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Blood & Bourbon

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Celia VI, Chapter VII
Rewards & Punishments

“Why do you love me?”
Celia Flores


Saturday evening, 19 March 2016

GM: Night falls. Celia wakes up on the floor. There are no aches or pains.

The thirst burns within her.

She is ravenous. She is so empty. She must be filled.

She doesn’t recall rising to her feet, but the next moment, she’s staring down at Roderick. Asleep in the bed. His body full of blood. Brujah blood. Hot. Delicious. Thick. So much stronger than mortal piss. She remembers its taste.

The Beast’s roars drown out all rational thought as the red haze descends.

Celia: The Beast wakes on the floor. Above her, the body of her sleeping lover. Blood runs through his veins. Thick. Warm. Potent. It tasted like love once. Like safety.

She wonders how bitter the taste now.

Payback for the way he has treated her. Payback for hurting her last night and thinking that a stray “good girl” is enough of a balm to soothe her hurts.

He has so much to learn about breaking people.

The Beast is up on the bed, teeth at the boy’s throat before seconds have passed. He doesn’t deserve his blood. He is not worthy of it.

It will sustain her.

GM: An eyeblink passes.

Celia comes to with bedding against her face. Vice-like pressure around her throat. Her arms twisted and pinned down behind her. His legs against her belly.

She’s being held down over his knee.

“Pathetic, Celia,” sounds a scornful voice.

“Do I need to chain you up during the day to keep this sort of thing from happening?”

Celia: Nothing.

Not a drop.

Not a single taste of the red. She snarls, thrashing against him, bucking her body to throw him off of her, reaching out with her claws—

She’s still so hungry.

She stills as the words reach through the fog in her brain to wake the girl. The Beast retreats, leaving its mess behind for her to clean up. Ice already cracked, this sort of thing just splinters it further.

But she can’t speak with his hand crushing her windpipe. She doesn’t know why he bothers to ask her questions.

GM: His grip relaxes after he feels the tension depart her body.

Most of it, at least.

Celia: Oh? He doesn’t want to throw her around some more?

Hasn’t he heard she likes it like that?

The expected apology wheezes past her lips, rasping out of her dry throat.

GM: “You need to be corrected for this, Celia. But physical correction will make you an even greater danger to others than you currently are.”

Celia: Corrected.

For being hungry.

For being hungry because he injured her and her body needed the blood to mend because he’s too stupid to know to fix what he breaks.

The girl behind the mask pulls the string on her head, nodding it up and down like the puppet she has become.

She asks if he’ll cuff her, so she doesn’t start something again.

GM: “Tonight, we will sleep apart,” sounds the voice above her head. “You won’t come back to my haven with me. That seems a fitting correction, wouldn’t you say?”

Celia: Good.

Fuck him.

“Yes,” she hears herself say. “That is fitting.”

GM: “You’re a danger to others in your current state. This won’t do. We do not harm innocents.”

He lifts her up from his knee, sitting her by his side on the bed.

Then he holds out his wrist.

“You will be corrected again if you lose control again.”

Celia: He could be good at it, she thinks. If he learned. If he was more ruthless. He is strong enough for it. Smart enough for it.

But weak where it matters.

The girl in the body only nods again, head bobbing up and down, up and down, and falls upon the offered wrist with a flash of her fangs.

GM: All it takes is one taste.

It hits her tongue like an explosion.

Control burns away as the Beast bursts its chains yet again—and when the red haze clears, she’s bent over his knee with a hand around her throat and arms twisted behind her back yet again.

His taste lingers on her tongue.

He’s so generous to her.

So kind to her.

So mindful of her.

He’s making the best decision, in her own interests, in the public’s interests.

He knows what’s best.

He kept her. Even after last night.

Even after all she confessed to.

Celia: He knows what’s best.

He loves her. He wouldn’t correct her if he didn’t want her to be better. He wouldn’t waste his time on her if he didn’t think she had potential.

And she’s grateful for the blood. Grateful that he is able to control her rage so that she doesn’t hurt anyone else.

She stops struggling when the Beast has finished taking what it wants.

GM: “You lost control again, Celia,” he says patiently after he releases her.

“This will be corrected. Additionally, I don’t believe in rewarding bad behavior. So those hits won’t be free.”

“We will spend the next five nights apart—one for every hit I gave you, two for both losses of control. But for every hit you bring me, we will reduce your sentence by one night. Bring me five hits, and we can even spend tonight together. Does that seem fair?”

Celia: Her heart wrenches at the words.

Five nights.

Blood seeps from her eyes at the thought. She curls her body in on itself once she’s free, knees drawn up to her chest. Her hair falls into her face to hide it from his view when she nods.

“Y-yes, Roderick.”

GM: “Good,” he says.

He rises from the bed.

“I’m going to shower now. That’s a sexual activity, so we can’t do that together until we resolve our outstanding relationship issues.”

He smiles.

“But you’ve been good in accepting your corrections tonight. So how would you like to pick out my clothes for me?”

Celia: “I don’t know what you have planned tonight,” Celia says from behind the curtain of her hair, “and I don’t want to pick the wrong thing.”

GM: “Hmm. I’ll tell you what, then. You can pick out my clothes for the dinner with your father on Sunday. I don’t enjoy the thought of listening to his lies and excuses for several hours, but I think attending may be worthwhile after all.”

Celia: “I’ll let my mother know you’re coming.”

GM: “Good,” he smiles. “I’ll look forward to seeing her and the rest of your family.”

Celia: Maybe she’ll take it away from him if he steps out of line.

GM: He heads off into the shower.

Celia: Celia moves toward his closet. Maybe there’s something interesting inside.

GM: Just clothes, as far as she can see, trending towards the preppy style he prefers.

It’s a much smaller closet than her own.

Celia: Her father used to throw out her clothes when she misbehaved. Maybe she can tell Roderick so he can do the same.

GM: Average number of clothes for a guy in his.

Celia: She looks for a dresser.

GM: She finds one.

Celia: She checks that, too.

GM: More clothes, all neatly pressed and folded, each sock rolled up with its matching sibling.

Celia: She quickly loses interest in the snooping. No doubt he’ll catch her. No doubt he put everything away when he knew she was coming over.

Maybe there’s nothing interesting to find, anyway.

It doesn’t take her long to find an outfit for him suitable for Sunday’s dinner. That’s one thing she has always been good at: fashion. Looking presentable. She has it set aside for him when he comes back from the shower, hanging separately from his other clothing on the bar in the closet so he doesn’t need to search for it tomorrow. No doubt he’d make her put it away if she were to have pulled it out for him and cite that only slobs keep clothes laying out.

Dark slacks, a button-down shirt, a v-neck sweater to go over it with the cuffs of his sleeves and collar exposed. A thick leather belt (no part of her thinks about him bringing it to bear on her exposed bottom, or how her flesh would jiggle with every blow, or how her pale skin would turn red) that matches the plain toe bluchers she has picked out from a distant spot in his closet. Form fitting, it will hug his shoulders and tapered waist, showing off his physique.

It’s missing something. She knows exactly what. She’ll rectify that before she meets him.

She waits on the bed for him when he’s done in the shower, still in the sheer teddy from the night before. She’d thought about changing, but then he’d ask why she doesn’t want a shower, though now she wonders if it’s presumptuous of her to assume he will let her use his.

The rules are ever-changing in this game of theirs. She needs to learn them quickly.

She’s not lounging, not splayed out like some sort of pinup girl, just sitting on the edge of the bed with her hands tucked beneath her thighs. Waiting.

GM: Roderick comes back after a brief shower. He’s got a towel wrapped around himself. Perhaps ‘no looking’ also falls under ‘no sex.’ He looks over the clothes approvingly.

“Good choices, Celia. These are very appropriate for a dinner with my girlfriend’s family.”

Celia: “You’ll need a new wardrobe,” Celia says without inflection once she sees the towel. “For your new identity. It’s something people don’t think about until it gets them into trouble. I never wear the same clothing as Jade that I do as Celia. The two have distinct styles. Yours will need to as well.”

“You should also give some consideration to which clan you’d like to pose as. Generally it’s easier if you have some talents of the clan you wish to emulate. Caitiff is easiest of all, but they have zero respect and I would advise against it. You could do Brujah again if you’d like. You’re fast and can use star mode, so Toreador is on the table, but I’d advise against it if you don’t plan on pursuing any artistic endeavors, as they lack remorse and compassion to anyone they think is a poseur.”

GM: “Yes, I’d put some thought into my clan and lineage. That’s also a very good suggestion, Celia. I wouldn’t have used my favorite clothes, but a completely different personal style will help keep the identities distinct. Buying a new wardrobe hadn’t occurred to me.”

He sits down next to her.

“I think you should get a reward for that suggestion. What would you like?”

Celia: “I can teach you to shift,” she continues, “but Jade wouldn’t date a Gangrel long term. I told you about Veronica’s reaction to my krewe.”

GM: “Yes, but that’s because they had multiple Caitiff. Gangrel are about as respected as Brujah, given how far so many of us have fallen these nights. How you comport yourself and what lineage you claim matters more than your clan.”

“If you’re a Camarilla clan, anyway.”

Celia: “Jade doesn’t date long term. Not for years. She has flings, gets bored, and moves on. It’s an image I’ve projected for years. A shift overnight will look askance and draw unwanted questions and attention, insofar as much as anyone cares about what goes on in my bed. I haven’t been caught because I haven’t been sloppy.”

Except that one time.

GM: “Then my new identity won’t have a public relationship with Jade. You can give me other faces for when we want to do things in public together.”

Celia: “It’s a lot of juice to continue to change your face,” she says frankly.

“But my curiosity extended towards what you’d like me to do with others.”

GM: “We’ll split the costs and not do it every night.”

Celia: “Nights ago you said you’d cover your end.”

GM: “For Kindred-related activities. If we want to be seen in public together for dates, you can cover that. I may also cover the costs when you’ve been good.”

Celia: She bristles.

“My cover,” she says through teeth that may soon become clenched, “is just as important as yours.”

GM: “You’re starting to sound like you’re arguing with me, Celia,” Roderick says calmly. “We don’t have arguments anymore.”

Celia: “I am not arguing. I am seeking accommodation and agreement on something that will protect us both.”

GM: “I will pay the costs when you change my face to my new Kindred identity. I may pay the costs on other occasions when you are well-behaved. This discussion is over.”

Celia: Her claws itch to make themselves known.

She breathes, searching for the edges of her mask. She pulls it more tightly around herself, securing the girl inside.

“Yes, Roderick. I understand. Thank you. I was overwhelmed by the amount that I feel I owe you, but you have made me realize that this is fair.”

GM: “Good,” he says.

“Now, I said you were due a reward for the good suggestion you just made. What would you like?”

Celia: Sex.

With him. Or with someone else. She’s not particular.

She doesn’t say it, though.

He’d only turn her down.

And she can only handle so many rejections.

GM: So he waits.

“Take your time, Celia.”

Celia: “I want to go on a date,” she finally says. “I want… I want to be how it was for a night. Or I want you to put your arms around me and tell me that it’s okay because I don’t think it is right now and I’m afraid I’m going to fall apart and I need… I need you.”

GM: Roderick hugs her. She feels his strong arms around her, holding her close. One of his hands strokes her hair and she hears the smile in his voice.

“Oh, Celia.”

“You don’t need to spend rewards on that.”

“It’s going to be okay, Celia. We have a plan. We are going to make things right. Our relationship will be stronger than ever once it’s done, and we’ll move ahead politically, too. We’re going to be partners. We’re going to rise high in Savoy’s court and we will never stop loving each other. Nothing will stop us. Nothing.”

“I love you very much. I want the best for us.”

Celia: It’s enough to make her crumble. She clings to him once his arms are around her, burying her face against his chest, eyes leaking once more. She’s silent as she cries. There’s no uneven breathing, no shoulders shaking, no noisy hiccups or snot running down her face. Just the red. He can smell it, she can smell it, the coppery tang of her broken emotions streaking down her cheeks to stain his skin. She’s tiny in his arms.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers, voice cracking on the words. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Why, she wants to ask him. Why do you love me?

But she doesn’t want to know it’s because she’s a night doctor. She doesn’t want to know it’s because he likes her family. She wants to think that it’s for her. That this one time something in her Requiem is for her, not for her connections, not for what she can do, but for her.

GM: “I know you are, Celia,” he answers, hugging her close. “It’s okay. I know you want to make things right. We will make them right. I have so many plans for us. Things won’t just be okay. Things will be better than ever. I’m looking forward to our future together. I know you are too.”

Celia: She nods her head at his words, up and down, down and up, like a bobble-head on someone’s dash. She wants it to be back to normal. She wants a future with him. She’d begged her sire to leave him alone when he’d wanted to kill him.

But that was before she realized the extent of his damage.

Before he told her she’s stupid.

Before he put her in the microwave.

But she asks, in a faltering, stuttering way, if he’ll tell her about the future he imagines. About them.

And if he doesn’t want to, if he thinks she won’t understand, she asks if he’ll sleep with her. Now. Before the rest of their night begins. Just once. To take the edge off. To help her focus.

GM: “I think you will understand the essential pieces of it,” he answers her. “But it will take time to explain, and we have more things to discuss, as well as other things to do tonight.”

“Sex is off-limits until we resolve the biggest outstanding issues in our relationship. We will have sex again once those are resolved.”

“But if you would like to spend your reward on sex right now, we can have sex right now.”

Celia: “It’s not a chore?” she asks quietly, desperately. “You want it, but not right now, not because of what happened, what I did? It’s not me, it’s what I did?”

GM: “That’s right, Celia,” he answers, rubbing her back. “I do want to share blood with you. I enjoy it very much. It hurts me as well when we can’t.”

“But I’m willing to go without so that you can learn to do better.”

“So that things get better for us later by making sacrifices now.”

Celia: She wants it. She wants him. Now. She wants him, wants his blood, wants his body. Wants to pretend that everything is okay for just a moment.

“Please,” she says to him, “please, I want you.”

GM: “Of course, Celia,” he answers, stroking her back again. “You’ve earned your reward by offering a very good suggestion. I’m happy to have sex with you now.”

Celia: He makes it sound so romantic.

Her desire fizzles.

She’s left empty. Numb.

She had a chance and she ruined it. He had a chance and he ruined it.

GM: “Hmm?” he asks, stroking her back again. “How would you like to do it? You get to pick.”

“You’ve been a good girl.”

Celia: A good girl.

Like a dog.

Her heart withers. She’ll never be his equal again. He’ll never see her as anything but a weight stone around his neck. An anchor that drags him down. Holds him back. He’ll resent her. Forever.

Like Maxen.

Like Paul.

She wants her sire. She wants his arms. His lips. His fangs.

Celia doesn’t respond, not verbally. She leans in to press a kiss against his jaw, his cheek, the corner of his mouth. His lips.

GM: His lips meet hers, hungrily, forcefully. Dog or not, the desire is there. His hands swiftly move to peel her out of the teddy and discard his towel. He pushes her back-first onto the bed, then trails his mouth down her neck, down her chest, nipping and kissing and drawing coppery pinpoints of blood. His mouth moves over her left breast as he sucks her nipple. Strong hands hungrily caress her body, feel her naked flesh against his palms.

Celia: She’d almost told him no. Almost told him that she wants something else. Another reward. Something that doesn’t make her feel like sleeping with her is a chore.

It’s never a chore. She’s Celia Flores. Jade Kalani. Men and licks alike fall to their knees to worship her like the goddess of pleasure that she is.

But the desire is there. And the way he strips her from her clothing tells her how he wants it. Her nipples stiffen beneath his touch; some part of her mind thinks the word pervert, but he hadn’t said anything last night, and he hadn’t said anything yet tonight, and she isn’t going to pretend to be someone she isn’t. Not around him. Not when she has spilled the rest of herself to him. Liquid pools between her thighs. Her back arches, lifting her body into his touch, and the soft sighs and needy gasps leave her mouth as his hands and fangs move down her body.

GM: He pleasures her nipples, alternating between long sucks from each one as his fangs leave bright pinpricks of blood over her breasts. But his hands and fangs descend ever lower. He squeezes her firm and shapely ass checks as he plants nips and kisses down her stomach, down her belly, down her groin. He alternates between her inner thighs, drawing steadily closer to her wet and eager sex. His tongue flecks out again as he lowers his head between her legs.

Celia Flores, Jade Kalani, twin masks of the goddess of pleasure, each demand her due.

Her worship.

Perhaps he thought once to deny her. To refuse her.

Foolish man. Foolish lick.

None can deny the goddess her due.

Even when they think they are in charge.

The bedroom is her temple, her body her altar, and anyone with a working dick between their legs an eager postulant, whether they know it or not.

The goddess demands her due.

She receives it.

Roderick worships her.


Saturday evening, 19 March 2016

GM: Eventually, the lovers are finished, and lie spent and bleeding and satiated upon the coppery- and sex-smelling sheets. Roderick turns to regard her with a hand resting against his head.

“Now where were we?”

Pillow talk.

Another chamber in the goddess’ temple.

Celia: She takes the advantage when she can, and the bedroom has long been her domain.

“Identities,” Celia says. “Protecting ours by keeping up appearances.”

GM: “Yes,” he says. “That should be easy enough. We’ll continue taking precautions and not be seen together.”

Celia: “Mm,” she says idly, stretching her arms above her head. Her back arches with the movement. Just like it had when he’d buried his face between her thighs, lapping at blood and sex alike.

There’s no delicate way to ask, not for most people. But sex is Celia’s forte and she has just shown him how marvelous it can be. She brings up Josua and Marcel in a roundabout way, taking care to mention her ruse as Veronica’s childe and how bringing the exiled prince over will serve them in the long term and turn a potential foe into a friend. It’s a small amount of seduction for a large long term benefit. Surely that big brain of his sees how it benefits them and Savoy both.

GM: A dark look passes over his face at her initial request.

He doesn’t like it.

Another lick touching Celia.

Being intimate with her.

He doesn’t like that at all.

But Celia asks so very nicely.

The bedroom is her temple.

“As long as I’m also there for it,” he answers.

His voice is very slow.

Celia: Celia considers the request.

It’s not a no. And he’d said the same thing about her taking kine lovers. Taking ghoul lovers. He wants to be there. To monitor. To watch, to enjoy, to experience.

How could he not? She’s shown him what it’s like to be in bed with her. How good she can make him feel. He said it hurts to not be with her, which might have been a line, but her little reminder here only served to hammer home how much he’s going to be missing out on while they fix their relationship.

It’s a step in the right direction, isn’t it?

And she does so enjoy being shared.

She gives him a shy smile, as if she hasn’t had three threesomes in a single night, and nods her head.

“I’d like you to be there, too. It doesn’t mean anything when I’m not in love with them. It might be harder with the prince, but I’ll find a way to make it work. For you. For us.” She takes advantage of his offered reward to nuzzle his neck, trailing a line of kisses from jaw to collarbone. “I love you, Roderick. I love that you’re gracious enough to work with me on everything.”

“I was scared you wouldn’t accept me if you knew. About my sire. My dad. The multiples. The sex. I was so afraid I’d lose you forever. I shouldn’t have been. I should have just told you everything from the beginning. I don’t want to hide things from you anymore, even if they’re awful things. Can you forgive me?”

GM: “I love you too, Celia. I can always forgive the truth,” Roderick answers, stroking her cheek.

“Your father deserved what you did to him.”

“So did your sister.”

Celia: Oh. She’d never really considered it like that.

GM: “She set up your mother to get raped and mutilated by your father. It’s poetic justice that she should experience the same treatment. At the same man’s hands, no less.”

“Your father is an even bigger scumbag than she is. He deserves even worse.”

Celia: “Roderick? My mom is worried that he’s going to take Lucy.”

She tells him about the vision her mother had had. The falling, which came true, and then Maxen stealing Lucy. She doesn’t remember if she’d already told him, and she apologizes if it’s a repeat. She’d shared so much with him lately that it’s blurring together.

GM: “You’d mentioned,” he said.

“He has ample motive to.”

Celia: “Sorry,” she repeats. “I’m worried about it is all.”

GM: “A wife and granddaughter would be good props on the campaign trail. And he will need a first lady.”

Celia: “I’d wondered if that’s why he reached out. It seems like he took the time to set up things, with the adoption and medical options for Mom and all, but reconciling with his estranged wife and daughter will look better than not. And if not, he could find out about Lucy and say she’d been stolen from him… Make himself look like a victim, maybe? Sympathy.” She doesn’t know if that’s what he is or was planning.

But it’s something he could have thought about.

GM: “Their remarriage would offer more opportunities to see him. On the other hand, a governor’s daughter can already see him, and we haven’t established how we can use him or towards what ends.”

“There are obviously many things a governor can do, but ‘mere’ neonates like us are not able to leverage those opportunities as effectively. It’s like giving a million dollars to a man off the street versus a Wall Street banker. The latter will be able to do more with it.”

Celia: “Marcel still has dealings in Baton Rouge and the political world, I think. So does Defallier. Or… it’s possibly an opportunity for Lord Savoy…?”

Or her sire.

“But, um, you said to think about it, and we can revisit.”

GM: “I wonder if it would be more productive to simply charge other licks favors for access to him,” Roderick muses. “That already happens in real life. Special interests try to woo the sons and daughters of politicians. Invite them to sit on corporate boards, invest in their projects, buy things from their companies, and the like. So Junior will put in a good word with dear old Dad. It’s essentially how modern bribery works.”

“There aren’t really any laws to speak of regulating that sort of thing. Unlike giving politicians briefcases of cash or other direct gifts.”

“I’d expect Flawless to see an uptick in business when people know it’s owned by the governor’s daughter.”

Celia: She’d been wondering the same but had thought it was a stupid idea. So she hadn’t brought it up. But she nods along with his, because he explains it better than she can.

“There’s still the Baton Rouge licks to deal with. And the Nosferatu. They might want to muscle in on him.”

And her sire, though she’d never charge him favors for this sort of thing. Maybe he’ll have a better suggestion for her. She’s been meaning to talk to him about it.

“Yes,” she says about Flawless. “He and I had spoken about doing some social media content together, as well.”

GM: “The Nosferatu are the difficult part,” Roderick frowns. “If Jade goes around using Celia to make connections between the governor and other licks’ prize pawns, the sewer rats will eventually find out.”

“What would you do then if you were Lawrence Meeks?”

Celia: “You said they probably snooped on my spa. I’m concerned they already know everything. The archon said the same.”

GM: “Yes, they snoop everywhere. When was the last time you swept it for eavesdropping devices?”

Celia: “Um. The time with Randy when we found the bug and the thin-blood.”

GM: “There you go. People will plant bugs in places they know you regularly spend time at.”

Celia: “I thought about having Pete put some wards in or something for me, I don’t know if it would cover that large an area or if there’s anything like that to keep out licks.”

GM: “You’d have to ask him. Only real solution I know is periodic mundane sweeps.”

“Which you should do regardless of whether wards are possible or not.”

Celia: “I’ll need another security guy,” Celia says with a long sigh. “Randy usually handled it. I don’t suppose there’s a little signal jammer that will affect bugs but not phones or other devices like they have in movies. I can check with Rusty.”

GM: “There are jammers that make electronics usage impossible. Cletus Lee Boggs had that set up in his haven when I visited Slidell. Telecommunications there simply don’t work.”

Celia: “Oh. Maybe I can talk to him about it then.”

GM: “Do that. Don’t get all of your input just from Rusty.”

Celia: “But you asked what I’d do if I were Lawrence Meeks, and I’d take out the ghoul or pawn or lick interfering in my business, or tell the lick whose pawn it is about it so they can deal with it too. Send a message. Find who they are, what they care about. Destroy it. Rip it out root and stem.”

There’s a pause, then,

“I could go as Isabel.”

Easy enough to pass as Isabel, isn’t it? Just be a cunt.

GM: “But you run into the same issue if you want to arrange access for other licks’ pawns with the governor.”

“The Nosferatu eventually finds out that a lick uses Isabel to help other licks.”

“Two options I see. One, don’t involve other licks. Leverage favors and enrich ourselves through just breathers. Two, cut a deal with Meeks.”

Celia: “As Jade, or as an older lick?”

GM: “The Nosferatu are very well-informed. You might be able to fool them. You also might not.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“I’ll think about it, then, and we can revisit my father and Baton Rouge. I like the suggestion, though. Thank you.”

GM: “The third option would be to bring in Savoy and negotiate as his representatives,” Roderick muses. “He gets a cut of whatever deal we reach, but we have a stronger bargaining position.”

Celia: “He might not want to talk to me about my father.”

GM: “And why would he not want to talk about your father in this context, Celia?”

Celia: “Because I failed to take him out before and Preston told me that he isn’t inclined to waste his time on the same subject.”

GM: “You’re being stupid again, Celia.”

Celia: Any remnants of afterglow from their time together slip away. She’s left cold. Hollow. Wooden.

“I’m sorry.”

GM: “The circumstances were different. There’s profit in this for him.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick. I understand. Thank you for explaining.”

GM: He smiles and strokes her cheek.

“That’s what I’m here for, Celia. To help you understand. To help you.”

“This is another way you could demonstrate usefulness to him.”

Celia: Celia leans into the touch, eyes closing briefly at the contact. Just a girl in love with a boy who wants to better herself and build a future together.

“I’d like to be useful to him.”

GM: “I’ve had so many good ideas, haven’t I? Becoming his new party organizer, and now this.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick. You’ve given me a lot to think about. You’re very intelligent and I have so much to learn from you.”

GM: “Regardless of how we proceed with your father, I don’t think enacting large-scale policy changes through him is immediately feasible or in our interests,” Roderick considers. “We can just use his position to enrich ourselves and advance our personal projects. The way children of politicians and the significant others of those children already do.”

“If you wanted to turn Flawless into a larger business with three or more locations, he can facilitate that.”

Celia: “He mentioned assisting with the second location and cutting through whatever red tape I needed help with,” Celia confirms.

GM: “It’s not simply what he can directly do for you, Celia. It’s other people wanting to do you assorted favors and help you get richer in order to get closer to him.”

“This is how political bribery works in the 21st century.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t bother explaining that she’d meant it was an immediate thing he could do for her and that his real estate connections could help her build her domain into better feeding grounds. She just nods her head.

Smile and nod. Just smile and nod.

GM: “We need to establish an identity for me as Celia’s mortal boyfriend,” Roderick says. “A long-term one. Better, her husband.”

Celia: “I’ve begun mentioning a new boyfriend as Celia. I haven’t given him much identifying information yet, I didn’t know what you’d want to do there. It’s usually good to stick to something you’re familiar with in case it ever comes up in conversations, but something useful in the breather world as well. Influential. There will be some attention on her new boyfriend and husband because of her online presence, and the possible connection to the governor. It can be better to assume someone else’s identity if they’re no longer using it since that comes with connections and friends and a background built in.”

GM: “Yes, I’d still want to be a lawyer, for a variety of reasons,” Roderick answers. “Falsifying a law degree and bar association membership is a lot of trouble, though. It would be simpler just to assume another lawyer’s identity.”

Celia: “Do you have someone in mind? I can look for possible candidates. Would you prefer to be from here or elsewhere?”

“There are advantages to both.”

GM: “I need to be someone who’s passed the bar exam in Louisiana,” Roderick answers. “Lawyers generally aren’t allowed to practice law in multiple states without passing the bar in each state. Louisiana will provisionally admit some out-of-state lawyers if they have the right connections or jump through enough hoops.”

Celia: “Oh. You need to retake the bar exam if you ever move? It can’t just be transferred? You can transfer medical degrees.”

GM: “It varies. Some states have reciprocity agreements with other states, which means lawyers can essentially transfer their bar association status. California offers a shorter bar exam for lawyers who are admitted in other states and who have been in good standing as an attorney in those states for at least four years prior to their application.”

“Louisiana has no reciprocity agreements, or shorter exam like California. Out-of-state lawyers get admitted to the bar association on a largely arbitrary case-by-case basis.”

“But it’s more than some states do. Arizona simply won’t let anyone practice law who hasn’t passed the Arizona bar exam.”

Celia: “So someone in Louisiana,” Celia muses. “I have a connection at a law office. I’ll see if I can find someone for you. I suppose we’ll need to do this quickly since you’re coming tomorrow.”

“Dani might be able to help. Are we going to tell her everything?”

“About us, I mean.”

GM: “These restrictions also aren’t without valid basis. Human bodies are human bodies regardless of what state you’re in. But most law in the U.S. is state law rather than federal law. Approximately 90% of all criminal law is state law. Laws can vary significantly between states.”

“But yes. We will need to do this quickly. By Sunday.”

“Look into your connection there. I’ll look into things too. If there isn’t a suitable option, we can create a new identity and I can just take the bar again.”

Celia: Celia wonders when she’s going to possibly fit it into her schedule this evening. She nods all the same. She’ll figure it out.

GM: “Or we could reschedule the dinner. Or cancel it. We don’t actually need the rest of your family.”

Celia: “It was mostly to figure out Maxen. But I’ll see what we can find tonight and talk to my mom if I need to about it.”

“Speaking of degrees, though… I found a few at Tulane that might be interesting. But you mentioned you wanted to talk about the multiples. And my sire. And the demons.”

GM: “Tell your mom to cancel the dinner if we can’t decide on a suitable identity tonight. This dinner is basically for her anyway, since you said Emily doesn’t want to be there and Lucy won’t be there.”

“And yes. We can discuss degrees after tonight.”

“Dani doesn’t need to know anything beyond that we’re together.”

Celia: “She knows about Celia and Jade. Will she know about Roderick and your new face and your new Bourbon face?”

“I don’t want to accidentally tell her something I shouldn’t.”

GM: “Is there a reason she needs to know? Is there a benefit to her knowing?”

Celia: “No benefit besides not lying when I speak with her about things, and inviting her to the wedding, et cetera. Social ease. I can keep it to myself.”

GM: He considers. “Roderick can’t get married to Celia or Jade. The mortal identity will the one we marry under.”

“Dani can know about the mortal identity. She won’t know about the Bourbon identity.”

Celia: “Roderick? Are we going to have a Kindred and kine wedding? Or just the kine?”

GM: “Kine. There’s no Kindred I trust enough to invite. Not anymore.”

The words have some bitterness.

Celia: “I’m sorry,” Celia says quietly. Gently. “I’m sorry about… about everything with her.”

GM: “It’s opened my eyes.”

“To so much.”

Celia: Celia nods. She holds him, if he lets her, but otherwise lapses into silence.

GM: He lets her. But continues to talk.

“You suffer from dissociative identity disorder, Celia. You’re clinically insane. We need to treat this.”

Celia: Clinically insane. The words hammer home, echoing inside of her mind. Clinically. Insane.

Insane.

CraaaaAaAAAAZZzzyyy, someone giggles.

She could have stayed with the dolls. She would have had a place there. Would have been accepted there.

They keep me safe, she’d said.

They let her pass as who she needs to be. They fill in the cracks and missing pieces so that she’s whole again.

“There’s no fugue state,” Celia offers.

“How can you love me if I’m insane,” she asks him, leaning back far enough to see his face, to search for an answer in his eyes. “How can you love me like this?”

GM: “Can you love someone in a wheelchair? Someone with cancer? Someone with a missing arm?” Roderick asks, taking her hand in his. “It’s a disease of the mind rather than a disease of the body. Nothing more or less. We will overcome this, Celia. We will fix you.”

Celia: “Wha… what if they don’t want to be fixed? What if they help? What if they… they let me do things I can’t without them?”

“Harlequin… Harlequin said it’s just masking. And I’ve read that people who grew up like I did… people with abusive situations… they disassociate, and it helps them… helps them cope. And it helps them learn how to blend in. And that helps me with who I need to be in our society, so I can be Celia, or be Jade, or be Donovan’s childe, or Veronica’s childe, or Roderick’s lover.”

GM: “‘They’ are constructs of your mind, Celia,” Roderick answers patiently. “‘They’ do not exist without you. ‘They’ are you. ‘They’ have no wants or powers that you do not have yourself. Everything you ascribe to ‘them’ is already part of you. Do you want to be fixed?”

Celia: “I… I don’t know. I don’t know what it looks like without all the pieces of me. My mom… she had something cut out of her, and she’s… she’s different than she was. What if I’m different? What if I’m weak? What if I’m still stupid and no longer have anything that makes me able to adapt and fit and thrive and I become a burden? What if you don’t love me anymore?”

GM: “Your mother was tortured by a Malkavian who did God knows what to her, Celia. You were not. Nothing in you is missing. You are whole. Everything in your secondary personalities is part of who you already are. We must re-incorporate them back into your primary personality.”

Celia: “I don’t… I don’t want you to kill people. Or hurt people. You’re not that person. But I already am. You said so. That I’m corrupt. I want to be able to… to do that for you, if you need me to, to keep you pure, and what if I can’t..?”

GM: Roderick smiles, but there’s little warmth in it.

“I’m quite willing to hurt or kill a corrupt person, Celia.”

“I’m over those hunters.”

Celia: “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

GM: “They tried to kill us. They reaped what they sowed.”

Celia: “You’re a good person, Roderick.”

GM: “Of course I am.”

“But I’m not a pacifist any longer, Celia.”

“If I wake up again with a stake over my heart, I’ll happily kill whoever is pointing it there and dump their body in the Gulf.”

Celia: “It eats at you. Every time you kill. Every time you hurt. Every time you torture. It eats at your soul until things like that no longer faze you.”

GM: “There is nothing I would ask of you that I am unwilling to do myself, Celia.”

“We can hurt and kill the corrupt. We spare the innocent.”

“It’s such a simple distinction many Kindred don’t care enough to even make.”

Celia: “Maybe they did. And maybe at some point they stopped caring. I don’t want you to stop caring.”

GM: “I am guided by principles and convictions. I will not abandon those.”

Celia: Until he does.

GM: “Now. We are going to cure your insanity. We are going to fix this.”

Celia: “How?”

GM: “With an expert’s help, of course. We need to consult a mental health professional. I’m no more qualified to treat this myself than I am to perform surgery.”

Celia: “A lick?”

GM: “Potentially. Or a ghoul. I don’t think a breather is qualified to treat you. It’d be like a surgeon operating on a lick they’re assuming is human.”

“I will look into things and search for a suitable mental health professional.”

Celia: All of the different parts of her rebel at the thought. But the puppet master pulls the strings and the girl’s head bobs up and down, and she says it again, the same phrase she’s been using since she was a child:

“Yes, Roderick.”

GM: “Tell Dani and your mother about your multiple personalities. The first step to fixing a problem is acknowledging its existence. They can also lend emotional support.”

Celia: “Mom knows.”

GM: “Good. Tell her anything you’ve left out.”

Celia: Another pull. Another head nod.

GM: “You will also need to stop spending time with Malkavians. They will make your problem worse.”

Celia: “I don’t generally spend time with Malkavians anymore.”

GM: “You mentioned seeing Harlequin tonight. Don’t do that. He’s probably the most harmful of them all to talk to.”

Celia: “I was hoping he could help me fix my mom.”

GM: “How?”

Celia: “The librarian told me that he knows what happens to masks and multiples when they die.”

“And Lucy has things to say.”

“I wanted to know what she has to say.”

GM: Roderick frowns.

“How do you know ‘Lucy’ is real and not a projection?”

Celia: “She speaks to me.”

“She saved me.”

“She told me to run.”

GM: “I mean a literal projection. She could be a Malkavian-created figment.”

Celia: “My mother was sent to the dollhouse by her mother. For acting out. Stealing a car. And guns? I think guns. Mom said Lucy has been with her since birth. But Lucy said her birthday is nine months before mine. She told the librarian. We got her a library card. She likes the same books Mom likes. But the dolls aren’t supposed to drink, and Mom was drinking, and that’s why I’m here.”

GM: Roderick slowly shakes his head.

“I don’t doubt that a Malkavian did awful things to your mother. But I am very skeptical you can fix them with more help from Malkavians.”

“It’s like putting out a fire with gasoline.”

Celia: “The crystal ball said the Giovannini could help.”

GM: “You mean the fortune-teller?” Roderick frowns. “The Giovannini are… distasteful. But I suppose they’re sane, at least.”

Celia: “The fortune teller told me you’d put me in chains and rip out my tongue,” Celia says with a nod.

GM: “I wouldn’t do that, Celia, unless you did something truly awful. Like cheating on me again.”

Celia: “But also you still had sex with me. So that’s something.”

GM: “Actually, I’d probably just end our relationship.”

Celia: “She said you’re—”

Celia cuts off at the words.

“Oh.”

GM: “So that prediction seems baseless.”

Celia: “Grandsire implied he wanted to have sex with me this evening.”

GM: “No.”

Celia: “No.”

GM: “Do I need to use a shorter word?”

Celia: “No? I confirmed your no. I confirmed I heard. I confirmed I understood.”

GM: “Good.”

Celia: “Good,” Celia echos. “I’ll be good.”

“Good girls get rewards. Bad girls get corrected. Badder girls get left.”

GM: “That’s exactly right, Celia. Good girls get rewarded too. I don’t want our relationship to only consist of corrections and ultimatums.”

“I want you to be good. I want to reward you. I want to reward you all the time.”

He pulls her into his arms.

“It’s a reward for me too, to make you happy.”

He kisses her head.

“One of the best in my unlife.”

The best in my unlife.”

Celia: “Leila thinks you’re very romantic,” Celia murmurs against his skin. “She loves you like I do. I want to be the best in your unlife. I want to be rewarded. I want to make you happy.”

GM: Roderick pulls away.

“Leila isn’t real, Celia. You make me happy when you acknowledge this. You make me unhappy when you don’t.”

Celia: “Leila isn’t real,” Celia repeats.

GM: He hugs her again.

“I know you’re trying, Celia.”

“I’ll help you every step of the way.”

Celia: “We’ll do it together. You love me. I love you. We’re together. Always.”

GM: He plants a tender kiss on her lips.

“Always.”

View
Celia VI, Chapter VI
Dancer in the Dark

“I lied to everyone. I hurt people. I have killed people. I am selfish and lustful.”
Celia Flores


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

GM: Eventually, the water starts to drain.

Glug-glug-glug.

Celia: She watches it swirl. It pulls at her fur, pulls at her tail. She wishes she were small enough to go with it.

GM: She sees a towel descend. Feels it start to dry her off.

That hurts, too.

The cat feels motion underneath it. The boy is lifting out the microwave dish.

He carries it to the couch.

Sets it down.

“You can turn back into a person now, Celia.”

She’ll be lying flat on her belly in this position.

Celia: The towel sloughs off more of her fur and skin. The cat whines as it detaches from her body.

Change back. Become a girl again. She doesn’t want to. She wants him to shove her back in the cage. She should have stayed there. It’s where she belongs.

But she doesn’t fight the voice that tells her what to do. He’s in charge. He’s smarter. He’s helping.

The cat becomes a girl.

And the girl curls in on herself to make her body smaller. She tries not to cry. She knows he hates it.

But the fur hid the burns that stand out on her hairless skin. Red. Shiny. Wet.

Or at least it is on the spots that have skin left. Some of it came out with the fur that he rubbed off with the towel. Stupid. Don’t rub burns. She was always better at bodily care. If she were human it would blister over, burning through the epidermis and dermis into the third layer. Hypodermis. The little bit of fat that separates the dermis from the muscle. It’s white on most humans, that fat, but here… here it’s black. Burnt. Like bacon left in the pan too long.

The cells are dead.

So is the rest of her. But it usually doesn’t hurt this much.

GM: Roderick looks down at her.

There’s an odd expression on his face.

“You chose this,” he says after a moment.

“Two alternatives. One in which we’d still be together. You chose this.”

Celia: She didn’t want to leave him. Even for a night.

“I chose this,” she echoes in a rasp.

Talking hurts, too. The movement of her muscles pulls at the charred, tight skin on face and throat.

GM: “Why?”

There’s that same odd look on his face.

Celia: Where does she even begin?

“Lost you. Twice. Not again.” Talking hurts. “Never again. Not even… for a night.”

GM: “You keep lying to me.”

His voice is flat.

“You keep saying you don’t want to lose me. And you keep lying to me.”

Celia: She’s not lying now.

She’s not.

“W’d’you wan’ know?”

She’d told him. She’d told him she wants to tell him everything.

It was supposed to be Thursday.

They wouldn’t be here if Thursday hadn’t gone down like it did.

They were supposed to talk.

She was going to tell him everything.

But she never got the chance.

The thought hurts as much as what happened to her body.

GM: Timing is everything.

Roderick looks at her for a while.

He doesn’t say anything.

Just looks at her.

Celia: She’d told him she’s not a mind reader.

He’ll have to use his words if he wants something.

Big brain like his, she’s sure he can think of plenty of them.

GM: “Why did you lie to me?” he finally asks.

Celia: “Said you… kill him. Scared. Need help.”

The burns along the side of her face pull taut when she moves her mouth. It’s just as unpleasant to look at as it probably feels. Her eyes don’t seem very focused, as if she can still only make out blurry shapes.

“Don’t belive me… ’bout her. Need help,” she says again.

GM: “So you lied because you needed help? Or I needed help?” he asks.

Celia: “Me.”

She pushes her hands against the cushion beneath her, struggling to rise. Every movement is another wave of searing agony.

She gives up with a pained exhale.

GM: “So you lied about the sheriff throwing your mother off a roof because you were scared I didn’t believe you about Caroline and thought you needed help.”

Celia: Sort of.

“Scared for you. Going after him.”

Otherwise yes. She nods.

GM: “You needed my help, but because I didn’t believe you and said the discussion was over, you lied to me so that I would help you,” says Roderick.

He pauses.

“Why did you need my help?”

Celia: He’s got it wrong again. He’s ignoring the very real fear about him going after the sheriff. Why would she tell him that he threatened her family when it will only make him want to protect her and take out the problem? She doesn’t correct him. He doesn’t want to hear it.

“Faster. Stronger. Smarter.”

GM: “You wanted my help dealing with Caroline. You wanted to deter me from going after the sheriff. So you lied to me that Caroline threatened you and threw your mother off a roof.”

Celia: “She did. Threaten me.”

GM: “But you didn’t think I was going to go after her. So you lied that she also threw your mother off a roof.”

Celia: “She messed with Mom’s head. Not a lie. Made her sick. That and… rain. Cold. Maxen’s back. She helped cover. Years ago. Told me.”

GM: “And you lied about the roof to further turn me against Caroline.”

Celia: Slowly, Celia nods.

“Yes.”

GM: “That’s what you always do,” he says at length.

His eyes are cooling.

“You lie to me. You lied to me and would have thrown me into danger because it suited your purposes to do so.”

Celia: “No,” she protests. “Not danger. I wouldn’t. Not you. He’ll kill you.”

GM: “Yes, that’s what makes things so murky. You really did think you were protecting me. It was just a nice little bonus that your lie would result in me taking care of another problem for you, mmm?”

“You know, Celia, I was actually starting to feel bad,” he says.

“To feel guilty.”

“Like I’d crossed a line.”

Celia: It’s not like that. He’s got it wrong again.

Celia doesn’t say anything.

She doesn’t know how to fix it.

GM: “Like I’d done something terrible.”

“I was starting to feel very contrite.”

“I was starting to wonder if I’d made even more mistakes, since you told me the truth about Coco.”

He regards her coolly.

“But this? Oh, it’d be catastrophic for a breather, but a little blood and you’ll be good as new.”

“I wonder if I’d have been in the same position.”

“If you’d manipulated me into fighting your battles.”

“I wonder if I would have walked back from the battle at all.”

Celia: “It’s not like that.”

“I didn’t want you to fight.”

GM: “No? Explain how it is then, Celia. I’m pleased you’re starting to find your voice again. A little time in the microwave only hurts for a little while, doesn’t it, when we’re Kindred?”

Celia: “I don’t want… I don’t want anything bad to happen to you. Ever. I didn’t want you to fight.” The tears threaten to fall. She blinks them back. She doesn’t want him to see. “I wanted help. Planning. Not fighting.”

She still hurts. All of her nerves are still on fire. Her voice is a rasp. But she pushes through. Pushes past it. She has to make him understand.

GM: “But you lied to me, Celia,” he says in a very patient, explaining voice.

“Now why would you do a thing like that? Why would you tell me a lie? We’ve already established that protecting me from the sheriff wasn’t your sole motivation, so don’t give me that.”

Celia: “Can… can I talk about… what you told me not to talk about?”

GM: “I suppose so, Celia, if the context is necessary.”

Celia: “She’s his childe. Prince’s. Savoy confirmed. Prince is eating young vampires. Savoy told me find proof. Think she’s feeding them to him. Storyvilles disappeared. Roxanne wouldn’t let her in. Evan missing. They had secret meetings with prince, Storyvilles. Questioned their ghoul. Evan met with Poincare. That’s why I met him tonight. Didn’t go well, didn’t find what I needed. New lead, though. Evan had secret lover. Baron side. Meeting her tomorrow. Trying to find proof. Trying to find anything.”

She takes a breath. It hurts.

“I don’t want you to fight her. I told you that. Last week. You offered, I told you what she can do. But you didn’t believe me about her. You don’t believe me. Pete didn’t believe me, but I showed him. Gave him proof.”

Talking hurts, too.

So does the look on his face. The coolness in his eyes. That’s worse than the burns. Worse than the scratches from her own claws. Worse than being boiled from the inside.

She blinks again. She won’t cry. He doesn’t like crying. Stop crying. No tears. Don’t be a baby.

Don’t be a scared woman.

But she is.

Terrified.

Movement stretches her burned skin across her bones. She bites back a gasp. He doesn’t want to see weakness. She tries to hide it.

But that’s lying too, isn’t it?

“I should… I should have… should have asked. Asked, not lied. I don’t want to lie. I’m tired of lying. I want to tell you. Everything. All of it. Everything.”

He said she could tell him. Said she could tell him everything. But she tried and he didn’t believe her.

“I lied. It was wrong. I lied. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. You… you can… hot water with… with burns. Hurts more. Y-you can cor-correct m-me ag-again.”

GM: “You’ve already been corrected, Celia,” Roderick explains patiently.

“I’m not sure I believe you about the rest of that, though. That’s why I’ll talk with Savoy.”

“Always verify whatever a liar tells you.”

Celia: Of course he doesn’t believe her.

Celia just nods her head.

GM: “You will be corrected further if any of what you told me turns out to be a lie.”

Celia: “Y-yes, s… Roderick.”

GM: “You were right. You shouldn’t have lied. I’m running out of patience for your lies. Who knows how many more of those you can tell before I decide to dump you?”

Celia: “You… you won’t d-dump me for… for the truth?”

GM: “Never, Celia.”

“Ugly enough truths may require correction, but it will always be gentler correction than more lies.”

Celia: Her lip trembles.

“What… what if I… what if I already lied ab-about it?”

“What if it’s bad?”

GM: “Come clean, Celia,” Roderick says patiently.

“Come clean over everything.

“If I find out you’ve lied about something significant after tonight, we are finished.”

“I’m tired of your lies.”

Celia: So she does.

She says that she’ll tell him.

Everything.


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

Celia: She starts at the beginning. Back when she was still human. She tells him about the monster under the bed. She tells him about the monster shaking her dad’s hand. She tells him about the hallway. The hacksaw. The screaming. Carried to bed. Tucked in.

It’s all in your head.

I love you very, very much.

She tells him about the secret her mother told her. She tells him about college. Paul. Going to him for help for her mom. Their relationship. The things he’d done to her. She tells him how she tried to end it and he’d held her down while another man used her. How she’d thought that was the end until the night he showed up at her dad’s party. The bathroom. The bedroom. The knife.

She’d told him about Paul before. The times she had gone to see him. What she had done with the money—everything came back to her mother. But she knows more now than she did then. Remembers the details of what had been done to her. She doesn’t want to tell him. But when he pushes she does. Everything. Her mother’s continued financial distress even after the wage garnishment stopped. Celia’s continued visits to his home to collect the money for her mother. Her father’s words on New Years Eve: “Celia would be happy to receive instruction.”

Her voice is flat. She doesn’t let him see her tears. She doesn’t let him know how much it hurts to share these ugly parts of her past. She doesn’t want his sympathy. She just wants him to know. She tells him about her suspicion that he mind fucked her, but it’s only a theory. She has no proof. And it doesn’t excuse what she did.

She tells him about getting her dad arrested. Chase at the bar. Taking her home. The arguing. The guns. The fire escape. Veronica. The rape.

Star mode, she’d told him years ago, but she’d never confirmed it. It’s just a theory. Pietro had never much wanted to talk about that night, only confirmed that they’d never had sex. He’d fed from her. Gotten her off, maybe, but the details are fuzzy. She was inebriated. It’s not an excuse, just an explanation.

She tells him about calling them the next night. Knowing they weren’t human but he’d said he was a thief so she thought he could get her mom back. Veronica’s test. The bargain. Power. Her plans. Pete showing up. Explaining the rules. The video of her mother tied to the bed. Getting her out. Getting her safe. Going back to hurt him. To hurt him and to hurt Isabel. The rage.

She’s never told anyone that before. Pete knows, but only because of the tape. She’d never said what she’d done. Her awful revenge.

She tells him about the second Maxen. The monster in the window. The sky. His icy grip.

That same cold grip seizes her throat when she tries to tell him about her Embrace. She touches a hand to it, hoping he understands.

GM: Roderick listens.

Patiently.

The basic story is familiar to him.

But the details likely aren’t.

They are such ugly details.

His face gets ugly, too, to match. During the parts with Paul. With Pietro. With Veronica.

He asks for details. All of the grisly, gory, ugly details. Everything from the piss-soaked blondies to the blowjobs while she was leashed to a wall to how much better ‘Chase’ was in bed than him.

Celia can see the rage welling in his eyes. The fangs jutting from his mouth. The way his fists clench and un-clench.

But he keeps it down.

He keeps it under control.

So far.

He understands, too.

But only so far.

“No, no, no, no, Celia,” he says patiently, interrupting her story when she clamps up about her Embrace and gestures towards her throat.

“Spit it out. You don’t get to keep secrets anymore. Not from me. Not after everything you’ve done.”

There’s that same cool look to his eyes.

“You are going to spit out every last ugly little detail, every last dirty little secret in your head, and come completely clean. Or I am going to dump you, right here, and you will go through the rest of your Requiem alone.”

Celia: Celia watches his face. She doesn’t move. She doesn’t shrink back. She doesn’t let anything show on her own face; it’s marble, porcelain, another mask. The unafraid girlfriend. The trusting girlfriend. The “he won’t kill me” girlfriend.

She takes a breath. She sends the blood inside of her body where she needs it to go. She can’t focus on defying her sire while she’s busy worrying about the pain in her body. So she heals it. She lets the pain fade away.

And wishes she hadn’t when the hunger gnaws at her instead, snarling inside of her like the unthinking Beast it is. It rises to the surface. It wants to fight. To feed. To fuck, but only to show dominion. This boy has put it through so much tonight. The stake. The name calling. The demands. The cage. The microwave. Now this. Making the girl tell him everything. Making her spill the final secret. The one she has guarded more preciously than any other.

The one she’s never told another soul.

She snarls. Her fangs jut out from her mouth, eyes blazing with a mindless fury and hunger.

Rip.

Tear.

Kill.

She’s halfway out of her seat before the girl reaches for the leash. The blonde girl with the blue eyes. The one who still believes in love. She gets in the way. Not him.

The Beast snarls at her, too. It draws back its hand to strike.

Not him, she says again.

Not him, the dead girl agrees.

Not yet. Someone Else. Her presence is calming. Cooling. It soothes the ragged edges of the Beast’s frayed nerves. It turns from a slavering tiger to tiny housecat. Someone Else picks it up and puts it back in its cage, locking the door tight.

The blonde girl shows dimples when she smiles. She reaches through the bars to bleed herself for the monster in the cage, letting it slake its hunger on her instead of him.

Not him.

She loves.

And she bleeds for her love.

Celia takes the reins again. She slumps back against the couch, exhausted from her fight with the Beast. Exhausted from her hunger. Exhausted from her emotional turmoil. Wondering if he’s going to hurt her. To correct her. To leave her. Exhausted from pulling so hard at her bond all evening and now, here, her opening. She slips the collar.

There’s one lie left. The thing it all comes back to.

And it might be too much.

“He killed me,” she whispers to her knees, drawing them up to her chest. “He killed me that night. He’s my sire.”

Maybe it all clicks into place for him then. Why she’s so close to Savoy. Why she said she could “handle” him. Why she wasn’t afraid when he showed up. Why he even showed up in the first place.

That time she asked him if he thought sires were important. If the childe will become like their monstrous sire given enough time.

Her affiliation with Savoy from the beginning, long before Veronica jumped ship.

All of the lies.

Every single one of them.

They all go back to Donovan being her sire.

It’s an ugly truth. She’s the childe of the most feared lick in the city. She’s the childe of the monster that let her father torment her family, that gave him the tools to do so. She’s the childe of the lick Roderick wants to kill.

She feels better for the telling. Even though her heart breaks. Even though she’s worried that he won’t love her as she is. Won’t love her for the secret.

But she keeps going.

She tells him about falling. Waking up on Savoy’s lap. Veronica’s rage.

She tells him she wanted to keep him. She could taste his love. She almost ripped his throat out for it. But she wanted better for him.

She never thought it would lead to his death.

She’s blamed herself for so long. It’s her fault Coco could come along and take him. She hurt him. It’s her fault. She’d thought she was doing the right thing but it’s her fault.

It’s always her fault.

She tells him about seeing him at the release. About asking Coco if love is real among licks when she’d woken up on her couch.

She fills in the gaps of the years they were apart. Online school. Medical training. Her business. Her other business. Collecting intel. Her krewe. Another New Years Eve disaster.

She tells him about her projects. The prince. The other prince. The demons. The ghosts. Maxen. Her mother. The dolls. Hunters. Research. Experiments. The vision.

Her relief earlier this evening when he said that he’s in charge. Every time she tries to get it right she gets it wrong. She doesn’t want to get it wrong anymore.

Everything.

All of the ugliness. All of the lies. All of her partners. All of the secrets she has been holding onto.

She tells him.


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

GM: He said it would feel better.

Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t.

But at least for him, the rest of it seems to go down easier.

Her true sire. Her projects. The prince. The other prince. The demons. The ghosts. Maxen. Her mother. The dolls. Hunters. Research. Experiments. The vision.

None of that is about them. Except for the last bit.

His face stays calm. He doesn’t seem to be wrestling with his Beast anymore. His fangs don’t jut. His hands don’t clench and un-clench.

“So that’s everything, Celia?” he patiently asks when she’s finished.

“Those are all your secrets? That’s everything about yourself you want me to know?”

Celia: Maybe it’s worse this way. Maybe she could forgive him if he reached for her in anger. Maybe she wouldn’t take it so personally. Maybe she wouldn’t tremble, then try to control her trembling, then shake her head at his final question.

“N… no.”

Everything.

He said everything.

She starts with Jade. How she came out the night of her Embrace. How she’d called her cousin, and how he’d asked for her name. Jade, she’d said. She’d said it again when Savoy told her Celia should disappear.

Jade.

Part of her. But separate.

She tells him that there’s more than one.

She tells him that sometimes she’s afraid she doesn’t know who she is anymore. That she’s changed her face so often she doesn’t think any of her body is actually hers. That she doesn’t know if she’s Donovan’s childe or Roderick’s girlfriend or Savoy’s lapcat or Veronica’s clone.

She sounds crazy. She knows that. She admits it. She tells him so before he can even reach the conclusion himself. She’s never spoken to anyone in depth about it. Except this evening. Harlequin. He’d approached her first and told her that she’s cracking.

And this is why.

GM: “I see,” Roderick says simply.

He drums a finger along the couch’s armrest.

“I will render my judgment once you’ve told me everything, Celia. The fact you have multiple personalities is a very germane piece of information. That was wise of you to bring up.”

He regards her calmly.

“Is that the last of your secrets? Anything I find out later which you don’t bring up now will go much, much worse for you.”

Celia: She’d told him everything. She can’t think of anything else. But she feels like there’s a trap he’s waiting to spring on her. Like he knows something she doesn’t. So she tells him, again, about the cowboy. Just in case he’d forgotten anything she said about him earlier. She doesn’t want to be accused of lying or hiding things.

When it’s done she’s empty. There are no more secrets left to reveal.

She asks, finally, if she needs to expand on anything.

GM: “What about the licks you’ve shared blood with, Celia?” he asks, still calmly. “Which ones, since we got back together?”

“I just want to be pretty clear over that.”

Celia: She tells him. All of them.

GM: “Well, well, well,” Roderick says patiently.

He drums his fingers against the armrest some more.

“I think I’ve heard just about all I need to render judgment.”

“But Carolla, first.”

“My dear brother. Who’s touched you. Who’s fucked you.”

“How did his hand-off to the hunters go?”

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you expect he’s going to suffer?”

Celia: He’s done with her.

She can hear it.

“Ten.”

GM: “What makes you think ten?” he asks.

“What’s a one, for comparison? What’s another ten?”

Celia: “Reggie said it went well. That they told him about their training program. They sound well organized. Methodical. A… a one is…” She doesn’t know. “Broken bones. A one is broken bones. A ten is…” The microwave. Her broken heart. Losing everything she’s ever loved.

“Burning. Forever. Hell. Ceasing to exist. His soul cleaved from his body. Oblivion.”

GM: “Really?” Roderick asks. “What makes you think they’re going to inflict such agony upon him?”

Celia: “I don’t know what else they would do with him. When I studied things… I took them apart. Bit by bit. Saw what they could handle. Their pain threshold. How far they would bend before they broke. Research.”

“But… but we didn’t know if they could wake him up,” she says, “so maybe… maybe not..?”

“If he’s unconscious…”

GM: “Yes, he is unconscious,” says Roderick. “Or torpid, to be precise, which is a distinct state from simple unconsciousness, Celia.”

“‘Maybe not,’” he repeats, parroting her words.

Celia: “There’s still a lot to do to a torpid lick,” she offers, as if that helps.

“I know what I would do. If I were studying him.”

“Or another supernatural.”

GM: “You do have the technical knowledge. Just not the big picture,” says Roderick.

Celia: “No,” she agrees. “I don’t have the big picture.”

GM: “Because you’re less intelligent than me.”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “You are my intellectual inferior. Even if you earn a degree from Tulane, it’s unlikely that we will ever be equals in that area.”

Celia: Celia drops her eyes to the floor. She nods.

“Yes. You know more. You’re smarter. I have… I have makeup.”

GM: “You have makeup,” Roderick repeats. “It’s a literally surface-level vocation.”

Celia: “I found… I found majors,” she offers, “but it won’t… you’re still smarter.”

GM: “Yes, Celia, we just discussed that. ‘Even if you earn a degree from Tulane.’”

Celia: That’s not what she meant. But she nods anyway.

“I only meant that you told me to find something. So I did. I have a list. So you can see.”

GM: “Are we all finished now, Celia? Have you told me everything I need to know to decide the future of our relationship?”

He looks her in the eye.

“You should be very thorough. Anything you tell me now will be considered with an eye towards leniency. Telling the truth will either be rewarded or corrected less harshly. Anything I find out later will go much, much, much worse for you.”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a long moment.

Finally, she shakes her head.

