She’d thought it was Maxen.

GM: That would’ve been easier.

Celia: She could still hate him if it had been him.

Instead of whatever this is.

GM: Whatever this is, her father is waiting for back at the table.

“We could call things here tonight, if you’d like,” he says quietly. “I know this all must be a lot to take in.”

Celia: They can’t, though. She doesn’t think she’ll be able to see him again after this.

“I’m okay,” she says.

GM: “Okay,” he says.

“Will you give your mother these things for me, when you see her next?”

Celia: “I will.”

GM: “Thank you.”

Celia: “She’ll appreciate it. She… she still misses it, Dad.”

“And I want the treatment for her. After you win. Take her to Texas, fix her.”

It makes more sense than trying to explain Xola to her.

GM: “Okay,” he says again. “We’ll ask her. If you’re on board I hope she’ll be too.”

Celia: “I’ve been looking for something to help her. To prevent the pain. That’s why I turned to a more medical focus with the spa, so I could… find something.” But she hasn’t learned it yet, the work that goes bone deep. “I thought I knew someone who could help, but I was wrong.”

GM: “I’m sorry they didn’t work out. But I think your mom would be very touched to hear you tried.”

Celia: Failed. Not quite her fault, not really—it’s not like she’d sent North to Vienna. But she nods anyway.

“Where were we, before we got sidetracked?”

GM: “I was actually going to bring up something else. Your mother sounds as if she loves Emily very much. Sophia and your brothers tell me she’s adopted her.”

Celia: “In name only. Legally you can’t adopt an adult in Louisiana. They considered a road trip but you have to be a resident to do it elsewhere.”

“But she does. We all do.”

GM: “Well, about that.”

Maxen hands her a manilla folder.

Celia: Celia reaches for it, brows lifted. She flips it open.

GM: Inside is a laminated copy of a birth certificate for a one Emily Rosure. The father’s name is blank. The mother’s reads ‘Diana Flores.’

Celia: “How…?”

She can’t get out more than the single word. Even that is choked.

GM: “All a question of knowing what levers to pull,” smiles Maxen. “Remember that your old man writes the laws.”

Celia: Celia presses her fingers to her lips as she stares down at the laminated page.

She’s quiet for a long moment. She doesn’t think it will fix anything with Emily, but… it’s a step in the right direction.

“Why?” she asks again, finally looking up at him.

GM: “Because I called her some unkind names, and because you and your mother love her.”

“I don’t expect a piece of paper will change their relationship, but perhaps they’ll feel better knowing that it’s also recognized under law. There are rights and privileges like hospital visitation rights that may only be available to legal family members.”

Celia: “I don’t know what levers you pulled. But thank you. This… this will mean a lot to them.”

GM: “I’m thankful to hear that, Celia.”

“I would like to see your mother again, to tell her the things I’ve told you.”

“She’s never been very good at saying no, even to things she doesn’t want. Would you be willing to ask her for me, if she wants to do that?”

Celia: “I will talk to her. I won’t force her, if she’s not interested. She doesn’t owe you anything. Not after what happened. Not even with all of this.”

“Neither does Emily. She knows what we went through, even if she wasn’t there to experience it herself.”

GM: “They don’t,” Maxen nods. “You don’t either.”

Celia: “You said you’d tell me. Why the change.”

GM: “Celia, I have an answer, and I don’t have an answer.”

Celia: She waits, expectant.

GM: “The answer is with your sister Isabel.”

“We’d been on strained terms for a while. I don’t know if you were aware, but she had a baby, who’s being raised by your aunt Mary. She and her husband were never able to have children.”

Celia: His baby.

“I heard.”

GM: “Our relationship was never the same after that. I abused her, further, for getting pregnant out of wedlock. She ran away after she gave up the baby.”

Celia: She died after she gave up the baby, but Celia doesn’t correct him.

“You locked her in her room. And took her things away.”

GM: “Yes. I withheld my love and support when she needed it most.”

Celia: She’d been telling the truth.

She’d been telling the truth and Celia had killed her for it.

“And you feel bad because she was always your favorite.”

GM: “I feel bad because she is my daughter and she needed me.”

Celia: And now she’s gone.

GM: “But she wasn’t my favorite. Parents don’t have favorites.”

Celia: “Parents have favorites. There was a study about it. They just don’t admit it.”

GM: “Maybe some do. But the study didn’t measure every parent. Or your parents.”

Celia: Celia lifts her shoulders.

“But it’s about Isabel,” she prompts.

GM: “We didn’t speak for a long time. But she reached out to me again, some time back. Her boyfriend had gone missing.”

Celia: “That’s awful.”

GM: “Yes. We started talking again, over the phone. She’s in Sudan, you might already know, doing missionary work.”

Celia: Celia nods along.

GM: “So it’s possible that something very, very bad happened to her boyfriend. It’s possible he’s dead.”

Celia: He is dead.

He was probably eaten.

Or torn apart.

Or both.

“I can’t imagine what she must be going through.”

GM: “I have some idea. We started talking again. About a lot of things.”

Celia: “Oh?”

GM: “Our lives. Our pasts. Our faiths. We talked about a lot.”

“She never sounded so vulnerable as when she made that first call to me. I’d thought for years that I’d lost her. Many people think she’s doing missionary work because of me, but she chose to do that herself.”

“It felt good to have my daughter in my life again, even over the phone.”

“All I could offer her was words, and to try to fix things with those. If I’d sought to punish her, hurt her, she could have simply cut me out again. It was a blow to my ego, not having any power in the situation. But I think Isabel would say a necessary one.”

Celia: So it had nothing to do with Celia. It had nothing to do with missing her, wanting her in his life, wanting to make reparations for what he’d done to her, to Diana, to the rest of their family.

It’s about Isabel.

It’s always about Isabel.

“I see.”

GM: “I don’t think I would have reached out to you or your mother on my own,” her father says. “I didn’t reach out to Isabel, either. I don’t think I had that in me. She took the first step.”

Celia: “She was always the perfect daughter.”

GM: “She didn’t feel as if I thought of her that way.”

Celia: “Of course she did. She rubbed it in my face every chance she got.”

GM: “Your sister felt as if your mother didn’t love her. She tried to compensate for that, around you.”

Celia: “You told them that she didn’t love them. That’s why she left, you said.”

GM: “I did. That probably was why. That certainly was why.”

“From what David’s said to me, it sounds as if you and your mother started to reconnect in college, once you were off on your own. Isabel told me she’d never been so jealous.”

“I’m sorry. That she was right. That you had to hide it. That I put her in the hospital.”

Celia: “So you felt bad about Isabel and decided to reconnect with the rest of your family.”

GM: “Partly.”

“Things were tense with Isabel and I at first, you have to understand. I couldn’t physically abuse her, but we hung up on more than one phone call after a bitter argument, sometimes if that call was the last.”

“But your sister had no one else, except for Logan. The boy she loved increasingly seemed like he was dead. Her friends were turning against her. She was desperate to make this work between us.”

“She told me about the missionary work she was doing, spreading God’s word. She told me how it had fulfilled her like nothing else.”

“She had purpose and calling beyond herself. Before Sudan, her whole existence was framed in terms of me. It was only when she went out into the world as her own woman, and outgrew me, that she felt able to reestablish a relationship.”

“We talked a lot about God. She challenged me that I wasn’t serving Him. That I did not truly love and accept Jesus in my heart.”

Celia: “And you decided to mend your ways?”

GM: “No. But at her encouragement, I started to talk more with men of faith. To prove her wrong, in fact. That there wasn’t anything I needed to change. But I think some part of me already knew there was.”

Celia: He couldn’t abuse his daughter over the phone, so he found Jesus.

She nods. Waiting. Expectant.

GM: “So I talked. I didn’t confess my sins, so much as the things I didn’t believe I had to confess.”

“And one of the priests I talked to told me, straight and direct as you please, that I had a demon inside of me.”

Celia: “A demon,” she repeats.

GM: “I didn’t believe him either, at first.”

Celia: “What changed your mind?”

GM: “He didn’t change my mind, especially when he said an exorcism would be necessary to remove it. But I told Isabel, and she believed it. She said she would only be willing to continue having a relationship with me if I undertook the exorcism.”

Celia: “Who was the priest?”

GM: “Father Connelly. He passed away recently. Everyone knew he was old and in ill health.”

“But that wasn’t why he died, Celia.”

Celia: “No?”

GM: “First, you have to understand that he was a Catholic priest. Catholic priests cannot formally take confession from non-Catholics, nor can they perform exorcisms without special dispensation from the Vatican.”

“But Father Connelly felt my need was dire.”

Celia: “So he did it anyway.”

GM: “He told me he sought and received permission from his superiors. I trust his word. But it happened very fast.”

Celia: “And he died from it?”

GM: “I’ll get to that. I went to St. Louis Cathedral. He told me the exorcism was more likely to succeed on holy ground. We went to a special room, and when I knelt and closed my eyes, like he instructed, he handcuffed me down. He said the exorcism might take hours or even days, and that the demon would try to make me leave.”

“You know I’ve been a Protestant all my life, Celia. And you know how much I work out. How I practice martial arts. I should’ve been able to fight off that old man, but he just held me down and declared that God lent him strength beyond his own. He lit fires. He chanted in Latin. There was a sense of gravitas in that cathedral, two thousand years of faith, and when I looked in that man’s eyes I saw an absolute certainty and fervor of conviction like I have never seen.”

“This was a man who believed with all of his heart and soul that he was doing God’s work, and all the threats I shouted about destroying his life didn’t even faze him.”

“He was right. It didn’t happen in one sitting. It took days of constant prayer and ritual. He let me use the bathroom in a pot, but didn’t allow me food or more than a little bit of water.”

“He didn’t allow me to sleep, either. I don’t know how he stayed up like that at his age. As soon as it seemed like I was nodding off, I’d get ice water to the face. Or he’d just hit me.”

“I started hallucinating, or experiencing what I thought were hallucinations. I saw all sorts of things. All sorts of people. You and your mother were there.”

Celia: Celia leans forward in her seat, clearly captivated by his story.

GM: “You accused me of… of all the things you had to accuse me of. You said if I didn’t help Father Connelly expel the demon, it would drag me back to Hell with it. I thought I was going crazy.”

“I saw my parents. I saw angels. I can’t even describe some of the things I saw. I felt a presence, so much vaster than anything I ever was or ever could be. I felt terrified, like I had never been in all my life.”

“I didn’t know, then, how long it went on for. I started pleading with Connelly, with God, with you and your mother, to make it stop. That this was torture. To just expel the demon and I’d be good.”

“But one of the voices, I don’t even know who, said that a demon could not have possessed a righteous soul. That I had allowed it in through my own faults and failings, and that I was to blame for the actions I had committed under its sway. It had only unlocked what was already there.”

“Connelly couldn’t exorcise it. Only I could. And if, and only if, I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart as my lord and savior.”

“Everything was suddenly clear to me. It was like I’d been starved for years and food was finally within reach.”

“I don’t remember how it ended. I was delirious. I remember coming back to earth, Connelly uncuffing me, and saying the demon was gone. My head felt clear again. Clear like it never had in years. All of the anger I’d felt, all of the hate, all of the fear, was simply gone.”

“But the exorcism took a lot out of Connelly. What strength he had left, he’d used on me. He died shortly afterwards.”

Celia: “And you think it was an actual demon?” Celia asks him. She doesn’t sound disbelieving; no, she sounds as if she might think it’s true.

GM: “I don’t know what else I could call it, Celia. I don’t know how to explain what happened in scientific terms.”

Celia: Celia scoots her chair closer to him. She takes his hand in hers.

GM: He squeezes her hand back. “I also knew then, once the demon had departed me, that I had to make right the wrongs I’d done. That I had to try.”

Celia: “When did it start? The… the demon? When did it take over?”

GM: “I’m not sure. But I think a very long time. At least as long as when you and your mother lived in fear.”

Celia: “Before we moved to Audubon?”

GM: “I don’t know. Maybe.”

Celia: “There… I mean, you believe this, right? That it’s true? That you had a demon inside of you?”

GM: “I do.”

Celia: “Because I remember… when I was a kid, you were different. You loved us, clearly. You let me put makeup on you. We played dress up. You had tea parties with me. And then one day it changed. And I thought maybe it was because your parents died. Or the election. Stress. And… we had dinner once, Daddy, right before I left for college, and you… you looked at me like you had no idea who I was. Do you remember that?”

GM: Celia’s father shakes his head.

Celia: “What about other things? The spankings? Isabel. Me. Until we bled.”

GM: “I remember those. I am sorry for them. I wish those words were enough to undo them.”

Celia: “What about the night you tried to finish the job with Mom?”

GM: “I remember.”

Celia: “And with Isabel?”

GM: “I told her to leave. That wasn’t for her to see.”

Celia: “Afterward.”

GM: “I’m sorry?”

Celia: Celia shakes her head. He doesn’t remember. Mind-fucked, probably.

Maybe that’s a good thing.

But if the thing inside of him is gone, if it had been a demon, had her sire put it there? And does he know it’s gone?

“How long ago did you see Father Connelly?”

GM: “It was some months back. Getting back your mother’s ballet things and arranging Emily’s birth certificate didn’t happen overnight. It’s been looking into the treatments for your mother that have taken longest.”

Celia: “I believe you. About the demon.”

GM: “That means more to me than I can say, sweetie.”

Celia: “What do you want to do now that it’s gone?”

GM: “I want to make things right with my family. As right as I can.”

Celia: No one is going to believe her.

And there’s no one to talk it over with.

But she knows.

He really had fucked her entire family.

“Can you tell me what happened the night of the election?” Celia presses again. “Mom said something about a party and a woman, and I just… want to make sense of it all.”

GM: “A woman?”

Celia: “I don’t know,” she admits. “It didn’t make sense. She doesn’t like talking about it.”

GM: “I’m sorry, sweetie. I don’t know what she meant.”

Celia: “Then tell me your side.”

“Mom wasn’t the only one there that night. She’s not the only one who it affected. I had nightmares for years. I heard her screaming every time I closed my eyes. I’m the one who saw her in the hospital afterward. Who got her out of debt later and fixed that mess. So if you want to fix this, if you want a relationship with your family, then I need to know why it happened.”

GM: “I understand. I’m just not sure how much help my reasons may help when they weren’t reasonable.”

“I told you about how I’d believed your mother had cheated on me.”

Celia: “You did.”

GM: “I didn’t believe the affair was with Bill Roberts. I believed it was with a black man.”

Celia: “In 2003?”

GM: “Yes.”

Celia: “Why did you think that?”

GM: “Your mother and I had both been drinking at the victory party. She made remarks about a black staffer of Bill Roberts’, likely jokes to her, that I seized on as evidence of an affair.”

Celia: “What did she say?”

GM: “The remarks could have been construed as sexual in nature.”

Celia: “Dad, I’m not a kid. You’re not going to offend me.”

GM: “They are inherently offensive to repeat in the same breath as your mother, Celia.”

Celia: “So was trying to take her leg off with a hacksaw.”

GM: “Yes. That doesn’t mean either should happen again.”

Celia: “Okay.”

GM: “Would you like to get dessert?”

Celia: “My stomach is kind of in knots right now, to be honest. I don’t think it can handle anything sweet.”

GM: “Understandable.”

Celia: “But if you want it I’m happy to stay.”

GM: “Meals should be enjoyed between two. I usually don’t treat myself.”

Celia: “I could steal a bite and pretend to eat it if you want.”

GM: “It’s all right, Celia. I don’t think the staff will mind us staying.”

Celia: “I don’t know how you’re going to top demons and becoming governor.”

GM: “There are other offices. Cabinet positions. Even president.” He smiles. “But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.”

Celia: “President Flores.” Celia tries it out. “Has a nice ring to it.”

GM: “The Malveauxes already took a shot at it.”

“They missed, but if the party loses the general election this year, Nathan is sure to run again in 2020.”

Celia: “I imagine you’d like to enjoy being governor for a while, but would it be considered bad form to run against them?”

GM: “They wouldn’t like it. But that’s politics.”

Celia: “Can I ask something? About you running. Don’t they usually kind of… dig into families sometimes?”

“I just remember what happened with that girl, you know, the abortion, how it all kind of blew up. And I guess I just don’t want to have to worry about someone coming after my daughter. She’s a child. She shouldn’t be exposed to all of that ugliness.”

GM: “The Malveauxes engineered that. They fought harder and dirtier than the Cherrys, and that’s one of the reasons they won.”

“I won’t allow anything like that to happen with Lucy.”

Celia: Celia nods. She squeezes the hand that still holds hers.

“Thanks, Daddy. I appreciate that.”

GM: “You’re welcome, sweetie. You and the others can be as involved or uninvolved in my run as you like.”

Celia: Celia nods her head at that. She can’t imagine that she’ll be able to be involved in his run in any tangible way, but already her plans shift to accommodate for this new information. Every time someone answers a question it seems like three more pop up in its stead, only this time… this time she doesn’t think there’s anyone to ask. Not anyone who will be inclined to shed light on it for her.

Who will even believe her? If she hadn’t been exposed to this world the way she was, would she have believed him?

“Was there anything else, Dad? I know we got sidetracked a few times.”

GM: “Just one thing, Celia.”

“I love you.”

Celia: “I love you too, Dad.”


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Story Twelve, Emmett XIII

“Dreams do come true. You just have to die for them.”
Emmett Delacroix


Date ?

GM: The Quarter is a sea of glowing souls. True to Em’s memory, the Evergreen is a posh jazz club along Royal Street. Sounds of warmth and merriment emanate from within over the sound of classic Louis Armstrong.

Yet if that were all it ways, it does not feel to Em as if it were the sort of place his dark benefactor would send him.

Emmett: Forget feelings. Abélia’s love is rape and her favors are guided missiles.

But for all that, he suspects he’s at least carrying the payload rather than about to be crushed under it.

That’s fine. If Abélia won’t give him the time of day, he’ll leave things as they are with her. Her daughter’s still warm to him, after all.

And if this pays off… maybe it’ll make the loss of his conscience easier to bear.

Probably not, though.

GM: The Evergreen’s walls part for Em like so much smoke. He’s treated to an all-out assault on his senses as he floats inside. He hears laughter, and the sound of jazz, both louder now and carried through the place by means of a static-filled and barely functional sound system that hurts his ears. It sounded state of the art when he was last here. Em doesn’t smell any smoke or alcohol, despite the copious quantities of both. The rotted, once-fancy décor looks French. The first floor is a large, loud room full of carousing men and women lounging around on ruined antiques antiques while a live band plays.

The club’s walls suddenly turn solid and opaque. Em can no longer see through them. A high, alarm-like whine splits the air, although none of the patrons pay it a glance.

A tall and extraordinarily handsome Creole man strides towards Em, winks at him, and makes a beckoning motion with his finger. He strides up the stairs, away from the carousing patrons.

Emmett: Em salutes back, which is why he’s reasonably sure the playboy cannot see him.

Nevertheless, he follows. Seems only polite.

GM: The glove-wearing man looks and carries himself more like a butler than a playboy as he walks upstairs and down a hallway into a well-appointed parlor room in that same fancy French style. He opens a cupboard, removes an ouija board, and sets it down on a table.

“Welcome to the Evergreen, departed spirit,” smiles the man, inclining his head. “My name is Fabian. May I ask yours?”

Emmett: Well, fuck, Delacroix is too long to spell.

He spells out, E-M.

GM: The planchette does not move.

Hahaha. Idiot.

Fabian’s smile does not dim. “If you are unable to answer me, departed spirit, a medium can be made available. I would pray your patience until then.”

Emmett: Em waits.

GM: Fabian removes a phone from his jacket. “We have a guest who’d like to remain out of sight. Can you ensure they are suitably entertained, please?”

“Thank you. C-”

“Don’t bother, Fabian. I guess it’s your lucky night,” sounds a familiar voice at the door.

Sami Watts leans against the frame with an arm out. She wears a low-cut black dress tonight with red pumps.

“The spook’s at the table, you suppose?”

Fabian bows low. “Yes, madam. Lord Savoy would be most obliged if you were to be of assistance. I had not been aware that mediumship was among your many talents.”

“A girl has to keep a little mystery to keep herself interesting,” replies Sami. She looks at the table and closes her eyes for a moment. Em sees her fangs lengthen slightly in her mouth before her eyes open.

Emmett: He twiddles his fingers at her in greeting, crossing his legs as he sits in midair.

“Long time, no see. Moved past ouija, have you? That’ll make things steamier.”

So. It’s a vampire joint.

Hmm.

GM: Sami looks over his floating form. It’s not unappreciatively.

“That was the idea. Nice jacket. I didn’t notice it, last time.”

Emmett: He would dab if he hadn’t died before that became a thing. Instead he just winks and flourishes. “Ah, well. Can’t chat all night, but I’ll find you later, if you hang out around the hotel.”

He looks her over shrewdly, but not unappreciatively, either. “I’m here to talk to an Antoine Savoy, on behalf of the proprietor of the LaLaurie House.”

He lifts the box, taps it. “And I’ll give you a gift if you pass on the message.”

GM: She glances its way. “Mm. What’s in it?”

Emmett: “A surprise,” he says, completely honestly. “And my heart.”

“You wouldn’t throw away my heart, would you?”

GM: “I could probably use it as a blackening agent, at least.”

Emmett: He thinks back to the rotten, shriveled thing Abélia tore from his breast.

“You have no idea. So, you gonna tell this guy why I’m here?”

GM: “No, but Fabian will.” She glances at the living man. “He says he’s here to talk to Lord Savoy.”

The man bows. “Thank you for your assistance, madam. The lord has an opening in his schedule four nights from now.”

“He says the LaLaurie House’s owner sends him, too,” says Sami.

“Ah. The lord is available in two hours.”

Emmett: Em winks at Sami. “I’ll meet you at the hotel later tonight.”

GM: “I remember getting raped, tortured, and murdered the first time I accepted a gift from you.”

Sami winks at Em.

Emmett: He shoots her finger pistols.

There’s an accompanying pew pew.

GM: She cocks one at his forehead, deadpan, and fires it once without sound effects.

Emmett: His head explodes in a burst of gore and viscera. He cries out and clutches at it.

Then he lowers his hands and he’s fine. He wipes his intact brow of nonexistent sweat.

“I do birthday parties, too.”

GM: Nothing happens to his head. Em cries and clutches it without visual effects.

Hahaha, idiot! You don’t get ghost powers until I’m out of the box again!

Emmett: It’s a mime show, mate. I’ll cope.

GM: “I bet. Anyway, keep the heart. I suppose I’ll see you around.”

Emmett: “Your call,” he says frankly. “For what it’s worth, it’s one of those high-risk, high-reward deals. I’ll tell you more about it later.”

Aw. We’ll have to wait a bit longer ‘til we’re reunited, Gaspy.

GM: Don’t worry. I’m patient. Won’t be long before you’re like an ADHD kid forced to sit in class all today.

Sami knows how well those tend to work out.

“I bet. You want Fabian to get anything while you’re waiting here?”

Emmett: What the hell. “A Cafe Brûlot. With the fire and all, please.”

GM: A raised eyebrow. “I didn’t think you could still enjoy those.”

“He’d like a Cafe Brûlot, fire and all,” Sami says to Fabian.

“Of course, sir. Will there be anything else?” smiles the butler-like man.

Emmett: “I can always enjoy a drink somebody makes for me. Plus, I like a show.”

GM: “I suppose Fabian will enjoy getting to drink it, too.”

“Madam, may I inquire as to the departed spirit’s name?” asks Fabian.

“Delacroix,” Sami answers.

“Mr. Delacroix. It is Lord Savoy’s pleasure, and my personal one as well. Welcome to the Evergreen Plantation.” Fabian bows again, towards where Sami is speaking. “The lord shouldn’t wish you to be kept idle until he can see you. Are there any additional entertainments or diversions we might arrange?”

Emmett: “A movie, if it wouldn’t be any trouble. Surprise me.”

GM: “A movie,” says Sami.

“Of course,” smiles Fabian.

“See you around, again.” Sami eyes the heart-shaped box. “Good luck with the high-risk, high-reward deal.”

“You’ll probably need it.”

Emmett: “I make my own luck. Or make off with somebody else’s. Either way, I’ve only died once.”


Date ?

GM: The movie is the first to arrive. Some people bring up a TV into the room. Fabian selects the movie. Like everything else in the Evergreen, and the Shadowlands, it’s ruined. A spiderweb of cracks runs across the surface and the movie flickers with static. Em can make out enough of what’s playing. It’s the original 1960 Ocean’s 11 with Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack.


The Cafe Brûlot comes partway through the first act.

Fabian prepares it himself over a portable grill, and briefly regales Em with the the drink’s history as he halfway peels the orange into a continuous curl and studs it with cloves. Café Brulot Diabolique, or “Devilishly Burned Coffee,” was invented at Antoine’s Restaurant in the late 1880s by Jules Alciatore, the son of the restaurant’s founder. According to Phillip Collier’s Mixing New Orleans, Alciatore was inspired by French bon vivants who would drown a sugar cube in Cognac and place it over an open flame before extinguishing it in a cup of hot coffee. Today, one can still find the drink in New Orleans restaurants including Antoine’s, Galatoire’s, and Arnaud’s—“As well as, of course, the Evergreen,” Fabian smiles.


The preparation of Café Brulot is something like a magician’s show. Outside of the flambeaux at a Mardi Gras parade, there’s nothing like it. Fabian puts cinnamon, cloves, lemon peel, sugar, and brandy in a fireproof bowl and heat on open flame. When the brandy is hot, but not boiling, he brings the bowl to the table and ignites it with match, sending up a gout of fire. He uses a ladle to stir the liquid around for two minutes before pouring the hot coffee into the flaming brandy. Then—to the delight of usually present guests—he proceeds to ladle the still-flaming mixture into demitasse cups.


“A toast, Mr. Delacroix, to your and my good health,” says Fabian as he raises the drink to his lips.

It seems a safe enough toast to make with someone who can’t talk or toast back.

Emmett: Maybe less so to a man whose heath is decidedly moot.

Still, fire burns even in the Shadowlands. That makes the drink a spectacle, even if he can’t appreciate it more directly.

He can remember how it tastes, though. That’s enough.

GM: Fabian downs the drink, hits play on the movie, and leaves the room. He returns after the caper crew has made off with their millions (or rather, been revealed to have done so already).

“The lord will see you now, Mr. Delacroix. Please follow me.”

Emmett: He doesn’t answer the lackey. Why would he?

Perhaps it would be flattering to pretend he’s taken his respite and schemed even as Frank Sinatra schemes onscreen.

But the truth? That fragile thing he keeps running over, backing up on, and running over again?

The truth is, it’s nice just to watch a movie again.

Time to go see the vampire.

GM: The Creole man escorts Em to an old-fashioned gilded elevator with an elaborate iron pull gate. It’s all rusted and pitted. A preserved 1863 ‘greyback’, or Confederate dollar bill, is framed and mounted just above the gate. The bill is torn and the cracked glass is specked with crud.

Fabian steps inside with Em before the door can even close through his incorporeal form, then presses the ‘up’ button. Em doesn’t feel any motion underneath himself as he rises.

There is no ‘ding’ sound as the elevator reaches its stop—its burnished doors merely open to a rooftop, open-air garden that would probably afford a spectacular view of the New Orleans skyline, on the other side of the afterlife. Here it’s just dismal. Em can survey carnage and destruction and decay across the ruined cityscape.

Corroded statues of disfigured angels, some brooding by themselves, others locked in passionate embraces with their fellow elohim, nestle among dead and leafless trees, rotted rose bushes, dead flowers, and withered grass. Moths and maggots infest rusted cages containing crows’ half-rotted carcasses.

A short ways off from them, a corroded marble jacuzzi beckons mockingly. Clouds of flies hungrily buzz over half-rotted corpses reclining in the filthy, stagnant, and algae-infested water.

In fact, corpses are everywhere. Some look fresh. Some are rotting. Some are skeletons. They’re as common as logs, all the way down to how they’re stacked and piled atop one another. Blood freely oozes from their cuts and gaping wounds, as well as the neck punctures that all of them have. Em’s never seen so many bodies in one place besides Abélia’s house.

He still hears the rain, endlessly weeping, but doesn’t feel it. A globe-shaped curtain of dark, hungrily crackling energy encircles the garden from the building’s railings to perhaps 20 feet in the air. Rain that hits it dissolves into plumes of noxious-looking black smoke.

The stench of blood, rot, mildew, and decaying vegetation is awful, but Em’s nose is as dead as the rest of him.

Three figures are seated around a rusty circular iron table, its surface slick and dripping with blood.

The first is a short, dark-haired man who looks in his mid-30s. His scruffy facial hair hovers somewhere between a five-o’ clock shadow and a full beard. He’s dressed in playboy-esque finery that has a casual sense of easy luxury: sports coat, dress shirt without a tie, slacks, and snakeskin wingtip loafers. A signet ring set with a crown and several fleur-de-lis for its coat of arms sits on one of his fingers. Em can’t tell what color his clothes are, beyond various shades of cheerless gray.

Antoine_Savoy1.jpg
The second is a pallid-looking woman with a severe expression with hair pulled back into a tight bun. Her eyes are framed by a thick pair of glasses. She wears a conservative business jacket, matching skirt, lighter blouse, and darker pumps. A tablet with a shattered screen rests on her lap.

Natasha_Preston.jpg
The third figure is a biracial woman in her early middle years with a bush of straw-like salt-and-pepper hair tied up in a scarf. She wears a shawl and plain cotton dress. Beaded necklaces with a crucifix and tiny leather pouch dangle from her neck. One of her eyes is glass and glows a faint, otherworldly blue—the sole splash of color in this patch of the Shadowlands. The air around her feels thick and feverish, and is blotted with writhing shadows. Phantasmal faces fade in and out like mirages, their lips ceaselessly mouthing whispers too low for Em to make out. A single rotting, disembodied hand rests on her shoulder. Its wrist vanishes into the aether.

Rosa.png
There’s no telltale white glow around the three figures. Their forms are lifeless and ashen as Em’s own.

The first two figures continue speak among themselves, but the third one stares Em straight in the eye as he approaches.

Fabian bows deeply as he approaches to them.

“Lord Savoy, Madam Preston, Madam Bale, may I present Mr. Emmett Delacroix, departed spirit here on behalf of the LaLaurie House’s proprietor.”

Emmett: He winks at her.

Pauses and taps the sole of a dress shoe against the forehead of a blankly staring corpse.

“Well, y’all nailed the ambiance,” he ventures. “I like your eye, Ms…”

GM: The corpse continues to bleed from its neck.

“Madam Bale,” says the woman.

Her eye rests upon the heart-shaped box in Em’s hand.

Lord Savoy smiles at the same space in the air where Bale is staring.

“Mr. Delacroix! I think I’ve heard your name somewhere before, if memory serves. Where might that have been, Nat?”

“The first man executed by the state of Louisiana in some years, sir,” answers the glasses-wearing woman, who by process of elimination must be Preston.

Emmett: At last, his reputation precedes him. Famous, just like he’s always wanted. Goes to show, dreams do come true.

You just have to die for them.

“Lord Savoy,” he says. “From one dead man to another, your hospitality is a rare thing on this side of the grave. I’m grateful. I lived near here, you know. Right on Royal. The Quarter’s a good place for swindling.” He glances at the corpses stacked like pizza boxes. “I suppose it’s a good place to hunt, too.”

He glances at Bale. “Thanks for the translation, madam. I’m sure it’ll sound sweeter in your voice than mine.”

GM: Disembodied whispers sound near the glass-eyed woman as she repeats Em’s words.

“They aren’t always so different a thing, sometimes,” Savoy replies to the air with a knowing wink. “And it’s our pleasure, Mr. Delacroix! To a friend of Abélia’s, and to a fellow purveyor of the Quarter’s own pleasures. What can we do for you this fine evening?”

Emmett: “To converse with me is already a great gift. I ask for nothing more, merely a conversation. To be transparent, neither does Madam Devillers. I came here looking for somebody to give my heart, and when I listened to it it brought me here, looking for the one I would give it to. She told me to use her name to speak with you, and so I have, and I hope that you do not feel deceived by her. I am new to this side of the world, and there is much I have to learn. But, I hope, also much to tell. And much to offer, if you should like the services of a sandman who serves who he pleases.”

“I know that even Kindred dream. Dreams of blood, but dreams still.”

GM: Wow, you sell yourself to everybody. If you just could’ve kept doing that with your hole, without fucking things up, we’d be a rich man.

Or a rich man’s wife.

Bale translates.

“Indeed we do, Mr. Delacroix. I just may take you up on that offer! There’s much a freelance wraith can do for my people, and we for him.”

“But first things first. I don’t think it’s by chance your heart led you here, if Abélia also did. I wonder what we might do to unite your heart with the object of its affections?” Savoy drums his fingers against the blood-smeared table thoughtfully.

“Perhaps you should listen to it again, now that you’re here?”

Emmett: What a nice lick. So likable. So warm.

That’s probably what all the other dead people on the roof were thinking, too.

Still, it’s good advice. He listens to the box.

GM: He hears voices, like Celia’s and Cécilia’s and Sami’s, but they fade out against the sluggish thump-thump. A low whisper starts to build, hauntingly familiar. Em’s dead stomach clenches with instinctive, soul-deep unease, and he feels as if the box is somehow smiling at him.

Heh. Heh. Heheheheh.

Blood starts to leak from the box, black and oily, and it suddenly feels fleshy and sensitive underneath his hands. Like the time he carried Dino’s cut-off testicle to the gimp. The heartbeat grows stronger and faster. There’s suddenly a terrible, sucking emptiness in Em’s chest, a void that cannot be filled. He feels like he’s trying to breathe through a lungful of tar.

Oh yeah… !

There is a cavity in his chest. A gaping hole open to the air. Em feels like he’s having a heart attack, only held from the palm of his hand. The whispers around Bale rise to a fevered pitch as the faces fade in and out, faster and faster.

“…coming… "

“…rouq… "

“…heart’s desire… "

“…bargain made… "

“…heart’s desire… heart’s desire… "

“I suggest you replace your heart if you do not wish to meet Oblivion,” says Bale, the spectral hand tightly clutching her shoulder.

That’s right, Em! HERE IT COMES! HEART’S DESIRE!

Emmett: Guess this is the bed we made.

Bring it on, mini-me.

He replaces it.

GM: It fills his chest with a wet squelch, and he can breathe again.

But the hole expands.

It spreads over his chest. Em watches chunks of his corpus spiral away into black void. He pitches over backwards and the hole swallows him up. The last sound audible to his ears are the whispers fading in and out around Bale:

“…heart’s desire… "


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Story Twelve, Caroline XIV

“We take what we wish. We do as we wish. This world exists for our pleasure and sustenance.”
Abélia Devillers


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM

GM: The family’s remaining time on Grand Isle passes quickly enough. The girls meet back at the beach house, Simmone still asleep in their mother’s arms. Adeline suggests they simply spend the night, given the late hour (plus they’d be able to enjoy the beaches tomorrow morning), but Abélia says that Caroline needs to be back in the city. The others concede the point. The Nyx is soon cruising through the Gulf’s midnight waters.

Caroline: Dark waves lap against the Nyx’s hull as it cuts through the water, sleek and effortless as a shark. If she were out alone Caroline might worry about making it home before sunrise, but she has faith in her mother. What had Cécilia said? Things just seem to work out.

Her vision pierces through the darkness, and she finds her way aft, along the port side, to where Adeline’s razor thin form sits, feet dangling off the edge of the ship through the lifelines to be irregularly kissed by the mild seas.

Adeline_Dev.jpg Caroline settles down beside her sister, dangling her own legs over the side.

She loops an arm around her younger sister’s shoulders, squeezing the two shoulder to shoulder for a moment, and lets the arm drop.

“Warmer water than the northeast. I don’t know how you survived those Connecticut winters.”

GM: “I don’t either,” says Adeline, leaning against Caroline. Mild though the seas may be, the open ocean’s winds are cold enough at night for her to draw her coat about herself. “Avignon’s winters are colder than here, but they’re still fairly mild.”

“Though of course, you never really saw them.”

Caroline: “I wouldn’t make it,” Caroline laughs. “Too far from my natural habitat.”

GM: “I remember proposing this plan to Maman, once, how you should alternate summers and school years. When she said that would be too disruptive to your life, I suggested alternating what was left of elementary school, middle school, and high school.”

“But she said that would face similar issues, only more spaced out.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a wan smile, “A trade off with everything.” A pause. “I think I would have liked that, though I don’t think my father would have signed off on it.”

“He’s a willful man. Almost as willful as Maman.”

GM: “I don’t think he would have agreed to it either. I suppose if people were to dig into his family’s personal lives, he’d have found it harder to explain than ‘summers with her mother’s family, other months with me.’ It might have seemed less conductive to family values.”

“‘Complicated doesn’t go over well with voters.’”

Caroline: There’s always that. More than affection, more than love, more than family—the image, how it affected his political aspirations. It’s more than funny how alike he is to her sire—she can’t label her Embrace anything less than providence. God has a sense of humor. “They like simple stories,” Caroline agrees.

“It wasn’t all bad though. The split gave me an excuse to escape sticky Louisiana summers.”

GM: “That’s what Nolan says too about stories. It seems like a shame. I think there is societal benefit to politicians telling more complex stories to voters, but no politician wants to suffer the drawbacks to their own career that come from doing so.”

“He doesn’t, either.”

Caroline: A light laugh, she leans in conspiratorially, “my father would cringe to hear me ever say this, even if he believes it with all his heart, but democracy isn’t about societal benefit. It’s about the mob. It’s about winning and losing, your side vs. their side, tribalism. The best you can hope is that some of those that are climbing to the top are looking out for their own interests—and that those interests align in the big picture enough with the interests of everyone else in the country.”

“Most voters,” she concludes, “are stupid.”

GM: “I suppose that has been true, historically. That’s also what Nolan says. I think the potential for that social benefit still exists, though, and it’s a shame to see it go unrealized.”

Caroline: “Not quite the tragedy of the commons, but similar principle,” Caroline agrees. “I think paradoxically if you introduced some barrier to voting you’d see more meaningful engagement.”

GM: “I’d say that’s the case already, on some level. Louisiana has fairly strict voter ID laws. Though I suppose they’re still less strict than being a land-owning white man over the age of 21.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “Even the Greeks recognized that you need enfranchised people to have productive laws.”

GM: “Nolan’s decided he’s going to run for mayor. He hasn’t announced it publicly yet. What do you think of that?”

Caroline: “I think it’ll be ugly, but he’s positioned himself well.” And that there will be inevitable Kindred back splash, some of which might hit you.

“The city could do far worse.”

GM: “It looks as if Drouillard is also going to run. I don’t want him to.”

Caroline: “Nolan or Droulliard?” Caroline asks.

GM: “I’d have said Nolan earlier, without reservation. I’d rather not be known as the mayor’s girlfriend.”

“But it was under Drouillard’s watch that Gettis shot Yvonne.”

Caroline: “You don’t want that spotlight cast on you?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Yes. I’d really prefer not. You or Cécilia might do better in that role.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs. “He’s not really my type. You could try Cécilia, though.”

GM: “I think she’s fairly happy who she’s with, too. But I meant more as any politician’s significant other.”

Caroline: “I know what you meant,” Caroline answers lightly with a smile.

“It’s difficult, being in the public eye all the time, always under scrutiny. I mean, you know better than most, but it just gets worse and worse.”

She turns towards Adeline. “But sometimes that’s the trade you have to make.”

GM: “I suppose it is. It’s a very large trade to me, though, and not one I’m sure I’d like to make, even if I think he’d be the better mayor.”

Caroline: “Then you have choices to make about what you want, and about what’s most important to you,” Caroline answers.

“For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t let your worries over Drouillard factor into it.”

GM: “I think Nolan should pursue his dreams. I’m happy for him if he becomes mayor. I’m just not sure if I want to walk that path with him.”

Caroline: “What path would you prefer?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Being able to pursue my dreams in privacy and quiet, without external commitments and distractions. But I’d also like to pursue them together with someone, and I know he values and supports my doing so.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, her form lit only by the stars and the backlight from the city in the distance.

“But that does seem like the life that Nolan is pursuing.”

GM: “I’m not a social butterfly. I hadn’t met anyone I’d felt similarly about, before him.”

Caroline: “And he pushes you out of your comfort zone, sometimes in a positive way,” Caroline finishes.

GM: Adeline seems to consider that. “I suppose he has, now that you mention it. But his being mayor, or even running for mayor, would take me far enough outside my comfort zone to be someone else.”

Caroline: “So do you try to clip his wings and hold onto him, cut ties and let him go, or lose yourself,” Caroline elaborates.

There’s no doubt in her mind that the last is the worst possible option. Odd that, the thought flirts across her mind. She’d been perfectly willing to suborn her own dreams and desires, to make her dreams and desires her father’s. To content herself with the role someone else decide for her.

And yet… the idea of anyone trying to dictate her newfound sisters’ lives grates against her sensibilities like nails across a chalkboard.

“Where do you see yourself in ten years?”

GM: “By then, I’d like to be an established research professor here at Tulane. Cécilia has been encouraging me to teach students as well. Yvette, of course, thinks teaching ‘idiot undergrads’ would be a thankless job.”

“I don’t think it’s fair of me to clip his wings, especially when it’s also a question of public good. So it’s either end our relationship or accept life as a public figure. I don’t want to do either of those things, but it looks as if I’ll have to pick one of them.”

Caroline: “They can both be right,” Caroline answers of their sisters.

Typical of Yvette and Cécilia.

“Chase your dreams,” she offers.

GM: “I can still become a professor whether I stay together with Nolan or not.”

Caroline: “But will you want to? No change in a vacuum.”

GM: “I think I still would. Being first lady isn’t a full-time position or even an official position.”

“So my dreams are still on the table, whatever I decide. Otherwise this would be a much easier decision.”

Caroline: Except, Caroline knows, that the mayor’s office is hotly contested among Kindred, and she has little doubt that Nolan is in Savoy’s pocket.

That relationship isn’t a danger to Caroline—not directly—but she could readily see it becoming a flash point for conflict between elders. That conflict would become her conflict, and the back-splash would hit her sister.

“You might be surprised. Might enjoy the public life so much you forget all about research,” she almost teases.

GM: Adeline smiles faintly. “Nolan does like to say he has a knack for achieving the impossible.”

Caroline: “It’s not all bad. The spotlight.” Caroline answers. “You never get to be you, but eventually you begin to become the person you pretend to be.”

GM: “That sounds… discomfiting.”

“In what ways would you say that held true for you?”

Caroline: Caroline leans back, her arms fully extended behind her and carrying her weight as she looks up into the night, mulling that question.

The memories are faint, murky.

The easy answer would be to say that she’s always been this way, but she knows that isn’t true, mostly because of how ashamed she is of some of those memories.

Memories of being a little girl, not fully understanding why she had to sit so still, why she had to keep that smile on, why her father chided her so when she said the wrong thing. She remembers her face burning with shame. How she’d ‘embarrassed him’.

She remembers Claire all but dragging her into a bathroom by one arm when she was maybe ten. She’d been acting out at a party they were hosting. Her father hadn’t made it home. He’d been on the road all week and had promised her that he’d be there. Claire’s voice hard and sharp, her words each cutting into Caroline. ‘Pathetic. Unworthy.’ How she’d all but mocked Caroline’s tears. Told her not to come out until she could act like she belonged. Left Caroline crying in front of the mirror, every shameful tear only adding to her shame as she sobbed and tried to pull herself together.

She remembers when caught her drinking at sixteen with a couple friends. How they’d terrorized her friends. How they hadn’t spoken to her ever again. They didn’t even have to say it then, she knew what they would have said. Imagine what that story would do to your father’s career?

Remembers dreading the phone call when she was eighteen the night after she blew off a fundraiser. It’d been that time, she was in her first semester at Tulane, and god, she just hadn’t wanted to go to the charity event for her mother. She just wanted to stay home and nurse a drink, to study for the organic chemistry exam the next morning knowing. ‘Unacceptable’.

Failures that used to come back and haunt her when she was laying in bed some nights, trying to get to sleep.

She can’t remember a time she didn’t expect to go out into the spotlight, not really. She just remembers painfully the times she didn’t. That’s how getting molded works though, isn’t it? Slowly, over time, conditioned to associate one thing with praise and another with punishment. Behavioral adjustment in clinical terms. Parenting in Claire’s.

“I think the easy answer would be in the way I plan and do things.”

“I didn’t like big parties, big events. I remember as a little girl thinking that if I had a wedding I just wanted a few people there, something small and intimate. I remember wanting small events, birthdays, graduations. Being almost ashamed of those things being in the spotlight.”

She shrugs. “But you just get used to it. To thinking of these things in different ways. To planning in different ways. You get comfortable with people celebrating you, and learn to embrace it.”

“That’s the simple answer though. The truth is who I am is more a function of what I was made than whoever I originally was.”

“Framing everything in terms of how it’s perceived. Weighting words with strangers. Constant mindfulness. Ignoring inconveniences and small pains because it’s worth it sometimes.”

“Skirts instead of pants. Heels instead of flats. Smile instead of cry. Laugh instead of snarl.”

“Aristotle asserted we are what we do—that by habit we become habituated. I cannot find fault with his reasoning.”

GM: Tears never did make much headway with Claire.

“Oh, boo, hoo, hoo, Caroline. Boo hoo hoo,” her then-mother had said, leaning close to Caroline’s face and making an exaggerated, mocking expression as her ten-year-old daughter cried. “Do you think you’re impressing anyone with this? That throwing tantrums is going to change reality? You’re not, and it won’t. All it does is make you look pathetic. All it does is show me how immature you are, that you can’t even react to news as basic as your father still being on the road without pitching a fit. It’s selfish, too. Did it even occur to you that if your father isn’t home, that’s because he’s out doing more important things? But no, you can’t even be happy for him. You’re either too stupid to realize or too selfish to care. I’m glad your father isn’t here right now to see what a bad daughter we’ve raised. To see what a selfish, pathetic, crying little brat you are. I suppose if you’re not capable of acting your age, then time-outs are an appropriate punishment. Don’t come out of this room until you’re ready to stop being a failure.”

The door hadn’t quite slammed, but it had closed very sharply.

Adeline’s expression stills for a moment. She may not be Cécilia, but Caroline may wonder just how many of the emotions behind those memories are discernible to new sister.

“Do you think you would have been happier if you hadn’t had to grow accustomed to your new habits?”

Caroline: “I don’t know if I ever stopped to think about it, Adeline,” Caroline admits. “Or had a choice. That person I used to be died a long time ago.”

“They’re not even a memory.”

She sighs. “I’m sorry I can’t give you a better answer to that. But you still have a choice.”

GM: “I do, and I’m not sorry. I think you’ve given me an informative answer and an inside perspective into public life that Maman or Cécilia couldn’t have given me.”

GM: “Some of the things you’ve told me about habituation make me think I could grow accustomed to a more public life. Aristotle isn’t the only philosopher who’s expressed sentiments along those lines.”

“Some of the things you’ve told me are concerning and make me think I could compromise my identity and be less happy by remaining together with Nolan, even if I grew accustomed to a more public life.”

“I’m still not sure what decision I’m going to make. But I’m glad you’ve given me more information to consider.”

“Perhaps I should talk with more people who’ve been close to the current or previous mayors.”

Caroline: “I doubt they’d be of much use,” Caroline answers.

She lets the answer hang in the air before adding, “I don’t think any could hold a candle to you.”

GM: Adeline smiles. "That’s very sweet. But they would have perspectives that I lack, all the same. We can glean information from anywhere. "

She glances out over the midnight waters. “Nolan has some unusual choices in friends.”

Caroline: “Such as?” Caroline asks, still leaning back.

There’s more curiosity behind that question than she wants to let on.

GM: “There’s an explosives engineer named Liz Williams. I’m not sure what she has to offer him, and he doesn’t seem romantically interested in her.”

Caroline: “An explosives engineer?” Caroline tilts her head. “That’s a very strange associate. Is he planning some major demolition?”

GM: Adeline shakes her head. “He owns a waste management company. He doesn’t need to demolish buildings.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. If Adeline wasn’t her sister she might bite her tongue too.

“That doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons he won’t…”

Few of those reasons seem legal.

GM: “That’s true,” Adeline acknowledges. “But they’ve also associated with each other for a while. This seems too long-term to be a simple demolition.”

Caroline: “You know him better than I do,” Caroline concedes. “Any thoughts? Shared interests they have?”

GM: Adeline shakes her head. “They don’t seem to have many shared interests, though they do hold similar views on a number of issues. I’m sure you know about the work Nolan has done with the French Quarter Response Force. All of that is only possible thanks to technology. Nolan and Liz are both very excited for what the future holds and the social progress that technology is going to make possible.”

Caroline: Savoy? Hard not to think so.

There’s a less pleasant option there she prefers to avoid dwelling on.

“It’s difficult. A lot of the charm of Vieux Carré is in its character and history, but a lot of that character is… unpleasant.”

GM: “Yes. And I don’t think the better parts of that character or the area’s history are incompatible with social or technological progress.”

“Obviously, of course, not everyone feels the same way.”

Caroline: “Sure,” Caroline answers, contemplative. “I think the roughest edges can and should be smoothed off, but I think so much of what appeals to people that visit is that what they do here, much as in Vegas, stays here. Technology is the greatest threat to that.”

GM: “It is. It’s not a new observation that privacy is increasingly becoming a thing of the past, but I’ve found it notable how not just unconcerned, but excited Liz and Nolan seem about the growth of the surveillance state and surveillance capitalism. That’s one of the views they seem to hold in common.”

Caroline: “And their interest in perpetuating it?” Caroline asks, an ugly thought forming in her mind.

GM: “Possibly. I’m not certain what Liz stands to gain from that. Nolan’s company, at least, benefits from the collection of consumer data.”

Caroline: “Ideological concurrence is enough for plenty of people. See most voters.”

GM: “That’s true enough,” Adeline grants, “though there are other people who agree with his ideology, and with whom he has more in common. I’m not sure where they even know each other from.”

“I’d press him further, but it seems hypocritical when there are enough details about our own family that I’m keeping secret.”

Caroline: “Everyone likes to keep their secrets,” Caroline agrees. “Though there are some more wisely kept than others.”

She pauses on that thought, seeming to let it drift. “And others perhaps less wisely kept.”

“I’m keeping one from Cécilia,” she admits.

GM: Adeline looks surprised. “Oh? You and Cécilia have always been so close.”

“More than any of us besides Yvette and Yvonne, in fact.”

Caroline: “It’s sensitive.”

She rolls her tongue across her fangs, seemingly considering.

GM: Adeline simply nods at Caroline’s initial statement and doesn’t press.

Caroline: But there’s no better confidant she could hope for.

“Luke went snooping in the house at Claire’s behest.”

GM: “Oh no,” she murmurs. “Do you know what they were expecting to find?”

“Or I suppose more technically, to accomplish?”

Caroline: The Ventrue fishes a tiny plastic bag out of her purse. Inside, just visible, are a handful of pale blonde hairs she passes to her sister.

“I think she sold him on something about protecting himself, maybe from infidelity down the line.” She shakes her head. “The whole being my dad’s second choice never sat well with her.”

“And… I don’t think he did it to hurt Cécilia. Hell, I’m certain of it. I know better than anyone how much pressure she could exert, how easy it is to cave on something with no obvious harm instead of fight over it.”

GM: “I see,” Adeline frowns, looking at the hairs. “Curious, though. If he wanted to directly test the baby’s paternity, you need to wait eight weeks to have a viable blood sample. And if he didn’t want to test the baby’s paternity directly, there are plenty of couples and individuals who do recreational DNA tests to trace their heritage. Luke could have brought up the idea, gotten her to hand over a DNA sample freely, and only stolen hairs if she refused.”

“But perhaps she did. There are privacy concerns about how that genetic information is being used.”

Caroline: “Or perhaps he didn’t want to touch on the topic,” Caroline offers. “It’s sort of like the prenup topic: everyone should, but most people won’t.”

GM: “Oh, I meant taking the DNA test under false pretenses. But I suppose it’s a moot point.” Adeline frowns at the hairs. “I suppose this isn’t surprising, either. I don’t think Cécilia has ever given Luke reason to believe she’s unfaithful, but to your stepmother, this must have seemed like good sense.”

Caroline: “It’s also possible she was manipulating him towards her own ends: she’s never been comfortable with how Maman won’t share details about everyone else’s father.”

GM: “Ah, yes. That’s also true. Not having a father is an aspect of our lives we simply take for granted. I’m not even sure when I last thought about it.”

“That would make a great deal of sense if Claire wanted to tease out that hidden branch of the family tree.”

Caroline: Caroline nods again. “She could be relentless in her pursuit of what she wanted, and I don’t know if she ever really trusted anyone.”

“It may all be a moot point—I don’t think Luke would actually hurt Cécilia intentionally, or that anyone else has enough influence over him to compel him to do so indirectly, but the whole thing just leaves me feeling… dirty. I don’t know if anything good comes from telling Cécilia about it, but I hate the idea of keeping a secret from her.”

GM: “Have you confronted Luke about it, or do you think you already have a full picture of motives and events?” Adeline asks.

Caroline: She shakes her head. “I haven’t had a chance yet… and with everything going on I don’t know when I will.”

GM: “What do you want to find out from him?”

Caroline: “I think it’s more what I want from him, than what I want to find out, if I’m being honest.”

GM: “What is that, in that case?”

Caroline: “His full commitment to Cécilia,” Caroline answers without hesitation.

“My father’s side… there’s so much duplicity, and jockeying for position, and backstabbing. You can hardly imagine it. Even when we’re notionally on the same ‘side’, it’s not the same as it is between us. It’s more like being chess pieces of the same color than like being a family.”

She sighs. “I know that sounds harsh, and maybe it is, but it’s not without value or purpose. There’s a method to the madness. It’s part of why we’ve spread out across the entire state like we have, and risen to where we are.”

“Being involved with Luke inherently brings Cécilia in part of that into that frey—I think that’s something she accepts—but goddamn it…”

“Not between them.”

“She deserves better than that.”

GM: “She does,” agrees Adeline. “I hope Luke can be more than that for her, but I don’t know how realistic that is to expect. I don’t know if the level of commitment Maman would be happy with for us is realistic to expect for anybody. It makes me wonder, in fact, if that’s why we don’t have a father in our lives. Ultimately, there can be no deeper trust than among blood.”

Caroline: “That’s part of what I’m torn over,” Caroline agrees. “If Luke weren’t family as well, I’d have ripped out his throat over this. As is… I don’t know if I trust my judgment.”

GM: “I don’t think Cécilia would be happy doing what Maman has done, either. She wants a husband to raise her daughters with.”

“But as far as Luke. You might be able to pressure him into confessing what he did. If Cécilia still wanted to marry him, would you be happy with that outcome?”

“Or, for that matter, if she decided she no longer wanted to?”

Caroline: “I don’t know,” Caroline admits. “There’s a lot tied up in the wedding for everyone, and I don’t want to introduce anything that blows that up. But I also don’t want Cécilia to get hurt.”

“Or if I’ll ever view anyone as good enough for her.”

GM: “Yvette never lets us forget about ‘Elliot,’ at least.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t take that bait.

“She could do far worse than Luke.”

GM: “She could. She’s also very social. I think she could find a new partner more easily than I could.”

“The wedding is still some time away. Most of the arrangements haven’t been made yet. If you choose to act on what you know, I think now would be the ideal time.”

Caroline: “Would you?” Caroline asks.

GM: “I think that I would. Relationships don’t have to be built on complete honesty, but they should be built on reciprocity. I can’t picture Cécilia choosing to spy on Luke in the same way.”

“I think she would also want to know the truth.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, mulling over Adeline’s words.

“I guess there’s never really a good time.”

GM: “I prefer to plan towards things. But Cécilia was happy that Luke didn’t wait any longer to propose to her.”

Caroline: “Seize the day and all that.”

GM: “That is the sentiment. And good luck. We all know you want only the best for Cécilia.”


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM

GM: Cécilia finds Caroline shortly after her talk with Adeline.

“This feels like as good a time as any to talk to Maman about Simmone, unless you think we can help our case by waiting,” she says over the steady sound of waves lapping against the Nyx’s hull.

Caroline: Caroline grins. As good a time as any: to say that there is never a good time to contest their mother’s wisdom.

“No, you’re right.” The Ventrue rises from where her feet dangle over inky darkness and casting her senses, rather than her gaze, to orient herself on her mother’s location.

GM: Caroline and Cécilia swiftly finds their mother at the yacht’s aft, a sleeping Simmone held in her arms as she stares out into the midnight sea. The pitch black water seems to have an almost hypnotic effect on the ‘woman’.

“Ah, how timely of you, my dears,” she smiles, stroking her youngest’s hair.

“Pontus has had some most concerning things to say about your sister.”

Caroline: “The sea speaks to all of us in different ways,” Caroline tests. “Some more directly than others I think.”

“We had our own concerns as well,” she adds, leaning in to brush Simmone’s hair from her eyes.

GM: The blonde child remains contently asleep in their mother’s embrace.

Cécilia nods at Caroline’s words. “What has Pontus had to say, Maman?”

“Simmone shall be most unhappy in several nights, if measures are not taken. Her dance teacher will refuse her further lessons.”

“Oh, no,” Cécilia frowns. “That class with Stephanie and Lucy seemed to go very well.”

“I concur, my dear. How many children does Simmone’s teacher have?”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes alight. Celia’s mother.

Celia, the sheriff’s secret childe. Protecting her mother from Caroline?

GM: “Six, Maman,” answers Cécilia. “And her granddaughter Lucy, who lives with her.”

“Do you believe they have something to do why she’s going to cancel?”

Caroline: “Celia,” Caroline states. “Trying to shield her mother?”

GM: “Fret not, my dears. Maman shall take care of everything,” their mother assures.

“May I ask how, Maman?” asks Cécilia.

“I shall slay the extraneous children, of course," she smiles, “and allow Simmone’s teacher to spend more time upon her. The woman will come to view your sister as a surrogate for her own lost offspring.”

“How old is her youngest, Lucy?”

Dark waves steadily lap against the yacht’s hull.

Caroline: Caroline greets her mother’s solution with stunned silence.

“I believe her granddaughter is five,” she answers belatedly.

She tries not to default back to apprehension as she continues on the thorny issue. Pushing back has been met poorly by most in her Requiem.

“I imagine a more mild response might achieve a similar outcome,” she ventures.

GM: “I think Lucy is six,” Cécilia answers. “Her birthday is in January. I might also suggest a milder course of action, Maman.”

“Oh, this shall be as much for you as for our Simmone, sweet Caroline,” their mother smiles.

“We shan’t let the child’s blood go to waste. The seneschal’s powers of anima visus are great; we cannot risk another violation of your mind by his. We may use sweet Lucy’s blood to conceal the evidence of your blackest crime.”

The water around the boat ripples. Lucy’s reflection stares up at the three, six years old and smiling, with large eyeglasses and several missing baby teeth.

“An infant’s blood would have been most efficacious, but a child of Lucy’s years shall still afford you strong protection.”

“And I sense she is dearly loved by her family.” An affectionate smile spreads across their mother’s face. “Yes, sweet Lucy’s blood shall serve you well indeed.”

Indistinct black shapes cut through in the water. Sharp and hard like the fins of sharks. They begin streaking towards the little girl’s smiling reflection.

Caroline: “No.”

The word costs her something. Wrenches at her insides. Hurts.

“Mother, I bid you, do not do this.”

GM: Cécilia’s quiet protest is equally immediate.

“Maman. Stop. Please.”

The black shapes halt inches away from Lucy. The girl cups a hand over her mouth in a yawn.

“Why, of course, my dears,” Abélia smiles. “I live but to fulfill your wishes.”

Caroline: “For my sisters, I would tempt any dark deed, but this is unnecessary and bleak. And will not solve the question of Diana.”

She stares at the smiling girl.

“For myself, we might find a more agreeable substitute. For Simmone… I suspect her daughter fears for her mother. Harming the family will turn them ever more onward. Perhaps a more neutral location would be more agreeable for her? The LaLaurie House, for instance?”

Agreeable substitute. How easily she’ll agree to infanticide for her mother, such a firm line only nights ago.

She’s not drowning in darkness, that happened long ago. She is adrift in it though, carried away.

GM: “Simmone mislikes moving between homes with too great frequency,” Abélia replies, stroking the child’s hair.

“It would be simpler to slay the objecting daughter. And her other of-age siblings, to be safe.”

“Fret naught for Simmone’s teacher. Though her mind would be most pliable without the distraction posed by Lucy, we may render her wholly devoted to our Simmone’s instruction.”

“I would like you to spare Lucy’s aunts and uncles as well, Maman,” Cécilia requests.

Caroline: This is her mother. Who will, with a smile, slaughter half a dozen children to simply bring ease to her daughters’ lives.

“Simmone is what we would speak to you of, Maman,” Caroline continues.

GM: “Do the lives of Lucy’s aunts and uncles mean aught to you as well, my dear?” Abélia inquires.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip.

“Compared to my sister’s happiness? No,” she answers truthfully.

She continues quickly, “But would invite retaliation, and I do not believe this serves Simmone’s happiness. Her joy. Even if it did, it invites retaliation down the line. Two of Lucy’s relatives number amongst the Damned.”

She thinks to Celia’s blood on her lips, to the girl she wronged returning among the Damned.

“And while I would sacrifice my happiness for Simmone’s, slaughtering them so would be such a sacrifice.”

She bites her lip again, a nervous habit. “Perhaps we might return to that rather permanent topic in a moment with greater context from what we would bring to you though, Mother?”

GM: There’s a peal of fluttering laughter.

“Oh, my sweet, sweet Caroline.”

Her mother’s dark eyes glint.

“You have spent too long upon your knees.”

A wind starts to whip about Caroline’s legs, blowing her skirt.

“This must needs be corrected.”

The wind rises to a shriek in Caroline’s ears. The yacht rocks beneath them.

“Do you not wonder how we travel these dark waters without molestation?”

Suddenly, all is black. All is cold. Weight smothers down on Caroline, from all directions. They’re underwater.

“Do you not wonder why the prince suffers us to make our home within his personal domain?”

Cécilia lies motionless upon the floor, as if sleeping, her hair lazily drifting through the water. Her sisters lie similarly asleep. May, Hayes, and all of the vessel’s mortal crew asleep. Does the yacht even have a crew? Caroline tries to recall their faces, but cannot.

“Do you not wonder how your sisters sleep peacefully every night?”

Motion rocks beneath them. Caroline’s hair whips past her. The Nyx cuts through the midnight waters like a shark. Faster. Faster.

“Do you not have faith in Maman’s power? In our family’s power? In your power?”

The Nyx breaks the water’s surface with a splash. The air is colder. Caroline’s skin and clothes are not wet.

“Yet you caution fear from the children of a crippled schoolteacher! From mere babes in the night!”

Caroline sees a cruise ship ahead of them. Land is nowhere in sight. Light is nowhere in sight, except from the boat’s windows. They could be in the middle of the Atlantic. They could be in the middle of the Pacific. They could be anywhere.

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“Oh, my sweet child.”

Shadows envelop Caroline and her mother. They reappear on the cruise ship’s deck. It has a swimming pool and adjacent jacuzzis. Dozens of people are seated around tables with white tablecloths. White-clad servers move among the diners.

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“We do not fear others’ retaliation.”

Everyone blinks or stares in disbelief at Abélia’s and Caroline’s sudden appearance. Some people start to yell or get up from their seats. Abélia does not so much as glance at them. Her smile exists only for Caroline.

“Others fear ours.

The Ventrue’s mother gestures. Waves of blackest magic pour from her hands. A chorus of wailing screams split the night as dozens of people collapse, rotten flesh sloughing off their bones in putrescent blackening slurry. Screams gurgle from decomposing fluid-filled lungs. Hair falls away in slimy clumps. Liquefied eyes run from their sockets like milky tears. Teeth tinkle to the floor as they fall from black and shriveled gums. Half-liquefied organs splatter over the deck like overripe fruit as they slip free from crumbling skeletons. Enzymes eat dead muscles from inside out. The stench of ripe shit, expelled vomit, and necrotizing flesh is overpowering. The corpses look like they’ve been left to rot and bloat in water for weeks. All that’s missing are the clouds of buzzing flies.

Even their blood doesn’t smell worth drinking.

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Elderly retirees dressed in Hawaiian shirts. Moms and dads on vacation with their kids. Kids on vacation with their moms and dads. Gold diggers with balding sugar daddies twice their ages. Yuppies enjoying the fruits of their MBAs. All are made equal in death as Abélia snuffs out their lives. Tables, chairs, dishes, and more crash to the ground as as the dying expire, the slain rot, and the survivors flee. They stampede off the deck in a blind panic that tramples the slow, the ungainly, and those simply too sick or terror-struck to flee. The scene makes Caroline think of water suddenly poured over an anthill.

Her mother’s smile is radiant.

“We take what we wish. We do as we wish. This world exists for our pleasure and sustenance. Its denizens are our prey, and we its predators. Say only the word, and Maman shall set her might against the prince himself, if it would ensure your happiness.”

There’s a low, fluttering laugh.

“But we really must train the timidity out of you, my dear…”

She surveys the fleeing droves of mortals, then raises another pale hand.

Caroline: Caroline has always known that her mother’s moral compass pointed only to her family. That Kindred and kine both have all the meaning to her of an insect crawling like an interloper across a world she rightly views as belonging to her daughters. She knows, has seen, her mother’s power to warp the world to make Caroline hers. To warp reality itself, to rewrite it to her wishes.

But it’s one thing to know, and another to see it in such stark and terrible majesty. To watch her so effortlessly snuff the life from dozens of men, women, and children with all the energy it might require to draw a breath. It’s better and worse than the Sabbat scene—lacking the cruelty but also the purpose of that slaughter.

At least… on the surface. Something quests within her, seeks an answer to a scene that a year ago would have brought her to her knees.

Because her mother did bring her here with purpose, did slaughter with purpose. Everything she does is with purpose—a singular one.

“You’re right,” she admits.

“I have grown accustomed to a Requiem on my knees.”

She looks out at the putrid husks of flesh that fill the deck before them. She pushes the sight of them a moment before, of them alive and well, from her memory. They were always rotting flesh. Always human waste. Better to view them like that. Better than to admit they were…

That thought dies.

“I like to think that the sacrifices I would make for my sisters, for you, is a strength. But it’s a weakness too. Never in my life or Requiem have I had someone who would sacrifice for me, and all the world I see only through the lens of what I might offer.”

She turns her gaze from the massacre to meet her mother’s dark eyes. “Anything to avoid being a burden. It’s selfish of me though. To you.”

“And narrow in its vision.”

GM: The screams of the fleeing and the dying echo around the pair as dozens of footsteps thump against the deck. Abélia gestures again, but no further kine perish.

Instead, a great and trembling shudder runs through the vessel.

It slowly begins to sink.

“Love is sacrifice, my dear.”

“Compelled by blood.”

“Requited in blood.”

“Through a sister’s sacrifice alone does your Maman stand before you now.”

Caroline: The heiress nods, her gaze not escaping her mother’s. “Truth then, Maman.”

“I have grown accustomed to casting everything in how it might most benefit, how I might persuade and convince.” She bites her lip before continuing, but only for a moment. “Plainly, I do not wish Celia’s mortal family taken from her. I have my own desires for her, and would see them intact for those.”

“More than those desires though, while I would see Simmone happy, I am not convinced the Simmone of this night is who she is, who she was, or who she should be. I fear she is a pale reflection of all of those things cast by those who did harm to this family, and I am disinclined to allow the actions of any other to so define her.”

“Towards that end, towards her happiness, I would not she be granted every whim and wish by only the most direct means.”

“She may yet be your eternal child, but I want her to make that decision in the fullness of knowing, stepping boldly towards that destiny rather than meekly seeking it in flight from devils that haunt her.”

GM: The last of footsteps thump away over the shrieks and cries of the fleeing. Caroline has never seen a public space clear so quickly.

There is no one left alive on the cruise ship’s deck. Just Caroline, her mother, and putrefying corpses for as far as she can see.

“There is one matter first, my treasure, before we might discuss your sister’s future,” Abélia smiles.

“Simmone is happy with her dance teacher. I bid you tell your Maman—what is the proper course of action in this matter?”

Caroline: The screams and shrieks and wet slop of rotting flesh sliding across the deck fade away as Caroline puts all of her attention on her mother. “Certainly ensure that she does nothing so foolish as disrupt Simmone’s happiness.”

“I can think of many ways to do so that will make Cécilia, Simmone, and I all happy.”

GM: “Speak, then, my treasure. These kine perish so they might further your wisdom.”

“Are we to fear the whelps of a crippled schoolteacher?”

Caroline: “We do not fear,” Caroline answers, drinking in the darkness in her mother’s eyes. She does not need to qualify the statement.

GM: Those dark eyes smile with pride, even as her mother patiently waits.

Caroline: The Ventrue lets the words hang in the air for a long moment before continuing.

“Most presently, Celia meets with Cécilia regularly. I’m confident my sister can impress upon her the importance of her mother in our sister’s lives with little effort.” Her eyes drink in the darkness in Abélia’s own, “I think it would make her happy to do so, to secure her sister’s happiness and also ‘protect’ her friend.”

“Willing compliance is desirable, isn’t it?”

Does some of her mother’s darkness creep into her own blue eyes?

“If that should fail, Celia can be reminded that her own welfare, and that of her sire, is perhaps a discrete word in the wrong ear from disaster. To say nothing of the fragility of those kine close to her. The sheriff once thought it amusing to place me within his power, to exercise that power over me. I might enjoy the turnabout.”

“If not willing compliance, I will prompt eager compliance.”’

There’s no mistaking the darkness now.

“And should they scoff at my sister’s gentle touch, or believe themselves above my firmer hand…” She spreads her arms out, encompassing the horror around them.

“Then let them learn to fear.”

GM: Her mother’s answering, pride-swollen smile is even more radiant as she brushes a tender hand along Caroline’s cheek.

“Let them.”

The cruise ship rumbles beneath them, slowly but steadily sinking into the deep. Caroline is not sure how long it will take, only that its end is surely inevitable.

“Your answer is pleasing to me, my treasure.”

“It pleases me to see you strong.”

“Tell me, now, of the course of action you would counsel for our Simmone.”

Caroline: That smile almost washes out the horror of hundreds, perhaps thousands, dying as the ship sinks beneath them.

“I would my sister’s voice also weigh in on Simmone, but most directly, Maman, she needs to be challenged. It does not do for her to clutch you in fear, however much your touch may comfort her.”

“Cécilia and I would break her of the grip the ghoul’s actions have over her. Slowly expose her to more and more. Allow her to return to some semblance of normalcy.”

GM: “Do you believe this would make her happy, sweet child?”

“She has told me, many a time, that she is happy in our company. That she desires naught but our blood for companionship.”

Caroline: “I believe she would be happier if, even if she preferred us, she did not cower in the face of others, Maman.”

“If she chooses to remain a child, I would have it be a precocious child.”

GM: “She need never lay eyes upon another soul if she does not wish it. She may wish for the moon and stars themselves, and Maman shall provide.”

Another smile.

“But should she wish for greater normalcy in her life, then I shall make the fulfillment of that wish, too, my foremost purpose. Convince your sister of the rightness of this course of action, and her whim is my command.”

Abélia glances out over the side of the groaning cruise ship. It’s so tall. Practically a building flipped sideways over the water. Little by little, the waterline draws closer.

Caroline can only guess how many people are on board.

“There is more than enough vitae on this vessel to slake your thirst, my dear.”

“Please, feast to your heart’s content ere we depart.”

Caroline: More than enough. That’s an understatement. She doesn’t want to think about how many hundreds, or even thousands, of people are dying here tonight. In the blink of an eye, more lives taken than the whole of her Requiem.

She wants to be okay with it. She wants to be able to shove it all aside. They’re just kine, right? Not even kine that she cares about.

It doesn’t make it right. Can’t make it right. A lesser atrocity she might ignore, but this is killing orders of magnitude greater, and of innocents purely for… for her education?

She wants to make her mother happy. Wants to do as she bids, but some pathetic part of her snarls at her claims, at her dismissal of the lives on the ship. Until now, until this moment, she could pretend in some moral hypocrisy that she wasn’t a part of it, however responsible she might be. She didn’t kill anyone directly, did she? Did she? It’s not her fault… is it?

And then the walls break away, break down, the dam crumbling under assault before collapsing entirely.

Why? Why are they here? Why does she have to do this? And she does have to. She knows (fears?) what her mother will do if she balks. If she expresses anything so pathetically human as remorse or horror.

And perhaps that idea, that lie begged from her is what does it. She fears what the truth will bring—not for herself though—but more than she fears that, the idea of the lie between them over this is what she can’t stomach.

Crumbling bones slosh around the deck in rotting human stew and filth, some far too small. The smell is overwhelming. And she feels so powerless.

“Maman, I…” the words die as pitifully as the kine died here.

If she were a human she might be hyperventilating as it all crushes her, is the near panic tightens around her chest like a vice, instead her chest is still and lifeless. As lifeless as she is. As lifeless as the ship will be before long.

Her mother wants what’s best for her. Will do anything for her. Will do this for her. Something black and twisted whispers that she’s being weak, too weak to claim what she’s being offered, this great gift. Would it be so bad? To cut ties to the kine? To embrace her inner monster?

But she remembers what she felt when she fought the Sabbat, when she cut the head from one, when she delivered their ‘priest’ into oblivion he so surely deserved. How right it felt to do so. And too with the demon in the Dungeon, a last act of her life that helped give purpose to it, that gave her peace.

She doesn’t want to become one of those things, even if no one knows. She’ll know. Even if Maman accepts her for it: she can’t accept herself that way.

GM: “Oh, my sweet, sweet child.”

Abélia brushes a hand along Caroline’s cheek.

Distantly, she can make out noises. Voices. Sounds of fear. Panic. Commotion.

But no one approaches the top deck.

Who in their right mind would, after what dozens of witnesses saw?

The ocean doesn’t glint in her mother’s eyes. It’s swallowed by them. Two hungry orbs that look oceans in their own right, black and fathomless. Caroline is reminded of her prior words:

“Unimaginably vast and unknowable, with depths so dark no light will ever touch them. Eternal. Something others can only rest upon lest they be swallowed up by it.”

“I think the most talented kine might be a captain on your sea—always subject to your mercy, no matter how wise he may be. We, I think,” she had gestured to her sisters across the ship, “are creatures in that dark embrace.”

The ship continues to slowly, steadily sink beneath them.

“This is displeasing to you,” her mother states.

Caroline: The scale of what her mother has done for her is staggering. As a demonstration of her will and how far she will go in an attempt to make Caroline better or happy, it’s a herculean task that shames Caroline to even think about. How few in the world could begin to do what she’s done? Certainly no other that would be inclined to do something.

But it’s a carrion gift of such staggering horror that even its impersonal nature isn’t something she can ignore. Hundreds or thousands of people are dying. Will continue to die. It’s monstrous. Utterly monstrous.

And yet… and yet Caroline feels so ashamed of her rejection of it.