“There’s more. There’s more I want to tell you. It doesn’t directly involve us, but it… informs some things, maybe. I’m still working out part of it, I’m researching… but it’s… I want to tell you. Everything. That’s part of everything.”

GM: “Very well then, Celia,” says Roderick. “We will discuss these other things later.”

“Kneel on the floor.”

Celia: Celia moves off the couch immediately. She kneels.

GM: “In front of me.”

Celia: She edges forward on her knees until she’s just in front of him.

GM: “How does it make you feel to assume this position?”

Celia: It reminds her of Paul.

“Afraid. Lesser. Anxious. Unworthy.”

GM: He nods.

“You should feel all of those things.”

“I wonder, should I make you wait to hear my decision?”

Celia: “If… if that… if that’s what you want. To leave me anxious. Unsure.”

GM: “How would it make you feel, Celia?”

“To wait.”

“To not know where things stand.”

“To not know what future you are going to have with me.”

Celia: “Nervous. Like I don’t matter. Hopeful. But resigned. Like I’m… on eggshells.”

Like she’s back at home with her dad.

“Adrift,” she tacks on.

GM: “That idea has considerable appeal,” says Roderick.

“To make you unsure about me like I’ve been so unsure about you.”

“Given what a liar you are.”

Celia: It’s fair. Fair punishment. She blinks back whatever emotion tries to creep into her face and nods her head again.

GM: “That’s the problem, with pathological liars like you.”

“There are just so many little ways you can bend and distort the truth, and you told me so many ‘truths.’”

“It’s like looking through a needle in a haystack to find all the little lies.”

“I’ll definitely be independently corroborating a great deal of this, since I can’t trust you.”

“Really, whether I dump you or stay with you, that fact won’t change.”

“I don’t trust you.”

“You haven’t proven worthy of my trust.”

Celia: “Can I?” she asks. “Is it possible? After everything?”

GM: “But,” he smiles, “I’m going to be merciful here.”

“Even if you’ve fed me still more lies, I suspect you still disclosed a large number of truths.”

“Many of which won’t take overly much effort on my part to verify.”

He reaches out and places a hand on Celia’s head.

“I’m not going to break up with you. Not here, at least. How does that make you feel?”

Celia: Worse.

It makes her feel worse.

Because she doesn’t deserve good things after everything she’s done. After all the lies she’s told him. She doesn’t deserve another chance. She doesn’t deserve to have him touch her.

Worse, too, because of the phrasing. Not here. If not here, then where? When? Is he going to do it anyway? Her stomach ties itself in knots. Red leaks from her eyes.

But she tells him what he wants to know. That she’s afraid she’s going to lose him still. That she doesn’t know what he means, not here. That she’s afraid Donovan will find out she told and kill them both for it.

GM: “Mmm-hmm, yes,” says Roderick.

He pats her head.

“There are some outstanding issues to resolve, first, before our relationship can fully resume.”

“There will no sex, kissing, blood sharing, or sleeping together until these issues are resolved.”

Celia: “Which issues?”

GM: “First, the various licks and breathers who’ve used you.”

A sneer crosses his face.

“I’m not accepting anyone’s sloppy seconds.”

“Or sloppy thirds.”

“Sloppy fourths?”

“You’ve whored yourself around so much, I’m not sure a number in the single digits is even appropriate.”

Celia: Celia sinks lower with every number he says.

GM: “We can fix that, though.”

He takes her chin and tilts it up so she meets his eyes.

“You want to fix that, don’t you?”

Celia: Celia nods her head.

“Yes, Roderick. I want to fix it.”

GM: “To make up for what a whore you’ve been?”

“You’re going to arrange a meeting for me with Reynaldo Gui.”

“Not as Roderick, though.”

“You’re going to give me a new face.”

“You can come up with whatever name, identity, and story you like.”

Celia: “To hurt him?”

GM: “You’re going to arrange a meeting between this new lick and Reynaldo Gui,” Roderick continues.

“You will wear a different face and give him a different name when you do so.”

“Neither of us can appear directly involved.”

“If you fail to secure this meeting, I will break up with you.”

“Are we understood?”

Celia: “Lord Savoy knows I can change my face.”

GM: “Then you’d better have a good cover story for why Gui is meeting you, and you’d better make sure Savoy doesn’t know.”

“You shouldn’t rely on just the fleshcrafting. That’s lazy.”

“But you are a very good liar, if nothing else, so I’m confident you can arrange it.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick. I understand.”

“I will arrange a meeting. I will lie. I will change our faces.”

GM: He rubs Celia’s shoulder and gives her an understanding smile.

“Good.”

“If this meeting goes the way I want, you’ll stand to benefit quite a bit too.”

“I know what’s best, Celia.”

Celia: “How…?”

GM: “Do I know what’s best, Celia?”

Celia: “No. You said. We’d both benefit.”

GM: He raises his eyebrows and removes his hand.

“No? You think I don’t know what’s best?”

Celia: “No. I do. I don’t understand the benefit. I know you know what’s best. I know you do. You do.”

GM: “Good,” says Roderick, rubbing her shoulder again.

“You don’t need to worry about the details.”

Celia: “Okay,” she says quietly.

GM: “You wouldn’t understand them as well anyway.”

Celia: “What else? What other issues?”

GM: “There are several others, but you don’t need to know about those just yet.”

“I’ll take care of them.”

“It will make our relationship stronger.”

Celia: “Do I… do I need to do anything else?”

GM: “No.”

“Some other significant issues in your Requiem to address are your sire, your father, and your mental health. But we don’t need to resolve those issues before our relationship can fully resume.”

He pats the seat next to him.

“You can sit next to me now, if you’d like to.”

“Which of those issues would you like to discuss first?”

Celia: Celia doesn’t say anything. She just slowly rises to take her former seat, sitting beside him on the couch.

“My… dad.”

GM: “Your dad is scum,” Roderick says shortly.

Celia: “Yes.”

“I was… I wanted to ask…”

GM: “What did you want to ask?”

Celia: “He’s supposed to see my family on Sunday. For dinner. My mom wants to… to see him. Emily thinks it’s a trap. He said he had a demon exorcised. It’s possible. The priest died. Mr. Bornemann told me that the priest or the host can die in an exorcism. But that holy ground hurts them. But he kept going to church. But not all holy ground is created equal. I wanted to… to see if you’d come, so you can see. If he’s real. Or lying.”

GM: “It’s immaterial whether he’s lying or not,” says Roderick.

“He hasn’t earned forgiveness either way.”

“I also know from firsthand experience with you that lying runs in the Flores family, even if he isn’t your biological father. It’s entirely possible that dinner could be nothing but a pack of lies.”

Celia: “That’s why I wanted to ask if you’d come.”

GM: “I just told you it’s irrelevant whether he’s lying or not, Celia,” Roderick reproaches. “At least as far as it impacts what we should do with him.”

“I mostly just don’t like listening to liars spin their lies.”

“It makes me want to bash in some fucking skulls.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t do so much as flinch. She’s still. But not the stillness that he’s used to when he gets angry. Just the normal kind. The dead kind.

“I had… ideas. On what to do with him. If you want to hear.”

GM: “Proceed,” says Roderick.

Celia: “He’s running for governor, he said. I don’t know how many people outside of my family and the politicians he works with know yet. I’ve been planting seeds to ruin him politically if needed. Or to assist, if needed. I just pull the things I’ve been working on if we want a political pawn. He’d be in Baton Rouge. It’s not that far. Invictus controlled. I have a… cousin there. In Baton Rouge. I thought about a new identity to go with him. An older lick. One the licks there maybe couldn’t push around as easily.”

A pause. Then,

“You know more, though.”

“I was waiting to see if he was still infected or not before I made a decision on what to do with him. To see if I could make him useful.”

“And no one would suspect Celia visiting her father.”

She’s waiting, she realizes, for him to tell her that she’s stupid again. That she doesn’t know enough about politics to play that game. That they’re just going to ruin and kill him because he’s a scumbag.

GM: “Yes, you mentioned he was running,” says Roderick. “I’d been considering that question, too. What to do with him.”

“Part of me is tempted to punish him for what a vile scumbag he is. He did despicable things to the family whose welfare he was responsible for. That he should suffer for his actions is right and just.”

“Incidentally, Celia, the philosophy behind the Lancea et Sanctum seems much more attractive to me these nights. I don’t agree with them on many of the finer points of dogma. But the essential purpose of the Kindred being to punish the wicked? That’s an actual constructive purpose for our species.”

Celia: “Did you kill Elijah?” she asks abruptly.

GM: Roderick gives her an almost affronted look.

“Elijah’s actions didn’t warrant death, Celia.”

“He was a terrible human being, though. He was punished for that.”

Celia: “Oh.”

GM: “He still is being punished for that.”

Celia: “…still being..?”

GM: “We’ll see if it’s enough to set him on a better course.”

“As I said, the philosophy behind the Lancea et Sanctum seems very attractive to me these nights.”

“It’s a shame there aren’t any priests among the Bourbons. Not since Katrina.”

“Ah, well. I suppose it’s easy enough for me to talk with the Hardliners.”

Celia: She almost tells him that Benson is being ordained.

But he’s the one who told her that last week, so she doesn’t.

GM: “Is this going over your head, Celia?” Roderick asks in an indulgent tone.

Celia: “No. I was… I didn’t want to question you.”

GM: “I suppose that’s why I should talk with someone more educated than you, as the whole point of philosophical discourse is to ask questions.”

Celia: Celia sinks further into herself. She draws her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around her legs. Suddenly the sheer teddy feels absurd. She’s exposed. Vulnerable.

“I didn’t know if you meant you wanted to bring one over or convert to the Sanctified faith yourself. You said the Hardliners are easy to talk to, so I thought it could be either, but I’ve heard some people don’t view Lord Savoy as legitimate because of his lack of priests.”

“Like it’s all a show.”

GM: “I’m not thinking about converting at this point,” says Roderick. “I’m simply interested in discussing their ideas with someone who’s well-educated in their theology. The best-educated such Kindred are priests, Celia.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick.”

GM: “Savoy doesn’t have any priests. Not since Katrina. Hence why it’s a shame, as discoursing with someone over Sanctified theology is also useful as a ‘networking tool.’”

“And it’s less useful for me to build relationships among the Hardliners than the Bourbons.”

Celia: “It could be useful.”

“If you wanted to…”

“To play both sides. To protect your cover.”

GM: “Most Sanctified are happy to talk about their faith with someone who displays interest in it. That’s evangelism, in so many words.”

“But that’s also true enough. There is social benefit in approaching any Sanctified, Bourbon or Hardliner, about their faith.”

Celia: “It would also give you some legitimacy with a new identity, if you wanted to go that route for your time in the Quarter.”

GM: “My new identity won’t have any cause to talk with the Hardliners, Celia,” Roderick explains patiently. “I can already do that as Roderick.”

Celia: “I know. I meant. If you wanted him to be Sanctified rather than Anarch.”

GM: “You can be very stupid sometimes, Celia.”

Celia: She blinks, but nods her head, drawing her knees further against herself.

“Yes, Roderick. I’m sorry. I’ll do better.”

GM: “I hope so.”

Celia: “You were telling me what you wanted to do with my dad,” she says quietly.

GM: “The new identity is going to be a Bourbon,” Roderick explains. “Because the Bourbons live in the French Quarter. The Bourbons and the Hardliners do not make a habit of engaging in friendly conversation with one another. Picture it like the Bloods and Crypts, Celia.”

Celia: “That isn’t what I meant.”

GM: “No? Then explain for me.”

Celia: “I meant that speaking to a Hardliner priest as Roderick will offer you a foundation to build a new Bourbon identity that can be Sanctified rather than Anarch, as being an intelligent Brujah Anarch in Savoy’s court may make people look at you twice, but being a Sanctified is a further step away from where you are now. You could also claim another clan to further distinguish the identities.”

“I didn’t mean that you would fraternize with the Hardliners as a Bourbon.”

“I must have misspoken.”

GM: “You do that a lot.”

Celia: “I’m sorry.”

“I only wanted to help create a good cover for you. Your talk about the priests made me think that it would be a good cover. But then I also thought maybe you’d want to take control of the Anarchs, but I don’t… I don’t know what you want, you said you’d tell me later, but I’m trying to account for multiple angles. I didn’t mean to overstep if I did.”

GM: “You didn’t overstep,” says Roderick. “It’s good that you’re concerned for my future. We will talk about that in due time.”

Celia: “Okay. I’d like to… to help. How I can. If I can.”

GM: “I think you will be able to. And you did misspeak, earlier, but the conclusion you reached is one I also share. The new identity should be a Bourbon rather than an Anarch.”

“Actual knowledge of theology isn’t necessary for it, though. Savoy’s followers are much less devout.”

“Yourself, case in point. I doubt you’ve read the Testament.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick. Unless… you wanted to be older, to take that spot, to give him more legitimacy…?”

GM: Roderick gives Celia a scornful look.

Celia: “It’s, um, people confess to priests. It would give you leverage.”

GM: “I am not a priest, Celia. I am unlikely to acquire a priest’s spiritual knowledge through conversation with a priest.”

“I am more intelligent than you, but that doesn’t mean I know everything. I have only a layman’s knowledge of Sanctified theology.”

“That was a very stupid suggestion.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick. I’m sorry. It was a stupid suggestion.”

“I won’t make more suggestions, if you don’t want. I don’t want to waste your time.”

GM: “You can make further suggestions. More opinions rarely hurt and can potentially help.”

“Just make fewer stupid suggestions, okay?”

“You can also ask me if you aren’t sure whether a suggestion is stupid or not. That shows greater humility and self-awareness.”

Celia: “Before? Or after?”

GM: “You mean before or after you make the suggestion?”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “Concurrently. You can bring up the suggestion and ask me if it’s stupid.”

Celia: “Roderick?”

GM: “Yes?”

Celia: “If it’s stupid, will you tell me how, so I don’t repeat the mistake?”

GM: “Of course. I’ve been doing that already, haven’t I?”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick. You correct me. I only wanted to be certain I’d receive further correction when I say stupid things.”

GM: “You will, Celia. I’ll help you to be smarter, even if it takes a long time.”

Celia: “My… my dad said… stupid can be taught, it just takes longer.”

GM: “Your dad was wrong about many things, but he was right about that.”


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

GM: “In any case, we’ve grown sidetracked. We were speaking about your father.”

“Part of me wants to punish him for what a vile piece of shit he is.”

“But he’s protected by your sire, so that would have repercussions.”

“And, of course, there’s the separate issue of whether and how to make use of him.”

Celia: “Roderick? I have a thought? But I don’t know if it’s stupid? But the Tremere told me they can test to see if he was possessed, but I’d owe them for it, but that could maybe tell us more if he is or isn’t, but I don’t know if you care about that versus what he’s done, but if it wasn’t him, if he was possessed… does that mean he’s still good, that we could use him? I’m not attached to him, but it’s an avenue for further information and I didn’t want to not tell you about it.”

GM: “He isn’t a good man, Celia.”

Celia: “Okay.”

GM: “His potential demonic possession is material only insofar as it makes him harder to punish or manipulate.”

Celia: “Is it something you want to know about? Demonic possession?”

GM: “I want to know about everything, Celia. But whether that knowledge is germane is a separate matter.”

Celia: Celia bobs her head up and down.

“I didn’t know how to look into the exorcism because the priest is dead.”

“But that doesn’t matter next to what you want to do with him.”

“And the sheriff being in the way.”

GM: “There are still ways to investigate the alleged exorcism, you’re just not smart enough to consider them,” says Roderick.

“Unless the political landscape significantly changes, I would give reasonable odds that your father is going to become governor,” he muses. “Roberts is a strong candidate, so I wouldn’t write him out completely, but Louisiana is a red state now and he’s fighting an uphill battle. He won’t have Fred Pavaghi’s corruption to campaign against this time.”

Celia: “I have a contact,” Celia volunteers, “that could be used to look into Roberts. If we want to find out more about him.”

“Dirt. Um, to sway things.”

GM: “We’ll consider that issue later.”

“The governor is obviously a very attractive prize pawn to any Kindred. But just consider, Celia. What would we actually do with him?”

“What uses would we employ him towards?”

Celia: “Um. There’s no… term limit. He’d be a long-term puppet. The state is more day-to-day for, um, policies. Connections. Resources. It could help with… with you wanting to take down the Mafia, maybe, and putting, um, heat on other licks through various connections and agencies. He told me it opens additional doors for him, and he might seek a national seat, but that gets messy with DC…”

GM: “These are very vague and half-formed ideas, Celia.”

“Some of them very poorly articulated.”

Celia: Celia is quiet for several moments before she finally admits she doesn’t know how best to utilize his position.

GM: “How would you even influence him? Do you suppose he’s going to take political advice from the daughter he thinks is stupid?”

“Is he going to invite you to cabinet meetings?”

Celia: “N… no.”

“I have some sway over my brothers, but they’re young. I don’t know if he’d listen to them either.”

“I have a contact.” A doll. “Her husband is a political consultant.”

GM: “I’m going to think about what I want that your father could help me accomplish,” says Roderick. “I want you to do the same. What you want that your father could help you to accomplish. The consultant could help, once you’ve figured out what you want from your father.”

Celia: “Okay. I will.”

“What about the local scene?”

GM: “What ‘local scene’, Celia?”

Celia: “The mayor.”

GM: “You have no connections to any of the candidates, so that subject seems rather moot.”

Celia: “Not a personal connection. But I know some things about them, maybe enough to sway the outcome. And the woman could easily become a client.”

GM: “Do that,” says Roderick. “It could have value even if she doesn’t win the election.”

“Get your employees in uniforms before you bring her in. It’s important to project a professional image with your business. Especially around higher-profile clients.”

Celia: “I want to open a second location.”

GM: “That could have value. Where?”

Celia: “Marigny, because of its neutral locale. I was also considering Riverbend, but my sire… I know he will say no. We don’t publicly associate.”

GM: “Of course he would say no.”

“Would this second location exist to primarily service Kindred or breather clients?”

Celia: “I thought both, like it does now, since I already have the setup and the managers ready to go. The cost of the business mainly comes from the building and renovations itself. The employees are commission based; if they are not busy they don’t get paid. That helps keep them motivated to bring people in. The actual product cost for services is marginal. It would be almost passive income.”

“The problem I foresee with that is the location itself. Marigny is not known for its spas, and another location with more upscale clientele would be ideal if I choose to pursue more meaningful breather clients. The buildings would also be very close together in a grand scheme, which means rather than drawing from a new pool of clients I would only be expanding the circle slightly. I also had plans to move Alana to a different role within my service, which would necessitate someone else to oversee the business, though I don’t necessarily need to ghoul them.”

“I also… I’ve been working on experiments. With the kine. Hybrids. I can show you some of my work, some mockups. I would like more space to focus on that. I am also concerned that there are too many people who know that Celia is Jade and can thus connect me to Dicentra, so I had also considered making it exclusively for Kindred and only operating under the Dicentra name.”

“Less overhead that way. But I’d need better security.”

GM: Roderick considers.

“Uptown is another potential location in lieu of Riverbend. The kine there are generally affluent and it’s far removed from the Quarter.”

“I’m not certain how McGinn would feel about letting a Bourbon set up shop in his domain, but he’s obviously more likely to say yes than the sheriff.”

Celia: “I believe I will be able to help make the idea more palatable for him.”

“I was also looking to add a service to Harrah’s. Not an entire spa. Just a few girls.”

GM: “Yes, you’d mentioned your plans there. Expanding into Harrah’s seems promising as well. It’s removed from your locations in Uptown and the Quarter in multiple senses of the word.”

“It could also be possible to set up the location in Uptown without McGinn’s knowledge. What benefit does that offer?”

Celia: “I wouldn’t owe him anything. It wouldn’t be connected to me at all.”

GM: “No, Celia. I asked you what benefit his knowledge of your ties to the second location offers.”

Celia: “Oh. I wouldn’t need to worry about getting caught. It would allow me possible access to his domain on other unrelated business, as I could say that I’m just there to do spa things. The Flawless name is already known so I wouldn’t be starting from scratch. I could find a way to build a more solid relationship there, either for myself or Lord Savoy, and utilize that to further our plans and goals.”

“His patrols are fairly violent,” Celia mentions as an aside.

GM: “Yes, and he gets fewer poachers as a result. His methods work.”

Celia: “Yes.” She thinks about mentioning the trip to the library. But she’d handled it. No harm done.

GM: “I think cultivating a relationship with him could have value,” considers Roderick. “He is one of the more influential Kindred in the city. Likewise with his wife.”

Celia: “I haven’t spent as much time with her as I’d have liked recently. I had to put other things ahead of the harpies. I’d like to fix that so I’m not cut off.”

“But that’s a different subject, I didn’t mean to derail us.”

GM: “Yes, we were derailed from your father.”

“Suppose, Celia, that you’re Lawrence Meeks, the prince of Baton Rouge. A new governor is elected, and a new Kindred shows up in your city who seems fairly close to the new governor. What do you do?”

Celia: “Take out the lick.”

“Protect the domain. Stay on top.”

GM: “That’s correct, Celia. You take out the threat to your domain.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick, I understand. That’s why I thought it was beneficial that I can pass as a mortal and just be seen as his visiting daughter.”

GM: “Correct. You’re going to limit how many people know Celia is a ghoul. You’d mentioned that. Meeks is a city away, so that fact will help us, but the Nosferatu have damnably good intelligence.”

Celia: “There are a number of people who know that Celia is a lick. I haven’t played up being a ghoul as much as I could, but there are others who believe that as well.”

GM: “Who knows Celia is Kindred?”

Celia: “The full list is you, Lebeaux, Preston, Savoy, Donovan, Caroline, Coco, Veronica, Pietro, Dani, Mélissaire, Alana, Diana, Reggie, Rusty.”

“Possibly the seneschal, as we discussed prior.”

GM: “That’s too many names.”

Celia: “Five of them are ghouls. One is your sister. One has been covering for me this entire time.”

“There are only two names on the list that cause me great concern.”

GM: “How long have Reggie and Rusty known?”

Celia: “Less than a week.”

GM: “Get Savoy to wipe their memories. Ask him to do it.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick.”

GM: “Need to know, Celia. If those two don’t need to know something, don’t tell them.”

Celia: “I believed they needed to know at the time. The threat has passed. I will have their memories removed.”

GM: “At least Randy has been tied up as a loose end, I suppose.”

Celia: There’s a flicker of something across her face. She smooths it over before it can be more than that.

The screaming starts again in her mind. The ragged, throaty gasps of a girl in the clouds. The blood curdling shrieks in a hallway full of blood. The death rattle of a lost boy with a broken smile, instants before a heavy boot crushes his skull.

“Yes,” someone says. It might be her.

“I always struggled to find a use for him. He didn’t offer much, next to his brothers.” Cold, flat words.

Warmth. Love. He gave her that, at least. Gave her that when she needed it most.

Now he’s just an excuse to take what she wants from someone else who disappointed her.

Valuable, in the end.

GM: “Alana, Rusty, and Reggie all have clear uses,” Roderick concurs. “What use is your mother?”

Celia: “Cover for daytime absences. Feeding. Cultivating relationships at McGehee, where I can groom them from an early age. Performances. Toreador acclaim through performances. Safe house if needed. Possible sway over a future husband. Possible breeding. She is learning swordplay and defense to serve as a protector and bodyguard. Contacts through her in the theater, dance, and academics world. Insignificant; no one suspects that a former ballerina would be a ghoul, therefore she is overlooked. Invisible. She has access to a large number of instructors at her current job and was able to find information for me the evening after I asked, which has been confirmed by another source.”

“Blind obedience.”

“She has also assisted with the mental health issues you and I mentioned briefly.”

Clinical, detached observations. As if it isn’t her mother she’s discussing, but a random breather on the street.

GM: “Breeding?” Roderick asks, eyebrows raised.

Celia: “Ghoul families. She is very fertile. Getting on in age, but still possibly fertile. I believe she would be accommodating were I to wish to experiment upon her body for such a purpose.”

“It is an admittedly narrow window before the opportunity passes by.”

“As I don’t believe that even with fleshcrafting I can completely reverse the clock long enough to keep her capable of pumping out children. Perhaps a more advanced form. But weaning her from the blood for nine months will cause her to jump forward in age.”

“The archon and I discussed some of this when he visited. When he returns he has asked me to assist him with a project, and if I impress him he has agreed to take me on to learn under him.”

“I had already been considering the implications of combining Tremere blood magics with what I can do, and how far I might be able to go. I am admittedly not an expert in that subject, but I have a teacher willing to pass on knowledge.”

“I think it might be the key that I’ve been missing in my current research.”

GM: “I see,” says Roderick. “There’s a number of further things here to discuss.”

“But first, tell me. What are your thoughts and intentions regarding Lucy and Emily?”

Celia: “I had no intention to interfere in the life of Lucy or Emily. Emily’s stubbornness would be a handicap to her usefulness as a ghoul, and I believe breaking her will be more trouble than it is worth. Thus far I have mostly used her for medical knowledge, though I can never push too deep. I think she also has an idealistic streak that wouldn’t allow her to fathom the idea of going as far as I’d like when it is human lives on the table.”

Emily isn’t a monster.

“In lieu of that, I had planned to use her connections in the medical world as needed. She is close with a number of other professionals. She will be more valuable once she graduates and comes into contact with people I can also use to further my goals and research. Even something like a medical examiner will open doors. Her boyfriend is also useful for his swordplay.”

GM: Roderick nods.

“And what about Lucy, Celia?”

“I really thought she might have been my daughter for a while.”

Celia: “I have not made long term plans for Lucy. She is young enough that she can go a number of different directions—”

She cuts off at his words, blinking. Her hand touches her stomach.

She’d never taken the second pill.

GM: Roderick looks at her calmly.

“I wonder if he killed it.”

“Your sire.”

“If there was something there.”

Celia: “It… it would have only been… a day, maybe…”

She blinks again. Red stains her vision. She wipes at it.

“Can I… can I hug you?”

GM: “You may not, Celia,” he answers.

“This will serve as your correction.”

“Because you just did something that required correcting.”

Celia: Another blink. She moves further from herself, floating away on the wind.

It’s lucky there are so many other girls to pick up the pieces.

“Please tell me what I did so that I do not repeat it.”

Hollow, wooden words. A girl playing a role.

GM: “I want you to figure this one out for yourself, Celia. But I’ll give you a hint.”

“I don’t want to ghoul my father. I’m still nice to Dani, despite the fact she is of limited practical value. Why is that?”

Celia: “She’s family.”

GM: “But I don’t plan to belittle her like I have you. Why is that?”

Celia: “She’s not stupid.”

“She will rebel if you do.”

GM: “Try again, Celia.”

“Dani also is more intelligent than you, though she is still less so than me.”

Celia: “I don’t know.”

GM: “Let’s try my father, then. Why don’t I want to ghoul him?”

Celia: “You would be intruding on someone else’s domain. You don’t want to expose him to this world. He can be used against you if anyone knows about the connection between you. He is too strong willed and already has his path laid out for him, which means you would need to rely on the addiction alone to keep him in line, which creates rebellious and often disloyal ghouls. You don’t need to ghoul him in order to make contact with him through various other pawns or ghouls to assist each other.”

“He believes that you are dead and your death broke him.”

GM: “Most of these facts are true, Celia. But none of them are the reason I don’t want to ghoul him.”

Celia: “I don’t know, Roderick. I don’t know your personal feelings on the matter. I was only looking at the objective information.”

GM: “Then consider my personal feelings, Celia. Towards him and towards my sister. What might those be?”

Celia: “You care about them. You left them to keep them safe.”

GM: “That’s correct, Celia. I do care about them.”

“But that isn’t all of it, either.”

“Why did I do what I did to Elijah?”

Celia: “He is a sinner. Corrupt.”

GM: “How sinful and corrupt are Dani and my father?”

Celia: “Not very.”

GM: “How sinful and corrupt are you?”

Celia: “Very.”

GM: “Why?”

Celia: “Do you mean what makes me a sinner, or do you mean how did I become this way?”

GM: “What actions have you committed that make you describe yourself as very sinful and corrupt?”

Celia: “I lied to you repeatedly over the course of our relationship. I cheated on you. I betrayed you. I lied to everyone. I hurt people. I have killed people. I am selfish and lustful.”

GM: “That’s correct, Celia.”

“That is why you deserve worse treatment at my hands than my father and sister.”

Celia: “When I am no longer corrupt and sinful, will our relationship change or adapt?”

GM: “I find it unlikely that you will stop being corrupt and sinful. But our relationship will change and adapt when I feel you have faced sufficient punishment and made sufficient restitution for the wrongs you’ve committed against me.”

“I’ve even offered you a path forward with Reynaldo Gui. Is that fair and just of me?”

Celia: “Can you clarify? You find it unlikely that I am able to be less corrupt and sinful?”

GM: “Yes.”

Celia: “If I am corrupt in areas other than our relationship, will that be sufficient for you, or do you desire a full overhaul?”

GM: “Punishment and restitution for the wrongs you’ve committed against me will be sufficient, Celia. Whether you desire to re-orient your moral compass outside of our relationship is your own decision.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick. I have further questions on this. I will be corrected and punished for the wrongs that I have committed against you and our relationship. I would like to be worthy of you outside of those corrections, and am looking for guidance on how I can become so. You have mentioned getting a degree, though this will not make me as smart as you. Outside of my intelligence, will re-orienting my moral compass assist with my desire to become a more ideal partner for you?”

GM: “We’ll return to this point later, Celia. Some other questions first. How sinful and corrupt are Lucy, Emily, and your mother?”

Celia: “They are not, Roderick.”

GM: “Do you believe I would undertake the actions you’ve considered for Emily upon my own sister?”

“Do you believe I would undertake the actions you’ve considered for your mother upon my father?”

Celia: “No, Roderick. I had no intention to ghoul Emily or Lucy. You only asked, so I shared my thoughts with you. I would like to assist them with their goals, whatever they are, because they are my family and I care deeply for them.”

“My mother’s ghouling was an unfortunate accident, and after it was done I had an opportunity to erase her memories. It would not have ended well if we went down that road, as I could not erase the emotions. Those I spoke to suggested that it would do more harm than good to leave the gap in her memory. While I do not believe that a ghouled parent is unique to our world, I do believe is is not very common and there are few people I trust with my mother’s safety to speak to openly about it.”

“I have struggled with her since it happened and looked for ways to make the relationship work for both of us. I only wanted to thoroughly answer your question about her and inform you of all the possibilities that I considered for her.”

“You had asked after her usefulness, and in the aftermath of her ghouling I had thought she might only be an addict and vitae sink, which I did not want for either one of us.”

“There are many options I considered and dismissed. I had only wanted to give you a complete answer.”

GM: “What would you do if your mother did not wish to be used as a breeding vessel, Celia, and it appeared to be a promising research avenue?”

“What if it looked as if it would allow you to start a ghoul family?”

Celia: “I would find another.”

“There are many breathers. There is only one Diana.”

GM: “What if the other candidates you found were inferior?”

“What if I told you I wanted a ghoul family?”

Celia: “I find the idea of all other candidates being inferior to be unlikely. There are more than seven billion people on the planet. While I do not have access to all of them, or even most of them, I would take the time to find one who is her equal. However, her traits are not unique to her. She has been broken mentally by another Kindred, which suggests it is possible to do again if the obedience is what I desire, and many females are fertile.”

GM: “So you would refuse to use her, and would look for other suitable candidates, even if it required considerable effort and expense? When I wanted a ghoul family?”

Celia: “I would only want to provide you with the best possible option, Roderick, and do not know what toll another child would have on my mother, or if her advanced age would play a significant factor in the development of the fetus.”

“Much research suggests that advanced age of both female and male partners leads to undesirable developmental issues in their offspring.”

GM: “That research is correct. So that is your final answer, Celia? You would refuse to use her as a broodmare if it were more advantageous, but she did not wish to be used as one?”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick. My relationship with my mother as my mother predates my relationship with her as my ghoul. It is an admittedly gray and murky area, but I would like to cause as little interrupt to her life as possible while also ensuring she is more than a vitae sink. Her other qualities make up for her lack of breeding.”

GM: “You have answered correctly, Celia. Good job,” Roderick smiles.

Celia: “Thank you.”

GM: “Justice is paramount, Celia. I punished Elijah because he was corrupt. I punish you because you are corrupt. But our mortal families are not corrupt, and consequently do not deserve punishment.”

Celia: “I acknowledge the breakdown in turning my mother into a ghoul. I am looking for the best way forward for us both.”

GM: “Giving her combat training is useful. For her, you, and your other family members.”

“Fix her leg. She won’t be able to achieve her full potential until that’s taken care of.”

Celia: “Yes. I will.”

GM: “Toreador acclaim is also useful. Give her another face when you do. Other Kindred shouldn’t know she’s a ghoul.”

Celia: “Yes. I have a mask prepared for her.”

“She has also already been marked to hide what she is. I have been working to correct the lapse in judgement and security.”

GM: “Masks aren’t perfect. They can be damaged. They can come off. We saw that earlier. Dancing and fighting offer many opportunities for them to come off. Alter her face the same way you altered mine.”

Celia: “My apologies, I meant a mask as in a new identity.”

“I will be more clear when I speak.”

GM: “Good,” says Roderick. “Feeding on her is useful and permissible, so long as you have her free and uncoerced consent.”

Celia: “She has consented.”

There’s a soft smile that pulls at her lips.

“She enjoys being able to feed me what I need rather than the breather fare.”

GM: Roderick smiles faintly back. “That’s very sweet.”

Celia: Before, she might have reached for his hand. Now, though, she keeps it on her lap.

GM: “Don’t feed on her when you think she’s going to be dancing or fighting soon. Those are physically intensive activities where you want her at peak physical condition. Give her time to recover.”

Celia: Isn’t that common knowledge?

Celia just nods her head.

GM: Roderick tells her all the time that she’s stupid, though.

Celia: He must be right.

She’s lucky she has someone who cares enough about her to make sure she understands the basics.

GM: “Having a willing subject for your research could also be useful. Just make sure you explain all of the risks and potential side effects, if any. Gain her full consent, and be very careful too. You only get one mother.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick. I will do so before I proceed with any research. Thank you.”

GM: “I care about your mortal family, Celia. Her and Emily and Lucy. This isn’t an ideal situation for them, but you can make the best of it. You can still have loving relationships with all of them.”

Celia: “Thank you.” Her voice has lost its wooden quality. There’s something resembling emotion in the tremulous whisper. “Thank you for understanding.”

GM: “This is justice, Celia,” he answers seriously. “People who aren’t corrupt deserve to be treated well.”

Celia: “I don’t want to be corrupt anymore,” she tells her knees.

GM: “The first step will be Reynaldo Gui.”

Celia: “The meeting.”

“Are we going to kill him?”

GM: “Yes.”

Celia: “Do you still want to infiltrate as Carolla?”

GM: “You’ve been a good girl, over the matter of your family, so answering that question directly is your reward.”

Celia: Good girl. She’s been a good girl.

GM: “And you know what will happen when Gui is dead, Celia?”

Celia: “The Mafia will be weakened.”

GM: “Yes, but in addition to that.”

Celia: “Our relationship will begin to heal.”

GM: “That too. But someone else will also need to manage parties at the Evergreen.”

Celia: “…me?”

GM: “Do you think you’d do a good job, Celia? What benefits are there for you in doing so?”

Celia: “I am adept at planning parties. I think I would do a good job. It would allow me to further network, to become closer to Savoy, to welcome new faces, to control the doors. Gui is considered inner circle by some, and is generally well regarded by the Bourbons. Further social power for me, and thus you, which can transition into something new when Savoy takes the throne, and will make me useful to him in a way that doesn’t only rely on my blood.”

GM: “Very good, Celia,” smiles Roderick. “And even more than that, Savoy’s parties are the bread and circuses he gives his followers. They’re an essential component of his image as the more ‘fun’ alternative to Vidal.”

Celia: “I’m fun.”

“Getting rid of Gui also opens his domain to someone else.” A sidelong glance at Roderick.

GM: “It does,” Roderick concurs. “So you can see how this opens many opportunities for us.”

Celia: “Roderick? Can I tell you what he told me? About Chicago?”

GM: “Go on.”

Celia: “He said that the atmosphere is different there. More Anarchs, but the city is looking forward, and he said ours is sometimes looking backwards. He said there’s more progression. I don’t know what your long term goals are, and you mentioned you’ve traveled so perhaps this is redundant, but it might be worthwhile to look into even if it isn’t with him.”

GM: “It’s always useful to listen to other perspectives. I’ve spoken with Anarchs from Chicago.”

Celia: “Have you spoken with any from the Free States?”

GM: “Yes. Coco wanted to expose me to a wide range of ideas. I suppose she was good for an education, even if she was also a two-faced liar who Embraces scum like Carolla.”

Celia: “I have an opportunity out there. But we can talk about it at another time if you’d prefer.”

GM: Roderick glances at the clock.

GM: “The sun’s going to be rising soon. What else do you want to go over tonight?”

Celia: “Coco knows who Celia is. Caroline knows who Celia is, but not the connection to Jade. You wanted to talk about my sire. And my mental health. And the demon.”

GM: “Coco and Caroline both need to die, at some point.”

Celia: Oh. Well that was easy.

GM: “Assuming that Caroline’s sire is actually the prince.”

“Savoy will corroborate that for me.”

“If she isn’t, then I suppose there’s still good reason to kill her, given what she knows about you.”

“I know enough about the Malveauxes to know she was corrupt even before her Embrace.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“I had an idea there, about Caroline, and how to keep our hands clean.”

GM: “What?”

Celia: Celia briefly explains the idea about a breach of the Masquerade, which would not put them directly against each other but rather her in the crosshairs of the Krewe of Janus. She suggests that Harlequin knows Caroline is more than she says and that he shouldn’t be the one to investigate the breach. She also mentions that claiming she is the prince’s childe may rally people to her no matter her reception in the past, and that they could possibly spread a different rumor about her sire.

She also says that if she’s able to find the proof she’s looking for about Vidal and it’s known that he’s a headhunter, the city might further destabilize and her sire being the prince will no longer mean she is a figurehead for a more powerful elder, though admittedly it’s an uphill battle and she also thinks many elders won’t care considering how the trial with Matheson went.

They can also further turn the Anarchs and Bourbons against her while they plan her death.

So that she will not have friends or allies to call on from those camps.

GM: “You’re being stupid again, Celia,” says Roderick.

“She’s a Hardliner. She has no friends among the Bourbons.”

“Not unless she’s dealing under the table.”

“And I sure as hell know she isn’t popular with the Anarchs.”

“Well, with some exceptions.”

“But the covenant as a whole doesn’t like her much.”

Roderick glances at the clock.

“The sun’s going to be up soon. We’ll continue this in the evening.”

He leads Celia to his bedroom, then lays out some blankets and pillows on the floor for her next to the bed.

“We can sleep together once the outstanding issues in our relationship are resolved. Your body is dead, so a day on the floor won’t be physically uncomfortable.”

He climbs into bed.

“Good day.”


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

Celia: Those were her sire’s words to her. The affront against him makes a tiny kernel of red spark in her chest.

This boy. This pathetic boy thinks that he is smarter than the sheriff? Thinks that he has broken her, suborned her to his will, that he has won?

No. He only walks the forest path that others have cleared, only treads the ground already so fertile for his seeds to take root. He has not broken her. He has only bent her, and only because she has allowed it. He sees only the mask she wants him to see. Only what she allows him to see. The truth, certainly, the truth of her deeds.

But not her heart.

He cannot touch her there.

He cannot reach inside her chest as her sire has done and pluck her heartstrings one by one, forcing her body to dance to a tune that only he can hear. He does not dangle her on the end of a string, does not open the door to a cage that she joyously steps into.

He is a brute. A tyrant. Another Maxen. He uses stick when carrot would suffice, forgets the aftercare for the burning bottom. Her sire beat her and then mended her with the blood from his own veins, and even had he not slipped that collar around her throat the leash would still pull tight. He slaughters her ghoul and kisses her, cuts open the boy’s heart to share a meal. That is a master. That is love.

This one sees only what people let him see and thinks himself enlightened. He has been a sheltered pet his whole Requiem, has not dallied in the dirt with thugs and ruffians and unsavories. He thinks that his college degrees and learned tutors has woken him to the ways of the world.

A lie broke him. A single lie. A single betrayal. She has been broken and twisted and raked over the coals so many times that she has lost count. She has been abandoned, abused, deceived, and still she carries on.

Still she moves forward.

He thinks her lies corrupt? He has seen nothing.

She has shown him nothing.

Who will she become, the masked man asked, and the girl in her fairy dress said that she does not know who she wants to be.

Two faces in the mirror. Beauty. Beast. Corruption incarnate. Poisoned smiles and hidden knives.

The dreams of her sire slip away and out comes the little girl, the dutiful wife, the flower that once bloomed so brightly.

Come into my trap, little fly.

Beauty lies her head upon the pillow and snuggles beneath the provided blanket. She smiles with lips as red as the roses of her clan and eyes the color of turbulent skies.

“Goodnight, Roderick. I love you.”

Ice masks have no place in the sun. And she is not her sire. She is not ice. She is the liquid that ebbs and flows. She is the dancer in the dark. She is the chameleon and patience is her virtue.

View
Celia VI, Chapter V
Into the Microwave

“Yes, Roderick.”
Celia Flores


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

Celia: There’s a cat on the side of the road near the border of the Mid-City. It’s a pretty cat. Gray fur, bright eyes, a cute little black nose. There’s no collar on the cat’s neck, but it looks well cared for; it clearly belongs to someone, and the bag sitting half-hidden in shrubbery beside it suggests that this person is nearby.

Only there’s no one around but the cat.

The cat waits for her boy, tail flicking beneath the pale moonlight, eyes on the road. She searches for his car.

GM: The cat doesn’t wait long.

The boy’s car arrives soon. The boy gets out.

“Hello, puss,” he smiles, getting onto his haunches to scratch her ears.

Celia: The cat purrs at her boy, rubbing her face against his palm and winding herself around his ankles. She shows him the bag, then rolls onto her back to expose her belly.

While the cat might not want the petting to end, the girl inside of her knows that she has things to discuss with the boy and they can’t spend all their time here on the side of the road. She can’t hide in this form tonight and avoid conversation. So it isn’t too long before she paws at the car, leaping inside once he opens the door and moves to his lap as soon as he starts the car so they can leave. She kneads his thighs with her paws, turns in a circle, and settles down with her limbs tucked beneath her for the drive to his place.

GM: Roderick smiles and rubs the cat’s belly for a while. He lets her inside and brings the bag with him.

Then he picks up an old-fashioned cat carrier with a caged door, opens it, and gently but forcefully pushes the feline inside. He closes the cage door after her.

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” he says as he starts the ignition. “This is better for the Masquerade.”

Celia: The cat doesn’t take kindly to being shoved inside the cage. It twists, trying to get around his hand, but he’s stronger and bigger than her feline form and he closes the door on her before she can escape. She yowls in distress, scratching at the box with her claws.

GM: “Bad,” the boy says firmly as they drive. “You will be corrected if you cannot stay good as a cat, Celia.”

Celia: Her answering meow is distraught. But she’s quiet after that.

GM: “Good cat,” says Roderick, his eyes remaining on the road.

Celia: She settles eventually, curling up on the floor of the crate with her head on her paws. There’s little else she can do given the situation.

GM: The cat waits for a while. Roderick eventually parks the car in the garage, takes the bag and the cat carrier, and gets out. He takes the stairs up to his apartment.

Luna doesn’t see the man from last night.

Celia: She wonders if he’s dead. Or if he just broke a bunch of things falling down the stairs.

She sniffs for blood.

GM: Roderick doesn’t say either way.

The cat smells none.

He takes her into his new apartment. It feels similar to the old one, but less personal. It’s clean and well-maintained, and decorated with the same modern and relatively minimalist aesthetic. Grays, whites, and beiges predominate. Much of the wall space used for art seems to have gone to bookshelves instead. The baseball pennant for the New Orleans Pelicans is gone, though. So is the John F. Kennedy election poster. The three family photos of the Garrisons are gone as well. His grandmother’s mirror has already been shattered. The framed degrees from Tulane University and Tulane Law are still present, though. There’s also two new additions: one is a statue of a tall and proud-looking woman in an imperious pose, fist raised high above her head. There’s an inscription at the base in what looks like Greek, which Celia cannot read. There’s also a mosaic of Alexander the Great on his horse.

Roderick sets down the bag, then puts down the cat carrier next to it. He opens the barred metal door for the cat inside to leave.

Celia: Luna darts out of the cage, streaking past Roderick to dive beneath the couch, crawling across the carpet on her belly to fit into the snug space.

GM: She hears a frown in Roderick’s voice.

“Enough of that, Celia. You are not a cat.”

Celia: She is a cat. Her answering meow is plaintive.

GM: The couch is suddenly gone. Roderick lifts it over his head in one hand. There’s a stern look on his face as he grabs for the cat.

Celia: Oh. The cat starts to flatten herself against the ground, then catches sight of his face and thinks better of it. She doesn’t move when he reaches for her.

GM: He picks her up by the scruff of her neck, lowers the couch enough that it doesn’t make too much impact when he drops it, then stuffs the cat back inside the carrier.

The barred metal door locks closed again with another click.

Celia: She could twist. Hiss. Scratch his arm.

But she doesn’t. She hangs limply from his hand, goes quietly into the carrier, and doesn’t make a peep once she’s inside.

GM: He looks at her for several moments.

“You will remain in the carrier until you show me you are in control of yourself.”

“Shake your head if you are not a cat. Cats do not shake their heads.”

Celia: The cat meows at him. But she shakes her head.

GM: “No meows,” he says.

“Shake your head twice if you are not a cat.”

Celia: What sort of cat doesn’t meow?

The cat shakes her head. She pauses. Then shakes it again.

GM: “Good,” says Roderick.

“I am going to let you out. You will immediately turn back into a human. Nod your head if you understand.”

Celia: The cat nods her head.

GM: Roderick opens the cage door.

Celia: There was a cat once. Now there’s just a girl, sitting on the floor where the cat had been while she looks up at her boyfriend with large eyes. She’s dressed down from Elysium and her meetings, in yoga pants and an off-the-shoulder sweater that exposes her neck and collarbone on one side, hair pulled back off her face in a low tie that twists in and around itself to lend some elegance to the typical “pony” look.

She looks younger and more vulnerable than her years suggest. There’s no trace of Jade in her face despite the mask she wears. No trace of the slutty Toreador. No trace of Savoy’s lapcat or Veronica’s childe, the killer or the chameleon.

There’s no trace of her sire when she looks up at Roderick, wringing her hands in front of her.

She looks like his college girlfriend again. Casual. Uncertain. Timid.

“Y-you pu… you put me in a—a cage.”

GM: “It’s better for the Masquerade,” Roderick says simply.

Calmly.

Rationally.

She’s making such a big deal about this.

He hangs up his coat, then sits down on the couch. He’s also dressed down from Elysium, albeit slightly. Button-up navy shirt. Black slacks. Oxfords.

“You seemed fairly intent on selling me that you belonged in a cage.”

Celia: “I just—I just wanted you to p-pet me.”

She doesn’t point out how many people put their animals inside their cars without cages or boxes or leashes.

GM: “I did pet you. Multiple times. Do you not recall that, Celia?” he asks, seated above her on the couch.

Celia: “What if there was an accident? What if there was a fire? What if you got jumped?”

How could he do that to her? She doesn’t ask. Her eyes find the floor. Her shoulders lift, as if to protect herself from his anger and disappointment.

Where’s the boy who wants a cat? Where’s the boy who will cuddle and pet her all night because it’s cute and adorable?

Dead.

Dead and gone.

“R-Roderick?” She can’t shake the stammer. She breathes. The hesitance is there in her eyes when she lifts them from the ground to find his face, wide and imploring.

“I… I think I…”

She trails off, eyes dropping to the ground again. She’s not going to cry. She’s not going to cry. She’s not going to cry. She’s not afraid, she tells herself. He could have hurt her earlier and he didn’t. He’s not going to hurt her. He’s not going to kill her. He loves her. He’ll help her. It’s better this way. He’s smarter. Stronger. Faster. She’s lost without him, floundering. He’ll put her back on the proper path. It’s for her. For them.

She takes another breath. They should do this first. Before anything else.

“I n-need… I need to be corrected,” she finishes in a whisper.

GM: Roderick leans down from his seat to touch Celia, who’s still sitting below him on the ground, and places a hand on her shoulder.

“For questioning my judgment over the cage, Celia, or for something else?” he asks, understandingly.

Celia: She can’t help but lean into his touch. She closes her eyes. She breathes again, but it does nothing for her.

“B… both?”

The uncertainty makes it a question. Is he going to correct her about the cage? She’d stopped. She had.

GM: “Why both?” he asks, still patiently.

Celia: “I… I shouldn’t question you? It’s better. Better for the Masquerade. I should—I shouldn’t play. I’m not a cat. I’m a per… I’m a person. You told me to stop but I didn’t. I wanted to play. It was…. it was wrong. You said stop.”

GM: “Correct,” Roderick answers. “We did play, when I first arrived to pick you up. We enjoyed that. But you got too ‘into character.’ I’ve heard it’s something that Gangrel can do while shapeshifted. They can lose their rationality and higher faculties. They can truly become animals.”

“I don’t need to say that neither of us wants you to ‘actually become’ an animal.”

Celia: Celia nods her head.

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t… I wasn’t lost. I know who I am. I’m Celia. I just… I wanted… cuddling. More of it.”

She tries not to think about the prop she’d bought for them sitting at the top of her bag.

GM: “Then you need to ask for that as a person, or you need to find a way to intelligently communicate your desires while shapeshifted,” Roderick explains. “You are not actually a cat, Celia. You can enjoy ‘play’ as a cat. But that is as far as it should go.”

Celia: “You seemed happier last time when we played,” Celia says quietly. “I just… wanted you to be happier.”

GM: “Do you think it makes me happy to discipline a misbehaving cat?”

Celia: “No.”

GM: “Do you think it makes me happy to explain to my carmilla that she is not actually a cat?”

Celia: “N-no.”

“I’m sorry,” she says again. “I misjudged. I won’t do it again.”

“I’ll go in the cage when I need to. I won’t… meow.”

GM: “Good,” says Roderick.

He rubs her shoulder.

“We can play when you’re a cat. But when I make clear that playtime is over, it’s over. Understood?”

Celia: “Yes.” There’s a pause, like she’s debating saying “sir.”

“Understood.”

GM: “Good,” he repeats.

He rubs her shoulder again.

It’s good she understands.

“I don’t like yoga pants, Celia,” he then says. “Please change into something else. You can keep the top if you’d still like to.”

Celia: “Oh. I didn’t know. I’m… I’m sorry, Roderick, I didn’t know. I’ll change.”

She’s on her feet quickly, moving towards her bag to find something else. She had brought everything she’d need for the evening, for the day, for tomorrow as well. The prop she’d ordered for the pair of them is moved aside as she shifts through her bag, searching for something more suitable.

“Are… are pajamas okay?”

GM: Roderick gets out his phone and scrolls through it while she looks through her things.

“Pajamas are okay,” he answers.

“You also don’t need to be sorry for this,” he smiles. “I hadn’t told you I don’t like them. But no more yoga pants around me in the future. Okay?”

Celia: Has he always disliked them?

“Do… do you have a preference on what I wear around you? More formal?”

GM: “No, I generally like your clothing styles,” he answers. “If something else comes up that I don’t like, I’ll let you know. You won’t be corrected for it.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick. Thank you.”

She doesn’t know if he wants her to change in front of him. She excuses herself from the room to do so, moving back in only once she has donned her nightie: a sheer teddy with a bow off to one side and matching panties.

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She hesitates on the threshold of the room, as if to ask him if this is okay.

GM: Roderick smiles at her and nods.

“You look lovely, Celia.”

Celia: She’s not immune to compliments. Her cheeks turn pink. She smiles shyly, dipping her head, and puts the offending clothing back into her bag. A small pink box is displaced when she does; she reaches for it to tuck it back away.

GM: Roderick watches her do so.

“Do your employees at Flawless still wear yoga pants?”

“And tennis shoes?”

Celia: “Y… yes?”

“They’re easy to move in.”

“And they’re on their feet all day.”

GM: “You can draw up a uniform proposal and run it past me. I’m fine if they wear comfortable footwear, but I don’t like tennis shoes, either.”

Celia: She wants to argue with him. It’s her business.

But she nods instead.

“Are… are you going to be coming by the spa, Roderick? It’s usually only me at night.”

GM: “Good,” he says. “Uniforms will help your employees look more professional. That will help draw important clients to your business.”

“And I’d had the thought to do so more frequently, now that I’m going to be spending more time in the Quarter. Do you like that thought?”

Celia: “For services?”

GM: “For services, to simply spend time together, and to assess how your business can be used to advance our interests.”

Celia: “Oh.”

Someone breathing down her neck. Telling her how to run things.

Making the tough decisions so she doesn’t need to.

“Yes.”

GM: “I’ll come by when your employees are no longer wearing tennis shoes and yoga pants.”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick.”

Yes, sire.

Yes, Daddy.

GM: “Good,” Roderick says. “Sit down, Celia. You’d said there was something I needed to correct you for?”

Celia: Celia takes a seat beside him. Half of her had hoped he’d forgotten. The rest of her knows he’s too smart for that.

She nods.

GM: He turns to fully face her.

“Tell me about it.”

Celia: At least he hadn’t put her on the floor, right? She tries to take that as a good sign. He loves her. He respects her. He wants to listen to her.

But he’s in charge.

“I… I did a… I p-put our rel-relationship at—at risk. I be… I be…” She cuts off. She can’t breathe. She doesn’t need to breathe but she still can’t; the air traps itself like a bubble in her throat. It burns. She blinks back the red, unable to stand his disappointment.

Not scared. She’s not scared. He’s not going to hurt her. He’s only going to correct her.

“I be-betrayed y-you. Us. I betrayed us.”

She can’t look at him. She can’t. One night in and she’d already messed up.

Stupid, he says inside her head.

She nods. She is. She’s stupid. He’s smart. He’ll make it better. He’ll fix it.

Pathetic, someone sneers.

Crafty, a lick with green eyes says.

He loves her, the blonde sighs.

“Stop it,” she whispers.

GM: She hears the frown in Roderick’s voice.

“How did you betray us, Celia?” he asks.

Calmly.

Patiently.

Rationally.

He’ll know what to do.

All she needs to do is tell him.

Celia: “I… I… I…”

She looks up. She meets his eyes. She looks away again. Swallows.

“I me—I met with… with a contact. I have… I have a lot of contacts,” she explains in a whisper.

He’s going to hurt her.

He’s going to kill her.

He’s going to leave her.

“He’s not,” she whispers. She puts her hands over her ears, as if that will make it stop. “He’s not. He’s not. Stop it! Stop. Please stop.”

GM: Celia can’t see his face. But she hears a deeper frown in her lover’s voice.

“Who are you talking to, Celia?” he asks.

Celia: Them.

Leilani. Jade. Someone Else.

Crazy, one of them giggles.

They might not understand, the masked man says.

Slowly, Celia uncovers her ears. He won’t understand. Not yet. It’s too much for right now. She needs to be corrected first.

“No… no one. Sorry. No one.” Everyone. She changes the subject as delicately as she can. “I have… I have a lot of—of contacts. Friends, some. They tell… they tell me things.”

“But that’s… that’s Jade. Pretty. Whore.”

“He touched me.”

“I let him. I let him touch me.”

GM: Roderick frowns.

Perhaps at both statements.

But he lets the first one drop for now.

“Who touched you, Celia?” he asks.

Celia: “The Brujah. The Greek. Duke. Duke. It was Duke.”

“I went to Tulane.”

He’s going to hurt her.

Correct.

He’s going to correct her.

“I got a brochure,” she says to him, as if that makes up for what she’d done.

Sneaking into his frat house. Letting him touch her. Touching him. The stolen brochure—one of his “brothers” must be undecided—doesn’t make up for it.

She knows that. But she says it.

GM: “I see,” Roderick says.

“I need to speak with him about this. You’re going to bring him someplace where I can do so.”

Celia: Celia bobs her head up and down.

“We talked about things,” she says.

An offering, if he wants it.

GM: “Good,” says Roderick when she nods. He puts a hand down over hers.

“You can do that soon, and you can do that on your own?”

Celia: “I usually go to him,” she admits.

GM: “I see. Do you think you can’t?”

Celia: “I’ll make it work. I’ll do that. For you. For us. I’ll bring him.”

GM: “Good,” Roderick smiles, patting her hand again.

“Would you like to sit on my lap?”

Celia: She nods again.

GM: He pats it.

Celia: Celia clambers onto his lap. She shivers, as if expecting the worst, then settles against him.

GM: He wraps his arms around her and hugs her against him.

“You did good, Celia, telling me like this. You don’t need to be corrected when you tell the truth.”

“Telling the truth is good.”

“Telling the truth is virtuous.”

Celia: She can’t help the sob. The way she clings to him. The red that runs down her cheeks after she’d spent the past few hours fearing the worst. She presses herself against him, nodding her head as he talks to show she understands but crying in relief all the same.

GM: “Shhh. It’s okay, Celia. I’ve got you,” says Roderick, hugging her close.

“I’m proud of you for telling the truth.”

Celia: She apologizes anyway, stammering out a handful of _sorry_s and I didn’t mean tos.

“I w—I went for, for you,” she finally gets out. “Be-because you said you wanted to-to kill him.”

GM: “Yes, I still do,” answers Roderick. “So why did you go there?”

Celia: Celia tries to breathe. The tears slow as Roderick holds her close. She curls against him in her sheer teddy, legs drawn up almost to her chest.

“Information,” she finally says. “We talked about… about a few things. I thought if… I thought I could leverage our friendship if he were made a hound, and keep you updated.”

“And I found out… something else.”

GM: “What did you find out?” Roderick asks.

Celia: Celia leans in close to whisper in his ear.

“I found out the truth about Caroline.”

GM: Roderick raises an eyebrow.

Celia: “Vidal’s childe,” Celia whispers.

GM: His eyebrow raises further.

Celia: “No one knows.”

GM: “If you do it’s a sure bet that other licks do too, Celia.”

Celia: She huffs.

“Savoy knows. And Lebeaux. And some others, probably.”

“But she’s in his way.”

“And she hurt my mom.”

“And I hate her.”

“And she threatened me.”

GM: “What makes you believe she’s the prince’s childe?”

Celia: “I got a sample of her blood and had Lebeaux test it.”

GM: “And Lebeaux told you that she was Vidal’s childe.”

Celia: Celia looks sure of herself for the first time since Roderick let her out of the cage.

“I’m a spy, Roderick. That’s what I do.”

“I find out things. And I tell Lord Savoy. Or my sire. And we plan around them.”

“I can change my face. I can become an animal. I can go anywhere.”

GM: “You obtained a blood sample that you tendered to Peter Lebeaux, and he told you that Caroline was Vidal’s childe,” Roderick repeats.

Celia: “He tested it in front of me.”

“You don’t believe me?”

GM: “It’s his magic. He controls what you see.”

“I don’t see any reason why the prince would’ve Embraced Caroline Malveaux-Devillers. The evidence you’ve cited, ‘Peter Lebeaux told me’, is not especially compelling.”

Celia: “I slept with her, Roderick. Before you and I were together. I went to her house and I slept with her. I tasted her blood. I tasted his blood inside of her.”

“She knows me as Celia, so I went to her as Celia. And she told me, too.”

GM: “Have you tasted Vidal’s blood?” Roderick asks.

Celia: “Savoy and I talked about it.”

“No,” Celia admits, “but the blood in her was thicker than Savoy’s, and Ventrue, and he’s both.”

GM: “I’ll ask Lord Savoy about this when I see him next,” says Roderick. “Until then, the subject of Caroline’s alleged sire is closed.”

Celia: “Wait.”

“Please. Listen. He didn’t tell me I could tell you. He’ll know it was me if you bring it up.”

GM: “All right,” Roderick considers. “Ask him if you can tell me. Tell me his response either way.”

Celia: “I’m meeting with him tomorrow night,” Celia offers. “But… Roderick, that wasn’t… I had other sources…”

“But she’s… she’s in his way. If he wants the throne. She’s in his way.”

GM: “Caroline isn’t a threat to Savoy.”

“Whoever her sire is.”

Celia: “She is if she’s announced as the prince’s heir.”

GM: “She’s not even a year dead, Celia. Even if that happens, the best she could hope to be is a figurehead.”

Celia: “That’s the point.”

“Someone else uses her to spearhead their campaign.”

“Maldonato. Or another elder.”

GM: “Who are still threats, whether Vidal has a childe or not.”

Celia: “But she makes their claim legitimate.”

GM: “Celia, you know less about these things than I do,” Roderick says frankly.

Celia: She looks as if he slapped her. Her face falls.

“Yes, Roderick,” she murmurs.

“I’m sorry.”

GM: He runs a hand along her cheek.

“You need to remember that,” he says softly. “When you get worked up over these things.”

“Who is the smart one?”

Celia: “I’m… I’m sorry,” she stammers again. She presses her cheek into his hand. “I’m sorry. You’re the smart one. You’ll tell me what to worry about. When to worry. I’m sorry.”

GM: He hugs her.

“It’s okay.”

“This is still new for you.”

Celia: Celia slowly nods her head.

GM: “You remembered where things stood when I reminded you. So that’s good.”

Celia: “I… I didn’t mean to overstep. I want… I wanted to tell you. To tell you ev—everything.”

GM: He rubs her back.

“I know you did. I’m glad you did. You should tell me everything. This was worth telling me.”

“You just got caught up and forgot who the smart one was.”

Celia: “Thank you. For… for reminding me.”

“For running the ship.”

“For handling it.”

“Thank you.”

GM: “You’re welcome. I will handle it. I’ll always take care of you.”

“As far as Caroline, any childe of Vidal’s would make a useful political prop to Maldonato or any number of other actors. She could be dangerous to Savoy, but only as a weapon wielded in their hands.”

“And when you fight someone, Celia, you don’t fight the weapon attacking you.”

“You fight the person attacking you with it.”

Celia: She’s a monster, Celia wants to say. A soul devouring monster. But she nods instead, latching on to his words.

“How? How do we fight Maldonato? And the others? I have… had… I gave him intel, but I don’t… I’m still working on it..?”

GM: Roderick gives Celia a humorous look.

“You certainly don’t fight the seneschal, Celia. He’s far above your pay grade.”

“Mine too, at least for now.”

“He’s Savoy’s problem.”

Celia: “But we help Savoy?”

GM: “Because it serves us.”

Celia: “Roderick?”

“What… what do you want?”

“In the future?”

“You… you said earlier… Alexander…” She looks towards the painting.

GM: “That’s a conversation for another time,” Roderick answers. “In the meanwhile, dealing with the seneschal isn’t your problem. What would you say if the junior-most girl at Flawless was worrying about your business’ long-term profit margins?”

Celia: “Am… Am I the junior most girl?”

“I just… I had a… I had a vision…” Celia trails off.

GM: “No, those are the Quarter Rats. The comparison was not exact, Celia. So tell me what you would think if one of the junior girls at Flawless was worrying about big picture questions that only you, the owner, have to concern yourself with?”

Celia: “I… I guess I’d tell them it’s… above their pay grade? But… but you’re my… we’re together, I thought. I want to help. To get you where you want. To support.”

“Because I love you.”

GM: “Of course. Just as I love you. And if you’d discovered, say, a weakness of the seneschal’s, that would be something I’d very much want to hear. But right you simply seem to be worrying yourself over a great deal of nothing.”

Celia: “Oh,” she says. “I’m… I’m sorry.”

“I’ll stop. Worrying.”

GM: “Good,” says Roderick.

“You said Caroline threatened you and hurt your mom. Tell me about that.”

Celia: Celia does so. She mentions her trip to the Garden District. Caroline wiping her mother’s memories. Her mother’s distress. Throwing her off the roof to use her as punishment. Caroline’s threat against Jade.

She’s vague.

She doesn’t mention the threat because of Celia.

Or the sheriff’s intervention.

She tells him, too, how she thinks Caroline is responsible for her sister’s death.

How she’s taken out the entire krewe.

Fed them to her sire.

GM: “I told you to stop talking about Caroline’s alleged sire,” Roderick frowns.

Celia: Celia abruptly shuts her mouth.

GM: “I’ll let that slide for now, but showing me you can’t follow instructions tells me you need correction.”

Celia: “I’m… I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I’m trying. Please… please cor… correct me. If. If I need it. I don’t want to disappoint you.”

GM: “I know you don’t,” says Roderick. “Now, please clarify for me. You said Caroline threw your mother off a roof?”

Celia: “Punishment. Trespassing.”

GM: “Where was this?”

Celia: “My haven. When you came. And she was there.”

GM: “So Caroline came to the French Quarter, and threw your mother off your haven’s roof?”

Celia: She’s caught.

Trapped.

In her own lie.

Slowly, Celia shakes her head.

GM: “No?” Roderick asks. “What detail am I getting wrong, Celia?”

Celia: “I… I don’t…” Celia shakes her head.

GM: Roderick grabs Celia’s hair, makes a fist in it and yanks it back hard, splaying her throat.

“I don’t like where this conversation is going, Celia.”

Celia: Celia becomes absolutely, perfectly still.

GM: “Why don’t you tell me the full story of what happened to your mother at the roof.”

Celia: She blinks back red tears.

“Sh… she… the shuh… the… sheriff. The sheriff. Catch. Stupid. Catch her. Catch. Threw her. Threw her. He threw her. Catch. Said catch.”

GM: “Ah, the sheriff,” says Roderick, nodding thoughtfully.

“I suppose that makes more sense.”

“There was a lot about the ‘Caroline threw my mother off a roof’ story that didn’t make sense to me.”

He looks down at Celia and sneers.

“You’re so disgustingly dishonest, Celia.”

“You wouldn’t know the truth if it bent you over this couch and fucked you.”

Celia: That’s not how it’s supposed to go.

This isn’t how it goes.

She stays quiet. She’s already dug herself deep enough.

GM: Roderick abruptly dumps Celia off his lap and rises to his feet. He stares down at the prone woman on the floor with a cool expression.

“What do you have to say about what a liar you are?”

Celia: “I’m… I…”

Celia blinks up at him. Then she lowers her gaze, dropping her eyes to the floor. She kneels, bending, and presses her palms against the ground with her head bowed, supplicating herself before him in a pose that is pure submission and exposes the back of her neck.

“I don’t want to lie anymore. I don’t want to lie. I don’t want to. Please. Please help me. Please make me better. Please correct me. I want to tell you. Tell you everything. I don’t want to lie.”

GM: “I am going to give you three choices now, Celia.”

“One, we can end our relationship here, and you can tell as many lies as you like.”

Celia: No.

He can’t.

Her face spasms in pain at the thought. She shakes her head frantically from side to side.

GM: “No? And yet you keep telling me lies, even though you know how much truth means to me. Is it unreasonable of me to think you value lying more than you value our relationship?”

Celia: “I don’t. I don’t. I swear. I don’t. There’s… just… there’s so much that… I’m afraid, Roderick. I’m afraid you won’t accept me. Won’t want me. Won’t love me.”

She can’t hold back the tears. She tries. She knows he doesn’t like her like this so she tries. She wipes at her eyes as if that will hide it.

“I d-don’t wa-want to, to lie anymore.”

GM: “The second option,” Roderick continues impassively, without so much as a trace of sympathy in his voice, “is that you leave my haven and sleep by yourself tonight. You will write a testament for me. Of your lies. All of your lies. One of your ghouls will deliver it to me. I will call you when I have finished reading it. We will not see each other until then.”

Celia: Leave.

Leave and go where?

There’s more to say. More to tell him. More to discuss.

Celia doesn’t say anything. She waits for the final option.

GM: “The third option is that you turn into a cat, and I put you in the microwave for several minutes.”

“You may then spend the night with me.”

“You will still give me a full accounting of all of your lies.”

Celia: “Won’t… won’t that kill me?”

GM: “You are a vampire, Celia,” Roderick explains patiently.

“A microwave cannot kill you.”

“It will cause you considerable pain and injury, however.”

“If you don’t want to go through that discomfort, you can spend the night somewhere else.”

Celia: Humans explode in a microwave. She’d seen it once. In a movie.

“I… I want the… the microwave, please.”

She doesn’t want to leave him. He hates her. Thinks she’s stupid. And she still clings to him.

GM: “Okay, Celia,” says Roderick.

“Turn into a cat.”

Celia: Celia needs no further encouragement. She disappears, the cat in her place. The cat doesn’t try to cuddle the boy. She doesn’t flick her tail or wash her whiskers or purr. She’s just still.

Waiting.

Dreading.


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

GM: Roderick picks up the cat and carries her to the kitchen. It’s a clean- and modern-looking kitchen, though there’s no food out.

He sets the cat down on the countertop.

He opens the door to a black microwave.

Celia: The cat doesn’t need him to place her inside. She walks in on her own once he opens the door.

*GM:* The cat has a clear ceramic dish to sit down on. Roderick closes the door. The cat hears him pressing buttons.

Almost instantly, the cat’s vision blurs and she begins to feel dizzy. Like someone is shaking her eyeballs. The dish underneath the cat starts to spin like a perverse merry-go-round.

Almost instantly, it gets hot.

Very hot.

The cat can feel every cell in its body vibrating at grotesquely high frequency. All of the water in the cat’s body—all of the blood—starts to boil. Eyes, mouth, skin, the cat’s entire body feels like exploding as the animal is cooked alive from the inside. Around and around goes the microwave dish. The Beast screams in the cat’s ears.

Roderick’s arm moves over the microwave door, holding it firmly shut.

That’s the cat’s last sight before she sees pure red.

Celia: She’s dying.

He’s killing her.

She’s going to boil.

To burn.

The cat yowls in pain. She hisses. She claws at the sides of the microwave. She launches herself at the door, but her lover is outside holding it shut. There’s nowhere to run.

Around and around and around she goes.

The red haze descends. She escapes the pain. Escapes the heat. Escapes the stupid.

The Beast is furious. It comes out of the girl-turned-cat to find itself trapped in a box. It doesn’t like boxes. It doesn’t like heat. It doesn’t like pain.

And it doesn’t like the boy holding it in here. Keeping it here. Trapping it.

Like it’s not a deadly thing in its own right.

The Beast launches its body at the door. It scratches with its claws, howling and spitting while it cooks from the inside out. Its organs, if it had any, would fail. Its fat melts from its very bones, turning its muscles sluggish. It trips. Falters. Falls.

It’s burning.

Screaming.

Dying.

It tears at its own burning flesh, raking its claws down its body to rid itself of the fur that seeks to trap it. Muscle and skin peels away with every scrape. Anything to escape. Anything to get free.

Anything to

Stop

The

Burning.

GM: Then.

Just like that.

Beep-beep. Beep-beep.

The red haze clears. The pain ends. Absolute heat plunges into room temperature, or something that might feel like room temperature. The microwave door opens with a light chk. Smoke wafts out.

The door seems taller now. The cat is lying flat on her belly. She feels like she’s been cooked from the inside. She has been cooked from the inside. Everything burns. Everything hurts. Part of the cat just wants to curl up and die.

“I’m going to pour cold water over you,” sounds Roderick’s almost warbling voice. It’s hard to hear. He’s holding a tall glass in his hand.

“Make a sign if you don’t want me to.”

Celia: There’s no sign of anything from the cat. No sign it’s even alive anymore.

Maybe he killed it.

GM: But the cat is a vampire.

A microwave wouldn’t be enough to kill it.

Or maybe he’s testing now, to see if he has.

The boy is smart.

Ice-cold water pours all over the cat’s body.

It… hurts.

Celia: Hurts.

That’s a mild way to put it.

The cat remembers how to scream when the water touches its body.

Lukewarm.

Lukewarm for burns.

The girl was always better at medical stuff than the boy.

GM: The boy’s hands approach. The dish lifts up from the microwave.

“There we go, Celia,” sounds his voice.

The cat feels a sensation like movement. Gray approaches in its blurred vision. Then more gray, from all sides.

It must be in the sink.

“I’m going to turn on the cold water. Make a sign if you don’t want me to.”

Celia: The cat slumps in the sink. It doesn’t bother making a sound. All of the “warm water for burns” probably only applies to humans anyway.

She’s never been burned this badly before.

Maybe if it’s cold enough it’ll finish her off. He can dump the cat’s carcass in the garbage.

She won’t be able to disappoint anyone anymore.

GM: Just like that, cold water floods over the cat from all sides. Steadily rises. The drain must be plugged. Maybe the boy did that ahead of time.

The cold water hurts.

But it’s colder.

And gets colder still as the water level rises.

So she can’t get flushed down the drain.

Just float around and dirty someone else’s water.

Celia: She doesn’t need to breathe. Which means she doesn’t need to swim. So she doesn’t bother keeping her head above the water, just lets it cover her until she’s a gray blur beneath the surface.

Death might feel better than this.

GM: She feels hot. She feels cold. She feels like she’s melting. She feels like she’s freezing.

Mostly she just feels like shit.

Celia: Burning in Hell can’t be this agonizing.

GM: Time passes.

The boy doesn’t say anything.

The cat just lies there in the cold water.

Lies there, burns inside, and suffers.

But steadily, the burning subsides.

Celia: Her sire has beaten her. But he’s never tortured her. She wonders where she went wrong that the boy who loves her could fathom doing this to her.

GM: She never hurt her sire like she hurt the boy.

Can anyone even hurt her sire?

Celia: Maybe she doesn’t want to know.

Maybe one night she’ll go too far and he’ll just… snap her.

Like a twig.

Or a piece of glass.

She’ll shatter.

Isn’t she already shattered?

He broke her.

She was his and he broke her.

She was her sire’s and he broke her too.

GM: She broke him, too.

They’re perfect for each other.

Celia: No. Love doesn’t hurt this much.

She was made for someone else.

But he’ll never love her.

View
Celia VI, Chapter IV
Duke & Demons

“We lie to everyone, Celia.”
Peter Lebeaux


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

GM: It’s a ten minute or so drive to 1216 Camp Street in the Lower Garden District. One of Accou’s and his sire’s public havens. It’s a Greek Revival mansion with the iron galleries so typical to the city’s architecture and a slim front profile, with several trees growing in the front of the house and another larger one from the fenced-off courtyard.

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Jade is greeted and shown inside by servants.

The home’s tall-ceilinged interior feels more spacious than its outside. It’s decorated with a variety of traditional African and and jazz-themed art pieces, as well as a few Cuban ones. An array of house plants make it feel like some of the greenery from outside has been transported within. The fireplace goes typically unused.

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Jade is shown to a seat in the living room. The house’s master appears shortly thereafter. Accou Poincaré is a moderately dark-skinned man of Creole descent who looks no older than his early 20s in spite of his thick mustache. Still, there’s a subtle, marble-like cast to his features, a slowness to his motions, and an indelible weight behind his eyes that covey a sense of great age. He’s dressed in an old-fashioned black suit with cufflinks and a bowtie. Jade has only seen him without his dark kidskin gloves for piano recitals and tonight is no exception.

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“Greetings, Miss Jade,” smiles her alleged grandsire as he assumes his seat upon a couch. “Tonight’s Elysium was a pleasant venue, was it not? I trust you enjoyed the evening.”

Celia: Jade had taken the opportunity her stop at home afforded to change from the gown and floral shoes she’d worn to Elysium to a different sort of dress. Still formal, still form-fitting, but more suited to an intimate affair between grandsire and grandchilde than the public preening of Elysium. Deep plum, it sets off the sparkle in her eyes and caramel skin, fitted through the bodice and hips with a delicate flare of chiffon and silk that begins mid-way down her thighs. A platinum and diamond necklace draws attention to her slender throat and bare shoulders, hair pulled off to one side in delicate waves that curl down her back. A small, silver-wrapped package rests beside her.

She rises as her grandsire enters the room to dip into a curtsy.

“Good evening, Alder Accou.”

Only once he sits does she resume her position on the couch she had been shown to, smoothing her dress down her body as she crosses one leg over the other.

“Grandsire.” She flashes a smile his way at the more familiar name. “I did enjoy the venue, yes, particularly the sculpture garden. I found it most illuminating. Did you have a chance to stroll through?”

GM: “I did. The venue is a novel and more intimate one than the museum proper, is it not?” A faint smile. “I suspect many attendees spent at least some of their evenings perambulating amidst the sculptures.”

Celia: “The illusion of privacy without ever truly being away from the eyes and ears of our society. I do so hope no one was silly enough to let something sensuous slip out while they thought they were alone.” The amusement on her face gives lie to the words that pass her lips. They both know that she, like her sire, thrives on ferreting out such little bits and pieces.

GM: “One can hope, but one will most likely be disappointed. Mr. Thibodeux perhaps most of all.” Accou frowns briefly in recollection of the newcomer.

Celia: “Mm,” Jade agrees with a nod of her head. “Shame, that. With the amount of licks disappearing and leaving the city, this uptick in those who wish to see us all on the other end of a stick… could have put him to use if he hadn’t put his foot so far down his throat.” She lifts her shoulders and lets them fall. “Though I wonder at how useful we’d find him if that was his grand entrance.”

GM: The elder Toreador offers a dim smile at the word ‘useful’. Everyone saw Laura and Julius talking to him, after all. Making the French Quarter lord’s pitch.

“For good or ill, there shall always be more. Kindred can no more stay away from this city than bees from a flower.”

Celia: And where they go, the others follow. Hoping to pick them off one at a time like a lamb that has wandered too far from its flock.

This lamb, at least, has teeth enough to protect its flank.

“Ours is a fragrant garden.” It’s as good as any opening to dive into her purpose for the visit.

GM: Celia’s ‘grandsire’ offers another subdued smile at those words.

“As our clan has so endeavored to make it.”

“What would you speak of with me tonight, Miss Jade?”

Celia: “A missing clan member, grandsire.”

Jade strums the pads of her fingers against the silver wrapped box beside her.

“Mr. Bourelle.”

GM: “Ah. The boy’s disappearance is most regrettable, but after so long a period, I believe his return unlikely.”

Celia: Jade nods her head.

“It’s unfortunate. We weren’t close, as you no doubt surmised. I wouldn’t be here months later if we were. Only… his whole krewe has vanished recently.”

GM: “So much the better for your lord then, Miss Jade.”

Celia: “Yes, grandsire, no doubt he feels the same. They were known to be loyal to the prince. Exorbitantly so.”

There’s a brief pause. Jade fidgets, twisting the sun ring around and around her finger. She drops her gaze, then looks up.

“That’s why I can’t talk to him or his about this,” she says in a rush, eyes pleading—they ask that he’ll keep this between them. “I was… close to a member of the krewe. No one knew. They couldn’t. We didn’t pass secrets, it wasn’t anything like that, only… she’s missing now too, and I… I’d like to find her.”

GM: “Of course,” smiles the Toreador elder. “Whom among the krewe are you concerned for?”

Celia: “His lover. The Ventrue.” There’s a sheepish, rueful edge to her smile. “I know she’s… extreme,” Jade says tactfully. “But she was looking for him. And I thought if I followed his trail I could find her, too.”

GM: “Curious,” remarks Accou. “I recall both of your presentations before the seneschal upon Katrina’s quinquennial anniversary. Little love seemed lost between you.”

Celia: “I had not expected to see her after my Embrace,” Jade admits.

GM: Her ‘grandsire’ waits for her to expound.

Celia: “We didn’t have a happy last meeting,” Jade says quietly. She waits a beat. And then she does something she doesn’t normally do:

She tells the truth.

“You see… we took opposite sides in our parents divorce.”

GM: “You share the same mortal family as Miss Gerlette? My, my. The Jyhad can take the most surprising of turns.”

“That would do much to explain your apparent rancor.”

Celia: “Neither of us thought that once we left mortality behind we would still be caught up in this separate world together.”

GM: “Ties of blood are hardest of all to shed.”

Celia: “Then I hope you see why I must find her.”

GM: “I am afraid I know little of Miss Gerlette’s whereabouts. We spoke but rarely and her disappearance postdates Mr. Bourelle’s by some months. But you believe her to have been investigating her lover’s own disappearance?”

Celia: “Yes, grandsire. I know she was. She spoke to a mutual contact about it. And I’ve come into possession of something of theirs that told me he had contact with you shortly before his disappearance and that you helped him find some measure of comfort, and I thought maybe you’d have a better lead..?”

GM: “Oh, from where did you hear as much, pray tell?”

Celia: The truth has been working for her thus far. She sticks to it.

“His ghoul.”

GM: “Ah. Half-bloods can see so much more than we suspect, can they not?”

Celia: “Sometimes we don’t pay attention to them.”

“And they pick up little tidbits.”

GM: “Do they indeed. Mr. Bourelle in fact spoke to me regarding another ghoul.”

“One of my sire’s, Cloe.”

“He wished to know how to commission a doll or origami figurine from her without causing offense to my sire, whom he feared held an unfavorable view towards him.”

Celia: Jade sits back on the chair. Her shoulders curl inwards for a brief moment.

“Oh.”

GM: “I fear there may be little insight into your mortal sister’s whereabouts, alas.”

Celia: “That seems something so silly to be as worked up over as he was implied to be,” Jade finally sighs. She presses a hand against her temple.

GM: “Half-bloods may see much, but their vision is not unbiased.”

“Especially where their domitors are concerned.”

Celia: “I don’t suppose he mentioned if this was a gift for Miss Gerlette or one of his other lovers, did he?”

GM: “Why, yes, I do believe that was the reason he wished to enlist Cloe’s services.”

Celia: “For Miss Gerlette?”

GM: Accou chuckles. “That would be poorly-advised indeed if he wished to make a gift to Lord Guilbeau. Miss Gerlette struck me as the jealous type.”

Celia: “My understanding was that Mr. Bourelle and Lord Guilbeau had ceased seeing each other some time ago?” Jade puts an upward inflection at the end of her sentence, suggesting an innocent question.

GM: “Such was my understanding as well, and doubtless why Miss Gerlette was willing to pursue a relationship with Mr. Bourelle.” The elder Toreador smiles. “But then, no one can be entirely certain what occurs within a lover’s bed if one is not also there oneself.”

Celia: “Oh, you never really know what others overhear,” Jade says with a mischievous smile of her own.

GM: “True enough,” he chuckles. “Or witness. More than one hidden Nosferatu has watched more than one of our clanmates’ liaisons, I am certain.”

Celia: “What a treat for them.”

How else would the rats get their rocks off, when no one of any sense would want to lower themselves to a tryst with the sewers?

GM: “They do so hunger for treats. I hope this meeting has been fruitful for you, Miss Jade, and that you are able to locate your mortal sister.”

Celia: “Thank you, grandsire. I only wish it had not taken a brush with final death to set me on this course.”

GM: “The realization of one’s own mortality, even as an immortal, can do much to open one’s eyes.”

Celia: How eagerly he swims past the bait. She drops another hook.

“I fear it’s a realization too many of us will soon face. There has been so much more activity from that sector of late.”

GM: “Indeed there has been. I hope you stay safe amidst such heightened activity, Miss Jade.”

Celia: “You as well, grandsire. Thank you for seeing me this evening. I brought you something to show my appreciation for your time.” She offers the wrapped parcel, but doesn’t need to stick around to watch him open it if he motions for her to go. No doubt he has other things to get to this evening.

GM: “How thoughtful of you, Miss Jade.” Accou smiles and starts to open the parcel. He does not move to dismiss her.

Celia: She can’t help but compare his reaction to that of another gift she had given recently.

Inside the box Accou finds a pair of charcoal gray gloves. Dark enough to be almost black, but in the proper lighting they seem to shine and draw the eye, with hues of cobalt, silver, and pearl. The material is soft and supple. Leather, Jade explains, but it’s been treated. Liquid proof. Not resistant, but proof. Not just water, either; they both know that she means blood. There will be no staining. Indeed, any liquid will coalesce into little globules and slide right off. Good finger flexibility, which will allow him to use his hands (such as they are, not that Jade says this) without complaint. Solid grip, even with anything particularly oily. They should protect him while he handles anything jagged or sharp, leaving the hands underneath immaculate. Thin, durable, and dexterous, they should go with almost anything he chooses to wear.

The only odd thing about them is the stitches: there are none.

GM: Does he know what she can do?

He’s never said so outright.

There’s just how one of his childer set her on the path.

The ‘referral’ he made to Jonathan North.

The fact such arts are not unheard of among their clan.

The dirty little secret their clan is on better terms with its antitribu cousins than the others.

Whether he does or not, Accou smiles as he inspects the supple and unusually stitch-less gloves. Then he removes his own kidskin gloves, exposing his hands. They’re ugly things, scarred and bent and twisted out of alignment. Jade wonders how much effort it will take him to don the new gloves, and whether it will look undignified, when the elder’s Afro-Cuban herald silently approaches and pulls them over her master’s hands.

Accou gives both of them an experimental flex.

“Superbly crafted, Miss Jade.”

Celia: Jade’s eyes do not pull away from his hands, even when he exposes them. Ugly. Scarred. Painful, no doubt.

But not beyond her capabilities. Not beyond her capabilities at all.

“Thank you, grandsire.” She watches the flex, pleased by his praise. It’s a far cry different from the last gift. She tries not to dwell on it. There’s a momentary pause, and then she finally makes the offer.

“Alder Accou, I don’t wish to overstep. I know you have managed for a long while with things the way that they are. But I wouldn’t be where I am now or know what I know without the assistance of our family. If you ever desire a change, I hope that you will call on me.”

GM: “I am content with new gloves, Miss Jade,” Celia’s ‘grandsire’ replies.

He gives his gloved hands a third flex.

“But I am confident my recommendation of your services to Archon North was wisely made. I do so look forward to seeing the results of your work upon Cloe, whenever that may occur.”

Celia: Jade dips her head in deference to her elder.

“Yes, grandsire. I, too, look forward to what he and I can do together. Thank you for thinking of me, and thank you again for your time this evening.”


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

GM: Another fifteen or so minutes later, Celia is back at the Evergreen. As luck would have it, Fabian also tells her that Lebeaux is due back soon. Give him twenty or so minutes.

Celia: She’s not looking for the mobster, but if she happens to see him all the better.

GM: Luck doesn’t seem to be on her side twice tonight, but Fabian is willing to pass along any messages.

Celia: Luck might be on her side. Roderick would have her head if he knew she sought out his hated foe. Better this way, isn’t it? She asks after the shadow dancer instead.

GM: Better this way to obey him.

Fabian says he is unaware of the shadow dancer’s present location. Jade would be best-served to ask his domitor.

Celia: Stalking someone cute, no doubt.

Maybe it’s her.

She declines and waits for the detective.

GM: He arrives at the Evergreen soon enough and steps into his office with her.

“Celia.”

Celia: “Pete.” She closes the door behind the pair of them and has a seat.

GM: He sits down behind his desk.

“What’s on your mind?”

Celia: Depends on who he talks to. A few people these nights might say nothing.

She wonders what he’d say, if she asked.

Celia: Maybe she will, once this is over. Now, though, she just gives him a tight smile and mentions the meeting with his sire this evening and a general curiosity as to their clan. This evening, Roderick’s comments, and her date with Jon made her realize that she doesn’t know as much as she’d like about their history.

So she asks. In vague, general terms. About their history and about their blood sorcery.

GM: Pete tells her the basics. The Tremere are a clan of blood magicians and have been around for ages. They were integral founders of the Camarilla. The Banu Haqim and Tzimisce historically number among their greatest enemies. Tremere blood magic is based off of Hermeticism and is superior to the other clans’ and covenants’—not inherently, but by dint of the fact the Tremere are better-organized than their ‘competitors’ and unencumbered by religious dogma. Magic is a tool and nothing more to them.

Celia: Celia wants to know more about the Banu Haqim and the Tzimisce. The latter because of her own abilities; she knows that what she can do is one of their primary tools, and she’d been warned, on learning, to keep it to herself. Both to prevent people from looking at her the wrong way and to prevent the fiends from coming after her for stealing their secrets.

Or something like that. Her teacher was a little vague.

She asks, too, after the other enemy, the one they destroyed, in a long and round about way.

GM: The Tremere historically had a strong presence in the Tzimisce’s ancestral homelands, Pete answers. “Our conflicts with them were essentially over limited resources.” The Carpathians were not (and still are not) a large population center, and there was only so much blood to go around.

As to the Assamites, the Tremere cursed the whole clan to suffer grievous harm when they drink the blood of other vampires. They used to cause far more problems for the Camarilla than they do now. “Main reason you haven’t heard much about it is because my clan put a muzzle on them.”

As far as the ‘other enemy’, Pete repeats what he said earlier about them being one of the most vile and degenerate lines of Kindred out there. Clan Tremere did the world a favor wiping them out. They were guilty of unspeakable crimes.

Celia: She presses further for details about the Assamites. “I’d heard they were assassins? Why were they drinking blood?”

Was it like what the other ones did..?

GM: “Because it tastes good,” Pete answers.

“I’m sure you’ve sampled your share.”

“They are assassins. They have this whole religious dogma about it being their duty to punish corrupt Kindred, though they’re as corrupt as any other licks if you ask me. The headhunting comes into play because ‘waste not, want not.’”

“And no. They weren’t soul thieves like the others.”

“The Camarilla wouldn’t have spared them if they were.”

Celia: She has sampled her share. She flashes him a smile at the mention of it, wiggling her brows as if to ask if he’d like to swap vitae sometime.

“So the headhunting and the assassinations were different?”

GM: Pete effects a snort. “Finally got tired of trying to set me up with your mom?”

Celia: “You saying you’re not interested in her daughter?”

GM: The Tremere just gives that a dry look before answering, “They were interrelated. The Assamites were already killing other licks. So ‘why not’ drink their blood too. That felt very good. It wouldn’t surprise me if more than one assassination got carried out for flimsy reasons when the real one was to score some juice. Or scoring juice was simply a co-equal reason.”

“Kindred blood can be addictive. Too much of a ‘good’ thing.”

Celia: “Breaking my heart, Pete.” Celia touches a hand to her chest over the non-functioning muscle. The levity in her voice doesn’t quite hide whatever that look is in her eyes, but she moves them to another location to give herself a moment to turn it off.

“But the soul eaters. How did people… how did licks protect against that sort of thing?”

GM: “Don’t know. I haven’t made a study of those techniques.”

“Or of the assholes who used them.”

Celia: “And your clan fought them.”

“Did they study it?”

GM: “No, we thought studying was for losers. Who needs it.”

Celia: Celia huffs at him.

“If you’re sore about my mom I can still set you up.”

GM: “Uh huh.”

Celia: “I had someone else in mind for her but I guess you’re okay.”

GM: “Good. Find a real man who can make her happy.”

Celia: “You’d make someone happy, Pete. Even if it’s not her.”

GM: “Not any breather.”

Celia: “A lick, though.”

“Maybe that cute Toreador who is always in your office.”

GM: “I think she won’t have a bit of trouble finding other licks.”

Celia: “None that she doesn’t have to lie to.”

GM: “We lie to everyone, Celia.”

Celia: “Not in the same ways,” she says. “You know me. I don’t have to pretend to be a vapid airhead slut around you.”

GM: “You don’t have to around others, either. Sharing our real selves is the basis of all meaningful relationships.”

Celia: “Roderick told me I’m stupid.”

“But we were talking about soul thieves.”

GM: “Roderick’s an asshole. And okay. We were.”

Celia: “Your clan hunted them,” Celia prompts.

GM: “Yes, we did.”

Celia: “All of them?”

GM: “They had a lot of enemies. My clan didn’t destroy all of them, just most of them.”

“They’re not around anymore.”

“The Camarilla never did say ‘thanks’ for it.”

Celia: “How do you know they’re all gone?”

GM: “What’s it to you?”

Celia: “There’s a soul eater in the Garden District. I told you.”

“So if she exists… why not others?”

GM: “Soul eating isn’t limited to vampires, and the thing you described didn’t sound like one of us. I doubt it.”

“Stay out of the Garden District either way.”

Celia: “What else eats souls?”

GM: “It’s a concept present in a lot of mythologies. Wouldn’t surprise me if there were plenty other nasties.”

He gives Celia a sidelong look.

“What’s your interest in these things, anyway?”

Celia: “I know the best thing to do is to stay out of its way. But I don’t want to be caught unaware. And you said it kills any chance of an afterlife. And… I guess after the hunters grabbed me and I thought about how I might actually die…” She trails off.

“The whole idea of nonexistence is terrifying. That’s why we have religion. That’s why we have ideas of the afterlife. Because death, and for us final death, is a very real thing, and we’ve looked for ways to explain it. Humans can’t even imagine the idea of non-being, it’s just so different from what they’re used to, a perspective they can’t grasp, so even ancient cultures had a land of the dead.”

GM: Pete grunts.

“I’m not an expert on this stuff. Best thing you can do is stay out of the way.”

“Like fixing a broken bone, best treatment is to never break it in the first place.”

Celia: “But just in case. Accidents and whatnot. Who’re the experts?”

GM: “Soul-based magic isn’t much of anyone’s specialty.” He shrugs. “The Baron’s people or Rosa Bale probably know the most about it, as a central component of Vodoun is possession. That debatably entails displacement or at least sharing of the soul. Zombies are also said to be soulless.”

Celia: “Your clanmate was in my head, you know. The archon.”

“He was looking for something.”

GM: “Doesn’t surprise me on either count.”

Celia: “The soul thieves came up. I didn’t really know what it meant until later. I’m not looking to pry into clan business. But if they’re here…”

“I just want to know who to avoid, aside from the thing I already met.”

GM: “Did they?” remarks Pete.

He seems to scrutinize her more closely.

Celia: She lets him, though if he tries to catch her gaze she conveniently finds other things to look at. She’s aware of his penchant for memory manipulation.

GM: “I don’t see a good reason he’d bring that up around you, Celia.”

Celia: She effects a snort.

“The mind reading goes both ways if they think you’re a vapid slut,” she says frankly.

GM: “I don’t see a good reason North would meet with someone he considered a vapid slut either.”

Celia: “No, he wanted my help with a medical project. He made sure to tell me how I need to live up to my family tree.”

GM: “And that’s where soul thieves came up, mmm?”

Celia: “No. Afterward. I asked him to dance and he thought I wouldn’t notice when he slipped inside.”

GM: Pete waits.

Celia: Celia waits too.

GM: “So he slipped inside. And he just happened to look through your head for soul thieves?”

Celia: “I’m not going to pretend I know why he’s here, Pete. Maybe he thought since there are plenty of snakes here there are other things too, and who better than Savoy’s lapcat, who obviously has things whispered to her between the sheets during our oh-so-frequent trysts, because that’s definitely a thing that happens, licks sharing things I don’t need to know.”

GM: Pete shakes his head. “No, I don’t think so. That isn’t Savoy’s style. He keeps it in his pants. He doesn’t share anything no one needs to know.”

“North doesn’t know him as well as we do, I’ll grant that much.”

“But I don’t see any reason he’d be looking through your head for soul eaters in the first place.”

“I don’t see any good reason at all.”

Celia: “He mentioned something about not fucking without making sure my mind is just as appealing. It was a pretty poor cover.”

GM: Pete shakes his head again.

“I’m going to give you some advice, Celia.”

“About this soul eater thing you’re so fixated on.”

“No one cares about satisfying your curiosity, and you are going to attract the wrong kind of attention if you bring it up with other licks.”

Celia: “That’s why I’m talking to you.”

“Of course I’m not going to bring it up with other licks.”

GM: “Okay. I don’t care about satisfying your curiosity.”

“Not about this.”

“Drop it. That’s all I have left to say.”

Celia: “Sorry,” she says to his desk.

GM: Pete grunts.

“That all?”

Celia: “No. I followed up on the hunter thing. But it can wait until tomorrow, if you have a minute before or after the party.”

GM: “Sure.”

“Before.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“I’ll see you then.” She rises, moving toward the door… and stops once she gets there, turning to look at him.

“Pete. What he said… am I?”

GM: “Fucking christ, kid,” the detective mutters.

“No, you’re not, though you will be if you keep digging into things better left alone.”

Celia: Why would he say it if it isn’t true? He’s supposed to know her better than that. He’s supposed to see past the mask she puts on for everyone else.

“Okay,” is all she says to that.


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

GM: Clan Tremere’s center of power in New Orleans is located just outside the borders of the Garden District. It’s an aged, two-story Victorian mansion with pillars on both floors that make it seem even taller. Its appearance is almost suggestive of a temple erected by the ancients—though what the warlocks might worship within their fortress is a question equally few care to contemplate.

The grounds are encircled by a low hedge and wrought-iron fence whose tips end in hungry spikes. Branches of live oaks and weeping willows droop about the property, caressing the windows and shrouding the statues in the garden from full view.

Tips of wings, too-long fingers, and unblinking eyes, their gazes as heavy as the stone from which they are made, stare at would-be visitors through gaps in the foliage.

It is only when the would-be visitor approaches the iron gate that they may become conscious of how the neighborhood’s ever-present cicadas have seemingly fallen silent, and that no wind blows through the trees. No other sound disturbs them.

There is only them and the waiting house.

There could be cameras. There could be remote controls. But Jade sees neither when the house’s iron gate soundlessly swings open to admit her.

Celia: Doors opening on their own is hardly new to Jade. It could be any number of things. Well-hidden cameras. Shadow dancing ghouls. Remote controls so tiny that she can’t see them.

Or magic.

It could be magic.

The thought sends a thrill through her. Pete said he’d teach her. When she’s ready, he said, and she’s going to be ready soon. Soon enough. She knows he has some skill with tech magic and wouldn’t mind learning about that, but there’s more. There has to be more than just tech and blood. How many things that are currently out of her reach will make themselves available to her if she takes a deep dive into what he’s promised? How many more secrets can she unlock about kine and Kindred alike?

Magic. Literal magic. At her fingertips.

The notebook with all of her experimental ideas calls to her. They all think that she contents herself at playing with makeup, even those who know the truth about her abilities, and ignore what she gets up to in her spare time. What she creates. What she has learned. The armor, the gloves, the gowns—those are only a small portion of it. Soon, she thinks. Soon she’ll learn more. Go further. Unveil her genius to Lord Savoy or her sire for their approval.

Soon. But not tonight. Not now. Not yet.

Jade’s eyes sweep across the half-hidden statues in the garden. Some long ago whisper from a Mardi Gras lover reminds her of the sentries the Tremere created, stone things that become animated in the face of danger. She wonders if there’s a combination of things she could learn there. Her hybrids and their stone magic.

She’s in the right place to find out.

Slow footsteps take her to the door of the chantry proper, drinking in the garden, the statues, the architecture. She lifts a hand to knock.

GM: The door opens before she can.

She’s ‘greeted’ by a stocky, wide-shouldered man of slightly below average height. He looks at least in his 40s. The dark eyes beneath his balding head are small, beady, and suspicious. His arms are thick and his hands are large and callused. He’s dressed in a plain black shirt, denim pants, and heavy work boots.

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Jade’s seen him in Elysium, though infrequently. Joe Doyle. Two armed ghouls accompany him. He doesn’t say anything. He promptly starts to give Jade a full body pat-down while one of the ghouls waves a handheld metal scanner over her. She is told to remove any metal objects and place them inside a plain box held by the second ghoul. Doyle looks through Jade’s purse and removes her phone. He places it inside the box too.

“You’ll get it back when you leave.”

Kyrstin Grey appears after a moment. She has no greetings for Jade this time, but murmurs several incantations that cover her eyes with a blood-like red film. She stares at the Toreador before murmuring,

“She’s clean, sir.”

Celia: Jade keeps still while he pats her down, though some part of her—the whore, maybe—enjoys it a little too much. She’s never been one to shy away from being fondled by strong men. She flashes him a smile as if she isn’t thinking about what she’d like him to do with those arms of his—

“Yes, Mr. Doyle,” she says when her phone is taken. Are they going to search it? Do they all do the finger-wave thing that Pete does? There’s nothing incriminating on her phone; it’s not as if she’s silly enough to leave secrets lying around on a device that is so easily broken into or misplaced.

Silently, she waits while Krystin does her thing. Only when she’s pronounced clean does Jade smile and greet her with a murmured “good evening, Miss Grey.”

GM: The experience may leave Jade dissatisfied, as Doyle’s touch is clinical rather than lingering, and he offers no smile in response to hers.

“Good evening, Miss Kalani,” Kyrstin answers.

The two Tremere spend little longer on pleasantries, however. Kyrstin soon departs and Doyle and his ghouls escort Jade into a well-finished sitting room with high bookshelves and an empty fireplace. Erwin Bornemann appears shortly later.

The older Tremere is a short, balding man of seemingly middle age who could still pass for the university professor that he was in life. His once-brown mustache and goatee are streaked through with salt and pepper. His narrow brown eyes are crinkled at their edges and framed by a large pair of glasses. He’s dressed in a subdued tweed suit, checkered necktie, white dress shirt, and brown oxfords.

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“Good evening, Miss Kalani,” he greets in a German-accented voice.

“Let us proceed to business.”

Celia: Jade keeps in mind what Pete had told her about visiting his sire—don’t pry into clan business, be polite and respectful—but curiosity gets the best of her as she is led through the halls. She doesn’t stare. But she looks. And she looks when she’s shown to the sitting room, taking in the titles on the shelves, the empty fireplace, the well-appointed furniture and decor while she waits for her host. She thanks Doyle for the company and dips into her standard greeting, the curtsy, when her host appears.

“Good evening, Mr. Bornemann. Thank you for meeting with me.”

She wastes little time after that. He does not seem like one who wishes his time wasted with pleasantries.

She dives in.

“I’ve been told by members of your clan that you are this region’s most knowledgeable expert on demons and demonology. Your childe implied you would be willing to speak with me about the subject.”

GM: Bornemann merely offers a thin smile.

“Not for free, Miss Kalani, but I vould be villing.”

Celia: “Of course, Mr. Bornemann. I’m happy to make the usual trade.”

GM: “Vhat vould you know, zen, Miss Kalani?”

Celia: “Everything,” Jade says with a small laugh.

She fires off a rapid series of questions: What are they? Where do they come from? Are they born or created? How do they get into our world, and how are they sent back from where they come from? Can you trap them in a person, place, or object? How do you know it’s a demon versus a nonspecific entity? What general powers do they have? What general weaknesses? Do they trade information for boons, like Kindred? Are they immortal? Do they deal in souls? Can someone become a demon? Can they spread or multiple while they’re here? Do they need a host or are they their own entity? How do you contact one? Do they make deals in general?

GM: Bornemann offers another thin smile at her second to last question.

“And vhy vould a neonate such as yourself vish to know how to contact a demon, Miss Kalani?”

Celia: She wants to fuck it, obviously. She’s been working her way through the list of other things and demons are next.

She doesn’t think he’d appreciate her sarcasm, so she bites her tongue and keeps it to herself.

“I don’t particularly. I was curious about the prospect, as you see a wide variety of things in media and old books. But your childe told me that misinformation is almost worse than no information, and I’ve had contact with other supernatural beings and know how to reach them if needed. Here I am simply being thorough.”

GM: “Of course,” Bornemann replies agreeably.

“Zat is a great many qvuestions, Miss Kalani,” he then remarks. The briefly two haggle ‘prices’ back and forth. Bornemann says he will provide a substantive answer on two topics of her choosing in return for a boon owed.

“Should you desire furzer knowledge, zat may be yours for additional prestation owed.”

Celia: One question isn’t a lot when she has so many that come to mind. She briefly wonders if Roderick will be annoyed should she get further into debt.

“To you, Mr. Bornemann, or to the Tremere?”

GM: “To myself, Miss Kalani.”

Celia: Jade nods at that. She chews over her options for a moment, and finally starts at the beginning. Something broad and general. Without this, she won’t even know where else to go with her questions.

“What are they?”

GM: “Malignant spirits from a realm beyond zis earth, in so many vords, zat foster acts of corruption and evil.”

Celia: “Beyond?”

GM: “Yes.”

Celia: He’d said substantive. “Beyond” isn’t substantive.

“Are they… created? Born? From Hell?”

GM: “Zey do come from Hell, yes. Vhezer it is ze biblical Hell of popular imagination is a matter of zome debate, but ze realm demons hail from is indisputably a place of pain, horror, and suffering on a scale incomprehensible to minds as limited as our own. If zis place is not ze Christian Hell, zen it is certainly terrible enough to fit ze bill.”

“Ve are all products of our environments and demons are products of an environment as terrible as zey zemselves are.”

Celia: “But how do they come into existence? Kine are born. Kindred are created. Where do they fall on that spectrum?”

GM: “No vone knows for certain. Some sources say zey are angels who fell from grace, created by God at ze dawn of time. Some sources say zey are spawned by mortal sins and atrocities. Some sources say zey are ghosts and spirits warped into zeir present forms by unfazomably many years of hatred and torment. Some sources say zey are ze souls of iniquitous mortals.”

“In ze end, however, no sources but demons zemselves can say for certain how zey came to be. It is possible even zey do not know—can ve Kindred say ve know for certain vhere ve came from? Ze qvuestion may ultimately be an academic one, for demons are notorious liars.” A thin smile. “Even more zan ve Kindred are. Nozing a demon says can ever be trusted.”

Celia: Jade listens raptly to the information he gives her. It’s less concrete than she’d like, but she supposes that something as esoteric as “where do they come from” is hardly going to have a certain answer. No one really knows where they come from. All they have are legends, myths, stories.

She mentions that she’d like to learn more, if he’ll accept another favor.

GM: They haggle back and forth a little longer. Erwin will agree to two more subjects for another boon.

“Ze larger ze qvuestion, ze more uncertain ze answer—in so many fields,” the Tremere agrees to her earlier point.

Celia: She narrows it down for her next question: powers. What they can do. What they’re known to be able to do, rather. And weaknesses, while they’re on the subject, but she concedes that it’s two separate topics when he points it out.

GM: “Zey are incorporeal entities zat dvell in a state known as twilight. Zey can be neizer seen nor heard by ordinary men. Zey may only take physical form under exceptional circumstances. Dvelling in ze material vorld is draining to zem and zey must eventually return to Hell, unless zey are able to anchor zemselves to people, objects, or locations zat may sustain zeir foul presences."

“Zis is, in so many vords, demonic possession.”

Celia: Jade nods as he talks.

“Can they be felt? If not seen and heard?”

GM: “Typically not. Zey are imperceptible to ordinary men.”

Celia: “Do they have powers like we do?”

GM: “Demons are capable of a great variety of supernatural feats zat rival anyzing ve Kindred may perform. From enspelling men’s minds to commanding ze fires of Hell to invigorating zeir hosts vith impossible strength and endurance… zeir powers are not as ours, but an endless variety remain zeirs to command.”

“Perhaps zeir greatest powers are zose of ability to sense, command, and manipulate sinful impulses.”

“Zey are liars vizout peer, and it is impossible to pierce zeir falsehoods zhrough supernatural means such as telepathy. Only mundane intuition may see zhrough a demon’s deceits, and even zat may be fooled.”

“Zey understand all ze living and dead tongues of man. Any language zat has ever existed is familiar to zem.”

Celia: “Because they’re immortal beings and had time to learn, or because they just know it intuitively?”

GM: A thin smile. “I believe I have provided you a substantive enough answer on ze powers of demons, Miss Kalani, unless zat information is vorth additional prestation to you.”

Celia: “The flip side, then. Weaknesses.”

GM: “Zey are most vulnerable to intense religious faith. Few individuals in today’s secular era possess ze requisite zealotry to repel a demon, but zose who do may inflict grievous harm upon zem.”

Celia: “In general, while they’re non-corporeal? Or by driving them from their host?”

GM: “Both, alzough if vone cannot perceive a demon it is obviously far more difficult to harm zem.”

Celia: “So… exorcism, essentially. Find someone possessed, exorcise it.”

GM: “Demons may be exorcised from victims zey possess and sent back to Hell. Anyvone can zeoretically perform an exorcism, alzhough an individual vizout ze requisite faith or occult knowledge is likely to only imperil zeir own body and soul. Even a successful exorcism can still prove fatal for ze host or ze exorcist.”

“But against freeing a soul from a demon’s grasp, death may be a small price to pay.”

“Abjurations, or varding ‘prayers’, can also repel a demon from vone’s immediate presence. Anyvone can likevise perform zese, alzough individuals vith occult training or religious faith are ze most likely to successfully repel a demon.”

“Salt and certain ozer physical substances can also harm demons, even in zeir incorporeal state, as can blessed objects, holy ground, and certain zorceries.”

Celia: “In the same vein of possession, how do they choose their hosts? Can they spread from one to another, or once they have their claws in do they stay put? Or can they multiply? Split parts of themselves off into multiple hosts?”

GM: Another thin smile.

“You have received two answers of substance already, Miss Kalani. Furzer vones shall cost furzer boons.”

Celia: “Yes, Mr. Bornemann. I’m willing to pay.”

GM: Roderick might be mad.

Celia: When isn’t he?

She tries not to think about it. How she’s going to explain three boons to Bornemann. She’ll push for what she can get from this last one.

It might mean a lesson in negotiation. Another correction.

GM: She needs so many of them.

Celia: He loves her. He said so. He does it for her.

So she’s better.

He’s not the only one who does it to her.

GM: The pair haggle back and forth for some further length. Bornemann eventually agrees to a ‘bulk discount’ and to provide further answers for this third boon.

“Vhat host is attractive to a demon greatly depends upon ze demon’s own nature. In much ze same vay as ve have preferred vessels to slake our zirst upon, so too do demons often have favored hosts to possess, alzough zey are typically not compelled to only possess certain hosts on ze basis of specific criteria.”

Celia: “But in general?” she presses.

GM: “Hosts who are physically comely and vell-connected are more useful to demons zan nobodies, for reasons zat are no doubt apparent. Ze intelligence or social aptitude of ze host is immaterial vhen ze demons controls zeir vords and actions. Strong-villed individuals, however, are harder for demons to possess and so make less attractive hosts.”

Celia: “Would a demon try to possess me?”

GM: “Zat is unlikely. Demons are uninclined to attempt to possess ozer night-folk. Kine make for easier hosts.”

Celia: “But it could possess a lick? It’s possible, if unlikely?”

GM: “It is possible, yes, and doubtless it has happened in ze past. But few demons vould be inclined to make ze attempt, in much ze same vay zat few Kindred vould be inclined to hunt Loup-Garoux for zeir vitae.”

“Zat has also happened in ze past. Eizer of us could do such a zing, and no doubt drink heartily of such beasts. Do you have any inclination to?”

Celia: Jade shakes her head.

GM: “Too much trouble for too few rewards. Just as ve do not desire significant struggle to obtain our ‘food’, so too do demons not desire significant struggle to settle in zeir ‘homes’. Ozer night-folk have ze knowledge and capabilities to fight back in vays mere kine cannot.”

Celia: “If faith and holy ground hurts them, is it also unlikely they’d possess a faithful individual?”

GM: “Yes. It is not impossible, but such souls are repellent to zem.”

More than any other factor, what individuals make ideal hosts is really a question of what sin a particular demon most identifies with—and in turn, what sins the host is most steeped in. A demon who tempts souls to greed will favor greedy hosts. The pure of heart, however, are harder for demons to inhabit. Hosts possessed of intense religious faith are especially difficult to possess. Hosts whose souls are already steeped black with sin, though, make very good homes for demons.

Celia: Jade asks if the people so possessed remember their time under the demon’s power. And if there are different kinds of demons, like there are different kinds of Kindred.

GM: “I have not made so great a study of demons as to answer zat qvuestion vith full confidence, Miss Kalani,” Bornemann answers.

“If you mean vhezher say possess analogue ‘clans’, ze answer is no.”

“Scholars divide demons into a number of orders and classifications, but for a layman’s purposes, demons are simply demons.”

Celia: “Do they make deals with humans and others, or is that just a myth? If so, what currency do they use?”

GM: “I have not made a great study of ze ins and outs of infernal bargains, Miss Kalani,” Bornemann answers. “But I have made enough to know zat all bargains vith demons carry a far higher price zan ze bargainer believes zey are receiving.”

Celia: She hopes that doesn’t count as one of her questions.

“You mentioned Hell before. Is that a physical place?”

Like the Shadowlands.

GM: “Perhaps, Miss Kalani. Perhaps not. Demons can enter our vorld from Hell, and depart our vorld for Hell, but zey are ze only beings vith zat capacity. Hell may only be physical in a meaningful sense to zem.”

Celia: “But how? How do they get here? Or go back? Do they just… plane shift?”

“Portals? Mirrors?”

GM: Another thin smile. “I should hope you do not vish to visit Hell yourself, Miss Kalani. It is by all accounts a vone-vay trip. Zat is vhy zey call it damnation.”

Celia: Jade shakes her head. “No. Of course not. I’ve no desire to visit. I’m just wondering how they get here.”

GM: “I do not believe I have made sufficient study of demons to give an informed answer.”

Celia: “And contacting one? I assume they don’t have cell service.” A half smile to soften the sarcasm. “Is that a seance sort of thing?”

GM: “Zis is ze second time you have raised ze qvuestion of how to contact demons, Miss Kalani. Is it a great interest of yours?”

Celia: “No, Mr. Bornemann. I was simply trying to puzzle out how they get from one place to another. You mentioned they weaken and need to return, and there are stories from ancient cultures about gates around the entrances of Hell to keep the dead and other malignant spirits in. I presumed they needed to be called here to get around such restrictions.”

“But how would you be able to tell that someone is possessed?”

GM: “Sensible enough,” agrees Bornemann.

He answers that it depends. When a demon uses its powers, it is usually all-too obvious to onlookers that infernal powers are at work. Demons can use their hosts to perform feats that are physically impossible for any mere human. Possessed hosts also react poorly to displays of (earnest) religious faith. Holy ground is painful to them. So is the touch of blessed items. Ttremere thaumaturgy, certain gifts of Caine, and other powers can also detect the presence of possessing demons. But there is no universal giveaway like the host’s eyes turning yellow.

Celia: Does that mean her father wasn’t possessed by a demon? He went to church every week. Then what had Donovan done to him?

She puts a pin in that to come back to later, mulling over what’s left that she wants to know. How he studied them, for one. And if he’s maybe possibly looking for someone to assist with his research, someone to learn with him. Under him. An apprentice of sorts.

She tries not to sound too desperate for information when she asks, slipping it neatly into the conversation as if it doesn’t matter to her either way.

GM: Bornemann turns her down.

He doesn’t say stupid.

But there’s a humorous look in his eyes at the suggestion she might assist his research. That she might be his apprentice.

“I am afraid ze chantry has apprentices already, Miss Kalani, and vones fully svorn to ze Pyramid at zat.”

Celia: Pete said she’s not. Surely that means something. He wouldn’t lie to her like that.

Right?

“Of course, Mr. Bornemann.”

Churlish of her to suggest that the archon found her worthy of being an apprentice, isn’t it? Maybe she’ll find a way to slip it into the conversation. That someone important wanted her. Sought her out.

“What about us, then? What happens to us when we meet final death?”

GM: “Zat is uncertain, Miss Kalani,” Bornemann answers. “I doubt, however, zat it is a happy fate.”

“Vhat does seem certain is zat final death for our kind is just that—final. Ve have already died vonce to become vhat ve are.”

Celia: Jade points out that kine think death is final too, but there are ghosts and licks and other things that give lie to such thoughts.

GM: Bornemann shrugs and says there’s substantial evidence humans are wrong about that belief, but not that vampires are wrong about their belief. There are stories about Kindred returning from final death, but they’re regarded as tall tales and urban legends even among the Damned.

Celia: “Like what? Who? Most myths have some basis in reality, warped and twisted though they are.”

GM: “None vorzy of zerious discussion or study, Miss Kalani.”

“Zhere are claims all Toreador are coitus-obsessed artists, after all. Do you believe zere is basis to zese?”

Celia: “Those are two separate topics, Mr. Bornemann. The world is very rarely absolute. Rules like ‘all’ and ‘never’ are often proven to have exceptions.”

GM: “Perhaps, Miss Kalani. I have yet to see compelling evidence of an exception to zis rule.”

Celia: “Then let me look for it for you.”

GM: That gets an even more humoring smile.

“You may spare yourself ze effort, Miss Kalani.”

Celia: “And if I’m wrong you can berate me for my wasted time and tell me I’m a silly sex-obsessed artist. And should stick to what I know.”

GM: “I find it unlikely zat your scholarship shall bear fruits vhere mine has not, Miss Kalani, but your time is yours to spend how you please.”

Unlikely.

Celia: It’s a rather political way of saying stupid.

GM: A mild enough way to put it.

Celia: “I’ll take my chances.”

GM: “Very vell. Vhat is a phone number I may contact you at, Miss Kalani?”

Celia: Jade gives him her number.

GM: Bornemann provides a number as well, in case Jade ever desires to purchase further information from him.

Celia: She has two more questions while she’s here. Firstly, does he know more about soul magic than his childe? Pete mentioned it isn’t a widely studied discipline, but it never hurts to ask.

“And about the exorcisms you mentioned. Can things that aren’t demons be exorcised? Would that drive something out of a person if it isn’t a demon? Like a ghost? Or poltergeist? Or even the state of being a ghoul?”

GM: “Soul-related magics are not my area of expertise,” answers Bornemann, though there are Tremere who make a greater study of such things. For another boon, he could arrange a meeting between Jade and a clanmate of his who could better answer her questions. They will ask boons of their own.

Celia: “How soon would I be able to arrange such a thing?”

GM: “Zat could be some time, unless you are villing to travel up to several hundred miles to meet zem at zeir chantry.”

Celia: “I might be. That would depend on the location.” She lifts her brows.

GM: There is a very thin smile at that statement.

“And allow you to cut out ze middleman, Miss Kalani? I zink not.”

Celia: “I misspoke, Mr. Bornemann. I would rather you set it up and owe you another debt than not. I have no desire to cut you out or make an enemy when there need not be one. I have plans to travel soon and am only hoping that it is on the way to either one of my locations, or near enough that I will be able to pop in for a visit rather than arrange a separate trip.”

GM: “For anozer boon, regardless, I vould be villing to part vith zat information. And to arrange a meeting.”

Celia: Four boons.

Roderick will kill her.

“For that and the answer about the exorcisms I will give you another boon.”

GM: “Very vell. Her name is Hannah Vinicumb. She is located in Atlanta.”