What’s wrong with her? Why can’t she just accept it and move on? Isn’t this the very lesson her mother wanted to teach her?

The Ventrue bites her lower lip. She doesn’t want to admit it. Doesn’t want to make her mother unhappy.

But she’s more afraid of the lie between them. She’s so tired of lies.

She nods, her mask cracking into one of grief. “Yes, Maman,” she admits, her voice choked with grief.

“I’m so sorry.”

GM: “Oh, my poor, sweet child.”

He arms encircle Caroline, pulling her into a soft embrace.

“You don’t want to make me unhappy. But you are unhappy.”

She feels a hand stroking her back.

“Thank you for your honesty. I know this wasn’t easy for you. You have nothing to be sorry for. A mother could not ask for a better daughter. I could never bear to see you unhappy,” her mother’s voice whispers in her ear.

“What would you ask of Maman, my treasure? Ask for the moon and stars themselves, and I shall pluck them from the sky if it would but allow a smile to grace your lips.”

The ship continues to shudder beneath them.

Caroline: What does she want?

The Ventrue grits her teeth. For this never to have happened. But she knows how ridiculous and childish such an answer is.

The follow on—not to remember any of this—feels even worse. Moral and physical cowardice, hiding from the truth like a girl under the covers, or worse, sticking her head in the sand. It would almost make it all worse, make her a worse and more pathetic part of it.

What does she really want? Not to be weak. To be what her mother expected of her tonight, to make her proud.

But she knows too, that’s not in the cards. Not tonight. Perhaps a century will harden her heart. She hopes (fears?) so.

What does she want tonight? The question is more alien than Abélia has ever been to her, leviathan depths and all.

Behind her mother’s gentle acceptance, that soft whisper and touch, the building panic begins to slide away. The pull towards normalizing is so insidious, so seductive.

The purely rational part of her mind makes its argument, if the kine are going to die anyway, shouldn’t she take her fill? Satisfy the hunger here, rather than with some needless victim and simultaneously please her mother.

Another voice back, ’aren’t all kine going to die anyway? Where’s the line?’

And still, another part asks even more insidiously, when has she ever had such an opportunity? To feast and feast and feast until her Beast cries out to stop, until the she is so drunk on blood that she can’t take any more. To drown it in blood past the point of satiation.

They’re going to die anyway… aren’t they?

She’d argued the use of Nazi and Japanese war crimes related medical research during her senior year in LD debate. That the damage was done, that it was more disrespectful to the victims to put it to waste. To not save other lives that could be saved with it, no matter the suffering and human cost of it.

Is this different?

GM: She’s not sure whether her father agreed with her or not. He was too busy to weigh in on something so inconsequential as high school debate topics.

But it felt like he would have.

She feels her mother’s hands stroking her back.

“Your thoughts are conflicted, sweet child. Take as long as you require to reconcile your feelings, then say only what you would see done here. If it is within Maman’s power, she shall see it done. And if it is not within her power, she shall not rest until it is.”

Caroline: What does she want?

It should be such a simple question, but the entire premise is just alien. The answer has always been rooted in what someone wanted of her, for her, as long as she can remember. The answer was always part of the mask she presented to everyone: her father, her professors, her lovers.

Is it really possible that someone genuinely means it when they ask? That it isn’t a trap?

Her mother’s touch drains the tension in her shoulders, in her back, and just for a moment the regal bearing slips and she’s just Caroline. Not Caroline Malveaux. Not Caroline Devillers. Not a scion of Louisiana’s most powerful family or one of the Americas’ mightiest princes.

She breathes in the warm night air and it fills her cold, dead body.

“I want this to mean something, Mother. More than just my edification, I want the death of the kine tonight to be with purpose.”

“You would that we paint over my sins—let us do so here. That I should sake my thirst—that as well. And whatever other bloody lessons I must learn, or you would have me learn, I would see them done. Tonight.”

Her gaze settles upon her mother’s once more.

“You have humbled me with the scale of your love, but I would that there be no need for a future demonstration of this scale. I have no doubt of your power, nor question of my importance, but this…” she gestures to the nightmare around them.

“Don’t make make me see this again. Please.”

GM: Her mother’s arms seem to encircle her all the more tightly at that dropping of the mask. The ship may sink beneath them, and the sea’s winds and waters may be dark and cold, but for a moment she can be just Caroline.

Just a young woman with her mother.

“Of course, sweet child,” sounds Abélia’s voice. “You have my solemn pledge that I shall slay no further kine in such numbers for your edification, or for any other purpose on your behalf you find objectionable.”

There is a faint chuckle.

“Yet I am no governess to plan your lessons as might your sire. Where I see need, I shall teach. At present, I see no further such need.”

“You ask that these kines’ deaths serve a purpose. So be it. The souls of those aboard this vessel might fuel many workings of power on your behalf. What ends would you see them used towards?”

At Abélia’s words, the rot within the mob of splayed corpses accelerates. Already half-pulped flesh, muscle, and splattered organs dissolve into putrescent, equally foul-smelling black slime. Rotted bones decompose into sodden clumps of ash. Shuddering pools of liquefying flesh, dotted with clumps of hair and teeth, lurch into a semblance of animation as they half-crawl, half-seep off the deck. Clothes, shoes, phones, wallets, jewelry, and assorted other personal effects are carried after them. Caroline can’t hear any splashes as they disappear over the side. Soon, the deck stands bare and empty.

The smell is better.

Caroline: Speak what she wants. Is it really that easy?

“I want strength enough to stand outside my sire’s shadow, to carve my own Requiem from the world. I wish my mind inviolate, a terror for those that would dare to trespass in it.”

The words come more easily as she speaks. “I want to be feared more than I am loved. I want to soar on the wind when the sun rises and watch my sisters prosper, to be there beside them against any that would dare to raise a hand to them. I want to lead, not be led along, to rule.”

She looks at her mother. “I would make myself the master of my destiny, that I might take what I wish from my Requiem, not only what misers might give me.”

“I want my sire to be proud of me, but not to rule me, and for everyone that once cast me side to lay awake in fear wondering how they ever made such a foolish decision.”

Her eyes drink in the darkness. “I would be you, reflected in all your dark majesty, Mother.”

GM: There’s a fluttering laugh from her mother. Dark and full, that the wind itself seems to carry, until all the night shares in Abélia’s mirth and merriment.

“Such ambition! It thrills me so to hear you speak in such a way, sweet child.”

“Much would I give to see your words become reality.”

She gives a wistful sigh.

“Yet I am afraid the lives aboard this vessel are insufficient for the power you seek. They are of inferior worth to mine, even in such numbers. Were their worth equivalent, we could not claim them so easily.”

“Some paths to power are shorter than others. You know this well, my dear. You have walked one already. Yet I am afraid there are no truly easier paths.”

Caroline: Her mother’s words reaffirm her own, the fresh cutting out of wants from whole cloth she had been so tepid in voicing.

Caroline grins. Some were easier than others.

“I have no expectation that I could scale those heights with ease or without sacrifice, Maman, nor that they could be summited in any single night, but I thought it better to paint with a broad brush.”

GM: Her mother’s dark eyes brim with pride at her thought.

“Tell me but how you would make use of these kines’ lives to further your ascent, sweet child, and I shall see it done. Even lives of trifling worth may be put to great uses in so great a quantity.”

Caroline: How far might her mother’s powers go?

It’s difficult to say. She’s seen frightful depths to her abilities, but how deeply they drew upon her is a mystery. How greatly did her initiation into the family wear at her? She knows Abélia will give her anything, but she does not wish to deplete her towards this end. Not tonight. There are other uses for her mother’s powers that coming nights will require on behalf of her sisters.

She begins modestly.

“I told your sister truthfully, Mother—I have no desire to make diablerie a Requiem-long indulgence—but I am not yet finished. And I would not suffer the judgment of others for the lengths I will go to, not now or in the future.”

GM: “You have said as much, my dear. Fear not. That shall require but a single, young life.”

Her mother smiles contently.

“The purer the innocence, the more totally may sin be concealed.”

Caroline: A single young life.

Does she fear?

Only where this path will take her. How many sacrifices will she judge sufficient? How many compromises of her principles?

More than she wants. But isn’t that how it is, in life and in death?

The hardest paths, the tallest mountains, the the greatest heights, require the strongest of wills.

She hardens her will.

She is her mother’s daughter. She is her father’s daughter. She is her sire’s childe. Whatever else she is, she must be strong in will.

Caroline runs her tongue across her fangs. “Even the mightiest of those I would strike down and claim within New Orleans would leave me with a shadow of the power wielded by my most potent rivals.”

“But there are others. Could they illuminate the path to them?”

GM: There is another fluttering laugh from her mother.

“Perhaps, my dear. These kine’s lives may be used to illuminate a path. Whether that path leads to the fruits you desire at its terminus shall be seen.”

“I am certain you harbor few doubts, sweet child, that some of those Cainites lost to Katrina also lost their souls beneath their fellows’ fangs. Many Cainites who knew of the amaranth, I am certain, took advantage of the storm’s chaos to feast upon forbidden fruits. I would be surprised if any vanished elders remained undiscovered by their fellow Cainites, waiting for a fortunate diablerist to turn their torpid dreams to nightmares.”

A smile spreads across her features.

“But I would not be surprised to find lesser slumbering Cainites still buried throughout the city. Their vitae would serve little enough purpose remaining buried.”

Caroline: “Lesser Cainites abound, Mother. But were I content to climb the slow stairway to power, I would have no need for their blood to begin with,” the Ventrue observes.

“Still… they would present a less dangerous path than hunting more active Kindred.”

She shifts track, kiting against the wind. “Diablerie and the slow march of time are the only paths to power—personal power—that I have seen. Might the blood of the kine direct me to another? Or accelerate one or the other?”

“With the bishop and priest both, I could feel all that I left on the table, pieces of them sliding away into oblivion even as I took those parts I cared for most.”

GM: “There are means, to derive power from masses of insignificant lives such as these,” her mother answers. “There is always power in sacrifice.”

“Yet for your species, sweet child, many of those paths are closed without skill in obscure arts. For most Cainites, power lies in the Blood alone. Your forefather became what he was through murder of his kin—those whose blood was as his own. To become closer to him in power, you must become closer to him in deed.”

“For you and I alike, the lives of these kine may be used to fuel many evanescent workings of power. Through them, you may enspell men’s minds, move as lightning, weather assaults upon your body and mind, and call upon Caine’s other gifts. In my hands, the lives of these kine may accomplish still further feats.”

“But I am afraid they may increase your puissance in the Blood no further, nor allow you to consume all parts of your defeated foes. Even an ocean of water cannot age a cask of wine.”

Caroline: As much as she might have wished otherwise, it was the answer she expected. If there was an easy road to power through the kine, she’d expect to see mountains of corpses presided over by Kindred kings.

“I presume too, that power cannot simply be held in reserve for a moment of need, and must instead be directed immediately?”

GM: Her mother cups her cheek.

“Sweet child. Much as you might wish an eternity to plan, hoard, and strategize, the world moves ever on.”

“It is a weakness of Ventrue’s childer.”

Caroline: Caroline leans into that hand, eyes closed, but her mind doesn’t slow. It rarely did before, but never since she consumed the bishop. She took far more from him than just supernatural puissance. Fittingly so.

Her mind races to what ends she might turn a night of power to—tearing apart the city in search of Claire’s safehouse, hunting Gettis, bringing Meadows to heel as the seneschal wishes. The last is so very tempting—to meet the terrifying Gangrel in overmatched terms. Whatever she might share in public, whatever flight she and her ghouls forced from the scourge, she knows the truth of it: alone that night she’d have been destroyed, ripped apart by the savage.

Her mind further races to other scores she might settle, to power she might claim. An elder, alone, who so nearly unmade her in his desire to take from her. To use her. Could she challenge him? Defeat him? Claim all that he is from him? Perhaps. His destruction would do much to further her plans, to shock the few remaining of Clan Ventrue. Galvanize them perhaps into action for each other, to cease their plotting against each other for a time. That she would do so by plotting against them is an irony not lost on her.

But she has plots laid for all these goals, things in motion, ways forward, and none require her to tear through the city in a whirlwind of power.

More too, she knows herself. Knows how addictive that power would be to her. Like her father, like her sire, her vice is not sex, not drugs, not alcohol, not even violence: her vice is control, it’s power, and power she would not easily let go of. It would also tempt her: do it again.

Perhaps it is fleeting affection for the living—a vestige of humanity clinging to her pitch-stained soul—that screams at the orders of magnitude greater this atrocity is than any before. Hasn’t she always been able to justify her victims? Sinners, or killers, or monsters, all those that deserved their fate.

Perhaps it is the temperance of her life, turning her away from that final indulgence. Too aware of the terrible draw of such easily obtained might. More though, she thinks, it is the thought of her sisters.

Cécilia, she knows, could forgive her for such an black act. Cécilia would forgive her for anything. But she would know. She would always know how Caroline transgressed against God and man for a fleeting power that even now she must search for a purpose. Not to protect her family—for that she would take the power in an instant—but for transitory goals. She would know how hollow Caroline’s principles were, how little she valued Cécilia’s own. Caroline owes Cécilia more.

And Yvette. Her sister would take from it only an example, a path to be followed. She knows the darkness around the twin, knows how precarious the balance of her Requiem will be in early nights, not to descend into savagery. This act would be a beacon for her when she learned of it. A siren’s call that would lead her to a moral abyss even the damned could not withstand. Caroline has a duty to be better than that, to blaze a better path.

Then, the shallower level of it. Caroline doesn’t want her accomplishments built on carrion throne by her mother. She doesn’t want to leave any doubt of who others should fear, should respect. Her ascent might be atop a mountain of corpses, but those are bodies she will stack with purpose. She doesn’t need a fell ritual, doesn’t need the kine, to ascend. She will take from the world what she needs—with her mother’s help, but not purely by her mother’s might.

Her eyes open, once again staring into Abélia’s own.

“I am what I am, and I would not change. Let us be gone from here, Mother. I would sooner spend the rest of my night with my sisters and mother just as I would sooner trust to my own strength of will, to my schemes, to my plots, than believe in what these kine may offer me.”

“It is not power they would provide, only weakness, a reason to doubt in myself.”

“Let us leave them to their terror, they are worth no more of your strength and no more of our attention.”

GM: The bishop’s rapacious intellect, added to hers, spits out scenarios and analyses like a computer.

She’s seen how potent ghouls old in the Blood can be. Kelford, against whom she described as “a joke.” Lou, who brought down René. The Hussar. Who knows how Gettis compares to any of them? Perhaps the sacrifice of hundreds could help.

Her mother’s safehouse. Doubtless, Claire hit it well. Donovan has many matters upon his plate, but doubtless, he and other parties desire it for their own too. Perhaps the sacrifice of hundreds could help.

Coco said Meadows has ghouls of her own. That she won’t underestimate Caroline a second time. That she won’t just blunder in to the heart of Caroline’s strength by herself, surrounded by all of the Ventrue’s servants, and still claim two lives before abandoning a needless fight. The nights where anyone underestimates her so sorely seem as if they will soon be ending. Perhaps the sacrifice of hundreds could help.

Matheson. His blood and soul, if she can claim it, could add so much to hers. The bishop’s and the priest’s were no stronger than hers, yet their fruits were sweet indeed. A true elder could batten her vitae so much further. Perhaps the sacrifice of hundreds could help.

How indeed could Cécilia not forgive her. She’s lived with their mother for close to thirty years. How many sins has Abélia disclosed to her? Can this be the first time she has sacrificed so many for power?

The cruise ship continues to groan and sink beneath the pair as she deliberates. Caroline wonders how long it will take the great vessel to rest beneath the waves. They made a movie out of how long it took the Titanic.

Yet, at her choice, her mother smiles.

“You are full of surprises, my child. You make what to many would seem a strange choice. A unique choice. Yet there is its own strength in it.”

“So be it. We shall leave these kine to Pontus’ mercies. His subjects shall dine well.”

Caroline: Her mother’s agreement lifts a weight from Caroline’s shoulders she didn’t know was there. Because she spared their lives, because she stepped back from the abyss, or because of her mother’s approval? Does it matter?

“Sea has forever been a fickle domain,” she agrees.

GM: Caroline’s mother takes her hand, and then darkness gathers around them both like a rising tide.

They reappear aboard the Nyx. Everyone still lies asleep upon the deck. The cruise ship is so much taller than the Devillers family yacht, but the angle is slightly off-kilter. Caroline can see some of the great vessel has already sunk beneath the waves. The rows of white and orange lifeboats all lie adrift in the water, and far from their mother craft. Lights flicker uncertainly from the cruise ship’s windows, as if mirroring the moods of its passengers.

Abélia watches the sinking vessel contently.

Caroline: Caroline leans her shoulder against Abélia’s own, watching the lights go out in the darkness.

“Allow the wind carry their salvation to them, Mother.” She gestures to the floating life rafts. “Let those with the strength to seek it claim their future.”

“If I am not taking their lives with purpose, I would as soon we not take them at all.”

GM: “Some of them may recall your face, my treasure, and what transpired here. It would be a simple enough thing to tender them to Pontus’ true mercies.”

Caroline: She weights that risk in her mind.

The odds that one of the few that saw her clearly on the deck would be among those that survived—diminished all the more by the terror that will cloud their judgement in making their escape.

The odds that the memory of her is clear in their mind amid the terror of this night.

The odds that any of those with clear memory might clearly identify her by that memory.

The odds that any might take those few seriously, and not simply commit them for the psychotic breakdown they would be experiencing.

Their paltry numbers against the hundreds or thousands on the ship.

She laughs. “Mother, was this not in part your lesson this night? Am I to fear them more than a schoolteacher and the neonate childe among her children?”

GM: Abélia’s dark eyes smile.

“My daughter should not fear these ignorant masses, but a mother always fears for her children. It would require little effort to silence those fears permanently.”

Caroline: “I have no doubts,” Caroline answers warmly, of her mother’s claim.

“But lions hunting inspects does nothing for the lions, and even if by the most unlikely of circumstances one ever rose to threaten me, he would be only a tool in my arsenal as I hunted those who brought them before me.”

“I have few enough opportunities and rare enough inclination towards magnanimousness. Indulge me this one, Mother.”

GM: “So be it, my dear,” her mother answers. “De Corazon’s little dream is no less deceitful than its dreamer.”

Caroline: That stings. The Masquerade is important. The basis for her very existence, of the existence of all of her kind.

But then, hasn’t she always been willing to take more calculated risks with it than most?

“If you don’t bend the rules you’ll never know when they break,” she quips.

GM: Her mother smiles as she looks back upon the sinking ship.

“Your education is most incomplete where that rule is concerned, my dear. I doubt Philip or your sire shall ever tell you its truth. But that lesson is for another night.”

“As for tonight.”

“If Simmone wishes to retain her dance teacher, then the matter is settled. You and Cécilia may act as you see fit towards the fulfillment of that end, but if you are unable, I shall slaughter the Flores line stem and root.”

The cruise ship continues to steadily, inexorably sink in the background.

Thousands of lives perhaps lost, without Caroline’s intervention.

Caroline: Her mother’s remark about the Masquerade perks her interest, but she allows the matter to slide. Caroline knows that all things will be made clear in the proper time. Instead she turns to the topic at hand.

“I’m confident that will not be necessary, Mother,” Caroline answers, watching the death of the great ship. “As, I’m certain are you. Few things might resist the pull of one of your daughters. With two, it is as near to a certain thing.”


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM

GM: “I feel like I was asleep,” Cécilia remarks to Caroline after the Nyx is back underway.

“Maman must have put us under.”

She doesn’t sound curious.

Caroline: Caroline nods, watching dark waters. How many died tonight? How many more might have if she had not drawn back from the yawning abyss? The Ventrue’s cold hand seeks another in the darkness and finds Cécilia’s.

“She had a lesson for me that was ill suited to everyone else.”

Part of her wants to continue, but that is not a sin she would lay upon Cécilia’s conscience, and instead she changes topic. “She was willing to grant a stay on the Flores family, presuming we ensure that Diana does nothing so foolish as cease teaching Simmone before she is ready.”

GM: Cécilia squeezes her hand back.

She looks confused for a moment at Caroline’s words.

“Yes. Maman said she would spare the other Flores. I remember that too.”

“But, I agree. We should definitely try to keep them out of danger.”

“I admit Celia and I have grown apart since high school, but I don’t want Maman to hurt her. Or her daughter, or any of her brothers and sisters. They don’t deserve that. Mrs. Flores doesn’t deserve that.”

Caroline: “It’s for the best,” Caroline observes, her voice distant. “That you drifted apart that is.”

“It’ll be better for them too if we can find a replacement for Mrs. Flores in Simmone’s life.”

GM: “You might be right on that first count,” Cécilia agrees.

“Why do you say, though, on that second one? Mrs. Flores has taught all of us, for over ten years now. Simmone really likes her.”

“I really like her, too. So do the others. She came to visit when Yvonne was the hospital, with food. It was very kind.”

Caroline: “She’s too close to too much of Kindred society,” Caroline answers.

Because our mother will murder her entire family if she turns her attention from Simmone for any reason…

“Eventually someone will try to use her. It’ll go badly for everyone. It’s dangerous for her just to visit us, honestly, given… well, her daughter.”

She sighs.

“I’m sorry. That’s a really depressing take. I just mean that I know you and the others care about her, it’d be better for her, safer for her, if we got her… a little more out of the way.”

GM: “That is, yes. But I suppose Celia does complicate things, for her and everyone. Maybe that would be best.”

“I don’t know that Simmone will want to give her up, though. She has such a hard time with strangers. And Maman will want Simmone to have whatever she wants to have.”

Caroline: Of that Caroline is well aware.

“We’d need someone with the proper appeal to her,” Caroline agrees.

“Maybe we could make it a game of sorts for her, treat her, with the option to pick out one she likes.”

GM: “That might be an idea,” Cécilia considers. “But is it really a treat to replace a favorite teacher with a new one?”

Caroline: “I don’t think you frame it that way,” Caroline answers. “Let it be a treat, and see if you can have it take the place of the existing option.”

GM: “What if she’s not interested, though?”

“Simmone isn’t any stranger to turning down offered things she doesn’t think she’ll like.”

Caroline: “Don’t make it about her, then,” Caroline suggests. “Especially if everyone is going to be home for a while, make it a group activity… or better, make it the adult activity. I can’t imagine her being happy about being excluded.”

GM: “Maman says that’s going to come to an end soon,” says Cécilia. “Though I still think I’ll keep living at home. I don’t feel safe living by myself anymore.”

“In any case, we can try that with Simmone.”

“I’d just expect a struggle. She’s so used to getting what she wants.”

Caroline: “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Is there? Or is she becoming her mother?

“I just know how much more distressing it would be for her if she was more attached to Diana and something happened to her.”

GM: “I certainly hope nothing does. Mrs. Flores has been a really good teacher to us, for just so long.”

“But I suppose you’re right that Kindred are inherently dangerous. All the more so to have one as a daughter.”

“Well,” she amends with a faint smile, “for ordinary humans, at least.”

“Maybe there’s something we could do to help, though, if there’s some kind of trouble she or Celia is in? Especially if we’ve put them in more danger, with coming to the Garden District. Like you implied.”

“That isn’t worth Mrs. Flores’ lesson fee. And Celia insisted on not charging anything.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “Her sire threatened to kill Diana if she was caught here again. Or maybe as punishment for getting caught here.”

GM: “Oh my Lord,” Cécilia murmurs.

“All right, then we should definitely stop the dance lessons. They aren’t worth anyone’s life.”

Caroline: Caroline nods in agreement. “There’s a better answer for everyone. We just need the tyrant to sign off on it.”

GM: “The tyrant? You mean, Simmone or your sire?” Cécilia asks with an amused smile.

Caroline: “Oh, Simmone of course,” Caroline answers with a hint of levity. She’s dumped enough on Cécilia’s plate as is.

GM: “All right. We might as well do it now, unless you think there’s a better time.”

Caroline: “None like the present,” Caroline agrees. “I’ll have one if my people do homework when we get back. Line up some prospects.”

GM: “I could ask Mrs. Flores, too. I’m sure she knows other dance teachers.”

Caroline: “That’s not a bad idea… I don’t want to give her the wrong impression, though, that she’s unwanted.”

GM: “I don’t either, but we’ll have to tell her that at some point if we’re hiring someone else.”

“The Flores are fairly well-off, at least. I know they won a pretty big insurance settlement a while back. So they don’t need the money.”

“I don’t think Mrs. Flores even does private lessons anymore, actually, for students besides Simmone.”

Caroline: “Maybe you could talk to Celia about it too, have her lean on her mother?” Caroline suggests.

GM: “I might ask you the same, actually. You can be honest with her about why the lessons need to stop.”

Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue over her fangs. “She and I play for rather different teams, and she doesn’t exactly frequent Elysium. Plus few licks look kindly on things that could seen like threats to people they care for.”

It’s not exactly a no, though. “I can bring it up if we see each other, though.”

GM: “That sounds good, then,” nods Cécilia. “I can find a way to bring it up if you don’t find the time.”

She pauses for a moment, listening to waves lap against the ship’s hull. The coastline looks vaguely familiar to Caroline again. She hasn’t been out yachting after dark too many times.

“What about you, Caroline? I know there’s been a lot to process lately. With everything at the beach house, but before too. How are you holding up?”

Caroline: She stares into the dark.

A lot to process. In less than a week she’s consumed the souls of two Cainites, marking herself as a pariah among her own kind but leaping decades ahead in supernatural prowess, seen her sire’s acceptance, journeyed across the world and fought the Sabbat, joined her family and learned of dark secrets within it. Slain Claire. Deceived her brother. Destroyed Jocelyn. Claimed the Malveauxes.

Been party to the murder of hundreds.

She feels… weary. That bone deep exhaustion she associates with the end of a tournament or a marathon.

But the marathon has only begun.

“You know about caterpillars and butterflies, but did you know that the caterpillars has identical genetic material to the butterfly?”

She takes a deep breath, leaning her head back to look at the sky for a moment as she continues, “When they go into the cocoon most of their body liquefies, but it doesn’t change from from one species to the next. The caterpillar always had the genes to grow wings, and from their first steps they know how to fly, even though they couldn’t.”

She turns to Cécilia, “I think it’s a lot like that. Parts of me are breaking down, disintegrating, melting away: but they are pieces that have to go so I can do what I always knew could.”

GM: “I’m sure you must have a lot of feelings around that,” Cécilia nods. “Caterpillars do what they do by instinct. But to any thinking, reasoning person, that sort of metamorphosis would be fraught with all sorts of emotions. Normal puberty is fraught with enough emotions already.”

“But these are changes that you want? That’s the important thing.”

Caroline: “I don’t know that it really matters. Change comes to is whether we want it or not, just like the caterpillar.”

Does she want Caroline to complain about her lot? Talk about how she barely recognizes herself in the mirror? About how with so many different titans pulling on her she wonders how she hasn’t come apart?

But then… that’s exactly what she wants, isn’t it?

Her shoulders sag from their haughty posture as she leans heavily on the lifelines.

“It’s a lot,” she tentatively admits.

GM: “I can only imagine how much it is. At least your sire hasn’t called you away yet.”

Caroline: It’s interesting, and faintly terrifying that he hasn’t. She’d presumed everything would change radically. This feels very much like the same with higher stakes.

“It’s been an unexpected blessing,” she agrees.

“Cécilia…” There’s not a good way to phrase this. “There’s no one else. No one else in my Requiem I trust to help be my rudder. Just you.”

“Maman, I know, will always seek that which makes me happy, which I want. But it’s… different.”

“You’re the last person with a human perspective. The last person with a conscience. Maybe the last person with a soul.”

“When I said earlier I didn’t want you to take the offered Embrace, I meant it for the reasons I said, but there was another, more selfish reason too.”

“I don’t want you to become like me, and I need you if I’m going to retain a piece of what I am… or at least what I’ve been.”

GM: “I don’t think that’s selfish,” says Cécilia. “Wanting to retain a conscience is exactly the opposite of selfish, in fact. Your conscience determines how you treat others. You’re telling me that you want to treat other people decently, and that you’re also self-aware enough to recognize you have problems doing that on your own.”

“So if I can help you, or rather, help you to help others, I’m happy to. That’s another reason to feel like saying no to Aunt Mur’s Embrace was a good decision.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, relief spreading across her face.

“It’s not my voice anymore, that I hear when I consider the ‘right’ thing. It’s yours. And without it…”

Bodies melting, purifying in free fall. Skulls bouncing around the deck. Skulls that are far too small. The scream of the Sabbat Priest as she tore his soul from him, tore it into pieces to consume.

“It’s so easy to take the simpler answer, the fast hour, the convenient answer.”

GM: “Do you feel like you’ve been able to resist doing that?” Cécilia asks.

Caroline: The Ventrue shakes her head.

“Not always.”

An understatement.

GM: “I’m sorry, that was a bad question. We’ve all had times we’ve fallen short. I think very few people could answer ‘yes’ without any caveats.”

“Most people would probably answer what you did, or ’I’ve tried to.’”

“What about more recently? How do you feel about yourself there, and taking the easy versus hard answer?”

Caroline: The yawning abyss.

“Maman offered me something. Something dark and terrible. And I wanted to take it so badly.”

She shudders.

“But I didn’t.”

“It was eye-opening, though, to the lengths she would go. It’s almost frightening, having someone that will give and take for you without limit.”

GM: “I was wondering when she would,” says Cécilia. “She’s done as much for me too, but I imagine the temptation was even greater for you.”

“I’m glad you were able to do the right thing.”

Caroline: “What did she do for you, did she offer you?” Caroline asks.

GM: “After Mercurial Fernandez harassed me outside of my apartment, Maman offered to kill him for me. Along with all of his family members and the gang he was associated with, to tie up loose ends, and to spare me from having to deal with the stress of getting the restraining order and wondering whether it would be effective.”

“Or I suppose, she didn’t offer to kill them, so much as state she was going to.”

“I asked her not to.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t know if she’d have asked if Cécilia had been her sister then.

“You made the right choice. He was pathetic.”

GM: “I’m glad you think I did. Maman’s otherwise offered to kill a large number of people for me, when dealing with them was frustrating or inconvenient. Most of them didn’t do anything on the same scale to me that Mercurial Fernandez did.”

“I asked her not to kill any of them either.”

“She also offered to kill Emmett for me several times.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue on that particular point.

“They weren’t even people that did anything wrong. They were just… convenient to me. Or their deaths might have been.”

“But once you go down that path… every next time becomes easier.”

“I didn’t like what it would make me to you. Didn’t like the example it would set for Yvette.”

GM: Cécilia nods. “That’s the nature of any habit. Do anything enough times, and it becomes harder to stop.”

“But you’d still be my sister, whatever you might have decided.”

“I think you’re right to want to set a good example for Yvette. She’s going to need them.”

Caroline: “It would be very easy for all the power of the Embrace, and all that mother might offer, to lead her down a very dark path,” she agrees.

Like Caroline is one to talk.

GM: “It would. I said, earlier, that the Embrace takes a special sort of character. I think Yvette has that, but that it could also be very easy for her to lose sight of humanity.”

“She’s still going to look up to you. I imagine she’s going to want to spend a lot of time with you. So you might find a second source of strength in that—in being her role model.”

A pause. “Because I don’t think her sire and ‘stepfather’ are going to be, at least when it comes to maintaining her humanity. So that leaves you.”

Caroline: Another reason she has to ascend, to race to power. Influence over her sister aside, the balance of power between Caroline and McGinn, much less him and his harpy lover, is grotesquely skewed in his favor.

While she would rather cultivate a more cordial relationship, she’s always favored the Reaganeque line: ‘peace through strength.’ All the more so in a society of literal predators.

“And you,” Caroline offers. “You’ve helped pull her back before.”

GM: “I’ll continue do my best there. But my guess is Yvette will be completely enamored with the new world her sire brings her into. She’s only 18 and her brain isn’t fully developed. I’m ultimately a spectator to that world, whereas you’ll be able to share it all with her.”

Caroline: “I’ll always find time for her,” Caroline agrees. There’s an excitement there she can’t entirely hide.

GM: “You’re looking forward to that,” Cécilia smiles.

Caroline: Caroline nods. “If the opportunity presents, I’d love to introduce her to the world ahead of her Embrace.”

“I’d rather she go in with all eyes open and her first experience not at her sire’s tender hand.”

GM: “That sounds wise. Taking her to Elysium, or something else?”

Caroline: “Elysium perhaps,” Caroline agrees. “Though I don’t think I’d want her recognized. Things to consider.”

GM: “Her sire-to-be might not either,” Cécilia considers. “Though I suppose where else would you take her? Do Kindred tend to have public gatherings at other locations?”

Caroline: “I honestly don’t really know,” Caroline answers. “I’m sure there are more specialized social gatherings, but I didn’t exactly make many Kindred friends while I was on the warpath.”

GM: “I’m sorry. I’m sure more friends would have been helpful to have in so many ways.”

Caroline: Caroline waves a hand. “I made my bed… with some help. It’s water under the bridge now. Most of them would have been liabilities now.”

Like Jocelyn.

GM: “They would?” Cécilia sounds curious. “Maman tells me it’s typical for neonates to gather in coteries for mutual protection and support. She said it was mortal connections they usually try to keep secret.”

Caroline: “I’ve cut through entire coteries of young licks by myself, and I’m hardly the match of most powerful ones in the city.”

“I’m not saying friends won’t help, or even that I don’t want them, but of the available pool from where I was?” She shakes her head.

“Too many Jocelyns.”

GM: “Ah. I can see why you might have wanted to avoid that,” Cécilia frowns. “I suppose it doesn’t matter how old or capable your friends are if they’re setting themselves on fire at your house.”

“How are things with the two of you now, by the way?”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t let the thought of Jocelyn’s demands linger, doesn’t let the memory of the Toreador all over her, shoving her blood in Caroline’s face, float on the surface for too long before she smothers it in the dark.

Who cares anyway—it’s hardly the first ‘bad’ sex she’s had in her life.

“It’s…” she shakes her head, “it’s fucked. The seneschal bid me to bring her back into the fold, so I did.”

She shakes her head again. “Maybe if I’m gone, if the blood has time to cool…”

Then, “She thinks she bound me to her.”

GM: “I suppose it’s no surprise she’d have wanted you both to be fully bound,” says Cécilia. “That must have made things feel even to her.”

“How does that make you feel?”

Caroline: “It’s all the bond,” Caroline declares angrily. “It’s all it ever was with her. Possession at best, infatuation. There’s nothing real there. But the seneschal says keep her around, and if I have to keep sleeping with her to make that happen, then so be it.”

GM: “That sounds terrible,” frowns Cécilia. “There has to be another way.”

“Of either satisfying his demand, or getting him to retract it.”

Caroline: “It’s fine,” Caroline states without passion. “At least there aren’t any illusions about what it is for me.”

“If I’m going to enter into a blood marriage with Primogen Poincaré, it’s all a moot point in the end anyway.”

GM: “Do you want to do that, either? You felt… interested, but also wary.”

“I can see why you would, on both counts.”

Caroline: “It serves my interests, his own, and also those of our aunt’s,” Caroline answers. “That there are preconditions I need to meet in personal growth and achievement to make it tenable is a problem I’ll get around.”

“I could do much worse. He’s a near-universally respected and powerful elder who could bring in an entire covenant. We could end the war before it started.” She describes it as though she’s describing a corporate merger.

GM: “I’ll pray that’s how it goes. I don’t want to lose you in a war.”

“But I suppose even if there is one, that’s all the more reason to need new allies. Your sire will be a huge loss to the Sanctified. The covenant will need to make up for that somehow. This could be a way to.”

Caroline: Somehow.

Even on the road she’s on, it’s not enough. Not nearly enough. No matter how many licks she consumes in New Orleans, it’ll still be centuries before she can actually stand in his place.

She’s not enough. And not because of a war with Savoy or the Baron.

“I need to know about her father. Maman’s.”

GM: Cécilia nods. “Mur and Maman obviously know more about him than me, but I’ll answer what I can.”

Caroline: “I think he’s stirring, under the Dungeon.” She bites her lip. “I fear that he’ll rise again when my sire falls.”

“I need to know the story of how he was defeated the first time, in France.”

GM: Cécilia gives a grim look. “That sounds consistent with everything else you and they said.”

“I don’t know that story, though. Much of what Mur and Maman said was new to me too. Maybe we can ask them?”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I don’t expect its a tale they want to tell, or that we’ll get it tomorrow, but… eventually.”

GM: “There’s time. Hopefully.”

Caroline: A nod to the darkness.

“All the time in the world, an eternity, and never enough.”


Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia XX
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Story Twelve, Celia XX

“Are you… a vampire?”
Danielle Garrison


Friday night, 11 March 2016, PM

GM: Gui opens the door to his BMW for Jade.

“So, beautiful, where to?”

Celia: “Such chivalry,” she says with a smile.

Jade slides into the car. She supposes she’ll need to let Alana know to pick up her Genesis and drop it at the Evergreen for her later. She sends that text to the ghoul as Gui walks around to get in on his side and deposits her phone back into her jacket pocket.

“That depends. Can you keep a secret?”

GM: “Does anyone ever answer ‘no’ to that question?” Gui replies with some amusement. He starts driving despite not having a destination from Jade.

Celia: “No,” Jade admits, “but their answers let me get a good idea on whether or not they get to learn something fun.”

GM: “There’s mine. I’ll vouch that I’m trustworthy, but don’t take my word for it. I’m a vampire.”

Celia: She laughs. “I’ll rephrase, Mr. Gui. I’d like to show you something fun. Would you like to see?”

GM: “I should think so.”

Celia: She directs him toward the Evergreen.

GM: They arrive there in short order. Fabian greets them warmly. The place looks pretty empty on a Friday night with its master and many of his followers at Elysium Primo.

Empty of Kindred, at least. There’s a live music show going on, and plenty of kine eating, drinking, and having a good time at the club.

Celia: “It’s not often people throw that word around,” Jade remarks to Gui before they head inside. “It’s quite refreshing to know I’m not the only one.”

Most evenings, Jade comes here for Savoy or his warden. This evening, though, she’s here for the ghoul. She asks after Tantal and moves to find him, her arm linked through the Ventrue’s with the same amount of familiarity she’d use with… well, anyone, really.

GM: “You haven’t heard about that trend to ‘reclaim the v-word?’ It’s all the rage in Chicago,” Gui says as he walks her upstairs.

Fabian gives the pair directions. Jade finds the ghoul-turned-hunter lookalike watching TV on a couch with one of Mel’s girls in arm, probably killing time until Jade could get around to him. He looks glad to see her.

“Time for me to get my face back, ma’am?” he asks in his deeper voice.

Celia: She hadn’t heard. She’s amused by it and happy to do her part in New Orleans, she assures him. She tells him how when she’d first met Lebeaux she’d said the word to him and he’d all but flinched.

“He made sure to tell me it was very inappropriate for everyday use.”

Jade nods to the ghoul once they find him, gesturing for him to follow after her.

“That and more, as discussed. The warden has given the green light.”

Her eyes find Gui’s as she walks the pair of them down the hall toward the Red Room, wondering if he can guess what she’s about to show him.

GM: “Still only popular with younger licks,” Gui says.

Tantal kisses the girl and tells her to wait here before accompanying the two vampires.

The Red Room isn’t too red, tonight, and there isn’t so much as a single corpse. Fridays are the Evergreen’s least busy nights, at least for Kindred.

But tomorrow will be another matter. Saturdays always leave the Red Room reddest.

Celia: Empty of corpses, anyway. But there’s Randy, faithful as ever, with the bag of body parts from Celia’s haven that she’d been debating how to get rid of. Putting them in Tantal seems like a no-brainer.

She smiles at the boy and sends him on his way with a wink.

GM: He looks less than thrilled with carrying it, but thrilled as ever to see his mistress before she sends him off.

“I know him, the bail bond family,” remarks Gui.

Celia: “Mmm,” Jade nods her head. “He’s dating one of my spa girls. Useful. Though she’s been making noise about him not popping the question, so we’ll see how long that lasts.” Amusement colors her voice.

She gestures for Tantal to lay out on the table and opens the bag of body parts, slicing through the wrappers with quick cuts of her nails. She unrolls the assorted parts and sets them aside, then pulls a vial from her purse with a pair of needles and a bottle of something that looks like sanitizer but smells like pure ethanol. She rinses her hands.

“Anesthetic, Tantal,” she warns the ghoul before finding a vein with the first needle.

Finally prepped for “surgery,” Jade glances once more at Gui.

“Ready to see something fun?” The request to keep it a secret has already been issued. He wouldn’t be here if she didn’t trust him to do that much, at least.

GM: “He won’t ever love her while he’s drinking from you,” says Gui.

Tantal looks relieved to see the anaesthetic and gives a, “Thank you, ma’am.”

Butterfly would have killed to have that.

“Thought that’s what I was already seeing,” smirks Gui, looking directly at her.

Celia: That reminds her.

“Can you get the zipper? If I get blood on this dress I’m going to be distinctly annoyed.”

GM: “With pleasure.”

He swiftly peels it away. He folds the dress up and leaves it on a chair.

Celia: He’s such a flatterer.

Jade winks at him once she’s down to her bra, having already lost her panties. She’d take the former off too, but to be honest if she’s getting blood across her breasts… well, maybe she deserves it for being bad at her job. Maybe she would take it off if Gui could lick her clean later, but that whole no saliva thing really cramps her style.

Claws sprout from the tips of her fingers. Long, sharp, deadly. She turns to her task at hand, beginning with Tantal’s face while the numbing solution does its job. That’s the part that the dolls all complain about: the face and hair. And while she’s removing from Tantal rather than adding hair, she’d rather he be comfortable. He doesn’t need the pain to sink in as a lesson, after all.

Quick cuts of her claws has the hair falling to the ground in no time, and a moment later she runs a hand across his scalp (with her claws carefully held out of the way) to smooth it all over. It’s a quicker effort than adding hair; within moments his head is as bald and shiny as he was before.

It’s not impressive. She knows that. Anyone can shave a head. She doesn’t even look over at Gui to catch his reaction. Not until her claws drag against Tantal’s face and she peels the skin back, adjusting the muscles underneath to give him that round-cheeked look he’d had before. Round but… chiseled, somehow. She manages to make it work despite the implication that fat equals round. She makes him look a little more dangerous than he had been with his baby-face to account for the new muscle she’s going to put into his body.

She closes his face with a press of her fingers, smoothing out the skin flaps until it looks like his skin had never been split.

She moves lower. Claws cut into his throat so she can rework his vocal chords. She has him speak while she works to make sure that the voice is where he wants it, whether that’s his higher falsetto or something a little more masculine. Jade doesn’t judge. His body, his choice and all that nonsense.

After that the real work begins.

She starts with his chest, cutting him open and bringing in the muscular fiber from the dead guy she’d met at the club, the one that her sire had killed for her with a boot to the throat, the one whose body Roderick had seen in her fridge and hadn’t asked about.

Adding isn’t like taking away. This isn’t fat that she just scoops out with a swipe of her finger to put into a trash bag. This is the addition of muscle to his frame, bulking him up to stay the same relative size as before while replacing fat with muscle. This is the kind of surgery that every kid who has ever been fat wants: pure replacement. It’s what body-builders wish they could do with their protein shakes and their heavy lifts and their steroids.

She checks the connections, the nerves, the bands of tissues. She makes sure that the arms work when he lifts them, that if he flexes his biceps are bigger than his head, that the cells get their required blood and oxygen and everything else that they need to survive. There are tons of tiny little connections to make to ascertain that the synapses fire correctly.

She’s not a blur, not quite, but she moves more quickly than any human surgeon would while she works on Tantal, while she cuts him open and stuffs him with the new muscle and fat and tissue from the hunter, while she sculpts and shapes and otherwise turns him into the ideal version of himself. She asks how big he wants to go and he gets it.

She chances a glance at Gui when she moves onto Tantal’s lower body, her hands bloody halfway up her forearms.

“You remember what he used to look like?” she asks him, referring to the fat, baby-faced ghoul he’d been before. “When we took it out of him he said he wasn’t sure if he wanted it to go back in. I’m sure you’ve never stared at a garbage bag of your own fat, but it’s not very appealing.” There’s a movie with that image in it. The one with that cute guy who’d once robbed a casino. Her mom thinks he’s cute, anyway. He’s a little old for her. He plays the imaginary friend in the movie she’s referring to, though.

“So we spoke to the warden about it and he said that if Tantal wanted his old size without the fat we could make it muscle instead.” It’s a shy smile she sends his way. “That evening at Elysium, all those years ago, when you asked how a vampire—” she tries out the word and finds that she likes it after not saying it for so long"—could benefit from body work? What I said was very, very true. But there’s also this way."

She pads the ghoul’s waist while she talks, filling him in. Then lower, to his legs. His quads get reworked: bigger, thicker, padding him with the additional muscle from the dead man whose only crime had been that he was at the wrong place, wrong time.

Unless he’d been working with the hunters. Then fuck that guy.

Oh, and he had tried to drug her, so she supposes fuck that guy twice as hard.

She checks in with the ghoul when she gets to his feet, making sure that the anesthetic is still working, that he’s the right size. She flips him afterward, putting another needle into him of numbing solution so she can start the work on his back. Again, she starts at the top. Adds the muscle and fat to his neck, then his traps and lats and scalenes. She rounds out the deltoids from the side, smooths out his waist, adds a bit more to the glutes. All the glutes, not just the one that sits on top, since that won’t do him any good if the medius and minimus aren’t just as strong. Hamstrings and calves are last, and when she’s done… well, when she’s done he’s got the kind of calves that gym rats dream of, with a smoothly tapered ankle and a fat chunk of quivering gastrocs that a woman wouldn’t be able to fit into a knee-high boot.

Funny, that, how the big people want to be little and the little people want to be big. A lot of fat people complain about their calves, how they’ll never be small, while other people want to build them up. It’s obsessive. Reggie had told her about it: the guys on body building forums who purposefully gain weight to get the extra fat and muscle that comes from carrying around such a large load, then cutting so they can slim down and keep that same muscle in their lower legs.

Personally Jade thinks it’s weird, but then she doesn’t need to spend hours in the gym working on her physique because she’s already perfect.

Flawless, really.

GM: Flawless in appearance.

Flawless in deed.

Tantal looks relieved the entire time as Jade works her torturous magic on his numb flesh. Perhaps some part of the ghoul wonders if it would hurt more to have muscle mass added than taken away. Different kinds of pain, Jade supposes. She’s made herself bulkier for some of her guises, though never so bulky as she’s making Tantal. The ghoul doesn’t go so far as to relax while she works on him, but he starts to look less apprehensive and more intrigued as the minutes tick by and Jade literally makes him bigger and better.

Gui watches too with clear interest. His eyebrows raise at first, but beyond that, the Ventrue simply studiously watches what Jade’s doing, his eyes moving between her claws, Tantal’s body, and the gory chunks of muscle she grafts on. At one point he remarks how the muscle looks “pretty fresh” and asks what would happen if she was working with “older meat.” Would she need to freshen it up? Beyond that question, Gui remains silent so as not to distract her from her work. As it goes on and the Toreador’s motions become more familiar, his eyes start to wander her increasingly gore-caked body. There’s no bulge in his pants, but Jade can see his fangs protruding in his mouth, and he smiles when he sees her notice.

“Thayncth, mu’m,” Tantal slurs out through his still-numb and anesthetized mouth. “Tha fel… muth be’er thith thime.”

“You’f rilly buffed me up. Warden Lebyoo’ll be pre’y happy to thee me liy thith. I know I am.”

Celia: Fresher meat is better, Jade tells Gui, though even old body parts can be used. She can preserve things as she harvests them, or refresh them. Like rehydrating a dead flower, almost, or dried food. It’s not as simple as adding water, but it’s still something she knows how to do.

She tells him, too, that she can dry it out. She doesn’t need to tan and stretch and roll the hides to turn them into leather; there’s a whole process she looked up once, and it involves a bunch of brain matter and ash and curing and drying… and she can do the same thing in a matter of moments. Turn humans into… well, into leather.

“Leather belts, wallets, purses, shoes, jackets…”

Maybe even a pair of bracers.

She smiles at the Ventrue, wondering if he’s now thinking of every bit of leather he’s ever seen her wear and where it came from. Who it came from.

Jade finds a mirror when she’s done, holding it out for the ghoul to get a good look at his new body. She asks if he’d like any adjustments and smooths the rest of him out, giving him a once-over to make sure that all of her cuts across his skin have been sealed.

“I’m curious to see how your new body improves your work, Tantal. Be sure to keep me appraised. Rest this evening and this day. Tomorrow evening you’re cleared to return to duty. Stay hydrated.”

GM: “Yeth, mu’m,” the ghoul nods as he slowly gets up. “Thaynth again. You e’er nee’ thomethin from me, juth ask.”

“I’m pretty sure most of the leather you wear still comes from cows, but I suppose I can’t be certain,” smirks Gui after Tantal leaves. “You’re very dirty. Good thing for us there’s a shower right here.”

He starts taking off his own clothes too.

Celia: Well this had backfired spectacularly.

Maybe she shouldn’t have asked him to take her dress off for her.

Or invited him to watch.

Or asked him to leave with her with the implication that they’d fuck.

Had she implied that? It’s so hard to be certain these days. Seems like any stray glance or wink gets misunderstood by the people who want to get into her pants. Or at least her neck. Or whatever the vampire equivalent is.

What else is Veronica’s slut childe good for?

Not that she minds. She’d just thought she’d last more than two whole nights before she cheated on Roderick. Or one night? She’s not quite sure which of these evenings is their official “getting back together” night.

She’s reaching for the hooks on her bra when a phone chirps. She glances at where hers sits out on the chair where he’d draped her dress, but the screen is black. Her eyes drift back toward him and the phone ringing merrily from his jacket pocket.

GM: Fuck again.

Gui tsks when she starts to take off the bra and moves to help her out of it himself. “I’ve already helped you out of your dr…”

He picks up the phone.

“Yes?”

A pause.

“Keep a lid on things. I’ll be over soon.”

He flips the dumphone closed.

“Sorry, lush, but business before pleasure.”

Celia: Jade is pretty sure that if she’d gotten out of her bra any quicker he wouldn’t be able to tear his gaze away, and whatever fire had popped up would just go on burning without his attention.

She pouts spectacularly at him.

“You’re such a tease.”

GM: Gui pulls on his clothes and tilts up Jade’s chin to meet his gaze.

“Business pays in pleasure, beautiful. I’ll show you a time to make your toes curl once Harrah’s is ours.”

Celia: She likes the sound of that.

“It’s a date, then.” Which reminds her… “I’ll need to speak to you about that at some point, but go handle your business. I’m sure I’ll see you tomorrow evening to discuss.”

GM: “The Evergreen wouldn’t be what it is without me,” Savoy’s master of elysium declares. Jade is hard-pressed to think of an occasion Gui hasn’t been there on a Saturday. He brushes her cheek with his fangs, licking off some of the blood, and takes his leave.

Celia: Jade watches him go, annoyed by the little pang in her chest as he leaves. She shouldn’t want him to stay as much as she does. She reminds herself that she’s with someone. She reminds herself to keep it in her pants. She reminds herself that she’s about to get fucked six ways to Sunday when she gets home to see Roderick, with fang and cock and fingers and tongue, and that Gui wouldn’t have done that for her and she’d have only been half-satisfied. After he argues with her, of course, about letting Garcia grab her ass and then leaving with Gui and getting mad about whatever it is he’s going to get mad about, and maybe they won’t even fuck because he’s busy putting her head through a wall and then Savoy’s plan with him will definitely fall through.

And that’ll be her fault, of course.

She heaves a sigh once she’s alone, glad for just this moment to herself where she doesn’t need to play the games around the others and watch her tongue and thoughts and body language. And then she finishes stripping and steps into the shower by herself because even though it would be more enjoyable if someone were here to share it with, she still has a list of things to do this evening for which she probably shouldn’t be covered in blood.

She lets her thoughts swirl down the drain with the blood, though she feels far from clean.


Friday night, 11 March 2016, PM

GM: The mystery number included in her mom’s group text wasn’t lost to Celia’s attentive memory, and it’s the first item on her agenda, if by dint of being the easiest to take care of. It’s easy enough to scroll back to the frantic message, copy the number, and make a call.

“Hello?” greets an unfamiliar woman’s voice after several rings.

Celia: “Mom?” Celia says into the phone. She knows it’s not her mom. But calling a random number and asking ‘who is this’ is suspect as all hell. Still, the female voice puts her at ease, if only remotely.

GM: “Oh, I’m sorry, I think you have the wrong number,” says the woman.

Celia: “Oh, I’m… oh my, is this Naomi?”

GM: “Why yes, how did you know?”

Celia: “Oh my goodness. I’m so sorry. Your name is right next to my mother’s in my phone, my finger must have slipped. Mom talks about you all the time. Sorry to disturb you.”

GM: “Oh! No, no, it’s no disturbance at all from one of Diana’s kids!” the woman smiles. “Which of her daughters are you? You don’t sound like Emily.”

Celia: What on earth is Emily doing talking to Naomi?

“Oh no,” Celia says with a smile of her own, “it’s Celia. The… I’d say eldest, but I think Emily has a few months on me.” That’s a weird thing she hasn’t considered before.

GM: “Celia! Oh my goodness!” Naomi exclaims, audibly smiling wider. “Your mom’s told me so much about you!”

“We’ve met each other before, back when you were really little. Your mom took you to our ballet performances. I don’t know that you’d remember me, though, since we all look the same in our costumes with our faces made up.”

Celia: “She has told me plenty of stories,” Celia assures the woman. “Both from back then and more recent things.”

This is where she’d say that Diana had pointed her out in photos from the old days, but… well, she has no photos left. Maxen had seen to that. Celia had been too busy scavenging for concealer to worry about her mother’s memories.

The thought tugs at her heart.

“We were just talking about you the other day, actually. She mentioned that you were looking for something new.”

GM: Naomi gives a short laugh. “Well, new is relative. I’m finally retiring from the ballet, it’s a young woman’s game, so I’m hoping to teach dance at a local studio instead. Your mom helped me land a job interview, she was so thoughtful. She’s a really good friend.”

Celia: “She really is the best.” There’s a brief pause while the wheels turn in her head. “Say, I know this might be weird coming from me, but you don’t do private lessons at all, do you?”

GM: “Oh, well, I suppose so. I haven’t taught any yet, but your mom and I talked about those. She says it’s a good way to get some variety in your teaching and earn a little side money.”

“I can’t imagine you’re wanting to get lessons from me, though, with already having an amazing dance teacher for your mom?”

Celia: “Oh no,” Celia laughs, “not for me. A friend of mine, actually. One of the girls I went to high school with has a little sister who has been taking lessons from my mom for a while, but, well… between you and me,” Celia lowers her voice, “I think her leg is acting up, and I’m worried about the strain it’s putting on her, and I think she’s nervous about leaving them without a good teacher. But if you were to take over…”

“Is that something you’d be interested in? She teaches on Tuesdays and Thursdays at their house in the Garden District.”

GM: “Oh. Oh no, are things okay with your mom?” Naomi asks. “Those lessons can’t be very long, next to how long she’s on her feet at McGhee…?”

Celia: “It’s more the added strain,” Celia says with a sigh. “She’s been doing okay at McGehee because it’s not as… hands on, you know? And she can sit if she needs to, take a break.”

GM: “Are you sure? I’d think a family might be more understanding, not to mention how there’s fewer girls and… well, I suppose your mom knows what she needs better than me, though.”

“Okay, I’ll give her a call about this.”

Celia: “I’ll talk to both of them, too, just to be sure. Pick up for a random number and get a job offer, what’re the odds?” She laughs lightly.

GM: Naomi laughs too. “Well, my husband and I are thinking about adopting, so hearing a stranger call me ‘Mom’ was… well, what are the odds of that, too?”

Celia: “Oh, you should,” Celia enthuses. “Lucy is the best thing that ever happened to me. She really just… kids just change your whole world.”

GM: “Oh, yes, I’ve met her with your mom! She’s just beyond adorable. Such a sweet child.”

“I was thinking about trying to get pregnant, but I’m a bit old for it, and seeing how well adoption worked for Emily and your mom… it made me think.”

Celia: “Meeting Emily and bringing her into the family was probably the best outcome from college. She and my mom… they’re just so happy together, and I know it’s not traditional but…” She wipes at her eyes, glad that the woman can’t see the red.

GM: “I think if they’re happy, that’s what counts. Your mom’s said how Emily didn’t have a family, so good on y’all for giving her one.”

“Oh! I go to your spa, by the way, Flawless—your mom referred me years ago. I’ve had Emily as my massage therapist, that’s how I know her.”

“I’ve wanted to schedule an appointment with you, but your staff always says you’re booked up.”

Celua: “Unfortunately I do book pretty far out. I cut down on my hours to take a more managerial role while I look for a building for a second location. Buuut…” she draws the word out, “I have some evening appointments available, if you’d like? I can text you with some time slots once I check my schedule.”

“All of the building managers and bankers want to meet during my peak daytime hours,” Celia says with another sigh. “Worth it, though.”

GM: “Yes, your mom’s said evenings are usually better for you, and how that’s when all of her appointments are. Not so late in the day is usually better for me, but… all right, why don’t you text me your hours, and we can see. It wouldn’t even have to be regular, if you’re mostly a manager these days.”

“Plus I already see Piper and I like her a lot, too.”

Celia: “Everyone loves Piper,” Celia agrees readily. “I oversaw some of her training, so I’ll take that as a huge compliment. Alright, I’ll get those times over to you this weekend and get you set up with something, and I’ll talk to my mom about the dance classes. Sorry for disturbing you so late, but I’m glad I was able to connect with you.”

GM: “Oh, it’s no disturbance, I’m so glad to finally meet you! Or talk with you, at least. Give your mom my love, will you?”

Celia: “Will do! Enjoy your evening.”

GM: “You too! I guess I’ll see you at the spa.”

Celia: Celia says a final goodbye and hangs up the phone.

It’s not quite how she imagined it would go when she’d dialed, but when does life ever go as expected?


Friday night, 11 March 2016, PM

Celia: Car since delivered to the Evergreen, Jade makes the trek across the Quarter and into Mid-City to the LegalWings Bail Bond offices. She’d texted the boys to let them know that she’s on her way—sometimes she meets them at their home in the Quarter, but Reggie and Rusty had said they were still downtown working on a case. Randy is… well, she thinks he’s with Mabel at their home in the Quarter, which would have been more convenient a meeting place considering she needs to talk to that ghoul too, but she’ll handle it when she handles it.

It’s not her first trip into Mid-City. Despite the hiding she had done in the back of Roderick’s car, Jade’s face isn’t an unwelcome one within the Anarch territory. She and Coco had parted on decent terms despite her childe’s penchant for splitting Jade’s face apart, and the elder had been receptive to Jade’s bid for influence within the parish. So LegalWings had been recognized as hers, and that was that. The occasional favor doesn’t much take away from being able to move relatively freely within the territory, and she hasn’t had to worry about someone else trying to edge their way into her business or getting jumped on the streets if one of the boys slips up.

Her heels click against the pavement as she makes her way toward the large glass doors of the office building, swiping a keycard against the door to be let in. Ordinarily the door isn’t locked but this late at night they don’t need people wandering in from the outside.

Jade nods to the receptionist as she passes by. Malone, she thinks; Reggie had told her once that they keep someone at the desk 24/7 for those crazy midnight cases that are all the rage these days. He’d said it with a wink and they’d both known what he’d meant. She has a bag slung over one shoulder, the same sort of leather she and Gui had been teasing about. She doesn’t think he’d believed her when she’d made her claim, not if that smirk was any indication.

Celia: Maybe she’ll make him a new hat and let him guess what sort of animal it came from. She’s all about the gift-giving these days.

She has one with her, too. Of a sort. Roxanne’s phone is in her bag, but Rusty has always liked a challenge, hasn’t he? And he’s easier to get ahold of than the Tremere detective, or at least she doesn’t want to bother him any more than she has to, so Rusty gets to play ‘crack the phone’ while they look into the rest of everything. She should have given it to him nights ago, but… well, she’s been busy.

Jade proceeds down the hall to Rusty’s office, knocking on the door before stepping inside.

GM: Someone once said to her that every elder calls in markers eventually.

She doesn’t remember who. It seems like the sort of advice most licks who’ve been around could give. Who aren’t also elders.

LegalWings, as the city’s biggest most successful company, has its own two-story building with a giant neon sign displaying the company name and its logo of a jail suit-wearing man flying out of a birdcage on a pair of wings. LegalWings. Open 24 hours, proclaims a section of neon. Fortunate for the Kindred and fortunate for the kine with loved ones in jail.

GM: 24/7, though, doesn’t mean full staff on duty. Regina seems home getting her beauty sleep, if her lack of presence in the office is any indication, but Reggie’s head turns at Jade’s clicking shoes, and he gives the Toreador’s rear an appreciative pat. He and the receptionist (Malone seems right) are talking to a Latina woman who’s looking over a document and shaking her head as she sighs angrily. Then she signs anyway, and she’s soon on her way.

“How many fuckin’ times now?” mutters Malone.

Reggie shrugs.

Celia: What is it with boys and grabbing her ass?

Not that she minds. Not that she minds even a little bit. She winks at Reggie as she passes by, crooking a finger at him behind her back to summon him down the hall once he’s done with the Hispanic woman.

Still, she’s glad it happened here where there aren’t any raging Brujah to challenge him to a duel. She’s rather fond of the middle brother and doesn’t want his head thrown threw her window if her lover decides he’s threatened by the mortal.

GM: Rusty’s in his office. It’s a big enough building he gets his own, instead of one of the tables out front. He’s typing into his computer as Jade approaches and reports that he and his brother are still looking into Summer.

Jade: Jade nods at the report.

“She’s been missing since December; I don’t doubt she’ll be tricky to track down.”

She slips the phone out of her bag and sets it on the desk.

“Have a few more things I’d like to look into.”

GM: “What and how much are you paying?” the oldest brother asks perfunctorily.

“This Summer girl is already taking a while, but I suppose as long as you’re paying for her too.”

Celia: She’ll know something is wrong with the guy when he doesn’t immediately demand payment. She appreciates how little he changes between visits.

“I imagine the usual agreement is sufficient?” There’s a lilt at the end of her sentence, room for him to let her know if something has come up that he needs different or more.

GM: Rusty nods. He and Reggie have both given Jade an hourly rate. Discounted for the pretty lady who feeds them blood.

Randy mostly just begs his “girlfriend” for blood and money when he needs it.

Celia: Randy provides services his brothers don’t, like being on call whenever she needs him, so it’s a looser arrangement she has with him in regards to blood and money. She’s been thinking about just giving him an expense account with a monthly limit.

Jade smiles at the brother in front of her and gives him a handful of names to look into. The blonde haired girl and the green haired punk from the club are just a flag of sorts, in case they’re reported as missing. Jade needs to know to get ahead of that. It’s less active searching than just monitoring. She asks for the same from the hunters she’d put down, though she adds that she’d like their known associates, if any.

And finally she gets to the heart of the matter: Lee Andrin.

There’s a brief pause after she says his name. Then, finally,

“I need him located. Quickly.”

GM: “Okay,” says Rusty. He asks if she has anything besides the name, but just nods when she doesn’t.

“A name’s enough to go on.”

Celia: “It’s possible I’ll need assistance bringing him in as well.”

In fact it’s highly likely.

GM: “Won’t be a problem.”

Celia: She gives him a grateful smile. She always enjoys watching the boys in action.

“Anything from the law office?”

GM: “Few things. Ocampo still poking for dirt on the police cover-up. The PIs have their eye on an ex-cop named Jeremy May. He’s the one who killed Gettis. He works for the Devillers family now as a security guard.”

“Ocampo’s people are searching for dirt on May so they can put the squeeze on him.”

Celia: “Mmm. I don’t suppose you have anything on him.”

GM: Rusty snorts. “We’re a bail bond agency, not an intelligence agency.”

“I can tell you he hasn’t taken out any bail bonds from us.”

Celia: That response earns a wry smile.

“I assumed as much. Doesn’t hurt to ask.”

That’s good, anyway. She’d rather they avoid that whole family and anything to do with them.

“Two more things, hopefully something you can assist with tonight.” Her brows lift. He knows she pays extra for rush jobs.

GM: “Okay. What is it?”

Celia: She nudges the phone toward him.

“Can you get into that?”

GM: He takes the Solaris and holds it under the lamplight.

“Damn, won’t be that way.”

Celia: “No,” Jade agrees. She’d already had the same thought.

GM: No oil secretions from their kinds’ fingers.

Celia: And she keeps forgetting to ask Pete.

He could probably just finger wave his way in.

But she doesn’t want to keep bothering him with this kind of stuff when she has her very own Rusty to help her out.

She gives the boy in question a winning smile.

Man, she reminds herself. He’s older than she is. Hard to remember that when she deals with his brother all the time and he comes off so… young.

GM: Alana is the same age as her mother.

Jade treats her like a child, too. The Blood just seems to bring that out in them.

Celia: Reggie is still pretty manly. All those times they… well.

GM: “Depends how many digits the password has,” says Rusty. “If it’s just four, give me probably six minutes. If it’s 10, give me probably 12 years.”

“Supposing there’s no other information you can give me on whoever’s phone this is.”

Celia: But she can.

She gives him her name, middle name, birthday. The name of her son, the name of her boyfriend, the date of her release as an independent lick. Their father’s birthday, their siblings’ birthdays. Her son’s birthday.

GM: Rusty tries combinations of those numbers to no effect.

Celia: It’s probably something stupid and sappy like her first kiss with Evan. Or the night daddy showed her how much he loved her.

GM: “I can get around the incorrect password timeouts and phone wipes, but this could still take a while if I’m going to brute force it.”

“What about her Suncloud account? That would be faster to get into.”

Celia: “Could try it.” She gives him the address.

GM: “Okay,” says Rusty. “I’ll look into this and get back to you.”

Celia: “Thanks, Rusty.”

There’s more. There always is. But she’s already dumped enough on him this evening and feels a little silly about asking him to find out if this Vinny fellow is on a dating site for her when she’s perfectly capable of doing it herself.

As soon as she finds the time. Which is why, of course, she’d waited until this evening to come see him, because she’s been so caught up with everything else going on in her unlife that her priorities needed re-shuffled. Maybe next week she’ll be able to breathe again.

She’s also a little concerned about the downward pull on the left side of his face, the tightness around his mouth, and the white around his knuckles. Pain. When was the last time he’d gotten his work done? In the shuffle of all the chaos with Roderick and the hunters and her family she hadn’t gotten on his case about it, and when she doesn’t remind him… The silly boy will wait until he’s paralyzed by it to reach out if she lets him. She doesn’t quite frown, but she gives him a look.

“Come see me tomorrow night.”

No mention of treatment, illness, or the pain; they both know what she means.

She slides an envelope across the desk for him, their agreed upon sum for his work, and finally rises to her feet.

“Always a pleasure, Rusty.”

Then she’s gone, gliding down the hall to find Reggie’s desk. He doesn’t have an office, not like Rusty, but then he’s never here. More often than not he’s out and about the city, collecting people and running errands and… well, doing whatever the rest of what being a bounty hunter entails. She’s sure it’s not as glamorous as she envisions in her mind (she usually pictures motorcycles, leather jackets, and back-alley knife fights). She even knows it’s not that glamorous, having gone with him more than a few times to pick someone up when he needed a distraction, but there’s still a vague sense of danger that radiates off of him that she has seen cow plenty of people. It passes harmlessly by her… but fuck if it isn’t a bit of a turn on.

She won’t admit to the amount of times they’ve roleplayed the dangerous bounty hunter and his target angle.

She doesn’t need to lean over to whisper in his ear, but it lets him get a nice view down the front of her dress and, well, he’s a man who appreciates the finer things in life. Like that view down her dress and everything it lets him see.

She winks at him as she goes, off to find the final brother to complete the trifecta of Dufresne visits this evening.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM

Celia: The tightness in her shoulders disappears the moment she passes back into Savoy’s territory. It’s not that she’s worried about being jumped in the streets, just that, well, sometimes she’s worried about being jumped in the streets. Or picked up for any variety of reasons, like running her mouth at Elysium, which is less likely to happen here, though still not impossible.

Her sire had proven that to her.

Hadn’t she needed to speak to him about something? And someone else, too.

Ah, well, must have gotten lost in the shuffle of everything else going on this evening. Next time.

She pulls into the driveway of the home she’d helped purchase for the brothers years and years ago, bypasses the security with keys and cards and codes, and finally lets herself in.

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Like a twist on the quintessential bachelor pad, everything is done up in mahogany and chrome and marble. Exposed brick in the kitchen adds some character (Reggie, of all people, had been the one to say that), and they’d been oddly taken by the stuffed rhino head that the prior owner had left behind in the attic. They’d opted to keep it and now it sits on their wall watching over the living room.

And the woman currently taking up space in the living room, the captive ghoul of Roxanne’s. Or Evan’s. The MILF, anyway, and now that Jade is seeing her without the stress and terror of serving Roxanne she definitely understands what all the fuss is about: she’s hot.

She spies Randy in the kitchen with Diana’s leftover cake and a glass of milk and gives a little finger wave to her “boyfriend” before turning her attention to the ghoul.

GM: Jade’s ass still smarts from how hard Reggie pinched it on her way out of Legalwings.

The ghoul is hot, for an older woman. Or because she’s an older woman, depending on one’s tastes. Evan was known to like them older. She’s a long-haired blonde with a full and curvy figure, full lips, good skin, and tight but non-trashy clothes that show off her curves. Definitely a ‘Mrs. Robinson’ type.

Or at least, she looks as if she used to be. Probably only an eye for beauty as discerning as Jade’s could spot that truth.

The ghoul hasn’t applied any makeup, her clothes have a rumpled, slept-in look, she doesn’t look as if she’s washed her hair recently, and her eyes are red and puffy as if from crying. She doesn’t smell as if she’s showered in a while either. Her hands are tied behind her back. There’s bruise marks on her face, too.

She doesn’t even look scared by the Toreador. She just offers a bleak look, like her life has gotten even worse.

Or as if it couldn’t have gotten any worse.

Celia: Jade has no doubt that Roxanne wasn’t the gentlest of domitors, if that bruising is any indication. She’d told the boys to lay off any physical violence against the woman. No touching. She’d been very clear.

At least she doesn’t quite smell yet, despite the unwashed hair and rumpled clothing. Nothing some baby powder won’t fix to suck up that oil spill on the top of her head.

Or, y’know, an actual shower and change of clothes.

Jade pulls a chair up in front of her, muting the TV in the background with the press of a button on the remote. She doesn’t even wince when she puts weight on the recently pinched cheek. Maybe it’s the cushion.

She gives the ghoul a long look and finally smiles.

“Good evening. It’s Mabel, isn’t it?”

GM: “Yes,” the ghoul answers without enthusiasm.

Celia: "And you were with the Storyvilles? Gerlette?

GM: “Evan.”

If it’s even possible, Mabel looks even more miserable at his name.

Celia: Evan. Right. Roxanne’s boyfriend. The nice one, isn’t that what she had said? Jade hadn’t been particularly close to him despite their shared clan, and he’s been missing for almost a year now.

“I doubt it’s been easy with him gone,” Jade says softly. She looks again at the bruise. No doubt he kept her more gently than her former sister had.

“I’m not going to hurt you, Mabel. I’m sorry that he’s gone. I know it hurts to lose someone that you care deeply for. I’d like to help you find out what happened to him, and then maybe find a new place for you where you can be happy.”

GM: The Toreador’s consoling words bring on a wave of relieved-feeling tears.

“Please. I just want to find him. He isn’t dead, he’s my boy, I know he’s not, he’s just… in torpor, or staked somewhere…”

Celia: Maybe that’s even true. Wouldn’t that be a blessing.

Jade nods her head. She leans forward, keeping her movements slow, and unties the woman’s hands from behind her back. She takes one of them into her own. Her skin is warm; maybe that helps Mabel feel less like she’s in the presence of a monster.

“Can you tell me about him? The last time you saw him. The things you did together? I bet there’s something I can look into.”

GM: The ghoul sniffs and squeezes Jade’s hand. “He’s a wonderful boy. Just such a good boy. We pretend to be a mother and son, living together in the apartment where his haven is, but it’s not pretend. He calls me Mom anyways, even when no’s listening…” The ghoul gives a happy, broken smile. “He likes to pamper me, draw up baths for me, and wash my hair with his hands… and when he holds me in his arms, I feel like there’s no one in the world but us…”

Celia: “Evan sounds like a real sweetheart.”

GM: “He is. He’s such a sweet boy.”

“He lets me drink from him, as much as I want, then he drinks it back, and I just feel so loved, so safe, so good, like I never have with anyone else… God knows not my husband.”

Celia: Husband.

Well there’s a loose end. She should have looked into that before she’d just… scooped her up.

Whoops.

“Is your husband still in the picture? I imagine hiding this life from him was pretty difficult.”

GM: Mabel shakes her head. “We divorced a while ago. Evan helped me leave him.”

“He is. He’s such a sweet boy.”

Celia: “I’ll help you find him,” Jade says again, giving the ghoul’s fingers a gentle squeeze. “But I need to know what you know so I can start looking. Anything you did together, anything out of the ordinary, anything he might have said in front of you?” Licks treat their servants like they’re less than a lot of the time. She’s seen it. They get complacent and let things slip and don’t imagine that the ghouls hold onto that knowledge. She tries not to, but she’s probably done it herself. It’s why she thinks the Harrah’s business will be so successful. It’s why the maid business has netted so much for her as well. She’s banking on the fact that Evan, Roxanne, and the rest of the Storyvilles sometimes forgot that Mabel is a person and not just a ghoul.

GM: “Well… the last couple nights before he disappeared, he was on edge,” Mabel sniffs. “He was scared, I could tell, but he tried to look brave around me. He said I didn’t need to worry, and we fed on each other. But he wasn’t… he wasn’t all there.”

She sniffs again.

“I wanted to hep him, with what was wrong. He’s my boy.”

“He did go to see a fortune-teller, in the Quarter. Yellow Sidra. That was very unusual, because he never went to the Quarter, and said I should never go there. He said all of the licks there would try to hurt us…”

Mabel sniffs and warily looks between Jade and Randy.

“But I don’t care about that. I just… I just want to find him…”

“He went to the Lower Garden District, too, before he disappeared. He said he talked with Accou, the… primogen, was what Evan called him. He said he admired Accou, because he also looked after his mom.”

Mabel manages a smile and gives another sniff. It’s an earnest smile, but a sad one too.

“I’m glad he talked with Accou, because it seemed to make him feel better. After he talked to Sidra, he was… oh, I wish he hadn’t, he was scared and miserable after he came back…”

Celia: Jade nods encouragingly as Mabel speaks. She gives her a wry smile at the announcement of not going into the Quarter; it’s a lesson she has instilled in her own ghouls, where and when they can travel so nothing untoward happens to them.

“It shows how much you care about him that you were willing to come here anyway. I’m glad we found each other. That kind of loyalty is admirable, and I think I can help.”