Celia: Not quite on the way to Chicago, then. She’ll need another excuse to go.

GM: “Ghosts and any incorporeal being capable of possessing a host can be exorcised.”

“Ghouls may not be.”

Celia: “The blood, I mean. Can that be driven from a ghoul?”

“Through exorcism.”

GM: “No.”

“Exorcism expels a possessing and intelligent foreign entity from a host. Vitae, in of itself, possesses none of zese attributes.”

“Vitae is a substance. It is not a sentient and incorporeal being. It is no more capable of being exorcised zan a drug or poison is capable of being exorcised.”

Celia: Then what had Donovan done to her father? Is he just lying? Pretending he’s good again?

“Mr. Bornemann… I came into contact with a man recently who had an exorcism. The priest who performed the act perished, but he said there was a demon inside of him. The man goes to church every week. Prior to his possession, he was a good man. It’s hard to believe that his soul was black with sin. If demons are hurt by holy ground… what could it have been?”

GM: “Demons are fully capable of possessing good men. Zey simply prefer to make zeir homes in more ‘accommodating’ abodes. Or perhaps zis man vas less good zan you had believed him to be.”

“Ze church’s ambient faith, too, may have been weak. Holy ground is not created equal.”

Celia: “That’s certainly possible. Now that it’s gone, I don’t suppose there’s a way to find out if it was a demon?”

GM: A thin smile.

“Zat information no longer pertains to exorcisms, Miss Kalani.”

Celia: Jade doesn’t quite sigh.

“No, Mr. Bornemann. You’ve been more than accommodating with my questions. I only wanted to find out what it was, but it seems as if that’s not possible any longer.”

GM: “Perhaps my clan could assist, vere ve to inspect ze former host for ourselves.”

For more boons goes unsaid.

Celia: “I will need to think on that, Mr. Bornemann. I appreciate the offer, and your time this evening. I have your number should I think of any follow ups.”

GM: Bornemann rises from his seat.

“Good evening to you zen, Miss Kalani. Clan Tremere is ever villing to be of service to zose who seek knowledge.”

Celia: Just not let them assist, even if they’ve had more contact with other supernaturals than any neonate their age and have been to other planes of existence and have a very real desire to answer the questions that others don’t even think to ask.

Her smile hides her emotions. Another mask.

Like all of them.

“Good evening, Mr. Bornemann.” She rises and sees herself out.


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

Celia: This late at night even the most raucous parties on the Tulane campus are dying down. The evening has turned into early morning, and despite tomorrow being Saturday only the dregs of party life remain to be seen along Greek Row. Girls stumble home in short skirts and tall heels, tottering together or on the arm of whoever picked them up for the evening. Easy enough feeding for any lick who doesn’t mind the buzz of whatever sip they’d had that evening.

A gray cat strolls across the front yard of the various frat houses on the street, avoiding beer cans and plastic cups and puddles of urine as she can, and once she reaches the home of a certain jock she eyes the trellis, trash can, and uneven bricks built into the wall that will carry her from the ground to the second floor window. She coils, preparing to leap—

“Kitty!” A pair of hands pick up the cat before she can spring away, and the cat finds herself pressed against the face and bosom of a twenty-something, highly inebriated blonde woman with mascara streaks running down her face and lipstick smudged across her chin.

One of Duke’s, the cat thinks, and wonders at the semen to alcohol ratio in her stomach. The cat meows loudly and the door, which had been on its way to closing, opens once more as one of Duke’s many “brothers” peers out at the girl and the cat.

“Cat ain’t yours,” the boy says to the girl. He reaches out a hand. The girl recoils and a small scuffle ensues, but the boy is bigger, stronger, and the cat isn’t here for the girl. She ends up in the boy’s arms, purring contentedly as he carries her inside and shuts the door on the red-faced girl.

“He’s upstairs,” the boy says to the cat. He tosses her toward the stairs. Like most cats, this one lands on her feet, and she’s up the stairs without even a huff of indignation, tail flicking behind her as she goes.

She finds Duke in his room. Not his real haven, the cat knows, but Tulane is a convenient meeting location and had been Duke’s “demand” the first time Jade had wanted to see him. They both agreed that Jade is better at sneaking than he is, and there are enough unfamiliar faces on the campus that she’d be able to blend if ever she needed to. Not to mention that if anyone were to ever see them together them he could simply say he’d caught her and was “teaching her a lesson” before turning her in.

So far, they hadn’t been caught. Their “animosity” at Elysium is a well-crafted ruse that hides the very real friendship the pair share. It helps that Jade never mocks any of the licks that Duke looks up to (to his face) and is smaller than him besides.

It helps, too, that she’s as cute as she is. Her face has opened many doors for her.

Duke is on a bed when the cat slips inside his room, a laptop open in front of him. Jade hears “harder, Daddy,” coming from the speakers in a breathy moan, and when she launches herself onto the bed to peer over his shoulder she sees Roxanne’s face on the screen, mouth open in a low moan while a buff black man rails her from behind.

The cat steps onto his lap once he moves the laptop for her, rolling onto her back to expose her belly and rubbing her face against his stomach. She purrs, blinks at him, and then the cat is gone and Jade is on his lap instead.

“Hello, handsome.”

GM: ‘Friendship’ is one way to put it.

Duke looks at Jade, then without a word, clamps a crushing hand over her throat and pins her to the bed. His other hand grabs her wrists and pins them behind her as he flips her over, burying her against the sheets. Fangs flash in the corner of Jade’s vision as the eternal frat president leans in to slake himself upon her.

Duke_Elmhearst.jpg
“Harder, Daddy,” repeats the tiny voice from the laptop speakers.

Celia: Friends. Friends with benefits.

What’s the difference?

Jade sleeps with all of them.

She gets out a giggle before he cuts off her air, flipped and pinned, wriggling against him in a way that suggests she’s not actually looking to get free and enjoys being pinned beneath the stronger, larger Brujah.

GM: Duke is fairly to the point. He drinks from her. He smacks her. He holds her down. He tugs her hair. He establishes dominance.

Then he shoves her off the bed, yanks her up by her hair, and pushes his flaccid cock towards her mouth.

Even he isn’t crass enough to take a drink without giving it back.

Tonight, at least.

Celia: She doesn’t complain. The fire in the Brujah blood always gets her hot. She’s happy to slide her lips over his flaccid cock and drink her fill once he’s done with her.

There’s little struggle left in her once he gets her on her knees. Some part of her, the dead girl maybe, wonders if she’s going to have to tell Roderick about this. What he’d say. How he’ll correct her behavior. But most of her focuses on the here and now, and once she’s done she licks her lips, looking up at him with wide, wicked eyes. She lets him help her up once they’re done, settling herself once more on his lap.

GM: He grunts and hits ‘play’ on the laptop.

Roxanne sucks some more cock.

It makes him smile.

A little.

Celia: Jade doesn’t let his lack of eloquence put her off. She rests a head on his shoulder, watching the bitch swallow.

“Have news for you,” she says eventually.

GM: He keeps watching the bitch swallow, too.

“What?”

Celia: “Troublemaker with eyes on your domain.”

GM: He finally looks up at her. It’s an ugly look.

“Yeah, who?”

Celia: “That new bitch. Malveaux-Devillers. Causing trouble all over the place and now she wants to bring it here.”

GM: Duke effects a snort.

“That shit about her and Meadows.”

“I don’t believe it.”

Celia: “Mm. I didn’t either. Until I found out whose childe she is.”

“Until I tasted her myself.”

GM: “Some random executed asshole’s.”

Celia: Jade laughs.

“Yeah, they certainly covered it well.”

“Just like they covered how he’s feeding off little younglings like us.”

“Think it’s coincidence how she joined a krewe and they all went missing? Gave them to dear old daddy.”

GM: Duke squints at what she’s saying, like it’s a lecture from a college professor he hasn’t listened to in decades.

“What?”

Celia: Jade flicks her tongue across her lips.

“Matheson.”

GM: “The fuck?” the Brujah repeats.

Celia: “Mm,” Jade nods. “Recall how fervently she and Becks defended him at the trial?”

“But she can’t say that. City is already pissed at him, aren’t they. Invented the line about the nobody. Now people think she’s a nobody. But is it really believable that a Malveaux and a Devillers would end up that sireless nobody?”

“Think the bishop would have stood aside while anyone else invaded his domain like that?”

“Heard she’s at the top of the suspect list for his death, too. Mom isn’t quite human. No doubt she passed along some black magic to her kiddo. Used to being on top, wanted to control her family, had a little tiff with the bishop… and oops, guess who’s missing.”

GM: “Magic?” Duke frowns. “Whatever.”

“Whatever if she killed the stupid bishop.”

“The fuck does the bitch want in Riverbend?”

Celia: “Easy feeding. Hates your landlord. Picky eater and maybe something here does it for her.”

GM: “She’d be a fucking idiot to poach here.”

Celia: “Mhm. But she’s done a lot of idiotic things.”

GM: “Donovan already said. ‘Deal with her as an intruder’ if she’s ever here.”

“Used to be his serf ’til he kicked her out.”

Celia: “No wonder she hates him.”

“Bet she thinks that after taking on Meadows she can take on him, too.”

GM: “I don’t believe that shit.”

“She’d be bragging about it, if it actually happened.”

Celia: Jade arches a brow.

“You didn’t hear her at Elysium?”

GM: “No.”

Duke isn’t the biggest fan of Elysium.

Too few people to lord it over.

Celia: “Right after it happened. She was bragging about it, how Meadows showed up, killed that Anarch cunt, her ghouls held her off, yada yada. It was a desperate, pathetic sort of play. Honestly I’m surprised Meadows didn’t go back to finish her off. And I might not have believed it either.”

“Until I went to her place.”

“Saw her setup. How you’re funneled out of the elevator into a narrow opening where half a dozen or more armed security people stare you down with assault rifles.”

“Doubt Meadows took the elevator, but even when we were ‘alone on the roof’ we weren’t alone.”

GM: “The fuck?” Duke repeats.

Celia: She wonders which part he’s having a hard time with. Poor boy.

GM: “Well, whatever. Maybe my bros and I will run into her on patrol.”

There’s a very mean smile.

Celia: She certainly hopes they do.

“I’d love to watch you pound her face in,” Jade says with a sigh.

“But you’ll remember what I said, right? How she took on Meadows. I know she’s a dumb bitch but she’s got thick blood and she’s very, very fast.”

“And frankly you’re the best thing about this campus, Duke.”

She runs a hand down his chest, appreciating the play of muscles beneath his shirt.

GM: “I’m picturing handcuffs,” the fraternity president says. “One on each hand. Each leg. Not so fast then.”

“Naked.”

“So every boy in the frat can take his turn.”

Celia: “I’d cover her eyes so she doesn’t try that mind fuck trick.”

GM: “Or fucking stab them out.”

“Regrow eventually.”

The Brujah grins.

“Yeah. I like that.”

“Test the pledges. Test all the boys. See who backs out of fucking an eyeless girl.”

Celia: “Could rip out her fangs, too, if you really wanted to make her feel like the filthy cunt she is.”

“No better than a breather then.”

GM: “Hmm, yeah. She’d have a big boner. Better for the Masquerade.”

Celia: “You should take a video. Spread it around Elysium.” She sounds positively giddy.

“Or get it to me and I’ll spread it so it doesn’t look like you’re starting shit.”

“Or, fuck, find a look-a-like or grab a night doc and do it with whoever. Ruins her reputation either way.”

“Her daddy is running for president, isn’t he? Imagine the scandal.”

“Then she comes sniffing around in a rage, pick her up for real…”

Jade sighs, nuzzling Duke’s neck. “I love it when you tell me all the twisted ideas you have. You’re brilliant, Duke.”

GM: “Fuckin’ straight.” Duke gives her breasts a very hard and rather painful squeeze.

He laughs at her earlier remark.

“I’m not wasting boons on the bitch. Or using a double. I’ll just grab her and turn her over to the boys.”

“Sheriff might even enjoy the video.”

“He doesn’t like her. Staked her for Mardi Gras, actually. Brought her over to his house, then rammed a stake in her heart, just like that, not a word.”

“Stored her with the other troublemakers until it was over. Ones who’d just be pains in the ass.”

Celia: She hadn’t known that. It’s actually hilarious; she only wishes he’d finished her off then instead of waiting until she’d started to eat her way through the city.

“Wouldn’t need a boon from you, cutie, I’d do it just because I like you. But if you insist.” Her lips touch the side of his neck, then his jaw. “We could make some real trouble for her once you get her. God, your mean streak is hot.”

GM: “Fuckin’ straight,” Duke repeats.

“God, I hope I run into the bitch on patrol.”

Celia: Her too, Duke. Her too.


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

GM: Celia goes home to find Alana handcuffed to the bed in spread eagle position. In the absence of direction from her mistress, she has taken off all of her clothes. At this late hour, the ghoul is asleep. Her chest rises and falls steadily with her breaths. The red puffiness around her eyes looks as if she has been crying.

Celia: Celia packs a bag while she sleeps. Only once everything is stuffed inside does she wake the ghoul, calmly but firmly telling her that things are going to change. Her punishment had been lifted early because of how well she’d been doing, and then she went and ruined it by making a scene at her mother’s house. That’s completely unacceptable behavior.

“My fault, really,” Celia says as she strokes a hand down the girl’s cheek. “I’ve been too soft with you.”

That’s going to change, she says. She’s going to have a neutral party examine their relationship and correct their shortcomings. If Alana plays by the rules, she’ll be rewarded. Sex. Sleeping together. Cuddling. Movie nights. All the good things she has come to expect. If she’s bad, she’ll be corrected.

She waits for that to sink in before she asks after the meetings she’d told the ghoul to set up, and asks about the TV show role as well.

“If I can’t trust you to behave here, how can I trust you to behave when we go to LA?”

GM: Alana begs at first, if Celia can “examine” their relationship herself. “I trust you, mistress, you know better than anyone else could-”

She is very disappointed to have her punishment reinstated. To be told no more sex. No more sleeping. No more cuddling and no more movies. She tries to keep a lid on it, and to accept the punishment gracefully. But she still cries. Still leans her face into Celia’s hand as she whispers,

“I miss you, mistress… I just w-want to spend time with you…”

She says set up later meetings with Lucia and Harlequin. They’re in a few nights from now.

She says the audition went well and that Ron is giving her a part in Vieux Carré. It’ll be a minor one for now, with the potential for a bigger role for her character if she does well.

Celia: “Do you?” Celia asks sharply. “Do you trust me? Do you think I know what’s best for you? Because your display this evening, Alana, makes me think you don’t. You know my schedule. You know I wouldn’t put you off without very, very good reason. You know that I had dinner planned, then Elysium, then meetings. You know that I’d have been here with you tonight fucking and making love and feeding you once it was all over.”

“But you didn’t trust me. You didn’t trust that I’d be here. You didn’t trust that I would take care of you. And now I don’t trust you. What do I do with a ghoul I don’t trust, Alana? What do my kind do to yours when you step out of line?”

GM: “They pun, punish them, mistress, I understand…” answers the still-crying ghoul.

Celia: Celia stares at her a moment longer. Then, with a heavy sigh, she unlocks the cuffs and pulls her onto her lap.

“How did we get here, Alana? Why are you acting out this way? I expect it from the others. I don’t expect it from you.”

GM: There’s joy on Alana’s face, like the sun emerging after a long rainy downpour, as she slides onto her domitor’s lap. She hugs her naked body against Celia and nuzzles the Toreador’s neck.

“I just missed you, mistress, I thought you were spending time with someone else… I got so jealous… I don’t mind, you have needs, I want you to have lots of sex… I just want to share it with you…”

Celia: “I know, darling, I know you want my attention. I want to give you my attention. But things are changing. There’s a war on the horizon. I’m trying to keep us all safe. Travel is dangerous, and I’m planning two trips. I’m even getting a yacht for us, Alana. We’re going to sail wherever we want to. I just need you to hold it together for me. Can you do that, pet? Can you be a good girl again so I don’t have to correct you anymore? I want you at my side. Not cowering behind me.”

GM: Alana’s eyes shine at her domitor’s words. She rubs her head against Celia’s breasts and closes her eyes.

Yes, mistress! I want to be good for you. I can be a good girl. I promise. A yacht sounds… wonderful, mistress! It can be a pleasure cruise!”

Celia: “Exactly,” Celia murmurs against her hair. “Be good so I can take you with me. I want your mouth on me. I want my mouth on you. I want us to have a whole harem of beautiful people at our beck and call, and I want them to know that you’re in charge of them. Head harem girl. Top pet.”

Celia lifts her chin, nuzzling at her neck.

“Tell me you’ll be good again, Alana. That this was a one time thing.”

GM: Alana shivers with equal parts lust and anticipation at Celia’s description.

“I’ll be a good girl, mistress,” she repeats, smiling ear to ear. “I’ll be a good pet. That’s all I want. This was a one-time thing. I promise it won’t happen again.”

Celia can see how wet the naked ghoul is already getting.

Celia: No sex, Roderick said.

But biting isn’t sex, so her fangs cut into Alana’s neck. And feeding isn’t sex, so she cuts into her own wrist to feed the ghoul.

It’s not sex.

Not technically.

View
Celia VI, Chapter III
Porcelain Unions

“You have to bring her into you, Mom.”
Celia Flores


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

Celia: Roderick drops her at her car. She tells him she loves him again before she gets out, and if he lets her she kisses him. She says she’ll see him tonight. She says that she’s grateful he helped her cut the knot. She says that she trusts him.

She watches him go in the rear view mirror after she turns the key in her ignition. For a moment she swears that her eyes are blue.

Whoever she is doesn’t think too hard about what that means. She pulls out of her spot and makes the trek to LegalWings to meet with Reggie and Rusty, if he’s there. She texts Dani on the way. She hasn’t heard from her and wants to make sure that she’s safe.

When she arrives at LegalWings she asks Rusty how it’s possible to track a phone, and if you need local access to it or if it’s something you can do with an app or other method. It was a new phone, but the user might have logged into their Sunfire account on it to transfer things from the old phone, and she supposes she answered her own question. She asks if he’d be able to find out who was tracking it and how they were tracking it and offers to bring him the phone. She’s paying, of course.

Then she meets with Reggie. She makes a comment about Randy never coming by, then asks how it went with the hunters.

GM: Is there anything she can to do help out right now? He’s asleep and won’t notice if she leaves.

Celia: Celia lets her know to sit tight. She says she found him. He’s safe. He’s okay. She mentions she wants to talk to her, but in person. Tomorrow, maybe. She does text over the badge numbers for Henry. She tells Dani to stay inside tonight, and to come back to the Quarter during the day.

She doesn’t explicitly say it, but there’s less chance of her being picked up that way. Celia will never forgive herself if something happens to Dani.

GM: Dani says she’ll pass along the badge numbers. She’s happy to come back over. Should they meet up at Flawless?

Celia: Yes, Celia responds.

She texts an approximate time that she’ll be there and tells her to enjoy the evening. They’ll make plans for the museum another day.

GM: Rusty isn’t present at LegalWings, but is available to talk over the phone. She has indeed answered her own question. There are many avenues by which to track phones.

Like all things, time and money indeed make possible to find out who was tracking the phone.

Celia: She’ll make sure he has both.

GM: Reggie, meanwhile, reports the following:

First, the handoff with ’Jade’s’ body was successful.

Unless the hunters later see through the ruse, as they seemed to buy it at the handoff, they now believe Jade Kalani tagged and bagged.

The hunters gave their names as Mr. Brown and Mr. Jones, but Reggie is not sure if those names are real. They said they worked for the federal government, though they were vague about what specific agency. They did, however, say that if the two ‘hunters’ brought them one more incapacitated vampire, they would be eligible to join their organization and receive training at a place called Glynco. Reggie wasn’t sure exactly where that was, but it seemed like the hunters he was pretending to be already knew, so he nodded along.

The hunters were extremely tight-lipped about… well, everything. However, there was one fact Reggie deduced… this offer did not feel unique to ‘Brooke’ and her partner. Mr. Jones and Mr. Brown had a very standoffish and dismissive attitude. Like there was ‘more where they came from.’ Reggie concluded the two were not only making this same offer to a large number of hunters, but getting rid of vampires does not actually seem to be their primary objective. Mr. Jones and Mr. Brown are sending hunters after comparative small fries. The goal seems to be to test their competence and dedication… and to recruit the most promising such hunters into their own organization.

They left Reggie and Randy with another time and meet spot to deliver their next vampire.

Celia: She asks if it sounded like vampires is all they hunt, or if they’re aware of the rest of the things out there.

GM: Reggie did not ask about other things.

Celia: She wants to know how long they have before the next meeting.

GM: About a week.

Celia: Were they given locations and targets or do they need to find their own?

GM: The latter.

The help from Savoy’s ghoul, Reggie grouses, was not very helpful. Reggie heard a voice in his ear whisper that’d it would be present during the handoff, and then absolutely no one was there except him and Randy.

Celia: Irritation at that news. Now everything she knows, he knows. She won’t get credit for any of it. Worse, she’ll tell Lebeaux this evening and he’ll say he already knows.

Stupid.

She explains that he was probably right there with them. He’s a shadow dancer. He’d have interceded if things went south.

Celia thanks him for a job well done and lets him know she’ll bring him in to consult on their next move within the next few days. She asks if he thinks Brown and Jones would be willing to provide backup if Reggie finds a “bigger score.”

GM: He thought they seemed like assholes.

“So they’d probably do the asshole thing.”

He grunts at the explanation on the shadow dancer.

Assholes are always the order of the day.


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

GM: It’s a short ride back to the Hotel Monteleone after Celia is finished with her business. Her mom said she could stop by anytime, though the hour is rather later than she is accustomed to, and it takes several knocks and texts before the door to Diana’s room swings open. Her mother greets her in a fluffy hotel bathrobe, messy bed hair, and still somewhat flushed-looking cheeks.

“Hel-lo, sweetie!” she exclaims with a slight giggle as she pulls Celia into a hug.

“How’s my lil’ bunny, huh?”

Celia: “Hi, Momma,” Celia greets the woman with a bemused smile. She lets herself be pulled in, using it as an opportunity to see if her eyes are glassy. “Get into the wine?”

GM: Her mother’s eyes do look glazed. She closes the door behind Celia. They’re in a one-bed room.

“Er, maybe just a bit, baby.”

“I don’t normally do this sort of thing!”

Celia: “No,” Celia muses, following her further into the room. She looks for her sisters—both of them. “How long’s it been since you’ve had a drink, Ma?”

GM: She doesn’t see either.

“Oh, goodness… maybe since that party?” thinks her mom, plopping down on the bed.

“A very long time! I feel so rebellious!”

“C’mere, sweetie, I wanna cuddle with my baby.”

Celia: After the night she’s had, Celia needs it. She leans into her mom, cuddling up against her as if she’s not a bloodsucking monster.

GM: Celia’s mom wraps an arm around her shoulders and leans a head against her daughter’s. The woman’s movements are… less restrained, she supposes.

“Oh, I love you so much, you know that? Just… lots!” she exclaims, giving a little giggle.

“I’m sorry, that isn’t very, ah, what’s the word…?”

“I love you lots either way,” she smiles again, giving Celia a tighter squeeze.

Celia: Grammatically correct? Celia doesn’t rebuke her mother for it. Not like Roderick had. There will be no “corrections” between this lick and her ghoul.

GM: There were, once.

But they walked back from that.

Celia: “I love you lots too, Momma. Thanks for bearing with me tonight while everything went down. I know it’s been a lot lately.”

GM: “It’s okay, sweetie! I want to do things for you!” she exclaims, giving Celia another emphatic squeeze.

“I love doin’ things for you. I just wish I could do more, sometimes.”

Celia: “You do plenty, Mom. You found all that stuff about the training center. And I was able to confirm it tonight. That’s something. You feed me. That’s something too.”

“You love me even though I’m… you know.”

GM: “That’s up to God, baby, between you and God, what that means. My job’s to be your mom. I’ll always be your mom.” Diana gives a sniff that turns into a snort as she shakes her head and touches a hand to her nose. “Oh, sorry! I know you don’t like when I cry!”

Celia: “Mom…” Celia touches a hand to Diana’s cheek. “You’re allowed to cry, Mom. It’s okay.”

GM: Her mom gives another half-sniff she tries to turn into a snort. “I am, but, but I cry a lot! And I know you don’t like it!”

“And Emi thinks I do it too much, sometimes, too, she doesn’t say, but I just really think she does.”

Celia: It reminds her all too much of her conversation with Roderick.

“Feel what you feel, Mom. Let it out. It’s okay to cry. That… that wasn’t me who said that to you.”

“You can’t control your feelings. Just let them out, okay?” Celia pulls her close, running a hand up and down her back.

GM: Her mother holds it in for several moments later, and then the water works start to freely flow.

“Celia, I, I hate it when I cry too, I really do, I hate it how I cry, I hate how weak I am, how much I cry, I know you say I’m not, but I am, ever…”

Celia: “Mom…” Celia doesn’t know where this is coming from. She’d never had that much experience drinking herself before her death, though she supposes she’d seen Emily get weepy a few times. “Mom, it’s okay. We’re working on it, right?”

GM:Are you?” her mom sniffs, looking at her with wetly imploring eyes. “What… what’s new? What’ve you worked on?”

Celia: Well, she meant her mom is working on it through fencing and learning more about her daughter’s real world, but this works too.

“I…”

What has she been working on? Getting people killed. Turning into a doormat for her boyfriend. Stupid, he whispers, and she sees the resentment in his eyes.

“I found someone who could talk to Lucy,” she offers.

GM: Her mother’s breath comes shallower as her drunken eyes slightly widen. She hugs Celia closer.

“Talk about… what, sweetie?”

Celia: No. This was a bad idea. Her mom is already crying.

“We got her a library card. Some books. She’s… she likes the same books as you. And I spoke to someone else tonight who knows more about it, and he’s…”

How does she describe Harlequin? His crazy speaks to her crazy.

“It’s all a process, Mom. Baby steps.”

GM: Her mom breathes rapidly and just holds on tight to Celia.

“What. What do you want to do, with… with…”

She doesn’t say the doll’s name.

Celia: “She’s at my place now, Mom. She can’t hurt you. It’s up to you.”

GM: She swallows.

“What’s. What’s up, to me.”

Celia: “What to do with her.”

GM: Diana breathes rapidly and clings to her daughter.

“What… what do you think?”

Celia: “I love you the way you are. I want you to do what’s best for you. If you want to reunite, we can. If you want to stay separate, we can.”

GM: Her mother cries into her shoulder.

“I’m so weak, Celia. I’m so weak. I didn’t help you, I didn’t help your brothers, your sisters, I wasn’t there, I didn’t do, do anything, I was weak, so weak…”

Celia: Celia continues to rub her hand up and down Diana’s back, holding her mother close to her.

“There wasn’t a lot you could do at the time. And you did when it mattered. You stepped up. That’s love. That’s what we needed. What I need.”

GM: Her mom’s voice is small in her ear.

“I, I’d have done more… once…”

Celia: “When she was part of you, you mean?”

GM: Her mom says nothing, then nods once.

Celia: “Mom… is that… hereditary? Did you get it from your dad? Or your mom?”

GM: Her mother looks away, cheeks faintly red.

“Your. Your grandma’s always been… strong. Your grandpa was softer.”

She sniffs again.

“I wish he hadn’t… then I’d have… never…”

“Then you and the others… I wish she’d… I wish she’d died, instead,” Diana says, her features briefly hardening.

Celia: “…what did he do, Momma?”

GM: The look passes like an odd lump in half-formed, still-malleable clay. Her mother sniffs again. “Died, sweetie. He died. Too early for you to even know him.”

“And then everything fell… fell apart.”

Celia: Celia nods gently. “She and you started fighting, right? Dad told me.”

GM: Her mom silently nods.

Celia: “Do you want to tell me more about that?”

GM: Diana looks at the bed.

“I hate her,” she whispers.

Celia: “I know. I’m sorry I tried to force you to talk to her. What happened, Mom? Was it the… place?”

GM: “We… we already didn’t get along, already couldn’t stand the sight of… that was just…”

Celia: “Of… each other?”

GM: Her mother nods.

Celia: “But… why?”

GM: “I wish she could see,” Diana says suddenly, squeezing Celia as her inebriated eyes flash. “I wish. She could see. See what it’s like. Walk a mile in… in my shoes! See what she says then!”

“See what she thinks of me then!”

Celia: Celia’s eyes move from her mother’s face. For a moment her vision blurs. Then she blinks and it’s back, and she touches a hand to her mother’s cheek, curling up on her lap with her knees bent and her head on her shoulder. Like the child she used to be.

“Momma?”

GM: “Sweetie?” her mom asks thickly, concern coloring over the look on her face. She hugs Celia close and gives her a squeeze, stroking the back of her daughter’s head with one hand. “What is it?”

Celia: “Daddy used to hurt us. Did Grammi do that too?”

GM: “N… no, sweetie. Not like he did.”

Celia: “But it hurt?”

GM: “She’s such a mean woman,” Diana mutters.

She sniffs and snuggles Celia closer.

Celia: “But why?”

GM: “I don’t know, why is anyone mean?”

Celia: “‘Cause they’re sad.”

GM: “I’m sad, and I’m not mean,” her mom sniffs.

Celia: “‘Cause you’re better.”

GM: Her mom smiles and squeezes her.

“Thanks, sweetie.”

“You make me want to be. You and Lucy and Emi and all your brothers and sisters.”

Celia: “I could tell someone beat her up,” she offers. “Joshy said that’s what big sis is for.”

GM: “Sorry, Joshy?” her mom asks.

Celia: “We’re friends.”

GM: “Oh. I don’t know if I… well, I suppose I do… but I don’t think that’s what Jesus, what Jesus would say…”

“Do you and Jesus talk much, these days, sweetie?” her mom asks.

“It’s been so long, since you came to church.”

Celia: There’s not an easy answer to that. She just shrugs.

GM: Her mom squeezes her again.

“You’re His cute lil’ bunny too.”

Celia: Her giggle turns into a laugh. “That’s not what the Sanctified say, but I appreciate the sentiment.”

GM: Her mom smiles back at her.

“Do you think He loves you, still?” she asks, curiously.

Celia: No. She’s a bloodsucking monster from someone’s nightmare.

“Who knows.”

She doesn’t know her own mind, let alone some possibly imaginary figment of the collective conscious of people who lived thousands of years before her.

GM: “I guess only Him. But I think He does. He loves everyone, baby, everyone. No matter what they’ve done. It’s up to them if they want to love Him back. I think that’s the only reason anyone goes to Hell, if they refuse His love.”

Diana holds her close for a while.

“What do you think Jesus wants me to do?” she asks.

Celia: “In regards to Lucy? Or your mother?”

GM: “…both, sweetie,” she says after a moment.

Celia: “He probably has a better idea what all happened between the two of you. I still don’t, not really. You only give me pieces of it.”

GM: Her mother gives a hmph that turns into a hiccup.

She holds a hand to her mouth.

“Oh. Excuse me.”

Celia: Celia gently pats her back, waiting for the story.

GM: “You’re always asking me about the past, Celia.”

“I just don’t know what you’re looking for.”

“There’s not a lot to say,” her mom answers anyway. “She was always a bad, bad woman. Didn’t approve of ballet. Couldn’t accept it made me happy. Couldn’t accept I didn’t want to break a glass ceiling like her or Prudence. Couldn’t understand all the sweat and blood that went into it.”

“I started on the big stage at 15, you know. Young.”

“You have to be tough.”

“Everyone looks at us on the stage, sees how pretty and pink and sylph-like we are, floatin’ along en pointe, but they don’t see what goes on backstage.”

“They don’t see the way adults will tell you, to your face, blunt as a frying pan, you are too fat. You are too slow. You are too ugly. You are too stupid. You are not good enough.”

“In front of all the other girls, public as a stroll in the park.”

“Who are all older than you. Some lots older than you. Who all want the choice roles, that only so many dancers are gonna get. The competition can get really fierce.”

“And don’t even get me started on the physical training. Or the eating disorders.”

“To do that, at 15? You have to be TOUGH.”

Her mother gives an angry sigh. “I used to be tough, you know. That’s how I made it!”

“I wouldn’t have made it in that environment, if I wasn’t tough! Not at 15!”

“Fudge, and Logan complains about the ROTC instructors sometimes! He’s gettin’ off light!”

“Your grandmother didn’t respect me. She didn’t respect all my hard work. All my blood and sweat. How tough I had to be.”

Celia: “That’s really it? She just didn’t respect your choice?”

GM: “‘Just’? I’ll tell you ‘just’! She was just awful! One time, she threw out my sewing kit. That I used to modify my ballet shoes. Just threw it out! Because I’d left it outside my room, so she chucked it out, told me to keep better track of my things.”

“Two days before a big show!”

“I had to run through the city, buy a new kit, buy new shoes, all my own money, and waste time on that, on re-fittin’ the shoes again, that I needed to spend practicing!”

“I was off my game, the next day! The show was worse! They gave me so much grief for it! ‘Dragging down the whole corps be ballet!’ I had to fight like hell just to stay on the troupe!”

“Thanks a lot, Momma, thanks a lot for all your love and support!”

Diana gives an angry half-strangled sob and wipes her eyes.

Celia: “I don’t understand. How could she be like that… and you be like this.”

GM: “Because I got it from your grandpa, that’s why. He had so much more love in his heart than she did.”

“He was always there! Every performance, even the kids’ ones! He found time!”

“Busy heart surgeon like him, he found time, and sent me cards and flowers with ‘thank you’s from the other hospital people when he couldn’t!”

“I always knew, when he couldn’t make it, who he was helping, how helpful the rest of the team all said he was being!”

Her mom sniffs again. “Oh, Daddy, I miss you so much. You cared, when she never did!”

“Such a mean, nasty, cruel woman!”

Celia: “Was she like that with your siblings?”

GM: “Oh no, she loved Prudence much more than me.”

“Stan too, though not as much.”

Celia: All parents have favorites, Roderick told her.

“Why?”

GM: “Because they were just more like her, I guess. I got all of Dad’s sweet, Stan got half, Prudence got zero.”

“Though I don’t feel very sweet right now,” her mother hmphs.

“Such a mean woman.”

Celia: “We don’t have to talk about her, Mom. I didn’t realize… well, I didn’t realize the depth of everything between you. We don’t need to rehash.”

GM: “She sent me to the… DOLLHOUSE!”

Her mother gives a sob and covers her eyes.

Celia: “You’re out now, Momma. You’re out.”

GM: “No I’m not, no I’m not, I’m still there!”

Celia: “With… Lucy?”

GM: Her mother shudders at the doll’s name.

“I never got out, only… only half of me did!”

Celia: “I’ve had her for a long time, Mom. She’s out, too.”

GM: “She’s evil.

“I don’t know why, I don’t why you’d, you’d ever do that.”

Celia: Money. Connections. Power. Obsession. Madness.

All sorts of reasons. Celia doesn’t voice any of them, though. She just "hmm"s and holds her mom close.

GM: Her mom holds onto her for a while.

“She’s going to… she’s going to hurt you, baby.”

“She’s evil.”

Celia: “The doll?”

GM: Her mom closes her eyes and nods.

Celia: “Why would she hurt me?”

GM: “Because she’s from that place! That awful, awful pla-”

Celia: “She… helped me, before. I hesitated. And she told me to run. She got me to safety.”

Her sire, too, but she doesn’t add him into this.

GM: Her mom cuts off with a befuddled expression.

“What?”

Celia: “…what?”

GM: “She wouldn’t do that.”

“She wouldn’t help you.”

Celia: “But she… did.”

GM: “No. She’s from… why would she do that? Why would she ever do that?”

Celia: “I don’t… I don’t know. I was in trouble and she told me to run. So I did. And I got out. And all the other dolls were coming for me. They were going to turn me into one of them.”

GM: Diana doesn’t look sure of what to say.

Celia: “She’s from what? That place?”

GM: Her mom nods.

“What… happened, sweetie? That got you in trouble?”

“Are you still in trouble?”

Celia: “No. I’m okay. I saw what she did to you and I got angry. I let the Beast out. I came to and she was unconscious on the floor, and Lucy was staring up at me. I was going to help her, but Lucy… said to run.”

“And she said… she told the librarian that if I hadn’t undone what Jade did to you, she’d have left me forever.”

GM: “Oh. That’s what it was. Good. You were… you were a real hero to do that, baby.” Her mom hugs her. “A real hero. All those, those girls, in their… their hells. All of them, you gave… you gave hope…

Diana sniffles some more and wipes at her eyes.

Celia: She didn’t.

She’d ruined them too.

Broken them.

Like her mother.

GM: “That’s my… my Celia, always… always doing the right thing, even when it’s hard…” her mom sniffs, running a hand up and down her back.

She kisses the side of Celia’s face.

“I’m so proud of you, baby. So, so proud.”

Celia: “…I wasn’t doing the right thing, Mom.”

GM: “She’s… she’s pure evil, Celia. Just. Pure evil. You did right.”

Celia: “I used to do their makeup.”

GM: Her mom looks confused.

“Their… makeup?”

Celia: “To make them prettier.”

GM: Diana doesn’t say anything.

Her face just goes very still as she looks at Celia.

Celia: “I didn’t do the right thing.”

GM: “All… all the guards, cooks, at Auschwitz, couldn’t have been bad people,” her mom says slowly.

“They weren’t… the masterminds. They didn’t send people to the gas chambers.”

“They, they might not have even known. Had any choice.”

Celia: “They did.”

She did.

GM: “But, but it’s not always that simple. There’s… there’s worse grades, of bad.”

Her mom rubs her back.

“I’m not… I’m not going to say you… didn’t do bad… but you didn’t do as bad as her.

Celia: “Mom… I don’t know what you think it means to be what I am… but I’ve done… I’ve done awful things. Terrible things. Maybe not like her, but I’ve…” She looks down at her hands. “They’re not clean, Mom.”

GM: Her mother hugs her close.

“You said, baby, you said.”

“After… after what you did to me.”

Celia: “And if Lucy was part of you that was separated… she can’t be evil, Momma. You’re not.”

GM: “You walked back from it,” her mom presses. “What you did to me, as Jade. There is good in you. And maybe there’s bad too, okay, I guess there is, but we’ll… we’ll work through it, baby. We’ll talk sometime, about all the things you’ve done, and… what to do, goin’ forward. When I’m, ah, sober. Totally sober. But I am here for you and I love you and I’ll always love you, okay?” she says, giving Celia another squeeze.

Celia: One good deed can’t make up for everything she’s done, but she doesn’t argue.

“Why did you ask what you think I should do with her if she’s evil?”

GM: “Well, I… I was wondering what Jesus would do. Because she is evil.”

“Or, I… she really did help you?”

Celia: “She did.”

“Listen, Mom, there’s a… there are people who can talk to her. She wants out. A body.”

GM: Her mom takes that in slowly.

“What did you mean, she’d have left forever.”

Celia: “I don’t… really know. The people who can talk to her… they’re not…”

Enlightened, he’d said.

“…they’re not traditionally sane. But she said that Lucy would have left. And not come back.”

GM: “If you’d… if you’d made me stay…. Gr…”

Her mom doesn’t finish the name.

Celia: Celia just nods.

“I don’t… think she’s evil, Mom.”

“But I can bring her by, if you want..?”

GM: Celia’s mother gives a sharp intake of breath as she clutches her daughter.

“What… do you think will happen…?”

Celia: “She’ll talk to you. Maybe she’ll tell you what she wants. Maybe she’ll… I don’t know, Momma. All we can do is see. And if you want her back, we’ll find a way. If you want her separate, we’ll find a way.”

GM: Her mother’s face looks notably paler.

“Do… you think we should…?”

Celia: “I think we should let you talk to her. After that, we can make another decision.”

GM: Celia’s mom just holds on to her for a while.

Finally, she offers a mute nod.

Celia: “Tomorrow?” Celia asks. “To get it over with?”

GM: “Sweetie, I am going to be fully sober tomorrow.”

It seems like her mom is trying to smile. The expression mostly looks queasy.

Celia: “Do you… want to do it tonight?”

“I can go get her..?”

GM: “Let’s just get it over with,” her mom shudders.

Celia: “Do you want to come with me? I can show you my place.”

GM: “Yes. Yes, I’d love to see your place again, sweetie.” A smile starts to edge across her pale features.

“I’ll… I’ll get dressed, give me a minute.”

Celia: Celia nods. She’ll explain on the way.

GM: Her mom retrieves her clothes and steps inside the bathroom to change. She’s wearing the same dress from the family’s dinner with the Garrisons, but also slips on a pink coat and her new ballet flats from Emily. She takes a breath, then takes Celia’s hand and heads out with her, closing the hotel room door behind her.

“Lucy’s sleeping with Emily, she’ll be okay…”

Celia: “She’ll be okay,” Celia confirms.

GM: “Figured I’d get a separate room, for when you came by,” Celia’s mom says as they step into the elevator.

“You know. For dessert.” She manages a weak chuckle.

Celia: “I appreciate it. Hard to explain otherwise.” She smiles up at her mom, taking her hand. “You’re the best mom, you know that?”

GM: Her mom smiles back and hits the button. “I try to be, sweetie. I was really worried I wasn’t being a very good one, after… well, the truth came out.”

Celia: “It just took some adjusting. And we’re still working on it. Things don’t happen overnight.”

GM: “I guess not,” she says as the elevator descends. “But that’s all I want, to be a good mom to you.”

“And for you to be happy.”

Celia: “You’re a great mom. Always have been.”


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

GM: It’s a short enough drive back to Celia’s haven. Her mom looks out the window curiously.

“Have you moved, sweetie?”

Celia: “No. I have… multiple places. This is one that no one knows about. Except Roderick. And my sire.” And Randy, but he’s dead now. “Celia’s place is too public. Too easy to find. It leaves me too vulnerable during the day.”

GM: “Oh. Vulnerable to what?”

Celia: “Hunters. Ghouls. Enemies. Spies.”

GM: “Oh,” her mom repeats, as if still not sure what to make of that.

She gives Celia’s hand a squeeze. “Thank you for trusting me, sweetie. I won’t let anyone know where it is without asking you first.”

Celia: “Roderick asked me to move in with him,” Celia says on their way up. She unlocks the door and opens it for her mother, following her inside.

GM: “That’s wonderful!” Diana smiles. “Are you going to leave this place, then?”

She still looks around the place, her mother’s eyes happily curious to see what kind of home her daughter has made for herself.

Celia: Celia is happy to show her around. Letting Randy in on the secret had one benefit: he’d been able to meet the furniture people when they’d delivered her new things. The mess her sire had seen after Roderick took out his anger on her apartment is cleaned and gone, with a new couch, new rug, new shelves… everything the raging Brujah had destroyed is replaced, even the dented door of her closet.

“I don’t use the kitchen much,” Celia says when her mother stops as if to open the refrigerator. There’s only enough inside to look like an extremely busy bachelor(ette) lives here.

“I’m not sure. I like having my own place for things that I don’t want shared. And I have a lot of clothes…” Celia trails off, glancing at her closet.

He might expect her to get rid of it.

But he doesn’t have to know, right?

It’s not like she can invite her sire to his place.

GM: “I love it, sweetie!” her mom declares as she walks around, inspecting the decor and furnishings. “The brick walls give it a very cozy feel!”

“If you can afford it, then I’d say why not. Doesn’t hurt, if things are… dangerous.”

“Plus, can’t have too much space for clothes,” she winks.

Celia: “A friend of mine likes to give me jewelry,” Celia confides in a stage whisper, “so I have to have dresses to match. Wanna see?”

She doesn’t wait for an answer, taking her mother’s hand and tugging her towards the closet door. She opens it with a flourish, revealing the treasure trove of things inside: gowns, shoes, bags, accessories, purses, boots, skirts, lingerie, necklaces, earrings, bracelets… there’s a little bit of everything waiting for her mother to see.

“I, ah, ruined your dress earlier. The one you let me borrow. You can have one of mine, if you want..?”

GM: Her mom gives a squeal of delight at the horde of fashionable clothing and accessories. She takes out a number of different items, hanging them over herself or Celia to inspect in the mirror, and nodding her approval or saying how well this would pair with that.

“Oh, it’s okay! I’ve got plenty of dresses like those, got to live up to my last name,” she smiles. “But I would love to borrow some things from here! I just love how we’re the same size!”

“My goodness, I had no idea you owned so many clothes!”

Celia: It’s what she’s good at.

Clothes and makeup.

She hides the hurt in her eyes with a smile and laugh. “Hard to wear things like this at work. Licks are much more, ah, fashion savvy.”

GM: “Well maybe you could buck the trend, show off all those girls in their yoga pants that the boss dresses to impress,” her mom smiles.

Celia: “Don’t think doing a massage in haute couture would go over very well.”

“Maybe if Daddy wins the race for governor I’ll have an excuse to wear them. Parties and the like.” Or when she goes out to LA. Red carpet.

GM: “I guess not, but I admit it still seems a little strange to me, how girls like Piper can wear a face full of glam makeup and pair it with something mundane like yoga pants.”

“But there you go! Plenty reason to let the world see how fabulous Celia Flores can look,” her mom smiles.

“I’ll need to think of something to wear too, for when he wins…” she says thoughtfully.

Celia: “We’ll have to go shopping, I think.”

She sounds as if she can’t wait.

GM: “I guess we will,” her mom beams. “Dresses, shoes, jewelry, you name it! Can’t get caught in the same thing twice!”

Celia: “What would people say? The horror.”

GM: “I hope Lucy grows up to be the same size as us. It’d be so fun if we three could all share clothes.”

Celia: “You should keep that one,” Celia says, nodding toward the necklace her mother’s eye keeps drifting towards. “I don’t know if you could dress it down for work, but maybe a fancy dinner.”

Pic.jpg
GM: “Hmm,” her mom says thoughtfully as she picks it up, “maybe paired with the ballet flats, and one of my more casual dresses? Maybe somethin’ without too much neckline, so it draws the eye less?”

“This will definitely look nice at a fancy dinner, though. You think it’d be too fancy for another with the Garrisons?”

Celia: “Invitin’ Henry over again?” Celia asks with a wiggle of her brows.

GM: “I think so, that poor man was just so sad,” her mom answers, more seriously.

Celia: “I think you should definitely wear it to dinner. Dani and I were thinking we could all go to the history museum together, or the WWII one..?”

GM: “Oh, that’s a fun idea! Yes, I’ve gone there with Logan before, he just loves all of the World War II stuff.”

Celia: “He doesn’t get out much. Maybe he’ll… smile more.”

“I wish I could do something about Stephen and his dad, but… it’s different, there, he doesn’t want him to know.” Celia sighs.

GM: Her mom looks at her gravely.

“Celia… that man has got to know.”

Celia: “He can’t know.”

“That breaks the rules.”

“It’s Stephen’s choice, Mom.”

GM: “Celia, I know you saw how much pain he was in. All I can say is that you did not see it all. There is no loss, sweetie. Just no loss, that… you cannot even imagine what pain that man is going through. Not unless you are a parent.” Her mother’s voice starts to break a bit.

Celia: “It’s not our choice to make. I can’t take him on as a ghoul, and I wouldn’t… do that to Stephen.”

“What if another vampire took Emily or Logan as a ghoul? That’s what it would be like.”

GM: “Then don’t. Just tell him the truth.”

“Doesn’t matter how.”

“Just so long as he stops believing his baby boy is dead and in the ground.”

Celia: “I can… I can talk to Stephen about it.”

“See what he says.”

GM: “Okay. Okay, that sounds good, sweetie. This involves him too.”

Her mom also looks relieved they’re not going to fight over this issue.

Celia: “Let me find Lucy, though, before the night gets away from us.”

GM: Diana’s face grows very still again.

But she nods.

Celia: Celia takes her mother back into the other room, letting her have a seat on the couch while she locates the doll. Lucy is tucked away with Princess on one corner of Celia’s bed in a new blue dress, the pile of books on the nightstand beside her. She picks her up, Princess too, and brings the pair of them over to her mother to take a seat on the other edge of the couch.

GM: Lucy’s wide, glassy eyes are raptly focused on hers.

Princess looks demure and cute as ever in her ballet shoes.

Celia’s mother clutches her hands to her face and draws up her knees like a little girl. Her face is white and her breath comes fast as her daughter approaches with the dolls. But she does not run from the couch.

Her eyes rest on the second doll with equal parts dread and confusion.

Celia: “This is Princess,” Celia says by way of introduction. “She’s just here for moral support. She has a lot of love to share.” Nothing bad has ever happened to Princess. She’s Daddy’s little girl.

GM: The long-haired, large-eyed doll stares lovingly up at her mother as he holds her teddy bear.

“She’s… a doll…” Diana gets out in a high, trembling voice.

Celia: “She is.”

GM: Lucy’s eyes rest unerringly on her counterpart.

That’s when Celia hears it again, thick and heavy as porcelain:

JOIN

Celia: Celia sets Princess down on the couch beside her, Lucy next to her. She looks between Lucy and her mother for just a moment, as if wondering how she can possibly explain this.

“Um… Mom, you know how I can… turn into a cat?”

GM: Her mother gives a faltering nod.

Celia: “So… I have another form too. And I don’t want to scare you. But Lucy wants me to join them as my… other self.”

“She’s… like them.”

“Her name is Lotus.”

Celia: “So… don’t be alarmed Mom, okay? I’m still me. I’m going to bring Lotus out now, though. Okay?”

GM: Her mother is still white in the face. Still has her knees and hands raised up.

She doesn’t say anything.

Just gives another faltering nod.

Celia: It’s as much of a blessing she’s going to get. Celia tells her mom not to be afraid, that she’s still Celia…

Until she’s not.

Celia disappears into the porcelain embrace of Lotus, with her hand-stitched dress made of memories and long, curling hair. Her smile remains fixed, like all dolls, but it’s warm despite the cool, smooth ivory that makes up the rest of her. Like her counterpart, Lotus is fully made up.

She sits against the cushion, gazing up at Diana.

Pic.jpg
GM: Celia’s mother stares at the doll like it’s a smiling tiger. Grateful for the smile, over a snarl.

But wary.

Lucy stares ahead at the woman too. She does not look at Lotus.

Lotus hears it again. Heavy as porcelain:

JOIN

Celia: Lotus doesn’t think that the woman knows how to join them like this. But she waits. Maybe Lucy knows something she doesn’t.

GM: The doll’s eyes rest unerringly on Diana’s.

MERGE

Celia: Well that’s certainly not how Lotus expected this to go. Lucy doesn’t appear to need Lotus, doesn’t seem to want to speak to Lotus. Just Diana.

There’s a girl who promised her mother nothing bad would happen to her. A girl who’d once died for her mother to make sure nothing bad would happen to her. Just talking, she’d said. Promised. Just talking.

This isn’t talking. This is another demand on Diana. Another demand from the woman who has given so much of herself to everyone else.

Lotus fades away.

“Can you hear her, Momma?”

GM: There’s a look of some relief when Celia appears. Like one of three tigers has backed off, even if it’s a smiling one, and her daughter is now here instead.

She gives a faltering nod.

Celia: “She wants to merge. But we’re not ready for that, are we, Momma? Lucy, we’re not ready for that. Momma wants to talk.”

GM: The doll just stares ahead, her glassy eyes wide and unblinking.

“M-merge…?” Diana gets out, her throat dry.

Celia: “Put you back together, I think.”

GM: Her mom doesn’t blink either. Her eyes look equally big.

“H… how…?”

Celia: As if she knows. She can barely hold herself together, let alone try to keep someone else from falling further apart.

“You still haven’t decided if it’s something you want. That’s what we’re here to figure out, Lucy. If you and Diana can get along.”

GM: “I… wa… want…” her mother swallows, not once looking away from the doll, then gets out, “I want it back… who I… who I used to be…”

MERGE, repeats Lucy.

Princess stares ahead sweetly and hugs her teddy.

Celia: Silently, Celia picks up Lucy and hands her to her mother.

“When I learned how to become a doll, I sat in a room with them. A lot of them. And I had to focus on clearing my mind, being still, being quiet. You’re not becoming a doll, but letting a doll become you. So instead of clearing your mind… open it. Let her in. Connect to her. Here.” Celia touches a hand to her own heart, then gestures toward the same spot on Princess. “And here.” She touches her temple, then Princess’ temple.

“There’s… energy that connects everyone. Find that. And instead of pushing yourself along it—you know how I told you I do that?—you pull her to you.”

GM: Diana looks at the doll like it’s a scorpion preparing to sting her.

But slowly, falteringly, she spreads her arms to take Lucy. In the same position she used to hold the ‘real’ Lucy. The second Lucy.

The skin-to-porcelain contact makes her give an immediate hiss. The effect is like a spray of bleach over flowers. The woman’s skin seems to turn paler, sicklier, even as Lucy stares up at her with wide and glassy eyes. Celia is not sure if she can feed on her mother in this state tonight… it’s likely to take even more out of her.

Diana removes one hand, holding the doll against her stomach, and clutches Celia’s hand in her free one.

“I’ll try, sweetie… to pull her to me… but… help me, please… I need your help…”

The doll’s porcelain-hard little voice only repeats:

MERGE

Celia: She doesn’t like the way the doll seems to be leeching the very life from her mother. It’s not… normal, is it? If they’re merging, shouldn’t Diana be getting stronger? More healthy now that her whole self is returning to her?

Diana had said multiple times that the doll is evil. But that she wanted her back. What happens if she interrupts? Nothing good, she bets. Nothing good at all.

Celia squeezes her mother’s hand.

“What does it feel like, Momma? Does it hurt?”

GM: Her mother nods rapidly, blinking back tears.

“My, my feet, sweetie… when she… she made me dance…”

Celia knows all about how ‘she’ made her mother dance.

Celia: Celia kneels in front of her mother, gently easing her shoes off her feet. She touches light fingertips to the arches of her feet, offering what comfort she can through touch.

“Physically? Or like you’re back in chains?”

GM: The ballet flats with their extra arch support come off easily. Diana’s toenails are painted pink. At Flawless, like always. Celia’s mother takes a breath and nods at the familiar touch.

“B… both, sweetie…”

Celia: “Do you want to stop?”

GM: Her mother scrunches her eyes but shakes her head.

“I want… my… back…”

The glassy-eyed doll just stares silently upwards.

MERGE

“Please, sweetie… help me…”

Celia: “You have to bring her into you, Mom. You can hear her, right? In your head? Imagine there’s a line between your mind and hers. A phone line. She’s talking to you, you’re talking to her, but you’re separated by something. An obstacle. Glass, or a brick wall. Close your eyes. See it in your mind, the wall. Then find your way to her. Over, under, around. Put a door in the wall. Or a window. Let her see you. Call her home. She’s part of you, just far away, but she’s still you and you’re her. Like magnets, you’ll always be drawn to each other. Feel for that. Listen for it.”

GM: Diana closes her eyes.

“She’s… it’s a wall, and it’s so thick, it’s so tall, I don’t even know how to get through to her, but I’m dancing… I don’t know how that’ll help, but it feels right… dancing, en pointe, like I did before the accident… you think that’s right, sweetie, you think that’s helping…?”

Celia: “If you used to share dance with her, yes. What else did you used to share together? What else can you do to call her to you?”

GM: “I… I stole your grandmother’s car, once…”

“And ran off away… that’s why she sent me there…”

Celia: That seems like a poor reason to ruin a child.

“Was that the last time you and Lucy were together?”

GM: “When I… when I cleaned and put her away, the day I got out… and had to ask if I could be Diana again…”

Celia: “No, before that. When she was part of you.”

GM: “I danced… the… the way you saw…?”

“But it wasn’t dance, it wasn’t…!”

“I was mad with her… I was… a spitfire, like your granddaddy always said…”

Celia: “Maybe you could dance with Lucy. Remind her what it feels like to be part of you. Remind yourself what it feels like to be free. Whole.”

GM: “I can’t dance like that anymore, sweetie, but… maybe a waltz, or some easier positions…?”

Celia: “Maybe we wait,” Celia suggests gently, “until your leg is better.”

GM: “Okay, sweetie, if you think that’s best…” her mom breathes, nodding in relief.

Lucy’s porcelain gaze bores unerringly ahead.

MERGE

Celia: Celia reaches for the doll.

GM: Her mother surrenders Lucy to her.

Celia: “Sorry, Luce. She isn’t ready.”

GM: The porcelain figure’s glassy eyes stare endlessly into hers.

MERGE

Celia: “And what then?” Celia demands. “I put you in her and what then? You steal a car? Run away? Leave your family? Leave me?

Call her stupid, like Roderick had, for trusting a doll?

GM: Lucy’s still expression does not change.

MERGE

“Ah, maybe we better get me back to my hotel, sweetie,” ventures Diana, rubbing her head.

Celia: “I’ll take you to talk to him tomorrow,” Celia says to Lucy. “He’ll be at the party. Then we’ll get her leg fixed, and you can merge. You’ll be whole again. Both of you.”

GM: MERGE

“That, ah, that sounds better,” nods her mom. “I don’t feel too good, anyways… you mind if we pass, tonight, on… dessert?”

Celia: Celia strokes a hand down Lucy’s hair, continuing to address the doll.

“Because I don’t know how, Lucy, and I don’t want to hurt you. What if I do it wrong? What if I break you? What if I break her? I’m not willing to take that chance with you. Trust me, okay? He’ll have a better method that doesn’t involve going back to… to her.”

A pause.

“I’ll take good care of you, Lucy. We’ll get you sorted.”

Celia kisses the doll’s cheek before setting her down next to Princess.

“Come on, Mom, let’s get you back to your room.”

View
Celia VI, Chapter II
Corrected

“I’m stupid.”
Celia Flores


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

GM: Celia has a decent while to pray. The car drives on for a while. She has no idea where they’re going. No idea what will happen when they get there.

Eventually, the car comes to a stop. The ignition dies. The trunk opens up. Roderick stares down at her. They’re in a parking garage.

Without a word, he picks her up and slings her over his shoulder. The stake pushes a little deeper. He closes the trunk, locks the car, looks around, then takes the stairs up. All Celia can see is floor.

“Whoa, hey, she all right?” asks an unfamiliar male voice.

She can’t see the speaker.

“Don’t worry about her,” says Roderick.

“She just did something dumb.”

“She’s lucky I’m here.”

Celia: Lucky.

Lucky he staked her. Kidnapped her. Put her in a trunk.

She can’t speak. Maybe she’d cry for help if she could. Or agree with him.

It could be worse, right? He could have done to her what he’d done to his brother.

GM: “She on something?” asks the other man.

“I’ve been pretty tolerant of her shit up until now,” Roderick says.

“But, you know, this evening…”

“She just doesn’t get it. She just doesn’t learn.”

“I think tonight may be an eye-opener, though.”

Celia: Stupid can be taught.

It just takes longer.

GM: Daddy knew that.

“Oh?” asks the other man.

“Yes,” says Roderick.

“Well, this has been a good talk, getting all of that off my chest. But I trust you’re going to keep what you’ve seen to yourself.”

“Hey, man, if she’s been outta line…” says the other man.

Celia: Run, she thinks.

GM: “You could drop her off in my place.”

The other man sounds like he’s grinning.

“We could tie her to the bed. When she wakes up, I could fuck her. Tied down. Then you could come in, ‘rescue’ her, and say this is what she gets when she pulls shit.”