Jade waves Randy over with a plate of food and beverage for the ghoul.

“You might not want to eat with how upset you are, but keep your strength up so we can get through this, okay? His girlfriend’s mom made it and she’s a great cook.”

“I know Accou. He’s my grandsire, actually. And Evan is right, he does look after his mom. It’s really sweet, like Evan is to you. I’m happy to follow up with him about this. Do you know where he came from when he got this way, anyone he was speaking to before he got so on edge? Anything he might have said to his krewe?”

Convenient, really, that both of the people Mabel had spoken of are people that Jade has a decent enough relationship with. And Sidra still owes her that boon. Could be worth calling in.

GM: Well, “willing” was probably relative with the tied and bound woman.

Mabel looks at the casserole. “There was another lick, who asked about Evan. But she didn’t tell me that… you think Accou can help? You really think he can, that he can find Evan…?”

There’s hope in the ghoul’s voice, for what sounds like the first time in a long time.

She swallows after a moment, though, to answer the vampire’s questions, mindful she must still do that.

“Evan got worse right when he came back from Sidra. He’d seemed on edge before, but it really got a lot worse after they saw each other.”

“Before that it was a… a gradual thing, I guess. Things seemed a little more strained between him and Roxanne. I tried to help, because they were both so sweet, both so good for each other.”

The ghoul dabs at her eyes. “Roxanne took it really badly… she misses him, so much…”

Celia: “The other lick, was she tall and blonde, rather pretty?” Roxanne had said that Caroline worked for her before Jade had ripped her heart right out of her chest.

“I think she might have a reason to cover up what happened with Evan,” Jade says with an effected sigh. “And she doesn’t know Accou, not like I do. She’s new to all of this. If Accou knows something I’ll do my best to get it out of him.”

She says nothing about Roxanne being sweet. The girl was a heinous bitch, she doesn’t think the lick was any better.

“Were they fighting at all? Did they say anything about in front of you?”

GM: Mabel nods at Jade’s first question. “Yes, she had a lot of questions like yours.”

Celia: Of course she did.

Caroline is showing up all over her Requiem these nights.

Jade gestures Randy over, telling him to call Alana and get her to set up a meeting with Accou via his herald. Might as well get that ball rolling now. Who knows how far out that will be.

GM: Randy nods and gets out his phone.

“They don’t really fight much,” Mabel answers the second one. “She can be a little high-strung, sometimes, but Evan always talks her down. Then she gets sorry and they cuddle. Or feed.”

“She comes from an abusive family, but Evan is so good to her. She feels safe when they’re together. He’s so good to us…”

Mabel dabs at her eyes again.

Celia: “Did she tell you that she comes from an abusive family?” Jade sounds surprised. It’s not the kind of thing she expected her sister to spill. A little off topic, but she’s curious.

GM: “Well, Evan did. She didn’t talk about it much, at first, but after they were together a while, she started to. I don’t think she’d told anyone before, because she really broke down after she did, about how much they all hated her and how she’d ruined things and wished she could do things over again. And Evan just held her and said all the right things, like he alw…”

Mabel gives another sniff.

Celia: Well that’s a gut punch she doesn’t need. She swallows, blinking back something that might be emotion.

GM: “She would talk to me, sometimes. She doesn’t let her guard down easily. She can be really stiff and prickly. But underneath I think she’s just really, really lonely, feeling like she made her family all hate her. And that’s why Evan really touched her, why she cares about him so much, because he’s the one person who really sees her and accepts her. She’s been… losing him has been really, really hard on her, but I know she’ll stop at nothing to get him back…”

Celia: She would have. She did. Went after Meadows by herself, the idiot.

Maybe if Celia hadn’t hidden who she was from her. Maybe if she’d reached out as herself instead of hiding behind her mask. Maybe if she’d talked to her that day after Dad was arrested, or hadn’t made him fuck her, or hadn’t just left her there like a piece of garbage.

What ifs and maybes are useless, she knows. Just a trip down pain lane.

She doesn’t know if she’s ever hated herself more.

GM: “He had this idea, that after a while, he’d ask her if she wanted to call me Mom, too. So we could be a… be a family… he’s just such a sweet boy…”

Tears bead in the ghoul’s eyes.

Celia: “That’s… that’s really something,” Jade says, voice thick. “I think she’d like that.”

GM: “I, I need to see her, please. She needs me…”

Celia: “I’ll see what I can do.”

GM: “Her and Jocelyn, they’ve been fighting… they’ve all been fighting, since Evan…”

Celia: “The lick you mentioned, though. Like I said, I think she has a reason to hide what happened. So with your permission, Mabel, I have a trick I can use to undo anything she might have hidden after she asked you these questions, anything she might not have wanted other people to know. It’s possible she made you forget, and I’d like to unlock them for you.”

“So we can get Evan back.”

GM: The ghoul looks apprehensive, but nods. “O… okay, what trick…?”

Celia: Jade directs her to sit on the floor in front of her with her back to Jade. It’s less ideal than having a massage table handy, but will be better than if she lays out on the couch. At least for Mabel. It doesn’t make much of a difference for Jade.

She tells the ghoul she’s going to touch her. To just focus on the movements and let her mind and body go heavy. She starts lightly at the scalp, her fingertips brushing through Mabel’s hair. Some women think that the best part of going to a salon is when they wash your hair for you, and those are the motions that Jade does now. She’s quiet while she works, focusing her attention on the ghoul. Her hands move down the back of her neck, pressing against the tension she finds there, then lower, into her shoulders and upper back. She works above the clothing, kneading rather than gliding. Seated or chair massage like this is nothing new to her.

While she works she drifts inward. Her mind opens, consciousness projecting along the unbroken line of energy that stretches between the bodies of the two women. One moment she is Jade, the next she is Mabel.

Seven colored disks spin before her eyes. She’s not surprised that the green burns so brightly; the woman has a lot of love to give. It’s covered in dead leaves and dirt, but Jade brushes it away with a touch of her hand. It winks at her, glad to be free, but its spin is sluggish, and when it pulses she can see the effort that it takes. Like a pair of blackened lungs struggling to breathe.

Her attention drifts upward, to the combination of three that she needs to unlock to get into her memories. Vissudha, Ajna, Sahasrara. The throat, the third eye, and the crown. Jade dives in.

The world shifts around her. She’s in her seat, but she’s inside of Mabel too, and in here… in here she can see the effect that various abilities have had on her. The ecstasy of the kiss. The heady sweetness of charm. And something… blacker. Something meant to conceal. Jade follows the trail through the ghoul’s aura like she would a forest path. She whispers while she moves, telling the woman that she’s safe, that she’s a friend, that this will help heal her heart. And she’s rewarded by a different path appearing before her, one that was obscured by overgrown vines, one that holds the secrets of her mind behind a wrought iron gate. Darkness reigns here, holding in the truth. Jade presses her hands against it. Her fingertips glow. Warm, healing energy. Safety. Trust.

Out loud, she speaks. She probes further into Evan’s period of anxiety, focusing on anything he might have said after visiting Sidra or Accou. She wants to know what had him upset. Who had him upset. Maybe he said something. Maybe Mabel herself saw something. Didn’t she keep his schedule? Doesn’t she know where he was when he came back upset?

GM: Mabel becomes as putty in the Toreador’s capable hands. A massage table might be nicer, but that hardly slows Jade down, and the ghoul falls apart as she unwinds. There’s so much tension in her muscles. So much stress. Jade kneads it all out as Mabel comes apart. She cries, a little, but she feels like she’s cried so much of late that her tears are wrung dry. She moans softly, little low sounds of pleasure, and says how good this feels. How much she needed this. Jade has little doubt the ghoul might fall asleep soon, without her influence, but that will not pass while there is truth she yet seeks. Visuddha, the chakra for communication, pulses blue. There are truths Mabel must speak.

“Evan was seeing another lick on the side,” Mabel murmurs slowly. “Amandine. A Crone girl.”

“He didn’t want Roxanne to know… he loved her, he did, he gave her all his love… but he had enough for other people, too, and it would’ve just hurt her to know… she wanted him all to herself…”

“It was better this way… she got to have him to herself, she got to be happy… he got to love others, make them happy… not all lies are bad…”

Celia: It’s a familiar story. One that she’s been debating playing herself.

But how much would it have hurt her sister to find out that her lover is cheating?

Maybe that’s their real clan curse, that they have too much love to give. That not one single person will ever be enough. That she can love Roderick with her whole heart but still have room for Gui and Savoy and Pietro and Donovan and that blonde beauty in the Garden District. Even the ghouls. She can love them too, can’t she, can show them the depths of her affection with physical touch. And Star’s lover, the lawyer with the missing daughter; she helps him forget his pain for a night.

No one ever tells a rose to stop growing. Why, then, should they pluck her from her garden to put her behind a glass case, tell people they can only look but not touch? Who walks through a rose garden and doesn’t want to feel the soft caress of petals against their skin, breathe in the deep floral fragrance?

It takes a moment to re-center after her thoughts threaten to spin away. She breathes in, reminding herself who she is, where she is, her purpose of the evening.

Amandine. She sends the pulse of thought down that line between them, searching for information. How long? When? How soon before he disappeared did he start seeing her?

GM: She’s heard from more than one clanmate that their curse isn’t a curse, not truly. It’s a blessing, that they might appreciate the world’s beauty even as other Kindreds’ hearts turn hard and cold.

“A few months… they kept it secret, very secret…” Mabel recites tranquilly. “The prince wouldn’t have understood, Evan was scared the scourge would come from them both…”

Celia: Why would the prince care who Evan was seeing? She sends the curiosity along their tether, picturing his face. She had seen it so clearly last night in Caroline:’s office.

GM: Confusion meets Jade’s curiosity. “Amandine’s one of the Baron’s followers… a Vodouisant… sleeping with the enemy…”

“Evan and the Storyvilles all work so hard to impress the prince, win his favor…”

Celia: How close are they, she asks, that the prince would know who Evan is sleeping with?

GM: “That’s what Evan thought too… it’s not like the prince watches in the bedroom… but he said, Amandine said… if they were seen together, by other Kindred… they’d report it, or use it as blackmail… too much risk, not to play it safe… Evan always says how smart she is….”

Stupid, whispers Maxen’s voice in her head.

“They’d go to out of the way places… places other licks couldn’t see them… take walks together, look at the stars… love each other, where it was just them…”

Celia: She doesn’t recognize that voice in her head.

Jade doesn’t have a father.

She brushes it aside, focusing on the words that the ghoul spills to her. Secret lover. Another familiar story. She and Roderick are secret lovers too.

Amandine, though. Another name to look into.

Is it enough for him to speak to Accou about? She… doesn’t think so. Why would Evan speak to Accou about a Crone lover? Why tip his hand like that?

Why would he speak to Accou about her?

GM: “I don’t know what they talked about… it might’ve been that… but he wouldn’t tell me…”

Celia: She presses further here, watching the spinning disks in front of her, looking for signs of black or gray against their brightness. Like rot in a garden, it discolors everything in its path, and she searches for evidence of its passing now. Snippets of altered memories that she can grab onto and unravel.

GM: The garden’s rot is well-hidden, but Jade will not be denied in her search. It’s there, black and ugly and festering. Perhaps Dahlia has given her something of a green thumb.

Yet, Jade senses, Mabel’s psyche is fragile, and this garden has long been starved for water and sun. To raze away its rot may be to raze the few remaining healthy plants too.

Celia: Tending gardens has always been delicate work. Roots tangle beneath the soil, weed and plant alike, and infestations of bugs spread so easily from one leaf to another. Gardens can be temperamental things; a touch of frost can kill flowers before they ever bloom, a stray rabbit or bird can eat the leaves clean, too much water or sun can be just as damaging as not enough.

Jade stops pushing. She sits in the garden Mabel’s mind has yielded, her legs folded beneath her. Damp grass brushes against her bare skin. The circles spin around her, thick and sluggish and blackened by decay. One by one Jade calls them over, gently tugging on the tether of energy between their forms. She’s no plant whisperer, but from the ground she calls up a green stalk. Green, like the heart chakra, the one that Mabel has in spades. Green, like the dress she had chosen this evening. And green, like her name.

It’s a sign, isn’t it?

She weaves the stalks of the green plant around the orbs to hold them still. She’ll chase the rot away with Mabel’s own love. She sets it in motion, letting it work slow magic on the altered memories.

GM: Jade has little doubt that the Ventrue’s gifts could discern Mabel’s hidden truth. They’d bulldoze over everything else in the process, crude and blunt as they are.

Yet Jade’s own clan would likely fare little better. Their gifts are subtle things, and their province is feelings, not memories.

But Jade is more than her clan. She’s an esthetician. She’s seen how much comes out on the spa table. All those traumas and secrets and gossip that dumbfound people outside the industry. People never do have any idea how much their massage therapists and hairdressers and makeup artists hear from them.

All Jade has to do is coax Mabel along. Work her familiar magic with her hands, and let her Beast fill in the gaps.

“I once heard Evan and Roxanne, talking about the Storyvilles’ secret meetings with Vidal,” murmurs the ghoul. “Roxanne told me to forget it.”

“So I did.”

Celia: Secret meetings with Vidal.

The words echo through her. The whole krewe was meeting with him. And Roxanne had tried to cover it up, to prevent the truth from coming out. It could be nothing. Or it could be everything. Suddenly her plan to disseminate the information no longer seems like the lie she’d planned to tell.

And it makes sense, doesn’t it?

Inside the garden of Mabel’s mind, Jade strokes her fingers across the slowly blooming flowers growing from the orbs. With each word the black rot recedes, giving room to the light inside. She coaxes further truth from the woman with a gentle nudge of silent energy.

What did she hear?

The wind carries the question through Mabel’s garden with the floral scent of roses and greenery and golden sunshine.

GM: “Evan thought their sex hadn’t been as good,” murmurs Mabel. “She called him the prince’s name.”

“They had an argument, and Evan said they should wait to feed on each other until a while after they’d seen Vidal.”

“He’s such a sweet boy. Always trying to keep everyone happy. It had to have hurt him, but he didn’t even say that, just how to make it not happen again.”

“Then they heard me, and Roxanne panicked, saying how they needed to keep this absolutely secret. How the Hussar would kill them, and me, if they didn’t keep this secret.”

“So Evan told me not to be scared, and then Roxanne told me to forget. So I did.”

Celia: Petals spread as the truth comes out.

This is it, though. Secret meetings with the prince. Something worth killing over. Because it can’t be the sex. Calling someone the wrong name during sex is hardly something they’d be killed over, even if it was Vidal. Lord knows she’s done worse, called out…

Well.

She snips that thought before it can take root.

Jade watches the rot leech from the orbs, the colors slowly returning to their vibrant selves. She lingers on this memory, waiting to see if there’s something more. A snippet of conversation between the pair. More about the meetings. Anything that will give her what she needs: proof. Proof of her wild accusation. Proof that Vidal was using them like she thinks he was.

GM: “That’s all they said,” Mabel murmurs.

“That’s all I heard.”

Celia: Secret meetings with Vidal, though. That’s something.

The blooming petals wither and scatter across the garden’s carpeting. Jade sits quietly with the orbs, pleased by their revelations. Still, though, it would be remiss of her to not probe further into these meetings.

Gentle fingertips caress the fallen petals as the orbs break free from their green stalks. She plucks one from the ground, focusing her intention on the soft remnants of the flower in her hand.

Meetings. Other mentions of meetings. Vidal.

She lets the wind take it from her grasp.

She waits.

Perhaps there’s nothing else. Perhaps this had been the only mention. But if the krewe were meeting regularly with the prince, no doubt they might have made some other offhand remark.

GM: “I don’t remember any other times,” murmurs Mabel. “They’d all go places together without me, but they did that all the time.”

Celia: It’s enough.

As quietly as she had come, Jade withdraws from Mabel’s mind. She rises to her feet within the garden of memories, sending the orbs back to their respective havens with a gentle touch of her fingers. She retreats from the garden, pulls closed the gate behind her—white now instead of black—and skips down the forest path.

It takes her no time at all to find the familiar pull of energy directing her into her own body. Her consciousness spins along it, severing the tether between them as she goes.

Jade’s eyes open.

Her hands continue to work on the ghoul, easing the aches and pains she finds in her back.

“Thank you, Mabel.”

GM: Mabel’s face blanches with horror.

Celia: She can’t see it. But she can feel it, the sudden tightness in her neck and shoulders.

“Don’t be alarmed. You did well.”

GM: The ghoul starts weeping.

“Evan, I’m sorry…!”

Celia: “Why, Mabel? Why are you sorry? This helps us find him. This helps bring him back to you.” Jade lowers herself from the seat. Her arms slide around the crying woman like they would if it were her mother. “It’s okay,” she murmurs, “it’s going to be okay.”

GM: It doesn’t hurt that she’s had her share of practice comforting her own crying mother.

Mabel continues to weep.

“Vidal, he’s going to kill my boy, now…!”

Celia: Well. He might have already done so.

That’s what Jade had planned to say, anyway. Now she wonders at how close she’d been to the truth with her carefully concocted lie. Telling, isn’t it, that the only Stroyville who isn’t missing or dead is his childe’s lover. Meadows makes a good cover. She’d planned to use it herself to explain Roxanne’s disappearance.

“He won’t,” Jade says to her. Her words are whisper-quiet, barely a puff of breath against the woman’s neck. “You did nothing wrong. Everything you told me will help. I promise you that.”

Jade lets the woman cry herself out. She pulls Mabel onto her lap, such as it is while seated on the floor, and rubs her hands up and down her back in a slow, soothing gesture. The tears will stop coming eventually. They always do. And Jade is here for her until that time. Jade has her. Jade will make everything better.

After a time the tears do stop. And Jade, conscious of the things she has left to do tonight, conscious of her need for blood and the dwindling hours she has left to find it, takes the meal that is right in front of her. A hand winds through the woman’s hair, tilting her head to the side. Jade trails kisses down her neck until she finds the perfect spot. Her fangs grow long in her mouth, sharp as ever as they pierce the ghoul’s skin.

She drinks.

GM: Mabel cries for a while as she lets it all out. What she just said. Her fears for Evan. How much she misses him, and just wants “her boy” to “come home.”

The ghoul’s blood is sour against Jade’s tongue. It’s very different from the usual sweetness she’s accustomed to, but it’s not an unpleasant sourness, no more than salt or lemon or sour cream is. Mabel’s grief is soul-deep and haunts her every thought, Jade can tell. The ghoul truly loves and mourns her domitor as a surrogate son (and lover), even beyond the collar’s pull. Jade is hard-pressed to name the last occasion she tasted such grief, and the powerful taste lingers on her tongue, and makes her think of how Emily or Diana or Lucy would react, if she never come home one night. Such tears they would weep.

Mabel gives a last whispered, “Evan…” as her eyelids flutter. She looks very pale and does not move when the Toreador is done.

“You want me to put her to bed, babe?” Randy asks.

He looks at Mabel’s untouched plate of casserole, then starts eating from it.

Celia: Undoing the work of Roxanne had taxed her more than she’d thought it would. Manipulating Mabel’s memories left her Beast hungry. She drinks deeply, sour though it is, swallowing mouthful after mouthful of hot, red blood. It sates the Beast inside of her and leaves it all but purring in her chest when she’s done. Her tongue laps the final drops of blood from Mabel’s neck and the wound closes.

Like magic.

She thinks it every time.

She does the woman a final kindness, reaching out with her clan’s gift at warping emotions. She takes away her pain. She takes away her sadness, her grief, her misery. She removes it for this night, at least, so that she may sleep untroubled.

GM: Mabel does not respond, but the grief lines ease around her face.

Celia: Her eyes find Randy when she’s done. She rises, reaching for him, but the forkful of casserole he has shoved in his mouth halts her actions.

GM: He immediately sets it down and swallows.

Hard. He looks like he actually struggles not to choke, from how much he’s swallowed at once.

Celia: He’s not who she wants.

The thought crosses her mind and stills the flame inside of her that had wanted something more after this paltry mortal fare. She’d wanted…

It doesn’t matter, does it, because he’s not who she wants. His touch isn’t the touch that she craves. And bringing him into her arms now… it won’t turn him into that person.

She sees his eyes when she closes her own. They haunt her, even now, miles away from his influence.

But she reaches for him all the same, stepping closer so that her cheek can rest upon his chest. Maybe it was the grief she had brought into herself. Maybe it was the memories, or the mention of her sister, how she’d wanted to make it right. Maybe it was the fear, the cloying taste and scent of it, the tears that Mabel had wept.

For one moment she just wants to be close to someone. She wants to know that he will miss her if she’s gone. If, like Evan, her unlife is snatched away by a more powerful predator. Silly, maybe, to cling to the kine like this. He has no reason to love her. For seven years she has promised sex, dangled it over his head like a toy on a string, and not once had she let him have it.

And now… Christ, now it’s too late. Now she’s with someone else, someone who wouldn’t understand if she were to say she’d lain with her ghoul.

GM: Randy seems almost surprised by the motion, at first, but he wraps his arms around her and runs a hand through her hair, like she’s any mortal girlfriend seeking comfort in his arms.

“Hey. It’s okay, babe. It’s okay. I got you.”

Celia: She doesn’t need to breathe so her shoulders don’t shake. She makes no noise. But red rims her eyes all the same.

Would they miss her? Any of them, would they miss her if she died? Or is it just the collar that keeps them loyal? She’d tasted it herself, the love that Mabel has for Evan, the way she mourns for him. Real love. Twisted by the blood maybe, but there all the same. And here she is playing games with people. Breaking hearts. Toying with their emotions like… like she’s Veronica with a new plaything.

Happy noises, little toy.

She’s a terrible person.

But she takes the comfort that he offers her, even if it can’t go any further. Perhaps because it can’t go any further. Maybe, for just this moment, they can lie to each other. Maybe they can pretend that this is enough.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM

Celia: Despite the fact that Randy isn’t who and what she wants, Jade lingers in his arms for long moments while the emotions run their course. When she finally pulls free she whispers a quiet thanks, smoothing out his shirt where it had been rumpled by her body pressed against his. She asks him to see to Mabel and make sure her needs are taken care of, and warns him that she’s emotional. She’ll need supervision.

Jade raids his kitchen for a container of salt while Randy puts Mabel to bed, and locks herself in his bathroom for a moment. Her hands blur across her face as she reworks her image to become Celia once more, the Celia that the world knows. She raids his closet for one of the outfits she had left here prior, something loose and comfortable, something that isn’t the ballgown she had worn to Elysium. When he comes back down the stairs she presses a kiss against his cheek and wishes him good evening. Then she’s out the door, aura dampened with a stray thought, to find Roderick’s kid sister.

Maybe not a kid anymore, she thinks as she gets into her car. Only a few years behind Celia, isn’t she? Mid twenties. She wonders what she’ll say to her. How she’ll explain things. How much she needs to explain. Preston and Savoy had mentioned that she knows enough, at least, which begs the question how long she has been like this. It’s not as if she and Roderick have any contact.

Celia drives toward Beach on Bourbon, the last place Dani had been sighted, to look for her trail.

GM: Late Friday night is when all the clubs’ monsters come out to play. Sweaty bodies are crammed so tight they can barely move, but they dance no less furiously. The musk of sweat, alcohol, and perfume is omnipresent. Love & Liars’ “Brother, Brother” pounds in Celia’s ears at triple decimals. Angry and disaffected youth dance to the entropic chord of oblivion.

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Celia knows the lyrics well. Andi didn’t say the names Caine or Abel, but the subject matter of a man who murdered his brother cannot do aught but speak to their kind. The punk screams her fury, her pride, her curses upon the Almighty.

The Toreador’s predatory vision cuts expertly through the club’s dim lighting as she searches between faces. Stephen’s little sister is no longer so little. She’s a woman grown, dressed in a revealing black minidress with fishnets and heeled boots. There’s a lustful wildness to her eyes as she pounds her feet and grinds against her partners. Celia sees a young child of the night, heady with her newfound power and immortality, all-too ignorant of the elder terrors that have already taken umbrage at her impudence. A heartbeat still pounds in her chest. She does not smell lie Kindred. As the Toreador watches, she wraps her arms around a man and feeds from him in the middle of the club. Nobody pauses to stare amidst the revelry.

Celia: Convenient, she thinks, that Dani is here again.

And stupid. So very, very stupid. Even the Maxen of her mind agrees with her verdict as she watches Dani feed on someone in the open, flaunting the Masquerade like only a fledgling without a sire can.

There are things called bathrooms. Or corners, at least. Not in the middle of the crowd. Not that she doubts the girl’s cojones; it takes a lot of balls to sink fang-deep into someone like this in unfamiliar territory. An idle thought crosses her mind, wondering if the pair will be interrupted by the holder of said domain, but she imagines that the eyes Savoy and Preston have put on the young almost-lick prevent the club’s proprietor from getting too grumpy about it.

Perhaps, though, the feeding in the middle has merit. Maybe she knows that everyone is so busy grinding and playing grab-ass around her that they won’t stop and stare at the vampire in their midst.

She gets a drink for herself at the bar while Dani feeds, sliding a twenty to the bartender to keep her own mask firmly in place. Drink in hand, Celia joins the throng of sweaty mortals on the floor. She dances with various partners while the girl feeds, spinning and twisting and dipping her way across the floor, keeping an eye on Dani all the while.

She waits for the right moment to pounce.

GM: It’s as the DJ mixes in Andi’s “Damage Control,” seguing flawlessly from a brother’s murder to cleaning up a murder, that Dani pumps her fists, spins, and finds herself almost chest to chest with Celia. Her eyes flash with surprise.

The Toreador can make out her fangs. They’re tiny things, barely more than normal teeth with sharpened points.

Celia: Dani is hardly the first thin-blood that she’s seen. But this is the first she’s been so close to. Celia, master of deception, feigns surprise as the crowd brings the pair of them together. She woos with the opening chorus of Damage Control, voice pitched high to match the sirens in the song that Andi so effortlessly belts out every time she sings.

Celia passes her drink to someone else—someone who is happy to accept the full cup from the pretty girl—and draws Dani into her arms as if she were any other girl on the floor as the music throbs around them.

GM: If Dani is taken aback, it’s only for a moment.

She leans in to Celia’s embrace, then sinks her fangs into the other vampire’s neck.

Celia: Oh. Well. This is awkward.

Celia’s hands fist through Dani’s hair, but she doesn’t jerk away. She presses herself closer to the thin-blood as fangs find her neck, knowing that to pull away would only draw attention.

She lets the thin-blood take a hit, long enough that the bond will settle into place. And then she murmurs in the girl’s ear, “Greedy little lick.”

GM: Dani’s kiss doesn’t feel as good as other vampires’. It doesn’t leave her weak in the knees with ecstasy. It’s merely pleasant. A nice feeling. By way of comparison, it’s like having sex with a virgin, or a guy who’s only half-hard.

Celia: She wonders how weird it’s going to be when she tells Roderick she half-fucked his kid sister.

With her itty bitty baby fangs.

GM: Stephen’s sister blinks.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN, GREEDY?” she shouts over the music to make herself heard.

Celia: Does she not recognize what Celia is by taste alone?

A frown mars her features. She leans into Dani, but her words are lost to the music and bodies around them. Shaking her head, Celia takes her by the hand to pull her off the floor and find a quiet corner where they can chat. Perhaps the aforementioned bathroom. Or outside, even, before Reynaldo sends someone to deal with the thin-blood feeding so blatantly in his club.

GM: Dani stands still for a moment, then seems to consider and follows after Celia.

The bathroom is less loud, but no less distracting. Sounds of fornication emanate from within. Many sound pained.

Celia: Hardly the ideal location. She imagines that the predators who have orchestrated those pained cries are too busy taking advantage of their victims to pay attention to the girls tottering into the only stall left.

At least the Ventrue won’t find them here. Awkward to explain that she’s trespassing in his club.

GM: Dani doesn’t walk into the stall immediately. She pounds her fist against the filthy, obscenity-scrawled door the cries sound from, blinks only once when it comes open unocked, and yells, “HEY! FUCK OFF!” at the larger man sodomizing a crying teenage boy.

The man’s eyes widen for a second like Dani is the bigger, stronger one, then he barrels out.

She kneels down by the teenager and asks, “Hey, are you-” but he just screams, slaps at her, and runs off.

Celia: Hip against the dirty counter that holds a handful of sinks, Celia crosses her arms over her chest to watch the display. Something that might be amusement dances in her eyes at the sight of the man running from the girl. It dies once the hand finds Dani’s cheek.

GM: “You try to do the right thi…” Dani starts, then trails off at Celia’s touch.

Celia: “They never thank you for it,” she says to Dani. “But it’s admirable to try.”

GM: Another guy comes in, gives an annoyed grunt at the full urinals, and starts pissing into the sink.

Celia: Celia gives the man a look that could curdle milk.

GM: “You want a drink, bitch?” he leers at her.

Celia: “I choke on small things.”

GM: “Fuck you, cunt.”

He moves his junk to start peeing over her.

Celia: “You’d like to.” Her head tilts to one side. Her eyes might flash, but maybe that’s a trick of the light. She smiles at him. It’s a little wider than it needs to be. Shows a little too many teeth. Not fangs, never that, not with this face.

At least until he moves.

Then she sends it out of her in a wave of crushing emotion. He does want to fuck. But he doesn’t want to fuck her. He wants to fuck the stall door, the place where it latches to close. Such a small hole is the perfect size for his dick.

GM: Celia nimbly sidesteps the stream of piss. The man’s sneering expression suddenly gives way to a look of lust. He shakes out the last piss from his newly-erect willy, pulls open the door, and starts trying to pound the tiny hole.

Celia: Charming.

“Perhaps another venue,” she says to Dani.

GM: Dani looks between the man and Celia, then Celia and the man.

Then she nods.

“Ah, FUCK!” he yells, grabbing the door with both hands.

Celia: Celia takes her hand once more to avoid getting lost in the crowd. They step out of the bathroom and Celia worms through the mass of writhing bodies toward the front door.

She leaves the man with his toy.

Door?

Toy.

Whatever.

She’s done enough good deeds for one night.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM

GM: The pair make their way out into the night, heels clicking against the asphalt. Love & Liars still pounds from outside, but it’s low enough to make themselves heard, at least insomuch as one can in the Quarter on a Friday night. Drunken tourists and club-goers stumble along the streets, laughing or yelling about things that only make sense to themselves, some with open carry cups in hand. A few obvious tourists wear Mardi Gras beads, which Dani rolls her eyes at.

She finally looks back at Celia, questions dancing in her eyes. And some measure of apprehension.

“How did you do that…?”

Celia: Even outside, Celia doesn’t let go. She knows there are other dangers in the evening, and she won’t be the one who loses Dani because she hadn’t been paying attention. They look like just another pair of drunken college co-eds, tottering their way from bar to bar.

“It’s a trick I picked up a long time ago. A combination of tricks, actually. Usually it makes them want to focus on me.” She flashes Dani a sly smile. “You used something similar earlier. To make the man run when he was hurting that boy.”

“Have you done that before? Used the charm like that?”

She keeps her voice low, conscious of prying eyes and ears.

GM: Maybe a little old to be co-eds, if someone were to ask their ages. But still fun-seeking 20somethings, unburdened by the responsibilities of real adult life.

“Yeah,” Dani says slowly. “Are you… a vampire?”

Celia: Gui’s earlier commentary about the V-word comes to mind. She almost laughs at how different this is from her first “talk.”

“Yes. There are other words for it, but yes. Like you.” Her eyes move toward Dani. “How long?”

GM: Not really like her.

But close enough.

“Just this week,” says Dani. “You?”

Celia: A week?

Christ.

“Since 2009. How did it happen?”

GM: Dani blinks. “That’s… when you broke up with Stephen.”

Celia: “That’s why I broke up with Stephen. I didn’t want to hurt him. And it wasn’t safe, if I were around him.”

GM: Emotions swirl over Dani’s face. They aren’t happy ones.

“You really hurt him, you know. He never got over you.”

Celia: “I know,” Celia says quietly. “I had to live with that for a long time.”

“I still… I still have to live with that. Knowing what I said to him. I assume he told you.”

GM: “He said you’d cheated on him.” Dani’s voice is stiff.

“I remember what I said to you, at that dinner. How he was really into you.”

“He never got over it. And then he died.”

Celia: “I told him I cheated on him,” Celia says. The words are bitter. “I told him what I thought would prevent him from coming after me, because if I hadn’t he would have looked for, chased after me. I’m not proud of it. I should have handled it better. There’s no easy way to tell someone who is still alive that you’re not.”

GM: “You could have just told him the truth.”

Celia: “A week ago, would you have believed me?”

GM: “I’d tell him. If he was still alive.”

“You could’ve shown him. The fangs.”

Celia: “I thought about that. Telling him. There are people that help us during the day, when we sleep. I thought about turning him into that, bringing him with me into this. But it’s… I couldn’t do that to him. I thought he deserved better than that.”

GM: “Help us during the day?” Dani looks confused.

Celia: “Do… do you sleep during the day?”

GM: “Well, sure.”

Celia: “Because the sun burns.”

GM: “No it doesn’t.”

Celia: She actually blinks at that.

“What?”

GM: “The sun doesn’t burn. I looked it up in Dracula. It didn’t for him either, he just lost his powers. I guess that’s how it works.”

“What, does it for you?”

Celia: “Have you been in the sun since you were turned? Tested this?”

GM: “Yes, I tried my toe first, to see what would happen.”

“I didn’t burst into flame, so I tried the rest of me. I’ve gone outside a few times.”

Celia: “And it doesn’t hurt? At all?”

GM: “I don’t like how it feels. I’m tired and it’s bright without sunglasses. But I can if I want.”

Celia: Fascinating.

GM: “That’s not how it works for you?”

Celia: “No. We burn, usually.”

“Sometimes our Beasts take over to prevent us from even trying. Its survival instinct is… strong.”

GM: “Beasts?”

Celia: “The thing inside you. The monster.”

GM: “What thing?”

Celia: “The… the thing.” Celia stops walking. She turns wide eyes on Dani. “You don’t feel it? Pacing, snarling, always hungry? When you get mad or scared it takes over.”

GM: Dani gives her an odd look. “I’m thirsty for blood, sure.”

“Uh. Sorry for… drinking from you.”

Celia: Celia waves a hand.

“I baited you. I knew you were here. It’s fine.”

GM: “Your blood tasted… really strong.”

Celia: “I’ve always been curious, you know. What I taste like.” She lifts her brows at the girl.

GM: “Sort of like… it reminded me of makeup. Really sweet, too.”

Celia: Celia laughs at the description.

“That makes sense. Have you met others like us?”

Us, she says kindly. No reason to make Dani feel bad.

GM: “No. I thought I might’ve been the only vampire in the world. Are there many others?” She looks at Celia curiously.

Celia: “Not even the one who turned you?”

GM: Dani’s brow furrows.

Celia: “Do you remember how it happened?”

GM: “I was… here at the club, drinking. I used common sense, I watched the bartender mix everything, but someone must’ve… must’ve slipped me something. Maybe it was the bartender.”

“I don’t remember a lot after that.”

Celia: Celia nods. She’d expected as much, that Dani doesn’t remember.

GM: “I woke up in a garbage dumpster. That was fun.”

Celia: “Oh. That’s… not ideal.”

GM: A fitting origin, for the thin-blooded.

Baptized in garbage.

Celia: Celia doesn’t say that, of course.

Her fingers drum against her thigh.

“I thought I was in Hell when I woke up. There was a man standing over me and I thought he was the devil.” She gives Dani a wry smile. “Without knowing about this beforehand, there’s no easy way to transition. But to answer your earlier question, yes, there are a lot of us. A lot of us in the Quarter, a lot of us in the city, a lot of us in the world. We’re all over.”

GM: “Oh,” says Dani.

She seems to think.

“Do you want to sit down? My feet are getting sore in these shoes.”

Celia’s haven’t once gotten sore. One of the perks to undeath. She can wear whatever she wants, as high as she wants, for as long as she wants.

Celia: “Of course.” Another note to file away.

Celia leads her down the street to an empty bench. She looks around them as they walk, watching the tourists and clubbers as they go about their business. She nods to a pair of mortals that pass them by.

“What do they smell like to you?”

GM: “What do you mean?” Dani asks as she sits down.

“I can smell their blood. That’s stronger.”

Celia: “Yes,” Celia says, nodding. “But they smell human, right? Like… prey. Food?”

GM: “It smells good, yes.”

Celia: “Okay. Now focus on me for a minute.”

GM: Dani looks at her.

Celia: Celia lets her aura drop. The thing that masks her Beast disappears between one moment and the next.

GM: “Is there something I should look for?”

Celia: “Do I smell different?”

GM: Dani pauses, leans closer, and sniffs.

“Maybe?”

Celia: “Sometimes,” Celia says slowly, choosing her words with care, “we can recognize each other on sight. The reason I’m asking is because I need to know what you can do. How much you know. So I can fill in the gaps.”

“People like us,” Celia explains, “they’re not always friendly. And if you’re caught somewhere you shouldn’t be… it can get ugly.”

GM: “Well, I guess you do smell stronger. But that might be confirmation bias, since I think that’s how you… taste, too.”

Celia: Celia nods her head. “Older blood will taste stronger. Generally.”

GM: “What do you mean, we’re not friendly? Do we have a… society?”

Celia: “Sort of. It’s like… it’s like gangs, right? The older you get the stronger you get. And the strongest are in charge most of the time. They divide up the city into little chunks and parcel it out. And it prevents chaos, so we don’t fight with each other over resources. Keeps us from feeding in the same area too often so we don’t tip off the people who shouldn’t know about us. Everything is secret.”

That’s kind of a rosy way of explaining it.

“Because there are people who want to kill people like us. Just for being what we are.”

GM: “Like… Van Helsing?” Dani asks.

Celia: “Pretty much.”

GM: “Van Helsing and his people did kill Dracula.”

Celia: “These people kill licks.”

GM: “I reread the book. Looked around on the internet. I don’t know how much of it is true and how much is just… pop culture.”

“Licks is our name for vampires?”

Celia: “I’d like to help. To fill you in. Keep you from getting in trouble.”

GM: Dani nods eagerly. “Yes, please! Whatever you can tell me. You sound like you’ve been… doing this for a while.”

Celia: “Lick is the common name. Kindred is the… eh, socially acceptable term. Lick is slang.”

GM: “I’m not sure where to start. I have so many questions…”

Celia: “All right. Well. The first rule of lick club is that you don’t talk about lick club.”

GM: “Oh. Ha. That makes sense.”

Celia: “I’m happy to answer your questions, though. And to offer you a place to hunt. And stay, if you need it.”

GM: Dani pulls up her feet onto the bench and sits cross-legged as she listens.

“Hunting is feeding, I’m guessing?”

Celia: Celia nods.

GM: “Okay, dumb question. That’s… what predators do.”

Celia: “Nah. There are some weird terms sometimes, it’s not a dumb question.”

GM: “True. I’ve mostly been hunting here, this past week. I’ve been hoping someone might come by with answers. But it’s been a week, and I’ve not seen anything.”

“I talked to the bartender and he just said he didn’t see anything. And denied spiking my drink.”

Celia: Celia is about to tell her that she doesn’t want the guy who holds the domain to find her when that bartender comment stops her in her tracks.

“What did you say to the bartender?”

GM: “I told him I thought I’d been drugged, and how I woke up in a dumpster. I didn’t say I was a vampire. But I got really in his face. He just repeated he didn’t know anything.”

Celia: “What exactly do you mean by getting in his face?”

GM: “I cornered him when he got off work, not just at the bar. I stood in front of his car door and yelled at him. He didn’t blow me off. He broke down and just said how he didn’t know anything. That he was sorry.”

“I think I did it to him. That same thing I did to the rapist.”

Celia: “It’s a useful trick.”

GM: “It’s not always useful. Sometimes I can’t do it.”

Celia: “Can you do anything else like that? Anything… unusual?”

GM: “That’s it, really. I can’t fly or turn into a bat or anything like that.”

Celia: “Ah, well, very few of us can fly.”

“How long after you woke up did you corner him?”

GM: Dani raises her eyebrows at that, but answers, “Maybe 24 hours after. I was… trying to sort my own shit out, first. And I figured he’d still be there at the club.”

Celia: Celia nods again. “What day was this?”

GM: “Sunday, technically. A Saturday late enough to bleed over into Sunday. That’s when I became a vampire.”

“So this would’ve been Monday night, AM, when I talked to the bartender.”

Celia: “All right. I have some theories, but I need to do some digging to see what else I can find. See if we can track down who did this to you and why.”

GM: “You said this was like gangs, with territory. Have I been in someone else’s…?”

Celia: “Ah, yes. But I have my own, and I’ll show you where it is, and you can feed there. Discretely.”

GM: Dani’s face flickers. “I’d also like to know. Who did this to me. I think I, that I might’ve been…”

Celia: “The guy who runs this place, though—”

She cuts off.

GM: “I woke up in a dumpster.”

Celia: “Might’ve been…?”

Don’t say raped.

GM: Dani blinks. Angrily, helplessly.

“Raped.”

Celia: “Oh, sweetheart…” Celia leans over, pulling Dani into her embrace. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry this happened to you.”

“We’ll find the bastard.”

GM: Dani breaks down crying against Celia’s shoulder.

“I… I shouldn’t have been here, drinking… fucking off law school… shows what, what I get…”

Celia: She was going to law school?

Celia’s heart clenches. She was trying to fill Stephen’s shoes.

She runs her hands up and down Dani’s back while she cries, letting her get it all out, making encouraging noises to her. Sometimes that’s all someone needs, a firm hug and a friendly ear, and Celia knows that she’s been in this position enough times to want to be able to be there for someone else. Especially Stephen’s sister. But not just because of that, no. She’d liked Dani. Really liked her. She thinks they would have been close if Celia hadn’t… died.

“I’m not going to say it’s okay,” she says quietly as she holds Dani, “because it’s not. It’s not okay what happened to you. And I hate to tell you that I… that I’ve been there, I get it. It’s awful. What some of them do, it’s awful. But we’ll get you through this. And it will be okay, even if it’s not right now.”

GM: Dani sniffs as she clings to Celia.

Sniffs, like a breather.

“Tha… thanks… I don’t, I’m not gonna let them to get away with this, it’s not right…”

Celia: “It’s not,” Celia agrees. “It’s not.”

How can she tell her?

How can she say that there might not be anything they can do… all because of what she is? Someone had called her half-human once, like an insult, because she fucks and her heart beats and she breathes without conscious effort. But that’s the Blood doing it for her, keeping her skin warm. With Dani… it’s just blood. Lowercase B. She really is half-human. At least.

She wonders if Dani even tastes like she’s human.

GM: It’d be easy to find out.

“I’m so glad… I’m so glad you’re here, Celia,” Dani sniffs, holding on to her brother’s ex. “I just felt so alone…”

Celia: “You’re not alone anymore, Dani. I’ve got you.”

GM: “I’d love, I’d love to stay and…. hunt with you, that’s really nice of you to offer…”

Celia: “Then it’s yours. Now, dry eyes.” Celia pulls back, using her fingers to wipe away the tears on Dani’s face. “Chin up. We’re in this together. Come on; I’ll show you everything.”

GM: Pinkish, half-red and half-clear tears come away under Celia’s fingers. She can smell the diluted coppery tang.

Half.

Celia: She’ll pass her off as a ghoul. She’s already working through the logistics in her mind.

GM: Dani takes a steadying breath.

“Okay… where to?”

Celia: “Down Bourbon Street. I’ll show you my clubs and explain the rules as we go, and then I’ll take you to my place. I don’t stay there every night, so you’ll have it mostly to yourself. It’s comfortable and clean and you can help yourself to my clothes. I have some ideas for you, but there are some things I need to look into as well…”

Celia rises, taking Dani’s hand once more. She gives her a squeeze that reinforces everything she just said: they’re in this together.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM

Celia: Celia talks as the girls travel down Bourbon Street. She explains the rules to Dani in as kind of language as she can find, filling her in on her new life. Unlife. Requiem. Whatever word Dani wants to use for it, but Celia provides the alternatives. She talks briefly about their society at large but most of her focus is on the city: the factions, the cold war, the way the territory is split. She’s alarmed but unsurprised to find that Dani lives in Riverbend and attends Tulane, and she makes sure to tell her that… well, that she needs to stay out of Riverbend. If Dani asks why, Celia tells her about the sheriff. She tells her about what happens to people who trespass, but how for Dani it might be worse.

There are rules, she explains, about turning someone into what they are, and it sounds like whoever did it to Dani didn’t have permission, which essentially makes her illegal. So, too, does her ability to walk in the sun. Duskborn, she says, not thin-blood, but as politely as she can she explains how others will see her.

The Quarter is safe, she tells Dani. The lord who runs the Quarter allows duskborn to settle in his domain, but everywhere else they’re hunted. If Dani makes noise about leaving the Quarter Celia quietly tells her about the massacre her friend had once witnessed, and says that getting caught is… well, she won’t have much to worry about anymore because, frankly, she’ll be dead.

She makes sure that Dani understands the severity of the situation before she moves on.

Celia takes Dani to the two clubs in her domain, Bourbon Heat and The Cat’s Meow, though they linger outside rather than going in since Dani has apparently already fed. She explains how her domain stretches down the block, that all of the residences along Orleans St, St. Peter, and Dauphine along this block are hers as well. Feeding at the club is always easiest, though.

“Except the Gardette Mansion. It’s haunted. I’d avoid it.”

At Dani’s look of interest Celia explains that they’re not the only monsters that go bump in the night. There are ghosts and werewolves (Celia calls them “loops,” like with the P at the end, which she thinks started as a joke but the term stuck so that’s what she uses now), people with magic, and more besides. Cities are safer, but even licks like them will fight and kill each other.

She warns her about feeding publicly. Warns her about cameras. Warns her about hunters, and that she was picked up by a pair at Bourbon Heat, so she’d avoid it for a week or so.

Eventually Celia takes Dani back to her place. The one she owns as Celia rather than the one she owns as Jade, since Alana might be at the latter. It’s not a large place, but it’s comfortable enough for a girl on her own, which is exactly what Dani is.

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Stocked kitchen, Celia tells her, in case she still likes normal food.

Then she has questions of her own: Dani’s plans for the future. What she’d like to do. Her address in Riverbend so that Celia can retrieve her clothes and other necessities.

GM: Dani listens attentively as she walks with Celia. She has many questions, but she lets the Toreador tell things at her own pace too. Dani does ask why she can’t go to Riverbend, citing how all of her things are there. Plus school. The factional cold war seems like a little much for her to digest at once, and she asks about the larger Camarilla (“Who’s in charge? How are they elected?”) and its laws. The bit about the Fourth Tradition hits hard. Dani does not look happy to have broken the law through her simple existence.

She’s confused as to why duskborn are so hated.

She does ask why she can’t leave the Quarter. She does appear to grasp the severity of the situation, or at least as much as anyone can who’s brand new to all of this.

“I don’t… I don’t understand. Why do they hate me just because I can walk in the sun? How can they even know I can do that, if I don’t say so?!”

Dani is thankful, at least, that Celia shows her the clubs where it’s legal to hunt. She uses that word a perhaps unsurprising number of times. “Legal.”

She is very interested to hear that monsters besides vampires are real. “So, are mummies? Aliens? Dragons? What isn’t real?”

Dani is mindful of Celia’s warning and says she’ll avoid the Bourbon Heat. There’s no reason to go there when there are other clubs.

She likes the apartment and compliments Jade on how neat, clean, and well-decorated it is.

“It’s actually nicer than my current place, so no complaints…”

Celia: Celia answers Dani’s questions as best she can. She doesn’t know about aliens—“though how could we possibly be the only life forms in the universe?”—and doesn’t think dragons are real, but she says she knows a girl who experiments with animals who might be working on one, she’s just stuck on the fire part. And the wings part.

She’s glad that Dani likes her haven, in any case, and hands her a key as they take a seat on the couch together.

As far as the duskborn, though, she doesn’t have a good answer. Honestly, sometimes… she doesn’t understand it herself. Even Roderick had a strong response. She wonders if there’s something wrong with her. If she’s broken in some regard. Or if the fact that she appears more human than she is, that her life is so tied to the mortal she used to be, keeps her mind open.

Maybe she just misses the sun on her skin.

Or maybe she needs this to work so badly with Roderick that she’s swallowing down every bit of revulsion that she feels.

Regardless of the why, the fact remains that duskborn aren’t well-received in other parts of town, and even here they’re barely tolerated. Celia tells her that she’ll work on a cover story for her. She tells her that maybe they can say she’s a ghoul. As long as she isn’t seen feeding it might be a good cover for now.

She warns her about technology, too, and to not send anything sensitive over text or email or even look it up on the internet. It can all be traced back to them, and there are… well, a lot of hunters in the city.

“How much longer do you have left in law school?” Celia wants to know.

GM: Dani looks askance at the fact duskborn are so hated.

“So why don’t I just say I can’t walk in the sun, then? Is that all it is?”

Celia: “No,” Celia says with a sigh. “It’s… you read differently. Smell differently. Like a ghoul, not a vampire. They’ll know.”

GM: “That sounds like… Jim Crow. Discrimination. Just because I can walk in the sun.”

“Worse than Jim Crow. Ethnic cleansing.”

Celia: “It’s more than that, I think. The blood is power. The closer you are to the original vampire the stronger you are. The further away, the more generations removed, the… the weaker the blood, essentially. And that’s how they all see it.”

GM: “The original vampire? How close are you?”

Celia: “Nine steps removed.”

GM: “Weaker how? How many am I?”

“Sorry, lot of questions. This is all just… so much to take in.”

Celia: “Ah… I’m… I’m not sure for you, but I can test it, if you want.”

“You could be fourteen, or… maybe fifteen.”

GM: “Those numbers don’t really mean a lot to me without any context, sorry.”

Celia: Celia reaches for her hand. “May I?”

GM: Dani nods. “Okay. Go ahead.”

Celia: Celia lowers her mouth to Dani’s wrist. Her fangs sink into her skin. She draws the blood forth. She doesn’t take much, just enough to get a taste.

GM: Dani flinches slightly, but waits to see what Celia does.

Celia: The blood touches her tongue and Celia has her answers. She licks the wound to seal her flesh back together, pulling back as the sanguine liquid slides down her throat. Thin. Nothing like her brother. Similar to a ghoul, but there’s no strength to it, no potency. And no other licks in her system, none but her. It had been a long shot, anyway, long ago as her Embrace was, and even if she had tasted someone else she might not have recognized it.

Pete could tell her, she bets.

And, perhaps most telling of all, there’s no collar that slaps into place around her neck. She hadn’t waited long enough to let it cool, a risky guess but one she wanted the answer to. And now she knows.

“You can taste the difference in the blood. Recognize what clan someone belongs to, how strong their blood is, who they’ve been feeding from recently. Things like that.”

GM: “Oh. What’d you taste from mine?”

Celia: “I… I have a friend,” Celia says slowly, “who could use a sample to maybe find out more. I don’t know how soon he can see me, but if you want I can look into it, get some decisive answers.”

“You taste like a ghoul.”

There’s not a polite way to say it.

“It’s possible you can pass for one.”

GM: “Okay, so like a black person passing for white.”

Celia: “More like a mixed person passing for white.”

GM: Dani doesn’t look happy at the idea of having to hide what she is. But also like she has has no idea why she should be offended to pass as a ghoul.

Celia: “To be honest, the fact that you can move around during the day is a boon. Other ghouls can, so it can help sell the idea. And if you want to be a lawyer you could still practice. I know it’s difficult to keep jobs for a lot of people when we have to sleep during the day.”

GM: “Okay. You did ask about that, but I’m just struggling to understand. Why do they hate me?”

Celia: “Because they’re old and awful and set in their ways.”

“Because they don’t change and can’t accept anything new.”

“Because they were born hundreds of years ago and some of them are still racist.”

“Because the idea of anything that is different than them is scary.”

“Because some of them are so old they don’t know how phones work, or how to drive.”

“And they can’t keep up with the idea of a changing world.”

“And it really just comes down to something like racism.”

“That was a pretty spot-on assessment.”

“There are clans, all sorts of clans, and some of them hate each other for no reason, and some think they’re better than the others, and everything happened so long ago that no one even has the right story and it’s ridiculous and stupid but it’s just passed on and on and on for no reason.”

“I’m sure they think they have a reason. But it’s like any white person hating any black person without knowing them. It’s just… bigotry.”

GM: “So it’s basically just… beat me to it. It sounds exactly like racism.”

Celia: “That being said, there’s someone I can talk to about this. I’m seeing him tomorrow. He might have a better answer as to the why. I can’t promise anything, but I’ll see what I can find out.”

GM: “I think they must be jealous of duskborn, is why. That we can walk in the sun and they can’t.”

Celia: “Could be.”

GM: “I don’t like this. It’s… unjust.”

Celia: Celia smiles at her.

“You sound like Stephen.”

GM: Dani smiles back. A little sadly, but there’s fondness in it.

“I guess I do.”

“I miss him.”

Celia: “I imagine losing him was hard. On you and your dad.”

GM: “It was. My dad… God, I don’t know how it didn’t destroy him. It nearly did.”

“I’ve gotten over it. I’ll always miss and remember Stephen, but I’ve moved past it.”

“My dad never has. I don’t think he ever will.”

Celia: “Parents shouldn’t bury their children.”

GM: “Stephen was just… his everything. Everything in our family’s past, everything in its future.”

Celia: “I know,” Celia says to her, “I know. I thought that same thing, when I heard. We’d talked about it. How… how he wanted to carry on the family line, continue the work of his father and grandfather. How our kids would…”

She cuts off, shaking her head.

She would have married him. Had children with him. Watched them grow up to be just like him. They could have had that. And now they’re both dead. And Dani is dead, or half-dead, or something, and their dad… their dad is all alone.

She wipes at her eyes. This isn’t about her. Or Stephen.

GM: Dani squeezes Celia’s shoulder.

“Yeah. He wanted that too.”

Celia: “I’ve adapted, you know. Got used to it. Like you, I didn’t have a choice. And I’m happy most of the time. But… Christ, do I hate them for what they took from me. I remember those first nights. Hearing him on the phone, not able to understand why I couldn’t see him. And leaving him. Breaking his heart. I was… I couldn’t stop crying. Two nights, three nights before I died, we’d finally said it, you know? That we loved each other. And then it was over. I was dead. Then he…”

“And no one on this side cares what your life was, not unless they can use it against you somehow, so there was no one to talk to about it.”

“Sorry. This… not about me, sorry.”

GM: Dani hugs her.

“I’m sorry. It sounds like… it sounds like you didn’t want to hurt him. That means something.”

“It does. It really does.”

Celia: “I hated myself for what I did to him. I still do sometimes. It creeps up on me.”

GM: “It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t have a choice.”

Celia: It almost comes pouring out of her then: how she’d thought she was making things right when she’d been snatched up and killed. But the words die in her throat, and she just nods her head, hugging Dani close to her. She doesn’t sniff, not like Dani had.

“I’m sorry it happened to you this way,” Celia finally says, pulling back. “I’ll find answers for you, see what else can be done. Right now the safest place is the Quarter, though, and… I mean, your status aside, it’s the best feeding in the city, so that’s good at least. Lots to do and see. If you don’t have a Beast it’s safer for you to be around people, too. Maybe convince your dad to move to the Quarter?”

GM: “That… might be hard. He doesn’t really have a reason to, does he?”

“Unless we tell him the truth. He was a federal prosecutor, he won’t blab. He can keep secrets.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“You can’t tell anyone. Ever. If you do, they die, you die. It’s not my rule, it’s just how it is. There are people who make sure that you don’t talk. They’ve got eyes and ears everywhere.”

GM: “They can’t know everything.”

Celia: “You’d be surprised.”

“Don’t tell him. Put him off for now if he wants to see you. Make excuses for your classes. Let me talk to a few people, see what arrangements I can make.”

None with her sire, she already knows that much.

There’s no way he’d let her in.

Celia: “It can be problematic if you don’t have a way to hide. None of the licks know me as Celia. Fake names, all sorts of stuff.”

GM: “He… told me a lot, by the way. About your mom and dad…” Dani’s face turns sympathetic.

Celia: “He helped my mom and I out of a really bad situation. I don’t know that I’d have had the strength to leave without him.”

GM: “I’m glad he was able to do that. That’s what he and Dad always wanted him to do. Make things right through the law.”

Celia: The law hadn’t really helped much, not with Maxen.

Though she supposes some of that is on her.

Warning her sire. Selling out her family.

GM: “It’s… it might mean a lot to my dad, to hear from you that there’s more to the story, and that Stephen helped your family.”

Celia: “Do you want to know something silly?”

“Stephen and I used to talk about getting our parents together. Your dad and my mom.”

GM: Dani laughs. “Cue a bunch of ‘what are you doing, stepbro’ memes, I guess.”

“That’s sweet of him, though. He really did just want to make people’s lives better.”

Celia: Celia can’t help but laugh along with her.

“I said the same thing when he brought it up. I can talk to your dad, though. We can just say we ran into each other. I can’t tell him the full story, not about being a vampire, but I’d be happy to talk to him again. I really liked your family. That first dinner we had together… well, Stephen told you. Dinner wasn’t like that at my house.”

GM: “He did tell me that. The worst dinner of his life, he called it.”

Celia: “It was bad.”

“Is your dad still in Uptown?”

GM: Dani nods. “He still is. He keeps saying the house is too big for him, though. He’d wanted to pass it to Stephen, when… when I guess the two of you had kids.”

Celia: Celia swallows.

“That would have been really nice of him. I would have liked that. We both would have.”

GM: “I think he still wants to do that for me, at least, when I do.”

Celia: “I’ll talk to the regent. See if I can arrange to visit. Or maybe we can have your dad come here, that might be easier.”

GM: “I could call him. He’s really busy, usually, but he’d make time for Stephen.”

Celia: “That works. We can set something up.” Celia glances at the time.

GM: Definitely too late to talk to the man, but there are some hours in the night remaining.

Celia: “Probably wait until tomorrow.”

GM: “That still seems so weird you need to talk to a…. regent, just to see someone.”

Celia: “It’s not ideal. I used to think ‘hello yes you’re an immortal vampire now, please stay inside the lines.’ But they’re very… strict. You’d be killed.”

“The one where your dad lives is, uh… he was one of the licks who helped kill all those duskborn I told you about. Was happy to do it.”

“Not everyone is bad, but some of them really are monsters.”

GM: Dani shakes her head. “I still can’t believe that’s a thing.”

Celia: “It’s a big change from what you’re used to.”

GM: “Why the fuck do they hate us, just for not combusting in the sun?”

Celia: “Because they’re a bunch of assholes.”

GM: “I mean, sure, jealousy, but what you’re talking about… I just can’t picture it.”

Celia: “It’s like any culture. They marginalize what is different. What they don’t understand.”

GM: “I don’t know what I want to do, if I have forever, but I’d like to change that. It isn’t fair. It isn’t just.”

Celia: “There are a lot of people who agree with you. And you’re right. You shouldn’t be persecuted because of an accident of Embrace. It’s backwards thinking. But you have to keep in mind these people don’t change. Hundreds or thousands of years old, they’re the ones making the rules. And if you do something the wrong way, if you voice something the wrong way, if you don’t address them with the proper title, they’ll use it as an excuse to berate, hit, torture, kill.”

“I was late to an event this evening. Five minutes or so. And the looks I got?” Celia shakes her head.

“I got caught somewhere I shouldn’t be earlier this week. The person who caught me threw my mom off a roof. Told me to catch.”

GM: “What? Oh my god, did you?!”

Celia: “Yes. She’s fine.”

GM: “That… doesn’t sound fine.”

“Does she know about vampires, now? What you are?”

Celia: “No. The person who did it altered her memories. She can’t know. If she knew, she’d die. I’d die.”

GM: “What about if I want to have a husband? Kids?”

Celia: There’s silence for a beat. Can thin-bloods have kids? Her heart still beats, but…

“Vampires can’t have kids. And if you take a husband it would need to be someone who knows. Another vampire. But they don’t really marry, not like that. They have blood marriages, but it’s… the whole thing is kind of weird. We take lovers. But not really husbands.”

GM: Dani takes that in slowly.

“Why not? And we… we really can’t have kids?”

Celia: “It’s a different culture. Like if you went to Africa or Russia.”

GM: “I’m pretty sure I want them, some day.”

“Not right now, obviously, but I do.”

Celia: “So. I’ll be honest. Your kind, the duskborn, they’re new. Not a lot is known about them. I can’t have kids. My body is dead. But you still breathe, still have a heartbeat, still taste almost human. I can look into it, see what information I can find. We can run some tests on you, see what you’re capable of. I think you need to know anyway. I have some theories, but nothing proven.”

“That being said, socially, keeping a human family is very, very frowned on. If the wrong people knew about mine they’d be killed, maybe. For various reasons.”

GM: Dani looks relieved. “Okay. Like I said, not something I’m worrying about right now, but that’d be nice to know.”

“But that’s ridiculous. Keeping a family is… it’s an intrinsic right.”

“There was this court case, actually. About a deadbeat daddy who kept having kids with more and more women, and who never paid child support. He had an insane number of kids.”

“A judge ruled that he couldn’t have more until he coughed up child support for the ones he’d already had. But a higher court overturned the ruling. The right to reproduce and make babies was a fundamental human right.”

“They could throw him in jail if he didn’t pay child support, but they couldn’t order him to stop having kids. Not even being able to have a family is simply insane.”

Celia: There are plenty of people Celia thinks shouldn’t be breeding.

“Hard to have kids in jail. But I believe it. And I get it. You have to understand, though, things are different in this life. There’s no court. No arguing your case. The guy in charge says you’re guilty? You’re guilty. He kills you. Done.”

“I’ve been nice to you. I know you. And I’m not a monster. But if the guy who owned the club you were at found you? He’d have taken your head. At least.”

“And he’s not even the worst of them.”

“That’s also part of why we left. He and I are friendly, but if he’d caught me there I’d have been in trouble too.”

GM: Dani slowly shakes her head disbelievingly. “You said there were laws, with the Traditions. There has to be a channel through which to settle legal questions and to revise and update laws as needed.”

Celia: “There’s not.”

“The Traditions keep the powerful people powerful. That’s all they care about. All they respect.”

GM: “But that isn’t how the law works. Even Roman law, two thousand years ago… you had lawyers. You had magistrates. The law is an imperfect and constantly evolving body.”

Celia: “To humans.”

“Because humans change. Adapt. Vampires don’t. It’s static.”

GM: “If you don’t have that, what you’re describing sounds more like… gang rules than actual laws. A code of behavior that’s completely arbitrary and up to the whims of whoever’s enforcing it.”

Celia: “We’re not human anymore. Some of them get offended if you call them man or woman. We’re vampires. That’s it. Corpses. Dead. Sexless.”

GM: “That’s also stupid. I’m still a woman. You even say I might be able to have kids, and you don’t get much more womanly than that.”

“And, okay, even if I can’t, a woman is more than her uterus.”

Celia: “You’re thinking about it from your human perspective. What you think of as normal isn’t normal all over the world. Some places there’s still slavery, women are castrated, are seen as property. Language is different. Food is different. Religion is different. Look at any culture and you’ll see that. Even basic human biological needs: here in the States we have whole rooms devoted to using the bathroom. Some cultures just do it out in the open, right in the street. It’s not weird to them because it’s what they know. There’s no universal ‘normal.’ It’s all relative.”

“And now you’re part of a new culture. It’s enculturation. Growing up to think that what you know is normal.”

“And it’s not wrong, not morally. That’s how humans live. But we have our own culture with our own rules. And the people who don’t support what’s already in power are marginalized. Killed. Exiled. Et cetera.”

“So the Traditions… they’re put in place and maintained by the rich white men of America, basically. If you need a comparison. And you’re a poor black lady.”

Not even that.

Maybe a dog.

GM: Dani doesn’t look terribly happy at that.

In fairness, the kine are animals. Literal cattle. Thin-bloods and ghouls are a step up.

But only one step.

“All of this sounds wrong. Everything about the society you’ve described.”

“Does it do anything good?”

Celia: No.

GM: It’s kept her posh and comfortable.

Celia: “There are people who are good. Who fight for change and equality.”

“Who want better for everyone.”

GM: “Are you one of them?”

Celia: “I’d like to think so. I could have killed you and no one would have stopped me. I try not to hurt people.”

GM: “Well, I’m glad you didn’t kill me.”

Celia: “But even the people in charge of those people, the ones who fight for change, only want some change. They set up that slaughter. They’d sell you out if it suits them.”

GM: “They don’t sound like they actually want change, then. Or they only want change for themselves. Sort of like how a lot of Second Wave feminist leaders were white and didn’t want to be associated with black feminists.”

“I’d like to meet some of those licks, anyway. Who want actual change that applies to duskborn too.”

Celia: “I’ll see what I can do. A lot of them are pretty quiet about it.”

GM: Dani nods. “Okay. And thanks. I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at this system you’ve described.”

Celia: “I know. I get it. I would be too. I was for a long time.”

“The people in charge play games with people like us. Younger licks.”

GM: It helped that she benefited from the system. Strong-blooded Toreaor childe of a harpy like her.

Celia: It did help.

But she doesn’t rub it in.

“Stupid games because they’re petty.”

Besides, she thinks that being Savoy’s lapcat has done more for her than being Veronica’s childe.

GM: “I guess that’s what people in charge will always do, even if it’s worse here.”

Celia: She’s glad Roderick had his meltdown when Dani wasn’t around to see.

GM: “Hey. This might seem silly, but do you want to take a picture?” Dani smiles.

Celia: “That might not be a good idea. Your face isn’t going to change as you age. Staying out of photos should start now.”

GM: “Oh.” Dani looks disappointed. “But it has been just a week, and you’re on social media…?”

“Please? You’ve been so nice, you’re my brother’s girlfriend, and I’d really, really like to have something of us together here.”

Celia: What’s the worst that happens?

Dani gets found out as a thin-blood. They trace her back to Celia. Celia’s identity is blown. Someone kills her family. Someone kills her. Hunters tear her apart, or make her watch them kill Roderick, or…

Any number of things, really.

But she runs that risk already, doesn’t she?

GM: “I could keep it off social media. I’d just send it to you and my dad.”

“Or just you, if you’d rather talk to him first.”

Celia: “Okay,” Celia finally says with a smile. “Sorry, I know I sound paranoid. Sometimes we come out wrong in photos.”

GM: “Oh, it’s okay, all of this does sound really serious. I guess you’re used to being safe and not sorry. But, anyway!” Dani fishes out her phone from her purse, wraps an arm around Celia’s shoulder, holds up the phone, and smiles towards it. The device gives a click. She takes a couple photos, moving the camera for each one.

Celia: Celia reminds her to keep her lips together to hide her fangs. After that she smiles for the camera, making sure she’ll show up properly.

GM: Dani licks her teeth and says she doesn’t feel any. “They sort of just… appear, sometimes, when I get ‘in the mood.’ I guess like a boner.”

Celia: “That’s their term for it when they get turned on. Boner.”

GM: “That’s hilarious.”

Celia: “I thought so too.”

“I’ve seen duskborn with permanent fangs. You’re lucky yours hide.”

GM: “That does sound pretty inconvenient,” Dani frowns. “What’s your number?”

Celia: Celia gives it to her.

“Don’t send anything sensitive over text. The photo is fine. But no talk of vampires.” Celia had already told her, but she needs to make sure that Dani understands.

GM: Dani nods. “Okay, no vampires. These two came out crappy, but the others are good.”

Stephen’s sister taps off a text. The photos ping up on Celia’s phone. They show her and Dani sitting on the couch, the latter still in her club clothes sans boots. Her face and makeup look worn as if from a long night out, and perhaps even like they’ve shared something significant. But the photos are happy ones, showing the two with their arms around each others’ shoulders as they smile up at the camera like a pair of 20something breather girls.

They look like friends and equals, not a thin-blood and a true-blood.

Celia: Celia grins down at the photos. She’s happy she found Dani this evening, that she could give her a warmer welcome into the all-night society than she would have received from someone else. She’s pleased she has enough territory to share; she’ll just rely on her business a little more, feed from a few more clients to make up for the lack of hunting. And now Dani has someone that Celia thinks she desperately needed.

Maybe, she thinks, this can work. Maybe it won’t all blow up in her face.


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Story Twelve, Emmett XII, Lamarck II

“I am certain you are eager to claim your reward.”
Abélia Devillers


Date ?

GM: Em’s been to Clay Square a literal lifetime ago with Cécilia. It’s a tiny, block-sized park in the Garden District that consists of a green field surrounded by trees and an iron fence. There’s a few benches and tables to relax and enjoy picnics at.

There’s a children’s playground, too, and a paved area to play sports on. Cécilia thought it was romantic to do that ‘too-old couple playing on the swings’ scene.

On the other side, everything is shittier. The withered grass is dry and lifeless. The trees are barren. Anything metal is rusted, pitted, and bent out of shape. The catcher’s enclosure, or whatever the fuck it’s called (Em wasn’t big on sports) looks like a hungrily yawning maw.

Rain starts to fall from the black sky. It batters relentlessly against his corpus, but Em doesn’t feel cold. His legs don’t feel sore. He doesn’t feel hungry. He doesn’t feel like taking a piss.

He doesn’t feel anything.

He’s not sure how much time passes. It feels like a while. It might be an hour. It might two hours. It might be twelve hours. He supposes time doesn’t matter as much when you’re dead.

The dead have nothing but time.

Emmett: Em enjoys these moments of silence. He didn’t have many of them when he was alive, and now his existence is such that they are his only luxury. Well, not his only luxury.

He has the dreams.

Em doesn’t know either when he realized that’s what they are, the phantom FX he can conjure on a whim. But that’s really the only way to describe how he conjures them. He dreams, and his dreams make themselves seen.

He measures the time in stories, now, half-imagined fantasies and fancies that he makes swirl around him. There a couple dance, the prince dark and cackling, the princess grinning and fanged.

GM: He does have so many to choose from.

Tall and blonde? Darker and shorter? Dusky-skinned and poison-eyed?

Emmett: None of these. Frankly, the princess looks more like him, which he’d rather not think too hard about.

Other stories abound. He does not focus too hard on any one of them, and so the gloom of the Shadowlands about him is suffused with the endlessly shifting story-lights, all greens and purples and golds, Mardi Gras decorations given shadowy life.

The stories are not easy to follow. They don’t have to be; he is the audience. When he was a child, he could sometimes spend hours in a daydream, perfect loops of fantasy and meaning that he could not separate from himself until somebody said his name and the bubble popped, the dream vanished.

This is no different than that, really. There a ghost outwits a vampire. Here a father embraces his son. There a hitman sticks his gun in his mouth as (for convoluted reasons Em hasn’t entirely thought out) his enemies conspire to keep him alive.

A dozen idiot, ignoble stories. Smears of color in an ugly, corpse-colored world.

He’s still there when they come upon him, floating cross-legged in a mist of fantasy and idle nightmare.

His expression is almost peaceful.

Casket-ready.

GM: Applause echoes through the gloom.

Rain and fog part to reveal Doc Brown’s grinning face. Ectoplasmic blood leaks down his torn-open throat. He claps his hands as the illusions play out, spots of color in an afterlife of cheerless blacks and grays.

“Isn’t this a pretty little show! There’s just nothing like a splash of color in a world with so little, now is there, Emmett?”

Emmett: He shrugs as he rises himself. “We all do what we do. You bring the merchandise?”

GM: “We all try to bring a little cheer wherever we can,” the doctor agrees, smiling widely. “I tried to bring some to your bedside when I treated you, you know! Research shows patients in happier moods recover faster and more fully.”

The sounds of footsteps and the clink of chains grow audible past the downpour. Along with moans.

Emmett: “I remember.”

Stop smiling.

GM: Em sees the first of them, a broken-looking man with vacant eyes, and an iron collar fastened around his neck. Chains link it to another collar and another broken soul behind him, another man whose mouth has been… Em can only describe it as fused shut. His eyes are numb with despair. Another chain followers behind his collar. It links to another, and another behind it. As the shuffling line of thralls emerges from the fog, Em can see over a dozen souls held in bondage, all told. Some are men. Some are women. Some are men. Some are young. Some are old. One looks no older than 12. Some have had their hands chopped off. Some have had their mouths and eyes fused shut. But most numbly shuffle along without any visible restraints save for the collars and chains. Bob and Mark stroll along their sides, armed with long knives.

“Oh, I’d be surprised if you remembered everything,” the dead doctor winks.

“And here they are! I suppose you should lead the way, Emmett. Where are we headed to this merry night?”

Emmett: He gets to his feet and starts to walk, smiling vaguely.

As they proceed into the Garden District, past ruined villas and manors, Em asks, “What don’t I remember, Jared?”

GM: They are already in the Garden District, but Em’s path starts to carry them to 1415 Third Street. The softly moaning convoy follows behind them, chains clinking in its wake.

Doc Brown just grins. “You were in and out of it. And out of it for quite a bit. The hospital staff can get very playful!”

Emmett: “Including you? You always had a bit of a reputation for, ah, playfulness.”

They’re close, now. Em keeps his mind on maintaining a leisurely pace, on leading his fellow dead to their doom as calmly as possible.

Plus, he’d like to get a straight answer before Brown becomes chow.

GM: The doctor chuckles. “My goodness no, Emmett! You did have AIDS, after all. I certainly didn’t want to risk catching that. No, the two of us had to have fun in other ways.”

Emmett: “Don’t get prudish with the details now, doctor. We’re no longer in the flesh.”

Just around the corner, now.

GM: “That’s right, Emmett,” the forever-bleeding doctor grins, his dark eyes twinkling.

“We’re so much more.”

Suddenly, the fog stirs like a monster’s exhaling breath. Mark and Bob grasp their weapons.

A pained, inhumanly low noise as though the earth were screaming splits the air. They come out of nowhere. At least half a dozen figures, gaunt of figure and grim of visage, with cruel-looking weapons drawn at the wraiths. They emerge from patches of solid midnight, dark shadows clinging to them like cobwebs.

“Make this easy and you’ll be thralls. Make this hard and you’ll be soulslag,” sneers one of the figures.

“Look at ‘em all! We’ve hit jackpot!” whoops another one.

Emmett: Em keeps his calm, though it’s touch and go for a moment. A glance at Jared tells him the doctor isn’t surprised.

“You know these gentlemen, Jared?”

GM: Doc Brown’s smile notably dips.

“I can’t say that I do, but I suppose it’s no shocker someone would want to rob this many thralls.”

Emmett: He nods, then raises his voice.

“Howdy there. Whom do I have the honor of addressing?”

Egotistic pricks love the whom. Really gets their dicks hard.

GM: Outnumbered at least three to do one, Bob drops his weapon in seeming surrender. Mark sprouts molting wings and takes to the air. Several of the figures collide into him like flashes of dark lightning. He hits the ground hard, but Em can’t see what happens next as the shadowy figures fan out around Em and Doc Brown, attempting to shove them to their knees. Two other pry open steel collars. Soft moans waft up from them.

One of the figures walks up close to Em.

Real close.