Celia: She recoils at the thought.

He wouldn’t.

Would he?

GM: “That would probably be very instructive,” Roderick answers thoughtfully.

“But… I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.”

“Elijah,” says the man.

“Elijah,” repeats Roderick.

“Well, Elijah, that’s very thoughtful of you to offer.”

In an instant, Roderick’s voice becomes venom.

“Except for how it makes me want to bash in some fucking heads.

There’s a sharp cry, and then a brutally hard crack before something heavy hits the ground.

There’s movement under Celia as Roderick turns around.

Then a heavy thump, thump, thump, thump.

Like a body rolling down a flight of stairs.

Celia: She wishes she could close her eyes. That she could close her ears. That she wasn’t here to witness this. There’s not even satisfaction. Just terror tinged with dismay, hot and sour in the back of her throat.

Is he dead? He can’t be dead. Please don’t be dead. Don’t let Roderick be that far gone.

GM: A door opens and closes.

She sees floor underneath her as Roderick keeps walking.

She hears some keys getting pulled out. A door opening.

He steps inside. Turns. Closes it. There’s more movement.

Roderick for a moment. Opens a cabinet or something. There’s a metallic sound.

Several.

More movement.

White tile, now.

Roderick hefts her off, then drops her in a bathtub.

Not hard. But not gentle.

He takes out two pairs of handcuffs, snaps them around her wrists, then snaps each around the tub’s railings. He closes the door, turns back, then pulls out the stake.

He stares down at her. There’s no smile on his face.

“The window is securely closed, but turn into a cat or a bird and you’ll regret it.”

“So what do you have to say for yourself, Celia?”

Celia: The same wide eyes stare up at him from her new position in the tub. She can only imagine that, if she’s here, it’s going to get messy. The scent of blood stopped bothering her after her Embrace, but all she sees now is a dark hallway, a large form, a hacksaw. She has no stomach to clench. No bile to rise up her throat. No uneven breathing, no hammering of her heart against her ribcage, no cold sweat.

Just dread. Formless, overwhelming, all consuming horror.

What is he going to do to her?

“I’m…” Her voice comes out in a rasp. She swallows, but her mouth is dry. It’s always dry. She’s dead. “I’m sorry. I should have asked.”

GM: “You should have asked,” he repeats back.

Maybe he’s agreeing.

Maybe he’s mocking.

“That’s your problem, Celia.”

“Well, one of them.”

“You’re always going around behind my back. Weaving your little webs of lies.”

“I remember saying that to you, one time. How you’d told so many lies and changed your story so many times I couldn’t even keep the details straight anymore.”

“Now, though?”

He’s silent for a moment. His eyes sweep her shackled form.

“Do you know what a ‘Gordian knot’ is, Celia?”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

GM: “Figures,” says Roderick.

Celia: It’s worse than a slap in the face.

GM: “It’s a Greek legend.”

“The legend goes, the people of an ancient city were without a king. An oracle at Telmissus decreed that the next man to enter the city driving an ox cart should become their king.”

“So one day, a peasant farmer named Gordias drove into town on an ox cart. He was immediately declared king.”

“Out of gratitude, his son Midas dedicated the ox cart to the Phrygian god Sabazios, whom the Greeks identified with Zeus. Midas tied the ox cart to a post with an intricate knot of cornel bark.”

“The knot was impossibly complex. No one could even tell how it was fastened. No one was clever enough. An oracle declared that any man who could unravel this ‘Gordian knot’ was destined to become the ruler of all of Asia.”

“Now, it’s unclear exactly how long the Gordian knot went unsolved for, because this is a legend, but it was probably a very long time. Long enough that enough people tried and failed for the knot to gain a reputation as being unsolvable.”

Roderick offers a cold smile.

“Like your lies, Celia.”

“They were so complex and convoluted and tugged so many of my heartstrings, that even I couldn’t solve them. You tied your own Gordian knot around me.”

“But returning to the story. One day, a young conqueror came to the city. Some say this young conqueror was the son of a god. Seers foretold a very special destiny for him. He, too, wanted to rule the world.”

“So, of course he tried to solve the Gordian knot. He expected he could. Greatness was his destiny. He had been schooled as a youth by Aristotle himself! But the knot was unsolvable, even for him.”

“So what do you suppose this brilliant young conqueror and son of a god did to solve the unsolvable knot, Celia?”

Celia: She doesn’t know. She doesn’t want to know. She doesn’t want to learn how he’s going to solve the knot.

“…cut it?” Her voice is faint.

GM: “That’s exactly what he did, Celia,” Roderick smiles.

“He drew his sword and cut the knot in half with a single stroke.”

“It seems crude, until you think about it.”

“The prophecy never said how someone had to unravel the knot, if they wanted to rule Asia. They just had to unravel it. There was no requirement beyond that. Only our young conqueror was smart enough to come at the problem from another angle. To have the awareness to choose the path of least rather than maximum resistance.”

“In the end, all of the knot’s complexity was illusory.”

Celia: He’s going to kill her.

Tears leak from the corners of her eyes. He’s going to kill her. She’s going to die here. In this bathtub. Cuffed to the railing.

GM: “The knot was only an obstacle to people who were blind and shortsighted enough t… now why are you crying, Celia?”

Celia: “Don’t,” she whispers. “Please, don’t.”

GM: He yanks her hair almost hard enough to rip it out. Her scalp screams.

“Stop pleading.”

“I’ve had just about fucking enough of the scared woman act.”

Celia: The words die. She bites her lip to keep from making any noise, eyes squeezed tightly shut against the flow of red while she nods again and again.

GM: “Now, the way the story ends, that was that. The young conqueror cleaved the knot in half.”

“So you know what he did?”

“He went on to conquer all of Asia. From Asia Minor, which is modern-day Turkey if you didn’t know, all the way to the Indus and the Oxus. Those are rivers in India.”

“And his name was Alexander. Alexander the Great.”

“You do know who that is?”

Celia: She nods again.

GM: “Good.”

“I think the comparison between the legend and our relationship is very obvious, don’t you?”

“How there’s actually a very simple way to deal with all of your lies. All of your manipulations. All of your tears.”

“I was so fixated, for so long, on working through problems and dramas you’d created, and working through them on terms you’d set.”

“I thought if I was just smart enough I could solve them all.”

Celia: He’s going to kill her.

And she can’t even cry about it.

No one will know. No one will miss her. He’ll damn himself. Forever. Kill the girl who loves him, how do you come back from that?

Celia can’t move. She can’t breathe. She’s afraid to even look at him and she can’t let him see that. She shoves it down. She finds the edges of the fear and tries to smother it before it consumes her.

But she stays silent. She doesn’t trust herself to speak. She doesn’t know if there’s anything she can even say.

GM: “We have two options here, Celia. Two ways we can help you learn your lesson.”

“One. I can beat you into torpor. I’ll drop you off at the Evergreen, since Savoy and I are such good pals now. I doubt he’ll even mind I did that, so long as we stay pals.”

Roderick smiles.

“But I’m not a brute like your father was, Celia. I’m not going to just do that to you without your consent.”

“No, I’m still considerate enough to give you a choice. Multiple choices. Which brings us to your second one.”

“I help you cut through a Gordian knot of your own. I’ll drop one of my lies. I’ll tell you a truth.”

“You’re not going to like it, though. You’re not going to like it at all.”

He smiles down at his handcuffed lover.

“So. What’s it going to be, Celia?”

Celia: “What about… what about after? After I pick. After you tell me, or beat me.”

She hates that she’s asking. Hates that she’s clinging so desperately to who he once was.

“What then?”

GM: “That will be up to you, Celia. If you’ve learned your lesson, and stop whoring around with mobster scum—or whoring around with anyone, for that matter—I don’t see any reason why things can’t go on like before.”

“So that’s a question to ask yourself, more than me. Will you mess things up?”

Celia: She shouldn’t be relieved.

She shouldn’t be thinking about going back to before.

She should be running and screaming as far and fast as she can.

But she can’t help the tears that drip down her cheeks. The desire for him to touch her gently, to put his arms around her, to hold her and let her cry and tell her… that he forgives her. That he loves her.

She’d never understood, but now she does, and her heart cracks for herself, for her mother, for Roderick.

“Which one will hurt more,” she finally asks.

GM: “You must decide for yourself, Celia,” her lover explains patiently.

“That rather defeats the purpose of offering you a choice if I tell you one choice is better, doesn’t it?”

There’s an almost amused smile.

One that says ‘of course she didn’t get it.’

Celia: “I don’t want the better one.”

GM: He smiles and strokes her cheek.

“That’s good, Celia.”

“That shows me you’re sorry.”

His hand feels so gentle against her skin.

There’s no tautness to it.

“But you still need to decide for yourself.”

Celia: Her eyes close at the touch. She turns her face into it. For just a moment she lets herself pretend they’re in bed together. She pretends that he doesn’t have her cuffed to a tub, that he isn’t going to beat her senseless or break her heart the moment she opens her mouth to decide.

Her sire had beaten her. He hadn’t left her unconscious. He’d given her blood afterwards, fed her from his own vein, slipped the collar around her neck. She still disappointed him this evening. Roderick has beaten her before as well. And they’re here. Because it hasn’t sunken in.

“I’ll heal. The bones. The muscles. It will hurt, but I’ll heal. You have to… have to live with what I did. Every night. Have to make the conscious decision to stay. It hurts more, in the end.”

She searches his face with her eyes.

“The knot.”

GM: Roderick nods.

He strokes her cheek some more.

“So. You want the truth?”

Celia: No.

“Yes.”

GM: Roderick nods again and kneels down, closer to her level.

He moves his hand. Rests it on her shoulder.

He cups her face with his other hand. Turning it to meet his eyes.

Turning it so she cannot look away.

Celia: She doesn’t want it.

She doesn’t want it.

She doesn’t want it.

GM: That’s why she asked for it.

Then Roderick says:

“I was embellishing earlier. Yes, there are different kinds of intelligence. Different kinds of knowledge. Obviously, you know more than I do about medicine and biology. About cosmetics. About dance. But there was something else I omitted, and a lie by omission is still a lie.”

“The thing I omitted was the concept of averages. You add up the total value of something’s constituent parts, then you divide that value by its number of constituent parts. Which is a somewhat long-winded way of saying, the sum total of my knowledge and the value of that knowledge is greater than yours.”

“Unlike you, I didn’t drop out of college to half-ass my way through a joke ‘degree’ online. I earned a real college degree. I was raised in a household by two highly successful and academically and professionally accomplished parents, rather than a football brute and a ballet dancer. Every box I could tick in high school to academically distinguish myself, I ticked—did you know I was accepted into Yale? I declined, because I wanted to stay close to my family, and I knew my career would stay in New Orleans. I knew my life’s goal was to destroy the Mafia here.”

“I went to law school for three years and graduated top of my class. I received an informal but extremely comprehensive education from my sire that eclipsed any of my prior educational experiences. She taught me history, philosophy, political theory, warfare, and more subjects than you probably even know the names of. I went to London to study under my grandsire, who’s even more learned than my sire is.”

“And against all of that, Celia, you have… makeup.”

He gives her a patronizing smile.

Then he says it.

Two words.

Two bullets right to the brain.

“You’re stupid.”

Celia: The impact shatters what’s left of her.

A thousand tiny pieces of her float away. They find the cracks in the window and wriggle through, dancing on the wind once they’re free. They swirl down the drain and land in sodden heaps in the sewer until they’re flushed out to the sea. They kiss his cheeks, his lashes, his lips, then settle in his lungs. More of them catch the draft beneath the door and spread through the apartment, the hall, the stairwell. They stick to Elijah’s blood on the cement steps.

They travel, the little tiny pieces of her that he breaks with two casual words, through space and time, through air and sky. They see.

They know.

She knows.

A wooden face stares up at him. The blood stops circulating through her veins. Her mask disintegrates. Hollow eyes, sunken cheekbones, porcelain skin.

Dropout, dropout, dropout.

Like a dog walking on its hind legs.

Your dad’s right. You’re stupid. Pretty, but stupid.

This is all you’ll ever be good for.

She giggles.

Say you’re stupid, Celia.

I’m stupid, Daddy.

There’s my girl.

Her cheek rubs against his hand.

The laughter doesn’t stop.

She knows.

He knows.

Everyone knows.

The monster stares out at him from a lover’s eyes. It seethes. It hates. Him. Maxen. Preston. Isabel. Roxanne. All of them. It watches. It waits. It knows. The truth. The thing behind the mask. It calls the pieces of itself back. It makes a new mask.

The girl hurts. She’d wanted pain. She’d gotten it. Her giggle turns hysterical.

GM: The girl does hurt.

The girl hurts so much.

Control snaps like a flimsy leash. The Beast tears out, to visit that hurt upon its source.

Celia sees pure red. She hears the Beast’s frenzied screams. She feels pain. Pain around her cuffed wrists. Pain around her heeled feet, as she madly kicks and flails and throws herself against her bonds, screaming her hurt to the world. To the bathroom. To the author of all her hurt.

Then, just like that, it’s gone. Her lover is calmly pinning her down, one hand around her throat, another around one of her legs.

Waiting until her tantrum is over with.

Until her Beast exhausts itself, because she is unable to control it.

“Are you calm enough for me to remove my hands, Celia?” he asks patiently.

Celia: No.

She wants to go back to the red. She wants to go back to the haze. She wants it to stop hurting. She wants to stop knowing. She wants him to lie to her. She wants him to tell her he made it up, that he said what he knew would hurt her like she’d hurt him. She wants him to tell her that he loves her, that it doesn’t matter, that he’s sorry, that he forgives her. She wants him to ask if she can forgive him, if she can still love him, broken as he is, if they can move on from this. She wants his hand between her legs and his mouth at her throat and her fingers in his hair.

She wants to be human again.

She wants someone else to carry the weight for a while.

She wants to not be afraid to look into a mirror because the face staring back at her isn’t her own.

She wants to go home, but there are so many that she doesn’t even know what that means now, and she’d thought it was with him but there’s no home here, just hurt, just pain, just tears. She wants to stop hurting. But it’s still there. Raw. Red. Angry. She pokes at the wound and wants to disappear inside of it.

But she doesn’t. Her Beast stays quiet.

The girl in the tub moves her lips to answer his question, her voice as hollow as the rest of her:

“Yes.”

GM: He removes her hands.

Then he undoes her handcuffs.

Then he spreads his arms.

Spreads them wide to embrace her.

His face isn’t hard anymore.

There’s… it’s not sadness.

It’s sympathy.

Softness.

But he doesn’t lean it to hug her. He lets her accept his offered embrace. If that’s what she wants.

Celia: She sits up in the tub. Her eyes stay down, like a dog beaten one too many times. The movement of his arms draws her attention; maybe, for a moment, she thinks he means to hit her anyway. She stays still. And then she looks. And her face crumples. And she tucks herself against him, burying her face in his chest so he doesn’t see what he’s done to her.

GM: His strong arms envelop her.

Hold her close.

Hold her tight.

Hold her safe.

“It’s okay, Celia,” he murmurs in her ear.

“It’s okay.”

“I still love you.”

“Very much.”

Celia: Why?

GM: “You were scared that I wouldn’t, were you?”

“It’s okay.”

He holds her close. Like there’s no one in the world but them.

“I understand you. I accept you. I love you.”

“I think this could actually be a very good thing for us.”

“We can be honest. We can tell the truth. It can’t hurt us, now that it’s out.”

“You don’t need to be smart, Celia. You can leave the heavy thinking to me. I’m here for you. I can be smart enough for us both.”

There’s a smile in his voice as he rubs her back. Strokes her hair.

“Does that sound good to you?”

Celia: She doesn’t want to be stupid. She wants him to be proud of her. Not like a parent with their child’s macaroni art, but like an equal. So she asks, quietly, when her voice is steady, if he’ll teach her.

GM: “Teach you to be smart, Celia?” he asks.

Celia: She starts to nod… then thinks better of it. She doesn’t want him to tell her it’s impossible.

GM: “The operative question, of course, is how smart. It’s easier to gain 5 lbs of muscle than 50 lbs. How much intellectual ‘weight’ do you want to put on?”

Celia: “Smart enough to not be stupid.”

GM: “Okay,” he says.

“We can do that.”

“You need to get a college degree.”

“A real one, at a brick and mortar school.”

“You need to major in something more intellectually challenging than dance, too.”

Celia: “How? It’s during the day.”

GM: “There are evening classes, Celia.”

Celia: Not all of the classes are offered at night. But she doesn’t argue with him.

GM: “Plenty of working adults who take those.”

Celia: “Where?”

GM: “Tulane is the best school in the city. I’d go there. You can disguise yourself to hide from the sheriff’s agents.”

Celia: “Okay.”

GM: “Stealth mode on top makes you as hard to ferret out as any neonate can realistically expect to be. It also helps that you actually went to Tulane for a while and know the campus. You can blend in.”

He smiles. “Blending in is something you’re pretty good at.”

Celia: It’s lying and makeup. She doesn’t point it out.

GM: He finally pulls back and lays a hand on her shoulder.

“Now, Celia, there’s something else.”

Celia: She doesn’t know how much more she can take from him tonight.

But she doesn’t interrupt.

GM: “Letting Mafia scum put his arm around you is completely unacceptable. But there’s some measure of redemption for you in that.”

“You were acting out of stupidity rather than malice, weren’t you? You wanted to help me and just didn’t think it all the way through.”

Celia: Celia nods her head.

GM: “Good. Now tell me what you did wrong, in your own words, and what lesson you’ve learned from tonight.”

Celia: “I… let the Mafia scum touch me. I walked in with him. I made a scene. I didn’t ask you before I did it. I didn’t think about how it looked to you. I learned… I learned that… the knots. That I’m… what you think of me. That I was wrong. That you’re smart enough for both of us. That you can do the thinking for me. That when I’m wrong you’ll… give me a choice, and Savoy won’t care if you hurt me, and that you… still love me.”

Her eyes move to his face, searching for the answer to that question.

GM: “You’re right about everything up until ‘the knots’, Celia. ’ That doesn’t tell me what you’ve learned. That isn’t even grammatically correct.” His tone isn’t critical, but calm. Patient. “Try again. What did you learn there?”

Celia: Celia swallows. “You told me about the knot. The Gor… Gorgon…? Gordian Knot. The Gordian Knot. I learned the story behind it, and how it was solved, and you solved mine for me.”

GM: “What was your Gordian knot, Celia? How did I solve it?”

Celia: “You told me that you were sparing my feelings when I asked the other night. That there’s different kinds of intellect, but there’s still average intellect, and you know more than me. You told me you went to London with your grandsire. Did you fly? Or take a boat?”

GM: “That’s not germane right now, Celia. I’ll answer your questions after we’re finished here,” Roderick says, his tone mildly chiding.

Celia: Celia drops her gaze.

“You told me that I’m stupid.”

GM: “Good,” he says with a slight smile. “Specificity in language is important. I was also going to correct ’I’m what you think of me.’ But ‘Roderick told me I’m stupid’ isn’t a direct answer to my question either, Celia.”

“So tell me: what did you learn?”

Celia: Her eyes, still on his chest, go vacant.

“Tell me you’re stupid, Celia.”

“I’m stupid, Daddy.”

“There’s my girl.”

GM: He waits. Patiently.

But he doesn’t back down.

Celia: Her hands twist on her lap. The pointy edge of a ring cuts into her skin when she rotates it over and over and over again.

“He broke her arm. She went out the window and he broke her arm. The guards took her back. She cried, but they didn’t care. He broke the other one.”

“She wouldn’t tell him what he wanted.”

“He put a leash on her. He punished her for lying. Eat it. Eat it. All of it.”

“You’re my cute little bunny.”

“There’s a blue dress with yellow sunflowers.”

“I heard him hiss.”

“There were two.”

“All I wanted was a pony.”

“I’m sorry I asked for the pony.”

“The Wish Bringer was my grandpa. But he cursed us.”

“Tell me you’re stupid, Celia.”

“I’m stupid, Daddy.”

“They don’t send girls there for being stupid.”

“He wants me to say I’m stupid. But I never did.”

Her finger bleeds.

GM: Roderick frowns.

“This is not a direct answer to my question, Celia.”

“I have no reasonable basis to conclude you’ve learned your lesson if you can’t tell me what the lesson was.”

Celia: Celia’s not here anymore.

Whoever else is tells him what he wants, though.

“I’m stupid.”

GM: “Good.”

There’s a content smile as he touches her shoulder.

The two words her father never got her to say.

Two words she bled and suffered and screamed over his knee to avoid saying.

Because all he used to extract them was pain.

Physical pain.

But she knows from Elyse, doesn’t she?

Soothing balms make hurtful things hurt so much deeper.

Pleasure and pain, rewards and punishment.

Kindness and cruelty.

One must exercise both for optimal results.

And Roderick is that smart, isn’t he?

Celia: “He’s smart enough for both of us.”

GM: “‘Roderick is smart enough for both of us,’” her lover corrects. “Specificity in language is important, Celia.”

Celia: Who is Celia?

She died years ago.

GM: “Everything else you said you learned is correct. And the answer to your implicit final question is yes.”

“I do still love you.”

“I love you very, very much.”

Celia: He’s the second monster to say that to her.

GM: He cups her face in his hands, then leans in to plant a soft kiss upon her lips.

He pulls away, then hoists her up out of the tub in a classic bridal carry, holding her effortlessly aloft in his grasp.

He smiles at her.

“Now how does some makeup sex sound?”

Celia: Whoever she is likes the sound of that. She snuggles closer, her lips at his neck.

Here, at least, she excels.


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

GM: The makeup sex is good. It’s different than normal, too. Roderick is more forceful, this time. More direct. He pins her down a lot, holding her tight in his implacable grip. He decides what positions they assume. When they change them. When and where Celia (or whoever is now here) can bite.

But he’s gentle, too. Tender. Soft. They go slow, until she begs to go fast. He asks if this or that feels good. He does more, when she says yes. He kisses her. He embraces her. He brushes her hair. He smiles down at her, blue eyes shining.

There’s more blood, this time. Their Beasts are closer to the surface. They hurt each other. But it’s the gentlest of hurts. The best of hurts. He lets her know where she will hurt, and tells herself to make herself ready, and hurt blossoms into pleasure.

So much pleasure.

Pleasure over which he is in full control.

And when they’re done, when they lie spent and finished and bloody in each other’s arms, he pulls her close into spooning, and wraps his arms around her. He leaves in close and nuzzles her neck as he whispers,

“That was exquisite, Celia.”

“I love you so much.”

Celia: The girl in the shell surrenders herself to him. She doesn’t want to think. She moves how he shows her to, bites when he tells her to, hurts how he wants her to. It aches. But it’s the good sort of ache. The necessary sort of ache. She gives up control, letting him take what he wants, give what he wants. It’s what she wants, too.

He never penetrates her. She doesn’t ask him to. He’d do it, if he wanted, which means he doesn’t want. Another part of her dies, but fangs in her neck, her chest, her back, her wrist—they distract from the sharp pain of it.

This can be beautiful too.

She holds his arm when it’s over, her fingers soft against the back of his hand. His large hand. They dwarf hers; he can press his palm to her belly and touch the undersides of her breasts. They ache for it, but she doesn’t ask.

“I love you, Roderick,” she echoes.

GM: He smiles and does just that, slowly stroking his palm across her belly.

“What would you think about sharing a haven together?”

“Permanently. In the Quarter. A new one.”

Celia: “As Roderick and Jade?”

GM: “I’d say someone else and Jade, but no one except us should know.” He frowns. “And some of our ghouls. How much they should know is another question.”

“Your ability to change my face will come in handy, either way. Roderick can’t be seen spending so much time in the Quarter.”

Celia: “Roderick?”

GM: “Yes?”

Celia: “I forgot to tell you something. Earlier. Can I tell you now?”

GM: He pulls her closer, nuzzling his nose against her neck.

“You can tell me anything, Celia.”

Celia: “…anything?” she asks.

GM: “Anything,” he repeats.

Celia: “I was afraid when you followed me earlier. I wasn’t thinking straight. I was talking to the Mafia scum about your sister. He runs the block where she was found. You asked me to find her sire. I thought I could ask him. I’m sorry I forgot.”

GM: “Ah, that’s a good idea, Celia,” he says approvingly. “You should have asked me first, to get my input. But it’s a good idea.”

“Here’s my input now. We change our faces, ambush him, and hurt him until he tells us everything he knows. Then we dispose of him.”

Celia: “He’s important to Lord Savoy.”

GM: “That’s immaterial.”

Celia: “Can I… can I pose a… a question?”

GM: “Of course.”

Celia: “The war is heating up. You said that they’re prepping? Lord Savoy will need all of his people, won’t he? When the fighting starts? Can we take him out after?”

GM: “The war is bigger than Reynaldo Gui. He isn’t the fulcrum upon which Savoy’s success rests.”

Celia: “I was working on a plan to take down Agnello with him. And he offered… he wants to take me to Chicago. To meet his sire. I thought we could… his sire is Capone, allegedly, I thought it would be good insight to the entire organization..?”

GM: “No,” Roderick says shortly.

Celia: “No,” she echoes.

GM: He says nothing further.

But he does hold her.

Celia: She’s quiet for a time.

“Roderick,” she whispers, when she has had her fill of silence.

GM: “Yes?” he murmurs back.

Celia: “The other night… I wanted to talk to you. To tell you things. About me. If… if you love me, even though I’m… stupid… can you love me for the rest of it?”

GM: He nuzzles against her head some more.

“Of course, Celia. I’ll always love you.”

Celia: “…do you still want to get married?” she asks in a small voice.

GM: “Of course I do,” he smiles, running a hand along her belly.

“Who else would I want to spend the rest of my Requiem with?”

“There are going to be some changes in our relationship, but I think you’ll be on board with them.”

Celia: “Changes?”

GM: “I’m in charge,” he says simply.

“Most couples don’t like to acknowledge this sort of thing. But you know how much I believe in honesty.”

Celia: “What does that… entail?”

GM: “Not much that’s different. I’ll listen to your input and seek it as appropriate. I want you to feel valued and listened to. You’re the most important thing in my Requiem, Celia. That’s why it’s essential we do things right. We’ve had so many conflicts in the past. We made our own Gordian knot.”

“But tonight made me see.”

“When I cut through it, things go much better. For both of us.”

“I expect you to seek my input on everything of significant consequence to you. I will make the final decisions in our relationship. When you misbehave, I will correct the misbehavior, like I did tonight.”

“You will not be corrected arbitrarily. I will always tell you what you did wrong and why you are being corrected. You will tell me afterwards what you did wrong and what lesson you learned.”

“When you are well-behaved, you will not be corrected. When you are well-behaved, you will be rewarded. When you are well-behaved, we will both be happy.”

“I will protect you from anything and anyone that tries to hurt you. You will be safe with me. You will be loved with me.”

Celia: “Even… even if I mess up?”

GM: “Even when you mess up,” Roderick echoes.

“Hate the sin. Love the sinner.”

He gives her a squeeze.

“I believe in you, Celia. You’ll learn. I will be patient with you.”

Celia: “What are the sins?”

GM: “Associating with Mafia scum is one of them.”

“But in so many words, anything which I judge to put our well-being or the well-being of our relationship at risk.”

“That’s why it’s so important for you to consult with me before making significant decisions.”

“If you’d done that, tonight wouldn’t have happened.”

Celia: Tonight…

“I have a meeting,” she whispers, frantically looking for a clock.

GM: He guides her head back towards his.

“With whom and over what business?”

Celia: “Primogen Poincaré. About a missing person.” She’s sure she missed it by now. “And the Tremere. Occult studies.”

GM: “That first meeting sounds beneficial. What do you want to learn about the occult for?”

Celia: “My dad. There’s a…” he’s going to tell her she’s dumb. “…I wanted to look into demons. You told me they’d be a good source.”

GM: “Ah, yes,” he considers. “That could be productive too. Just know they’re probably going to ask a boon in exchange for significant knowledge.”

Celia: “Is that okay? Can I give them one?”

GM: Roderick thinks. “What do you want to learn about demons for? Suppose your father is being influenced by one, and that his actions weren’t fully his own. That’s the best case scenario. What then?”

Celia: “Defeat it? And… it’s good to know. If they’re out there. What they can do. And… I think I… met one.”

GM: “Okay. You can pledge them a boon. If you can, make it towards Lebeaux, or Bornemann if you can’t.”

Celia: “Roderick? My spa was bugged. I followed the trail and I think I met something… other. I think it’s the demon. I looked into it a little. Can I show you my research later?”

GM: “Absolutely. I’ll help however I can.”

Celia: “Thank you.”

GM: “When are your meetings?”

Celia: She tells him the times.

GM: Roderick lets her look at the clock.

“You have a good amount of time, then. Benefits of leaving Elysium early.”

“Enough time to fit something else in, probably.”

Celia: She doesn’t know how long they’ve been here. How long she was in the trunk. The tub. How long sex took. She’s glad that it wasn’t as long as she thought.

“My ghoul was supposed to tell me about the hunters,” she offers.

GM: “Then you should see him.”

Celia: She nods.

“Is… is my car far?”

GM: “Your car is where you left it. I can give you a lift.”

Celia: “Okay.”

GM: He turns her around and tilts her chin up in his hand.

“You’re okay, too, with how things are going to be now?”

Celia: “I’ve wanted to tell you everything for a long time.”

GM: “I know you have. We can whenever you’re ready.”

“But I need to hear, first, that you’re okay with these new ground rules.”

Celia: “What if we disagree?”

GM: “My decisions are final, Celia.”

Celia: “But you’ll listen, if I tell you something?”

“And you’ll consider it?”

“And you won’t… I won’t be hurt for asking?”

GM: “Of course. I’ll always listen to you and consider what you have to say. What you say is very important to me.”

“You’ll never be hurt, Celia. You’ll be corrected.”

“But there’s nothing to correct about questions.”

Celia: “…even if they’re stupid?”

GM: “There’s no such thing as a stupid question. All questions seek to correct ignorance. All questions are acolytes at the temple of knowledge.”

Celia: “Oh,” she says.

“Your decisions are final. I’ll tell you before I do anything significant. You’ll correct misbehavior.”

GM: “Good,” he nods.

“I’d like to hear now, in your own words, how this will benefit our relationship and benefit each of us.”

Celia: “You’re smarter than me. You see things I don’t. You have more training from your sire, your grandsire, and school. I’m important to you, so you want what’s best for me, and you’ll keep me safe. We love each other. It shows trust. And commitment. Corrections won’t be arbitrary, and you’ll seek my input because you value me. You’ll guide me down a better path and lift the weight from my shoulders.”

GM: “That’s perfect, Celia,” he smiles, and kisses her head.

“I’m proud of you. Tonight went very well.”

Celia: “You helped me see.”

GM: “Helping you is what I want to do.”

Celia: Celia rests her cheek on his chest.

“I know. I love you for it.”

GM: He hugs her close in his strong arms.

“I love you too, Celia. With all my heart.”

“Things are going to be better now.”

“I promise.”


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

Celia: They clean themselves up in the same tub he’d cuffed her in. Conscious of the time, they don’t linger, and soon they’re dressed and out the door. Celia offers to turn into Luna for the trip through the building, and sits on the floor if he needs her to when she switches back. She wouldn’t switch, but a question has been weighing on her mind, and she wants to ask before the night progresses.

“It’s about sex,” she says, growing steadily more flustered by the topic until she finally asks if they’re going to continue to do it like they did tonight. Her cheeks burn for the asking. If he wants to know why, she quietly admits that she “has a hard time focusing in the evenings without it.” She finds a roundabout way to ask if sex with kine is okay, both for its own merit and during feedings. There’s shame in her eyes when she asks. She doesn’t like admitting her shortcomings to him. And if he doesn’t want to do it like that anymore she doesn’t want to ask him to. Their time together should be enjoyable, not a chore.

But she doesn’t want to lie or cheat. She wants this to work. Their relationship is important to her. He is important to her.

GM: Roderick thinks turning into Luna is a good idea.

“We’ll continue to have sex,” he answers. “I’ll use my cock as a reward for when you’ve been especially good.”

He considers her next question for some time, silent as he drives.

“Bring home the next vessel you want to have sex with, so I can see, participate, and evaluate.”

“I’ll make a decision based on how that goes.”

Celia: Home. Where is that anymore?

“What about Alana?” she eventually asks.

GM: “Do that for her too. No sex until then.”

Celia: “She’s waiting for me. Tonight. She’s… I do with her what you’re doing with me. Sex as a reward. No sex as punishment. I’ve been putting her off, but she showed up at my mom’s house today, freaking out…”

GM: “Then that’s a good pretext over which to have no sex with her.”

“She shouldn’t expect rewards after she’s been bad.”

“It’s also a good time to tell her you’re going to potentially reevaluate your relationship based on her performance with me.”

“Don’t tell her you’re on the same system she is, though.”

“You are her domitor and should appear a fully dominant figure in her eyes.”

Celia: “We sleep together sometimes. During the day.”

GM: “We’re going to sleep together now. We can decide on what days we’re going to include Alana, if any.”

“That should be a privilege for her rather than a guarantee.”

Celia: “What about today?”

GM: “She’s been bad, Celia. No privileges today.”

“But if you mean us, yes, we can sleep together.”

Celia: “Where?”

GM: “My haven, for now, until we find a new one.”

Celia: She nods, is quiet for a moment, and finally asks about what sort of corrections she should expect. If they’ll all be like tonight. If torpor is something she should learn to expect.

GM: “It depends upon the nature of the infraction,” says Roderick. “Some will require more significant correction than others.”

“But I will always offer you a choice when torpor is on the table.”

“I’m not going to be your father and just beat you without your consent.”

Celia: There’s more she wants to talk to him about. More she wants to know now as opposed to later. She asks if they can have a longer conversation later. She understands the rules, what he expects, and accepts that. But there’s still more she wants to discuss.

GM: He answers of course. He’s happy to answer whatever questions she might have.

He tilts her chin up in his hand to meet his eyes.

“It feels good, doesn’t it, Celia, to have someone in the driver’s seat?”

Celia: “I know you want what’s best for us. I’ll feel better when I tell you everything. So you understand.”

GM: “Telling the truth is for the best, Celia.”

“It comes out either way. We might as well do it on our terms.”

“Truth always comes out.”

View
Celia VI, Chapter I
Behind the Mask

“I know masks, darling. That is my gift.”
Harlequin


Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM

GM: Elysium could have been anywhere else.

The New Orleans Museum of Art is an imposing white rectangular structure whose entrance is supported by four Corinthian pillars. It’s located at the end of a tree-lined avenue surrounded by lagoons and majestic oaks. The neoclassical building feels inspired by ancient Greece, but sufficiently modified to give a subtropical appearance.

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It’s also located in City Park.

Mere minutes away from the fight with Carolla.

Every creole in the city is going to be here.

Jade parks her car and gets out, heels clicking against the asphalt leading up to the museum. There’s a few other licks similarly making their way down the avenue.

Celia: It’s unfortunate, but there’s little reason for the Kindred of the city to look into the spot where Carolla had been last seen. She and Roderick had given the pair of Gangrel who discovered them a show, even if they do: Carolla and the nameless whoever-the-fuck he’d been playing Nines with and possibly banging. He hasn’t been missing nearly long enough for anyone to notice he’s gone, though.

Jade pushes the thought of him from her mind as she strolls down the avenue toward the museum proper, though her heels don’t click against the ground so much as swish.

Ordinarily it’s the gown that draws the eye: always high fashion, fitted, flowing. Some elegant color or another, paired with nude or black heels and understated jewelry. Nothing to detract from the girl who wears it. That’s the problem with most women and fashion—they pick outfits who wear them, not the other way around. Jade doesn’t make that mistake.

Tonight, though, it’s not the dress that draws the eye. The gown itself is understated. Still couture, but merely an accompaniment and backdrop to the rest of what she wears. One shoulder, black, floor-length tulle, with lace applique across the bodice to conserve her modesty through chest and groin. It’s fitted through the torso and hips and flares out once it hits mid-thigh, sweeping behind her with every step. The tulle material is translucent at best; it doesn’t hide an inch of her toned, shapely legs.

Nor does it obscure the star of the show. Not around her neck, not dangling from her ears, not on any of her fingers or clasped around her slender wrists. No, the star of the show this evening is at the base of the outfit itself, peeking out from beneath the sheer black lace with every step that Jade takes across the floor.

Vibrant. That’s one way to describe them. Fragrant, too; each time the short train of her gown swishes the floral scent emanating from them gets a little bit stronger, though it’s never even close to overwhelming. It’s a delicate hint of spring, sunshine, and rain. Not the ugly rain of New Orleans, but the sunkissed rain of summer showers and blooming romance.

Long, verdant leaves tie together across the milk-pale skin of her feet beneath the gown. The back of her feet are cradled by a pink and purple lily petal, its stem extending to the ground to serve as heel and point. The green leaves follow the natural arch of her foot, secured by more vines and tendrils that swirl across her skin, the balls of her feet cushioned by petals. Colorful pansies adhere to the natural toebox, her own nails polished to a lustrous sheen to compliment the overall effect. The hue shifts beneath the light, at once turquoise, fushia, or the golden-hued red of a summer sunset.

Jade’s eyes scan the swiftly assembling Kindred, looking for both familiar and unfamiliar faces: Elyse, though her message will be conveyed with eyes and tiny gestures. Amandine, for all that she serves the Baron. Elysium, at least, might be enough to draw her from… whatever she gets up to. The detective as well; perhaps he has pulled himself from work. Her favorite cowboy, though she’ll see him tomorrow if she can find others with whom to occupy her time. The new boytoy from the boat. Her sire, both fictional and true—though she won’t approach the latter, will barely let her eyes skim his form before darting away to find her lover, another resting place her gaze will avoid if it can at all be helped, facial muscles schooled into disdaining neutrality if not.

Any of them will do before the festivities begin.

GM: Jade catches several licks looking at her distinctive footwear.

Some appreciatively. Some jealously.

Another perk of living in the Quarter. She supposes another lick could procure some ‘flower shoes’ if they were willing to send an agent during the day, but just wearing them here would give away what they’d been up to, and this evening the Toreador appears to be the only Kindred sporting one of Dahlia Rose’s designs.

Jade does not see her sire.

He has little need to arrive by foot.

Lebeaux seemingly has not pulled himself from his work, but she espies the boytoy getting out of a car with Marcel and Brodowski, dressed up from his usual jeans and t-shirt in a white blazer, matching pants, and black shirt that he makes look effortlessly stylish and chic, next to the Ventrue in their darker suits (even casual as they may be).

Elyse is approaching alongside her sire and his four masked ghouls. The Malkavian’s flaring-hemmed black dress with its gray collar and belt (no skin visible anywhere on the chest) looks painfully plain next to Harlequin’s domino mask and costume right out of Mardi Gras. Then again, almost everyone looks plain next to Harlequin.

But at least he’s not pretty like she is. Just noticeable. Like a peacock.

Gui, dressed in a sports coat and his signature hat, makes his way up to the museum alone.

Celia: Jade isn’t so gauche as to preen, but she does toss her hair back when her floral footwear catches the eye of several licks, and those with whom she’s on even marginally friendly terms get a wink if they happen to meet her gaze.

She doesn’t let her eyes linger for long on her admirers. They bounce from lick to lick (and sweep across Harlequin’s ghouls as they no doubt desire with their getup this evening) before settling on the exiled prince and his entourage. No doubt Marcel would rather she not approach him directly, and with his Toreador boytoy still unreleased she’d have to feign a reason to approach. Perhaps she’ll just text him later.

No sign of her lover in the cursory sweep of those making their way inside. Now is the perfect time to get a little flirty with someone else to avoid a scene. The others—the masked harpy, the cowboy, the dollmaker—are all approachable on their own, the last of whom she only needs give a long look to get her message across. Years of their secret friendship has let even the simplest gesture convey meaning.

Jade sets her feet on an intercept path toward the Ventrue cowboy, sliding easily into stride beside him.

“Good evening, Mr. Gui.”

GM: “Evening, Miss Kalani.”

Gui looks her over. His eyes rest on her shoes for a moment before returning to her eyes.

“Those look like you plucked them fresh from the botanical garden.”

Celia: “Perhaps I did,” Jade says with a coy smile. “Maybe I’ve moved on from leather to florals.”

He knows just what sort of leather she means, too. Just last week he’d watched her cut open Tantal to fill his body with more muscle.

Jade slides her arm through his, hand resting lightly atop the sports coat that covers his forearm.

“You look dashing, as always. How did that project of yours turn out?” The club. The video. The thin-blood.

GM: “Flowers for the Rose Clan,” Gui remarks amusedly as the two hook arms. “I’d thought leather was more your bailiwick, but I won’t argue with the results.”

“Plants must be less messy, too.”

Celia: Less messy than the blood and viscera that she yanks out of people’s bodies. Quieter than the screaming when her subjects aren’t dead. Jade offers him a smile.

“Dirt under the fingernails, though nothing a little rinse won’t fix.” Her thoughts turn their brief would-be interlude in the shower before the convenient timing of his phone call.

There’s a hint of fang behind that smile now.

GM: There’s fangs behind all smiles, with their kind.

Some are just more obvious about it.

“It’s too bad I wasn’t around,” says Gui. “I could have helped.”

“Especially after last time.”

Celia: “No one likes a tease, Mr. Gui.” But there’s teasing and satisfaction in her tone rather than heat, and she hasn’t forgotten his promise to make her toes curl. She bats her lashes at him to let him know she’s not too put out with his abrupt departure.

GM: “They certainly don’t,” he smiles back. “I find the best way to deal with teases is to charge them interest, once they’re in a position to pay out.”

Celia: “A tease tax?” she muses. “Perhaps I’ll adopt your methods. Consider yourself taxed.”

GM: “And yourself equally taxed,” he rejoinds.

“I checked with Lord Savoy about a few things, so far as the project. You’ll forgive my playing dumb during our last talk.”

Celia: Jade lifts her shoulders in a shrug.

“I’d assumed. How did that go?”

GM: Gui glances briefly at some nearby Kindred.

“I’ll tell you someplace out of the way, lush. Leave the prying eyes and ears guessing.”

Celia: “Perfect. I have a little something for you as well.”

GM: “A mutual exchange is always the best one.”

Jade’s phone gives a buzz.

Celia: Jade favors him with a smile that promises to rock his world, then glances at her phone.

GM: The text is from Celia’s mom.

Youre my cut lil bunny ;)

Celia: It looks like someone hit the bottle tonight. Celia would giggle or smile, but Celia isn’t here right now. Jade only smirks, silences the device, and slides it out of sight.

“Tomorrow?” she asks Gui.

GM: “Tomorrow,” he agrees. “Good time with the party.”

Celia: “Looking forward to it. Did you pick the theme?”

GM: “Yes. I figured the older crowd would enjoy something retro. They always do.”

Celia: “I imagine so. My sire will have a ball with it.”

Celia: “Yours too, I bet.” A slight tilt of her head as she looks up at him.

GM: “He’s not here, sadly. But I think he would.”

“He could just come as himself.”

Celia: “That’d be a sight.” Jade’s gaze sweeps the assembled licks once more. It lingers on Elyse for a moment, though with the way her body has turned toward Gui perhaps it looks as if she is merely caught up in his company. “Sounds like he’d be interesting to meet.”

GM: Elyse, Harlequin, and the latter’s entourage are headed inside the art museum as they speak. Gui and Jade stand surveying the outdoors sculpture garden.

“Maybe you’ll get to see him some night. I still go back to Chicago from time to time.”

Celia: Well. Perhaps she doesn’t catch the Malkavian’s eye as intended. She has the next few hours to do so.

“Are you offering to take me home to meet pops? I didn’t realize we were there yet.”

GM: There’s a faint smirk. “I don’t think he’d read too much into it. Pops has seen me with a lot of girls.”

Celia: Jade huffs at him. “You’re supposed to pretend I’m special, darling. But I’d like to see Kindred Chicago.”

GM: “Not special wouldn’t get an invite back to the Second City, lush. First lick I’ve offered that to.”

“It’s interesting, next to New Orleans.”

“Things there are… angrier, in some ways. Worse Anarch revolts. But there’s not the same sense of decline, of looking backwards.”

“The licks in charge are looking towards the future.”

Celia: Jade can’t deny the flutter that his words bring. She drops her mock scowl to replace it with a smile.

“It sounds like a city worth seeing. I’d be happy to join you on your next visit.”

GM: “Pack some silver and bring a renfield who can handle himself. The road’s always dangerous.”

Celia: “How often have you made the trip?”

GM: “Enough times it’s familiar. Not so many I get cocky. Phones exist for a reason. But there are some things you can only talk about in person.”

Celia: “And the road is safer than flying?”

GM: “Flying is a terrible idea.”

Celia: Jade waits for him to explain further.

GM: “Too high security, especially since 9/11. Too many variables outside of your control. Flight delays can be the final death of any lick if your plane’s grounded until sunup.”

Celia: Well fuck. There goes her plan to fly to LA.

“So you’ve fought them before and survived to talk about it?” The loops, she means.

GM: Gui just gives an enigmatic smile.

“I’ve tussled with some dangerous things on the road.”

“But I prefer to avoid them. Winning gains nothing and losing can lose everything.”

Celia: Jade runs a hand down his arm, fangs once more long in her mouth at the thought of Gui fighting and winning.

“You’ll have to tell me about it sometime.”

GM: The Ventrue’s faint smile widens slightly at the thought so plainly on her mind.

“Visit the Dark, and you’ll come back with stories.”

“That’s just the way of it.”

“That’s the one thing that never changes.”

“Hearst knows it better than I do, and he says he usually sees something new, when he goes back out.”

Celia: “What, every time?”

GM: “That’s what he says.”

“It’s a strange place out there.”

Celia: “You believe him? That he’s been as far as he says?”

GM: “I don’t know if he’s telling the truth about that town at the bottom of South America, but I know for a fact that he’s been farther than me. There’s worse licks for anyone traveling into the Dark to have at their side.”

Celia: She’ll have to see if he can come to her with LA, if things come to that. She’s already fantasized about being on the back of his bike. Doesn’t leave room for a ghoul, but maybe they can skip the bike…

“Maybe he’ll come with us.”

GM: Gui chuckles.

“Wiser to make plans outside of Elysium, lush. What if someone heard and tried to take us out?”

Celia: Jade rolls her eyes.

“I didn’t say when.”

“But point taken, darling, I’ll stay mum.”

“Though I’ll have you know that taking out two licks as cute as us is definitely a crime. Beyond the Traditions.”

GM: “Yes, it would be. But if other licks can’t be as attractive as us, I suppose they can’t be as civilized either.”

Celia: That earns a smirk from Jade.

“Perhaps we should head inside and grace them with our presence.”

GM: Gui glances to the side at the assorted Kindred entering the building.

“Yes, let’s. We’re already going to be some of the last in.”

Celia: Jade trails a hand down his chest before she pulls away with a smile, pleased with her get for the evening. They have more to discuss, but tomorrow is another night.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM

GM: Another night sees another Elysium.

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The New Orleans Museum of Art, the city’s oldest fine arts institution, has a magnificent permanent collection of almost 40,000 art objects spanning 5,000 years of art, including the Italian Renaissance to the modern era. The collection, noted for its extraordinary strengths in French and American art, photography, glass, and African and Japanese works, continues to grow. Its furniture collection includes important examples of 18th and 19th century American furniture and a small group of exquisite 18th century French pieces. Highlights include The Rosemonde E. and Emile Kuntz Rooms, exhibiting choice examples of America’s fine and decorative arts heritage in New Orleans. Its collection of European and American works includes works by Degas, Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Pissarro, Rodin, Braque, Dufy, Miró, Jackson Pollock, Mary Cassatt, and Georgia O’Keeffe. The museum features a comprehensive survey of French art, including several important works painted by the French Impressionist Edgar Degas during his time living with his mother’s family in New Orleans between 1871 and 1872.

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Among the permanent exhibition is a survey of local Louisiana artists, as well as other American artists. The museum also features a significant collection of art photography with over 12,000 works from the beginnings of photography to the present. Other holdings include collections of glass, ceramics, portrait miniatures, Native American Art, Central American art from pre-Columbian and Spanish eras, Chinese ceramics, Japanese painting, Indian sculpture and folk arts from Africa, Indonesia, and the South Pacific.

And like any place of value and beauty, it cannot help but call Caine’s children.

They cannot do aught but seek to claim it.

Caine’s damned children descend upon the museum in droves, like carrion flies drawn to a corpse. Some hide their natures underneath bespoke suits, haute couture gowns, and fashions so cutting that they would hardly seem to need fangs with which to feed. Other Kindred revel in their sinful natures, adorning their eternally young and nubile bodies in the most head-turning extremities of dark couture: dresses made of knives, jackets constructed of barbed wire, and shining black PVC garments that cater to the wildest fetish. Others simply don’t bother dressing up: some wear leather jackets, torn hoodies, and denim jeans. The especially slovenly and monstrous-looking (or simply pathetic) garb themselves in little more than moldering rags and the dirtiest, dumpster-scavenged grunge fashions.

They flaunt their ownership of the museum and its treasures.

Here, they may dress and comport themselves as they like.

Here, the Masquerade falls away.

Here, any mortal to trespass the museum’s confines will enter a nightmare world they may never leave.

It pleases the Damned to claim such a place, to make it so totally theirs. To carve out their little gilded piece of eternity, just for a night, and proclaim, ‘here, we rule.’

Gus Elgin stands before the crowd of Kindred gathered in the museum’s entrance hall, an almost all-white affair dominated by Corinthian pillars, a sweeping central staircase, potted palms, and assorted works of art previewing the ones contained further in. The Nosferatu master of elysium is a stunted creature with a rounded, crushed-in head—crushed in by the same streetcar he operated during his mortal life, and the origin of his nickname ‘Gutterball.’ His block-like nose and pudgy jowls remind people of a bulldog’s, and his large frame hovers in a nebulous area between fat and muscled, like a retired prizefighter who’s spent too many hours channel-surfing and guzzling beer on the couch, but still hasn’t completely let himself go. He stands a full head below somewhat tall men, which together with his girth and triangular-shaped frame, make him seem built like a dwarf—short and stout. He’s dressed in a leather jacket, black pair of slacks, and plain shoes—forgettable and unobtrusive clothes amidst the sea of shark-like fashions. A rosary ending in a lance rather than crucifix dangles from his neck.

Beside him, but over foot taller than him (and over a head taller than most other men), stands Philip Maldonato. The seneschal’s frame is slender and his skin dusky and smooth, with only the merest hint of the wrinkles of age around his deep-set almond eyes. Tonight, without the need to hide his true self before mortalkind, he wears a galabiyya and almaizar: traditional gray Arabic men’s robes with a shoulder scarf and head covering.

Whispers abuzz among the crowd of Kindred. There’s talk of vanished licks, snatched up by the Guard de Ville on no apparent pretext—licks like Sterling and Tina Baker, some of them chosen from among Vidal’s enemies, others from friendly factions.

And the bishop. Gone now for so many nights. Incommunicado.

This bodes ill.

Yet most such rumor-mongers number among the young, and their elders swiftly shush them. Elysium is a place of reflection, discourse, and contemplation—not a gossip house. Gus Elgin smiles faintly and adds his own calm voice to the discourse, humbling requesting that the gathered Kindred lend him their attentions.

He begins, as ever, with a brief prayer to Longinus. Most of the gathered Kindred silently bow their heads. The Nosferatu then announces the time and location of next week’s Elysium Primo—a practice done, all of the attendees know, to discourage tardiness. Anyone who arrives late must beg the information from another vampire. Rarely is their kind charitable.

Celia: Gui had said that they would be among the last to arrive. Perhaps Jade had planned it that way, loitering outside with him until the other licks of the city were all present and accounted for to make her grand entrance with carefully selected gown, heels, accessories… including the lick on her arm. Reynaldo Gui and Jade Kalani arm in arm, and what a statement that makes: a power couple of enterprising and upwardly mobile neonates in service to Lord Savoy, both of them eye catching in their own right. Together they’re a statement.

They say the prince’s time is over.

They say that he has suffered significant losses these past months.

They say that their own losses are marginal, that Savoy’s star is on the rise.

They say look how glamorous things are in the Quarter.

They say don’t you want to be with us? To be us?

It’s the heart of every marketing campaign and they pull it off flawlessly, as if they’d been created for this moment, this entrance, this statement. Jade takes a second to smile up at her cowboy—hadn’t they heard the whispers about him taking her home?—before the pair part ways, Gui to his associates and Jade to her adoptive sire’s clique. She’s just in time to not give anyone a moment to ask a thing about her before Elgin draws the murmuring to a close to begin the evening’s festivities.

GM: They really do make a gorgeous pair.

Though some might say she makes a gorgeous anything.

More than a few eyes survey the pair.

Some appreciatively.

Some jealously.

One most of all.

He’s not obvious about it. Not standing as he is by his sire’s side. Someone who isn’t looking probably doesn’t see it.

But Roderick Durant is one of the licks who watches Jade Kalani enter Elysium arm in arm with Reynaldo Gui.

He lets nothing cross his face.

He just looks at them, long enough to be sure, then looks back towards Gus Elgin.

Celia: Jade’s eyes dance across Roderick in their sweep of the hall. She doesn’t let it stop the slow spread of the smile across her face, or the very satisfied sway in her step as she takes her spot near Veronica.

Like him, she has a mask to wear. A role to play.

Like him, she’s smart enough to know that’s all it is: a mask. A role.

Perhaps he’ll give her the opportunity to explain before he puts her head through a wall and breaks her jaw. Perhaps he’ll believe her when she tells him that she isn’t fucking Reynaldo.

Or perhaps he’ll simply rip out her tongue for the effort, just like he had in that vision of the future.

GM: Some masks, worn enough, become more than masks.

The harpies are there. Veronica. Katherine. Marguerite. Adelais. Sundown. Harlequin. All of their hangs-on, including Elyse.

Jade’s alleged sire wears a ‘dress’ made out of strategically placed scarlet feathers, each one seemingly dipped in blood, that reveal more than they hide. Rows of talons are covetously positioned around her half-visible breasts and womanhood. Her strappy high heels are made from mummified bird feet. Most prominently of all, however, a full set of wings made from the same red feathers unfurls from her back. She looks like a bird of prey almost ready to take flight. A too-familiar faint sneer rests upon her face.

It’s directed at the newcomers.

Or at least one of them.

He’s a tall and young-looking African-American man with good posture and a clean-shaven face dressed in a crisp navy suit and leather shoes. Jade hasn’t ever seen him before.

Celia: Jade takes a moment to appreciate her sire’s choice in attire before following her gaze to the black lick and his chosen company, if any. You can tell a lot about a person from the company they keep.

GM: He stands by himself.

The second newcomer, though, Jade recalls from John Harley Matheson’s trial. The female ‘prosecutor.’

She’s beautiful, if one judges the symmetry of her features and he fullness and richness of her long brown hair. But her eyes are dark cool, her features unsmiling, and her skin is deathly pale. She does not look as if she has smiled in a very long time. She’s dressed in a conservative black evening gown that gives away little of who she is.

She is cold but beautiful. Not entirely unlike Jade’s real sire.

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She, though, does not stand alone, but near Marcel Guilbeau and Pierpont McGinn.

Celia: You are the company you keep. Jade doesn’t think it’s one hundred percent accurate (it’s not like she’s a Mafia doll because she hangs out with Gui), but a brief glance at the woman lets her dismiss the more wild claims that had circulated about her after her last appearance in the city. No doubt the tongues will continue to wag with her reappearance, much as they do about everyone.

GM: Many eyes rests upon the newcomers, too. They are natural subjects for gossip. Whereas the woman simply stares ahead unconcernedly, the lone man meets those eyes and returns a few with faint nods and professional smiles.

He feels green.

Celia: Green can be fun. Jade winks when she catches his eye.

GM: He smiles back at her.

Gus Elgin, meanwhile, enumerates what exhibitions the museum is currently showcasing, and what rooms they may be found in. They include Ancestors in Stone, whose theme is West African ancestor worship; Arte Sacra: Roman Catholic Art from Portuguese India; NEW at NOMA: Recent Acquisitions in Contemporary Art; Marta Rodriguez Maleck: Morir es Vivir (“To Die Is to Live”), a sound and light installation that weaves together voices from across the New Orleans community; and A Brief History of Photography and Transmission.

The master of elysium will conduct ‘tours’ of these exhibitions at fixed times throughout the evening, and enumerates these times. Present Kindred are free to attend any number of these, to peruse the museum’s permanent collections on their own, or both.

“I would be remiss, too, not to include the sculpture garden,” Gus Elgin smiles. It’s located just outside the museum and features more than 90 works on a picturesque trail through City Park. It, too, is considered Elysium.

Elgin closes with a brief final prayer and declares the evening’s Elysium Primo has begun. Kindred cliques begin to file off throughout the museum. Some walks outside to view the sculpture garden. Others move to accompany the Nosferatu on his first tour.

Other Kindred, however, stay behind to watch when the newcomer approaches Philip Maldonato and declares,

“Your Majesty, my name is James Thibodeaux. I am here to present myself before you.”

Smirks flash and titters sound across viewing fanged faces.

“You address me erroneously, Mr. Thibodeaux. I am not a prince,” Maldonato answers.

Celia: Jade’s lips pull upwards in the corners at the newcomer’s mistake. Green indeed, though he wouldn’t be the first to assume Maldonado is the prince. She uses it as an excuse to glance around the harpies and their hanger-ons, as if to share the mirth, and catch Elyse’s eye.

GM: There’s nothing hidden about the contempt on Veronica’s or Adelais’ faces. Or most of the harpies’. Elyse’s face alone retains its doll-like stillness, though she meets Jade’s eye. Nothing further changes on her face.

Mr. Thibodeux looks caught off-guard at the seneschal’s reply. “My apologies, sir. I heard the prince would be the tallest man here. Can you direct me to Prince Vidal?”

There’s more smirks and snickers at his words.

“I cannot, Mr. Thibodeux,” Maldonato answers the newcomer without elaboration.

“But whether foreknowledge or serendipity has led you before me, I am the correct Kindred to present yourself to.”

Thibodeux just nods at the seneschal’s words and goes on, “My name is James Thibodeux of Clan Gangrel. I was born in New Orleans, served abroad in the Navy as a nuclear electrician, and received an honorable discharge. I’d like to return to the city I was born, because I heard it’s going to need a new prince. I’d like to serve my city, work my way through the ranks, and show I’ve got what it takes.”

Celia: Her friendship with Elyse over the years has given both of them an understanding: they don’t converse in public. The pair plays for opposite sides and no matter how well they get along in private it wouldn’t do for either of them to be seen in the other’s company. So Jade doesn’t smile. She doesn’t wink. She doesn’t say hello. She just looks, meeting the Malkavian’s blank stare, and knows that her message is received.

Jade returns her attention to the newcomer.

“That’s certainly… bold,” she murmurs to those nearest her, the pregnant pause in the midst of her sentence conveying the true meaning behind her words: literally fucking insane.

GM: Elysium’s looks and whispers aren’t as unkind as they were before.

They are much worse.

Thibodeux seems to notice this time, if only by volume alone. A frown faintly creases his face, but he doesn’t remove his eyes from the seneschal.

Veronica, the Kindred nearest to Jade, just sneers.