The shadows run off his face like water. Em sees a slashed-open, bleeding throat. Like Doc Brown’s, but neater and tidier.

Along with a familiar face.

“Still honored, cuz?”

Jermaine.jpg
Emmett: Hey, Gasper. Can you talk to his Shadow and find out what our cousin needs more than anything right now? I’ll make you stronger for it.

“Jermaine,” Em says out loud. “I’m honored by my luck. Small underworld, huh?It’s been a while, cousin.”

GM: “Pretty big, actually,” his cousin replies with a mean smile.

“Bet you’re wondering why you’re running into me here.”

He holds up a forestalling hand to the shade with the collar, but the kneeling Em and Doc Brown are swiftly surrounded by Jermaine’s apparent friends.

“Well, you’ve been wandering all over the afterlife like an asshole. I thought about just jumping you, the first time I saw you.”

“But that lacked something. Being dead’s taught me to be patient. And I thought, what kind of man is my cousin?”

Emmett: “A forgivable man?”

GM: “I guess we’ll see how forgiving you are in a bit.”

There’s that same iron-hard and iron-sharp smile.

“But my cousin’s always got a hustle going. He’s always running some kind of score.”

“I waited. And you led me right here.”

His eyes sweep out across the mass of chained thralls.

“What a score. Whole shipment of Hierarchy thralls.”

Yawn. I’m already gonna be the strongest Shadow in the Underworld after you feed all those assholes to dear Maman.

Emmett: Sure, but that only happens if this conversation goes the way it needs to.

“Not compared to what we were about to spring,” Em replies. “The thralls are just the buy-in to a much, much bigger game.”

He spreads his arms, as if to welcome a hug.

GM: Oh, you’ll find a way, Emmett. You always do. I’m gonna need more than ‘make you stronger.’

“Really,” says Jermaine.

His cousin doesn’t look in a very hug-giving mood.

Emmett: That’s preposterous. Everybody wants a hug.

Still, he folds his arms. “Well, if you want to be skeptical about it, that’s fine, but I’ll tell you the same thing I told these fine reapers,” Em says, flourishing his arms from the ground, his palms open and appeasing. “There’s a woman who has more oboli than you could stuff in a fridge, just aways down the road. 1415 Third Street, actually. You ever been?”

GM: “Suppose I may in a bit,” says Jermaine.

“They must’ve been about to sell her those thralls,” says one of the other figures.

“Could do that ourselves,” says another.

“Or just take her oboli and keep the thralls.” A third.

Emmett: Em gives him a pair of finger-guns.

Timeless.

“She’s expecting me. I’ll be happy to introduce you. Help you take her by surprise. And maybe, in return, you could keep my share of the take, seeing as how we’re both victims of circumstance, ultimately.”

It was very circumstantial, your murder.

GM: “How convenient,” Jermaine says flatly.

“How about your friends here?”

Doc Brown’s smile looks more entreating than sinister.

Emmett: Em studies the nails on his dead man’s hand. The few of them that remain, anyways.

“Well, that depends on who you work for, Jay. That, and how they feel about the Hierarchy.”

GM: “I work for the same guy I’ve always worked for, cuz.”

“Me.”

Emmett: “Wouldn’t have it any other way. What do you think of the Hierarchy, boss-man?”

GM: “Hmm. So we can let go four wraiths, who I’m sure will be happy to get robbed in return for not getting slapped with Nhudri’s embrace.”

“Or we can just collar them and sell them without any risk of getting stabbed in the back.”

“Try harder, cuz.”

Em sees it in his eyes.

Jermaine is enjoying this.

Watching him squirm.

Watching him try to talk his way out of trouble.

Emmett: “Who said anything about letting us go? I’m just saying we’re wasted as thralls. I’m more the kind of help you employ. Look, I’ll make you a bet. You like bets, right?”

GM: “When the odds favor me.”

Emmett: “Okay, well, let me give you a win-win. Let me show you to the place. We’re not ten minutes from it. I won’t bolt, we both know I wouldn’t make it around the corner with this many guys on us. I’ll bring you to the lady these upstanding gentlemen had decided to rob. We’re on good terms, and she’s loaded—and she’s looking for friends on this side of the Shadowlands. Let me introduce you. If you don’t make more oboli from shaking her down than you would a few extra thralls, I’ll give you something more valuable to you, still. The name of the bitch that made me kill you, and how you can find her. And, you know, you’ll enslave me and cut off little bits of my corpus and feed them to me, and all that.”

“But, if I win, and you admit you’re satisfied, then I’m not your enemy. I’m your second. Your personal Sandman. And then I can start making you lots, and lots, and lots of money.”

He’s so close. So close to getting them where he needs them.

He only needs his cousin to bite.

GM: Jermaine stares at him.

He doesn’t smile.

Em probably can’t make him any less pissed off about his own death.

But directing that anger onto something else? Someone else?

That he can do.

That’s something he knows how to do very well.

He spent his whole life (or at least adolescence) pouring self-hate into external hate, after all.

His cousin extends a wordless hand to the prone wraith.

Emmett: Em takes it.

As he rises, he glances at Jared and happens to catch his eyes.

“Oh, and these lot have a whistle on them that summons legionaries, I’d get that off them, Jared over there looks very… whistley.”

GM: Doc Brown chuckles.

“My goodness, Emmett. Those things do have a limited range, you know.”

“But I suppose while we’re speaking of legionnaires… "

“Collar them. Now,” snaps Jermaine.

Suddenly, dark shapes materialize from the fog.

They’re humanoid shapes, garbed in heavy gray clothing under armor resembling that of the Roman legions. Their helmets mimic human skulls. Cruel-looking swords bristle from their arms.

Wordless war cries go up from both sides. Blades flash, biting deep into spectral flesh. Jermaine’s sword sends a legionnaire’s head tumbling from his shoulders. Doc Brown stabs his hands into a wraith’s face, laughing as the corpus comes apart in oozing chunks. The one menacing Bob gets basted off his feet by an unseen force. Mark vanishes into a patch of shadow, then reappears behind one of Jermaine’s crew, knife slashing across the wraith’s throat.

A few ghosts in the mass of bound thralls try to run, tugging desperately at their chains, shouting for the others to make a break for it. Many just stand there apathetically, literal dead weight against their fellows, but the chained mass starts to sluggishly move away.

Emmett: Em, for his part, works to ensure both that Jermaine’s team comes out ahead, and that the huddled masses stay conveniently in place. A nightmare mass of glaring, spectral eyes and fanged mouths straight out of a horror game (Domestic Wickedness 3: The Blob-Things, to be exact) burrows from the ground and scatters the encroaching legionnaires, allowing Jermaine’s crew with their lesser numbers to regroup. Then said blob menaces the straggling thralls, making them stumble over and entangle each other in blind panic.

Nothing’s ever allowed to just work, is it?

GM: Em’s conjured nightmare conjures dread indeed among the thralls. The ones trying to escape shriek with terror at the sight of it and try to flee back the other direction. With the battling wraiths behind them, and the weight of their more apathetic members dragging the more animated ones down, the desperate mass of damned souls gets nowhere fast.

Jermaine’s outnumbered crew, however, fares worse against the Hierarchy’s legions. Ear-splitting shrieks split the gloom, loud enough to make Em feel like his head will explode. Blood rains from the sky, melting corpus on contact. The wraiths on both sides are relentless warriors, fighting past gaping wounds, past loss of their limbs, past all the frailties of living bodies. There’s one particularly vicious Hierarchy wraith, adorned in a featureless steel mask, whose sword cuts down three of Jermaine’s crew. Shrieking black voids yawn up to swallow most of the defeated, though a few collapse to the ground and writhe with pain as their foes clamp collars around their necks. The battle comes to an end when Jermaine gives it up and dives into a shadow.

Emmett: It’s not the first battle he’s been in the middle of.

It is the messiest, though. His corpus drips with ectoplasmic ichor. He weaves and floats and dances among from the carnage, his only priority his survival and not letting that steel-faced brute catch him; the featureless figure seems to be looking at him intently, for some reason.

Probably jealousy. It’s often jealousy.

GM: “Don’t go a-running now, Emmett! We still need to meet the nice lady together!” smiles Doc Brown as the masked legionnaire lunges after Em with a collar.

He can try to still deliver the Hierarchy to Abélia in chains.

Or he can flee a free man.

Lamarck: There’s no such thing as an easy come up, but why does it always end up like this around him. Ever blood-soaked, ever spiraling further into madness. Death sacrificing death. He can see it all, the brutal slaughter, the gory explosions of wraithly forms, the terrible pull of the nihils on the bodies of his fallen combatants. No one could blame him for losing his focus in the tempest.

But in this darkest, most important of moments, his sight becomes as sharp as any one of the Hierarchy’s soulforged daggers.

And in the crystal clarity he sees one of Jermaine’s men with fury in his eyes staring directly at him. He’s a boulder of a man, and his black, veil-like clothing is draped over stone-grey muscles that shift like quaking tectonic plates as he takes a thunderous step forward in the carnage.

The hulk of a wraith opens his gorilla-like maw and starts to roar something at Emmett, ectoplasmic spittle already hitting his face, and then he is silent.

The eyes of the tank go painfully wide as his jaw drops and two ectoplasm-soaked blades stab through his gut and pull up, tearing through his dead entrails. The blades stab in and out of his form again and again, tearing two windows through the dead man’s insides.

The gore-spattered blades run him through and through, and then they go further, and they don’t end at hilts but arms, which stretch out a man-sized hole in the unfortunate wraith. The blade-handed man crawls like devilspawn out of his womb, and stands proud in the dead corpse, grasping a length of its intestines and biting into his trophy.

As he steps past the soon-opening oversized nihil that the corpse falls into, not seeming to notice the dead conman, Emmett catches a view of the mad butcher’s blood-soaked face.

It couldn’t be. But it has to be. He wears the same predatory grin he did when Emmett put on that terrible collar.

He’s back.

Pic.jpg
Emmett: When it’s all over, though, he can count. It’s five against one.

Oh, and Lamarck. Because why not. He accepted long ago that God, fate, the universe, whatever, was determined to quash his hopes and dreams.

“Let’s talk about this,” Em says, and then the collar snaps shut around his neck.

GM: The pain is as horrific as it was last time. Searing hot flames and powerful surges of numbing cold rip simultaneously through his mind and corpus. Even his Shadow screams inside his head. A shrill chorus of agonized shrieks seems to simultaneously ring from the collar’s dull surface.

“Ah, today is a good day! So many new thralls!” smiles Doc Brown.

Emmett: He screams.

A part of him knows he deserves it.

GM: “I presume you’ll want this one for yourself, sir,” the doctor addresses the masked wraith.

Emmett: “Marck,” he gasps, at some point in between the screams. “’La… Marck. The… collar. I took off… your… collar. Chains. Not collar. Please.”

GM: The masked wraith doesn’t say anything. Just folds his arms and stares at Em.

Bob laughs and glances at Lam.

“This one stole every artifact to your name, didn’t you say?”

Emmett: “Spared… the… collar.”

Lamarck: The ectoplasm-soaked butcher’s boots squelch against the wet ground as he lands his gaze on Emmett. He smiles sickly, sharpening the blades extending off his arms against each other. The metal shrieks.

Bob’s words don’t seem to affect him, perhaps it’s all water under the bridge.

“Zis von, ist very klever. Very klever in-deed.”

Lamarck frowns.

“But terribly foolish. And so green. I vould hef had gut use for you too, Emmett, but ze commander insisted. You vould hef made gut entertainment, zandmann.”

Emmett: Ah, well. Worth a shot.

OhjesusfuckthePAIN.

A distant corner of his soul, untouched by the freezing agony, watches. And waits.

Waits for them to make him walk, and lead them to their doom.

GM: The masked wraith brushes a hand against Emmett’s cheek, almost tenderly. Em feels wet ectoplasmic blood against his skin, from the taller figure’s glove. It doesn’t smell like any blood he’s been around before. It doesn’t smell like anything.

Emmett: Bad touch, he would say if he wasn’t screaming.

But he is, sadly, screaming.

“CUUUUUUUUUUUUNNNTfuckkIKeChrIST!”

GM: There’s soft laughter at his cries. Then the figure takes off the skull-patterned mask.

He smiles fondly. Like a father being reunited with a long-lost son.

Or a daughter.

“Hello, Em.”

Pic.jpg
Emmett: Called it, Em thinks.

Out loud, he says, “FUCKUNTABITCH!”

GM: Em would say his former john looks good, but he doesn’t. He looks dead.

“My sweet little boywhore,” he murmurs, pulling Em into an embrace that’s almost warm. Em feels too-cold steel against his chest as Mark brushes a hand through his hair.

“I’ve missed you so much.”

“I’ve spent seven years thinking of you.”

“Thinking of the things I’m going to do to you.”

“There are so many, many things.”

“I’d say I don’t even know where to start, but I do. I’ve spent seven years thinking about where we’re going to start.”

Emmett: At least now he knows that if he doesn’t pull this off, he’ll literally be a sex slave. Nothing like a good incentive.

Em looks to Doc Brown. “Rich… make you… rich.”

GM: The doc just laughs. Rivulets of ectoplasmic skin and fat run down his chin, mingling with the blood spurting from his slashed throat. He hasn’t even bothered to clean it off.

“Oh, we’re all going to come out of this rich, all right.”

“First, we’re going to visit the masquers,” says Stines. “There are some really good ones in the necropolis here. They’re going to give you an enormous pair of tits. Just enormous. They’ll be so heavy you can’t even walk with a straight back. They’ll give you long hair, makeup, giant eyelashes, fat dicksucking lips, the whole nine yards. They’ll also get rid of those clothes you have on, and replace them with something frilly and lacy that ends with a skirt, which they’ll fuse to your skin. I’m going to tell them to make the entire moliating process as long and painful as possible. They’ll be able to make it very painful, though not as much as what comes next.”

“All of that will just be the appetizer.”

Lamarck: Lamarck shakes his head at Emmett’s vulgarity with a smile that carries a certain almost paternal pride. Boys will be boys. And what’s the harm when the boy is under excruciating, debilitating pain?

But when the commander starts talking, his expression shifts, like that of a child taking their first bite out of a lemon their their parents promised would be sweet as sugar. No one cleared him on these details, it seems. He holds his tongue for the moment, but his grin transfigures into a grimace. Before the commander looks back, he hides his disgust behind his dead stare.

Emmett: Talk, talk, talk. Em doesn’t bother to listen to it. If it ends up happening, he won’t need to spoilers, and if it doesn’t, he’d rather not know to begin with.

Plus, well.

The pain.

“CooWFuckerKIKE!”

GM: Stines just smiles and pulls back, brushing Emmett’s cheek again.

“Because once you’re dolled up, once we’ve got you looking ready for one of our dates again—and you’re going to look like that forever, the process is permanent—we’re going to visit the soulforges, you and I. I’m going chain you down to a low table, with your legs spread, and stick your dick right into those furious white flames. The artificers will get to work with their hammers and anvils, and they’ll forge it into a little keepsake for me, while it’s still attached to you. They’ll only slice it off at the very end. Do you have any idea how painful that process is? Just any idea? Getting your attached penis soulforged is most painful thing I could think of to do to you, and I’ve spent seven years thinking of painful things to do to you.”

“That little keepsake made from your dick is going to be a collar, by the way. Just like this one, and just as painful. But it’ll have a little tag that reads ‘Mark Stines’ pet bitch.’ Or maybe ‘dicksucking faggotgirl.’ I actually haven’t decided. It won’t even come with a lock. I’m going to have them weld it around your neck.”

Emmett: Is he still monologuing? Jesus fucking christ, you’d think a dead man would learn to appreciate how little anybody actually cared about what he had to say.

Still, almost feels rude not to give as good as he gets.

Em howls and hacks and sputters, but sways desperately close to Stines and looks him in the eyes.

Then he smiles, a pain-fueled grimace, a smile only a corpse could wear.

“How’s… the… wife?”

He even winks. Well, winces. But only with his left eye.

It’s wildly impudent.

Mark can see it in Em’s eyes, then. The worst thing a man like him can ever see in a victim’s eyes.

Em thinks he’s funny.

“Hehheh… heh… heh.”

His laughter turns into a scream. Or maybe the other way around. It’s not a nice noise, any which way.

GM: Stines’ cheeks don’t redden. There’s no color here.

Instead, the dead man’s ashen-hued face turns black with rage. Literally black, like someone spilled paint over it. Paint distilled from seven years of pent-up, fetering hate.

Stines belts him across the face, hard, crunching in his nose with a bloody spray. He throws Em to the ground. Falls on top. Brings down his fists again and again and again, beating Em until his face is a mashed-up, bloody ruin.

“Hey, you beat him too bad-” starts Bob, with a dubious look.

SHUT UP!” roars Stines, his eyes bulging with hate.

He beats Em some more.

And some more.

His soldiers frown among themselves. Doc Brown trades a glance with Lam.

They’ve collared and chained up all the wraiths who didn’t flee or plummet into those black rents. Everyone is just standing there, waiting, as the commander throws his tantrum.

Emmett: It hurts.

But fuck, everything hurts, and every blow that lands tells him that Stines still knows Em’s winning.

Yeah, that’s what this is.

Winning.

“Ah’ll neVer… shOw yah where shh, she iS…” he hacks, between the howling laughter. "No o-bo, oboli, for yooou… "

Give Stines something to take from him. Something to bully him into.

GM: “1415 Third Street, Emmett,” smiles Doc Brown with a tsk-tsk tone. “You did say so, yourself!”

Emmett: He shakes his head. "Need me… to int, introduce… " but Stines is beating him and he’s screaming.

Lamarck: Lamarck looks on with disgust at Stines’ weakness. It’s a weakness he bore himself. Cut on Emmett’s sharp tongue. And collared as well. It’s disgraceful.

When Emmett brings up the oboli, he breaks his quiet by sniffing the air around Stines’ body and recoiling.

“Ze smell of his Shadow ist thick viz him, gentlemen. Es ist mein professional opinion zat ze dear commander ist under ze influence of his Shadow as ve speak. He’s undergoing catharsis. Ze Shadow might ruin his mission and throw away all our oboli if ve don’t take action to reshtrain him.”

He gestures to the collar that hangs around his belt.

“I might be able to calm him. But only ven he is reshtrained.”

Looking to Emmett writhing like a maniac on the floor, some part of Lamarck still has hope for himself. Maybe this is what altruism looks like. That’s what it is, after seventy years of enslaving the freshly dead, he’s turning a new leaf.

Bullshit. Of course not, whispers the Shadow into his ear. He’s doing this for himself. For money. And he can’t afford to fail. That’s why he calls on his Shadow when it offers it’s wares, and sells off one more bit of himself to his greatest weakness.

GM: The soldiers look at one another.

“Too many fucking times,” says one.

As one, the armored legionnaires yank Steins off Em and hold him down. He howls and bellows orders until they snap a collar around his neck.

Then he just screams.

“Regs are clear, sir. I’m assuming command,” says one, a grim-faced legionnaire missing his left eye. There’s just a steadily weeping pit of gray where it used to. “You’re relieved until the pardoners can calm down your Shadow.”

Emmett: Hahahahahahaha.

Oh my god, I think I might literally die from the pain. AGAIN.

GM: He looks at Lam. “Can you do it here, or do we need to take him back to the necropolis?”

Lamarck: Lamarck takes a moment to look at Emmett as the legionnaires wrestle and collar the degenerate rapist.

Lamarck a pardoner. Perhaps he was more ‘unharrowed’ than they expected.

He turns back to the new commander and responds,

“It’s likely best vor us to press on, acting kommander, unt let him tucker himself out. I vill check up on him every zo often, but I don’t vant to let zis effort go to vaste if ve don’t hef to.”

“Ze castigation process is kvite energy-intensive, unt I very vell might reqvire zat strength to finish zis mission. Ve kan get him some longer term treatment ven ve’re back if it appears necessary,” he assures.

GM: “All right,” says the one-eyed legionnaire. He motions at the others. “Chain them.”

The remaining legionnaires attach chains to Em’s and Stines’ collars, which they hook to the thrall first in line. Stines’ face is a mask of agony. He doesn’t resist the other wraiths.

But he still manages to shoot Em a look of pure, murderous hate.

Lamarck: Lamarck absentmindedly sharpens his blade-arms against each other, thinking, and then he approaches Emmett, and asks the now chained conman,

“All right, zo, vat ken you tell us about vat ze vun at ze address ist expekting of you? On a normal trip hier, vat vould you be doing to approach?”

GM: Bob laughs.

Emmett: Em screams and gesticulates wildly to his collar.

GM: “Why the fuck would he tell us anything close to the truth now?”

“I take it back, you know. You’re not my kind of scum.”

He delivers a swift kick to the screaming wraith’s flank.

Lamarck: “Because Bob, wiz ze oboli ve ken collect from a successful operation, unt ze delivery of ze ozer thralls, ve can afford to offer zis von a chance at mercy. He ist a being of opportunity. Unt right now, beink honest ist ze only opportunity he has if he vants to get zat collar off.”

Emmett: Em gives a thumbs up.

He doesn’t stop screaming.

GM: “Or he could just lie,” Doc Brown smiles.

“Well. More, that is.”

His grin spreads.

“I’m afraid your only future is as a large-breasted sex toy, Emmett.”

Emmett: He shrugs. Pleads, with his hands.

But mostly screams.

GM: The doctor laughs.

“What a sissy,” says Bob.

“Well, it does take them some time to get used to,” says Doc Brown.

Lamarck: “Vat ze commander vishes to do viz him ist zomething he can handle upon ze castigation of his Shadow. For now, I vant ze oboli. If zat takes taking off his kollar, zen so be it.” Lamarck reasserts.

“Unt he should know,” Lamarck says, holding his literal sword-arm up to Emmett, “Zat I am proficient in zat kapacity az vell. If he gets any ideas, I’m happy to demonstrate.”

Emmett: Em manages to stop screaming long enough to squeak out a particularly high-pitched “Please!”

GM: Bob kicks him again.

“Enough,” growls the one-eyed legionnaire.

Emmett: “Enough,” wheezes Em in agreement.

GM: He looks at Doc Brown. “You warned us about this one. He was behind the illusions?”

The doctor nods. “Struck a deal with the renegades, too.”

“This was a setup?”

“Spontaneous, it seemed like.”

He looks at Em. “Well, renegade, tell you what. Answer our questions, and we’ll let you go. You won’t get any of the spoils, but you won’t be a spoil either.”

Em’s told enough lies in his time to smell another one.

“Anything you hear from him is suspect,” cautions Doc Brown.

Emmett: Em tries to disagree, but finds himself screaming instead.

Somebody should really take off that collar.

GM: The one-eyed legionnaire gestures to two others with an irritated look. They shove Em to the ground and pin him with their arms and knees. But the acting commander unlocks the collar. The sheer relief hits Em like a gut punch.

Emmett: “Oh thank fuuuuck,” he practically sings as the soulforged torture-steel leaves . “Okay! Okay, in order of importance. I’m not a ‘renegade,’ I’m just a prick, all right? I just look out for myself, like everybody else does. Nothing more to it than that. These fine gentlemen captured me, I told them my situation and how they might make some oboli and they let me go. We were on our way to the deal, my jerk cousin showed up and made like I was about to be soulslag. So I sold them down the river to him. Now you lot are in control, so I’m on your side again. Look, it’s not fucking ideological, I just really like my own skin, is that so wicked? Now, what do you want to know?”

Tongue like a fucking turbine.

Lamarck: “All right. Zo, first zings first. On an average meeting, vat’s your approach?”

Emmett: “I fly in and bow in the yard. I say whatever flowery shit comes to mind. Then the doors open. I go in. She’s normally waiting in there. The Devillers witch.”

“I don’t know what she is, exactly. Not dead. Not alive. Not a lick. But she’s got oboli. Whopping big safe full. And she’s, um, well, she doesn’t like you lot very much. The Hierarchy. She sent me out to feel out some recruits. Potential, I guess you would call them renegades, but she pitches it using words like ‘opportunity’ and ‘ground floor.’ You know, she’s looking for ambitious Caspers who don’t like wearing the uniform or getting their wanking hand turned into a cutlass.”

He chooses to wait, at this point, for questions.

Lamarck: Lamarck chews on that answer like a goat would his cud, long and slow.

“Ah, I see. Unt zer ist no one zer to open ze doors? Zey just open? You think she can see you from inside? Hev you ever tried to open ze doors yourself, without alerting her?”

Emmett: He shakes his head. “She’s got some kind of power over the house. She won’t be easy to surprise there. I know she can be lied to, though, I’ve done it before. Let me walk you up there. No chains, no collar, or she’ll know something’s off.”

The bruises and bleeding inflicted by Stines’ beating are already fading, his corpus restoring itself and his face to its usual charming proportions.

“Look, I get that I’m scum, you can’t trust me, whatever, but that’s just the best way to get her to come out on our terms. It’s not like I’ll be able to get away from you if chucking you down that elevator shaft didn’t do the trick. I’ll behave. I mean, it’s five of you against her. Like I said, earlier.” He nods to Bob. “I’m scum who can count.”

GM: The other wraiths don’t immediately reply, seemingly content for the pardoner to finish his questioning first.

It’s a tough-looking audience.

When isn’t it?

Lamarck: “So, no shneaking up on her, or her oboli. Ve hef to get her to open ze gates of her own volition. Zen ven ve’re in ve’re good to get her. Zat’s ze deal? Like ze Trojan horse. Ve just need to get through ze gates.”

His sword arms scrape against each other further. Emmett can’t help but notice how honed the edge has become.

“Unt vat vill she think ven zer are armed wraiths and legionnaires at her doorstep viz you? You don’t hev a horse to hide us in, do you?” he asks with a hint of humor.

Emmett: “I was kind of imagining y’all would do your shadow-teleporting thing and swoop down from above. Once we get there, you can get into position.”

Lamarck: “I see.” He chews on that thought too. “Do you know her to have any particular blind spots or veaknesses? You’ve lied to her? Vat does she fall for?”

Emmett: “The same lies anybody believes, Lamarck. Ones about how she’s the prettiest woman you’ve ever seen and how she’s got you wrapped around her finger. She’s smart, but arrogant, like.”

Lamarck: “Vell, zat ist all very helpful. Your ko-operation ist noted,” Lamarck says with his permanent smirk, before turning back to his fellow wraiths for their thoughts.

GM: The one-eyed legionnaire seems to consider all that he’s heard.

“What about his Shadow?” he asks Lam. “How large a threat do you peg it?”

Lamarck: Emmett sees Lamarck turn towards him once again, lean close, and inhale the dead air around him. The skin around his nose wrinkles and he slowly withdraws.

After seeming to consider it for a moment and looking back to ensure Emmett’s still held down, he answers, “Es ist qvuite ze stronk Shadow. It requires purifikation before ve kick zis off. Ve don’t vant it sabotaging ze operation.”

“I aem prepared to do zo, but I’ll need extra pathos to sustain my corpus in ze process.”

He looks to the one-eyed legionnaire.

“Akting kommander, ef I rekall correktly you are shkillt in usury. Vould you be villink to facilitate donations durink ze purifikation process?”

GM: “If I had a reason to throw pathos after this one,” the legionnaire answers levelly.

“Just snap a collar back on the fuck,” agrees Bob.

Emmett: “I might be better placed to distract the lady and give you gentlemen the opening you need if I’m not screaming in agony,” Em suggests.

GM: “Who the fuck cares what the pardoner says, sir. Let’s just get a damn move on,” says Bob.

“I suppose we aren’t getting any younger, are we now?” smiles Doc Brown.

“Cute,” says another legionnaire.

GM: “We’ve already gone to all the effort of lugging these thralls here,” says another legionnaire.

“Caught a few more, to show for it,” says another.

The one-eyed legionnaire looks at Em. “You’ll approach the house to sell the thralls. Brown and Norman will go with you. We’ll also give you some extra incentive to stay loyal.”

He produces a dull-looking knife and stabs it right into Em’s heart. The blade pierces Em’s corpus like it’s made of clay, and the sensation doesn’t hurt as much as Em probably thinks it should, though it isn’t a comfortable feeling either. A dull chill seeps through Em’s chest after a few moments.

The one-eyed legionnaire looks at Brown. “Say ‘command word’, and he’ll get what’s coming to him.”

“With pleasure,” smiles Brown.

“We’ll be watching you for any illusions, too, Mr. Sandman,” says Bob.

The one-eyed legionnaire makes a signal, and just like that, they vanish again into shadow. Em and his two ‘companions’ lead the fettered thralls up to the Walter Robinson House. It’s a short trip. The gates are closed when they get there, but Em can see through them to the other side, unlike last time.

Also unlike last time, the house’s yard consists of dead and withered grass rather than skulls. The living darkness smothering the building is also absent. The property appears as ordinary as any of its neighbors.

“Knock knock,” smiles Doc Brown.

Emmett: Dammit, dammit, dammit. One more fucking hoop to jump through, eh? Well, stick a tail up my ass and call me a bunny.

“No worries, Bob,” he says as they approach, the house’s participation in his chicanery only vaguely registering next to the knife in his heart. “Got me cornered, you have. No more tricks up my sleeve.”

Gasper, you still want me to shove these pricks down her gullet, yeah? I need a favor to make that happen, if you’re game.

Knock, knock, go his dead man’s knuckles against the door. He expects it to sound like knocking on a coffin.

GM: I’m game to cut a deal.

Em’s hand passes through the translucent gate like so much smoke. Bob and Brown trade amused looks as they follow him up the house’s front steps, their line of weakly moaning thralls in tow.

But the house itself is opaque to the wraiths’ sight. When Bob gives an experimental knock, the door silently swings open. The inside is pitch dark.

It feels like opening a coffin.

“There’s too many to bring inside,” frowns Bob. “Get her to come out.”

GM: The two wraiths look impatient.

“There’s a collar back there with your name on it, if you can’t,” growls Bob.

Emmett: “Uh huh,” Em says.

Get Brown’s Shadow to pull him into a harrowing, I’ll let you decide what we do to him when he pops back out. Even shit I’d normally fight. Plus, I’ll make you stronger, obviously. Deal?

“As you wish,” he says aloud, and steps into the perfect pitch black of the house.

GM: Bob plants a hand on Em’s shoulder.

“Yeah, leave you to go warn her we’re out here, or lead us into an ambush. Maybe you should just try yelling it’s you?”

Uh huh, I’m already gonna get a lot stronger, and there’s nothing I’d do to that smiling fuck you also wouldn’t. Swear to kill Lena, on your soul—which I’ll get if you try to weasel out—and I’ll get the good doc’s Shadow to play ball.

Emmett: You know that’s a nonstarter. Nightmares about her kids dying, take it or leave it.

Em shrugs off the hand. Worth a try.

“Madame,” he croons, “I have brought you your thralls, and those who would sell them. They shan’t fit in the house. Would you deign to meet us outside? I told these gentlesouls your beauty could make a garden bloom, and I quite look forward to being proven right.”

He glances at Brown.

An idea blossoms.

“And if she would join us… your eldest might find the company invigorating.”

GM: Em’s Shadow does not answer him.

But the darkness does.

A figure steps out. It looks like Abélia, down to the pale skin and black hair, but that’s where it ends. The cheeks are a bit rounder, the smile less knowing, the eyes less dark. Her dress looks like a real dress, moves like a real dress, rather than a living extension of the night itself. The figure looks exactly like her, but somehow robbed of all that she is.

The facsimile smiles.

“Hello, gentlesouls. I bid you welcome to my home.”

Even the voice sounds off.

“My eldest shall be along momentarily… I’m afraid she can’t see you, but perhaps you might find her company invigorating?”

Emmett: And just like that, the game is still on.

Em keeps his face composed even as he ponders his next move.

“How could we not, when she’s your spitting image?”

GM: “How could we not, if she’s as lovely as you, madam,” smiles Doc Brown. “Aren’t you going to introduce us, Emmett?”

Emmett: Em lets a moment pass so the copycat compliment can linger like the bad fart it is before he speaks.

“Madame Devillers, Dr. Jared Brown is an old associate from my breathing days and currently employed as a thrall-hunter by… well, I’m sure he can list his credentials more precisely than myself. Oh, and that’s Bob. His sidekick. Bob, Jared, this apparition is Madame Abélia Devillers, and her needs for spectral muscle are, as I’ve mentioned, substantial.”

He glances at Bob. “That means ‘large.’”

GM: “Cute,” says Bob. Em gets a very mean-looking smile.

The facsimile gives an airy laugh. “It’s my privilege to make both of your acquaintances. And you’ve some thralls to sell, I hear from Mr. Delacroix?”

“Why yes, madame. A whole 22,” smiles Doc Brown. “We’re hopeful that many of them will meet your needs.”

Emmett: “Enfants mostly, I expect?” Em cuts in breezily.

GM: “A corpus is a corpus, at the end of the night,” smiles Doc Brown. “Though there aren’t many things as satisfying as snapping nhudri’s embrace around the neck of an arrogant older wraith. We certainly have a few of those!”

“I am certain they will serve splendidly, young and old,” smiles Abélia. “Please, take me to them.”

“We’re going to ask that you bring your oboli with you, ma’am,” says Bob. “Standard rule for prospective customers.”

“Why, of course… I’m certain you’re used to dealing with all manner of unscrupulous sorts,” agrees the facsimile. “A moment, please.”

She disappears back inside the house.

Doc Brown and Brown both smile at Em.

They’re smiles as nice as is typical for the pair.

Emmett: “She’s nice, isn’t she?” Em smiles back. “And wait ‘til you meet the daughter. You’ll like her, Brown. I did. Bob, she doesn’t have any sons, but you can probably get a handy from one of the thralls. You know, as a going away gift. If the doc gives you permission, I mean.”

GM: “That’s also cute. Still not as much as you’re going to be with a giant pair of tits as the commander’s fucktoy,” leers Bob.

Emmett: Em grins.

GM: “He’s been fantasizing about what he’ll do to you for years. Had a lot of stories down in the necropolis.”

Emmett: “Yeah, and I bet you listened to all of them, eh? You’re right, Bobby boy. You’re not scum like me. I’d rather get fucked by your boss in the taint than spend my afterlife choosing to follow him around like a dead fucking groupie. At least Brown knows why he’s a rapist. It’s because he likes the power. You don’t even realize why nobody needs to put you on your knees. It’s because you wind up there your own damn self.”

He just needs Brown to crack a smile. To break ranks for a moment. A snicker will be enough, if he’s got Bob’s number right.

And he knows he has. The schmuck’s deathly garb is a wife-beater. He won’t like being laughed at.

Well, then again, nobody really does. Not even the dead.

GM: The other wraith’s face can’t turn red. But his eyes turn furious. Absolutely furious.

“You’ve got some lip on you. Command wo-!”

The knife flies out of Em’s chest.

“-rd!”

The blade turns solid black, then explodes in a shower of glassy, bleeding fragments. Em doesn’t want to think about what that would have done inside his corpus.

Dr. Brown shoots the other wraith an equally black look.

“Couldn’t leave that alone, could we, Bob?”

“Couldn’t wait all of five minutes?”

Emmett: Em stretches, his chest suddenly feeling miles lighter. “Don’t be too hard on him, doc. We can’t all be as cool as you. And let’s not get too worked up, eh? The lady’ll be back soon. And we have a sale to make.”

He regards the pitch darkness of the house plaintively. “Command word,” he scoffs. “Nobody ever bothers to change the factory settings, do they?”

GM: He’s heard of bondage couples who use “safeword” too.

And also children’s show critters.

Bob just glares.

Nobody talks. The facsimile eventually re-emerges, though, along with Cécilia. She looks straight past the three wraiths as if oblivious to their presences.

Several chests on little carts follow along with Abélia. They’re heaped high with colorless coins stamped with a masked figure and bearing a reaper’s scythe. Low moans go up from them.

Emmett: “Shall I bite one?” Em offers.

GM: “Seems like you’re pretty used to experimenting with things in your mouth,” says Bob.

Abélia only smiles and gazes out at the line of fettered thralls as if noticing them for the first time.

“Please, tell me of them. This white-haired one looks of exceptionally fine stock?” she inquires, looking towards Mark Stines.

Emmett: “I can certainly vouch for his stamina. Easy to manipulate, though,” Em chimes in.

Emmett: “Of course, that might be a pro, not a con.”

GM: “Very good,” smiles the facsimile.

“I shall be happy to purchase all of these thralls.”

Doc Brown smiles back at her, then blows his whistle. It sounds like the screams of the damned. Dark shapes suddenly materialize out of nowhere, clad in the Hierarchy’s skull-and-bones armor. They fall upon the facsimile with collars and chains, burying it beneath the weight of their numbers as they bind it fast.

The facsimile, Cécilia, and the carts full of oboli abruptly dissolve into oily black sludge.

Some of the legionnaires’ gazes turn sharp with surprise.

Bob just roars,“GET HIM!” and tackles after Em.

Emmett: “Sorry, boys.” Em deftly weaves away from Bob, retreating back towards the house. “You bet on the wrong horse. Or beat the dead horse. Because we’re ghosts? Get it? Oh, never mind, I bungled it.” He sprouts wings and flaps into the air, stares down at his old tormentor. “Hey, Doc Brown? You really should have stopped smiling.”

He spreads his arms wide, the pitch-black doorway looming behind him.

“Your larder, madame.”

GM: The house ripples as though from a mirage’s heat waves.

The ground beneath the wraiths does too. The gates and fence suddenly grow solid and opaque to their deathless eyes.

Lamarck: Lamarck catches Emmett’s eyes from beside the mass of legionnaires. The blade-armed man sprouts two great wings which unfurl as he twirls into the air. At first he seems to grin, but then as the illusion melts melts away, so does his levity. There’s an unstated question in his gaze, Please.

Emmett: Em spots a certain Kraut in the crowd. “Maybe leave that one. He’s all sinewy. He’ll behave, won’t you, Lamarck?”

GM: An abyss yawns wide over the house. Enormous, tree-sized tendrils of dripping darkness squeeze about its walls, whose geometric angles seem off and no longer fully euclidean. Staring at them makes the wraths’ heads hurt. Black, tar-like blood runs down the building’s side like oily tears. The ground is no longer dead grass, but row upon row of human skulls and flesh-picked bones.

But its true shape is but the precursor.

Lamarck: The Amerikan kraut doesn’t hesitate a lick at the offer. Maybe it’s that they’ve ran into a trap and only Emmett seems comfortable. Or maybe he’s developed a soft spot for the young sandman.

Either way, he flies before Emmett to brandish his swordarms in his defense.

“Of kourse I vill, Emmett.”

Emmett: It’s definitely the first one.

Lamarck: Perhaps Lamarck was surprised at first how comprehensively Emmett’s soul was tainted. So young, so struck with naiveté about the world of the dead. This very same soul even tried to save him from his own sins and even offered him a way out.

One glimpse at the true form of the mistress he serves dispels any and all such illusions. He averts his eyes immediately and looks to Emmett gravely.

“Vas ist das, mein Freund? Mein Gott in Himmel.”

There’s no power to his voice, no outward presence at all. Just a cold, concentrated mixture of fear and awe that flirts with Oblivion.

Emmett: “That’s my madame, Mr. All-American. Now shut up and watch the show.”

GM: The doors burst open, vomiting out a tidal wave of pure darkness. Shapes swim through it, like a spider’s writhing hairy legs, a shark’s gnawing teeth, and a kraken’s grasping tentacles, all at once, as though the night itself and all its terrors were come alive with hunger. The black tide floods over the wraiths like a vast web enveloping a cloud of flies, then sucks them in.

No one is spared. The legionnaires, the thralls, Doc Brown and his associates, Lamarck, Em: all souls are food for the void past the house’s yawning doors. The legionnaires hack away with their swords, slicing off chunks of dripping darkness that transform into scuttling spiders and writhing maggots as they hit the bone-lined ground. Em and Lam watch as their corpi blacken and rot before their eyes. Wholesale chunks disappear as though gnawed away. Em looks down where some of his used to be, and sees himself in his old apartment’s dumpster, screaming over his lost legs. He and Lam struggle and beat their wings, taking advantage of the house’s preoccupation with so many other victims to extricate themselves. Lam fights like hell and tears himself from the darkness first, coated in oily-smelling black bile. Em suffers far worse before he’s spat out, his legs resembling blackened bones gnawed clean of flesh.

A few of the legionnaires cut themselves free, too. The one-eyed legionnaire tears off Stines’ shackles and shouts something indistinct before his head disappears beneath the nightmare tide. Bob just screams as he’s sucked past the house’s doors. He does not reemerge. Mark rips open a dark tear in the ground and prepares to dive through, then screams as black tendrils explode from the rift and drag him inside. The other legionnaires, shouting not to open nihils here, sprout wings and take to the air. The house ravenously drags back several to their dooms, including the one-eyed legionnaire. Stines and Doc Brown soar furiously towards the starless sky.

Emmett: It take the last drop of Em’s powers to restore his wrecked corpus, but restore it he does, as his wings propel him upwards after his fleeing foes. He has no intention of letting the two biggest fish off their hooks.

He doesn’t even have the juice for an illusion. So he’s reduced to soaring within shouting range and hollering at the fleeing wraiths at the top of his lungs. The sound seems to carry all right, though. He supposes air isn’t so much a factor.

“That’s right, you limp-dicked FAGGOTS! Fly off! You think this is where it ends? I’ll find your fucking families and give them dreams about their cowardly casper cunts! You’ll remember that I fucked you harder than either of you fucked anybody, and you’ll remember it for-FUCKING-EVER!”

Bit crass, but he’s still reeling from the tentacular rape of his corpus. Luckily, they probably are too.

GM: Doc Brown flashes Em a humoring smile but seems to have no intention of flying back to certain death. After all, Em hasn’t actually done much of anything to him.

But the same can’t be said for Mark Stines.

The hate on the other wraith’s face is as black and festering as his ravaged and half-destroyed corpus. With a wordless scream, he launches himself back towards Em as he throws a punch, frothing and spitting (though no spittle flies from his dead lips) about the unspeakable things he’s going to do.

YOU COCKSUCKER SISSY FUCKHOLE _YOU’RE MINE!”_

Emmett: Eh, he’ll take it.

He lets Stines get close. Too close. Dangerously close.

Then he tucks his wings and falls, plummeting from the skies like a sickly angel, forcing Stines to dive with him—

—so that the dead legionnaire can see Em’s grinning face fade away like a bad dream, the grin lingering behind as his rapist enters the house’s orbit once more, and a tentacle slithers around his blackened corpus.

“Bye, Stines,” the real Em says, just a few tantalizing feet out of reach. “It was nice seeing you again. Enjoy Oblivion. I hear it’s quiet.”

Lamarck: Up in the sky, as Doc Brown smiles down at Em, Lamarck beats his wings once again, spiraling with the quiet of the dead towards his hopefully unsuspecting quarry. He can’t let him escape, not after what he saw Lamarck do.

Lamarck’s corpus is fully healed. He escaped in time. This man was too busy ogling that woman— that thing’s daughter to have gone unscathed. That means he’s weak, and for Lamarck, there’s only one thing weakness can be met with.

He readies his last collar and then his arms shoot out from his body, stretching like endless vipers before clamping the cold steel around the resident rapist’s neck. A lengthy chain, held firm in his hand, extends from the collar to let the wraith’s tortured form hang from.

GM: Jared writhes and screams as the collar clicks shut around his neck. Both Lam and Em well recall its pain.

Blackness washes up from the house like a cloud of ink expelled into the sky. Nightmares roil within the surface, teeth and claws and less identifiable terrors out of mankind’s darkest memories. Doc Brown, already free-falling through the air as his wings cease to beat under the collar’s pain, is helpless to avoid his fate. The chain is yanked out Lam’s hands as Brown hits the cloud’s ‘surface’ and sinks into it like quicksand. He struggles and flails, but it only seems to make him sink faster. His arms disappear, then his hands, and finally his head.

The last the other two wraiths see of it, he isn’t smiling.

Just screaming.

Mark Stines’ fate is little kinder. His mouth opens in alarm. He beats his wings and tries to pivot, but he’s too slow. Darkness flows into his mouth. Stines gags and chokes, but when he tries to pull it out, his hands pass through like smoke. The darkness pours out of his ears, his nostrils, and his asscrack, and his screams get shriller. He stares at Em and Lam with terror-mad eyes. Finally the darkness bursts out from his pores. The wraith splinters into a thousand pieces like shattered pottery. Em and Lam hear his screams echoing from each one.

Then the darkness washes over them too, and there’s only silence.

The black cloud hungrily flows up around Lam. Thicker tendrils lined with gnawing teeth and madly swiveling eyeballs shoot up to ensnare the wraith.

Lamarck: Lamarck’s form ripples and flows as the primeval blackness begins to surround him. His visage is wrought from an unholy mixture of yellow gall and freshly invigorated blood which show easily through his stretching ectoplasmic flesh and scraping bone. The old wraith roars and thrashes against the threat of Oblivion, his skin stretching to cover every vulnerable orifice and sprouting dark scales. Grasping hands erupt from his back wielding jagged blades which slash at the gnashing mouths that bite at his clawed feet.

Wings, once feathered and corvine sharpen into powerful skin-sails stretched over a spiny osseous frame. This crop he reaps is far from free. It comes from feeding the darkness within, fueling his Shadow. But oh is it worth it. Anything as long as those rapists get what they deserved, anything to see another day, even if it cuts into his soul.

Heavy wings beat against the dark and spiral his ever-shifting form out like a missile shot out of this hell.

A monster roars.

GM: Lam’s herculean struggle send the black cloud roiling like jello in a bowl. Black tendril after tendril lashes towards the wraith and plummet through the sky after he slashes them off, trailing their own small clouds of inky blood. Dozens of hungrily gnawings maws gibber incomprehensible blasphemies. Lam beats his wings mightily and soars higher, only for one last tendril to snake around his ankle. Needle-like teeth bite deep and the wraith’s corpus blackens as ugly veins spread up from the wound. More tendrils snake up from the black cloud. The starless sky stares pitilessly down as Oblivion’s siren song sweetly beckons. Why does he fight?

Emmett: “Madame! He’s served you tonight. Spare him and he will again!”

GM: The darkness rises up Lam’s legs like quicksand, heedless of Em’s words.

Emmett: Well, he tried.

Lamarck: Lamarck’s herculean task continues. He cannot give in, no matter how sweet the sound Oblivion is. It is a falsified rest, built from lies. Oblivion is the end of all that is good, the erasure of all hope down here. He’s fought over seventy years to reach true peace, to get his last works in order. Instead of fighting that fight, Oblivion has made his afterlife into an awful death march, ever growing closer as the necessary deeds he does strengthen the darkest parts of hos soul. Today is not the day he succumbs to its lies. He is sure of it. He wills it.

As he thrashes wildly to escape, further ectoplasmic blades erupt from his legs and attempt to excise the vile tendrils.

GM: The spikes draw gouts of inky blood as Lam slices through his assailant (assailants?). Coils of darkness roil towards him like striking serpents, one after another. Lam desperately tries to drive them back, pushing his soul and corpus to its uttermost limits. Black blood splashes his face like fast-flowing oil as his clawed hands rip and tear and whir through the air.

But he is too slow. Too small. The midnight tide rises higher and higher, an avalanche that can only be postponed, but not denied. The ex-pharmacist attempts a risky gambit and tears open a nihil in the sky. He dives for safety. Darkness pours after him.

But he is too slow.

Darkness envelops him like a tar pit. Phantasmal mouths assail him from all sides. Incomprehensible blasphemies ring in his ears. The former cab driver opens his mouth to scream, and then he vanishes into the darkness just like Brown and Stines.

Another soul to sate Maman’s hunger.

Emmett: And that’s that, then. The board is emptied, but for Em and all the fallen pieces. The sandman perches on the privacy wall of the house across the street, knees pulled to his chest in a crouch that would be uncomfortable if his muscles were corporeal, batlike wings folded around him in a chiropteran shroud.

Emmett Delacroix watches the carnage he has wrought, listens to the screams of souls whose names he does not know being torn asunder. The thing in the house gorges itself on his gift.

Perhaps he expected to feel something, some satisfaction at the destruction of Stines and Brown. Both rapacious bullies who sneered at him when he was in their power and never conceived of how he might ruin them—and now they are gone, their souls ravaged and devoured, and he is here, dead but not dead, haunting the house across the street from the devil.

And he feels nothing at all, except relieved that he doesn’t have to think about them ever again.

He can feel Gasper swelling, pushing out whatever parts of him aren’t already cast in Shadow. Good. That way he doesn’t have to feel the guilt, the doubt, the parts of him that are worth saving but too painful to live with. Die with. Whatever. No more jokes, not tonight. There’s nobody to make laugh, anyways.

There’s just the waiting. So he waits.

GM: That’s it, Em. Just a little longer, and you won’t have to feel anything at all.

The house spares little thought for Lam as he escapes.

Not next to the feast before it.

They’re all there, still. The score of chained, doomed souls. Suspended in the morass of darkness just beyond the doors, hanging from it like flies caught in a spiderweb.

Some of them look like people Em could have known. Many of them, in fact, from all walks of life. Some look like party kids whose dreams of being young forever both came true and were forever denied. Some are older adults like his parents in sensible, grown-up clothes. Some are children clad in pajamas; Em wonders how they died. Some look like old men and women who died in their beds, still clad in hospital gowns. Some look like victims of drive-by shootings or gang violence. Some have slit wrists and look like they killed themselves. Some have blackened veins in their arms like he did, perhaps dead from one shoot-up too many.

Some of them beg and plead for their lives. Unlives. Whatever those are now. Some futilely tug at their fetters. Some scream, their voices mad with terror. A few accept their fate with bleak resignation.

In the end, all stand equal before death.

All stand equal before the death after death.

The house’s doors yawn cavernously wide. The damned souls shriek their final pleas and lamentations, or just scream with pure terror. It doesn’t matter. The universe doesn’t care. It never has. Bad things happen to good people and bad people and all people, because Em was right to Miranda, all those years ago. The world is sick and broken and it will take everything from people who don’t see it coming.

It’s impossible for the score of wraiths to escape, chained together as they are. What happens next reminds Em of the way someone might suck up a long piece of spaghetti. Just like that, the chained mass of wraiths is swallowed up past the doors, vanished into whatever endless night awaits beyond. Just like that, a score of existences are snuffed out without so much as a soul to mourn them.

Yet, even as the house feasts, Em can all but physically feel his Shadow swelling in his chest. Like oil in his veins, it blackens everywhere it spreads. It screams its exaltation over this feast of sin.

It’s not an unfamiliar feeling.

Em remembers back to one night after a “date” with Stines.

Stines pounded Em’s ass until it bled and he could barely walk in his high heels. When he sat down in Ray’s car, the guy who drove Christina’s escorts to and from their clients, it felt like someone was stabbing him there. He stumbled up to his apartment and looked in the mirror, Celia’s makeup messily smudged over his face. In his reflection’s blank expression, one utterly indifferent to his or any other person’s suffering, he saw a terrible yawning emptiness that would swallow him whole if it was not immediately filled.

Some girls said he was a slob, that he didn’t know how to cook. But the truth was he did know how. He was capable. He just never applied himself. Like in so many areas.

He’d gotten the idea from a MeVid video. Pizza, but with a crust made out of chocolate chip cookie dough. Surface lathered with Nutella, for tomato sauce. Cream cheese, butter, and marshmallows for cheese. Extra Nutella on top. M&Ms and other candies for toppings. Bake until golden brown, then spread the gooey warm surface with frozen double fudge brownie ice cream, and lather with even more Nutella on top. Em ate and ate and ate. There was enough fat in that pizza to stop his heart and enough sugar to give him diabetes.

He drowned his emptiness and depression and self-hate in sweetness.

But it wasn’t enough. No matter how many messy, gooey, Nutella-lathered slices he crammed into his mouth, it didn’t fill him. It didn’t plug the whole. It was just another way to kill himself. So he ate himself, desperately, into a sugar-induced coma.

Then he woke up the next morning, still dressed in his whore clothes, feeling fat as a whale with a splitting headache and a bleeding ass and wanting to throw up and just shrivel up and die, if he weren’t too fat to do anything besides stew in his own misery.

He remembers, because that’s exactly how he feels now as Gasper gorges his fill.

YYYEESSSSS!!!!

YYYYESSSSSSSSS!!!!!

OH, FUCK, YESSSSSS!!!!

Almost there, Em! Oblivion’s right around the corner now!!!!!

Emmett: Right around the corner, huh? Em starts snickering.

All that, and you can’t even cross the finish line.

There’s so little of him left. Almost nothing.

But that which is there cackles in defiance, and he can feel its heat chafing at Gasper, holding him back from the edge.

Ha. Haha. Ha.

GM: Oh, guess I wasn’t clear.

I can fuck you over whenever I want.

Like, right now, before you get to talk to dear Maman. If I want to.

Emmett: That’s not going to change no matter what I say. Are you asking me to apologize, or are you just swinging your dick around for a physics lesson?

GM: Huh. That’s a good idea too.

Yeah, why don’t you apologize. Make it good, because it’d be pretty funny to hear you scream if you weren’t able to collect shit from her.

Emmett: I’m sorry, Gasper. You deserve better than disdain.

Em can’t do much about the hate seething behind the words, though. Probably makes it better, anyways.

GM: Good boy, Em.

Good boy.

Emmett: When it’s all over and done, and the house starts to look like it’s regular horrifying self, he takes to the air, until he hovers a dozen feet above the middle of the ruined boulevard. He’s reminded, absurdly, of a nature documentary factoid about crocodiles and a certain species of bird. Not filmed around here; there’s only gators in Louisiana, and gators don’t get along with anybody. But not so the crocodiles in (was it Egypt? Probably Egypt, they’ve got all kinds of mad shit down there) the documentary, who let the birds pick rotten flecks of meat from their teeth. The bits of carrion too small for apex predators to bother with.

And now that he’s staring into this evil bitch’s teeth, Em’s appreciating how much smaller to her he is than a bird is to a croc.

But he’s here, now. And she’s evil, but she’s the kind of evil that keeps her word.

“Madame. How was dinner?”

GM: The house looks much as it did when Em last laid eyes upon it. Vast and dark and terrible, and actively painful to gaze upon for too long.

But it’s different, too too. The air around him is darker, as though an enormous shadow were cast over the house’s yard. Dead trees’ rotted leaves no longer stir in the wind, nor does he hear the rain’s steady downpour. All around him is silent and still.

He remembers when Jermaine slit Sami’s throat, and the part of his soul that wasn’t dead exclaimed, oh shit! like a rule-breaking kid who suddenly realized he was in terrible trouble. He could imagine his father’s wrathful, red-hued face.

But there was something almost comforting in that wrath. If you break a rule, you’ve done something wrong, which means there has to be an opposite. Something right. Dad yells and calls you selfish and horrible and lots of other angry names, but implicit in that yelling and its promised punishments was restitution. A way to make things right again, after a good chewing out.

Em knows, like he did then, that he has done something bad. Something very, very bad.

But this time, he has the snaking suspicion he has done something there aren’t even any rules against. Because no one thought he would ever break them. Could ever break them.

And he finds himself oddly unable to summon Phil’s face in his mind, or to picture what his father would say.

There is only beshadowed stillness and silence, like an exhausted Jiminy Cricket that’s finally packed all his things in a cardboard box, and decided being Emmett Miloud Delacroix’s conscience is too thankless a job.

Fluttering laughter breaks the silence.

He turns and sees Abélia Devillers standing behind him. The real one. Or the closest thing to whatever is real for her. She looks identical to her form in the Skinlands. The same pale skin, the same midnight hair and dress, the same knowing smile. There’s even color to her lips and cheeks, as though this realm’s laws affect her not. There is little comfort in that color. Only the nagging sense there is more to this ‘woman’ than he might ever understand.

Abelia_Devillers.jpg
“Mine appetites are sated. You have done well, my dear boy. You have done very well.”

Her dark eyes gleam.

“I am certain you are eager to claim your reward.”

Emmett: Reward. Right. That’s why he led all those souls to massacre. That’s why he razed most of his soul.

What was he going to ask for, again?

“I would ask a favor first, madame. I would put myself in your debt, and count myself lucky to be called upon in the future.” He makes a little flourish, and a flower appears in his hand. Only, it’s not a real flower, so it’s far less banal. The petals are blades of gossamer light, the bud a miniature sun.

Envy green, dragon gold and aubergine purple. A crest of a flower, painstakingly rendered in three dimensions. It smells of the Quarter, and of lilies, and innocence both of them know is not real.

He’s so absorbed in its creation that he doesn’t remember why he’s distracting himself until he’s offering it to her.

“I would greatly appreciate it if you would impart to my Shadow some of your genteel manners, madame. It needs to be disciplined. I don’t care how much it hurts me, as long as it screams too.”

He’s expecting it when Gasper tries to seize the words in his throat. And maybe the Shadow succeeds, at that.

But Abélia is no mere enfant, and he doubts she will be misled in her own home. Misled, or escaped, or restrained.

Have fun, Gasper. I know I will.

Even if you stomp me into the dirt. Even if you try to make me regret it. I’ll never stop fighting back.

GM: Ha. Haha. Hahahahaha.

Yeah.

I know just what I’m gonna do now.

Also, you’re wrong. You will stop, once I take over for good.

Emmett: He looks Abélia in the eyes. Strains to convey his plea.

GM: She can’t help you, Em! NOTHING can!

Emmett: He’ll fight as long as he has to.

GM: I’m YOU, dipshit! If you’re sick of me, you’re sick of yourself! And there’s just one way to fix being sick of yourself, isn’t there, that you were too chickenshit to try when you were alive?

Emmett: Oh, I’m not asking her to off you. Just to give you a makeover.

GM: You’re asking her to give YOU a makeover, idiot. There is no me! There’s just we!

Emmett: I’m down. This face is getting old. And you know the best part? So is this conversation. Which means…

GM: Abélia plunges her hand into Em’s chest and rips out his heart. The pain is incredible. His heart is a shriveled, blackened thing. It looks like it belongs to a man who’s been smoking a pack a day for all his life, then somehow got the tar to show up in his heart instead of his lungs.

Emmett: He screams.

Or is he laughing?

He can’t tell anymore.

“AARgghFFANnnncKkk, yyYyOOOOuu—!”

Take a time-out, okay Gasper? It’s time for the grown-ups to talk.

GM: Guess that means dear Maman’s having a conversation of one.

Abélia smiles and holds a finger to her lips at Em’s screams, as though to shush an infant.

“Shhhh… "

Emmett: Witty. Wanna back that up with a harrowing? Maybe a few phantom dicks?

It takes a few moments to adapt to the pain.

“Thank you,” he pants again, finally. “It’s a relief to talk freely.”

GM: Oh, I have something even better in mind, Em, after how strong you made me. Don’t worry. I’ll be patient. Being the Underworld’s chum bait should get pretty old, pretty fast.

Emmett: Em doesn’t bother to respond. He lets his satisfaction speak for him.

GM: Shadows thicken around Abélia’s hands. Squelching noises that sound more like screams go up from within. When the shadows dissipate, Abélia presents him with a black and unadorned heart-shaped box. It feels cool to the touch. A steady beating pulses from within.

“From the heart, heart’s desire. Take this to she who holds your heart.”

Emmett: Em takes it in his hands, staring down at it. “Your daughter?” he ventures.

GM: A fluttering laugh.

“My Cécilia can be many things, but in this matter she is unsuitable.”

“A young man as charming as yourself is acquainted with other young ladies who hold some claim upon his heart, I am sure.”

Emmett: “What would make somebody suitable, then? And what will happen when I give it to them?”

GM: The ’woman’s’ dark eyes glint as she smiles.

“Why, you shall receive your heart’s desire, of course.”

“But you know your heart better than I, Emmett. Surely, there is another daughter of Eve with some claim to its affections.”

Emmett: He wants to ask more, but if she wants to be cryptic, there’s not much he can do about it. Nothing, actually.

“Many thanks, madame. I confess I had hoped to talk to you more. Not about my heart’s desire, but how I might be a part of yours. How I might enter your service, and learn from you. Might we come to such an arrangement? Your feast was the work of a day. Your imagination is far vaster than mine. I’m sure you grasp how much more I could do for you, with time. With power.”

The flower that isn’t a flower is in his hand again, outstretched for her to pluck.

GM: Yet when Emmett does, he finds his hand empty. A dull ache throbs in the sealed-over cavity where his heart once sat.

“No power—or denial of another’s—without price, Emmett, son of Philémon.”

Emmett: He sighs. “Thought I’d ask. I’ll see you around then, madame.”

He bows before turning back as he’s about to leave.

“A daughter of Eve? A mortal?”

GM: “Eve is mother to Caine and Seth, my dear boy, and all their daughters through them.”

Cécilia’s mother smiles.

“Perhaps it is well, if an immortal daughter should hold claim to your heart. Naught but tragedy may result from a mortal’s love for one such as you.”

Emmett: “Maybe. But I bring tragedy where I walk anyways. Thanks for the doggie bag, madame. I’ll see you when I see you.”

GM: Mirth dances in the woman’s dark eyes.

“Your heart knows its way, son of Philémon. Hold it close and listen.”

Emmett: He pauses and lifts the box to his ear.

GM: Past the sluggish beating, he hears the sound of classic Louis Armstrong jazz amidst people drinking and carousing. Such sounds are not uncommon at the city’s jazz clubs, but he knows, too, that this one is the Evergreen Plantation, a posh joint along Royal Street.

Emmett: “Lovely and fruitful advice, as ever,” Em oozes, even as he thinks. The Evergreen? He’s talked his way in there for drinks once or twice, and been taken there on dates one or two times more. Nice place.

Weird fucking crowd, though. Even for the rich.

GM: “Should its master’s servants attempt to molest you, you may inform them that the LaLaurie House’s proprietor has sent you to speak with Antoine Savoy.”

“Should you reveal my nature to overcurious fools inclined to pry into others’ affairs, or to needful wretches seeking alms, know that I mislike uninvited guests in my home. Send further Lamarcks or Celias to my door, and I will devour them.”

Emmett: “Plain language is such a rarity these days. My appreciation is unbounded, and my gratitude is overflowing.”

“Should I expect my Shadow to be in state to seek revenge immediately after I, ah, make the delivery?”

GM: Abélia’s form dissolves like oily tar. The black morass seeps into the earth as the house swells, its motion reminiscent of an enormous spider bloated from a feast and stretching its legs. Soon ready to spin further webs anew.

Emmett: “…good talk,” Em murmurs, and takes his leave.

He keeps his heart under his arm, boxed up and safe.

Perhaps he should be more grateful, more gracious. But somehow, he has the distinct impression that he hasn’t won dirt.

He’s just been shown the edge of the grave.


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Story Twelve, Celia XIX

“What is there in truth? Where’s the money, the feel-goods? People want whatever makes them feel good.”
Abraham Garcia


Friday night, 11 March 2016, PM

GM: Daysleep claims them instantly and recedes just as instantly. It’s a poor substitute for the sleep of the living. It never feels like they’ve actually slept, or like any time has passed. Perhaps there is a reason the elders long for torpor.

Roderick strokes her cheek.

“This is somewhat less romantic, but getting hard for you isn’t even that bad.”

Celia: She can’t help but laugh.

“You know if I were less confident that would be the worst thing to say to me.”

GM: “Hey, if you were less confident I’d remind you how we normally don’t do that.” He frowns a little. “Veronica must give you a pretty hard time, for still liking it the breather way.”

Celia: “Veronica’s idea of a good time is putting a spiked heel inside of someone’s ass, so.”

GM: “Pietro can’t seriously be into that.”

Celia: “You know when I was still a breather I saw them fuck, it was… intense. They ripped skin off of each other.”

GM: “That must’ve been really scary, if you had no idea what it all meant.”

Celia observes her surroundings look different. The apartment has been cleaned up. The salvageable furniture and sundry have been moved back into place, the trashed ones moved into a corner. The fluid stains on the cushions, and their bodies, have been cleaned up. They’ve both got clothes on. Celia’s got on a dark minidress that looks similar to the one they met in, though the cut is more modest than Alana’s usual choices.

“By the way,” he smirks, “you’re a total sleepyhead.”

Celia: “Ah, see, I was only pretending to sleep so you’d move things around for me. It worked.”

GM: “Nah, you were totally out of it. I could’ve put you in overalls, clown shoes, and drawn a mustache under your nose, and you’d have still been a total mannequin.”

Celia: Her eyes narrow at him.

“You wouldn’t dare.”

GM: “I know how serious you take looking good,” he answers somberly.

Then he grins. “So only if there’d been a floor-length mirror I could’ve moved for you to wake up to…”

Celia: Celia rolls away from him, crossing her arms over her chest. She sticks her nose in the air—at least as much as she can considering she’s still in bed—and huffs.

“You’re fired. Go away. You’re never getting laid again.”

GM: He laughs and pulls her against his chest.

“Not haute culture enough? Maybe also shaved you bald…”

Celia: “Couture.”

“I will murder you in your sleep if you shave my head.”

GM: “But whenever I’m asleep, you’ll be asleep, so I’ll always get away with it.”

Celia: “I’ll set an alarm.”

“And wake up just to smack you.”

“Then go back to bed.”

GM: “And you’ll still be bald.”

Celia: “I’ll tell all your friends you got beat up by a girl.”

GM: “But unlike your dad, I’m not insecure enough to let that bruise my ego. Coco or Opal could kick my ass anytime. Caroline also sounds like she could give me a run from what you’ve described.”

“Men of quality do not fear equality.”

Celia: Celia huffs again.

“It’s against the constitution to shave my head. Cruel and unusual punishment. You’ll go to jail.”

GM: “Mmm, but that particular piece of it only applies to the federal and state governments. Your legal defense is in tatters, counselor.”

Celia: “I’m a national treasure. You can’t deface me.”

GM: “Not even in the Constitution…”

He smiles and hugs her close.

“But you’re right. You are a treasure. A UNESCO world heritage treasure. Every country in the UN would go to war, if ours allowed such a crime against humanity to take place.”

Celia: She positively preens at the praise.

“I forgive you for thinking such heinous thoughts, then.”

GM: “It was fun to dress you, anyway. Like I said. Total mannequin.”

Celia: “You know most people would find that creepy instead of cute.”

“Ah yes my boyfriend watches me sleep and puts me in clothing.”

GM: “Hey, I was already cleaning up everything, and figured you’d appreciate it. Keeping you naked would also have been incredibly distracting.”

Celia: “Did you bathe me? I seem to recall more bloodstains than this.”

GM: “Yeah, actually. I was going to do a sponge bath, but then I figured, you’d probably want me to be thorough.”

Celia: “I wasn’t even awake to enjoy it,” she sighs. “Now we have to recreate the scene. Rose petals, champagne flutes of blood, LED candles…”

GM: “And it was a way to pass the time. Didn’t even use superspeed to make it faster. I didn’t want to leave you alone, in case… more hunters.”

Celia: “Oh. Right.”

She twists in his arms so that she can see him.

“Thank you.”

GM: “Unlikely at night, granted. But no lick should sleep completely alone.”

“And you’re welcome.”

Celia: “Have you ever heard the word ‘glinko’ before?”

GM: He thinks. “Nope. Context?”

Celia: “That was it. Just the one word. Something I came across while cracking the phones. I thought it might be a name. It’s… not a word. Not in English. Bulgarian, though, it means ‘clay.’ And there’s a ‘glinko’ mask that a cosmetic company has, it’s a clay mask people use to draw out impurities from their skin, so that makes sense, just…” She trails off, shaking her head.

GM: He raises his eyebrows. “I’m impressed you managed to get into those.”

Celia: “Yeah, well, despite what Maxen says, I’m not stupid.”

GM: “It’s not a question of intelligence, just training. I don’t know how to hack a phone.”

Celia: “Mostly you press the buttons and hope they don’t have a lockout timer.”

GM: “Oh, that actually works well with superspeed,” he says thoughtfully. “I might have been able to brute force a phone like that too.”

Celia: “I’ve seen you brute force a phone, Rod, there’s a lot of broken glass involved.”

GM: “Ha ha. The other kind of brute force.”

Celia: “I know, I know, I’m just teasing.”

GM: “I’ll have to keep that in mind for security with the new place, though. Lockout delays.”

“Oh, when I was cleaning, I saw food in the fridge. I thought you didn’t share this place with your renfields?”

Celia: God damnit.

“Uh. I don’t.”

She can’t even think of a way to spin it.

She changes the subject instead.

“How would you improve security here, anyway?”

GM: “I’ve looked it over. There’s a couple ways. Why do you have a bunch of salad and casserole, though?”

Celia: “Oh. That. My mom. I forgot it was in there.”

“She made me eat with them last night. You know how she is about leftovers.”

GM: “Oh. That must be awkward.”

Celia: “It wasn’t pleasant. There was cake, too.”

GM: “I saw. And you can’t say no without being rude.”

Celia: “I could only come up with so many diet excuses. Emily finally called me on the bullshit.”

“So now I have to make sure I’m, uh, really full before I go over in case they decide they want to eat.”

GM: “Well, count yourself lucky. I’d love to still come over for dinner with my dad.”

Celia: Her face falls.

“I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to complain. I’m lucky to have them.”

GM: “It’s okay. I still doubt it’s much fun, if it tastes as bad as they all say.”

Celia: “It’s worse on the way up.”

“If you really want to try it you can help yourself, though.”

“Hell, if we make this work you can come over for dinner.”

GM: “You don’t think your mom would mind, if I’m just going to throw it up?”

Celia: “She wouldn’t know. It’s not like I tell her what I do. She’d accuse me of bulimia or something. Then Emily would tell me how it rots my teeth and the stomach acid destroys my esophagus. Then she’d say something like, ‘if you destroy your gag reflex you’ll never be able to suck another dick,’ and then my mom will make a face at us. It’s a whole thing.”

GM: He smiles. “They sound like a great family.”

Celia: She arches her brows at him.

“That is not the response I expected.”

“But they are. I’ll hook you up with some prosthetics and you can come over.”

GM: “Prosthetics?”

Celia: “Like facial things. Inserts. Special effects makeup.”

GM: “Ah. That made me think of artificial limbs.”

“That would be nice, though. I spent a while wondering if Lucy was my daughter or not, so I feel… at least a little close to her, if that doesn’t sound weird.”

Celia: “It doesn’t. Makes me wonder sometimes, you know. What if you’d have approached me after your Embrace, before our release. How that would have gone. Finding out about each other like that, rather than… how we did.”

“I think you’ll like her, though.”

GM: “Who knows there. But she seemed like a pretty happy little toddler, last I looked in.”

“I wouldn’t mind getting to see your mom again, either. She was always so nice to me. Just a total 180 from your dad.”

“I had this fantasy a few times, you know, that if we’d gotten married, we could’ve set up our parents together.”

Celia: “…wouldn’t that make us stepsiblings, though.”

“Well, wait a minute. Hold on. Is your dad still available? Because Mom wants to get back with Maxen and I’m just… not about to let that happen.”

GM: Roderick frowns in thought.

“Well, my dad never remarried. He’s always been so busy with work. I think how bitter the divorce with my mom was just burned him out to the idea of marriage. Made him not want to put that effort into another one when it could go into his career.”

“I asked him about it, once, and he said he wasn’t really thinking of dating until Dani and I were out of the house. And maybe college.”

Celia: “So now’s the time.”

GM: Roderick looks thoughtful.

“He’s going to die alone, if Dani disappears and he doesn’t find someone else. I’ve thought about that.”

“How he’s going to think both his kids are dead.”

Celia: “Dani doesn’t need to disappear. She can stay here. In the Quarter.”

“And… there’s a rumor, you know, that… that Lucy is yours. I was with you and the timeline meshes, and maybe… I mean… a grandchild isn’t a replacement for a child, but maybe if he thought that, too…”

GM: Roderick seems to pause in further thought.

“Coco asked me, once, which I thought was more important. Truth or beauty.”

“I said truth. I know my dad would too.”

Celia: Celia had also asked him that. Right before he’d smashed her face in. But it doesn’t matter since she’s not Coco.

GM: “That’s a sweet thought, to give him a grandchild. But he’d rather have truth.”

“And your mom knows the truth. She knows he’s not the grandfather.”

Celia: “I know. Just…” she doesn’t sigh, but she looks like she wants to. “I just… feel terrible.”

GM: He strokes her cheek.

“I know there’s a lot. What about?”

Celia: “You. Becoming what you are. You dying. Your dad. Your sister, even. I know… I know Coco said I was overstating my own importance, but… I still feel responsible.”

GM: “You aren’t. Coco made the offer, and I said yes, because I saw a way to destroy the Mafia.”

Celia: “I want to help.”

GM: “I’d welcome that help. It’s funny how I just haven’t gotten around to it. Like you and your dad, I guess.”

“Right now, though, I think I want to keep my family safe and happy first. The Mafia will still be around after they’re gone.”

“I think my dad could really use someone. He took my death… he’s moved on, but it’s cast this eternal shadow over him.”

“I don’t know what losing Dani might do.”

Celia: “Then don’t make her leave, Roderick. Don’t do that to him. Let her stay here. If she’s a thin-blood… I mean, you know the rumors, that they don’t rage. It’s safer. And isn’t it better if she’s here, with someone who loves her?”

GM: The Brujah looks torn. He really does.

“But Savoy knows who she is. What she is. She’ll always be leverage over me.”

“If I thought he didn’t know, then no question, I’d want her to stay.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“He’s known who my family is this whole time and he’s never done anything to them. He’s not like that.”

GM: “He’s an elder.”

Celia: “So is Coco.”

GM: “Celia, I get to listen to a roomful of them when they let down their hair. I’ve gotten to listen for years.”

“Dani is leverage to him. That’s just how their minds work. You would not believe how ruthless, cynical, and utterly without conscience they can be.”

Celia: She would, actually, but she doesn’t tell him that.

GM: “Henry Kissinger could take tips.”

Celia: He’s going to know she told. He’s going to know she told Roderick the truth about his family, and he’s going to… to be done with her. That’s it. Second chance. Gone. It’s like she can see her family dying in front of her eyes. Lucy, Emily, Diana. The only people she cares about anymore. Heads rolling. Worse.

She doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t know what to say.

GM: “Coco cares about me. And she’s decent, for an elder. But when push comes to shove she can be ruthless too.”

“I told you all about those thin-bloods…”

He shakes his head.

Celia: “Then why would you side with the people who made that happen?”

“Yeah, Roderick, he’s an elder. He’s probably as ruthless as the rest of them. He wants what he wants. But he doesn’t butcher people because of an accident of Embrace. He doesn’t round people up and sell them out.”

“And if that Asian bitch hadn’t dragged Max out like you said, you think the Sanctified would have stopped at murdering the thin-bloods? No. They’d have taken down the rest of you because that’s the kind of rule Vidal has.”

GM: “I think there are a lot of ways that could’ve gone south for them. Sanctified casualties, Anarch survivors running to Savoy. They didn’t want a fight with us, even if they’d have won. Too much mess.”

Celia: “But they would have done it. They would have come after all of you. And that’s the difference.”

“You told me. You said he counted back from ten. Anyone inside would die with the rest of them. They don’t care. Vidal doesn’t care. You’re all expendable. And your own sire sold them out. She knew what she was doing. That she sent her people to die. That the other Anarchs who believed in her could die if they did what they normally do.”

GM: “I think it may have been a bluff. We outnumbered them. I don’t think we’d have won, but I think that’d have been an ugly enough fight they’d have tried to avoid it. You can’t try to butcher dozens of true-blooded Kindred without a really big mess that benefits Savoy. Again, Sanctified casualties, Anarch survivors all fleeing to Savoy, not to mention Coco and Opal for the sheriff trying to destroy their covenant.”

“What it ultimately comes down to is practicality, not morals. That’s why Coco and Opal were complicit. The Camarilla says the pogrom is over, Vidal is just a hardliner who refuses to get the message, and pushed my sire to go along. She cares about the thin-bloods as much as Savoy does. It will always be a question of expediency to them.”

Celia: “Do you hear yourself? You’re literally defending them.”

GM: “I’m not! What Coco did was wrong! But you’re kidding yourself too if you think Savoy will be a good faith actor, or that Dani won’t be a hostage he’ll use to control me with.”

Celia: “What do you think is going to happen when Vidal konks out?”

GM: “I don’t know what’ll happen. Maybe Vidal will try to take Savoy and the Baron our before he does.”

Celia: “And it’ll be my head if he doesn’t get to.”

GM: “You’re not one of Savoy’s inner circle. If there’s war, you can hide out, and I’ll do everything to keep you safe in the aftermath. They can’t execute every single Savoy partisan. You’ll probably lose your domain, but you could survive this.”

Celia: “I’m not talking about a war. I’m talking about the fact that I’m the only person who knows what and who Dani is. I’m talking about the fact that I was seen leaving the Quarter yesterday in a car that belongs to you. It doesn’t take a genius to put that together.”

GM: “I doubt Savoy keeps a database with my car make that his people have memorized. His people probably wouldn’t even give it a glance with you behind the wheel.”

Celia: “All it takes is a quick online search, or a whisper in the right ear. But it’s fine. I get it.”

Who cares about the girl you claim to love when your sister is in danger, right?

GM: “But you are right, it’s still a needless risk to keep using my car when we could just use another.”

“Look, tonight’s Elysium Primo. All of Savoy’s important people will be there. Maybe see what you can find out. If they know about you driving my car.”

Celia: “He knows I know, Roderick. He knows I know, and he knows what you are to me. He’s not stupid.”

GM: “He isn’t omniscient either.”

Celia: “Yeah, well, you can deliver the news to my mom if he puts me down for the betrayal.”

GM: “It isn’t a betrayal. You just failed to convince me to sign on. I doubt he’ll be happy with you, but I’d say that’s better than Dani being a hostage he could kill anytime I make him unhappy, wouldn’t you?”

Celia: “I don’t think he’s going to give me a third chance,” she says quietly. “I might as well just cut my losses and run.”

GM: “So because you’re not useful enough… he kills you? That really sounds more like Vidal.”

“But, look. If you’re really scared… you could come over with me. To the Anarchs.”

Celia: Celia turns away. She presses a hand against her face, wiping at her eyes. The scent of blood is unmistakable.

“It’s fine,” she says again. Her voice exudes a cheerfulness she clearly doesn’t feel. “It’s fine.”

GM: He wipes her eyes too.

“It’s not fine. You’re crying.”

Celia: “It doesn’t matter. Your mind is clearly made up. You’d rather support the butcher on the throne than take a chance and work for change. It’s easier that way, right? Just go with it. Let yourself get distracted playing Kindred politics, forget about what matters.” The Mafia. Cleaning up the city. The reason he’d agreed to Coco’s offer. Generations of Garrisons all fighting for the same thing, and him the only one left in any position to do something about it. The dream will die with his father.

“Any of those elders you regularly listen to will feel the same way, but fuck it, let’s get them in when Vidal kicks it.”

GM: “Vidal isn’t going to be around much longer. Whoever succeeds him won’t be able to govern the same way. And to hear the primogen talk about it, Savoy’s no better than any of them.”

Celia: She wonders if he even hears himself.

“Savoy wouldn’t throw out his own for the scourge and sheriff and hunters to exterminate. He wouldn’t sacrifice childer because it’s easier than trying to deal with an external threat. He wouldn’t make an example of thin-bloods by sending his lapdogs to slaughter them.”

GM: “I think he’d do all of those things if it was convenient. That’s how all the primogen talk about him.”

Celia: “You don’t even know him.”

GM: “I hear how other elders talk about him. He’s one of them. They all think so.”

“Hell, they want him on the primogen. Him and the Baron.”

Celia: “So you’re just going to take Dani out of the city because it’s a little bit dangerous. Send her to another place where she doesn’t know anyone, where she has no one to rely on if things get tough, where you can’t look after her. Where I can’t look after her.”

GM: “Do you hear yourself? It’s way more than a little dangerous. Savoy will kill her as soon as I step out of line.”

“Houston is a bad option, but at least there she won’t be an elder’s hostage. There are no good options here, just bad and worse.”

Celia: “Why,” she asks, “would he kill her? She’s not worth anything if she’s dead. If you were a ruthless elder, would you kill her?”

GM: “If I had no more use for Roderick anymore? Yeah, I might.”

Celia: “I wouldn’t. Death is very final. Life is full of possibilities. People are always useful, even if it isn’t readily apparent.”

GM: “Except to elders there’ll always be more people. Life is cheap. More always comes along. But loose ends can always pop back up to make trouble.”

Celia: “Sure. Your sire could find someone else. I mean, she let Micheal go, what’s another one, right?”

GM: “Don’t even start on Mike. He went out of his way to alienate her. And me. She did everything to be a good sire to him and he just threw it back in her face.”

“I think he never got over his stupid complex. He never went to school. He never read books. He’s everything that gives our clan a bad name as a bunch of angry thugs and punks instead of scholars and philosopher-kings.”

“Coco tried to teach him to be more. He has no idea what an incredible opportunity that was. She’s collected countless degrees from the city’s universities. She’s seen hundreds of years of history. She has a tested IQ over 150. And she was willing to be his personal tutor, for years. But he just pissed that opportunity completely away.”

“I don’t accept that not everyone can improve themselves, either. Coco used to be even less educated than Mike. She was illiterate until she was around 20 years old, did you know that? She hadn’t read a book or gone to school a day in her life, until my grandsire taught her. He’s at least as smart and well-read as she is, but she didn’t let her ego get in the way of bettering herself. She wanted to give Mike the same gift William gave her. She tried and tried and tried. And he just threw it back in her face. I don’t blame her for washing her hands of him, any more than I blame you for not wanting your dad back in your family’s lives. Some people—actually, probably most people—just do not ever fucking change.”

“Your dad was also half-right. You aren’t stupid, and you’re way smarter than he ever gave you credit for, but some people are stupid. Some people have no desire to better themselves, even if they get the opportunity. Unpopular opinion here, but one that a lot of well-read people secretly hold: we’re better than them. Mike realizes that, deep down, but he’s too lazy and egotistical to admit he could improve himself. So he chooses to be small and petty and stupid for eternity.”

“Coco didn’t let Mike go. She tried and tried and tried with him, and he cut her out. I don’t blame her one bit for that.”

Celia: Saying she’s smarter than her dad gave her credit for isn’t much of a compliment considering what her dad thought of her, but she doesn’t bother to point it out to him. He wouldn’t understand. After all, he’d almost said it to her—about her—last night. As if it means nothing. As if it didn’t take years to finally put it behind her.

She wonders if he’d feel the same way about Micheal if he knew what Veronica is doing to him. How she treats him. Night after night after night. But hey, Mike is stupid, right? He deserves it.

Her lips thin.

“I used to be jealous of you, you know. That Coco is your sire. That she keeps you busy with everything. Got you a spot as the scribe, protected when the sheriff comes calling, talks to you about history. Embraced you so you could realize your dream of taking down the Mafia.”

When he’s done playing lapdog to her, anyway.

But he’s a well-read, smart sort of guy. Better than other people, isn’t he? She doesn’t need to say it.

GM: He grasps her arms as it seems to click on his face.

“I didn’t mean it like that. I’m not better than you.”

“I’m sorry. That was the wrong thing to say. I know that must be sensitive after how much your dad insulted and belittled you.”

Celia: “That and everything else,” she mutters.

All that book learning and he’s still ass at reading people.

“We have some time to kill before we need to leave. Why don’t we go upstairs and you can show me how to throw a punch without breaking my hand.”

Really knock her around since he’s so good at that.

GM: He glances at the time. It’s around 10 PM.

She really has been sleeping late.

“Tonight’s Elysium Primo is at midnight. You don’t have anything else on the docket until then?”

Celia: “Why, trying to go meet up with your other lovers? ‘Cause listen, I’ll fight them.” She holds up a fist. Or rather a poor interpretation of a fist: her thumb is tucked inside her fingers, popping out the knuckles on her first three digits.

It’s quite possibly the worst form anyone has ever seen. Easy way to break her thumb, her knuckles, even her wrist.

GM: Roderick smirks.

“If you know how to fight, like you said you did, you know what’s wrong with that. Or else it’s a good thing you didn’t use your fists against those hunters.”

“But okay, we can get in some practice,” he says, pulling off his nice Elysium clothes for a t-shirt and sweats. “We’ll try not to fuck each other’s brains out until the end, this time.”

Celia: There are too many things to say back to that: a reminder that she doesn’t need to fight because she’s so pretty no one would even think to swing on her so of course her form is wrong. An accusation of actually having other lovers since he hadn’t denied it (and when had that changed?). A scowl and reminder that she’s able to control herself and doesn’t need to fuck him, thank you very much.

The words die before they ever reach her lips, though, when he starts peeling off his clothes. Her eyes follow the movement of his shirt as he pulls it up over his head, revealing the unblemished, flat stomach, the muscles that play beneath the skin. So much more buff now than he was when they were together as mortals, and she gets to enjoy it. Forever. Now, even, all she has to do is reach out, and…

Celia blinks a few times and turns her face away, then finally gets up and moves across the room to distract herself so she doesn’t pounce on him while he’s half-naked. She opens the refrigerator in want of something else to do. His earlier question made her wary.

GM: Celia smells the coppery tang as soon as she opens the fridge. The grisly “food” is where she left it in the lower produce compartment: leakage is easier to clean up there. There isn’t much blood left at all in the plastic-wrapped body parts. Celia was very thorough. A human probably wouldn’t smell anything. But she isn’t human.

Celia: She shuts the door just as quickly.

How had he missed it? Or does he just not care that she’s got a fridge full of body parts?

That’s what love must be: finding a body in your girlfriend’s apartment and not asking questions.

GM: She finds Roderick on his phone wherever they’ve decided to practice. He sets it down and tosses her the best workout clothes he could find in her closet.

It’s not like they ever sweat. Or need to work out.

Celia: It took her all of two seconds to open and close the door, but she supposes that’s the problem with millennials. Can’t pry them away from their devices.

“Are you telling your other girlfriend you’re going to be late?” she asks as she strips and changes into the offered clothing. Yoga pants. T-shirt. It’s not like she only owns ball gowns.

GM: He watches her appreciatively at first, his fangs lengthening in his mouth, then turns away.

“What gave you the idea I had another girlfriend?” he asks with amusement.

Celia: “Cute guy like you?”

GM: “I’ve been with other girls. But not in a while. Plenty else to keep busy with.”

Celia: “I’d ask who, but then I’d have to beat them up, and apparently I don’t even know how to make a fist.” Celia sighs at him, hands on her hips.

GM: “I can see why. I already want to do you over the bed.”

“The way you move, the way you dress, the way you look… you make everything hot.”

Celia: Celia beams at him. She tosses her head, hair flipping over her shoulder.

“Maybe if you win I’ll even let you.” She watches him for a minute, then asks, “you’re not gonna lose it on me if we’re not really fighting but I hit you or something, are you? Because, just… I don’t know if I could actually take you like that…”

GM: “God, and your smile,” he smiles back. “I really just want to flip you over right n…”

He trails off at her question, but shakes his head. “Maybe if you were fighting with your claws out. Bare-handed shouldn’t be enough to seriously hurt me, though.”

Celia: “That’s why we never got anything done last time,” Celia reminds him, but she’s still grinning. She finds a tie for her hair and pulls it up so it’s out of her face, bouncing lightly on the balls of her feet.

“This one of those things where I have to call you sensei? Teacher? Mister Roderick? I think I’ve got a plaid skirt somewhere…” she trails off, wiggling her brows at him.

GM: “It’s in the way you move, how you just make every little thing so sexy… you’re irresistible…” he murmurs, pulling her close. His hands start to explore her body as he nuzzles her neck.

Her next words only seem to make him more excited.

“Mmm, why don’t I help you change out of these clothes, first…”

Celia: She starts to tell him that they’re supposed to be doing something—she doesn’t get dressed like this for no reason—but it flies out of her mind the moment he pulls her in. Her resolve falters; why put in the effort of learning how to fight when the lick in front of her is so much sweeter?

They’d made it further than usual, at least. All the way into sweats.

GM: Before those come off.


Friday night, 11 March 2016, PM

GM: The lovers lie naked and spent in one another’s blood-streaked arms. Roderick chuckles.

“Shit.”

“You’re never going to learn to fight at this rate.”

Celia: “Probably not,” she agrees. She doesn’t look too put out about it though. “If someone comes after me I’ll just blind them with my dazzling smile.”

GM: “Could you make yourself look, maybe… uglier?”

He laughs again.

Celia: She gives him a flat look.

GM: “You’re really too sexy for your own good. It’s very distracting.”

Celia: “I could get a bag, maybe. Poke some eyeholes in it. Would that work for you?”

GM: He looks thoughtful.

Celia: “Oh my god. I was kidding.”

GM: He smirks and squeezes her against his chest. “I’m just worried it wouldn’t make you un-sexy enough.”

Celia: “You’re ridiculous,” she mutters. She leans into him all the same, a satisfied smile pulling at her lips. “I have a weird question for you.”

GM: “Can’t be weirder than my thinking you should wear a bag over your head,” he smiles back.

Celia: “I wonder if we can say it’s a new trend and convince the rats to try it.”

“But I was wondering… you don’t get off the same way I do. But you said earlier that you don’t mind it. So I’m just kind of curious what it feels like.”

GM: “It’s… it’s really not that bad, actually. It’s kind of like the first time I got off, where I felt so close, and didn’t have any idea when I would finally come. Part of me wanted to stop, but also keep going…”

If Celia didn’t know any better, she’d say he was enjoying himself.

Celia: “Hm.” She can’t relate. The first time she’d gotten off had been with him, and she hadn’t had much choice in the matter; it had kind of just snuck up on her all of a sudden without her doing much of anything. He’d taken care of all of that, the first time. “But you don’t mind it? Or you… like it?” She looks up at him.

GM: He seems to think for a moment.

“Uh… maybe?”

Celia: “I was just going to say if you’re not into it we don’t have to do it every time, is all.”

GM: “No, no, I think…”

He trails off, then smiles.

“Would you like to play with my dick? As an ‘experiment?’”

Celia: Celia doesn’t need further encouragement than that. She’s happy to lend a hand. Then her mouth. The rest of her, too, even if he doesn’t take her up on it yet, so she sticks to her mouth, with her fingers wrapped around the base. Just as she used to do for him, the way he showed her he liked all those years ago.

GM: He swiftly grows hard under her touch. Celia keeps going for a while. He breathes and pants (both needlessly, but perhaps a psychophysiological reflex). Towards what feels like the end, he tenses and breathes harder, but Celia doesn’t feel anything come out of his shaft.

“…huh.”

“That felt… good.”

Celia: She looks up at him from where she’s kneeling between his legs.

“Yeah? Like you, ah, got there good?” She’d almost thought there’d be blood. “Or like it was mildly enjoyable good?”

GM: “I’m pretty sure I got there…”

He smiles and puts his hands around her, just under her armpits, and lifts her into the air. He sets her down on the couch and pulls her against him. His arms encircle her belly.

“You make everything around you better. You know that? Everything you touch comes out with a coat of gold. The makeup is part of it. Making people look like their best selves. But that’s only part of what you do.”

“The way you gave Emily a family. The way you turned your mom’s life around. The way you brought, bring, so much happiness into mine. You’re like a fire. A sun. The closer someone gets to you, the more the more warmth and joy you bring into their life.”

Celia: Nestled against him, snug within the circle of his arms, she can almost believe him. That she makes things better. That she’s capable of being good.

But that’s not true, isn’t it? None of the planets closer to the sun than theirs can sustain life, and a fire eats up all the oxygen in the room. It’s like her. It just destroys. The pretty little flames melt the skin off anyone stupid enough to get too close.

Would he still think the same if he knew the truth? If he knew how monstrous her sire is, the terrible things that she has done, still does, plans to do? The lives—and unlives—she’ll destroy to claw her way to the top? Could he still care for her then?

Celia tucks her cheek against him. She’d asked herself two nights ago if she could be better for him. She can. She can try, at least. He’s worth that much, deserves that much from her.

“That was really beautiful, you know. You give me hope for the future. That it can be beautiful, even with this thing inside of us. That we can be good, do good things, be better than the rest of them, than what they think we have to be. You make me think it’s all possible.”

GM: His hand traces along her flank.

“That’s what Carthage was, you know. Maybe not literally. But as a story. An ideal. That a whole city of licks, just like us, could all decide to be better than what everyone thinks we have to be. To use their powers and immortality as a force for good. To live in harmony with mortals, to no longer need any lies between us, with both races using their abilities to build something together that they never could apart.”

“That’s what I see, too, when I look at you. A citizen of Carthage. The promise of something better.”

He hugs her close.

“I love you, Celia. I love you so much.”

“I don’t know how I was able to spend so much of my Requiem without you, or how I could’ve been so stupid as to throw you away, but I’m not ever going to make that mistake again.”

Celia: His words fill her with warmth. She’s safe here in his arms, pressed against his chest. Cheek on his shoulder, she breathes him in and closes her eyes, letting his love wash over her.

She’ll never tell him. Never tell him that she’s not what he thinks. Never give him a reason to look at her like she’s some sort of monster. She can protect him from that, from the worst of their kind. Maybe she’s not a fighter, but she can still be a shield of sorts.

“I love you too, Roderick. I missed you. Every night we weren’t together I missed you. So much.” She twists in his arms, turning to face him. She touches a hand to his cheek, trails kisses across the other side: brow, cheek, jaw, lips. “People say they have all the time in the world, you know, when they talk about the future. But it’s true for us in a way it isn’t for others. We have forever. Eternity. Together. We don’t need to be apart again. We never have to be apart again.”

It doesn’t feel like enough, not next to what he said to her. But it’s what she has, what she can give him.

GM: He kisses her forehead. Traces a hand along her hair as he stares up into her eyes.

“God, I don’t even want to go to Elysium tonight. Having to pretend as if we’re total strangers in public.”

GM: “Part of me wants to just spend more time with you. Actually get started teaching you to fight.”

Celia: She gives him a wistful smile.

“I wish. I’d love to tell those blowhards where to shove it. Tonight, though. Afterwards. I have a few things to take care of immediately after, but spend the day again. I feel safer when you’re here. And we can amuse ourselves until dawn however you want.”

She glances at the clock.

GM: There’s enough time to get ready and go to Elysium without rushing, but probably not an extended martial arts lesson.

“Okay,” he relents. “Are you going to talk to Dani tonight?”

Celia: She’s more concerned about the ghoul’s body she needs to put back together than the boxing.

“If I can find her.”

GM: He looks worried. “You can do that, can’t you? Or else how do we get her out?”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick. I’ll find her. Of course I can find her.”

She hesitates a beat. What if she can’t find her? What if she’s overly optimistic about this whole plan? She tries not to let him see it, the uncertainty. But she’s never been able to hide her emotions from him, has she? It’s there in her eyes, all he has to do is look into them. Belatedly, she averts her gaze.

GM: “Oh my god! Celia, we can’t just have her running around loose with no idea where she is!” he exclaims.

Celia: “And I can’t make contact and tip our hand until we’re ready to move her. It has to be one smooth operation, otherwise it’s going to get messy. Is that what you want?”

GM: “I want you to at least know where she is! How the hell are we going to move her without that?”

Celia: “I’ll find her,” Celia says again. “I just don’t think I should approach her yet.”

GM: “Okay, just… find her. We need to be ready to go, as soon as Ayame comes through.”

Celia: “Roderick… what if she doesn’t?”

GM: “We’ll deal with that then.”

Celia: She makes a noise that might be assent. She doesn’t say anything. Not for a long minute. She’s not particularly hopeful that everything will go off without a hitch.

She finally changes the subject.

“What do you know about Carolla? If we’re going to take down the Mafia we can start there.”

GM: “Brujah, like me. He’s showed up to the rants. I’ve slugged it out with him a few times.”

“Can’t say I didn’t enjoy it. Decent in a fight, though.”

“There was a stupid rumor going he’s Coco’s childe.”

Celia: “…oh?”

GM: Roderick actually looks a little angry at that.

“It’s pure bullshit. You’ve probably heard how coy he plays over his sire.”

Celia: Is it, though? She’s kept Roderick too busy to pick him off, anyway.

“Yeah.”

GM: “My guess would be it’s a nobody and this is how he builds up his rep.”

Celia: “Thought Brujah didn’t care about who their sires were, just their own merit.”

“Anyway, isn’t he First Estate? Kind of lame for a Brujah.”

GM: “We don’t, that’s the thing. He makes it a mystery and that gets people curious, anyway.”

Celia: “Ah. The game of rumors.”

GM: “Also, we might not, but the other clans do.”

“Sheriff spared me because of who my sire was, at the massacre. I’m not blind to that.”

“Or how being able to say I’m Roderick Durant, childe of Coco Duquette, childe of William Starkweather, childe of Eleanor de Valois, childe of Adana de Sforza, childe of Losario, childe of Troile, opens more doors with elders.”

Celia: “Do you think it matters, though? Who someone’s sire is?”

She doesn’t bother pointing out that the sheriff spared him because Coco set up the massacre. He has to know.

GM: “100% not. I’m not my sire. Or grandsire. Or so on and so on down the line. If you mean ‘matter’ in the sense of ‘should it entitle them to preferential treatment in Kindred society,’ at least. For good or ill, it definitely has consequences.”

Celia: “What about those people who have super fucked up sires. Like real monsters. You think they come out like that? Like how people turn into their parents?”

GM: “I’d say they can, but they don’t have to. Wright had a horrific sire and he’s turned out… mostly okay. But not everyone is that lucky or resilient, and I doubt things are perfect with him either. A horrible sire can fuck your Requiem up in all sorts of ways, just like a horrible breather parent can.”

“In a perfect world, either of those scenarios wouldn’t be a barrier to your future opportunities, but we don’t live in a perfect world.”

“I’m very lucky with who my sire was. Both that she descends from a fairly prestigious line, which opens more opportunities to me, and also because she treated me decently. Which also opens more opportunities, in other ways.”

Celia: “People think I’m a slut. Because of Veronica. And how she sleeps with everyone. They assume that I’m the same way. I’ve heard rumors…” Celia trails off, shaking her head. “The things they say about me are just… ugly. And I wonder, y’know, what it’d be like if she weren’t my sire. If it were even someone like Pietro, or if my grandsire had gotten to me instead. Same line, different reputation.”

“Anyway, sorry, we were talking about you. And beating up Carolla.”

GM: “You probably would have a different reputation,” Roderick says thoughtfully. “For good or ill, our sire colors everything about our Requiem. Some licks think that’s unfair and some think it’s right and proper, but there’s no avoiding it.”

Celia: “It’s the same as anything, really. Like you said. Being born to a different breather family would have made my life different, too.”

GM: “And even among the Brujah, we aren’t completely indifferent to it. Elders tend to put more stock in lineage than neonates. And if your sire was someone like Jeremy MacNeil… we might not think you’re better than another lick, but you’ll have people wondering what you did to impress such a badass sire.”

Celia: “I mean, aside from him just being an accident. But you think he’s making it up.”

GM: “I think he does it to get licks talking, which is exactly what we’re doing.”

Celia: “Maybe. I asked about him, you just brought up his sire,” Celia points out.

GM: “It’s the only noteworthy thing about him.”

Celia: “Because you’re mad that Coco might have Embraced him. Doesn’t his dad run the Mafia?”

GM: Roderick gives her a flat look. “Coco didn’t Embrace him.”

Celia: “I could find out. If you really want to know.”

GM: He looks angrier. “I just said she didn’t Embrace him!”

Celia: Celia holds up her hands, placating. “Sorry. I was kidding.”

GM: “I’ve seen no evidence. Absolutely none.”

Celia: “You mentioned him a while back. I remember because I made fun of his name. And you said there was something weird about him?”

“But then we got distracted.”

With sex, probably.

GM: “Sorry, don’t remember. That was a while ago.”

Celia: “You are dead to me,” Celia says with a sigh.

GM: “Oh, too bad. I was going to suggest we take a shower together before Elysium.”

“But since I’m dead…”

Celia: Celia considers him.

“I’m actually a necromancer, so… I guess I can bring you back.”

She presses the palm of her hand against his forehead.

“You’re healed.”

GM: He smirks, gets off the couch, and picks her up, positioning his arms under her knees as she holds onto his shoulders.

“Let’s see how healed…”


Friday night, 11 March 2016, PM

Celia: Their shower turned into another bout of sex, more enjoyable beneath the spray of the water as members of the undead than it had ever been while they were alive. She’d made him wash the blood off of her after that, scrubbing her back while she was awake to enjoy it, and she’d returned the favor once he was done with her.

It’s a feeling she can get used to, more showers with Roderick. Waking up with him. Spending her evenings with him. Already she’s looking forward to the end of Elysium so she can hit up the Evergreen, fix the ghoul, and jet back here to spend more time with him. Eternity, right? Somehow it doesn’t seem long enough.

He’d laughed at her when she had dithered over what to wear. He has it easy, she tells him, all he has to do is slap on a suit and tie and he looks presentable. Plus he’s an Anarch, it’s not like anyone is really judging him for what he wears. She walks a finer line. Not quite welcome in this domain because of who she serves, childe of a harpy, grandchilde and great-grandchilde of two primogen, hangs with the bitches who titter all night over a faux pas… it’s a lot to handle.

She’d changed twice before settling on the green gown. Seafoam or mint or shamrock or emerald, some such variant that means green without being so gauche as to actually say the word, because god-forbid licks like her stoop to such plebian descriptors. Mermaid cut, gauzy, with a tiny train and cutouts along the midriff and thighs that offer a peek at the delectable Kindred wrapped inside the ruched tulle.

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Jewels glitter at ear and throat, though her neck is left bare, and, as always, she wears her fire opal ring on the middle finger of her left hand. A pair of black heels complete the look. None so tall as her sire glides around in—she’d be a fool to try to mimic Veronica’s footwear—but strappy all the same, with a delicate strap around her ankle.

She even finds an overcoat in case it rains, pulls her hair into an effortless up-do that leaves a few strands free to curl around her face, and swipes on a fresh coat of lipstick. She almost can’t pry her eyes from the mirror once she’s done, and she’s glad that she and Roderick had fucked themselves silly because she looks bangin’.

Celia winks at her reflection before she leaves.

GM: Roderick agrees. He runs his hands along her shoulders in shoulders in massage-like motions as she finishes up in the mirror.

“Keep that on,” he murmurs into her ear. “I’m going to fuck you in it later.”

Celia: Do they really need to go to Elysium?

She doesn’t think it’s possible for her stomach to flutter anymore. She’s dead. But it does anyway. A thrill runs through her at the words. She’s already wondering what part of her evening she can shift to tomorrow so she can get back here more quickly.

GM: Roderick’s hands move down from her shoulders. They squeeze her breasts and rub up and down the hips her gown’s mermaid cut makes so deliciously plain.

“Wrapped and dolled up just like a present…”

Celia: Celia only lets him touch her for a minute, only leans back against him and closes her eyes while he tells her the words she loves to hear for long enough to think that maybe they could just skip it…

No, no, no.

“Shhh,” Celia says, pulling his hands away, “if you don’t hush I’m going to jump you again, and then we’ll definitely never make it.”

GM: “Would that really be so bad?” he smiles. “I know you’re thinking it.”

Celia: “I am thinking it, that’s the worst part, that I just want to lock the two of us in here and let you ravish me.”

GM: “Sex with clothes on is messy. But we don’t even sweat…” he murmurs. His hands move back to her hips, then start appreciatively tracing her rump. “We could make it fast… I could do you right here on your vanity, arms around my neck, sexy dress on the whole time…”

Celia: “And show up smelling like sex and blood so everyone knows that we just fucked each other?” Celia gives him a look. It’s an appraising look, because she very, very much wants to do as he says. To hop up onto her vanity and let him slide the dress up her legs, to let him part her thighs with his hands or body and slip inside. To fuck. He doesn’t have to make it messy, she doesn’t have to make it messy, he’d said before that he just likes to drink blood, none of the kinky shit…

She shivers in his arms, clearly torn. She wants him. Wants him now, wants him later, wants him forever. He’s hers. His blood calls to her, and it’s so close, right beneath the surface, all she has to do is lean in and… bite.

Unless he means fuck like breathers.

Then there really is no mess. Nothing to clean up because he doesn’t actually…

She stops her thoughts from traveling further down that line. They don’t have time. It’s the blood, she knows, the collar they share, their prior history, his adoring words. It’s just like last time, when they’d never actually gotten to any of the rants because they’d been too busy bumping into cars and fucking on the roof to get anything done.

She’d never imagined there’d come a time when she wanted to turn down sex. Not with him. But she has things to do tonight. People to talk to.

Finally, she shakes her head, turning in his arms to press a kiss against the underside of his jaw.

“Later,” she whispers in his ear, “after you’ve been thinking about me all night, about the things we’re going to do together, after you’re so riled up and turned on that you can’t even think straight. Then…” she trails a hand down his chest, “then you can unwrap your present.”

GM: “Oh, I want to fuck my present with the wrapping still on, when she looks this delicious…” Roderick grins, his hands longingly kneading and squeezing her ass.

He relents after a moment, though, with a wistfully effected sigh.

“But I guess you’re right. Licks to see. Things to do, besides each other. And it does feel like a waste for you to get so dressed up without going out.”

He hefts her up, moving one arm under her legs and the other around her back.

“Carry you to your car, at least?” he smiles.

Celia: He spoils her, truly. It’s the sort of treatment she can get used to, the kind of thing she deserves, beautiful creature that she is. She shouldn’t have to walk, not when there’s a dashing Brujah here to do it for her, not when she fits so snugly against him. Cradled in his arms, head against his chest, her thoughts run as wild as the hands that roam his body. Teasing, gentle caresses, nipping at his neck, his ear, his lips. He reminds her to lock the door and she does it in a haze, back to him before she’s even finished putting the key back into her purse.

He fills her world. He is her world. Sire who? No one else matters, not when she has Roderick. Soul mates. There it is, the beautiful word that ties them together. Have to be, don’t they, because she can’t think of another place she’d rather be than right here nestled against him.

Her feet find the ground again, but Celia pays it no mind. He says something, his lips moving, but she doesn’t hear the words because she’s busy pulling him in, pressing her lips against his, her body against his, her arms around his neck, holding him close. A flash of fangs against his skin, not enough to cut, but to give it to him two ways, lick and human both.

She could drown in his love. She is drowning, spiraling down, further and further, and she doesn’t need the air to breathe so she doesn’t care, they can find the bottom of the abyss together, see how deep the trench goes.

But something else pulls at her too. Commitments. Things she said she’d do, people she needs to see. She claws her way back to the surface, fighting against the shackle that has her by the ankles, the anchor that wants to sink her. She fights against it, kicking and screaming to pull herself up, up, out. Her head breaks the surface and she can breathe again, but the waves keep rolling over her, crashing again and again, and she clings to him, her little place of safety in the turmoil.

She’ll see him again. Soon. That’s what makes her finally pull back, touch a hand to his cheek, look up into his eyes. Soon. Thirty minutes. He’ll be there, and they’ll pretend they don’t know each other, that they mean nothing to each other, but it’s just another game. Another game to keep them safe. Another game in a city of lies.

But tonight. Later. Errands, then him. All night, all day, the next night and day. Him.

“Temporary goodbyes shouldn’t hurt so much,” she whispers.

GM: Perhaps she notices how long it takes him to carry her to her car. More likely she doesn’t. It’s a nice feeling to not need to think about anything in the world, even walking, except the lover with his arms under her.

Her teasing touch when he finally (and so reluctantly) sets her down clear electrifies him. He pulls her close, her breasts pressing against his chest, his hands squeezing her rear, as he plants hungry kisses against her lips. His tongue explores her mouth, tracing against her fangs. She can feel how long and sharp his are, too. He runs his hands through her hair. He wraps his arms around her back and hugs her against him like he wants nothing more than to hold her in place there forever.

Some of it has to be the bond, this sheer intoxication with one another. But it’s real, too. She knows it is. It’s a rose planted in already fertile soil.

“It almost feels like a crime to set you down,” he whispers ruefully into her ear. “Those dainty little feet of yours shouldn’t ever have to touch the ground. You should have admirers to carry you everywhere.”

Celia: Her eyes all but shine as she looks up at him, cheeks flush with blood. She doesn’t care that it’s a conscious act to send it there, she wants him to see what he does to her, the effect that he has on her.

It’s real. It is. His sire has said it is rare, and their kind maybe don’t believe in it, but she knows the truth. They’re both capable of love, and they’ve found it in each other.

“How would they ever get close to me if you’re around to beat them off with a stick, hm?” Celia slides her hands up his chest, then around the back of his head to slide through his hair. “I don’t need any admirers but you.”

GM: “God…” he murmurs, his hands continuing to appreciatively trace up and down her backside.

“You’re too good for them, for Elysium. It’ll only seem fair if they declare you’re the exhibit. The center of the evening, for everyone else to gush about and admire.”

“They should put you on a throne. And all the other licks should have to beg just for a turn of getting to help carry it.”

Celia: “Everyone already knows that,” Celia tells him, smirking. It’s true, though. Jade’s face was designed to be the prettiest lick in the city, and anyone who says otherwise is simply lying to themselves. She’s not so gauche as to brag about it, though. She’s never even said as much out loud.

“A throne, hm? I’ve a crown somewhere, maybe I’ll put it on tonight and make you worship me.”

GM: He just presses her close. “Oh, I already worship you. When Elysium’s all over, and we’re back here, I’m going to carry you inside. I’m going to set you down over the sink, and hand-wash the bottoms of your shoes, so we don’t ever have to be reminded they touched the earth. Then I’m going to carry you to bed, and unwrap my present, just a little, when I crawl up between your legs, with your sexy dress still on. Then I’ll really worship you, to pay you back for that blowjob.”

Celia: “Now that,” she murmurs, pulling him down to press her lips against his once more, “sounds like a perfect end to the evening.” Her body responds to his words, nipples stiffening and moisture pooling between her thighs at the thought of him kneeling before her. Oh, yes, a wonderful evening indeed.

It’s difficult after that to extricate herself from him, but a glance at his watch tells her that if they don’t get going they’re both going to be late, and that will set all sorts of tongues wagging. Not in the good way, either. Not like he promises to do later.

“Four?” She turns it into a question. Four am. Enough time for her to complete her tasks and get back here so he can ravish her, provided Elysium doesn’t run long.

GM: “Four,” he repeats longingly. He opens her car door, then picks her up and sets her down in the driver’s seat, as if solely to enjoy having her in his arms again. He pulls up the hem of her dress, pulls down her panties, and runs his fingers along and inside her womanhood, getting as much of her dampness all over them he can.

“Have to keep you dry so your dress doesn’t stain,” he smiles.

It doesn’t help that she probably just gets wetter.

Celia: It doesn’t help at all. She almost yanks him into the car with her so that he can finish the job. She makes a noise, clearly discontent when he pulls away, her lips pulled back from her teeth to growl at him.

“Tease.”

GM: “Turnabout is fair play,” he smirks, though his eyes turn concerned after a moment. “I can grab you a towel from inside, though. You don’t want to have even a hair out of place around the harpies.”

“Maybe some new underwear too, if yours got wet. They might be able to smell it.”

Celia: Celia pats the purse, then makes a vague gesture to her glove compartment as well.

“I have wipes,” she tells him, “and I’ll simply remove my panties. Now you have to think about that while they drone on tonight.”

GM: “Oh, are you sure? You don’t want me rifling through your underwear drawer and picking out a sexy pair?”

Celia: “Oh, no, I’ll let you dress me for tomorrow, so that when I go to this tedious dinner function you’ll know I’m thinking about you.”

GM: “That does sound incredibly tedious without me there. But okay, if you’re not wearing panties tonight…”

Celia doesn’t see the lightning-fast Brujah do it, but she feels her suddenly close-together legs shoot up into the air. The she sees the panties dangling from his hand. He rubs his wet fingers against them to towel off.

“I think I’ll keep these inside my jacket as a good luck charm.”

Celia: “Then you’re going to smell like sex,” Celia points out, but she’s too busy giggling at the sight to put any heat into her words.

GM: He smiles back, ruefully. “You’re right. I suppose I’ll just have to keep them in my car, until I can get them framed or mounted to a plaque in my new haven.”

“Or maybe I should donate them to an art museum as a priceless piece of cultural heritage.”

Celia: “You could auction them off online. I think my panties might sell for a pretty penny, especially worn.”

GM: “But there’d be no one with enough money to buy them. It’d be like with the Cullinan, where all they could do was give it to the British monarchy.”

Celia: “I guess they’re yours forever then.” She tilts her head, considering. “I kind of like the idea of you carrying around a little piece of me.”

GM: “I like it a lot too.” He leans in to kiss her.

“All right. I love you. Make sure you get everything with the wipes.”

Celia: “I will. I love you too. I’ll see you soon. Or rather, I’ll studiously avoid looking at you soon and sneer at the mention of your name.”

GM: “You and me both,” he says with another rueful look. He closes the car door, waves, and heads off to his own car.

It feels like it’s going to be a very long Elysium.


Friday night, 11 March 2016, PM

GM: The Ogden Museum of Southern Art is located in the CBD next to Lee Circle, the traffic circle dedicated to the eponymous Confederate general. It’s a five or so minute drive.

The tall and looming building almost resembles a prison, with an impassive male face staring through a partial cage of iron bars. It’s a popular Elysium locale, and Celia has even been there a few times when she was alive with her parents. The Ogden’s collection, she knows, consists of work by artists from or associated with fifteen Southern states and the District of Columbia. Since its foundation by Roger H. Ogden, the museum’s collection of paintings, watercolors, drawings, prints, photographs, sculpture, wood and crafts has grown to include more than 4,000 works donated from individuals and collectors from across the US, and constitutes the largest and most comprehensive collection of Southern art in the world.

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Celia: It’s a five-minute drive that turns into ten. Roderick’s words linger in her mind: make sure you get it all. She doesn’t need the harpies tittering over the state of her on top of whatever other perceived slight they’ll find to mock this evening. Even those inside the circle are torn viciously apart by their barbed tongues. So she uses a wipe between her legs before she even puts the car in gear, another at a red light—and wouldn’t that be a sight if someone happened to be around this hour of night, a woman with her dress hiked up around her waist and a hand between her legs—and a final time before she gets out. She smooths her dress back down prior to opening the car door. No need to flash anyone, at least not for free.

Legs lengthened by the heel on her shoes, Jade unfolds from the vehicle and glides towards the entrance of the museum.

GM: It’s too bad Randy isn’t here to drive her. She could get everything. While he watched.

Celia: She gets everything anyway, it just takes an extra minute.

GM: Maybe he’d make do with sniffing and licking the wipes while he rubbed one out, after she left.

Celia: That boy needs to get laid.

GM: She’s also late. There’s no way around it. Jade doesn’t see any other vampires entering the building, though maybe that’s just them being discrete.

There’s one Kindred, though, who’s seemingly waiting outside. Becky Lynne Adler stands near the museum’s front entrance, conversing with a ghoul while she taps into a phone. Embraced in the flower of late adolescence, she has delicate features, soft sun-blonde hair that falls slightly past her shoulders, and deep brown eyes. Jade knows her to smile easily and often, which together with her slight build and short height (she barely breaks 5’0"), give her a harmless appearance—the sort of girl who couldn’t intimidate a grade schooler. She wears a strapless white evening gown cinched at the waist with a pink bow and matching heels. Two diamonds glint from her ears, while a silver heart-shaped locket rests on a chain around her neck.

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“Oh, hello, Miss Kalani,” the Ventrue smiles as Jade approaches. “I had a hunch you’d be here… what do you say we go in together, so there’s less stir with the harpies?”

Celia: Jade’s smile stretches across her face as the sight of the stiff waiting for her. Her eyes sweep the blonde’s form, taking in the dress—white? that’s brave—with the cutesy bow and heels, the jewelry at her ears and throat. Tasteful, as always. Effortless, or at least that’s what the Ventrue would have them believe. Just as she’d have Jade believe that she happened to be caught up outside. Had a hunch? Indeed.

She halts just before Becky Lynne, for once a giant among her peers. In height, at least. Heels may be the great equalizer, but someone as short as this one would need to don the platform pumps of Veronica to put her on even footing. Still, it would be a silly lick indeed who let her small stature fool them into thinking she’s harmless.

“Good evening, Lady Speaker.” Were they not on the grounds of Elysium they would both let their masks slip enough to refer to each other more familiarly as they often do but here, at least, they play their roles. “I am always happy to share your presence. Doubly so when it allows us to duck their ire.” Jade flashes her a conspiratorial grin.

“Shall we?”

GM: Becky Lynne smiles back. “My mama always liked to say—trouble’s gonna come after you at some point, so no sense in goin’ after it yourself. Same with harpies and their ire!”

She turns to her ghoul. “Peggy, can you be a dear and wait outside with the car, usual time?”

“Yes, ma’am,” the ghoul nods. She’s also short blonde, and comely enough, but pudgier of face and more plainly dressed than her mistress. Everything about her looks like a plainer version of her mistress. She inclines her head and moves off.

“Good thing we’re showing up without any ghouls, too,” Becky Lynne smiles again. “My brother was telling me about a Kindred who showed up to Elysium with half a dozen ghouls, once, and the harpies just never let it die down. Which makes sense enough—we all have them, so no sense in showin’ off that we do. Less there is more, I think.” She gives a light laugh. “Unless we’re able to make them into ensembles as stylish as Regent Harlequin’s, of course.”

She reminds Celia of her mom, in some ways.

Blonde cutsey Southerners eager to make nice.

Celia: Is she, though? Eager to make nice for niceties sake? Hardly. Even Diana has a purpose for being as sweet as she is, and she doubts that Becky Lynne’s motives are as altruistic as she would have people believe. A Southern woman grows up learning how to put poison into her smile.

Jade has never brought her ghouls to Elysium. It isn’t their place.

“Less is more with many things,” Jade readily agrees. “Easier to add something than to take it away once it’s in the pot, as they say.”

Still, the sweet-as-pie Becky Lynne is preferable to the caustic tongues of some others she could name. So long as she’s aware of what the girl is she’s hardly a knife in the dark. Jade even likes her for all that because she gets it. She does the same thing. So it’s not as if she needs to feign interest in the blonde or force a smile, and her company is hardly a chore. She appreciates the cover with the harpies; solidarity in numbers and all that.

Even if her brother is slumming it and her sire is the most hated lick in the city.

“I suppose it wouldn’t be in line with my clan to confess that I couldn’t think of a more aesthetically pleasing exhibit for ghouls than Regent Harlequin has. I hope you won’t tattle for my lack of artistic bodily expression.” The wink is implied. “Think we should make the rounds and pretend we were here the whole time or throw ourselves into the thick of it?”

GM: Alana had always wanted to go. On her hands and knees, wearing a collar and leash, for everyone to see how Jade owns her.

“Oh, I think bodily expression is exactly what the artist behind Flawless is known for,” Becky Lynne smiles back, then taps two thoughtful fingers against her chin.

“Hmm. Makin’ the rounds makes it easier to slip under the radar. A harpy who notices might think we’re trying to fool them, though, and nobody likes that.”

“Goin’ right into the thick of it is bold. That might mean something, but it’s also a lot more scrutiny, and it’s always easier to get bad attention than good.”

“What do you think we oughta do, Miss Kalani?”

She seems to think some more. “Hm, or actually… maybe the best trick is to distract them with something else. Something more worth talking about than the fact of our arrival.”

“I wonder what we could do there?”

Celia: Jade had been about to suggest that they cozy up to the most important lick in the room and simply pretend that their presence was so much more important than that of the tongue-wagging harpies. Someone like sheriff. Not that her eyes seek him out. Oh no, not even a little bit. Not even a glance.

Well, maybe a glance. Once around the space to see if he’s there.

Other targets, though. Any of the elders, really, what harpy could complain about that? McGinn or Marcel, Becky Lynne is friendly enough with both of them, isn’t she? And it would cut through trying to deal with Josua if the blonde could get her an audience.

But dangling something shiny in front of those wagging tongues is certainly just as appealing—more believable and spreads what needs spread.

“Well…” Jade trails off thoughtfully, as if she doesn’t know exactly what the girl is thinking, “I suppose we’d have to share something scandalous.” She waits a beat.

GM: The Ventrue draws in a little (and needless) breath, the tips of her fingers fluttering over her mouth as her eyes scan their surroundings. But there’s some amusement dancing in them, too.

“Oh? Did you have somethin’ in mind for us to share, Miss Kalani?”

Celia: About your brother’s affair? Maybe the prince’s unknown childe? Or his diet of neonates?

Not the sort of thing she’d like to speak aloud in a place like this. Especially to a stiff. Something less volatile, then.

GM: Smith spoke ideas like those aloud.

Vidal could only execute him once.

Celia: And Smith was a somebody. Relatively, Jade is a nobody. She can’t imagine that the prince would be any more lenient towards her. Would he execute her publicly, she wonders, or have her abducted in the middle of the night? Maybe she’d go the way of the rest of the Storyvilles and serve as his midnight snack.

She wonders if her sire would be stirred to action should his liege order her execution. Maybe he’d be sent to deal with her. He’d berate her for the clumsy handling of the information he wanted her to spread. Would he use the sword? That new gift she gave him? Simply rip her heart out of her chest, poetic justice at its finest? After all, it has always belonged to him.

The amount of times that she has pictured her death at his hands makes her stomach clench.

No, none of those will do. And the others… she can think of too many ways that the information would be more useful in the hands of someone wiser. If only Savoy had sought fit to see her prior to this evening to offer guidance; what a field day she’d have with it now.

Jade tucks a curl behind her ear and bites her lip. Finally, she lets out a breath as unnecessary as the Ventrue’s earlier gasp.

“Well,” she says slowly, “it’s about a neonate, and it’s a little gauche…”

Exactly the sort of thing they’d like to sink their teeth into.

GM: It does make her stomach clench.

But perhaps the danger is part of the appeal. She can’t picture Roderick ever doing something like that.

Except when he loses it and really manhandles her.

“Well now, it’s all in how one presents it, isn’t it?” Becky Lynne smiles.

Celia: The difference between Roderick and her sire is the systemic destruction versus mindless chaos. Roderick losing control is bedlam, a whirlwind of rage, literal frenzy. An inferno. He obliterates everything around him. With Roderick she can only attempt to throw herself from his warpath and hope he passes her harmlessly by, then console him when it is over.

Her sire is a different beast altogether. Beautiful. Meticulous. Frozen. Utterly lethal annihilation. He does not smash; he shatters. He lays ruin with exact precision, destroying only what he wishes to see ruined. A scalpel to Roderick’s hammer. The difference between fire and ice.

His is a controlled burn.

And it terrifies her, how close she seeks to put herself to that cold fire. That she would let it—him—consume her. Have it. Have it all. Keep it, if only he’ll keep her too.

The thought is disquieting. She does not let it linger. Her eyes seek those of her would-be conspirator.

“Then I suppose, Lady Speaker,” she says at last, “that we must dazzle them.”

Celia: She leans in, lowering her voice.

“Perhaps you can assist me with neatly packaging this: I found one of the Storyvilles on a cam site.”

GM: “Oh my goodness,” Becky Lynne murmurs, holding a hand to her mouth.

Celia: Gauche, as she said.

GM: “She might be very, very grateful if that were to remain between us three.”

Celia: Jade acknowledges the point with a dip of her head.

“She might be.”

If only she weren’t dead.

GM: Talking further, Beck Lynne (perhaps unsurprisingly) seems to think that she and Jade stand more to gain by helping Storyvilles save face than spreading rumors about them. She won’t stop Jade if she wants to do that, though—including to her as an apparent explanation for the Toreador’s tardiness.

Celia: Jade supposes that Becky Lynne is right. Or at least she supposes that she doesn’t care enough about the Storyvilles to save or ruin their reputation, and every moment she spends out here debating the merits of spreading a rumor versus not is another moment she could be doing… literally anything else. She’s unsurprised to learn Becky Lynne’s stance on the subject; apparently she only hangs around the harpies so she can listen to rumors and refrains from spreading any herself, angel that she is.

Deft maneuver, she can’t help but note. She gives in graciously—there are other stories she’d prefer to spread about the coterie anyway—and offers to let Becky Lynne lead the way.

GM: The two make their way inside. A crowd of Kindred is gathered around what looks like a central exhibit.

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It sounds as if Celia and Becky Lynne have missed the opening prayer and whatever opening words Gus Elgin had to greet the attendees with. A glassy-eyed mortal man in fine eveningwear next to Gus Elgin sleepily recites,

“…the act of wrapping objects and binding things together is as ancient as mankind itself. Weaving is at least 12,000 years old (recent discoveries suggest possibly 27,000), and the world’s oldest sewing needle (made of bird bone possibly by Denisovans) dates back to approximately 50,000 years ago. While it is an ancient and very human act, perhaps the inspiration arose from observing nature. Spiders bind filaments together to form a web, and wrap their prey in silk. Vines wrap and cling for support and movement. Birds build nests and bagworms build homes through binding objects together. Each and every one of us begins life bound within the womb, one life entwined with another. Perhaps that is part of the primal urge to wrap objects: to protect them, hide them, contain them. Wrapping can be a preservative endeavor, like the mummy’s quest for immortality. It can be a violent act, like the coil of the snake or the chains of human bondage. It can be an act of solidarity and devotion, as with the hand-fasting rituals of marriage. Every wrapped package or bound bundle contains a secret—a hidden thing, the unknown—and activates the very human emotions of curiosity or fear.”

Music soothes the savage beast. Calm and reflective words seem to to have a similar enough effect upon the assembled predators, each one’s pale and motionless face concealing so very savage beast. One misspoken word, one shed drop of blood, and perhaps this hapless kine would lie screaming for his life as the city’s Kindred fell upon him like a pack of wolves, staining the hardwood floor red with his blood. For now, listen attentively, like civilized people who go to art museums do. But in each and every one of their breasts lurks a monster that couldn’t give two shits about the subtleties of object-wrapping next to the hot taste of blood.

“From Native American sacred medicine bundles to the Jewish laying of tefillin, wrapping and binding have been used as a symbolic device by humans throughout history. Both the ritual act and the act of creating art are ways of putting concrete reality to abstract ideas. Drawing inspiration from the traditions of various cultures—Haitian Voudou, Appalachian broom-making, Calabrian silk production, Peruvian rope coiling, Congo Nkisi—the contemporary artists in this exhibition engage wrapping and binding as both symbolic aesthetic device, and often as a ritual practice within their work.”

The children of the night have come out in all their pageantry. Philip Maldonato’s tall frame, garbed in archaic-looking Muslim robes, is immediately noticeable. Antoine Savoy wears an Enlightenment-era courtier’s outfit. Vidal and the Baron are not present, likely to the surprise of few. They rarely are.

Among the primogen, Jade espies Pearl Chastain in a hennin and medieval-era gown. Little interest passes over her face. Jade may wonder if she has anything better to do. Accou, unsurprisingly, remains close to his sire’s side in more recent but still centuries-dated finery. Coco opts for more modern garb in a black turtleneck and dress slacks. Roderick looks at Jade as she arrives, but moves away his gaze after a moment.

How much is he thinking about the things he’d like to do with her, once Elysium is finally over?

Von Steinhäuser stands present and impassive in an archaic Enlightenment-era gown of her own, as if to say everything is still normal for the Tremere. Miss Opal, alone among the primogen, is not present tonight.

But he is there.

He isn’t tall and dark. He’s dark and feels tall. He’s dressed in the same utilitarian black garb that could come from any number of decades. It reveals nothing of his origins—no more than his expressionless, marble-like face reveals of his feelings. He does not spare Jade a single look.

Celia: How fitting, the topic of the evening. Bindings. It has long been on her mind, the question of why he will not take her fully. Why he will not let her have that third sip from his wrist. She has her own private theories why he denies it, none of which give her comfort. She’s often wondered how angry it would make him if she were to take that step with someone else. What he’d do to her. To them. Or if he’d care at all.

Looking at him now, in his dark garb of no note with his eyes resolutely turned away, she doesn’t think that he would. A flicker of emotion passes through her, something like yearning. For him, even now, fresh from a tumble with someone else, late because she had fallen into the arms of another lover. What would it be like to be able to stand beside him in a place like this? What would it be like to be known as his childe, not the childe of the vicious slut? How might her Requiem have changed?

Not at all, she thinks. It isn’t as if he and Doriocourt canoodle in a corner. And she knows why he has done it. Why he ignores her. Why he sent her off with Savoy. She knows, or thinks she knows, and if it is a lie she tells herself then it is a beautiful lie and she clings to it with every bit of delusional strength she has. It is her light in the darkness, her secret fantasy, and she will not let it be snuffed out.

Jade does not let her gaze linger on the dark one. She sweeps it past Roderick, no flicker of emotion giving away the squirming of her insides. Not here. Here she beats it down. Roderick is nothing to Jade, no matter how Celia may want him.

Perhaps she should take some sort of public lover, someone to hide their dalliance from the rest of their kind. The art thief, maybe; she’s been seen arm and arm with him before, and it isn’t as if he expects monogamy. He might even find the whole thing amusing. Or Gui. Now that she’s had him she wants him again. Years of flirtation finally paid off, and what a delicious paring it was. And it would make sense, wouldn’t it, two young bloods from Savoy’s faction shacking up. More sense than the decades-older thief, anyway.

She can’t imagine it would go over well with Roderick. He, at least, is hot-blooded enough to get a rise out of. In a hundred years she wonders if that will still be the case, if he will still be the same man that she met in college. Do they change at all once they die, or is he stuck at 22 like she is stuck at 19? She’d like to think she has changed. Can change again, be the girl he wants her to be. But isn’t that the girl he knew back then, the sweet one who would do anything for her family, who died to save her mother, who made a devil’s bargain for the desperate chance to finally do something for once rather than continue to sit idly by?

Isn’t that still her? If she ignores the rot that has taken hold of her, the Beast inside her chest that eats away at her humanity bit by bit, she thinks it might be. Only he doesn’t know what she’d done the night she died, the way she had given in to the darkness, let it consume her. Only when her psyche had begun to shatter did she pull back.

She died broken. Perhaps that is who she will always be. Perhaps the girl he thinks he loves is what died that night, stripped away with the rest of her innocence.

Jade pulls her thoughts from that downward spiral. Pulls her gaze from the assembled primogen and sheriff—her thoughts flicker his way once more, wondering if he is wearing the gift beneath his clothing (and what else he’s hiding beneath that dark garb, and if he’ll ever—), but she does not let either linger overly long. She moves it across the room once more before finally settling on Savoy. She has so much to tell him. Already she’s looking forward to tomorrow when she can present him with everything, where he will tell her how smart and capable she is, pat his lap for her, let her curl up, whisper in her ear. She’ll convince him to get rid of Preston for an hour. Maybe they’ll soak in the hot tub once they’re done tearing each other apart, and he’ll tell her… tell her that he’s proud of her? No, she doesn’t think that’s what she wants to hear from him. That he’s pleased with her, maybe. Yes. Pleasure. That’s what she wants from him.

Perhaps she’ll take Mel up on her offer to come naked to a meeting and see how that plays out.

Two minutes in and she’s already lost sight of what she came here for. She looks for her pretend sire, or Marcel’s most recent fuck toy.

GM: She espies Veronica among the other harpies. The Toreador wears gold sandal heels and a black and brown dress that Jade doesn’t have to be an esthetician to identify as being made from human hair.

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Perhaps, she may wonder as she looks upon her purported sire’s so-often sneering face, that’ll be her in a hundred years.

Perhaps a hundred years ago, Veronica was Celia Flores. A well-meaning girl in over her head and driven to darkness.

Celia: Veronica was never a girl like Celia.

GM: Maybe that’s what the neonates will say about Jade in a hundred years.

She was never a girl like them.

Celia: Then again, she’d just wondered why Veronica would wear a dress of human hair when it could be human skin, and she’s been dead less than a decade.

Perhaps she really will gift her “sire” something from her new line.

GM: Veronica’s bitch isn’t there. “Micheal,” if one were to be kind and use his name. Shep also seems to have skipped Elysium, but Pietro’s there next to her, along with the other harpies. Adelais and Sundown and Marguerite and Katherine and Harequin, and the rest of the in crowd, plus the hangers-on (like her) hoping to someday join their ranks. There are worse Kindred to be childe to than a harpy, than a primogen’s childe and a leader among her covenant, whatever her reputation.

Jade could have gotten saddled with someone like Isabel’s sire, and been a mere handful of steps away from Dani’s fate.

Or she could have been turned by whoever cursed Roderick’s sister with their feeble brand of dime store damnation.

Celia: There’s a thought. Celia the thin-blood. She doubts she’d even have to make a new name for herself if she were to have gone that route. Who cares about another half-breed mongrel, anyway? She’d have been slaughtered with the rest of her kind. Turn in by her boyfriend’s sire. Would he have protected her, she wonders, or just stood idly by while the murder brigade did their ghastly deed?

She couldn’t help but notice Opal’s absence this evening. Planning another massacre?

Jade is glad she doesn’t need to worry about such things, at least. And Pietro is a welcome sight at her sire’s side, in any case. These events are always brightened by his droll humor.

Her eyes and thoughts flit back to the speaker and the exhibit.

GM: “…each artist in this exhibition approaches the simple acts of wrapping and binding from a unique perspective. Some are involved in the haptic absorption of repetitive handwork—a sort of ritual meditation on texture and rhythm. Others are exploring the symbolic power of the physical act—weaving narratives through form, image and materials. This exhibition contains a feast of texture and a vast range of materials—clay, fabric, rope, egg tempera, driftwood, loofah, antler, bone, wire, coffee, ashes, teeth, yarn, wool, chalk and a plethora of found objects. Through wrapping, painting, weaving, coiling, drawing, or knotting, each artist binds their own unique and thoroughly contemporary vision to an ancient, universal and very human practice.”

Celia: If only the ancients among them would allow for the introduction of more contemporary visions.

GM: There’s a few final words before the assembled predators start to disperse into their own cliques and stroll down the museum’s empty halls. Perhaps this man has some inkling of how much safer he now is. Sundown starts off the conversation with a joke about spiders in the centers of their webs. Binding and weaving is an all-too familiar practice to the Kindred. Katherine Beaumont concurs and draws comparisons to the chains of blood that bind them to their clans and kin. The ties binding mortals to their lives and duties are weaker, Gus Elgin states: “Just as one must tie an object more securely to withstand a hurricane than a summer breeze, the ties that bind us to eternity must by necessity be stronger than the ties binding kine to mortality.”

Some of the present Kindred seem to be following along and considering the conversation. At least as many others are exploring the museum exhibits on their own, or in discussions with their other cliques.

But there are still plenty of cold eyes resting upon the tardy arrivals.

Celia: Bully for them and their cold eyes. Jade would roll her own if she were anywhere but here. She doesn’t bother to move closer to them to join their discussion, turning instead to begin her own with the Ventrue at her side.

“Interesting,” she remarks to Becky Lynne, her voice quiet so as not to compete with the others, “his comments on the mummies and their bindings. It isn’t why they wrapped their kin, but I suppose he couldn’t resist the tie-in.”

“It was actually,” she continues unprompted, “because of their obsession with order, and their desire to defeat chaos. As a concept.”

GM: Those cold eyes include her purported sire’s.

And the other harpies’.

And assorted other Kindred of greater standing than the neonate’s.

Celia: Ah, right. Fuck her for trying to engage with something other than vicious gossip. Cold stares and wagging tongues really makes her glad that she bothered to show up instead of turning around to find literally anything else to do when she realized she’d be five whole minutes late.

Personally, she thinks the discussion on Ancient Egypt is fascinating, but clearly the harpies never heard that “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people” quote.

Jade can dig into the mud with the best of them. She gives Becky Lynne an apologetic smile. For a moment longer she talks about Egypt and their burial customs, chaos, the historical idea of evil, and the afterlife. She manages to tie it together and swing it back around to something that someone as vapid as the harpies can understand in the end:

“…which is why I think that Storyville started on the cam site, you know, and there’s months of content. It’s tragic. You should see some of those videos…”

GM: Becky Lynne listens attentively to Jade’s initial explanation. There’s a lot more interest on her face than Roderick’s, but Jade supposes the Ventrue hadn’t just heard her sister was a thin-blood.

“Oh my goodness,” she repeats upon hearing the salacious rumor, covering her mouth with several fingers.

“Yeah, I don’t buy that,” says Duke Elmhearst. The Sanctified neonate has a face with eyes meaner than a gator’s and a sneer that could shame a rattlesnake, all framed by a shock of dirty blond hair. Jade has heard a few of Savoy’s people make fun of Duke’s face for “looking like an internet picture that gets you idly thinking of ways to murder him, ten minutes after you meet.”

But Vidal’s people probably don’t say anything nicer about Jade.

“Sin against God to endanger the Masquerade like that. That isn’t them.”

Amused eyes among onlookers flicker between the two neonates.

Celia: Duke looks like the kind of guy that might benefit from visiting a cam site himself. All that pent up male aggression, she bets he’d get off on telling some poor slut what to do. She’s not put out by his doubt, though. She glances at him and smiles. It’s a pretty smile, like the rest of her. Regardless of what Vidal’s people say about her, they can’t take that away. She waves him over.

She’s happy to discuss it with a doubter.

GM: He smirks and saunters over.

Celia: Jade smiles up at Duke. She hasn’t gotten to know him well, but she’d like to. She likes the cut of his jib. Likes his arrogance. Likes his swagger, even, in an “I’d like to punch him in the face” kind of way. But she’s enjoyed plenty of people like that. She stands close to him—really close, Jade likes that physical contact—and shows him the screenshot on her phone.

It’s a pretty standard-looking still from a cam site. A girl on her knees dressed in skimpy attire, bra and panties, black lace. It’s almost beautiful against her pale skin. But instead of a dick in her mouth it’s a long dildo, cheeks bulged out around it. The screenshot includes the chat telling her to suck it, the recent donation of $5. Jade swipes right and shows him the next one, where the girl in the picture puts the dildo—purple, huge, spiraled—into herself with her legs spread wide. Her eyes are closed and her mouth open, like she’s panting heavily. The donation line reads $15 this time, and the chat is wild with people telling her what to do, to fuck herself, to show her pussy, to spread herself wide, that they want her to bend over and take it like the slut she is.

Even with her eyes closed, Roxanne’s face is unmistakable.

Jade looks up at Duke, brows raised.

GM: Duke eyes the playing video. His face briefly catches.

It really does look exactly like Roxanne.

“That’s so fake,” says the Brujah. “It doesn’t even look like her.”

Celia: Her brows threaten to disappear into her hairline.

Jade swipes right once more. It’s another screenshot of Roxanne. Only this time she’s got a dude in the photo with her. Two dudes. It’s pretty clear what’s going on: one is fucking her from behind while the other cums on her face.

GM: Titters and knowing glances start to go up from the onlookers. Perhaps they can’t all see exactly what’s happening, from this distance.

But they can make out enough. They can read the two licks’ expressions.

And there are assuredly at least several Kindred here with very, very good eyesight.

Harlequin starts to laugh.

His four ghouls are with him tonight, like they are every night. Each one dressed in nothing except chain links over their naked bodies. Their faces are hidden beneath silver masks that resemble deformed infants with varying, eerily adult expressions of lust, contempt, horror, and despair.

As one, they clutch their hands to their masked faces. As one, laughter spills from their concealed lips.

Veronica starts to laugh, too. The other three harpies do not take overlong before joining in. Elyse Benson makes a remark disdaining the “imperfections” of such a lust-driven creature. Randolph Cartwright sneers how much she looks like she’s enjoying herself. Esther Sue Parker shakes her head disapprovingly. Speculation starts to go up about Roxanne being a pervert. If she actually enjoys doing it the breather way.

The Ventrue are the only ones not to laugh. They just don’t say anything.

Duke rolls his eyes. “I don’t know any blue blood who’d take money to do something like that. Ha ha at the fake video, I guess.”

He stalks off to salve his pride.

Just like that, Jade fees welcome in polite company again.

Celia: Jade slips the phone back into her pocket. She watches Duke disappear into the crowd, wondering if there’s something she can do there to soothe his wounded pride. He could have spun it another way, she thinks, laughed along with them, nudged her in the ribs, made it look like he only asked because he wanted to show the rest of them what a little whore Roxanne is. She’d have winked at him and played along and let him save face.

Ah, well, they can’t all be winners.

GM: Becky Lynne smiles and politely excuses herself. She’s played her part.

“I want to see this up close,” declares Veronica, striding up to Jade’s side. Pietro, Abraham Garcia, Andy Philips, Will Carolla, and Laura Ravenwood all seem to want a closer look too.

Celia: Jade is happy to show the harpy who claims to be her sire. She pulls her phone back out to show Veronica and the assorted others who crowd around her, scrolling through photos as needed. She’s pleased with the turnaround.

Pleased, too, that Carolla came to her and not the other way around. She hadn’t thought to approach him directly, but when he falls so perfectly into her lap… well, she’s never been one to pass up an opportunity. She catches his eye across the little circle.

GM: All of them. All of them laugh. All of them mock.

Where did Jade ever find these?

She doesn’t find it hard to catch the Brujah’s gaze. He’s a strong-jawed and thick-framed young man with brown hair dressed in a dark suit.

“I know some people who might pay big bucks for her as a prostitute, if she’s looking for work,” he remarks with amusement.

Celia: “Mmm, the whole thing was quite by accident, really. My ghoul, you know, he’s very into movies, so apparently when he’s not busy he likes to watch them online, only the thing he was trying to watch wasn’t available on his preferred platform in our country, so he got around that with a VPN, and I guess he forgot to switch it off when he went browsing further because there she was. So he calls over to me, ‘hey don’t you know her?’ and points her out. Naturally I did a little digging, and there it was: tons of past videos. Apparently if you pay enough you can get the models on these sites—yes, really, they call them ‘models’—to do anything, so I thought about what a lark it would be to tell her to fuck a dog, and, well…”

Jade trails off, lifting her shoulders in a shrug.

“I guess when you’re desperate for money you’ll let anyone put something inside of you.”

She smiles at the Brujah. She tells him that she’d love to get together some time to talk about it.

And other things, is the unsaid implication.

GM: Laughter goes up from the clique.

“I suppose she’d be in good company,” Pietro remarks with amusement.

“More like the dog would be in bad company,” sneers Veronica.

“Maybe the dog should get paid,” says Laura.

There’s more laughter.

Carolla remarks with some amusement that he should meet with Roxanne, if they’re talking about ‘work,’ but assents to see Celia later. He’ll have one of “his people” contact hers to schedule a time.

As far as her implication goes, the Brujah looks as if he wouldn’t mind fucking her.

Like almost everyone.

Celia: Almost? What. Who is holding out?

No one she cares about, surely.

She winks at the Brujah and says she’s looking forward to it.

GM: Well, probably Emily and Celia’s mother.

Celia: She hopes so.

Emil too, she bets.

He taught her about VPNs, so he’s on her mind.

GM: If Em were here, he’d probably say the only thing Emil wants to stick his cock inside is a computer port.

Celia: Too true.

She pushes the hacker from her mind, though. He has no bearing on this event. No bearing on the Brujah in front of her who is, decidedly, easy on the eyes. Maybe not the one she wants warming her bed, but she wouldn’t mind ‘getting to know him,’ or whatever the kids are saying these days. She lets her gaze sweep his form one last time, knows he’s doing the same to her. He’s not the only one, either.

Jade smirks up at Veronica, waiting until the harpy and her clique has had their fill to put her phone away.

GM: The others have their laughs and start to drift off into the museum.

“Clementine said you’d called about some filthy little idea running through your filthy little mind,” Veronica remarks.

Celia: “Mhm.” Jade nods once they’re relatively alone, watching the last of them disappear down the halls. Never truly alone, not in a place like this. Ears everywhere, she knows. She turns to regard Veronica with a sly smile.

“I did. I don’t know if it can top the filth that was just shared, though.” Privately, that means. Veronica is coy enough to get the message, she’s sure.

GM: She, Mélissaire, and Savoy had all instructed Jade in that much. Assume anything you say out loud in Elysium will be overheard.

“Probably not, unless you wanted to suck a cock right here.”

Celia: Oh, no, that’s for later.

She’d need a bucket of them, anyway, to outdo her sister.

She says something witty. Something clever. Something that lets her “sire” know, in no uncertain terms, how unlikely that is. It’s not as if she’s ever admitted her perversions to the harpy or engaged in that sort of sexual deviance in front of her. She’s not entirely sure why anyone would think she’d have done so, really. Hadn’t Roderick made that comment a few times, something about Veronica belittling her for it? As if she’d tell. It’s like everything else to do with the blood: she’s perfectly capable of controlling herself.

She doesn’t point out to Veronica that perhaps it’s her reputation that makes the city come down so hard on Jade when the only person Jade has ever admitted it to and engaged in it with is the same boy whose mind she plans on blowing later tonight. If Veronica weren’t such a voracious slut maybe they wouldn’t feel the need to up the ante with her childe.

But fuck her, right?

Regardless, if Veronica doesn’t want to bite then Jade is happy to end their conversation and seek out someone else with whom to spend her evening.

Maybe she’ll find a few cocks to suck while she’s at it. Since apparently that’s all she does.

GM: The harpy seems amenable enough, her caustic words notwithstanding. Both to conversing now and meeting in private later. She does seems amused, though, by her alleged progeny’s soreness.

Celia: The soreness that she didn’t let slip at all because she’s better bred than that, but sure. Veronica’s amused by everything, why not this too.

There’s a smile somewhere in her toolbelt. She reaches for it now. Lets it stretch across her face, lift her eyes, wipe whatever imagined emotions people think they see from her face.

She makes plans to meet with Veronica at a later time.

GM: Jade’s sire takes her leave. Meanwhile, the rest of the exhibition awaits.



GM: She spends a little time observing the exhibits before Laura Ravenwood circles back to her. The other vampire is a slender, pale-skinned woman in seemingly her early 20s with wavy auburn hair. She wears a shape-hugging black silk dress with heels and lipstick that are the same deep red hue as her nail polish.

It’s a comely enough package for the creoles to overlook the Caitiff’s clanless heritage. Enough, at least, to let her into Elysium.

“I heard you talking earlier about why the Egyptians wrapped their mummies, Miss Kalani. You’d said it was to defeat chaos?”

Celia: If Jade is bothered by the Caitiff’s origins it doesn’t show on her face. She offers the same smile she’d give to anyone with a real bloodline.

“Indeed, Miss Ravenwood. The concept of chaos, rather. Their whole society was based around the flooding of the Nile, you see. Every year it would flood at the same time and deliver the sediment and nutrients at the bottom of the river to fertilize their soil. If it were ever to flood too early, too late, or not at all, their whole society would be in shambles. They were obsessed with order. Maintaining things exactly as they are. We see this in their graves and their attitudes towards the afterlife. They thought that by preserving and wrapping their dead it would allow them some measure of control over the decay, which they viewed as another form of chaos.”

“They also,” she adds, “used to use green wrappings, which was symbolic of life to them.”

GM: “Oh, that makes perfect sense,” she nods at the explanation. “I didn’t know they used green wrappings. We think of mummies as having sand-colored ones.”

Celia: “It might have changed over time,” Jade admits, “but when they began the process it was green. Their maps were different back then. You know how kine say ‘up north’ even though north isn’t really up? Back then ‘up’ meant topological.” Which, she realizes, is off topic, and only on her mind because of the mention of maps. She reins it in before she hits lecture mode.

“But they used blue to color the Nile, and green for the fertile area around it, and brown for the area beyond that where there was no life. Green was life. So they used it to fight against death, which they viewed as chaotic.”

“If I’m not mistaken, theirs was among the first cultures to turn death into a business.”

“In that they sold things to help you get into the afterlife or serve you once you were there, I mean. And the things they sold, the things archaeologists found in their graves, suggests that their idea of order persists into the afterlife with them.”

“It was just another way for them to impose order on chaos. Another ritual to keep it at bay.” Much the same as their kind dress up and play this polite charade of art critics to stave off the snarling Beasts inside them all.

GM: “I once read a comic about a high priest who unwrapped a mummy, threw it out of the tomb, wrapped himself up in its bandages, and then killed himself, all so he’d be able to enjoy the same afterlife as his pharaoh.” The Caitiff smiles with amusement. “I doubt something like that actually happened, but when you say they turned the afterlife into a business… it’s only natural some people would want to steal the merchandise.”

“They thought you could take it with them, didn’t they, which was why they buried the pharaohs with so many treasures?”

“Well, entombed them.”

Celia: Jade’s lips twitch in amusement at the mention of the comic.

“It could have happened,” she allows with a grin. “Like stealing someone’s car to make off with whatever they’ve got inside. But yes, even tombs of normal people had things inside of them. Cosmetics, combs, tools, food… things that wouldn’t really help in the afterlife. It’s part of what made the archaeologists and anthropologists believe that their afterlife is exactly like the real world, but better. A step up. Everything tastes, smells, feels better. They thought they would need to take these things with them. They even had these little statues they would buy to serve them in the afterlife, so that they didn’t need to do work.”

GM: “I thought the Egyptians believed in reincarnation, too, after their hearts were judged and they didn’t get eaten? Was all of that essentially just temporary?”

Celia: “Sort of. Their whole view of what it took to get into the afterlife is pretty fascinating and there are a bunch of steps. First, you die. You lose all of your senses. Then there’s a ritual performed on you by Anubis, the opening of the mouth. You’re essentially ‘reborn’ and you regain all of your senses, which I believe is what you’re referring to. Their idea was that you are more ‘alive’ than you were back then. You can see more, hear more.” Sort of like their Kindred senses, she realizes.

“Then you go through 22 gates. Each of the gates is guarded by a god, and you’re asked by the god to give a negative confession. ‘I did not do this thing.’ Scholars aren’t sure if this meant that you needed to stick to a moral code or if you were fine as long as you confessed and repented, but this is one of the first examples of an afterlife we’ve seen where personal choice seems to matter. Between the gates were what is essentially chaos. Scorpions that multiply if you attack them. Beetles that are twenty feet tall. Things that are changed from the natural order. In order to get past these things the people would need spells from the book of the dead, which was just another way for them to make money through all the customization that they could do, to put things back to their natural order. Then the weighing of the hearts. Those who were balanced would move on to the Field of Reeds.”