The rest of the murder is eyeing the newcomer like a juicy piece of meat.

Celia: Jade has had her fill of the newcomer. Anyone who blunders that badly their first evening in the city doesn’t bode well for business, and she has some idea of how this will go.

“Dead in the water,” she says with an effected sigh. “Even if he weren’t, wrong tree.” She doesn’t need to practice such human gestures as rolling her eyes; the scorn in her voice is more than enough. It’s altogether too easy.

She moves off with a mutter of “low hanging fruit.” It’s not even worth her time.

He’ll be ripped to shreds and picked clean over before his blood is even cold.

GM: No one stops Jade as she leaves.

Indeed, perhaps the true competition will be who gets to make the kill.

Predators appreciate fewer rivals.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM

Celia: The halls of Elysium have rarely fallen so silent, filled as they are by the chattering gossip-mongers, their hanger-ons, and the would-be crowd. Even the noise from the night’s usual games and intrigues isn’t enough to distract from the sudden hush, and Jade’s head turns in the direction of the two whose conversation has drawn enough attention to bring dozens of eyes their way.

GM: A duel. Between Julius B. Baudoin and Christopher Guilbeau. “I challenge you, trash,” says the latter. “Dueling Oak. After Elysium.”

“Or you can apologize for those words.”

Support: Julius’ smile thins, as do his gator-red eyes behind his shades. He does pause, though, to allow the crowd to clearly turn and watch the show. Then he replies, his voice clear and sharp as a trumpet:

“An’ which woids were dose? When I called myself po’? Okay, I ‘pologize fo’ lyin’. I ain’t po’. I’m rich, actually, got millions that I earned wid my own knuckles an’ brains. No handouts from daddy or such.”

“Or wus it when I said you’s had high-clan talents? Dat be a shame to apologize fo’ dat, cuz it’s gottah be true. How could it not, wot wid you being childe of His Grace, da Most Marvelous Marcel Guilbeau, Duke of Baton Rouge, Interpreter and Librettist? I an’ udders look fo’ward to seein’ great dings from you’s.”

“An’ surely you cain’t be sayin’ I should apologize fo’ saying His Grace needs you’s or any other neonate to run the Alysta? Why, he wus a prince, an’ uh great one of uh great city, an’ surely will be once more! He’s a pillar of da Invictus and Camarilla, an’ a delight to dis city. So I’ll not apologize fo’ dat, for dat would be besmirchin’ his great dignitas—an’ not I no’ nobody else should dare do such uh thing, for dat would make one lower den trash.”

Julius then waits for the Ventrue’s answer—and he is no longer smiling.

GM: Elysium watches avidly.

A duel can only end in one of two ways: one Kindred wins, the other loses.

Easy path to glory, at someone else’s expense. One bridge forward and another bridge burned.

So Julius ripostes.

Dig becomes flattery. Slight becomes praise—and Christopher finds himself disarmed of his own weapon.

He quickly raises a shield to fend off the Caitiff’s advance.

“Hmph. I suppose you didn’t know what you were saying,” he declares loftily, in a somewhat bored tone. Like he’s doing Julius a favor.

“You should be more careful how you say things, though. You could offend somebody.”

Yet, though such words may salve the Ventrue’s pride, and save some measure of face, there is little of Julius’ same grace or cleverness in them—and few of Elysium’s ever-watchful eyes can deny that the Caitiff’s words were chosen with great care.

Celia: No duel after all, then. The glib-tongued Caitiff’s words go over well enough.

Guilbeau backpedals so hard that it’s a wonder his foot hasn’t become lodged in his throat.

Jade wants to know how a tantrum-throwing Brujah became the most well-spoken of the Golds, but she keeps the thought to herself. She’s rather fond of the boy’s sire for all that his childe turned out to be nothing but a braying ass. She smirks at the display, looking past where Guilbeau stands to the dark-haired beauty behind him.

Ryllie.

Long-lost sister. She’s had a lot of those, hasn’t she? Isabel. Roxanne. Whatever she wants to go by. Emily, if she finds out the bitch slept with her boyfriend. Dani, for all that it was never official. Another one, too. A cold one. Like her sire, only this one doesn’t know that she exists.

She remembers what Roderick had said about Ryllie that night he found out about Dani. Remembers how she pines for someone she can’t have. The bond, presumably, and Jade—or one of the girls inside of Jade—knows what that is like. She’d willingly taken the bond, but to be forced into slavery, to be used like nothing but a juicebag?

Not a hint of emotion crosses her marble face.

She meets her sister’s eye.

And then she lets it show, just for Ryllie, as if she cannot help herself. Pity, mingled with something like genuine remorse. Her eyes swim.

But just for a flash.

Just long enough to look like a crack in the mask.

It’s a look that says, “I know something you don’t, and you wouldn’t like it if you did.” It’s the sort of look fathers give their sons when they take them fishing for the first time and help the boy reel in their catch, knowing that just moments from now their hands will be stained red with the blood and guts of that wriggling, gasping fish, that soon there will be a knife in its side while they slice it down the belly, strip its bones from its flesh, and sautée it over a hot flame.

It’s only there for a instant.

Then she turns her face away.

GM: She really does have so many long-lost sisters.

Biological sisters. Adoptive sisters. In-law-to-be sisters. Kindred sisters. Pretend Kindred sisters. Biological and Kindred sisters.

About half of them hate her.

Well, maybe not ‘hate.’

Does Camilla even spare her enough thought to hate?

Ryllie just gives her a haughty look in response. That same lip-curling sneer learned from their sire.

The younger Toreador doesn’t do it as well, though.

And for all the disdain in expression, Jade feels sure of one thing:

She definitely got under this sister’s skin.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM

Celia: Jade’s eyes move from the elders and their game of chance to the new face in the crowd that has come to observe. Newish, at least; he’s been around years longer than her few for all that he doesn’t have the clout to back it up. A step sideways and she’s near enough to Julius B. Baudoin that she can converse in a lowered voice, though not so close that she appears friendly. Veronica has told her not to bother with the riffraff.

“Shame their PR ended up in Houston.”

Support: “Whose PR is dat, sug?” the Caitiff asks quietly, keeping his gaze ahead at the ex-princes.

Celia: “The Golds,” Jade tells him with a vague gesture over her shoulder toward the junior Guilbeau and Veronica’s other childe.

Support: “Ah, dem,” Julius replies softly with his sousaphone timbre. “Thought you’s wus talkin bout da Navy’s Public Affairs. Cuz Mr. Thibodeux coulda used der help.”

He shifts. “But we done lost uh lotta folks to Houston.”

“And uh helluva lot more to da hurricane itself.”

There’s a bitter chord to that last statement, but it’s not directed at the Toreador.

Celia: “Mm, there’s been a lot of foot in mouth tonight,” Jade agrees with a smirk. “But this was after the hurricane. Apparently he tried to stop a massacre and was exiled for the trouble.”

Support: “Oh, dat’s rite. Da hound’s kid, Hez… somethin. Didn’t know he wus der PR. Figure’d it’d be der rose, or da Big Sis kid.”

Celia: “Certainly isn’t your new friend there.” Amusement dances across Jade’s face. “And it certainly couldn’t be the thrall.”

Jade shrugs, one point made. The other worm wiggles free of the hook, but there are fish yet to be had.

“I’m sure he landed on his feet. Make the right friends and things become less bleak.”

Support: “Speakin’ of makin da rite frenz,” Julius adds in a low voice, “Mr. Thibodeux might be joinin da party tomorrow.”

Celia: She gives Julius a tiny nod in answer, the barest dip of her chin.

“A good host would tell him the theme,” she murmurs in response.

Support: “Mmhmm,” Julius says, like a bullfrog savoring a fly. “Gotta first see if he survives Ms. Melton’s jelly-roll. Ain’t too often somebody beats you’s to uh sossidge shoot-da-chute.”

To those close or keen enough to hear the low-spoken remark, it’s clear Julius’ words have no acrimony or venom, but are rather matter-of-fact if not blasé, like someone idly commenting on the shortness of a rain-shower or an early blossomed hydrangea.

Celia: Good thing a certain someone isn’t around, or the Caitiff might be told to eat his words once more.

“I only pursue attractive things, Papa Juju,” Jade remarks idly. “Desperation isn’t attractive.”

Support: Julius smiles like the rain-shower has past: “Ah, you rite, f’sure, though some like Mr. Silvestri say dat pursuit is attractive in an’ of itself.” He shrugs, then adds, “Den ‘gain, what’s attractive in uh lover versus uh shovelhead are mighty diff’rent. For most folks at least. Dose at da Dungeon might disagree.”

He shrugs once more. “Anywho, da seventh ward has mo’ need of shovelheads den lovers dese days,” he says in reference to the one of the main fronts between Savoy and the Baron’s factions.

Celia: “Pursuit is attractive. My sire would agree; we both enjoy a challenge.”

At the mention of Silvestri she sweeps her eyes through the crowd of assembled licks, looking for the thief. She has something to speak to him about. She doesn’t touch the subject of the Dungeon, just notes its mention and doubles down on her resolve to look into it further.

Later, where there are less inquisitive ears about.

“No doubt Miss Melton will be able to show him where things go.” Easy convert, she means, now that they’ve extended such a personal welcome. “I’m certain he’ll be grateful for the lesson.” And stick around in the Quarter to make himself useful on that front.

Support: “Mmhmm.”

The jazzman inspects his fingernails. They’re clean.

“Bin meanin to axe you’s,” he whispers with a slow pour of his liquid-deep voice. “But if it crosses da line, jus tell me to git lost an’ I will.”

He pauses a moment, then, before proceeding, “You got dat Turk crib, rite, da Gardette? If you evah consider subinfeudin it, let’s jus say I might know uh buyer willin’ to pay mo’ den uh few dollahs.”

Celia: “I do,” she confirms. An interesting bit of history in her little slice of the Quarter. All sorts of ghost stories surround the building—though that’s true of most places in New Orleans, particularly in the Quarter.

“I’ll hear out your contact.”

Support: Julius continues his facade of idly watching Marcel and Accou converse, but Jade does not have to wait long before the trombonist replies:

“Dat party is a bit shy. Wants to sus’ out if der offer is acceptable, don’t wunna risk upsettin one of der fellow Bourbons. Makes me da middleman.”

Julius’ face then turns slightly toward Jade as he adds, “Lissenin to udder lil’ birdies, woid is you’d like to git a vacation or two or ten to da Windy City. Drivin’ uh thousand miles ain’t no gud, an’ flyin ain’t much bettah—an’ sometimes a lot mo’ worse. But da rivuh? Ain’t as fast as flyin, but less oversight, an’ way mo’ shade an’ comfort den uh car, van, or wotnot. Especially if you’s git a private yacht. Dey cost mo’ den uh few dollahs, though, half uh mil or mo’, and den dere’s all da paperwoik. Lots of it. An’ knowin which ports an’ folks to grease or avoid an’ how.”

“Now you could do uh private charter, but dere’s mo’ paperwoik, mo’ oversight, an’ you’s cain’t jus up an’ git goin whenevah you be wantin.”

“So I’m authorized to offer you’s a private yacht wid all da paperwork, complete wid membership in da Lakeview Southern Yacht Club wid all of dose perks. Probably could use it to rub shoulders, reel in some whales to Flawless, too. An’ all da vacations to da Windy City or beyond. Da Crescent City is one of da biggest ports in da world.”

“An’ in return, dey want Gardette. A lil’ secret jus between you’s, me, dem, and Lord Savoy, who’s gud wid it, or will be if you are.”

And then, as if sharing an almost irrevelant afterthought, he adds, “Yacht is uh ’03, uh 65 footah. Used to belong to Rich Towers, da famous kine actor.” He shrugs at the last factoid.

Celia: And how, she wonders, did he already hear that she is looking to make a trip to the Windy City with Reynaldo? She doesn’t bother asking; the pair had had their conversation just moments ago outside the doors of Elysium and entered together like the belles of the ball. Whoever had overheard his offer to take her home must have been quick to spread it, and their proximity had only confirmed the rumor.

No wonder her lover looks like he’s one wrong word away from tearing someone’s head off.

“Our little secret,” Jade muses. That he’d just dropped in front of all the ears of Elysium. Surely he realizes the irony when she finally turns to face him fully, one brow lifted.

She’d have preferred to discuss this offer privately—no need to let the licks of the city know that she has a yacht and can come and go as she pleases. But here it stands. Rich Towers’ yacht. A direct line to wherever she wants to go in the world.

Tempting.

But she lets him sweat. Metaphorically.

“I’ll think about it.”

Support: Julius nods. If his gossip-alleged ‘sister’ wishes to contact him, she knows how—even beyond their regular co-appearances at Savoy’s club.

If history predicts the future, Gardette manse isn’t going anywhere—unlike the yacht.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM

GM: Marcel Guilbeau publicly challenges Accou Poincaré to a game of chance. The wager he proposes is Accou’s casquette girl, a potent status symbol among the city’s elders. The challenge draws the interest of many Kindred. Marcel has been lagging behind Accou’s in the horse race to position himself as Vidal’s heir: he is no doubt seeking to advance his position through besting the Toreador primogen, even despite the friendly setting.

Accou stands less to gain from the water. He’s already ahead of Marcel.

On the other hand, refusal will cost him face, and he is behind Donovan himself in the ‘race’.

Accou glibly questions the growing audience of nearby Kindred what prize he should ask from Marcel, if he wins the game.

Celia: A game of chance. As if the casino owner ever actually chances anything.

Jade doesn’t say a word when she slips into the crowd of Kindred around the elders, though she makes sure that she’s seen by the exiled Ventrue prince without drawing overt attention to herself.

He knows that she knows.

“What’s the worth of a casquette girl?” Jade drawls in an undertone to the lick beside her. “His boat?”

GM: “The Alystra is worth around $150 million,” answers Anthony Brodowski. “Which one would you take, if you had the choice?”

Celia: The boat. There are always more casquette girls. Money can buy all sorts of useful things… and people.

“Seems rather obvious.”

GM: “I’d take the casquette girl,” answers Brodowski. “You can always make more money.”

Celia: A status symbol would be useful to a nobody like him. Jade smiles and inclines her head as if they’d reached the same conclusion.

GM:I’d take the $150 million,” says Duke Elmhearst with a vaguely scornful look.

Celia: He would. No doubt that empty head of his can’t think of anything worth doing with a casquette girl in his employ.

Or he’s just a sexist fuck.

Support: “Material worth ain’t da matter at hand,” offers Julius in his low, liquidy thunderous voice. “Da filles la casquette are livin history, uh part of da past dat has outlived it, much like da Kindred. But so too is da Alystra. It’s far mo’ dan simply money. Dat ship done carries wid it a noble past, an in her wake, she remembers wot wus an wot wus lost, jus like da girls.”

Celia: Leave it to the Caitiff to outspeak them both.

GM: “Well-spoken, Mr. Baudoin,” replies Marcel.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned over my Requiem, it’s that material things are easy to acquire and easy to lose. But unless you’re worried about dying soon,” and here the ex-prince cracks a smile echoed on a few of the watching faces, “there’s little point in getting impatient over when fate will deal you a winning hand. You’ll get your lucky streak, sooner or later.”

“But history? Once that’s gone, it’s gone forever. They say everything has a price, but to me it feels disrespectful to assign a monetary worth to a casquette girl. Perhaps the only fair thing to wager would be another piece of history.”

GM: “Soundly reasoned, Lord Librettist,” Accou smiles back. “I, too, believe it would be only fair to wager one piece of history for another. Are all here of like mind that the Alystra is of equivalent historic value to a fille à la cassette, or would another piece of history be a more suitable wager?”

Celia: She’ll never get credit for it.

Jade tilts her head to one side, as if considering the offer.

“Where will you go without the Alystra?” Jade quietly asks Anthony, as if the game is already won. Everyone nearby has considered the implications, haven’t they? It’d knock Marcel right out of the line if he can’t hold onto a boat.

Surely that is a worthy prize in and of itself.

Clever, clever grandsire.

GM: “They probably have money outside the Alystra, Miss Kalani,” says Amaryllis DeCuir in a vaguely patronizing tone. “I’m sure they’d manage.”

Celia: “You’re missing the point, darling.”

Jade smiles at her, as if it’s to be expected.

GM: Amaryllis smiles back, like Jade’s too stupid to have considered her own point.

Celia: Hadn’t she just gotten under her little sister’s skin? No doubt this is some petty little thing she thinks she’s won in the wake of that.

What’s it like to be used as a breather? Ryllie could dazzle them all with her stories.

GM: “We’d likely go somewhere on dry land, for one,” Brodowski answers with a smile of his own. “Perhaps we’d even enjoy the change of scenery.”

Celia: Jade doesn’t bother pointing out that New Orleans is a sinking city, or that it sees almost sixty-five inches of rain per year, or that only a decade ago the whole city had flooded.

She’d played her part.

GM: “I would require someone to manage the Alystra, should fortune smile upon me,” declares Accou. “Perhaps you would be interested in continuing to, Lord Librettist.”

“Very generous of you, Alder Councilor,” answers Marcel. “I suppose since my household and I aren’t in any danger of being left homeless, that settles it. Will you accept the Alystra against your casquette girl, Alder Councilor?”

“I shall,” answers Accou. “What game, then, we are to play for these wagers? I would normally propose chess, but you asked for a game of chance, Lord Librettist.”

GM: “So I did, Alder Councilor. Perhaps our audience has further suggestions?” he inquires.

Celia: Few enough actual games of chance to be had in a place like this. Not with all the tricks their kind possess. With Sterling picked up by the hounds she doubts anyone has a pair of dice or cards on hand.

Coins, though. Plenty to be had, aren’t there. Odds are 50-50, each player has an equal chance, and even the professionals in the sports world use them to kick off games.

“Have a quarter, Mr. Browdowski?” Old as they are, she doubts they’d consent to a game of Bingo.

GM: A few calls go out for baccarat, poker, and other casino games before the Ventrue produces a quarter and flips it in the air towards Jade.

The action draws some stares and quiets down the Kindred offering suggestions.

Everyone prefers to watch something happen.

Celia: Oh fuck no. She’s not going to be accused of anything or blamed because she flips the coin.

Still, deft fingers pluck it out of the air, and she winks at the stiff as she moves to a more prominent locale.

“50/50 odds. Best two of three? Three of five? Or just a single flip?”

GM: “I wonder, is a coin toss really a game?” asks Ryllie. “Games take a while. There’s strategy, interplay, back and forth between the players.”

The audience’s eyes settle on Jade.

Celia: “Tell me, Mr. Guilbeau. Is the coin flip offered as a game at your casino?”

She waits for the expected “no,” and nods her head.

“And why is that, Mr. Guilbeau? I know we’re all looking for razzle dazzle, or at least my sister is based on her open scorn, but I’m sure there’s a mathematical reason, isn’t there? Something to do with house odds, isn’t it? Because in baccarat, blackjack, and roulette the odds favor the house, don’t they? And people have this grand debate about luck versus skill in poker, but all the professionals—those are the ones who know more about it than us, Ryllie—they agree that it isn’t luck at all. The casinos only let them play because they take a rake from every hand, so it’s guaranteed money in their pockets.”

Jade considers her little sis.

“You know what a coin flip has? Even probability. I can ask Papa Juju to belt us out a tune if you need something more invigorating, though. Maybe get some smoke machines or sequins for you.”

GM: Titters, low laughs, and condescending smirks greet the Toreador’s barbed words.

Ryllie’s eyes smolder with scorn as she assumes an equally warmthless smile.

“A coin flip’s not actually even, Jade. You do know that too, right… that fast enough Kindred can basically decide, what side turns up?”

She considers her alleged broodmate ‘thoughtfully’ with a nailed hand raised to her lips.

“Hmm… maybe not. And you know, baccarat does have even odds—between the players, and not the banker? That game seems a lot more fair to me, unless you were volunteering to do the coin flip. I guess with a Kindred who’s graceless enough, it’d be close enough to random…”

More smirks and subdued laughs ripple across the predatory faces as they shift back to Jade.

Celia: “Darling, do you really think we can influence a coin toss and not any of the other suggestions? That we can’t stack a deck the same way? What limited imagination.”

Amusement dances across her face.

“I was going to say that I shouldn’t flip the coin because of my shared blood with a contender. I was going to say that you shouldn’t either, for the same reason. But I’ve heard you still have your fangs planted in a certain someone’s back end, so I guess that’d make you an unbiased party.”

“And it’s not,” Jade says, inspecting a nail, “as if our sire considers you blood anymore.”

GM: Veronica, watching silently as her ‘childer’ feud, only sneers at Jade’s words.

“Funny hearing that from the city’s biggest slut,” Ryllie retorts furiously, eyes flashing as her fangs lengthen in her mouth. “I bet if he’d approached you, you’d have sunk your fangs around his cock and begged for seconds. If half the Kindred here even knew what you did behind closed doors, and with w-!”

Enough,” Accou preempts. The elder’s face is still as marble, and his eyes equally cool as they fall upon Jade’s ‘broodmate.’

“Many call Elysium a place of reflection and contemplation. And so it is—your actions here reflect upon those beyond yourselves.” His unblinking eyes rest long upon Ryllie, then momentarily take in Jade as well.

“Comport yourselves appropriately.”

Ryllie grits her fangs but inclines her head.

“Yes, grandsire.”

She stares at Jade too, though, and something ugly burns within her eyes.

More titters, sneers, and whispers ripple throughout the crowd of spectating Kindred.

Celia: Calling her a whore. That’s a new one. If Jade had a dollar for every time someone tried to get under her skin that way she’d be as rich as the exiled prince on his boat.

“Yes, grandsire.”

She smirks openly at her broodmate while the laughter trickles in.

Support: The jazzman, in contrast, does not smirk as he steps towards the pair of ex-princes. Not too close, but close enough to be seen waiting. Attentively. Expectantly. Respectfully.

GM: The Toreador primogen regards Julius for a moment.

“Would you speak, Mr. Baudoin?” he invites.

Support: “Only if it pleases da rite most gallant Alder Councilor Poincaré and mighty fine Lord Librettist Guilbeau—an only wid da aim of pleasing y’all.”

“Da latter did graciously ax fo’ further suggestions from da likes of lil’ ol’ us. So given mo’ contemplation, I might humbly propose uh game dressed wid both coins and cards. After all, since you’s both wagerin fo’ uh piece of history, it wud only seem fittin to play uh game of chance steeped in one too, no?”

“Jus like da filles la casquette, dis game rite came from France, an wus often played by sailors to determine who had to stay behind on da boat or go git da company of da ladies ova by da sho’. Like da owners of da casquette girls’ an da fortunes which flow through da Alystra, dis game’s had lots of names. Vieux garçon, le Pouilleux, Le Puant, Pierre Noir, Le Valet Noir, or wot caps wid da vulgar tongue call, Old Boy.”

“It’s uh rite propah game of chance, though some bluffin cain’t hurt. You’s can play it wid jus two, too. An if y’all want to make it uh bit spicier wid some mo’ suspense, git somebody to randomly choose uh card as da Pouilleux by removin it from da pack face down. But who shud git dat honor, hmm? Seems to me dat might be where da coin—or coins—come in.”

He turns to fully face Marcel, praying to Clarice’s ghost—or at least memory—that he’s not about to join her just yet.

“Lord Librettist Guilbeau, yo childe has already done got uh coin an given to one of Alder Councilor Poincaré’s bloodline. If dat wud still please you’s, den Alder Councilor Poincaré might have one of his bloodline rite do da same to one of yo’s. At dat point da coins by chance cud tell us who gits to pick da Pouilleux. Uh game widdin uh game, if it pleases y’all.”

The jazzman’s solo hopefully done, he bows to the ex-princes as any stage performer should, and steps back, waiting to see if he’s lauded, deadpanned, or just made dead. Again.

GM: Silence hangs over Elysium as the two ex-princes consider Julius’ words.

Veronica isn’t the only harpy present. Defallier is there, too. And Beaumont. Plus their hangers-on. They, and so many other Kindred, stare at Julius. Silently. Expectantly. Pitilessly. Perhaps—no, assuredly—already thinking cruel words and sharpening their knives in anticipation of the Caitiff being declared open season.

Their eyes return to the ex-princes. Like a coliseum crowd seeking an emperor’s thumbs up or thumbs down.

“They call it Mistigri and Le Pissous too,” says Marcel. “It’s also Svarte Petter, Černý Petr, Black Peter, Pit Hitam, Swarte Pyt, Svarti Pétur, Musta Pekka, Piotruś, Zwarte Piet, Sorteper, Mutzuris, and Asinello, though some of those names are just ‘Pierre Noir’ in other languages. Personally, I think the most apt name for it is a Dutch one—pijkezotjagen, or ‘chasing the jack of spades’.”

He cracks a smile. “Sometimes I think the game has more names than cards.”

“But Mr. Baudoin speaks truly. It’s an older game than most of the Kindred here. There can be skill as well as chance involved, and to my mind the best games use some of both. I’m hard-pressed to think of any more appropriate for us to play tonight—or of a more appropriate gesture than for my other childe to pass your other grandchilde a second coin, Alder Councilor.”

He, too, pauses as he awaits the the elder ex-prince’s reaction.

But he does not wait overlong.

“Symmetry is the mother of all beauty,” concurs Accou.

He smiles faintly. He does not look at Julius.

“Perhaps we might retire briefly, Lord Librettist, to collect your other childe, some playing cards, and my casquette girl.”

“Splendid, Alder Councilor,” agrees Marcel. “Shall we reconvene here in half an hour?”

“With pleasure, Lord Librettist. Perhaps we might seek Master Elgin’s input, as well, on an appropriate venue in which to play.”

“A splendid idea, Alder Councilor. I’ll see to the cards.”

“Very good, Lord Librettist. I shall see you again soon.”

The two Kindred incline their heads towards one another, then depart. A few hangers-on trail after both. Other Kindred disperse, the entertainment temporarily over, though many of them gossiping among themselves: either Marcel is going to lose his boat, or Accou his casquette girl. What spectacle this will be!


Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM

GM: Natasha Preston gets into another argument with her own patron, Antoine Savoy, by publicly speaking out against the latest examples of Vidal’s tyranny.

“What do we think happened to Sterling? Tina Baker?”

Celia: Again? Hadn’t Jade just diffused some of the tension last week when they’d done the same thing? She lingers nearby to listen in.

GM: Savoy raises that very same fact. They did do this last week. Preston doesn’t mince words. The prince has gotten even worse since last week. Sterling was snatched up by the Guard de Ville. Desirae Wells, unusually, hasn’t shown up to Elysium this week. Two hounds just took away Tina Baker.

“Come now, Nat,” Savoy says amiably. “We’re all here to unwind and appreciate some fine art. We can talk politics elsewhere.”

“Who is going to be next?” the Malkavian asks bluntly. “They were not even charged with anything!”

The pair’s ‘discussion’ has drawn more than a few spectators.

Celia: Well. It’s not like the missing persons are actually anybody. But that’s how it starts, isn’t it?

First they came for the thin-bloods, and I did not speak out because I was not a thin-blood. Then they came for the Caitiff, and I did not speak out because I was not a Caitiff. Then they came for the Bourbons, and I did not speak out because I was not a Bourbon.

“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

GM: Marcel might say something about quitting while one is ahead.

“Correct, Miss Kalani,” says Preston. “Self-interest should compel other Kindred to speak—for themselves. Anyone who commits a negative behavior will continue it if there are no consequences. It’s useful for the prince, isn’t it? Just ‘disappear’ anyone he wants to disappear! Forget explaining it, at this point! It’s much more convenient when he doesn’t have to, isn’t it? Stop abiding by any kind of rules. Just kill anyone he decides is better off dead.”

The Malkavian looks around the watching Kindred.

“How many of you could he decide are more useful dead than alive? Remember, he doesn’t have to catch you for anything anymore. He can just send his jack-booted thugs to snatch you up, anywhere, if he decides you’re a ‘problem.’ Including Elysium!”

No one who’s watching says anything. The Kindred more sympathetic to Vidal. Or the Kindred more sympathetic to Savoy.

Some are flat. Some are offended.

Some are thoughtful.

The watching harpies, though, look displeased. Sundown and Adelais and Harlequin.

Savoy watches his servant with a patiently humoring expression.

Celia: Jade shares a look with her fellow Kindred, catching the eye of the young, the unprotected, the impoverished. The Caitiff. The Bourbons. The Anarchs, even. No one had stopped Tina Baker from being snatched up by Wright and Rocco. No one had raised a hand to Sterling’s defense when the Guard de Ville infiltrated the Quarter to pluck him from his krewe mate’s club. No explanation about what he’d done wrong—just there, then gone.

“How many are missing tonight?” An innocent question, as if she does not know the answer, as if she challenges Preston’s stance for all that she’d recited old sayings.

Another lie. Another ruse. Another night as a lick.

Does she need to put a name to all the absent faces? Carolla. Bourelle. Gerlette. Wade. Jenkins. Malveaux. Polk. Some of them Hardliners. What was their crime?

GM: “I suppose our prince considers turnabout fair play, after losing his bishop and so many of his other bootlickers,” says Preston. “I suppose this will be par for course, now. Every time a Hardliner disappears, he’ll just disappear however many other Kindred it takes to balance out the scales.”

“I wonder if he considers them balanced yet? Is Malveaux worth Sterling, Baker, and Wells? How about Malveaux and the Storyvilles? Is he even finished yet, or is this just the start of the butcher-”

Looks pass among the gathered harpies. Adelais moves to approach, flanked by Elyse Benson and Camilla Doriocourt. The latter’s cool gaze rests squarely upon Preston.

Celia: Jade’s brow furrows, as if in confusion.

“I think you speak in error, Madam Preston. Isn’t the lead suspect in Malveaux’s disappearance a Hardliner?”

Surely the Malkavian isn’t crazy enough to suggest that the Sanctified would harbor a fugitive and use it as a thin pretext to come after the Bourbons.

She feigns surprise at the sight of Doriocourt striding forward and locks gazes with the hound.

“Perhaps you could clarify while you’re here. Or is it one of those need-to-know, open investigation sort of things?” A tilt of her head, a little smile, like she’s just so dumb she doesn’t know any better.

GM: “What a curious conclusion for you to have reached, Miss Kalani,” replies the hound. “The Guard de Ville typically does not keep the general public apprised as to the nature or existence of its investigations.”

Nothing shows on the impassive face of the sheriff’s childe.

Jade’s remark, though, draws more than a few curious or bemused stares from the onlooking Kindred.

Adelais, Benson, and Preston all silently survey her, too.

Savoy just smiles like they’re discussing favorite menu items at Antoine’s.

Celia: “Of course not, Madam Hound—it wouldn’t do for any of us to know the well has been poisoned.”

Or that even the loyal aren’t safe. That Vidal’s faction is being purged—from the inside. Discontent in the house of the prince, is it?

This sheriff’s childe doesn’t need to hide behind a mask of ice. She has a soul still, and she favors her true sister with a genial smile.

Sisters always were trouble for her.

“Mum’s the word, then.” An exaggerated wink, a miming of a zipper across her lips and a key tossed away.

GM: “I would call this rumor-mongering, but for how there is nothing of sufficient substance to even label a rumor,” the hound replies coolly. “Stick to makeup, Miss Kalani.”

Celia: Jade pauses. Lifts her brows. “Undoes” the zipper, all with exaggerated movements.

“I guess if I were you I’d be more concerned about the leak. But I’m not a dog on a leash, far be it from me to tell you how to do your job. I’ll stick to makeup.”

A pretty smile from the pretty Toreador.

GM: A cold look from the cold Toreador.

“Perhaps the Guard de Ville will soon have cause to interview you, Miss Kalani, if you are so confident of your knowledge as to its inner workings. One should never take chances with leaks.”

The hound’s lip doesn’t curl. Her face and affect remain flat.

But it feels like it could.

“And should such an interview leave you in no state to spread further rumors, I believe the cost to the archdiocese would be minimal.”

There’s a few smiles, from some of the more Vidal-sympathetic Kindred.

But they are faint ones.

Far more onlookers look disconcerted by the hound’s all-too real threat.

There’s a few considering glances at Preston.

The Sanctified aren’t even denying it.

More ‘disappearances.’

Over… rumors?

Celia: Only a fool tries to smother hearsay with threats. If the words were empty the hound wouldn’t bother.

Didn’t her daddy teach her that?

Jade knows when she’s ahead, though. She sketches a mocking curtsy to the lady hound, resisting the very real temptation to needle her further, and blows the bitch a kiss.

Maybe Donovan will bend her over his knee.

GM: Savoy smiles and rests an arm around Jade’s shoulders.

“Nothing would please Miss Kalani and I more, Hound Doriocourt, than to assist the Guard de Ville in ensuring its investigative findings remain classified. You and the rest of the Guard are the Kindred who keep us all safe. Stop by the Evergreen anytime, and you can interview Miss Kalani and I at your leisure—and in comfort and style, no less!”

The French Quarter lord chuckles to himself. “Or so I like to presume about my home. You’ll have our full and complete cooperation. I’d be too happy to place my own resources at the Guard de Ville’s disposal in uncovering any intelligence leaks.”

“The security of the archdiocese is paramount to me—as paramount as the welfare of its Kindred.” He turns from Doriocourt’s face to smile at Jade. “For is not the archdiocese the sum of its subjects?”

GM: :: Magnanimity, my dear, :: sounds the elder Toreador’s voice within her thoughts. :: I may shield you within my walls, but the hounds’ threats are not idle ones. ::

Celia: Jade smiles up at her grandsire, as if she had never made mockery of her broodmate.

“Of course, Lord Savoy. I’d be happy to share with the Guard de Ville so that they might plug the leak themselves. No doubt we’ll all enjoy your hospitality.”

Jade turns her head once more to take in her elder sister, nodding her head to echo Savoy’s words.

“I look forward to assisting, Hound Doriocourt. Until then I’ll keep in mind the security of the archdiocese.” Another pretty but vacant smile, like she has no idea what she’s just done. Like it was all a happy little accident.

GM: “Your offer is generous, Mr. Savoy. The Guard de Ville will be mindful of your cooperation,” Doriocourt answers her elder without accepting.

She turns back towards Jade.

“I look forward to our interview as well, Miss Kalani.”

She does not smile back at her sister.

She does not look as if she has ever smiled.

“I am confident you will serve our prince, one way or another.”


Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM

GM: Half an hour later later, the formerly assembled vampires return to one of the museum’s rooms. Accou and Marcel are the focus of everyone’s stares as the two ex-princes smile courteously towards one another. There are more Kindred than there were last time. Four of the five harpies are present now, along with Pierpont McGinn and the ex-princes’ various hangers-on, descendants, allies, and the simply curious.

The casquette girl is present too. She’s a soft-faced young woman in seemingly her late teenage years. Her milk-pale features are beautiful and unblemished, while her gaze is placid and tranquil. She’s garbed in a flowing white gown that complements her waist-length blonde hair and gives her an almost ethereal appearance. She silently shuffles and re-shuffles a deck of antique playing cards.

“So who’s up for some Black Pete?” Marcel smiles at the audience.

In mind of Julius’ suggestion of a “game within a game,” Accou declares that he picks Jade to flip his coin. Ryllie shoots her a none-too-pleased look over not getting pick. Marcel makes a show of tossing a coin over to Jade that she nimbly catches, paralleling the coin Brodowski possesses from Accou.

“Heads gets to pick Pouilleux?” Accou half-asks, half-suggests to Marcel with a smile.

“Heads it is, Alder Councilor,” Marcel agrees amiably.

Jade and Brodowski flip their coins. Both of them get heads.

“Best two of three,” smiles Accou.

The neonates flip again. This time, Jade gets heads and Brodowski tails. The honor goes to her. Brodowski inclines his head as if to accept the ‘loss’ gracefully, and then the casquette girl shuffles the deck of cards. Jade makes a show of picking a card. She gets the two of cards.

That will be Pouilleux. Black Pete.

Jade makes a further show of holding the card up for all to see, then inserts it back into the deck. The casquette girl re-shuffles the cards and deals them out. First to Accou, perhaps because he is eldest, and then to Marcel. The two Kindred look over the cards in their hands, then place the matching pairs on the table. Elysium’s attendees look over the players’ shoulders. Accou has the Black Pete card. The losing card. No one tries to hide their murmurs and exclamations: Marcel knows he doesn’t have it.

But will it stay that way?

With their pairs exhausted, Marcel reaches out to pluck a card from Accou’s deck. The ex-prince milks the spectacle for all it’s worth, holding just away and drifting between, then closes his eyes so as not to give himself “an unfair advantage.” Accou responds graciously.

Finally, he plucks a card.

It’s not Black Pete.

Accou draws a card too. He sets his matched pair aside. The players continue to draw from one another’s hands. Luck is with Marcel, though. The two’s hands shrink and shrink, and the Ventrue does not once pick Black Pete. Finally, they’re down to a single card, held in Accou’s hand.

Black Pete.

Exclamations, congratulations, and a few dirty looks. It looks as if no small number of Kindred placed their own bets on who would win. One even questions whether Marcel was cheating. He doesn’t once look at Jade.

Accou’s casquette girl is duly handed over. One doesn’t need to be a genius to realize it’s not the best look for the Toreador… in the running competition among Vidal’s would-be heirs, Marcel clearly just scored a few points, and at the older Invicta’s expense.

For all that, Marcel is gracious in his victory. He tells everyone that luck is a fickle patron—he knows that much from running a casino. He praises Accou’s accomplishments, reminding everyone that the Toreador primogen used to be a prince too, and freely abdicated his praxis to return to New Orleans. Marcel says he hopes to equal the Toreador primogen’s achievements by the time he’s the same age. The words sound sincere enough and Accou responds that the casquette girls are like casino chips—they come and go. Every elder has won them before, lost them before, and doubtless will again. He tells Marcel to enjoy his gift while fortune is with him, "for as you say, Lord Marcel, ". The Ventrue responds that it rather well is.

The ex-prince does not make direct eye contact with Jade or Julius, but his gaze passes over both of theirs. Their parts, that fleeting glimpse seems to say, may not be publicly acknowledged, but will not be forgotten.

All told, it looks like several licks’ lucky nights.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM

GM: Jade thinks to seek out Harlequin.

The masked Malkavian finds her first.

He cups her face in his velvet-gloved hands, tilting it upwards to the light.

“Yes… very close, now,” he proclaims.

Four mouths behind four masked faces echo:

“Very close.”

“Very close.”

“Very close.”

“Very close.”

Celia: Very close? To what? Elyse had said she’s pregnant with another doll (or rather another handful of dolls), but her sire’s words come back to her: Harlequin can see through many deceptions.

Close to her own mask being lifted?

Jade summons a smile for the Malkavian.

“Another?” she asks.

GM: Harlequin giggles.

As one, his entourage hold hands to their masks.

As one, they giggle.

The harpy tilts her face slightly to the side and runs a finger along where her jawbone meets her neck.

“See, all you have to do is look at it from the right angle.”

He tilts her face to its other side, then runs another finger under her jaw.

“Ah! Just look at them!”

Celia: This certainly isn’t the right venue.

“Did you receive my message, Regent Harlequin? I’d love to discuss this with you when we both have a free moment. Perhaps tomorrow night we can reconvene at the party?”

GM: “You are a precious thing, Miss Kalani,” he proclaims, and pats her head. “The whole family is eager to see what happens next.”

“It’s not going to happen tomorrow, though. You aren’t that close, darling.”

“Be patient. It will still be very soon.”

Celia: Her smile never falters.

“Then perhaps just a dance.”

GM: There’s another giggle.

“You lead. I don’t like playing the man.”

Celia: “It’s a date.”

GM: :: Sometimes a broken mask needs a helping hand to loosen it. ::

Celia: :: Which mask, Regent, and where do they go when they die? ::

GM: :: How should I know? ::

Harlequin runs his hands along Jade’s body, feeling her from her shoulders to her breasts to her stomach. The Malkavian’s touch feels oddly non-sexual, though. It’s like he’s handling plastic or resin rather than a woman’s body.

Jade knows the difference. She’s had more than her share of people touching her with lust on their minds.

:: When a mask is broken apart, sometimes the edges are too sharp to fit them all back together, and you’ll just cut your fingers. So you need to sand the edges down before you glue them back together. It’s like how you have to cut someone open to perform surgery. ::

Celia: :: One of your descendants implied I should speak to you about it. Perhaps she was mistaken. ::

She does not shy from his touch, though she can’t help but wonder what this looks like to those around them. Particularly—no, he belongs to someone else. The thought stops before it can begin.

GM: “Miss Kalani, my dear, people are either charming or tedious,” Harlequin pronounces. "Everyone says you are very charming, but right now, you are being very tedious. You are supposed to be good at masks and you aren’t even getting dressed up for me. "

“It’s affecting me too, you know. You should think about others more. I don’t feel like my best self around you. Hound Agnello always brings out the best parts of me, the darling. Such a shame for his poor mask!”

His ghouls each place hands to their masks.

“Shame.”

“Shame.”

“Shame.”

“Shame.”

Celia: “You’re right, Regent. I’ve been particularly selfish this evening.” Jade cups the velvet hands that linger over her stomach, giving the masked harpy a private smile. A mother’s smile.

“The same object that caused such tedium should be used to soothe, no?”

GM: “Mask the tedium,” Harlequin giggles.

Celia: “A word game?” she asks. She waits for confirmation before reciting:

“Broken, bleeding, don the gown,
Smiling, crying, upside-down.
Shattered, fractured, it adheres,
Simple, complex, everywhere.”


GM: “Glass,” ventures the Malkavian.

Each of his ghouls looks towards him, then towards Jade.

Celia: Jade gives a shake of her head.

“Shall I give you a hint, Regent?”

GM: “No.”

“The game is yours, Miss Kalani, and fairly won.”

Celia: Jade accepts the victory with a dip of her head.

“Thank you for playing.”

GM: “Don’t thank me, darling, violate and exploit me. For what have we played?”

Celia: “You’ve already promised a dance,” Jade muses, “and I look forward to twirling you about the floor. Walk with me through the garden. I’d like to see your favorite sculpture.”

GM: Harlequin titters at her description and leads her outside. The twelve-acre Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at NOMA is one of the most important sculpture installations in the United States, with over 90 sculptures situated on a beautifully landscaped site amongst meandering footpaths, reflecting lagoons, Spanish moss-laden 200-year-old live oaks, mature pines, magnolias, camellias, and pedestrian bridges.

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Some other Kindred are about too, admiring their own sculptures and conversing among themselves.

“That one,” Harlequin declares.

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Celia: Jade walks beside the masked regent, observing the Kindred outside as surely as she observes the art itself. She stops beside him, turning her eyes to the sculpture.

“Striding Figure,” she reads from the plaque. “Because you’re always on the move, Regent?”

GM: The Malkavian tsks. “Everyone is on the move until they stop moving.”

He tilts his head back towards the sculpture.

“The face.”

“He wears the scenery as his mask.”

“Walk here. Walk there. Stand upon your tiptoes. Crouch down. He dons a new mask.”

Celia: Jade follows his direction, crouching and moving and taking his hand to step onto a short ledge to view the sculpture from different angles. Each new one sees a change to the mask he wears, and Jade marvels at how effortlessly he slips from one to the other. Effortless, because he does nothing.

“We see what we want to see,” she breathes, “we see based on our own perceptions. Colored by our vantage point.”

GM: “He does nothing,” the Malkavian echoes. “He turns our perceptions back upon us. Our own perceptions become the mask that he wears.”

“He does not fashion his mask.”

“We do.”

“There is much to be learned from him.”

Celia: Had Jade been fashioned from what other people expected to see, or had she been inside all along and only forced out into the open when Celia had need of her? Now, she knows, she plays the game and lets others see what they want, but she had given them the mold. Don’t they all? Isn’t every man, woman, and lick a canvas in their own right that others splatter their paint across? They start as infants, black or white or brown, and the world shapes them. The cleverest subvert or live those expectations as they need.

And here she is with the power to be truly blank. To be nothing. To start new.

“They see what they want. He expends no energy to pour himself into that shape. He simply is.”

Jade stares at the art a moment longer before she looks to the masked Kindred beside her.

“He’s marvelous. Thank you for showing me.”

GM: The harpy inclines his head.

“One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art. Perhaps he does both.”

“What of your favorite among the collection, Miss Kalani?”

Celia: Would the harpy say that he wears art or that he is art? Jade doesn’t ask. But she smiles at his question, linking her arm through his (if he’s amenable) to lead him further down the path.

The sculpture that they stop at is multiple sculptures in truth, but all grouped together in one large piece. From afar they look like jagged shards of glass, but as the pair approach both Jade and Harlequin can see their faces—or at least their masks—reflected back from dozens of different surfaces.

The Mirror Labyrinth.

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This late at night there are no guards to keep them out, and Jade leads Harlequin through the labyrinth. It spirals around and around and around until it deposits them in the very center of the ring of mirrors, showing them all the sides of themselves. Front. Back. Side. Everything in between. Nothing escapes the gaze of the stationary mirrors. There is nowhere to hide. When Jade gestures, a dozen Jades gesture with her. When she smiles it appears on the face of every reflection in the vicinity.

GM: Harlequin doesn’t.

Not completely.

There are as many Harlequins as there are Jades.

But the eyes are different.

In one reflection, they’re green.

In another, they’re gold.

In another, purple.

Green-, gold-, and purple-eyed Harlequins all titter at once.

“This is, perhaps, how the world looks through Striding Figure’s eyes.”

Celia: Jade doesn’t ask about the eyes. She observes them, her own staring back at her, but that mystery will wait for another evening.

He’d find the asking tedious.

“How he views what he has become,” she offers instead. “Multiple, but one.”

GM: Harlequin smiles and touches Jade’s reflection, pressing his palm to the glass.

“The self is fluid here, but that means the self can drown too, you know. In the fluid.”

Her reflection smiles at her all the same.

Celia: “That’s why I come. To remind myself.”

GM: He presses a second hand to the grass, laying it upon the shoulder of Jade’s reflection.

“They have things to say.”

“All of them.”

Celia: Jade’s eyes find Harlequin’s in the mirror.

“They clamor to be heard.”

“But it’s faint. Far away.”

GM: Harlequin touches the reflection’s lips.

“Shhh.”

“They will speak. The time will come.”

“Don’t force them. Give them space.”

“I had thought to coax them, but I don’t need to. It’s always better when they come out on their own.”

Celia: Jade’s head tilts to one side and a dozen other Jades echo the movement.

“Do you hear them?”

GM: “I know masks, darling.”

“That is my gift.”

“Masks are easier to know than faces.”

Celia: “There is another.” Jade touches a hand to her chest. “Here. Waiting.”

“She’s come out before. But not fully. Not like the others.”

Jade’s slender shoulders lift in a shrug. “She will when she’s ready.”

“Thank you for the company this evening, Regent. You’ve given me much to think about.”

GM: Harlequin giggles.

“You’ll have to decide, too.”

Celia: “Tonight?”

GM: “Soon, either way.”

“Make your choice, adventurous stranger;
Strike the bell and chance the danger,
Or wonder, till it drives you mad
What would have followed if you had.”


Celia: Jade favors the masked regent with a wry smile.

“No hints?” she teases.

GM: Harlequin’s eyes look boreder again at the direct request.

Celia: She laughs, dismissing the notion with a wave of her hand. She had assumed as much.

“We should rejoin the rest of them before they miss us overmuch.”

GM: “Some cause joy wherever they go. Others, whenever they go.”

“Don’t be the second, darling.”

Celia: “You never asked,” Jade says to him as they move back through the maze of mirrors, “why it’s my favorite.”

“Someone cruel, someone less observant, might think it makes sense that the vapid Toreador favors the sculpture that lets her see herself.”

She looks up at him as they go.

“But you know, don’t you.”

GM: The Malkavian titters.

“I’m very clever. Sometimes I don’t understand half the things I say!”

“You shouldn’t pay too much heed to them, you know. Sometimes I lie about completely random and pointless little things.”

Celia: “Lies are art. Didn’t you say one should be art or wear art? That’s what it does. Deceives. Teases.”

GM: “What is truth? Some say truth is relative. Lies are truth’s relative, too. Lies are truth’s estranged and misbegotten daughter, for one cannot lie without a truth to lie over. But lies are much better at dolling themselves up in the mirror to be pretty.”

Celia: “I had a conversation once about gamblers. I was told I’d never get anything useful out of them. Liars, the lot.” Jade considers him. “But people are most honest when they lie. You learn what they’re afraid of.”

“The kine have a game,” she presses on. “Two truths and a lie. Are you familiar?”

GM: “No, our percentage of lies to truths is much higher.”

“How frightened we Kindred must be!”

Celia: “Many have much to lose.”

GM: “Many have little to lose. But they’re already losers. Only winners can really lose.”

“You’re frightened, too. Will you unleash a terror or the version you always wanted?”

Celia: Jade has never claimed to not be frightened. There is only one place in this world where she is not afraid.

The truth, now. Green steel. Poise and grace and sharp lines, facade pulled free. Corruption incarnate. Reverent, resourceful, resolved. An ornate mirror wrapped in silver filigree and red roses, and on its surface her monster:

Beauty. Beast.

They howl and fight like wolves inside of her, growling and scrambling for every morsel. Nails rake their sides. Teeth scrape their necks, jaws closing around their throat, claws slicing open their soft bellies.

They shred her to pieces.

“I no longer know what that is.”

GM: Harlequin stares at her intently. His gold eyes crinkle as if he is smiling. She feels as if his four ghouls are smiling too.

His gloved hands cup her face again.

“A question to answer your dilemma.”

“Does it matter?”

Celia: “To them.”

GM: “A leopard cannot change its spots, except when it can.”

“Does a changed leopard miss its old spots?”

Celia: “Not if they no longer served it. If it adapted to something new. Something better.”

GM: The Malkavian nods sagely.

“You begin to understand.”

Celia: “Like a snake shedding skin it has outgrown. It’s painful at first, but once it’s free it’s relieved. It knows this is how it should be.”

Her eyes search his masked face, looking for an answer he might not have or want to give.

“It can’t go back in once it’s off. It won’t fit. You said it earlier, to sand the edges down or I’ll only bleed for the effort.”

GM: His eyes are smiling inside the mask. The edges are just faintly crinkled. They’re green now.

“But of which leopard do we speak?”

“Which leopard with its bleeding mask?”

“There are at least three.”

Celia: “Two of them bleed. Two of them war. They want different things. They both can’t win.”

Can they?

GM: “One cannot wear two masks at once,” the Malkavian concurs.

“Well, I suppose one could, but that really defeats the point! Others cannot see more than one mask at once.”

Celia: “Sometimes I wonder if they’re more than masks,” Jade says quietly.

GM: “‘All masks, worn long enough, cease to become masks.’”

“It’s a trite quote. All masks are more than masks.”

“To wear masks around others is the natural state of being.”

“One is a different person around one’s elders, around one’s inferiors, around one’s peers.”

“A mask only becomes ‘more’ than a mask when its presence ceases to cause one discomfort.”

“When one no longer notices it is there.”

Celia: They’re not masks, then. They’re part of her. Three different girls look out at Harlequin through Jade’s eyes. Wide and innocent. Haunted and vulnerable. Wicked and shining.

The masks slip. The brown eyed, brown haired dead girl touches her hand to his chest to show him where it hurts the most.

Then she’s gone, and a blue eyed beauty shows him dimples when she smiles. She touches the edge of his mask, eyes curious, but doesn’t tug. It’s not her place to know.

“It’s pretty.”

GM: The domino mask is white and traced with vine-like patterns. There’s gold and silver to do with the white, jewels around the eyes, and sparkles on the lips.

It is pretty.

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“Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated,” smiles the Malkavian. “For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.”

Celia: This is the sort of girl who still believes in fairytales. Who made friends with a fairy and twirled around her workshop in flower shoes and a flowing dress. She likes the jewels around the eyes and the sparkles on the lips, likes the velvet gloves and matching ghouls. And she likes the smiling eyes gazing out at her from behind the mask.

The girl in Jade’s body can hear the emphasis on his final word.

“She broke her beautiful thing,” she whispers in his ear, “trying to make it practical.”

GM: “Maybe things were meant to be this way,” says Harlequin. “If you bring an ice mask somewhere hot—and there are some marvelous ice masks—what’s going to happen?”

Celia: “It melts.”

GM: “There you go, darling. Maybe the beautiful thing wasn’t meant to be.”

“At least where it was.”

“Or maybe its broken self isn’t broken. Maybe it’s beautiful.”

Celia: “Kintsugi,” she says. “It’s different. But it’s still beautiful.”

GM: “Then you must love its mask now for what it is—or you must take better care if you loved what it was.”

Celia: If they broke you, you must know that you can never go back. It doesn’t matter how much you love them or think that this time will be different. The fact is they didn’t care enough to keep you intact.

“Stars form from collapsing nebulae,” she says. “It crumbles so something better can begin.”

GM: “Stars wear masks too. They’re more subtle, but they’re there if you look for them.”

Celia: The dimples are back.

“I’ve never seen a star in a mask.” She looks up, as if to survey the sky above him, exposing the long line of her throat. “I’ll look again, and tell you what I find.”

GM: “Everything is in a mask, darling. Everything.

He leans in close and whispers, “There are turning points for two masks you know tonight. Not just one!”

Celia: It’s an intimate position, her eyes skyward while he leans in close, their bodies almost touching. Another girl might flush and wonder at his motivation, but this one only revels in the familiarity. She closes her eyes at his words, wondering which of the masks the other girl wears will crack, or if they’re hers at all.

As he said, everyone wears masks.

Leila accompanies Harlequin back through the winding paths of the sculpture garden to the museum itself, her eyes moving across the art—exhibits and Kindred alike. She searches for the boy whose heart has been twice broken, though she knows that she shouldn’t be the one to speak to him. Especially not here. He isn’t enlightened like her companion… and the thought makes her stop in her tracks.

Just for a moment. She catches up quickly.

She’d wanted to tell him. She’d wanted to show him all the pieces and parts of herself. The boy he’d once been might have taken care of them, kept them safe. She’s worried that this new one will be too rough with her fragile edges.

“Not everyone will understand,” she ventures, not quite a question.

GM: Harlequin merely dips his head somberly.

“Enlightenment is often called madness by the ignorant.”

“Madness,” echoes his first ghoul.

“Madness.”

“Madness.”

“Madness.”

Celia: He’ll call her crazy.

The dimples disappear when her smile dims.

“You can’t force them to see.”

It’s not a question, not really, but she looks to him all the same. He understands. His childe. The librarian. The boy from the boat. That’s enough.

GM: “No,” agrees Harlequin. “One can persuade. One can appeal. One can bare one’s heart with pretty speeches.”

“But one cannot force them to accept.”

“One cannot force them to understand.”

Celia: “She’ll be sad. But she has us.”

GM: “Yes. All of the Family Malkavian understands.”

Celia: Maybe that’s enough. A whole clan of people who know and accept. Maybe this is her place.

“Thank you for the stroll. We look forward to our dance tomorrow.”

GM: The broken-hearted boy, meanwhile, is talking with Maxzille Babineaux.

“Oh, so I am, darling,” answers the Malkavian. “I can hardly wait to share a dance with you.”

A smile spreads across his purple eyes.

:: With all of you! ::


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM

Celia: One of the girls inside of Jade takes her time moving past the pair of Anarchs once the masked harpy takes his leave. She occupies herself with other art, other conversations, looks for all the world as if she is not watching him. As if she has not noticed him. As if his mere proximity has not left her dead heart racing.

She broke him.

But they can still be beautiful.

She waits for an opening. She makes idle chatter with one of the Baron’s girls, the one she’d needed to speak to anyway, and through veiled comments and clever word play sets up a meeting outside of Elysium where the pair of them can let their hair down.

She speaks to the thief about something similar.

She sends a text to a cabin boy about a party and a new friend his friend might like to meet, and maybe they should set them up. She’d love to bring her by.

And another text to a jock with a smile worthy of a rattler asking if he has a moment to “chill.”

The broken-hearted boy stays in her peripheral.

GM: Amandine is sour but at the prospect of meeting with one of Savoy’s people, but willing to do so in return for an owed boon.

The thief, in contrast, is happy to do so. They can talk after Elysium tonight or at the party tomorrow.

The cabin boy texts back that he’s always happy the meet new friends. Especially fuckable ones.

Well, more like only fuckable ones.

Ditto attending parties.

The jock does have a free moment that chill.

The broken-hearted boy is keeping her in his peripheral.

And beneath the carefully neutral mask, he does not look happy.

Celia: Jade agrees to the boon with a tight smile and says she’ll see the girl later. She’s happy the thief is happy to see her, at least, but opts for tomorrow. She has another meeting this evening, unfortunately. She lets the cabin boy know that the theme is the ’20s and asks if he wants her to doll him up to be a fuckable little bitch again. Maybe Joy would like to go. She can meet him beforehand. The jock gets a time and place.

At some point Jade excuses herself from her present company to take a final stroll. Alone. Maybe towards the car lot, if no one is going that way, or deeper into the park if so. The bait is set if the boy wants to follow.

GM: It’s a date with the first too.

The cabin boy is happy to go as a cabin girl. Easier to get with, too.

The jock will see her there.

The boy waits a good amount of time, so they don’t seem to be leaving together.

Then he follows her off.

The mask drops away. His face is angry.

Celia: When isn’t it?

Jade disappears, the coward, and Leila has already decided that this isn’t her talk. Celia meanders toward her car, but there’s nowhere to have this conversation. Even the appearance of being alone doesn’t actually mean anything. She’d thought she was alone in the shower, too, and the shadow dancer had shown her the error there.

GM: That’s why Veronica had chastised her for not learning to soul scry. Does she want to be caught with her pants down?

Celia: It’s so boring. Her mind has much more going on than the normal person’s. There are so many of her. But she’d be happy to learn that trick her sire and Harlequin can do.

Celia pulls her phone from her pocket as if it had rung, answering with a brief, “hello?” A pause. A smile. Then, “Hey, babe. Yeah, I have a free minute. I’ll swing by. Talk to you soon.”

Surely he knows she means him. He can follow her to another location and they can have it out. She gets into her car and starts to drive, trusting that he’ll follow. There’s only one road out of here; nothing suspicious about that.

GM: Her trust proves aptly placed. He gets in and follows with his own car.

Celia: Celia sends a text to Reggie that she’s on her way to his place. Might as well stop by while she’s already in the area. And it’s less weird if Roderick stays in Mid-City. He doesn’t want to be seen entering the Quarter, but Jade’s face isn’t unwelcome here. She drives in the general direction of Legal Wings, then pulls her car into an out of the way spot and turns off her lights. She unlocks her passenger door for him.

GM: He gets out of the car, seizes her by the throat, lifts her off her heels, and slams her hard against the vehicle’s side.

“Not what it looks like?” he asks conversationally, vice-like fingers cutting off the air supply she doesn’t need.

Celia: This is certainly not how she thought it would go.

Perhaps that was stupid of her.

The last of her air is forced from her lungs when he slams her against her own car, hands flying to his wrist as if to pry him off of her. But she stops before she even starts, simply holding onto his wrist. There’s no fear in her eyes. She knows how much he hates the scared woman act. Still, pinned as she is, she can’t speak. There’s no air left for her. Her lips move soundlessly, then she finally gives a tiny nod. She taps against his fingers to silently ask him to release her.

GM: His fingers un-clench. Slightly.

But he doesn’t release her.

Her Beast snarls in her ears.

Celia: There’s a lot of snarling in her ears these nights. From Beasts and masks and personalities. From her sire and Harlequin and Alana, all of them clamoring for something else. Another piece of her. Another part of her.

And now Roderick has come to demand his piece, too.

She sucks down what air she can. Not to breathe, just to speak.

“Set up,” she gets out. The sound is tiny; it’s an effort to keep it from sounding strangled. “Cover up. Can explain.”

GM: He just waits.

Just holds her.

Crushed against her car.

Helpless.

His expression is flat.

Celia: Jade wriggles her pinky between his fingers and her throat. She doesn’t otherwise move, eyes locked on his face.

“Taking down Agnello. Needed assistance. He has reason to help. Once he’s gone, two down. Just him. Shift the blame his way. Get him out too. Easier to take down the rest of who you want. Meantime, gather intel. Who, what, where. For you. It’s for you.”

GM: “Really,” he says.

“Working with Mafia scum.”

“For me.”

“Without asking me.”

Celia: Her Beast snarls at that, too. She doesn’t need his permission.

There’s another part of her that likes it, though. Her throat bobs against his palm when she swallows.

“You have other things on your mind. I wanted to help.”

GM: Lightning-fast, a stake appears in Rod’s hand and rams towards her heart.

She feels her limbs go completely stiff as the wood pierces bone like flesh.

Her lover just looks at her with that same calm-faced expression.

Celia: All she can do is stare back.

GM: Roderick picks her up, returns to his car, and unlocks the trunk, and lays her inside. He doesn’t dump her in, but neither is he gentle. She gets a last look at his face, as he removes her car keys, and then the lid slams down.

A short while passes, and then she feels movement underneath as the car drives.

Maybe this was how her mom felt, seven years ago.

Trussed up and helpless in the back of a car.

Being driven off towards an unknown fate.

Celia can even see the glow-in-the-dark release lever.

Did her mom see one, too?

Celia: Terror takes her firmly in its grasp. She can’t move. Can’t see. Can’t cry for help or press the release button or shift forms.

She’s trapped.

Helpless.

And unlike when her sire has hold of her, the fear of this new, unknown Roderick is very, very real. Thick and cloying, it fills the trunk.

Where is he taking her?

What is he going to do to her?

Her mind races with possibilities: leaving her for the sun. Dumping her in a fire, or trash compactor, or saw mill. Turning her in for her bastard blood. Taking her to his sire to rip apart.

The tears come but they don’t fall. Nothing in her body works. She can only lie where he set her, eyes on the glowing lever, and pray that something inside of him still cares for her.

View
Cletus IIS:, Chapter I
Family Reunion

“Your presence betters this humble gathering, and may now permit it to begin in earnest!”
Antoine Savoy


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, PM

GM: CLOSED
For private event


So reads the sign over the Evergreen Plantation’s front doors in stylish gold writing. The club’s regulars have long grown to accept that the Evergreen simply does not open its doors to the public on Saturday nights.

Some patrons take offense that the Quarter’s premier club is closed to them, for all their wealth and connections and means. Some patrons do not take no for an answer. They are not accustomed to being told ‘no.’ Some of these disgruntled patrons take their concerns directly to Leon Gressau. He always seems to have an answer for why the club is closed on Saturdays, and for why the ‘private event’ really isn’t their scene. He’d let them in if it was, of course.

Most such patrons walk away with their feathers smoothed and their pride assuaged. Mr. Gressau always knows just what to say.

But there have been a few would-be attendees of the Saturday ‘private events’ who were just so curious, so persistent, so entitled, that they could not accept ‘no’ for an answer. There have been even more would-be attendees who simply were not important enough to warrant Mr. Gressau’s time and personal assurances. These individuals often make themselves obnoxious to the Evergreen’s staff.

Mr. Gresseau only smiles and instructs his employees to allow these individuals entrance to the private event. Let them have what they wish.

Too late, they learn to be careful what one wishes for.

The Evergreen’s interior tonight is a place out of time. The Art Deco style of the early 20th century reigns supreme. Luxurious fabrics, sharp lines, mixed metallics, and rich color palettes give the décor an air simultaneously glamorous and eclectic. The floor is a black and white checker pattern. Several enormous white and gold vintage chandeliers composed of cut glass hang from the ceiling (each one still lit electrically). Drapes use shiny gold metallic fabric. Modernist art hangs along the walls. Brass combines everywhere with glass. Huge wall-to-wall television screens, currently set to mirror mode, make the space seem bigger than it is. Louis Armstrong jazz, always popular at the Evergreen, feels all the more period-appropriate as it plays from antique bronze phonographs (and perhaps more discretely located modern speakers).

It may be 2016 outside, but within the Evergreen’s walls, the 1920s are back.

Antoine Savoy’s court is more comfortable than Vidal’s. Spacious and comfortable seating is located throughout the room. Anachronistically garbed attendees lounge about on the sharp-angled Art Deco furniture. Pinstripes, coattails, bobbed hair, cloche hats, short dresses, and huge kohl-outlined eyes predominate.

Heroin chic pallid faces, though, remain timeless.

For all that Antoine Savoy might profess to do things differently than his archrival, attendees highest in favor (or greatest in presumption) sit closest to the center of power, like they do anywhere. The Lord of the French Quarter occupies a throne-like seat on an elevated dais at the center of the room, grinning as the attendees file in in their anachronistic garb.

The Toreador himself wears a midnight-blue worsted swallow-tailed coat trimmed with satin, and a pair of matching trousers, trimmed down the sides with satin ribbon. A white bow tie, unworn black silk top hat, white gloves, patent leather Oxford shoes, a white silk handkerchief, and white flower boutonnière complete the outfit. A signet ring bearing the Bourbon coat of arms remains in place on his right hand.

Preston quietly converses with her master. She’s one of the comparatively few female attendees not dressed like a flapper. She still wears a conservative dark skirtsuit, only by the era’s standards instead of the present. Its hem reaches all the way down to the knee.

Blood dolls make their rounds throughout the room, showing attendees to changing rooms or simply lounging alongside them and engaging in conversational foreplay before the inevitable occurs. Those who have previously made nuisances of themselves to the Evergreen’s staff speak the least and wear the most vacant smiles. Their fates are preordained. For now, though, no drinking is allowed.

Pleasure comes after business, even in the French Quarter.

Even when it is so intermingled.

Cletus: True to the themed decade’s sobriquet, Don Cletus Lee Boggs literally roars into the party, chauffeured in a ’28 Duesenberg J. As the antique luxury car slows down before Savoy’s establishment, the automobile’s sleek lines and chrome accents gleam and purr like a supine Art Deco goddess draped in naught but diamonds and moonlight. A liveried footman opens a rear door to that opulent vessel, allowing the Inviato of Clan Giovannini to slide out and wade into the soiree with all the predatory grace of Bayou Bonfouca’s infamous albino alligator.

Tonight, the Sindaco of Slidell is, much like his transportation, an anachronistic if well-heeled sight. Rather than thrift-store overalls stained with blood, barbecue sauce, and cannibalistic lard, the Dunsirn-descended ancilla presently wears a seersucker suit worthy of its Persian name of ‘milk and sugar’. The bespoke suit’s two-toned stripes keenly mirror the vampire’s ivory skin and blowtorch-blue eyes. Accenting the emblematically southern suit is a pair of scallop-buttoned gloves and boot-shod sprats the shade of fresh-frenzied blood, monogrammed cufflinks and a collar-pin made of opal and gold, and a green-and red pocket-square whose tartan cloth matches his bowtie and the ribbon around the straw boater jauntily crowning Cletus’ head.

Notwithstanding such high class, if century-old, accoutrements, only fools miss the monster lurking under tonight’s sartorial masquerade. Inhuman and inhumane, here is a monster of hard, rangy lines of taut muscles, coiled puissance, and barely simmering savagery. Unblinking eyes burning bright and hungry as acetylene. Sepulchral flesh slick with the night’s humidity and the palpable scent of libido and heat lightning. A mesmerically feral, fanged smile that teases supple lips and promises pleasure, pain, perdition. The strange melange of peckerwood perversion, Southern aristocracy, and undying sociopathy.

Surveying the scene, the monster flashes a moonshine smile.

“Well kiss my go-to-hell if this party rightchere hain’t busier than a one-legged cat in a sandbox!”

The Capo of St. Tammany Parish stalks through the crowd, flashing fanged smiles and giving hearty backslaps that would better pass for a full-throttle jackhammer rather than a greeting, at least if he were amidst mere mortals.

Regardless, the monster carves his way to the inner circle, where he takes off his boater mid-gentlemanly bow to the party’s host.

“Lord Savoy, forgive a feller fer ahootin’ and ahollerin’, but I must say: yer party and yerself are lookin’ finer than froghair done split four ways!”

GM: Cletus’ entrance elicits stares and looks of a different variety than the Hepcats’. He’s dressed well, but not so well for his garb to be the talk of the hour. Instead, the lick himself is. Cletus Lee Boggs, prince of Slidell. A lick with you do not fuck.

The Giovannini receives his warmest welcome, as the necromancers always do, from clan and kin. Don Vico, his childe Lucy, and Catfish Freddy are sequestered in their own corner of the room, simultaneously among yet distinctly apart from the mass of Camarilla licks.

Vico and Freddy return the backslaps with sapling-felling clouts of their own, and Lucy offers a more ladylike extended hand, but none of the three’s greetings take overly long or distract Cletus from his approach of the evening’s host.

“Inviato Boggs!” exclaims the white-garbed French Quarter lord, breaking off from his silent conversation with Preston and Lebeaux to greet the evening’s guest with a broad smile.

“Forgiveness requires that a sin be committed, and what sin is there in so warm a greeting and such kindly offered words? Far from requiring forgiveness, your presence betters this humble gathering, and may now permit it to begin in earnest!”

“I dare say our chosen color becomes us both, too,” he chuckles, his gaze passing between the two Kindred’s distinctly cut but identically colored suits. “In fact, I think I recall you also wearing that suit for… ah, yes… the great party of last ’44?”

The half-milllennial anniversary of Clan Giovannini’s overthrow of the Cappadocians.

Boston’s worth might have eclipsed New Orleans’ in Genoa’s eyes. Then as now.

But no one doubted which branch of the clan threw the better party.

“That was a party to remember,” grins the French Quarter lord. “Here is to many more such memories formed tonight!”

Cletus: Cletus beams back at Savoy. If lips could ruefully wag, the Boggs’ patriarch might, as if playfully conceding Savoy’s better turn of phrase—and praise.

“To such memories, and mo’, ma ever-gracious friend! May we be happier tonite and tomorrow den ol’ Yeller layin’ on the porch chewin’ on a big ol’ bucket of catfish heads. And with yerself as our host, hain’t been any other way!”

With that de facto toast, he bows again to Savoy, before playfully leaning in as if to kiss Preston in greeting. Only the vigilant notice the Giovannini uses the act to whisper something to the Bourbon’s innermost circle, and only the most vigilant can make out that whisper:

“Day I say the only right proper way to repay yerself fer dis party is to be done hostin’ one meself. Been lookin into a venue in Concordia. Perhaps later y’all might wanna shuck some corn and whittle out an invite list?”

Pulling back, Cletus smooths his straw boater back on his head. He doesn’t wait for a reply—not now or here—but rather carves his way back to his clan’s corner.

GM: Cletus’ seeming-almost-kiss, for all those caveats, still draws its shared of amused looks. The inviato even hears, “…thing for him,” from someone, though the Malkavian’s face remains all-business.

Savoy grins widely at Cletus’ idea and makes a flourishing motion in the direction of the latter’s clan in seeming agreement—they’ll discuss this later.

“Hear that, Nat? We’d better let Mr. Gui know to get started on some names!” exclaims the Toreador as Cletus withdraws.

“Very well, sir.”


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, PM

Cletus: Prior to the official commencement of Savoy’s court, the Giovannini Inviato hunts down his seat amongst his French Quarter-dwelling clan. He so arrives in their midst, arms outstretched and flashing a lightning-white smile.

“La Mia Famiglia!” he shouts fondly, his fierce familial pride and passion making up for the way his Southern-drawl bruises his Italian pronunciation, “Buonanotte!”

The social predator then makes his rounds with his non-Camarilla cousins, greeting each individually with a bacio sulla guancia and personal salutation.

“Don Vico!” he says first to the eldest among them (excluding himself), “Yer rite hittin a lick at the snake tonite! What kind o’ canvas is lil ol’ Sistine paintin’ on these nights?”

“Freddy!” he says to the next, “Lookin’ mighty fine yerself too—tis clear yer old lady is keepin’ her old man well-fed.”

“And speak o’ the ol’ devil—oh, Tuccy, I didn’t see you there!” he quips good-naturedly, “How’s that there spin-bike doohickey workin’ out fer her? Hell if I’d been knowin’ why anyone’d be wantin’ a bike dat don’t go nowhere, but hell if I’mma gonna be the sonnuvabitch that done didn’t get what ya asked fer on the anniversary of yer bacio per procura.”

“Lucia, why I’mma two-legged, flea-scratchin’ possum or is dat skullcap really made o’ skull-bone? Anybody I been knowin’?” His wicked smile suggests he hopes the answer is a ‘yes’.

“Teddy, ya ol’ bear, how’s it hangin’ dese days, ya need another stick—or ten or hundred—to be keepin’ away all of lil’ Lucy’s suitors? One call, and I can get a feller up in Bogalusa to fire up the ol’ saw-mill fer y’all.”

GM: Don Vico is a tall and pale-skinned man with a receding black hairline. His features have the haughtiness and arrogance of the Giovannini, but there is also a certain lowness them, a gangster-like crudity that belies his low-born (or at least low-raised) origins. He’s dressed in a double-breasted white suit much like the ones he normally wears and a matching trilby hat.

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“_Buonanotte, cugino,_” he greets with a smile.

“Eddie’s working on ghosts, these nights." As if to address that physical impossibility, he adds, "Isabelica was real helpful there. They didn’t speak too much before, but I think they appreciate each other more now.”

If Don Vico has a vague sense of thuggishness, though, it’s nothing against Catfish Freddy. The Putanesca scion is shorter but stockier, with a large face, squash-like nose, and whitening hair. Hooded dark eyes peer out from a lined and pockmarked face. His wide and thick-fingered hands look made for beatings. Next to him, Vico looks downright patrician—and is no doubt one of the reasons the don enjoys keeping him nearby. It’s also Freddy who truly wears the period tonight. He’s dressed in classic dark pinstripes and a fedora, looking every bit the Prohibition mobster he only narrowly missed being.

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“_Buonanotte, cugino,_” he echoes, then grins. “Tuccy’s doin’ great on that thing. Keeps her busy. Good for her heart. She can listen to shit while she’s on it. Can’t do that with a real bike, right?”

Freddy’s sister-wife, Tuceia Giovannini-Putanesca, shares her brother-husband-domitor’s prominent nose but has narrower and more refined features befitting the Giovannini half of her blood, with slanted eyebrows and a thick mane of curly dark hair. Next to the two vampires, her skin retains a healthy olive color. She wears a dark evening dress with a Grecian inspired draping, elaborate hemline, and a brooch pin and pearl necklace.

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Tuccy maintains enough of a polite smile not to look rude but doesn’t respond. Here are these two Kindred talking about her exercise habits. Exercise they no longer require. For all that she might feel deserving of the Embrace, she has not received it. But she does not complain, for all the envy that might lurk in her dark eyes.

The ghoul remembers her place.

Lucia, meanwhile, actually embraces Cletus. Vico’s childe would represent a comely face to mortals, with her straight features, full lips, slender neck, and equally slender figure. Most mortals react less than favorably to her cancer patient baldness, but that’s why she usually wears the wig. Tonight she’s dressed in a sheer black mesh flapper gown with silky fringe, a sweetheart bodice, sultry V back, and dazzling array of black sequins that cascade down to a tiered fringe scalloped hemline. It’s a classic enough choice, until one looks closer to observe that the sequins are interspersed with fingernail-sized pieces of glitter-coated white bone that rustle and clink as she walks. Her necklace is made of bone bits instead of pearls. Her white skullcap has a black headband with several matching feathers.

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“Hi, Uncle Clete,” she smiles, then giggles at his question.

“Maybe in your stomach. Pervis gave it to me as a present. He said it was from that baby you ate. The bone is so smooth. You can feel it, if you like.” She tilts her head for him to do so.

Cletus remembers “that baby he ate”. Bobbi Jo brought home all of the corpses from Jacob Grunewald’s haven after she slaughtered the now-deceased Tremere’s herd—an action that wound up being to Clan Giovannini’s net benefit, in the end, so no one was too mad. Marjorie made sure the children’s bodies didn’t go to waste.

One was a baby’s.

The Boggs were puzzled why Grunewald kept a baby among his herd—lots of effort to care for so little blood—but it was some of the most tender, succulent meat Cletus ever tasted. Marjorie was disgruntled that it could have tasted even better. Slaughtering long pig is like slaughtering any other livestock—if they die struggling and frightened, with adrenaline spiking their systems, they taste worse.

Jacob’s children died very, very frightened.

Marjorie wished the infant had died of SIDS. The presentation would have looked better, too. There’d have been fewer missing fewer pieces. But the Boggs chef did her best, and didn’t disappoint.

Teddy, meanwhile, is a figure cut in the same mold as Freddy. He’s a big, broad man in his early middle years, with looming shoulders, thick arms, and a stubble-lined face. Bluntly, he looks like a gorilla. The ghoul’s face looks like it’s rarely accustomed to doing anything but squinting, grunting, and glowering. He’s gone with a basic costumed for the party. Pinstriped suit and fedora. It works, though it doesn’t particularly stand out.

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“It’s goin’ good,” the mobster answers Cletus, his tone somewhat slow. As though uncertain whether the Giovannini is making fun at his expense—and knowing he’s powerless to do anything about it either way. “Haven’t had to bash in any heads for a while.”

Lucia giggles. “Oh, Teddy, you’re such a goombah.”

“Worse things to be,” says Catfish Freddy with a faint smirk.

Teddy just gives a grunt with that same vaguely uncertain look.

Last of all among the necromancers’ entourage is Lucia’s newest cancer-ridden favorite. Cletus literally overlooked him. He’s a bald kid around nine or ten years old who only stands four feet tall. He doesn’t wear a shirt and looks as pale as any century-dead vampire. A nasogastric tube hangs from his nose, though for what purpose outside of a hospital, Cletus cannot say. Most Giovannini are equally unable to say for what purpose Lucia keeps these children, and don’t even bother learning their names—they just call each of the kids “Cancro,” literally, “Cancer”. The boy gives Cletus a vague smile that seems to stare halfway through him.

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“Dylan’s gotten very good, you know,” says Lucia, as if the kid just said hello. She lowers her voice. “You know he can actually-”

“Not in public, Luchy. Lotta snoops here,” cuts in Vico.

Lucia hmphs.

Cletus: The Dunsirn-descended ex-grayback receives each of their replies in stride, weaving and responding as if returning a salvo back at a platoon of bluebellies.

“Well souiee!” he exclaims to the fellow don. “Haint be denyin’ dat jus’ dills ma pickle to be hearin’ bout ma Sugarbelle helpin’ Eddie’s paintin’.”

“And speakin’ o’ lil’ ol Miss Sugarbelle,” he adds, turning to Freddy and Tuccy, “I reckon it weren’t but a nite ago dat she and me’s was shootin’ the breeze bout yer bicycle doohicky, bout how fer yer anniversary, we’re fixin’ to give it a rite tune-up, so the resistance won’t be a’comin from yer flywheel, but a rite proper ghostie.”

“As da Rebs’ head coach like to be sayin’ whene’er he makes our boys take der laps, ‘No pain, no gain’. But who says it’s gotta be yer pain, rite?”

His fierce smile all but reflects the hunger, if not heat of his butane gaze.

After attending to the dead and half-dead couple’s response, Cletus’ gaze then settles to the youngest Giovannini. With her embrace, the taller man—or monster that loosely wears such trappings—accepts Lucia’s offer by tracing a single finger along the smooth fragments of baby skull. He then holds those fingers to his lips, his nostrils flaring slowly as he inhales, sucking in the scent of the devoured infant’s bones.

A perverse light glows in the monster’s eyes, perhaps indicating the savoring of a dark cannibalistic remembrance.

“Glad Pervis’ present rightchere came o’ somethin plumb peachy. Sometime dat boy makes me wanna slap ma mamma, and sometime he’s slicker than pig-snot on a radiator. But dat’s there them joys o’ parentin’.”

His blowtorch eyes flicker meaningfully between both Vico and Lucita before settling on ‘Cancro’ like a man inspecting a neighbor’s new car.

As part of that ‘inspection’, he halts just short of ‘kicking the tires’ before eventually looking the boy in the eyes. “Yerself ever done shot an assault rifle, kid, or drove a monster truck?”

GM: “Pain gotta come from somewhere, but who say it gotta come from you?” grins Catfish Freddy in agreement.

“Pervis gives the best presents,” declares Lucia.

“I don’t think it’s time yet,” says Cancro. His out-of-focus eyes don’t meet Cletus’, but remain level with Cletus’ torso. “It isn’t time yet. They wanted it to be time, but it wasn’t. I think they’re going to be left out but maybe they’re not. It’s bright. It’s so bright. Don’t go towards the light. Don’t go towards the light. It’ll come to you and that’s what they want.”

“He says stuff like that all the time,” says Lucia in seeming apology.

“No, I haven’t,” the kid tranquilly answers.

Cletus: At the semi-sensical portent and Lucia’s half-apology, Cletus just smiles.

“Kids these days done say the darndest things. Why, I recall lil’ Otis-Lyle was jibberin’ something fierce jus’ the other nite down at da Big Chief, all bout this itty bitty game on a NikNak phone he snatched from a trucker. Talkin’ bout Deep Dive this, EmEmOs dat, shrinkin’ respawn rates, and a bunch of stuff I reckon I’d be lyin’ if I done said I half understood.”

“His mawmaw, Thelma-Lou, done said the game was rite more addictive than Rhonda-Lynn’s heroine, so she wus wantin’ her ol’ man Clyde to take da boy to a monster truck rally and ‘git some fresh air’. But on account o’ me havin’ Clyde git the Blitzer Boys back in da saddle, I said I could take ’im to one real soon.”

Looking up at both Lucita and Vico, he then adds, “Maybe Dylan here might wanna come. Chaperones and all. After the rally, we’ll be havin’ a lil’ party at da Big House, with Franz, Callum, and Elizabeth too. I’ve got some napalm that Dylan, Otis-Lyle, lil’ Abner, and the other boys could play with. Also reckon we could be callin’ up some zombies, dress ‘em in Axis and Allies’ uniforms, and make ‘em play ’tag’ with vintage submachine guns. StG 44s, Schmeissers, Thompsons, STENs, and Models 38s. If y’all name ‘em, we’ve got ‘em. I reckon lil’ Lizzie would be happier than a tatter-chewin’ possum to share the Berettas and see some Genoan and Sicilian faces.”

GM: Cancro looks no comprehensive of the video game talk than any of the gathered Giovannini.

“Kids,” says Vico, shaking his head. “You don’t let the Cancros play those games, do you, Luchy?”

“No,” she says, “they’re addictive.”

Lucia gives a delighted giggle at Cletus’ description.

“Oh Clete, you come up with the best parties. We’ll be there! I bet Franz is gonna love that, stiffs in Nazi uniforms. Are there gonna be Italian soldiers too? I hope they win. Do you hope they win, Daddy?”

“Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, darling,” smiles Vico. “No, I’m gonna root for the Americans. Il Duce was no friend to ours. And even less of a friend to Freddy.”

“Fuck Mussolini,” concurs Catfish Freddy. “That bald bastard was the worst thing to ever happen to us back home.”

“Lucky Luciano helped out big with Operation Husky. We don’t bite the hand that feeds us either.”

Cletus: Clete’s smile grows even wider. “Yessiree, could’ve given Benito two nickels fer a dime, and he’d had thought he wus rich.”

“But speakin’ o’ coins,” Clete says, fishing in his pocket and producing a rusty nickel. “Freddy, I reckon dis is yers.”

Half-flashing, half-extending the coin, he relates:

“On the way down here, I git this call from Dewey-Bob. See, Dewey-Bob, he haint got nough sense to saddle a junebug, but he’s might sweet on his sister-cousin, Girlie-Ray. But Girlie-Ray won’t smoke his bone fer free, so he’s o’ da mind to find hisself some rite treasure in the swamp, lookin’ fer De Soto’s conquistador gold er somethin’ big nough to make Girlie-Ray his ferever. So he’s out in da bayou, combin’ it with his homemade metal detector, and he done gits all excited when it starts buzzin’, sparklin’, and fussin’ like one o’ Girlie-Ray’s vibrators. Diggin’ in the muck, though, all he turns up is a gnawed-on chunk of concrete. But his doohicky is still havin’ a hissy fit over it, so he sledges it open. Crack! Out pops some foot bones, shoe scraps, and dis nickel rightchere.”

Holding the coin a bit closer to catch the light, he continues, “So Dewey-Bob figured da Big House mighta had somethin’ to do with it, so after some fixin’s, I check dis coin here, and sure nough, it reckon I rite know dis nickel. Date was the first tip-off. ‘44, but the real giveaway came next. ’Member that Rothstein ghoul that caused a ruckus in ’62? Hersh Rothstein. Thought he was a real wiseguy, but he didn’t have the sense God done gave a rock. So as we were’s fittin’ him fer a new pair o’ concrete shoes, and he’s cryin’ and beggin’, Freddy righthere goes and takes out a nickel from his pocket. Dated ‘44. Minted four’ hunerd years from da Bite. Not too shabby. So Freddy makes a show of that, and says, ‘Okay, Rothstein, yer family’s into gamblin’, so let’s make a wager: I flip dis coin, and if you gets heads, you keep yours—but if not…‘. So this Hersh feller is all hoppin’. Fifty-fifty odds haint too bad, he reckons.”

“And y’all should have seen Hersh’s face when it done came up tails!”

Clete continues with a vicious smile, “But Freddy here, he says, ‘oh no, let’s go best out o’ three’, see, cus he’s a generous soul. And jus’ when the Rothstein stopped cryin’ to start hopin’ gain, Freddy flips the coin—and tails again!”

The Boggs patriarch holds up a gloved hand, “Wait, wait, and then, jus’ as the concrete starts to pour, Freddy shows him the coin real up close and all, front and back.”

A motion which Clete now replicates, slowly displaying both sides of the coin.

“No heads!”

“Trick coin, it wus, with Freddy jus’ reelin’ and watchin’ ‘im squirm and wriggle like a wee catfish thinkin’ he’s gonna escape.”

“And as Hersh slowly realizes what done happened—which took a mighty bit as he didn’t have too many lights on upstairs—Freddy puts the nickel right in Hersh’s loafer, saying, ‘Call me from the other side, you’s and yer mortacci tua!

“Ma boys reckon ol’ Hersch’s remains were done gobbled up by dem fishes and gators and like, wit his ‘boots’ washin’ up durin’ Katrina or Rita.”

Clete then flicks the coin to Freddy with a congenial if wicked smile.

“So, unless Hersh is gonna call collect, Freddy, I guess yer gittin’ to keep the change.”

GM: GM: Peals of laughter from all of the Giovannini answer Cletus’ story.

Catfish Freddy, grinning ear-to-ear, catches the coin in mid-air. “Heh heh heh. Best two of three. Heh. I was generous, wasn’t I, Tuccy?”

His sister-wife gives a cruel smile. “As generous as he deserved.”

Vico has a good laugh. “Idiota. Any Vegas man should’ve known they fix the odds.”

Teddy laughs harder. The ghoul doesn’t say anything witty. Just laughs. No doubt he’s glad to see someone else be the butt of a joke.

Lucia giggles from behind a raised hand.

“Oh Clete! You’re so funny.” She looks at her brother-in-blood. “Why’d you kill him, anyway?”

“’Cause he was a dumb fucking kike,” says Freddy.

“Got on too many people’s nerves,” Vico expounds. “Thought he was a mobster. He wasn’t.”

“His name isn’t Italian,” says Lucia.

“Yeah,” says Catfish Freddy. “Lotta kikes who are in with Cosa Nostra as associates.”

“Figured he’d be the next Meyer Lansky,” chuckles Vico. “Family mighta been trying to offload him onto us.”

“Time-honored way to dispose of idiots,” agrees Catfish Freddy.

“Did he leave a spirito?” Tuccy asks thoughtfully.

“Ooh,” smiles Lucia. “I bet the coin’s his fetter.”

Catfish Freddy gives the coin an equally thoughtful-seeming flip.

“Never gave me a call if he did.”

“Maybe he will now,” says Lucia. “I wonder if he’s wearing cement shoes? I’d love to see a spirito in cement shoes.”

Catfish Freddy grins and gives the double-sided coin another flip.

“We’ll owe it to Cletus if we get to. I’ll give Sugarbelle a call if Hersh shows, yeah?”

“Uncle Clete, too!” beams Lucia.

“Cletus too,” Vico smiles appreciatively, clearly pleased to see his childe happy.

Indeed, all of the present Giovannini look pleased.

Cletus has always been a family man.

View
Julius I, Chapter III
Yacht Sale

“Who catches your eye, Jules?”
Jade Kalani


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, PM

Support: The Cat’s Meow. World famous, if you believe the sign on the door. Jade hasn’t been around the world (though she’s done some traveling) so she can’t say for sure whether or not it’s actually world famous, but she supposes, so far as domains go, that maybe it’s a good thing. The Quarter already sees its share of interlopers and poachers during Mardi Gras—she doesn’t need them eyeing her club in particular.

Tonight it’s crowded. More than crowded, really. Saturday evening is prime party time, and this evening is no exception. Even the multiple bars that line the walls are no match for the press of bodies streaming in off the streets, and people wait three or four deep for their 32oz Hurricanes in plastic cups or Jello tooter shots (which Jade thinks are inherently messy considering the small opening and long body, and she’s seen plenty of drunk people attempt to stick their tongues into the little plastic tubes to get at the jello still clinging to the bottom—why don’t they just do normal shots?), while music blares from the speakers near the stage. The two drink minimum means there’s plenty of unaware vessels that don’t notice the predator in their midst.

Short. Young. Comely. No, perhaps not comely. Perhaps comely is too ordinary or too soft a word to describe the predator that stalks the night. Striking, maybe. Luscious. Bewitching. Desirable.

Desirable. That’s the one. Every inch of her is painted, sculpted perfection, from the shade of her shadow to the wing of her liner to the fresh coat of polish on her nails. Her dark hair is loosely curled and pulled back from her face, highlighting the dark lashes that frame her large eyes, the delicate hollow of neck and collarbone, the high cheekbones and sharp chin. Her tan skin is offset by the scarlet dress—if the strips of fabric that cling to her hips and bust but bare her sides with open cutouts could be called a dress—and a pair of nude stilettos add another few inches to her height.

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Standing room only by now. Or it would be for a mortal, but a dip of her head and a promise in her smile means that the boys who had occupied the table she’d wanted, the one upstairs that overlooks the stage, had freely offered it to her and gone off to find another place to enjoy their evening.

Two drink minimum, but there’s six in front of the predator now, and the empty plastic cups on the table are nearest the girl. A large black man with a smattering of tattoos peeking out from beneath a tight black tee occupies a seat at the table, and the other is taken by another black man. Not quite as muscular as the first, with a little more facial hair and padding around the middle. Not fat. But large. Probably more of a football player than a baseball player, that kind of look. His attention alternates between the two at the table, though the girl—the pretty one, remember?—has her eyes on the stage where a gaggle of women in sky-high heels and cat ears, one of whom wears a white tank top with the saying “Buy me a shot I’m tying the knot”, butcher that popular Journey song about a small town girl and a city boy.

Jade doesn’t mask her presence this evening. Her contact will no doubt be able to sniff her out as soon as he steps inside. A glance at her phone’s clock tells her that they have a solid three-quarters of an hour before Savoy’s court starts. Long enough for this little meeting if they don’t dawdle.

Julius: And her guest doesn’t dawdle. After all, the jazz musician knows how to stay on tempo.

Jules wades into the Cat’s Meow, an odd old whale amongst young, sleek sardines. Tonight, the knock-off king is dressed in what appears to be a a dark magenta velour tracksuit made by Gucci, a pre-release pair of Yeezy 700 V3 Dark Glow sneakers, Dior black-mask sunglasses, a Versace Palazzo empire bracelet watch, and a David Yurman dog-tag necklace with Pavé black diamonds, cognac diamonds, and color-change garnets.

Beyond such accoutrements, the Caitiff is unaccompanied, as he has left Tyzee and Dashonte to wait outside, idling in the latter’s supped-up T-bird.

Approaching the table, the undead jazzman considers that call doubly wise as he notes not only his host seated at the front-stage table, but that all three of that table’s seats are occupied. The black Caitiff, however, is used to metaphorically carving out his own seat at table of the All-Night Society. And tonight, he does so quite literally, as he makes his way to Jade’s table, only pausing long enough to snatch his own chair from a nearby table. That said chair was occupied doesn’t seem to bother Julius in the least bit, as if the chair and its former occupant weighed no more than a red solo cup. Moreover, when the seat’s prior occupant, a bridesmaids-hunting frat boy, spills onto the floor alongside his shattering Hurricane, Julius cuts off his flustered shout of shock and anger with a smooth dip of his sunglasses, flash of a hard smile, and his bullfrog-bass voice:

“You wuz jus’ ‘bout to offer me yo chair, bid deese dawls uh gud nite, an git yoself home now, ain’t dat rite?”

Julius doesn’t wait for the young man’s reply to his question. After all, it wasn’t really a question. Just like it’s no question whether the kine can resist his supernatural command. So undisturbed, the vampire finishes sauntering towards Jade’s table, plopping down his chair and himself to join his hostess, if not her hospitality.

“Lookin gud as always, Ms. Kalani. Scarlet suits you’s like uh pearl in uh ersta.”

Support: Julius is a hard sight to miss in a club like this. Particularly with that… getup. Her eyes follow him once she notices his appearance in the door, tracking him up the stairs to the second floor where her table juts up against the railing. Room enough for three, but leave it to Julius to bring his own chair over, even timing it perfectly while the singers belt out the chorus—joined by everyone watching who knows the lyrics—so that not a single stray glance cuts his way.

“Evenin’, Papa Juj.” L…“oo” sound in the center there, like jew, then a soft J at the end. A nickname on top of a nickname. And why not? The lick has enough of them, what’s another. She flashes a smile his way at the compliment, then moves her seat to the side to give him room at the table. It’s crowded with the four of them. The poor boys across from them look positively cramped.

“Mm. I was going to offer you mine and find another place to perch.” On a lap, perhaps. She’s seen on them often enough. Court starts soon. She’d missed it last week and doesn’t intend to repeat the behavior this week; she cuts to the heart of things.

“I’ve been thinking about your offer, Jules.”

Julius: ‘Papa Juj’ smiles at the nickname, as if hearing a hot, innovative trumpet note. Her mention of his offer sustains that smile like a piano’s foot pedal.

Notwithstanding, he lets the silence linger till she fills it.

Support: There’s nothing obvious in the way she does what she does. No snapping fingers. No flashing eyes. Not even a head tilt and smile. But as soon as Jade rises, moving her chair aside to free up some of that cramped space for the boys, and settles on Julius’ lap both black boys that accompanied her turn their eyes toward the stage, as if they can’t quite get enough of the bride-to-be and her entourage. The stools nearby hold plenty of bodies, but they, too, seem fixated on the music rather than the cute girl on the old man’s lap.

Even when the performers change, swapping to a young couple singing about summer love from that late 70’s musical, their attention stays on the stage. They ignore whatever it is that goes on between the two licks.

“I’d like to know who’s going to be coming and going from my space. So I don’t pick them up as a trespasser, you understand.” She flashes a casual smile over her shoulder at him.

Julius: Julius bristles at the unexpected contact. Not like a frat pledge having his first lap dance, but more like a tiger suddenly put in a tight cage with another. For all the Camarilla’s social pretenses, the Beast is ultimately a solitary predator. But as the Sindaco of Slidell might suggest, that predator is also cannibalistic.

Up close, Julius cannot help but smell the Toreador’s vitae as it courses through her arteries, veins, and sanguine-plump organs. Those are the ‘curves’ that sing to him, that arouse his lust—or more precisely bloodlust—and make it hard to concentrate. Which is probably why the social-savvy vampiress is saddling him. Unlike the full table, it’s a power move that catches him off-guard. It also impresses the hell out of him. None of which makes the subsequent negotiations any easier—for the Caitiff.

“Yeah, you… rite,” the clanless vampire lamely responds as he tries to force his thoughts away from how delicious the tantalizingly wrapped blood bag atop his lap would taste.

“Cain’t fault you’s fo’ axin.”

It takes some effort to keep his hands from squeezing her like a cherry snow cone, to crush her so he could suck out every. Last. Drop.

There’s some small measure of self-pride that he doesn’t next cough to clear an unbreathing throat.

“If you dink da trade is gud, I’ll introduce y’all rite an propuh as podnas. Tonite if we git da time, or after us skeetas are done makin dodo. F’sure ya gotta be knowin whoose a’comin into an outta yo part of da Quartuh. Dey’ll jus’ be wantin you’s to udderwise keep it mums. I dink I said ‘fo dat dis cat is uh public fren of Lawd Savoy, but der blood-daddy is uh tad… controllin. Tight lease an all dat jass. Cain’t fault a cap fo’ wantin der own stoop an zink to wrench off der hands widdout daddy-dearest watchin yo every step.”

Support: She’s a pretty enough package on his lap. Warm, too, with a heart that beats regularly and continues to pump that deliciously scented vitae through every inch of her body. Tiny. No doubt his hands would go right around her waist or neck or wherever it is he wants to squeeze.

“The yacht, the paperwork, the membership… I’ll send my boy here to check it out when we’re done, but I’m interested. I’ll meet your friend and play mum.”

“And how,” she asks idly, “did you come across his boat?”

Julius: It takes Julius half-a-heartbeat (though clearly not his own) to process the lapcat’s words. Looking away from Jade to ‘her boy’ reminds Julius of being a little boy trying to swim against the Tchefuncte’s current. He’s not entirely sure he looked at the right ‘boy’ before her riptide voice pulls him back to her.

Another half-heartbeat passes before Julius replies. Not with words, not at first, but rather with a hand shuffling into his pants. Perhaps the undead nymphomaniac is disappointed when Julius’ jostling only produces a business card.

The card is jet-black with equally dark but glossy lettering. To a kine, those letters would be nigh-impossible to read in the dim-lit Cat’s Meow, but Julius holds the card for Jade to clearly see an embossed image of stylized smoke in the shape of a serpent, next to which letters read:

Black Vyper Vaping, LLC.
302 Decatur Street | Office 420B


“Git yo bra to ax fo’ De’Lanice Gaines. She’s uh lawyer of mine who can git yo cap all da deets.”

“As fo’ how I done come by dat boat, da shoit answer is dollahs. Uh lotta dollahs. But da long answer, dawl, wud cost ya somedin.”

He doesn’t lick his lips at that last statement, but his tone might as well have drooled.

Support: Not even an absent fondle. Veronica’s childe certainly seems suited to the bloodline when she all but huffs at the produced card.

“Reg,” she says to one of the boys, ending whatever charm she’d placed on them to turn their attention to the stage. She plucks the card from Julius’ hand to slide into the large black palm waiting for it. “De’Lanice. Take your friend. Find me after.”

He knows where.

The men leave without a word, and it’s just Jade and her new friend at the table without them. She makes no motion to remove herself from his lap.

“Something like a favor,” she purrs, “or can I offer you a drink while we’re here?”

Julius: Papa Juj’s reply is as swift as it’s greedy:

“Some wud say uh drink is uh favor—at least if it’s da gawddamn rite kinda drink, f’true?”

Support: “Then it’s settled.” She lifts her hand in a lazy wave to encompass the club. “Who catches your eye, Jules?”

Julius: It’s no question of who’s caught his eye. She’s been reeling him this entire time: hook, line, and sinker. And she’s done it so skillfully, he can’t even complain. Instead, the hoary jazzman laughs lecherously:

“As if dat contest wusn’t rigged from da git-go.”

Support: Her smile sharpens.

“Here and now, Papa Juj, or do you prefer the… anticipation?” She shifts to look at him, trailing her fingertips down the Gucci velour.

Julius: Those fingertips elicit another dark, husky laugh.

“As a dimeback in college,” he says, slipping a cement-thick hand beneath one of her dress straps, “I told ma bras dat you’s don’t git no mo’ points fo’ savin uh touchdown till da fourth quartuh.”

He tenses then as if about to violently rip off her dress. She can tell that it would be easy for him, too. Like pulling apart cobweb.

“But being uh musician has learned me a ding or two ‘bout tempo. Timin an tension. Da slow-berlin heat. Make ’em beg fo’ da climax, an it makes da cool-down all da sweeter, no?”

As if punctuating that point, his one hands stops, then retreats from beneath the scarlet thread, only to snatch her own wandering hand. Rising suddenly, he allows her voluptuous body to slide down his much larger, velour-clad frame. Maintaining his vice-like grip, he raises her capillary-rich fingers to his lips.

“But dat jus ma opinion,” he adds, his lips parting into a fanged smile, “an ma mawmaw done learned me to always ax uh dawl fo’ hers.”

Support: Her breath hitches in her throat as color stains her cheeks. Real? A game? Maybe Julius appreciates a show either way.

Wide eyes gaze up at him from beneath long lashes—a head taller than her, even in heels—and there’s an answering flash of fang behind her slightly parted lips.

“Your momma was right, Jules. I’d hate to make you rush through things so we aren’t late. Let’s call it a celebratory sip after our deal goes through.”

Julius: Julius nods, but doesn’t let go. Not before kissing the tip of Jade’s index finger, the digit with the greatest bloodflow, courtesy of the radialis indicis artery and its thick spiderweb of sensitive capillaries. Julius’ kiss upon that digit’s tip doesn’t last long, but it’s forceful: a hurricane-strong sucking motion that threatens—or perhaps teases—to burst the finger’s capillaries and drain its artery straight through her pores.

But he doesn’t. Not here. Not now. And not for a lack of want.

Making that ample desire perfectly clear, he slowly releases her hand.

“Cain’t say I won’t be countin da clock til den. But I guess dat’s da point.”

He then glances down at matte black steel and gold-accented Versace timepiece, “An speakin of clocks an not wantin to be late to da party, I got one last thing I binlookin to run by you, boo.”

His bloodlust is far from cooled, but it’s no longer threatening to boil over with the lapdance over (for now). As such, the mogul returns to his more typical businessman mien.

“Last sec scoop I done heard from a lil’ birdie bout da party. Wuz one of dose boys yo street-racin cap?”

Support: The mention of racing doesn’t make her do more than lift one expertly shaped brow at the Caitiff.

“D’you need a little racer boy for somethin’, Papi?

Julius: “Something like dat, shug.” He pauses to scan the crowd as if checking for familiar faces or too-eager eavesdroppers. Spotting none—which doesn’t mean there aren’t any—he drapes a long arm over her in what might be a grandfatherly or conspiratorial gesture. The latter seems more likely when he begins to whisper:

“Don’t know if you’s evah dealt wid da Envoy Boggs. White as Uncle Rastus’ instant rice, but rich as da US Mint, dey say. He don’t always come to Lawd Savoy’s parties, but he’s comin to dis one. Wot’s mo’ portant is dat it’s bin 10 years past since he came an hosted uh game, giftin da winner wid uh vintage Maserati, uh ’60 Maserati 3500GT Vignale Spyder clean as uh whistle an worth half uh mil, easy.”

“Ma inside scoop just learned me dat he’s gonna do it gain tonite. Not a Maserati, but a racing car from da 20s. Winna gits da antique car. Dat’s a lotta dolluhs, dawl. Catch is, you only win it if yo driver can beat Ms. Larieux in uh street race at tonite’s party. Dat’s uh tall order, especially as not many caps got skillz drivin a century-old racin relic.”

“I ain’t got one of dem on ma tab rite now, an e’en if I did, I wudn’t be wantin to win. Don’t look gud for uh clanless to beat da lawd’s herald, no?”

Support: “Instead you’re tippin’ off your new boo. Well ain’t that somethin’.”

For half a heartbeat her lips flatten into a thin line.

“I s’pose I’ll have to bring someone who’s been around long enough to know how to handle something that old. Appreciate the heads up, Jules.”

She smiles at him in a way that suggests she’ll show him just how much she appreciates him later.

Julius: Julius’ smile returns like a golden sunrise. “Awrite, you did strike me like an appreciative soul, dawlin. Also, I’d rather you’s git da car an’ da glory dan uh lotta udder so-called frenz of our lawd. Bettah fo’ it to be uh Bourbon is all I’m sayin.”

He checks his likely knockoff watch again before adding, “Da party’s gonna start soon, so you give ol’ Papa Juj uh call if you be needin anything bout dis. Dolluhs, car, parts, specs, brain-juju, wotevah you need.”

Support: Jade hesitates a moment, then reaches out to touch Julius’ sleeve before he can turn to go. Her eyes search his face and she lets her mask slip for just an instant, showing the portrait of a young domitor concerned for her charges.

“He didn’t come home last night. Thought he was off with his lady friend, but it ain’t like him, Papa Juj. You think ’lotta people knew prior?” Hers is the only one that could give Mel a run for her money and everyone knows it. Who else wastes their blood on a racer?

Julius: The jazzman frowns at that confession. In fact, if he had two mouths, he’d be frowning with both. He thought his inside edge was exclusive, but does he really know? How would he know? He doesn’t, and that doubt causes his thoughts to play like an out-of-tune piano.

“Lady fren? Gawddamn, Jade, wot’s he doin wid uh lady fren sides you’s?”

He shakes his head and clenches a sousaphone-heavy fist.

“An no, I didn’t think udders knew, but I don’t rite know, not no mo’.”

He releases his arm, scanning the crowd again. “But if I knew you’s had a racing cap, den udders wud’ve too. So who’s da biggest comp, you dink? I don’t figure nobody’d off ya blood-boo jus’ to make damn sure Mél smokes da race. Dat squeeze don’t seem worth da juice.”

He scratches his sugar-white beard. “But maybe it ain’t bout Mél winnin, as much as makin f’sure you’s don’t. Anybody might ring dat kind of bell fo’ ya?”

Support: “Coulda been…”

She pauses.

“The Axles, maybe?”

“The Baron’s girl, that witchy one.”

“One of the Quarter rats… oh! The rats. We had a run in, I thought they’d gotten over it.”

A longer pause. Then, grudgingly, as if she doesn’t think her “little sister” has the balls,

“Ryllie.”

Julius: Julius nods. “Mmhmm, dat wud make mo’ sense den uh bucket o’ dollahs. Axles too. Da Anarchs got uh wonky ‘ship wid da Boggs. Yo sire an Mr. Boggs seem to git along fine, maybe gud. But Shep? Yo sis? Snaggin da car cud be dem givin da finger to dem. Or maybe da prince’s Anarchs or dat Baron mambo tryin’ to cause trouble tween Lawd Savoy’s allies, meanin’ turnin da Anarchs an da niggamancers.”

He scratches his jaw again, his eyes narrowing. “But you said a rat? Which rat?”

Support: “The one with the ape. Greasy.”

Julius: “Da nossie? He ain’t no rat him, no.”

Support: “Oh. That rat. The one with the kids.”

Julius: “Gerald an’ Geraldine,” Jules huffs, as if finding the names’ similarity an idle joke not worth telling. “But dat kid an’ her marrain, I jus’ don’t see it. Doubt dey got da stones.”

“But you said yo boy had a lady fren?”

But he waves away the question.

“Ain’t none of us got time fo’ 20 questions now. So whatcha gonna do?”

Support: “Find a replacement. Win. Then find my boy.”

Julius: Julius’ highbeam smile returns. “Dat’s da jass I like to lissen to. How can I help?”

Support: “I’ve got the car. I just need a body to put in it.” She spares a glance at his watch, though its face is upside down to her. “But you said you ain’t got a driver on speed dial, Jules.”

Finally, she smiles.

“Luckily, I know a guy. I’m gonna take off. I’ll let you know if I need somethin’, Papi.

Jade rises to the very tips of her toes to plant a kiss on his cheek. She winks. Then she’s gone, slipping through the crowd with a swagger in her step that suggests she’s not worried about the race. Not at all.

Julius: Getting to watch the voluptuous morsel swagger away dims some of the sting of her leaving.

“Gawd,” Julius exclaims to nobody in particular,

“Uh cap could git mighty used to binlookin at dat one.”

View
Julius I, Chapter II
Game of Chance

“You’ll get your lucky streak, sooner or later.”
Marcel Guilbeau


Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM

GM: The New Orleans Museum of Art is an imposing white rectangular structure whose entrance is supported by four Corinthian pillars. It’s located at the end of a tree-lined avenue surrounded by lagoons and majestic oaks. The neoclassical building feels inspired by ancient Greece, but sufficiently modified to give a subtropical appearance.

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Inside, the museum has a magnificent permanent collection of almost 40,000 art objects spanning 5,000 years of art, including the Italian Renaissance to the modern era. The collection, noted for its extraordinary strengths in French and American art, photography, glass, and African and Japanese works, continues to grow. Its furniture collection includes important examples of 18th and 19th century American furniture and a small group of exquisite 18th century French pieces. Highlights include The Rosemonde E. and Emile Kuntz Rooms, exhibiting choice examples of America’s fine and decorative arts heritage in New Orleans. Its collection of European and American works includes works by Degas, Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Pissarro, Rodin, Braque, Dufy, Miró, Jackson Pollock, Mary Cassatt, and Georgia O’Keeffe. The museum features a comprehensive survey of French art, including several important works painted by the French Impressionist Edgar Degas during his time living with his mother’s family in New Orleans between 1871 and 1872.

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Among the permanent exhibition is a survey of local Louisiana artists, as well as other American artists. The museum also features a significant collection of art photography with over 12,000 works from the beginnings of photography to the present. Other holdings include collections of glass, ceramics, portrait miniatures, Native American Art, Central American art from pre-Columbian and Spanish eras, Chinese ceramics, Japanese painting, Indian sculpture and folk arts from Africa, Indonesia, and the South Pacific.

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And like any place of value and beauty, it cannot help but call Caine’s children.

They cannot do aught but seek to claim it.

Caine’s damned children descend upon the museum in droves, like carrion flies drawn to a corpse. Some hide their natures underneath bespoke suits, haute couture gowns, and fashions so cutting that they would hardly seem to need fangs with which to feed. Other Kindred revel in their sinful natures, adorning their eternally young and nubile bodies in the most head-turning extremities of dark couture: dresses made of knives, jackets constructed of barbed wire, and shining black PVC garments that cater to the wildest fetish. Others simply don’t bother dressing up: some wear leather jackets, torn hoodies, and denim jeans. The especially slovenly and monstrous-looking (or simply pathetic) garb themselves in little more than moldering rags and the dirtiest, dumpster-scavenged grunge fashions.

They flaunt their ownership of the museum and its treasures.

Here, they may dress and comport themselves as they like.

Here, the Masquerade falls away.

Here, any mortal to trespass the museum’s confines will enter a nightmare world they may never leave.

It pleases the Damned to claim such a place, to make it so totally theirs. To carve out their little gilded piece of eternity, just for a night, and proclaim, ‘here, we rule.’

Gus Elgin stands before the crowd of Kindred gathered in the museum’s entrance hall, an almost all-white affair dominated by Corinthian pillars, a sweeping central staircase, potted palms, and assorted works of art previewing the ones contained further in. The Nosferatu master of elysium is a stunted creature with a rounded, crushed-in head—crushed in by the same streetcar he operated during his mortal life, and the origin of his nickname ‘Gutterball.’ His block-like nose and pudgy jowls remind people of a bulldog’s, and his large frame hovers in a nebulous area between fat and muscled, like a retired prizefighter who’s spent too many hours channel-surfing and guzzling beer on the couch, but still hasn’t completely let himself go. He stands a full head below somewhat tall men, which together with his girth and triangular-shaped frame, make him seem built like a dwarf—short and stout. He’s dressed in a leather jacket, black pair of slacks, and plain shoes—forgettable and unobtrusive clothes amidst the sea of shark-like fashions. A rosary ending in a lance rather than crucifix dangles from his neck.

Beside him, but over foot taller than him (and over a head taller than most other men), stands Philip Maldonato. The seneschal’s frame is slender and his skin dusky and smooth, with only the merest hint of the wrinkles of age around his deep-set almond eyes. Tonight, without the need to hide his true self before mortalkind, he wears a galabiyya and almaizar: traditional gray Arabic men’s robes with a shoulder scarf and head covering.

Whispers abuzz among the crowd of Kindred. There’s talk of vanished licks, snatched up by the Guard de Ville on no apparent pretext—licks like Sterling and Tina Baker, some of them chosen from among Vidal’s enemies, others from friendly factions.

And the bishop. Gone now for so many nights. Incommunicado.

This bodes ill.

Yet most such rumor-mongers number among the young, and their elders swiftly shush them. Elysium is a place of reflection, discourse, and contemplation—not a gossip house. Gus Elgin smiles faintly and adds his own calm voice to the discourse, humbling requesting that the gathered Kindred lend him their attentions.

He begins, as ever, with a brief prayer to Longinus. Most of the gathered Kindred silently bow their heads. The Nosferatu then announces the time and location of next week’s Elysium Primo—a practice done, all of the attendees know, to discourage tardiness. Anyone who arrives late must beg the information from another vampire. Rarely is their kind charitable.

The harpies are there. Veronica. Katherine. Marguerite. Adelais. Sundown. Harlequin. All of their hangs-on, including Elyse.

Veronica wears a ‘dress’ made out of strategically placed scarlet feathers, each one seemingly dipped in blood, that reveal more than they hide. Rows of talons are covetously positioned around her half-visible breasts and womanhood. Her strappy high heels are made from mummified bird feet. Most prominently of all, however, a full set of wings made from the same red feathers unfurls from her back. She looks like a bird of prey almost ready to take flight. A too-familiar faint sneer rests upon her face.

It’s directed at the newcomers.

Or at least one of them.

He’s a tall and young-looking African-American man with good posture and a clean-shaven face dressed in a crisp navy suit and leather shoes. Julius hasn’t ever seen him before.

The second newcomer, though, Julius recalls from John Harley Matheson’s trial. The female ‘prosecutor.’

She’s beautiful, if one judges the symmetry of her features and he fullness and richness of her long brown hair. But her eyes are dark cool, her features unsmiling, and her skin is deathly pale. She does not look as if she has smiled in a very long time. She’s dressed in a conservative black evening gown that gives away little of who she is.

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She, though, does not stand alone, but near Marcel Guilbeau and Pierpont McGinn.

Many eyes rests upon the newcomers. They are natural subjects for gossip. Whereas the woman simply stares ahead unconcernedly, the lone man meets those eyes and returns a few with faint nods and professional smiles.

He feels green.

Julius: Less green—but some would say no less fun—is the attending Caitiff, Julius B. Baudoin. In contrast to Jade and Gui’s fashionably late, head-turning entrance, Papa Bleu was one of the very first Kindred to arrive at tonight’s gathering. Nominally a Sanctified rather than Unconquered, Julius has, particularly since Katrina, largely adopted the byzantine etiquette of the Invictus, including those pertaining to precedence—which, among other things, means showing up before all of the formally accepted Unconquered. It also means he continues to stand, attentive and otherwise silent as his ‘betters’ speak—which for the clanless jazzman, includes almost all in attendance, and most definitely the currently officiating Master Elgin.

Tonight, like most Elysia, the gorilla-girthed man is dressed in a 3-piece suit. This one’s an Ermenegildo Zegna that would easily fetch several thousand dollars—assuming it’s real, which it certainly looks to be, but which means nothing given its owner is a counterfeit king. Either way, the exceptionally made suit has an understated elegance, especially against the backdrop of Elysium’s more avant garde fashions. Still, its striated black pattern gives the suit an almost raven-like iridescence. Perhaps as a nod to his alleged sire’s current avian-inspired dress? Perhaps.

His dress shirt, however, is the color of sweet corn, accented with a slightly loose white tie adorned with gilded fleurs-de-lis. The tie’s former color matches Papa Juju’s beignet-powdered hair, while the latter matches his golden Bvlgari sunglasses and Patek Philippe timepiece that may or may not be knockoffs.

These are complimented by his shoes, a pair of burnished yellow alligator loafers allegedly by Mauri’s designer brand. Those shoes silently tap out a beat, as do Julius’ idle hands which tonight do not heft a musical instrument (as Juju Bleu and the Hawt Licks only play inside the Quarter), but rather a box gift-wrapped in a way that uncannily resembles a slice of angel food cake.

The Caitiff’s immediate company straddles that of the ‘fresh faces’ in tonight’s Elysium. Namely, he stands neither alone like the unknown newcomer nor surrounded like Cingolai by ex- and would-be princes. Instead, Julius has at his side the Sabbat-driven Canadian transplant, Laura Melton.

GM: Julius’ ‘krewemate’ is a short Caucasian woman in seemingly her early 20s with a heavily freckled face, pug nose, and unruly dark hair she keeps too short to get in the way but long enough to let it run a little wild. Large gold hoops dangle from her ears. The Gangrel is one of the fashionistas whose approach can be summed up as ‘not trying.’ She’s dressed in torn and shredded clothes that look like she was attacked by a wild animal. They amply display her supple curves, smooth stomach, and the undersides of her breasts—and more, if one views them at the right angle. She walks barefoot.

Julius’ earlier entrance is noticed by rather fewer eyes than Jade’s later one—but many of those Kindred who do notice Julius have the same look he’s so accustomed to receiving. The one that says, ‘he should be grateful he’s allowed here.’ It’s a look that says his carefully considered fashions and all the effort he puts into them are merely so much polish over copper in a room full of gold—but they’ll allow it here, in their magnanimity.

It’s a look he’s seen since his very first nights.

And perhaps he wonders now, though he certainly has wondered before: how many more nights will he see that look? A few more decades? A century? Several?

Forever?

When will tolerance become respect?

Gus Elgin, meanwhile, enumerates what exhibitions the museum is currently showcasing, and what rooms they may be found in. They include Ancestors in Stone, whose theme is West African ancestor worship; Arte Sacra: Roman Catholic Art from Portuguese India; NEW at NOMA: Recent Acquisitions in Contemporary Art; Marta Rodriguez Maleck: Morir es Vivir (“To Die Is to Live”), a sound and light installation that weaves together voices from across the New Orleans community; and A Brief History of Photography and Transmission.

The master of elysium will conduct ‘tours’ of these exhibitions at fixed times throughout the evening, and enumerates these times. Present Kindred are free to attend any number of these, to peruse the museum’s permanent collections on their own, or both.

“I would be remiss, too, not to include the sculpture garden,” Gus Elgin smiles. It’s located just outside the museum and features more than 90 works on a picturesque trail through City Park. It, too, is considered Elysium.

Elgin closes with a brief final prayer and declares the evening’s Elysium Primo has begun. Kindred cliques begin to file off throughout the museum. Some walks outside to view the sculpture garden. Others move to accompany the Nosferatu on his first tour.