GM: The more vivid senses bit does sound a lot like Kindred existence.

It seems like an open question, though, what’d happen to her if her heart got weighed.

Laura, though, listens to the impromptu mythology lecture with interest. So do a few other Kindred within nearby earshot.

“I knew the part about evil hearts getting devoured by a monster,” she says. “But good hearts, too? What happened to those?”

Celia: “Well, that’s when we kind of get into the idea of good versus evil. Their idea of evil wasn’t bad acts, it was chaos. So if your heart was balanced, it was ordered, which is good. You got to move on to the Field of Reeds.”

GM: “Oh, that makes sense. What would a person do that was chaotic versus how we’d define evil now, simply not follow cultural norms and keep faith in the gods?”

Celia: “Very similar to what we’d consider evil today, to be honest,” Jade admits. “Their scrolls—the book of the dead—they had these list of negative confessions that they would have to offer to the gods before the gates. If they wronged someone, false feelings, slept around, committed fraud. The basics.” She smiles. “They also apparently had a very dim view on liminal states.”

“That being said, their moral transgressions were not inalienable. Scholars have found tons of graves with these little sculptures, Heart Scarab Beetles, that had phrases carved into the bottom. The gist of it was, ‘heart don’t sell me out when you’re on the scale.’ And the confessions before the gods, the chaos that they fought between the gates, that all helped re-order their hearts.”

“Both of those things were purchases people could make. Their rituals of death became very economics-based.”

GM: “That sounds similar to papal indulgences,” remarks Abraham Garcia, a slender Hispanic man with deep brown eyes, thick black hair, and a large nose.

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“Actually, it sounds exactly the same. There’s always plenty forgiveness to spare, so long as it makes somebody a buck.”

Celia: Jade inclines her head toward Garcia. The topic is something a little too hot-button for her to take up in Elysium, of all places—her own opinions smear the church and religion itself pretty hard for all that she’s a member of the Sanctified—but she gives him the benefit, at least, of agreeing.

“It’s a profitable business. Just look at what the kine have done with it. Funeral homes make tons of money for all that they’re selling a box to bury someone in. Even urns get costly.”

GM: “Well, at least those look pretty. People will always spend money on pretty, even if it’s pretty they won’t get to see. But with those scarabs the makers could sell people absolutely nothing at all.”

Celia: “They sold them the idea of eternity.”

“Which, in and of itself, is beautiful.”

GM: “I’m sure it seemed even more beautiful if you were in the scarab business. Who wouldn’t want to sell ideas, rather than material things?”

“The scarabs were material things,” says Laura.

“But only as a means to an idea. I’m sure they made them as cheap as they could.”

Celia: “Of course they did. That’s how a business operates. Is selling an idea any less viable than selling an experience?”

“They’re not tangible things that you can hold onto, experiences, but you can treasure them all the same.”

“So it goes with ideas. If I said to you that I could sell you something for a trivial amount that would assure you a happy unlife, would you not be tempted?”

GM: “There’s no one who wouldn’t be, unless the happiness was predicated on false premises. But I’d probably give you at least 50/50 odds of still getting customers then. People don’t care about truth next to feeling happy.”

Celia: “We do so love our beautiful lies. There are entire industries that have developed due to that intrinsic desire to feel happiness.” Jade offers him a smile. “But I would also concede that those 50/50 odds depend entirely on the speaker.”

GM: “I think it depends on your point of view,” says Laura. “Baudelaire said imagination is the queen of truth. Doesn’t that just seem so exciting, if you think about those words, for the possibilities they open up? Everyone can be a queen. Everyone can enrich the world through their truth.”

“But are you defining truth as an objective measure of reality, or simply what makes you feel satisfied?” asks Roderick Durant. He glances briefly at Jade. “Those are two different things. Everyone likes to throw around ‘truth’ as a rhetorical construct, but we shouldn’t lose sight of what the definition actually is. It’s the measure of reality, nothing more or less.”

“Well, that’s an unpopular view these days,” drawls Garcia. “People like the good Caitiff here are a lot more common. What is there in truth? Where’s the money, the feel-goods? People want whatever makes them feel good. And they feel even better about feeling good if they can find ways to philosophically justify it. To turn their feelings into validation that they’re right about the world. People love feeling right as much as they love feeling good.”

Laura seems to bristle a little, but doesn’t say anything.

Celia: If Jade is bothered by Durant’s sudden appearance it doesn’t show on her face. Her expression stays perfectly neutral at the interjection.

“I might have to say that I disagree with you, Mr. Durant. Truth can be entirely subjective. There are such things as symbolic truths. Shakespeare, for instance, wrote about the truth of family dynamics, war, and romance with Romeo and Juliet. Were they two real people? Is their story objectively true? No. But symbolically? That is truth.”

“And isn’t feeling good, feeling happy, someone’s truth?”

Religion is a symbolic truth. The Bible. Neither of which she will bring up here. Perhaps later they can have their own debate on things that would label her blasphemous.

“Such things would hardly hold up in court, I imagine,” she acknowledges with a smile.

Mr. Durant, though. She can’t think of the last time she called him that. It brings all sorts of things to mind that she shouldn’t dwell on: a wooden ruler, knee-high socks, the plaid skirt in her closet.

One of these nights, she thinks, she’ll learn that mind-to-mind communication trick so she can plague him with these images at times like this when she has to stand across from him and pretend they barely know each other.

GM: Perhaps he’d have his share to plague her back with.

Though maybe she’d win that round. Is her mind dirtier than his?

“Truth is the state of being in accordance with reality,” states Roderick. “Since ‘reality’ encompasses so many things, it’s important to exercise specificity in language. As a historical record, Romeo and Juliet isn’t in accordance with reality. As you say, the characters weren’t real people and the events described never happened. But it does accurately portray the culture and social environment its characters lived in, so by that metric Romeo and Juliet is true. It also contains moral lessons and insights into human nature, though the truth of those is more debatable.”

“But again, when we talk about truth, we have to be specific in our language. Saying ‘happiness is in accordance with reality, which we define as truth’ means absolutely nothing when you pause to deconstruct it. Mr. Garcia is, unfortunately, right that many people would rather feel better about themselves than know more of truth.”

“Well, you can’t blame them either,” says Garcia. “Everyone likes that metaphor of ‘truth as light,’ but it’s a damn painful light. Who wants to burn their eyes when it’s nice and cool in the dark?”

“If you’re blind either way, I’d rather be blinded by truth than lies,” says Roderick.

“Truth can be painful. But we can grow accustomed to pain, and to excessive light.”

“Ironic that all of us can see in the dark so well,” observes Laura with a faint smirk.

Garcia laughs. “It’s not ironic. God knows truth has even fewer adherents among us than among the kine.”

Celia: Jade tilts her head to one side. He’d said something similar to her once about preferring truth to beauty. Then he’d smashed her face in when she’d given it to him. He’s doing it again now with the wilful ignorance in which he regards his sire.

“I believe we’ve circled back to the preference of beautiful lies and ugly truths.”

Ah, truth to beauty, she gets it now. By attacking her he’d made his thoughts clear. He’d ruined her face and no more. The pretty thing about her.

“Though I suppose,” she says at length, “that the real determining factor is how much pain an individual will weather when their truthful light would ruin a beautiful lie.”

GM: “I imagine you’d suffer any amount of pain for the truth, isn’t that right, Mr. Durant?” asks Garcia. He isn’t quite leering, but there os a look approximating one on his face.

“That makes it sound more heroic than it is,” answers Roderick. "Lies are their own pain. "

“Only if you find out they’re lies,” observes Garcia.

“Truth always comes out.”

“Were you in the Boy Scouts?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Oh, no reason.” There’s a faint grin on Garcia’s face.

Celia: He knows something.

Jade doesn’t know what it is that he knows, but she’d like to find out. Her expression mirrors her clanmate’s, amusement tugging at her lips while she watches the exchange.

GM: “What about you, Mr. Garcia? How much pain would you suffer for truth?” asks Roderick.

“Miss Ravenwood and Miss Kalani, I think, would prefer beautiful lies. I may disagree with their values, but I can respect their consistency. I’m less certain where you fall.”

“Mm. I suppose it’d depend on the lie and how beautiful it was,” answers Garcia.

Celia: “I would ask that you not speak for me, Mr. Durant, as my preference depends entirely on the speaker and the situation.”

“Were it someone that I don’t care about or would never see again, then beauty would suffice. Were it someone I respected or felt some measure of affection for?”

“Truth, then. Always truth.”

GM: “I’d say that too,” agrees Laura. “Most of the time, I’d prefer beauty. But every time? Some lies can be too harmful, even if they’re beautiful.”

“Life is shades of grays, when it comes down to it. I don’t think any of us can say we’d always prefer truth or always prefer lies without being dishonest.”

Celia: “Those of us who do are simply lying to ourselves.”

GM: “Maybe so,” Roderick grants. “But there’s appeal in that sort of purity.”

Celia: “Is it appealing? There is a saying about trees that have learned how to bend so they do not break. Can the same not be said of us? After all, the plants that learn to flourish in various climates are those that would outlast the others.”

GM: “They might. But are those trees the tallest ones, that inspire so many others with their majesty?”

Celia: Her smile flickers, the retort dying on her tongue. To delve into this topic is too akin to bad-mouthing those mighty “trees” in public, and that is something she cannot do.

“I recall learning in grade school about the different levels of the rain forest. How each of them adapted to their position in certain ways. The flora at the bottom have giant leaves to soak up what little sunshine filters through. Is that not also majestic?”

GM: “I’d say it’s efficient and successful at adapting to its environment. But majestic? That word makes me think of soaring trees.”

Celia: Jade bites back the insult to his clan. She takes a moment to consider her response, eyes sweeping toward the floor before finding his face once more. She looks up at him through long, black lashes.

“Perhaps beauty is simply in the eye of the beholder, Mr. Durant. Personally I find it compelling when things can thrive in otherwise hostile or derelict environments.”

As much as Jade wouldn’t mind passing her evening engaged in debate with Roderick, she has other people with whom she needs to speak. This exchange of words is doing neither of them any good: not only are they unlikely to change their minds and must bandy their words with care, but they shouldn’t be so publicly amiable. She also fully intends to spend the remainder of her evening debating the merits of various surfaces in her haven with him. Wordlessly.

She inclines her head toward Roderick and Ravenwood, thanking the latter for the conversation with an invitation to continue their discussion of mythology at a future date, and the former for his lively debate. She turns to regard Garcia.

“Will you walk with me, Lord Garcia?”

She hopes that their shared covenant will prevent him from snubbing her.

GM: The other two Kindred exchange parting pleasantries and take their leaves.

“I’ll never say no to a sexy lady’s company, Miss Kalani,” her clanmate smirks. “I wonder what those pieces are, over there.” He points. “They look like… brooms?”

“Broom heads.”

Celia: It’s not that she goes out of her way to put a little extra sway in her step. She’s always sashayed like this. Really. It has nothing to do with Roderick watching her go, arm in arm with her clanmate.

Her eyes follow Garcia’s pointing, brows lifting at the sight of… broom heads. She lifts her brows.

“Perhaps there’s more to it than meets the eye from over here. Shall we?”

Jade leads or lets him lead the way, making idle commentary on the other pieces that they pass. Her eyes roam the halls even as she speaks, searching the faces of those licks who remain. She looks for her sire. Her true sire, not the woman whose blood she claims.

She turns the conversation around as they walk, spinning it back toward Durant and Ravenwood. More idle commentary on the art around them, though it relates back to the subjects they had just been speaking of. Finally, she says,

“I wasn’t aware you and he were well acquainted.” A question colors her voice despite the lack of upward inflection at the end of her sentence.

GM: “We aren’t, personally, but I still know him fairly well.”

There’s a sardonic leer.

“He’s an idealist.”

Celia: Jade’s lips curl, an amused smirk gliding across her face.

“And what are you?”

GM: “Someone with open eyes.”

Celia: They reach the things that look like brooms. Jade tilts her head in quiet examination, finally flicking her eyes back toward Garcia.

“What do you see?”

GM: He shrugs. “I’m a photographer. Broomheads against a wall. Good shot, though if it wasn’t a good shot in a museum, the people responsible should be fired.”

“Symbolically, a look up close at domestic labor.”

“The silent worth and dignity inherent to the work.”

“A look up close at daily existence for the migrant maids in our houses.”

“I don’t think that’s what it’s actually ‘supposed’ to be about, to the artist, but what fucking ever. Stick some broomheads on a wall and you’ll get different opinions.”

Celia: She manages to contain her peal of laughter. It isn’t hard, being dead, but she touches her fingers to her lips anyway as if it might be stolen from her.

GM: He smirks. “So what do you see?”

Celia: “Disillusion.”

GM: “You should forget being a makeup artist. Be a broom artist. Stick a plaque saying ‘Disillusion’ under those and they’ll still mean a million things to people.”

“But a different million.”

Celia: She wasn’t talking about the brooms. But she smiles all the same.

“That’s the appeal of art, I believe.”

“The fact that it is subjective.”

She thinks, though, that her own art is less subjective, and perhaps his as well.

“I have seen some of your work, you know. Pictures are a thousand words and all that…” she pauses, offering him a small, private smile. “Yours, though, perhaps more.”

Unlike the elders of their clan, she does think photography is a valid format.

GM: Garcia smiles back. “That’s why I prefer photography. There’s subjectivity, but it’s over something tangible. Look at the picture of the lonely pretty girl. Is she ‘sad’ lonely, is she ‘wants to fuck’ lonely, or is she not actually lonely. How does the shot composition change which she seems like.”

Celia: “That is the trouble with those who simply pick up a camera to point and click, is it not? They give no thought to composition, framing, or lighting.”

“So we are inundated with photos, particularly now with the move to digital media, that fail to tell a story or move its viewers.”

She lifts one shoulder, a half-shrug to go with her wry smile. Perhaps she is wrong. She is, after all, one of those would-be photographers who takes pictures of her face to plaster them across the Internet.

“Have you dabbled in film at all?”

GM: “Sure. Digital didn’t exist when I started out. Everyone shot with film. Lots of photographers these days are all saying how great it is and how people should at least try shooting both to get a complete picture of photography as a practice.”

Celia: “My apologies, I meant more film in line with movies.”

GM: “Nope. Photography and movies are as different as drawing and sculpture. One uses two dimensions. The other uses three.”

“But as far as Facebook pictures, I don’t see those being less intelligent as a problem.”

“Any more than you probably see non-professionals being able to use makeup in their own homes as a problem.”

Celia: “How selfish of me if I did.”

GM: “Sexy women are always a little selfish.”

“Or a lot.”

Celia: That earns a smile.

“I hope you won’t tell on me.”

GM: “I’d rather show.”

She feels a hand idly caress her rear.

“And see.”

Celia: Expected. But thrilling, isn’t it, to know she can wrap them so quickly around her fingers. All the same, she’s too aware of how public this scene is, too aware of her lover in the next room, to let this go any further than what could be perceived as an accidental touch. She takes a tiny step closer, putting her hand on his shoulder as if to steady herself.

It tugs at her. The bond she has recently renewed with Roderick. She hardly thinks that canoodling here with Garcia is going to do any favors for her in that regard, despite how it adds to their cover. This is who Jade is: flirty, sexy, social butterfly, flitting from group to group, chatting and laughing and touching. It’s who she has been for years. It’s who they expect to see.

Not monogamy. Does he expect it from her still? They hadn’t had that talk. She thinks that he does. She blames him, really, for this show here in the corner with Garcia. If he hadn’t approached, hadn’t spoken to her, she wouldn’t have had to move off with someone else. But people watching—people are always watching—will know that the Brujah means nothing to her. Safer that way, even if it threatens to pull apart that thing in the middle of her chest.

She could whisper the words that Garcia expects to hear. Agreement. Encouragement. They would fall from her lips like the well-practiced lies that they are. After all, she’s played this game for a long time. She knows what to say to get their blood pumping, even if it’s a forced gesture from their kind.

She could, but she doesn’t.

After a brief moment Jade extricates herself from Garcia, giggling about public spaces.

GM: “Hate to see you leave, but love to watch you go,” he smirks after her.

Jade leaves and goes to find her grandsire. She finds him conversing with Coco Duquette over a piece of art depicting a chained man struggling to burst the links of his fetters. The two elders’ faces are smiles (wider in Savoy’s case), but beneath the surface meanings and artistic critiques, one can see their debate over the meaning of the man’s struugle is a battle of words over whether Vidal’s reign can hope to endure. Whether its ‘chains’ will be shattered by time and struggle. Spectators from both sides of the political divide watch the debate avidly.

“With respect, my lord, this debate accomplishes little,” Preston interjects. “We hide behind nuances and doubletalk when we should simply say what we mean: the prince has slaughtered over a dozen Kindred on the last occasion he went out in public. How many more unlives will he destroy before torpor claims him?”

Scandalized looks and furtive whispers greet the Malkavian’s open declaration.

Savoy raises his eyebrows.

The French Quarter lord offers her several conversational outs to downplay the severity of her words. Preston ignores them all, stating, “We all know it. An archon was even here for several nights. The justicars sent North to evaluate the situation. Even they believe things have gotten out of hand under Prince Vidal’s rule. If we do not resolve the situation, a justicar may do it for us.”

Louder sounds of offense go up at the Malkavian’s words.

Pierpont McGinn raises his eyebrows and smirks at his lover Adelais.

Celia: Ballsy, some part of her thinks.

Suicidal, whispers another.

Amongst the crowd, Jade watches the play between Savoy and his steward, biting her tongue to keep from interjecting her unwanted neonate opinion into… into what, she’s not sure. A ploy to make Savoy look more moderate? A sacrificial offering of the Malkavian to the powers-that-be?

She doubts that this is anything but scripted.

GM: The scent of blood in the water, though, swiftly draws sharks. Marguerite and Veronica both appear alongside Adelais. Benson and Doriocourt bring up the rear guard. It’s just as two of the harpies begin to ‘converse’ with Preston that Savoy interjects, and calmly brings up how the Malkavian has some pressing civic affairs in the French Quarter to attend to—he supposes he’ll be joining her shortly as well.

Preston mutely inclines her head and departs the Elysium.

Whispers blossom up like weeds in her wake.

Celia: Her desires with the halls of Elysium suddenly seem less pressing than the bomb that Savoy and Preston just dropped upon the city’s Kindred.

And here she is with the detonator.

She watches Preston go, listening to the buzz of whispers around her, watching the faces of the Kindred in the crowd to find those who seem more receptive than derisive of the Malkavian’s bold words. It would be easy to titter with the others and make “she’s finally showing her crazy” jokes, but Jade has another play in mind.

At last she turns to the lick who stands beside her, one Reynaldo Gui, and says to him the words that are sure to have even more people talking.

“I hope he isn’t too harsh with her. When I met with Archon North he implied the same.” Quietly, but who is she kidding? This is Elysium. Everyone hears everything in Elysium.

GM: True to Jade’s expectation, quite a few Kindred are tittering and making “finally showing her crazy” jokes. Some are wittier than others. Adelais’ icy barbs and Marguerite’s droll observations both draw laughter. Elmhearst’s mean cracks draw less. Roderick rationally points out that Preston is as crazy as any other Malk. A few members of the Moon Clan seem indignant, but they’re mostly younger ones. Harlequin only titters and makes references as to Preston’s “enlightenment.” The older ones never see their crazy as a curse.

Gui raises an eyebrow. “Oh, you met the archon?”

Nearby Kindred talking amongst themselves make only the vaguest pretense of not listening in over that tidbit.

Celia: Jade doesn’t make a spectacle of nodding. The movement itself is tiny, as if she doesn’t realize that others are listening.

“I did. He asked to meet with me.” She’d positively preen if she weren’t in the middle of Elysium. As it is, she doesn’t even allow herself a satisfied smile. “We had a very illuminating discussion. We met in Faubourg Marigny, at the Carnival Club.” Sundown’s domain. Neutral territory. “Have you been there? It’s lovely.” Idle words, or a glowing recommendation.

GM: “I have. The Afterhours King knows how to throw a party.” The Ventrue smiles faintly. “You also thought the archon was there to evaluate the city’s situation for the Camarilla?”

Celia: Jade leans in, lowering her voice further.

“He mentioned that he was interested in taking action against a problem in the city.”

GM: That draws even more glances and whispers.

“He left pretty soon afterwards,” says Gui. “The Tremere seem like they have a lot on their minds these days, I suppose. Maybe there’ll be another archon.”

“Or maybe he addressed the problem already,” speculates Anthony Brodowski.

Celia: “Perhaps,” Jade says to Anthony. “Only, well… he was most eager to meet with Lord Savoy, and it was so soon before he left…”

It’s clear by her tone, though: whatever drew the Tremere archon away from the city, it wasn’t that the issue was dealt with.

GM: “So he wanted to meet with Lord Savoy. But I don’t think he met with the prince, did he?” asks Gui.

“It’s possible they did in private,” says Brodowski.

“That would be quite the snub if our prince didn’t,” says Gui.

“It’s also possible North isn’t an archon any longer. There’d be no snub then,” says Brodowski.

Celia: “I doubt the prince wanted to meet with him after how he greeted Lord Savoy.” Right in the center of Elysium, for the whole city to hear: Lord.

After all, if the prince let off a known headhunter simply because he was a clanmate and old friend and searches for any excuse to slaughter his enemies under the vaguest of pretenses, why would he care about offending an archon?

There’s a word for that. It starts with “tyrant.”

“Besides,” she continues, “he was looking for an assistant specifically within the city. I highly doubt that’s the sort of thing an ex-archon needs.”

What’s that called? Server? Servant?

Servire. That’s the one.

GM: “The prince still granted North permission to remain in the city on a provisional basis,” says Brodowski. “I don’t think he was happy over the breach in etiquette, but it was a more measured response than simply throwing him out. Or doing what the Southron Lords did and shipping pieces of him back to his justicar by railroad.”

“Mmm,” Gui agrees noncommittally. “A servire, though? That’s interesting. I wonder who he had his eye on.”

The Ventrue smiles like it’s not obvious. A few more Kindred talking among themselves try not to look equally obvious in their glances towards Jade.

Celia: She knew she liked the cowboy for a reason.

She smiles prettily for him, making the same sort of noncommittal sound at Anthony’s words.

GM: “I don’t envy them,” says Brodowski. “Tremere archons blood bond all of their servires.”

“Whoever they might serve before, they serve the Tremere clan after they swear their oath.”

Celia: Jade slides her tongue across the long fangs in her mouth, as if she doesn’t mind the thought of sinking them into the very, very handsome archon she’d took a spin on the dance floor with.

He’s reaching, anyway. The archons bond their ghouls. And the servires generally only serve for a specific instance.

But whatever makes the little boy happy, she supposes.

“I guess that prospect should make the most of their remaining time as a free agent.” Sarcasm? From Jade? Never.

Jade turns an appraising eye to Gui. She lifts a brow, head canting to one side. Her eyes flick toward the exit. “I suppose we’ll hear all about it tomorrow. But if you’re free this evening…”

Tomorrow. Lord Savoy’s Elysia. In case the licks behind any of those not-so-subtle looks directed her way want to swing by and see what passes for a fun time in the Quarter.

GM: It’s rare that Lord Savoy’s court fails to draw invitees, but perhaps tomorrow it will draw still more.

“I can always find time for a beautiful woman,” smiles Gui. He nods towards his clanmate. “Mr. Brodowski, a pleasure as always.”

“Likewise, Mr. Gui, Miss Kalani.”

Celia: “Good evening, Mr. Brodowski.” Jade inclines her head toward the Ventrue, a pleasant smile on her lips. It widens when she returns her gaze to Gui and the two of them start toward the door.

GM: She espies Roderick and Abraham Garcia engaged in a debate over an art piece as they leave. It sounds heated.

Onlookers watch with looks amusement and entertainment.

Celia: Interesting indeed.

Jade gives a gentle tug on Gui’s arm, nodding toward the bickering couple. She smirks at him, lifting her brows in amusement, and drifts that way.

GM: He looks equally amused and drifts over to watch. Roderick does not look happy at the mafioso’s presence, but doesn’t let it distract him from Garcia as the verbal arrows fly.

Things start to get personal when Roderick accuses the Toreador (in barely veiled terms) of being a sellout who’s compromised all his principles and Garcia accuses the Brujah of being a privileged elder’s pet.

Celia: She should have expected this.

Maybe she did expect this.

Because it’s not as if she doesn’t know what this is about: Garcia grabbing her ass. She’d wondered what would come of it. Had expected a private argument between the pair of them later this evening. Maybe a beating. But the way Roderick is going on… she sees the logical end result: challenging Garcia to a duel.

Over her.

Some part of her is flattered. Isn’t this every girl’s fantasy, a boy she likes challenging another boy over her? Her honor, or his honor, or someone’s honor.

In her dreams it had always been Roderick and her sire, and the winner would get to have her hand in marriage.

Her dreams are very sexist and archaic like that.

She supposes that Gui’s presence does little to calm the Brujah. She wishes he were anyone else. And that there weren’t any harpies around to watch this little tiff. But she does what she can, because she loves the poor sap arguing in front of her, and she’s not going to let him get humiliated if he loses to Garcia.

“I love their passion,” Jade murmurs to Gui. “What do you think has him all riled up? Do you think it’s a lover’s spat? Something like that I’d save for the bedroom, but… well, this is terribly amusing.”

She rakes her gaze down the Brujah’s form.

“I heard,” she continues to the Ventrue, “that he recently took out a whole cell of hunters by himself. Middle of the day and everything.”

That asshole Chris had been all but crowing about it to anyone that would listen.

Her tongue runs along the sharp points of her fangs. Maybe she’s thinking about asking him to show her what’s underneath that suit of his.

GM: She supposes her mom and dad would both approve of those dreams.

Well, her dad would probably still find something wrong with them.

Celia: That’s okay, Savoy walks her down the aisle and gives her away in those dreams.

GM: Laughter goes up from some nearby Kindred. Some eyes cut towards the present harpy, Katherine Beaumont.

“I didn’t figure them for an item,” Tina Baker remarks amusedly.

“Opposites attract,” says Frank Larsen.

“Oh, it’s true, he did,” remarks Amaryllis DeCuir, who was has not directly spoken to her pretend-sister since before the trial. “Whole cell of hunters. Jumped him in his haven and everything.”

“Did you, neonate? Tell us of this,” Katherine Beaumont requests.

“Yes, let’s hear it in Elysium if it’s already being told on the streets,” echoes Elyse Benson.

Roderick doesn’t look thrilled to be put on the spot, but goes on, “So it started when…”

Maxzille Babineaux approaches her sire and starts talking him with about other art. He takes the window to avoid a duel with the angry Brujah.

Gui smirks and heads off, clearly expecting Jade to follow if she’s already heard the story.

Elyse’s eyes briefly meet Jade’s before returning to Roderick’s.

Celia: She’d give a nod to Elyse on her way out, but the Malkavian has wanted to keep their association under the radar.

GM: She’d said the maintenance work on Lucy would be done soon.

Celia: Jade will need to pencil in a visit, then. She misses the doll something fierce.

Satisfied, Jade leaves Roderick to look like the hero while she slinks away, content with her role with… well, whatever this makes her.

GM: Perhaps a puppeteer. Someone who pulls strings from the shadows, where no one can see and no one can hurt her, because to do good is to look weak.

Perhaps that simply makes her another Kindred.


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Story Twelve, Celia XVIII, Emmett XI

“I told you, when you first showed up. There’s real poison in our blood.”
Ron Landreneau


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, PM

Celia: After her first meeting with Ron, Celia hadn’t let him slip out of her life. She had told him that she doesn’t need him to be her dad, and he wasn’t interested in it anyway, but she’d also told him she wasn’t some money-grubbing child claimant who’d only hit him up for a check when she’d needed it. They’d made plans to see each other on her birthday, get dinner again, and that had been that.

Only Celia had died before she’d made it to her next birthday. So it had been a little difficult to explain to him why she couldn’t meet him until really late at night, when most restaurants are closed. Rather than go out she’d asked if they could stay in and she’d bring something over. He’d accused her of not wanting to be seen with him—laughing, of course, always laughing—and Celia had made it up to him with a fancy bottle of bourbfon, steak, and the biggest damn lobster she’d been able to find. Plus a rich key lime cheesecake for dessert. She’d sworn she’d never eat again, but he’d been mollified.

Her grandsire hadn’t been, though. He hadn’t spoken to her directly about it, but Lebeaux had taken her aside to tell her that it isn’t proper behavior to speak to someone like that without permission from who they belong to, which, admittedly, Mel had covered with her, but she hadn’t known that individual people could belong to licks too. She’d been more than a little flustered when the warden was done dressing her down for her behavior, and she’d told him that of course she hadn’t meant anything by it.

After that she’d had to apologize to Lord Savoy. Formally. Explain what she wants with the movie producer. That she hadn’t mean to step on his toes or approach his subject or encroach on his territory.

Now each time she wants to see him she asks if she’s allowed, and since nothing bad has ever come of it he’s never said no. She tells him the when and the where, he either has Mel tell her it’s fine or, if she’s meeting him directly about something else, waves a lazy hand and tells her to enjoy it.

She’d never directly told him that Ron is her dad, but she thinks he might know. That or he thinks she’s sleeping with the producer, and she’s not really sure what would be worse for her. She had explained this time, at least, that she might see if he’s still game to offer her a part in a movie.

It’s in a decidedly not whoring outfit that she shows up at Ron’s place when she’s done with her mother and Emily. A little late for dinner, but still not late enough that she thinks he’ll be asleep. He seems like one of those sleep all day, party all night kind of guys.

She just hopes he isn’t with one of his ladies of the week.

Celia lifts a hand to press the buzzer at his door.

GM: It’s been Mel that does, after the first few times. Vampires don’t like to share, but they can, at least, still let their guards down.

“Yeah?” grogs the now-older man’s voice from the box. He’s past 60.

That’s what all the kine do. Get old.

Celia: “Hey, Ron.” Ron. Not dad or Mr. Landrenau, just Ron. They’d both agreed to that. “It’s Celia.”

GM: “It’s late, Celia,” he grogs. “But whatever, I guess. Come up.”

The Toreador makes her way up to his floor. She doesn’t need to knock. The door’s already open. A girl dressed in suggestive attire is giggling and trading a kiss with the man on the other side. She looks as young as Celia did during her first meeting with her biological father.

Maybe a little younger.

Celia: Not much of a surprise. Diana had been 17. She’d heard he likes them young.

Celia doesn’t apologize for disturbing him at this hour like she might usually have. She’s got some cookies that Mom foisted off on her before she could get out the door, and she nods to Ron as she sweeps past the pair to deposit them in the kitchen for him. He’ll find them later. She rejoins them after a moment.

Maybe the girl is gone.

GM: Perhaps she wonders what Mom would think of that. Giving the snickerdoodles she baked to this man.

Celia: Mom will never know.

Better than throwing them in the trash, anyway.

GM: The girl isn’t gone. She’s dragging things out as she hugs and fondles him. She shoots Celia a jealous look over the older man’s shoulder that clearly says ‘stay away.’

Celia: Celia purses her lips and flutters her lashes at the girl. She unbuttons the top of her shirt. Just one. She’s older than the girl, but she doesn’t look it.

GM: The girl glares at Celia, then makes a kissy face and gets to her knees in front of Ron. He makes half-hearted sounds of protest.

Celia: “Charming,” Celia says dryly.

To remind him that she’s there. His daughter.

GM: “Ah. Shit. Not right here.” He pulls the now-protesting girl up. “Later, all right, babycakes?”

“How much later?” the girl presses, still glaring at Celia.

Celia: “Probably past your bedtime.”

GM: The girl glares harder, as if trying to think of something to say, then just exclaims, “You look like such a slut.”

“Fuckin’ Christ. Out,” grouses Ron.

“She’s just here t-”

Celia: Celia’s lips quirk upward in amusement. She glances down at her blouse and pants. Slut indeed.

She gives the girl a little finger wave as Ron shows her the door.

GM: “Yeah, and you ain’t? She’s my kid, dumbass. Out,” Ron repeats.

The girl looks a bit thrown off by that, then just glares at Celia again and makes her way out in a huff.

Ron closes the door behind her.

“I swear they get dumber every year.”

Celia: “Should have let her think you were fucking me,” Celia says after the door closes. “She’d have doubled down to win you back.”

GM: “Whatever, I guess. Always more.”

Ron’s dressed in a different-colored bathrobe, but still a bathrobe. Seven years later, his diminished hair is whiter, his belly’s larger, and his pudgier, blearier-looking face has more wrinkles. He does not look as if he’s aged gracefully.

He shuffles off to the kitchen. “Drink?”

Celia: “Might try even harder thinking she insulted your kid,” Celia says thoughtfully. She trails after him. “Whatever you’re having.” Same line, every time.

GM: He pours some glasses of what Celia knows by now is whiskey. He plops down heavily on the couch and takes a pull. The bright lights cast longer shadows over is face against the night. Celia supposes she hasn’t been giving him the same skincare regimen as her mom, and he might be 20 years older, but he has not aged as well.

“Little late,” he repeats. “So what is it?”

Celia: She’d offered, though. She still gives him products for holidays, but she doesn’t think he uses them. Shame, really. She imagines he’d be a good-looking guy if she could work her magic on him. Maybe if her grandsire decides to keep him around… feign a heart attack, say it made him more wary about his health, make a few changes… easy.

She imagines the whiskey tastes about as good as the first time. She can almost pretend that the ash is just the result of being filtered through charcoal if she were so inclined. She pretends to sip. Makes a face, as if she’d swallowed.

“You’re right. It’s late. I’m sorry for barging in on you like this. I tried to get in to see you at the office but my assistant has been a little scatter brained lately.” She flashes a rueful smile. He knows what that’s like, she’s sure. How many assistants has he hired for their brains versus their willingness to get on their knees under his desk?

GM: “Scattered brains should be easy to find when there aren’t many to scatter,” he grouses.

“But you’re right, who the fuck hires them for their brains.”

Celia: Celia lifts her glass in a ‘cheers’ motion.

“I’ve been thinking about the offer you made me a while ago.” He’d told her when she gets tired of playing online to hit him up and he’d “catapult her into stardom.” His words.

GM: “And you had to come tell me that right when I was getting laid,” he grouses again.

Celia: “Mmm, well, like I said, she’s going to try even harder with you now. Maybe let you do her the back way, you know how girls play shy about that.”

“You can probably convince her to bring a friend or two. Really, I did you a favor.”

GM: “Kid, I don’t care about all those bullshit games at this point. I want more girls, I can buy more girls.”

Celia: “I’ll buy you a girl, then.”

GM: “Lunch is when you normally say these kindsa things, you know. ‘Hey I’m interested in movies.’”

Celia: “I know. I also work through lunch most days, as you know. Business is going well. You should come by sometime.” She tells him that every time, too.

There’s a brief pause. Celia glances down at her drink. She swirls the ice around.

“I had a… nightmare, I guess. That I’d wasted my life online. You told me once that the kid thing doesn’t do it for you, that the legacy you want to leave behind is the movies. Something that breaks records. That’s turned into a classic. That, fifty years from now, people point at and say, now that’s art. People like stories, you said.” She leans forward. “Let’s give them one.”

GM: “I also told you art doesn’t sell. Art makes me you think. People don’t like that. They hate that.”

“But whatever. You want to be on the screen, that’s doable. Another pretty face is an easy fit into Vieux Carre.

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“How much does an episode of that cost to produce compared to what it brings in?”

GM: “Uh, you bet it brings in more than it costs, or we’d drop it like a hot potato.”

Celia: “Obviously.”

GM: “Average episode costs about a million, anyways. Individual episodes also aren’t what we make money from, beyond selling them to networks for the cost it takes to make them.”

Celia: “Sure, but the demand for this kind of content, and thus the profit, has gone down, hasn’t it? I looked into it a little. Last year there was a garbage movie that brought in a billion dollars at the box office in seventeen days. Seventeen. That’s a record.”

GM: “Sure. It’s gonna get canceled eventually, like all shows. ‘Til then, we’ll milk the cash cow for all it’s worth.”

Celia: “Of course. I wouldn’t dream of telling you to put it down. But while you’ve got that guaranteed source of revenue, why not expand a little?”

GM: “And what do you think I should expand to?”

Celia:RED just released their new Dragon Vista a few months back. There are some studios out there who don’t even have the Epic Dragon, and you’ve still got people who think Arri can keep up.” Celia shares a look with Ron. “Those are the same kinds of places using day-for-night, too. Put Zodiac in front again. Grab a DV, put together a night film. First foray into this, maybe make it low budget. Bunch of nobody actors, keeps cost down on salaries. Horror, maybe, those tend to work well like that. Push it out under a sister company even. Real unknown. But you’ve got the talent here with your DP and FX guys, I’ve seen it. Knock it out of the park. Market the fuck out of it. You’ll see a bunch of copycats, but Zodiac got there first. Stick to the Quarter, even. Amount of ghost stories around here?”

Celia shakes her head.

“You could make something new for each one if you wanted and it goes well, even.”

It hits all the right beats: lets him play up the “local director” angle, uses the newest gadgets on the market, draws on the experience of his guys while still doing something new. Low budget, low risk, potential for a big reward both in profits and in sequels. Worst case scenario he buys a new camera.

And horror movies notoriously get a good turnaround on profits.

She’s not married to that idea, though.

GM: “Right, let’s establish a few things, ‘cause this ain’t the first time I’ve talked to someone, or even a relative, with big ideas who wanted to get into movies,” says Ron. “What are you after? Do you just want your face on the screen? Or do you want to make this specific movie?”

Celia: Celia doesn’t quite deflate, but she nods her head in agreement.

“You’re right. You’re the movie guy. I just got excited.” The smile she gives him is sheepish. She swirls her drink, sending the blood through her body to give herself a flush. It reddens her cheeks, makes her eyes a little shiny. Blame the whiskey and excitement, right?

GM: “Do you want make more movies, have a career in the industry? Do you want to be an actor, a producer, a director, or what? Or just build your brand on top of the MeVid and Instagram stuff? Like, what the fuck are you after here?”

Celia: Celia considers the question. She’d thought, initially, she wanted to be an actress. They make the big bucks, don’t they? But they’re the subject of constant gossip, their every move scrutinized… and they have to do what other people tell them to. Plus they have to be on set early, during the day. She’d have to rely on doubles to take her spot. Producers have more longevity, don’t they? Pick their own projects. Make a pile of money, too. Easy to hand it off to someone else that’s actually her once “Celia Flores” runs out of time.

“Eventually, I think I’d like to produce. Like you do. And I’ll admit that the idea of being on screen while I’m young and pretty enough to do it is appealing as well.”

GM: “I produce and direct. Sometimes write, though not so much now.”

“So what you want is to be on screen, and build that into producing later? Lot of stars who’ve done that.”

Celia: Celia nods.

That sounds about right.

“Do people take them less seriously as producers or directors because they used to act?”

GM: “Used to be actors were just actors—you don’t hear of Gary Golden or Ginger Swan producing movies. But even then you had exceptions. Think Orson Welles. It’s gotten more and more common with time. Actors taking on production responsibilities has changed the nature of filmmaking for the better. The more actors who also direct and produce means bigger creative investment and better conditions for cast and crew. Because working actors understand what’s needed to get the best performances. Think Clint Eastwood. Actor with a rep as an outstanding director and producer.”

“So no, not really.”

Celia: She was thinking more like the female actors who turn into directors and everyone thinks their movies are shit because they’ve got a vagina.

But she nods again.

She can be Clint Eastwood.

GM: “But okay. You just want to get your face on screen, forget a new movie for now. Big hassle to make a movie. Also damn hard to raise money for if you’re brand new and want a high production value. Easier to fit you in to someone else’s project, build your reputation, make your own movies from there.”

Celia: “So you think the show to start, or I should get… like a small part on a movie?”

GM: “Show,” says Ron. “Easier to slip you in. Ongoing thing you can do for potentially a while.”

“Average shooting day is 10-12 hours, by the way. Make plenty time.”

Celia: That’s a problem.

That’s a big problem.

GM: “We usually get 8-24 minutes of usable footage from that.”

Celia: “Why so little?”

GM: “When the fuck doesn’t shit take longer than you think?”

Celia: “It just… seems unproductive, is all.”

“But I guess if you’re shooting 50-60 minute episodes… one episode for every two to three days…”

Celia shrugs.

GM: “The full cast ain’t on set, or even on property, that full time. There’s a lot of moving parts that go into making a movie. Just how it is. That rate’s stayed pretty much the same since I started out, way before you were born.”

Celia: “Okay. So. How does this all work, then?”

GM: “I’ll get you an audition. You don’t do terrible, you’ll get a part.”

Celia: If only she weren’t his daughter, she could sleep with him for a part like every other actress.

“Okay.”

“And you recommend that instead of just… following what you do?”

GM: “What do you mean, following what I do?”

Celia: “I meant like you recommend going from acting to producing / directing instead of just going into the latter?”

GM: “Unless you’re independently wealthy enough to bankroll it all yourself, you will not be fuckin’ producer or director out of the box. That doesn’t happen anymore.”

“And even if you are, everything’ll be ten times harder without industry experience and connections.”

Celia: Celia nods. She gets it.

GM: “Like, I want to open a spa, right now, what the fuck would you tell me? I got money, right, and appreciate chicks who look good?”


Celia: “Hire a good manager.”

Celia grins at him.

GM: “Ha. I bet.”

Celia: “No, right, you’d want to make sure you know what you’re doing. That your techs know what they’re doing. That everything is priced right, that you’re following state board rules, that the marketing is on point, everyone has a license…” Celia trails off.

GM: “And a lot more shit you haven’t listed, ‘cuz you ain’t done this before.”

Celia: “So, really, hire someone who knows what they’re doing so you can learn.”

GM: “By the way though, if you’re serious about starting a movie career, you’re in a good place.”

Celia: “Yeah? Why’s that?”

GM: “Because there’s main two things that get you in, these days.”

“Family connections and money. Talent’s optional.”

“You don’t need talent to make it big.”

Celia: It’s not quite a ringing endorsement to what he’d once said about her being a good actress, but she smiles politely all the same.

GM: “Like, if I hadn’t cum inside your mom, you’d need all sorts of bullshit like acting classes and volunteer experience and a resume and an agent and there’d be a million other bitches and sonsofbitches who want the parts you want.”

“But here I am saying okay, you have an audition, just like that.”

Celia: She doesn’t point out that she’s prettier than the rest of his cast, either.

“I appreciate my luck.”

GM: “I didn’t have family connections or money. I busted my balls to make it in Hollywood. And the industry’s changed since then. Gotten way more competitive, like everything. Busting your balls isn’t enough no more.”

Celia: “And look what you’ve made with it.” Celia gestures around them, to the apartment, then beyond that to the city at large, the company he’s built. “You made everything yourself. You’re not coasting by on a name or looks or money or because you bent over for some guy. And that’s admirable.”

GM: “Yeah, I just sold my soul and make shitty movies. Lot to admire.”

Celia: “Ron… you’ve said that a few times. Shitty movies. Do you want to do more?”

“Has anyone ever asked you that? What you want?”

GM: “Doesn’t matter. ‘More’ doesn’t sell.”

Celia: “Would it make you proud, though?”

GM: “Audiences don’t want ‘more.’”

He gestures around the condo.

“I’d also rather have this than pride.”

Celia: “What if money wasn’t an object? If you could just… make what you wanted to? If you could have that and your condo and the girls?”

GM: “What if unicorns were real? Yeah, I’d clamber on one for a ride.”

Celia: “But I mean think about it, Ron. You’ve spent your lifetime building a company, and you don’t sound happy. And I’m your kid so I’m not going to lecture you because you don’t need it from me. But if you want to be happy, to be proud of the legacy you leave behind… maybe just think about it, you know?”

GM: Ron takes a pull of his drink. “I have this romantic idea, sometimes. When I’m really drunk and my girl’s nodding along to everything I say. Of making the last movie I make a real movie. Being sole producer, spending every cent I have, so no one else gets to sink their claws into it. Writing the screenplay. Directing it. Making do on the lower budget. Using every trick I ever learned, to make something real and beautiful and thoughtful and profound, to say everything I ever wanted to say, that touches people in their hearts and leaves them thinkin’ about it years after they’ve seen it. It wouldn’t make a lot of money. Box office flop. Critics would say it was weird, too different, too nonconventional. Wouldn’t matter, because I’d die in my director’s chair the day of the final shot, or maybe the premiere. But it’d be a cult classic, and a few decades later, it’d show up on all those ‘Top X’ lists and critics would all be gushing over what a work of art it was, and how unappreciated for its time, and how it changed things in movies forever.”

Ron takes another drink.

“And then I see my girl noddin’ and gigglin’, and I come back to fuckin’ reality.”

“And I think, hey. Maybe that would be a catchy movie. Movie about a director who wants to make a not-shitty movie, except the movie actually is just another shitty movie.”

Celia: Celia sets her glass down on the coffee table between them. She doesn’t quite lean forward in her chair, but she does fix him with a look.

“Do I look like I’m giggling and laughing and nodding along? If that’s what you want to do… do it. Start writing it. You’ve got this life here, sure, and you’ve got these movies and the shows you’ll leave behind, and a bunch of kids that will fight over what you leave when you die. Or you could actually do it, be the cult classic, be a name that people remember forever.”

GM: “Leaving aside all the other reasons that’s a better story, and movie, than it is a reality, I’m not about to kick the bucket. I can’t make it before I’m about to die, remember, since it’ll take every penny I have.”

“Though I guess I could kill myself when it’s done. Maybe even make that into a scene in the movie, ha ha. A real fuckin’ suicide. That’s almost beautiful.”

Celia: Celia is pretty sure that’s illegal, but she doesn’t tell him so. He’d know better than her, anyway.

“Could always write it now. Direct it under a different name, push it out under a different studio. Subsidiary, that kind of thing.”

GM: “Were you listening to a damn word I said? Use whatever fuckin’ name or studio you want, those kinds of movies don’t get made, unless you’ve got the money to take total fuckin’ control of production.”

Celia: Celia gives him a flat look.

GM: “Hollywood is an abortion clinic. Good ideas are the babies.”

Celia: “Then change it. Be different. You’re top dog in New Orleans, aren’t you? Do something with it.”

GM: “You are not listening to a damn thing I said! I make a movie that way, it’ll take every last cent I have, bye-bye all this.” He gestures at the condo. “Bye-bye to your inheritance, too.”

Celia: Celia considers him for a long moment.

“I am listening to you. I’m hearing you say that it’s a money problem. That you’d have to spend everything you have to be in charge. But it’s your name on the side of the building, isn’t it? You’re already in control. I know that’s not always how it works when people start throwing money at projects, they all want a hand in it. So… what if I throw money at it? I don’t know if I could bankroll the whole thing, but I could help. If that’s what you want to do.”

GM: “Soon as you take somebody else’s money, kid, they’re also in charge,” Ron says wearily.

He looks at her dubiously.

“The movie’d be a box office flop. Might even never be appreciated, years later. You’d probably just be lighting cash on fire.”

Celia: “I’ll make more money,” Celia says with a shrug. “If it’s what you want to do and I can help, I want to help.”

GM: “Why?”

Celia: “Because even if I don’t call you ‘dad’ you’re my dad. Because when I approached you years ago you were nice to me, and you could have just blown me off. Because you’re not… fake. You don’t smile and then stab someone in the back, you just say it like it is. ‘Celia, that’s not a good idea, this is what’s wrong with your plan,’ and you do it in a way that doesn’t make me feel less-than. Because I told you years ago I didn’t contact you for your money and you did something nice for me anyway, and now it’s my turn.”

GM: Ron doesn’t say anything for a while.

“What was it you said about who your mom was, way back? Sweetest lady in the world or some shit?”

“There’s a lot more of her in you than me.”

“Lot more.”

Celia: Plenty enough of him in her too, though. With a dash of Maxen on her darkest days.

She leans forward to touch his hand.

“You’re my family, Ron. This is what we do for each other.”


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, PM

GM: Em looks around. He’s in Uncle Ron’s condo.

It doesn’t look like it’s changed much, besides newer technology. Smart TV instead of the old non-smart widescreen.

Emmett: “Oh, that evil son of a bitch.”

It’s been a while. But hey, a lot’s changed in nine years. Like apparently Ron’s gotten real sentimental about his blood relations, or so Em assumes from being deposited here.

GM: Ron’s there. So’s Celia. They’re seated on the leather couch talking to each other. Ron’s in his bathrobe. Celia’s more dressed up and is touching his hand.

Ron’s aged, and not well. He’s fatter. His hair’s whiter, and there’s less of it. His pudgier, blearier-looking face has more wrinkles. Em can see an ugly black stain around his liver, like black tar or plaque. There’s black gunk clotted around his heart, too.

“All right, enougha that mushy shit,” Em’s uncle says to Celia in a gruff but faintly choked-sounding voice. He takes a swig of his nearby drink.

“Someone’ll call you about the details. Audition times and shit.”

Celia: Celia pulls back from him with a smile, folding her hands on her lap.

“I’m looking forward to it. Thank you for setting it up.”

GM: “If you’re really serious about movies, by the way… I can talk to Rick. Rick Towers. We’re friends. He could take you with him to Hollywood. He won’t break his back to start your career, but he can open doors. Help you land some gigs.”

“I might be top dog in Louisiana, but this place is the kids’ table next to Hollywood.”

Celia: That’s certainly tempting. Or would be, if she weren’t predisposed to that certain type of sun allergy that involves bursting into flames at the slightest touch. She nods, though, because she thinks he expects it of her, and because there’s some part of her that wonders if she could make it work.

“I’d have to consider that. I have a business here, would need to sell. We don’t even know if I’m any good at this yet,” she says ruefully. “But… yeah, that sounds really great.”

There’s a pause, then, “do they really sleep with all the girls out there like you say?”

GM: She’s heard about L.A. from Roderick in passing. Anarch city. Anarch capital of the world, really. Vampires involved in Hollywood.

“Yep,” says Ron.

Celia: Not that Celia is opposed to sleeping with people to get what she wants.

GM: “Lot more shit I don’t say too.”

Celia: “Oh?”

GM: “Isn’t shit you’d see goin’ with Rick,” he waves off. “That’s for the really desperate girls.”

“Spreading your legs isn’t shit you’d need to do, either. That happens most with the actresses starting out, who don’t have money or connections. But it’d still help you get places with a body like yours.”

Celia: She should feel a certain way about her dad judging her body, she’s sure. Disgusted, maybe. But she’s dead, and she’s heard worse, and he’d never been much of a dad to her. She’s kind of flattered. She does have a bangin’ bod, she’d made it herself.

“That the kind of thing that’s gonna come back and bite me in the ass later?”

GM: “Sleeping with somebody to get ahead?”

“Pffft. Bite half the asses in Hollywood.”

“Can happen though if you’re careless and the paparazzi are hungry.”

“Then again, all publicity’s good publicity.”

Celia: “Ah. Like people who get work done, right? When it’s bad it’s obvious, when it’s good you can’t even tell. Show some discretion, that sort of thing.”

Is he really suggesting his daughter fuck her way to success?

GM: “Well, like I said. Sex sells. Worked for Paris Fucking Hilton, didn’t it?”

Celia: Christ, speaking of work done, she’d make a fortune in Hollywood.

“I’d actually point to the Kardashians before I do Hilton. She didn’t do much since then. Whole Kardashian clan has ridden that sex tape to success.”

GM: “Guess it goes to say sex sells, but doesn’t have to be your sex.”

“We call people who do that pimps.”

Meanwhile, Em looks about the place.

Emmett: Particularly for any indication of hidden spaces, or the telltale glow of his niece and nephew’s souls.

GM: Like everywhere else, it looks like it’s been abandoned for years. The drapes and carpets are rotting. The TV has its face smashed in. There’s grime over the broken windows. The couch is stained with the smell of sweat and old semen.

He sees no souls except Ron’s and Celia’s.

The smell gets worse from the bedroom. Em stares through the translucent walls. The bed is the beating heart of this place. It smells like sex, old and stale, dried tears, and crusted vomit, though less of that than the bathroom does. The place reeks with a toxic amalgam or lust, despair, and self-hate thick enough to choke on.

Celia: “There’s a joke in there somewhere about pimping out your own family, I think.”

GM: “You don’t have to sleep with nobody. Just telling you how it works.”

Celia: “No, no, I know, I appreciate how upfront you are about things.”

GM: “But like I said, you got a great body. It’d help you get ahead.”

“If you weren’t my kid I’d have definitely wanted to fuck you.”

Celia: Celia lifts her glass to that.

“Now there’s a compliment.” She doesn’t even sound sarcastic.

GM: Ron lifts his and takes a swig.

“All right. This old man needs to get to bed.”

Celia: “Of course. Thanks for seeing me tonight. And for the talk. I’m really looking forward to this. I’ll send a girl by to make up for the one I chased away.” She rises, holding out her hand. “I can set that in the dishwasher if you’d like. Mom sent cookies, they’re on the counter.”

GM: “Remind me who the fuck she is?”

Celia: They have this conversation every time.

“Diana. The ballerina.”

“Real bendy.”

GM: “Huh. Feel like I’d remember that.”

“Worked with dancers for some movies. You’re right they can be bendy as all fuck.”

Celia: “She didn’t go out for a movie. She said you met at a party.” Celia shrugs.

GM: “Thanks for the cookies, anyway. And the girl.”

Celia: “Anytime, Ron. I’ll talk to you soon.”

GM: Ron sees her out with a hug.

Em watches his uncle walk back to the kitchen and sample one of the foul-smelling, mold-laced cookies. Celia heads for the elevator.

Celia: Celia doesn’t quite head for the elevator. She spends a minute searching her pockets for something, and a moment later there’s a knock on Ron’s door when she comes up empty.

GM: Em watches his uncle walk back to the door, check who’s there on the nearby monitor, then pull it open. Celia sees he’s munching on one of the snickerdoodles.

“Yeah?”

Celia: “Hey, sorry, I forgot my keys.”

“How’re the cookies?”

GM: “They’re really good. Your mom’s some baker,” he says. He gestures towards the living room. “Take a look.”

Celia: “She is. Taught me everything she knows.” Celia slips past him, moving toward the living room. She checks the table, then the floor, and finally lifts the cushion she’d been on. There they are. “You really don’t remember her?”

GM: Ron shakes his head. “Pretty long while ago, obviously.”

Celia: She pulls her phone from her pocket, taps in the PIN, and scrolls through her gallery. A moment later she has a photo pulled up: she and her mom with Lucy sprawled across the both of them in a tutu and tiara. They all look like they can hardly catch their breath from laughing.

“That’s her.”

GM: Emily took the picture. Ron smiles as he looks at it, but part of him looks reflective too.

Celia: “Her last name was Underwood,” Celia presses. “She was… young. Seventeen when she had me.”

GM: It’s a curious-feeling moment, when Celia looks at the picture too. Someone who did something bad to Celia’s family, but who’s why it exists, and who’s looking at it now so appreciatively.

It’s not even the sole instance of that feeling. Lucy was conceived the same way. In an even worse way. Celia could fairly describe that night as the blackest, most awful night of her life (as well as the last), and for her mom it’s probably the second-most terrible. She remembers talking with Emily about the rape baby her mother shouldn’t have to bear to term. Maybe even slipping an emergency contraceptive. How could anything good come from a night so evil.

But there the result is. She looks so happy. So stitches-in-their-sides happy. She and both her moms. Even Emily, who’d privately agreed with Celia over abortion, said after nine months, “I just can’t believe something like her came from something so bad. Or how Mom… had so much faith that something would. I don’t know were she got it from.”

Celia and Lucy are both rape babies. Sisters by conception as well as blood.

But Roderick said they’re both probably her mom’s favorite kids, because parents do have preferences, especially ones with so many kids.

Ron just looks at the picture thoughtfully.

“So I’d have been… you’re 27… 34.”

“Your mom looks good for her age. I thought I might’ve been a pedophile for a moment,” he says with a faint smile.

“Usually don’t get girls’ last names at parties. Underwood doesn’t ring a bell.”

“Shit, though… you all look happy. Real damn happy. What were you laughing over?”

Celia: “She comes to the spa a lot,” Celia tells him. “Keeps up with skincare. I could do the same for you, if you want.”

She glances back down at the photo.

“Yeah. We were. Are. They’re a good family. My friend Emily took it. Mom kind of adopted her when it turned out she didn’t have a family of her own. She was my roommate in college, and after that first year she came to live with us.”

GM: “Huh. So if she was 17 then she’d be… 44 now?”

“Damn. You’ve kept her looking really good for her age.”

Celia: “I’m good at what I do.”

GM: “I might take you up if that’s the end result.”

“That’s sweet of your mom to do with her. I guess you did say she was really nice.”

“Hot and sweet. She looks like a keeper.”

Celia: “She is.” If only the men in her life weren’t such scumbags.

“I’d be happy to get some work done on you, anyway. We can set something up for next week if you want.”

GM: “Yeah, sure. Call my secretary.” Ron looks back at the picture. “Don’t see any guys.”

“Are Emily and your mom fucking?”

Celia: Celia smirks.

“We had dinner earlier this week and I asked them the same thing. But no.”

GM: Ron laughs.

“But no guys in there? Feels incomplete.”

Celia: “Her ex is trying to win her back.”

“I’ve been trying to set her up with anyone else.”

GM: “Huh. I prefer them younger, but I’d be down to… see where things go.”

Celia: “What, exclusively?”

GM: “Christ, kid. I said see where things go, not jump off a fuckin’ cliff.”

Celia: Celia laughs. “I’ll put in a good word for you.”

GM: “I wouldn’t mind seeing my granddaughter sometime, either.”

“She’s really fuckin’ cute.”

Celia: “Yeah, she gets it from me.”

GM: “She sure does. You got any other pictures on here?”

Celia: “Of Lucy or my mom?” Celia swipes through her phone. Like any twenty-something woman, she has a lot of selfies. But there are quite a few photos of her family as well, and she goes through them with him, pointing out Emily when she gets to a photo of her and Celia arm in arm at the spa. They’re both in gray hooded shirts with pink lettering that says “Flawless League” on them. Celia tells him that her mom found them while she was shopping one day and thought they were too cute to pass up. There are some of Lucy in her dance outfit, a few of Diana after Celia had done her face up for a “girl’s night in,” which is almost like a night out only it’s the three of them after they put Lucy to bed all huddled on Diana’s couch. Sometimes they play with makeup, sometimes they watch movies in pajamas, sometimes they just lounge around making jokes that get more and more lewd while Diana blushes.

GM: The only thing missing from those evenings is alcohol. Diana doesn’t touch the stuff, and since dying, it doesn’t do a lot for Celia either, unless she’s able to feed on a drunk vessel. Emily doesn’t like being the only one in a group drinking (or, since college, drinking alone either), so that stopped happening. Diana (silently) approved that it made the nights in more wholesome. Celia and Emily did their best to undermine that. But Celia supposes they still are, for all the raunchiness of the jokes.

“Lucy,” says Ron, but he still looks over the other pictures.

“Oh huh, that Emily girl’s got a nice bod too. Wouldn’t look bad on camera,” he remarks appreciatively when she comes up. He squints at a few of the pictures.

“What is she though… Hispanic? Indian? The other Indian? Viewers don’t like being confused.”

Celia: “Little white, little Hispanic, then whatever her dad is. Not sure if it’s Native or South Asian or Middle Eastern or all of the above,” Celia tells him, “but she’s in her last year of med school. Not sure she’s looking to switch into film after finally powering through all those headaches.”

“My dad called her a mongrel mutt,” she says cheerfully.

Or was it half-breed? Something rude, anyway.

GM: “Case in point,” says Ron. “You get some multiracial actors, Keeanu Reeves and all, but it’s a strike against. I don’t like to cast them.”

Celia: “But half black and half white is okay?”

GM: “So long as you don’t look it.”

“Or if you do and market it right.”

Celia: Celia glances down at herself. There’s no part of her that looks black. Maybe her butt.

GM: Her mom always called her hair “feisty.” But she can control that now.

Celia: She’d asked her mom once how come she has hair when Daddy doesn’t, and after that Maxen had shaved off the rest of what was clinging to his head.

GM: “He probably would’ve done it anyway, sweetie,” Diana had replied consolingly. “And it is a good look on him, I think!”

Celia: Celia, Isabel, and David had gone in together that Christmas on shoe polish so he could keep it shiny. They hadn’t understood why he’d gotten mad.

Celia: “Lucy passes for white pretty well,” Celia says after a moment, looking down at a photo her mother had sent her of the girl with both cats cuddling on her lap. “She’s… what, half on my side… half on her dad’s? Quarter on her dad’s? He never looked it either, though.”

GM: Shadow and Victor. The calico and black cat have their eyes closed as they contently purr.

It’s something to see them looking so peaceful. All they ever do when they see Celia is hiss, growl, and flee.

“Huh. Lucky her,” says Ron. “Remind me who that apparently handsome motherfucker was?”

Celia: There’s an awkward beat of silence. Then,

“Em.”

GM: Ron gives a flat look.

“Well, what the fuck, I guess. Who’m I to judge.”

Celia: “I, ah, I didn’t know who he was at the time. It wasn’t until after we’d…”

GM: “Legal in California, I’m pretty sure.”

Celia: She’d looked up the laws, after. Apparently in Louisiana she couldn’t marry the guy, but sexual relations were allowed. Weird rules, but then so is fucking your cousin.

“I haven’t told anyone that, since… well. She never met him. And he’s…” Celia trails off, voice dropping, “gone now, anyway.”

Emmett: Sure he is.

He watches Ron’s face carefully.

He hasn’t even registered that Celia’s claiming he’s her daughter’s father. He’s pretty sure he isn’t. But that’s neither here nor there.

Celia: He could be, though. They definitely didn’t use a condom. And it’s not like they saw much of each other after that.

Timeline matches up, too.

GM: “Yeah,” Ron says hollowly. “Drug-related shit. Bunch of people dead.”

“Can’t say I didn’t see it coming. Something like it.”

“I told you, when you first showed up. There’s real poison in our blood.”

Celia: “I’m sorry,” Celia says quietly. “I didn’t mean to bring it up. Are you okay? After… everything?”

GM: “I’m here. I’m breathin’.”

“Poison burns through me slower than him, I guess.”

Celia: “I don’t think that’s true, you know. About poison in the blood. He was… I mean, when I knew him, he helped me out of a bad spot. And you did too.”

GM: “He also killed my son,” Ron says flatly.

“I bet he meant well, with you. Hell. Maybe he didn’t mean for things to spiral out of control, the way they did.”

“But they always do. Always fuckin’ do.”

“And my son’s still dead, whatever the fuck he meant to do.”

Emmett: Well… yeah, not much he can say to that.

GM: “We’re fuckin’ hurricanes. Calamity wherever we go. We don’t mean it, we really don’t, just a natural fuckin’ phenomenon, right? Still calamity. Bodies. Lives destroyed. Everything we touch, turns to shit.”

“I’d say the whole thing’s a sad fuckin’ waste. I’d say he coulda made movies. But maybe he’d have just… turned out like me.”

Ron sighs wearily.

“Maybe better the poison burned through fast.”

Celia: Celia takes a step toward him. He’d said “no more mushy shit,” but when someone needs a hug, well… Diana had taught her to give ’em out like candy. She does so now.

GM: It’s not a tight hug. It’s not a limp hug. It’s just a heavy one. It lasts a while. Ron feels old and tired. He doesn’t move his arms.

Finally he pulls back.

“All right. Bed’s calling my name.”

Celia: “Right. Sorry for…” making him sad? reminding him of his dead son? bringing up Em? “…lingering. Everything. I’m glad you’re in my life, Ron. I just want you to know that. But get to bed. We’ll talk later.”


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, PM

GM: Ron and Celia see each other off after the former declares “enough mushy shit,” but says he “ain’t sorry” she came by either. Em watches his uncle go take a piss in the bathroom. Celia heads for the elevator.

Emmett: He’s still wondering why “Caroline” sent him here. Maybe Ron knows something.

Maybe it’s all a crock of shit.

He follows Celia, for now.

Celia: Unaware of her ghostly stalker, Celia heads back home. It’s a short drive from Ron’s place to her place in the Quarter, and she pulls her car into the drive behind a ruby-red… something. Randy had told her a handful of times what it is and she’d always forgotten. Too many numbers and letters in the name for her.

The house itself is brick, three stories, with two entrances. Celia goes around back to find the second entrance, passing through a security gate when she punches in the numbers, then a thick door with a series of deadbolts, and finally another PIN code. She takes a moment to lock up behind her before she ascends to her haven.

It’s a nice place, really: wooden floors, exposed brick walls, open floor plan. The furnishings are very Celia: tasteful, elegant, probably expensive. A lot of wood. A pink velvet couch, too. The only non-Celia thing in the place is the pool table that sits in the center of the floor, currently in use by a man and a woman. A spiral staircase leads upward off to the other side, and there’s a door off the kitchen that probably leads to the bathroom.

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GM: It would be a nice place, at least, in the real world.

Emmett: No Nutella in the cupboard, though.

GM: The couch is moth-eaten, caked with dust, and stained with dried cum. The pool table’s felt is little more than colorless rotted strips. The same stink of old sex wafts from them. The bulbs in the lights are shattered. The broken windows are caked with grime. The rooted floorboards look like they’ve been left to soak in a bacteria stew for years.

All just more rot and trash. Like everywhere.

Emmett: “Ugh, somebody’s totally fucked on this pool table.”

“I’ve never had pool table sex. I guess I never will, now.”

He waits for Celia to fall asleep before he nestles besides her and slides into her dreams.

Celia: Unfortunately, Celia doesn’t fall asleep for a long while. She spends some time with the two people at the table, asking the girl about a series of text messages, then letting her know to expect a call from Ron’s people about an audition. Em might notice that the boy kind of looks like him. Has his eyes, anyway, though Em’s probably never looked at anyone with such clear adoration. The three get together on the couch to watch a movie together after a while, some action flick with lots of explosions and a British bad guy.

GM: The girl lies down with her head on Celia’s lap, sometimes nuzzling back and forth against the woman’s thigh.

She looks a little sleepy, and the boy too, but they try to stay awake.

Celia: Celia runs her fingers through the girl’s hair while the movie plays. She tells them after a while, when it’s clear they no longer care if the hero can save the hostages, that they can head on up to bed and she’ll see them tomorrow evening.

GM: “I’d rather spend time with you, mistress…” the girl murmurs, rubbing her head against Celia’s belly. “I could eat you out, if you’ve had enough of the movie…”

“Babe, I’m always happy to watch anything with you. Or about you,” says the boy, with a brief eye towards the girl. His voice is a little jealous.

Celia: “And what will poor Randy do, hm?”

GM: “I guess he’ll just watch, like always.” The girl starts contently rubbing her face against Celia’s crotch.

Celia: “Mhm,” Celia muses, “but what about the fact that you broke the rules today, hm? You know better than to do what you did.”

GM: The girl looks up and hangs her head. “I’m sorry, mistress. I just wanted to be completely clear with you. I know how much you value your family.”

Celia: “You can’t call me mistress over the phone. You know that we’re already under scrutiny. If the wrong people see it…” Celia forces a sigh.

GM: The girl nods her head. “I won’t do it again, mistress. You can just spank me, once, for every time I don’t address you properly, when you see me again.”

Celia: “I value you your discretion more than I value you calling me mistress. What would I do if I lost you, pet? If someone picked you up for questioning?”

“Don’t you know how sad I’d be?”

GM: “You fucked up is what you did,” the boy helpfully chimes. “Like, don’t blab about stuff over the phone. That’s pretty basic.”

Celia: “You know better.”

GM: “You’d be very, very sad, mistress,” the girl replies mournfully, with a brief dirty look towards the boy. “I should know better. I’m so sorry. It won’t ever happen again.”

She crawls off the couch, prostrates herself on the floor, and starts to kiss Celia’s feet.

“You’re a goddess, mistress. You’re so much smarter, so much prettier, so much more everything than I am.”

“It’s so hard for any of us to match your example. But I’ll always do my best, do better than my best, for whatever you ask…”

Celia: Celia leans forward, touching her chin to lift her face. She strokes her fingers down the girl’s cheek.

“I appreciate hearing that. But you still messed up, and you need to face the consequences. So here’s your choice: no sex for a week… or you can watch Randy and I.”

GM: Randy’s face lights up.

“What kind of sex, mistress?” the girl asks slowly.

“Between you and Randy.”

Celia: “Well, I suppose considering I’ve made him wait this long, I should show him a good time.”

GM: Randy looks like he could cry ‘hallelujah.’

The girl shoots him a hateful look.

Celia: The girl knows how good the sex is, too. She knows exactly what Celia will make her watch. How much satisfaction she’ll give Randy.

GM: “I’ll take… no sex, mistress,” she says slowly. Spitefully. “He isn’t good enough for you. He’d… deface you. He isn’t good enough for you. He doesn’t deserve you and he never will.

“I’ll suffer, and go without, so you don’t have to suffer.”

Celia: “How noble,” Celia says dryly.

GM: Randy’s face seems to almost… freeze, as his breath catches.

Blue-balled.

Celia: “Go on up to bed, pet. I won’t make you watch now.”

GM: And just like that, unadulterated joy shines through on Randy’s face.

“You mean…?”

Celia: She does not mean. Celia has no intention of fucking Randy tonight: he hasn’t earned it. Plus she’s in a possibly monogamous relationship with an old partner who’d been hung up on her cheating last time and she isn’t going to ruin it one night in by fucking a ghoul.

Besides, he’d turned her down the other night. He doesn’t get to fuck her now.

GM: Alana throws herself at Celia’s feet, weeping openly as she clutches the Toreador’s leg like a lifeline. “Mistress, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry I’m so stupid, I’m sorry I’m not good enough, I’m trying, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, please, mistress, please, I’ll do anything, anything, I’m your pet, I’m your toy, I’m your property, I’m nothing, do anything to me, please, please…”

Celia: “I meant the movie,” she says shortly, looking back to the screen. “She looks tired and I’m still mad at you for drinking sewer water.”

GM: And just like that, the look of joy instantly vanishes.

Celia: Ghouls are a fucking headache.

She disentangles herself from Alana’s clutching arms. She wants to lash out, to berate her and tell her that she deserves it, but it’s like kicking a puppy. It’s just pathetic. And she’s not Veronica, no matter how much sex she has; she doesn’t get off on causing other people pain, even emotional pain. They’re just so… whiny when they’re like this. Is it what she has to look forward to if she and Roderick take that third drink? Christ. No thanks.

GM: Alana grovels on the floor and kisses the ground where Celia’s feet rested. Tears run down her face even as she gulps out between an ear-to-ear smile,

“Thank, thank you, mistress, thank you, thank you, I’ll be good, I’ll be worthy, I’ll do everything you want, everything right, I’m worthless, I’m yours…”

Celia: Is this how her sire sees her?

The thought fills her with revulsion.

GM: “You’re so fucking pathetic, Alana,” Randy says flatly.

So flatly.

An elephant could balance on his voice.

She could swear his balls have already shriveled in.

“There’s nothing sexy about it. Even remotely.”

Celia: “Shut it,” Celia snarls at him. “She isn’t yours to berate. Alana, get up, stop blubbering, and if you call yourself stupid again I’ll have your tongue.”

GM: Randy shuts up.

Alana rises to her knees, head bowed so she still isn’t Celia’s height. “Ye-yes, mistress,” she sniffs. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Just tell me what to do. Please. I want to do, whatever you want me to.”

Celia: “Fix this bullshit between you. Your squabbling is over. We are a team. There are enough people in this city to tear us down without you two doing it to each other.”

GM: “Uh, okay… how you want us to, babe…?” asks Randy.

Celia: “Find common ground. Fix a problem. Go fuck it out of your systems if you need to, I don’t care.”

“I don’t need you to be best friends. You don’t even need to like each other. But you will stop sabotaging and bad-mouthing each other, you will stop making each other feel bad, you will stop trying to get the other one in trouble. Neither one of you is better than the other. You both have your different areas of expertise, and you’re both with me for a reason.”

GM: “…all right. Sure, babe. We won’t fight about shit,” says Randy.

“Okay, mistress,” sniffs Alana. She remains kneeling. “What else do you want me to do?”

Celia: It isn’t this easy. She imagines they’ll have this same conversation next week as well. Maybe she should just lock them in a room with each other. Hit them with some feelings of lust so they can work it out. That always works for her.

“You’ll need a new identity soon, Randy. Your time as Celia’s boyfriend might be coming to a close. Start thinking about what that will look like. And you…” Celia wipes the tears from Alana’s cheeks. “You need more fire inside, pet, if you’re going to be a movie star.”

GM: “Oh. Uh, okay,” Randy says, a little lamely.

Alana basks under Celia’s touch, smiling up at her adoringly.

“A… movie star, mistress?”

Celia: “Mmhmm. I spoke with a producer this evening. We might be making a trip to LA.”

Celia taps Randy’s legs until he turns sideways and moves them so she can sit between them, then pulls Alana up onto the couch between her own. She takes one of Randy’s hands and puts it around herself, wordless permission granted, then tugs Alana until her pet’s back rests against her chest. It’s a Celia sandwich, a ghoul on either side of her. She nuzzles Alana’s neck.

“We’ll figure out the logistics. Press play, Randy, let’s finish this movie.”

Emmett: As Randy presses play, Em nestles his way onto the couch too. It’d be tight if the inconvenient bits of his corpus didn’t become gaseous where appropriate.

He hasn’t seen this movie before.

He tries to keep track of the hours. He ought to have some time, still.

GM: “Oh, L.A. sounds wonderful, mistress! Let the whole world see how beautiful you are!” Alana croons, grinding her ass against Celia’s crotch.

Em, meanwhile, is less gaseous than incorporeal. His corpus melts right through the seated trio. The couch might as well be empty.

The movie is one of the worst movies that he’s watched. Maybe not because of the plot or acting or cinematography or anything like that: the image and sound quality is simply atrocious. He can barely make out what’s happening, half the time.

Eventually, the movie ends. Randy and Alana go to bed. Em watches through the walls as both of them masturbate.

Celia, though, remains awake as she goes about her business. It does not look as if she’s going to bed anytime soon.

It’s hard to say whether he’ll have enough time to share her dreams before Doc Brown and the others expect him back.

Emmett: He’d rather not take risks. Not with this. She can wait until later. So can Ron.

But he has souls to damn, and only so many hours. He spends them at the rendezvous.

Waiting.


Friday night, 11 March 2016, AM

GM: At 5 AM, Celia’s back in Pete’s office at the Evergreen. He gives a nodded, “Celia,” after she knocks and steps inside.

Celia: Celia smooths her skirt down after she shuts the door. She takes the seat across from him and can’t help but think that every time she’s in this office she feels like she’s in trouble. She’s glad that her hands can’t get clammy.

“Hello again, Pete. How was the rest of your evening?”

GM: “A gutter punk threw up on my shoes.”

Celia: “Was he aiming for your shoes? Or was it just a crime of opportunity?”