Other Kindred, however, stay behind to watch when the newcomer approaches Philip Maldonato and declares,

“Your Majesty, my name is James Thibodeaux. I am here to present myself before you.”

Smirks flash and titters sound across viewing fanged faces.

“You address me erroneously, Mr. Thibodeaux. I am not a prince,” Maldonato answers.

Julius: Julius for his part, remains behind, his face hard at the newcomer’s blunder. It’s not his place to guffaw—but perhaps he inwardly smiles. After all, condescending tolerance is a step higher than open derision. And for one who’s death involved by lynched by a mob, tolerance presently contents the Caitiff.

As for the future, who knows when contentment might lose its shine.

A few more decades? A century? Several?

But not forever.

That much is sure.

Also, there’s a wide gulf that divides contentment from satisfaction. Seeking the latter, Julius scans the room, looking to see if Duval is still present.

GM: Laura smirks besides Julius and whispers, “What an idiot.”

“Too bad Arte’s not here.”

Duval is present, standing alongside Harlequin and Elyse. She isn’t laughing or sneering like some of the other Kindred, but her pale face shows little sympathy too.

Mr. Thibodeux looks caught off-guard at the seneschal’s reply. “My apologies, sir. I heard the prince would be the tallest man here. Can you direct me to Prince Vidal?”

There’s more smirks and snickers at his words.

Julius: Watching the scene, Julius whispers back to his krewemate. “All erstas cain’t ’ave pearls, dawlin.” Still, a smile finally teases his powdered goatee as he adds, “But dat don’t mean dey cain’t be cooked rite into something gud.”

GM: The Gangrel grins. “They’re gonna fucking eat this guy.”

“I cannot, Mr. Thibodeux,” Maldonato answers the newcomer without elaboration.

“But whether foreknowledge or serendipity has led you before me, I am the correct Kindred to present yourself to.”

Julius: Keeping his sunglassess-hid eyes on the seneschal and newcomer, Julius whispers back to the Gangrel, “Ain’t gonna bet on uh diff’rent pony in dat race, hon, but if dey eat dere dinnuh an’ leave any ‘o him left, maybe we’s can make him woik to da Lord of da Quartuh’s favor.”

“From wot you’s told me ‘bout dem Sabbat, e’en shovelheads have der uses.”

GM: Laura nods. “Think we should try to keep them from eating…. all of him?”

Julius: “Maybe dat,” he says, “but let’s lissen ‘ere uh lil mo’.”

GM: Thibodeux just nods at the seneschal’s words and goes on, “My name is James Thibodeux of Clan Gangrel. I was born in New Orleans, served abroad in the Navy as a nuclear electrician, and received an honorable discharge. I’d like to return to the city I was born, because I heard it’s going to need a new prince. I’d like to serve my city, work my way through the ranks, and show I’ve got what it takes.”

Julius: Julius all but winces at the clusterfuck exploding before his eyes. He mouths a whistle, then whispers to Laura, “Ne’ermind, dat ship done sunk ‘fo it e’en got a cap’.

GM: Elysium’s looks and whispers aren’t as unkind as they were before.

They are much worse.

Thibodeux seems to notice this time, if only by volume alone. A frown faintly creases his face, but he doesn’t remove his eyes from the seneschal.

Laura laughs with her mouth open at Julius’ words.

“Wow.”

“Not even shovelhead material, you think?”

Julius: Julius watches a little. Perhaps he wants to witness the terminus of Thibodeux’s implosion. Or perhaps he’s waiting for a better opportunity to deliver his package. Perhaps both.

GM: Maldonato’s face could be carved from wood. The severity of his gaze bears down on the newcomer like an anvil. The focused stare of a Cainite elder is no small thing to weather, and Thibodeux visibly flinches backwards—but doesn’t dare tear his eyes away.

“You have three nights to arrange your departure from New Orleans, Mr. Thibodeux,” the seneschal intones gravely.

The Gangrel gives a slow, silent nod.

Julius: Julius watches the exchange like an eye-deep gator in a bayou. Still. Patient. Waiting for currents to shift, for prey to come just a little closer.

GM: Subdued laughter sounds from Kindred spectators as Maldonato turns his back upon the newcomer and proceeds deeper into the museum.

Julius doesn’t wait for long. Thibodeux seems to know enough to avoid the harpies. He passes by Julius still in somewhat of a daze.

Julius: “Tree nights was long ‘nough fo’ Jesus to die an’ come back from da cross,” Julius clucks at the passing Gangrel, then adds with a softer whisper that might be part jibe or part invitation, “So wot you’s gonna do wit yo tree-day leave, sailor bo’?”

GM: “Guy who ordered him dead got a bad end, too,” adds Laura.

Julius: Julius smiles at that, then adds, “Wot wuz yo’ ship?”

“As fo’ me, I did most my time on uh cutter, Ol’ Minnetonka. She wuz one o’ dem eidy-doo footers.”

GM: “Last one was the Columbia,” says James, looking a little more at ease over the subject matter.

“The Minnetonka? Wasn’t that in… Vietnam?”

Julius: Julius somehow smiles wider, and begins walking, silently motioning Laura to flank James’ other side. Away from the other sharks that scent blood. “Bingo, git dis dawg uh bone,” he says with a light chuckle, before giving his krewemate a wink, “Maybe dis ’ere ersta does have uh pearl.”

Turning back to James, he adds, “Columbia. Dat’s uh… sub or uh cruiser?”

GM: “Sailor boys,” Laura smiles, contently following along.

Many, many other sharks scent blood, if the following stares anything to go by. Some more obviously than others.

But for now, they watch.

“Cruiser,” says James. “It’s in the Seventh Fleet.”

“You were in ‘Nam, though? Wasn’t that… when the Coast Guard actually got deployed?”

Julius: “Yessir, Long Blue Line all da way in Nam.”

And then as if struck by an idle curiosity, he adds, “Thibodeux. Dat’s uh mighty fine name. Where’s yamamma’n’em from ‘ere in N’walins?” On da Wes’ Bank, Backatown?"

GM: “Thanks,” James smiles. “And neither, actually, I grew up in the Upper Ninth. Could see all the ships around the canal.”

“You must have figured that would be a good career, then,” Laura nods. “Did that help with the homesickness when you were away?”

“They weren’t the same kinds of ships, but it did, yeah. I already knew ships.”

Julius: “Ah, da Nint,” Julius says, as if James has solved some great puzzle. If they were kine, this would be the point where he’d but his long arm around James’ shoulder in a paternal grip. But they aren’t kine, and so he doesn’t. Still, his voice takes on a quiet mien, as if letting James in on a secret:

“Lissen ‘ere, Mr. Thibodeux. I cain’t say wot ya ‘eard f’sure, but dis is da gospel truth. Folks like us aren’t much liked by da prince and his Fronatown frenz. Uptown’s still where dey got all dem shoits wid da lil’ gators on ‘em, an’ everyone has 59 rows o’ teeth. But dem teeth ain’t fo’ smilin’, not da friendly kind, no.”

“I ain’t lyin’ ta ya now, jus’ like it’s true dat da prince an’ his frenz ain’t got no love fo’ Gangrel,” he adds before jutting his head to his krewemate, “Ain’t dat rite, boo?”

GM: “We don’t have it as bad as the sewer rats,” Laura nods, “but we don’t even have our own primogen.”

“Even the sewer rats have a primogen.”

James looks slowly between the two. “Ah, so… this is more of the same Uptown bullshit.”

Julius: Julius’ leather balloon cheeks puff up, then blow out a whistle that lowers in pitch before turning into a gravely ‘boom’.

“Shootin’ straight as a guided missile. Mo’ of da same, yessir. Yep, da primogen was off’d, an’ da prince blamed it on yo clan’s whip, had him off’d, and ain’t never seen fit to allow ‘nuther. But da smart folks know he wus framed, the whip dat is. Now, Laura—dat’s dis dawl ’ere—she was real close to da primogen, so she knows da real culprit.”

Julius waits to see his ‘fish’ bites the bait.

GM: Laura smiles obligingly, her eyes briefly scanning the nearby faces. More than a few other Kindred are attentively watching the ongoing ‘entertainment.’

The other ‘Gangrel’ leans in close and whispers into James’ ear,

“It was the prince.”

James’ brow bunches. His mouth doesn’t fall open, but it opens. His expression looks fairly outraged as it cuts back to Julius.

“She’s kidding.”

Julius: “A little—,” Julius says, shooting Laura a lightly chiding look if not quizzical brow, “—which wus none too nice.”

“Nah, Laura’s long told me dat da real culprit is dis cat who calls hisself da Baron, Baron Cimitière. His krewe wus behind it, as his right hand cap, or dawl to be precise, is dis Gangrel, uh Lidia Kendall, by da Nint, see? Da Baron probably wants her by da Cabildo, wot we ’ere call da primogen council.”

Throughout the exchange, Julius leads the trio further away from the spectators, subtly seeking a spot more suiting a conspiracy.

GM: Laura smiles breezily.

“Sorry. Couldn’t resist.”

“Julius is right, though. Kendall’s the oldest Gangrel after Meadows, see, who probably wouldn’t want the seat. So that puts her in line, if the Baron gets his way. She and him are real tight.”

James looks a bit confused at the purpose of the ‘joke,’ but frowns, “Okay. So the Baron killed the primogen. Why hasn’t the prince done anything?”

Christopher Guilbeau and Amaryllis DeCuir happen to follow in the same direction as the three.

Julius: Julius gives a shrug, “As I dun said, da prince don’t seem to care much fo’ Gangrel, ‘specially dose dat ain’t from Uptown an’ da like. But dere is somebody who does care, ain’t dat rite, boo?” The question is clearly aimed at Laura—whom he hopes provides the ‘right’ answer this time.

GM: “There sure is,” Laura smiles back. “He’s not an Uptown man himself, not really—prince won’t even let him in to that part of the city.”

“The prince does that?” asks James.

Laura’s eyebrows don’t raise. “Sure does, handsome. Prince decides who gets to go where—and he don’t much like licks who stray outside their lane. You’re not from Uptown, you best stay outside of Uptown.”

“Our man included.”

“His name’s Antoine Savoy. He runs the French Quarter.”

Julius: “Lawd of da Quartuh, dat’s ‘im. Nicest Creole in all da Crescent City. Fren’ of da Gangrel too. Like Laura ‘ere, who ain’t from round ‘ere, but also folks like Roxy Adrieux, who wus born an’ raised in N’walins. He’s jus’ like da Quartuh, ‘cepts all kinds, frenz to both po’ an’ rich; crackers, niggers, an’ gooks, and throws da best God-damned parties in N’walins and nort of anywhere.”

Julius continues strolling while giving his car salesman pitch, “An’ unlike da prince, who only likes Catlicks, or da Baron who only ‘cepts folks dat are into gris-gris, Lord Savoy, he lets folks pick der own fait. Catlick, Voodoo, Invictus, e’en Anarchs. City’s got mo’ den a few Anarchs, but most and mo’ have joined Lord Savoy, ‘specially after one of da prince’s Uptown elder fren wus drinkin’ young licks fo’ dinnuh, and supposedly mind-fuckin’ so dey didn’t ’member.”

“Why, Amaryllis ’ere—,” he says, gesturing casually at the following Toreador, with a volume clearly loud enough for the two Anarchs to hear, “-wus one of dem, allegedly, might e’en still be, according to her blood-mama, a harpy and new fren of Savoy.”

“But I can see dey’re comin’ to recruit yo ass to da Anarchs, cap, or what’s left of dem dat still kisses da prince’s ring. So we’ll let dem,” he says, making a sauntering backstep as if permitting the other Kindred to approach, before slipping down his glasses to give James look eye-to-eye, “But jus’ mind wot we told ya about who’s frenz with da Uptowners, and who ain’t wit da Gangrels.”

Julius: Still hefting the wrapped box, Julius smoothly reaches into his suit to flourish a business card for the Evergreen Planatation’s jazz club. “But if you wanna see fo’ yoself, swing by dis address, ‘morrow night fo’ one of Savoy’s parties. I’ll introduce you an’ all, so no… slips like you had tonight.”

“After all, you got tree nights—and if you play yo cards right, maybe mo’,” he adds with a parting wink.

GM: The sales pitch rolls from Julius’ glib tongue like notes from a well-maintained trombone. His audience can do naught but follow along—one seemingly wholly enspelled by the music, the other in conscious appreciation of that music’s enspelling quality.

James only looks away to look at Amaryllis, who pretends to be talking with Christopher. He frowns at her.

“Damn,” says James when the ‘music’ finishes. “I’d heard a thing about the masked city in New Orleans, but I didn’t have any idea about all of… that. I figured being vampires made Uptown and Back o’ Town moot.”

He looks at the card and tucks it into his jacket’s inner pocket.

“And I was going to ask, yeah,” says James. “That… other Kindred seemed pretty serious about only three nights.”

“Philip Maldonato,” supplies Laura. “He’s the seneschal.”

She runs a hand along James’ shoulder and winks.

“All laws got loopholes, handsome. You worry about three nights in three nights. I might not be from here, but I know: nothing is difficult here, unless it has to be. Ain’t that right, Jules?”

Julius: “Dey don’t call it da Big Easy fo’ nuttin,” the Caitiff replies with a hearty laugh that can’t help but flash his fangs.

“Hope to see you’s by the club ‘morrow, Mr. Thibodeux—an’ if you do, tell ’em Papa Juju sent ya.”

GM: “Papa Juju,” repeats James. “I think I’ll do just that.” He extends a hand for the Caitiff to shake.

The two Anarchs continue to act like they’re only talking among themselves.

Julius: Julius returns it with a bass-drum shake of his own.

GM: James’ grip is firm, but has nothing on the quarterback turned decades-old Caitiff.

“That’s some grip,” he remarks, eyebrows raised.

He turns to Laura after Julius lets go. “And y-”

“I’m Laura. Want to fuck?”

She looks him over with an appreciative smile.

James raises his eyebrows, then says,

“Okay.”

Laura’s smile widens. She gives him a beckoning look, then heads outdoors to the sculpture garden. He follows after.

Julius: Julius laughs with a prurient grin. “Yo dink ma grip is tight, jus’ wait till you feel hers.” He then smoothly pushes his glasses back up, before returning the way the trio came, so his path crosses right by the young Anarchs. As he and Laura do so, Julius widely smiles at the Anarchs, as if he’s a Creole Kris Kringle delivering a present. “Course, you’s two is also invited. Always got an invitation waitin’ fo’ y’all by da Quartuh. I know yo mama, Ms. DeCuir, wud be jus’ peaches an’ cream to see y’all, as would Shep an’ da rest of da Anarchs dere.”

“Either way, you’s lookin’ as fine as Friday, Ms. DeCuir—as usual.”

Glancing at the ex-prince’s ex-scion, he adds, “Mr. Guilbeau, hope yo family’s doin’ well.”

GM: The tall, blond-haired, broad-shouldered, and handsome Ventrue just gives the Caitiff an aloof and faintly contemptuous look. Like ‘the help’ at a posh hotel is trying to start a conversation with him.

“Funny,” says Amaryllis. She’s a lovely-faced and dark-skinned young woman with long hair and suggestive curves. Let it not be said her own sire would Embrace a 50-plus old man.

She looks his clothes up and down.

“So how many of those are knockoffs?”

Julius: Except some do say that her sire embraced a 50-plus old man. Namely the one standing before her right now.

Nevertheless, Julius flashes a congenial smile: “If you’s gotta ask, Ms. Amaryllis, den it means I don’t wear ‘em cuz I cain’t afford da real thang. Some of us jus’ love da Masquerade a lil’ mo’ den others. Foolin’ an’ farce. In da end, we all wear masks, some jus’ not on our faces. Like yo mama’s wings tonight, or Mr. Guilbeau pretendin’ to be an Anarch cus his daddy don’t need him ‘board da Alystra. Den ’gain, I lots of folks dink his high-clan talents are wasted dere too. Why, I coulda swore Mr. Gui wus jus’ talkin’ bout dat da udder day, how he could see Mr. Guilbeau finally gittin’ to shine wid da High Rollers.” He shrugs, “But wot da hell I know? I’m jus’ a po’ ass clanless.”

At that half-truth, his smiles returns four-fold. And just like his clothes, that smile might be the genuine article or just an uncannily convincing mask.

He then dances away, leaving that mystery for them to ponder. Also, the Caitiff knows it’s best not to linger amongst lions without your own pride, especially when you’re a Caitiff.

GM: Christopher steps in front of him.

He’s a big man. Thick muscles on top of his already tall and wide frame.

The Ventrue’s expression is still disdainful, but it’s no longer a cool disdain.

“I challenge you, trash.

His voice is loud. Numerous nearby Kindred swivel their heads.

“Dueling Oak.”

“After Elysium.”

Christopher doesn’t quite smile. Or anything even close to it. But it feels like someone else could, when he says,

“Or you can apologize for those words.”

Julius: Julius’ smile thins, as do his gator-red eyes behind his shades. The dimeback sizes up his competition across the scrimmage line. Christopher’s a touch taller, but Julius has the longer reach and bulkier frame. Neither is a stranger to fistfighting, nor is either a true master. Christopher’s blood is of princely lineage, but the Caitiff—likely due to his longer Requiem—has better honed his Cainite gifts. Luck would tip the scales, but Julius knows the odds—the real ones—would be in his favor. Yet, as Vũng Rô Bay had taught him, you can win a fight but lose the war.

Then again, not all battles are fought with fists.

As such, the congenial mien doesn’t entirely leave Julius’ face. He does pause, though, to allow the crowd to clearly turn and watch the show. Then he replies, his voice clear and sharp as a trumpet:

“An’ which woids were dose? When I called myself po’? Okay, I ‘pologize fo’ lyin’. I ain’t po’. I’m rich, actually, got millions that I earned wid my own knuckles an’ brains. No handouts from daddy or such.”

“Or wus it when I said you’s had high-clan talents? Dat be a shame to apologize fo’ dat, cuz it’s gottah be true. How could it not, wot wid you being childe of His Grace, da Most Marvelous Marcel Guilbeau, Duke of Baton Rouge, Interpreter and Librettist? I an’ udders look fo’ward to seein’ great dings from you’s.”

“An’ surely you cain’t be sayin’ I should apologize fo’ saying His Grace needs you’s or any other neonate to run the Alysta? Why, he wus a prince, an’ uh great one of uh great city, an’ surely will be once more! He’s a pillar of da Invictus and Camarilla, an’ a delight to dis city. So I’ll not apologize fo’ dat, for dat would be besmirchin’ his great dignitas—an’ not I no’ nobody else should dare do such uh thing, for dat would make one lower den trash.”

Julius then waits for the Ventrue’s answer—and he is no longer smiling.

GM: Elysium watches avidly.

A duel can only end in one of two ways: one Kindred wins, the other loses.

Easy path to glory, at someone else’s expense. One bridge forward and another bridge burned.

So Julius ripostes.

Dig becomes flattery. Slight becomes praise—and Christopher finds himself disarmed of his own weapon.

He quickly raises a shield to fend off the Caitiff’s advance.

“Hmph. I suppose you didn’t know what you were saying,” he declares loftily, in a somewhat bored tone. Like he’s doing Julius a favor.

“You should be more careful how you say things, though. You could offend somebody.”

Yet, though such words may salve the Ventrue’s pride, and save some measure of face, there is little of Julius’ same grace or cleverness in them—and few of Elysium’s ever-watchful eyes can deny that the Caitiff’s words were chosen with great care.

Julius: Julius’ smile returns like an encore. Strong. Hot. Confident. Far more subtle, though, is how he waits for Christopher to move first. Perhaps he’s being polite—after all, shouldn’t the “trash” defer and wait for the blue blood? Perhaps. But the reality is that it means that Christopher is the one to physically back away, and thus back down. It’s a subtle chord, but it harmonizes well with the melody of their verbal exchange.

He doesn’t push it further, though. Some crowds like ‘unnecessary roughness’, but refs don’t. And in the Camarilla, the refs are dirty as the Ninth Ward’s sewers. Maybe dirtier.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM

Julius: Julius can’t help but nod and smile as he passes through the crowd, even as he knows each and every one of them would’ve gladly lapped up his blood if he had lost. Then again, a musician’s audience is little different—though their bloodlust tends to be more figurative. Usually.

With that thought, he saunters away, seeking Marceline Duval. He finds her in the company of Accou, and ironically enough, Marcel Guilbeau. He stays a respectable distance from the two former princes, but does saunter over to a far more friendly, or at least familiar, face when he spots Jade, a fellow Bourbon Sanctified, in the group’s periphery.

Support: Jade’s eyes move from the elders and their game of chance to the new face in the crowd that has come to observe. Newish, at least; he’s been around years longer than her few for all that he doesn’t have the clout to back it up. A step sideways and she’s near enough to him that she can converse in a lowered voice, though not so close that she appears friendly.

“Shame their PR ended up in Houston.”

Julius: “Whose PR is dat, sug?” the Caitiff asks quietly, keeping his gaze ahead at the ex-princes.

Support: “The Golds,” Jade tells him with a vague gesture over her shoulder toward the junior Guilbeau and Veronica’s other childe.

Julius: “Ah, dem,” Julius replies softly with his sousaphone timbre. “Thought you’s wus talkin bout da Navy’s Public Affairs. Cuz Mr. Thibodeux coulda used der help.”

He shifts. “But we done lost uh lotta folks to Houston.”

“And uh helluva lot more to da hurricane itself.”

There’s a bitter chord to that last statement, but it’s not directed at the Toreador.

Support: “Mm, there’s been a lot of foot in mouth tonight,” Jade agrees with a smirk. “But this was after the hurricane. Apparently he tried to stop a massacre and was exiled for the trouble.”

Julius: No stranger to the minor key, the jazz funeral leader follows the rhythm. “Oh, dat’s rite. Da hound’s kid, Hez… somethin. Didn’t know he wus der PR. Figure’d it’d be der rose, or da Big Sis kid.”

Support: “Certainly isn’t your new friend there.” Amusement dances across Jade’s face. “And it certainly couldn’t be the thrall.”

Jade shrugs.

“I’m sure he landed on his feet. Make the right friends and things become less bleak.”

Julius: “Speakin’ of makin da rite frenz,” Julius adds in a low voice, “Mr. Thibodeux might be joinin da party tomorrow.”

Support: She gives Julius a tiny nod in answer, the barest dip of her chin.

“A good host would tell him the theme,” she murmurs in response.

Julius: “Mmhmm,” Julius says, like a bullfrog savoring a fly. “Gotta first see if he survives Ms. Melton’s jelly-roll. Ain’t too often somebody beats you’s to uh sossidge shoot-da-chute.”

To those close or keen enough to hear the low-spoken remark, it’s clear Julius’ words have no acrimony or venom, but are rather matter-of-fact if not blasé, like someone idly commenting on the shortness of a rain-shower or an early blossomed hydrangea.

Support: “I only pursue attractive things, Papa Juju,” Jade remarks idly. “Desperation isn’t attractive.”

Julius: Julius smiles like the rain-shower has past: “Ah, you rite, f’sure, though some like Mr. Silvestri say dat pursuit is attractive in an’ of itself.” He shrugs, then adds, “Den ‘gain, what’s attractive in uh lover versus uh shovelhead are mighty diff’rent. For most folks at least. Dose at da Dungeon might disagree.”

He shrugs once more. “Anywho, da seventh ward has mo’ need of shovelheads den lovers dese days,” he says in reference to the one of the main fronts between Savoy and the Baron’s factions.

Support: “Pursuit is attractive. My sire would agree; we both enjoy a challenge.”

At the mention of Silvestri she sweeps her eyes through the crowd of assembled licks.

“No doubt Miss Melton will be able to show him where things go.” Easy convert, she means, now that they’ve extended such a personal welcome. “I’m certain he’ll be grateful for the lesson.” And stick around in the Quarter to make himself useful on that front.

Julius: “Mmhmm.”

The jazzman inspects his fingernails. They’re clean. He doesn’t bother checking his hands, though. He knows they’re dirty. Not physically, but dirty all the same.

“Bin meanin to axe you’s,” he whispers with a slow pour of his liquid-deep voice. “But if it crosses da line, jus tell me to git lost an’ I will.”

He pauses a moment, then, before proceeding, “You got dat Turk crib, rite, da Gardette? If you evah consider subinfeudin it, let’s jus say I might know uh buyer willin’ to pay mo’ den uh few dollahs.”

Support: “I do,” she confirms.

“I’ll hear out your contact.”

Julius: Julius continues his facade of idly watching Marcel and Accou converse, but Jade does not have to wait long before the trombonist replies:

“Dat party is a bit shy. Wants to sus’ out if der offer is acceptable, don’t wunna risk upsettin one of der fellow Bourbons. Makes me da middleman.”

Julius’ face then turns slightly toward Jade as he adds, “Lissenin to udder lil’ birdies, woid is you’d like to git a vacation or two or ten to da Windy City. Drivin’ uh thousand miles ain’t no gud, an’ flyin ain’t much bettah—an’ sometimes a lot mo’ worse. But da rivuh? Ain’t as fast as flyin, but less oversight, an’ way mo’ shade an’ comfort den uh car, van, or wotnot. Especially if you’s git a private yacht. Dey cost mo’ den uh few dollahs, though, half uh mil or mo’, and den dere’s all da paperwoik. Lots of it. An’ knowin which ports an’ folks to grease or avoid an’ how.”

“Now you could do uh private charter, but dere’s mo’ paperwoik, mo’ oversight, an’ you’s cain’t jus up an’ git goin whenevah you be wantin.”

“So I’m authorized to offer you’s a private yacht wid all da paperwork, complete wid membership in da Lakeview Southern Yacht Club wid all of dose perks. Probably could use it to rub shoulders, reel in some whales to Flawless, too. An’ all da vacations to da Windy City or beyond. Da Crescent City is one of da biggest ports in da world.”

“An’ in return, dey want Gardette. A lil’ secret jus between you’s, me, dem, and Lord Savoy, who’s gud wid it, or will be if you are.”

And then, as if sharing an almost irrevelant afterthought, he adds, “Yacht is uh ’03, uh 65 footah. Used to belong to Rich Towers, da famous kine actor.” He shrugs at the last factoid.

Support: “Our little secret,” Jade muses. She finally turns to face him fully, one brow lifted.

“I’ll think about it.”

Julius: Julius nods. If his gossip-alleged ‘sister’ wishes to contact him, she knows how—even beyond their regular co-appearances at Savoy’s club. And he’s willing to sweat. Metaphorically. If history predicts the future, Gardette manse isn’t going anywhere—unlike the yacht. Then again, that’s one of its main draws. Freedom. Its high-class status symbol and hedonic comforts don’t hurt, either.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM

GM: Marcel Guilbeau publicly challenges Accou Poincaré to a game of chance. The wager he proposes is Accou’s casquette girl, a potent status symbol among the city’s elders. The challenge draws the interest of many Kindred. Marcel has been lagging behind Accou’s in the horse race to position himself as Vidal’s heir: he is no doubt seeking to advance his position through besting the Toreador primogen, even despite the friendly setting.

Accou stands less to gain from the water. He’s already ahead of Marcel.

On the other hand, refusal will cost him face, and he is behind Donovan himself in the ‘race’.

Accou glibly questions the growing audience of nearby Kindred what prize he should ask from Marcel, if he wins the game.

Support: “What’s the worth of a casquette girl?” Jade drawls in an undertone to the lick beside her. “His boat?”

GM: “The Alystra is worth around $150 million,” answers Anthony Brodowski. “Which one would you take, if you had the choice?”

Support: “Seems rather obvious.”

GM: “I’d take the casquette girl,” answers Brodowski. “You can always make more money.”

I’d take the $150 million,” says Duke Elmhearst with a vaguely scornful look.

Julius: “Material worth ain’t da matter at hand,” offers Julius in his low, liquidy thunderous voice. “Da filles la casquette are livin history, uh part of da past dat has outlived it, much like da Kindred. But so too is da Alystra. It’s far mo’ dan simply money. Dat ship done carries wid it a noble past, an in her wake, she remembers wot wus an wot wus lost, jus like da girls.”

GM: “Well-spoken, Mr. Baudoin,” replies Marcel.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned over my Requiem, it’s that material things are easy to acquire and easy to lose. But unless you’re worried about dying soon,” and here the ex-prince cracks a smile echoed on a few of the watching faces, “there’s little point in getting impatient over when fate will deal you a winning hand. You’ll get your lucky streak, sooner or later.”

“But history? Once that’s gone, it’s gone forever. They say everything has a price, but to me it feels disrespectful to assign a monetary worth to a casquette girl. Perhaps the only fair thing to wager would be another piece of history.”

“Soundly reasoned, Lord Librettist,” Accou smiles back. “I, too, believe it would be only fair to wager one piece of history for another. Are all here of like mind that the Alystra is of equivalent historic value to a fille à la cassette, or would another piece of history be a more suitable wager?”

Support: Jade tilts her head to one side, as if considering the offer.

“Where will you go without the Alystra?” Jade quietly asks Anthony, as if the game is already won. Everyone nearby has considered the implications, haven’t they? It’d knock Marcel right out of the line if he can’t hold onto a boat.

Surely that is a worthy prize in and of itself.

GM: “They probably have money outside the Alystra, Miss Kalani,” says Amaryllis DeCuir in a vaguely patronizing tone. “I’m sure they’d manage.”

Support: “You’re missing the point, darling.”

Jade smiles at her, as if it’s to be expected.

GM: Amaryllis smiles back, like Jade’s too stupid to have considered her own point.

“We’d likely go somewhere on dry land, for one,” Brodowski answers with a smile of his own. “Perhaps we’d even enjoy the change of scenery.”

Julius: Julius listens to the spiraling conversations. He’s already spoken up once and acquitted himself well. The Caitiff knows better than to push his luck. Again. But that doesn’t mean he can’t watch and listen. Learning typically requires both—and he wagers there are lessons to be learned from the sociopolitical dance of his elders as well as juniors.

GM: “I would require someone to manage the Alystra, should fortune smile upon me,” declares Accou. “Perhaps you would be interested in continuing to, Lord Librettist.”

“Very generous of you, Alder Councilor,” answers Marcel. “I suppose since my household and I aren’t in any danger of being left homeless, that settles it. Will you accept the Alystra against your casquette girl, Alder Councilor?”

“I shall,” answers Accou. “What game, then, we are to play for these wagers? I would normally propose chess, but you asked for a game of chance, Lord Librettist.”

GM: “So I did, Alder Councilor. Perhaps our audience has further suggestions?” he inquires.

Support: “Have a quarter, Mr. Browdowski?” asks Jade.

GM: A few calls go out for baccarat, poker, and other casino games before the Ventrue produces a quarter and flips it in the air towards Jade.

The action draws some stares and quiets down the Kindred offering suggestions.

Everyone prefers to watch something happen.

Support: Still, deft fingers pluck it out of the air, and she winks at the stiff as she moves to a more prominent locale.

“50/50 odds. Best two of three? Three of five? Or just a single flip?”

GM: “I wonder, is a coin toss really a game?” asks Ryllie. “Games take a while. There’s strategy, interplay, back and forth between the players.”

The audience’s eyes settle on Jade.

Support: “Tell me, Mr. Guilbeau. Is the coin flip offered as a game at your casino?”

She waits for the expected “no,” and nods her head.

“And why is that, Mr. Guilbeau? I know we’re all looking for razzle dazzle, or at least my sister is based on her open scorn, but I’m sure there’s a mathematical reason, isn’t there? Something to do with house odds, isn’t it? Because in baccarat, blackjack, and roulette the odds favor the house, don’t they? And people have this grand debate about luck versus skill in poker, but all the professionals—those are the ones who know more about it than us, Ryllie—they agree that it isn’t luck at all. The casinos only let them play because they take a rake from every hand, so it’s guaranteed money in their pockets.”

Jade considers her little sis.

“You know what a coin flip has? Even probability. I can ask Papa Juju to belt us out a tune if you need something more invigorating, though. Maybe get some smoke machines or sequins for you.”

GM: Titters, low laughs, and condescending smirks greet the Toreador’s barbed words.

Ryllie’s eyes smolder with scorn as she assumes an equally warmthless smile.

“A coin flip’s not actually even, Jade. You do know that too, right… that fast enough Kindred can basically decide, what side turns up?”

She considers her alleged broodmate ‘thoughtfully’ with a nailed hand raised to her lips.

“Hmm… maybe not. And you know, baccarat does have even odds—between the players, and not the banker? That game seems a lot more fair to me, unless you were volunteering to do the coin flip. I guess with a Kindred who’s graceless enough, it’d be close enough to random…”

More smirks and subdued laughs ripple across the predatory faces as they shift back to Jade.

Support: “Darling, do you really think we can influence a coin toss and not any of the other suggestions? That we can’t stack a deck the same way? What limited imagination.”

Amusement dances across her face.

“I was going to say that I shouldn’t flip the coin because of my shared blood with a contender. I was going to say that you shouldn’t either, for the same reason. But I’ve heard you still have your fangs planted in a certain someone’s back end, so I guess that’d make you an unbiased party.”

“And it’s not,” Jade says, inspecting a nail, “as if our sire considers you blood anymore.”

GM: Veronica, watching silently as her ‘childer’ feud, only sneers at Jade’s words.

“Funny hearing that from the city’s biggest slut,” Ryllie retorts furiously, eyes flashing as her fangs lengthen in her mouth. “I bet if he’d approached you, you’d have sunk your fangs around his cock and begged for seconds. If half the Kindred here even knew what you did behind closed doors, and with w-!”

Enough,” Accou preempts. The elder’s face is still as marble, and his eyes equally cool as they fall upon Jade’s ‘broodmate.’

“Many call Elysium a place of reflection and contemplation. And so it is—your actions here reflect upon those beyond yourselves.” His unblinking eyes rest long upon Ryllie, then momentarily take in Jade as well.

“Comport yourselves appropriately.”

Ryllie grits her fangs but inclines her head.

“Yes, grandsire.”

She stares at Jade too, though, and something ugly burns within her eyes.

More titters, sneers, and whispers ripple throughout the crowd of spectating Kindred.

Support: “Yes, grandsire.”

She smirks openly at her broodmate while the laughter trickles in.

Julius: The jazzman, in contrast, does not smirk. There’s blood in the water, and far too many sharks. Not a safe place for one of the clanless. Still, he’s glad more of the blood is Amaryllis’ rather than Jade’s. As Remy used to say: “When one Bourbon bleeds, so do all the rest.” Then again, his former krewemate and priest is now ash on the wind.

But jus cuz da music stops, it don’t mean da memory cain’t keep it goin.

With that thought in mind, Julius steps forward. Time to distract the sharks, even if it means he has to play the bait. Briefly, or so he hopes.

He moves towards the pair of ex-princes. Not too close, but close enough to be seen waiting. Attentively. Expectantly. Respectfully. He’s paid and bled enough to learn that Invictus etiquette demands he wait to be recognized before speaking to such ‘betters’. And given Accou’s recently raised ire, he does not wish to foolishly tempt the elder’s wrath.

GM: The Toreador primogen regards Julius with that same initially cool look.

But Father Albright liked to say, too, that sometimes saying nothing is better than saying anything. When Clarice was in one of “her moods”, sometimes saying anything just made things worse. “All it does is give the cat some string to chase after. Better just to not give it any.”

A brief moment passes, as the ‘cat’ looks for signs of motion, but finds none.

“Would you speak, Mr. Baudoin?” invites Accou.

Julius: Step 1. Get the sharks’ attention.

Check.

Step 2. Don’t get eaten by the sharks.

Well, here’s I go, me.

“Only if it pleases da rite most gallant Alder Councilor Poincaré and mighty fine Lord Librettist Guilbeau—an only wid da aim of pleasing y’all.”

“Da latter did graciously ax fo’ further suggestions from da likes of lil’ ol’ us. So given mo’ contemplation, I might humbly propose uh game dressed wid both coins and cards. After all, since you’s both wagerin fo’ uh piece of history, it wud only seem fittin to play uh game of chance steeped in one too, no?”

“Jus like da filles la casquette, dis game rite came from France, an wus often played by sailors to determine who had to stay behind on da boat or go git da company of da ladies ova by da sho’. Like da owners of da casquette girls’ an da fortunes which flow through da Alystra, dis game’s had lots of names. Vieux garçon, le Pouilleux, Le Puant, Pierre Noir, Le Valet Noir, or wot caps wid da vulgar tongue call, Old Boy.”

“It’s uh rite propah game of chance, though some bluffin cain’t hurt. You’s can play it wid jus two, too. An if y’all want to make it uh bit spicier wid some mo’ suspense, git somebody to randomly choose uh card as da Pouilleux by removin it from da pack face down. But who shud git dat honor, hmm? Seems to me dat might be where da coin—or coins—come in.”

He turns to fully face Marcel, praying to Clarice’s ghost—or at least memory—that he’s not about to join her just yet.

“Lord Librettist Guilbeau, yo childe has already done got uh coin an given to one of Alder Councilor Poincaré’s bloodline. If dat wud still please you’s, den Alder Councilor Poincaré might have one of his bloodline rite do da same to one of yo’s. At dat point da coins by chance cud tell us who gits to pick da Pouilleux. Uh game widdin uh game, if it pleases y’all.”

The jazzman’s solo hopefully done, he bows to the ex-princes as any stage performer should, and steps back, waiting to see if he’s lauded, deadpanned, or just made dead. Again.

GM: Silence hangs over Elysium as the two ex-princes consider Julius’ words.

Veronica isn’t the only harpy present. Defallier is there, too. And Beaumont. Plus their hangers-on. They, and so many other Kindred, stare at Julius. Silently. Expectantly. Pitilessly. Perhaps—no, assuredly—already thinking cruel words and sharpening their knives in anticipation of the Caitiff being declared open season.

Their eyes return to the ex-princes. Like a coliseum crowd seeking an emperor’s thumbs up or thumbs down.

“They call it Mistigri and Le Pissous too,” says Marcel. “It’s also Svarte Petter, Černý Petr, Black Peter, Pit Hitam, Swarte Pyt, Svarti Pétur, Musta Pekka, Piotruś, Zwarte Piet, Sorteper, Mutzuris, and Asinello, though some of those names are just ‘Pierre Noir’ in other languages. Personally, I think the most apt name for it is a Dutch one—pijkezotjagen, or ‘chasing the jack of spades’.”

He cracks a smile. “Sometimes I think the game has more names than cards.”

“But Mr. Baudoin speaks truly. It’s an older game than most of the Kindred here. There can be skill as well as chance involved, and to my mind the best games use some of both. I’m hard-pressed to think of any more appropriate for us to play tonight—or of a more appropriate gesture than for my other childe to pass your other grandchilde a second coin, Alder Councilor.”

He, too, pauses as he awaits the the elder ex-prince’s reaction.

But he does not wait overlong.

“Symmetry is the mother of all beauty,” concurs Accou.

He smiles faintly. He does not look at Julius.

“Perhaps we might retire briefly, Lord Librettist, to collect your other childe, some playing cards, and my casquette girl.”

“Splendid, Alder Councilor,” agrees Marcel. “Shall we reconvene here in half an hour?”

“With pleasure, Lord Librettist. Perhaps we might seek Master Elgin’s input, as well, on an appropriate venue in which to play.”

“A splendid idea, Alder Councilor. I’ll see to the cards.”

“Very good, Lord Librettist. I shall see you again soon.”

The two Kindred incline their heads towards one another, then depart. A few hangers-on trail after both. Other Kindred disperse, the entertainment temporarily over, though many of them gossiping among themselves: either Marcel is going to lose his boat, or Accou his casquette girl. What spectacle this will be! Neither Marcel nor Accou look at Julius. In fact, from the chatter, it sounds as if the various Kindred are somehow attributing Julius’ idea to the Ventrue ex-prince.

Still, Marcel pauses to murmur something to Brodowski.

The younger Ventrue meets Julius’ gaze as his sire departs, then invitingly glances towards the route leading outside.

The ex-prince doubtlessly doesn’t want to be seen as too friendly towards the Bourbon Caitiff.

Julius: It’s a familiar song. It might as well be his personal anthem. He heard it constantly as a black boy growing up in the dark heart of the Jim Crow era. Segregated schools. Back of the bus. Color lines cutting across bathrooms, drinking fountains, pools, neighborhoods, jobs, lives.

Ain’t no ‘Caitiff Only’ rooms at Elysium, e’en rite here in da South’s dank jockstrap, so dat’s sayin somethin mighty gawddamn bad bout da kine.

He heard it in the military. Off in Nam. Come up with a good idea? Save the ship from going down? Ain’t gonna be the draft-skirting black seaman who gets the credit, but a sonavabitch NCO or captain who gets the promotion, the medal, the praise.

Gawddamn, I wus Caitiff ‘fore I wus Caitiff, me. Fuck if death’s gonna change dat.

Julius gives a slow, slight nod to the blue blood’s unspoken invitation, then heads for the exit.

And fuck if death’s gonna change wot I do.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM

GM: Brodowski walks outside. The twelve-acre Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at NOMA is one of the most important sculpture installations in the United States, with over 90 sculptures situated on a beautifully landscaped site amongst meandering footpaths, reflecting lagoons, Spanish moss-laden 200-year-old live oaks, mature pines, magnolias, camellias, and pedestrian bridges.

Some other Kindred are about too, admiring their own sculptures and conversing amongst themselves.

Anthony Brodowski is an emaciated, rail-thin boy in his mid- or late teens. He is exceptionally gaunt even for a vampire, with hollow cheeks and dark discoloration under his watery gray-blue eyes. His neck-length brown hair is thin and wispy. He’s fairly short for a man and stands somewhere between a head and half a head under Julius. He’s dressed in a casual suit gray suit and white button-up shirt without a necktie. The tailored fit complements his bony, stick-like limbs surprisingly well.

“Prince Guilbeau was pleased by your suggestion, Mr. Baudoin,” the Ventrue declares as they walk.

Julius: Julius sips on that preciously scant praise like a snow-cone amidst a heat wave. Taking in the ex-prince’s youngest childe, Julius once again decides he likes him. Few Invictus neonates come from a low-class background, but here Anthony is. Death becomes him. The black working class turned counterfeit mogul respects that, even if the Caitiff can’t help but envy Anthony’s prestigious bloodline and public access to a powerful sire. But the black man doesn’t linger long on such covetous thoughts. He’s long used to others having more, or just having it easier, than him.

Consequently, his smile is sincere as he replies, “Lissenin to dat pleases me plenty, Lord Commissioner Brodowski, specially when such uh message is delivered by one who rite well so pleases Prince Guilbeau an da city’s Unconquered.”

GM: Brodowski smiles back, perhaps also as a result of Julius using his proper title.

“That’s most kind of you to say, Mr. Baudoin. I’m impressed you know the First Estate’s modes of address.”

Today’s kine might call it a ‘microaggression’, but the compliment sounds sincere for what it is.

“Plenty of Kindred pick up a few of them, but you’ve made enough of a study to know mine, my sire’s, and the alder councilor’s.”

Julius: Julius’ smiles holds like a long, bright cornet note. It’s not just that the compliment sound sincere. More important to him, it’s hard-earned. Over his Requiem, it cost a lot to learn those titles—even as it cost him a lot more not to know them. So how can a businessman not smile when an investment pays its first dividend?

“All dis buttah, Lord Commissioner Brodowski, an I’m gonna git thinkin’ I’m uh slice of cornbread.”

His smile only slightly dims as his next words take on a more serious, if still cordial, to…“But if uh street-hustlin entrepreneur is legit bout dealin wid uh Fortune 500, he bettah learn who’s da CFO, CMO, CPO, an uh whole lotta mo’.”

“Or as ma parraine done said, if you’s wantin to earn uh seat at da table, you’s best be knowin who’s already sittin in its chairs.”

And there it is. His ambition, sauntering out naked save for a see-through slip of modesty.

GM: “So you’d like to join the Invictus,” says Brodowski thoughtfully as they walk.

“You won’t find many friends on the Prima Invicta,” he answers, frankly.

“But my sire is more open-minded, and inclined towards the view that potential is potential, no matter where it comes from. I was homeless, scavenging out of garbage bins, and dying of AIDS when he found me.”

“And he is mindful of the fact you could have escalated rather than deescalated things with my brother-in-blood.”

It’s a milder way of phrasing things than “refrained from further embarrassing my brother-in-blood”, but the words again sound sincere enough.

Julius: Julius takes those comments in stride, both literal and figurative. He’s silent, however, for some time, as the musician well knows that the pause helps define the note.

When he does eventually speak, his smile is subdued like a cloud-sobered sun:

“Unconquered or not, wot is worthy of honor should be honored.”

GM: “Honor exists outside of the First Estate,” Brodowski concurs.

“In some ways, one could argue the covenant came into being as caretakers for another society’s honor. Have you made any study of Invictus history as well, Mr. Baudoin?”

Julius: “Uh lil, Lawd Commissioner, though not as much as I’d binlookin to, wot widdout uh gracious sire an mentor like yo own. F’sure, I heard my namesake Caesar done struck uh deal wid da covenant, fo’ his mortal kin to rule da day an da Invictus to rite rule da nite.”

GM: Brodowski nods.

“Each one an emperor of their respective domains. But what’s interesting is that some sources say this was truly meant to be an arrangement of equals—or at least something closer to one than Kindred tonight might envision. The Kindred who made up the early Invictus viewed themselves as Romans first and Kindred second. The Invictus and the Roman state, to these Kindred, were the same institution, and one could not exist without the other. The Invictus saw themselves as filling a function within the empire that the Caesars could not.”

“Obviously, this view changed over time when the Invictus outlasted the Caesars. Tonight’s Kindred predominately view themselves as Kindred first and citizens of mortal nations second. After all, even here in New Orleans, Prince Vidal’s praxis has existed under the rule of three different sovereign countries—Spain, briefly France, and the United States. But to early Invictus Kindred, such a thing would have been inconceivable. Without the Roman state, the Invictus served no purpose—no more than the Praetorian Guard served a purpose without an emperor to protect.”

Julius: ‘Papa’ Juju considers that revelation in context of his own state or people ‘ova da rivah in da Pernt till da bridge’.

“Jus as bin uh king widdout subjects ain’t mean nuttin.”

GM: “Indeed. Regardless, Mr. Baudoin, this was a somewhat long-winded way of agreeing with your point—that honorable things should be honored, even outside the First Estate. Because when the covenant was established, its honor was not an end unto itself. The Roman state’s was.”

Julius: The Vet-turned-vampire gives a respectful bow. “Ma gratitude, Lawd Commissioner, as dere ain’t really no such thang as long-winded when we cain’t rite get winded no mo’.”

GM: Brodowski chuckles.

“True enough, Mr. Baudoin.”

“Prince Guilbeau will be interested in speaking with you himself, should his wager with the alder councilor go well. What’s a method of contact we might use to reach you?”

Julius: “Yo sire is most magnanimous, Lawd Commissioner,” the Caitiff says with another bow, even as he produces a pair of business cards. The first is soft-touch satin, solid black with the raised black lettering of Black Vyper Vaping, LCC and its equally dark smoke-serpent logo. The second is the first’s opposite, a white matte, hard-plastic card featuring a riotously colored painting reminiscent of Picasso’s Ronde au Soleil, complete with abstract, bright-hued dancers, plants, and sun. Its contact information is on its reverse, alongside the bright green lettering for Vonce & Bacci Advocacy Strategies Group.

Julius provides the briefest exposition of both (“rulin a lil bit of da day an nite cain’t hurt”), before explaining to have Marcel’s representative call either of the listed numbers, enter the code 1217 at the automated interactive response system, and leave a voice message for “Mark” to call back at whatever number or address Marcel wishes.

Thereafter, he favors the younger neonate with a renewed smile:

“An should fortune be favorin us all tonite, Lawd Commissioner, wud you’s be havin any recommendations of a house-boat-warmin gift for Prince Guilbeau?”

GM: Brodowski accepts the two business cards, concurs that “things have changed since the Invictus’ early nights” with a faint smile, and even compliments the “colorful” (figurative and literal) nature of the cards. Casinos, he adds, can have “colorful” ones of their own. The business card he returns Julius, seemingly as a matter of courtesy, resembles a playing card but with crowns in place of diamonds, hearts, clubs, or jacks. It’s got a dark gray background with stylish pale gold lettering that reads:

THE ALYSTRA
Anthony Brodowski
Chief Financial Officer


A phone number, website, email address, and street address are included beneath.

The younger neonate is still young enough to use the same name.

Julius: The art and manufacturing aficionado gives an appreciative whistle at Anthony’s card, which he appraisingly rubs between his fingers.

“Dat’s rite gud-lookin, Lawd Commissioner. Ain’t no common 14 or 16 pernt stock dere. Gotta’s be… 22, hmm, or 24 pernt, jus like uh pack of Bicycle. High quality PVC plastic finish. Ain’t gotta worry bout no water, wear, tear, or time. Tough. High-class. Premium.”

His smiles becomes a higher Watt.

“Suits you’s f’sure.”

GM: Brodowski raises his eyebrows.

“You know your way around business cards, Mr. Baudoin. I’d be curious what else you do.”

As far as housewarming gifts, Prince Guilbeau’s latest paramour, Josua Cambridge, has recently developed a fondness for wearing (sexualized) women’s clothing and accessories, which Prince Guilbeau enjoys seeing him in. Clearly impressed by the extent of Julius’ manufacturing knowledge, Brodowski supplies Josua’s measurements. The Toreador neonate has started to enjoy crossdressing only recently, so his wardrobe is still limited.

Gambling-related gifts are also always a safe “bet”, as are ones culturally, aesthetically, or historically linked to Baton Rouge. Marcel particularly enjoys a portrait he keeps in his office of the Old State Capitol building (which resembles a medieval castle located square in the middle of the city).

The ex-prince also has a taste for artistic depictions of Carthage, the ancient Phoenician city-state.

Julius: “Well den—,” the mogul replies with a grateful, if not altogether surprise-snuffed, smile, “—dat is most helpful, Lawd Commissioner, an most ’ppreciated, now.”

Not trusting himself to remember all the measurements by hand, he slides Anthony’s card in his pocket, from which he fishes out a phone, and one-handed uses its touchscreen and Grafitti-enabled shorthand to jot down the sartorial dimensions. So finished, he stows the phone.

Then, with a third bow, he says:

“Lawd Commissioner, I think yo sire is deservin an will be gittin many uh gifts, regardless of da wager’s outcome tonite. As are you, fo’ all you’s done fo’ me.”

“Wot is worthy of honor should f’sure be honored.”

GM: Brodowski offers an inclination of his head in return.

“And through honoring what is worthy of honor does oneself prove oneself worthy of honor, Mr. Baudoin.”

“My sire and I shall look to seeing what comes of this new association.”


Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM

GM: Natasha Preston gets into another argument with her own patron, Antoine Savoy, by publicly speaking out against the latest examples of Vidal’s tyranny.

“What do we think happened to Sterling? Tina Baker?”

Savoy raises that very same fact. They did do this last week. Preston doesn’t mince words. The prince has gotten even worse since last week. Sterling was snatched up by the Guard de Ville. Desirae Wells, unusually, hasn’t shown up to Elysium this week. Two hounds just took away Tina Baker.

“Come now, Nat,” Savoy says amiably. “We’re all here to unwind and appreciate some fine art. We can talk politics elsewhere.”

“Who is going to be next?” the Malkavian asks bluntly. “They were not even charged with anything!”

The pair’s ‘discussion’ has drawn more than a few spectators.

Support: Well. It’s not like the missing persons are actually anybody. But that’s how it starts, isn’t it?

First they came for the thin-bloods, and I did not speak out because I was not a thin-blood. Then they came for the Caitiff, and I did not speak out because I was not a Caitiff. Then they came for the Bourbons, and I did not speak out because I was not a Bourbon.

“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Julius: Similar thoughts run through Julius’ mind. Similar, but worse. After all, he’s not only a Bourbon, but a Caitiff. Clanless. Trash. One rung lower, one step lower to the chopping block. And the black man’s already been on that block. On in his case, a tree. Swinging as strange fruit. Not a soul raised a hand to help him. And that was just the kine.

He doesn’t expect better from Kindred. Far worse, actually.

Which is why he doesn’t speak up. Not here. Not now.

But he listens.

It’s not a new refrain, but each time he listens to it, he picks up new notes. Tonight, he’s struck again by how Preston can say what Savoy cannot—or does not politically want to say. It’s a savvy trick.

GM: Marcel might say something about quitting while one is ahead.

“Correct, Miss Kalani,” says Preston. “Self-interest should compel other Kindred to speak—for themselves. Anyone who commits a negative behavior will continue it if there are no consequences. It’s useful for the prince, isn’t it? Just ‘disappear’ anyone he wants to disappear! Forget explaining it, at this point! It’s much more convenient when he doesn’t have to, isn’t it? Stop abiding by any kind of rules. Just kill anyone he decides is better off dead.”

The Malkavian looks around the watching Kindred.

“How many of you could he decide are more useful dead than alive? Remember, he doesn’t have to catch you for anything anymore. He can just send his jack-booted thugs to snatch you up, anywhere, if he decides you’re a ‘problem.’ Including Elysium!”

No one who’s watching says anything. The Kindred more sympathetic to Vidal. Or the Kindred more sympathetic to Savoy.

Some are flat. Some are offended.

Some are thoughtful.

The watching harpies, though, look displeased. Sundown and Adelais and Harlequin.

Savoy watches his servant with a patiently humoring expression.

Support: Jade shares a look with her fellow Kindred, catching the eye of the young, the unprotected, the impoverished. The Caitiff. The Bourbons. The Anarchs, even. No one had stopped Tina Baker from being snatched up by Wright and Rocco. No one had raised a hand to Sterling’s defense when the Guard de Ville infiltrated the Quarter to pluck him from his krewe mate’s club. No explanation about what he’d done wrong—just there, then gone.

“How many are missing tonight?” An innocent question, as if she does not know the answer, as if she challenges Preston’s stance for all that she’d recited old sayings.

Another lie. Another ruse. Another night as a lick.

Does she need to put a name to all the absent faces? Carolla. Bourelle. Gerlette. Wade. Jenkins. Malveaux. Polk. Some of them Hardliners. What was their crime?

GM: “I suppose our prince considers turnabout fair play, after losing his bishop and so many of his other bootlickers,” says Preston. “I suppose this will be par for course, now. Every time a Hardliner disappears, he’ll just disappear however many other Kindred it takes to balance out the scales.”

“I wonder if he considers them balanced yet? Is Malveaux worth Sterling, Baker, and Wells? How about Malveaux and the Storyvilles? Is he even finished yet, or is this just the start of the butcher-”

Looks pass among the gathered harpies. Adelais moves to approach, flanked by Elyse Benson and Camilla Doriocourt.

Julius: The approaching hound—especially that one—makes the black man freeze in his tracks. It’s a reflex born from decades of prejudicial police treatment. ‘Random’ traffic stops for broken tail lights. Frisks, shakedowns, and worse for being the wrong color on the wrong streets. The hound doesn’t wear NOPD’s blue and badge, but she might as well have a squad car siren blaring with each of her footfalls.

GM: The NOPD works for the Guard de Ville anyway, if one asks Savoy’s or the Baron’s people.

Doriocourt, however, ignores Julius altogether. Her cool gaze rests squarely upon Preston.

Julius: Bettuh her den me, the Caitiff considers with a silent, uneasy sigh.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM

GM: Half an hour later later, the formerly assembled vampires return to one of the museum’s rooms. Accou and Marcel are the focus of everyone’s stares as the two ex-princes smile courteously towards one another. There are more Kindred than there were last time. Four of the five harpies are present now, along with Pierpont McGinn and the ex-princes’ various hangers-on, descendants, allies, and the simply curious.

The casquette girl is present too. She’s a soft-faced young woman in seemingly her late teenage years. Her milk-pale features are beautiful and unblemished, while her gaze is placid and tranquil. She’s garbed in a flowing white gown that complements her waist-length blonde hair and gives her an almost ethereal appearance. She silently shuffles and re-shuffles a deck of antique playing cards.

“So who’s up for some Black Pete?” Marcel smiles at the audience.

In mind of Julius’ suggestion of a “game within a game,” Accou declares that he picks Jade to flip his coin. Ryllie shoots her a none-too-pleased look over not getting pick. Marcel makes a show of tossing a coin over to Jade that she nimbly catches, paralleling the coin Brodowski possesses from Accou.

“Heads gets to pick Pouilleux?” Accou half-asks, half-suggests to Marcel with a smile.

“Heads it is, Alder Councilor,” Marcel agrees amiably.

Jade and Brodowski flip their coins. Both of them get heads.

“Best two of three,” smiles Accou.

The neonates flip again. This time, Jade gets heads and Brodowski tails. The honor goes to her. Brodowski inclines his head as if to accept the ‘loss’ gracefully, and then the casquette girl shuffles the deck of cards. Jade makes a show of picking a card. She gets the two of cards.

That will be Pouilleux. Black Pete.

Jade makes a further show of holding the card up for all to see, then inserts it back into the deck. The casquette girl re-shuffles the cards and deals them out. First to Accou, perhaps because he is eldest, and then to Marcel. The two Kindred look over the cards in their hands, then place the matching pairs on the table. Elysium’s attendees look over the players’ shoulders. Accou has the Black Pete card. The losing card. No one tries to hide their murmurs and exclamations: Marcel knows he doesn’t have it.

But will it stay that way?

With their pairs exhausted, Marcel reaches out to pluck a card from Accou’s deck. The ex-prince milks the spectacle for all it’s worth, holding just away and drifting between, then closes his eyes so as not to give himself “an unfair advantage.” Accou responds graciously.

Finally, he plucks a card.

It’s not Black Pete.

Accou draws a card too. He sets his matched pair aside. The players continue to draw from one another’s hands. Luck is with Marcel, though. The two’s hands shrink and shrink, and the Ventrue does not once pick Black Pete. Finally, they’re down to a single card, held in Accou’s hand.

Black Pete.

Exclamations, congratulations, and a few dirty looks. It looks as if no small number of Kindred placed their own bets on who would win. One even questions whether Marcel was cheating. He doesn’t once look at Jade.

Accou’s casquette girl is duly handed over. One doesn’t need to be a genius to realize it’s not the best look for the Toreador… in the running competition among Vidal’s would-be heirs, Marcel clearly just scored a few points, and at the older Invicta’s expense.

For all that, Marcel is gracious in his victory. He tells everyone that luck is a fickle patron—he knows that much from running a casino. He praises Accou’s accomplishments, reminding everyone that the Toreador primogen used to be a prince too, and freely abdicated his praxis to return to New Orleans. Marcel says he hopes to equal the Toreador primogen’s achievements by the time he’s the same age. The words sound sincere enough and Accou responds that the casquette girls are like casino chips—they come and go. Every elder has won them before, lost them before, and doubtless will again. He tells Marcel to enjoy his gift while fortune is with him, "for as you say, Lord Marcel, ". The Ventrue responds that it rather well is.

The ex-prince does not make direct eye contact with Jade or Julius, but his gaze passes over both of theirs. Their parts, that fleeting glimpse seems to say, may not be publicly acknowledged, but will not be forgotten.

All told, it looks like several licks’ lucky nights.

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