She’s decidedly not smiling.

GM: “She. I’m undecided whether it was deliberate, but inclined to think it wasn’t premeditated.”

Celia: “Lesser sentence, there. Good counsel, she could be out in five.”

GM: “Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending how you look at it, good counsel is rare for their ilk. We have one of the most overworked public defender systems in the country.”

Celia: “She’ll think twice before she barfs on another innocent pair of shoes.”

GM: “How was your evening?”

Celia: There’s a loaded question.

She’d lied to her brother about not hearing back from Isabel. Technically she’d phrased it as not a lie, I messaged her a few days ago but haven’t heard back, which is… true. She hadn’t heard back because Isabel is dead, though, which she left out. Celia is still debating what she can do with her identity. She had retrieved the phone from its hiding place, though, and brought it with her.

She’d also told Alana to be nicer to Emily and her mom since she’s going to have to pretend to be Celia for the next few days while they figure out this hunter stuff. And so she can trade in the old car. She’d been very, very thorough in her explanation about not saying anything sensitive in the car because it might be compromised and had given her explicit instructions on what kind of vehicle she is looking for. Told her to take Randy, too.

Then a back-and-forth with Roderick over whether or not he should come as far into the Quarter as Jade’s haven is, and they’d decided to go back to the same one from the night before since no one else knows about it. Except the sheriff, which she hadn’t told him, and considering he’s never come by twice in a row she figures it’s a safe bet.

No call from Veronica, either, which is less surprising than annoying.

She finally fixes Pete with a bemused smile.

“All right. Mom force-fed me dinner and talked about wanting a man in her life.”

“D’you still enjoy food, Pete? She sent me home with leftovers.”

GM: Logan hadn’t responded.

Alana was contrite.

Roderick was amenable.

Veronica was typical.

“Pawn it off to your renfields,” he says. “Someone might as well eat it.”

“Or Tantal, when you fix his face. He loves food.”

Celia: “I will. Might make him feel better after… well, the pain.” He knows how unpleasant it is. Celia does what she can to lessen what they feel, but there will always be a price to pay for the way she sculpts the flesh.

“Hey Pete, can I ask you a question before we get started?”

GM: “Go ahead.”

Celia: “Do you know of anything that eats souls?”

GM: He frowns.

“Souls?”

Celia: “Yeah, like… human souls.”

“Or ghosts.”

GM: “Depending on who you talk to, those things are either closely related or only superficially so. Some insist ghosts are real people, just missing their bodies. Others think they’re just cheap copies and knock-offs going through the motions.”

Celia: “But there’s something that eats them?”

GM: “Well, we certainly don’t. We take enough from people as it is. But we stop at their bodies.”

“The concept of soul eaters exists in a few mythologies. Choctaw and African-American, to cite the most local ones. I can’t claim to have heard of a specific entity that eats souls, although the existence of one wouldn’t surprise me either. Souls are a form of energy and everything needs energy to sustain itself, even dead things like us.”

“I suppose it also wouldn’t surprise me for a creature like that to exist in this city. Ghosts are common as fruitflies here, especially in the Quarter.”

Celia: Celia nods. She doesn’t have much to go on. Em hadn’t been very specific, and the dream… she doesn’t remember a lot of the dream, really, just impressions. But the fact that something is eating ghosts, that she needs to kill things for him… she remembers that.

“Oh. I heard something about it, and I figured… well, maybe you would know.”

GM: “If Grunewald were still around I’d have recommended you talk with him. He was our ghost expert.”

“But in lieu of him, there’s Rosa Bale.”

Celia: “Yeah. I can give it a go. More interested in the what than the ghosts, really.” She lifts her shoulders, shrugging. “Plus I figured since you and I are best friends you’d be the lick to talk to.” She beams at him. It’s a pretty smile, even if the words are facetious. She’d meant what she said earlier: that she trusts him.

GM: “That’s us, staying up every morning to do each other’s hair and nails,” the Tremere deadpans.

“But as far as licks. There was a bloodline, once, that devoured souls as well as blood. Stole them right out of people’s bodies. Licks and breathers. Worshiped demons too, if that all wasn’t enough. My clan wiped out most of them a long time ago, but sometimes a survivor pops up. Does that sound anything like what you’ve heard of?”

Celia: She almost huffs at him. Best friends don’t have to do each other’s hair and nails. Life—unlife—isn’t a teen movie. She’ll get him a bracelet, though, for next time. “BFFs” or something similar. Braided rope, plastic beads. Maybe one with a heart on it. He’ll love it.

She keeps her mouth shut, though, as he speaks. Does it sound like what she’s heard of? She doesn’t think so, and she’s almost positive she knows what he’s talking about. The same thing she’d warned Jon about a month ago. Does he know she knows? Does he know Savoy has evidence of their presence in the city? Hadn’t Savoy said he tells Pete and Preston everything?

No lick tells someone everything. That’s just bad politics. Why not tell Pete about it, though, if he’d trusted her to tell the archon?

Unless Abélia is a soul thief. Does she eat licks, too? She could ask Em, next time he visits… if he visits… she supposes she has something for him. Four bodies. Her meeting with Ron. She’s looking forward to seeing him again in her dreams.

Finally, she shakes her head.

“I don’t think so. I got the impression she ate them mostly after they were dead.”

Souls for power, though. That makes sense. That’s a demonic thing, isn’t it? Classic demon worship. And licks are dead.

GM: Pete raises his eyebrows.

“She, you say?”

Celia: …whoops. Alarm flashes across her face for half a second before she can smooth it out.

Celia nods, though. Glances over her shoulder at the locked door. Lifts her brows back at him, as if to ask if he’s got some sort of privacy magic he can do.

GM: “There’s no such thing as a perfectly secure room, but this one is as secure as I can make it, short of you leaving your phone outside the door,” answers Pete.

Celia: She responds by pulling the battery out of her phone and setting it aside.

GM: “Smart,” says the Tremere. “It actually is possible to eavesdrop through phones that are just turned off. It’s less convenient, but it is possible.”

Celia: “Oh. Well. Better… to make it less convenient then.”

She’s quiet for a moment, chewing over the words. What to tell him. How to start. Her finger taps against the desk. Nerves. She pulls her hands back onto her lap, sits on them to keep from fidgeting.

GM: “It’s a trick with the gyroscope. The tiny vibrating chip that tells your phone whether it’s in horizontal or vertical position. It’s sensitive enough to still pick up soundwaves, so software can turn it into a crude microphone.”

Celia: “Oh,” she says again. Good to know.

GM: “It only picks up a fraction of words spoken nearby, and if someone wanted to use it to overhear a credit card number, there’s probably only a 50/50 chance they’d get the full thing.”

“But it’s something rather than nothing.”

Celia: Well, she did what she could anyway.

“I spoke to a ghost the other day. Who told me that there’s a… thing. She eats ghosts. And maybe people.”

GM: “But not a lick?”

Celia: “I don’t… think so. The ghost knew what I was, so I think if she was the same it’d have said that.”

GM: “If you’ve got a haunting problem, they can’t cross an unbroken line of salt. Hurts them. Getting salt over their bodies by any means hurts them.”

Celia: “No, that’s not the point. I mean, that’s good to know, but it’s not bothering me.”

She leans forward in her chair.

GM: “This sounds like something you might be better off leaving alone. There’s a lot of dark things out there, going bump in the night. More than just us.”

Celia: “Right, well, I would. Only my mom goes over the house a lot.”

GM: He actually blinks.

Celia: “And her daughter is a lick.”

GM: “Uh, your mom should stop.”

Celia: No shit.

“Yes.”

GM: “Ghosts aren’t unstoppable menaces, but they can be trouble. Something that’s adapted to prey on them sounds like something that could prey on licks pretty well too.”

“It’s like lions and tigers eating smaller animals. If you want a consistent diet, you prey on something that’s significantly weaker than you.”

“And devouring souls is the blackest sort of magic. Can you think of anything worse, than destroying someone’s chance at an afterlife? That one piece of them which is truly immortal?”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“No. I thought we didn’t get an afterlife, though. Doesn’t the Embrace kind of kill all that, too?”

GM: Pete laughs.

“Sorry. Flattered you’re asking, but even Tremere don’t have all the answers.”

“That really comes down to what you believe. To faith.”

“I believe we get an afterlife, though. That we all face justice for our actions in life, and the Requiem. Hauled before the ultimate cop high up in the sky.”

Celia: Straight to Hell for her, then.

“Right.” There’s a brief pause. “So… your suggestion is to just leave the scary thing alone.”

GM: “You have any particular reason not to?”

“You sound like you don’t know a whole about this thing. There’s a lot of cops who are former military, and I’ve heard plenty say that bad intelligence is one of the most surefire ways to get somebody killed.”

Celia: “That’s why I asked you. Obviously I don’t want to poke it with a stick.”

GM: “Your mom seems to have a habit of doing that.”

Celia: “My mom wants to get back with Maxen.”

GM: “Longinus in fucking lingerie,” Pete spits.

Celia: “That’s what I said.”

“She started going on about how she misses him. How he took care of her. How it was so long ago. How Jesus wants people to forgive.”

GM: “Jesus forgave a lot of people. Know where that got Him?”

Celia: “Dead.”

GM: “Yep. Hands and ankles nailed to a cross, dying a slow and torturous death from exposure.”

“But He got to die for our sins, because God was His old man. Is God your mom’s old man?”

Celia: I fuckin’ hope not. Apple fell pretty far from the tree if my mom is Jesus.

“No.”

“To be fair, he died before I was born, so it’s entirely possible I’m wrong.”

GM: “I recommend she leave the forgiving rapist abuser scumbags to Him, either way.”

Celia: “Should have just put him down that night.”

GM: “What-ifs are useless.”

Celia: She sighs, rubbing a hand across her face. “I know, Pete.”

GM: “I also haven’t been able to reach my former partner. Find her another man.”

Celia: “Gettis?”

GM: “Gettis was never my partner.”

“Also not someone I’d have recommended to a delicate flower like your mother.”

Celia: Her hands drop back to her lap. She peers across the desk at him.

GM: “I am still not interested,” he says flatly.

Celia: “You are, that’s what bothers you. You just don’t want to risk it.”

GM: “Find an actual living breathing man, Celia.”

Celia: “I didn’t even say anything, Pete. I just looked at you.”

GM: “Uh huh.”

Celia: She just smiles at him.

GM: “Women all do that.”

Celia: “Look at you?”

GM: “Say things with looks and glances, instead of out loud, so they can play the doe-eyed innocent when it’s convenient.”

Celia: “That’s kind of sexist.”

“Further, like it’s been drilled into me, I’m not a woman anymore.”

GM: “Doesn’t make it wrong.”

“And you’re not. But old habits die hard.”

Celia: “Effective habits.”

“Got you thinkin’ about it, anyway.”

“Your surgeon friend didn’t know what to make of it either, though.”

GM: “Don’t tell me you tried to set up him,” Pete groans.

Celia: “No, actually.” Not really, anyway. She’d have slept with him, but she’s not going to tell Pete that. “Why, is he celibate?”

GM: “By our very natures, none of us are.”

Celia: “You know what I mean.”

GM: “Unfortunately so. Keep your mother away from the monsters. Mortal and otherwise.”

Celia: So much for finding out if North ever talked about her. Aren’t Tremere supposed to be tight?

Pete is the worst best friend.

“What, me too?”

“I’m trying to convince her to leave the city, to be honest, but I don’t even know if she’d be better off somewhere else. At least I can run interference here.”

“She just has a way of bumbling into danger.”

GM: “I don’t know how much luck you’ll have getting her, or anyone, to leave willingly if you can’t explain your reasons.”

“As far as that though, I’d say it depends. Are you good for each other? Have you ever lost control around her?”

Celia: “No. Never. I wouldn’t put them at risk by being around them like that.”

GM: “You’d be surprised how many licks do, through ignorance or carelessness. Or just flat-out feeding on their families.”

Celia: “I would never feed on them. I make sure I’m not hungry when I go over.”

GM: “Then I’d say you’re more considerate than those licks, and otherwise a good influence in one another’s lives.”

Celia: “They’re one of the only good things I’ve got going for me. Why would I mess that up?”

GM: “People do stupid and senseless things all the time. But I’m glad you’re not.”

Celia: “I’ll keep her around for you, no worries.”

GM: “Like arguing with a brick wall…” Pete mutters.

Celia: “I’m your favorite,” Celia tells him with a grin.

GM: “Right.” Pete glances at the time. “Don’t think you’ll have time to give Tantal his makeover tonight.”

He pulls out a cup from his desk. “Bleed into this if you still want to go ahead.”

Celia: “…is it going to hurt, Pete?”

GM: “It shouldn’t, beyond the initial prick.”

Celia: “I mean whatever you’re about to do.”

“What are you going to do?”

GM: “Magic.”

“Pull answers from nowhere, for all intents and purposes to a layman.”

Celia: “That’s it? Just answers?”

GM: “That’s all. You’ll see the blood go poof.”

“What do you most want to find out about these guys?”

Celia: Celia doesn’t need to cut herself again. She reaches into her purse and pulls out a small vial of red liquid.

“I took a sample earlier. I didn’t know if I’d burn through it trying to blend in at my mom’s.” She flashes a smile, then upends the vial into the offered cup.

GM: His eyes silently follow the sanguine trail.

He waits, though, to hear what she’s looking for.

Celia: Celia stares down into the cup. What she wants to know. Something to find out who is behind this all, mostly, but she doesn’t know if the blood can tell her that. And she might already have the answer. She looks back up at him and asks anyway.

“Who is behind all of this. What they want. How they’re finding us.” Her hand clenches into a fist. “How to stop them. Something to just ruin their whole operation.”

GM: “The bigger or broader your question, the vaguer your answer.”

Celia: Right. Even magic doesn’t make things easy.

“Is this like a twenty questions thing?”

She could ask if her own identity is shot. But she’s always been willing to sacrifice for the people she cares about, hasn’t she. It’s less important than finding out if someone sold him out or if he just got sloppy.

“Is who they’re working for too vague? I don’t even know if they’d know. How they found us, I guess.” She eyes him across the desk. “It’s not going to spit out something about GPS, is it? I mean how they found him to get to him. His place.”

“Because he said it was hidden behind a handful of pseudonyms. So it’s possible he just got tagged while he was out and followed home, and it’s all just a happy accident.”

And it’s possible these are the people the elders are working with and Roderick is just the first round of sacrificial lambs. Even if they’re “not religious.” How many groups of hunters are really in the city, though? But that doesn’t make sense if Coco is one of the people throwing names in, since she arranged for him to be protected before. Why throw him in the ring now? To make herself look innocent? Because she knew he could take them? Because she knew Celia would be there? Had Roderick told her even after they’d discussed not doing so? Maybe that’s why she sent them today (yesterday?), so that he’d have backup. Or it’s someone else working against the Anarchs. Someone with a rivalry, maybe. Savoy? But he’d sent her to collect Roderick, why move against him? He’s the in with the Calbido. Because he knew she’d be there—no, she’s overplaying her own importance. There are plenty of ways for him to get rid of her if he wants to.

It’s also possible that they followed her even though Pete already said that’s unlikely.

And maybe they’re not connected to licks at all and she’s searching for threads when there aren’t any.

Fuck, maybe it’s ghost boy, jealous that she’s back together with her ex when she said they could… what had she said? Dream together? Does sex with a ghost count as sex if it happens in a dream?

On that note, maybe it’s even Don—no. Better not even think that.

He’d been at the apartment, though. Had seen the mess left behind. Hadn’t asked about it, but he’d been in her head; who knows what sort of things he had pulled out of her.

She doubts he cares that much.

Cared enough to drop off a loose end, though.

And promptly throw her mom off a building the minute she’d admitted to a mistake. Maybe he thinks Roderick is a mistake. Maybe he doesn’t want her distracted. Maybe he doesn’t want Savoy to have an in.

And people with no regard to human life, sure sounds like him, doesn’t it? Pete said that wasn’t the point he was getting at, but…

She nods.

“Yeah. How they found him. If he was sold out. By whom, if so.” She lifts her brows at him. “If that’s not too much.”

GM: “I guess we’ll see.”

Pete gestures sharply and barks several harsh-sounding phrases in a tongue that mostly feels like Latin to Celia, but something about the accent is… off. The blood in the cup writhes in place, splashing against against the rim like a giant spider that’s been stabbed through its abdomen by a knife. Helplessly flailing its eight many-jointed legs. Low hissing noises that sound like screams to Celia, yet no louder than a whisper, waft up from the blood’s angrily bubbling surface as an unseen force seems to burn it from within. The hissing liquid rises above the cup in a cloud of scarlet vapor.

Celia makes out crude figures in the mist. The three hunters, talking to two men. Dark and tall figures with metallic voices, droning words she can only partly make out. Address… where you’ll find him… last assignment… deliver staked… glinko…

Celia: Celia looks past the vaporous, bloody figures to Pete. None of this is new. Of course the hunters were given the address. Of course they wanted him staked.

Her brows lift.

She waits.

There has to be more.

GM: The coppery-smelling fumes shift. Celia sees the hazy outline of a large and foreboding-looking building with monolithic architecture, the kind that makes everyone around it feel small and puny. It seems like something the prince would approve of. Heavy rhythmic thumps, like the disciplined march of an army, distantly echo.

Celia: It reminds her of every shitty cop show she’s ever seen, trying to put together the pieces of a crime scene or camera feed with only half the information or grainy images. Where’s the enhance button when you need it. She leans forward in her chair to see if she can make further sense of the vision.

If glinko is some sort of organization (the church? Does that mean Pete was wrong earlier when he said they weren’t religious, or just that they no longer need to be because no one is actually religious anymore so what does it matter?), who is the man on the ground? Who sold out Roderick? Who passed his information along to these two? How did they find out about him? Maybe she can’t go after an entire organization by herself, but she can find the rest of the puppets and cut their strings.

GM: Celia can’t make out anything more through the dissolving red plumes.

But she can hear something. A sibilant whisper against her ears.

Lee Andrin

There’s another faint, almost scream-like hiss in Celia’s ear as a coppery smell wafts across Celia’s nostrils, and then it’s gone. Pete’s cup sits empty.

Celia: It’s not a name she recognizes, but the prevalence of social media sites means she has a direction to go, at least. Maybe this “Lee” can provide her with more information. She’ll have to pay him (her?) a visit.

Tomorrow, though. Tonight she has more pressing matters to attend to, not the least of which is the rapidly approaching sunrise.

Her eyes find Pete.

GM: “You want to follow up on this?” he asks.

Celia: “Does that word mean anything to you? Glinko?”

GM: “Can’t say it does.”

Celia: “Church though, wasn’t it?”

GM: “Didn’t look especially church-like to me. No cross or stained glass.”

Celia: “Churches are usually distinct,” she agrees, “maybe more of a concept… organized religion. Catholicism. Army.” She turns the idea over in her head. Maybe she’s wrong.

“Throw childer to Inq. pyres,” she says quietly. She watches his face, to see if the words mean anything to him.

GM: He raises his eyebrows.

Celia: “The attack on Vienna.”

GM: Pete shrugs. “We squashed that. Anyone who’d make a run against our oldest elders on their home turf has a death wish.”

“Some of those Tremere were old when feudalism was new.”

Celia: “Glad to hear it. But it’s spreading. The people behind it.”

GM: The Tremere smiles humorlessly. “It’d chill your blood to learn just how far our elders go to get revenge, and how many ways they know to cause pain.”

“If any of the idiots behind that run on Vienna are still alive, they’re assuredly wishing they weren’t.”

Celia: Celia taps a finger against her thigh. She considers him, then finally just nods. She’d been hoping he could get her a quicker meeting with Savoy, but she thinks that she’s going to need to spill everything to him to get that, and she doesn’t have the time.

“I’m glad we’re friends then, Pete.”

GM: “Me too. Good luck with Roderick. Your grandsire will be very happy to flip him to our side.”

Celia: The smile she gives him doesn’t quite reach her eyes. It’s even a little bit sad, just one corner of her mouth ticking upward. Resigned, maybe.

“I hope so.

Celia doesn’t need to cut herself again. She reaches into her purse and pulls out a small vial of red liquid.

“I took a sample earlier. I didn’t know if I’d burn through it trying to blend in at my mom’s.” She flashes an apologetic smile, then upends the vial into the offered cup.

GM: “What do you want to find out most?” he asks.

Celia: “Do you have time to do one more, or do you think the sun will catch me on my way back home if we try it?”

GM: Pete glances at the time.

“Shouldn’t take long, so long as we don’t spend a while flapping our gums.”

Celia: Celia gives a brief nod. “I’d like to speak further with you about what we just saw, when we both have time. I believe it’s related to the information I have for Lord Savoy. Tomorrow?”

GM: “Elysium Primo’s tomorrow evening. I’m also on police duty, starting midnight. Saturday is better.”

Celia: She gives another brief nod. “I will make myself available. I’ll be around to fix Tantal tomorrow, anyway, if he’s here. Just have him text me.”

GM: “He’s here. He isn’t leaving until his face is his again.”

Celia: “I’ll do it first thing. Sorry I got caught up with talking to you earlier. I should have come by to fix him first.”

GM: “He doesn’t mind spending some off time here.”

“If your grandsire’s good at one thing, it’s keeping people entertained.”

Celia: She’ll have to ask the ghoul what he gets up to tomorrow when she works on him. Maybe he’s enjoying the girls Mel rents out.

“Don’t want to leave you without the help, though.”

GM: “He isn’t a cop. I don’t have him with me then anyway.”

Celia: “Well pardon me for worrying about you.”

GM: “It’s a grave sin, but I suppose I can if you’re contrite.”

Celia: “I’m not, really. Told Mom I’d look out for you.”

GM: “She should forget about me. In any case, what do you want to find out from this second sample?”

“As before, the more narrow your question, the more specific your answer.”

Celia: “So something like, ’what’s the worst thing this person has ever done’ or ‘what secret would they kill to protect’ might not fly?”

GM: “Almost anything flies, but you’ll get a vaguer and more cryptic answer if those sins and secrets aren’t recent ones.”

“There’s a saying among diviners. ‘Ask small questions, get big answers. Ask big questions, get small answers.’”

Celia: She doesn’t know what else to ask, though. She can look into Caroline’s public life herself. Roderick had told her how she’d been messing with the Anarchs, which is all mostly known by the rest of the licks. None of that really serves her purpose. He’d tasked her with bringing her to heel. That involves… dark things. She’s already planning on how to spin something else to blame the blonde if she moves against her…

Celia finally forces a sigh.

“I doubt anyone will take my word for it if I say I did it with a blood ritual anyway. Might as well see what it turns up that I can dig further into.”

GM: “So what do you want to shoot for?”

The detective adds dryly, “I also wouldn’t mind knowing whose blood this is.”

Celia: “She’s an enemy of Lord Savoy and stands directly in the way of what he wants. And she messed with my mom.” Quiet, but bitter beneath the tightly controlled words when she mentions her mother. “She’s the one with the mom who eats souls.” A look at him at that revelation, brows raised; after what he said about that sort of act she can’t imagine that he wouldn’t want to know what’s in this sample.

“Worst thing she’s ever done, then.” Maybe her ghost friend can help her uncover some secrets.

GM: Pete’s eyebrows raise too, but it’s not enough to eclipse the angry look his eye gets after Celia mentions Diana.

“She did, did she?”

“Tell me how.”

Celia: There’s a tale.

Celia keeps it brief.

“My mom teaches dance, as you know.” Does he know? She thinks, based on his reaction, that he pays more attention to Diana than Celia had realized. “Private lessons sometimes. She had a session with the lick’s kid sister at their house and she got emotional, and she was hit by some charm and some mind-fu—uh, mind twisting, memory stuff. And then she started crying outside and talking about Maxen taking her daughter away, and she got sick early the next morning and Maxen showed up. And Emily told me that she threw out her pain medication for her leg because she thought it made her say weird things and I think it was just a lingering result of the mind-twisting, and she’s refusing to take her meds now and she’s in pain and now I’m like well I better go see what Xola wants to fix her leg because otherwise she’s going to not be able to walk or something.”

Clearly exasperated, Celia looks like she wants to start pacing or throw her hands up in disgust. She does neither, but her fingers twist together on her lap.

“She’s delicate. She can’t take that sort of mind-bendy garbage and just… just bounce back like nothing happened.”

“And I don’t know maybe it’s all just a big coincidence but it sure doesn’t feel like one.”

GM: Pete gives a low growl.

“Keep your mom out of that damn house, you hear?”

Celia: “I’m trying. She doesn’t want to listen to me and it’s not like I can tell her the real reason.”

GM: “So lie about something. I know you’re pretty good at that. Or take some damn executive action, and put your foot down that she’s not going, you’ve decided she isn’t allowed anymore.”

Celia: “Yeah,” she says quietly. “I’ll figure it out.”

“…d’you think Xola would…? Your friend said he might teach me, but he’s gone now, and if she’s not on her meds anymore…”

It’s such a human problem that she feels ridiculous bringing it up to him, but she searches his face for an answer all the same. There’s no disguising the hope, desperation, and apprehension in her eyes. As if waiting for him to tell her to make it worth his time to even talk about it.

She’s asking, she realizes, if he’ll go with her again. As much as the back alley doctor hadn’t really phased her the first time she’d met him, Roderick’s warning rings in her mind.

GM: “Jesus Christ, kid,” Pete sighs.

“Leaving aside all the ways that’s a bad idea—and there are a lot of them—how the hell are you going to explain to your mom why you’re taking her to see a ghetto back alley doctor like Xola? Who can somehow work miracles a proper doctor can’t?”

Celia: It’s been a long time since she’s heard his voice in her head. But there it goes, whispering that word she hates so much.

Stupid.

She doesn’t say anything. Just nods her head, trying to control the desperation that makes her look for any answer to keep her family safe.

GM: “Put your foot down. Tell her she’s taking her meds. For good or ill, she’s used to someone telling her what to do.”

Celia: She nods again. She doesn’t trust herself to speak.

Celia: He has to be thinking it. That’s she’s stupid. Incompetent. He’d almost said as much two nights ago with his thinly veiled comments about the time she spends online. Do they regret fishing her out of the water?

She’s not. She’s not stupid. She’s useful, she can be useful.

Prove it.

“Vidal’s kid,” she says finally. “The blood. You asked who. That’s… that’s who. He has a childe. A new one.”

Less eloquent than normal. She must be rattled.

GM: Pete actually blinks.

“What?”

Celia: “He has a childe. A fledgling. Months old.”

GM: “Yeah, and I’m actually Hardestadt’s.”

Celia: Celia blinks at him this time. Her brows furrow, but no crease dares to mar her perfect skin.

“Why would I lie about that?”

GM: “So just what is it that makes you think so?”

Celia: “I met her. Last night. She was in the Garden District, bold as brass, like she had every right to be there. And we shared blood, and she was… I mean, it was potent. Hers, and the stuff inside of her too. It’s not like I go around chomping on elders but… Pete, I’ve never tasted anything like it. And you know that trick with the speed, how you can share it? She did that. Months old.”

And her sire confirmed it, but she doesn’t think she should tell him that.

GM: “There’s other ways of pulling that off. And getting strong blood.” Pete gives an ominous look. “Some pretty nasty.”

“I’d be more inclined to suspect those.”

Celia: “Maybe,” Celia says. “Considering whatever her mom is, sure, I could see that. And maybe she’s just a natural with the speed. It makes more sense than the alternative. And I’d probably believe that if she hadn’t sicced the sheriff on me and he hadn’t threatened me for interfering with the prince’s business.” She tries to make her voice sound like his: cold, imperious. She doesn’t quite manage. Why else would Donovan have used her mother as an example?

GM: “That all sounds pretty anecdotal to me. Vidal’s had hundreds of years to Embrace. He hasn’t. Pretty unlikely he’s about to start again.”

Celia: Celia looks like she wants to sigh at him. And maybe at herself for even bothering to bring it up. She should just take the bitch out and be done with it.

“Pete,” she says quietly, “he told me. He said it, that she’s the prince’s childe.”

GM: Pete looks at her strangely.

“Have you been spending time with Malkavians?”

Celia: “Just Preston.”

GM: “Okay, I’ll play along. Why would your sire randomly decide to tell you that she’s Vidal’s childe?”

Celia: “I don’t know. I don’t pretend to know what goes on inside his head. Why did he Embrace me? Why did he abandon me? It’s not like we sit down and chat over a pint of blood like Roderick gets to do with Coco because she’s so fascinating and knows so much and she’s just so smart and amazing and pretty but let’s ignore the fact that—”

Celia cuts herself off. She stares down at her lap, where her claws have sprung free from their fleshy prison. She swallows the hurt and bitterness and jealousy, watching them sink back into her flesh as if they had never been.

“Sorry,” she mutters. “I don’t know. I didn’t ask why he told me. He just said that she’s the prince’s childe and to stay out of the Garden District and then he threw my mom off the roof to prove his point.”

GM: “I find it extremely improbable that Vidal would have taken another childe, or that Donovan would have felt any particular reason to share that with you. Maybe he’s feeding you lies to further some scheme.”

Celia: “Maybe,” she allows. “Could ask the blood. I thought… I dunno, maybe there’d be… better questions for it, or something, and I was trying to… to not be emotional, not waste it on my own petty revenge…” Questions, she says, but she really means uses. She thinks it might be rude to blatantly say as much, though.

GM: Pete shrugs. “It’s either confirm something that’d be a real game-changer, or get something on a neonate of no particular importance.”

Celia: Celia smiles at him. Her lashes flutter, just a little, as if to say, See, this is why I let you guys do the heavy thinking.

“Okay,” she says. “Should we… do that now, or… should we get Lord Savoy, in case he wants to know..?”

GM: “He’ll take my word if the results are positive, and we’ll have wasted his time if they’re not.”

Celia: His word. But not Celia’s.

That’s not a bitter pill at all.

She just nods.

“Makes sense.”

GM: Pete repeats his ritual. Pours in the blood. Mouths the incantations. Caroline’s face forms from the scarlet plumes.

Pic.jpg
They shift into another a face Celia can only recall seeing a bare handful of times, at a bare handful of Elysia. Most recently Matheson’s trial.

[[File:909168 | class=media-item-align-center | Augusto_Vidal.jpg]]
Celia: She doesn’t say told you so. But she definitely thinks it.

GM:Longinus in fucking lingerie,” Pete exclaims.

The plumes shift again, into two more faces.

Urcalida.JPG
Tiamat1.JPG
The cup stands empty.

“Why the fuck is she running around saying she’s René’s childe?” Pete speculates aloud.

Celia: Celia shrugs.

“Same reason we say I’m Veronica’s childe, maybe. Maybe they thought it would be less of a target on her back. Roderick told me that she was causing all sorts of issues with the Anarchs. Like trying to make deals and just being kind of…” cunty “… not very friendly. Like how she couldn’t stand the thought of being this sireless nobody after, y’know, who her parents are. Maybe she’s… a plant? Or like, trying to spy? Or she was an accident?” She’s doing a terrible job at it, if that’s the case.

“I didn’t tell him,” she adds, as if expecting the question. “I didn’t tell anyone.”

GM: “Spy or accident both seem very unlikely,” Pete says, shaking his head. “Any other lick could serve as a spy. And Vidal making that kind of rookie mistake, for an accident? I don’t see it.”

“But there’s obviously a lot here that I don’t see.”

“The results don’t lie. Lord Savoy will hear about this. He’ll know what to make of it.”

Celia: Pete knows more about their prince than Celia does. She’s inclined to trust him in this matter. If he says she’s not an accident or a spy then she isn’t an accident or a spy.

Not an accident.

It shouldn’t make her think of her sire, but it does. That he’s also not the type of lick to make a rookie mistake. That he did mean to Embrace her, that he chose her.

She pushes the thought aside. It doesn’t matter. She already thinks she knows why, and it has no bearing on this conversation about Vidal and his childe.

She nods at his statement.

“I’m supposed to see him on Saturday. I was trying to get an earlier meeting to tell him about it, but…” she lifts her shoulders in a gesture that might be a shrug. “You know how it is, when they’re busy. Better this way, I think. To confirm it.”

Celia: “Hey Pete,” she says after a minute, “that was Sumerian, right? The thing at the end? You went through their whole line?”

GM: “I did. It looked Middle Eastern. Why?”

Celia: “Well. ‘Cause the other night, with Roxanne, she mentioned something about Vidal being the childe of Longinus. Sounded like she was convinced of it. She was… real fanatical about it, kind of like he’d, I dunno, collared her a few times. It reminded me of how ‘Lana gets about me. And it didn’t make much sense.”

She repeats part of the conversation for him. How she’d said Vidal is not Kindred, not Ventrue, but touched by God.

GM: “Your sister was cracked in the head,” says Pete. “You said it yourself. Crazy even before she died.”

“Pretty common for Vidal to collar licks who get on his bad side, though. Can’t imagine that helped.”

Celia: “You think she was on his bad side?”

GM: “The Storyvilles had their lips pressed to his ass, by all accounts. I doubt she wanted to be. But it’s possible she did something stupid and wound up on it anyway.”

Celia: “Oh. ’Cause I have her ghoul. The MILF. I thought maybe she might… know more, or something.”

GM: “Might be she does. I suspect your sister’s particular basket of crazy was exactly that, but renfields can pick up some interesting things.”

Celia: “I’ll see if I can get it out of her, then.”

“The blood thing you do. Is that something you can detect with it? Collars, or memories, or…?” She trails off.

GM: “There isn’t much my clan elders can’t do with a blood sample,” Pete answers with a humorless smile. “But that isn’t something I can.”

Celia: Celia nods, as if she’d expected that answer. She’d been asking about Roxanne, but some nagging thing inside of her thinks that Roderick might be triple bound to his sire, and she’d been thinking about stealing a little bit of it to find out.

Probably better that she not betray his trust like that, anyway.

“Thanks. Just figured I’d ask. Any chance you want to teach me that phone finger wavey-thing you do so I don’t have to ask you to get into them all the time for me?” She flashes a hopeful grin his way.

GM: “Might take a pretty long while. It’s not a parlor trick.”

Celia: “I can be patient.”

“I bet you’d be a good teacher, too. Very patient. Like my mom.”

“You guys have a lot in common.”

She beams at him.

GM: Pete groans.

“It isn’t ever going to sink in, is it, no matter what I say?”

Celia: “She’s a good-looking lady. Has to beat them off with sticks these days.”

“Anyway, you’re the nicest person I know. That means you’re meant to be together.” There’s sincerity in her words despite her tone. She really does appreciate him.

It’s why she teases him so much.

GM: “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it every time. Find her a real man. Should be pretty easy with you keeping her so good-looking.”

Celia: “Mr. Landrenau said the same thing earlier this evening. Asked if she was single, then said that maybe he’d have to start going to the spa if my work was that good.”

“I don’t want to step on my grandsire’s toes, though.”

Not that she thinks Diana will do anything with Ron. He’s… not her type. And she’d already found Mel and had picked out two of her girls to send over as an apology for interrupting his evening. They’ll meet with him tomorrow and he’ll forget all about Diana.

No, now she’s just baiting the Tremere.

GM: They’re probably more his type than Diana is, too.

Celia: She’s pretty sure Diana could give those girls a run for their money in flexibility, though.

GM: She’s pretty sure the former ballerina would beat them. Emily says their mom still does lots of stretching exercises around her and Lucy. “I swear that her joints are slinkys.”

Celia: She’ll make some man real happy one of these days.

GM: “Doesn’t hurt to be considerate,” says Pete. “Plenty fish in the sea and all that.”

“I’ll get this to your grandsire. He should hear fast.”

Celia: “Thanks. He should.” She glances at the clock. “I should get going, anyway. Meeting Roderick.”

This close to dawn, the implication is clear: they’re definitely sleeping together.

“Convenient that his haven was compromised.” Idle words, but she watches his face, wondering if Savoy had pulled some strings to give her a better chance at flipping him.

GM: “Sounds like it,” says Pete. Celia doesn’t spot anything on the Tremere’s face.

He sees her to the door. “Good luck.”

Celia: It was worth a shot, anyway.

“Have a good night, Pete. I’ll see you tomorrow.”


Friday night, 11 March 2016, AM

GM: Alana’s traded in Celia’s car, per her domitor’s instructions. It’s a short drive in her new ride back to her secondary haven. Roderick meets Celia there. He greets her with a kiss.

“How was your night?”

Celia: She’s relieved to see him. All in once piece, too. She spends a little bit longer than she needs to eying him up and down, as if waiting to see him crack under the knowledge that he had to kill and dismember his first person. People. Multiple.

She lets him in and hands him the spare key. He hadn’t personally given it back those years ago after he’d smashed her face, but the sudden appearance of it one night where she’d been sure to see it had been a clear message. She’d stopped waiting for him after that.

“I missed you,” she tells him, “so it was awful. But it’s better now.”

The apartment is still a mess. She hadn’t had a moment to shop for anything new, and the destroyed furniture sits where they left it. So much for making out on the couch, anyway.

“How was yours?”

GM: He looks together. Enough. Her question, though, brings a grim look to his face.

“Honestly, it was… awful.”

“Your being here makes it less awful.”

Celia: “I’m sorry. I should have been the one to clean it up. That shouldn’t have been on you.”

GM: “I killed two of them. With my own hands. It might as well have been me.”

He sits down with a tired expression.

“I guess I was going to do that sooner or later. Kill someone. Dispose of the body.”

Celia: Celia curls up beside him. She runs a hand up and down his back, lets her head rest on his shoulder.

“You did it because you had to. It wasn’t a choice, it wasn’t because you were hungry, you didn’t kill a vessel. You defended yourself and protected what’s yours.”

GM: He leans into her, running a hand of his own along her back.

“I know. Defended you, too. But doing what I did… that midnight boat trip, dropping bags of body parts overboard, weighted down with rocks…”

He doesn’t sigh. He just stares ahead at the floor for a moment. His face is very still.

“I felt like a mobster.”

Celia: “You’re not. You know that, right? That you’re not. What they do… what they do is awful. For money. For power. For drugs, or whatever else they’re after. That’s not you. That’s not you at all.”

“You’re not some heartless thug.”

GM: “That’s what I tried to tell myself. But all I could think of. All I could think of, was what my dad would say. What my grandpa would say.”

“If they could have seen me there.”

His eyes start to rim red.

Celia: “You know the night you went missing your dad brought a gun when we went looking for you. He handed one to me and he had one for himself. Do you think he’d have done that if he didn’t intend to use it, should he have found that something happened to you, that someone had you?”

“If someone hurt you, he’d have put them down. If someone hurt me, you’d put them down. That’s what love is, Roderick. You’re not a mindless killer. You don’t go around looking for people to kill. That’s not you. I know that. You know that. They would know that.”

“Do you think I’m a monster? Because I told you last night that I had to kill two people earlier this week. And you said that I did what I had to do. Because they’d have killed me, if not.”

“So what’s the difference here? Do you think I’m some battle-hardened, dreadful criminal who slaughters people and is completely inured to it?”

“I don’t feel bad for defending myself. I don’t feel bad for putting down someone else before they could put me down. I don’t feel bad for killing someone who wanted to hurt you.” She pulls back so that she can look him in the eyes. “Because I promise you this. I promise you. That if someone were to come after you, if someone were to hurt you, I would find them and I would end them. And I will not feel bad about it.”

“So don’t,” she continues, voice hard, “don’t. Do not beat yourself up about doing the same exact thing. Do not feel bad because you didn’t allow yourself to be staked and beheaded or lit on fire or ripped apart for science projects. I would have watched them kill you. You would have made me… made me watch them kill you.”

“And that is bullshit.”

“I lost you twice already.”

“Don’t make it a third. Don’t put me in that position, that I have to watch you die. That I have to lose you again.”

GM: He dabs at his eyes. Celia can feel her fangs lengthening in her mouth.

“You’re right. I don’t… I don’t regret killing them, when they were trying to kill you. When they might have been like those last hunters who raped you. I talked with Coco, and she said there was no way those hunters were going to make it out alive, even if I’d captured them all. ‘Walking Masquerade breaches,’ was what she called them.”

“I don’t think you’re a monster. I just wish… this whole thing hadn’t happened.”

“I don’t like how killing makes me feel.”

Celia: Of course he talked to Coco.

What’s it like, she wonders, to have a sire that gives a fuck?

“It doesn’t need to happen again. Do you have another place picked out?”

GM: “Yeah. A house in Mid-City. It’ll take a little to set everything up, but I can crash with my krewemates, Coco, and hopefully you until then.”

“Although… even that depends, how the stuff with Dani shakes out.”

Celia: “You can stay here. You don’t need to couch surf. There’s no reason for it.”

GM: “More just that it’s an increasing risk to be coming here every night.”

“But I talked with Ayame, earlier. I don’t remember if I told you, between everything that’s been going on.”

“She said she’ll get in touch with her friends in Houston. I’m going to reach out to her again tomorrow, if I don’t hear from her first.”

Celia: “And you’ll take Dani out of the city?”

GM: “Yeah. I’ll go with her.”

Celia: “…wait, for… for good?”

He can’t leave.

GM: He shakes his head.

“I’m needed here. But I’ll go with her, probably spend a few nights in Houston, just to be completely sure Ayame’s friends are on the up and up. And to help Dani settle in.”

Celia: “Oh.” That makes sense. She inhales, then nods. “What about after?”

GM: “I’ll stay in touch with her.”

Celia: “I meant with you.”

GM: “I don’t know,” he admits. “That’ll be something to think about on the trip back. Right now I’ve just been so focused on Dani and those hunters.”

Celia: “Oh,” she says again. Quietly this time. She doesn’t quite meet his eye anymore.

GM: “Oh, what?” he frowns. “Did you think I meant us?”

He takes her hand in his. “Look, whatever comes… I want you in my Requiem.”

“You don’t need to worry about that. At all.”

Celia: She starts to protest. To tell him that isn’t what she means. But his words halt her in her tracks, and she can’t help the way her lips part. Her eyes shine.

There’s a conversation she should be having. Something she’s supposed to convince him of. But factions, princes, politics—what is all of that compared to matters of the heart?

So she doesn’t say anything. She just leans in. Her fangs are already long and sharp in her mouth. She drags them across his cheek, his throat. She doesn’t break the skin, not yet. She pushes him back, though. Moves so that she’s on his lap. Pins his arms above his head—as if he couldn’t shake her free.

“Not what I meant,” she finally says, once she’s got him where she wants him.

GM: He starts to kiss her as she traces his skin with her fangs. When she pushes him down onto the sofa, he grins and lays back. She can see how long his own fangs are in his mouth.

“Oh yeah, what did you mean?”

Celia: “Politics,” she says absently, “but you distracted me when you told me how much you like me.”

GM: “I like you a lot more than politics, too.”

Celia: “How much more?”

GM: “So much more. Lake Pontchartrain next to your bathtub more.”

Celia: “That’s almost romantic.”

GM: “It’s romantic if I talk about how much I like you, politics be damned.”

Celia: “Then be with me.”

GM: He smiles down from under her, arms still pinned under hers.

“I’m right here.”

Celia: It’s not what she means. He knows that. She knows he knows that.

GM: “Or, what, you mean… politically?”

Celia: He saves her the trouble of bringing it up, at least.

“How do you think this is going to end if not?”

GM: “We could make it work. Keep things on the down and low.”

Celia: “What, you didn’t already tell Coco you’re seeing me again?”

GM: “Give me some credit.”

Celia: “And the Golds? They just thought you killed three hunters on your own in the middle of the day?”

GM: “That’s what I told them. They seemed to buy it.” He smirks. “What can I say? I’m a badass.”

“Okay,” he adds after a moment, “it wasn’t. I told them my renfields arrived in the nick of time. Just so it sounded extra plausible.”

Celia: Celia pulls at the collar of her shirt. “Take me now, badass.”

GM: “That almost sounds sarcastic. I should punish you.”

His hands shoot up from their pinned position, grabbing hers. Her throws her to the side, against the back of the couch, then grabs her by the shoulders and flips her around, pushing her chest-first against the (torn) cushions as he clambers on top of her. He twists her hands and pins them against the small of her back as he leans in, fangs piercing the back of her neck. His other hand reaches along her groin and starts to play with her clit.

Celia: It was sarcastic. She doesn’t have the opportunity to tell him that, though, because before she can do more than think the words he has her flipped and pinned. Celia yelps at the sudden movement, thrashing against him, but the position favors him and he’s always been stronger than her. She whimpers when his fangs pierce her skin, the sound swallowed by what’s left of the padding in the cushion. Her hips press down against the hand he’s worked inside her clothing. She rubs against him, helps him find the right spot.

It’s hardly punishment, but she won’t be the one to tell him he’s doing it wrong if he’s suddenly decided to play at being aggressive.

GM: Play seems to be mostly what he’s interested in. For good or I’ll, he isn’t her sire. Or her father.

He does screw her, though. He pulls off her top and nips, rips, and bites all over her neck and back. He’s careful to lick the blood up after it’s had time to cool. He pleasures her between her legs with his fingers, and eventually with his mouth when he flips her over so that she can bite and suck from him too. He nips and licks her stiffened nipples, pleasing the Beast and the Man at once (or at least the vampire and the woman). He even gets hard, near the end, and gives her an “old-fashioned” fucking as they drink from one another’s necks. The motions of intercourse help distract from that torturously long wait for their blood to cool.

The two Kindred know pleasure in one another’s arms. The couch is heady with the scents of their blood and Celia’s love juices when they finish, naked and spent as dawn rises over the city. Roderick spoons with her, wrapping his arms around her belly as he nuzzles his face against her neck.

“I really love you…”

Celia: Licks don’t get tired anymore. Not really. So it isn’t exhaustion that she feels when they’re done licking and fucking and drinking from each other. Sated, maybe. Content. Pleased, if her smile is anything to go by, not that he can see it when she’s turned away from him as she is. She slides her arms around his, nestling further against him, and turns her head to plant a lazy kiss on the corner of his mouth. All lips, no fangs. She doesn’t need to pretend to be someone she isn’t around him. He doesn’t call her perverted for the human way she still shows affection.

His words wash over her. She closes her eyes, lets them sink in. Her heart swells.

He loves her.

It’s like no time passed at all. Like there was never any distance between them. Like she never fucked up to the point that he had to leave her. A pang in her chest reminds her that she did—that she’s been denied this for the past seven years because of her own actions—and she shoves it back down. She won’t look back. Only forward. Years of this, of him, ahead of her.

“I love you too.”


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Story Twelve, Caroline XII


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: The Lasombra start to clean the scene up.

First is Mahmoud’s ghoul. She gorged herself on Kindred vitae before her death, so Mahmoud says she will have the woman’s corpse decapitated (not here, that’ll just leave a bigger mess) to prevent her from rising as a postmortem Embrace. Cimpreon suggests just burning the body, but Mahmoud replies cremation is taboo in Islam. “She can still pe puried facing Mecca eben if her head isn’t attached to her body.”

Caroline: A brutal measure, but understandable.

GM: “You care about that shit?” asks Cimpreon.

“She did,” is all Mahmoud answers.

“Suit yourself, so long as she doesn’t come back,” shrugs Westphal.

The Lasombra send their surviving ghouls to check the road ahead for IEDs wile they clean themselves up and change clothes, evidently packed in anticipation of running into trouble. The aged bodies of the Lasombra and Tzimisce are stored in the trunk of the car. Caroline also checks the road with the ghouls. Shrapnel can’t hurt her incorporeal form. If she could even trigger an explosion.

True to her prediction, she and the half-bloods locate and disarm a number of concealed and very nasty-looking IEDs.

Some of the unluckier Kindred might have been torpored right then and there. Survivors would’ve been softened up for the shovelheads and real Sabbat. It was a decent ambush.

“Too bad ‘decent’ wasn’t good enough,” Westphal sneers.

The coterie works as quickly as they reasonably can. It’s not long before a smaller, private-looking jet touches down near the parked cars.

“She takes zhe one we didn’t do it in,” Mahmoud mutters.

The other two nod their agreement as they approach the landed plane.

Caroline: “Many reasons for extra cars,” Caroline observes.

GM: “It’s unlikely she’ll be both capable of reading psychic impressions and bothering to do so, but it’s a precaution that costs nothing,” Westphal says.

“Smell, too,” says Cimpreon. “You have any idea how fuckin’ hard it is to get out blood out of car seats, to the point other licks can’t smell it?”

Caroline: Caroline genuinely laughs. “Yes, yes I do. Or much of anything cloth. It’s usually easier to burn it.”

She smirks at him. “I spend a fortune at Bed Bath and Beyond.”

GM: “Wonder how much business they owe to customers like us?” he wonders idly.

Caroline: “Enough that if you don’t space it out on different credit cards and ghouls it’d be a great way to identify licks.”

She pictures going through sales records, circling repeated purchases. Definitely a vampire here, new sheets every week—oh, and this must have been a banner week, every other day? Hussy.

GM: “Bloodier licks,” says Westphal thoughtfully. “If I were a hunter and had the resources, I’d put as many nearby stores out of business as I could. Or simply bribe retail wage slaves at each one to report any repeated sales to the same individuals.”

Caroline: Caroline nods insubstantially. “Easier with middle-aged licks, though—internet gets in the way otherwise. And there you’re getting the middle-aged failures that haven’t made something of themselves yet—low-hanging fruit.”

“Twenty years ago, though? Easy money there.”

GM: “Zhe world moves on,” says Mahmoud.

The plane door opens. A small entourage of ghouls file out, followed by a pale-skinned Kindred. She is an imperious woman with high cheekbones, coal-black hair, a slender, pointed nose, and spear-like blue eyes that don’t look into Caroline and her companions so much as stab into them. Her face is hard and cruel, and the air around her feels cold even to the insubstantial Ventrue. She’s dressed in a black pantsuit, leather gloves, and a long coat.

This is all?” she asks, looking between Caroline and the Lasombra.

Her voice isn’t critical.

That would be too kind a way to describe it.

Caroline: Elders.

“Welcome to Cairo, ma’am,” Caroline interjects, gliding forward before the others can respond.

“Other Kindred obviously await in the city proper, but we’ve been instructed to provide escort to those meeting from the airport.”

She gestures to the others. “An additional element of ghouls is securing the vehicles, but this is the Kindred force. A smaller but more elite group was judged to be an ideal balance of providing proper security to a dignitary without attracting undue attention from the kine or other elements.”

GM: “You may convey to your masters my dissatisfaction at your poor judgment and poorer initiative,” the woman answers imperiously. She strides towards the nearest vehicle without a glance backwards at Caroline or the Lasombra. Her ghouls trail around her, one opening the door first. She’s followed by two other well-dressed Kindred, a young-looking Caucasian man and woman, neither of whom look at their escorts either.

The Lasombra make their way to their own vehicles with hard stares, as if regretting disarming the IEDs.

Caroline: How might you have chosen your words more carefully had you known the architect of this plan? Caroline takes cold comfort in the fact that the rebuke, though landing upon her, is not of her.

“I’ll be certain to convey to my prince your dissatisfaction,” she provides politely, bowing low, as the elder swirls past her.

When the elder has passed she nods to the others. “I’ll keep watch from above. I need not tell you that if the first vehicle is immobilized the rest are to keep moving.” They previously agreed the first vehicle would contain only a single ghoul. “I’ll check in periodically.”

Of the elders comments she says nothing. They made their choice, their trade, between gentle words and actual power. It’s much too late to regret it now.

GM: Cimpreon mutters something dark-sounding but gives a nod. Mahmoud just glares angrily after the elder.

Westphal looks as if he’s wondering how she’d taste.

Caroline: She makes note of the elder’s female companion and wonders how she might leverage it to her advantage. You they knew by name, my dear.

GM: Everyone gets into their vehicles. The Lasombra take the ‘diablerie car.’ The elder’s two Kindred companions get into the same car as her.

The convoy drives. Dessert gives way to urban sprawl. They don’t run into apparent trouble.

Caroline: Caroline ranges ahead for most of the journey, swooping back through the night on occasion to check in on her Lasombra allies. Mostly though she appreciates the time to herself.

She needs it after what they did. The silence leaves her alone with her own thoughts.

GM: Maman would be proud. Wouldn’t she?

Caroline: She reaches out, takes the tie that binds them in her mind. Reassures herself that it’s still there.

The silence earlier had been deafening. She’d grown accustomed to it, to always having her to reach out to, to lean on.

But maybe that’s one of the gifts of this journey—reminding herself that she can make her own decisions. For good and ill.

She lets the thread go and drifts through the night, ever closer to the city.

GM: Out of nowhere, Maldonato’s astral form appears. A silver cord spirals from his heart off into infinity.

“Madam Kriemhild shall arrive at her destination without incident. Well done.”

Caroline: The words bring a whisper of a smile to her face, but only a whisper.

“She wishes me to inform you, seneschal, of her displeasure with the party provided,” Caroline replies.

“Poor judgement and poorer initiative,” she quotes, her eyes still on the vehicles.

To do otherwise would require she meet his, and she fears what they might hold.

GM: “Her displeasure is noted, as is your own diligence in reporting it,” Maldonato replies. “Tell me of what you have learned tonight, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: A leading question or a loaded one? And if it’s loaded, is she loading her executioner’s weapon?

“I learned of you, seneschal. And of him.”

There can be only one him in her life, and God doesn’t she see how easily the compromises he makes are made.

“Of Clan Lasombra, how your kin are both alike and different to other Kindred I have met.”

“Of the strength of many. My whole Requiem, I’ve fought all my battles alone. Tonight I didn’t have to. I valued that.”

“Of the delicate political situation in Cairo and the lack of unity of vision even among those in Clan Lasombra that desire entry into the Camarilla.”

GM: “I am pleased that your understanding of these things has deepened, Miss Malveaux,” the seneschal replies. The night hangs still around them as Cairo’s lights and life thrum beneath.

“Tell me what you have learned of your sire.”

Caroline: There’s no polite way to say it, and she doesn’t pretend there is.

“Truthfully, when I looked upon those allowed to rise within Clan Ventrue, I saw at best pale imitations of him. Reflections so empty that I questioned how he might stand their sight, much less presence. Racists. Bigots. Liars. Headhunters.”

“Flawed men. I judged him for it, for his lack of discrimination, of what I thought was discernment.”

“And in him, I saw brutality and cruelty in his manner. I saw his fury roused and directed terribly.”

“But flawed men are better than the alternative. Better than what stalks most of the world. And we are, most of us, so very flawed no matter our intentions.”

“How easy it must be to look aside a man’s flaws when you’ve seen actual monsters that spit in the face of God.”

“And how hollow the rage I’ve seen in him now, knowing what his true rage must look like—those things that draw him to issue not harsh words, but to take up his sword and destroy.”

“Our experiences are beyond compare—not only a year against a thousand, but a world before the one we live in now. The Camarilla is all I have known. The bounds of a city wrapped in its dark cloak, in the frayed but binding rule of law.”

“What it must have been to see centuries without.”

GM: “I am pleased, too, by this broadening of your perspective,” Maldonato answers.

His gaze surveys the thrumming roads and cityscape beneath them.

“Few Kindred do not know of the Sword of Caine’s incursions into our city. Many take for granted your sire’s zeal in ensuring those blighted seeds, planted yearly every Carnivale, do not blossom into enduring fruits.”

Caroline: “You could spend your entire Requiem fighting only them and it would not be a wasted one. But nor, for most, would it be a long one.”

GM: “Yet nor did I bring you here merely to gain insight into your sire’s past, Miss Malveaux. The Sword of Caine fears our prince as they fear few other princes. In his absence, their incursions will grow bolder. More seeds shall take root in the archdiocese’s soil.”

Caroline: “Worse, I think, than you may believe, seneschal,” Caroline agrees.

“Their dogma appeals to those that lack or fear faith, and faithlessness grows nightly.”

“You once counseled me on the value of the Sanctified, and the Gospel of Longinus, in a meaningful and fruitful Requiem. This night gave me fresh insight into that wisdom I had… received more poorly than intended at first.”

“If you do not believe that God has set you apart from the kine, it is very tempting to believe that something has set you above them—for as their superior all manner of sins become sport, and one need never grapple with one’s own.”

GM: “Few Kindred wish to believe themselves damned. It is a more pleasing thought to believe oneself exalted. Yet the cost of that pleasure is dearly paid for by others,” the seneschal concurs.

“But for all the evils you have witnessed tonight, you have also seen that it is possible for strong arms and brave hearts to drive back those evils, and for many individuals to succeed where one alone might fail.”

“What opinions have you formed of Mr. Westphal, Mr. Cimpreon, and Miss Mahmoud?”

Caroline: “Very capable. Distinct from one another in their approaches in a complementary way. Practical. Lethal.” She runs her tongue across incorporeal fangs.

“Immoral.” She pauses. “Or at least different in their morality. Not beasts or savages, but… nor are they motivated by faith or any moral imperative.”

GM: “Pragmatism and self-interest are the guiding imperatives for many of our founder’s childer.”

“Do you believe the archdiocese would benefit from any of their additions?”

Caroline: “I believe that I could benefit from any of their additions, seneschal,” Caroline replies. “Though Mr. Cimpreon and Miss Mahmoud present the more obvious assets in filling roles sorely needed. Mr. Westphal and I have the more considerable overlap in interests and perhaps temperament—for both good and ill.”

“As to the archdiocese as a whole… I think it mostly a matter of presentation and Clan Lasombra’s future. If the desire is to present the clan as highly capable, unyielding, practical, and ambitious—which I think it is—they are fine exemplars of those characteristics. I think they could carve out a place for themselves, and that place might help to normalize Lasombra—though obviously their presence might draw in additional Sabbat eager to destroy those very same symbols of normalization.”

“On the other hand, if the Sabbat does grow more aggressive with the prince’s torpor, known targets they may begin with, and skilled and trusted swords at our back rarely lack value, and they would have all the more reason to be wary of duplicitous offers.

She bites her lower lip. “Given the Sabbat and outsider considerations in the city, I might suggest an all or nothing position, regarding relocation. They will require their own mutual support structure early on.”

She pauses before continuing, “Their ambitions and different cultural norms also present challenges, and their introduction is likely to invite speculation and scandal, but rare is the blade that will not cut an incautious wielder. Popular support is already as low as it has ever been—to my knowledge—of the prince. I do not judge the additional questions they may raise to outweigh their individual value.”

“Especially as there are efforts that can be undertaken—should be undertaken—to rebuild that support prior to any transfer of power that require significantly less time and effort than growing three capable Kindred vested in their powers.”

GM: “It may yet prove an advantage should the Sabbat seek their destruction,” considers Maldonato. “If the Sword of Caine seeks to place new blades at our throat, it is preferable to know what veins they seek to cut. It is preferable for the Sabbat’s objective in the archdiocese to be assassination. Should they instead seek to convert your sire’s subjects to their cause, there are many disaffected Kindred who might prove receptive to their words. A slain subject is a subject lost, but a converted traitor is a subject lost and a foe gained.”

“I am but passingly acquainted with Mr. Westphal, Mr. Cimpreon, and Miss Mahmoud. I have not shed blood alongside them. If you believe they would prove assets to the archdiocese, then it is foolishness to discard strength out of fear of wagging tongues.”

Caroline: “I should think they might find a city with a luminary elder of their own clan and another they are more than passingly familiar with rather inviting,” Caroline adds.

GM: “Then they shall be invited to make their domains in New Orleans, and Mr. Cimpreon’s banishment rescinded,” answers Maldonato.

Caroline: “Banishment?” Caroline asks, suddenly curious.

GM: “Mr. Cimpreon was involved in an attack upon Sheriff Donovan’s domain in 2010. He was punished and exiled from the city upon pain of final death.”

Caroline: Was he now. She likes him more already.

Curious, though, what brought him to New Orleans in the first place.

“I trust he’ll make the most of that second chance.”

An admission that he has his own concerns about the sheriff? A concession to hers? Or a coincidence. It’s difficult to say when the elder’s games run so very deeply.

She lets the silence hang for a moment.

When Fatimah asked her to speak to the seneschal she’d believed it something she had room, time, to weigh. Something she could set aside until she was more ready for the conversation without concern.

But that isn’t really true, is it? She thinks of all the Requiems that ended tonight—and might have ended tonight. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. Her tomorrow more than most.

She breaks the silence softly, sliding into it like a diver into the water without a splash. “Your cousin, seneschal, told me you feared I regretted my Embrace. That the matter weighed upon your conscience.”

GM: “In and of itself, Miss Malveaux, your regret does not weigh upon my conscience. Regret is an emotive response and means but little against the damnation of a human soul. Should you prove a worthy childe to your sire, and spare others death and suffering like you witnessed tonight, then a higher purpose will have been served by your damnation. A higher purpose will have been served by the suffering and death you yourself have wrought. These deeds already weigh upon mine conscience.”

“But should you prove an unworthy childe, whether as a consequence of regret or any other cause, then your damnation and the harm you have visited upon others shall have been for nothing. A terrible mistake will have then been committed in not allowing you to die a natural death, and one that shall weigh heavier still upon mine conscience.”

“Though I see greater potential in you than in your cousin, I believe his temperament more stable and better suited to the ordeals and trials of faith you have undergone. Kindred of mine years are disinclined to take risks. Yet the temptation to grant your sire’s vitae to an already dying woman, and to spare the life and future of another young man, proved too great.”

Caroline: Caroline mulls over his response.

“I cannot grant you absolution over the worth of my Requiem with words,” she replies. “Whether I succeed or fail as my sire’s childe in the lofty aspirations that role requires will be shown through time and action.”

“But even if your concerns lie only in the practical and rational measure of my efficaciousness, that the childe you sired, as surely as any sire, hated and regretted their existence, must be a weight.”

“I could not, would not, share this with your cousin, but would with you: had things all gone as you might have imagined and wished, your fears might have been realized.”

“Had I marched forward to my first meeting with the prince driven only by duty, all that I had once loved and cared for razed to the ground and trampled into the dirt alongside my pride, I fear precious little might have guided and driven me past that meeting.”

“Even duty, which can carry one past their physical limits, has its end.”

She bites her lower lip.

“It was not, is not, so. Though I know outside influence must always be the enemy of one’s faith in this existence, so too has that influence given me what had been taken from me by the events that shaped my Requiem: something to treasure, and to lose. And for that alone I will not bend or break.”

“For that, I do not hate or regret my Requiem. Damned though I am.”

GM: “Perhaps you are correct, Miss Malveaux,” Maldonato reflects. “Duty must be born of love, and love must be guided by duty. Only a union of iron and carbon may produce true steel.”

“Love may be cruel. Love may care nothing but for the object of its affections. Love may trade the welfare of many for the happiness of few. Yet in so doing it may poison even that happiness which is most precious to it.”

“Duty may be cruel. Duty may care nothing but for the object of its goals. Duty may trade the happiness of few for the welfare of many. Yet in so doing it may poison even that social order it most desires to maintain.”

“In your second mother, I see love without duty. In your sire, I see duty without love. I see instructive examples for you in them both.”

“Perhaps duty alone would have motivated your cousin to fulfill his intended role, but what is done is done. Yours and not his is the hand that now wields a blade on your sire’s behalf, and better that you wield steel than iron. You may convey your second mother my thanks for her role in that blade’s creation.”

Caroline: “I am certain she would convey her own appreciation for your part in my ‘forging,’ seneschal,” Caroline replies.

“I do not judge that to have been an easy decision, given the suffering even the least of us is responsible for.” A beat. “And I am not the most benign.”

“May I convey an accord of sorts between you then?” she asks.

GM: “You may convey my thanks alone, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. The terms of our association are unchanged by the words you and I have shared. I name your second mother neither friend nor foe.”

Caroline: Caroline inclines her head. “As you wish, seneschal.”

GM: “Your sire, your second mother, and my clanmates have valuable lessons to impart to one who is yet new to the night. Yet they are none of them faultless individuals, and they are also examplars of behaviors you would be well-served to avoid. Take heed from their failings as well as their fortes, and beware that their worse inclinations do not become yours.”

The seneschal’s gaze rests steadily upon hers.

Caroline: He knows. She knows he knows. If he saw the battle she has little doubt he saw the rest.

She feels like a schoolgirl called to task by her favorite teacher, like she’s disappointed her father in public.

What can she even say? That it was a moment of weakness? Done with a purpose? A victimless crime? That she had to, for so many reasons?

All the excuses sound hollow.

And what penance can she offer? ‘I won’t do it again’ sounds so pitifully hollow when the crime was cannibalism and consumption of souls.

“I have no vices but love, and no ambitions but to make worthy my Requiem. The path to the latter has ever been fraught, but know that when I have strayed from it, seneschal, it was in blundering from it, not turning from it.”

GM: “Come, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. There is another before whom you shall explain your actions this night.”

Maldonato’s astral form floats towards the city.

Caroline: The Ventrue continues after him in silence.

GM: “Near the time of my Embrace, there was a new arrival in the City Triumphant,” Maldonato begins. “He gave his name as Mukhtar Bey. He could claim no sire, nor would any sire claim him as childe. In an act then unheard of, he presented himself to Sultan Antonius.”

“An affronted Antonius directed his guards to tend to the clanless bastard, and was stunned by the ease with which Mukhtar dispatched his two would-be executioners. Mukhtar repeated his introduction and offered his services to the shocked Ventrue. Impressed, Antonius made the neonate his bodyguard. Mukhtar Bey served Antonius faithfully, and Antonius was equally loyal to his new vassal. In time, Mukhtar was more than Antonius’ bodyguard; he was his right-hand man.”

“Antonius had ruled Cairo for many centuries, but his praxis came to an end during the 15th century amidst the Kindred’s wars with the local Lupine population. Antonius’ childer were either slain, torpored, had established their fortunes in other cities, or were estranged from their now-slain sire.”

“Mukhtar Bey, by this time, had been the sultan’s lover, bodyguard, and confidante for nearly a century. None knew the inner workings of Cairo’s court as well as he. There seemed little alternative but to ask a Caitiff to serve as sultan. He has reigned over the City Triumphant ever since.”

“Prince Bey, who assumed that European title when the winds of change blew through the Middle East, is no tyrant as your sire. Cairo’s elders are ancient creatures not to be trifled with, nor treated with the casual flippancy so common among American undead. Prince Bey pays great heed to the advice of his consultative council and has maintained his rule through a simple policy: he will acquiesce to any reasonable demand that comes before him. The burdens of administering so large and cosmopolitan a city are immense, but his broad shoulders bear them well.”

Caroline: The message isn’t lost on her.

Her sire could be a tyrant. She cannot.

“It sounds as though there are many lessons I might take from Prince Bey’s rule,” she ventures.

GM: “Tell me of these, Miss Malveux-Devillers.”

Caroline: The heiress floats through the night. “Most obviously, seneschal, my sire’s rule is not one I might aspire to, however much I admire it. Certainly not within New Orleans, where the city’s elders are not to the trifled with in a lesser but similar manner to Cairo. A more moderate path seems the most likely path.”

“Prince Bey may be a model for how that may be achieved. That he took power when there was a vacancy created without bloodshed through the position and respect he had gained is also an ideal model to aspire to in any change of regime.”

“That a Kindred of no great lineage achieved this in one of the great cities of the world dismisses claims as to the impossibility of such a task.”

GM: “Prince Bey is an unliving example that any Kindred, no matter how lowly their origins, may rise to high office and rule capably,” Maldonato concurs.

“Yet the then-sultan did not claim his throne without bloodshed. Merely without bloodshed authored by his hand. Many lives and unlives were lost in the Night of Long Knives that spelled the end of Antonius’ almost half-millennial-long praxis.”

Caroline: “No transition of power is without conflict, and no conflict without bloodshed,” Caroline agrees. “I simply meant to convey that it sounded as though his ascension was not a bloody campaign on his own behalf.”

GM: “It was not. Prince Bey did not seek the sultanate: others requested that he assume it. Few princes enjoy a more auspicious start to their reigns, especially when one considers Prey Bey was then only a century initiated into the Blood. Many of Cairo’s then-elders recalled an era when Christ’s faith was foreign to Egypt.”

Caroline: “Better him than any of them?” Caroline speculates. “A compromise of their varying agendas and desires rather than an all-consuming conflict?”

GM: “Prince Bey knew the inner workings of the old sultan’s court better than any other Kindred. Yet there are many elders who would sooner whisper into the ear of a throne’s occupant than sit upon a throne themselves. My cousin is one such elder. She has no desire to rule Cairo when Prince Bey is attentive to her counsel and receptive to her requests.”

“Were she or any of her peers to attempt to seize praxis, war would consume the Mother of the World, and could well result in the would-be prince’s destruction. Few of Cairo’s elders wish one of their number to rule directly.”

“Yet do not mistake Prince Bey for a simple puppet. It is testament to his perspicacity that he is able to accommodate the conflicting agendas and desires of so many puissant elders. Were the prince unable to shoulder that burden, he would have been removed from his throne long ago.”

Caroline: “I would not underestimate any prince so,” Caroline replies. It does remind her more of a legislative leader than the executive figure she has come to view the prince as.

“And of Prince Bey’s own agenda and desires?” Caroline asks.

GM: The city below them draws steadily closer.

“On the surface, those are the same as any prince: the protection of the Masquerade and the maintenance of the Camarilla’s and the Ashirra’s rule.”

Caroline: “A laudable, dutiful, if dry goal.” Stability has its own rewards.

GM: “You are not a native daughter of Cairo, Miss Maveaux-Devillers, yet nor are you wholly a stranger to the city either. You have shed blood upon her soil and conversed at length with one of her primogen. What agendas and desires might you ascribe to a Caitiff prince of the City Triumphant?”

Caroline: “A more open and tolerant city? Or at least the possibility of one?” Caroline speculates. “It seems home to many competing interests.”

“Though I understand that the simple managing of those varied elements might consume much of his effort. Especially with the Gehenna War in his backyard.”


[Rest of log to come]

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Story Twelve, Celia XVII

“People rarely get the things they wish for.”
Payton Underwood


Thursday evening, 10 March 2016

GM: Celia falls asleep. One second later, it’s hours later. She’s starting to forget what that transition between wakefulness and sleep even felt like. She’s in bed by herself. Roderick’s left a note, along with some folded clothes.

Guess I’m an earlier riser than you. Text me when you’re up.

Celia: He was supposed to wake her. She’d told him that last night before they’d gone to bed to begin with. “Wake me so we can talk,” she had said, and he’d agreed.

Rude.

Better this way, though. Maybe he’s done with the bodies already.

Celia glances at the time on her phone as she unlocks it to send him a text. She checks her messages while she unfolds the clothes he’d left for her, then glances at the door. Did he take his people with him? Is she alone in the house now? Did he leave the phones for her to try or did he back out of that and take them with him?

GM: Celia looks alone in the bedroom. She may or may not be alone in the rest of the house.

Roderick’s left behind three phones on the bedside table. This time, however, Celia does not appear so lucky. All three ask for a PIN.

She also has numerous texts. The first that catches her eye is from Logan:

Ugh Emily can be such a bitch. You try to do something nice

Celia: He’d left them. All of them. All three phones, waiting and ready for her. All she has to do is slide into the clothes, call a Ryde, and take them to Lebeaux like she’d planned. She’s meeting with him anyway to fix Tantal and find out what happened with the other hunters.

Only… she doesn’t know if she wants to take them to Lebeaux. He’d hidden things from her before—for your own good, kid—even when she had been the one to get the objects for him to test in the first place. She almost expects him to tell her the same thing about this meeting that she’d made possible by killing the hunters and by getting into the phone and by changing the ghoul’s face and by giving him the idea to bug the stake, which gives them more future information. She’s sure he’ll pat her head for it, then make some comment about it being need to know or above your paygrade or whatever other cliché bullshit he’ll use as an excuse not to tell her because he thinks she’s a stupid Toreador slut like everyone else does.

Just like she planned, right? Except somehow, when he says it, she’s still offended. He’s supposed to know her better than that.

Better this way, though. He’ll think she hasn’t put it all together yet.

Opening Logan’s text gives her a new idea, though. She quickly types in a response.

Think she was just surprised. You can do something nice for me, though. Got any nerdy tech-y friends?

She could try to get into the phones on her own. More difficult than just waving her hand at it like the warlock can do, and the fact that they’re all locked with a PIN makes it… unlikely. Ten thousand potential combinations, if her math is right. Possible lockout timer, which delays her from just punching in a bunch of numbers. The tech is out there to wipe the phone after too many tries, but she’d had a friend once who worked for a carrier and told her that most people don’t bother to do that. They’ll eventually be prompted for the PUK, her friend had said, which they get just by calling their provider and verifying the information on the account. Usually last name, phone number, address. Sometimes the last four of the social, or a birthday, or the PIN as well. Only problem is she doesn’t have that information, and she thinks Roderick might be over there disposing of the bodies right now, and unless the hunters brought their wallets and ID with them…

Lotta ifs.

He’s smart enough to keep the IDs, though, if there are any.

Damnit, she should have gone with him. Even if she doesn’t want to simply hand the phones over to Lebeaux he could have done his witchy magic finger waving thing if she’d brought a blood sample. Could have found more ghouls to take on their identities. Infiltrate. Get rid of the threat before it gets any bigger.

She sends another quick text to Roderick: ETA?

Then her gaze lands on the provided clothes. Slacks, a blouse. Professional enough for her meeting with Lebeaux, she supposes, and she dresses quickly. She can change afterward. Bess’ clothing? Has to be. Unless Roderick has a harem of female renfields, and she doesn’t see why not. She tells herself the idea doesn’t bother her. That he’s probably not fucking all of them. That they’re probably not as horny as Alana is.

Feet bare, she pads toward the bedroom door. The place belongs to a human, he’d said. Stands to reason the kitchen is stocked. Garbage bags. Sandwich bags. Plastic bags. Tupperware. Her mom has piles of it in her house. Hell, even Celia’s haven has it. Ghouls gotta eat, after all. She opens the door and steps out to find something suitable.

GM: Lol I’m not friends with nerds, Logan texts back. But there’s a couple comp sci people I have classes with

Roderick replies after a moment: Pretty soon. Finished cleaning up my apartment. Want to go boating

Celia: To Roderick: Is that an invite?

To Logan: “Friend” is just a nice way of asking if you know any nerds lol

After a second, she sends another text to Logan. They around now or nah?

GM: The clothes are slightly large on Celia, but they fit well enough. The rest of the apartment looks like an older bachelor’s pad. It’s not as messy as a 20something’s, but her mother would probably find a lot of things to clean up from the pile of dirty dishes in the sink to the clutter left strewn over the the furniture. Most of the food looks like takeout, frozen, or canned, but she finds trash bags and plastic bags without issue. There’s even some tupperware, just not a Diana-level amount.

Roderick texts back, Was going to go with some friends, but could cancel for just us

Logan: I can try to hit them up, you need something?

Celia: She slips the phone into her pocket to search for the plastic bag in the kitchen. Gotta be around here somewhere, right? At last, in a drawer where they definitely don’t belong, she finds what she’s looking for. She pulls one free, shakes her head at the mess, and wonders what Diana would say if she could see this now.

Then it’s back to the bedroom to put the three phones into the bag. She makes sure they’re silenced—super awkward if they start ringing inside of her, right?—before she closes it. After half a second of consideration claws grow from the tips of her fingers, and she cuts into her own flesh, hissing as the skin splits beneath the nails. It’s fixable, of course, but it’s not pleasant to slice into herself like this. She needs to find a better way to smuggle things.

Maybe all those times Paul had taken advantage of her were—

No, she’s not going to let her brain go there.

She stuffs the phones inside and pinches shut her flesh.

Her attention returns to her own phone.

She texts Roderick back: nah it’s cool Idk where my bikini is anyway, call me after tho ;)

Then to Logan: Employee locked up salon phone, think they can help?

GM: She’s seen worse apartments, at least. Like Em’s. At least there’s canned vegetables instead of endless jugs of Nutella.

She remembers that. Ramen, booze, and Kraft mac and cheese. Cocaine in white plastic baggies next to the Nutella. That half-eaten white bread Nutella and butter sandwich. Stacks of Hot Pockets, bags of candy, Red Bull, and sugary soft drinks.

This man (it has to be a man) isn’t ever going to win a “best homemaker” award, but he isn’t living a 10-year-old’s dream diet either.

Celia: Celia is definitely going to tell her mom to bake this man some meals. Canned vegetables are not food.

She doesn’t wait for a response from either Logan or Roderick. She has a meeting to get to.


Thursday evening, 10 March 2016

Celia: Celia crosses the kitchen to the window and unlatches it, pulling down the screen. A moment of concentration and she’s not Celia anymore. The world around her shifts and changes as surely as her own form blurs. Things get bigger. Her bones hollow out. Feathers sprout in place of hair. The window that was within reach is suddenly feet above her head, and she’s left hopping across the floor on feet that don’t much like the smooth tile. Her arms—wings, now—spread to steady herself. She hops again, beating her wings against the still air in the kitchen, and after only a moment she has achieved flight. She soars toward the window, flits through the opening she’d made in the screen, and is free.

Pic.jpg
Paranoia makes her keep a sharp eye on the world around her as she soars through the sky, and she draws that predatory aura of hers inward just in case anyone happens to be looking. She’s nothing but a common nightjar now. Just another nocturnal bird going about its bird business.

The nightjar, or more commonly the nighthawk, is both nocturnal and native to New Orleans. So while it isn’t particularly pretty to look at—it’s actually rather dull, which serves them well in the wild when they sleep during the day—it’s the perfect thing she needs to get around the city unseen.

GM: Celia’s enormous new black eyes facilitate that sharp eye. The nightjar doesn’t have the best color discrimination, but it can see in the dark as well as any vampire. Her tapetum lucidum, that distinctive eye shine which night-blind humans lack, takes it all in.

But even her kind would still kill to have eyes like these, with each one positioned on different sides of her head. Her 300 degree vision sees in front her and across from her at the same time. Her peripheral vision is anything but peripheral, and the next-best thing to eyes in the back of her head. Sneaking up on a bird with with this vision is damn hard.

But none of that compares with flight.

Air rushes past her as she climbs the skies. She flaps her wings until she finds a thermal current, then just glides. Endless horizon stretches before her. Endless sky stretches above her. She flies.

Emily had gone skydiving once and been disappointed Celia couldn’t come with her: she said the experience was as exhilarating as it was terrifying, that it made you feel alive like nothing else and longing to be in the air again, once your pumping heart had calmed down. Perhaps this is like skydiving. She’s gone skydiving too, in a manner of speaking. But instead of falling like when her sire dropped, her dead frozen with terror as she fell and fell and fell, she’s in control. Her dead wings don’t get tired from flapping like a bird’s. If she soars high enough, the city becomes a speck in her vision, and all of its troubles and intrigues so small before her. She’s above it all. She has the freedom to go anywhere. To just fly away.

Celia: Nothing compares to flight.

No arms around her, no one holding her aloft. No thoughts of falling to the city far below. No wintry presence that steals the warmth from her, that steals her very life. No thoughts invading her mind. No terror. No hoping that someone doesn’t drop her.

She cannot fall, not like this.

She is in control now. She directs her body which way to go, which currents of air to ride. Wings outstretched, she rides the waves. There is little flapping in the flight of a nightjar; her wings are longer than they are wide, perfect for gliding through the air. And glide she does. More graceful in the sky as she is on two feet, the nightjar soars toward the French Quarter. A cry of jubilation leaves her recently narrowed throat, a bird-like trill rather than the exclamation of a girl.

This is what freedom tastes like.

GM: The Evergreen approaches soon. Much too soon.

But there has to be time for another few laps. She can go back. She can go anywhere. She can come back or leave forever.

Birds don’t know the freedom they have.

But maybe that’s because they don’t build cages.

Celia: Maybe she should leave forever. She’s thought about it plenty of times. Leaving the city behind. Living as an animal. A cat, to be adored, to be given the physical affection she so desperately craves. A bird, and she’ll never let her feet touch the ground again. Another step and she can be anything she wants. All she has to do is learn how.

All the time in the world up here for the bird, but the lick inside knows that’s not true. She has responsibilities to see to. A family to take care of. Up here, the problems seem so far away. Still, no matter how fast she flies, how far she goes, she’s always back by morning.

Jade casts her gaze toward the roof of the Evergreen, searching for the lord who holds his court there.

Better not to risk landing, even if it’s empty. She has no doubt that she will be delivered, staked, to her grandsire should she try it. She lands nearby instead, finds what cover she can, and shifts back. Once more humanoid feet touch upon the ground. The sudden mass of her body weighs heavily on her, as if it has thrown shackles around her heart and soul.

A prison, truly, this form of hers.

She does not dwell. She sees herself inside to find Lebeaux.

GM: The Evergreen’s rooftop garden sits empty to the nightjar’s sight. There’s the hot tub, the iron table, the cushioned chairs. It looks all-too easy to swoop down onto one of the many fruit trees. She could conceal herself amongst the thick canopy and the other birds and butterflies and beautiful things, and wait for her grandsire to show up. She could listen to whatever conversations the French Quarter lord might have in the heart of his court.

It looks so invitingly easy.

Celia: Her grandsire cages the other things. The songbirds in gilded cages, to be sure, but cages all the same. She is not a bird, and in this form not beautiful besides. She has no place atop this roof tonight.

GM: The same Louis Armstrong jazz merrily sounds throughout the Evergreen as Jade enters, though the main lounge has been cleaned up from the revels of earlier. Ordinary mortals talk, eat, and listen to music. Fabian greets Jade with the same smile as ever and directs her up the stairs to Lebeaux’s office when she asks whether the warden is present. She finds him typing into the computer at his desk.

Celia: She knocks on the frame of the door before she steps into his office.

“Good evening, Pete.”

GM: “Evening, Celia.” He looks her over. “I wouldn’t say you’re dressed down, but definitely sideways.”

Celia: “Careful Pete, I might think you’re paying attention to me.”

She slides into the seat across from him and crosses one leg over the other. The once-over she gives the detective is far less subtle than the one he’d given her. When she finally meets his eye again she winks at him.

GM: “I thought you were saving me for your mother,” he remarks dryly.

Celia: “Ah, see, I know you broke your own heart the other night when you told me it would never happen. I’m here to pick up the pieces.”

GM: “Of course. Offering me comfort in my time of loneliness and need.”

Celia: “What are friends for, right?”

“Should I close the door, warden?”

GM: “Always, please, though I’m afraid my reasons will always disappoint a Toreador.”

Celia: She heaves a sigh, forcing air through her body to make the sound long and drawn out as she rises again to close the door before resuming her seat. She mutters something that sounds suspiciously like “tease” as she re-crosses her legs, just loud enough for him to hear.

GM: “Both renfields made the drop-off,” he says without preamble. “They’re back and in one piece.”

Celia: Thank God for that.

“Glad to hear it. I’ll see to yours tonight before I head out, get him back to his normal face. How’d it go?”

GM: “So far so good. They met with a couple other breathers who paid them cash for ‘your’ body. Provided them with an address in Mid-City for their next target.”

“Said there’d be good things in their futures if they continued to deliver results.”

Celia: “I hope I was worth a pretty penny.”

“Easy way to take out some enemies.” It’s not quite a question, but there’s a lilt to the end of the statement, a lift of her brows.

GM: “It is a time-honored tactic, yes. But my gut tells me to be cautious here.”

Celia: “Inq?”

GM: “I suppose it’s possible, but neither of those two’s handlers said anything to indicate they were especially religious.”

“They had more to say around the bugged stake. They seemed to hold those two in contempt. Had another target for them in the Quarter, if they pulled off the job in the Mid-City.”

“Three missions for them to get in with the real team.”

Celia: “Well, considering I talked them into letting me kill them, I would also hold them in contempt. What’s your gut telling you is wrong? Sneak in, find out who they are, take them all out. In theory, anyway.”

“Someone give them my name or did they find me by accident?”

GM: Pete slowly shakes his head.

“Those two’s lives, whether they succeeded or failed in killing more licks to join the team, meant nothing to them. I could hear it in their voices. Absolutely nothing. They might as well have been talking about how long a set of batteries would last.”

“Hunters normally want to work together, if they can get past their mutual distrust. This apparent lack of practical and not merely moral regard for potential allies’ lives is very strange.”

Celia: “I assume the meeting location isn’t set up to be a long term thing. Renfields get any weird vibe from them? Met in the outlands, all sorts of scary shit out there. Could explain their lack of regard for human life.”

“Heard plenty of our kind talk like that before. Like humans mean nothing to them. Could be working for someone like that, even. Said it’s par for the course to go after enemies with hunters.”

“We get an image of them at all?”

GM: “You’re mishearing me. Ruthlessness by itself isn’t an uncommon trait in this life. Or even among humans.”

Celia: “Then what do you think it is, if my theories are off?”

GM: “Again, I don’t find anything especially noteworthy about their lack of regard for human life. I’m concerned by their lack of apparent regard for additional assets and allies when hunters normally need all the help they can get.”

Celia: Oh. She nods, already working out the possibilities.

“Just gonna think out loud here for a second. Every cop movie where the hero doesn’t call for backup is because he thinks he’s got it on his own. Could suggest they have more help than we realize, so these ‘casuals’ are just kept busy on small targets. Like when you tell a kid to go hide and you never seek. Or like how the FBI never wants to work with local city cops. Could be their plan isn’t to actually kill anyone, like a fake group, while they do other stuff. Pursue some other goal. Could be they’re looking for someone specific.”

GM: “Could all be. I’m going to recommend to Lord Savoy that we listen and wait until we have a clearer picture of what we’re dealing with.”

“Tantal and Pierre have descriptions, though no images. They weren’t snapping pictures.”

“It also sounded to me as if you were a target of opportunity. They said, essentially, that those two finding a leech on their own was the prerequisite to receive specific assignments.”

Celia: “Oh. Good. I was concerned I’d gotten sloppy.” Or that someone had sent them after her. “We know if they shared my identity, or is ‘Celia’ still safe?”

GM: “No Kindred is safe.”

Celia: “Bleak.”

“Speaking of, though. It doesn’t really have anything to do with that.”

GM: “Then what were you wanting to speak with me about, as far as Celia?”

Celia: “That was unrelated.”

“I have more that might clear up the hunter thing, though.” Claws again, pretty claws for the pretty Toreador, though there’s nothing attractive about the way she lifts her shirt to sink them into her body, or how she peels back her own skin to stuff her hand inside and grab the edge of the plastic baggie with the phones inside. She sets the grisly package on his desk.

“I need the phones back. But I was hoping we could go through them real quick.”

GM: He raises an eyebrow. There’s the faintest hint of fang at the coppery smell.

“Charming delivery. Where are these from?”

Celia: “Sorry. I didn’t want to lose them.” She pulls her shirt back down. “If you know of anyone who can teach me that prison pocket trick I’m all ears.”

“Got jumped by some hunters. They’re dead now.”

She shrugs.

“Seemed more professional than the last two.”

GM: The Tremere frowns. “How would you say?”

Celia: “Maybe I’m wrong. But they got into a pretty secure place. Found the hiding spot. Very thorough searching. The other ones at the spa, they left Roxanne behind. Not even sure if they searched the place after grabbing me. Masks. Etc.”

“Plus I tried to hit them with some charm and they shrugged it off.”

“And I am very charming, Pete.” She grins at him. “Cutest person I know. Even you said I’m gorgeous.” She doesn’t wiggle her brows at him, but she definitely thinks about it.

GM: The Tremere frowns even more deeply. “That isn’t good. That can’t be a coincidence for you to get hit by a more experienced team the day after you killed another one.”

“You have their bodies? Blood samples?”

Celia: “No. I mean. I have their blood inside of me, but that doesn’t do us any good. And if I call the person disposing of them and say ‘hey I need some samples,’ they’re going to know I came to you, which I definitely implied I wasn’t going to do. Which is, incidentally, why I need the phones back.”

There’s a brief pause, then, “I do remember kind of, um, laying in a pool of blood for a minute, so I could disrobe if you can take some dry samples.”

“Chances are good they were drained before disposal, so I can get it, just not until later this evening.”

GM: “I could take a sample from you, actually. Depending how much you drank.”

“We are what we eat.”

Celia: “I was pretty empty when I filled up. On only two of them, though.”

Her fingers dance across her forearm. Nerves, maybe, at the thought of giving her blood to a Tremere.

“Can you do it here? Like now?”

GM: “I can do a basic divination that might not tell me any more than the phones can. I’d need some time to set up a more advanced spell.”

A text buzzes from Celia’s phone. The sender is Emily. The time is past 8.

Hey we’re getting hungry are you still coming for dinner?

Celia: “Can you set it up and I can come back? I have, ah, something else for you to test if you’re offering as well.”

She sends a quick text back: start without me, stuck in meeting sry

GM: Mom spent half the day cooking and getting excited she could ‘feed her baby.’ How much longer?

Celia: Celia silences her phone.

GM: “I’m old enough to remember when that wasn’t considered rude, because it never happened,” Pete says dryly.

“I’m not going to be here all night, but if you leave me something I can get you the results when I next see you.”

Celia: Her gaze drops.

“My apologies, warden. I’m trying to handle a few things at once. There’s not enough of me to go around.”

GM: Pete grunts, opens the plastic bag, picks up a phone, and drags his finger across the screen. He taps into the old-fashioned keypad and frowns after a few more moments.

“Doesn’t seem to be a whole lot on this one.”

He sets it down, picks up the second phone, and repeats the process.

“This one’s got a search for an address in Mid-City. You have any backup havens there?”

Celia: “No.”

GM: Pete looks through it for a few more minutes.

“Looks like your Anarch pal was the primary target, then.”

Celia: She nods. That makes her feel better, at least, about not dragging him into danger.

GM: He sets down the phone and picks up the third, repeating the process.

“Only real thing on these is calls made out to each other and a single number.”

“Guess what, though.”

“It’s the same one your other hunter pals were in contact with.”

Celia: “And the sample will tell you more?”

GM: “It potentially could.”

Celia: “What else are you going to do with it?”

GM: Pete raises his eyebrows.

Celia: Celia doesn’t say anything. She waits.

GM: “If you’re asking that you’ve already decided not to trust a Tremere. You can watch me do it if that’d make you more comfortable.”

Celia: “Pete,” her voice and eyes both soften, “I can’t think of anyone on the city that I trust more than you. I don’t think you’d go out of your way to hurt me, or even that you’d do it intentionally. So I’m happy to help if that’s what you need from me, but I don’t have time this very minute to do it. I can come back, if you can find time in your schedule for me.”

GM: “5 AM tonight. I’d say to tell your family I said hi, if that was them, but that’s probably a bad idea.”

Pete doesn’t actually look that much older than Celia, biologically.

But he looks worn. Tired.

Maybe even guilty.

Celia: “Actually… it might be a good idea. Maxen stopped by today, which is… why I was so rude earlier with my phone.”

GM: Pete looks up sharply.

“What?”

“Fucking restraining orders,” he growls. “More useless than toilet paper.”

Celia: “My brother brought him over. Mom was sick, and I… it was day, so I couldn’t…” she trails off. She looks every bit the 19-year-old she died as, suddenly unsure of her footing.

“Emily stabbed him.”

GM: “Tell me everything.” The detective’s voice is deadly serious.

Celia: So she does.

Or at least she tells him most things.

She starts with the prior night, how Diana had confessed she was having nightmares about Maxen taking Lucy away. She doesn’t say where they were, doesn’t confess to trespassing in the Garden District. The summoning from her sire and the body he’d dropped at her feet. A loose end. How he’d thought to “teach her a lesson” by playing catch with her mother, though she doesn’t say why or anything else they discussed. The command he’d given her to remember it as a nightmare. Taking her mom back to her place, then the texts about being sick. Emily’s explanation on the phone, everything she had said about Maxen coming over, taking Lucy to school, Diana throwing out her meds, going at him with a knife. Celia calling Maxen, and him saying he “wouldn’t press charges.” She doesn’t mention their dinner plans, either.

GM: Pete listens intently the entire time, occasionally pausing to ask a clarifying question. His eyes harden and his knuckles tighten at the mention of Donovan’s ‘lesson.’ Finally, he says, “Okay.”

“Emily stabbing your father is bad. But I can’t think of anyone else who wouldn’t respond the same way, in her shoes, and it’s spilled milk anyway.”

Celia: “I set up a thing tonight so I could be with her in case the sheriff… in case he comes.”

As if she will be more than a mild inconvenience.

“I tried to get her to leave. To just… go away for the weekend, take Mom and Lucy, and they won’t listen to me.”

GM: “They don’t know the danger they’re in.”

Celia: “And what can I say? That the world is full of monsters and Maxen belongs to one? And he was weird about it, when I talked to him, he was all nice and smiling and it was… it was just off.”

GM: “I don’t know that you can say anything. They’ve set up their lives here and they hate the thought of running from your dad.”

Celia: “And I don’t know if that means that Donovan brainwashed him and it wore off or it’s a way to make me know my family isn’t safe or what.”

“But they have to. They have to go.”

“If they don’t leave then they all die because I don’t know what he wants, I don’t know what Maxen wants, or why he’s being weird, and I don’t know if it’s about Lucy or Diana or what he’s going to do to Emily now.”

“And he’s just going to kill them. They’re finally happy and they don’t know there’s a sword hanging over their heads, ready to drop.”

GM: Pete rubs his head.

“I’m thinking, Celia. But I don’t see a neat and clean solution to this.”

“Your father needs to go. Easiest way would be neutering his usefulness to your sire.”

Celia: “You think it’s him and not my sire pushing him into this?”

GM: “What does your sire possibly gain from Maxen playing nice guy to his ex-wife?”

Celia: “He knows that it’s the only thing that can hurt me. A long-range… manipulation or something.”

“I don’t know. But it’s more likely that than Maxen suddenly had a change of heart.”

GM: “You only use manipulation when you want to keep your hands clean, because you want to avoid the consequences of getting them dirty, or because you can’t win a direct fight.”

“Your sire threw your mom off a building. In front of you. He clearly does not feel the need to bother with manipulation.”

“I do find it very strange he would do that, though, while also being so kind as to deliver a loose end that threatened you onto your doorstep.”

Celia: “I have ideas for how to move against Maxen. I’ve been working on them. That’s part of why I needed to talk to Lord Savoy. I put a few things in motion already, and I have more in the works, and… I don’t know, maybe he doesn’t care, there’s other stuff too, I wouldn’t just bother him with my family drama…” she trails off, wringing her hands on her lap.

GM: Pete glowers at Celia. “Or maybe he remembers how that went down the last time you and him made a move against Maxen.”

Celia: “That, too,” she says quietly.

GM: “Don’t bother asking for his help.”

Celia: She doesn’t flinch, but only because she expected it.

“I wasn’t going to.”

GM: “Then why in the love of God would you want to talk to Lord Savoy about him?”

Celia: Celia leans forward, elbows on the desk. She cradles her face with her hands and shakes her head back and forth.

GM: Pete just effects a sigh.

“All of this has me thinking, though. Perhaps it’s time to take out the sheriff. Have to do it sooner or later. It’d be a near-knockout blow to Vidal at this point.”

“That idea’s above my pay grade, though. Savoy will have to give it the go-ahead. But it’d wrap up all your family’s troubles with a neat little bow.”

Celia: “And me?” she asks quietly. “What about me, when Savoy decides that keeping his childe’s childe around isn’t useful anymore because there’s no childe to use me against? What’s he going to do to me, when I’m just… just another loose end who messed up his plans once?”

GM: Pete glowers at her again. “I talked with Savoy about that. You got one pass.”

“Because no one was actually hurt.”

“Because his interests weren’t actually harmed.”

“Because I said your father broke you like he broke your mother, and you couldn’t bear to ruin your dear daddy.”

“Because Savoy believes in second chances and nurturing potential, and is not a bloody-handed tyrant who executes subordinates for their failures like our good prince.”

“If you think he’ll throw you out when the sheriff is gone, you’ve misread him completely.”

Celia: She’d never realized that it was Pete who had spoken to Savoy about what happened. She’d thought… something else completely. Something else that, if she’d gone on thinking it, would have gotten her killed in the end.

All this time she’d believed a dangerous lie. Had thought she was so clever for putting it together.

Maybe she is just as stupid as they all say.

Her eyes find the ground again, the carpet where her feet rest. She’s quiet for a long moment. There’s a faint whiff of something coppery in the air, but she blinks it back before it can do more than accumulate in the corners of her eyes. When she finally lifts her face to look back to him there’s nothing to suggest that she was ever upset.

“Thank you.”

GM: “You’re welcome,” Pete grunts. “I need to think a lot of things over.”

“It’s getting late. You might as well go see your family before they go to bed.”

Celia: “If you see him…” she takes a breath she doesn’t need, lets it out slowly. “If you see him, can you tell him that I have something for him?”

Something useful for once, but she doesn’t think she needs to say that.

GM: “I may not tonight. But sure.”

Celia: “I’ll be back at five.”

Celia rises to her feet, reaching for the phones. She slides them into the various pockets of her ensemble—she should change before she visits her family, she thinks—and turns toward the door.

As always, the meeting with Lebeaux is both better and worse than she expected.


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, PM

GM: It’s closer to 9 than 8 by the time Celia pulls in at her mother’s house. (She finds her car parked by her haven.) Emily and Diana are both in the living room, the former reading over her medical textbooks while the latter scrolls through a tablet. When Celia lets herself in, Emily does what looks like her best impression of Pete’s glowers.

Diana beams. She looks wonderful. Celia couldn’t appreciate the full extent of her work with the woman stolen from her bed in the middle of the night, mad with fear, and soaked under rain. Anyone would look terrible under those circumstances. But a day later, bathed and dressed and with her hair and face tastefully done up, Celia can appreciate the fruits of her labors. Her mother already looked good for her age, thanks no doubt in part to weekly Flawless visits. The added buoyancy to her perkier breasts and the wrinkles smoothed away from her face make her looks even better. She could pass for halfway in between Celia’s age and her true 42 years. The ear-to-ear smile on her face provides the finishing touch to her daughter’s ever-flawless work.

“Hi, sweetie! Oh, I’m so happy you could make it!” she exclaims, getting up to hug Celia.

“Right on time, too,” says Emily, a little dryly.

Celia: Emily’s glowers, quite frankly, need a little bit of work. She’s got nothing on the Tremere detective.

She doesn’t tell her this, though, just gives her mom a hug and a sheepish smile, apologizes for being late.

“I’m sorry I’m late. I was caught in a meeting that ran later than expected.”

GM: “I’m just glad she’s here,” repeats Diana, giving Celia another squeeze. “I saved plenty of food for you, and I only had a little bit myself, so we can still have dinner, don’t you worry!”

“Oh, it’s more than okay, sweetie, we both want your business to do well!”

Celia: Celia just smiles in response.

“Lucy in bed already? What did you make, Momma? And how are you feeling?”

GM: Diana nods. “We read her Goodnight Moon. She’s said her prayers and is fast asleep now. And let me show you!” she says, making her way to the kitchen.

“I’m feeling so much better now, thanks. Logan came by to take care of me, and I’ve spent half the day in bed, so I’m…”

“She knows Maxen did too,” Emily says shortly. “I already told you I told her all of it.”

Their mother gives a fretful look. “Let’s talk about that after dinner, why don’t we?”

Celia: “Or during. Or now.”

Celia shrugs as if it doesn’t matter. The smile never leaves her face.

GM: “I already ate with Lucy. You’re the one who insisted on going hungry until Celia showed up, even when she couldn’t be bothered to say she’d be late.”

Celia: “I told you I’d be late. I literally texted you to start without me. I even said that I couldn’t give you an exact time because I had a meeting and I didn’t know how long it would go when we made plans earlier.”

GM: “After I texted you,” says Emily. “You could’ve at a reasonable-”

Diana clasps her hands. “Let’s please not fight, you two! Emily, would you like some seconds, maybe? Or another helping of dessert?”

“Damn it, Mom, will you never stand up for yourself?!”

Celia: Celia gives Emily her own glower.

“I was talking to a detective about the fact that my business was broken into the other night.”

GM: Diana gasps and pauses in mid-stride. “Oh, no! Is everything okay, sweetie?”

Emily looks a little humbled.

Celia: “It’s fine. Nothing was damaged.”

GM: “Was anything stolen?” Diana asks worriedly. “What does he think they were after?”

“Detectives can be ’she’s’ too, Mom.”

“Right, yes.”

Celia: “He, actually. But no, everything is fine. I actually… kind of used it as an excuse to bring up what happened today with him.”

Celia eyes Emily, lifting her brows slightly, as if to ask if Mom knows. About the stabbing. She makes a stabby motion when Diana isn’t looking.

GM: Emily slowly shakes her head.

“Uh, sorry I got snappish. Glad the business is fine.”

Celia: “Me too. We still on with Robby tonight?”

GM: “It’s getting pretty late, honestly. He has work tomorrow.”

“But we could reschedule. He said he’d be happy to teach you to play WoS.”

Celia: “Looking forward to it.”

GM: “That isn’t that Satanic game, is it?” Diana asks worriedly.

Celia: “It is, actually. We summon a demon in the living room. But if you feed it snacks it goes away.”

GM: “Oh. That’s… that’s not too bad a demon, I suppose,” her mom says with a mildly forced chuckle.

Emily snickers.

Celia: “It likes cookies,” Celia says helpfully.

GM: “Oh, that’s good. That’s… that’s very good. Sounds more like the cookie monster than a demon,” Celia’s mom says with another chuckle as she twists the oven knob, re-heating whatever dinner must be inside, and sits down at the dining room table. There’s already places and water set out.

“You don’t actually try to summon demons, though, do you?” she asks, more concernedly.

Celia: “Just ghosts,” Celia assures her, taking a seat at the table. “Seances. Candles. Stiff as a board, light as a feather, all that.”

She lets that linger for a moment, then finally laughs and shakes her head.

“No, Mom, from what I understand it’s just a bunch of nerds that roll dice.”

GM: “Emi, sweetie, do you really-” their mom starts, then laughs along with her. “Okay, that sounds pretty harmless. Had me worried!”

Celia: “The internet said it’s basically just collaborative storytelling.”

GM: “Yeah, that’s basically it. Pretty harmless and nerdy,” says Emily. She gets up and sits down at the table with them, laying out her medical textbook over her place. She gives Celia a look as if to ask, ‘do you want to bring it up?’

Celia: Celia inclines her head.

GM: “Uh, okay. Mom, I stabbed Maxen. With a carving knife.”

Diana gasps.

Celia: “He’s okay.”

GM: “What!?”

Celia: “I spoke to him.”

“He also said he’s not reporting it. No charges. Nothing like that.”

GM: Diana holds her hands to her mouth as she looks between her daughters.

“He’s fine,” repeats Emily. “I mean, God knows half of me wishes he wasn’t, but it sounds like he is.”

Celia: “He said it was just a scratch. That he cleaned it out and put a bandage on it and went to work.”

GM: “We’d better call him, tell him how sorry-”

Celia: “I already did, Mom.”

GM: “Fuck telling him sorry,” says Emily flatly. “Maybe when he apologizes for trying to saw off your leg. And the years of beatings. And the rapes.”

Celia: Celia snorts.

That will never happen.

GM: Diana holds her hands to her ears.

“It happened, Mom!” says Emily.

“Sweetie, language, please-”

“Fine. Screw telling him sorry.”

Celia: “She has a point, Mom. He abused you for years. He ruined your career. He raped you. One day of being a decent human being doesn’t make up for all of that. And, frankly, I’m concerned about his motivations.”

GM: “You have to start somewhere,” Diana starts quietly. “I just… you really had to have seen-”

“See this.” Emily yanks up the hem of her mother’s dress.

Diana startles in alarm and tries to re-cover her leg. Her bad leg.

“Emily!? What are you-!”

“Do you still not want to look at that, Mom? Because if you don’t, there is nowhere to start!”

Emily’s brow furrows. “Actually, that looks really g-”

Celia: “Emily,” Celia says tightly.

GM: “Stop it! Please, stop it!” their mom begs, her cheeks reddening as she averts her gaze.

Emily sighs and lets go.

“Sorry. I’ll stop when you ask me. Those are two things he will never do.”

Celia: It’s a solid point, really.

GM: Diana smooths the hem of her dress back down as long as she can.

Celia: “The point, Momma, Emily, is that he’s fine. He’s all right.”

GM: “You’re sure?” her mom asks worriedly. “He really is? He can push himself too hard, sometimes, wanting to look tough…”

“And Emily, she’s not in trouble? You’re really sure?”

Celia: “He’d have to report it to the police for her to be in trouble. He also violated the restraining order by being here.”

GM: “Huh,” says Emily slowly. “You’re right. I hadn’t thought about that.”

Celia: “There’s also a stand your ground law, which means anything Emily does if she thinks her life, or your life, is in danger is fine.”

Sort of.

GM: “Oh. That’s right. I’d better get that… lifted,” says Diana.

Celia: “No.”

GM:MOM!” glowers Emily.

Celia: “Are you planning on going back to him, Mom? So he can smack you around some more? Maybe abuse Lucy, too?”

GM: Her mom’s plaintive expression turns more guarded at Lucy’s name.

“He isn’t going to abuse Lucy.”

“He will if he’s in her life,” says Emily.

Celia: “I am, frankly, concerned that being alone with her means he took a hair or something for a DNA test.”

GM: “Oh, shit,” breathes Emily.

Diana’s face just goes stiller.

“Look, Mom, what do you want from him? Do you want go to back to him?” asks Emily.

“I… I just want to see where things might go,” says Diana. “Just talk, at this point.”

She gives a weak chuckle. “When I’m not sick as a dog, anyway.”

Celia: “Long term, Mom. What do you want?”

GM: “I just want to talk, sweetie. Take things one step at a time. I’ll have a better idea then, I think.”

“Maybe… if it goes well… just simple things. Easy things. Like dinner. I’m not in any rush.”

Emily just heaves a sigh and shakes her head.

Celia: Celia makes a noise that might be a sigh.

“I’m going to tell you something. And neither one of you are going to say anything about it.”

She looks pointedly at Emily.

GM: “I’ll do anything for the good of this family,” says Emily. “Including, yes. Keeping my mouth shut.”

“Of course, sweetie. We’ll be quiet as mice,” Diana nods.

Celia: “Maxen and I are having dinner on Saturday. I am going to find out what he wants, and why.”

GM: Emily frowns. “Okay. You tell us where you’re going and when. Maybe turn on an app on your phone that lets us track you. Just in case something happ-”

“Don’t be silly, sweetie, nothing’s going to happen!” says Diana. “I think that’s a great idea, for you and your dad to have dinner,” she smiles.

“He’s not actually her dad,” says Emily.

Celia: Ah, right, maybe she should confess she’s got a meeting with her mom’s other rapist tonight.

She doesn’t.

GM: “Well… I didn’t give birth to you, either,” their mom points out. “Family’s all about who you make a part of your life.”

“Maxen isn’t part of our lives,” Emily says flatly.

Celia: “Regardless, I’m having dinner with him. We’ll discuss what he wants by suddenly showing back up. Which is why, Mom, I need to know what you want.”

GM: “Yes. You say you want to talk, take things one step at a time. Okay. Why do you want that?” asks Emily. “What’s in it for you?”

Diana looks between her daughters for a moment. It’s hard for Celia to say exactly what that look is. Bittersweet. Sad.

No. Longing.

“I miss him.”

Celia: Celia holds up a hand to forestall Emily from jumping in.

“Do you miss him, or do you miss being married?”

GM: Emily starts to open her mouth, then closes it and looks at her mom.

“I think… both,” Diana says slowly.

She closes her eyes for a moment.

“I need a… Celia, Emi. You both heard those messages I left. Read those texts. How I was screamin’ like it was the end of the world.”

Celia: “You want someone to take care of you,” Celia says softly. “Someone to be there for you.”

GM: Diana opens her mouth again, looks at Celia, then just nods.

“I miss…. having a man.”

“Someone… someone who I can wake up to, at 5 AM, with his arms around me… and know I’m not alone.”

Celia: “Okay.” She considers, nodding. “Okay. I understand wanting someone to share your life with. I do. I get it. But does it need to be… Maxen?”

GM: ""Look, Mom, we can b…" Emily starts, but Diana just holds up a finger to her lips, as if to say ‘sshh.’

“Listen…”

“You’re both wonderful girls. Women. Brave and kind and smart and strong women and so much more than I am, in so many ways.” She gives a little smile that seems partly sad but mostly proud. “I couldn’t have asked God for better daughters. He answered all my prayers.”

She gives a rueful chuckle. “But I can’t take you to bed with me. You have your own lives. You can’t be there every time for your old mom when she wakes up with a stomach bug, or over her bad leg… and you shouldn’t have to be, either.”

“The family we’ve built for Lucy, for ourselves, is a thing of warmth and love and beauty. It truly is. But there are some things only a man can do. Only a man should have to change the sheets for me at 5 AM when I’m throwin’ up over them. You know?”

“I miss that. I miss having a man with his arms around me. Who I can feel… safe with. Who can make me feel like everything is gonna be all right.”

Celia: “And I get that, Mom. I do. But, again, does it need to be Maxen? There are plenty of men in the world.”

GM: “And Lucy could use a… male role model. A father. To show her how the men in her life should behave.”

“Mom… do you hear yourself?” Emily whispers. “He is not an example of how men should behave.”

Celia: “Then we can find you one. But it doesn’t need to be him. He abused all of us, Mom. All of us.”

GM: “I don’t want… I don’t want just anyone, sweetie, picky as that might sound.” Her mom gives a self-effacing look. “I know you give me all those… erm, gifts to impress a man, for Christmas. But I don’t want to date or drink or go out to bars and parties, not really. I want to build a life with someone. I want to cook him dinner and snuggle in bed and… enjoy all those happy parts, of married life. I want to raise Lucy with him.”

“And I want him to love her, as much as he does me. I don’t want her to be just a stepchild, a +1 he has to accept if he wants to be with me. I want him to love her like she’s his own. I want her to grow her up surrounded with nothing but love.”

Celia: “I’m not telling you to go out and drink and party. But there are so many other people in the world, in the city, that you could be with.”

“Why would you go back to someone you know wants to hurt you? Why would you go back to someone who doesn’t care about you? Who just wants to use you for… for whatever purpose he has in mind?”

GM: “Sweetie, I woke up in his arms,” her mom says softly.

She closes her eyes again.

“He was gentle. He was so gentle. He was there, right when I needed him. When I was scared and sick and lonely and… he was there. He took care of everything. Me, the vomit on the bedsheets, gettin’ a substitute for work, breakfast for Lucy, her ride to school…”

“Just all of it. He was right there.”

“And he’s a very busy man, you know! He’s got to be up at the crack of dawn, for that commute up to the capitol. There are so many things he’s responsible for, so many people whose lives are basically in his hands.”

“But he was there. For me. For Lucy. I felt safe. I felt loved.”

Celia: She hates it.

Hates that she knows how her mom feels. Hates that she understands it, that she’s in the same position, that she wants someone to whom she means absolutely nothing, to whom she will never mean anything. A means to an end, maybe. Less than that. A happy little accident.

Celia holds her tongue. She can’t tell her mom that she gets it. She wants more for the woman who raised her, who kept her sane during the years of insanity living with her father.

GM: “Can you understand that, you two?” she asks, looking between Celia and Emily. “Just how… how whole that made me feel?”

“I know he’s… he’s hurt me, in the past…”

“But if that’s in the past… that’s where I’d like to leave it.”

Celia: “I’ll have dinner with him,” Celia says again, “and find out what he wants.”

GM: “Okay,” says her mom. “I think that’s a good idea—oh! Dinner!”

She quickly gets up and turns off the oven.

Celia: Celia takes the opportunity to glance at her phone.

GM: It’s past 9. There’s texts from some other people, including Roderick and Alana.

There’s a screek as Diana pulls open the oven and slips on some mitts.

“Okay! It was in there a little long, but not too burned!”

Celia: She scrolls through the texts while her mother pulls the (apparently burned) dinner out of the oven.

Not that she can taste it anyway.

GM: Celia’s mom sets down a large dish of creamy, cheesy, comforting-looking casserole. “So this has got white tuna, thin green beans, leeks, and mushrooms, and whole wheat ziti for the base,” she explains. “The cream is heavy cream, veggie broth, flour, white chedar, parmesan, and the topping is potato chips with panko breadcrumbs,” she explains as she serves up a very large helping for Celia. “Casserole’s got a lot of cream, so at least it’s hard to burn!”

Pic.jpg
Celia: Even when she was alive Celia had never much liked mushrooms (“they taste like dirt,” she’d used to complain), but she supposes now that it doesn’t matter. Everything is going to taste like dirt. Like ash. She nods along at her mother’s explanation anyway, plastering a smile on her face.

Her family will never understand the things she does for them.

“Looks delicious, Momma. Gonna let it cool for a second so I don’t burn my mouth.”

Randy had burned his mouth once. He’d complained for a few days that he couldn’t taste anything, and Celia had been glad that blood is pretty much always the perfect temperature.

GM: Except when it’s not. The cold stuff is awful.

Celia’s mom smiles and nods as she serves herself a plate. “And for the side we’ve got a garden salad. Homemade dressing! I know you can eat casserole as the whole meal, since it’s got meats and grains and veggies, but I always like to have a good side,” she says as gets up to remove a bowl from the fridge. “Something that’s a different temperature and texture, for some contrast.”

The salad looks like it has lettuce, cherry tomatoes, onion, carrot, radish, and cucumber, with croutons, shredded cheddar, and ranch dressing.

Pic.jpg
“Emily, are you still hungry? I know you ate earlier with Lucy, but you have to eat your greens if you want more dessert,” Diana teases.

“Okay, maybe a little salad,” Emily says as she scoops some onto a plate.

Celia: Celia remembers her own homemade dressing and the most awful dinner experience of her life, when Maxen had made her throw it out while insulting her in front of her boyfriend.

She preps her Beast for the experience by telling it to kindly shut the fuck up when it begins to pace inside her chest, already concerned at the toxic sludge the girl is about to imbibe. She serves herself a bit of salad and picks up her fork. She had just complained to Randy about missing the feel of food, she supposes; maybe it won’t be that bad.

Celia spears a tomato on the tines of her fork and raises it to her mouth. It’s red. Like blood. She can power through it if she thinks about that.

She bites.

GM: It tastes like weeks-old garden compost.

Celia: And the texture is just… eugh.

Mushy insides. The skin of the tomato is… yuck.

GM: It’s completely wrong. It’s as wrong as eating hair.

Celia: It gets everywhere, too.

Fills her mouth with the rancid, foul taste.

GM: All over her throat. Down her tract. It’s as meant to go down the vampire’s throat as a big wad of matted hair soaked in castor oil is meant to go down a human’s.

Celia: She doesn’t gag. She’s been expecting this since her earlier call with Emily. But man, she wants to.

GM: Celia’s mother beams as she eats. She looks positively radiant. The very image of the happy homemaker.

Celia: It’s worth it, Celia tells herself, if it makes her mom happy.

She takes another bite of salad.

GM: “So you said the spa got broken into? What do you think they were after?” asks Emily, frowning.

“I mean, we normally take home our cash tips at the end of the day. There isn’t a whole lot to steal besides… lots of beauty products.”

Celia: Celia seizes the opportunity to put the damn fork down.

“I’m not sure, honestly. We don’t keep much in the register at the end of the night. Natalie counts it down and puts the rest in the safe.”

“I know the makeup is expensive,” Celia laughs, “but certainly not worth a break-in.”

GM: “If you want to steal makeup you lift it from the store, too.”

Celia: “What, you don’t want my half-used products? Worried about cooties, Em?”

GM: “Insanely worried. Catch enough girl cooties and you might turn into a girl.”

“That is so strange!” their mom frowns. “Did the alarm go off, is that how you knew?”

Celia: “There’s been some trolling on Insta lately, starting to wonder if it’s someone who took things a little too far.” Celia shrugs.

No, Mom, I was kidnapped and raped.

GM: “Huh, I could see that,” says Emily thoughtfully. “Haters gonna hate. Sometimes it crosses over to real life.”

Celia: “Little excessive, though. Maybe a brick through the window or something.”

GM: “People do some pretty crazy shit because of the internet. Swatting is a thing.”

Celia: “But the guy I spoke to said he’d look into it for me, and probably not to worry too much about it.”

GM: “Swatting?” asks their mom.

“When you call 911 and say there’s a hostage situation, gunfire, or whatever, so cops sic a SWAT team on someone. It can get them killed.”

“Oh, that’s awful,” Diana murmurs in between bites of casserole. “But at least things are okay at the spa, it sounds.”

“I don’t want people messing up your business,” she frowns. “You have put a lot of work into that place!”

Celia: “I think I’ll be okay. Like Emily said, all the cash tips are gone at the end of the night, and nothing was missing. The detective kind of shrugged at me when I told him that, said maybe someone forgot to lock up.”

Celia spears a noodle and a piece of tuna on the end of her fork.

“Might have just been a drunk tourist, who knows.”

GM: “Maybe. I guess they can wander off Bourbon Street…” Diana wonders. “Or maybe those gutter punks! Those people make me so nervous!”

Celia: “Maybe. I guess if I were homeless I’d rather be somewhere warm than up north. I’d probably hit up a beach somewhere, though.”

GM: “They’ve got to get food somewhere, though,” says Emily. “There’s a lot in the Quarter to draw them. Lot of food, booze, and crime.”

“I know.” Diana shakes her head. “That’s really what I like about the Garden District, it’s just such a pretty area and there’s no crime!”

“You still wish we’d gotten a house there?” asks Emily.

“A little, yes,” her mom admits. “It’d be so cute to walk to work every day with Lucy. To get to do that a whole 14 years with her.”

Celia: “I still prefer the Quarter. More to do.”

GM: “For you, I’m sure, you wild young thing,” her mom teases.

Celia: “Plus, the value here is only going up as the city rebuilds. If you ever want to sell you’ll get way more for your property.”

GM: “The city’s pretty much rebuilt at this point, honestly, except in the 9th Ward,” says Emily. “And I don’t think that’s ever going to happen.”

Celia: “Yeah, but people don’t come here to visit the Garden District. So if you ever do move in with someone you could rent out your house to vacationers.”

GM: “I’d say a lot more come for the Quarter, definitely,” Diana agrees, “but you can see tourists in the Garden District too. There’s a lot around Magazine Street or just taking pictures of all the pretty buildings. It really is so pretty there… just a picture-perfect little neighborhood,” she sighs wistfully. “But at least Lucy and I still get to see it every day.”

“That’s a good idea as far as the renting,” says Emily. “It’s in the Quarter, plenty people who come here for that, as you say.”

“And I think it’s a good idea to hold onto it. To have a place that’s always yours.”

Celia: “Now we just need to find you a man.” Celia wiggles her eyebrows at her mother.

GM: Her mom smiles back. “Like I said, sweetie, we’ll see how things go with your father…”

Emily silently eats her salad.

Celia: Celia gives her mother a vague smile and takes a bite of casserole.

GM: “So about the 9th Ward, didn’t a bunch of Hollywood stars all start a foundation to rebuild homes for the people there?” she asks. “I remember that from years ago, but not what happened to it.”

“Yeah, that’s basically you and most of the city,” says Emily. “The homes were substandard. They’ve all been falling apart. It was all basically a fundraising and PR exercise for said movie stars and local politicos.”

Celia: “Bit of a publicity stunt in the wake of a disaster.”

GM: “Yeah.”

Celia: Celia favors Emily with a smile.

GM: “But no one cares anymore, since Katrina was 10+ years ago. It’s not making headlines. The movie stars built their substandard houses and got out.”

“That is so sad,” their mom frowns. “Havin’ a home is definitely something to be thankful for. I really am so grateful we have this place, own it in full without any mortgage, and don’t have to worry about money anymore.”

She chuckles. “I guess ballet really paid off, in a way. I definitely wouldn’t have made that much money just by puttin’ on a tutu for another ten years.”

Celia: Celia makes a motion that might be a nod. She wouldn’t have as much money, maybe, but she’d have full use of her leg. Though if her plans work out she’ll regain that soon enough.

She makes a vague noise as she chews her latest morsel. It, like all the others, is absolutely foul.

GM: “Say, sweetie… about that experimental treatment you mentioned…?” her mom asks. “Have you been able to look into it any more…?”

Celia: “Not quite yet. I’ll let you know as soon as I find out anything, though.”

GM: “Okay. I know you will,” Diana nods.

“I wouldn’t get your hopes up too much though, Mom,” says Emily. “I’ve definitely looked into things too, and…”

“I know,” their mom murmurs. “I’m okay if it doesn’t pan out. I think that God might’ve meant for things to happen this way.”

Celia: “It’s experimental,” Celia says, looking toward Emily, “so I’m not sure if it would even work, but I’m also not surprised that it hasn’t come up. I’ve been reaching… well, far outside the city for a solution.”

GM: “That’s probably a good idea,” says Emily. “Tulane’s great, but for years the city didn’t even have a Level I trauma center. You have to go outside for the really advanced… well, everything.”

“You’ve looked into some residency programs in Houston, haven’t you, where that giant medical center is?” asks Diana.

“Yeah. Biggest in the world. But I’m trying to stay here with you guys.”

Celia: “Maybe we could all go. See something new, you know?”

GM: “Oh, don’t be silly,” her mom chuckles. “This is home!”

Celia: She didn’t think it would be that easy.

GM: “I kinda went over all the different reasons with you yesterday, remember?” Emily asks pointedly. “Mom, if we moved, can you explain what would that mean for your job and school with Lucy?”

“To Houston, you mean?”

“Yeah.”

Celia: “It’s fine,” Celia says flatly, giving Emily a look. “I get it. We don’t need to rehash.”

Bitch.

“Considering I was mostly concerned about you stabbing Maxen, and that’s been swept under the rug.”

She smiles.

GM: Diana looks between them. “Oh. You think… to be safe…?”

Celia: “I do.”

GM: “If he’s going to the police, going across state lines won’t make me safer,” Emily sighs. “But, you know, I probably should talk with an attorney. Maybe Viv.”

Celia: Celia catches Emily’s eye, then flicks her gaze toward their mom.

“I agree. If he tries anything we could also push back about the restraining order.”

GM: Emily frowns in thought.

Diana nods adamantly. “Good idea, sweetie! I’ll give her a call, make really clear this is an emergency!”

Celia: “Maybe Grandma, too.”


Wednesday night, 2 September 2015, PM

GM: Celia’s heard it on the news. Everyone’s heard it on the news. Veteran cop shoots two wrongfully arrested socialites almost dead and then shoots his way out of the 8th District police station. Everyone’s talking about it—Kindred and kine alike. Wagging tongues in Elysium all suspect a move in the Jyhad, though none of those tongues have come to a consensus regarding who benefited from Gettis’ actions. Whose interests, indeed, benefit from two dead teenage heiresses? Celia hasn’t even heard of any Kindred who own the families. It’s a victimless crime, if one leaves out the kine girls.

“…besides, there’s how many other Devillers? It’s not as if they lack for heirs to spare,” Marguerite Defallier had quipped to most of her fellow harpies’ titters.

Celia: Jade had allowed herself a smirk at the joke despite its rather on-the-nose, low-hanging status. But Jade doesn’t know the Devillers. Jade doesn’t have kine connections, doesn’t care about them as anything more than her next meal.

Celia does, and Celia doesn’t think having a family member shot by a cop is especially hilarious, even if there are children to spare. Cécilia had already told her about it, personally. She wasn’t the girl’s first call, she has no doubt, but they’ve been friends for years. Of course she knows, had heard the whole grisly tale from her blonde-haired, blue-eyed friend. Again from Diana after she’d finished visiting the injured girl in the hospital.

Such a tragedy, Diana had said sadly to Celia and Emily after they’d put Lucy to bed, that poor family.

Poor cop, too. Celia had heard about the manhunt for him as well. Mad, to shoot two young girls in a police station. Has to be. The name is familiar, though, and she recalls the voice she’d heard on the other end of the line years ago when she’d reported her father’s assault, and her grandmother’s words about him: not a friendly man, but he isn’t afraid of anything. Afraid enough of something if he’d gunned down two victims. Or he’d just finally snapped. She’s heard that being a cop is a rough, thankless sort of job, especially in a city like this.

She makes it a point to visit her grandmother shortly after that. She brings Lucy with her; the old woman always enjoys seeing her (great-)grandchild.

GM: Girls, at least, Diana had amended sadly. But poor Sarah still hadn’t come out of her induced coma. There’s no telling if she’ll be a vegetable or what. Doctors think the former is more likely than a full recovery.

Celia’s grandmother lives within the Lower Garden District. Pearl Chastain’s domain. The Toreador can request entrance, which her elder clanmate (or just as often, Accou) usually grants to “the right sort” of Kindred after they explain what their business in the area is. The alternative is sneaking in.

Celia: The problem, of course, is that Underwood is Celia’s grandmother, not Jade’s. It’s a sticky situation, and she’s at a loss for how to explain it to her “grandsire.” She can hardly go to him to ask for permission for her “pawn” to enter the territory (why would she need it?) and if she goes herself, as Jade, people will wonder what she’s doing at the judge’s house. Not to mention the fact that Underwood won’t recognize her.

It’s a good thing she’s gotten so handy at passing as a breather, isn’t it?

She borrows her mother’s car, citing the fact that she doesn’t want to have to move Lucy’s car seat to her own (honestly, she doesn’t understand why the almost seven-year-old is still in a car seat, but her mother had said something about weight restrictions and the Goose still being too little to sit on her own), and makes sure that she isn’t wearing anything that Jade would be seen in: no sun ring, no star sapphires, no sky-high heels or risque gowns.

She dresses down, in a pleated skirt, sheer tights, and the sort of blouse she wears to work, then sets off to meet with her grandmother.

GM: Lucy yawns as Celia straps her into the booster seat. She supposes it’s fortunate Gettis picked the summer months to shoot a couple teenagers: 8 PM is rather late for Lucy to be going on car rides, in Diana’s view, but she was happy for Celia to spend some “private time” with her daughter. Sister. Whichever.

She didn’t comment on Celia taking Lucy to Payton’s house. But she didn’t say no to it. Or at least didn’t want to fight.

Celia: It’s hardly the first time Celia has brought her daughter to see her grandmother.

GM: Celia’s grandmother lives in a two-story Greek Revival house with that style’s trademark Corinthian supports, a wrought-iron fence around the property, and several palm trees and a neatly-maintained flower garden in the front yard. She greets the drowsy-looking six-year-old with a hug and serves an after-dinner snack of spinach cheese balls and milk and cookies. Lucy wakes up a little at the prospect of cookies and eats two before her (great-)grandmother instructs her to have at least as many spinach balls.

“Popeye is strong to the finish because he ate his spinach. You want to be as strong as Popeye, don’t you?”

“Who’s Popeye?” asks Lucy.

Celia: Celia sides with her grandmother on this one, telling Lucy that she needs to make sure she eats her greens if she’s going to stuff her face with sugar.

She gives her grandmother a rueful smile.

“He was a little guy, like you, Goose. But every time he needed to be strong he cracked open a can of spinach and swallowed it down. And his arms got real big.”

Celia flexes for the little girl. Her own arms are nowhere near as large as the cartoon’s. She pushes up her bicep with her other hand to exaggerate the muscle.

“And then he could take on all the bad guys.”

GM: “Could he take on Gaston?” Lucy asks.

Celia: “From Beauty and the Beast? I bet he could. Gaston ate raw eggs every day.” Celia wrinkles her nose at her daughter. “I think spinach might be better for you.”

GM: “Yeah! He ate five thousand eggs every morning, so he’s… roughly the size of… a barge!” Lucy says, half-singing the answer.

“You have a very good memory to recall a number that large, Lucy,” replies Payton. “What happens to Gaston in the end?”

“Uh… he falls off a cliff, when he’s fighting Beast.”

“Popeye never falls off a cliff. Your mother is right. Spinach was better for him than eggs.”

Celia: “And,” Celia adds, “Popeye does it to save his little lady friend, so he gets love in the end. Gaston gets nothing.”

GM: “So spinach makes people love you? Or like, little lady friends?”

Celia: “Spinach makes you strong, heart and body. And strength makes you love yourself, which makes people love you.”

GM: Payton slides the bowl of spinach balls closer.

“There’s egg in these too. So you can be a little like Gaston. But there’s more spinach.”

Lucy picks one up and takes a bite.

“What do you think?” her (great-)grandmother asks.

“Um, I like cookies more. But these are good.”

“I’m glad you like them, Lucy. Eat lots of spinach and you’ll be as strong as Popeye one day.”

Celia: “And,” Celia whispers in her daughter’s ear, “it’ll turn your tongue green, and you can make Emmy guess what you ate when we get home.”

GM: “Oooh! I know something she doesn’t know!”

Celia: “How many guesses do you think it will take her?”

“Two? Two hundred? A thousand?”

GM: Lucy nods along. “I bet it’ll take her a thousand! Cuz, like… what’d make your tongue green?”

“Definitely nothing that little girls like to eat on their own,” Payton answers wryly as she takes a bite of spinach ball.

“She may wonder forever. She may have no idea after even a million guesses.”

Lucy giggles and takes another bite of her own.

Celia: “If she never guesses right we’ll never tell her, then we can have all the spinach and cheese balls for ourselves.”

GM: “You should make your tongue green too! She’ll be really really confused!”

Celia: “I don’t know, Lucy-Goose, I might eat all those cookies instead.” Celia makes munching noises.

GM: “That’s not fair! Great-Gramma says I hafta eat spinach too!” Lucy protests.

“Then I’m saying it for Celia too,” answers Payton. “You’re right that it’s important to be fair. Celia, you must also eat at least as many spinach balls as cookies.”

Celia: “Maybe I’ll just eat… Goose!” She pulls the child onto her lap to press kisses against her cheek, then tickles her side.

GM: The six-year-old shrieks with laughter and flaps her arms as Celia pulls her over.

“You’re eating spinach! ‘Cuz I ate spinach! An’ you’re eating me!”

Celia: “Oh no! Now I’m gonna be super strong! Gramma, quick, run for your life before I turn into the incredible hulk!”

GM: “Or… I could just eat all the spinach balls myself to become even stronger,” Payton suggests, finishing off the one between her fingers.

“No! No! I’m gonna be strong!” Lucy grabs another ball and stuffs the whole thing into her mouth.

Celia: Celia laughs, ceasing her tickling so that Lucy can eat the spinach balls in peace. She reminds her daughter to chew, please.

GM: Lucy slows down. A bit. But she’s adamant that most of the balls are ‘hers.’

Celia: “Maybe if you ask nicely your great-gramma will give you the recipe, then you and Grammi can make them.”

“I bet,” she stage whispers, “that you can trade her a hug for it.”

GM: Lucy hops off Celia’s lap and approaches her great-grandmother’s chair, who picks the girl up onto her lap. Lucy hugs her.

“Can I have the recipe? Pleeeeease?”

Payton smiles and hugs her back. “Only because you’ve asked so nicely. I’ll give your mother a copy when she’s ready to leave with you.”

Celia: Celia smiles at the pair. It’s an adorable sight. She asks if they wouldn’t mind posing for a photo so she can share with her mother later, and just so that Lucy can have one with her (great-)grandmother.

She doesn’t say anything about Payton’s age—the woman is still young enough that Celia isn’t worried about her keeling over at any moment—but in the back of her head she knows that time will eventually get away from her, and she’d like the mementos when she can snag them.

GM: The pair don’t mind at all. Payton adjusts the child on her lap and says, “Say cheese, Lucy.”

“Cheeeese!” repeats the first grader as Celia’s phone gives its click.

“You should take another one of Lucy showing us how strong she is,” Celia’s grandmother suggests.

Lucy flexes her tiny arms as Payton pinches the muscle with an impressed expression.

Time waits for no one. Celia remembers her grandmother saying: I will also be 80 years old by the time Lucy is 18, assuming I am still alive then, so it would behoove you to find a second and younger co-trustee.

But they have a while yet.

Celia: Celia spends a few moments telling Lucy to do more and more absurd things for the camera, sharing a laugh with her daughter and grandmother.

It’s moments like these that she hates him for taking her from her family.

Still, she’s luckier than most; she can see them, at least, and will be able to long into her own “twilight years” if she has anything to say about it. Mel had commented once that she could keep up the charade so long as she was willing to look like a shriveled old prune, and though Celia had balked at the time—“I would never!”—she’s starting to come around to the idea.

These people are what keep her going.

It’s only after most of the spinach balls (and cookies) are gone and Lucy is somewhere between a sugar coma and sleep that Celia finally fixes her grandmother with a soft look.

“How are you doing, Gramma?”

GM: Payton sighs at that question, then turns on some cartoons for the half-asleep girl to watch. She moves over to the next sofa.

“You’ve read the headlines. This has been a nightmare for so many people. But I haven’t been hospitalized, killed, or had my husband’s death reduced to a journalistic footnote.”

Celia: “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you,” Celia says gently. “The whole city is up in arms over it. I imagine, as a judge, you might eventually have to preside over the case, if it comes to that.”

“There’s also…”

Celia glances at her daughter, then her grandmother.

GM: “I have preemptively recused myself,” Payton answers. “My personal relationship with Detective Gettis prejudices my impartiality, and Carson wishes to preside over the case himself in any event.”

She looks at the child, then back to Celia.

“What of her?”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“Not her. Just making sure she’s absorbed.” The child doesn’t appear to be listening to them; indeed, it looks as if she’s half-asleep. “I just remember that his was the number you gave me during our chat, and he was the one I called when Maxen laid hands on me.”

“It sounded as if you were close.”

GM: “I knew him for some years,” her grandmother answers heavily. “I would hesitate to describe him as a good man, but he was a needed man. He was one of their best detectives and one of the few whose convictions could not be bought. The department is lessened for the loss of his service and the example he set.”

“There was a reason I asked him to handle your father’s arrest.”

Celia: “I recall being… astounded, truly, when I found out that he had already taken my father into custody.”

GM: “There are few other police officers whom I believe would have had the courage or the integrity to make such an arrest.”

Celia: “I’m glad that you sent me to him. I only wish it had been enough.”

GM: “Gettis, like any police officer, could only enforce the law and the decisions of our courts.”

Celia: “This whole thing with those girls…” Celia shakes her head, forces the air from her lungs in a sigh. “They’re going to smear his name. I never met him, you know. He sent someone else to take my statement. But I guess I was just always glad there was someone out there who isn’t afraid to do the right thing, even when it’s difficult.”

GM: “His victims’ families will be right to smear his name. His actions were unconscionable. But the loss of the man he was, and had been for decades, is tragic.”

Celia: “I don’t know what happened between then and now. I can’t imagine it’s easy being a police officer. The stress of the job… that has to weigh on someone, watching people you know deserve to be behind bars get off because of their status or their money.” Her voice is bitter; probably thinking of her father. “I try to wrap my head around it and I just can’t.”

GM: “The job is extraordinarily hard. Police officers have higher rates of suicide, divorce, alcohol abuse, and innumerable other negative health indicators than the general public.”

“You may nevertheless be able to do so better than most.”

Celia: Celia adjusts a pillow beneath Lucy’s face, taking a moment to smile fondly at her sleeping child. She brushes the hair back from her cheek with a light, practiced touch.

Her eyes return to her grandmother, brows lifting.

GM: Payton follows Celia’s gaze, her expression momentarily softening before she turns back to her granddaughter.

“Because you have personally witnessed a miscarriage of justice and experienced its effects.”

Celia: “Ah.” Her smile turns brittle.

GM: Payton looks back towards Lucy. “I hope she does not, but one cannot shelter children forever.”

Celia: “That’s the trouble, isn’t it? We want to protect our children from the horror of the world so that their lives turn out better than our own, so that they can find happiness and peace, but we can hardly hold their hand all throughout it. It is no better to bury our—and thus their—heads in the sand than it is to expose them needlessly by throwing them into the den of a lion.”

Celia smooths her hands down her skirt, tucking it around her thighs.

“I suppose the advantage of being exposed as I was made me more self-reliant than someone who did not go through the same. Strength, and all that.”

GM: “It is a fine line to tread between adversity that builds character and adversity that does not worsen an individual’s quality of life. Circumstance, however, rarely allows us to choose what adversity our children face.”

Celia: “Still,” she says quietly, “I often wonder if I’m making the right choices with her, or if something that I decide to do or not do will cause her undue strife later on. I love my mother, but I will not deny that some of her choices had questionable effects on all her children. We follow the example set by our parents.”

GM: “Perhaps that is a matter you should speak with your mother over, given she is Lucy’s primary caretaker.”

Celia: She thinks to tell her grandmother about that night. The attack. The gun.

But it doesn’t really matter, does it?

“How did you meet him? Gettis, I mean.”

GM: “I met Gettis many years ago at court. I meet many police officers in my line of work.”

Celia: Celia gives her grandmother a wry smile.

“Of course. That makes sense. I dated a boy once who wanted to get into criminal law; I imagine he would have met a lot of officers as well. For what it’s worth, I’m glad you did. He was there when our family needed him, for all that he… well.” She lifts her arms in what is almost a shrug, as if to say ‘what can you do, right?’

GM: “Rarely enough,” her grandmother answers that unspoken question. “I remember that boy. Henry Garrison’s son. His passing was also a tragedy.”

Celia: She can’t help the spasm of pain that crosses her face, or the way her eyes dart toward Lucy.

“It was.”

GM: “He was also there for our family during their time of need. There is no truer measure of a friend.”

Celia: “Best friend I could have asked for. He was… well, I guess it doesn’t matter now.”

“I don’t imagine I’d be the same person I am today if I hadn’t met him.”

GM: “He would have made a fine husband for you.”

Celia: “I loved him,” Celia says quietly. She brushes a hand against her eyes. “I haven’t found anyone since who I can imagine the rest of my life with. Silly, perhaps, to cling to what I once had when there are others who can step into the role.”

GM: “You are still young. Other good men will come.”

Celia: “And for you? Will you spend your twilight years alone?” She looks around at the large, empty house. A gentle smile softens her words.

GM: “I gave my heart to your grandfather. Though God saw fit to take him from me early, we enjoyed many happy years together. It is enough for me to spend my remaining years with my children, grandchildren, and great-granddaughter.”

Celia: “Your daughter says the same. And yet I wonder if she is truly happy.”

Or you, that look says.

GM: “We require love to be happy. My husband loved me. Your mother’s husband did not love her.”

Celia: “Not even when I was little, you think? It seemed like they were happier then.”

GM: Her grandmother’s lips purse. “Perhaps he did, in his way. But that love did not last.”

Celia: “She kept saying the stress of the election got to him.” Celia forces out a sigh. She looks like she wants to bring her feet up onto the couch to wrap her arms around them, but thinks better of the motion.

“I wish he’d never ran.”

GM: “Stress does not ‘get to’ someone. Only get them to show who they are.”

Celia: “His complete and utter turnaround from someone who let his eight year old daughter put makeup and a dress on him to have a tea party with stuffed animals into the person that he became suggests more than it simply hiding inside of him.”

GM: “Perhaps you simply did not know your father as well as you believed. Politics can be a dirty business, but I can think of no political events that would cause a change as total as you describe.”

Celia: “Maybe it wasn’t a political event. His parents died right around then.” She lifts her shoulders in a shrug. “We didn’t see much of his family after that.”

GM: “Perhaps. In any event, it changes little. Your father did what he did and is who he now is.”

Celia: “Following that line of logic, do you think he was always like that underneath, that the stress of the job just uncovered what was already there? Your friend, I mean.”

GM: “Gettis’ motivations are difficult to know. I do know he has no family to speak of. Homicide is one of the most stressful units for a police officer to work in, and he lacked any sort of stabilizing influence in his life. He was known to frequently sleep at his desk. He had nothing except his job.”

Celia: “So, what, he just… cracked?”

GM: “He may have. Socially deviant personality traits among police officers is a topic of some academic research. This has also been, to my view, insufficient research. It is still uncertain to what extent deviant behavior is learned or innate among police. Psychological screening of potential officers is imperfect, police subculture provides a multitude of opportunities for cruel and corrupt behavior on the job, and many officers develop cynical ‘police personalities’ due to the nature of their work.”

Celia: “I read a study once about the type of people who go into law enforcement. How it draws a certain kind of person because of the nature of the job. But that’s the age old question, isn’t it? Are you who you are since birth, or do external environmental factors turn you into someone? But we can look at that in any regard, honestly, not just the career someone chooses.”

GM: “Yes. But whether Gettis was born this way, or made this way, I do not believe that things had to be this way. He should have retired when he became eligible to receive a pension and attempted to find purpose beyond police work.”

Celia: “Do something long enough and it becomes what you live for, though. Like Mom with her dancing.”

“I mean, could you imagine a job outside of being a judge?”

GM: “I am required to imagine that as part of my job. The Louisiana Constitution includes a mandatory retirement age of 70 for judges, with the exclusion of ones who turn 70 while serving their final terms.”

“I will likely do part-time private practice after I quit the bench. Work gives us a necessary sense of purpose.”

“As to your mother, dancing was a waste of her potential. I do not believe her temperament was suited to become a judge, but she could have followed in your grandfather’s footsteps to pursue a more socially contributive and personally and financially rewarding career as a doctor. Perhaps a pediatrician, given her fondness for children.”

Celia: “I can’t imagine Momma as a judge,” Celia says with a wry smile.

“But you’re right. Work, family, it’s what keeps us going.”

Her eyes slide once more toward her daughter, and she smiles again—a fond smile—at the sight of the girl passed out after her sugar rush.

GM: Her grandmother’s eyes follow hers. The smile is fainter, but it is there.

“She always took more after Timothy than me. He wanted to help people.”

“It was a mistake to introduce her to ballet, but what is done is long done.”

Celia: “I wish I had been able to know him. Grandfather, I mean.”

GM: “He was very doting to your mother, aunt, and uncle. Spoiled them rotten. Brought back lollipops from work and carried them on shoulder rides throughout the house.”

Celia: Celia can’t help her grin.

“He sounds lovely.”

GM: “He was. He was a gentle soul. His death was very hard on our children, especially the girls.”

Celia: “Grandma, can I ask you something… personal?”

GM: “Ask.”

Celia: “What happened with you and Mom?”

GM: “We were never as close. Your grandfather left being the disciplinarian to me. Your mother’s relationship with me grew increasingly strained following his death and the inherent rebelliousness of teenage years. I attempted to encourage your mother to explore career paths besides ballet, which she responded poorly to, and assorted other domestic squabbles I won’t bore you with. After I required her to abort you if she were to continue living with me, your father offered her another home, and that was the end of our relationship.”

Celia: “Oh.” Celia thinks that over for a long moment. “I guess I just… don’t understand. I’m the one that was supposed to be aborted and I harbor no ill will toward you. It just always felt like I was missing part of the picture. Didn’t have all the pieces, as it were.”

GM: “I think she may have also been jealous of her brother and sister, and felt unloved and unwanted next to them.”

Celia: “Ah…”

Sibling rivalry. She can relate.

“Lucy doesn’t have a father. Or a grandfather. She has Mom, and she has you, and I just… wish sometimes that we could all be together.”

GM: "I think your mother may have also felt she could never measure up to them. They both went on to respectable careers. Your uncle was also the one to tell me about her pregnancy, which he had overheard your mother telling Prudence in confidence. "

“All of them were stupidly upset over that. It’s hardly as if I wouldn’t have noticed her belly getting larger when we lived together.”

“I agree with you, in any case, that it is so much the worse for Lucy. She would benefit from additional family in her life. And especially male role models.”

Celia: “What do you suggest, in regards to my mother? I’ve brought up mending this bridge multiple times and I’m just…” Celia leans back against the couch. “I’m tired. I’m tired of the fighting. I love you both. Lucy loves you both.”

GM: “What has your mother said, when you have spoken to her?”

Celia: “If I can be frank, that she wants you to apologize. That she could forgive you if you were to say that you were sorry. That she’s angry you didn’t come to see her as the sugar plum fairy, that she’s angry you told her, when her husband put her in the hospital, that it was a good thing, that she could ‘have a real career now.’”

GM: Celia’s grandmother sighs.

“I told your mother no such thing. I did not attend her performances when she made plain I was unwelcome.”

Celia: Celia’s lips flatten into a thin line.

“Can you tell me what happened, then?”

GM: “There is little to tell. She called for me. I came. I told her she could stay at my home and that I would help her find a new career so she could be financially self-sufficient.”

Celia: “Mmm,” Celia says, “it just feels like there’s more to the story that neither one of you will ever speak of.”

“And I guess if you don’t have or can’t trust family, what does that really leave you with?”

“And, frankly, Mom is a bit of a pushover. She gives in on everything… except this.”

GM: “Perhaps it is her sole remaining point of self-worth. Her husband dominated and abused her. Her job does not require her to be adversarial. I am the sole villain in her life she may stand up to. Perhaps she does not like being weak and this is a way she may feel strong.”

“I have been frank with you, in any case, that I believe your mother should have aborted you. I have been frank with your mother that I believe a career in ballet was a waste of her potential. I am also willing to have a relationship with my daughter despite the past conflicts between us. If there is more to the story, I suspect it may lie with your aunt or uncle. They, at least, maintained functional relationships with your mother until she left home.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t quite sigh. She makes a noise, though, that clearly conveys her discontent.

“You’re right, Grandma, and I appreciate your frankness and always have. I just… don’t understand, sometimes, why people do things. Mom with you. Your friend and those girls.” She shakes her head. “My family is fractured enough as it is. I wish Lucy’s didn’t need to be.”

GM: “You can take it from a judge, Celia, that people rarely get the things they wish for.”

Her grandmother glances back towards Lucy. “But I am thankful she has what family she does, and that you were able to bring her into the world without compromising your own professional aspirations.”

Celia: “Me too, Grandma. Me too.”


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, PM

GM: At the mention of her mother, Diana’s lips purse.

“I’d rather not involve her in… things with your father and I.”

Celia: Celia waits, expectant.

GM: “It just really isn’t any of her business.”

Celia: “She’s your mother.”

“You’re involved in my boy business.”

GM: “Well, you want me to be involved in your business, though. You’re here having dinner with us.”

Celia: “Should I invite Grandma next time?”

GM: Her mom glares.

The look reminds Celia of those pictures she’s seen of kittens posing next to lions. Trying to look like the big cats.

‘Trying’ probably sums it up better than ‘glares’ too.

Celia: She’s not so rude as to laugh.

She grins, though.

And hides it with a ducking of her head.

She wonders idly if this is how the elders feel.

GM: So does Emily. “You’re, uh. You might try that in the mirror a couple times, first.”

Celia: She snickers.

GM: Their mom gives a half-sigh, half-huff.

“Well, anyway,” says Emily. “Grandma would probably have to recuse herself, if this ever went to court, but I don’t see it hurting things by getting another legal opinion. You don’t want me to get in trouble for this, right, or kicked out of med school?”

“Oh, no. Of course not, sweetie, absolutely not…”

Celia: Damn, girl. Pride thrums through her at Emily’s words.

GM: Their mom gives another sigh. “Okay, bring it up with her. But I do not want to hear any judgments or ‘told you so’s from her, all right? Please keep those to yourselves.”

Celia: “Why do you think so little of her? I’ve never heard her say anything like that toward you.”

GM: “Oh I’m sure you have,” Diana huffs. “Saying ballet was stupid, all a giant waste…”

Celia: “She didn’t, though. She said she wanted more for you, but when you were accepted into school… she was happy for you, Mom. If you were going to do it she wanted you to do it.”

GM: “She had a funny way of showing it. She didn’t congratulate me, didn’t even smile.”

Celia: “She doesn’t smile at me, either. She’s just… gruff, Mom.”

GM: “Well, I don’t like gruffness. You should be sweet to people. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

“That actually isn’t scientifically true,” says Emily.

Celia: “She’s almost 70 years old, she’s hardly going to change now.”

“Have you seriously been fighting with her for almost thirty years because she doesn’t smile enough?”

GM: “Oh, I dunno,” says Emily. “If you believe Maxen can change from a wife-beating piece of shit into the gentle loving husband you’ve always wanted, it should be a pretty small order for Grandma to be nicer to you too, shouldn’t it?”

Celia: “Right? Like, that’s what I don’t get. You’ll give a second chance to the man who literally tried to saw your leg off, but you won’t give a second chance to your mom?”

GM: Diana opens her mouth, then closes her eyes and holds up her hands to her ears.

“Mom!” Emily exclaims angrily.

Celia: “Did you forget that he’s the reason you don’t have a career? That he’s the reason your daughter landed in the hospital? And your other daughter was raped?”

GM: Diana doesn’t say anything for a few moments.

“Can we please not fight. Can we please just have dinner,” she pleads. “There’s chocolate cake, if y’all are finished…”

Celia: “I’m tired, Mom. I’m tired of fighting about Maxen and grandma. Neither one of you will be honest about what happened. And I’m tired of trying to fix something that you apparently want to stay broken.”

GM: Several more moments pass.

“Ask her about your grandfather.”

Her mother’s voice is quiet. Her eyes look moist.

“Ask her about your grandfather. If you are so determined. To… please, sweetie. I hate fighting you. Please stop fighting every time you’re here. I just want to have a nice dinner with you. Please.”

She sniffs and massages her leg.

Celia: Celia doesn’t quite sigh.

It’s something to go on, at least. A direction to take things if she wants answers.

She’s not sure she does, though. She’s already thinking the worst.

Celia rises from her chair to move around the table, bringing her mother in for a hug. She doesn’t say anything, just holds her mom and rubs a hand down her back.

GM: Her mom squeezes her firmly back, seemingly all-too glad for the hug. Emily gets up after a moment to hug them both. Diana rubs her back too, wrapping one arm around her and Celia.

“How about some cake for my girls?” she smiles after a moment with a last sniff.

Celia: She might have been able to get out of cake if she hadn’t started a fight, but now… well, now that doesn’t look like an option. Unless she storms off in a huff, and it’s already a little late for that. Instead she braces herself for more garbage, smiles politely, and slides back into her seat.

GM: “Sure, I’d love some,” Emily says. She starts clearing away the dishes as Diana replies, “Comin’ right up!” and gets out a baking pan from the fridge, then slices off squares for everyone onto dessert plates. It looks like chocolate mayo cake, judging by the spongy crumb